It 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.
The 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.
Overall 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
Billy 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.
Billy Powell (June 3, 1952-January 28, 2009)
The 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?
Glavine 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.
Atlanta 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.
With 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.
I 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,
1. 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.
4. 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).
First, don’t the Braves already have a solid second baseman in Kelly Johnson? Yes they do, but Orlando Hudson could be an upgrade. Hudson is not that far removed from winning a Gold Glove and will also hit for a higher average. Johnson has the edge in power, but also racks up more strikeouts. Hudson missed time last year but his health issues should be finished if Atlanta is considering him.
Orlando Hudson would come at a significantly cheaper price tag than he first imagined at the beginning of free agency. Johnson would still be much cheaper but he has trade value that Atlanta could use in their attempt to acquire a power hitting left fielder such as Ryan Ludwick. The biggest advantage Hudson has is the batting average. As a second baseman he wouldn’t need to be relied upon for power numbers. Hudson had fewer strikeouts than Johnson, a higher OBP, and could have been better in home runs and walks had he played the entire season.
Moving Kelly Johnson to left field doesn’t seem like a great option. Johnson underwent Tommy John surgery and who knows how much is left in his arm. Second base isn’t exactly the best place to build up arm strength either.
The Cardinals have expressed interest in Kelly Johnson and packaging him with a minor league pitcher or two could land Ryan Ludwick. Ludwick would easily provide Atlanta’s outfield the much needed boost in offense that they have desperately been looking for. Pat Burrell could have been an option before he landed with Tampa Bay.
Ludwick strikes out more than what would be wanted but that comes with the territory of big power numbers. Ludwick would also come cheaply at less than $1MM next season. He is the big, right-handed bat Atlanta has been looking to sandwich in between Chipper Jones and Brian McCann. Jeff Francoeur can still be that player, but I don’t think the Braves want to take any chances and have him have another down season. Adding Ludwick could take pressure off of Francoeur and let him develop more out of the spotlight.
Atlanta’s off season has been somewhat of a success, though it could have been better. With all the additions to the pitching staff the Braves still need to add a left-handed reliever. Will Ohman is still out on the market so there is no reason for Atlanta to not resign him. There is mutual interest between both parties, so a deal should get done. Anything less and it will just add to the long list of blunders made by Atlanta’s front office this off season.
As we look forward to spring training Braves fans should be excited about the young talent showing up. Jason Heyward, Tommy Hanson, Freddie Freeman, Jordan Schafer, and Kris Medlen have all been invited. The only problem I see in this group again is that all three position players bat left-handed. Expecting all of them to someday be a starter that would give the Braves at least five left handed bats with Brian McCann and Kelly Johnson also on the roster. I’m not a big fan of having five left-handed bats in one lineup. When facing a right-handed pitcher it is ok but when a lefty comes in it could be a long day for Atlanta’s offense.
Despite that little issue I’m excited about getting to see some of these guys play. Heyward and Freeman can be a great duo that drives in runs in bunches in the middle of the lineup. Schafer has the potential to be a lead off hitter with a little pop. Tommy Hanson could have the biggest impact in the regular season as he has the best chance of making the roster but that would again pose a problem, an all right-handed pitching staff. The strategy of right-handed and left-handed players is extremely underrated and Atlanta could have problems with it this year.
I don’t think Heyward, Freeman, and Medlen will make the roster but Hanson and Schafer have good chances. I think Schafer could make the roster because Gregor Blanco and Josh Anderson don’t provide much offense. Schafer is just as good defensively and could be much better offensively. He just needs to play well and he can make the opening day roster, maybe even as the starting centerfielder. Schafer has had big league experience before attending spring training last year, so this year he knows what he is up against. Braves fans can only hope he is ready for the task ahead of him.
Till next time,
Did the Braves salvage this off season? To be honest, I don’t think they did. When you look back at what could have been you can picture an Atlanta Braves team with a dominating pitching staff and a powerful offense. Instead Atlanta has an above average pitching staff and a somewhat weak offense. What could have been?
I think this all goes back to the Jake Peavy rumors. Both sides managed that whole deal horribly. Sure, Kevin Towers may have been asking a little much, but Frank Wren pulled out because of an extremely minor detail. The Padres wanted Jeff Locke to be included and Frank Wren didn’t want to add him. If you do your research you will see that Jeff Locke is a pitcher in A ball that can been called “wild.” The kid can hardly find the strike zone and you aren’t going to add him into a deal to bring in one of the best pitchers in baseball? I think that is a joke.
By not making that trade Wren is showing he is not willing to give talent to get talent. The best players aren’t going to come free. You have to give up quality to get quality in return. The Braves would have given up potential All-Star Yunel Escobar, but they could have turned around and signed Rafael Furcal or Orlando Cabrera to replace him.
If Atlanta brings in Jake Peavy they could make a serious run at A.J. Burnett. Already having a star on the team makes a difference when trying to lure a big time free agent. Another problem was the contract offer. Atlanta basically came up a few million short of New York’s offer. Atlanta can’t put up a few more million to bring in a second ace? That is ridiculous. If you want the big time players you have to put up big time money. It really is that simple. With Peavy and Burnett at the front of the rotation they would be tough to beat in any series.
Instead of having two All-Star aces at the front of the rotation the Braves have Derek Lowe and Javier Vazquez. Atlanta ran themselves into a corner and ended up over paying for Derek Lowe. The Mets weren’t going any higher on their offer, the Braves flat out over payed. Vazquez is an innings eater but he is getting payed over $11MM. If a team is paying a pitcher over $10MM he better be an All-Star caliber pitcher. Vazquez is not that. Sorry, but it’s the truth.
Instead of trading for Javier Vazquez Atlanta could have traded for Jermaine Dye. He would have been the power bat they needed at a reasonable price. Dye is getting payed just under $10MM and he is going to give you 30-35 home runs and drive in over 100 runs. That is a bargain if you ask me. Frank Wren is not willing to spend money unless he has his back against the wall. After John Smoltz left he knew he needed to bring in Lowe, at any cost.
Smoltz deserved to be brought back just like Tom Glavine deserves to be brought back. I’m not saying that Wren is a bad GM because he is not. But any Braves fan that says Schuerholz would have done better is not looking into this deep enough. John Schuerholz has just as much influence on the Braves has Wren does, they are both to blame. Wren is not a bad GM, this whole off season was just mismanaged. You cannot be afraid to take risks. Peavy and Burnett are both risks, but their rewards are so great you have to take the chance. You have to in order to be successful.
Now you have to take a look at the Rafael Furcal deal. Why were the Braves trying to bring him in anyway? The Padres deal for Peavy was dead and I doubt Furcal would have been happy playing second. Why trade Kelly Johnson anyway? He is a solid player that has made great strides after he used to play left field. I know, he played shortstop for a long time. But shortstop and second base are different positions. Get over it. Changing positions is not easy at all.
Then the Braves come out and say they won’t work with Furcal’s agency anymore. Peter Moylan happens to be represented by that agency and he is a very good player. Atlanta needs Moylan to come back and be solid in the bullpen for them to be successful. That deal also goes back to the Braves being cheap and not willing to outbid anyone. The times of home town discounts and taking less money to play for your favorite team are just about over. It comes down to money.
I don’t think the Braves salvaged this off season as they should be a lot better. They made strides in the right direction but only when they had their backs against the wall. They were reluctant to spend money and then over payed when they didn’t need to. It just goes to show you that taking risks and managing a team are underrated aspects of the game.
Everyone probably knows by now that the Atlanta Braves went out and got the guy they wanted, Derek Lowe. They have gone out and solidified their starting rotation, but now what? Atlanta is still not a playoff team.
If you look at their rotation you will notice one thing they all have in common. They are all right-handed. Every single one of them. Derek Lowe, Javier Vazquez, Jair Jurrjens, and Kenshin Kawakami are all right-handed pitchers. There needs to be a little variety in the starting rotation. That’s why I think they need to bring back Tom Glavine. He may not be what he used to be but the fact that he is left-handed gives him an advantage over other pitchers vying for the 5th spot in the rotation.
I would think if Glavine returns he would be given the 3rd spot in the rotation just because of the fact he is left-handed. Being able to throw different styles of pitching at an opponent is an underrated part of the game. If the other team knows you only have right-handed pitchers it will make it a lot easier for them to game plan against you. Hence the idea of bringing back Glavine.
I also think that if Glavine is physically able to pitch and the Braves don’t resign him there is going to be an outcry from Atlanta faithful. Already this season the Braves let long time favorite John Smoltz go and now if they were to let Glavine go things could get ugly around Atlanta.
Another addition I think the Braves need to make is resigning Will Ohman. He isn’t Brian Fuentes but he is a very good left-handed reliever that played really well for the Braves last year. Atlanta’s bullpen also lacks a wide array of pitchers, seeing that they are overloaded with right-handed pitchers. The only lefty in the bullpen is closer Mike Gonzalez. Atlanta needs to have a lefty specialist that can come in to face the murder’s row of left-handed batters that the NL East is home to. They include Carlos Delgado, Chase Utley, and Ryan Howard. Atlanta has to have someone that can come in and get key outs when those guys are batting.
I would really like Atlanta to add a bat like Xavier Nady or Nick Swisher but the Yankees appear to be asking too much. Nick Swisher isn’t what he used to be a few years ago and Nady is only under contract for 2009. His agent is Scott Boras so it is safe to assume he won’t be sticking around for anything less than $700MM over 8 years. If things continue the way they are it doesn’t look like the Braves will be able to add another bat. If Jeff Francoeur can produce I don’t think adding a bat would even be needed.
In other baseball news it looks like Jason Varitek could be returning to the Red Sox. He wants to come back and I think Boston knows the fans want him back. They call him “Captain” for a reason. He is the heart and soul of that team, they need to bring Tek back. This should be an easy decision.
In more MLB news where is Manny Ramirez going to end up? The Angels don’t want him and the Dodgers don’t want to give him more than three years. Will the Giants take another risk on a super star becoming a huge bust (Barry Zito)?
Everyone knows the guy can hit but if he doesn’t get his money he will not be a happy Manny. And we all know an unhappy Manny can be a cancer to his baseball team. Boston found out the hard way.
I am ecstatic that the Braves signed Derek Lowe. He was their last option to try and salvage a disastrous off season. Atlanta signed him to a 4-year deal worth $60MM. A little more than I would like but the Braves ran their way into a corner. Frank Wren couldn’t trade for Jake Peavy, couldn’t sign A.J. Burnett, and couldn’t sign Rafael Furcal.
When the off season looked like a complete failure Wren pulled some moves out of his bag and made the Braves contenders. He signed Kenshin Kawakami and Derek Lowe to bolster the staff. He signed Greg Norton and Omar Infante to come off the bench. And don’t forget about the trade for Javier Vazquez and Boone Logan.
Now Atlanta needs to try and add a power bat to put in between Chipper Jones and Brian McCann. I think that guy could be Xavier Nady. The Braves had interest at the break last year but the Pirates opted to trade him to the Yankees. The only problem is that Nady happens to be a Scott Boras client so come next off season when he is a free agent he is going to want him money.
I’m actually not even worried about trading some prospects and potentially losing Nady in the off season. The Braves have Jason Heyward who is making great strides in the minors and could be major league ready for the 2010 season. The kid can flat out mash the ball and he has good speed to boot. He is also turning out to be an above average defender so I am definitely looking forward to seeing him in 2010.
I know the Braves want to land Nady, but maybe the solution to the power drought is already on the team. Remember that Jeff Francoeur guy? He had one down year and is still only 24 years old. Last time I checked he still had a good 2 or 3 years before he is even supposed to hit his prime. Give the kid some time.
Every Atlanta fan and most other fans know he has the potential to provide a ton of power, hit for average, play Gold Glove defense, and maybe steal 10-15 bases. If he can just stop the free swinging and be more disciplined I think things will turn around for him. You can’t swing at 9 out of 10 pitches and expect to see anything worth hitting.
If the Braves can add a bat or Francoeur can turn things around I would not write them off of winning the division. The Phillies may have won the World Series but that just means everyone is going to be gunning for them. And everyone already guns for the Mets just because, well, they play in New York.
Philadelphia 24 Arizona 27
Baltimore 10 Pittsburgh 21