Three teams that could have beat the late 90’s Bulls.

“The Last Dance” documentary about the Chicago Bulls highlighted the final run of the great Bulls dynasty of the 90’s.  Winning six championships in eight seasons cemented the legacy of both the players, coaches and the city.  While watching I thought to myself who could really stop this team loaded with the best player and coach in NBA history. I felt like the second half of the three-peat the Bulls were the most dominant.  I wanted to look at which teams could have been able to stop their great run.  

I did not include the Orlando Magic team that eliminated the Bulls during Jordan initial return. 

Indiana Pacers 1995-1996

The 95-96 Indiana Pacers lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Atlanta Hawks.  An injury to superstar Reggie Miller forced him to miss most of the first round. The injury doomed the Pacers.  During the season the Pacers were a thorn in the side of the historic 72-10 Chicago Bulls.  Indiana actually beat the Bulls twice during the season.  They were responsible for 20% of the losses for arguably the greatest team in the history of the league. Unlike most of the rest of the league they seemed to have an idea of how to handle the juggernaut. 

The Pacer’s were able to utilize their size and toughness in the post.  Rik Smits and Dale Davis were able to control the paint against Chicago. They could handle the inside and they had skilled shotmakers to punish.  Indiana had tons of talent as well as a great leader in Larry Brown.  Indiana had everything it took to pull off the upset in the playoffs, but the injury to Miller ended any chance of being successful.  It would have been really fun to see the playoff trash talk between Miller and Jordan both in their prime. 

Miami Heat 1997-1998

Led by Tim Hardaway, Alonzo Mourning and Coach Pat Riley the Miami Heat were serious contenders during the time of the Bulls second three-peat.   Injuries plagued Miami throughout the season.  The first 22 games of the season they played without Alonzo Mourning due to offseason knee surgery.  Despite the loss of Mourning the Heat still began the season 15-7. They were in the driver’s seat for the division even without their superstar. 

Miami was not just built around their superstars.  The secondary pieces the organization assembled were able to fit perfectly.  Guards Voshon Leonard and Dan Majerle provided sharpshooting.  PJ Brown provided defense and rebounding.  Jamal Mashburn was the athletic mutli-purpose up and coming star. They had plenty of talent to surround their stars along with a coach that knew exactly how to utilize the talent around him.  

Miami was ranked in the top ten in both offensive and defensive rating.  The Heat’s game plan was to slow down the pace and take advantage of their elite talent.  They ranked 26 of 29 in pace of play, which was exactly what Pat Riley wanted.  He was an old school coach that wanted to grind out the game.  

The Heat dominated their division finishing 12 games above the New York Knicks.  They were matched up with the Knicks in the first round of the playoffs.  This Heated rivalry got out of hand in game four when Alonzo Mourning got into an altercation with the Knicks Larry Johnson.  The fight led to the suspension of Mourning in the deciding game.  Without Mourning the Heat were not able to overcome the Knicks.

The Heat had the experience and talent to match the Bulls.  Physically they could handle any team. Mentally they had problems that would have been tough to overcome the Jordan led Bulls. If you base it on talent alone the Heat would have been a great matchup with Chicago.  

Seattle Supersonics 1995–1996

The Supersonics were the only team on this list that actually had a chance to take down the infamous 90’s Bulls.The Supersonics were led by guard Gary Payton and forward Shawn Kemp.  Two players that were legendary figures in the game.  Payton was known for his great defense and leadership. Kemp was known for his ferocious dunks and rebounding skills.  They were the perfect compliment to each other and it showed on the court as they dominated the Western Conference with a 64-18 record.  

The rest of the Sonics lineup were not push-overs but actually seriously talented secondary players.  Sam Perkins, Detlef Schrempf, Hersey Hawkins, Vincent Askew and Nat McMillan rounded out a solid lineup of players that all filled in their roles perfectly. Each one of them fit in perfectly with the two stars. 

The Bulls and Sonics split the season series with both winning their respective home games. These teams’ statistics were nearly identical with the only real difference being the Bulls 40% 3-pt shooting compared to the Sonics 36%.  That was literally the only large statistical difference between the two teams.  

The series began with the Bulls jumping out to a 3-0 lead in the series before the Sonics were able to get themselves in gear.  The Sonics dominated game 4 and 5 before being finished off in game six in Chicago.  Injuries plagued Seattle from the start as defensive stud Gary Payton was dealing with a bad calf injury that forced him off of Michael Jordan.  Sonics second best defensive guard Nate McMillan was injured nearly the entire series.  The loss of their two best defensive guards had Jordan salivating at the idea of being guarded but the third choice. Jordan dominated a gimpy Seattle team averaging 30.7 ppg.  If Gary Payton was fully healthy the Sonics could have been the team that stopped the dynasty.

The next Patrick Ewing

Patrick Ewing was as dominant a force as there was in the NBA during the late 80’s and 90’s.  Joining the New York Knicks in the “rigged” NBA draft of 1985 the center from Georgetown was supposed to take over the league and return the franchise back to glory.  Ewing was joining a team that actually had made the playoffs in three of the previous five years. The rookie made an instant impact scoring 20 PPG and 9 RPG, winning the rookie of the year award.  Ewing continued to be a dominant player in the league becoming an 11-time All-Star, ending his career 13th all-time in his career. Ewing individually has a great career but he will forever be known as the one of the best center’s to never win a title. In today’s NBA game the traditional center has transitioned into a different type of player.  There is one player in particular that stands out as the next Ewing. His similarities are hard to ignore and his fate may be the same.

Patrick Ewing’s time in the NBA always had a shadowy overtone.  In that shadow was the greatest player of all time Michael Jordan and his dominant Bulls teams of the 90’s.  No matter what he did his team was not able to overcome the greatness of the Bulls. Even in the baseball years of Jordan, Ewing had to deal with the dominance for Hakeem and the Houston Rockets. Ewing was able to make it to one finals in 93-94 but Houston was a much better team. So, why did Ewing not win a title?  He was able to lead Georgetown to a national title. He was consistently winning games at both levels, but it seemed like when he entered the NBA his game changed. He came into the league as a defensive and rebounding force. The offensive game was supposed to develop over time and it did, but he lost what made himself dominant. His formation of his offensive game got the Knicks front office so excited that they decided to build around him.  They added one-dimensional players like John Starks, Anthony Mason, Rolando Blackman and Larry Johnson. In reality building around Ewing was not the wrong move but they should have added a premier scorer rather than players to work along with him.  

With the development of his offensive game, Ewing’s defense took a hit.  He was not the same player that was drafted for his interior force. The Knicks eventually added their premier scorer when they traded for Latrell Sprewell in 1998.  Ewing had begun his decline, which led to the Knicks adding big man Marcus Camby to eventually fill the shoes of the organization’s icon. The Knicks were able to transition very quickly without Ewing making an improbable run without him. New York was able to make it to the finals even though he had an achilles injury that forced him out of the playoffs. This would be the last chance for Ewing to win the big one with the team that drafted him.  His career would have a few more stops in Orlando and Seattle but the player that dominated the league was gone. Patrick Ewing is a case of a player with a team that didn’t understand how to utilize his skills and build around him correctly. He was extremely talented but the team and the player were not the right mix to win it all. Ewing should have been a franchise changer that was a part of a great dynasty. He never had a Kobe, a Clyde or Jerry West.  A big man should have a go to player to work with and he never had that.  

In the 2014 NBA Draft the Philadelphia 76ers were in the midst of their “Trust the Process” rebuild.  With the #3 overall pick they chose Kansas center Joel Embiid. Embiid had a prevalent knee injury that kept him out of the lineup until 2016.  Embiid immediately made a difference for the 76ers leading them out of the abyss. The comparison to Ewing is actually very interesting. Both players were born outside of the US, both players played for premier college programs, both players were rebuilding large city franchises.  In their first seasons in the league they both made the All-Rookie first team as well as averaging 20 points and 9 rebounds. The amount of similarities are impossible to ignore. 

Embiid has seen similar problems to Ewing during his short time in the NBA.  He has had to deal with all-world players Lebron James, Kawhi Leonard and now Giannis.  Each of the top players in the league have the talent and the correct organizational pieces to build around.  Embiid has had to deal with players that don’t fit with the skill set that he brings to the table. He should be an inside force that draws the defense and kicks out to athletic shooters.  If he does decide to play outside of the paint it should not be consistent. The Sixers have Ben Simmons, whose game does not fit with Embiid. Simmons inability to shoot forces him into the paint which allows the defense to clog up the middle of the lane.  The organization needs to develop the understanding of today’s game. They have to utilize the best assets of their star player. 

If Philadelphia doesn’t find a way to understand their player they will forever be the team that is known for wasting a great talent.  Ewing will go down as a historically great player that was never good enough and Embiid is on track to do the same.

Five Underrated Sports Moments

1) Joe Carter’s game winner 1993 World Series.

Five time All-Star Joe Carter had a near Hall of Fame career.  While his numbers don’t transition well to the analytics world that we know today, he still made an impact with his power and speed through his career. Carter spent a long time in the league making his impact most notably in the 1993 World Series where he not only sent home the Philadelphia Phillies but also gave Toronto their second straight World Series title. Carter’s homer literally won the World Series for the Blue Jays yet it seems to be ignored in history. The fact that this home run was in Toronto also makes it one of the craziest atmospheres in baseball.

2) Lance Berkman’s game tying single, game six 2011 World Series.

David Freese’s game winner will live on in baseball history.  We all tend to forget that it was actually Lance Berkman that saved the series for the Cardinals in game six. The Cardinals were down to their final out and final strike when Berkman shot a single up the middle that kept the game going for the Redbirds.  While Freese’s homer is obviously the moment that should be played over and over again, it was Berkman that made everything possible. Lance had a great career but this moment was by far the biggest of his career. 

https://www.mlb.com/video/berkman-s-game-tying-single-c19955467

3) Derek Fisher’s game winner with .4 seconds left 2004 Western Conference Semifinal.

The Lakers had plenty of guys that took the spotlight in 2004.  Shaq and Kobe were in their prime and dominating the league. Big shot Robert Horry was the guy known for hitting the game winners, hence the nickname.  However it was a shot in the 2004 Western Conference semi-final that stuck out to me. The Spurs and Lakers were battling for dominance in the Western Conference and this game was the swing that led to the win for Los Angeles.  The Lakers seemed done after the Spurs took the lead on a shot from Tim Duncan. This game was over and then out of nowhere the role player Derek Fisher launched a shot with .4 seconds on the clock and sent the fans home, giving the Lakers a 3-2 advantage in the series.  If this shot doesn’t happen we likely see the Spurs versus the Pistons in that year’s NBA Finals. 

4) DeWayne Wise saved Mark Buehrle’s perfect game. 

I watched this game live on WGN when I was in high school.  Soft tossing Mark Buehrle had a very underrated career that had a few highlight moments and one was on July 23rd 2009.  Buehrle threw a perfect game against the Tampa Bay Rays. That perfect game was nearly taken away by Gabe Kapler leading off the ninth driving a ball deep to center field.  Little known DeWayne Wise was playing shallow in center and immediately broke into a full sprint back to the wall jumping up off the wall knocking the ball back into play, juggling it before hauling it in. Wise never did anything else in his career that was noteworthy but this catch was awesome and will stay in my memory forever. 

5) Hatteberg’s walk-off for 20 straight. 

We all know the story of Moneyball.  The real world story of Scott Hatteberg is still hard to believe. The former Red Sox catcher seemed like his career was over after suffering an arm injury that forced him out of the position he had played his whole career.  Hatteberg only hit 106 homers in his entire 14-year career. By far his most memorable homer was on Sept 4th 2002 when he took the first pitcher from Royals pitcher Jason Grimsley over the right field wall and gave the A’s their (at the time) record 20th straight win.  While the story was made more famous by Hollywood years later, the actual game was as dramatic as it comes. Oakland had blown a massive lead and needed the former catcher to just get on base but he swung his way into history. If you haven’t seen Chris Pratt’s portrayal of the homer you have to watch Moneyball, he absolutely crushes the performance.

AL East Preview and Prediction

New York Yankees

The New York Yankees found themselves back on top in 2019.  Holding off the Tampa Bay Rays and winning the American League East for the first time since 2012.  I was shocked when I saw that up until last season the Yankees had gone six seasons without taking the division crown. Both the Baltimore Orioles and the Toronto Blue Jays had won the division more recently than New York.  

The Yankees have a great lineup.  The potential injuries of Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge are not going to be a problem with the delayed start to the season.  Resigning Brett Gardner will cover the injury of Aaron Hicks. New York has a loaded lineup. The move of Gleyber Torres should hurt defensively but the power that Torres brings should overshadow most defensive liabilities.  The Yankees will get the return of Miguel Andujar provides a problem that most teams would love to have. Last year’s emergence of Gio Urshela gives the Yankees two serious offensive threats at one position. Andujar has been working to potentially play multiple positions to allow another big bat into the lineup.  The Yankees have tons of talent in the lineup and should be ready to jump out as an offensive force.

The Yankees rotation took a big blow before the season started.  Injuries to James Paxton, Luis Severino and Domingo German have left the Yankees in a tough position.  Behind ace Gerrit Cole is Masahiro Tanaka, J.A. Happ Jordan Montgomery and….. New York’s pickup of Cole will hide some of the injuries for a small time.  If Paxton is not able to recover New York will have to find some proven rotation arms to back up their freshly signed stud.  

The Yankees bullpen is loaded.  Chapman, Britton, Ottavino, Green and Kahnle are just some of the names that make up this ridiculous;y talented pen.  They have it all.

Verdict:

This is the Yankees division to win.  Their rotation scares me enough to see the possibility of Tampa making a run but the Yankees were able to figure things out last season when they didn’t have Gerrit Cole.  It will be tough to bet against them.

Boston Red Sox

Mookie Betts- traded.  Chris Sale- Tommy John Surgery.  This has not been a great start to the 2020 season for the Boston Red Sox. 

The offense is still very solid even without Betts. Boston was able to add Alex Verdugo, a long time prospect that will be given the chance to show whether or not he can live up to the hype.  Verdugo is going to join an offense that still has some serious talent. JD Martinez, Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts and Andrew Benintendi will make up the core of the lineup that still make them a serious threat to the division.  The addition of Kevin Pillar will add a little more pop to the lineup coming off of a 21 homer season. Boston will need a repeat in production from infielder Michael Chavis who will get opportunities at both second base and first base.  The depth of the lineup continues with the addition of veteran Johnathon Lucroy to go along with Christian Vazquez who had a terrific 2019 season. The Red Sox may have lost their best player but this is still a lineup that has serious talent.  Martinez, Bogaerts and Devers are still All-Star level talent that can lead this team. 

The biggest issue for Boston will be the starting staff.  With Chris Sale missing the entire 2020 season an already weak rotation will have to hope veterans Martin Perez and Colin McHugh can step up and show the potential they both had many years ago.  Eduardo Rodriguez will have to step into the role of #1 starter coming off of a career season. Rodriguez’s 19 wins and 3.7 WAR headlined a huge 2019 season for the 27 year old. The Red Sox will have to value their veterans as there is no clear relief coming from the minor league system. The Red Sox top rated prospects are mainly positional players.  The highest rated pitcher in the system is Bryan Mata who had pitched in the future’s game in 2018. Mata is still just in Double-A and will not likely make the strides to get to the majors in 2020.  

The bullpen dug themselves out of a hole in the second half of 2019.  Brandon Workman worked his way into the closer role and will enter the season in that role.  Matt Barnes, Josh Taylor and Darwinzon Hernandez have all progressed into a strong set up man crew but they will need more arms to step up to make it through the whole season.  

Verdict:

Boston’s pitching is going to be a problem.  Losing Chris Sale and trading away David Price has put them in a tough situation.  They are in the process of rebuilding what was once a vaunted farm system. They have a strong lineup that doesn’t have a lot of depth but the starters are as good as any in the division. If Boston can get any sort of support from the rotation they have enough offense to be a threat in the division.  This is going to be a rebuild but the talent is still very young and should be competitive.  

Tampa Bay Rays

It is impossible to question the moves made by the Tampa Bay Rays. They have proven that they are ahead of the curve analytically.  The Rays were active in the offseason adding Jose Martinez, Hunter Renfroe, Manuel Margot and Yoshitomo Tsutsugo to an already deep roster.  To try and have an idea of what the lineup is going to be is a waste of time. The Rays are built better than ever to utilize the platoon lineups.  Their mix of power, speed and on-base ability throughout the roster makes them unique and adaptable to any game. The Rays have the advantage of not leaning on a core of players so no injury should really determine the season.  If Austin Meadows, Joey Wendle, Brandon Lowe and Yandy Diaz can take the next step in their development this team is going to be tough to handle. The eventual call up of Wander Franco and Vidal Brujan will make another impact in the lineup if they need a jolt at any point.

The Rays rotation is highlighted by the top three.  Blake Snell, Charlie Morton and Tyler Glasnow can match up with any team’s top three. If Snell and Glasnow can stay healthy in 2020 a team that is so well known for utilizing their bullpen may have one of the strongest rotations in all of baseball. Yonny Chirinos took steps in the right direction last season finding mixed success in the bullpen and the rotation. Tampa Bay has a few interesting prospects that could find their way into the rotation.  Two-way player Brendan McKay and prospect Brent Honeywell could both find themselves in the majors this season.  

The bullpen is similar to the rotation.  Nick Anderson stands out is the potential closer but there are multiple arms that are ready in any situation.  Jose Alavardo, Diego Castillo, Oliver Drake, Colin Poche and Chaz Roe all have nasty stuff. This team is unpredictable and that makes them tough to handle.

Verdict:

My head says this is the Yankees division.  New York is more fragile than Tampa Bay. The Rays could easily win this division if the starting pitching stays healthy.

Baltimore Orioles

There is a light at the end of the tunnel.  It’s just a really long tunnel. The Orioles were able to rebuild what was a horrific farm system. They are currently ranked 13th overall by MLB.com heading into the season.  This ranking includes four players in the top 100 overall, headlined by the #4 overall prospect Adley Rutschmann. The future looks bright for the Orioles but the 2020 season will not be the first year of the turnaround.

Baltimore’s offense doesn’t have a particular player to build their lineup around. Veteran Trey Mancini is the closest thing to a star player with a 135 OPS+, but he may be trade bait for a contender as the year goes on. Anthony Santander was a nice surprise in 2019 blasting 20 homers in limited at bats.  He will be looked upon to garner more playing time in 2020. Another surprise was the play of Hanser Alberto. Alberto led the Orioles in BA (.305), adding some pop with 13 home runs. OF Austin Hays found his way to the majors last season and will be looked upon as the first hope of what’s to come. 

John Means came out of nowhere in 2020 making it to the All-Star game. Means will be looked upon to carry the load for a rotation full of journeyman veterans.  Tommy Milone, Alex Cobb and Wade LeBlanc are going to be holdovers as the organization waits for their young starters to take the next step. Grayson Rodriguez and DJ Hall headline the upcoming starters that will soon be mainstays in the rotation.  Both starters are still considered at least one year away from being ready for the majors.

The Orioles bullpen has rising star Hunter Harvey to go along with Mychal Givens, their most proven arm in the back end.  The pen will feature a litany of other young arms trying to establish themselves in the majors. 

Verdict:

The Baltimore Orioles are at least a few years away from any sort of contention but the work they have done on their farm system has been impressive.  Moving on from Trey Mancini and Mychal Givens in order to continue to bolster their farm system is the best choice for the organization. The problem Baltimore has is they are going to be very low balled by any team interested in Givens and Mancini. Another tough year is ahead for the Orioles and their fans. 

Toronto Blue Jays

The Blue Jays believe in their young talent.  The second generation stars Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio and Vlad Guerrero Jr make up a young core that will be the backbone of the organization.  These young stars are flanked by the power of Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Rowdy Tellez and Teoscar Hernandez. The Blue Jays have built a lineup that will be nightmares for opposing pitchers for years to come. 

The Blue Jays needed the arms to compete with the elite in the American League and they worked hard to find those arms in the offseason adding Chase Anderson, Tanner Roark, Shun Yamaguchi and Hyun-Jin Ryu. Toronto added some veteran arms to give them stability as they await the incoming talent Nate Pearson and Anthony Kay.  Pearson ranks 7th overall prospect in all of baseball while Kay is 67th. They will soon be joined in the top 100 by another drafted arm Alek Monoah the former #11 overall pick is an imposing 6’6” 260lbs and he brings serious strikeout stuff. In his first 17 innings in low-A he Monoah struck out 27 hitters and dominated. He is still far from MLB ready but when he is it will be impactful. 

The Blue Jays have a very formidable closer in Ken Giles.  He propelled them to a mid-level ranked bullpen. He will be backed up in 2020 by AJ Cole, WIlmer Font and potentially Shun Yamaguchi if he doesn’t end up in the rotation.  If Toronto is able to get the innings they expect from their new veteran rotation the back end of the pen should be able to solidify victories.  

Verdict:

Toronto is still a few years away from being serious competitors but they have a lineup with very real potential for explosion.  If the rotation is able to provide them with any sort of support this team has the real ability to compete for third place in the division.  The playoffs are unlikely but watch out for Toronto they are making waves. 

     2020 Season Standings 

  1. Tampa Bay Rays
  2. New York Yankees
  3. Toronto Blue Jays
  4. Boston Red Sox
  5. Baltimore Orioles

Bounce Back Players

Mike Foltynewciz, Pitcher, Atlanta Braves

Folty had a terrible start to his 2019 season. His first half of the season was a complete dumpster fire that was impossible to put out.  Foltynewciz was coming off of an All-Star appearance in 2018 where he had a 4.0 WAR. He was supposed to be the ace of a potential playoff team but that’s not how it went for him.  

Foltynewicz had a real problem with the long ball.  His HR/FB rate increased by 7% in 2019, giving up 16 homers in the first half of the season. He was sent to the minors in order to figure out what was causing the regression.  The send down was exactly what was needed for the potential ace. The second half of the season showed the pitcher that the Braves thought they would have in 2019. The second half of the season.

IPERATBFH2B3BRERHRBBIBBHBPSOAVGOBPSLGwOBA
1st Half59.16.372606494474216202250.275.336.554
2nd Half57.22.652314510018177170055.211.270.357.269

The Braves added a few veteran starters in Felix Hernandez and Cole Hamels.  The two veterans will help stabilize the rotation and give leadership to a young rotation.  Foltynewciz will now have two players to turn to if things begin to go wrong. Look for a bounce back season from the fireballer. 

Jose Ramirez, 3B, Cleveland Indians

The bar was set very high for Jose Ramirez.  Two straight seasons finishing third in the MVP voting. Ramirez was an offensive beast in 2017 and 2018 finishing both seasons with a WRC+ of 146. Ramirez was putting himself in elite categories of offensive players in all of baseball. Then a slump of epic proportion took place actually beginning for him in late August of 2018 continuing into June 0f 2019.

Ramirez was having problems hitting fastballs. 

Before August 18, 2018- BA .336

After August 18, 2018- BA. 190

Ramirez began facing more shifts.

Before August 18, 2020- Shift percentage 18%

After August 18, 2020- Shift percentage 60%

Ramirez BABIP plummeted.

Before August 18, 2018- .301

After August 18 208- .209

The slump to start the 2019 season put Ramirez in a hole that was tough to pull out of.  He began to make adjustments that turned his season around. His slash line in the second half showed the player that was a preseason MVP candidate .327/.365/.729.  The return of power for Ramirez was a huge factor in the turn around of his season. His .412 ISO and a .302 BABIP propelled him back to offensive relevancy. Heading into the 2020 season Ramirez has a chance to reestablish himself as a premier hitter in the league.  

Justin Upton, OF, Los Angeles Angels

A knee injury plagued Upton’s 2019 season, only playing in only 63 games.  Upton will have a chance to bounce back in 2020 if fully healthy. The Angels have loaded up talent around Upton with the addition of Anthony Rendon.  Upton will be battin being Mike Trout and Rendon giving him ample opportunity to drive in runs, something that he has done throughout his career. When fully healthy Upton has the ability to be a premium level producer.  His 2018 campaign was below his usual level of production but he still produced a wRC+ of 123 and hit thirty homers.  

A fully healthy Justin Upton will be a force in the middle of a potentially explosive offense in Los Angeles. 

Marcell Ozuna, OF, Atlanta Braves

Marcell was supposed to have a huge payday this offseason.  Unfortunately he was a by product of the new analytical world.  Ozuna’s ISO (.231) and OPS (.800) are both above league average but doesn’t warrant the nine digit contract he was looking for. The Braves took a chance on Ozuna signing him to a one-year “prove it” deal that has become popular among major league teams.  Ozuna’s 2019 team was not horrible but he has elite skills that will thrive in the steamy summers in Atlanta.  

Ozuna had a portion of bad luck in 2019 with a BABIP of just .257, the lowest of his career.  Despite the low batting average he actually had the best hard hit percentage of his career at 48.4%.  Ozuna has real power that will thrive in a more hitter friendly park in Atlanta. With the MLB season being delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic Ozuna will have a chance to heal up heading into the season and should be able to show the potential we all saw when he was traded to St. Louis in 2017. 

Honorable Mention: 

Cory Knebel, Pitcher, Milwaukee Brewers

Yu Darvish, Pitcher, Chicago Cubs

Ian Happ, Utility, Chicago Cubs

Joey Votto, 1B, Cincinnati Reds

Alex Wood, Pitcher, Los Angeles Dodgers

Jon Jones – The greatest that ruined it all.

We all make mistakes.  We have done things we regret, sometimes these mistakes follow you for the rest of your life.  Jon Jones is the greatest MMA fighter in UFC history but his mistakes have tarnished his legacy beyond repair.  He won’t be remembered for being a great fighter. The story will always be what he could have been if not for his mistakes.  He could have been a cultural icon like Chuck Liddell or even reached the pantheon of Muhammad Ali. Bold statements but that was the reality for him, extreme talent in the octagon, a great personality and a great look.  He had all the tools to be the man forever associated with mixed martial arts, but he blew it. 

Jon Jones made his MMA debut in 2008 at the age of 21.  He immediately made an impact starting his career 7-0 and finding himself with an opportunity to join the vaunted UFC just four months into his career. Jone dominated his first three appearances in the UFC leading to a new four fight contract with the UFC signed in September of 2009.  With the new contract came his biggest opportunity in the business taking on reality TV star Matt Hamil. Jones dominated Hamil throughout the fight but was disqualified for using 12-6 elbows on a downed Hamil. This disqualification loss is the only loss Jones has taken thus far in his career.  Just two years later Jones worked his way to the title, replacing an injured Rashad Evans, knocking out “Shogun” Rua in March of 2011. He was cemented as the youngest champion in UFC history and was ready to build himself into the face of the sport. 

Everything was in front of this 23-year old champion.  He had all the tools to dominate in the octagon while being a marketing dream.  He had it all. He began a torrid run through the top contenders Rampage Jackson, Rashad Evans, Vitor Belfort, Lyoto Machida, Chael Sonnen, Glover Teixeira, Alexander Gustafsson and Daniel Cormier. Jones had cleared out the division.  His dominance was similar to future stars Rhonda Rousey and Connor McGregor. Jones showed his ego leading into matchups with Cormier and Evans. He had a cockieness that accentuated his dominance. He could play the villain with the skills of the hero. To build him up as the unbeatable champion that would dominate the division and hold the belt forever would only make it sweeter when one day he would slip up and lose.  That moment would be a milestone that not only ended one great run but created a new superstar. 

Jon Jones never should have a chance to pass the light heavyweight torch.  There shouldn’t be a final fight for Jones, he has proven that he is not responsible enough to be in the forefront of an organization.  He was a complete disappointment to himself, the organization and the sport in general. While we can forgive mistakes we can not overlook them.  We can only give people chances so many times. I am a fan of MMA and supported Jones because I saw his potential. I saw a guy that was revolutionary in his style and ability.  It has been 12 years since his first MMA fight and he still is the best in his division. Imagine a major sports team that was dominant for that amount of time. Jordan’s Bulls only win six titles, the Yankees had gaps in between their dynasties, the Patriots couldn’t hold their grasp on #1 forever, even  Tiger Woods was overtaken by Vijay Singh at one point in his dominant run. What this man has done in a sport where you can lose in literally one second is revolutionary. His dominance should be his legacy. He should be the Jerry West logo of the UFC, but his ability will be an afterthought and his controversies will live on forever.  Jon Jones could have been the greatest of all time but he is now just Jon Jones the greatest runined it. 

Just some of the records Jon Jones has: 

Longest unbeaten streak in UFC history (18).

Most light heavyweight title defenses.

Youngest UFC Champion in history (23 years old).

Most submission victories in UFC light heavyweight history (5).

Most stoppage wins in UFC light heavyweight history (10).

Controversies:

May 2012 – DUI- Drove his car into a pole in Binghamton, New York.

Jan. 2015 – Failed drug test before UFC 182.

April 2015 – Fled the scene of a hit and run.

March 2016 – Jones is jailed in Albuquerque for violating probation. A week earlier, he was cited by police on five charges related to drag racing, and footage from a police body camera captured Jones calling the officer a “f—ing liar” and a “pig.”

July 2016 – Tested positive for two banned substances prior to UFC 200.

August 2017 – flagged for a potential doping violation by USADA, stemming from his test sample that was collected on July 28, one day before his rematch against Cormier at UFC 214.

December 2018 – Jones is drug tested on the day of weigh-ins, and a trace amount of Turinabol, the same steroid metabolite that earned him his ban, is again found in his system.

July 21, 2019Albuquerque TV station KRQE reports that Jones, facing a battery charge stemming from the April strip club complaint.

March 26, 2020 –  Jones is arrested in New Mexico for alleged aggravated DWI and negligent use of a firearm.

Ranking Cardinals one hit wonders

Players can make an impact on a team even if it’s over a short period.  They can have such an impact that fans remember them to this day. I wanted to focus on a few players that had one great season with St. Louis and then either faded into obscruity or moved on to other organizations.  I wanted to focus on players from my time frame so you won’t see any part timers from the 70’s or 80’s. This list is focused on the 90’s to today. If I missed any please let me know.

5.Bo Hart, 2003

Bo Hart has a major league baseball record. Through his first 15 games in 2003 Hart had 28 hits, breaking Irv Waldons record set in 1901.  Hart was an instant sensation for a fanbase that loves the underdog. Hart was a 26 year old, 33rd round pick that should have never gotten the chance to play.  He wasn’t even hitting well in the minors with a slash line of .249/.338/.351. An injury to Miguel Cairo left the Cardinals with no other options but to call Hart up and give him a chance.  His great start captured the attention of the fans and the local media. Hart didn’t do much after his torrid start to his career, falling back down to earth the rest of 2003. After being a fan favorite during the 2003 season Hart was unable to make another impact playing only 11 games in 2004.  

Bo was only a part of Cardinals History for a short period but to fans of that time his name will always bring back great memories. 

4.Craig Paquette, 2001

Most of us will not remember Craig Paquette.  He actually spent three seasons with the Cardinals but his 2001 season was the best of his career .282/.326/.465 in 134 games.  Paquette was picked up from the New York Mets for veteran Shawon Dunston in 1999. Having previously played for manager Tony LaRussa there was a familiarity with Paquette.  Paquette’s one season of legitimacy in 2001 netted him a nice contract from the Detroit Tigers worth about five million dollars. While Paquette technically is cheated on this list as he did play multiple seasons in a Cardinal uniform it was really only the one year in 2001 that he made any sort of impact. Also he coordinates with a guy that just missed my list Shawon Dunston.  

3.Mark Grudzielanek, 2005

The Cardinals signed Mark Grudzielanek in 2005 to fill in for Tony Womak who had departed for free agency. Grudzielanek quietly put together a great season for the defending national league champs.  The former All-Star put together his second best WAR season in his career (2.8). His second half helped propel the 100 win Cardinals into the playoffs. His 110 WRC+ was forty points higher than the first half of the season.  He was also a home favorite hitting .322 at Busch Stadium.  

The 2005 Cardinals are a forgotten team after losing to division rival Houston in an excting six game series.  Grudzielanek was a stable piece in the middle of the field. After his departure St. Louis would have trouble filling the position until 2014 when Kolten Wong became a full time starter.  

2.Jason Heyward, 2015

Jason Heyward was a rising star in the league.   Heyward entered the majors in 2010 at just 20 years old making an immediate impact for the Atlanta Braves. He finished second in the league for the rookie of the year award, earning his first and only all-star appearance.  The Braves moved Heyward in the 2014 offseason, sending him to St. Louis for pitchers Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins. 

Heyward had arguably the second most productive season of his career after a slow start he ended up with a OPS of .797 while adding his second gold glove. Heyward’s 5.6 WAR was the highest of his career.  He became a big part down the stretch for a Cardinals team that was clinging to a playoff spot. Heyward had an outstanding 141 WRC+ in the second half of the season. Without him the Cardinals would not have made the postseason let alone competed against the revitalized Chicago Cubs.  

Heyward will most be remembered for not resigning in the offseason but to ignore his play while in a Cardinal uniform is downright stupid.  

1.Kent Bottenfield, 1999

Chubby Kent Bottenfield makes my list even though he technically played two seasons with the Cardinals.  Bottenfield spent the 1998 season mainly out of the bullpen pitching in 44 games, starting 17. He established himself down the stretch in 98’ enough for Manager Tony LaRussa to give him a shot at the rotation heading into the 1999 season.  Bottenfield excelled in the rotation having a career year with 18 wins and a 3.97 ERA, leading to his first and only All-Star appearance. Surprising numbers from a relative unknown that was only averaging 5.4 K/9. 

The Cardinals cashed in on Bottenfield big season moving him to the Anaheim Angels in 2000 for an outfielder that would have a bit longer and more storied Cardinals career.  A man by the name of Jim Edmonds.  

Honorable Mention: Bud Smith (2001), Octavio Dotel (2011)

NBA Draft: Three worst drafting teams of the last 15 years.

The Sixers showed the NBA that you don’t actually have to win in the NBA to give you a chance for future success.  Philadelphia’s “trust the process” approach eventually found success with the progression of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. With the draft on its way after the cancellation of the NCAA tournament, it’s time to focus on the NBA’s future stars.  I want to look at organizations that have continually had issues in rebuilding their teams through the draft. This list is for teams that continuously have stunk but can’t seem to figure out their rebuild.  

I am going to focus on the players that were actually drafted, rather than who they missed out on.  Sometimes players just don’t pan out. Missing out on players like Giannis shouldn’t hurt their grade here.  No one saw that dominance coming.  

Minnesota Timberwolves

Best: Karl Anthony Towns (2015), Zach Lavine (2014)

Worst: Derrick Williams (2011), Rashad McCants (2005), Kris Dunn (2016), Jonny Flynn (2009)

The Minnesota Timberwolves have had a long history of being terrible in the draft. Their best move on draft day was trading OJ Mayo (#3 overall pick) for a package that included Kevin Love back in 2008.  When it comes to actually drafting well Minnesota has made many questionable decisions over the last few years. Notably in 2009 Minnesota had four picks including three in the first round and two in the lottery. The Timberwolves chose three point guards in this draft Ricky Rubio (#6), Jonny Flynn (#7), and Ty Lawson (#18).  Minnesota also picked shooting guard Wayne Ellington (#28). They took four guards and three of them played the same position. While Rubio put together some solid seasons in Minnesota he was never the player that was going to change the landscape of the organization. Jonny Flynn’s injuries made him an afterthought to most fans.  

The Timberwolves continued to make questionable decisions drafting four forwards the year after drafting four guards.  None of which worked out for the Wolves. While Karl Anthony-Towns has worked out their only other successful pick Zach Lavine spent most of his time playing a secondary role until he was moved to Chicago for a handful of nothing.  

Then there is Derrick Williams.  I don’t want to blame Minnesota for this pick but when you look at what was chosen around Williams it is hard to just ignore the mistake.  The 2011 draft class included Kemba Walker, Jimmy Butler, Kawhi Leonard and Klay Thompson. The Wolves went with the raw projected talent of Williams.  While this move may have made sense to the media at the time it clearly set the organization back for years. Wasting a #2 pick on a guy that never even sniffed an All-Star season.  

With Karl Anthony-Towns clearly on the move due to his problems with management, Minnesota will again be starting over very soon. 

Sacramento Kings

Best: DeMarcus Cousins (2010), De’Aaron Fox (2017)

Worst: Nik Stauskas (2014), Spencer Hawes (2007), Marvin Bagley (2018), Willie Cauley-Stein (2015)

It’s been 14 seasons since the Sacramento Kings made it to the NBA playoffs.  The Chris Webber/Vlade Divac/Mike Bibby Kings are a thing of the past. Sacramento partly have themselves to blame for their losing ways.  Most notably the Kings spent their 2018 #2 overall pick on Duke forward Marvin Bagley, leaving potential franchise cornerstones Trae Young and Luka Doncic on the board. When playing, Bagley has shown potential, he has a problem if he can’t stay on the court.  The Kings saw De’Aaron Fox as their future, putting a dynamic player next to him such as Doncic or Young would work in today’s NBA success model. I am a Bagley fan but this was a pick that will keep the Kings out of the playoffs for a long time. 

While the recency of the Bagley pick is still on everyone’s mind we still can’t forget the mistakes made before that.  The pick of Willie Cauley-Stein in 2015 to play with your star of the same position Boogie Cousins not only made no sense but actually hurt the development of the super athletic Cauley-Stein.  The Kings have a way of going with the more recognizable name rather than going with the best prospect. They need to learn to open up their international scouting. It’s very confusing why they haven’t bought into the future landscape to the league with Vlade Divac’s in charge. 

Charlotte Hornets

Best: Kemba Walker (2011)

Worst: Adam Morrison (2006), Cody Zeller (2013), Frank Kaminsky (2015), Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (2012)

This team chose Adam Morrison with the #3 overall pick in 2006.  To be fair the 2006 draft was as bad a draft as you could imagine.  The only notable names from that draft chosen after Morrison were Brandon Roy, who had an injury shortened career, Kyle Lowry, Rajan Rondo and Paul Millsap.  The latter three were not chosen until Rondo at #21. Despite the weakness of the draft Morrison at #3 was still a joke. While Morrison was a great NCAA player his tools never made the transition into the NBA.

After Morrison the mediocre core of picks continued to ravage the organization.  In 2012 the Hornets (Bobcats) had the #2 pick and went with Kentucky freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist passing on Bradley Beal, Damion Lillard, Harrison Barnes and Andre Drummond.  Kidd-Gilchrist never became anything more than a role player on a bad team. The former Wildcat never averaged over 12.7 ppg in his career and that number came in 2015-2016 when he only played seven games. This is one of the more under the radar complete busts of all time. 

Charlotte continued to make terrible selections when given a chance in the lottery taking Cody Zeller at #4 and Frank Kaminksy at #9 in 2013 and 2015.  Both players never became anything more than role players as well, while they weren’t projected to be stars Kaminsky is no longer with the organization while Zellers PER (player efficiency rating) has been barely above league average.  

The Hornets have had their chances at the top of the draft, they have swung and missed way too many times.  They now are stuck in a place where they continually put themselves in a place where they are middle of the pack and can’t get a great lottery spot.  We have seen Miles Bridges begin to develop along with for Kansas guard Devonte Graham but the Hornets are still in a place where they don’t really have a direction. 

Honorable Mention 

Chicago Bulls, saved by Derrick Rose (2008), Jimmy Butler (2011).

Washington Wizards, saved by John Wall (2010), Bradley Beal (2012).

Three teams that will surprise you in 2020

Arizona Diamondbacks

The Diamondbacks continually surprise the baseball community.  Trading their star Paul Goldschmidt last season seemed to be a sign of a rebuild.  Arizona however put together a competitive season as a new star began to develop, Ketel Marte.  Marte made his first All-Star game leading the Diamondbacks in most offensive categories, doing this while playing multiple positions.  Finding a player to build around on the field meant that Arizona was ready to begin a push into legit relevance in the national league. 

Adding Starling Marte to the lineup brings a  former all-star still in the prime of his career.  Starling saw a career best .200 ISO to go along with the lowest K% of his career.  Marte can bat anywhere in the lineup while playing an above average center field. The pickup of Starling allows Ketel to move to a single position at second base. The Diamondbacks also added veteran Kole Calhoun with career highs in HR, RBI, ISO, Slug %, and BB %. Both should have a big impact on the lineup adding depth to an already promising roster. 

Oh..they also added Madison Bumgarner.  He is still pretty good. The Dodgers are the clear favorite in the NL West but the Diamondbacks have the pieces to be in the mix for the wild card.  The Padres are the team getting the headlines but it is Arizona that brings the biggest threat in the division to the mighty Dodgers.

Texas Rangers

The Rangers had glaring weaknesses in the rotation last year.  Behind mainstays Lance Lynn and Mike Minor was a cast of unknowns and underachievers. Koby Allard, Ariel Jurado and Adrian Sampson highlighted a cast of starters that were never going to be competitive in the top heavy AL West.  Texas made the moves necessary in the offseason to fix their biggest problem. Adding Kyle Gibson, Jordan Lyles and Corey Kluber gives Texas a formidable and experienced starting rotation that is built for the regular season.  

Replacements 2019 Rangers

Kyle Gibson: 3.80 xFIP, 4.25 SIERA Koby Allard: 5.08 xFIP, 5.37 SIERA

Jordan Lyles: 4.61 xFIP, 4.53 SIERA Ariel Jurado: 5.00 xFIP, 5.10 SIERA

Corey Kluber: (2018) 3.08 xFIP, 3.28 SIERA Adrian Sampson: 5.33 xFIP, 4.84 SIERA

Nomar Mazara was moved to the Chicago White Sox opening up an everyday position for former super prospect Willie Calhoun.  The Rangers also added some veteran bats that should fit in perfectly along with the developed star Shin-Soo Choo, Joey Gallo, and Danny Santana.  Todd Frazier will fill in a hole at third base and Robinson Chirinos will give them an offensive weapon alongside the defense of Jeff Mathis.  

The Texas Rangers will have stiff competition in the AL West.  Oakland has not regressed and Houston is still Houston. The Astros though have enough distractions to take them down a notch while the A’s have some issues with their starting rotation.  Texas has the chance to take the next step this season and most will just look past them. 

Philadelphia Phillies

The Phillies underperformed in 2019 finishing 4th in the division after signing the premier free agent of the offseason Bryce Harper. Harper was not the biggest problem in 2019, the Phillies had to deal with injuries of Andrew McCutchen and David Robertson.  In 2020 Robertson will not be joining the team but with the delay of the start of the season it is reasonable to see McCutchen come back sooner than originally thought.  

The Phillies made moves to improve the infield moving on from longtime roster mainstays Cesar Hernandez and Maikel Franco.  With those two walking out the door in comes Didi Gregorious to upgrade the defense up the middle. The pick up of Didi moves Jean Segura over to third base opening up 2nd base for Scott Kingery who finally began to show the skills that made him a top prospect.  Philadelphia has a great core to their lineup with Harper, Hoskins, and Realmuto. The offense has to focus on getting on base in 2020 to set up for the vaunted middle of the order. The addition of Gregorious provides more power but it’s Jean Segura and Adam Haseley that will compete for the top of the order.  They have to improve their OBP. Haseley in triple A had an OBP of .360 which would be a twenty point improvement from his time in the majors last year. If Philly is able to get Andrew McCuthen back to start the season this team’s offense will be a force in the NL East that saw the Braves lose Josh Donaldson and the Nationals lose Anthony Rendon.  

Philadelphia added Zack Wheeler to go alongside ace Aaron Nola. Wheeler is an underrated starter in 2019 is exactly what the Phillies needed as they have seen a regression from Jake Arrieta.  Wheeler will allow Arrieta to slot into the third starter and move Zac Eflin into the fourth spot. The Phillies are being overlooked in most preseason outlooks. Many are focusing on the improved New York Mets and the obvious world champs Washington Nationals. Harper and company could surprise many around the league.

Three Fits for Jameis Winston

New England Patriots

Jameis Winston with Bill Belichick may seem like a ridiculous combination.  But maybe this is exactly what Jameis needs. A stable organization that is going to have a solid game plan week in and week out.  The Patriots are beginning to rebuild the organization on the offensive side. Obviously the Patriots will look to bring back Tom Brady but even if they do, signing a 26 year old Winston to a two-year deal and having him as an insurance policy would not be a crazy idea.  The Patriots have young receivers with speed like N’Keal Harry and Jacoby Meyers that they can develop along with Winston.  

This move would be completely wild if not for the stability of the Patriots defense and the mind of Bill Belichick.  Jameis would have to become a different type of quarterback, limiting his turnovers would be step one but that would be the case no matter where he signs.  New England has shown the ability to rehab players’ careers. If they can turn Winston into a winning quarterback it could be the greatest example of their internal strength.

Los Angeles Chargers

The Chargers had a gunslinger last year. Their problem was their gunslinger was old and past his prime. Jameis has similar turnover issues as Rivers but he does bring a bit of mobility needed to allow talented receivers like Kennan Allen, Mike Williams and Hunter Henry to get open and push downfield.  Winston has never had a versatile runningback like Austin Ekeler that can be a solid check down option for Winston.  

Los Angeles is looking for a splash, but seeing Tom Brady join the AFC West competing with Patrick Mahomes twice a year would not be a good move for the GOAT.  Winston wouldn’t be as flashy but pairing him with those skilled players and a defens that can force tunrovers make him a great fit. 

Green Bay Packers

The Packers have Aaron Rodgers.  Do they really need the headache of Jameis?  The answer is no but would it really be a bad idea to keep their options open as Rodgers gets closer to the tailend of his career.  Roders is 36 years old and has shown injury issues over the last two seasons. Having Jameis on the bench ready to step in incase of an injury would allow the Packers to have a solid option rather than throw out guys that are nowhere near the skill level of Rodgers. 

We have seen what Jameis can do with talented receivers, placing him with Davante Adams would work very well.  Quietly Jameis has really found a way to help younger recievers progress so wo