Tuesday, May 22, 2018

N.Y. Islanders: Lou Lamoriello New Lord of Flatbush

From the desk of:  NO SLEEP TILL BELMONT


FLATBUSH CLEARED OF SNOW
LOU LAMORIELLO RETURNING FOR BROOKLYN SWAN SONG

New York Islanders: If Jon Ledecky needs a playoff contender in time for his new Belmont arena, Lou Lamoriello will build it.

What Islanders fans have been longing to hear for over a decade is now music to their ears.

Arthur Staple of The Athletic is reporting former New Jersey Devils and Toronto Maple Leafs executive Lou Lamoriello will be taking over the New York Islanders hockey operations.  Be it as team president and/or general manager for the moment remains unclear.  However, Arthur Staple also reports Lamoriello acting on behalf of the Islanders has already been in contact with pending unrestricted free agent John Tavares whom is set to hit the open market in July.

The Islanders have failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs in each of the last two seasons.

Snow retired after the 2005-06 season and was immediately offered the position of general manager despite having no coaching nor practical front office experience.  A well educated man, he was nevertheless hired to replace outgoing Neil Smith whom previously constructed a Stanley Cup champion at Madison Square Garden and hadn't yet held the Islanders job more than fifty days before experiencing a ponderous falling out with ownership.

Garth Snow's tenure started out quite promisingly but he never did build a sustainable contender.  The team made the playoffs during his first season behind the desk earning him Executive of the Year honors, but would not qualify for post-season play again for another six seasons.  All told, the Islanders made the playoffs four times during Snow's dozen years as general manager.  Their lone 2015-2016 first round playoff victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins stands out as Snow's crowning achievement.  Suffice it to say the on-ice product has remained a major disappointment ever since.

In Snow's defense, any discussion involving him should also include former owner Charles Wang whose infamous battle with Nassau County over construction of his proposed Lighthouse Project would inevitably hamper and ultimately doom Uniondale's hockey club.

Snow may still potentially remain with the Islanders.  A statement from partner Jon Ledecky and new club ownership is forthcoming.

Lou Lamoriello took over in 2015 as general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs.  Three years later, they registered a 105-point season.  However, he too appears to have experienced a falling out with the Leafs, as well.

Be that as it may, the man knows a thing or two, or three, about winning Stanley Cups.  What he achieved in just three years with Toronto has not gone unnoticed.  The hope here no doubt is making the Islanders highly competitive by the time they open their new arena at Belmont.

If there exists an executive who can convince John Tavares the Islanders can and will turn this around, and see to it they become a highly regarded and consistent competitor, his name is Lou Lamoriello.

He instantly becomes the second most important person within the organization.  Until July 1, however, the most important person in the organization continues being John Tavares.

Both know lots can happen within the next three or so years.

Right now, however, it appears as if Lou Lamoiello has dropped right onto Jon Ladecky's lap.

... can't blow this, guys.





Monday, May 21, 2018

L.I. Ducks: Monday Swim 5/21/2018

From the desk of:  THE WEBBED SPIKES NINE



Long Island Ducks: Somerset Patriots Continue Getting Better of the Flock.

Make that four losses in six tries at TD Bank Ballpark this season.

On Saturday, John Brownell outlasted mound opponent Cory Riordan en route to his second victory of the season.  After enduring consecutive losses Brownell evened his record, allowing two runs on just four hits and two walks and a pair of strikeouts through six innings pitched.  The bullpen provided three innings of scoreless, one-hit relief.  At the plate, the Ducks struck for 14 hits including a home run by Travis Snider, and doubles by Lew Ford and catcher Wilkin Castillo.

On Sunday, Long Island's ninth inning rally fell just short as they lose the rubber game by a 5-4 final.  Starter Jake Dunning would perhaps admit he's seen better days.  Yanked after just three innings, Jake allowed four earned runs on five hits and four walks, while fanning just one.  Runs driven in by Cody Puckett and Ramon Cabrera got the Ducks to within a run in the top of the ninth, but with only one out and the tying run on third Dan Lyons bounced back to the pitcher and Daniel Fields fanned to end the game.

The Ducks and Patriots will get a short break from each other, as the Flock host the Road Warriors this week.  Then the Patriots make their first visit of the season to Bethpage Ballpark where the Patriots and Ducks will resume hostilities over the Memorial Day weekend.

With Sunday's loss, the Ducks fall two games behind the Liberty Division leading Patriots.

Don't look now, but the Lancaster Barnstormers have won ten in a row.  Yet, they only lead the Freedom Division by 1.5 games over the Sugar Land Skeeters.

At the other end of the spectrum, the Road Warriors have lost ten straight.  Poor guys ... they just finished up a series in Lancaster.  They'll be on Long Island tomorrow.  After which they travel back to York, then head the opposite direction again for a series at New Britain.  That's just one small sample of what they endure throughout their season-long road trip.

Ducks Notes:
  • Bennett Parry presently leads the Atlantic League with 23 strikeouts.
  • David Washington is among the top five in home runs and RBI.



Friday, May 18, 2018

L.I. Ducks: Late Misplay Proves Costly Against Somerset Patriots

From the desk of:  THE WEBBED SPIKES NINE


Stopped at the Gates

Liberty Division Showdown

Long Island Ducks: Patriots Outlast Jake Fisher Gem; Take Series Opener.

In the spirit of baseball, fans attending TD Bank Ballpark's feature between the visiting Flock and host Patriots were treated to an old fashioned pitching duel. 

Under such circumstances tradition suggests the first mistake - no matter how slight - usually proves most costly.  If nothing else, Friday's series opener against rival Somerset adds credence to this school of thought.

Patriots starter Kyle Davies was removed from the game after just three innings of work, but not before retiring all nine batters faced.  Assuming pitching duties in the fourth, Vince Molesky allowed just two hits and a walk through 2.1 innings of work.  He was relieved by Mike Antonini who continued whitewashing Long Island through the seventh.  Logan Kensing then took over for Antonini in the top of the eighth.  And despite hitting Ducks shortstop Dan Lyons with a pitch, he still managed to face the minimum.  For the ninth inning, the Patriots summoned their fifth pitcher of the evening, Ryan Kelly, whom followed suit by retiring Long Island in order.

Jake Fisher: Second straight gem ends with second straight no-decision.

Seeking his third victory of the season, Jake Fisher climbed the bump for Long Island.  And for a second consecutive start, Fisher held the opposition scoreless through eight full innings pitched.  On this night he faced 26 batters, allowed just four hits and no walks, and fanned four.  After yielding a lead-off base hit in the home third, Fisher retired his final 18 batters faced in consecutive order.

In handing the game over to the bullpen, Coach Baez called upon Ashur Tolliver to pitch the ninth inning, whom promptly walked the first two batters before recording an out.  The Ducks then elected to intentionally load the bases.  But as fate would have it, Somerset's Aaron Dudley lifted a flare to shallow left which was misplayed by Danny Fields.

Thus Somerset wins Friday's series opener by a 1-0 final on an unearned run in the bottom of the ninth ... and the home crowd goes home happy.

The Ducks, not so much ...

Long Island is now 1-3 in four games this season at TD Bank Ballpark, and with Friday's loss fall two games behind the first place Patriots.  Weather permitting, they'll get the remainder of this weekend's series in.  Otherwise, they've been outscored by the Patriots through four games by a mere 17-18 margin.  After defeating them 6-4 in their very first match of the new season, the Ducks have lost three straight at Somerset by one run margins.

The Ducks/Patriots play each other six times over these next ten days.  Somerset makes their first appearance of the season at Bethpage Ballpark next weekend.



Thursday, May 17, 2018

N.Y. Mets: What's New Is Fast Becoming Old Again

From the desk of:  HEAD-BUTTING MR. MET


Good Cop - Bad Cop

New York Mets: Despite changes, things are beginning to look awfully familiar of late.

It is becoming crystal clear to me that Mickey Callaway was hired to play the role of good cop, and Dave Eiland is likewise here to play bad cop.

Through his first forty games on the job Mickey has indeed demonstrated himself to be the more nurturing of the two by promising great lengths would be taken towards ensuring the well being of each and every one of his players.  At his introductory presser Callaway said (paraphrasing) the team should look forward to being cared for in a manner unlike any they had ever experienced previously.

Conversely, pitching coach Dave Eiland has made it known the kids gloves are off , and tough love is order of the day.  He minced no words where it concerned Zack Wheeler's and Hansel Robles' respective assignments to Las Vegas shortly before Opening Day.  Most recently, he targeted  Noah Syndergaard with a volley of cutting and rather unsolicited criticisms, but has since back tracked if only somewhat.

The Matt Harvey drama-series played out similarly.  Outwardly, Mickey Callaway promised he'd never give up on the former Dark Knight.  Internally, however, Callaway and Eiland no doubt acted in tandem by not only demoting Matt Harvey to the bullpen, but also in carrying out Order 66 and effectively sealing his fate as a member of the New York Mets.

As I've maintained all along, I see this one way: hiring Callaway and Dave Eiland is a double-barreled last ditch effort on behalf of Sandy Alderson to win with this present group of starting pitchers.

The problem is he restocked the rotation with young arms, but that's where the rebuilding stopped and the organization's win-now mentality began.  Things have gone awry since then.

So here we are pondering our existence as Mets fans, again.

Because the rebuild never did develope a core clutch of position players, the Mets thus feature a poorly constructed lineup with no foreseeable improvements in sight.

Jeff Wilpon sets the boundaries within which Sandy Alderson must operate.  Said another way, the Mets general manager has been working with one arm tied behind his back since day one on the job.  This in turns makes Alderson seem ineffective at times.

However, Alderson's draft history is an entirely different matter.  There's no defending him there.

Otherwise, matters in Flushung are once again taking on a very similar look of late.



Friday, May 11, 2018

N.Y. Mets: The Ponderous Line-Up Gaffe Podcast

From the desk of:  HEAD-BUTTING MR. MET



After their 11-2 start, the Mets have gone just 7-15 since.
Most of that can be chalked up to plain old baseball.
Batting out of order?  Now we have a problem!


Rich Sparago is host of Episode #10, 
and is joined by the incomparable and irrepressible Taryn, 
better known as the The Coop.


   




Me?  I was up in the Bronx taking in the Yankees/Red Sox rivalry.
The rain started falling right around the same time Rich and Taryn opened the show.
Sam?  He's still a Mile High ...



Thursday, May 10, 2018

N.Y. Yankees: Look Who's Number One

From the desk of:  BLAME CARLOS MAY


Yankees lead series 2-0
I - NYY 3; BOS 2
II - NYY 9; BOS 6

GAME THREE 
TONIGHT

New York Yankees: Bronx Bombers Go Boom.

The Yankees have taken the first two games against the Red Sox.  Having arresting first place away from their A.L. East rivals, they now seek to complete a series sweep tonight in Bronx County.

A.L. EAST
1) New York Yankees   26-10
2) Boston Red Sox        25-11

Brett Gardner led the way Wednesday evening going 3 for 5 with two doubles, a triple, two RBI, and three runs scored.  Aaron Judge went 3 for 4 with a home run, three RBI, and three runs scored.  And Giancarlo Stanton added a double and three RBI.











Wednesday, May 09, 2018

L.I. Ducks: Flock Yet to Spread Their Wings

From the desk of:  THE WEBBED SPIKES NINE


Long Island Ducks: Bees Sting Flock in Series Opener.

Liberty Division competitors took the field Tuesday evening at New Britain Stadium in Connecticut where the Bees hosted the Long Island Ducks.

Despite Long Island opening the scoring with an early run in the second, Bees left fielder Conor Bierfeldt connected on a two-run home run in the bottom of the frame off Ducks reliever Jake Dunning.  Bierfeldt was summoned because starter Andrew Barbosa left the game with an injury after just four batters faced.

Right fielder Travis Snider doubled to drive in a run in the top of the eighth, but with a pair of runs in the fifth and an insurance run in the bottom half of the eighth the New Britain Bees cruised to a 5-2 series opening victory over the Ducks whom actually doubled up on the Bees twelve hits to six.

Freshly signed Emilio Bonifacio, an eleven year major league veteran, on Tuesday debuted for the Ducks in center field.  He went 4 for 5 against the Bees with a pair of doubles and a run scored.

Now with an 8-8 record the Flock well stocked with former major leaguers  presently sit at par, and are two games behind the division leading Somerset Patriots.

The Ducks will attempt to get back above .500 in game two against the New Britain Bees.



Tuesday, May 08, 2018

N.Y. Yankees: The Red Sox Are Coming

From the desk of:  BLAME CARLOS MAY



A.L. EAST
Red Sox      25-9
Yankees    24-10

SHOWDOWN-II

The two best teams in baseball convene again this week in the Bronx.

When the Yankees and Red Sox last met up in Boston, a fight broke out.

Imagine that ...

Tyler Austin didn't appreciate getting plunked in the ribs by Sox reliever Joe Kelly, and so he charged the mound, after which all hell broke loose.  Cooler heads eventually prevailed, but not before Red Sox manager Alex Cora shooed away Yankees coach Phil Nevin and effectively told him go back inside his (third base) box.

The Red Sox wound up taking two out of three.  I spent the weekend in Boston right after that series.
At some point, I listened as a pair of WEEI Radio personalities described the Yankees as being asleep, and Aaron Boone as lacking a pulse.  The show hosts were obviously feeling good about themselves this particular day.  And why not?  The Sox were in the midst of a spectacular 17-2 start.  However, they've gone just 8-7 since.


Not coincidentally, that series dropped the Yankees to 6-7 on the young season.  But now it is the Yankees looking to turn the tables.  They have gone 19-2 since these teams last met and have closed to within one game of the first place Red Sox.

Now it's the Bombers turn to host.


Game One
Yankees Strike First Blood

Red Sox  2
Yankees  3
FINAL

The two best teams in baseball are now tied for first place of the American League East.  Only difference being the Yankees have now won 16 of their last 17 games - a rate of success not achieved by a Yankees team since 1953 per announcer Michael Kay.  The Red Sox on the other hand are now 8-8 in their last 16 games.

But make no mistake, this game was the usual tightly contested affair.

Starting pitchers Luis Severino and Drew Pomeranz essentially cancelled each other out with respective six inning efforts in which each allowed a pair of earned runs.  Severino surrendered six hits, walked none and fanned eleven batters.  Pomeranz allowed just four hits and two walks, and struck out six.  Both pitchers walked off with no decisions.

Giancarlo Stanton staked Severino to a 2-0 lead with solo home runs off Pomeranz in the second and fourth innings.  Undeterred, Boston struck back with Andrew Benintendi's 2-out RBI hit in the fourth, and Mookie Betts 2-out RBI triple in the seventh.

Aaron Judge, who played an exceptional right field, then delivered what proved to be the game winning hit in the home seventh off newly reviled Red Sox reliever Joe Kelly (but the run and loss was charged to Heath Hembree).

Aroldis Chapman closed out the ninth inning, picking up his eighth save of the season.



N.Y. Mets: The S.S. Wilpon is Losing Wind, Again

From the desk of:  HEAD-BUTTING MR. MET



New York Mets: Winning the National League pennant in 2015 blew the organization off course.

... not a knee jerk reaction.  If you're a regular reader of Head-Butting Mr. Met, you know where I've always stood.

This has nothing to do with the Mets going 6-14 after starting the season with an 11-1 record, or the fact they lost six in a row heading into Cincinnati.  For the moment, I chalk that up to the ups and downs of baseball.

  • The Mets take the series opener from the Reds by a 7-6 margin.

This is more about the new quagmire they've potentially created for themselves.

The Mets were still in the midst of rebuilding right up until the acquisitions of Juan Uribe, Kelly Johnson, Yoenis Cespedes, et al.  I'm certainly not criticizing what transpired after the 2015 trade deadline, nor the front office's stick-to-itiveness entering the 2016 season.  But what began as an imperceptible deviation now needs correction as the Mets find themselves somewhere very distant from where they originally intended to be.

Through the draft and via acquisitions, the Mets attempted to rebuild their club around a new generation of starting pitchers: Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, and Steven Matz.  At least that was the idea.

At the time, Kevin Plawecki; Travis d'Arnaud; Wilmer Flores; Juan Lagares; Dilson Herrera; and Michael Conforto represented the up-and-coming position players.  Guys like Dominic Smith, Brandon Nimmo, Gavin Cecchini, Robert Gsellman, Seth Lugo were poised to arrive in the next wave.

However, the 2015 team that went to the World Series still featured very familiar faces: Lucas Duda; Jeurys Familia; Daniel Murphy; Ruben Tejada; Curtis Granderson; even David Wright.  And by 2016, the rebuild effort was shelved for a win-now mentality.  Second baseman Dilson Herrera was dealt to acquire Jay Bruce whom was further surrounded by more veterans: Asdrubal Cabrera; Neil Walker; Jose Reyes; Adrian Gonzalez; James Loney; etc.

Today, the positions of left field, right field, first base, second base, and third base, are all bogged down with older players again as a result.  One or two seasoned veterans is fine, necessary even, but not five positions - not to mention an insufferable situation behind the plate.

Alderson has drafted rather curious talents through his years here as general manager.  But also conjures rather ponderous scenarios when it comes time for integrating them into the fold.  I've seen more players called up and effectively misused, than not.  Aside from Travis d'Arnaud, Amed Rosario is the only player for which the Mets effectively cleared out the position in anticipation of his arrival.  Otherwise, Michael Conforto is being forced to play out of position, while guys like Brando Nimmo, Wilmer Flores, and Juan Lagares continue going underutilized.

This condition was poignantly demonstrated recently by the visiting Atlanta Braves at Citi Field, when a young club being given time to develop together came to Flushing and swept the Mets.

Said another way, this organization needs to refocus on youth and get back to establishing a core of position players - something they failed to do the first time around.  They diligently worked on building strong pitching, but resigned themselves to patching together poorly constructed line-ups and hoping for the best.

  • The position of catcher is an unmittigated mess.  In simple English, Sandy Alderson's plan behind the plate has failed.  Fans are pretty fed up with Travis d'Arnaud.  Unfortunately, his best ability has been his unavailability.  And just when it seemed Kevin Plawecki was beginning to gain momentum, he sustained an injury.  At least Plawecki is younger, and therefore still represents potential where as d'Arnaud is fast approaching the age of thirty.
  • Who's on first?  Dominic Smith was utterly unprepared for his major league debut.  At least prospect Peter Alonso offers a glimmer of hope.  His arrival in Flushing could potentially come within a year.  The 23-year old is presently beating up on Eastern League pitchers.  In the meantime, the Mets hope Adrian Gonzalez holds up.
  • What's on second - Dilson Herrera isn't quite living up to Cincinnati's expectations.  In fact, he hasn't participated in a major league game since 2015 with the Mets.  Otherwise, there is no other plan for second outside of transitioning Gavin Cecchini into a second baseman.
  • Third base?  Todd Frazier is 32-years old.  Acquiring him was a practical move and economically made sense.  His acquisitions allowed the Mets to finally move on from David Wright (in a manner of speaking) whom has kept the position in a holding pattern.  The only player worth holding out hope for down on the farm is David Thompson, who is not having a fun go of it in his first season at Las Vegas, to date.
  • With regard to outfield prospects, the Mets have nothing going on worth mentioning.

Shame ...

I entered this season believing the Mets could contend for a Wild Card.  I still believe that.  It's just that as currently constructed I feel the Mets window of opportunity is very small.

I'm merely suggesting the Mets adjust their course before they become completely lost, again.




Saturday, May 05, 2018

L.I. Ducks: Grand Opening at the Pond

From the desk of:  THE WEBBED SPIKES NINE

Ducks set new franchise single-game record for runs scored.

OPENING NIGHT
Crabs      9
Ducks   27
FINAL

Long Island Ducks Serve Up Fresh Southern Maryland Lump Crab Cakes on Opening Night at the Pond.

The Long Island Ducks treated their home town fans to the grandest of opening nights Friday night at Bethpage Ballpark.  In defeating the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs by an astonishing 27-9 margin of victory, the Ducks set a new franchise record for most runs scored in a game.

Five different Long Island players had at least three RBI apiece.  Jordany Valdespin drove in four runs, and Cody Puckett drove in six runs.  First baseman David Washington went 4 for 6 with two walks, two home runs, three RBI, and six runs scored.  Washington now leads the league with four home runs after just seven games played. 

A trio of Ducks (Jordany Valdespin, David Washington, and Lew Ford) have at least ten RBI each.

Starting pitcher Jair Jurrjens picked up his first win of the season, allowing two runs on seven hits and a walk while striking out five.

However, Long Island's resounding victory somewhat overshadowed a rather poor performance from the bullpen.  Jason Creasy and Carlos Pimentel joined together for three innings pitched, in which they surrendered seven runs (five earned), on five hits and three walks.

Francisco Rodriguez is officially signed, but has yet to make his Long Island Ducks debut.

Perhaps he makes his first appearance this evening in game two against the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs.

TONIGHT
Southern Maryland Blue Crabs
vs.
Long Island Ducks
FROM
THE POND



N.Y. Mets: Dark Knight Fades to Black

From the desk of:  HEAD-BUTTING MR. MET


BANISHED FROM GOTHAM
Commissioner Alderson Pulls Plug on the Matt Signal;
Dark Knight Is No More

New York Mets: Matt Harvey Designated For Assignment.

Sandy Alderson appeared to me rather perturbed when forced into fielding questions yet again regarding Matt Harvey's extracurricular activities.  I think it's the most annoyed I've ever seen Alderson during his eight years here as general manager.

And why not?

Harvey's on-field performance, personal lifestyle, and general attitude have been in conflict with organizational sensibilities for some time now.

This time the Darkened Knight was spotted partying late into the night at a Los Angeles club opening prior to the Mets series opener at San Diego.  As fate would have it, he was summoned from the bullpen the following night, faced four batters, surrendered a home run and issued a walk.

Then came Harvey's most recent, and inevitably his last appearance as a member of the New York Mets in which he surrendered five earned runs on three hits and three walks in just two innings against the Braves at Citi Field.

After which Matt Harvey refused an assignment to the minor leagues.  The Mets now have a week in which to negotiate a trade.  In the absence of a trade, Matt Harvey will be free to sign with any major league club.

And there's the rub ...

Matt Harvey has no trade value.  He's not very good at the moment, makes too much money, and will be a free agent at the end of the season.  Why would a team give up anything at all for his services via trade when they can just wait out the DFA formalities and sign him for the MLB minimum, and thereby leave the Mets responsible for his owed financial compensation?

Unfortunate as it may be, injuries, poor craftsmanship, a massive ego, further lack of certain intangibles, and perhaps even retaining an intolerable agent, all conspired against Matt Harvey during his years with the Mets.  None of which escapes the other 29 front offices throughout baseball. Despite declining a minor league assignment with the Mets, Harvey may have no choice but to accept a demotion somewhere else if he intends on turning around his career.  Major league roster space is precious - perhaps too precious for affording a "scrub" an opportunity to figure himself out at the MLB level.

In any event, done are the days and nights of mass gathering along Roosevelt Avenue in celebration of Harvey Day.

This is how the marvel comic ... ends.


Friday, May 04, 2018

N.Y. Mets: Talking Chop

From the desk of:  HEAD-BUTTING MR. MET


Diving Off Bridge Prohibited.

New York Mets: Diced, Sliced, Minced, and Chopped.

The Mets may as well have been facing Johnny Vander Meer.  They did everything just shy of getting no-hit on consecutive nights.

In Game Two of their now concluded series against Atlanta, the Braves held the Mets without a hit from the third through eighth innings.  And in Thursday's series finale, Atlanta starter Julio Teheran carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning.

Said another way, the Mets failed to hit safely in 59.2% of 27 innings played against the Braves.  In suffering through their first series sweep of the season, they were outscored by a distressing 2-21 margin, and out-hit by an equally troubling 15-41 deficit.

There's plenty of blame for everyone, though, as the pitching allowed Atlanta an average of seven runs per game

There's no wondering why the Mets now trail the Braves in the N.L. East standings by 1.5 games.  After jumping out to that 11-2 start, the Mets have gone 6-11 since.

Youth became a topic of discussion during this last series against the Braves - the "young Braves" as they were being described.  A glance at Baseball Reference does not necessarily reveal a great disparity in ages.  The Atlanta Braves show their pitchers average 28.4 years of age, and their batters averaged 28 years old.

The New York Mets meanwhile show their pitchers average 28.2  years old, and their position players at 29.4 years old.  However, the eye test says the Mets are bogged down with older veterans at left field, right field, third base, second base, and first base.

I'll be tackling that issue and more in my next post ...




Thursday, May 03, 2018

N.Y. Yankees: Kicking Astros

From the desk of:  BLAME CARLOS MAY


Showdown for first place looms ahead.

New York Yankees: Bombers Take Three of Four From Defending Champs; Closing In On Boston Red Sox.

In the immortal words of Rick Flair, if you want to be the man you have to beat the man.

Over the last four days the Bronx Bombers did just that.

Wooo!

In their first meeting since last year's ALCS, the Yankees went into Houston and took three out of four from the defending World Series champions.

After dropping Monday's series opener, six different Yankees pitchers outlasted a singularly brilliant performance by Astros starter Justin Verlander.  With two runners on base and one out in the top of the ninth, and the game locked in a scoreless tie, Gary Sanchez blasted a home run to straight away center off reliever Ken Giles giving the Yankees a 3-0 lead en route to a dramatic 4-0 final.

Luis Severino then provided the bullpen with a well deserved game off on Wednesday with a nine inning gem - an increasingly rare complete game shutout - in which he allowed just five hits and a walk, and fanned ten batters.  He averaged an economical 12 pitches per inning, while throwing 110 total pitches with 83 (75%) going for strikes.  With his fifth victory of the season, Severino remains tied for the American League lead.  Giancarlo Stanton went deep twice as the Yankees took their second straight game by an identical 4-0 final score.

Masahiro Tanaka was cruising along in Thursday's series finale.  But with the Yankees leading 3-0 Tanaka ran into trouble in the bottom of the seventh when he surrendered consecutive hits and struck a batter to load the bases.  Aaron Boone then summoned reliever Chad Green.  An infield single, a base hit, a passed ball, and a fielder's choice later, and the Astros were now enjoying a 4-3 lead.  Carlos Correa's home run in the eighth then gave Houston a 5-3 lead.  However, the home town crowd's glee was short lived.  The Yankees promptly loaded the bases in the top of the ninth, then tied the game on Gleyber Torres' base hit to short left.  The go-ahead run scored when Aaron Judge reached safely on a fielder's choice.  In the home half of the ninth, Aroldis Chapman fanned the reigning American League MVP Jose Altuve to end the game.

Although the Astros are credited with snapping the Yankees nine game win streak, the Bombers have nevertheless gone 14-3 since enduring weather armageddon at Detroit, and have effectively negated Boston's 17-2 start.  The Red Sox have since stumbled of late with a 5-6 record.  They take the field Thursday night against the Texas Rangers with a mere 1.5 game lead over the surging Yankees.

The Bombers and Red Sox open a three game series at Yankee Stadium next Tuesday.

At the time of this post, the Yankees and Red Sox were tied for second behind Houston in team ERA and ranked second and third in strikeouts among American League clubs.  The Yankees were second in average against; the Sox fourth.  The Yankees were third in WHiP; the Red Sox fourth.

Offensively, the Yanks and Sox are one and two in runs scored.  The Yanks are tied for second in home runs; the Sox fifth.  And at the top of OPS chart are the Red Sox first, and the Yankees second.



Wednesday, May 02, 2018

N.Y. Jets: Have a Nice Summer

From the desk of:  WALT MICHAELS' REVENGE

First Down and a Long Way to Go

New York Jets: Sam Darnold inherits half-century of mediocrity.

I remember Joe Namath's last two seasons with the Jets, along with his final and rather inconsequential season spent with the Los Angeles Rams.  The Jets have been searching for a top tier quarterback ever since.  Guys like Richard Todd, Vinny Testeverde, and even Marc Sanchez all helped elevate the Jets into AFC championship games, but no further.  

In the absence of a top tier quarterback, the organization has failed to win an NFL championship since both before and after Namath guaranteed victory in Super Bowl III.  This upcoming season will mark the golden anniversary of that improbable triumph.

Sadly, the Jets have otherwise failed to qualify for the playoffs (AFL/NFL) 44 times over the span of their 58-year history.  Said another way, they've only been to the playoffs 14 times since their inaugural 1960 season in the American Football League.  In terms of probability, the Jets enter any given season with a one-in-four chance of playing post-season football.  

Even then, these Jets are coming off their seventh straight season finishing out of playoff contention.  Where it concerns the latest in a long line of general managers and head coaches, just know that Mike Maccagnan has allowed his (defensive minded) head coach Todd Bowles to seek out his third different offensive coordinator in as many years.

The weight of all this suddenly gets piled atop the shoulders of quarterback Sam Darnold.  At least he and (new, new ...) new offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates get to start the next stages of their respective football careers, together.  Bates served as QB coach last season, and will continue in that capacity in conjunction with his new position.

Three people now form an intriguing triumvirate to say the least: a former defensive coordinator now head coach in Todd Bowles; a new OC with a somewhat light resume in my opinion; and the newly anointed savior of Jets Nation.

Quarterback Sam Darnold was selected by the New York Jets with the third overall pick of the recently concluded NFL draft.

Now what?

A quarterback selected third overall normally comes with high expectations.  But are the Jets still a rebuilding team?  I would argue they should be.  Over the last three seasons, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Josh McCown respectively gave the Jets a pair of very good individual performances.  And where did that get them?

In the meantime, enjoy the summer.  Saving the world can wait till Fall.

However, I caution folks to beware the dreaded USC bias ...

It often turns out being spot on.


Tuesday, May 01, 2018

L.I. Ducks: Francisco Rodriguez Joins The Flock

From the desk of:  THE WEBBED SPIKES NINE


Long Island at the Gates!

TONIGHT
Long Island Ducks
vs.
Somerset Patriots
FROM
TD Bank Ballpark

Long Island Ducks: After dropping season opener at Southern Maryland, Flock respond with two straight victories and a series win over the Blue Crabs.

The Blue Crabs stroked 12 hits and six runs against Ducks starter Jiar Jurrgens and reliever Matt Marsh, and pounded out 15 hits overall during Friday's season opener.  Making his Ducks debut, Jurrgens lasted just four innings, allowing four earned runs on eight hits for the loss.

On Saturday, the Ducks took their turn at bat wielding eleven hits and twelve runs.  Starter Jeff Fisher allowed just two earned runs over five innings pitched for the victory.  Three Long Island relievers joined to pitched four no-hit shut-out innings, and fanned five.  Leading off, Jordany Valdespin went 4 for 5 with a home run, three RBI, and four runs scored.  First baseman David Washington went 2 for 5 with a home run and four RBI.  Lew Ford also drove in a trio of runs en route to a 12-2 victory over the Blue Crabs.

Long Island took Sunday's rubber game by a 7-4 final.  Despite pitching in and out of trouble for most of his start, John Brownell walked one and fanned four batters for his first victory of the season.  Dan Lyons was big man on campus with a double and three RBI during a five run first inning.  Vinnie Pestano pitched 1.2 innings for the save.

On that note, the Long Island Ducks announced the signing of former MLB closer Francisco Rodriguez.  Now 36-years old, K-Rod owns a career 52-53 record and 2.86 ERA through 16 seasons and nearly 1,000 innings pitched.  His 437 saves rank fourth all-time behind Mariano Rivera, Trevor Hoffman, and Lee Smith.  He pitched for the 2002 World Series champion Anaheim Angels, while his MLB single-season record of 62 saves in 2008 still stands.

*             *             *

It's never too early in the season for a clash of rivals, particularly when first place is at stake.  Long Island opens a three game series this evening at TD Bank Ballpark against the Somerset Patriots.  The Ducks executed a three game sweep over the Patriots when these teams previously met during last season's Liberty Division finals.  So far, the Patriots are off and running again after recently completing a weekend sweep over the Road Warriors.


N.Y. Giants: Gettleman Runs To Daylight With Saquon Barkley Selection

From the desk of:  DO IT FOR THE DUKE


No Quarterback For You

New York Giants: Dave Gettleman Says He Got His Man.  But Did He, Really?

Last season, Eli Manning arguably played every bit like a 36-year old quarterback winding down his fourteen year NFL career.  Playing for Ben McAdoo, behind an inept offensive line, and minus Odell Beckham Jr. were largely to blame for Eli's downturn in performance.

But make no mistake, Eli battled with his own episodes of ineptitude, as well.  Back in 2008, Manning threw for 3,238 yards.  Then between 2009 through 2016, he averaged 4,198 yards per season.  Last season he only threw for 3,468 yards.

Moreover, the best quarterback in Giants history just turned 37-years old this past January.



Although I believe Eli will continue performing well through the remainder of his contract, I did indeed want Gettleman to draft Manning's potential replacement.  Outside of Baker Mayfield, Dave Gettleman could have selected from any one of three quarterbacks taken within the first ten overall selections of the NFL draft, but chose not to.  That tells me he is either supremely confident in Eli Manning, or that he wasn't at all enamored with this year's class of quarterbacks, or both, and will thus seek a quarterback replacement next next season.

With the second overall pick of the 2018 NFL draft, Dave Gettleman and the New York Giants selected Penn State running back Saquon Barkley.  Gettleman says Barkley was his guy all along.  I chalk that up to GM speak.  Otherwise, I have zero issue with the selection.  There's something to be said for selecting the best athlete on the board which is exactly what most football pundits were saying of Barkley.

Picking a running back that early in the draft, of course, is nothing new to me.  Back in the day running backs went high in the draft all the time.  Between 1977 and 1986, half of the ten number one overall picks were running backs: Rickey Bell; Earl Campbell; Bill Sims; George Rodgers; and Bo Jackson.

In fact, I grew up when running back performance was still somewhat emphasized over quarterbacks.  Along with the aforementioned, include Barry Sanders; Marcus Allen; Chuck Muncie; John Riggins; Tony Dorsett; Eric Dickerson; as well as USFL performers Joe Cribbs; Mike Rozier, Kelvin Bryant, and of course Herschel Walker.

Like Saquon Barkely, former Seattle running back Curt Warner is a Penn State alum, as is the last running back taken with the first overall selection in the NFL draft back in 1995, Ki-Jana Carter.

Previous to the draft it's worth noting one of Gettleman's first acts as general manager back in December was to fire VP of Player Evaluation, Marc Ross.


GIANTS 2018 NFL DRAFT
  • Round One: Saquon Barkley - RB (Penn State)
  • Round Two: Will Hernandez - OG (UTEP)
  • Round Three: Loranzo Carter - OLB (Georgia)
  • Round Three: B.J. Hill - DT (North Carolina State)
  • Round Four: Kyle Lauletta - QB - (Richmond)
  • Round Five: RJ McIntosh - DT - (Miami/FLA)
Where team priorities are concerned, I'm content with every selection except one: Kyle Lauletta/QB.  If Gettleman was the least bit inclined to select a higher rated quarterback with the second overall pick, then why waste (and I do mean waste...) a #4 pick on a quarterback?  On that note, we know little more about Davis Webb today than we did this time last year.  I would have preferred Gettleman use that fourth round pick on another lineman or corner back.


OFF-SEASON TRANSACTIONS
  • Re-Sign Brett Jones - C
  • Nate Solder- T
  • Patrick Omemeh - OL
  • Cody Latimer - WR
  • Kerry Wynn - DE
  • Josh Mauro - DE
  • Kareem Martin - LB
  • Curtis Riley - DB
  • Michael Thomas - S
  • William Gay - CB
  • B.W. Webb - CB
Is it possible Dave Gettleman did more to improve the offensive line in one off-season than did Jerry Reese over his last six years?  Without a doubt he did.  With a full complement of receivers, better pass protection, and Saquon Barkley rushing/receiving out of the backfield, the Giants offense should be an improved unit.  However, I still consider Big Blue a rebuilding team.  This offensive line still has a ways to go.  Meanwhile, Eli is pressed for time.


TAKE a HIKE
  • Jason-Pierre Paul
  • Dominique Rogers Cromartie
  • Brandon Marshal
  • Dwayne Harris
  • Jessamen Dunker
  • Darius Powe
  • Weston Richburg
  • Justin Pugh



Sunday, April 29, 2018

Vintage Base Ball 2018: Member Clubs and Links



2018


EMPIRE CONFERENCE

CAPITOL CONFERENCE

FEDERAL CONFERENCE

Other Known Active Clubs




Member Club Archive:


Friday, April 27, 2018

N.Y. Mets: The Demoted Knight Podcast

From the desk of:  HEAD-BUTTING MR. MET


ICYMI 

Sam, Rich, and I convened for our second podcast of the regular season and our ninth since reforming the band.  We jumped right into the Matt Harvey matter with haste.  I may have ranted - that's for you to decide.  But we all seem to be in agreement: The Real Deal is screwing up.


Another METSian Podcast #9: 
Adversity Has Entered The Building





TOPICS, MUSINGS and MENTIONS
April record ~ more Matt Harvey talk ~ Mickey Callaway's managing ~ Dave Eiland ~ Joe Namath 
Brandon Nimmo ~ the bullpen ~ winners vs. losers ~ the disaster at catcher ~ N.L. East competition
Joe Torre ~ trolleys ~ Dom Smith/Peter Alonso ~ Joey Votto ~ Brooklyn's elevated trains 
Bob Ojeda ~ stoppers ~ Washington Park ~ 1909 Brooklyn Superbas ~ Todd Zeile ~ Shea Stadium
The Dark Years vs. Madoff Years ~ Mets players who've worn #9 ~ The Beatles ~ comebacks

Time: 90 minutes



Thursday, April 26, 2018

Long Island Ducks 2018 Season Preview

From the desk of:  THE WEBBED SPIKES NINE


LONG ISLAND DUCKS BASEBALL CLUB
Atlantic League Champions
2004     2012     2013

Long Island Ducks Set Sights on Elusive Fourth Atlantic League Title.

Bittersweet is the only way to describe Long Island's last two seasons.  The defending back-to-back Liberty Division champs were swept in the 2016 Atlantic League finals by the Sugar Land Skeeters, then suffered the same fate against the York Revolution last season.

Motivation will surely be in abundant supply this season as the Ducks attempt to break on through and capture their first title in five years.

There's certainly no shortage of confidence on behalf of the organization as Friday's season opener draws near. Newsday's Jordan Lauterbach quotes Ducks president and general manager Michael Pfaff saying, "I think this team is as strong a team as we've had on Opening Day at any point in our history.  I think we're better than we were last year."

That being said, let the games begin!


RETURNING PITCHERS
  • John Brownell; Jake Fisher; Dennis O'Grady; Jake Dunning; Tyler Levine; Rob Rogers; Matt Marsh; Matt Larkins.

Add pitching coach to John Brownell's resume.  The Ducks soon to be 35-year old ace since 2013 enters his seventh year with the Ducks.  This will be his first season serving in a player/coach capacity.  Brownell has averaged 26 starts and eleven wins for Long Island over the last five seasons.  John finished last season with the league's third best ERA.

Matt Larkins returns for a second full season with the Flock.  He made 26 starts last season, posting a 9-7 record and 3.69 ERA over 156 innings, with an 8.0 K/9 and 2.4 W/9 averages.  He finished second in the Atlantic League last season in strikeouts, and fourth in ERA.

Southpaw Jake Fisher, 27, appeared in two games last season for the Ducks.  A product of the L.A. Dodgers organization, he owns a 4.04 ERA with 418 strikeouts in 485.1 innings during a four year independent league career.


NEW PITCHING ACQUISITIONS
  • Max Almonte; Jason Creasy; Carlos Pimentel; Vinnie Pestano; Andrew Barbosa; Ashur Tolliver; Bennett Parry; Jair Jurrjens; Wander Perez.

Vinnie Pestano, 33, is a veteran relief pitcher of six major league seasons with the Indians and Angels.  He owns a 2.98 ERA in 202.2 innings pitched.  Pitching for the Bridgeport Bluefish last season he posted a 3.25 ERA over 27.2 innings pitched.  He has 143.1 innings of triple-A experience.

Jair Jurrgens, 32, comes to the Ducks with eight seasons of MLB experience, mostly with Atlanta.  An all-star in 2011, he owns a 3.72 career ERA over (MLB) 767.1 innings pitched.  He threw his last MLB pitch in 2014 while with the Colorado Rockies.  After missing all of 2016, he made ten starts last season for the Los Angeles Dodgers triple-A affiliate

Southpaw Ashur Tolliver, 30, pitched in eight MLB games.  A reliever by trade, he posted a 12-9 record and 3.49 ERA, with an 8.6 K/9 average in 329.2 minor league innings pitched.

Right-hander Max Almonte, 26, comes from the lower levels of the St. Louis Cardinals organization.  He owns a 3.09 ERA in 96 innings pitched through 61 appearances spread over three seasons.

Andrew Barbosa was in the Mets system for a time.  Usually a starter, he pitched in relief last season for Milwaukee's triple-A affiliate.  He owns a career 3.36 ERA through 589.1 (minor/winter league) innings pitched.

A potential starter for the Ducks, right-hander Jason Creasy comes over from the St. Paul Saints after spending six seasons in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization.

Right-hander Bennett Parry spent the last two seasons with Lincoln of the independent American Association for whom he made 17 starts and posted a 2.16 ERA over 96 innings pitched.

Keep an eye on southpaw reliever Wander Perez.  He also comes over from (now defunct) Bridgeport, where he posted a 1.71 ERA in 22 appearances and 21 innings pitched.  He allowed just 14 hits and fanned 25 batters, with 10.7 K/9 and 2.1 W/9 averages.


RETURNING POSITION PLAYERS
  • Audie Afenir; Cody Puckett; Lew Ford; Dan Lyons. 

Catcher Audie Afenir, 26, is a product of the New York Yankees system.  He returns for a second season on Long Island.


NEW POSITION ACQUISITIONS
  • Wilkin Castillo; Wagner Gomez; Jordany Valdespin; Alec Sole; David Washington; Travis Snider; Tyler Holt; Robert Garcia; Daniel Fields.

Local fans should be somewhat familiar with former Met infielder Jordany Valdespin albeit perhaps for more reason than just one ... or two.  He behaved somewhat obnoxiously (2012-2013) when he played in Queens.  Now 30-years old and coming off a rather productive season spent playing triple-A in Mexico and winter ball, he managed 86 total games with 333 at-bats in which he slashed .318/.402/.426, and posted 43 RBI.

Lefty-swinging outfielder Travis Snider brings his eight years of MLB experience to Bethpage Ballpark.  He was the Toronto Blue Jays first round selection (14th overall) of the 2006 draft.  After spending parts of five seasons with the Jays, he changed leagues when traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates.  He split time last season playing triple-A ball for both the Texas Rangers and New York Mets respective affiliates and posted a combined .296/.375/.432 slash, with ten home runs and 52 RBI in 476 at-bats.

Catcher Wilkin Castillo has 22 games of MLB experience with the Cincinnati Reds.  Now 33-years old, he spent last season in the New York Yankees system, and has ten years of triple-A experience.

Infielder Alec Sole is a local kid from Holbrook, N.Y.  He gained 27 games of triple-A experience while spending just four years in the Tampa Bay Rays system.

David Washington is a product of the St. Louis Cardinals, but comes to the Ducks via the Baltimore Orioles system.  He has exactly two games of MLB experience.  He's otherwise a nine year minor league veteran with 207 games at triple-A.

I don't know what to make of Wagner Gomez.  He was a catcher up until 2013 when the Reds organization began converting him into a relief pitcher, to mixed results I might add.

Outfielder Tyler Holt, 28, has four years of MLB experience.  A Cleveland Indians product, he comes to the Ducks via the Los Angeles Dodgers.  In 168 games at the triple-A level, Holt slashed .298/.390/.372 but with just a pair of home runs and 44 RBI.

Yet another player acquired via the Bridgeport Bluefish dispersal draft, I'd keep my eye on outfielder Daniel Fields as well.  In just 85 games and 296 at-bats, Daniel slashed .297/.387/.486, with twelve home runs and 51 RBI.


Extra Innings

Long Island begins the season on the road.  They open against the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs, then move on to Somerset where they'll take on the rival Patriots.  Homecoming for the Ducks is scheduled for May 4 against Southern Maryland.

The Ducks will host Bud Harrelson Appreciation Night on August 3, 2018 at Bethpage Ballpark.

With the Bridgeport Bluefish closed for business, the Somerset Patriots are now the lone remaining Atlantic League charter member still in operation.  Entering their 19th year of existence, the Long Island Ducks are now the second oldest operating team in the Atlantic League.

In lieu of the Bridgeport Bluefish, this season will see the return to the field of the Road Warriors.

Wally Backman begins his first season managing the New Britain Bees.



Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Wrestlemania 35: Ridiculously Early Predictions

From the desk of:  VINCE SR.'s WORST NIGHTMARE



I first became passionate about wrestling as a single-digit midget back in the mid 1970s when all territories were still under the umbrella of the NWA and kayfabe ruled the day.  Our local territory was then known as the WWWF, and was owned by Vince McMahon Sr.  At the time, his son Vince Jr. was doing little more than cutting promos and ring announcing.  When Daddy Mac decided he'd had enough, he made Vince Jr. promise to not break up the territory system.  So what did Sonny Mac do?  He swallowed up the competition with haste thus ending the territory system.  Vince Jr. would argue in the same spirit that Brett Hart screwed Brett Hart, the various territory owners killed the various territories.  My son and I constantly debate the evolution of wrestling from when I was a kid through today's era of Sports Entertainment.  It is therefore my honor and privilege to introduce the newest contributor to the Brooklyn Trolley Blogger, my son, Michael III.

*            *            *

Once again, Wrestlemania season has come and gone.  Now is usually the downtime for the company as the creative team scrambles to set up new storylines and feuds to carry us through the next few months.  The Superstar Shakeup has moved several wrestlers from Raw to Smackdown and vice versa while also bringing up some top prospects from NXT. New and exciting rivalries are poised to begin and we can sort of get a feeling of who is going to be feuding with who.  What’s harder to predict is what the WWE is going to look like next year for Wrestlemania 35.

It’s almost impossible to know what will happen come Wrestlemania.  Superstars can get injured, some might leave the company by that time and some you might not expect to have any impact could be top stars by that time.  Despite all that, guessing and predicting is always fun so let's do it anyway. The match card I’ve made is a little bloated but it gives a chance for everyone to get on the show and for the show to make sense storyline wise. The 35th anniversary of Wrestlemania will be a historic show hailing from Metlife Stadium in New Jersey. A spectacle like that deserves top caliber matches that will cater to all types of wrestling fans interests.

Wrestlemania KickOff-Show: Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal, Wrestlemania Women’s Battle Royal, WWE Cruiserweight Championship: Cedric Alexander (c) Vs. Roderick Strong

The Andre the Giant Battle Royal really serves no other purpose than to get every male superstar on the show.  In the years since its inception, the winner has received no meaningful push of any kid and it is really seen as an afterthought.  Despite it being on the pre-show, I’m hoping that the company actually treats this one a little better. With the way the rest of my card looks, this Battle Royale should still have a decent amount of star power behind it.  Rusev, Matt Hardy, Bobby Roode, Jinder Mahal, Tye Dillinger, The New Day, Elias and several other solo stars and tag teams can fill out the field.  With the Raw tag team division not nearly as stacked as Smackdown’s and the card already being pretty full, I would put whoever the Raw Tag Champs are at the time in this match as well.  Bobby Roode should get the win here because hopefully by this time he will be in the middle of a solid heel run and the win can boost him even more.

The women’s battle royal pretty much serves the same purpose as the men’s: getting everyone on the card.  This will be the first of an unprecedented four women’s matches I expect to see at Wrestlemania next year.  Alexa Bliss, Nia Jax, Ember Moon, Carmella, Natalya and Naomi should add some needed star power and combined with some NXT superstars and legends the match should be an entertaining one.  Ember Moon should take the win here and use that for some momentum that could lead to a title run down the line.

The Cruiserweight title match was a tough one to call considering its hard to know what the 205 Live roster will look like next year.  Many expect Ricochet and Johnny Gargano to join the Cruiserweight division but they are more than deserving of main roster call ups and pushes.  Gargano in particular could have a Daniel Bryan like career ahead of him and Ricochet can help carry the NXT brand for the next year. The title match should come down Cedric Alexander and an NXT call up in Roderick Strong.  Strong looks set to have a heel push in NXT with the Undisputed Era but once that's finished he should come up to 205 Live and give Cedric Alexander a solid feud.

Intercontinental Championship Ladder Match: Finn Balor (c) Vs. Bobby Lashley Vs. Baron Corbin Vs. Bray Wyatt Vs. Dolph Ziggler Vs. Drew McIntyre

It’s hard to get every worthy Superstar on the card and still make meaningful one on one matches at the same time.  This is a result of a huge roster and there being a lot of solid mid card guys on Raw. As much as I would like Finn Balor challenging for world titles, it just doesn't seem to be in the cards so him going into Mania with the Intercontinental belt is the next best thing.  Ziggler and McIntyre should be in the middle of breaking up their alliance by this point so that adds a personal edge to the match. Add in Wyatt and two powerhouses like Corbin and Lashley, this match should be an entertaining start to the show. Winner: Finn Balor

Smackdown Tag Team Championship Fatal 4 Way: The Bludgeon Brothers (c) Vs. The Bar Vs. The Usos Vs. SAnitY

The Smackdown Tag Team division is one of the biggest beneficiaries of the Superstar Shakeup. The division is stacked at the moment and the next year could see many interesting feuds and storylines.  SAnitY and the Bludgeon Brothers is an interesting rivalry that could take place soon as is the rivalry between the two best teams in the WWE right now, The Usos and The Bar.  The best use of all these teams is to have them all battle it out for tag team supremacy at the big show. Winner: SAnitY

United States Championship: Shinsuke Nakamura (c) Vs. Randy Orton

There is no doubt in my mind that Nakamura will become WWE Champion soon.  However his time at the top will not last all the way to Wrestlemania. Nakamura will drop back to the upper mid card and win the United States title which is perfectly fine.  With an opponent like Randy Orton, the program between the two could be the one of the best on Smackdown. With a heel Nakamura and an unpredictable Randy Orton, the match these two could put on could easily be one of the best matches of the night. Winner: Shinsuke Nakamura

Women’s Tag Team Championship: The IIconics (c) Vs. Sasha Banks & Bayley

If the current rumors are true than WWE will be introducing a Women’s Tag Team Championship soon.  This opens up many new options for the women that aren’t currently engaged in the main title feuds.  The IIconics recently came up from NXT and are the perfect pick to win the inaugural title. The championship could also have the added intrigue of being defended on both brands which allows the IIconics to battle as many opponents as possible during the months leading up to Wrestlemania.

Sasha Banks and Bayley are expected to continue their growing rivalry in the coming months. Eventually WWE will pull the trigger on a Sasha Banks heel turn and allow her and Bayley to deliver 5 star matches like they did in NXT.  Their rivalry will go on over the course of the next months with the two going their separate ways after. I can see Sasha winning the Raw Women’s title but eventually lose it to Ronda Rousey at the Royal Rumble which will set the stage for Rousey’s own Wrestlemania match.

Leading up to Wrestlemania, Bayley will become a victim of the IIconics with no partner willing to lend a hand to help.  This will lead to the reunion of Sasha and Bayley, a unit worthy of dethroning the IIconics. The possibility of Sasha of turning on her former friend at any given moment will add intrigue to the match and make their victory and title reign all the more interesting.  The match will also allow all four women to have a meaningful role without having to battle Ronda Rousey or compete for the Women’s championships. Winner: Sasha Banks & Bayley

Kevin Owens Vs. Sami Zayn

In this life three things are certain: Death, Taxes and Sami Zayn Vs. Kevin Owens.  It’s a scientific fact that these two are destined to fight forever. They may be aligned now but that alliance will disappear by the end of the year.  A move to Raw will allow the two of them to give the Tag division a boost but sooner or later the two must go back to singles stars. One will turn on each other leading to a series of show stealing matches leading to one final battle at Wrestlemania.  If the two are given enough time and maybe even an Extreme Rules stipulation the two can undoubtedly tear the house down.

Triple H Vs. Braun Strowman

Triple H needs a Wrestlemania match.  Like the Undertaker, Triple H usually only pops up for a handful of appearances a year and Wrestlemania is always a guarantee for the Game. This particular match was teased last year but nothing ever came from it. Strowman will be in the main event for the rest of the year but eventually he will transition from the title picture to a feud with the Game.

The setup could call back to their interaction at Survivor Series.  Strowman cannot be controlled by the Authority so Triple H has no choice but to take matters into his own hands. Expect this match to be filled with announce table destruction and chair shots. If WWE really wanted to surprise us they would have Strowman squash Triple H in a matter of minutes but we all know that won’t happen. Either way, Strowman should get the win to continue his momentum and Triple H doesn’t need big wins anymore at this stage in his career. Winner: Braun Strowman

Daniel Bryan Vs. Johnny Gargano

This match is just one on a long list of dream matches for Daniel Bryan now that he is medically cleared to compete.  Daniel Bryan will spend the rest of the year battling the Miz, AJ Styles, Samoa Joe and Shinsuke Nakamura with hopefully some well deserved title wins thrown in.  If he is not in the title picture by Wrestlemania, he needs a worthy opponent that can keep up with him in the ring. WWE doesn’t have to look far because they have the second coming of Daniel Bryan down in NXT in the form of Johnny Gargano.

Much like Bryan, Gargano is a natural babyface that gets over effortlessly with the WWE Universe. Eventually Gargano will have to leave NXT for the greener pastures of the main roster and Smackdown is the perfect place for him.  Gargano can become one of the Blue Brand’s top faces but first he must face the man shares so many similarities with him.

This battle of wrestling purists doesn’t have to really have that deep of a story behind it.  It can be just two guys at the top of their game seeing who's really better. They can both stay faces, even occasionally teaming with each other in the weeks leading up to Mania, even trying to one up each other.  If the WWE gives these guys enough time on the grandest stage, they will steal the show with no problem. Winner: Doesn’t matter.  Great match either way.

The Miz Vs. Shane McMahon

Since his return, Shane O’ Mac has been given a featured match at each Wrestlemania.  AJ Styles, The Undertake and most recently, Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens have battled him. Despite not being a real performer, Shane always delivers the goods and his matches are always entertaining.  Next year there may not be a better heel for him to face than the Miz.

Miz has been on top of his game for some time now.  His mic skills are arguably the best in the business right now and he has improved greatly in the ring.  He gets cheered more than booed nowadays but the WWE must resist the urge to turn him face. Miz is at his best as a dastardly and cocky heel and it is this persona that will bring out the best of Shane McMahon.

The Miz will probably spend a good amount of the year battling it out with Daniel Bryan, maybe even getting a crack at the WWE title somewhere down the line.  Unfortunately for Miz, the Wrestlemania WWE title picture is reserved for others besides him so Miz will take his frustration out on the commissioner. At Daniel Bryan’s request, Shane McMahon brough Miz over to Smackdown so Miz will undoubtedly have some issues with him.  The match will give them both something to do and Miz’s heel antics will be a perfect foil for Shane. Winner: The Miz

Smackdown Women’s Championship: Asuka (c) Vs. Becky Lynch

Despite having her undefeated streak broken by Charlotte at Wrestlemania, Asuka will continue to be a dominant force in WWE.  Now on Smackdown, Asuka will most likely resume her feud with Charlotte over the Smackdown Women’s Championship. Eventually Asuka will win the title and become the top woman on Smackdown.  For Wrestlemania Asuka will need a worth opponent and Becky Lynch is perfect for her.

For several years now Becky Lynch has been the workhorse of the Smackdown women’s division. She was the inaugural Smackdown Women's Champ but since winning it she has fallen down the card and has been involved in multi woman matches and meaningless feuds.  Lynch deserves to hold gold again and her ring work proves that she and Asuka can put on a hell of a match. Lynch is a natural babyface so going up against a dominant heel Asuka is the perfect matchup. Winner: Becky Lynch

WWE Championship: AJ Styles (c) Vs. Samoa Joe

AJ Styles is the best wrestler in the company right now and by Wrestlemania next year he will hopefully be involved in another bout for the WWE Championship.  He will most likely spend the next couple of months battling Shinsuke Nakamura but come Wrestlemania he should once again hold the title, prepared to defend it against another opponent that he knows very well.  That opponent is Smackdown’s newest acquisition, Samoa Joe.

Samoa Joe and AJ Styles are certainly no strangers to each other.  They have battled countless times in TNA and now they can finally bring their brutal rivalry to the WWE.  Aside from Brock Lesnar, Samoa Joe is easily WWE’s best heel. He doesn't use cheating tactics or excuses to win, he just flat out kicks ass.  Joe should spend this year taking on many of Smackdown’s top faces including Randy Orton and Jeff Hardy. His last true test should be ripping the WWE title away from Styles.

Styles is similar to Daniel Bryan in that he thrives when his back against the wall.  Being physically smaller than Joe should put him at a distinct disadvantage. Going into this match, Joe should completely dominate Styles, choking him out any chance he gets.  An underdog Styles against a brutal Joe is the perfect setup to a show stealer. The two know each other so well and if their matches in TNA were any indication, Styles Vs. Joe will be one of the better world title matches at Wrestlemania in recent memory. Winner: Samoa Joe

WWE Universal Championship Triple Threat Match: Dean Ambrose (c) Vs. Roman Reigns Vs. Seth Rollins

At any other Wrestlemania, this is the main event.  The three members of the Shield battling out for Raw’s top prize.  WWE went with this exact scenario several years ago but it was at a B level pay per view and the build to it was derailed when Reigns was suspended for violating the WWE wellness policy.  Now all the pieces have fallen together again to make this match happen even bigger and better than before.

Roman Reigns is the chosen one and after most likely dethroning Brock Lesnar and sending him off to UFC, he will dominate Raw with a long title reign.  Seth Rollins is the current Intercontinental Champion and has firmly established himself as Raw’s best wrestler and resident work horse. Dean Ambrose is currently injured but when he returns he should return as a heel and betray his former partners.  The Shield reunion was derailed last year and while there is always room to revisit it, now is not the time. These guys need all need to be at odds when Ambrose returns.

Ambrose needs to be able to fully make use of his Lunatic gimmick when he returns.  While Rollins tears it up with Balor, Roode and other mid guys for the IC belt, Ambrose should set his sights on Reigns and the Universal Title.  The two of them have never really had an extended program against each other and they could definitely deliver some solid PPV matches. Ambrose needs to be the one dethrone Reigns and walk into Wrestlemania as the champion.  Reigns, looking for revenge, declares a rematch for Wrestlemania but those plans are derailed by the winner of the 2019 men’s Royal Rumble, Seth Rollins.

Having Rollins interject himself into the Reigns Ambrose feud will give the WWE universe something to sink their teeth into.  Each member of the Shield has something that endears them to a portion of the WWE Universe. Ambrose’s mic skills and instability constantly make him a fan favorite whether he’s a face or a heel.  Rollins is universally loved by the fans for his match quality and unparalleled athleticism. And say what you will about Reigns but the guy has improved by leaps and bounds both in the ring and on the mic and always delivers an entertaining match.  These three are worthy of a main event match at Mania together and it will finally bring the story of the Shield full circle. Winner: Seth Rollins

Raw Women’s Championship: Ronda Rousey (c) Vs. Charlotte Flair

This match may very well be the first female main event in Wrestlemania’s storied history. Ronda Rousey is the biggest signing in the company’s history and with the women of the WWE being treated with way more respect nowadays, the WWE is now in a unique place in history.  It might finally be time for the women to main event Wrestlemania and there are no two bigger stars worthy of that spot than Ronda Rousey and Charlotte Flair.

Charlotte recently did something that few people thought was possible, she defeated Asuka at Wrestlemania and ended her undefeated streak.  Two nights later she lost her Smackdown Women’s Championship to Carmella and will no doubt seek to get it back. She’ll most likely regain that title at some point but after that her options on Smackdown are limited.  A move to Raw makes the most sense for her to have some fresh feuds. She didn't switch brands during the Shakeup but there is one way for her to get to Raw and face off against Rousey: winning the women’s Royal Rumble.

Earlier in this article, I presented a scenario for Rousey to win her first world title against a heel Sasha Banks at a major event like Survivor Series or the Royal Rumble.  Rousey should carry the Raw Women’s Championship into Metlife Stadium, having conquered all opponents on Raw worthy of stepping into the ring with her. The only match left for her would be the Royal Rumble winner, Charlotte, in a dream match of epic proportions.

Charlotte has proven time and time again that she can put on classic matches with just about anyone.  Rousey silenced all critics with her debut match and will only grow as a performer with help from vets like Natalya, Bayley and Sasha Banks.  The two of them will no doubt put on a clinic at next year’s Wrestlemania. Aside from one other match, this battle is arguably the best option to go on last.  If WWE does decide to pull the trigger on this main event, it will be the culmination of the Women’s Evolution. Winner: Ronda Rousey

Career Vs. Career: John Cena Vs. The Undertaker

If Rousey Vs. Flair doesn’t go on last, this is the only other match that should.  If this match doesn’t happen it’s because Taker can’t physically compete and in that case he should be inducted into the Hall of Fame next year and officially retire.  However, if rumors are to be believed, then The Undertaker is set to make a decent run this year, appearing and competing more than he has in a long time. That to me sounds like a farewell tour, one that should end next year against the man Taker squashed at this past year’s Wrestlemania, John Cena.

Like it or not, John Cena is a living legend.  Having carried the company longer than guys like Rock, Austin, Hogan or Michaels, Cena more than deserves his legendary status. Guys like Batista, CM Punk, Daniel Bryan and Randy Orton have competed with Cena in popularity but none of those guys were ever really meant to eclipse Super Cena as “the guy.”  Recently Cena has taken on more of a part time role and has grown accustomed to putting over new stars, something he has been criticized for not doing in the past. Aside from tying Ric Flair’s championship record, there is little left for Cena to do in the company besides defeat the Undertaker at Wrestlemania.

Cena lobbied for this dream match for weeks leading up to this year’s Wrestlemania with Taker only finally responding at the last minute.  Taker proceeded to squash Cena in a short match that left many underwhelmed. At first it appeared like this match was all Taker was capable of but it could serve a bigger purpose.  It could allow Taker to get into even better shape for next year with his career culminating against Cena.

Cena’s path to the rematch is clear.  Much like his loss against the Rock at Wrestlemania 28, his loss against the Deadman can send Cena’s life into a tailspin.  Cena can spend the rest of this year losing to high profile stars, proving he might not be able to win the big one anymore. WWE isn’t above using personal issues to further a story either.  They included Cena’s real life divorce in the Rock storyline, implying that Cena’s real life unravelled after the defeat. Cena’s recent real life breakup with Nikki Bella serves a similar narrative point, along with the several losses he will suffer leading up next year’s Mania.

The Retirement Match between The Undertaker and John Cena could potentially be the biggest spectacle since The Rock Vs. Hulk Hogan at Wrestlemania 18.  Cena gets a shot at redemption and Taker gets to prove that he is still the Phenom. Although some may be upset that two part timers are once again taking up a main event spot at Wrestlemania, this time it is necessary.  Cena Vs. Taker 2 is the biggest possible match that either of them can have. It will serve as a fitting end to the storied career of The Undertaker and allow him to retire on his terms. His defeat against Reigns felt empty so it was only right he came back to face Cena.  Cena is the only one who is worth of giving the Deadman his final match and finally put the Phenom down for good. Winner: John Cena


Michael III