Friday, July 22, 2011

Chiefs Position Battles

With the lockout nearing an end, it is once again okay to discuss football without mentioning the petty politics that have dominated any and all NFL talk this offseason.  Without wasting any time, let’s get into the position battles we can expect to see early on in camp!

Second Wide Receiver
Front Runner: Jonathan Baldwin
Next in Line: Chris Chambers
Long Shot: Verran Tucker, Kevin Curtis, Dexter McCluster

Breakdown:  Jonathan Baldwin is the front runner by default.  He has raw talent, great leaping ability, and above average speed.  Plus, he hasn’t squandered his opportunity to start yet, unlike Chris Chambers.  Chambers had a miserable 2010 as he seemed to have lost a step on his downfield speed and apparently forgot how to secure the ball.  He will most likely be given a chance to redeem himself if he looks good in camp, but if he doesn’t, don’t be surprised if the Chiefs decide to cut their losses and release him altogether.  Tucker is more of special teams/fourth wide receiver player and it’s doubtful he can handle the load of a number two receiver.  The only way Kevin Curtis makes the team is if all of the receivers appear incompetent.  He is past his prime and doesn’t offer anything Baldwin or Chambers can't provide.  Dexter Mccluster is a prototype slot receiver and Chiefs plan to keep him there unless injuries force him into the number two spot occasionally.

Front Runner: Mike Cox
Next in Line: Shane Bannon
Long Shot: Tim Castile

Breakdown:  Going into camp, Mike Cox has the most experience and is the best NFL proven blocker the Chiefs have at the position.  He has decent hands and isn’t afraid to run into the baddest linebackers in the league.  However, Cox is easily distracted and has been known to miss his block from time to time.  If Shane Bannon puts on a show in camp and preseason, the job is his.  It all depends on how he adapts to the speed and strength of the NFL.  He is a brutal blocker, has good hands, and moves like a gazelle for a 275 pounder.  Tim Castille probably has the best hands of the group, however, he lacks size and is terrified of contact.  No matter how well you can catch, you can’t play fullback if you are afraid to block.  If hands were valued over size and blocking, wide receivers would play tight end.

Nose Tackle
Front Runner: Ron Edwards
Next in Line: Shaun Smith
Long Shot: Allen Bailey

Breakdown:  It looks as if the incumbent Ron Edwards will once again be the starting nose tackle for the Chiefs.  The epitome of mediocre, Edwards has done just enough to keep his spot on the team while the Chiefs have looked for an upgrade at the position for years, obviously without success.  He will likely rotate with Shaun Smith at nose tackle, with the occasional glimpse of Allen “love me some raccoon” Bailey.  However, Bailey will likely spend most of his time at defensive end, spelling Glen Dorsey and Tyson Jackson in non-blitzing situations.

Right Outside Linebacker

Front Runner: Andy Studebaker
Next in Line: Demorrio Williams

Breakdown:  The Chiefs have been grooming Studebaker to take over for Mike Vrabel for two seasons, and now that Vrabel has retired, it is Studebaker’s job to lose.  He has played well when given an opportunity to play, giving us no reason to think he won’t be the starter in week one, but Demorrio Williams has forced himself into the picture.  After Derrick Johnson beat Williams out for the starting inside linebacker spot, he never looked back, leaving Williams somewhat lost in the mix.  Halfway through the season he was converted into a down pass rusher and excelled.  The Chiefs will definitely take a look at Williams at ROL, as he has always had fairly good coverage skills and speed, when you add that to his newly acquired pass rushing techniques he will give Studebaker a run for his money, if nothing else.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

How Sporting Turned it Around

The last Sporting article on KC Sports Spot was written in a dark time, when I, as well as many others, feared the season was already over.  The defense wasn’t meshing, there was no trace chemistry, and there was no consistency with the lineup or play of the team.  Most fans believed there would be some sort of turn around with the opening of Livestrong Park, but few had any idea that Sporting would go on a twelve game unbeaten streak and would be sitting in fourth place in their conference.  All of the sudden, Sporting has become dangerous on offense and indestructible on defense.  So what happened?  Surely the opening of the new stadium couldn’t be the only reason Sporting has become a monster…  Could it?  Let’s take a look at the pieces that have turned Sporting’s season around.

Graham Zusi

Out of nowhere, Graham Zusi went from someone who shouldn’t be starting for Sporting, to a guy who looks like he should have been on the United States Gold Cup roster.  After Zusi’s two goal performance against FC Dallas in June, he has had a new found confidence.  It is almost like Zusi had a revelation during that game, a revelation that gave him poise and swagger.  Without a doubt Zusi has been the anchor of the offense, creating opportunity after opportunity while setting the pace of the game and maintaining outstanding control.  Now that Zusi has realized how good he is, Sporting players and fans expect nothing but greatness from him.

The maturation of C.J. Sapong

As you would expect from any rookie, C.J. Sapong started the season slowly.  However, during the twelve game unbeaten streak we have witnessed a more patient and unselfish Sapong.  Early in the season, as most fans can recall, when C.J. had the ball he was looking to score.  No matter who was open or how many defenders he had on him, he was going to the goal.  Now, we are seeing C.J. pass the ball and even wait for guys to make runs, demonstrating his playmaking skills that weren’t very prevalent early on.  His unselfishness and patience has led to a rather nice chemistry between himself and Omar Bravo.

Improved play and stability of the defense

Who would have thought that defense would be a strength for Sporting two months ago?  Not I.  What had been the biggest flaw on the team has become its most consistent aspect.  Aurelien Collin and Matt Besler have stabilized the middle of the defense with their skill and physicality.  They complement each other nicely as the bruiser (Collin) and the brain (Besler).  Roger Espinoza has come alive after being moved to his more instinctive position of defensive midfielder, which opened up the wing for Chance Myers, who is back to playing defense after a short stint at forward.  Myers' focus is much improved and has been a threat bringing the ball up from the right wing.  Opposite Myers, Michael Harrington has been as solid as ever playing left back.  Harrington has never blown anyone away with flash, but he has a never ending motor and rarely makes mistakes.

Davey Arnaud

Sadly, Arnaud is making the team better by not playing.  Graham Zusi has had more freedom and touches without Arnaud dominating the ball. He has unable to adjust to the fast paced offense around him, and his defense, or lack thereof, is suspect at best.

The scary thing is, they can be better!

Sporting's offense has potential to be the best in the league.  If Vermes ever decides to play two forwards up top, Sapong and Teal Bunbury could develop into one of the best striking tandems the league has ever seen.  Add to that an attacking midfield of Kei Kamara and Graham Zusi, and watch out MLS.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Fixing the Royals Rotation

Currently, the Royals are looking at a rotation of Jeff Francis, Luke Hochevar, Bruce Chen, Danny Duffy, Kyle Davies and Felipe Paulino.  This is not working, as their record shows.  Inconsistency and lack of talent plague the current staff and something has got to change, so begins the search for the perfect five!  Ace’s like Roy Halladay and CC Sabthia aren’t possible or necessary, so we must look through the bargain bin on our search.  The Royals don’t need rental veterans, they need guys who can be with the team long term at a fair price.  In order to do this, we need to look at the numbers over the course of multiple season, raw talent, ball parks, and consistency.  The first player that meets our criteria is Josh Outman, of the Oakland A’s.

Josh Outman (Oakland) - Age: 26 - Throws: L

Lowdown:  Josh is still very young and is only going to get better.  He has played three seasons in the league, 2008, 2009, and 2011.  He missed the end of 2009 and all of 2010 with Tommy John Surgery, which means he is just now coming back into full form as it normally takes around one and a half years to fully recover.  He only had four starts in 2008, with a mediocre 4.56 (ironically the best ERA of any current Royals starter) but started 12 games in 2009, earning four wins with a 3.48 ERA and 53 strike outs.  Most people have forgotten about Mr. Outman, since he wasn’t anywhere close to a big name before his injury and no one mentioned him during the 2010 season.  Josh was called up from the minors this season and started eight games earning three wins with a 3.47 ERA, seeming to pick up where he left off before his surgery.  Sadly, Outman was optioned back to the minors this week due to the A’s pitching depth.  This would lead us to believe that Outman is expendable and easily had.  If he can continue pitching how he has in his time in the majors this season, he makes for a fantastic talent at a great price. 

Clayton Richard (San Diego) – Age: 27 – Throws: L

Lowdown:  Clayton has played for the Padres since the middle of 2009 and has been nothing but solid.  Although he isn't a huge strikeout guy, he has excellent command of his pitches. Richard started 12 games for the Padres in 2009, winning five with a 4.08 ERA and followed that performance up in 2010 by starting 33 games and winning 14 with a 3.75 ERA.  He has continued to be rock solid in 2011, starting 17 games while maintaining a 4.09 ERA.  It's important to keep in mind that he has had exactly zero run support in his time with the Padres, aside from what Adrian Gonzales had given him before he bounced to Boston.  He has thrived at pitcher friendly Petco Park, which we can assume would continue at pitcher friendly Kaufman Stadium, plus he would have the Royal’s hurricane of youth giving him run support.  The Padres are far more worried about their lack of offense than their already legitimate pitching staff, making him attainable with some of the Royals extra pieces and rental players (take your pick of Melky, Betemit, Aviles, Kila).

That gives us two realistic pieces to add to the staff that have been far better than anyone we have thrown out there this season.  Now what to do with the current staff? 

  • Jeff Francis and Bruce Chen’s contract are up at the end of the year, and it is safe to say that if they are not traded they will be told to walk. 
  • Kyle Davies would make a fantastic long reliever coming out of the pen.  He has always gone two or three strong innings before imploding and allowing five or six runs, inflating his ERA. 
  • Felipe Paulino could also come out of the pen, as well as become the emergency starter if an injury occurred to anyone in the rotation.
  • Luke Hochevar has shown enough progress and flashes of excellence that he can continue in the staff.  Ned Yost and Bob McClure need to do a better job realizing when he has hit a wall and relieving him.  Time after time Hochevar pitches gem’s and then proceeds to get smashed in the 6th or 7th inning.
  • Danny Duffy will also be allowed to stay in the rotation as he is young and needs a chance to grow and get better.  He can man the bottom of the rotation until he reaches his full potential.
  • Mike Montgomery would fill out the fifth spot in the rotation.  The AAA flame thrower has upper rotation stuff and although he has struggled at times this season, he has the mental focus and talent to succeed in the bigs.  If Montgomery’s shaky 2011 bothers you, I would then reference Aaron Crow's minor league season from last year and compare it to his big league performance this year (5.73 ERA in 29 minor league starts last season, All Star this season). 
The final rotation looks like this: Josh Outman, Luke Hochevar, Clayton Richard, Danny Duffy, Mike Montgomery.  This, my friends, is how you make a gourmet dish out of the Wendy’s Value menu.