Italy international Alessandro Diamanti has admitted that sending home England at Euro 2012 was one of the highlights of his career so far.The Guangzhou Evergrande attacker netted the decisive spot kick in the quarterfinal encounter in Kiev, after Ashley Young and Ashley Cole had missed in the shootout, and, although Italy ultimately lost the final 4-1 to Spain, Diamanti has nothing but fond memories of the tournament. “The moment that I remember most fondly is the penalty I scored against England at the European Championships in 2012,” the 30-year-old told Goal.”That spot kick definitely represents one of the highlights of my career. I don’t know if it was the best moment of my career so far, but it was certainly a very important one.”The offensive midfielder then went on to reflect on his debut for the national side, as well as discussing his chances of making the Italy squad for this summer’s World Cup.”The first time I got selected for the national team brought forward some very strong emotions,” Diamanti admitted. “It was a big step forward in my career.”I cannot be certain that I will be on the plane to the World Cup, but I will obviously do everything to make sure I make it. You can never be definite of anything in football until it actually happens, though.”The former Bologna man is confident Italy can go all the way in this summer’s tournament in Brazil, although he expects a difficult encounter versus England in the group stages.”I think Italy can win the World Cup,” Diamanti added.”It is important to have experience at international level and to approach the game against England with the maximum level of respect, yet without showing fear. “I expect it to be a fascinating game and will give our all to ensure we win the match.”Italy will also contend with Uruguay and Costa Rica in Group D.Click here to buy the new Italy kit
The 2014 Major League Baseball season begins for most teams on Monday, March 31.Here is a complete TV schedule for all Monday and Tuesday openers (all times ET): Monday, March 31Chicago Cubs @ Pittsburgh Pirates, 1:05 p.m. | TV: WGN (Cubs), Root Sports (Pirates), ESPN (national)Washington Nationals @ New York Mets, 1:10 p.m. | TV: MASN 2 (Nationals), SNY (Mets)Kansas City Royals @ Detroit Tigers, 1:08 p.m. | TV: FOX Sports-Kansas City (Royals), FOX Sports-Detroit (Tigers)Philadelphia Phillies: @ Texas Rangers, 2:05 p.m. | TV: CSN (Phillies), FOX Sports SouthwestAtlanta Braves @ Milwaukee Brewers, 2:10 p.m. | TV: SportsSouth (Braves), FOX Sports Wisconsin (Brewers)Boston Red Sox @ Baltimore Orioles, 3:05 p.m. | TV: NESN (Red Sox), MASN (Orioles), WJZ (Orioles), ESPN2 (national)Minnesota Twins @ Chicago White Sox, 4:10 p.m. | TV: FOX Sports North (Twins), CSN (White Sox)Toronto Blue Jays @ Tampa Bay Rays, 4:10 p.m. | TV: SNET (Blue Jays), Sun Sports (Rays)St. Louis Cardinals @ Cincinnati Reds, 4:10 p.m. | TV: FOX Sports Midwest (Cardinals), FOX Sports Ohio (Reds), ESPN (national)Colorado Rockies @ Miami Marlins, 7:10 p.m. | Root Sports (Rockies), FOX Sports Florida (Marlins), ESPN2 (national)San Francisco Giants @ Arizona Diamondbacks, 9:40 p.m. | TV: CSN Bay Area (Giants), FOX Sports Arizona (D-backs)Cleveland Indians @ Oakland Athletics, 10:05 p.m. | TV: Sports Time Ohio (Indians), CSN California (A’s)Seattle Mariners @ Los Angeles Angels, 10:05 p.m. | TV: Root Sports (Mariners), FOX Sports West (Angels), ESPN2 (national) Tuesday, April 1New York Yankees @ Houston Astros: vs., Tuesday, April 1, 7:10 p.m. | TV: YES (Yankees), CSN (Astros), MLB Network (national)
Desean Jackson and Chip Kelly are back on good terms. Or so Jackson says in tweets and on Instagram.In the middle of heightened speculation that he’s on his way out of Philadelphia, Jackson posted this in the wee hours of Tuesday morning: a tweet that he’s spoken to “Big Chip” and a photo of “Big Chip” in a festive mood at an unspecified workout that, Jackson insists, “speaks for itself.” Good to Talk to BIg Chip today !! Say or hear what ya want !! The Picture speaks for itself !! Winner… http://t.co/LHYQLmPoHo— Desean Jackson (@DeseanJackson10) March 25, 2014As of Tuesday morning, there was no word from Kelly about his version of either the talk with the wide receiver, or about how representative the photo is of his relationship to him. Last week, a report surfaced that Kelly had called Jackson to clear the air – but that he did not actually speak to him, and that Jackson did not return his call. Jackson’s message Tuesday morning did not specify who contacted whom.Eagles general manager Howie Roseman, in speaking to reporters at the NFL meetings in Orlando Monday—before Jackson’s account of a meeting with Kelly—said almost nothing about Jackson’s status or about the talk that he was being discussed in a trade or on the verge of being released.”I haven’t read all the speculation, all the reports about everything,” Roseman said, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. “I’m trying to keep my head down at this point, enjoy my family a little bit, and I obviously know there’s a lot of speculation that’s going on, but for us, any conversations we have with teams, about teams, I think it serves well, with the relationships we have them, to keep those conversations private.”
ST. LOUIS — We’ve reached the portion of the NCAA Tournament where losses transform from merely devastating to cruelly soul-crushing.A win at the end of the opening weekend means a trip to the Sweet 16. A loss means an unexpectedly sudden offseason, especially when expectations far exceeded that Sweet 16 trip. That’s what Wichita State is dealing with right now. “It was a hell of a ride,” senior Chadrack Lufile said in the locker room after the game.The Shockers, the No. 1 seed in the Midwest region, lost to eighth-seeded Kentucky in a game that will be hard to top the rest of the tournament, in terms of quality of play, level of intensity on the court and in the stands and for sheer entertainment. So, in terms of pretty much everything. This was one of the best NCAA Tournament games of the decade.“I would say this was an Elite Eight (game) that the winner should have gone to the Final Four,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said in his postgame press conference. “That’s how good they are and how good we’re playing right now.” But it wasn’t an Elite Eight game. It was a Round of 32 game, which doesn’t have quite the same ring. These two teams met so early because Kentucky, despite being an incredibly talented collection of players, lost 10 times and only beat a handful of good teams through an up-and-down season. That’s the way things work in the tournament.So the Shockers are done, with a final record of 35-1. They aren’t satisfied, of course. They wanted to win the national championship. When they look back at this season with a healthy dose of history, they’ll appreciate what happened this year. They’re aware right now, of course, but it’s hard to see past that final buzzer.“We’ve accomplished a lot of things this year,” Wichita State sophomore Ron Baker said. “Setting new records within our university, as individuals as well. It’s just tough to end it in such an amazing run like this.”
The 11th episode of the Sporting News Podcast is here. Please, have a listen. In today’s show, hosts Bill Voth (@billvoth) and Matt Lutovsky (@MLutovsky) discuss:The NCAA TournamentWhat else needs to be discussed this time of year? Fortunately, we enlisted some heavy hitters to help us out. First up is Sporting News Hall-of-Fame college basketball writer Mike DeCourcy (@tsnmike), who talks about why he hates filling out brackets, dangerous teams with “NBA talent,” potential Cinderellas, the myth that the Big 10 has underachieved because of tighter officiating in the NCAA Tournament, coaches that have a bad rap, why this year’s champion will probably be the worst in decades, and more. Mike’s interview starts at the 23:24 mark of the show.We finish up by talking with Linemakers on Sporting News writer and betting expert Micah Roberts (@MicahRoberts7). Roberts, a former sports book director in Las Vegas, has all sorts of bracket and betting tips for the serious gambler and the regular Joe who has just one entry in an office pool. Find out the biggest mistake most betting novices make, why he thinks Vegas handicappers should help seed the Field of 68, interesting props, best bets for the first round and beyond, the (free) Linemakers tool that can help you win your bracket pool, and much more. Micah’s interview starts at the 42:56 mark of the show.Look for new episodes of the Sporting News Podcast around noon ET every Monday, Wednesday and Friday on the SN podcast feed. Bookmark it, subscribe on iTunes, follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook, send us an e-mail — we’re here for you.
We’ve written enough about Masahiro Tanaka this offseason.That’s everybody’s draft-day sleeper heading into 2014. The guy Tanaka is throwing to, however, might be the better value pick in 2014. Brian McCann signed a five-year, $85 million deal with the Yankees this offseason. That might seem like a lot for a 30 year old catcher, but New York knows what they are getting here.That’s a 20-homer catcher. McCann has at least 20 home runs six straight seasons, and seven of the last eight. He’s totaled 171 homers since 2006. A.J. Pierzynski, who signed with rival Boston this offseason, is second with 117 homers in that same stretch.The Yankees want McCann to do the same things Jorge Posada used to do. Provide leadership, and hit homers. The fact McCann is a lefthander who can exploit that short porch in right field at Yankee Stadium only sweetens the deal. McCann could hit 30 homers this season. Of course, McCann needs to do more than just that. He’s hit just .242 and played in just 223 games the last two seasons. He had right shoulder surgery in 2013, and he still has to prove he can play in baseball’s highest-pressure market.McCann fell to the 13th round in our latest Experts Mock Draft, but that’s almost too good to stay true. McCann likely will climb up a few rounds before actual drafts, especially with a strong showing in spring training.For the owner who simply wants power from their catcher and is willing to take whatever comes in the other categories, McCann might just be the perfect pick.MORE FANTASY:Ramirez at 3B?Mets’ Young a possible steal
Albert Pujols was, frankly, insulted by a question about whether he’s motivated to match the production of his superstar LA Angels teammate Mike Trout.Pujols said so to USA Today’s Bob Nightengale, who didn’t ask the question. “Can you imagine someone saying that to me?” Pujols told Nightengale. “I felt like saying, ‘Come on, are you serious? Are you really asking me that? Check out my numbers. I know what Mike Trout has done in his first two years is pretty special, but will you look at my numbers? I’ve been doing this for almost 14 years.'”The only guy in baseball who can match the numbers I’ve put up is Barry Bonds, and someone is actually asking if I can put up numbers like Mike Trout?”Are you freaking kidding me?” Pujols is a Hall of Fame hitter with a proud streak to match. And, aside from stolen bases, his best numbers dwarf Trout’s.”He’s a great kid who always wants to learn and is so humble,” Pujols said of Trout to Nightengale. “But if it takes someone comparing me to Mike Trout to motivate me, it’s time for me to get out of the game.”An injury-filled 2013 season that was his worst as a major leaguer should provide all the motivation Pujols needs. That, and Pujols’ desire to be, well, himself again.
In Monday through Saturday’s editions of The Sporting News, you’ll find The Daily Dish, a collection of our favorite sports stories, videos, pictures and tweets.As a feature on Sundays, we’ll showcase five of our favorite feature stories from the week that you might have missed. These are the stories that make you tweet “tl;dr” on a Wednesday. But it’s Sunday! So sit back and enjoy some of the best sports writing from the last week. WHAT WE’RE READINGThe five articles you’ll want to save and share with your friends1. Just in time for March Madness, SB Nation goes longform on Harvard and the job Tommy Amaker has done there. [READ MORE]2. These are the 10 teams that should kill it during NFL free agency, according to Bill Barnwell. [READ MORE] 3. You might not read a better account of the less glamorous side of NFL free agency than this one from Matt Bowen. [READ MORE]4. Danny Kelly offers an excellent look at the NFL scouting process for SB Nation. [READ MORE]5. This is devastatingly sad: Tommy Tomlinson writes on the toll dementia has taken on former North Carolina coach Dean Smith. [READ MORE]
NEW YORK — The thing that they sell you on is that opening day is all about hope and possibility. It is the banishment of winter for the heartening warmth of spring, with the notion that it might just be a magical summer and a dream of a fall. Opening day is the idea that anything can happen.Monday in Queens began with rain, and there were snowflakes mixed in along with them. The morning was gray and dreary and brought the feeling that nothing would ever change, that this seemingly never-ending winter in the Northeast would, indeed, never end. Then the sun poked out, and before you knew it, there was not a cloud in the sky when the national anthem was sung before the Mets played the Nationals. Opening day is the idea that anything can happen. Andrew Brown got the start for the Mets in left field because Daniel Murphy’s wife had a baby, which meant that Eric Young Jr. went to second base, while Chris Young was sidelined by a quad injury. In his first at-bat, Brown smashed a three-run homer off Stephen Strasburg, giving the Mets an early lead. Opening day is the idea that anything can happen.When the Mets’ lead slipped away, Jose Valverde, 36 years old and off the scrap heap to become the eighth-inning man, got four big outs to keep the game tied. Then Juan Lagares, who repeatedly said how glad he was just to have made the team, let alone to have made the opening day start in center field, snapped the tie with an eighth-inning home run. Opening day is the idea that anything can happen.More than any other team, the joys of opening day belong to the Mets, who have a 34-19 record in lidlifters, the best in Major League Baseball. It was 34-18 before Monday, when Bobby Parnell blew the save in the ninth inning, Jeurys Familia worked into but not out of trouble in the 10th, and John Lannan served up a three-run homer to Anthony Rendon.The final score was 9-7 for the Nationals, because David Wright hit a two-run shot in the bottom of the 10th, restoring a sliver of hope for New York before Curtis Granderson’s third strikeout of the game punctuated the affair. Opening day is the idea that anything can happen, but the universe of anythings is heavily populated by rollercoasters that take the Mets on a loop-de-loop, only to have the safety harnesses fail at the apex and dump everyone into a splattered pile of mangled body parts, and then when a survivor crawls out, he gets flattened by the runaway rollercoaster cars.”That happens,” Lagares said. “It’s not the first time that something like that has happened. The only thing we can do is do our best every time we get an opportunity. You can’t control that. The only thing you can control is playing hard.”The Mets played hard, but so did the Nationals. Rasheed Wallace would have been proud. But while the Nationals get to spend an off-day feeling good about themselves and their commitment to coming back from deficits of 3-0, 4-2, and 5-4, the Mets get that feeling of emptiness, that their work is for nothing, and that “it’s not the first time that something like that has happened.” The only thing that stopped Monday from being just about any other bad Mets day from the last several years was that nobody got seriously injured.”It’s tough on everybody,” Brown said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re playing well or not. I mean, you’re happy if the team wins and is doing well. When the team doesn’t do well, you’re feeling down. You can’t be excited anymore. You just lost a game, but we’ve got another one Wednesday.” Generally, half the teams in the major leagues start the season 0-1, because that’s how math works. There has to be a loser for every winner. And sometimes, when you think the sun is coming out for you, it’s easy to forget that the weather is the same for everyone on the field. The thing about the Nationals’ side of the equation is that it’s boring. They showed a lot of heart and resilience and talent and depth and all the stuff that makes them a World Series contender. Exciting stuff, sure, but most definitely boring. The Mets’ side of Monday is where the human drama is, where you see not only the dream of “please let something different happen” get crushed, and then see how those poor humans deal with that.”You never like to lose opening day,” Mets manager Terry Collins said. “But the last couple of years, we’ve won opening day. This is one game out of 162. We’ve got to remember that.”There are two ways to remember that. One is the way that Collins meant it, that opening day results matter for less than 1 percent of the final season record, that it’s not even April, and that the Mets are not going to stop believing in themselves because their bullpen let one game slip away — heck, the same thing happened to the Dodgers on Sunday night, and they’re the World Series favorites. Of course, the other way to remember that this is one game out of 162 is that the Mets are now one game behind the pace of last year’s 88-loss team. Opening day is the idea that anything can happen, but the fine print on that selling point is that the fact that anything can happen also means that things can always get worse.WATCH:Nationals 9, Mets 7, 10 innings
After slamming into Brad Keselowski on pit road early in the race, Kurt Busch told his crew, “We’re done.”He was far from done. With a racecar filled with dents and damage, Busch rallied and won a fender-banging duel with Jimmie Johnson to win the STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway. It was Busch’s first victory in 83 races and his first with Stewart-Haas Racing, which he joined this year. Johnson, who has eight career victories at the track, finished second, followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr., Joey Logano, Marcos Ambrose and Matt Kenseth. Busch became the sixth different winner this year and practically guaranteed himself of making the Chase for the Sprint Cup with his new SHR team.Busch and Keselowski were both angry over their collission on pit road and nearly took each other out on the track. But Busch settled down, regrouped and worked his way back into contention. He came on strong after the final restart to run Johnson down, pass him twice and then hold him off for his first victory in more than two years.Johnson, who led a race-high 296 laps, won this race last year and had won two of the past three at the track where Hendrick Motorsports has dominated over the years. But Stewart-Haas is affiliated with Hendrick, getting chassis and engines from the team, and Busch was able to take advantage of that relationship Sunday.“I didn’t know if I would be able to do it,” Busch said. “The 48 car is king here. I thought about the old theory, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. I have a Hendrick chassis prepared by Stewart-Haas Racing and a Hendrick motor.“I’ve been on this journey for a while and every time I come to Martinsville, you just sort of draw a line through it and say there is no way I will be able to challenge the Hendrick guys and be up there in the top 10. This Stewart-Haas team gave me a car to do it with.”Busch, the 2004 champion, was released by Penske Racing following the 2011 season after a series of emotional outbursts and run-ins with the media and over a difference of opinion with team owner Roger Penske. He struggled through the 2012 season with underfunded Phoenix Racing and then made the Chase last year with single-car Furniture Row Racing. He had not won a race, however, since his victory with Penske at Dover in September of 2011.He left Furniture Row after last season to join Stewart-Haas Racing, the multicar team co-owned by Tony Stewart and Gene Haas.“It was a dream come true to have Gene Haas call and tell you that he wants you to drive for him and that he wants to go for trophies and wins. This is unbelievable to deliver for Haas Automation.”Though Johnson dominated much of the race, there were a record 33 lead changes among 12 drivers.Busch charged past Johnson for the lead after the final restart with 29 laps to go. Ten laps later, Johnson drove back by Busch to regain the lead, but Busch didn’t go away. He stayed with Johnson, beating and banging on his rear bumper. Finally, with 11 laps remaining, Busch dove to the inside of Johnson again to take the lead and hold him off for the win.“It had been real loose and we were hanging on there,” Johnson said. “When he got back by me, I was hopeful he would use his stuff up and I would get back by him, and then I did and I couldn’t hold him off. I just kept getting looser and looser. That’s all I had. … I was just a little too loose to get the win. I hate it, we had a very fast racecar.”Joey Logano, Matt Kenseth, Earnhardt, Clint Bowyer and others took turns leading the race, but none could hold off Johnson until the end. Bowyer drove by Johnson to take the lead on Lap 451 but had a slow pit stop under caution on Lap 460 and fell to 10th, setting up the late duel between Johnson and Busch.Earnhardt’s third-place finish — his fourth top-five of the season — allowed him to regain the points lead. The Daytona 500 winner leads Kenseth by nine points, followed by Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon and Johnson.It didn’t long for mayhem to erupt on the narrow half-mile short track. A chain-reaction crash on the first lap sent rookie Parker Kligerman to the garage and damaged the cars of Kasey Kahne, Austin Dillon, Martin Truex Jr. and others.Then, during the second caution period, Keselowski hit Kahne on pit road, and then Busch hit Keselowski, damaging both cars and sending Keselowski to the garage.Both drivers were furious over the incident and began bumping and banging and cutting each other off when Keselowski returned to the track.“Kurt just accelerated and drove right through us, absolutely drove through us,” Keselowski said. “I’ll tell you, man, I’m about tired of his recklessness.” “We just got destroyed by the 2 car coming out of the pits. We just got hammered,” said Busch, who threatened to punch Keselowski after the race.Afterward, Busch was too euphoric to worry about Keselowski and the early-race incident.“We won, we’re not worried about any of that nonsense right now,” Busch said in victory lane. “We are winners. We’re not guaranteed in the Chase but we’ve got a win and we are moving forward.”
The first week for the 2014 NCAA Tournament is in the books, with 52 teams having been eliminated. That leaves one Sweet 16, and those games get underway on Thursday and conclude Friday, giving way to the Elite Eight games on Saturday and Sunday. A look at the TV schedule and times for each upcoming Sweet 16 contest. SWEET 16No. 11 Dayton 82, No. 10 Stanford 72No. 1 Florida 79, No. 4 UCLA 68No. 2 Wisconsin 69, No. 6 Baylor 52No. 1 Arizona 70, No. 4 SDSU 64No. 2 Michigan 73, No. 11 Tennessee 71No. 8 Kentucky 74, No. 4 Louisville 69No. 7 Connecticut 81, No. 3 Iowa State 76No. 4 Michigan State 61, No. 1 Virginia 59 ELITE EIGHT No. 1 Florida 62, No. 11 Dayton 52 No. 1 Arizona vs. No. 2 Wisconsin | Saturday, March 29 | 8:49 p.m. | TBS | Announcers: Marv Albert, Steve Kerr and Craig Sager No. 8 Kentucky vs. No. 2 Michigan | Sunday, March 30 | 5:05 p.m. | CBS | Announcers: Jim Nantz, Greg Anthony and Tracy Wolfson No. 4 Michigan State vs. No. 7 UConn | Sunday, March 30 | 2:20 p.m. | CBS | Announcers: Verne Lundquist, Bill Raftery and Allie LaForceFINAL FOURFlorida vs. East champion | Arlington, Texas | Saturday, April 5 | TBD | TBS | Nantz, Anthony, Kerr, WolfsonWest champion vs. Midwest champion | Arlington, Texas | Saturday, April 5 | TBD | TBS | Jim Nantz, Greg Anthony, Steve Kerr and Tracy WolfsonNATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP GAMESouth champion winner-East champion winner vs. West champion-Midwest champion winner | Arlington, Texas | Monday, April 7 | TBD | CBS | Nantz, Anthony, Kerr, Wolfson
This is the latest preview in a series examining the 2014 fantasy baseball outlook of each major league team. Today, a look at the Minnesota Twins. For every team preview along with stat projections, player rankings, mock drafts and more, join Fantasy Source Baseball!It’s the fitting the Metrodome roof was deflated and the building demolished by explosives this offseason. Now the former home of the Minnesota Twins represents the current state of the franchise. Too harsh? Maybe, but the Twins have won just 66 games each of the past two seasons. Instead of seriously addressing any problems this offseason, they did little other than sign a couple lower-tier pitchers (Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes) and a veteran catcher (Kurt Suzuki).To be fair, there probably wasn’t a lot the Twins could do, as Joe Mauer’s mammoth contract has put even more budgetary concerns on the notoriously frugal team. The talent just isn’t there for Minnesota to win right now, and instead of wasting money to finish third instead of fourth in the AL Central, the Twins seem to be biding their time until their next wave of much-hyped prospects is ready for big league action in a year or two.It makes sense. Of course, it doesn’t really help Twins’ fans – or fantasy owners – this year. Instead, it looks like Minnesota will have to rummage through at least one more season of wreckage before eventually rebuilding another winner. SP Phil Hughes, SP Ricky Nolasco, C Kurt Suzuki. C/OF Ryan Doumit. SP Kevin Correia, C Kurt Suzuki, OF Josh Willingham.Joe Mauer is one of the best hitters in baseball. He’s also hit a total of 24 home runs the past three seasons.Injuries (concussion last year, bilateral leg weakness in 2011) have been a big reason for the lack of homers, but injuries are also a big reason why fantasy owners are so leery of Mauer. The Twins are trying to avoid dealing with that problem this year by telling Mauer to ditch his catcher’s gear for a first baseman’s glove – permanently. Of course, he’ll still be catcher-eligible in fantasy leagues this year, but this is likely the last time owners will enjoy that luxury.As far as production goes, fantasy owners won’t get many more at-bats from Mauer than when he was healthy, as he played pretty much every day even when he was primarily a catcher. But the hope is that he’ll not only avoid injury, but he’ll also be fresher/stronger throughout the season.Mauer, who turns 31 in April, actually improved in the power department last year. His .153 ISO and .476 SLG were his best marks since the Twins moved to Target Field. His pace last year would’ve yielded about 16 HRs in 162 games, so it’s possible that he can hit the 20-HR mark in a full, healthy campaign. Combine that with a potential .320 average, 80-plus runs and 80-plus RBIs, and you likely have the top fantasy catcher.Those numbers are good (but not great) for a first baseman, but you don’t want to miss out on Mauer’s last hurrah as fantasy’s best backstop. 1. Alex Presley, CF; 2. Brian Dozier, 2B; 3. Joe Mauer, 1B; 4. Josh Willingham, LF; 5. Oswaldo Arcia, RF; 6. Trevor Plouffe, 3B; 7. Kurt Suzuki, C; 8. Jason Kubel, DH; 9. Pedro Florimon, SS. Minnesota ranked 20th in OBP (.312), 25th in runs (614) and 27th in SB attempts (85) last year. The personnel is largely the same, so it would be a surprise if any of those numbers saw significant improvement.Minnesota’s biggest problem is that it lacks a true leadoff hitter. The Twins were hoping Aaron Hicks could fill that void last year, but the youngster flopped in his first taste of MLB action (.192/.259/.338), forcing the Twins to use Brian Dozier and his .312 OBP most days. A steadier presence at the top of the lineup, be it Dozier, Hicks or Alex Presley (.336 OBP in 28 games with the Twins last year) would go a long way toward making this offense better.The Twins will be relying on several largely unproven players (Hicks, Presley, Oswaldo Arcia) or injury-prone veterans (Mauer, Josh Willingham), so a lot of things will have to go right for them to score significantly more runs. The Twins’ DH and CF jobs are up for grabs this spring, and they could be filled by any of about seven different players.We project Alex Presley to win the CF job because he was fairly steady in his short stint with Minnesota last year. Conversely, Aaron Hicks was mostly a disaster. Still, the 24-year-old Hicks probably should win the job based on his minor league numbers (.376 OBP) and long-term role with the team, but Twins manager Ron Gardenhire tends to favor veterans. Both Hicks and Presley have some speed and some pop, but fantasy owners should be pulling for Hicks. Despite his offensive ineptitude, he still managed eight HRs and nine SBs in just 81 games, hinting at his 20/20 potential.We expect Jason Kubel to win the DH job, but after last year’s disaster in Arizona and Cleveland (.216/.293/.317), it’s tough to count on him to do much in his return to Minnesota. Chris Parmelee (.228/.309/.354 last year), Chris Colabello (.194/.287/.344) and Chris Herrmann (.204/.286/.325) are other in-house candidates, but obviously none stands out. Minnesota could revert back to its “Piranha” days and start both Hicks and Presley in the OF while DHing Josh Willingham, but don’t expect much overall production regardless. We’ve already talked up Brian Dozier and Oswaldo Arcia as sleepers for the Twins – and we’ll talk about Byron Buxton later – but if you want one more possible sleeper, keep an eye on catcher Josmil Pinto.The 24-year-old backstop hit .342/.398/.566 in his 21-game stint with the big club last year. Those numbers are well above his career minor league line of .275/.351/.439, but Pinto clearly has some offensive ability that could help fantasy teams. The offseason acquisition of Kurt Suzuki means Pinto won’t get much playing time early in the season, but he could force his way into an everyday role at some point. 1. Ricky Nolasco, RHP; 2. Kevin Correia, RHP; 3. Phil Hughes, RHP; 4. Mike Pelfrey, RHP; 5. Sam Deduno, RHP. : Kyle Gibson, RHP; Scott Diamond, LHP. Glen Perkins, LHP; Jared Burton, RHP; Casey Fien, RHP. The Twins had the second-worst ERA (4.55) and highest opponents’ batting average (.280) last year, marking the second straight season their staff ranked among the worst in baseball.They took some steps to improve this offseason by signing Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes, but that’s obviously just putting a Band-Aid on a massive head wound. Even if everything goes right and a couple young pitchers like Kyle Gibson and prospect Alex Meyer take big steps forward, Minnesota’s rotation will still be average, at best.The one thing the Twins have going for them is a decent bullpen. Their 3.48 reliever ERA ranked 13th, which is especially impressive when you factor in that they threw almost 24 more innings than any other bullpen. Glen Perkins has established himself as a top-10 closer, and Minnesota had a trio of setup men (Jared Burton, Casey Fien and Caleb Thielbar) who all pitched competently enough to give fantasy owners hope if Perkins gets hurt or traded. The Twins pitching staff doesn’t have a position battle that matters. Sure, maybe Kyle Gibson can regain his minor league form (3.51/1.22, 8.0 K/9) and have some value, but if he finds his groove during spring training, there really won’t be a position “battle” – he’ll simply get the No. 5 spot in the rotation. Former Yankee Phil Hughes has flashed some potential in the past, but his career 4.72/1.35 line as a starter leaves a lot to be desired. The Twins hope that a change of scenery will do Hughes some good, and there are reasons to believe that will happen.Hughes is a pretty extreme fly-ball pitcher, generating ground balls just 30.8 percent of the time last year, tied for the lowest among SPs with at least 140 innings. Going from homer-happy Yankee Stadium to relatively spacious Target Field should help him limit homers. He’s already shown the ability to limit walks (2.2 BB/9 ratio two years ago, 2.6 last year), and his 7.5 K/9 ratio last year was decent. He’s only 27, too, so theoretically he’s in his prime. It’s unlikely that Hughes will break out like many expected when he was coming up with the Yankees, but he has legit spot-start/back-of-the-rotation potential in fantasy leagues. Joe Mauer is reportedly “symptom free” from last year’s concussion. Considering it wasn’t a leg or shoulder injury, he shouldn’t be slowed at all this spring. … Josh Willingham missed 51 games last year, largely because of a knee injury. He’s yet to play more than 145 games in a season, and he’s averaged 38.5 games missed the past six campaigns. … Pedro Florimon (appendicitis) and Sam Deduno (shoulder) are both rehabbing from offseason surgeries and are expected to be close to full strength by mid-March. Minnesota boasts one of the best farm systems in baseball, thanks in large part to Byron Buxton (No. 2 in our Prospect Rankings), Miguel Sano (11) and Alex Meyer (26). Sano was the most likely to make an impact in the majors this year because of his remarkable power (.610 SLG at High-A and Double-A last season), but he’s undergoing Tommy John surgery on his right elbow and will miss all of 2014.Meyer (2.99/1.26, 11.5 K/9 ratio primarily at Double-A last year) could get a chance because of how poor Minnesota’s rotation is. The 6-9 righty with the high-90s fastball has nasty stuff, but his somewhat high walk rate (3.3 BB/9) will likely hold back his fantasy value when he initially makes it to the majors.After putting up a .334/.424/.520 line with 12 HRs and 55 SBs in the minors last year, Buxton is the player everyone is waiting for. We could be waiting a while, though, as the 19-year-old outfielder still hasn’t played above High-A. It would take a lot for him to make the majors before September, especially after Aaron Hicks flopped last year when the Twins rushed him into action. It’s not shocking for Joe Mauer to have a high BABIP, but his .383 mark last year was 34 points above his career mark. His K-rate (17.5 percent) also rose for the third straight year. Those are minor red flags for his batting average heading into this season. … Josh Willingham’s numbers weren’t down solely because of injury last year. His .269 BABIP was 25 points below his career average, and his HR/FB ratio (11.2) was below his career mark (15.8) and way below his 2012 output (21.2). He should at least marginally improve. … Trevor Plouffe saw a noticeable decline in power (10.4 percent HR/FB ratio after a 16.7 percent mark in ’12), and his .254 average was actually inflated by his .301 BABIP, which was 27 points above his career average. He has minimal sleeper value. … Ricky Nolasco posted an impressive 3.34 FIP and saw his K/9 ratio rise to 7.5 last year, but he has just a 4.66 ERA in 23 career starts against American League competition. Brian Dozier loses his SS eligibility after playing all 146 of his games at second base last season. … Joe Mauer only played eight games at first base last year, so he likely won’t have eligibility there to start season. He’ll get it soon enough, though. Target Field has a reputation of being a pitcher’s park, but it ranked 15th (neutral) in our Ballpark Power Index last year. Of course, that’s partly because of the Twins’ poor pitching staff, but it’s played better for doubles and triples than expected. It’s still a poor home run park (particularly for lefties), but overall, it’s a fairly neutral hitting environment that slightly favors pitchers.Check out our Ultimate Draft Tool. It’s like having a Fantasy Source expert with you at the draft!
This is the latest of our 30 MLB team previews, which will run through March 30.The Cubs’ recent descent from mediocrity to abject poverty within the National League Central might incite their followers to adopt the slogan, “Wait ’till next decade.” It’s saying something when the Cubs establish a franchise standard for ineptitude. Yet that’s precisely what they did by losing 197 games the past two seasons. No two editions of the “Lovable Losers” have stacked two more inept campaigns atop one another. It’s a small wonder that manager Dale Sveum took the fall, leading to Padres’ bench coach Rick Renteria being named the franchise’s fourth manager in the last five years.President of baseball operations Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer enter their third season of what is billed as a long-term makeover rather than another quick fix. They’ll be forgiven for stealing glances at what’s occurring in player development rather than watching the opera before them at Wrigley. A year after employing a record-number 31 pitchers and 56 players, the Cubs may again offer a reasonable facsimile of extending spring training. The pitching staff failed to produce a 10-game winner in 2012 while the offense posted its fifth consecutive drop in production.Since scoring 855 runs in 2008, the Cubs’ offense has circled the drain. They scored 602 runs last season, better than only the Miami Marlins within the National League. They accomplished the feat despite driving 172 home runs, second most in the league. Not since 1992 had the Cubs scored so little.The fanbase may finally be tiring of the playbill, as attendance dropped again last season. Along with declining offense, the Cubs have seen lower attendance the past five summers—a drop from 3.3 million to 2.64 million, the lowest since 1998.Epstein probably wouldn’t describe what’s going on as a dismantling, but the term is apt. The Cubs have committed resources to the draft, international signings and player development. Tangible improvement may have to wait until 2015. The North Siders meanwhile labor in a division that has produced four of five possible wild cards the last three years.“Obviously, we’re a club that’s in transition,” Renteria said during the MLB Winter Meetings in Orlando. “So, I think, like any club, roles are defined over time and they’re established by the players that are performing. And I think over time they chip away about who they are or what they’re going to be about.”Finally out from under outfielder Alfonso Soriano’s monstrous contract, the Cubs have few hurdles to advancing players. Shortstop Starlin Castro and first baseman Anthony Rizzo represent two fixtures but it’s likely last year’s player turnstile will continue elsewhere.Converted shortstop Junior Lake will attempt to stick in left field. The Cubs acquired Marlins center fielder Justin Ruggiano for Brian Bogusevic. Ruggiano batted .313 in 2012, .222 last season. Nate Schierholtz (.251-21-68) returns to right field as one of four projected regulars who failed to achieve a .300 on-base percentage last season.Rizzo provides the club’s main power source (.419 slugging percentage) but retains huge holes in his swing that make him especially vulnerable to lefthanded pitching. Rizzo managed a pedestrian .625 OPS against southpaws last season.Darwin Barney received a Gold Glove at second base in 2012 but won few admirers for his offense last season. The Cubs allowed him 555 plate appearances to construct a .569 OPS. Despite Barney’s Gold Glove, the Cubs await help at the position from their farm system.Castro can dazzle when focused, but he’s one of the game’s most frustrating when inattentive, which became way too often for Sveum. Only 24, Castro enters the second season of a seven-year, $60 million extension after amassing a .245/.284/.347 slash line. For a third straight season he led N.L. shortstops in errors (22). Somehow Castro found himself batting leadoff over the final seven weeks last season.Luis Valbuena mans third base, another position decidedly in transition. As one of three players exposed there, Valbuena hit .218 while showing moderate pop last season. Pressure may quickly build to elevate Kris Bryant, the Cubs’ first-round draft pick last year who received a $6.7 million bonus. Bryant was Baseball America’s Collegiate Player of the Year at the University of San Diego and is believed closest to stardom among the team’s celebrated list of prospects.Welington Castillo is a solid catcher (.274-8-32) who will be backed by veteran George Kottaras.As the Cubs labor to improve on last year’s 96-loss campaign, their fans are fixated on a cluster of prospects featuring infielders Javier Baez, Arismendy Alcantara and Bryant along with outfielders Jorge Soler and Albert Almora.Baez amassed 37 home runs, 75 extra-base hits and 111 RBIs in 130 games split between two levels last summer. Alcantera could reach Chicago as a second baseman by midseason. Soler received a $30 million signing bonus after defecting from Cuba and projects in right field. If the group advances as the Cubs envision, several huge decisions must be made regarding position switches or trades. They would be welcome issues compared to what the Cubs have wrestled with since Epstein’s arrival.The Cubs return much of a rotation that was led by lefthander Travis Wood (9-12, 3.11 ERA) and had to endure a brutal year from veteran Edwin Jackson (8-18, 4.98). Jackson allowed more than 10 hits per nine innings and almost 1.5 runners per inning. The Cubs sought to move projected opening day starter Jeff Samardzija during the winter meetings but failed to find a match and inked him to a one-year deal. Jake Arrieta and Chris Rusin enter camp as favorites for the final two rotation spots.Veteran Jose Veras, signed to a one-year deal, is expected to get the first shot at closing. He was 0-5 with a 3.02 ERA in 67 games last season for the Houston Astros and Detroit Tigers, who acquired him on July 29.C: Wellington Castillo1B: Anthony Rizzo2B: Darwin BarneySS: Starlin Castro3B: Donnie MurphyLF: Junior LakeCF: Justin RuggianoRF: Nate SchierholtzRHP Jeff SamardzijaRHP Travis WoodRHP Edwin JacksonRHP Jake ArrietaLHP Chris RusinJose VerasImpact newcomerIt’s undetermined where exactly Ruggiano will play in the Cubs’ outfield, but he is considered a plus defender. He and Junior Lake will fill vacancies created by last season’s trades of Soriano and David DeJesus. Ruggiano had divergent success in Miami the last two seasons. He’ll have to prove he’s more than a stopgap.Scout’s viewA major league scout analyzes 1B Anthony Rizzo“He offers immense lefthanded power but also has huge holes in his swing. The Cubs are trying to make him a marquee player, but Rizzo needs to make adjustments to help his consistency. He holds his hands low and close to his body, leaving him vulnerable to anything hard with movement. The only thing he can do is cheat against good fastballs and that frequently means he can’t keep the ball fair. Rizzo is still a very young player (24). He will devour mediocre middle relievers but guys who locate easily expose him. His production in the division against the Cardinals (.209, 1 HR), Reds (.158, 0 HR) and Pirates (.162, 2 HR) was brutal. Part of the problem may be that the Cubs love to over-hype their younger players. Rizzo is a work-in-progress … ”View from the other dugoutA scout’s take on the Cubs:“Theo Epstein continues to take a long-term view for a franchise that has perpetually attempted quick fixes. It’s probably going to get worse before it gets better. For now they’re tying themselves to first baseman Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro at short and guys like Darwin Barney, who is offensively challenged. This is another team that seems to lack a consistent method of play, probably because its highest-profile player, Castro, is also one of its least committed. Unless Rick Renteria is going to take charge, nothing much will change. Talent-wise, they have enough holes to be quickly exposed. I don’t think they ever win with Castro at short. He’s gifted but his frequent lapses are demoralizing. He’s a lesser version of Hanley Ramirez. I’d actually take Pete Kozma, the guy the Cardinals pushed aside, as an everyday defender over Castro. Their pitchers walk too many and their bullpen lacks definition. They tried to move Jeff Samardzija, which would make Travis Wood their ace. The Cubs say they have players coming. A lot of people like some of their prospects. And it looks like they’re just trying to hold the fort for another two years until those guys arrive. But leadership matters. That’s an element that gets lost in the equation until you look at how the perennially good teams do it. It’s obvious with the Cardinals. With the Cubs, who’s going to mentor the younger guys as they arrive?” Key statTheir 66-96 record says the Cubs were dreadful in 2013. But that definition comes with an asterisk. Their unbalanced bullpen was an atrocity. The Cubs used 23 relievers; only four made more than 35 appearances. A 60-percent save-conversion rate was the worst in the NL.Bottom lineNo one expects instant gratification from this team. Greater credibility would be a nice incremental move, however, to a future that is this organization’s only selling point.This content originally appeared in the Sporting News 2014 Baseball Yearbook.
SAO PAULO — A worker died Saturday after falling at the construction site of the stadium that will host the World Cup opener in Sao Paulo, marking the seventh death in accidents at World Cup venues in Brazil.Fabio Hamilton da Cruz, whose age was not disclosed, fell about 26 feet (8 meters) while helping install temporary seats at the Itaquerao stadium, construction company Fast Engenharia said in a statement. Firefighters said the worker fell from about 50 feet (15 meters). The press office of the Hospital Santa Marcelina in Sao Paulo confirmed the death, saying the worker didn’t survive serious head injuries. He was pronounced dead just before he was expected to undergo surgery.Details on the accident were not immediately released, but Fast Engenharia said the worker was wearing all the required safety equipment at the time of the fall.Brazil’s sports minister, Aldo Rebelo, released a statement lamenting the death and saying officials were awaiting results from an investigation into what happened.FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke said on his Twitter account that he was “deeply saddened by the tragic loss of a worker.”FIFA and the local World Cup organizing committee said in a statement that they were waiting for the official report on the death.”For FIFA, the LOC and the Brazilian authorities safety is paramount,” the statement said.The accident comes about four months after two workers died when a crane collapsed at the stadium while hoisting a 500-ton piece of roofing.It was the eighth death at World Cup venues so far, the seventh in accidents. Three workers died in the Arena da Amazonia in the jungle city of Manaus, including a 55-year-old Portuguese man killed while disassembling a crane that was used to install the stadium’s roof earlier this year. Another worker there died of a heart attack.In 2012, a worker died at the construction site of the stadium in the nation’s capital, Brasilia.Construction was already behind schedule in Sao Paulo because of the damage caused by the earlier accident in late November, when the roofing structure fell on part of the stadium’s facade.FIFA said it was expecting the venue to be finished in mid-May, about a month before the June 12 opener, but it wasn’t clear if Saturday’s incident would prompt further delays.About 20,000 temporary seats were being added to the new stadium to increase its capacity for the high-profile inaugural match between host Brazil and Croatia. Construction at Brazil stadiums has been plagued by delays and three venues remain unfinished less than three months before the opener. The other two stadiums under construction are the Arena Pantanal, in the city of Cuiaba, and the Arena da Baixada, in the southern city of Curitiba.Brazil promised that all 12 stadiums would be ready by the end of last year but only six were completed by then — the ones used in last year’s Confederations Cup, a World Cup warm-up tournament.Infrastructure work across Brazil also remains far from completed, but authorities insist the country will be ready to host its first World Cup since 1950.
A TCU assistant athletic director is backpedaling on some particularly harsh comments about the Texas A&M Aggies he posted on his personal Facebook page.In 1999, 12 students died after Texas A&M’s annual bonfire collapsed on top of them during construction. Just recently, the school announced plans to leave 12 seats empty after the renovations at Kyle Field to honor those students who perished in the collapse.Greg Featherston, TCU’s assistant AD for compliance, re-shared that update on his personal Facebook page with a scathingly long and acrimonious message that he claims “(he) didn’t write but could have.””If the number of students that were victims of what amounted to drunken, negligent homicide on the part of that cow college didn’t match so perfectly with the cult’s favorite number, I doubt you would have seen anything like this done,” it said in part.(Screenshot via Star-Telegram)The rant ended by saying, “See, this way it’s a passive tragedy that “happened” rather than an active atrocity that was committed. This fits into the real aggy (sic) honor code of lying, cheating, and stealing.”Featherston’s public post was aggregated on several Texas A&M fan message boards before it was eventually brought to the attention of TCU’s administration who issued a statement on Friday afternoon dissociating themselves from Featherston’s message.“Comments made by TCU employees on their personal social media accounts do not represent the University,” the university said in a press release. “Greg has apologized for this post on his personal Facebook page. We expect our employees to behave in an appropriate manner. This behavior clearly does not live up to our standards.” Featherston, who claims he was in Austin at the time of the tragic event in 1999 and “attended every vigil held on campus with UT students,” had this to offer as an apology:“It was not my intention to disrespect the fallen students or minimize the magnitude of the disaster. I sincerely apologize for the my lapse in judgment with regard to the re-post,” he said in a Facebook post on Friday afternoon.[via Fort Worth Star-Telegram]