Photo Credit: http://www.visitpittsburgh.com
The Penguins’ winning streak continued this week, Mario Lemieux’s statue is unveiled, while college basketball winds down for the local teams.
Today is Thursday, March 8, and this is your Steel City Sports Update.
As the slogan said, it’s a great day for hockey! More importantly, it’s a great day to be a Pittsburgh Penguins’ fan. Following their 3-2 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs last night, the Dan Bylsma’s team is on a seven-game winning streak, and their 85 points are good for second place in the Atlantic Division. Further, they have the second most points in the entire Eastern Conference, just behind the New York Rangers. Without a doubt, this is the most dangerous team in the NHL right now.
The list of key contributors to the Pens’ success is endless, but guys like Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal, Marc Andre Fleury, James Neal, and Pascal Dupuis have led the way. Pittsburgh beat the Colorado Avalanche with ease on Saturday and then nipped the Phoenix Coyotes on Monday. Up next, they face the Florida Panthers tomorrow night and the Boston Bruins on Sunday. The game against Boston would be major anyway, but with the addition of some other Penguins’ news, this game might be even bigger.
Sidney Crosby announced earlier this week that he has been cleared for contact, and that he hopes to play this weekend against Boston. It would be a home game at Consol Energy Center in front of the Pittsburgh crowd, and we all know how well that went last time. Hopefully he’ll get back in the groove and be at 100% as the NHL Playoffs approach.
In other news, Mario Lemieux was honored yesterday afternoon with the unveiling of his own statue outside the Consol Energy. Lemieux is the greatest Penguins’ player of all time, and is most deserving of this type of tribute. Congratulations to him on the accomplishment. Let’s Go Pens!
Well all the moves we felt would eventually happen involving the Pittsburgh Steelers and their veteran group…did happen. The Steelers continued to address their salary cap concerns by cutting some of the veteran players who have been leaders and key elements to the team’s AFC Championships and Super Bowls over the past decade.
The Steelers made the announcements on consecutive days last week that Hines Ward, Chris Kemoeatu, Aaron Smith, and James Farrior would all be cut from the team. All are veterans, and all have shown obvious decreasing ability to perform at the level of a championship level the Steelers seek to be each and every season.
Ward, of course, garnered the biggest reaction from fans in Pittsburgh, and rightfully so. The guy has been a football icon locally for years, but unfortunately, his ability has significantly decreased in recent years, and he simply isn’t worth the amount of money the team would have been forced to pay him. When considering the eventual contract situations with Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown, Ward was the odd man out.
In addition to the cuts, the Steelers also have restructured contracts with Ben Roethlisberger, LaMarr Woodley, and Lawrence Timmons. Add to that the retirement of Chris Hoke due to injury, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are going to be a much different looking team when they take the field in September. Still, with Art Rooney II and the rest of the Steelers’ organization, as well as head coach Mike Tomlin, this team is used to winning, and they’ll expect to be successful in 2012, with or without veteran players.
Yes, baseball fans, Spring Training is finally here! The Pirates began Grapefruit League play last Saturday, and are currently 2-3 so far in five games. All three of their defeats came against the Toronto Blue Jays, while their two victories came against the Baltimore Orioles and New York Yankees on Monday and Tuesday.
The biggest news of the week came late Sunday night, when word dropped that the Pirates had agreed to a contract extension with Andrew McCutchen. The deal is for six years, $51.5 million, with an option for a 7th year, assuring that McCutchen will be in a Pirates’ uniform into his low 30’s. This is GREAT news for the Pirates, but even a bigger deal for the Pittsburgh fans, who, obviously, have questioned the intentions of owner Bob Nutting and general manager Neal Huntington. First with the extension of Jose Tabata last season and now the deal with McCutchen, the management is slowly but surely reassuring Pirates’ fans.
From an on-the-field standpoint, Pedro Alvarez will continue to be the key for the offense. If he can consistently hit for power, that will open up opportunities for McCutchen as well as Neil Walker, Garrett Jones, and Casey McGehee. The other key will be the starting pitching rotation, which will begin the first two months of the regular season (at least) without A.J. Burnett, who the Pirates acquired from the New York Yankees. Jeff Karstens and Kevin Correia have pitched well so far in Spring Training, and both will be in the starting rotation on Opening Day. We’ll keep you updated on Pirates’ news through Spring Training and regular season. Let’s Go Bucs!
The last week was a perfect reflection of how the entire season went for Jamie Dixon and the Pittsburgh Panthers. After a loss to Jim Calhoun and the Connecticut Huskies last Saturday, in a game that the Panthers had a chance but were outplayed on key possessions down the stretch, they traveled to Madison Square Garden in New York City for the Big East Tournament in hopes of going on a hot streak and taking it straight to the conference title to earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
Well, it didn’t exactly happen that way. After an opening round victory over St. John’s on Tuesday, the Panthers were beaten by the Georgetown Hoyas, 64-52 yesterday afternoon. After strong opening round games, Ashton Gibbs and Tray Woodall were held in check against Georgetown, and the rest of the team simply couldn’t keep pace with the offensive-minded Hoyas.
Pitt ended the season with a horrendously disappointing 17-16 record, including a dismal 5-13 conference mark, which put them in 13th place in the Big East. After beginning the season 11-1, the Panthers dropped eight straight games, which included narrow hard-fought losses to Marquette, Syracuse, and Louisville. They then caught a bit of a hot streak, winning four straight, but then dropped another five in a row. These are not the Panthers we remember from previous seasons, known for tough-minded defense and physical play, and that was reflected in the ability of their opponents to have the advantage down the stretch.
Rest assured, though, we can trust in Dixon. He’ll have his team ready to go next season. Until then, however, it’ll be an offseason full of bitterness and disappointment.
The Colonials came up just one game shy of punching their ticket to the NCAA Tournament. Instead, they lost to Long Island, a team they defeated on January 26, in the Northeast Conference Championship last night. The Blackbirds beat RMU, 90-73, and just simply used their offensive tenacity to overwhelm the Colonials throughout the entire game. Julian Boyd scored 18 points to lead LIU, while Jason Brickman had 11 assists on RMU’s struggling defense.
This was a rematch of last year’s NEC title game in which LIU defeated the Colonials in overtime, and they did it again this year, advancing once again to represent their conference in the NCAA Tournament. Velton Jones, RMU’s leading scorer and overall top player all season, was injured early in the first half. He did play throughout the game, but was noticeably affected by the injury, scoring only 10 points on 3-12 shooting.
Robert Morris finished with a 24-10 record, including a 13-5 and third place finish in the NEC standings. While overall it was a strong season, the Colonials did have a few drawbacks throughout the season, but still managed to reach the conference championship final by defeating Monmouth and Wagner in the tournament. Unfortunately, they couldn’t compete offensively with the Blackbirds last night. Still, it was a nice season for RMU, but one that could have gone better had they played to their potential.
The Duquesne Dukes ended their season by losing their final two games by a combined 24 points to conference opponents. After falling to Saint Louis by 15 points, they opened up the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament on Tuesday night by losing to Massachusetts, 92-83. The Dukes seemingly had the game in hand, but the Minutemen stormed back from behind and caught fire from the floor.
The Dukes concluded the season by losing five of six games, and, as we know, in all sports, it is crucial to be playing your best at the end of the season. Duquesne simply wasn’t doing that down the stretch, and that’s why their season ended in the first round of their conference tournament. Their campaign wraps with a 16-15 record, including 7-9 in the conference, which was good for 9th place in the highly competitive A-10.
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Brief 2011 Recap
The Tigers cruised to the AL Central crown in '11, winning the division by 15 games as nary another team in the division finished above .500. Midseason acquisition Doug Fister was dazzling down the stretch, and that basically summed up how the Tigers season went. Certainly, the Tigers were expected to be in the mix in a competitive AL Central, but the club certainly overachieved just a little bit (95-67 real record, 89-73 Pythagorean record). It's probably safe to say that GM Dave Dombrowski took any chance of regression with a grain of salt based on how he proceeded this offseason, though.
Brief 2012 Prediction
There won't be a single publication that will predict anything other than a repeat performance as Central division champs, and it's for good reason. An offense that collective carried a .773 OPS added one of the premier bats in the game in Prince Fielder, totally and completely assuaging any fears that the offense might fall off after Victor Martinez' knee injury. This team should win 95 games with an outside crack at 100, and should clean up on an AL Central which appears much weaker this year than in season's past.
Projected Starting Lineup
Top Bench Options
C- Gerald Laird
IF - Ramon Santiago
IF - Brandon Inge
OF - Clete Thomas
UTIL- Don Kelly
Andrew Oliver/Jacob Turner
Top 101 Prospects (According to Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus)
P Jacob Turner (15th)
3B Nick Castellanos (71st
Why the Tigers Will Contend in ‘12
All the Tigers really need to contend in '12 is to not have a complete and total letdown. The rotation is good, but not great after Verlander. Fister is due to regress quite a bit, but should still be a capable hurler in the middle of this rotation and especially in Comerica Park. It would be nice if Porcello could join Scherzer in the ranks of remembering how to whiff guys, but his stuff still plays pretty good in his cavernous home digs. Turner could make the club out of spring training as a middle reliever, but there's also a good chance he could steal that fifth starter spot in the near future as well. He's a young one to watch. Summarily, this team will win the division barring some sort of catastrophe.
Why the Tigers Will Not Contend in ‘12
To be succinct, it would take a total and colossal failure or injury bug to hit the Tigers this season to keep the club out of the playoffs.
Final Prediction: First, AL Central (out of five)
O/U Wins: 94.5