Cardinals Desperate, Ship Rasmus to Toronto

Rasmus says “peace” to St. Louis
 
      It must be the heat in St. Louis that had Mozeliak’s head spinning. Or maybe it was looking eye to eye with the Brewers, with the sight of the Pirates and Reds in the rearview of his SUV that had the Cards GM tweaking. Whatever it was, Mozeliak was not thinking rationally when he shipped Cardinals 24 year old centerfielder Colby Rasmus to Toronto for two tux rentals and a bag of marbles.
 
     There is no doubt that the Cardinals were in need of upgrades in the pitching department, which they believe they are getting with RHP Edwin Jackson, RHP Octavio Dotel and LHP Marc Rzepczynski. The only question is, was it a big enough upgrade to dump your number one prospect from just 3 years ago? In my opinion, along with many other experts and Cardinals fans, it was not.
 
     Jackson (7-7, 3.92 ERA) will add a solid starter to the rotation, allowing the Red Birds the option of moving Kyle Mccllean back to the bullpen. Jackson was an American League All-Star in 2009 and has won 3 of 4 starts in July, but he also has an expiring contract. With the Cardinals having to spend a good chunk of change to keep a certain 1st baseman this offseason, Jackson is most likely a 2 month rental.

     Same can be said about Octavio Dotel (2-1, 3.68 ERA), who adds a late inning option out of a very shaky bullpen. The Cardinals still need to work on finding a closer, however. Dotel once saved 34 games in a season, but that was 7 years ago.

     Rounding out the deal is OF Corey Patterson and LHP Marc Rzepczynski. Rzepczynski, 25, pitched very well out of the bullpen in Toronto this year (2.97 ERA w/ 10 holds) and adds a much need lefty arm in St. Louis. Also leaving the Cardinals is RHP P.J. Walters, LHP Trevor Miller and LHP Brian Tallet.

     Rasmus, who struggled in his 3rd season with the Cardinals, was hitting only .182 in the month of July but had shown signs of life lately, hitting two homeruns in his last three games. In addition to his underachieving play, Rasmus was also making waves with the Cardinals and manager Tony LaRussa for “not listening” to Cardinals coaches.

     It is obvious that Rasmus was not living up to the hype, right away at least, but he is still extremely young and talented. Who knows where he could be 5 years down the road, which is exactly why it is so puzzling why the Cardinals would agree to this trade.

      Winning now looks to be more important to Mozeliak than winning in the future because the Cardinals will regret this trade down the road. The same could be said about the Chris Perez-Mark Derosa trade of two years ago. This is a bad trade for the Cardinals, and if they miss the playoffs it will be a seismic failure.

-Derek Piper

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Quick Hits (7/18)

Where is everybody???

       

       What’s goin’ on? I hope everybody is surviving the heat. Not much is happening in Champaign these days. School is still out, making the University of Illinois campus as dead as Jim Tressel’s chances of winning Big Ten coach of the year. Nonetheless, there is always action going on in the sports world, so let’s get to it.

        Technically, it’s baseball season so I’ll start there. So much for baseball not being an exciting sport, there is not one division where there is a clear cut winner. The Los Angeles Angels, who are four games behind the Rangers, are the furthest back of any second place team.

        When division races are neck and neck, the trading deadline becomes that much more important, making this year’s version extremely crucial. Which team will snag Heath Bell? Do the Rockies trade Ubaldo Jimenez, who is just one year removed from a 16-2 record to finish the month of July?

       There are plenty of other players with the potential of being on the move. In St. Louis, it’s centerfielder Colby Rasmus. Once regarded as the Cardinals’ top prospect, Rasmus has seemingly fell from grace in the eyes of management. The 24 year old has struggled this season, hitting only .241 with 9 homeruns and 36 RBI’s, and has not shown any signs of getting better (.122 AVG, 1 HR, 4 RBI’s in the month of July). Rasmus is still very young and could get it turned around at some point, but with the need of another pitcher and/or reliable bat down the stretch, the Cardinals just may pull the trigger for the right price.

       Remember the days when the Pittsburgh Pirates were the brunt of every baseball joke? So much that even Cubs fans could make fun of them? Well, those days are over. It was hard to see then, but trading Jason Bay, Aramis Ramirez, Freddy Sanchez, etc. has now paid off. The Buccos have a plethora of young talent and they don’t look to be going anywhere. Lead by All-Star CF Andrew McCutchen, the Pirates find themselves smack dab in the hunt to, not only finish above .500 (something they haven’t done since 1992), but win the division. Congrats Pirates fans, you deserve it.

       As much as I love baseball, I am itching for football season to start. I cannot wait until Saturdays bring orange shirts, tailgating and winning football back to Champaign. Some seem to doubt whether the last thing mentioned will make its way to Champaign in 2011, but a surprise is coming your way. Want proof? When is the last time a freshman QB played as well as Nathan Scheelhaase for a full season in the Big Ten? Terrelle Pryor had some pretty good numbers, but he sold those too.

       Speaking of Ohio State, it has been reported that Jim Tressel had compliance issues dating back to the 2005-2006 season. I guess there was more hidden under that sweater-vest than we thought.

       Reports are that the NFL lockout is finally coming to an end. That’s cool and all but what am I supposed to do with the $100 million safe house I built to guard against all the crime Ray Lewis was talking about?

         The Illinois basketball alumni game is less than 3 weeks away. Many of the great stars of recent memory will be in attendance, including Deron Williams, Dee Brown, Brian Cook, etc. However, former Illini great Kiwane Garris is still undecided whether he will play or not, after recently voicing his displeasure with the Illini for not hanging his jersey at the Assembly Hall among many of the other participants. Garris called it a “smack in the face” for not receiving that honor despite ranking 2nd in Illini history in scoring (1948 points) and 5th in assists (502). Illinois should do the right thing and put #22 up there as soon as possible.

       That’s about it for now. Follow me on Twitter @FeelDaPaign. Peace.

-Derek Piper

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Top 5 Big Ten Games of 2011

5. Michigan at Michigan State, Oct 15 TBD

These two teams don’t particularly like each other. After taking a two year break from the rivalry, Michigan State beat the Wolverines 34-17 at the Big House, extending their winning streak to three against their rivals.

This game will feature some great offense, including two of the best quarterbacks the Big Ten has to offer in Denard Robinson and Kirk Cousins. The winner might be the first team to score 60.

4. Michigan at Ohio State, Nov 26 TBD

The scumbags are gone, ala Jim Tressel, Rich Rodriguez, Terrelle Pryor, but the rivalry is not going anywhere. The past seven years have been all Buckeyes, but Brady Hoke and Heisman Trophy candidate Denard Robinson would like to change that.

This game won’t have the magnitude of the 2006 version, in which the teams ranked one and two in the entire country, but it’s still Ohio State and Michigan. Buckeye fans hope they have the next version of Troy Smith at quarterback, while the faithful in Ann Arbor just want their defense to stop somebody this season.

3. Wisconsin at Illinois, Nov 19 TBD

It’s never easy predicting how the bipolar Illini football team will perform in any given season. When they are primed to breakout, they disappoint, and when you forget they are even there, they shock the college football world. So what will it be this season? No Mikel Leshoure. No Martez Wilson. No Corey Liguet. The Illini won’t do anything this season right? Well, that’s what they want you to think.

Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase returns after a great freshman season and looks to be even better in 2011. The young QB finished last year on a high note, throwing 13 TD’s and 1 INT in his final seven games. Few freshman quarterbacks get the opportunity to start every game in the Big Ten, but Scheelhaase did and that experience will make him that much better this year.

The Illini won’t be many people’s pick to challenge in the Big Ten in 2011, but a favorable schedule could set up a big game in Champaign against the Badgers. With the Buckeyes in a state of chaos, Illinois may be the only challenger to the Badgers in the Leaders Division. It may seem crazy, but this game could decide who plays in Indianapolis in December.

2. Wisconsin at Ohio State, Oct 29 8 pm EST

The Buckeyes may be down this season, but don’t think for a second they have forgotten about last season’s game against the Badgers. Ohio State entered the matchup as the #1 team in the nation but everything changed after Badgers wide receiver David Gilreath returned the opening kick for a touchdown.

Wisconsin won the game, handing the Buckeyes their only loss of the season, as Madison partied hard to Jump Around all night long. This year will be different for the Buckeyes, acknowledging the absence of Terrelle Pryor, Jim Tressel, and possibly the opportunity for a bowl game, but the hunger will still be there.

Could this be the game where the Buckeyes get revenge and end the Badgers undefeated season? Or will Wisconsin have their way with the wounded? The answer will depend on how the Buckeyes react to the situation and how quickly Braxton Miller will progress at quarterback.

1. Nebraska at Wisconsin, Oct 1 8pm EST

Forget saving the best for last. That must have been the thinking of the Big Ten when they clashed the two best teams in the conference on the opening weekend of Big Ten play. Aside from featuring two potential top-10 teams, this game will be the battle of the newcomers.

Nebraska enters the Big Ten after a solid 10-4 season in 2010. Freshman sensation Taylor Martinez dazzled early on, having many people talking Heisman. Those talks tailed off however, much like the Huskers, as Martinez played like a Freshman quarterback down the stretch, scoring only one touchdown in his final 4 games.

Now Martinez returns, along with senior defensive tackle Jared Crick who may be the best defensive lineman in the nation in 2011. Both will be key for Nebraska’s chances in the Big Ten and this game.

On the Wisconsin side, quarterback Russell Wilson should make his Big Ten debut in front of a rocking crowd at Camp Randall. Expectations vary for Wilson in Madison, but many feel that he could play a huge role for a team that was in pretty good shape without him.

The atmosphere for this game will be insane. Few teams march into Camp Randall and leave with a win, especially in primetime games. There is no question this is the best game the Big Ten has to offer, and the winner will be the favorite to win the Big Ten Championship in December.

-Derek Piper

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Badgers Add More Bite: What Wilson Means for UW, Big Ten

                Big Ten defensive coordinators cringed when they heard the news. Badger fans, on the other hand, began rebooking Pasadena hotels for their return trip this January. This resulting from the announcement that ACC standout quarterback Russell Wilson will set aside his baseball career and transfer to Wisconsin for his last year of football eligibility.

                Wilson was a member of the Asheville Tourists, the class A team for the Colorado Rockies, but after struggling in his first season, he decided to explore his options of returning to college football. The decision then came down to transferring to either Wisconsin or Auburn, both pretty good options. In the end, Wilson went for the cheese over the poisoned trees.

                Wilson, who led his NC State squad to a 9-4 record and a victory in the Champs Sports Bowl last season, joins a potent Badger offense that shredded defenses to pieces in 2010. Behind a three-headed monster at running back, Wisconsin sported the highest scoring offense in the Big Ten (41.5 ppg) and ranked 2nd in the conference to Illinois in rushing yards.

                `Like the Badgers in 2010, Wilson had a successful season of his own. Wilson led the ACC with 3,563 passing yards and 28 TD’s. He also added over 400 yards and 9 TD’s on the ground, ranking 1st in the conference in total yards.

                The one knock on Wilson, however, was that he turned the ball over too often in 2010. His 14 interceptions were a career high and were costly in close games against East Carolina and Clemson. Throwing interceptions has not usually been a trademark for Wilson, though. As a freshman, Wilson threw 17 TD’s with only 1 INT. The next season Wilson threw 11 picks on 378 attempts, followed by 14 picks on 527 attempts as a junior.

                Wilson will not have that problem in Madison where they like to run, run and run some more. A dependable running game was not something Wilson had at NC State last season (123 ypg), where only Duke rushed for less yards in the conference. Heck, Montee Ball and James White can go for 123 yards a piece on any given Saturday.

                Wilson will not be the only one that benefits from this move to the Dairy State. Yes, Scott Tolzien had a very good season for the Badgers in 2010, throwing for 2,459 yards and 16 TD’s on only 266 attempts, but when is the last time an opposing defense was actually afraid of a Wisconsin quarterback? Well, they should be now. Wilson has the ability to make all the throws, as well as create with his feet. He is the definition of a playmaker at quarterback.

                So how good does the addition of Wilson make Wisconsin? Well, it does not make up for the loss of two All-Americans on the offense line and the absence of J.J. Watt on the defensive side but it adds a major weapon to an offense that can already pound defenses on the ground.

                The Badgers will need to find a way to get it done on defense, but the 2011 Badger offense may be better than the 2010 version. Northwestern fans who watched their Wildcats give up 70 points to the Badgers last season will be glad Wisconsin isn’t on this year’s schedule. Other teams will not be so lucky.

                So who is the favorite to win the conference? Normally, the easy answer is Ohio State, but with Terrelle Pryor and Mr. Sweater-vest out of Columbus the pecking order has changed. The Buckeyes will still be tough but they should have their share of struggles.

                Nebraska will be the other pick to win the Big Ten but their fortunes will depend on which Taylor Martinez shows up at quarterback: the one that was a Heisman Trophy candidate through the first half of the season or the one that caused Bo Pelini to pop a blood vessel in his face down the stretch. Like the Badgers, Nebraska will have a solid defense and a good running game, with the quarterback position possibly being the deciding factor between the two. The two teams will square off in Madison to open up Big Ten play and with the addition of Wilson, I give Wisconsin the edge.

                As for the rest of the teams in the Big Ten, Michigan has no defense. Penn State has quarterback issues. Michigan State will be good but not the favorite. Same can be said about Iowa and Illinois. The Illini are an intriguing story, however. If Scheelhaase can continue to improve and the defense can avoid any repeats of the Michigan game last season, a favorable schedule could push the Illini into position to contend.

                Either way, Bucky will be the favorite to go back to Pasadena, if not contend for a National Championship. Auburn was able to strike gold last offseason, who says Wisconsin can’t do the same?

-Derek Piper

Leave a comment

Filed under NCAA Football

New Floor Design Revealed

New Court at Ubben
     A new court design was unveiled for the Illinois men’s and women’s basketball teams today at the Ubben practice facility. The court does not look much different from the previous one, except this year it seems there was a shortage on blue paint. The athletic department also announced that this design will be similar to the Assembly Hall’s new court that will debut this fall.
 
     Obviously, the paint on the floor will have little to do with Illinois’ ranking in the Big Ten next season, but I will say I’m not a big fan of the new design. The design used during the 2004-2005 season looked much better. Then again, maybe that had something to do with the players on the court when the Assembly Hall was truly the “House of Pain.”
    
-Derek Piper
 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Illini Headed West for NCAA Tournament

     Memorial Day has usually been a day for the Illini baseball team to kick back, hang up their spikes and relax after a long season. However, for the first time in over a decade, Illinois will take the field after the holiday and compete in the NCAA Tournament. The Illini will square off against perennial powerhouse Cal State Fullerton (40-15), who will host the regional as the top seed. It will be Illinois’ first tournament appearance since 2000.

     It did not appear early on this team would be the one to break the streak, sporting a 13-21 record in late April. Something clicked for Coach Dan Hartleb’s squad, however, as the Illini ended the regular season on an 8-2 tear, tying for the Big Ten regular season title. Behind hot hitting from Justin Parr, Willie Argo and others, in addition to great pitching, the Illini ran through the Big Ten Tournament, defeating the Michigan St. Spartans 9-1 in the championship game.

     The game at Cal State Fullerton will be played Friday at 10 PM CT and will be broadcasted on ESPNU.

-Derek Piper

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Money-Makers, Not Money-Takers

     This is an article I wrote for my journalism class a couple weeks ago. Should college basketball players get paid? Or is the system perfectly adequate? Check it out….

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under NCAA Basketball