Game 1: @ Anaheim May 17 (Ducks 4-Blackhawks 1)
Game 2: @Anaheim May 19
Game 3: @Chicago May 21
Game 4: @Chicago May 23
Game 5: @Anaheim May 25*
Game 6: @Chicago May 27*
Game 7: @Anaheim May 30* *if necessary
Season series: Chicago won two of the three games this season, outscoring Anaheim by a total of 8-3.
One word comes to mind when I think of the Chicago Blackhawks forwards: Deep. They can roll four lines and use their forecheck to wear down the opposing defense. It all starts with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. They are easily a top five offensive duo in the league today. Marian Hossa seems to have the puck find him in the playoffs, and Patrick Sharp is one of those players who can turn it up a notch when May rolls around. Add in rookie Teuvo Teravainen with his high skill set, and these forwards will give the Anaheim defense all they can handle.
They are large and very talented. Corey Perry, highly skilled and who some may call the best agitator in the game, will be a focal point for the Chicago defense. Ryan Getzlaf is a pure playmaker; his vision and ability to hold the puck and draw defenders to him are amazing. By garnering the attention of defenders, it opens up his line mates. Bringing Ryan Kesler into their forward group was a wonderful addition. Kesler gives Anaheim depth at center and makes the opposing defense have to worry about a second scoring line.
Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are perhaps the most dependable blue line pair in the league. The loss of injured Michal Rozsival will be an obstacle to overcome, but they have eager players who are ready to step up to fill the void. David Rundblad and Niklas Hjalmarsson will be relied upon heavily to move the puck out of the defensive zone and start the rush on transition.
To say the Ducks defense is stingy would be underselling them. They aren’t fancy by any means, but they get the job done. They aren’t considered a shot-blocking squad, but they find a way to keep teams from even thinking about taking shots. They exit the defensive zone quickly due to their mobile defenders: Sami Vatanen, Cam Fowler and Hampus Lindholm. The way they carry the puck and can be thought of as extra forwards reminds me of how Paul Coffey and Sergei Zubov would command attention.
Corey Crawford finally regained the starting spot, and he was superb against Minnesota with a .947 save percentage. Crawford won the Stanley Cup in 2013, and it appears that he is back in that form. Good for Chicago, not so much for Anaheim.
This is Frederik Andersen’s playoffs. After going back and forth last postseason, he has made a statement this year, going 8-1 with a goals against average of 1.96. He rarely falls victim of the soft goal, and directs rebounds away from the middle of the ice.
The experience of Crawford and the core of Chicago‘s roster should give them an edge in what shapes up as a fantastic Western Conference Finals. Andersen will end up with a Cup or two, but not this season. He will use this series to build on what should be a stellar career. The Blackhawks win a thriller in seven games…and Game 7 might just creep into double overtime.
Matt Molina is a Contributor at The Scoop. Follow him on Twitter at @MattMMolina.
“I’m not a hero. I’m not the savior. Forget what you know. I’m just a man whose circumstances went beyond his control, beyond my control. We all need control. I need control. We all need control.” — Dennis DeYoung
I am not an addict, although sweet tea comes really close for me. I will not pretend to be an expert on addiction. I know enough to know that addiction is hell.
However, I do live with an addict in my sports life. His name is Josh Hamilton. He left me for a couple of years, thinking there was more out there for him than me. Now, suddenly Josh is walking back into my life.
And as a Texas Rangers fan…I am conflicted.
In the fall of 2007, the Texas Rangers had A-Rod money to spend after Alex opted out of his Rangers deal and inked a new deal with New York. With a full wallet, they searched for a big-time centerfielder through free agency or trade. Rumors swirled around Torii Hunter, Jim Edmonds, Rocco Baldelli, Aaron Rowand, Coco Crisp, and Juan Pierre. (Yes, THAT Aaron Rowand.)
Just before Christmas, they found their new centerfielder when they traded prized pitching prospect Edinson Volquez to Cincinnati for Josh Hamilton. Hamilton finally made it to the big leagues in 2007 with the Reds, after years where great promise succumbed to near-fatal addictions. While sabermetricians predicted good things for Hamilton hitting in The Ballpark in Arlington, Ranger fans boned up on his backstory and hoped for the best.
And wow, did we ever get the best.
I had a late business meeting in downtown Dallas the night of the 2008 Home Run Derby. I’ll never know how I drove home safely that night, because tears rolled down my face the whole way as I listened to Hamilton’s performance on the radio. As ball after ball landed in the farthest reaches of Ruth’s House, and Yankees fans cheered, I could not help feeling joy for Josh realizing his God-given potential on a national stage. Swear to God, we could have gotten anything the Yankees had if we had offered them Josh Hamilton the next morning.
The Rangers still were not very good yet, but Josh had a great year. He settled into the area, shared his Christian witness with church youth groups, and quickly became a fan favorite. He hit baseballs a helluva long way and he threw his body all over center field with abandon. He provided electric moments and incredible memories for five seasons at Rangers Ballpark.
Occasionally, I listen to Eric Nadel’s call of the walkoff home run Josh hit on July 9, 2011. That was two nights after fan Shannon Stone tragically fell to his death while reaching for a ball Josh tossed to him and his son. That homer, that healing moment in time, still gives me chills listening to it today. The video below is from the television broadcast. What a moment it was.
From 2008 – 2012, Josh Hamilton was a baseball beast.
Of course, when we got Baseball Beast Josh, we also got the other Josh. Snarky Josh with the media. Silly Josh at Maloney’s Tavern. Crazy Josh at Sherlock’s. Whining Josh who blamed his hitting slumps variously on energy drinks, quitting tobacco, personal sin, day games, and his own blue eyes.
THAT Josh. Recovering Addict Josh.
For five seasons, Josh Hamilton was the greatest player in Texas Rangers history. He also was our most fascinating character, a volatile mix of testosterone, ego, moodiness, self-doubt, and relapse potential. He played with a youthful abandon on the field, yet sometimes displayed juvenile behavior off the field.
Josh’s party in Texas ended in September 2012. A hitting slump became protracted. In the last game of the season, with the AL West division on the line, he dropped a crucial fly ball in Oakland. When he failed to produce at the plate in the Wild Card game, Rangers fans turned on him and booed lustily after each at-bat. The Rangers lost to Baltimore that night, and the free agent outfielder took his high-wire act to SoCal.
There, he sealed his fate with Texas fans when he famously declared that Dallas-Fort Worth is “not a baseball town.” He was right, of course, but it still was a cheap shot at Ranger Nation. Fans dissed him loudly whenever the Angels came to town.
Soon, Hamilton also lost Angels fans, as his hitting troubles continued and his body began to give out on him. Off the field, his marriage unraveled. When he admitted to MLB a still-mysterious relapse of his addictions last February, his Anaheim situation completely tanked. Owner Arte Moreno could not wait to dump his highly-paid player, believing the relapse was disloyal to his benevolent ownership and toward Hamilton’s teammates. Texas answered Moreno’s call.
That is how Josh Hamilton ended up on my doorstep, knocking sheepishly and wanting to come home.
Addiction knows no seasons. When you are on top of the world, feeling secure and invulnerable, the addiction feeds on that. When you are down in the dumps, feeling unloved and incapable, the addiction feeds on that, too. It’s why addiction is so insidious. It attacks you, no matter your mood, no matter your circumstance.
Living with a recovering addict is difficult. It is not a matter of IF they will break your heart again, but WHEN. All of your love and support and counsel cannot make the addiction just go away. You never take the good times for granted. You pray the bad times are not too bad.
Sometime in 2012, Josh Hamilton lost his mojo. Baseball came so easy for Josh from childhood on, but now he scuffles around, looking for that magic moment when it all clicks into place and he becomes a beast again. Hamilton lives for the cheers and chants—needs them, really—but those are far fewer and much farther apart now.
After the latest relapse, Arte Moreno wanted Hamilton to grow up, man up, and stop his self-destructive behavior. Moreno may not understand addiction. Josh is not stupid, immature, disloyal, or intentionally self-destructive. He is an addict. Every skill, every decision, every emotion, every relationship is at risk every minute of every day from the addiction. Addiction is not an excuse. It is a driving force.
Josh Hamilton will never be a Baseball Beast again. He did not find the formula in Anaheim. It appears he may have started remembering the formula during rehab stints in Round Rock and Frisco. Can he help this 2015 Rangers offense? Sure, but only because this offense is So. Freaking. Awful.
Baseball Beast Josh is gone forever. Recovering Addict Josh lives on. All of this begs the question, then, “Why will I let Josh Hamilton back into my sports life now?”
Simply put, Josh Hamilton touches my heart.
After all, this is not Alex Rodriguez or Barry Bonds, two cruddy personalities who screwed royally with the integrity of the game I love. He is not Josh Brent who killed a man, or Ray Rice who cold-cocked a woman. He is not Floyd Mayweather, thank God, a pathetic excuse for a man. Hamilton is not a stain on civil society or on the game of baseball.
Josh Hamilton is merely a fallen human, a kid in an adult’s aging body who just wants to play baseball like he thinks he still can. I root for him because I’m fallen, too. We all are. He wants to be better at life, and so do I. I want him to succeed, not just as a Texas Ranger, but much more importantly as a man. I want him to succeed for his kids and for the kids who wore his last name on their backs for years.
Mine are not the ramblings of a sentimental sap pining for days past. I know what I’m getting myself into as Josh returns to the Rangers. Hamilton will piss me off sometimes. He may get on a hot streak and thrill me for a week or two. I’m ready for both, if it means that the guy underneath the uniform gets a little more sober and a little more healed.
I listened to his April 27 press conference when both Joshes took questions from reporters. Baseball Beast Josh got testy over the pointed queries about his aborted time in Anaheim and what he can possibly give Texas on the field. Recovering Addict Josh talked openly and unashamed about his need for control, having people around him who love him and try to protect him from himself.
Cockiness mixed with concession. Good grief, it all felt so familiar.
When I met my wife, she knew nothing about baseball. I took her to her first major league game in 1994. Over the last 20 years of following the Rangers with me, she has loved only two players: Ivan Rodriguez and Josh Hamilton. She still has her Josh memorabilia, even though that dumb “baseball town” statement ticked her off. She roots for him, too, so much so that she got emotional as I read her this article.
I’ve seen Josh play a few times at the Ballpark since he joined the Angels. I never once booed him as thousands of others did. Josh Hamilton played a huge role in a magical era for Rangers fans, and for that he always will have this fan’s gratitude and ongoing support.
So if returning to Arlington helps you on your journey, Josh, then welcome home, brother. Have some iced Gold Peak with me. My door is open.
Even so, you will break my heart again. I know it. It’s just a matter of time.
Bobby Quinten is a Contributor at The Scoop. Follow him on Twitter at @BobbyQuinten.
The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim won the American League West Championship last week.
As I type these words, they have the best record in all of baseball. And with only a handful of games left, they must be considered one of the favorites to make it to the World Series.
Is anyone excited about this prospect? Are there huge throngs of fans who are giddy at the concept of the Angels playing deep into October?
I have been a resident of Southern California for a while now. I have witnessed up close both the Dodgers and the Angels making it to their respective LCS. In my years of living in California, I have met maybe 10 Angels fans, and very few wearing Angels gear.
I remember seeing someone with an Angels cap and sweatshirt not long after Albert Pujols signed his long term deal with the Halos.
I said to him, “You must be excited about Pujols coming over, right?”
He responded, “Oh yeah, the new first baseman. I hear he is pretty good.”
At that moment I heard screams coming from St. Louis, a fan base that does not have a Rally Monkey nor a stadium with a fake Disney rock in centerfield.
Listen to sports talk in Southern California, and save for the playoffs, the Angels will scarcely get a mention.
And as a fan base, the they hardly can be considered one of the strongest. Yes, I know there are individual Angels fans out there whose love and devotion to the team has no boundaries and who wept a tear when Jim Fregosi passed away last year.
But as a whole, they are not a team that inspires much emotion, negatively or positively. There are not a lot of transplanted Angels fans across the country. People who move from where they grew up tend to keep the teams of their youth. That’s why Arizona has so many Cubs fans, and Florida’s most popular team is probably the Yankees.
Not a lot of people move out of California. Maybe that’s why California has many “Boston Bars” and “New York Bars,” but you would be hard pressed to go to Brooklyn and find an “Orange County Bar.”
Figuring out who Angels fans are is mysterious. In an annual study conducted by Emory Sports Marketing, every MLB fan base was ranked in terms of financial support and social media presence.
Their metrics put the Angels near the bottom in all categories, including the worst Social Media Equity in the American League. I confess I do not understand all of the math. But I do know that doesn’t look good.
Who do the Angels play for anyway? California baseball is intriguing, with the North and South rivalry between the Giants and Dodgers, and the chip on the shoulder and carnival atmosphere in Oakland.
Even San Diego fans, few that there are, have pride in their city and their underrated misery.
But the Angels?
Since 1996, the Angels haven’t moved, but have had three different location names, a state, the city they actually reside in, and the metropolis in another county that the residents of Anaheim seem to resent.
With the awkward “of Anaheim” suffix in their name, they represent the 56th biggest city in the country, playing for fans that only exist in between Irvine and Long Beach, who need prompting from a primate to cheer in a ballpark that has the Thunder Mountain Railroad in center field.
Ladies and Gentlemen your World Series front runners!
Fox might consider bringing back The X Factor because ratings for the World Series might be too low to record.
But before the cyanide capsules are consumed, the TV executives should keep something in mind:
While the Angels could be the World Champions nobody WANTS, they could be the exact champions that baseball NEEDS!
Kind of like eating vegetables, the Angels winning it all might not be so pleasurable, but it will be good for us.
What is the nourishment of the Angels?
Seafood… specifically Trout. Mike Trout.
As Derek Jeter fatigue has swept the nation a year after the Mariano Rivera celebration got the best of us, baseball finds itself lacking a marquee national star.
There are wonderful players to be sure . Die hard fans of the game like myself see that Buster Posey, Giancarlo Stanton, Clayton Kershaw, Andrew McCutchen, Felix Hernandez and many more are thrilling and worth watching.
But no player has yet become that bigger-than-the-sport figure that a new generation can have as their own star.
The Angels just happen to have a candidate for that role. Mike Trout is the best in the business and arguably its greatest all-around player. Loved by traditional fans for being a 5-tool, hustling player, and the new stats crowd for his off-the-charts numbers, Trout has something for everyone.
He plays with a flair for the dramatic, and has the humble, team-first quality that gave Jeter his aura while still being a decent pitchman.
Trout could be the new face of the game as attention shifts from the Northeast out west. In fact, the anonymity of the Angels franchise could work to Trout’s advantage.
Most of the annoyance fans have regarding Jeter’s farewell is based on their hatred for the Yankees. People have hated the Yankees for generations. Often times, their team lost at the hands of Jeter and the Yankees.
But the world doesn’t hate the Angels. There is no musical called Damn Angels. Save for a few A’s and Rangers fans, or maybe someone who doesn’t like those strange Head and Shoulders commercials where women are sniffing C. J. Wilson’s hair, people aren’t lining up to HATE the Angels. They have no baggage as a franchise.
When Michael Jordan took over the NBA, he played for the Bulls, a franchise that didn’t have the animosity of the Celtics or Lakers. Most people could not find Edmonton on the map when Wayne Gretzky showed up.
If the rest of the country could discover Trout, they would be rooting for HIM rather than the team. And what better showcase for Trout than a World Series?
Baseball has had potential national stars, especially in the wake of the 1994 strike, but they never took off with the World Series as a showcase.
Ken Griffey Jr. was a transcendent talent playing for an obscure team. He got the 5 homers and the Division Series-clinching mad dash home in 1995, but never saw a pennant with the Mariners nor the Reds.
Barry Bonds was one of the great players of all time. But nobody ever liked him, even before his body expanded faster than Bruce Banner on a bad day.
Alex Rodriguez couldn’t win a pennant in Texas nor Seattle, and by the time he arrived in New York, he was public enemy number one. Seeing him fail in October became a national pastime.
Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were the Milli Vanilli of baseball.
Cal Ripken became that beloved pre-Jeter figure, but his lone World Series took place in 1983 when his consecutive game streak was only a few hundred long.
With Trout, the best young superstar in the game is currently in his prime. Since traditional northeast teams are out, and that regional bias will not not applicable this October, this could be a time for Fox, MLB, ESPN and Turner Sports to shine their spotlight on a new superstar.
He isn’t going to jail. He isn’t on steroids (we hope). He is in his prime. He is signed long term. He is the consensus pick for best player in the game. And he plays on a team that most have no ill will towards.
Other than that, he has nothing going for him.
So sitting here in late September, does anyone WANT to see the Angels in the World Series?
Not many do.
But not many enjoyed eating carrots and broccoli, either. In the end it was good to do, made bodies stronger and helped you live longer.
Baseball could use some of that nourishment.
Time to eat your veggies. A post-Jeter, bigger-than-life star plays in a tiny sliver of land between Los Angeles and San Diego. That could be the game’s future.
Paul Sullivan is a Contributor for The Scoop. Follow him on Twitter at @SullyBaseball.