About Kurt Schwerman

To make it short, I'm a total sports nut. I live and breathe sports and enjoy nothing more than talking about them, as well as going to as many games as I can.

Time for Blackhawks to move on from Colliton

colliton

A year after the Blackhawks fired legendary head coach Joel Quenneville, who led the franchise to three Stanley Cup titles during his time in Chicago, it’s time to start talking about another coaching change. Quenneville’s replacement, Jeremy Colliton, should feel his seat getting hotter and hotter with each lackluster performance that his team turns in.

For the record, I never wanted the Blackhawks to fire Quenneville. I didn’t think the team’s poor play leading up to his exit was at all his fault and was more a result of bad roster decisions by the front office, but as we all know coaches take the brunt of the blame when things go south. I still don’t think it was the right decision to fire Q, but nonetheless, here we are.

I also thought it was a bit interesting that the Hawks chose to replace Quenneville with Colliton, who at the time of his hiring was just 33 years old and had never been a coach behind an NHL bench in his career. The Hawks’ thought process for this was understandable to an extent seeing as how analytics are playing a bigger role in the NHL these days than in year’s past, and Colliton is a guy willing to use and embrace those analytics. He was (still is) also very young, which matches the trend of new coaching hires not only in the NHL, but across all pro sports these days.

That being said, there was a lot of optimism surrounding the Blackhawks leading into this season. Colliton had all summer and training camp to work on and implement his system. The players also had all summer and all training camp to adapt to Colliton’s system, which is drastically different than the one that was employed by Joel Quenneville in his time in Chicago. GM Stan Bowman made a flurry of offseason moves to upgrade the team’s defense and goaltending. And after playing at a nearly 100-point pace during the second half of last season under Colliton, one could only assume that this year’s Blackhawks would be better than last year’s.

That has not been the case.

The Hawks currently sit 4-7-3 on the season, with just two of those wins coming in regulation. Their defense has been alarmingly awful, and the offense has regressed tremendously since last season ended. The only bright spot thus far has been the play of Corey Crawford and more specifically, Robin Lehner.

Too many games so far this season have the Blackhawks shown up with little to no effort and been blown away by the opposing team. What’s worse is that a lot of those ten losses (regulation and overtime) have come against bad teams who the Hawks allowed themselves to get dominated by. The Predators, who granted are one of the better teams in the league, handed the Blackhawks one of their worst defeats of the last decade on October 29th in Nashville. The score was *only* 3-0, but the way in which the Hawks got absolutely embarrassed in that game was inexcusable. Pekka Rinne even said it was a game unlike any other that he has played in during his long NHL career.

If the Blackhawks were going out each night and giving it their best effort while still losing, that’s one thing. That’s not what’s been happening, though. They appear to be going through the motions and not really caring, while also losing more often than not. Effort, while it’s ultimately up to the players to give it, falls on the coach. A good coach will teach good work ethic, much like Joel Quenneville. That the Blackhawks are not showing much effort on a nightly basis leads me to believe that Jeremy Colliton is not preaching it. It could also mean something worse:

Colliton has lost the locker room.

Hiring such a young coach who was barely older than many of the players on the team was a risky move by Stan Bowman to begin with. Heck, Colliton is two years younger than Duncan Keith and only a few months older than Brent Seabrook. Such a young coach walking into a locker room full of future Hall of Famers and proven winners just screams potential disaster, especially when said coach is replacing an all-time great.

Add in that Colliton just decided to bench a healthy Brent Seabrook, the team’s undisputed locker room leader, in back-to-back games, and he’s asking for a room full of pissed off players who might quickly be losing their respect in him. Despite whatever amount his contract might add up to, the players in that locker room will talk until they are blue in the face about how Seabrook is worth every nickel of his contract. When the veteran core group of players sees one of their own get benched the way in which Seabrook was benched (it was not handled well by the coaching staff), they are bound to start doubting the man in charge. And when the head coach begins to lose the faith of his most important and veteran players, it’s only natural that the younger and more inexperienced players will follow their lead. This can lead to the type of on-ice performances we are seeing from the Blackhawks.

Yes, it’s only been one calendar year with Jeremy Colliton behind the Blackhawks’ bench, but that one year might be all we need to see. It’s time for Stan Bowman (who should also be on the hot seat, but that’s another story) to admit that he made a mistake in hiring Colliton and fire him. Marc Crawford, currently one of the team’s assistant coaches, should take over in an interim role for the remainder of the season before the front office gets reevaluated by John McDonough and company at season’s end.

Ranking The Top 5 New adidas NHL Jerseys

Tuesday night was a much anticipated night for many NHL fans as the league and adidas unveiled the new adidas sweaters to be worn by all NHL teams beginning next season. The NHL’s contract with Reebok, the previous provider for all official NHL apparel, ended at the conclusion of this past season, giving way to a new era for NHL apparel.

One interesting thing to note about the transition to adidas is that all NHL teams will be limited to only a home and away sweater for the coming 2017-18 season, meaning no third/alternate jerseys this year. Those are likely to return for the 2018-19 season. There was speculation heading into the joint adidas/NHL unveiling that some teams may decide to wear what was their third jersey as their primary home top this season. Some are, in fact, doing so.

With that, let’s rank the top 5 NHL jerseys after Tuesday night’s big unveiling.

*NOTE: Not all teams’ have made photos of their away sweaters available as of this writing.

5. Florida Panthers

The Panthers absolutely nailed it when they decided to switch up their look a year ago, and thankfully adidas didn’t try to mess with it. I love that there are aspects of this sweater meant to represent the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne, with the necktie pattern symbolizing the Florida State flag.

4. Toronto Maple Leafs

I’m a big fan of the Leafs’ new/old logo that they made their primary logo prior to last season. This is such a simple, classic look that doesn’t need any tinkering other than maybe a shoulder patch. I’d be fine with that addition.

3. Chicago Blackhawks

It saddens me to have to demote my favorite team in a list like this, but adidas forced my hand. I have NO clue what they were doing when designing the new collar on these. I hate that the white gets cut off right at the front of the collar where the NHL emblem rests. Had they not done that, these are likely still No. 1 as they still own the league’s best logo and secondary logo.

2. Edmonton Oilers

There was talk of Edmonton abandoning their blue tops and wearing orange as their primary color at home. They did that, but they also switched up the color shades. The orange doesn’t appear to be quite as bright, and the blue is now a navy blue rather than their typical royal blue. These things are incredible, and if I wasn’t a loyal Hawks fan, I’d buy one.

1. Boston Bruins

These had always been No. 2 behind the Blackhawks, but with Chicago’s demotion, that opened the door for the Bruins to grab ahold of the top spot. Luckily for them, they seem to have escaped adidas’ jersey makeover without any major changes. One big change in the Bruins’ new look is that they’ll now wear black socks at home, whereas before they were wearing yellow.

One thing I’d like to point out is that these new adidas sweaters now have a metallic NHL logo at the neckline. The Reebok sweaters had the logo there as well, but not in this metallic form:

 

Post Trade Deadline Blackhawks Update

Yes, I’m still alive and well here. I know you’ve been worried. You know who else is alive and well? The Blackhawks. They are winners of seven straight games, and have won their last eight road games, which is a new franchise record. They also sit second in the Central Division while owning the league’s third highest point total (89). In a season that I and many others viewed as a stepping stone toward competing for the Cup again in the next two years, the Hawks have, to this point, shocked me.

Coming into this 2016-17 season, it was well known that the Blackhawks were going to have to play multiple rookies each and every night thanks in large part to the salary cap. As has been the case for the last 7-8 years, the Hawks are tight up against the league’s cap due to the fact that they have to pay high annual salaries to some of the NHL’s best players. The only difference this year, however, is that rather than being able to sign some veteran players to cheap one-year deals, the Hawks were forced to build their depth from within their own organization. Enter the likes of Ryan Hartman, Tanner Kero, Nick Schmaltz, Dennis Rasmussen, and Michal Kempny (signed as a free agent last summer).

You never want to have to place a lot of faith and confidence in a bunch of rookies to help guide your team to the postseason. There is simply too much of the “unknown factor” that comes into play in that scenario. There’s no telling how a rookie or other relatively inexperienced players will handle the pressure of being asked to produce right off the bat. That becomes even more true in the playoffs when the intensity on the ice and in the stands rises to levels that cannot be duplicated in the AHL or junior leagues.

However, the Blackhawks’ rookies have exceeded expectations thus far, and that’s an understatement. Ryan Hartman (15G, 11A) is making this city forget about Andrew Shaw. He’s producing offensively, he has been responsible defensively, and he brings some size and grit that can prove to be quite valuable in May and June.

Tanner Kero, while not a big generator of offense, is becoming Marcus Kruger 2.0. His value on the penalty kill has grown all season.

Nick Schmaltz got off to a slow start back in the fall and was sent down to Rockford to gain confidence and work on shooting more often, and ever since being brought back up to the NHL he has been an entirely different player and now sees time on the team’s first line alongside Jonathan Toews when everyone is healthy.

Heading into the trade deadline, it was clear that the Hawks could have used a top six winger, preferably LW, to play on Toews’ left, but again the salary cap (amongst other reasons) prevented that from happening. While Schmaltz has played well lately, I’m not sure he’s the permanent answer for that top line spot. In the playoffs, you want a guy with some experience to be playing in a role like that.

The Blackhawks did, however, reacquire Johnny Oduya prior to the trade deadline passing. This could potentially be a huge move. With Oduya now back in play for the Hawks, they can roll out the exact same top four defensemen that we saw during the 2013 and 2015 Stanley Cup runs. All of a sudden, the Hawks’ defensive corps is one of the strongest in the league heading into March and April.

So overall, here are some of my key observations as we near the end of the season and the beginning of the playoffs:

  • Depth. The Hawks seem to have it. As I stated, the rookies are all playing quite well and are either meeting or exceeding expectations. Depth, and goaltending, are the single biggest factors come playoff time.
  • Speaking of goaltending…Goaltending. Once again Crawford and Darling are both playing like No. 1 netminders. It’s Crawford’s job without question, but in case of an injury or a sudden drop in his performance, it’s good knowing Darling is there waiting in the wings.
  • Defense. This might be the strongest group of defensmen that the Blackhawks have had in quite some time. Not only do they have an elite top four with the addition of Oduya, but their fifth and sixth d-men (Campbell, TVR, Kempny, Rozsival) are strong and reliable as well, especially when playing bottom-pairing minutes.
  • Richard Panik. Here’s a guy who was hardly seeing ice time with the Maple Leafs before getting dealt to the Hawks last season, and now he’s playing right wing on the first line with Jonathan Toews. He sits seventh on the team in points (17G, 19A). If he can keep up this level of play in the playoffs, that will be huge.
  • Special Teams. It’s obvious, but the Hawks need to be better here. The penalty kill is substantially better than it was at the beginning of the year (especially with Oduya now in the mix), but it can still be better. As for the powerplay, it should be a top ten powerplay with the amount of talent on the Hawks’ roster. To win in the playoffs, you need a strong PK and a powerplay that will make the opponent pay for its mistake(s).
  • And lastly, Health. The Hawks cannot afford to keep getting bit by the injury bug come playoff time. A sidelined Toews, Kane, Panarin, Keith, Hjalmarsson, or Hossa could be detrimental to this team’s Stanley Cup hopes.

I’ll say it again. I’ve been extremely surprised by the Blackhawks this season. I honestly believe that what we’re seeing is a result, to some degree, of getting an entire summer of rest last year. Just look at Marian Hossa for proof. This team is skating with energy and seemingly a full tank of gas right now, which is something we did not see at this same time of year last season. Exiting after the first round last April could very well have been a massive blessing in disguise.

Moving forward, I think this team has the potential to win the Western Conference and play for their fourth Stanley Cup since 2010. I also believe that the Blackhawks could be knocked out as early as the second round of the playoffs. It will all come down to their depth, which right now seems to be good. But, anything can happen, and that is especially true when talking about a team with multiple rookies in its lineup on a nightly basis.

It Could Happen Tonight

MLB: World Series-Chicago Cubs at Cleveland IndiansThe fact that I am writing the words “the Cubs can win the World Series tonight” still does not seem real to me. This is a day I’ve thought about ever since I became old enough to understand baseball, the Cubs, and everything that comes with being a Cubs fan. To make it simple: today is the biggest day of my entire life, and I’m sure I’m not alone on this.

I can’t help but think about all those times I played this game out both in my head and in my backyard as a kid. Game 7, bottom of the 9th, bases loaded, two outs, and the winning run coming to the plate in front of a delirious Wrigley Field crowd. Obviously tonight’s game will be played in Cleveland, but still. The thought of the Cubs winning the World Series is one that has passed through my head on average of at least once a day for nearly the last 18 years of my life, and now here we are about 8 hours away from the first pitch of Game 7 of the World Series.

From the moment the Cubs recorded the 27th out in Game 6 Tuesday night, I’ve been trying so hard to not get caught up in the moment, to not think about what is at stake in Game 7. I have been rather unsuccessful thus far in blocking those thoughts from entering my brain, and therefore I am working on minimal sleep today.

Now I’ve got to be honest. I have never actually been able to picture the Cubs winning the World Series. I can’t get an image in my head of what it would look like if they storm the field and create a dogpile on the pitcher’s mound and hoist that trophy. As hard as I’ve tried, I just keep coming up empty. And honestly, I’m fine with that. I want to see it actually unfold in real life, not in my head.

I also can’t help but think about everything that has preceded this day.

My dad’s parents, my grandparents, and my great grandma were all diehard Cubs fans who came and went without ever seeing their team win it all. One of my uncles, who passed away far too soon and whom I never had the opportunity to meet, was also a diehard Cubs fan and was even drafted by the Cubs out of college to pitch and play the outfield; a dream come true. He never saw the Cubs make the World Series.

Then there are people like my dad, one of my other uncles, and my dad’s friends who have suffered through over 50-60 years of disappointment with the Cubs. I can guarantee you they will all agree that waiting so long for a World Series title was well worth it if the Cubs can pull it off tonight.

And even I, almost 25 years old, can’t help but recall my earliest memories of being a Cubs fan and everything that has happened between then and now. From my first Cubs game at Wrigley Field against the Marlins in 1997, Sammy Sosa’s historic 1998 season, all the vacations that my dad and uncle took my brother and I on to see the Cubs play in different parks across the country (22 of them), the heartbreak that came with the 2003, 2007, 2008 and 2015 seasons, to now being one win away from winning it all. I can’t help but get emotional when thinking about everything that has led up to tonight’s game. And really, that’s kind of what this is all about. Years upon years of waiting for this moment while making memories along the way, and now it could all come to fruition in just a few hours.

I don’t know how I am going to make it through the rest of today knowing what is waiting for us at 7:00 CT tonight. But I do know this:

IF, and it’s a big if, the Cubs can pull off the impossible tonight and win the World Series for the first time since 1908, the scene that will unfold here in Chicago will be unlike anything this country has ever seen before with regards to a sports championship. The emotions and built-up stress in us fans will all be unleashed at once. Some people may go crazy and go out partying. Some people will celebrate by hugging each other. Others may break down into tears, and some might even go silent in disbelief. As for me, I don’t know what I would do if the Cubs were to win it. I’d probably lose my mind for a minute and go bouncing off the walls, but then I would likely regroup, sit down, maybe even shed a tear, and just soak it all in. It’s a moment you cannot prepare for.

So I guess I’ll leave it at this. Tonight is the biggest night in the history of Chicago sports. It’s a night we’ve dreamed of for what seems like forever. Watch the game with people who will at the very least appreciate this as much as you. And if they do win tonight, make sure to remember those who are no longer around to see it.

Tonight, the Chicago Cubs have a chance to win the World Series.

Time To Vent

MLB: NLCS-Los Angeles Dodgers at Chicago CubsOkay, I know it’s been months since I’ve posted anything here, but I’ve been ultra busy with my new job. Please forgive me.

So what brought me out of my hole so randomly? The Cubs, of course. But I’m not here today to discuss what the Cubs have done so far or what they might do against Cleveland. No, I’m here to talk about something that has me extremely pissed off.

Fake Cubs fans.

Deep down I knew this would happen whenever the Cubs eventually made it to the World Series, and sure enough, it’s happening. EVERYONE is now claiming to be a Cubs fan. People who didn’t watch one regular season game, out of towners who have called themselves fans of other teams their whole lives (until now), and so on. Just like that, as soon as the Cubs won Game 6 of the NLCS, people from all corners of the country are jumping aboard the Cubs’ bandwagon.

If you want to be a bandwagon fan and cheer for the Cubs all of a sudden, that’s fine. It happens every year with every sport. Fans, albeit not true fans, of other teams will root for a different team if their team is performing poorly. So be it.

But DO NOT act like you have been a Cubs fan all along. Do not try and throw at me stats and other information about the Cubs while trying to look like you know everything about the team, the same team you didn’t give s*** about two weeks ago.

I’ve seen it first hand multiple times now in recent days, where people who have bad-mouthed the Cubs at every opportunity over the years are all of a sudden trying to get tickets to Cubs playoff games, or they’re walking around the office and downtown Chicago with a brand new Cubs shirt and hat on.

I’m sick of it, and I’m sure Cubs fans who are much older than me hate it even more. If you’re going to endlessly talk trash about the Cubs, don’t expect any respect from me or any other true Cubs fan when you all of a sudden show up wearing Cubs apparel as soon as they make it to the World Series for the first time in 71 years. You’re a fraud, and you shouldn’t be allowed within a mile of Wrigley Field during the World Series.

Alright, that’s out of my system now. Carry on with your day.

Oh, and by the way… Cubs in six.

Hawks trade Bickell at the cost of Teravainen

PicMonkey CollageOn Wednesday afternoon the Blackhawks traded Bryan Bickell and Teuvo Teravainen to the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for two draft picks. It was the type of deal that had been whispered about for some time, but no one really wanted to acknowledge or accept the fact that it could actually happen. By that, I mean packaging Teravainen with Bickell.

Following the Blackhawks’ 2013 Stanley Cup victory, Stan Bowman gave Bryan Bickell a four-year contract extension that will be paying Bickell $4.5 million this season, the last of the contract. Unfortunately for Bickell and the Hawks, Bickell has only regressed in terms of his production since signing that contract, making it one of the worst in hockey. For a team with so many stars and young players needing new contracts, the Hawks could not afford to have a guy like Bickell making that much money per season. It put them about as tight against the salary cap as they could get.

Going back to last summer, it had been Stan Bowman’s number one goal to somehow find a place to trade Bickell to rid the team of his contract. The problem was that no team in their right mind was going to take on Bickell and the remainder of his contract without the Blackhawks sweetening the pot in some fashion.

Enter Teuvo Teravainen.

Teravainen, who is just 21 years of age, has an extremely high ceiling for potential and is still on his entry-level contract. He was once the Blackhawks’ top prospect (you can still technically call him a prospect due to his age) and helped the team win the 2015 Stanley Cup.

Despite his elite skill level, Teravainen was never able to take his game up to the next level in his two/two and a half years with the Blackhawks. Joel Quenneville tried him out in just about every spot in the lineup hoping to strike gold, but it never happened. Teuvo had stretches here and there where he looked like he might finally be turning the corner, but ultimately he landed as the team’s number three center this past season; a role that he is not built for.

While the Blackhawks absolutely had to get rid of Bickell’s contract, that doesn’t make losing Teravainen any easier. He is still young enough to where he could easily turn into one of the NHL’s better wingers (Carolina will almost certainly try to play him on the wing).

So with that, here are my takeaways from this trade:

  • Like I said, trading Bickell was priority number one this summer for the Hawks, and unfortunately it came at the expense of Teravainen. While it is easy to get upset with Bowman for dealing Teravainen away, he basically had to if he wanted to dump Bickell and his contract.
  • The other side to all of this is that the Blackhawks basically decided they would rather re-sign Andrew Shaw than hang onto Bickell’s contract for one more year. In other words, they chose Shaw over Teravainen. This is the most perplexing part of the whole situation. Andrew Shaw likely won’t be getting any better. He has reached his potential. Teravainen, however, could still become ten times the player he is right now. He is so young and so skilled that you can’t help but wonder why the Hawks chose to give up on him so soon. Yes, they wanted to lose Bickell’s contract, but they could have opted to let Shaw go via free agency and held onto Teravainen instead.
  • Going along with that point, Andrew Shaw is a much easier type of player to replace than Teravainen. Shaw is a gritty forward who can play wing or center, and he has some skill as well. Off the top of my head, I can name two guys in Rockford who play Shaw’s style of hockey: Ryan Hartman and Mark McNeill. There really isn’t anyone in the system who is NHL-ready that plays the game like Teravainen. Forwards like Teuvo are a hot commodity in today’s NHL.
  • When you take a step back and really look at what Stan Bowman has done with the Blackhawks’ roster over the course of the last year or so, it isn’t good. He has traded away, most notably, Patrick Sharp, Brandon Saad, Stephen Johns, Kris Versteeg, Joakim Nordstrom, Phillip Danault, Marko Dano, Trevor Daley, and Rob Scuderi. Some of those were forced by the salary cap, others were not. Of all those players traded away, do you know how many guys they got in return that are currently on the Hawks’ roster? One. Artem Anisimov. In sports you win some trades and you lose some, but that’s not an ideal track record over the last year for Stan Bowman. Despite other teams knowing that the Hawks didn’t/don’t have much leverage in trade talks, the fact that only one player who came to the Hawks in exchange for the previously mentioned names is still on the roster, is bad.

Looking ahead to next season, the Hawks are going to have numerous holes to fill in their lineup. Following the trade on Wednesday, they did re-sign Richard Panik on a one-year deal, but that still leaves them with many open roster spots. Guys like Hartman, McNeill, Vince Hinostroza, Kyle Baun, and others will likely be called upon to fill those gaps. And we haven’t even gotten into the defense of this team, which is a serious problem right now.

Needless to say, the 2016-17 season may be a long one in Chicago. The team simply doesn’t have the salary cap space to add good players via free agency. Instead, they’ll have to rely on their own homegrown products to turn into decent NHL players, which is still a big hit-or-miss situation to be in.

Keep your eyes on the Hawks as we head towards the NHL Draft and free agency. More moves, albeit relatively small ones, are surely on their way.

Chapman or Miller: Who the Cubs should target

andrew-millerIt is becoming increasingly difficult to find any real weaknesses of the Cubs. They sit atop the MLB standings with a 43-19 record, and they lead the league in a number of different offensive and pitching categories. Not a whole lot to complain about at this point. If we were to complain, however, there is one area in which we’d have the right to do so:

Their bullpen.

Guys like Travis Wood, Pedro Strop, Trevor Cahill, and Hector Rondon have all pitched well out of the pen so far this season, all things considered. You could even argue that Rondon has been one of baseball’s best relievers up to this point. But then you have Justin Grimm, Clayton Richard, and Adam Warren who have looked good at times, but just haven’t shown that consistency that we would like to see. For instance, if the playoffs started tonight, I would have next to zero confidence in Justin Grimm coming in during the 7th inning and escaping a jam.

If the Cubs want to put themselves in the absolute best possible position to win through October, they need to acquire a rather dominant, back-end reliever at or before the trade deadline.

I am by no means the first or only person talking about this “problem.” Anyone who watches the Cubs on a consistent basis sees the same thing. The only question is who might the Cubs’ front office target via a trade?

There are two high profile relievers that have been linked to the Cubs for a few weeks now: Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller; both late-inning relievers for the Yankees.

Us Cubs fans know exactly who Chapman is thanks to his time with the Reds. He owns a rocket-launcher for an arm, but can also let go of a nasty slider that catches hitters completely off balance and on their front foot.

This season, Chapman has a 1.93 earned run average to go along with 21 strikeouts in 14 innings, and 11 saves. His downside is the fact that he was suspended for the first month of the season due to a domestic violence incident that he was involved in over the offseason.

On the other hand, you have Andrew Miller. Miller owns a 1.01 ERA with 48 strikeouts in 26.2 innings pitched. And this season isn’t some fluke year for him either. Since 2013, the worst his ERA has been at the end of a season is 2.64.

So if it came down to Chapman or Miller for the Cubs, which should they more aggressively pursue?

The answer is Andrew Miller. Not only has he evolved into one of baseball’s most dominant relief pitchers, but he has always shown a willingness to pitch in whatever inning or situation he is asked to. Certain relievers only like pitching in the ninth, or in close games, or in no-pressure situations. With Miller, you get a guy who will do whatever is asked of him.

Also, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer are familiar with Miller from his time in Boston, and vice versa. Believe it or not, that can be a big factor when making trades.

So with Andrew Miller, Joe Maddon could then theoretically use him in the 8th inning as the setup man and keep Rondon in the closer role. Pedro Strop becomes the new 7th inning guy. Just like that, you have three rather dominant relievers at the back of the bullpen to help you finish off games. One of the biggest reasons why the Kansas City Royals won last year’s World Series was due to the fact that they were able to shorten games by having three great, shutdown relievers pitch late in ballgames. When you have a luxury like that in your bullpen, games in which you are winning all of a sudden become 6 or 7 inning games for the opponent.

Of course, to get an Andrew Miller or Aroldis Chapman, the Yankees will demand a substantial return. They will likely ask for Baez, or Schwarber, or Wilson Contreras, or Gleyber Torres. The Cubs will likely not give up any of those players for a possible rental bullpen pitcher. Instead, they may be forced to trade away one of their second-tier prospects, a draft pick, and a player off their Major League roster. Maybe even a little more than that. What I don’t want to see, however, is the Cubs overpay for a relief pitcher that may not re-sign with the team after this season if his contract is up.

The trade deadline is still over a month away, but that doesn’t mean a deal can’t get done before then. The sooner the Cubs can strengthen their bullpen, the better.

Pro Sports Jersey Rankings

  1. Washington Wizards

2015-11-07 13.59.52 NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at Washington Wizards

It wasn’t until within the past few years that the Wizards returned to their original “Bullets” colors, and it was the right decision to do so. The red, white, and blue are appropriate colors for a D.C. team, and the way they are patterned on the Wizards’ jerseys is unlike any other uniform in the NBA.

  1. New Orleans Saints

2015-11-07 13.59.52 NFL: New Orleans Saints at Detroit Lions

The gold and black go together really well, making their helmets one of the best in the NFL. That just tops off what is already a solid jersey-pant combination. Oh, the logo is great too.

  1. Edmonton Oilers

2015-11-07 13.59.52 2015-11-07 13.59.52

Like the Wizards, the Oilers recently went back to their original colors. The blue and orange are a great look, and their logo is one of my personal favorites in the NHL. Even their new orange alternates are fantastic.

  1. San Antonio Spurs

2015-11-07 13.59.52 San Antonio Spurs v Toronto Raptors

Uniforms that never or rarely change are the best uniforms. The Spurs have just that. Their jerseys are classics that will forever represent an era of dominance.

  1. Pittsburgh Steelers

2015-11-07 13.59.52 2015-11-07 13.59.52

You’ll notice a common theme developing here: Uniforms that don’t change. The Steelers have had that same black and yellow, bruising look to them forever. And their helmets are the only ones in the NFL to have the logo on just one side.

  1. Atlanta Braves

2015-11-07 13.59.52 2015-11-07 13.59.52

The Braves’ logo is phenomenal with the cursive lettering underlined by a hatchet. That, coupled with the red outlining on their jerseys, makes for one of  baseball’s best. (They could do away with these)

  1. Chicago Cubs

2015-11-07 13.59.52 2015-11-07 13.59.52

Pin stripes, if done the right way, often lead to a great look in Major League Baseball. The Cubs have had their pinstripes for decades now, and it never gets old. The blue and red pop-out at you on these uniforms. They wear these blue tops quite regularly on the road.

  1. Los Angeles Lakers

2015-11-07 13.59.52 Los Angeles Lakers v Golden State Warriors

Many of the NBA’s all-time greats have worn this look, making it an instant classic. The yellow home jerseys are unlike any other uniform in basketball. Their white ones are too bad either.

  1. Detroit Red Wings

Carolina Hurricanes v Detroit Red Wings 2015-11-07 13.59.52

Another total classic here. The Winged-wheel is one of sports’ most recognizable logos, and the uniform itself has gone unchanged for years and years. There’s also more history to this franchise than most in all of professional sports.

  1. New England Patriots

2015-11-07 13.59.52 Tom Brady

We’ll call it the “Brady-era look.” It wasn’t long before Brady took over under center that New England opted for a new look, going with the navy blue, red, and silver. Needless to say, it’s worked out quite well for them.

  1. Toronto Maple Leafs

Nazem Kadri 2015-11-07 13.59.52

It’s the uniform of Canada, although Montreal might have something to say about that. The Maple Leaf logo is so simple, yet great all at once. It was announced this year that the Leafs will be going to a new look starting next year, however. The exact look of the uniforms has not been released.

  1. Green Bay Packers

Aaron Rodgers 2015-11-07 13.59.52

The green and yellow combination is one of the more underrated color combos in sports (the Oakland A’s nearly made this list). The Packers have used it for the majority of their existence, and they will likely use it until football disappears. It’s hard to find a mistake with this uniform set.

  1. Detroit Tigers

Minnesota Twins v Detroit Tigers Detroit Tigers v New York Mets

Here is another absolute timeless look. That old “D” on the chest just speaks “Detroit.” The navy blue outlining on their home whites looks incredibly good, and their road jerseys might be the best in baseball.

  1. Chicago Bulls

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Excluding the relatively newer NBA teams, the Bulls are the only team in the league to have used the same logo for their entire existence. And why change it? It’s perfectly intimidating. They also use the red and black color scheme better than most other teams in pro sports.

  1. St. Louis Cardinals

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This was very close to being the top MLB uniform on this list. The Cardinals’ logo is perfect and hasn’t been touched since at least the mid 1960’s. The red outlining makes their home whites really stand out at you. Also, their recent throwback additions are better than most other MLB uniforms.

  1. Chicago Bears

2015-11-07 13.59.52 NFL: Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings

Quite possibly the most classic look in the NFL. The Bears haven’t changed their look since the 1950’s, and there is absolutely no reason to do so.

  1. Boston Celtics

2015-11-07 13.59.52 NBA: Boston Celtics at Detroit Pistons

Like many of its predecessors (and those soon to follow), the Celtics have owned the same appearance forever. From players like Bird, Russell, Havlicek, Cousy, to more recent players like Pierce, Allen, and Garnett, they’ve all worn the same thing. This uniform just looks like a winner.

  1. New York Yankees

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This one doesn’t need much of an explanation. When you look up the word “greatness” in the dictionary, you just might find a picture of this team. They’ve looked the same since Ruth and Gehrig were taking the field.

  1. Boston Bruins

2015-11-07 13.59.52 Patrice+Bergeron+Brad+Marchand+UlWAS12Gzhxm

The colors are perfect, and the way the sweater was assembled is perfect as well. These are incredibly tough to beat…

  1. Chicago Blackhawks

NHL: Edmonton Oilers at Chicago Blackhawks 169379568_slide

 

You won’t find a better logo in sports, or a better secondary logo for that matter. The indianhead is unmistakable, and the tomahawks crossing over the “C” are a perfect second logo for this Chicago team. Their red sweaters jump out at you unlike any other uniform at any level of sports, and their whites allow the colors within the indianhead to look even brighter.
You may call me a homer for having four Chicago teams on this list, but the fact of the matter is that they deserve to be where they are. Teams that have a rich history and virtually unchanged uniforms are what make the best uniforms, and that’s a lot of what you get with these rankings. You’ll also notice that cities such as Boston, Chicago, and Detroit are very prevalent here. That is because they are old, historic cities with just as old and historic pro-sports franchises.

Cubs living up to the hype

2015-11-07 13.59.52For the first time in a long time, we were expecting big things from the Cubs coming out of Spring Training this year. Talks of a division title and even, dare I say it, a World Series became common throughout the baseball world. Finally, us Cubs fans were seeing everything seem to perfectly align with their roster.

Here’s the thing: saying that the Cubs have the best lineup in baseball, (arguably) the best pitcher in baseball, and that they are likely the best overall team in baseball is easy. For the Cubs to then go out and perform well and live up to those expectations, however, is a completely different animal.

Not only do this year’s Cubs have the weight of a 108-year World Series title drought resting on their shoulders, but now they have the biggest expectations in franchise history joining that drought on their shoulders. Dealing with that kind of pressure directly out of Spring Training is no easy task, yet this Cubs team has embraced it.

Expectations for this year’s Cubs were/are incredibly high, and somehow they have met those expectations through the first full month of the season.

We knew the offense would be good, and possibly historically good with the additions of Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist, as well as the re-signing of Dexter Fowler. So far, we’re seeing pretty much what we had expected.

Through 25 games the Cubs have scored 153 runs, which is good for a tie atop the entire league with St. Louis, and they lead the league with a 6.12 runs per game average. They rank second in the Majors with a .362 on-base percentage. Their 134 walks are 18 more than any other team in baseball. And how about their run differential of +89. The next closest team in that category is +40. In fact, the Cubs current run differential is the best baseball has seen through 25 games since 1905. Let that sink in.

Let’s not only focus on the offense though. The Cubs’ pitching is more than deserving of recognition.

The 2.29 team ERA of the Cubs is the best in baseball, as is their grand total of 57 earned runs allowed (64 runs including unearned). Also the best in the Major Leagues is their .195 batting average against. The next closest in that department is Washington at .215. And just for kicks, they have allowed the fewest hits in baseball (153), and the fewest total bases against (239). They are tied with Cleveland for the fourth fewest walks allowed.

So not only has the offense performed well, but the Cubs’ pitching has been just as good, if not better.

As for individual performances thus far, Dexter Fowler leads all of baseball in on-base percentage at a .473 clip and is tied for fourth with a 1.8 WAR. On the mound, Jake Arrieta is second in the MLB among starters with a 0.84 earned run average, and is tied for the league lead with 6 victories. His .142 batting average against is second best in baseball, and he was the first pitcher this year to throw a no-hitter; his second since last August. In the big picture, Arrieta is in the midst of one of the greatest stretches of starting pitching in Major League history.

The scary thing about this Cubs team is the fact that offensively, they haven’t hit their peak yet. Only two “everyday” players, Fowler and Bryant, have a batting average over .300, and only one other everyday player, Zobrist, has an average over .250. Jason Heyward, the prized free agent signing, has yet to hit a home run and has just a .211 average. When the weather in Chicago turns to summer and the temperature warms up, this offense has the potential to explode.

Expectations are one thing. Going out and meeting those expectations is another, and that is exactly what the Cubs, as a team, are doing. With a 5-game lead in the Central Division (7-game lead over St. Louis), the Cubs are in the best spot of any division-leading team in the game heading into the warmer months.

Sure there is still lots of time left in the season and virtually anything can still happen. However, there is no denying that the Cubs are scary-good this year with still lots of room to improve on the offensive side. This is shaping up to be an unforgettable summer and, hopefully, fall as well.

Quit the Arrieta accusations

MLB: Chicago Cubs at Arizona DiamondbacksIt has unfortunately become the “norm” for any breakout star in Major League Baseball to be accused of taking performance enhancing drugs. Whether the accusations are warranted or not, this has turned into a common trend in the MLB. The latest such instance involves Cubs pitcher, and reigning Cy Young winner, Jake Arrieta.

Arrieta is in the midst of one of the greatest stretches of starting pitching the game has ever seen. In fact, if he does not allow an earned run in his next start, he will break Bob Gibson’s MLB record for the lowest earned run average over a 20 game period. This season, Jake Arrieta has picked up right where he left off last season. He is 4-0 with a 0.87 ERA and has already thrown one no-hitter; his second no-hitter since last August.

In recent days, however, people have begun questioning if Arrieta has cheated his way to such dominance. Stephen A. Smith of ESPN even brought up this speculation on “First Take” with Skip Bayless Wednesday afternoon.

Not that I have any proof that Jake Arrieta is telling the truth when he denies these claims, but I firmly believe him when he says he has never taken a PED. Anyone who has knowledge of his workout routine or diets knows quite well that this guy takes care of his body and works to achieve his physical figure and baseball statistics.

It is sad that no great baseball player can be left alone without being accused of cheating his way to greatness. And the blame for this falls squarely on the shoulders of past and even present MLB stars who have aggressively denied ever using PED’s, only to later test positive for using them. Players like Rafael Palmeiro, Alex Rodriguez, and Ryan Braun immediately come to mind as such players.

Jake Arrieta was one of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball while coming up through the Orioles’ farm system. He has always had good stuff and great potential, but only since joining the Cubs has he lived up to those expectations. People like Stephen A. Smith look at Arrieta’s lack of production with Baltimore and sudden dominance with the Cubs and automatically assume that this guy is cheating. My question is why?

Sure, the recent history of top baseball players being found guilty of using PED’s has created a culture of speculation in Major League Baseball. But do some thinking before jumping to conclusions.

Like I said, Arrieta was regarded as a top pitching prospect while coming up with Baltimore. He struggled in his first couple of years in the big leagues and was eventually demoted back to Triple A. Then he was dealt to the Cubs where he began working with new pitching coach Chris Bosio, who is one of the best in the game at what he does, and the success started. Arrieta has always had good stuff, but now he has finally figured out how to put it all together. It’s not as though he was some no name player with minimal potential who went from below average to dominant. The potential has always been there.

The bottom line here is that it is sad that no player can go from mediocre to great in baseball anymore without being questioned about the use of performance enhancing drugs. And the ones to blame are the guys that have been caught already, as well as the other players, coaches, and management that let guys like Sosa, McGwire, and Bonds get away with cheating for as long as they did.

Again, I have no way of knowing for sure whether or not Jake Arrieta or any other player is using PED’s, but to see professional sports journalists go on national TV and make accusations against a guy, with nothing to base them on other than statistics, makes me sick.

Arrieta has always had incredible stuff, but finally figured out how to use it all effectively once joining the Cubs. So let’s please stop this PED nonsense and just enjoy arguably the best stretch of starting pitching in the history of the game.