Euro 2016: Why the Serbian National Team is a Dark Horse

The Serbian national football team hasn’t qualified for the European Championships since 2000 when they reached the quarter-finals. 2016 could be different. Qualifying has yet to officially begin, but the Serbs have been handed a manageable group—Portugal, Denmark, Armenia and Albania are their rivals in qualification. This won’t be a cake walk by any stretch; Cristiano Ronaldo Portugal is one of the top 20 teams in the world, Denmark is a solid squad and Armenia just missed qualifying for the playoff to get into Brazil 2014. Still, with the talent Serbia has, you would favor them to advance.

Coach Dick Advocaat’s selection pool features players plying their trade in numerous top leagues. With Serbs employed at club teams in Germany, Spain, Italy, Portugal and France among others, there’s certainly talent. However, Advocaat’s strongest contingent comes from the Serbian internationals playing in England’s top flight. With players at top clubs such as Chelsea and Manchester City, the team has a strong nucleus. The team is especially strong in midfield and defense, two reasons why they could do serious damage in 2016.

Sitting in front of veteran shot-stopper and onetime Wigan keeper Vladimir Stojkovic is a defense that could arguably be one of the finest in Europe. The two most-capped players on the back line are Chelsea stalwart Branislav Ivanovic and Manchester City’s Aleksandar Kolarov. These two will man the wide positions while the center back options give Advocaat a plethora of potential selections. At the coach’s disposal is Borussia Dortmund star Neven Subotic, Serie A veteran Dusan Basta, Kolorav’s club teammate Mastija Nastasic and Lyon defenseman Milan Bisevac. A theoretical back line of Ivanovic, Kolarov, Subotic and Nastasic arguably provides more stability and quality than the defenses of European big boys Spain and England.

Further up the pitch in the midfield are a diverse group of Serbs that provide dynamic play and defensive support. Whatever tactical formation is used, you can bet that Chelsea man Nemanja Matic will be sitting in front of the back four, providing key passing and making timely tackles. In addition to him, Advocaat can deploy a number of quality players in the central and wide areas of midfield. These includes recent Liverpool signing and lightning-quick Lazar Markovic, Southampton’s newest goal-creating threat Dusan Tadic, Roma attacker Adem Ljajic and Benfica owned Filip Duricic.

Serbia’s depth and quality is nowhere near that of Belgium, another recent dark horse from Europe, but they are similar in talent to Switzerland, a team that pushed Argentina to the brink in the World Cup. The Serbs won’t win Euro 2016, and at this point they haven’t qualified, but if they get there, they’ll make some noise.

Kingdome Crossover- Seattle Seahawks: Walter Jones, Cortez Kennedy & Steve Largent Raise the 12th Man Flag

Check it out gang! Kingdome posted another video on YouTube.

Here’s Seahawks’ Hall of Famers Walter Jones, Cortez Kennedy and Steve Largent raising the 12th Man Flag before the opening game of the 2014 NFL Season at CenturyLink Field in Seattle.

Enjoy!

(And don’t forget to subscribe!)

 

You can see the original article on Kingdome here.

Detroit Tigers: Kyle Lobstein an Unlikely Steadying Presence

Kyle Lobstein has been the most reliable pitcher in the Detroit Tigers’ rotation in the last few weeks.

The man who Brad Ausmus referred to as “Lobber” has been consistent for the Detroit Tigers at a time when they are in dire need of reliability. Starting pitching was once the Tigers’ calling card. And I guess it still is, but right now they’re going through some struggles. Not only is the team trailing the Royals this late in the season (they entered today two games back of Kansas City) their starting pitching hasn’t been as effective. Cy Young winners Max Scherzer and David Price have compiled a few uncharacteristically pedestrian/awful starts as of late while Rick Porcello is having what can be described as a small speed bump in an otherwise superb breakout year. Other pitching woes include Justin Verlander having a down year (compared to his absurdly high standards). In addition, Anibal Sanchez is dealing with an injury that could keep him out for the rest of the year. Sanchez’ replacements, the two headed monster that is Buck Farmer and Robbie Ray, were dreadful in spot starts.

Because of this, Ausmus and the Tigers have turned to “Lobber.”

Lobstein has only thrown two starts, but with the rest of the rotation on a roller coaster in terms of results, those two starts seem like so much more. The former Rays’ prospect hasn’t officially recorded a win, but Detroit has won both of his starts (incidentally, Phil Coke won both of those games). Lobstein isn’t just keeping the Tigers in games; he’s pitching well and giving them a chance to win those games. The former second round pick has succeeded where others have failed in stabilizing a contending team’s rotation as a rookie.

The Tigers’ haven’t had much success in bringing starting pitching up from the minors in recent memory, but with Lobstein it seems they’ve found a keeper.

Kingdome of Seattle Sports on YouTube and the Seahawks Super Bowl Championship Banner Ceremony

Knowhitter’s sister site Kingdome is on YouTube. Check out Kingdome’s first video—a recording of the Seahawks’ 2013 Championship banner unveiling ceremony right before the opening game of the 2014 NFL season at CenturyLink Field in Seattle.

Don’t forget to subscribe. To see the YouTube channel in its entirety click here. To see a similar piece on Kingdome, click here.

Defending Antonio Conte’s Omission of Mario Balotelli

Newly-minted Italian national team coach Antonio Conte made headlines when he selected his first official squad for a friendly against the Netherlands and the Azzurri’s first Euro 2016 qualifying match against Norway. Those headlines were made based on who he did, and more importantly didn’t, call up. Or in other words, Conte made headlines for not calling up Mario Balotelli.

The coach insists that he is not sending a message with the omission, and it shouldn’t be looked at as such. First off, no player is entitled to a call up every time around. Yes, Balotelli is clearly the most talented striker at Conte’s disposal, but that alone doesn’t merit a call up. It should also be remembered that the last international matches for Italy were at the World Cup—a competition where the Italians struggled. There were few Italian bright spots in Brazil and the former AC Milan striker wasn’t one of them.

Based on Brazil, the only Azzurri members who would have been locks for inclusion in these two games would have been Juventus’ Gianluigi Buffon and Andrea Pirlo, Lazio’s Antonio Candreva, Torino defender Matteo Darmian and PSG duo Salvatore Sirigu and Marco Verratti. Balotelli obviously is not one of those players.

The newest Liverpool signing is mercurial. In fact, if you look the word “mercurial” in the dictionary, you probably get a picture of Mario Balotelli. Not only that, he picks up his fair share of cards. Among those cards included were two yellows compiled in Brazil including one in Italy’s final game. Because the Italians didn’t progress in the tournament, their star striker will have to sit out the next competitive game on the international calendar. That game is the first Euro qualifier against Norway.

Most will point to the fact of Claudio Marchisio’s inclusion in the team as one of the key reasons why Conte is sending a message by leaving out Balotelli. Marchisio picked up a red card in the Italy/Uruguay game, and like Balotelli will miss the Norway match through suspension. However, this is Conte’s first camp in charge of the Azzurri. He will be implementing his system, his style of play and things of that nature. Not only does Marchisio understand Conte and his tactics from their time together at Juve, he also provides leadership and experience in the midfield. Conte has also been forced to call up a relatively inexperienced group due to injuries. Usual call ups Pirlo, Riccardo Montolivo and Thiago Motta are all out with injuries. Because of this, the likes of Marco Parolo, Alessandro Florenzi and Andrea Poli all been brought in. All have fewer than six caps.

As odd as it sounds, leaving out Balotelli may let Conte evaluate his options in a more comprehensive manner. If Balotelli is in the team, he’s starting. Leaving him at home gives Conte the chance to experiment with and give more minutes to the likes of Mattia Destro, Ciro Immobile, Simone Zaza and Stephan El Shaarawy up front. Doing so will be crucial as all four are under the age of 24 and will play vital roles for the Azzurri leading up to Euro 2016 and Russia 2018.

Antonio Conte’s decision to leave Mario Balotelli off his first Italy roster didn’t sit well with some fans. However, when you consider Balotelli’s mercurial play, suspension and other factors, it makes sense why Liverpool’s newest player was left off the Azzurri team.

Detroit Tigers: The Statistical Ridiculousness of Miguel Cabrera’s “Down Year”

Miguel Cabrera is having a down year. That much is true. He may not win a fourth consecutive batting title, he may not win a third straight MVP and he may not win another triple crown. But, despite the sub-par season (by his extremely high standards) he may just be showing his brilliance as a hitter. Why? Because when most hitters have down years, they look awful—comparatively and in general. Miguel Cabrera’s down year includes a .304 batting average. He’s that good.

A typical season for the Tigers’ slugger has generally consisted of gaudy numbers and some kind of hardware. Whether it is an MVP award, a triple crown, an American League pennant, Cabrera has won them all.

His biggest accomplishment may be this season—his “down” season. Here’s just a small snippet of his stats this year. I remind you, this is his “down” season.

  • His .304 line is a far cry from the his batting averages over the last five years (.348, .330, .344, .328 and .324) but only eight players in the American League have a higher clip.
  • Leads the AL in doubles with 42. Only Johnathan Lucroy of the Brewers has more in Major League Baseball.
  • Has driven in 94 runs. Also a far cry considering Miggy’s RBI output the last two years (137 and 139 respectively), but only four players have more. Three of those four players would be home run mashers Mike Stanton, Jose Abreu and David Ortiz. In other words, players who get a lot of their RBIs from the long ball. Cabrera only has 19 homers this year, further showing his ability as a complete hitter (as if he needs to show that).
  • Despite his lower numbers, Cabrera still has scored only six less runs than Angels’ wunderkind Mike Trout. I should also point out that Trout is a threat on the base paths and has speed—Cabrera doesn’t check either of those boxes.
  • Also has a top-ten ranking in the AL in Slugging Percentage (ninth, .501) and OPS (eighth, .868).
  • Ranks eight in the AL in hits with 156. Players with fewer hits include Trout, Dustin Pedroia and Jose Abreu.
  • Top ten rankings in total bases (tied for sixth, 257) and runs created (seventh, 92).
  • Only Trout and Jose Abreu have more extra base hits in the American League.
  • Only seven players have reached base more times than Cabrera (206 times) in the AL.
  • Drives in the runs any way he can—leads the AL in sacrifice flies with 10.
  • Still strikes fear into opposing pitchers, he has ten intentional walks on the year. It may not be as high a number as teammate Victor Martinez’ 23, but it still shows the danger Miggy presents to pitchers.

They may not be the leaderboard leading numbers the world is used to from Cabrera, but for a “down year” they’re pretty fantastic.

 

All stats courtesy of http://www.baseball-reference.com/ unless otherwise noted.

Detroit Tigers: JD Martinez and Detroit’s Experience With Out-of-Nowhere Hitters

Dating back to the “Great Chris Shelton Hot Streak” of 2005, the Detroit Tigers have grown accustomed to hitters coming out of the woodwork (relatively speaking) and making an impact.

Take Shelton for example, he hit a robust .345 in the first half of the season in 2005. Over that span is OPS was .970. Then came the second half were he regressed to a still-respectable .279 batting average and .826 OPS.

Shelton got off to another solid start in 2006 when he hit .282 in the first half, coupled with an .857 OPS. For a time, it seemed that he would continue a moderately high level of play. But once again, the second half struck. Shelton’s batting average regressed to .236. His slugging percentage dropped from .508 in the first half to .292 in the second. His OPS also dipped, going from .857 to .595. That and a .231 batting average at home contributed to him being off the team. He found his next taste of big league action in Texas during the 2008 season were he hit .216. A number that portrayed him more accurately as a hitter than the .345 clip did.

It would seem that the Tigers had another Shelton type on their hands when rookie Brennan Boesch burst onto the scene in 2010 with a nearly identical, Shelton-esque .342 batting average and .990 OPS in the first half. Unlike Shelton, Boesch numbers tanked dropped like a lead weight. His second half batting average was a paltry .163 and his OBP was more than halved, going from .990 to .458. From everything Boesch did in the second half, it seemed like the Tigers had another Chris Shelton on their hands—however, that would change as the rookie posted a solid sophomore season.

The fifth place finisher in the 2010 Rookie of the Year voting posted a solid .283 batting average and a .799 OPS. In addition, his first and second half numbers weren’t separated by a continent sized chasm— .289 was Boesch’s batting average in the first half, while the second half brought a .276 line.

It took longer than Shelton, but Boesch eventually succumbed, his batting average in 2012 was .240. His OBP was .659. A full .140 points lower than 2011’s. He wasn’t with the team by the start of the next season.

As it is right now, Detroit has found a third hitter who has come out of nowhere, JD Martinez. This time, they’re hoping the story plays out a little differently.

Martinez’ first half numbers are very similar to both Shelton and Boesch. He hit .346 in the first part of the season with a 1.035 OPS. In addition to those gaudy numbers, Martinez has added a presence that Detroit desperately needed in the middle of the lineup. In most cases, Brad Ausmus will deploy some combination of Ian Kinsler, Rajai Davis, Torii Hunter, Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez in the first four spots in the lineup. Outside of those five the team’s hitters aren’t nearly as potent. Or at least that was the case heading into the season. JD Martinez’ arrival has added much needed power to the teeth of the lineup—power that also extends the lineup and gives it more depth.

His numbers haven’t tanked as badly as Boesch’s did, but Martinez splits are significantly different. He’s hitting .261 in the second half with a .723 OPS. However, there is reason to believe that he’s turning things around mid-decline. Over the last 14 days, the former Astro owns .327 batting average and a .836 OPS. Martinez is clearly turning it around, and that can only be good news for the Tigers.

Tigers’ hitters to come out of nowhere on hot streaks have had their faults. Shelton struggled to hit at home (in addition to his decline) and Boesch couldn’t sustain success after pitchers started throwing more off-speed offerings and less of the steady diet of fastballs that he had been feasting on. Martinez however, hits at home (.318 batting average) and looks to be sustaining his success. If the numbers of the last few weeks tell us anything, it is that JD Martinez is here to stay in Detroit.

 

 

All stats courtesy of http://www.baseball-reference.com/ unless otherwise noted.

Detroit Tigers: Center Field Alternatives After Missing Out on Rusney Castillo

Regardless of how far the Detroit Tigers came in their pursuit of Cuban prospect Rusney Castillo, they missed out on adding the highly regarded center fielder. Castillo is heading to Boston. With Austin Jackson shipped out as part of the David Price trade, the Tigers are in need of a center fielder, if they don’t go after one to help their postseason run, then they will almost surely try to acquire one in the offseason. Here are some options.

Options for Right Now

The Internal Guys: Rajai Davis and Ezequiel Carrera

Detroit got spoiled by Austin Jackson—a superb fielding, centrally based outfielder who hit for some pop. Sure, he struck out a ton, but at least he contributed in other categories. The Tigers now face reality without their once-longtime center fielder. Any disapproval of his replacements’ play has been answered with the question “Well, would you rather have David Price or not have David Price?” and while’s it’s fantastic to have Price, the team could use a center fielder. I’m not saying the trade shouldn’t have happened, but Detroit need a center fielder, and his name isn’t Rajai Davis or Ezequiel Carrera. Both can cover miles of ground, but aren’t close to the defensive player that Jackson was for the Tigers.

Davis has filled in admirably in center, but his best position remains in left field. This gives Brad Ausmus flexibility in picking his lineup—flexibility that Detroit has relied on and will need to continue to rely on.

While Carrera isn’t as strong defensively as Jackson, he isn’t good offensively as Jackson or Davis. Yes, he brings speed, but his hitting hasn’t been on par with the rest of the lineup. A .220 hitting center fielder with speed might play on a young team auditioning players, but on a team with championship aspirations like the Tigers, it simply isn’t good enough.

In 24 games, Carrera has a total of three extra base hits—two doubles and a triple. Jackson accumulated four extra base hits alone over the course of three games against Diamondbacks.

*Note: I probably wouldn’t be writing this piece if the Tigers were still in first place in the division, but new additions or better play is needed to pass the Royals. It’s also nearing panic mode in “Tigerland.”

The Current Trade Market: Various

With the non-waiver trade deadline come and gone, players must now pass through waivers before being dealt. The bad teams get first crack at players, so because of that and other factors, it’s unlikely that a player would fall through the cracks. However a number of players have passed through waivers with no teams claiming them, and are available to be dealt anywhere. According to MLB Trade Rumors, these players include outfielders such as Shin-Soo Choo, Curtis Granderson, Alex Rios, Matt Kemp, Brett Gardner, Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier. Each is a unique player, but all of them have one thing in common—they’re owed a lot of money.

In addition to being owed a collective 164 million dollars over the next six years, Choo and Granderson just signed deals with their respective teams this offseason. It would look bad for future free agents assessing their options to see that a team traded a player just months after signing him to a long contract. Choo has also played exclusively in both left and right field this year while Granderson has predominantly played right. Granderson has extensive experience in center; just ask any long-term Tigers’ fan, but his salary makes it hard to justify a reunion.

Rios falls in a similar boat defensively seeing as he hasn’t played centerfield since 2011. Plus, he’ll be 34 at this time next year and doesn’t have the power he once possessed.

The Dodgers’ trio of representatives on the list are harder to quantify trading. They aren’t exactly hitting the cover off the ball with batting averages of .247 (Ethier) .271 (Crawford) and .277 (Kemp). Ethier has played center field this year, but his batting line and hefty contract make a move unlikely. Crawford, on the other hand, isn’t a centerfielder. He never played the position extensively, as evidenced by the last time he was in center field—seven innings of a game six years ago while he was with the Rays.

Kemp may be the closest thing to a “goldilocks” fit. Not only does he play center (he’s won two Gold Gloves there), but if he can get his production near where it was during his accolade filled year of 2011, the Tigers would have another elite bat to hit in a lineup that features a handful of them. The red flag is that Kemp hasn’t played a full season since 2011 and is owed north of 100 million dollars over the next five seasons.

The Dodgers are also in the thick of a pennant race of their own, and with Yasiel Puig as the only other starting caliber outfielder on the team, it seems unlikely that LA would part with any of their three contractual albatrosses.

Finally, there’s Gardner. From a skillset standpoint, the Yankee outfielder would fit perfectly in Detroit. He has played 333 games in center field over the course of his career. He is a threat on the base baths with 179 steals over nearly 750 games—and, to top it all off, he hits for power. Albeit power closer to that of Rajai Davis as opposed to Miguel Cabrera, but it would be an upgrade. But similar to Kemp, Gardner’s contract calls for a lot of money. The Yankee outfielder is owed close to 50 million over the next four years, not including a 12.5 million team option for 2019. The money and the fact that the Yankees trail Detroit in the wild card standings may make a trade near impossible.

Splurging cash on one of these previously mentioned outfielders would seem counterproductive—especially after trading Prince Fielder and Doug Fister in cost-cutting moves. It would also seem odd considering the team will likely hand one/both of David Price and Max Scherzer a massive contract extension.

It’s unclear what Dave Dombrowski will do with the Tigers center field situation. Maybe Rajai Davis will prove he can play there full time. Maybe Ezequiel Carrera will hit. Who knows. But reinforcements via trade or Cuba are unlikely this season. If nothing is done, expect the Tigers’ GM to make a move for a center fielder this winter.

 

All stats courtesy of http://www.baseball-reference.com/ unless otherwise noted.

 

Detroit Tigers: The Statistical Ridiculousness of Miguel Cabrera’s “Down Year”

The Detroit Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera is having a down year. That much is true. He may not win a fourth consecutive batting title, he may not win a third straight MVP and he may not win another triple crown. But, despite the sub-par season (by his extremely high standards) he may just be showing his brilliance as a hitter. Why? Because when most hitters have down years, they look awful—comparatively and in general. Miguel Cabrera’s down year includes a .307 batting average. He’s that good.

A typical season for the Tigers’ slugger has generally consisted of gaudy numbers and some kind of hardware. Whether it is an MVP award, a Triple Crown, an American League pennant, Cabrera has won them all.

His biggest accomplishment may be this season—his “down” season. Here’s just a small snippet of his stats this year. I remind you, this is his “down” season.

  • His .307 line is a far cry from the his batting averages over the last five years (.348, .330, .344, .328 and .324) but only six players in the American League have a higher clip.
  • Leads the AL in doubles with 42. Only Johnathan Lucroy of the Brewers has more in Major League Baseball.
  • Has driven in 90 runs. Also a far cry considering Miggy’s RBI output the last two years (137 and 139 respectively), but only four players have more. Three of those four players would be home run mashers Mike Stanton, Jose Abreu and David Ortiz. In other words, players who get a lot of their RBIs from the long ball. Cabrera only has 17 homers this year, further showing his ability as a complete hitter (as if he needs to show that).
  • Despite his lower numbers, Cabrera still has scored only nine less runs than Angels’ wunderkind Mike Trout. I should also point out that Trout is a threat on the base paths and has speed—Cabrera doesn’t check either of those boxes.
  • Also has a top 10 rankings in the AL in OPB (ninth, .369), Slugging Percentage (tenth, .496) and OPS (eighth, .865).
  • Ranks eight in the AL in hits with 151. Players with fewer hits include Trout, Dustin Pedroia and Victor Martinez.
  • Top 10 rankings in total bases (tied for seventh, 246) and runs created (eighth, 89).
  • Only Trout and Jose Abreu have more extra base hits in the American League.
  • Only five players have reached base more times than Cabrera (206 times) in the AL.
  • Drives in the runs any way he can—leads the AL in sacrifice flies with 10.
  • Still strikes fear into opposing pitchers, he has ten intentional walks on the year. It may not be as high a number as teammate Victor Martinez’ 22, but it still shows the danger Miggy presents to pitchers.

They may not be the leaderboard leading numbers the world is used to from Cabrera, but for a “down year” they’re pretty fantastic.

 

All stats courtesy of http://www.baseball-reference.com/ unless otherwise noted.