Sunday, June 29, 2014

Stamps defence stymies Als in season-opening win

Fred Bennett and the Calgary Stampeders defence swarmed Troy Smith and the Montreal Alouettes, securing a season-opening 29-8 victory at McMahon Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

The victory came with a cost however, as star running back Jon Cornish left the game early after absorbing a hit from Kyries Hebert late in the game. Hebert was ejected from the contest following the play.

Maurce Price, Anthony Parker and Cornish all had touchdowns in the win.

Bo Levi Mitchell made his first start as the undisputed leader of the Stampeders offence after beating out incumbent Drew Tate in training camp. He finished with 313 yards and 2 touchdowns on 16 on 25 passing.

The Als countered with Smith who helped officially kick off the post-Anthony Calvillo era in Montreal. Smith, who stepped up near the end of the 2013 season to lead the Als into the playoffs entered after a challenging pre-season appearance and looked to prove to new head coach Tom Higgins that he was the long-term solution under centre.

Mitchell and the Stamps opened up the scoring, first with a 57-yard punt single by Rob Maver and then with a 38-yard field goal by Rene Paredes.

The first quarter went by with little incident but concluded with a bang. Backed up inside their own five yard line, the Stampeders decided to forego conservative play-calling and air it out. Mitchell stepped into a pass which hit receiver Maurice Price in stride for a career-long 102-yard highlight-reel touchdown to extend the Calgary lead to 11-0 on the final play of the opening frame.

The pass was the longest Stampeders touchdown strike since Jeff Garcia found Terry Vaughn for 104 yards in 1996.

The story the rest of the way to halftime was the Stampeders defence, led by Charleston Hughes up front and Bennett in the secondary.

Hughes, picked up where he left off last season, generating five tackles and a sack in the first half alone as the centrepiece of a Calgary pass rush that got to Smith four times on the day.

As for Bennett, he had a pick in the first quarter and seemed to have a second one but a major foul on defensive tackle Deron mayo negated the turnover.

Down 11-0, Smith entered halftime looking for a way to solve the Calgary secondary after only throwing for 48 yards in the first 30 minutes. A bright spot for the Als, however, was the man Smith was handing off to, Brandon Whitaker. Returning from an injury-riddled 2013, Whitaker looked sharp in his first game back, racking up 49 yards in the first half.

As the second half began, Mitchell once again marched the Stamps with ease. Already with great field position due to a major foul applied to the kickoff, Mitchell stepped up and found WR Marquay McDaniel over the middle for a 16-yard gain, before taking off for 12 yards on his own. The drive was stalled however, due mostly to a lick laid on the Texan QB by safety Marc Olivier Brouillette to break up a second-and-long in the redzone.

The Stamps settled for a 26-yard Paredes field goal to extend the lead to 14-0.

After the clubs traded punt singles, with the second one breaking the Montreal shutout, the Stamps began to pull away as the fourth quarter began. AS they did so many times last season, Calgary relied on the league’s reigning Most Outstanding Player, Jon Cornish, to get it done.

With just over 13 minutes remaining, Cornish handled a direct snap and found a hole up the middle of the Montreal defence, rumbling 18 yards for a touchdown and a 22-1 lead. The Lou Marsh Award winner’s major helped cap off a 4-play, 65-yard drive by Mitchell and the Stampeders.

His day would end shortly thereafter though, as the aforementioned hit taken from Hebert forced Cornish to the locker room.

Cornish’s injury occurred in the middle of an impressive Stampeder march which began at their own 2 yard line. Mitchell picked his team up after the hit and promptly spotted Parker wide open in the end zone for a 16-yard major which put the game away with 7:38 remaining.

That drive would signify the end of Mitchell's day as Tate entered with 5:06 left to finish out the game.

If there was one concern for the Stampeders coming out of this contest it was major foul penalties. The Stampeders took a total of 6 15-yard fouls.

Montreal added a late touchdown with zeros on the clock for their first major score of the game.

Smith finished with 127 passing yards on 40 attempts.

The Als will regroup and return home to host the BC Lions while the Stampeders get an early bye week in Week 2.

Notes: Saturday marked the return of Nik Lewis to the lineup after sitting out the second half of last year with an injury … The much-anticipated debut of Chad Johnson was made at McMahon – he finished with a pair of receptions for 30 yards.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Stellar Start: Bombers shine in season-opening win

Aaron Kelly had a career night and Drew Willy was stellar in his Bomber debut as Winnipeg handled the Toronto Argonauts 45-21 in the CFL season opener at Investors Group Field.

Kelly hauled in the first two majors on back-to-back drives and totalled 100 yards on the night. Meanwhile, Willy was spot on in front of the Bomber faithful, throwing for 308 yards and 4 touchdowns on 19 of 27 passing.

Thursday night not only marked the start of a new CFL season but a list of new beginnings in Bomber-land. After 16 years combined as a player and coach in Toronto, Mike O’Shea traded in his Double Blue for Blue and Gold to take over the head coaching post in Winnipeg.

One of O’Shea’s first moves after being appointed as the new sideline boss was immediately naming Willy as his starter after the third-year pivot was acquired in the off-season.

Willy ensured that his head coach made the right decision as he could not have got out to a better start.

The University of Buffalo product went four-for-four out of the gate, connecting with Clarence Denmark and Nick Moore before hitting Kelly in the end zone on a post route for a 27-yard touchdown and an early 7-0 lead. Willy calmly orchestrated a 6-play, 71-yard drive to get Winnipeg going.

The Willy-to-Kelly connection was just getting started however, as two possessions later, they would cap off a 55-yard possession with another major.

Setting up the score was Johnny Sears who stripped Argos SB Andre Durie of the ball, forcing the fumble and allowing the Bombers to take over at midfield. Willy promptly found Kelly for 20 yards and then again for the 8-yard touchdown to extend the first quarter lead to 14-0.

As Willy and the offence went, so did the defence, limiting Argos starter Ricky Ray to only one first down in the opening frame and doing so – combined with another big gain – helped Winnipeg earn another three points off of an 8-yard field goal.

As the second quarter began, the Bomber defence continued to get after Ray, making him uncomfortable in the pocket and closing things up down field. With 2:54 remaining in the half, Cory Watson extended the lead to 24 with a 25-yard touchdown reception over linebacker Jamie Robinson who was in coverage. Watson would leave shortly thereafter, however, with an injury.

In search of some type of spark and willing to take one anyway they could, they would get one from defensive back Brenden Smith who sped down the sidelines and took the ensuing kickoff 76 yards to put the Argos inside Winnipeg territory.

Ray quickly found Jason Barnes over the middle in the end zone for a 19-yard major to cut the lead to 24-7 as the teams headed into halftime.

The Argonauts entered the locker room searching for answers and trying to solve the potent Bombers pass rush. They also looked to clean up their penalties which tallied 16 for 110 yards.

On the opposite sideline, it was difficult for O’Shea to not be pleased with his quarterback’s play in a first half which saw him go 12 of 18 for 246 yards and 3 touchdowns.

New half, same result for the Blue Bombers.

On Winnipeg’s first possession of the half, Willy found former Argo Julian Feoli-Gudino for 14 and 12-yard receptions before looking for Kelly again on a post route. Kelly was tied up by an Argos defender, and after O’Shea successfully challenged a non-call on pass interference, backup QB Robert Marve punched it in from 1-yard out and the Bombers opened up a 31-7 lead.

The Argonauts would answer in short order. Ray found Chad Owens, Spencer Watt and Barnes all for gains over 10 yards before dumping the ball off to running back Jeremiah Johnson on a misdirection for a 5-yard touchdown. The drive, which cut the lead to 31-14 was kept alive by a too many men on the field call on the Bombers when they had the Argos in a punting situation.

The Argos defence then started to get pressure on Willy, forcing him to throw an interception over the middle. But as quickly as the Argos seized momentum, Winnipeg snatched it right back.

Johnson took a handoff up the middle, bounced it outside only to fumble in his own end. The ball was picked up by Bombers DB Demond Washington and returned to the house for a major to reclaim the 24-point lead.

In a night where everything seemed to be going right for Winnipeg, Gudino put the exclamation mark on a tremendous Bombers effort, hauling in a 7-yard major to increase the lead to 45-14.

Another positive on this night was rookie tailback Nic Grigsby who rushed for 122 yards on 21 carries, averaging 5.8 yards per carry. Grigsby was filling in for Will Ford who many thought would be the starter come week one but was placed on the injured list.

The Boatmen would get a brief spark when Owens took a punt return back for an 84-yard touchdown but the contest was more than out of reach at that point. Not willing to risk injury to Ray, head coach Scott Milanovich pulled his starter with just under seven minutes remaining and put in Trevor Harris to close out the game.

The Argos will regroup before hosting the defending Grey Cup champion Saskatchewan Roughriders at Rogers Centre, while the Bombers stay at home to take on the Ottawa REDBLACKS in the expansion franchise's first ever game.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Could the Rangers deal Darvish?

The Texas Rangers are 6 games below .500 entering play on Wednesday and while the team has not yet given up on 2014 with 6 teams sitting between them and the final wild card spot, odds of another post season appearance are beginning to look less and less likely with every loss.
The next few weeks won't get any easier.  On Tuesday the team began a stretch of 20 games in 20 days before the All star break then right after the All star break they'll jump into 13 games against teams who currently sit in playoff spots. When they are done with that stretch it'll be the July 31 trade deadline.
General manager is reportedly exploring the trade market to bring back core players in return for players like Elvis Andrus, Alex Rios, Joakim Soria, Adrian Beltre, and even Yu Darvish.

Padres ready to sell off bullpen

The San Diego Padres have some decisions to make in terms of which players to deal away before the July 31 trade deadline and the firing of general manager Josh Byrnes would seem to indicate that change is indeed afoot with the franchise.
That's probably not surprising to learn that the Padres are getting a lot of trade inquiries on back end bullpen stalwarts Huston Street and Joaquin Benoit.
Neither pitcher has a No trade clause so several teams are bound to be making offers over the next few weeks. The Tigers, Angles, Blue Jays, Orioles, Brewers, and Marlins are among contending teams that could be surveying the relief market and are potential landing spots for relievers. Among teams with playoff aspirations are the Yankees, Twins, and Indians are logical teams to look at the pen market because of uneven relief work.
If the Padres do end up trading one of those pitcher the closer role would go to the other. However, if the Padres decide to deal both, then it would give the franchise an opportunity to audition Dale Thayer and Alex Torres to potentially fill that role going forward in 2015 and perhaps beyond.

New Closer for the Angles?

After refusing to outright declare that closer Ernesto Frieri had been relieved of his ninth inning duties, even as he continued to use other pitchers in the role over the last few games, manager Mike Scioscia finally confessed to reporters that there was a new go to guy in his bull pen. The embattled Angles bullpen tossed four scoreless innings in an 8-6 victory over the Minnesota Twins on Tuesday night and while Frierei did work in a scoreless eighth it was Joe Smith who wrapped up the win in the ninth. Scioscia said there's No doubt they wanted to use Smith in the ninth and they're gonna keep him in the closer role until until Frieri gets his feet on the ground and his game comes back.

Lee set to return in July

The Philadelphia Phillies expect Cliff Lee to be back from elbow injuries in July. Barring setbacks he could be back for a start right before the All star break depending if he needs 2 or 3 rehab starts. Regardless on how many starts he makes in July July could be his last month as a phillie as they are expected to move his contract. Lee is due at least $50 million over the next season and a half. That figure could grow to 62.5 million if he vests his option for 2016. Teams that have spoken with the Phillies say the club is willing to eat a good portion of his salary if they get the right pieces in return.

Diamondbacks ready to deal?

The Arizona Diamondbacks payroll is the highest in team history, but there they sit in last place in the national league west. As such, it makes perfect sense for the team to be sellers as the trade deadline approaches.
Kevin Towers, the general manager, said that the team has to be open minded in moving contracts and some veteran players for younger players.
One name the Diamondbacks are looking to move is Aaron Hill. He's due $29.5 million through 2016 and his numbers have decreased. Brandon McCarthy is due $4.5 million and Cody Ross is due $12.75 million.
Brad Ziegler has gone 17-3 since the start of the 2012 season and has solid numbers as a setup man this season. He is 34 years old and falls into the veterans category. Teams that can use him are the Tigers and Dodgers.
Martin Prado is a versatile player and would make him a perfect addition for teams looking to add roster flexibility depth for a run at the post season.  Yangervis Solarte has been a bit shaky at third so a move to the Yankees would seem to be a perfect fit.
If Bronson Aaroyo can return to the mound and show he's still healthy teams may have interest in him. Given Tony La Russa's involvement with Arizona perhaps he can luar an under the radar prospect from St Louis who just lost a pair of starting pitchers.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Can colorado keep o'reilly?

Ryan o'reilly is set to become a restricted free agent this year. If Colorado wants to retrain him they'll have to give him a qualifying offer of at least $6.5 million, negotiate a long term deal, or elect an arbitration meeting. If Colorado did an arbitration meeting Reilly could choose a 1 year or 2 year meeting. If o'reilly is awarded less than $6.5 mill on an arbitration meeting it'd be interesting to see how o'reilly would react. Bottom line, Colorado going to an arbitration meeting would give Colorado a new relationship with its players. Either way it'll be interesting to see how Colorado and o'reilly handle this contractual situation