UFC 194: Aldo – McGregor Preview

Less than a month ago, UFC fans were witnesses to the biggest upset in the young sports history as Holly Holm defeated the then seemingly unbeatable Ronda Rousey.

Fast forward ‎to December 12th and the UFC is back on pay-per view with several of Mixed Martial Arts biggest stars and biggest national fan bases.

The pride of Ireland Conor McGregor returns to the octagon to face Brazilian Jose Aldo in a title fight to prove who the undisputed best at 145lbs is. The fight was originally supposed to take place July 11th at UFC 189, but was put on hold when a rib injury, forced Aldo to pullout on June 23rd.

With only two weeks until a major PPV, UFC President Dana White scrambled to find an opponent for McGregor. The last thing White wanted to do, was pull McGregor off the card after a convergence of prideful Irish fans purchased tickets and travelled from Ireland to Las Vegas. On short rest and without a full training camp, Chad Mendes agreed to fight the charismatic, trash talking and power punching McGregor.

Mendes forced McGregor to the ground with his superior grappling skills, doing enough to earn the round on the judges’ scorecards. White, setting cage side sat their terrified that his golden goose McGregor may lose and prevent any future Aldo-McGregor fight. A lose by McGregor could have costed the UFC a tens of millions of dollars. A victory by Mendes would set up a trilogy fight between himself and Aldo. A fight that would do poorly on pay-per view in comparison to the potential million plus buys that UFC 194 is expected to do.

The second round followed a similar script to the first. As the second round inched closer to conclusion, Mendes had again taken McGregor down and was on his way to winning the second round. As Mendes made an attempt at ending the fight with a submission, McGregor was able to escape. As soon as McGregor got to his feet, he land a thunderous blow to the head of Mendes, followed by several other big punches. The referee ran in, waived his hands and awarded the victory to McGregor by knockout. A sense of joy and relief entered the mind of White, as he wrapped the interim Featherweight title around the waist of McGregor. It was at that moment, White knew his organization was guaranteed a multimillion dollar payoff at UFC 194.

In the lead up to the first fight, McGregor took every opportunity he could to become the center of attention. Wearing expensive suits and aviator sunglasses, McGregor is a heat generating machine, in the model of pro wrestler Ric Flair. Like Flair, McGregor believes he is the best there is and will look into every camera and tell you so, if you like it or not.

In the promotion leading up to both pay-per views, McGregor’s garnered excessive attention for his soundbites and camera stealing antics.  None of McGregor’s antics garnered bigger eyeballs than when he stole the title belt from Aldo and raised it above his head.  In front of a pro McGregor crowd, he receive an enormous cheers. The events provided a complete contrast to the prior week in Brazil, when he was booed relentlessly.

In the press conference to promote UFC 194, McGregor’s comments garnered a seven minute long YouTube video produced by the UFC. One of McGregor’s comments made mention of how happy he believed Aldo’s girlfriend must be to know that Aldo is hitting the jackpot by fighting McGregor. McGregor proclaimed himself biggest box office draw in the sport and a multimillion dollar paycheck to anyone who fights him. McGregor went go on to describe how Aldo’s girlfriend must have put on her “red panties” to celebrate the two cashing on off the back of McGregor.

As hard as Aldo tries to no-sell all of McGregor’s antics, it is easy to see that he has become agitated by McGregor. Aldo has not lost a fight since November 2005, when he stepped up in weight to lightweight. As a featherweight, Aldo has never lost. However with McGregor’s work on the mic, Aldo has lost his cool on multiple occasions. There may be nothing Aldo hates more than being forced to sit there and listen to McGregor run his mouth. When the fight finally arrives, there will be a sense of relief for Aldo. At that point, Aldo will finally be able to get his hands on McGregor and leave him speechless.

There may not be two people in sports who dislike each other as much as Aldo and McGregor. Aldo cannot wait to execute this technical advantage on McGregor. However, it is McGregor that possess the great equalizer. McGregor undergoes one of the biggest weight cuts prior to his fights to make the featherweight limit. After weigh-ins, McGregor rehydrates and enters the octagon the bigger fighter but a margin. The extra size of McGregor makes his power advantage even bigger. If he can hand his punches, he can finish any fight.

On December 12th, the wait for both will be over. For both fighters, they have something to prove. For McGregor he is trying to prove he can fight as well as he can talk. While Aldo is trying prove his reign atop the featherweight division will continue. Both will be backed by massive fan bases that flown in from separate continents to get to Las Vegas to support their fighter. In the Octagon, Aldo will have the edge in the grappling game, while McGregor will be the bigger man, with superior power. By the end of the night, ‎will exist the Octagon as the undisputed Champion. In the days follow, White will be sitting in his office counting the millions he has generated.

 

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France Must Host Euro 2016

On Friday November 13th, a loud cracking sound could be heard within the Stade de France‎ while the French and German national teams played an international Friendly.

Suddenly, a second loud pop in the air could be heard. Unknown to the players inside, but those sounds were the two bombs that were exploded during the Paris terrorist attack that killed more than one hundred and thirty people.

Days later, the French national team would travel to play their rival England in London. Before the game both teams joined together in support of the victims of the attacks. Outside the stadium was surrounded by armed guards in reactions to the events days earlier in Paris.

Scheduled to kick off at the same time in Hannover, the German national team was scheduled to play their bordering rival the Netherlands. However, in the minutes leading up to kickoff, the game was called off due to a security threat. The stadium was evacuated and police began searching the stadium for evidence of a terrorist attempt at the game. No further information has been released by authorities. But pictures and eyewitness accounts describe police officers checking under the seats within the stadium.

With the idea of terrorism in the minds of everyone within France, domestically Ligue 1, resumed play as schedule on Friday November 20th. All ten games took place as schedule without incident as stadiums across France stepped up security in response to any threat. For many, it allowed the people of France to enjoy their favourite sport.

For the citizens of Paris, domestic league play resumes on Saturday November 28 as Paris Saint-Germain plays ESTAC Troyes. For that game, PSG will wear jerseys reading “Je Suis Paris,” in place of a sponsor’s logo.

Following the terrorist acts, many European soccer pundits have discussed if France should still host the UEFA European Championship next summer due to the security risks. Proponents of moving the tournament have lobbied European soccer governing body UEFA to move the tournament elsewhere to ensure the safety of both fans and players.

Frankly, it is a discussion that should not be entertained by either the French Football Federation or UEFA. France needs to host the event not just to prove to the world that the French people are not scared of terrorism, but to unite the country with pride and joy. The same pride and joy that united French citizens in 1998, when France hosted World Cup.

In the 1998 World Cup final, France upset heavily favoured Brazil behind the two goal performance of Zinedine Zidane. The son of Algerian refugees, Zidane and his teammates were able to united all of the French people under one flag. When the final whistle blew, France was sent into a joyful and prideful celebration, that united people across the country regardless of race or ethnicity.

France hosting Euro, does not only prove that they are not scared of the terrorism, but that Europe is not scared. For a month long period, 24 European nations will face off in a competition to prove which nation has the best team. While at the same time, they will unite Europe in a common goal of peace despite the ever presence threat of terrorism.

 

Ronda Rousey’s Dreams At Perfection Over

Ronda Rousey began her career with one goal, retire undefeated as the greatest women’s mix martial artist of all-time.

That dream is now over for Rousey. Holly Holm entered the fight undefeated, but a 14 to one underdog who many did not think had a chance of winning. However, Holm shocked the world with her second round technical knockout victory over the UFC’s undefeated champion.

Since bursting onto the MMA scene Rousey gained fame for her arm bar submissions and quick finishes. Through her first 12 fights, Rousey easily defeated every top fighter in the division in mere seconds. Many experts predicted a similar victory for Rousey against Holm at UFC 193.

When Holm was announced as the next title challenger for Rousey, many were stunning and disappointed, believing that Holm was unworthy of a title shot. Holm proved the experts wrong. Holm and her trainers developed a game plan and executed it to perfection. Using her background as a professional boxing and kickboxer, Holm was able to take advantage of her footwork and punching power. In the first round Holm was able to land precise strikes that had Rousey stunned and left with a bloody nose by the end of the first round.

As the second round opened, it was evident early that Rousey had not recovered during the minute break between rounds. Holm continued to land hard shots with her left hand that sent Rousey to a knee. Rousey quickly rose to her feet, only for Holm to connect with a devastating kick to her head. At that point it was all over for the undefeated champion. Rousey instantly fell backwards landing on the octagon’s canvas. Referee Herb Dean ran into hovering over Rousey prevent Holm from landing another more punches to the downed champion and waved off the fight.

Holly Holm was the new welterweight champion, as she circled the ring. Holm’s celebration appeared to be a mix of joy, confusion and disbelief as she had beaten the seemingly unbeatable champion. The Melbourne, Australia crowd went crazy as they knew they were all witnesses to the greatest upset in UFC history. While Rousey, exited the stadium in an ambulance on her way to a local hospital.

A rematch is the obvious route to go for the UFC which could headline UFC 200 next year. If Rousey defeats Holm in the rematch, the rivalry could turn into a trilogy. However, that fight is only possible if Rousey chooses to continue her UFC career fulltime. Many industry experts had predicted before the fight that Rousey’s fights would become fewer and fewer each year as she focuses on her transition to acting. Some experts had gone as far to say Rousey had three fights or fewer left before she would retired.

But now, that has all changed. The future of Rousey is completely up in the air. While the career of the 34 year old undefeated champion Holm has reached a whole new level.

Miguel Cotto – Canelo Alvarez Preview

On Saturday November 21st, a national rivalry is reignited inside the ring as Mexico’s Saul “Canelo” Alvarez (45-1-1, 32 KOs) steps into the ring with Puerto Rican Middleweight Champion Miguel Cotto (40-4, 33 KOs).

For decades there has been no bigger national rivalry in boxing than that between Mexico and Puerto Rico. The fighters have changed over the years, but the fans and the fighting styles have remained the same. For years, the boxers of Mexico and Puerto Rico has had little interest in fighting a defensive style. Instead both elect to come straight and throw punches until they can’t. It’s an electric style that brings the prideful nationalistic fans to their feet as they compete with each other to be the loudest in the arena.

For the fans and the boxers, winning means more than the boxer’s hand being raised at the end of the night. Both fans and fighters want to be victorious to prove to the other that not only is their boxer superior, but so is their way of life. A win provides a nation with hope and inspiration to the people that one day they can rise to the top. A loss is demoralizing not only for the boxer but for an entire nation.

For boxing fans, Cotto-Canelo is a dream matchup between two of boxing’s biggest stars that has been a year in making. But it is a fight that no one could have predicted even three years ago. In December 2012 Cotto was easily defeated for his second straight fight. People began to wonder if the speed and power that had helped Cotto win titles at both 140, 147 and 154 pounds had been lost to father time. After deliberating his future for several months, Cotto would return to the ring in October 2013. However for this fight Cotto elected to hire Hall of Fame trainer Freddie Roach.

With Roach in his corner, Cotto was rejuvenated inside the ring and the results proved it. In his next three fights, Cotto won all three by stoppage. Including a dominate performance by Cotto to claim the lineal middleweight title victory against Sergio Martinez. In front of a rapid Puerto Rican crowd at Madison Square Garden, Cotto sent Martinez to the canvas three times in the first round, eventually stopping Martinez and sending him into retirement. Despite capturing a title in a fourth weight class, Cotto enters the ring a modernity underdog to Mexican prodigy Saul “Canelo” Alvarez. At the same time Cotto knows a victory secures his position within the Boxing Hall of Fame.

Despite only being 25 years old, Saul ‘Canelo” Alvarez is the Mexican face of boxing. His trademark movie star good looks, and red hair that spawned the nickname “Canelo” has made him one of the biggest box office draws in the sport. But despite his looks and charm, Alvarez is not a boxer to be mistaken as a pretty boy boxer who excels defensively to ensure the shape of his face. Alvarez is in fact almost the exact opposite, a fighter who is not afraid of taking a punch to the face as long as he lands a more powerful punch to the face of his opponent.

Alvarez turned profession at 15 years old, something that common within Mexico as boxers attempt to fight their way out of poverty. For the next five years, Alvarez would claim the boxing ranks maintaining an undefeated record. May 1st 2010, Alvarez was given a chance at stardom by appearing on HBO prior to the Floyd Mayweather Jr. Shane Mosley pay-per view.

Alvarez’s shot at stardom came against Jose Cotto, the older less talented brother of Miguel. Alvarez would continue his impressive career dispatching of Cotto in the 9th round when he handed the Puerto Rican boxer the only knockout loss of his career. In his next ten fights Alvarez would win by decisively, including a unanimous decision over Mosley in May 2012 on the undercard of another Mayweather pay-per view.

Alvarez would taste his first defeat when he faced defensive mastermind Mayweather in September 2013. The defeat was humbling for Alvarez as he lost a decisive decision to Mayweather. Like Cotto, Alvarez responded with three with three straight victories, including a knockout of the year candidate in May against James Kirkland. On Saturday, Alvarez enters the ring the favourite not only because of his elite level of skill, but his size advantage in the ring over Cotto.

When the 12th round concludes in the early hours of Sunday morning, there is no guarantee who will walk away victorious. The only guarantee is that both boxers’ faces will be bruised, swollen and blooded for the enjoyment of the fans who will be standing for 36 minutes of action. When ring announce Michael Buffer announces the winner an entire nation will be united in pride through a boxing victory.

Toronto Raptors 2015-16 Season Preview

Most teams would be satisfied coming off a second straight division title and a franchise record 49 win, however that is not the case for the Toronto Raptors as they begin their 21st season.

Foul mouth General Manager Masai Ujiri made the decision to change one third of his roster in doing something he has been unable to do as a general manager, win a playoff series. When Ujiri left his post as General Manager of the Denver Nuggets, the franchise was in a very similar place as the Raptors find themselves today. The Nuggets had won their division, but were bounced by the Golden State Warriors in the first round.

The Nuggets lacked a true superstar, following Ujiri’s decision to trade Carmelo Anthony to the New York Knicks. The Raptors find themselves in a similar situation, lacking the type of player who can put his entire team on their back and carry them to victory.

The closest the Raptors have to a superstar player is All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry. Lowry clearly feeling the disappointment and pressure of losing in the first round for a second consecutive season completely remade his body in the offseason. Lowry entered training camp lighter and leaner, hoping to improve his explosion when driving to the basket and push the Raptors offense. Defensively Lowry will be hoping the weight loss will improve his footspeed defensive to keep up with some of the best point guards in the Eastern Conference.

The Raptors other All-Star DeMar DeRozan is feeling a different type of pressure this season. The face of the franchise holds a player option at the end of the season, that he will almost certainly exercise as the NBA salary cap skyrockets thanks to the two massive television deals the league signed last season. DeRozan will be looking to play his best basketball in hopes of landing a maximum contract. A contract that reports have Ujiri, unlikely to give to DeRozan. DeRozan for his excellent athleticism is in fact a limited basketball player and Ujiri recognizes this fact. DeRozan can drive to the right with the best in the league. However, his skills outside of that are limited. When forced to go left, the Raptors offense often stalls and results in a bad pass or midrange jumper by DeRozan, who is only a 27 per cent three point shooter. Defensively, DeRozan struggles at time to stay in front of the elite swingmen throughout the Eastern Conference.

The first big shakeup during the eventful off-season for Ujiri was signing free agent DeMarre Carroll to a four year contract worth almost $15 million a season. However in order to sign Carroll, Ujiri was forced to renounce the rights of gritty forward Amir Johnson, who would go on to sign with division rival Boston Celtics. During his six seasons in Toronto, Johnson emerged as one of the most developed players in franchise history for his tough-nosed defensive, hustle and emotional player. The signing of Carroll will likely result in the former Atlanta Hawks forward becoming the next fan favourite for the Raptors. Carroll will never be on any highlight reels for his flashy play, but he Missouri graduate is a tenacious defender who is not afraid of hitting the floor to grab a loose ball. As the NBA continues to move to a small ball philosophy, Carroll is expect to see minutes at both forward positions.

Later in the summer, Ujiri extended the contract of starting center Jonas Valanciunas for another four seasons. The deal considered to be under market value for a player the caliber of Valanciunas who likely could have claimed a bigger salary had he elected to test the market as a free agent. The contract will prove to be a bargain in the next few seasons, as the NBA salary cap increases more than $30 million dollars and surpasses the $90 million dollar mark. Ujiri, like many within the NBA, expect the fourth year player from Lithuania to continue his upwards trajectory and emerge as one of the Eastern Conference’s top centers. Will the departure of Johnson, Valanciunas will be required to play more minutes in the fourth quarter, which Head Coach Dwayne Casey has been reluctant to do during the first third seasons of his career. This season, Casey may not have a choice as the front court rotation has been completely turned over.

The last member of the starting lineup has yet to be determined, but is likely to be Patrick Patterson, who enters his third season with the club. Patterson will be expected to play more minutes as a stretch four with the departure of Johnson. The bench was completely remade in the offseason, as Ujiri opted to let Tyler Hansbrough, Chuck Hayes and Landry Fields to leave town as free agents. Ujiri bought low in his attempt to replace the trio’s valuable bench minutes. It is expected that the first man off the bench will be 35 year-old Argentina international Luis Scola who signed a one year deal. Scola provides a reliable veteran who posted strong advance metrics in rebounding last season with the Indiana Pacers. Advanced rebounding metrics also appeared to be used when the Raptors made the decision to sign former lottery pick Bismack Biyombo. Biyombo is extremely limited offensively, but does offer a shot blocking presences on the defensive end. The third new member of the bench is former first overall pick, Anthony Bennett. The Raptors took a chance on the Brampton native Bennett after miserable stints in both Cleveland and Minnesota. Bennett is the definition of low risk, high reward as the Canadian possesses talent, but has never found a role in the NBA.

The signing of Bennett is not the only Canadian to be added to the Raptors roster. Pickering native Cory Joseph signed a four year contract worth $30 million dollars after the San Antonio Spurs rescinded his restricted free agent offer in order to sign LaMarcus Aldridge. Joseph will be the first guard off the bench in Casey’s remade bench rotation. Ujiri is paying top dollar betting that Joseph will continue to improve as he has done so during his first four seasons with the Spurs. The move is risky but the contract could prove to be an absolutely steal as the cap rises. If the Raptors hope to win in the first round they need Joseph to emerge as a replacement to either last season’s Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams, who signed with the Los Angeles Lakers or Greivis Vazquez who was traded to the Milwaukee Bucks at the draft.

Joseph is not the only play Casey and Ujiri are utilizing in attempt to replace high volume shooter Williams. Fourth year swing man will move to the bench following more than a year of starting. Two seasons ago, Ross looked like a player who could emerge as a defensive stopper. However, Ross regressed in his third season and was no longer used by Casey to cover players such as Jeff Teague who routinely blew past Lowry. Offensively, Ross’s game can be frustrating, as he often settles for threes instead of driving to the basket for an easy two or a trip to the line. If Ross regains his form from the second season, where he connected on nearly forty per cent of his three pointers, he could be in the running for sixth man.

Other minor storylines to follow this season, includes the future of Head Coach Dwayne Casey whose job could be in jeopardy if he fails to make it out of the first round. Casey’s relationship with forward James Johnson has been contentious at times. Johnson in his second stint with the Raptors, was traded in his first stint after the two could not get along. Entering the final year of his contract it would not be surprising to see Johnson exit town before that contract expires. New this season to the Greater Toronto Area is the new NBA D-League team playing out of Mississauga and operating as the Raptors affiliate. The horrifically named Raptors905, could have potentially three former first round picks in their lineup as Bruno Caboclo, Lucas Nogueira and this past draft first and second round picks, Delon Wright and Norman Powell.

Predictions: Raptors go 47-35 winning their third straight division title, but are again eliminated in the first round. Valanciunas emerges as a potential All-Star center. Carroll becomes the new fan favourite reminding people of past Raptor the Junk Yard Dog Jerome Williams. Former fan favourite Amir Johnson receives one of the biggest standing ovations from the fans inside the Air Canada Center when he returns to the hanger for the first time with the Celtics. DeRozan opts out at the end of the season, will Ujiri letting him leave and sign with the Los Angeles Lakers as a homecoming star and potential Kobe Bryant replacement.

Laurier Women’s Rugby Team Optimistic About Playoffs

For the first time since 2005, the Laurier women’s rugby team enters the OUA playoffs with a winning record.

Starting outside center Tamika Marks-Grant is a 5th year player who has been there through the dark days for the women’s rugby team. “My first two years on the team did not win a single game.” Grant-Marks recalls losing a game to Guelph 108-0 during her first two season. Losing was uncommon for Marks-Grant who won an OFSSA gold medal with Guelph high school Centennial in 2009.

It wouldn’t be until her third year on the team that Marks-Grant would finally win her first game as a Golden Hawk. The team qualified for the playoffs, but we quickly eliminated in the quarterfinals.

Grant-Marks missed her fourth year due to a concussion, but the team would again improve by a win, finishing at 2-3. For the second straight year, the team would again be quickly dispatched from the playoffs in the quarterfinals.

Grant-Marks can pinpoint a few reasons why the team has improved to 3-2 this season. “In my first year, we barely had enough healthy girls to field a team. There was about 20 max, but most of the girls were injured and were not able to play. This year has been the first time we have had a full 30 girl, enough to scrimmage with in games. The large numbers this year also helps to keep momentum since we have the subs there when someone goes down. This year we are more confident in our skills and our teammates. We also have about fourteen vets, either in fourth or fifth year, who are hungry for wins.”

Saturday, the team travels to London to take on Western in the quarterfinals. Grant-Marks described the feeling within the team when they clinched a playoff spot. “We were all excited and overjoyed. We know we are a team that can compete with the best. It has taken us awhile to get to this point where we have a real shot at advancing past the quarter finals.”

Two weeks ago Laurier faced Western and lost 46-14. However, this has not discouraged Grant-Marks or the team. “We expect to win. The last game we had against them during the regular season we mentally entered the game expecting not to perform well and that was reflected in the game. When we enter games with confidence we are able to play great rugby. The game we just played against Waterloo Warriors (Laurier won 52-17) is an example of how entering a game with confidence allows us to control the game. We want to come out of the gate running hard and not letting up for the full 80 minutes. We want to redeem ourselves!”

Game notes: Laurier lost to Western 64-19 on October 17th. An early injury to Laurier’s starting fullback 15 minutes in forced several lineup changes. Western gain momentum after several back to back tries and there was no looking back for the Mustangs. Grant-Marks described the outcome as “a very tough loss.”

2015 World Series

This is a story, I wrote for the student paper over a month ago. My predictions are terrible.

As the seasons change from summer to fall, the search for baseball’s Mr. October begins, as the players seek immortality through their play in baseball’s Fall Classic the World Series.

October 18th 1977, Reggie Jackson stepped to the plate at Yankees Stadium in the bottom of the fourth inning. After hitting homeruns in game four and five, the Yankees were looking to win the series in front of 56,000 screaming fans. After walking on four consecutive pitches in the first inning, Jackson came to the plate with a runner on. Los Angeles Dodgers starter Burt Hooton threw the first pitch to Jackson who smashed the pitch over the outfield fence to give the Yankees their first lead of the game. Jackson came up for his third at bat in the fifth inning with a runner on again. Jackson would see just one pitch, as he sent the pitch into the bleachers. By the time Jackson came to the plate again in the eighth inning, chants of “Reggie, Reggie, Reggie” could be heard audibly from the Bronx faithful throughout the stadium. Knuckleballer, Charlie Hough readied and threw the first pitch to Jackson. With a loud crack of the bat, the ball rocketed off the bat of Jackson and landed 475 feet from the plate. The Yankees would go on to win the World Series behind the MVP performance of Jackson, whose legend was created as “Mr. October.”

The 2015 Major League Baseball playoffs are searching for one player to lay claim to the title of Mr. October and carry their team to postseason glory in the same manor Jackson did in 1977.

Following 162 games, there is no denying that each team is tremendously talented, but each team also carries a potentially fatal flaw. The question will be which team will protect their flaws and expose another team’s fatal flaw.

In the American League it’s a three team race. The Toronto Blue Jays and Kansas Royals clinched the division and avoid the one game wild card playoff. While the third team in the race, the Yankees must first win the one game elimination playoff before moving on. In the National League it is a wide open race among the five teams, with no clear favourite.

The Blue Jays have relied on a heavy hitting offense that features three potential Mr. October candidates in homerun sluggers Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and likely AL MVP Josh Donaldson. If the Jays are to make a deep run this year, it will be based off the strength of their offense that scored over 800 runs. The fatal flaw will be the starting pitchers not named David Price. Former Cy Young winner, Price is the one known quantity in the Jays’ rotation. The Blue Jays’ are depending on three of Mark Buehrle, Marcus Stroman, R.A. Dickey and Marco Estrada. Buehrle’s shoulder has been a question mark for his late season starts as he has had starts pushed back and struggled to log innings. While Stroman has made only a handful of starts following March ACL surgeries is far from a guarantee. Dickey is in his early 40s and prone to giving up big innings and long balls. Estrada has the lowest upside of the three and relies on generating weak contact to gets outs. If the pitching staff can win two games each series on days that Price does not pitch, the Jays are poised for a deep run.

The Royals’ have led the AL Central from start to finish, but have faded near the end of the season. The biggest strength of the Royals was their bullpen that was able to turn games into six inning affairs by shutting down opponents from the seventh inning onward. However, injury to closer Greg Holland turns the Royals’ biggest strength into a question mark as depth will now be an issue as everyone is pushed up an inning. The offense scored over 700 runs, despite getting below average offensive contributions from catcher, second base, shortstop and right field. With a shaky starting rotation lead by Edinson Volquez, pitching will ultimately prove to be the fatal flaw for the Royals. If the Royals are to make a deep run it will be on the shoulders of homegrown talent such as Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain who all have on base plus slugging percentages over 800.

The Yankees must overcome a one game playoff before advancing, but there is a strong possibility the Yankees make a deep run into October. The Yankees’ Mr. October could prove to be a player they wanted nothing to do with for the past two years, Alex Rodriguez. A-Rod has turned from hated cheater to cheered anti-hero for his ability to hit the ball out of the park. The Yankees offer perhaps the most balanced team, a dependable, but not spectacular pitching staff and a similarly described offense. The biggest flaw the Yankees have is their age and the negative consequences related to injury that come with starting an everyday lineup with only one regular starter younger than 31.

In the National League wildcard game, the Chicago Cubs travel to Pittsburgh for one game showdown. The Chicago Cubs have succeeding based on the strength of their pitching staff lead by Cy Young candidate Jake Arrieta. But the flaw the Cubs have is their inexperience and dependence on young talent. If the bright lights and national spotlight get to the rookie tandem of Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber the title draught will continue in the windy city. If the 107 year Curse of the Billy Goat is to be broken it will be behind one of Bryant or Schwarber’s Mr. October performance.

The Pirates are built in a similar pitching first model of the Cubs. The Pirates rotation starts with former top pick Gerrit Cole, but backend of the rotation of A.J. Burnett and Francisco Liriano must overcome past postseason failures. The Pirates candidate for Mr. October is former MVP Andrew McCutchen. The Pirates offense will go as far as McCutchen carries it.

While the Cubs offer young talented bats, the New York Mets offer young talented starting pitching which will determine their postseason fate. If Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom pitch well the Mets postseason stay could be prolonged. The problem for the Mets is their offense. It was a tale of two halves for the Mets, who struggled in the first half, before coming alive in the second half to over take the Washington Nationals for the NL East title. Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes was a revelation when he was traded to the Mets at the trade deadline. If the power surge Cespedes provided in the second half continues, the Mets Mr. October candidate will be the reason why.

The Dodgers are built around perennial Cy Young candidates and past winners Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw. However, for all of his regular season success, Kershaw has struggled in past playoff appearances. If the Dodgers are to advance they need Kershaw to play the role of Mr. October. The Dodgers highly paid lineup only surpassed the 600 run total this season, but if Kershaw and Greinke dominate like they can, offense will be less of an issue.

If there is a favourite in the National League, it is the St. Louis Cardinals, who from the lowest levels in the minor leagues to the majors are baseballs best run team. Built around a strong pitching staff the Cardinals had the best record in the majors from start to finish. The flaw of the Cardinals is their offense which only averaged four runs a game. The offense and pitching staffs could both take a hit if catcher Yadier Molina’s late season injury prevents him from playing. If Molina is healthy he could be the Cardinals’ Mr. October.

Predictions:

Wild Card Winners: Yankees and Cubs

ALDS Winners: Yankees and Blue Jays

NLDS Winners: Dodgers and Cubs

ALCS Winner: Yankees         MVP: Alex Rodriguez

NLCS Winner: Cubs               MVP: Jake Arrieta

World Series: Yankees            MVP: Masahiro Tanaka