BOB MATTHEWS SPORTS TALK
Weeknights 6:00PM - 8:00PM
on WHAM 1180
Email Bob here.
For over 25 years, Bob Matthews has held the title of Rochester's most popular sports writer/commentator. For over 20 years, Bob has hosted WHAM's nightly sports talk program...consistently ranked at the top of his time slot!
From 1978 to 2012, Bob Matthews was a sports columnist for the Times-Union and Democrat and Chronicle and a regular "As the Sports World Turns" contributor to the Gannett News Service. He is the only person to be selected Press-Radio Club Sportswriter of the Year (five times) and Sportscaster of the Year, and was a pioneer inductee into the Frontier Field Walk of Fame.
A Rochester native, Bob graduated from Brighton High School where he played varsity baseball, basketball and served as student council V-P. Bob is also a veteran, serving his country in Vietnam.
Always opinionated and outspoken, Bob's proudest accomplishment is advocating for Frontier Field. His all-time favorite athlete...former Red Wing Luke Easter. One of his sports regrets……not being around for the glory year of the Rochester Royals.
BOB’S NFC FORECAST: REDSKINS, SAINTS TO SURPRISE
RED WINGS ALIVE FOR TRIPLE-A TITLE GAME ON NATIONAL TV
GARRETT JONES SITS BEHIND JUSTIN MORNEAU – AGAIN
FORMER AMERK SCORING ACE PITTIS HANGS UP SKATES
HITTING PHENOMS SANO, BUXTON ON FAST TRACK TO MINNESOTA
FLORIDA STATE’S NEW QB LOOKS PRETTY GOOD
One reason the NFL is so popular is the annual turnover of playoff teams. Nothing ever seems to go according to plan. Injuries, fortunate bounces and unlucky calls by the zebras often are equalizers.
Here are my NFC picks for the 2013 season (AFC picks will be in Friday’s column).
I believe the talent tide has shifted and that the NFC will get much the better of the NFC in interleague play. In fact, my forecast has a 136-120 combined record for the NFC and a 120-136 record for the AFC:
Washington Redskins 10-6 record – The key is Robert Griffin III’s knee. I’m banking on it holding up...I like the underrated running game (featuring Alfred Morris) and defense (with healthy OLB Brian Orakpo and DE Adam Carriker).
New York Giants 9-7 record – The defensive line figures to bounce back this season and do a better job stopping the run and rushing the passer. The talent is there...QB Eli Manning’s grit and durability offset some turnover at the skill positions.
Dallas Cowboys 8-8 record – I don’t think QB Tony Romo is as bad as his many critics insist he is or as good as owner Jerry Jones thinks he is. I believe Romo is slightly above average and Jones is a below average general manager with a below average head coach in Jason Garrett...One of these years the Cowpokes will surprise. I’m tired of waiting.
Philadelphia Eagles 7-9 record – The Eagles will be fun to watch under new coach Chip Kelly but I don’t think he’ll be successful in the NFL until he has time to build the speedy offense he showed off at Oregon...Michael Vick would’ve been a good fit at QB a number of years ago.
Green Bay 10-6 record – QB Aaron Rodgers received a 5-year, $110 million contract extension because he is the difference in this division...ROLB Clay Matthews is almost as important on defense... The Packers will outscore most opponents but need to improve on defense to beat the elite teams.
Detroit Lions 9-7 record – The front-line talent on offense and the front-seven on defense is impressive...I expect Reggie Bush to have a big year and take pressure off WR Calvin Johnson...Depth is questionable and optimistic forecasts like this don’t help coach Jim Schwartz’s job security.
Chicago Bears 8-8 record – New head coach Marc Trestman will try to get the offense up to speed but I’m not sure QB Jay Cutler is the right fit. The defense is showing some age and will miss Brian Urlacher’s leadership.
Minnesota Vikings 7-9 record – Adrian Peterson will keep them respectable every week, but the defense is ordinary and QB Christian Ponder still is a project.
New Orleans Saints 10-6 record – The return of fiery head coach Sean Payton from as one-year suspension likely will make the team’s potent offense even better...The big question is how much new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan can improve a unit that allowed an NFL-record 7,042 yards last season. His arrival can’t hurt.
Atlanta Falcons 9-7 record – The popular pick to win the division...Terrific pass attack with Matty Ice Ryan throwing to Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez...But the Falcons have a habit of disappointing in big games, particularly on the road.
Carolina Panthers 8-8 record – The underachieving Panthers have some outstanding talent but need to stay relatively healthy to make the playoffs and save coach Ron Rivera’s job.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 6-10 record – Coach Greg Schiano’s team is being touted as a sleeper and a pick to pop...I’m not buying it until QB Josh Freeman steps up and I’m not counting on it happening this season.
San Francisco 49ers 11-5 record – I’m counting on QB Colin Kaepernick to continue to improve and TE Vernon Davis to help offset the injury losses of WRs Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham...The defense remains loaded and the pass rush should be better with a healthy DT Justin Smith.
Seattle Seahawks 10-6 record – Many analysts rate the 49ers and Seahawks as the two best teams in the NFC...I believe the loss of explosive trip0le-threat Percy Harvin will hurt Seattle more than the losses of Crabtree and Manningham.
St. Louis Rams 8-8 record – An up-and-coming team with the misfortune of chasing two better division rivals...Youngest team in the NFL improved from two wins in 2011 to 7-8-1 last season under new coach Jeff Fisher.
Arizona Cardinals 6-10 record – Carson Palmer is a significant upgrade at QB and no one is happier than WR Larry Fitzgerald...The defensive line is above average and LILB Daryl Washington and CB Patrick Peterson are stars.
Playoff teams – Division champions Washington, Green Bay, New Orleans and San Francisco plus wild cards New York Giants and Seattle.
Teams most likely to surprise – Washington, Carolina and St. Louis.
RED WINGS HAVE SHOT ON NATIONAL TV
The slumping Rochester Red Wings woke up in time to chalk up three clutch victories for a hard-earned spot in the International League playoffs for the first time since 2006.
Rochester is one of eight teams vying for a spot in the Triple-A National Championship Game on NBC Sports Network, Tuesday, Sept. 17.
Here are the eight teams headed for the IL and Pacific Coast League playoffs, with their records and run differential:
Durham Bulls (IL: Tampa Bay Rays)) – Clearly the team to beat on paper...Scored the most runs (698) and allowed the fewest runs (533 in the field)...87-57 record...+175 run differential...3.33 ERA (best in the 14-team IL)
Oklahoma City Red Hawks (PCL: Houston Astros) – 82-62 record...run differential +32 (677-645)...4.21 ERA (9th among the 16 PCL teams)
Las Vegas 51s (PCL: New York Mets) – 81-63 record...run differential +100 (828-728)...4.65 ERA (13th among 16 PCL teams)
Pawtucket Red Sox (IL: Boston Red Sox) – 80-63 record...run differential +48 (663-615)...3.90 ERA (8th among 14 IL teams)
Indianapolis Indians (IL: Pittsburgh Pirates) – 80-64 record...run differential +67 (622-555)...3.45 ERA (2nd among 14 IL teams)
Salt Lake City Bees (PCL: Los Angeles Angels) – 78-66 record...run differential -23 (809-832)...5.37 ERA (16th among the 16 PCL teams)
Rochester Red Wings (IL: Minnesota Twins) – 77-67 record...run differential +5 (669-664)...4.21 ERA (14th among 14 IL teams)
Omaha Storm Chasers (PCL: Kansas City Royals) – 70-74 record...run differential -1 (621-622)...3.91 ERA (2nd among 16 PCL teams)
In the 16-team PCL, there are four division and the division winners qualify for the playoffs. Six non-playoff teams finished with better records than the fortunate Storm Chasers.
Stats don’t mean much entering the Triple-A playoffs due to roster turnover, including promotion to parent clubs on Sept. 1...Triple-A teams with MLB affiliates not in contention for playoff berths (Las Vegas, Oklahoma City, Omaha, Rochester, Salt Lake) figure to have fewer immediate recalls than the Triple-A teams with MLB affiliates contending for playoff berths: Durham, Indianapolis and Pawtucket).
POPULAR RED WINGS REUNITED ON PIRATES
My three favorite Rochester Red Wings of the Minnesota now are teammates in the majors. Unfortunately, they’re not on the Twins. They’re on the Pittsburgh Pirates (my new favorite MLB team).
Morneau and Jones are good friends, but for the second time in their careers, Jones will play second fiddle to Morneau.
Jones spent four seasons in Rochester (2005 through 2008) because Morneau was blocking his path in Minnesota. Jones saw only spot duty with the Twins but never complained and always gave 100 percent effort for Rochester. It is one reason he’ll make the Red Wings Hall of Fame.
Jones finally got his career break after the 2008 season. He signed with Pittsburgh as a free agent and has been a solid and popular (of course) member of the Pirates since.
Morneau, the American League MVP in 2006 (edged Derek Jeter) and second in 2008 (behind Dustin Pedroia, hasn’t been the same since suffering his latest5 concussion in 2010 but he’s still a useful hitter (.259, 17 HRs, 74 RBI this season, including 9 HRs in August ).
This is the last year on Morneau’s current contract and the Twins reluctantly decided not to retain him. They did him a favor by trading him to the Pirates. He’ll be playing in a cozier home stadium (PNC Park) for left-handed power hitters.
Pittsburgh will end a record 20-year losing streak this season and Morneau was obtained just in time to be eligible for the postseason.
Morneau figures to be Pittsburgh’s starting first baseman. Jones likely will be a pinch-hitter and see some duty in right field. If the Pirates reach the World Series, he could be the DH against right-handers in the American League ballpark.
TWO POSSIBLE ADDITIONS FOR 2014 RED WINGS
The two players obtained by Minnesota from Pittsburgh for Justin Morneau could be members of a potent team in Rochester next season.
Left-handed hitting and throwing outfielder Alex Presley , 28, is a .309 hitter in 285 games in portions of the last four seasons with Indianapolis. He had 24 HRs and 54 stolen bases over that span... Duke Welker, 27, is a 6-foot-7, 240-pound second -round pick in the 2007 draft. He had a 3-4 record with 9 saves and a 3.48 ERA for Indianapolis this season. In 61 innings, he allowed only 51 hits and had 64 strikeouts.
SANO AND BUXTON WRAP UP EXCELLENT REGULAR SEASONS
There is a good chance that Minnesota’s two blue-chip hitting prospects -- 20-year-old third baseman Miguel Sano and 19-year-old center fielder Byron Buxton – have played themselves into a scenario that could make them teammates on the 2014 Red Wings – despite their tender years.
The Twins are drooling to add his power bat to their lineup but figure to have him spend most of next season in Rochester. He needs to work on his maturity and polish his all-around game. His most impressive stats this season were combining for 35 HRs and 103 RBI in two pitcher-friendly leagues: 56 games in the Advanced-A Florida State League and 67 games in the Double-A Eastern League.
Buxton had a remarkable season considering he won’t turn 20 until the week before Christmas. He started this season at Single-A, quickly proved he was too good for the Midwest League and was promoted to the Advanced-A Florida State League. He didn’t miss a beat:
Cedar Rapids Kernels (Single-A) – 68 games; .341 batting average (92x270); 68 runs; 15 doubles; 10 triples; 8 HRs; 56 RBI; 32x43 stolen bases.
Fort Myers Miracle (Advanced Single-A) – 57 games; .326 batting average (71x218); 41 runs; 4 doubles; 8 triples; 4 HRs; 22 RBI; 23x31 stolen bases...In the month of August, he hit .402 and stole 16 bases. He led the minors with 18 triples.
PITTIS RETIRES; LAST AMERK TO WIN AHL SCORING TITLE
Domenic Pittis, one of the niftiest center ever to play for the Rochester Americans, announced his retirement Monday after 19 seasons of pro hockey.
He was the most recent Amerk to win the American Hockey League scoring title. In the 1998-98 season, he had 38 goals and 66 assists for 104 points in 76 games.
In portions of three seasons with Rochester, he had 75 goals and 171 assists for 246 points in 204 regular season games. He also was a solid scorer in the playoffs: 16 goals and 54 assists for 70 points in 51 games.
Pittis lacked the skating speed and muscle to stick with Buffalo. In 86 NHL games with the Sabres, Edmonton and Nashville, he had 5 goals and 11 assists for 16 points.
Pittis spent his last eight pro seasons piling up points and cashing big checks in Switzerland.
A’S, DODGERS ARE HOT...MATSUSAKA, FELIX ARE NOT
Some hot and cold MLB players and teams (info sources include ESPN and Elias Sports Bureau):
The Oakland A’s are 21 games above .500 (79-58) for the first time this season after a 4-2 home win over Texas on Monday...The A’s are 7-1 in their last 8 games...Since May 19, the A’s are 20-22 vs. AL West rivals and 41-18 vs. the rest of MLB.
The Dodgers have won 5 straight games and are 35-8 since the All-Star Game break.
Charlie Morton (Pittsburgh) is 6-1 with a 2.90 ERA since the All-Star Game break.
Detroit shut out the Red Sox at Fenway Park, 3-0 on Sunday, for the second time in the last 25 years.
The Yankees have used a team-record 52 players this season.
Chris Colabello (Minnesota) ended a 0x23 slump Sunday and hit 2 HRs (including his first grand slam) on Monday.
With J.J. Hardy’s (Baltimore) next HR, he’ll become only the ninth shortstop since 1900 to have at least three 25-HR seasons.
Felix Hernandez (Seattle) suffered his fourth straight loss Monday. He hadn’t lost four straight decisions since 2008.
The Pittsburgh Pirates beat Milwaukee 5-2 Monday to boost their record to 80-57. They need one win to end their streak of 20 consecutive losing seasons.
Barry Zito (San Francisco) lost his eight straight decision Monday and has only one win in his last 20 starts. His career could be winding down.
Freddie Freeman (Atlanta), who’ll get some MVP votes, had a career-most 5 RBI Sunday in a 13-5 home win over the Mets.
I en joy watching Texas A&M Heisman Trophy-winning sophomore quarterback Johny Manziel play football, but he’s such a showboat that I can’t root for him. I’m glad he wasn’t suspended in the autograph caper. It would’ve been small potatoes compared to countless other more serious violations that go unpunished.
One thing the Buffalo Bills hope to reverse from the preseason to the regular season is penalty ratio. In the preseason, the Bills were flagged 39 times for 278 yards and opponents had only 17 penalties for 224 yards.
Cheers to Chris Parmelee and Aaron Hicks for stepping up in the final days of the regular season to help the Red Wings earn a playoff spot. Last week on the radio show, I was critical of their performances since being demoted by Minnesota and suggested that they might be jeopardizing their chances of being recalled by the Twins in September.
What’s the mystery about Roger Federer’s slump? Big-time tennis is a young man’s game and – at 32 – Federer is old.
It looks like the Florida State Seminoles have a pretty decent quarterback successor to EJ Manuel. Redshirt freshman Jameis Winston was absolutely brilliant in Monday night’s 41-13 road romp over Pittsburgh: 25x27 for 356 yards and 4 TD passes. Are the Panthers that bad or is he that good?