When I started this blog on January 7th, 2011, I had no idea it would take off this quickly and the best part was that I was having fun! Since January, this blog has reached nearly 6000 views and has been the key to my association with Trib Live Radio and Ohio Valley Athletics. Now, with this being the last post of the 2011 year, let's take a look back at the top posts for each month.
January -First Post/Pittsburgh Sports Resolutions
The first post is always a tough one. How do you write when you know no one is going to read this for at least a few months? I decided to fill out some resolutions for each Pittsburgh team. Let's see how they did:
Win a seventh Super Bowl
Unfortunately for the Steelers, they came up one game-winning drive short. Aaron Rodgers became the hero instead of Ben Roethlisberger, winning Super Bowl MVP while the Steelers started the first half flat. Still, despite playing one of their worst games of the season, the Steelers only lost by 6. With the playoffs about to start, the Steelers could still make it back to the Super Bowl for the fourth time in six years!
Draft a shutdown corner
Ok, maybe a little naivety on my end. First, you can't just draft a shutdown cornerback. It is the hardest position to play in the NFL and if you end up getting a shutdown corner, it is usually by luck. Still, the secondary has been solid, ranked first in the NFL, and it turns out the Steelers DO have a shutdown corner: Ike Taylor.
Improve the offensive line through the draft.
Other than Marcus Gilbert, the Steelers did not aggressively pursue any linemen in the draft, nor did they sign anyone in free agency. Instead, they gave Willie Colon a five year contract only to see him lost for the season due to another injury. The line hasn't been good but it hasn't been bad either. With all of the injuries, it's a miracle this team can still win games and run the ball effectively (as of late).
Win the Stanley Cup
Yeah, about that. The Pittsburgh Penguins were labeled the next great dynasty in the NHL due to their talent at center, defense and goaltender. The problem is, they are never healthy. Sidney Crosby, for all his talents, has a completely enigmatic future as a hockey player. It is entirely possible that he could be forced into early retirement due to concussion issues. A completely healthy Penguins roster can beat any team in a seven game series. But a completely healthy Penguins roster seems inconceivable at this time.
Continue to develop core talent
Andrew McCutchen had an excellent year and Neil Walker showed glimpses of success throughout the 2011 season. Pedro Alvarez and Jose Tabata were a different story. Tabata was hurt for most of the year due to leg injuries while Alvarez was simply putrid when he wasnt hurt. The team surprised everyone when they reached first place by mid-July. But a second half collapse quickly ended all hopes of a winning season.
Build team through the draft
Check! Signing first overall pick, Gerrit Cole, was one thing. Getting Josh Bell in the second round and signing him was simply awesome. At the height of excitement for Pittsburgh baseball over the last twenty years, the Pirates were able to draft and sign two players that were seen as top 10 talents in one draft. The draft class is stocked full of talent and the Pirates are hoping enough of those players pan out to create a competitor in Pittsburgh.
February- Crosby Should Sit for Season
The Penguins decided to play this one safe as they did sit Crosby for the rest of the 2010-2011 season although, by all indications, it appeared Crosby made that decision by himself. Now, after playing eight games and being placed on the shelf again, it looks entirely possible that Crosby could miss this season as well. With Sid missing so many games, his contract situation after next year will become quite interesting as the Penguins have already shown complete faith in re-signing him. Yet, despite all of his success that has, in turn, helped the Penguins and the city of Pittsburgh, is it worth signing him for ten million dollars while players that are actually healthy such as Staal and Malkin will be forced to leave? Ray Shero certainly has his hands full.
March- How Far Can They Go?
I predicted that the Penguins would beat the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round due to Tampa's inexperience with Stamkos and Hedman, along with the uncertainty at goaltender. I was almost right, too. But the Lightning stormed back from a 3-1 series deficit to stun the Penguins who are now 0-4 when hosting game 7. Alexei Kovalev was invisible and James Neal only scored two measly goals in 25 games with the Penguins. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay went on to sweep the Washington Capitals before losing game 7 to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins. Another great showing of playoff hockey but, for the Penguins, it became a season of "what could've been".
April- Crosby's Concussion Will Never go Away
When I wrote that piece, I was speaking about the millions of fans that held their breath every time he was hit. Now, it certainly seems like Crosby's concussion issues won't go away. He may never be healthy again and while optimism is all Pens' fans can show, the truth of the matter is, he may be done. It wasn't supposed to be scripted this way. The league's most marketable, most talented player, could be out of hockey before he reaches 25 years old.
May- A Trip to Charleston: Jameson Taillon
Of all the times I spent more than four hours in West Virginia, this was by far the best. Seeing a 19 year old "kid" dominate hitters with fastballs in the mid-90's and unbelievable curveballs was truly special. In my post you can see inning by inning breakdown as well as video on Taillon's performance. The 6'7 220 pound right hander from Texas is just one of four pitchers that possess elite-level talent in the Pirates' system. With Taillon most likely starting in A+ ball in Bradenton, Florida, this year's road trip may shift to Altoona to see 2011 first round pick, Gerrit Cole.
June- Pirates Select Gerrit Cole; Strengthens Potential Rotation
The Pirates elected to select Gerrit Cole with the first overall pick in the draft, passing on Anthony Rendon who was eventually selected sixth by the Washington Nationals. Rendon was the consensus number one pick in all mock drafts before the 2011 college baseball season. However, injuries to his ankle and shoulder scared a few teams away. Also, Rendon's power never quite came around after the NCAA switched to newer bats. Meanwhile, Cole had an above average year which was only hampered by his inability to hit corners with his 100+ mph fastball. The Pirates felt Cole's issues were easily correctable and decided to take him with the first overall pick.
July- Backwards Thinking: Pirates Fans Irritated at Lack of Moves
It was a highly controversial decision but, in the end, it was the right decision for Pirates' management. Instead of overpaying for a rental such as Hunter Pence, the Pirates waited until the deadline to acquire Derrek Lee and Ryan Ludwick. The Pirates tanked shortly thereafter and were able to escape the 2011 with all their future pieces intact. It didn't help that Lee was injured for most of his time in Pittsburgh after getting hit in the hand with a fastball. The Pirates had their fun as the top team in the NL Central for a few days, but talent usually always prevails by the end of the season and the Pirates clearly were no match for the Brewers or Cardinals.
August- Pirates Sign Gerrit Cole and Josh Bell
In a move that was seen as impossible by most experts, the Pirates were able to sign both Gerrit Cole and Josh Bell right at the deadline on August 15th. Cole signed an $8 million minor league contract while Bell, after writing every team telling them not to draft him, signed for $5 million. Bell's $5 million contract doubled the previous record for second rounders and probably led to Major League Baseball placing a cap on draft spending in the new CBA. A switch hitter since he was five, Bell has been compared to Chili Davis with projections reaching .300 average 30 home runs per year at the majors.
September- Pitt Moves to Acc
Despite losing Mr. "High Octane" later in the year, the Panthers made the right decision for their athletics by moving to the Atlantic Coastal Conference in 2013. Not only will Pitt play in the same basketball conference as UNC and Duke, but they will also play in a legitimate football conference which already included former Big East teams Boston College, Miami and Virginia Tech. With the uncertainty of conferences in college football, the Panthers picked the strongest conference they could survive in.
October- Steelers Defeat Patriots; Move to 6-2 on the Season
Looking back, this was probably the biggest win in the regular season. The Steelers, playing a relatively crappy schedule, lost to three playoff teams while struggling against Indianapolis, Kansas City and Jacksonville. Their win against the Patriots, however, was monumental. If there's one team that has given the Pittsburgh Steelers fits over the last decade, it's the New England Patriots. Ben Roethlisberger beat Tom Brady at his own game, attempting 50 passes while throwing for 365 yards and 2 touchdowns. The bigger story may have been Lamarr Woodley's hamstring which has limited his play to only a few minutes since going down in week 8. Woodley had seven sacks in the month of October and had one defensive player of the month.
November- State of Affairs: PSU Football Held Too Much Power
The Penn State scandal will probably go down as the biggest scandal in college football history. Jerry Sandusky's allegations resulted in the termination of the winningest college football coach in history. More importantly, the university has been totally misrepresented as a safe haven for child predators due to the actions, or lack thereof, by the football coaches. While Penn State tries to pick up the pieces, the trial is still months away and by the time it ends, the list of victims and accomplices could reach a staggering level.
December- Week 17 Could Decide Fate of AFC Title
With the final week of the NFL regular season ending on the first day of 2012, the Steelers could find themselves in two situations: 1) receiving a first round bye (with a win and a Ravens loss), or playing three potential road games to reach Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis. No one will know for sure how this will play out until about 7:30 pm on Sunday. Regardless, the Steelers have to take care of business against a Cleveland Browns team that is better than their 4-11 record indicates. Josh Cribbs has already said stated that this match up is their "Super Bowl". The Steelers need to treat this as a playoff game or they could blow their chance for a first round bye again.
And there you have it. The sports stories of 2011 were plentiful and far from predictable. This may have been one of the most entertaining, exciting, tragic, unbelievable years of the last few decades. I am certainly looking forward to 2012. Happy New Year!