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UFC 121 Preview: Lesnar vs. Velasquez

Brock Lesnar is the perfect UFC heavyweight champion.  His popularity is due in large part to his incredible size and speed, his WWE background and his charming personality.  Something that goes under appreciated, and what makes Brock Lesnar so compelling among casual and die-hard MMA fans, is the quality of competition he continually faces and the vulnerability he has shown at every stage in his career.

He is the perfect villain, facing one tough “good guy” after another, looking beatable, and keeping his opponents hungry.  To say that he will be beaten is a whole different story.

At UFC 121 Lesnar will square off with another world-class challenger in Cain Velasquez.

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MLB League Championship Series Preview

The dust from the MLB Division Series has settled and four very good teams are left standing.  Playoff baseball is all about match-ups.  Of course, there is the pitcher against the opposing pitcher; there is the pitcher against the opposing lineup where history and pitcher/hitter handedness come into play; and there is pitcher/hitter against the playing environment, the ballparks.  There is also manager against manager, but for the sake of this article, we’re looking at the players and what goes down on the field.

Today, as we prepare for another round of what figures to be very exciting MLB action, we will look at some of the potential match-ups in store.

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MLB Playoffs Day 1: Rocco Baldelli vs. Jeff Francoeur, Rays-Rangers Is Best Series

The 2010 MLB postseason got off to a fantastic start with three very exciting ballgames. I have in-depth notes for Game 1 of the Tampa Bay/Texas series— which is going to be the most exciting series of the postseason other than a Phillies-Yankees World Series rematch.

Why is this perhaps the most exciting match-up in the postseason? Surely, (my home team) against (that other team) is better! Of course, but no other series features two more exciting, dynamic, young, complete teams that are also totally different in the way they approach and play the game.

In Cliff Lee and Carl Crawford, we have two of the best players in the league, both about to enter free agency with a lot at stake. In Josh Hamilton, we have one of the game’s most exciting, compelling players playing hurt. We have a difficult pitching environment in Texas where not a lot of postseason games have been played and pitchers are going to have to battle. Both teams will score runs and both teams have question marks in their pitching staffs that keep the series interesting. I could go on and on.

RAYS-RANGERS

In Game 1, Cliff Lee was his usual, strike-throwing-robot-self, working mostly off his fastball, keeping it down and locating it on both sides of the plate, cutting it against righties. He mixed in his change and curve but did not have a great feel for his curve and did not use too many. He obviously did not need it, striking out 10 and walking none.

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NL Playoff Preview and Players to Watch

Also check out Alan Hull’s AL Playoff Preview

As the season wraps up and the National League contenders begin to separate themselves from one another, here is a look at some key players to watch down the stretch and through October.

ATLANTA BRAVES

Derrek Lee: There is no better way to add zeroes to the back of your next contract than to perform in the post-season when the stakes are the highest and all of baseball is watching. Lee will be looking to sign one last lucrative contract after this season. He had an opportunity to reinvent himself upon being traded to Atlanta, with the hopes he would replace some of the production lost when Chipper Jones went down. Lee responded by hitting a decent .289/.375/.433 since the trade. He will get another chance to start over in October and a few big hits will go a long way for his financial future.

Tommy Hanson: Tim Hudson has had a big season for the Braves, but has faded a bit down the stretch. Hanson, however, is the Braves most talented pitcher and has flown under the radar due to a mediocre win-loss record. This post-season may be a coming-out party for the 23-year-old future ace.

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MLB Playoff Preview: American League

The National League playoff picture has yet to become clear, with only the Cincinnati Reds and the Philadelphia Phillies looking comfortably ahead of their division rivals. As such, we’ll take a look at the strengths and weaknesses of the American League powerhouse teams where the playoff picture is more clear.

The truth is, predicting who will win the World Series, even when picking from eight teams, is a crap shoot at best. The five and seven game series can easily go either way and the better teams, as proven by the 162-game schedule, rarely have any significant advantages over such a short span.

A few points of particular interest, when looking at playoff contenders, are their strengths or weaknesses in the secret sauce categories. During the eight team, Wild Card-era of baseball, teams that have had the most success have three things in common: strikeout pitchers, good team defense and a good closer (all of these are adjusted for ballpark and competition and all that junk).

Each win in the playoffs is that much more valuable, so closers often get extended for two and even three innings while good defenses keep games close. Good offensive teams do not have a significant edge in the playoffs because they face more power pitching and rarely get to see number four or five starters.

So how do the American League teams stack up? Let’s find out:

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Top 30 Franchise Players in MLB

There used to be a yearly column in Sports Illustrated and Baseball Prospectus called the Ultimate Fantasy Draft written by BP’s Nate Silver before he became a full-time political analyst. The premise was if every player in baseball were granted free agency, which players would produce the most value over the next six seasons. I wrote a similar article for my now-dead Baseball Mastermind website in 2008 and will do so again here, determining the most valuable assets in Major League Baseball for the next five seasons (2011-2015).

This is not a “Who is the best player in baseball?” article, nor is it a fantasy baseball article, so age and defensive ability factor into the equation significantly as well as injury history. These factors will diminish the value of Josh Hamilton (having the best season in baseball in 2010) and Roy Halladay, the oldest player on the list (even though he is probably the best pitcher in baseball today). I included players like Hamilton, Halladay and Cliff Lee over some younger players because this is a five-year window and two or three MVP-caliber seasons, followed by two decline-phase or even injury-limited seasons are still worth more than five good, not great seasons.

This season was particularly difficult to assess because there are so many good young pitchers in the game today. Combine that with the fact that there have been many injuries and down years from some of the key position players such as Chase Utley, Ryan Braun, Dustin Pedroia, Justin Morneau, Kevin Youkilis and Grady Sizemore to name a few.

I projected aggressively, yet cautiously with Justin Upton, Stephen Strasburg and Jayson Heyward because, while any of these players may break out into superstardom as soon as next season, as we have seen with many young players (Upton, Delmon Young, Matt Wieters), they may scuffle and produce at a below-average rate for a few seasons in making adjustments.

I looked at career statistics, advanced statistics for offense and defense and of course, their age, position and injury history. Again, this is not the MVP award — defense actually matters. Thanks to Vincent Hull, Andrew Grant and Cameron Weiss for consultation with the list. Without further ado, here are the Top 30 Franchise Players in MLB:

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UFC 116 Preview: Lesnar vs. Carwin

UFC 116 will feature two of the biggest and most powerful men in mixed martial arts going to war as heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar faces interim heavyweight champion Shane Carwin to unify the UFC heavyweight title. This will no doubt be the biggest UFC event of the year and the main event has major implications across MMA. With Fabricio Werdum upsetting consensus #1 heavyweight Fedor Emelianenko last weekend, the winner at UFC 116 will become the number one heavyweight in the world.

Originally, Lesnar and Carwin were set to face off at UFC 106 but Lesnar had to withdraw to recover from intestinal surgery. Turned out Lesnar had a bad case of diverticulitis and he needed a hole closed in his intestine. During Lesnar’s absence, Shane Carwin defeated Frank Mir at UFC 111 for the interim title.

Coming into this fight, Lesnar, 32, is 4-1 in his MMA career (3-1 in the UFC – notable wins: Frank Mir, Randy Couture). He has shown incredible strength and near-impossible quickness and explosiveness for his size in his wrestling, top-control and ground-and-pound. Lesnar was a Division I national champion in wrestling for the University of Minnesota and has transitioned those skills very well into MMA. Since entering the sport, he has built up a strong training camp around him, hiring some of the best trainers and sparring partners in the business with the money he earned in the WWE.

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