By Dan Walk
1 Twelve players accepted 50-game suspensions Monday in conjunction with the Biogenesis investigation, with Texas outfielder Nelson Cruz and Detroit shortstop Jhonny Peralta being the most important names since both are on teams that are pennant chasing. Milwaukee’s Ryan Braun’s season-ending suspension a week ago won’t play into a pennant chance since the Brewers are terrible. What really stands out from these suspensions are the teams that will prosper due to the losses of Cruz and Peralta. Teams such as Oakland, Cleveland and other wild card competitors suddenly have somewhat of a leg up on their division rivals. Detroit softened the blow by acquiring for shortstop Jose Iglesias at the trade deadline, but the Tigers will miss Peralta’s power.
2 Among the other players on the suspended list was Alex Rodriguez, who, at no surprise, is appealing his 211-game suspension. By doing so, he’ll be able to play the rest of the 2013 season since the arbitrator isn’t likely to make a decision on who wins the appeal until November or December at the earliest. We all know how this will end up. Rodriguez, who turned 38 a week ago, may be guilty but it’s not too much of a surprise that he’s going to fight for the possible $30 to 33 million that he would lose during the suspension period. Maybe a few years from now he’ll admit his guilt — similar to when he said in 2009 that he used performance-enhancing drugs with Texas from 2001-03.
3 Sometimes, the numbers don’t always add up. The Cleveland Indians earned their league-leading 15th shutout on Sunday, though their earned run average of 4.03 entering Monday’s games puts them in a tie for 19th in baseball and nearly a run worse than the league-leading Pirates (3.07). The Tribe either pitches lights out or horribly. Cleveland is currently embarking on a four-game series against AL Central Division-leading Detroit — but I don’t expect any shutouts from Indians pitching during that series.
4 Last week presented the Pirates with a perfect opportunity to begin their late-season downslide — a five-game series against NL Central Division-leading St. Louis. Instead, Pittsburgh responded to win four of those games and are firmly back in first place with the best record in baseball entering Monday. Every time it seems as if this edition of the Buccos is going to struggle, it continues to play above everyone’s expectations. This is more proof that Pittsburgh will break .500 and make the playoffs.
5 The most noteworthy difference in the NFL’s sweeping Pro Bowl changes in my opinion is the lack of kickoffs. Are we back to pee wee football, where they don’t perform kickoffs since the wee ones can’t kick the ball that far? I know the Pro Bowl is just an exhibition but this is a sign that in the not-too-distant future, there will no longer be kickoffs in the NFL.
6 Over the next few weeks, we’ll hear a lot about the “quarterback controversy” in Philadelphia between Michael Vick, Nick Foles and, to a lesser extent, rookie Matt Barkley. But we all know Vick will start under center on Week 1 if he’s healthy. Let’s not waste time debating and contemplating who will run Chip Kelly’s high-octane system. The Eagle have too much invested in Vick to give Foles the starting job right now.
7 Now that the NFL’s regular season is a month away, let us begin to break things down division-by-division, starting with AFC West. This appears to be the easiest division to begin with, considering Denver is the only team given a chance to win it. The rich became richer when Wes Welker was added to a quality receiving core that’s catching the passes of future Hall of Famer and second-year Bronco Peyton Manning. There’s no reason to believe the Broncos will take a step backward, even without the possible four-game suspension of talented linebacker Von Miller. I’m excited about my Kansas City Chiefs, who added coach Andy Reid and quarterback Alex Smith. But it’s hard to believe they can turn things around in one season, even if they’re better than last year. As for the rest of the division ...
8 The Chargers and Raiders are hard to judge each season. For years, the Chargers were one of the best teams in the league talent-wise, but something was always holding them back — possibly head coach Norv Turner, who is now gone. Many question whether quarterback Philip Rivers can get over the hump and lead San Diego to the Super Bowl — but his 47 turnovers over the past two seasons certainly hadn’t helped. The Raiders, meanwhile, haven’t reached the playoffs since they lost the Super Bowl during the 2002 season. A number of coaches and quarterbacks have gone in and out during that time. The Chiefs, Chargers and Raiders should all battle for .500, but none of them jump out as a contender in any form of the word. Coming next week is the AFC East.
9 Ever since Dana White and the Fertitta brothers took over the UFC more than a decade ago, one of the main goals was to legitimize mixed martial arts, which politician John McCain once called “human cockfighting.” The sport is in a much better place than it was — back then it was outlawed in many states and some didn’t know the difference between MMA and professional wrestling. Now a multi-million dollar sport and still rising, recent actions by Bellator, UFC’s top competition, has put a considerable stain on the sport of mixed martial arts.
10 Bellator doesn’t mind blurring the line between MMA and pro wrestling. Former UFC fighters Tito Ortiz and Quinton Jackson recently signed to face off in a Bellator fight in November in what Jackson is billing “one of the best fights of all time.” A day after the Ortiz-Jackson Bellator announcement, the two men showed up on pro wrestling’s TNA (Total Nonstop Action), which, like Bellator, airs on Spike TV. Many people watch both MMA (because it’s real) and pro wrestling (because it’s fake but entertaining). When you put the two together, fans are left questioning the legitimacy of future MMA bouts featuring two men who faced off in a fake pro wresting ring.
The preceding was The Walk Talk 10, which runs in the Tribune's sports section every Tuesday. Assistant news editor Dan Walk can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.