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Lions Around the Dorm: Week 8

In this week’s Around the Dorm, the “Ref,” Brendan McGrath, challenges Staff Writer Peter Fiorilla, Staff Writer Kevin Lee and Staff Writer Mark Barroso to answer questions about whether young stud pitcher Michael Pineda will make the Yankees’ opening day roster, how the Mike D’Antoni firing will affect the Knicks as the season winds down and whether Sidney Crosby’s return makes the Penguins the favorites for the Stanley Cup.

1. The Yankees made a big deal to acquire the young starting pitcher Michael Pineda from the Seattle Mariners in January and have since rid themselves of A.J. Burnett. Only a couple of weeks into spring, however, there are concerns over the 23 year old’s ability to adjust to the N.Y. media scene, and there have been talks of sending him to Triple-A to start the year. Will Pineda make the opening day roster, and how will the Yankees’ rotation shape up this year?

PF: Michael Pineda should (and will) be in the Yankees’ starting rotation this year. He’s too talented not to be — last year the 23 year old racked up 173 strikeouts and a 3.74 ERA while using a grand total of two different pitches, and even compiled an OK record in Seattle without run support or a bullpen to back him up. Even if Pineda’s fastball is struggling thus far into camp, he has a deadly slider and a nascent changeup which will add a totally new dimension to his pitching. The fears about how the media will affect him are warranted, but slightly overblown — I think unless it becomes clear that the media scares him into playing poorly in N.Y., he should be given the benefit of the doubt. I think the Yankees’ starting rotation will end up being C.C. Sabatia, Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, Michael Pineda and Ivan Nova. (Phil Hughes and Freddy Garcia will be the odd-men out).

AP Photo

KL: Although Pineda’s spring training starts don’t seem poor, spring training stats don’t mean much because of the split-squad rosters and players not being up to speed. That said, there is some cause for concern with Pineda because of his velocity still in the 90-92 range. Last year, Phil Hughes’ velocity was down during spring training as well, and he had a terrible season last year. It wouldn’t hurt to start Pineda in AAA for a month or so, until his velocity picks up. The Yankees have enough rotation depth to give Pineda some time, especially with Manny Banuelos pitching well. Overall, I think the Yankees rotation can be pretty good this season if Pineda is his old self, in addition to Hughes encouraging spring training. It could be at top-five rotation in the majors with a rotation of Sabathia, Kuroda, Pineda, Nova, Hughes and Manny Banuelos who can replace Nova at some point. This rotation is pretty damn good, if Pineda and Hughes are their old selves.

MB: Starting pitcher Michael Pineda (9-10, 3.74 ERA during his rookie season for the Seattle Mariners last season) will make the Yankees’ opening day roster. Currently, C.C. Sabathia is the Yankees’ ace, former Los Angeles Dodger Hiroki Kuroda is second, last season’s rookie sensation Ivan Nova is third, Pineda is fourth, and the improving Phil Hughes rounds out the starting rotation. Although the Yankees signed the returning Andy Pettitte to a one-year minor league deal, Pineda will keep a spot in the rotation because Pettitte, 39, will not be ready in early April. In addition to a bruised right hand, Freddy Garcia has a minor league option in his contract. Pineda tallied four strikeouts, and gave up two runs in three and two-thirds innings in a preseason start on Thursday while displaying his ability to pitch the changeup. As Pineda pitches more, he will crank up the heat on his fastball, making him ready for to wear the pinstripes.

BM: Peter gets 3 for pointing out that despite only having two pitches and lacking run support Pineda was still able to perform well as a rookie in Seattle. Kevin gets 2 points for the comparison with Hughes lagging velocity last spring preceding a down year. Mark gets 1 for mentioning that Pettitte and Garcia likely won’t make the opening-day roster.

2. After three-and-a-half seasons, Mike D’Antoni has stepped down as coach of the New York Knicks. After a blowout victory in their first game under interim head coach Mike Woodson, the Knicks sit tied for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. What does this change mean for the Knicks this season and how far will they make it?

PF: I think very little will change around MSG with the firing of Mike D’Antoni. The Knicks will be the No. 1 source for drama rather than basketball and will end with the seventh or eighth seed in the playoffs. Shocking, I know, since many Knicks fans are ecstatic about the possible acquisition of all-time great Phil Jackson or former Portland coach Nate McMillan, but no matter who takes over the team, there remains a core of personnel which simply cannot work well together (don’t let a blowout win over a pathetic Portland team fool you into thinking otherwise). Only a few players are willing to play defense, and ball-stopper Carmelo Anthony will conflict with fast, fluid basketball players like Jeremy Lin. As a result, Lin will probably be pushed down the pecking order — especially if Woodson maintains control — and the Knicks will play decent isolation basketball that will fail in the playoffs against Chicago and Miami. I think this team will always be in trouble until rotten owner James Dolan, who forced the Knicks to trade for Anthony, finally realizes what a poisonous influence he has and lets general managers and coaches do their jobs without his destructive input.

KL: To be honest, I don’t think it changes much. The Knicks have the same roster and didn’t make any big trades, specifically trading Carmelo. Carmelo does not fit with the Knicks’ system at all. He doesn’t like to run the fast break, and holds the ball way too much for one-on-one play. This type of style really takes away from Jeremy Lin’s up-tempo/pick and roll game with Amar’e and Tyson Chandler. The move the Knicks needed to make was trade Carmelo. They are an extremely talented team, but they don’t have the right players. The Knicks are a playoff team, but they’re a seventh or eighth seed team. As a result, the Knicks will have to play either the Bulls or the Heat. I can’t see them getting past either team.

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MB: Interim head coach Mike Woodson has 23 games to prepare the Knicks (19-24) for the playoffs. Woodson will institute an offense based on more isolation and less pick and roll plays, a system that Carmelo Anthony can get used to. This change in offensive strategy means that point guard Jeremy Lin will be playing less, and taking fewer clutch shots because Baron Davis and Anthony are proven to thrive in the clutch. Woodson will try to get the ball to Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire down low to post up and get easy lay-ups. Anthony has played in the playoffs for the last eight seasons but only advanced to the conference finals once. N.Y. will slide past Milwaukee and Cleveland to secure their spot in the playoffs but if they lose in the first round, Melo will take a large part of the blame.

BM: Kevin gets 3 for describing why the Knicks should have traded Carmelo. Peter gets 2 for pointing out that despite the change, the Knicks’ real problems lead back to Dolan’s influence on the team. Mark gets 1 for talking about the change favoring Anthony and Davis.

3. Sidney Crosby made his long-awaited return this week as the Pittsburgh Penguins already sit close to the top of the NHL in points. Does his return make Pittsburgh the favorite to win the Cup this year?

PF: I will go against the grain here: I do not think the Pittsburgh Penguins deserve to be 2012 Stanley Cup favorites just yet. For me, that title still belongs to the New York Rangers. It is true that the flair of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal and Kris Letang meshing together on the same team is downright scary, and the Penguins have won 10 straight — an impressive feat. But those pesky Rangers are still leaders of the East, and deservedly so, with seven more regulation/OT wins than the Penguins and a season of consistent excellence nearly behind them. The Rangers had an off night last week against the Penguins, but in a series, they will prove to be best where it counts: on the defensive end of the rink. They have a better goaltender and a far better defense than anyone else in the conference, having only allowed 2.14 goals per game (compared to the Penguins’ 2.49). The flashy, goal-scoring Penguins are good, but Pittsburgh fans should remember not to overlook a very dangerous Rangers team.

KL: I would think so. The Penguins have the third most points in the NHL. Even if Sydney Crosby isn’t 100 percent healthy, I’d take an 85 percent Crosby over most players in the NHL regardless. I think the return of Crosby definitely puts the Penguins over the top and puts them as the favorite to win the Cup. The Penguins are much too experienced and talented to not be the favorites.

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MB: The Pittsburgh Penguins have won 10 consecutive games and are in fourth in the NHL in points with 91. Before Thursday, Crosby (two assists vs. New York Rangers) had only played eight games in the past 14 months as a result of multiple concussions that stemmed from a soft tissue injury in his neck. While Crosby’s return makes the Penguins a playoff contender, Crosby admits he is not where he was 14 months ago. Crosby’s future as a hockey player will be in serious jeopardy if he suffers another head/neck injury. The Penguins will win the majority of the final 13 games of the season but are not the favorite to win the Stanley Cup this year. The Rangers are still the favorite to win the Cup from the East because they will have enough time before the playoffs to get healthy.

BM: Peter gets 3 for his argument that the Rangers have been consistently excellent and that they have the best defense and goaltending. Mark gets 2 for discussing Crosby’s continuing health issues. Kevin gets 1 for bringing up Pittsburgh’s talent and experience.

Peter wins this week’s AtD, 8 – 6 – 4.

“Nice to get the win, but it’s all about the playoffs.” — Peter


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