Pawing through the Duffle Bag

 

Masha

As I watch the snow flakes float down to the six inches of snow already in the front yard (six inches that was supposed to be a “dusting”), I am reevaluating what I’m going to wear tomorrow to Opening Day in Denver. As a part of that, I’m not going to cover the topic I had picked for today’s blog – the Cardinal/Reds game – since it’s currently in a rain delay.

So I’ve decided to write about all the little, strange things that have happened in a variety of sports this week that usually aren’t enough to write a full blog  about. So they get tucked into the duffle bag of topics that may be a Facebook posting, but often they just lurk in the back of my mind doing nothing. Let’s do some nothing:

1) Tiger’s Back. And not in a good way. A ‘pinched nerve’ in sports parlance is a herniated disc in a neurosurgeon’s mind. Now I’m not a doctor (and I don’t even play one on T.V.), but I am a golfer. I know there are as many adaptions to the golf swing as there are golfers, but there is one consistent theme in the swing – shoulder turn, which is only possible if your back twists. If you have a herniated disc, that’s a big ouch. Trimming the disc may relieve the pain, but the disc may continue to break down, or other discs in the spinal column may join the party and that leads to more pain. I hope for Tiger’s sake that this works – I would love for him to break Jack’s record. But it’s looking less likely with every knee and back surgery he has.

2) Baseball Managers and shaving. I know, no one rates baseball managers on their personal grooming, including me. But I’m always amazed at how scraggly most Managers look on game day. This Opening Day’s broadcasts included some of the best (or worst, depending on your viewpoint) examples of usually unshaven Managers proving they do have a razor: Kirk Gibson, Don Mattingly, and Clint Hurdle – all clean shaven, all looking fabulous. Hey, guys – you’re the leaders of MLB teams; be the leader and pick one. Beard or clean shaven, either one. Just pick. The days of the 3-day growth went out with Miami Vice.

3) Andrew Wiggins declaring for the draft. Bad decision, Andrew. You need some seasoning and Kansas would have been a great place for you to develop into a world-class player – in a couple of years. Bill Self could have taught you how to play as a teammate, not a star. But you’re off to prove you’re the star everyone says you are. Best of luck – I believe you’re going to get crushed the first year by all the NBA guys who are looking to prove you’re not ready. Prove me wrong.

4) Vin Scully announcing during the LA earthquake. In only the way Vin can do, he calmly announced the 5.1 earthquake and then continued on with his play-by-play. I’ve attached the link for your enjoyment. Compare this with the LA T.V. announcer…. Vin’s been in LA a long time and it’s going to take more than a 5.1 earthquake to break his stride. I love Vin Scully…

Vin Scully Earthquake announcement – unshaken

Pat

1)  Tiger’s swing has always put a lot of stress on his body.  He’s had stress fractures in his leg and knee surgeries, sore elbows and now the the back surgery.  One thing I do know is that Tiger Woods works harder on his body and his golf game than any other golfer on the PGA tour.  Given his dedication to winning, I have to believe that Tiger still will figure out how to make his swing work to achieve many more wins and several more majors.

4)  I was raised in St. Louis listening to Jack Buck and Harry Cary doing Cardinal Baseball on the Radio.  It was wonderful.  But I must say that Vin Scully has to be one of the best ever and I love the way he pulls off broadcasting a ballgame all by himself.   It takes a lot of work and style to pull that off.

HOW I RELATE TO SPORTS

Can't understand how he stays on his feet...

Can’t understand how he stays on his feet…

Pat

I can’t believe it took me ’til age sixty to figure out why I love some sports and why I am not as interested in others. Through all the years, I just never got very interested in hockey and I finally realized that since I have never even been on a pair of ice skates, I really could not relate to how difficult it is to do what hockey players do. Likewise, as a kid I had asthma and couldn’t really play basketball. Running up and down that court just didn’t work for me so played very little basketball as a kid. Later in life I played some pick-up two-on-two or three-on-three games a local gym and enjoyed it as part of my work-out schedule. I wasn’t great at it, but I picked up outside shooting and ball movement. I’m 5′ 11″, not optimum for basketball, but neither were the guys I was playing with.  So that is probably why I enjoy college basketball way better than the pro game.

I did play baseball and football and was pretty good at both. Later I got into tennis and golf.  These are the main sports I love. I totally understand what it takes field a ground ball and make the throw. How hard it is to hit a baseball. I also get all the strategy involved in the game of baseball. When to steal a base and when the pitcher needs to come out due to pitch count. The same goes for football. I have run a pass route and defended a pass receiver, studied the game enough while playing it to understand play calling both offensive and defensive. So when I watch I do understand what they are doing and understand how difficult it is to do. Golf and tennis is the same. I have played them enough to get what they are doing and why.

So that is why Baseball, Football, Tennis and golf are my favorite games to watch and follow.  I am still playing golf and I hope to play more tennis when my ailing knee gets stronger.  Believe me, I do understand how hard it is to make that perfect golf shot. I make very few of them but really enjoy it when I do. I truly understand how good those pro golfers really are. So if I understand what it takes to play a sport and understand and enjoy the strategies of the game, I love the sport. That’s what it has taken me sixty years to understand.

Pre season picks – 6, American League West

Pat

The final division to pick is the American League West. It may be the toughest one to pick. I feel that almost every team in this division has improved from last year. I don’t see the Mariners improving enough to take the division, but I do see them having a better season and making the West division very competitive. I’ve got the Rangers taking the division with the Angels and A’s fighting for Wild Cards. Only one of them will get the wild card. I would pick the Angels. The Mariners will finish a close fourth while making positive progress to becoming a good baseball team.

The Astros will finish last in this division, but they too will make progress toward being a much better club than they are now. This will be a very fun division to watch in 2014.  Everybody will improve making the divisional games very competitive. As bad as the Angels looked last year, I see Albert Pujols having a much better year and this whole club coming together to go after a wild card. I find it amazing that Billy Ball is alive and well in Oakland.  It is fun to see this team compete every year.

Masha

I agree that the Rangers will take the division this year, but I think the Mariners will improve enough to knock the A’s out of contention. I believe the Mariners will take the Wild Card. The Mariners have made some astounding moves over the off season, Robinson Cano is just the tip of the iceberg. And I believe Lloyd McClendon is a good enough manager to pull this talent together. Mike Scioscia will be fired by the Angels after yet another disappointing season full of injuries; with apologies to my cousin the Angels fan…

Pre season picks – 5; American League Central

Brad Ausmus announced as Manager of the Detroit Tigers. Photo by Paul Sancya, AP.

Brad Ausmus announced as Manager of the Detroit Tigers. Photo by Paul Sancya, AP.

Pat

The American League Central is next and should be an interesting division this year.  Cleveland and KC would love to knock Detroit off the pedestal in the AL East. I think all  three of these teams are contenders this year. Detroit has been winning the division but not getting to the World Series. They would love to get there this year, and could possibly do it. Cleveland is a solid team under Francona and will contend for the division this year. KC looks strong with very strong pitching and have improved offensively with Infante at second.

I’m not sure how much of an effect a new manager is going to have on the Tigers. It’s a veteran club, so I think I am going to pick the Tigers to win this division once again. But I do think it will be a tight race with KC coming in second and contending for a wild card. Cleveland is also going to contend in this division, which will make these divisional games a lot of fun. I do think the Twins will improve this year, but not quite enough to contend and I believe will end up in fourth with the White Sox bringing up the rear. It will be a great division to watch and I think KC and Cleveland with battle down to the last game for a wild card.

Masha

We don’t agree as much on the American League outcomes as with the National League. I think the Tigers are a great team, but will see some transitions with aging players and a new manager. Brad Ausmus should be great, but it will take some time to gel; I think they’re going to miss Leyland for a while. Now, Terry Francona at the Indians is moving into his second year there and I think this is their year to shine. So I have the Indians at the top, KC and Detroit battling it out for second and third, Twins in fourth, and, sorry Robin, White Sox at the bottom.

This is a great division because there are some exceptional managers here. Ron Gardenhire has always impressed me in the past by doing a lot with very few dollars. The Twins have struggled the last few years, but it may be time for a break out year; it’s time to shine in that new field. Tito has a particular way of managing and it could be the softer side of Francona will work well for the Indians – that’s  a team that could rival some of their big years in the 80s. Ned Yost has always been a strong manager, although I’d love to know why he was fired from the Brewers with a few weeks left in the season in 2008. There has to be a great story there – I’ve made up a few myself. But he and George Brett seem to have something cooking in Kansas City and I think it’s just about ready. They had a huge, late-season surge last year and just barely missed the playoffs. I think they’ll do it this year.

Pre season predictions 4

images

Buck Showalter introduced as Orioles Manager in July 2010; courtesy Fox Sports

Pat

Here we go with the AL spring training picks for the 2014 season. I am not really sure who the strongest division in the American League is, so I will just go ahead and start with the AL East. In the past, this division was always considered the strongest in the AL, with the Yankees and Red Sox spending lots of money and everybody else chasing them. This year, the West looks pretty strong. I can’t see the Red Sox repeating this year and the Yankees will  probably play better than they look although I can’t see them really contending for the division. The Rays have contended the past several years with a tiny payroll, a testament to Joe Madden.

But this year I see the division going to the Orioles. I think they finally have the confidence under Buck Showalter to seal the deal in the AL East. I know this crazy, but despite a terrible home stadium and bad fan support, I have the Tampa Bay Rays taking second place and contending for a wild card spot. Third is the Red Sox, a game or two back of Tampa Bay still possibly contending for the second wild card. Then comes the Yankees in fourth, a couple of games behind Boston. I see only three or four games between first and fourth in the AL East.  Then of course bringing up the rear is Toronto a few games back of the Yankees, improving some but not enough to contend.

I see the Red Sox falling due to age and injury. I can’t see the pitching holding up without major injuries and the offense is aging and their youth not quite ready to take the reins. The Yankees’ pitching can’t hold up and without A-Rod they have a couple of very good players and a bunch of journeymen, not enough to contend in this division.

Masha

OK, I have to say it – there is no way the Orioles take the division, not if history tells us anything. Let’s take a look at Buck Showalter’s history as a manager. With the Yankees, he fell apart in the third year – and they won the World Series the next year; with the Diamondbacks, he fell apart in the third year – and they won the World Series the next year; with the Rangers, he fell apart in the fourth year, (sorry Texas, no World Series). Yes, he wins the Manager of the Year awards; he’s a good short-term manager. But he was hired by the Orioles as manager in July  2010, and I’m thinking this is the year his curse sets in. So, I don’t agree with Pat; the Orioles don’t win the AL East. I believe the Red Sox and the Rays are going to fight it out, with the Rays coming in second. Then Orioles third, Yankees fourth, and, Oh Canada, Toronto last.

Pondering the American League

Rockies vs. Cardinals, Coors Field

Pat

So I’ve finished picking my favorites in the National League for the upcoming 2014 season. Now it’s time to pick the American League. As I study the depth charts for AL teams, I find that I don’t know these players as well as I know the NL players. Why is this? Well, I am a national league guy. I live in a national league city with the Colorado Rockies. I was raised in St. Louis and am still a huge Cardinal fan. But come on, I have the MLB package on Direct TV and I can watch any game I want and in fact every game if I want to. But I don’t watch much of the American League. Why is that, really?

I’ll tell you why. It’s not as good as national league baseball. There are fewer close games, and it’s way less strategic than an NL game, so it’s just less compelling to watch and follow. Why is that? The designated hitter. You know it’s cheating, right? They use ten players in a game instead of nine. I still can’t believe major league baseball allowed the American League change the rules just for their league. Can you imagine the AFC conference in the NFL wanting a more offensive conference by changing the rules to allow twelve players on offense just for the AFC? The NFL would never allow it. I still wonder what baseball was thinking when they allowed this happen. I read an article recently about how the NL should just go ahead and institute the DH. Man, I hope that never happens.

When my wife and I are at a Rockies game or watching a game on TV, we discuss strategy all the time. So you think they will bunt in this situation? How about a suicide squeeze to take the lead here or should they go for the big inning? With a change to break the game open, should they pinch hit for the pitcher or keep him in the game since he’s still pitching well? These are all decisions the AL manager does not have to think about. They are important managerial decisions that can change the game in the NL, making the NL game a lot more fun to watch.

I snuck onto my soap box, and here I go again. I don’t think the AL will ever get rid of the DH, but it is my sincere hope that the NL never adopts this rule. The DH makes baseball a worse game in my humble opinion. I will never watch as many AL games as I do the NL because it’s just not as compelling to me. But, next blog I will go ahead and make my AL picks for the 2014 season.  I just won’t care quite as much.

Masha

I too was raised a National League fan. I too hate the DH, but for slightly different reasons than Pat, or maybe additional reasons. My problem with the DH, and the reason that many of my friends love the DH is because it reduces baseball to hitting. Only hitting. Big home runs, big hitters, big bats. You score more than the other team and you win. Yes, that’s the basis for baseball, but not the only compelling thing about it. And hitting the white ball is not the only thing going on in a major league baseball game, or shouldn’t be.

I love a pitcher’s duel. There is greatness in the crafty left-hander fooling a big hitter. Some of the best baseball games I’ve ever attended have been 1-0 games, with two amazing pitchers on the mound doing a great job. The games also went quickly (one of the arguments for the DH I’ve heard), and no one threw over 100 pitches. But in the NL, the pitcher has to be more than just the guy throwing the ball. He has to be able to make contact, even if it’s just a bunt. The teams that do well in the NL have great hitting pitchers. Hang on here, *sigh*, this is just going to feed into Pat’s baseball ego, but the Cardinals are one of those teams and their record shows it. If your pitcher can hit reasonably well in addition to pitching a great game, the game takes on an additional layer of strategy. Do I leave this guy in because he’s batting .278, better than the pinch-hitter I might slot in for him, even though he’s got 98 pitches?

Fans of the DH will argue that it’s the very rare pitcher who can hit well and that a pitcher is usually a guaranteed out. As a baseball fan, I’ve seen pitchers surprise everyone, including himself, by getting a seeing-eye single when the team needed it most. And that moment of surprise is worth more than 3 homeruns to me.

So take your big hitters, American League, and leave me to my hitting pitchers. I prefer strategizing whether I should bunt here, or wondering why my manager is leaving this pitcher in, to watching a small white ball sail over a fence. It’s just more interesting to me.

Pre-season predictions 3

Pat

And finally, we have the NL East. This one is a tough pick. The Braves took the division without any challenge at all last year. I don’t think that will happen this year. In fact, I am going to pick the Washington Nationals to win this division. Injuries killed the Nats last year and just looking at the depth chart, I feel they have a better starting pitching rotation and the bull pens about even. I also think that the Nats’ offense is stronger than the Braves this year. So I do think that the Braves will take second and contend for a wild card birth. That puts Arizona, Pittsburgh, and Atlanta challenging for 2 wild card slots.

I think the Phillies will play a little bit better than they did last year, but only good enough for third place in the East. They need to stay healthy and pitch way better than they did last year. That puts the Mets in fourth place in the division although I do see improvements with them. Not quite ready to contend, but they seem to be heading in the right direction.  Obviously the Marlins are bringing up the rear, as they were last year. I can’t quite see what direction the Marlins are going; we’ll have to see how well their young players perform this year.

So to recap the National League. I have the Cardinals, Dodgers, and Nationals winning the divisions. The Pirates, Diamondbacks and Braves will contend for the two wild card spots.  It’s always fun to see how many I get right. It’s hard to pick this early, but it’s also a fun exercise.

Sports Seasons

Masha

I was raised in a city that experiences four seasons. As a result, my sports life also followed four seasons of play. Each season had a main sport with several others that were in playoffs and tracking toward an end. We had baseball and tennis in the summer (I hadn’t been bitten by the golf bug yet), then football in autumn with a splash of World Series, then in winter before my knees turned to mush, we had skiing, which led into spring training and baseball. It was a great yearly cycle. Those were the years when the Australian Open was around Christmastime and the Super Bowl was in January. Yes, I date myself. The sports desert that I was whinging about in an earlier post was instead full of Utah powder (and that’s never a bad thing.) It was a wonderful transition from sport to sport, and by the time one sport was ending, I was ready to say farewell because I had already moved on to the next sport in the cycle.

So when talk starts up about a new football league to “enhance” the NFL with the games held in spring, my mind starts to churn. Do I want football in the spring? In fact, one of our sportscasters said “Which would you rather do, watch Cuddy (Michael Cuddyer with the Colorado Rockies) play in April or watch football?” Umm, I’d love to watch both, I think, but I’d rather watch Cuddy in April. Sorry, I know that’s not the answer he was fishing for, but it’s just the cycle I grew up with. When the NFL draft is over, I’m ready to watch me some baseball. Well, a lot of baseball.

And I’m good with that. I’m not missing football yet, probably won’t start missing it until June. I’ll listen to the trades, how guys are recovering from their ACL surgery, and whatever odd stupid thing the Browns are doing, but I’ll be full fledged into baseball and golf and tennis and the spring/summer sports cycle I’ve lived with all my life. I’m not looking to add an additional sport in the spring. Not sure anyone else is either…

Pat

Many times when my wife is perhaps checking out cycling or FIFA soccer or America’s Cup Yacht racing, I make the joke that the last thing we need is more sports to watch and follow. But it isn’t really a joke. I think of that week-end in September when we have the first game of the NFL season, the MLB races are heating up, the US Open Tennis is going, and the PGA Fedex cup tournament is going on. It’s a wonderful time for sports and I love that weekend but it’s all but impossible to see every game and event you want to see. We don’t need another sport to follow, really. We do not need spring football. They have tried before and you can’t compete with the history and quality of the NFL. A new league is full of the people who couldn’t make the NFL. So you get an inferior product. It just won’t fly. March madness is around the corner, the only basketball we watch. We just don’t like Pro Basketball, but maybe we will continue to try to warm up to hockey. We enjoyed the Olympic Hockey a lot. So if we’re going to add another sport, we may add hockey rather than spring football.

Hope Springs Eternal

Masha

Every year at this time I have the same internal debate. I don’t want to be a Cub fan. No, I just can’t take it anymore. I hate the off season drama about the roof-top seats. I hate the team stats. I hate our overall record in the World Series. I want to be proud of my team’s accomplishments in September. I want to be a fan of a winning organization; a team that makes good solid trade decisions, one that has a history of winning (or at least winning once every 100 years or so…), one that has an established farm system. Yes, that’s it. I’m going to change my allegiance to a team that’s closer to where I live now. One that wins every once in a while. One that doesn’t choke in the clutch. I’ve had it with the struggles, the jokes, the disappointment. I’m done. Yup, happens every February, around the time that the catchers and pitchers are reporting and Pat is making his standard joke about everyone having a chance at the pennant this year. So far in my life, I’ve attempted to become a fan of the San Francisco Giants, the San Diego Padres, the Arizona Diamondbacks, and the Colorado Rockies; all dependent on which team was closest to where I was living at the time.

And yet, after all the debate, on Opening Day, I’m there in my Ryne Sandberg jersey, wishing I had a dog and an Old Style. I cheer for the Cubs. I can’t deny it. I want to change, really I do. But then the 8-year old takes over during the first game and old allegiances will not be denied, despite the ongoing pain of living with a vocal St. Louis Cardinal fan. I’m sure you’ll hear more about that…

So hope springs eternal. We have an exceptional management team now (c’mon Teddy…), a new manager, an owner that is willing to spend money, and everyone has a chance at the pennant now, right?

Pat

My first inclination was to give my wife a hard time about the Cubs. But I just can’t do it on the eve of Valentine’s day. Plus, I know I am lucky to have been raised in St. Louis. In my first MLB game in 1960, Stan Musial hit a tenth inning walk off home run. I was a Cardinal fan for life and for over fifty years they have been a very sound organization. But I was also raised with the St. Louis Football Cardinals. That hasn’t been that wonderful. The Seventies were not bad. They have had some good years, but all and all there were many years where it seemed they did everything wrong. Like Masha, I toyed with changing teams, like the Broncos since we live in Denver. But we are both loyal fans and we just can’t do it. We are stuck with our teams and we will be rewarded for it. The Arizona Caardinals are looking pretty strong and for sticking with the Cubs, Masha will one day get her World Series championship.  That’s just how being a sports fan works.

MLB Winter Meetings

We’ve spent years talking about sports on our couch and now we’re looking to share these discussions (read: arguments) to the web. That’s what this blog will be about – our current ideas and what we’re talking about. We’ll also share our ongoing sports bets (we only bet with each other…) and our predictions, made from the fan’s view distilled from the media stream that is sports announcing today.

Masha

Baseball winter meetings give us a chance to make some predictions and argue about money. This was an interesting year since so much activity happened prior to the winter meetings; several big deals hinted toward big movers for next year.

The Mariners are tired of languishing in the AL, trapped in a time zone that captures a narrow base of MLB fans. The Cano deal was huge for them and I think they will make a couple of additional moves to bolster their strong pitching.

This year, several free agents in the mix have the steroids specter haunting them. The teams they’re on are eager to share with the desperate teams who just need something, anything to help them win. Nelson Cruz will not be with the Rangers next year, despite being a big hitter they rely on in a pinch. Nellie served his 50 game penalty and so in theory has no other issues outstanding (that we know of…), but Ron Washington needs a successful year and Cruz doesn’t look to be in that lineup.

I think Nellie is going to the Mariners, a strong bat to protect Cano and give them an outfield option.

Pat

This is my favorite time of year for the MLB.  It’s fascinating to see who’s looking to make big moves to contend next year, and what they believe they need to accomplish it.

It’s fun to see the Yankees in a big mess.  Though they have lost some big players and signed a couple also, until the A-rod situation is sorted out, nobody knows what they will look like next year.  Good look Yankees!

It’s good to see teams like the Mariners make big moves to contend in the AL West.  I agree with Masha that Cruz will probably end up there too.  Choo would be the best move for the Rangers, which could make the AL West a very tight race next year.

Some of the smaller moves can also make big improvements for some teams.  Trumbo to the D-backs could help their offense a lot.  The Rockies are working on pitching and depth.  I predict the NL West will be much improved and much more competitive next year.

Stay tuned for more as the Winter meetings progress and finish, many more big and small deals will be made and Masha and I will try to figure out who did well and who did not.