Golf: My 2020 Golf Season

I haven’t written about my own game this season, as there hasn’t been that much to write about, and I thought one blog about the whole season, would do the job. Despite the pandemic, and a very slow start, I was able to play over 100 rounds, for the 6th straight season. I did not come close to my record, of 150 rounds in one year, but getting over the 100 mark, is still nice, and as of right now I stand at 105 rounds. I had 52 rounds over 80, with two 90’s thrown in, and 53 rounds under 80, with the best, not that long ago, a 72 at Ponderosa. I have had a late season surge of good play, but more on that later. My handicap, with the updates happening every round, and only 8 rounds being counted, jump around more than usual, from a low of 4.5, to a high of 6.3, before ending the year at 4.9. Here is how the parts of my game performed in 2020. I drove the ball really well again, and it was by far, the best part of my game. I always find this a little strange, because in my younger years, it was probably, the worst part of my game. I have no explanation, other than this game is goofy. The irons were the most inconsistent part of my game. Some days, I would hit them great, and be very accurate, and other days, I would be all over the place. My short game was mediocre all year, with the chip yips and my sand play being the worst. The chip yips would come and go, and they had a major effect on my score. My putting was average all year, but I did have one day, that I will discuss later. No spectacular shots this year and overall the year was pretty bland. I am still not having any swing thoughts when I play, and I may have found why swing thoughts stop working, but more on that, on a future blog. There were 3 highlights of the year.

The first highlight was Covid related. I live in Western Pennsylvania, and we are close to the West Virginia border. Pennsylvania golf courses were closed for the month of April, due to Covid. However, Highland Springs is right on the Pennsylvania border with 12 holes in West Virginia, and 6 in Pennsylvania, with the clubhouse being in West Virginia. This golf course was open in April, and we managed to play 4 rounds, during the month. Needless to say, the golf course was packed, 7 days a week. The 5 hour plus round was the normal. I changed the name of the course to, Bubba Gump Golf Course, because just like Forrest Gump, who had the only shrimping boat to survive the hurricane, this golf course was the only game in town. When the weather was half way decent, there were easily, between 50 and 70 rounds played per day. The second highlight was the best 9 hole putting stretch I have ever had, and just like a lot of things in golf, it came out of the blue. We had to play the 9 hole course at South Park, because of work being done, on the front nine of the 18 hole course. I hadn’t played this nine, in about 2 years. The round started off innocently enough, when I knocked a 9 iron within about 15 feet, and 2 putted for par. On the second hole I chunked a wedge, indifferent chip to 20 feet, made it. Third hole 7 iron off to right of green, chipped up to 10 feet, made it. Fourth hole, hit a limb on my second shot, pitched up 15 feet, made it. The next two holes, I had a tap after putting from the fringe, and made a 3 footer, after a short chip from the rough. The next hole a par 5 I butchered, but made a 10 footer, for par. On number 8, I chipped up to 3 foot, made it. The ninth hole a long par 4, I made a 20 footer for par. For the 9 holes, I had 10 putts, with 5 of the putts, being 10 feet or longer. Now, I have had 9’s, when I had 10 putts, but a chip in was involved. We could not play more than nine holes that day, but it was my best putting for nine holes, by far. The final highlight of the year, was my good play, as the year wound down. My last 8 rounds of the year were 72, 76,74, 81, 81, 76,78, and 76. This finish I will blog more about, in the near future. The two 81’s were in some tough windy conditions. Even though there is some potential for a few more rounds, the 2020 golf season is basically over. The game is still mystifying to me, but at least I feel I have made some progress, as the year wound down. More on that later, see you on the links.

Meditation: Deserve

Deserve is a word that we hear many times, during the course of a day. The word deserve means to have earned or to be given something because of the way you have behaved or the qualities you have. Most of the times the word is used when somebody receives an award, and comments are made, whether he deserved the award, or not. When it comes time for the Oscars, there are movies that people feel deserve or did not deserve a nomination. The word is not always used in positive situations. Sometimes when bad things happen to people, someone might comment they deserved it. We all have had this experience when watching a movie, the villain, or vile person, gets his just due, in the end of the movie. We are all satisfied with that ending, because he deserved it. When a person commits a crime, they deserve to go to jail. This is not the way we are supposed to feel when something bad, or serious happens to another person, but it is still pretty harmless. In fact, it is often fun to debate who deserves what. On the smaller stage of life, we see people have opinions on whether or not someone deserved a promotion, or the new job they are pursuing. People will comment on another person’s new relationship, if it seems to be going well, as something they deserve. As long as a person applies deserve to another person or thing, then this process can be, for the most part, not a major problem, in one’s own psyche. It’s when deserve starts to be a way they describe their own life, that problems can arise.

It’s when you start thinking, that you deserve a better job, a new promotion, a better relationship, or just a better way of life in general, that can have a negative impact on your life. This thinking can spiral into a worse situation if you start perceiving that you deserve any of the bad things, that may be happening. We all feel there are times when we can do better, in dealing with other people, and ourselves, but this does not mean, that we are a bad person and deserve the results, when things go wrong. When you look up synonyms for the word deserve, you will find entitled. When people say they are entitled, this can bring quite a negative response. Maybe the word deserve should have more of a negative connotation. Is there anything that is good or bad, that we actually deserve. Just because you work hard, and do all the right things, is not going to guarantee success, or a monetary reward. Luck is always going to be a factor in life. Do we all deserve to be lucky? I think the answer lies at the end of movie The Unforgiven. The sheriff is about to get his head blown off by Clint Eastwood and says that he does not deserve to die like this. Eastwood’s characters reply is “Deserves got nothing to do with it”. That statement can be applied to every action and result in life, deserve has nothing to do with it. We need to get into that mode when dealing with deserve. It is just an opinion and it needs to be vanquished, from our own lives, if we want to have contentment. The reason for doing anything is for our own self satisfaction and peace. To do this, we need to remove deserve from the middle of our minds.

Golf: Stories, The 70’s

As far as golf was the concerned, the 70’s started out with a bang. In June of 1970, in a tournament called the Bernhardts, held at Oglebay Park, in a pea soup fog, I recorded my second hole in one. It was the 2ond hole, an 180 yard par 3, and all I knew from our caddies was that the pin was in the middle of the green. There was a tournament official at the green, who would just yell out, when it was ok to hit. I thought I had hit a pretty good shot, but one of the other players in the group, thought I had gone a little left. After we had all hit, we barely got off the tee box, when my caddie came bursting out of the fog, yelling it’s in the hole, it’s in the hole. My first hole in one, I did not get to take out of the hole because the people up on the green did, who had let me hit, and, of course, my second hole in one, I never even saw. In 1971, I played probably my best round of golf in a tournament. It was my first week of veterinary school, and I had not touch a club all week. This was a tournament, that was supposed to be a 36 hole, two day event, the first weekend in June, at Wheeling Park. It rained the entire weekend, and they rescheduled it for 18 holes, on the last Saturday in June. I drove home late Friday afternoon, and got home around 6:30, and immediately drove up to Mazeroski Golf Course, to get a quick nine in. For whatever reason, I just had this really good rhythm, and I played the first 6 holes 1 under par, and since the 6th hole is close to the clubhouse, I walked in, and went home. Wheeling Park is a short 9 hole course, with 7 par 4’s, and 2 par 3’s for a par of 34. Naturally, for the tournament you play each 9 twice. The next, day I had that same great rhythm, and shot a 2 under 66, to finish in a tie for second, one shot out of the lead. That was my last great hurrah for the seventies as life took over.

I got married, graduated from veterinary school in 75, and had my only child in 1977, in fact she was born on 7-7-77, a date I will be able to remember, even when I am senile. While in vet school, I played the Scarlett and the Gray courses, mostly the Gray because it was not as crowded, since it was not as renowned as the Scarlett. Both courses were great to play, when I was in school and it was a nice break from the grind. When you played the Scarlett, you often thought of all the shots that Jack Nicklaus hit some 15 to 18 years before, when he was at OSU. I moved to Pittsburgh in 1975, and I have been here ever since. As the 70’s came to a close, golf was definitely taking a backseat to my veterinary career, and family life. However, I was still playing about once per week, and in 1976, I would have my first of many experiences at South Park, the county course, in the South Hills of Pittsburgh. The first time I went to the course, I did not even play. I arrived at about 8:45 on a misty cold April morning, and when I walked up to the clubhouse by the first tee, I looked down and saw at least 30 to 40 people milling around. I immediately turned around, and went home. I told my wife, they must be having a tournament there, to have so many people, on such a lousy morning. I went back a week later at the same time, and the situation was exactly the same. The weather was a little better, but it was a mob scene at the first tee. I then decided to see what was going on. I went to the starter booth, and he told me it was like this every day. He told me, since I was a single, he should be able to get me out, in about a half an hour. Back in those days, the senior pass, for 60 and over, was only $40 dollars, and you could play Monday through Friday anytime, and everybody walked, to avoid the cart fee. The starter was right and I hooked up with these three guys who I still see today every once in awhile. I only remember the first 3 holes of that round, and here is the reason why. I bogied the first two holes, which are really easy par 4’s, particularly number one. The third hole is a par 5, and I really hit a good drive, which gave me a possible chance of reaching the green in two. I took a mighty swing with my 3 wood, and topped the ball right off to the left. It is one of those shots, that if you did not know better, you would have thought the ball went right between your legs. Now, I was about 180 yards from the green on the left side of the fairway. I took out my 3 iron (remember those) and hit it very well, and it scooted up the hill and right on to the green. It was a very nice shot. In fact, it was more than a very nice shot, because the ball went right into the hole for an eagle. How about that sport fans. I don’t remember anything else about the round, but that 3rd shot, on the 3rd hole, the very first time I played it, I will always remember. It was shortly after that round, about 4 weeks later, that I met up with the guys that I would play with, once a week at South Park, for the next 18 years. I enjoyed many a round with these guys, but those stories belong in the 80’s. I started my own practice in November of 1978 and that became the focus of my attention for next 26 years. Golf would have its ups and downs as we headed into the 80’s.

Golf: D. J. Dominates

Dustin Johnson wins the November Masters, with a dominating performance and breaks the tournament record by two shots, with a final score, of 20 under 268. I thought the scoring record would be intact, but the soft conditions, and the overall lack of wind, were bigger factors, than the strangeness of no crowds, and the long shadows. Johnson’s performance was complete. He drove the ball extremely well, and putted better than anybody in the field. He may have not had the best putting statistics, but what he did better than anybody else, was leave himself no stress second putts. His speed was impeccable. Johnson plays very quickly for all his shots, until he gets to the green, and then he takes more time to read a putt, than any player on tour. His routine is exactly the same on every putt, and with his new putting mechanics, this is the best he has putted in his career. The other big difference with D. J.’s game, is he does not seem to hit the really wild drive, that cost him in some previous majors. In a way, this Masters, was Johnson’s own kind of redemption, for a lot of heartbreak, in past majors. It was nice to see him win, with a complete performance, that left little doubt down the stretch, right now, he is the best player in the world. My four picks who I thought would do well did ok, with Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm finishing in the top 10. Rahm is going to have to figure out, how not to hit the horrible shot. The grounder on 8 in the third round that led to the double bogey cost him any real chance of putting some heat on D. J. For Koepka, he played well, but did not have that major championship putting, that he has had in the past. I thought Phil would do well, and for 2 rounds he was looking good until he went completely brain dead in the third round, and shot 79. Is it possible to be senile at 50? Collin Murikawa never could get untracked and barely made the cut. Tiger did better than I expected and played really well. His putter really let him down. In the second round on Saturday, he hit a horrible putt on 17, that cost him a birdie on one of the harder holes on the course. If he could have made some putts, he may have contended until the end, back issues not with standing. Then there was good old Bryson, and just like I predicted the ghosts of Augusta took care of him. After his lost ball he was never a factor. I think it was Bobby Jones himself, that intervened there. Now for some unrelated random thoughts on this November Masters, that was like no other, even before it started.

Many scoring records did fall but I am willing to bet that Corey Conners may have set a different kind of record. Who is Corey Conners? You do not want to ask that question to CBS. Corey finished in the top 10 at the Masters. He may have been on TV less than any player in history who finished in the top 10 in a major. I really do not remember seeing him at all. For a man who never misses, Abraham Ancer missed a lot of short putts. The one on 11 in the third round was unbelievable, which in my view ended his chances. There was this contrast, watching the best players in the world. On one side of the coin, you saw some of the most unbelievable short game shots, ranging from chips, pitches, and bunker play, only to see a lot of missed putts. It makes what D. J. did on the greens, even more impressive. Thanks to Justin Thomas, another player who did not putt well, we now know, how frustrating mud is on the ball. Then there’s Cameron Smith, who finished tied for second, with the help of some of the greatest recovery shots in the history of the Masters. The only player in history, to shoot all four rounds in the sixties. But come on Cameron, the facial hair has got to go. Your so call mustache, looks like you left hair remover on you upper lip. Just face the fact, that even though your 27, you look like you just graduated from high school. The facial hair and curls coming out the back of your hat do not help. When I graduated from veterinary school, I went through the same thing. On one of my first job interviews, I went in, introduced myself, and they thought I was there for the kennel boy job. I had to tell them I was interviewing for the doctor’s position. I was 25 at the time. This Masters may not go down as one of the great one’s of all time, but it was great to see Dustin Johnson win going away. After many setbacks it was nice to see his childhood dream come true.

Golf: The Masters

The Masters is here at last. Having the Masters in November will be unique, and having no fans, to speak of, will be really weird to say the least. There are lots questions going into this Masters, not the least of which is, will bulked up Bryson DeChambeau turn Augusta National into nothing more than a pitch and putt course, and shoot 23 under to smash the tournament record by 5 shots? I wonder what Bryson does to bulk up his head, just saying. Can Tiger pull another miracle? Augusta National has been shown to inspire the old veteran. Nicklaus won when he was 46, in 1986. Ben Hogan shot a back nine 30 in the 3rd round of the 1967 Masters, at age 54, and was in contention, until a Sunday score of 77, placed him in a tie for tenth with Sam Snead, who was also 54. I think both Bryson and Tiger will have trouble with this version of Augusta. The Masters has been a tournament of redemption for some. Tommy Aaron, who made the scoring error that cost Roberto Di Vicenzo the 1968 Masters, won in 1973. Charles Coody who finished with 3 bogies to lose the 1969 Masters, came back and won it in 1971. Gay Brewer missed a 5 foot putt on the final hole, to send the 1966 Masters into a 3 man playoff, that Jack Nicklaus won. The next year Brewer won the Masters. Some players have had nothing but heartbreak at Augusta. Greg Norman just could not win it. He bogeyed the last hole in 1986 to allow Nicklaus to win his 6th green jacket. He fell victim to the miraculous pitch in of Larry Mize in the Masters playoff in 1987 on number 11. In 1996, he blew a 6 shot lead in the final round to lose to Nick Faldo by 5 shots. We mentioned the signing of the wrong score by De Vicenzo. De Vicenzo would not come close again. Ed Sneed bogied the last 3 holes in 1979 and then went on to lose the playoff to Fuzzy Zoeller. Heartbreak is rampant at Augusta, even for people with Green Jackets. Arnold Palmer double bogied the last hole to give the tournament to Gary Player in 1961. Most recent was the Jorden Spieth debacle in the 2018 Masters, where he thought the water was the green on the par 3 12th and made a 7 to lose by only 2 shots.

A November Masters will put another chapter in the long history of Augusta National. One of the big differences is that it will be short on daylight. The final round, which still will be televised by CBS despite pro football is scheduled to conclude at 3pm. Saturday’s coverage is set to conclude at noon. It will be like watching the British Open. So what is going to happen. Will scoring records fall left and right? Will Bryson put it in the lake on 11, with his drive? Will somebody win their first major? Could one of the really old guard pull off the big victory? Before I discuss what I think will happen here is what I think won’t happen. No scoring records will be broken. I think that the whole feel of the place will be so weird, that it will have a negative effect on the scoring. Tiger will not win. I wish he would but I do not see it. Bryson will not win because the ghosts of Augusta will not let it happen. Yes, I believe in ghosts, spirits, whatever the hell you want to call it. I think Phil will contend. I would even say he has a good shot at winning. The 280 score will prevail. The greens are going to be murder. You might see a record for 4 putts. My top three picks beside Phil. Jon Rahm, the par 3 skipping the water hole in one could have been an omen. Colin Morikawa, his swing just looks so good. Brooks Koepka, because its a major and for whatever reason he plays them well. I will blog again at the halfway point on Friday night. Its time to get ready and enjoy the Masters.

Meditation: Beliefs

Everyone has beliefs. My favorite saying about beliefs, is you do not want to have too many strong beliefs, because they will limit your thinking. Beliefs, defined in the dictionary states that it is an acceptance that a statement is true or that something exists. It can be further defined as something one accepts as true or real; a firmly held opinion or conviction, like my belief that the Rays would upset the Dodgers. Then there are religious convictions, which are the hardest beliefs to prove or disprove. Reincarnation is a belief that is widespread, that is believed by anywhere from 40 to 50% of the world population. This belief can not be proved or disproved. Then there are Nihilist, who believe in nothing. Nihilism  is a philosophy, or family of views within philosophy, expressing some form of negation towards life or towards fundamental concepts such as knowledge, existence, and the meaning of life. Different nihilist positions hold variously that human values are baseless, that life is meaningless, that knowledge is impossible, or that some set of entities does not exist. Some beliefs are easier to disprove than others. If someone believes that the sun is not going to come up tomorrow, or the world is going to end on a certain date in the near future, time will take care of disproving that belief. Time disproved my belief in the Rays. These beliefs are pretty harmless but some can be serious. We, as a people, seem to have to believe in something. It just makes us feel better. It is the basis of organized religion. Religion, no matter which one, has a set of beliefs, that in most cases are impossible to prove or disprove. Back in the early years of mankind, these religious beliefs caused many wars, which led to much suffering for mankind. Even to this day beliefs can stir up strong emotions and lead to violence between many groups of people. The world has progressed enough to realized that there are many kinds of beliefs and we should be able to respect these beliefs, and live in some kind of harmony. Or has it? Is having beliefs a good thing? Is believing in nothing really a belief and should we all be like this.

The first thing that beliefs lead to is rules. Now, that is not always a bad thing. Rules and laws help society function and keeps things in some sense of order. However some of these rules lead to infringement of one’s personal space. It goes back to trying to legislate morality. What one does in their home, should not be determined by someone else’s beliefs. I guess you could say I have stated one of my beliefs. The law of the land is basically made my the government and, is made by a body of people to help regulate society. Laws can change. Beliefs can change, but this is less likely. We are always talking and discussing how a person seems to grow and evolve. If fact, it seems to be one of the big problems of most relationships. One person seems to grow and evolve and the other person does not. How much do beliefs have to do with this? When do beliefs form? Certainly your parents will have some influence on your beliefs. That influence could cause you to have the same or different beliefs as them. One of my beliefs is that meditation is the key to life. My parents never even thought of meditation in their entire lives. How should we live with our beliefs? I think we should examine them on a regular basis, at least once a month. Check to see if your beliefs are working for you. Are you having any doubts? They could be holding you back in certain situations. It doesn’t hurt to take that inward look when it comes to what you believe in and how you respond to the world around you. It won’t hurt to become a Nihilist for about 30 minutes, and work back from there to reevaluate. Beliefs can be very helpful in making your life whole and rewarding but only if you can look at them with an open mind.

Sports: Targeting

Targeting is the rule in college football which states, that no player shall target and make forcible contact against an opponent with the crown of his helmet. This foul requires that there be at least one indicator of targeting. When in question, it is a foul. It goes on to say that no player shall target and make forcible contact to the head or neck area of a defenseless opponent with the helmet, forearm, hand, fist, elbow or shoulder. This foul requires that there be at least one indicator of targeting. When in question, it is a foul. To me, this is one of the most critical rules in college football. The penalty is ejection from the game, and if it happens in the second half, you are not allowed to play the first half of the following game. With the status of concussions in the NFL, and the damage that has been done to many players over the years, this is a rule that puts players safety first and foremost. Because of the severity of the penalty, this foul always has to be confirmed by replay and not allowed to stand, if there is doubt about the call. Many times, the announcing team will disagree with the call, when the targeting penalty is confirmed. This was very evident during the Ohio State-Nebraska game, when there were three targeting calls made against Nebraska. The announcers, including the rules announcer, thought that all three calls should have been reversed. They were right only once on the first call. In my view, all three calls should have been confirmed. I think about 98% of targeting fouls should be upheld. I think the rule is very clear and coaching staffs have been very remiss on teaching how to tackle, in this new atmosphere of player safety. Either that, or players just don’t care and really want to maim and injure, even if it means ejection from the game. If this attitude is not changed in the very near future, then football is going to continue on this path of destruction.

Despite this rule being in effect in college football since 2008, the players, coaches, and the media just don’t seem to get it. Just make sure you helmet is to one side or the other of the player you are trying to tackle. You see this all the time, where the running back and the defender put there head down, and crack each other helmet to helmet. On those plays, there should be a double targeting call and both players ejected from the game. The announcers of the games do not help the situation out at all. To use the example of the Ohio State-Nebraska game, again, the announcers were talking about intent and that the hit was not that hard, to plead their case, that the targeting call should not be enforced. However, all three hits were initiated by helmet to helmet contact and that is targeting. The word malicious is not in the rule. Most announcers do the same thing, and question the validity of a targeting call, 75% of the time. I blame the coaches for most of this problem, about targeting. Not leading with the helmet should be emphasized every day at practice, and any form of targeting will not be tolerated at the great University of Money. If teams made the penalties for targeting even more severe, like 2 to 3 game suspensions then helmet to helmet contact may disappear all together. The players? Who knows what the hell they are thinking? Tackling has been replaced with head on collisions, that will have severe repercussions to their future life, but they do not seem to care. One thing is for sure. Football is headed for extinction, if they do not get their act together, when it comes to targeting. Football participation in young children ages 6 to 12 is down by 50%. Parents do not want to visit their children in head trauma facilities. As a sport, football has done nothing more than lip service, of trying to reduce the likelihood of a concussion during the game. They had better change their tune before it is too late. Targeting needs to have even greater enforcement and not this whining that it wasn’t that bad, and it’s a shame that a player was removed from the game for that hit. If it doesn’t happen, the only thing America will be watching on Sunday in the fall, is golf.

Sports: World Series

The World Series starts today, and Major League Baseball lucked out, by having the two teams, with the best record, make it though the expanded playoffs. Think of all that excitement, if it would have been a Reds-Blue Jay Series. The only way it would have been better, was for the Yankees to win, and play the Dodgers. It would have been a ratings coup. Both teams had their scary moments, as the Tampa Bay Rays jumped out to 3-0 lead in the series, only to see Houston win the next 3. However, they were able to prevail, in a fairly tense game 7. The Los Angeles Dodgers fell behind 3 games to 1, in their series, with the Atlanta Braves, but then went on to win 3 straight, as the Braves went brain dead on the base paths, and bat dead in the last 5 innings of game 7. We have the Tampa Bay Rays vs. the Los Angeles Dodgers, and on paper, this looks like a bigger mismatch, than last years series, when Washington played the heavily favored Houston Astros. Hey, wait a minute, Washington won that World Series, that saw the visiting team win every game, for the first time in World Series history. Can it happen again, this year. The Los Angeles Dodgers finished in the top five in baseball, in OPS+, OBP, runs scored, ERA+, FIP, Whip, and Defensive Efficiency. On paper, this has the makings of a sweep. If on paper was the determining factor, the Dodgers would be playing the Astros. Let’s take a look at a most interesting 7 game series.

When this series started, I thought the Houston pitching was not going to hold up, but the pitching held up, quite nicely. It was the Houston batters, that left this series on the table. Houston outhit the Rays 59 to 44, but could only muster 22 runs, from those 59 hits. In the four losses, Houston was held to 2 runs or less, and only once scored more than 4 runs. Houston walked 29 times, 5 more than the Rays, and struck out 27 less times. Tampa Bay averaged over 11 strike outs per game. About the only thing they did better than Houston was hit more home runs, but only by 11 to 9. Of course, they won more games, and did score more runs, over all. So how did they do it? By embracing the way the game is played today. Like it or not, the basics are this. Swing for the fences. Strike out a lot, but do not care. Shift players around on defense. Do not let opposing batters see the same pitcher more than twice, if at all possible. The Rays add one little wrinkle, play everybody. Recent history shows, that during the post season, teams have a tendency to shrink the line up, rather than expand it. The biggest example is in bullpen usage. Bullpens of 6 or 7, may see 2, or even 3 relievers, not used, or used very little. Not so, with Tampa Bay, as everybody gets into the act, and I expect to see no change, during this World Series. Even the batting order and line up, changes on a daily basis. Tampa is the poster child for team concept, in this world of individual glory.

I thought Tampa Bay would beat the Astros in 5 games, and even though they won, it was a scary struggle. I also thought if a team won the first 2 games of the National League Series, they would go on to win the series. Of course, that did not happen. So, what is my cracked crystal ball saying for this World Series. You have the Tampa Bay Rays, who are dedicated to today’s style of baseball, vs the Los Angeles Dodgers, who use sabermetrics, but still play a more traditional game. They have the most potent offense in baseball, and as a team, do not swing at balls, outside the strike zone. Both teams are equally confident. You might think that Tampa Bay may have lost some of that swagger, when Houston made the comeback. However, they seemed to take it in stride, as they played a great game 7. The Rays have the system, which they rely on, and believe in. The Dodgers rely on Dave Roberts instincts, which in previous World Series and playoffs, have not been too good. I think having a day off, between games 2 and 3, and 5 and 6, may help the Rays. So far, this has not been the year for ending playoff hexes, as Oakland and Minnesota continued their playoff woes. The Dodgers have not won a World Series since 1988. Is this enough to have another upset winner. Me thinks so.

Baseball: The Final Four.

Well, baseball made it to the final four. No major surprises on who the final four are. The Houston Astros are the biggest surprise, based on the their regular season record. They benefitted from getting two playoff jinxed teams, Minnesota and Oakland, in the first two rounds. Minnesota lived and died, by the home run again as they could only muster 2 runs in the two games against the Astros. Oakland still can’t seem to get any playoff love since they went to Moneyball. Maybe it should be called Non-Moneyball. They barely escaped the White Sox, and they were no match for the Astros. Tampa Bay is the other American League team as they eliminated the Yankees with a typical 2-1 victory. Typical, that in 65 plate appearances for both teams there were only 31 balls put in play, 27 for outs, 2 errors, and 3 hits that stayed in the ballpark. There were 24 strikeouts, 7 walks, and 3 home runs that accounted for all the scoring. This is what baseball has declined down to, a game of swings and misses, walks and home runs. The National League really went according to plan, as both top seeds rolled into the championship series undefeated with each one only having one game that was really close. This may affect the outcome of the championship series, but more on that later. With this new expanded playoff system, baseball lucked out, where the best teams are playing for the World Series. Where baseball did not luck out, was that the games, for the most part were not that exciting. There were only 4 one run games, out of the 34 playoff games played. The best game was the elimination game between Tampa Bay and the Yankees, even though it lacked balls in play, it was still a good tense baseball game that went down to the wire. The most memorable play, was the Cody Bellinger catch, of Fernando Tatis’s deep fly to center field, which kept the Padres from grabbing the lead, in game 2 of their 5 game series. That play just sucked the life out of that team, and allowed the Dodgers to go on to sweep the series. Other than that, not much was memorable in these 34 playoff games, as 7 of them were won by 5 runs or more. So what is going to happen next.

The Astros should be taken care of by the Tampa Bay Rays, clearly the best in the American league. I can not see the Astro pitching holding up much longer. I will be surprised if the series goes more than 5 games. The National League should provide a much more interesting series, provided one thing happens. The first two games of the series are split. Both of these teams are hot, and brimming with confidence. If one of the teams wins the first two games then that team’s confidence level should skyrocket. If the games are split then I think it will be a dog fight and go 7 games. I don’t have a good feel who will win this series. The Dodgers are the heavy favorites, but the Braves seemed to have learned their lessons, from previous playoff failures, and seemed to be poised to make it to the World Series. Hopefully, the League Championship Series, and the World Series can create some excitement, that has been lacking in the playoffs, so far. No matter what happens, I will be watching.

Sports: Pirates 2020

Mercifully, the Pittsburgh Pirate 2020 season came to an end. The Pirates announcing team tried to put a positive spin on things, by mentioning the starting pitching over the last 2 weeks, players that would have bounce back years and some of the bullpen work. The bottom line is this, 19 and 41 is pretty pathetic, no matter how you spin it. So let’s take a look at these Pirates realistically, without any concern about how we can talk fans into buying tickets. The new management team looked at this 60 game schedule as spring training II. They would deny this, but the facts speak for themselves. They moved players around, and had a different batting order for every game. Some would point to injuries as the reason, but it can not even begin to explain the moves. Taking a gold glove finalist off second base. Putting a guy that never played outfield in the outfield. Putting players in different spots in the batting order almost everyday. Besides, most of the injuries happened to the pitching staff. I am not even being critical , because this was a team, that was never going to do well, anyway. Just come out and admit it. We are just going to continue player evaluation during this 60 game season and not even try, or worry, about winning games. Who knows, this may have been the best thing to do. We did learn a lot this year, about some of the players, and well most of it was bad, it was not all bad. Let’s look at each part of this Pirate team, and get an idea on what the future might bring.

The offense was by far the worst part of this team. In what I call the big three in offense evaluation, OPS+, OBP, and runs, the Pirates were dead last in all of major league baseball. Since the DH was universal this year, you could compare all 30 Major League teams fairly. Fairly, the Pirates finished 30th, 30th, and 30th. This was a team effort where nobody hit except for Ke’Bryan Hayes and Colin Moran. The cause for greatest concern was the poor showing of Josh Bell and Bryan Reynolds. It will be essential for them to right the ship next year if the Pirates are going to be competitive. With a couple of exceptions, the rest of players should have no effect on the Pirate’s future, as they will be gone.

The pitching, with a great statistical stretch, in the final two weeks of the season faired a little better. ERA+ which compares pitching staffs by taking in ballpark factors, the Pirates were 17th. Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP), which compares how well a staff does with things they can control, namely strike outs, walks, and home runs, the Pirates finished 21st. Walks Hits per inning (WHIP), the Pirates finished 18th. In all the important phases of pitching the Pirates were very close to the league average. The one thing the staff got was a lot of good experience. Derek Shelton let pitchers in longer than they should have been, to see if they could succeed or fail. This meant losing some games, the Pirates should have won, but it gave pitchers an idea of what they could do in adverse situations. The best result was with Richard Rodriguez. He blew a save early in the season, and had some other end of game meltdowns, but showed his resilience, and developed into a solid end of game reliever. Before we get too enthralled with the Pirate pitching, it is always easier to perform when the games are meaningless. Next year it would be nice to see Chris Archer pitch and Jameson Taillon come back from surgery. Regardless of this happening, the Pirate pitching staff gained a lot of invaluable experience this year, and it should pay off, next year.

The big surprise was the Pirates developed into a slightly better than average fielding team. I like the Defense Efficiency Rating, used by Baseball Reference, and the Pirates finished 15th in the league with a .697, .004 above the league average. It may have been even better, if Adam Frazier would have been allowed to play 2ond base for the entire season. The two defensive gems the Pirates have, is Ke’Bryan Hayes at 3rd, and Jacob Stallings behind the plate. They were such big upgrades at their positions, that it was probably enough to push the Pirates to be an average defensive team. The last five years the Pirates have finished between 25th and 30th when it comes to defensive efficiency. Erik Gonzalez, despite having absolutely no plate discipline, is a solid defensive shortstop which helped their overall defensive rating.

So where do the Pirates go from here except up. First, let’s look at who won’t be here, when the Pirates become competitive. In other words, as long as these players are still on the 26 man roster, the Pirates are doomed to be mired in the basement of the Central Division. This list includes, Cole Tucker, Kevin Neuman, Gregory Polanco, Jose Osuna, J. T. Riddle, and John Ryan Murphy. These players, for various and many reasons, will not be apart of any Pirate resurgence. I would have said the same thing about Colin Moran. If the DH remains in the National League, then he will fit the role quite nicely. This year Moran had an OPS+ of 115 with 100 being the league average. When Joe Musgrove is considered the fifth starter the Pirates will be contenders. The Pirates are going to have a hard time acquiring prospects. Who would they trade. Better yet, are there any teams that would want their players. I do not think it is time to give up on Josh Bell or Bryan Reynolds. What would the return be, after a very down 60 games. There would have to be a team with many bats, and a gaping hole at shortstop for Erik Gonzalez to have any value. The Pirates have one of the lowest payrolls in baseball. The new management team keeps saying, they are not going to do a complete teardown. Could this be the first off season, that the Pirates are going to participate in the free agent market. They seem to be in this kind of no man’s land. They do not have a lot of prospects. They are not an old team, where they have a lot of veterans to unload for prospects. I really can’t believe, that Pirates will be active in the free agent market. But if they are going to strictly build through the draft and prospects, then this could be a long losing haul, until near the end of this decade. I suppose we could hope for more 60 game seasons, so at least it will go by quickly.