Sports: Thoughts

Lot’s going on in the sports world, and not all of it good or uplifting news, but I will discuss some of the bigger stories, and some things going on in Western Pennsylvania. Most of the problems in sports are, in my view, media driven.  The media, a lot of times, even creates the problem, and does little to come up with a solution.  Every problem has a solution, but sometimes it is never found.  One media driven problem is that baseball will have a strike when the labor agreement ends. It is the example of the media’s obsession with predicting gloom and doom.  The media, whether its the sports or news, thrives on trying to create fear, anger, and stress.  They like to call it keeping everyone informed. Do they ever keep you informed of good things?  The answer is rarely.  But now to the world of sports.

Baseball elected two new members to the Hall of Fame.   Derek Jeter and Larry Walker became the newest members of the Hall.  Both players were deserving, and it is a shame that Walker had to wait until his last year on the ballot to gain entrance. The steroid issue came up, with Bonds and Clemens making very small gains, around 1 to 2%, which does not bode well for their future chances. Many of the same people that are appalled at the Astros sign stealing methods, still voted for Bonds and Clemens.  They acquired their astronomical statistics from cheating.  You hear all kinds of excuses for voting for Bonds and Clemens.  I am not even going dignify these lame reasons by listing them.  Here is a possible solution to the problem.  Take away all the stats they acquired while on PED’s.  Everybody knows when they started to take the drugs.   All you have to do is look at Bond’s and see when his head got as big as a basketball.  This may help Bonds and Clemens get into the Hall of Fame because their stats are that good before they took PED’s.  The record book will look a lot better with Hank Aaron at the top of the career leader board and Roger Maris the season leader in home runs.    Of course the media is still talking about the Astros.  They want the players to apologize and if they do, then everything will be fine. Please move on from this but I know this will not happen.

Then there is the Pittsburgh Pirates.  What are you doing? I don’t mean the what are doing, when you see someone putting peanut butter on a medium rare filet mignon. I mean, the what are you doing with the rest of your life.  Are they going to rebuild or not.   Of course, by the time I get to the end of this sentence Starling Marte could be traded, but lets assume the Pirates are going with what they have in 2020.  What  they have is 6 solid players at 1st, 2ond, SS, LF, CF,and catcher. In fact they have a top 10 first baseman, left fielder, and center fielder, in all of baseball.  The two big holes are 3rd base and right field. There are two things that this management team must be hoping for, or counting on. One, that Gregory Polanco can play 130 to 140 games. I don’t think they even care how well he plays them, just that he plays them.  Two, Ke’Bryan Hayes is ready for the major leagues.   The other big weakness in 2019 was the pitching staff.  Without any additions to the staff, management is hoping for the new coaching staff to really improve the performance of this staff.  It could happen.  As a long time Pirate fan I am very comfortable with the current situation, and I think this team could contend with the above happening.  Even though the moves of this team have been very very modest to say the least, they have upgraded a horrible defense.  We are about 2 months from opening day and a lot could still happen, which could change the outlook, but for now I say things are looking up.

A couple of brief comments to finish up.  I only follow college basketball peripherally, during the regular season, but it does seem that the top 5 in basketball, is losing on a regular basis.  I often think, that there will be an NCAA basketball tournament someday, that will have the 10th, 11th, 12th and 13th seed as the final four.  Maybe this will be the year.  Another week, where a couple of NFL players were arrested, which still makes me think that there should be a clock on NFL.com running with the caption, it’s been this long since an NFL player has been arrested.  A week from Sunday is the SUPER BOWL, between Budweiser and Frito Lay.  I think that Budweiser will win the commercial battle by 2.  I have one final question. Does anybody watch all of the Super Bowl pre game shows, from beginning to end, even just on one network.  I hope not, but there probably is. There is something wrong when the event is bigger than the game.  Congratulations NFL for making your championship game, irrelevant.

Sports: Astros Much Ado About Nothing

The sign stealing scandal of the Houston Astros has the baseball world talking, with   MLB Network almost giving  it 24 hour coverage.  There is outrage everywhere, and talk of vacating the Astros World Series title. According to the media, players have been scarred for life, because of the way the Astros beat them.   Some of the coverage and writing acts like this is something new to baseball, cheating.  You have got to be kidding, me.  Baseball has had the most cheating, and circumventing of the rules than any sport in history, and this goes back to the very beginning of the game.  The team of the 90’s the Baltimore Orioles were one of most cheating teams in all of baseball.  The Baltimore Orioles were the  team of the 90’s? Yes they were the best team of the 1890’s.  More on that later, but let me clear up one thing here.  I do not condone what the Astros did in the least.  In fact, I am not sure the penalties were harsh enough.  I suspect that Alex Cora may get a 2 year suspension.  However, this idea that the Astros title should be vacated is absurd.  None of the biggest cheaters have ever had their records removed from baseball.  Go to any statistical site and you will find that Barry Bonds is  the all time home run leader.  In my mind Hank Aaron still is.    People that write about vacating the Astros title, probably vote for Bonds and Clemens to get into the Hall of Fame.  Let’s look at all the cheating that has gone on in baseball over the years, and I will try to keep this brief, but it will be difficult.

There are many areas of the game that players and coaches have figured out, how to cheat. . The steroid era, which saw so many home run records broken, and MLB did nothing about it, until forced, because home runs started to fill the seats, when it was desperately needed.  In fact 6 of the top 15 home run leaders all time were considered steroid users.  Considering the steroid era lasted around 10 years, that is quite a high number.  Nobody is changing the records books any time soon. Many people feel that steroids saved baseball, because of all the exciting home run races and the records that were broken in a short period of time.  Next we have pitchers, doctoring up the ball, by applying substances to the ball or roughing up the ball with sandpaper and nail files.  The spit ball has a long and interesting history.  It  was made illegal, when it was thought a spit ball  hit a player in the head and killed him around 1920.  What was interesting about making the spitball against the rules, was that pitchers that were highly skilled in throwing the pitch were grandfathered in, and were allowed to throw the pitch until they retired.  See, baseball has always had screwed up thinking.  The advantage of  making the ball slippery whether by spit, or a substance like vaseline, is that it would take spin off the ball so the ball would act a lot like a knuckle ball, but with more speed.  The most famous spit ball pitcher of the modern era was Gaylord Perry  and of course he was rewarded for his cheating by being elected to the Hall of Fame.  Another victory for cheating in baseball.  Then we have doctoring the bat by using pin tar and cork.  The best bat doctoring though has to be by those 1890’s Baltimore Orioles, who would shave down one side of the bat to make bunting easier, which was a major part of the game at that time.  Finally there has been gambling, that has tainted baseball.  Pete Rose and the Chicago White Sox of 1919 and the players involved were banned from baseball for life.  You can do lot’s of things in baseball but don’t bet.

Now, lets turn to that team of the 1890’s the Baltimore Orioles of the National League, the only league at the time. They were, by far, the dominate team of the decade.  This team did not stop at just shaving bats to gain an edge.  This team sneaked balls into the outfield so if a ball got past them they would be able to get to the other ball quicker. They blocked opposing runners in the base paths. They interfered with foul balls near their dugout. They did many other things to break the rules.  The press called their play “aggressive” and chastised teams that played more by the  rules.  The entire National League was a rough and rowdy league.  Fans were finally beginning to tire of the act.  Thus the American League was born, and vowed to clean up the game and play by the rules.   The league was founded in 1901, which was basically a league derived from the Western League.  Their success was rapid to the point, that the first World Series was played in 1903 between the two leagues, with the Boston Americans beating the Pittsburgh Pirates in a 9 game series.  If it wasn’t for cheating the American League may have never existed.  That brings us back to sign stealing, which has been going on forever.  Now, even Bobby Thompson’s shot heard around the world is “tainted” because the Giants devised something to get the info to Thompson before the pitch.  Really now, after almost 70 years that home run is diminished.  Maybe we should vacate the Giants National League pennant.  Let’s face it cheating has benefited the game more than it has hurt it.  Steroids brought the crowds back into the stadium, it helped start the American League, and it got rid of the dead ball era after the Black Sox scandal. Ten years from now someone will find a new way to circumvent the rules.   Cheating is part of the folklore of baseball and despite the severe penalties for this latest sign stealing scandal, the game will move on and most likely thrive. Let’s hope the media can, but I am not too sure.

Sports: Devaluing Conference Champions

This week is Championship Week in college football.  There are the 5 power conference championship games, this weekend, that will have little or no significance on the College Football Playoff rankings.  This week more than any other shows the fallacy of the playoff system in college football.  The best thing you can say about it is, it’s better than nothing and better than picking just two teams.   You will hear on Sunday night such terms as meeting the eye test, most deserving and total body of work, on the self serving ESPN network.  This is a perfect example of a sport, and a sports network  thinking that their fan base is just plain stupid.  There is no other sport that picks their champion by such obscure phrases.  All other championships are decided on the field, not by some closed door committee. Granted, there are some at large bids for the NCAA tournaments, but the majority of the teams are in the tournament by winning their conference championship games, and there are 64 teams in the tournament.  Let’s look at what will probably happen this weekend, but also, what could  happen this weekend, which will have little bearing on the final four.

The biggest game of the five is LSU vs. Georgia, for the SEC Championship. This game will dictate what the weekend will be like.   LSU is about a touchdown favorite to win the game and a victory would eliminate Georgia from the top 4, unless a lot of other things happen. This puts Georgia under more pressure to win the game.   If Georgia pulls off the upset, then LSU would most likely stay in the top 4, and compete for the National Championship. For Georgia, it is a win or most likely go home scenario, which doesn’t seem quite fair.  The same thing can be said of the Ohio St. vs Wisconsin game.  If Wisconsin  pulls off the big upset, that probably won’t get them in the top 4, but it is unlikely to knock  Ohio St. out of the top four.  Wisconsin, would probably have to win by 14 or more points, to put Ohio St. out.   If  OSU, LSU, and Clemson, all win, and Clemson is almost a 30 point favorite to beat Virginia,  then it all boils down to the two winners of the Big 12, and Pac 12 Championship games. Then the committee would have to choose one and those phrases will be rolling off everybody’s tongue, come Sunday night. No matter what happens, one conference champion will not get in the playoffs, and if one or more upsets occur, as many as 3 conference champions will not have a crack at the National Championship.  Talk about making conference championships insignificant, the NCAA does it again. Of course, there is an easy solution to the unfairness of the whole mess.

The winners of the five conference championship games make the playoffs.  These are the five power conferences, and if you win your championship game you should move on. This is what sports are all about. What happens when Notre Dame has a great year. Just join the ACC Notre Dame, they need you really bad, and with this system, now you need them.  The end of the season games are more significant, and a conference championship game should be a playoff game. So how would the playoffs go from that point on.  The two lowest ranked teams that won would play the next week, and the winner would occupy the fourth spot. The schedule would then proceed as it is now.  Let’s look at those three disgusting phrases that are now used to pick the 4 teams. This team meets the eye test.  In other words, they look like the best team when you watch them play, and in many stats categories.   How many teams in other sports look great to the observer, but still lose the big game.  Try, too many to count.   The most deserving team, due to a tougher schedule, some  heartbreaking losses or who knows what.  Some times you don’t always get what you deserve.  Welcome to the real world.  The total body of work.  Three teams,  Ohio State, LSU, and Clemson, are going into these Championship games undefeated and untied.  Many people are of the belief, if these teams lose, they are one loss teams that DESERVE to go on, because of their total body of work.  Should they have made the New York Giants defeat the New England Patriots twice, because the Patriots were 18-0 going into that Super Bowl. That was a nice body of work, until the Super Bowl.  How can any team have a chance at a National Championship in football, and lose their conference championship game. The committee and ESPN will try and convince you, if that happens.  There is only one way to determine a champion and that is on the field.  Playoff football is different.  When is college football ever going to realize this.

Sports: Steelers vs. Giants December 1963. First and Last Chance at Glory.

The 1963 pro football season was odd and sad, and it was  the Steelers first chance at glory since pro football had become the up and coming sport, really challenging baseball as the number one sport in America. The season was sad because on November 22, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. It was sad for the Steelers because in May of that year Big Daddy Lipscomb had died of a heroin overdose.    The season was odd because the Steelers had 3 ties that year.  They tied the Philadelphia Eagles twice and Eagles only won 2 other games all year.  See, it just not Mike Tomlin teams that play down to their competition. The other tie was against the Chicago Bears  who would go on and win the NFL Championship that year. In 1963, if teams played to a tie, the NFL looked at the game as if it had never been played.  Going into the last week of the season, the Steelers record was 7 wins, 3 losses, and those 3 ties.  But their “real” record was just 7 and 3.  They would play the New York Giants at Yankee stadium, whose record was 10 and 3, and by today’s rules of ties, where ties count as a .5 loss and .5 win they would have the division clinched.  The Steelers record would have been 8.5 and 4.5.  Even with a win they would be 9.5 and 4.5 and the Giants would have been 10 and 4, which would have won the division.  But this was 1963, and the Steelers were very much alive.  With a win they would be 8 and 3 for a percentage .728 and that would beat  a 10-4 Giant team with .714.  Despite how unfair this would seem, the NFL did not change the tie rule until 1972.  We Steeler fans did not care.  This was best chance for the Steelers to win their first division title since 1947 when they lost a play off game to the Philadelphia Eagles 21 to 0.  But alas, the Steelers lost 33 to 17 and as a 13 year old I was devastated.  I felt we were never in the game as my Dad and I watched the game on our black and white TV.  But low and behold I found a radio broadcast of the game on You Tube and well the Steelers were in the game more than I realized.

The Giants were the kings of the Eastern Division, having played in the NFL Championship game 5 out of the last 7 years.  Unfortunately they won only 1 of those games, the 1956 Championship game beating the Chicago Bears, 47 to 7.  Then they lost 2 to the Johnny Unitas led Baltimore Colts, and 2 more to the Green Bay Packers.  If they had done better in the championship games, they would be considered one of the best dynasties in football.  They would go on to lose to the Chicago Bears 14 to 10, in 1963. They had lost to the Steelers in the second game of the year 31 to 0, but Y. A. Tittle their Hall of Fame quarterback was out with injury.  The Giants were a veteran seasoned group led by  Tittle, Frank Gifford, Sam Huff,  and Andy Robustelli.  The Steelers were also a veteran group, thanks to their coach Buddy Parker, who was the precursor to George Allen, giving up draft choices for veterans.  In fact it was not uncommon for the Steelers to trade away all their draft choices while Parker was the head coach.  The Steelers did draft one player in 1963 by the name of Andy Russell, not bad for a 16th round pick.  The Steelers were led on offense by quarterback Ed Brown,  running back John Henry Johnson, and wide receivers Buddy Dial and Gary Ballman.  On defense they had Clendon Thomas, Myron Pottios and John Baker.  Now to the game.

The game could not have started out worse for the Steelers, as running back Theron Sapp fumbled the ball on the opening play, and the Giants recovered.  But the Steeler defense was able to hold the Giants and Don Chandler kicked a 34 yard field goal, which was a 34 yard field goal since the goal posts were on the goal line in 1963. The goal posts were not as long either but that’s a story for another blog.   Gary Ballman returned the ensuing kick off all the way to the Giant 28 yard line.  But the Steelers could not move the ball and Lou Michaels missed a 30 yard field goal. The Giants on their next series fumbled the ball right back to the Steelers and they had the ball  at the Giant 33 yard line.   Ed Brown hit Gary Ballman around the 10 yard line and was getting ready to score but lost control of the ball and fumbled it into the end zone and the Giants  returned it  to their own 34 yard line.  The Giants had a third and inches on their own 44 yard line and threw a 16 yard pass to Del Shofner and then  on the next play, Tittle  hit Shofner again for a 41 yard touchdown and when Chandler missed the extra point they led 9 to 0.  On the next series Brown threw an interception and the Giants had the ball on their own 44. The Giants moved down the field to the Pittsburgh 5 yard line, first and goal.  The Giants tried a halfback pass with Frank Gifford but wound up having 3 laterals, yes that’s 3 laterals,  and finally Y. A. Tittle wound up throwing the ball incomplete. To make matters worse the Giants were called for holding, which was a 15 yard penalty in 1963.   On the next play Andy Russel intercepted a Tittle pass, and the Steelers had the ball on their own 4 yard line. Mercifully the 1st quarter ended, with the Steelers losing 2 fumbles and throwing an interception, and the Giants fumbled twice, but lost only one, and threw one interception. The second quarter did not go much better. After an exchange of punts, the Steelers had to punt again, and the Giants fumbled, with the Steelers recovering on the Giants 24 yard line.  On two running plays the Steelers make 9.5 yards and it is 3rd and inches.  The Steelers do not make an inch in 2 plays and turn the ball over to the Giants on the 14 yard line. On their next possession  the Steelers  move the ball to the 37 yard of the Giants and are stalled with a 4th and 7. They elect to kick a field goal and back up quarterback Bill Nelson fumbled the snap and the Giants take over at their own 44.  The Giants move quickly. Long pass to Shofner to the Steeler 13 and then a TD pass to Joe Morrison and Giants lead 16-0.   But just like in todays game, with only 1:05 to go in the half, the Steelers move right down the field and Lou Michaels finally makes a field goal of 27 yards, and it is 16-3 at the half.   The Giants don’t move the ball to start the half and punt to the Steelers and they start at their own 34 yard.   On third and 2 at the 42 John Henry Johnson finally breaks one and goes 48 yards to the Giants 10 yard line, first and goal.  A holding penalty pushes the Steelers back to the 25 and on third down Brown finds Ballman in the end zone from 21 yards out, and with the conversion the score is 16 to 10 about one third  through the third quarter and we have a football game.  The Giants hold on the kick off and have to start on the 14 yard line.  But then it’s slam bang thank you mam.  Third and 7 from the 17 yard line,  30 yards to Gifford to the 47, then 25 yards to Gifford to the 22, and TD to Morrison from the 22.  Three plays, 83 yards, touchdown, its 23 to 10 Giants. The Steelers go 3 and out, when they try a long pass on 3rd and 2 and the avalanche continued.  First and 10 on the Giants 36, first play 31 yard pass with a face mask penalty tacked on, it is first and 10 on the Steeler 16 yard line.  Fifteen yard pass to Gifford to the one, and Joe Morrison over the top for his 3rd TD of the game,  and Giants lead 30 to 10 and the game is essentially over.   The Steelers have a nice drive but Brown throws an interception in the end zone.  The Steelers score on their next possession on a 40 yard bomb to Buddy Dial.  The Steelers try another field goal, for what ever reason and of course it was missed from 48 yards.   The Giants start on their own 8 yard line because of a clip and go on a long ball control drive that results in no points but eats up enough of the clock and then Chandler adds a field goal with about 2 minutes to go that locks up the game, and sends the Giants to the Eastern Division Championship and a date with the Chicago Bears.

It was a game of missed opportunities for the Steelers. In the first half they were inside the Giants 25 yard line four times and came away with only 3 points. Ed Brown did not have a good game and was crucified for it, but did not get a lot of help. Critical fumbles, dropped passes and missed field goals hurt them  as much as anything.  Myron Cope related the story that he knew that Ed Brown was not going to have a good game, because he was not seen at the favorite watering hole for the Steelers that week.  Cope deducted that this was not a good week for Brown to take the game too seriously, and stop drinking for that week.  He may have been right, but the loss was a team effort.  But the game was better, than I remembered as a devastated teen in 1963.  For both teams, it was their last shot at glory for awhile .  This would end the reign of the New York Giants as the elite team of the Eastern Division, in a big way.  It would take 23 seasons before the Giants would win the division they were in and then would go on to win the Super Bowl.  In that 23 year span the Giants had only 6 winning seasons and 2 seasons where they played 500 ball.  They fell long and hard.   The Steelers would fall apart in 60’s winning only  19 games in the next 6 seasons.  But we all know what happened in the 70’s as the Steelers became the elite franchise.  It would have been nice to see that team of Buddy Parker’s beat the Giants on a cold and half frozen field, at Yankee Stadium, that would have sent the Giants to their 23 year swoon, one season early.

Sports: World Series Wrap Up

The World Series came to an end last night, as the Washington Nationals pulled off their second big upset in this post season, winning the Series 4 games to 3 over the Houston Astros.  On the way to becoming world champions, the Nationals knocked off two of the so called super teams, the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the aforementioned Astros.  Since the middle of May, the Nationals matched these teams victory for victory.  The fact that they were able to take it all the way, should not be all that surprising.  After the sixth game  MLB Network was describing this series as  epic  trying to increase the hype, and to obscure the fact that this World Series was anything but epic.  This is not to take anything away from the Washington Nationals great victory, and a nice win for the National League.  In fact, this may have been one of the most deserving victories in a long time.  The Nationals played better than the Astros in every phase.  The best way to describe this series was odd.   Let me count the ways.

The visitors won every game.   That has not happened before in any 7 game series in any sport.   How about this betting parlay, The Nationals would score 3 runs in 3 home games and win the World Series.  There are no wilder and raucous fans than the fans at the World Series, especially a Game 7.  After every game that wild and delirious fan base went home sad.  The last World Series to be clinched at home was in  2013 by the Boston Red Sox.  Home field has seemed to have lost it’s advantage in baseball, and it’s hard to say why, but this was an extreme example.  Other than Game 1 the games were not very close.  The only games in doubt after the 7th inning were 1 and 7, and that quickly changed in game 7 as the Nats added on in the 8th and 9th, with the Astros not threatening in the bottom of either inning. This series was odd but not very tense or exciting.  The smallest margin of victory in each game was 1,9,3,7,6,5, and 4.  But despite these lopsided margins in the games, the overall stats of the series, shall we say , was oddly close.   Try this on for size.   Both teams hit 11 home runs.  Both teams walked 27 times.  Both teams had the exact ERA of 4.39.  The Nats scored 33 runs and the Astros 30 runs.  The Astros had a slight edge in OPS .794 to .739.  The Astros had the slight edge in Whip 1.34 to 1.50.    Every time it seemed that a team was going take the series by the throat and win, they fell flat on their face.  After game 2 it looked like the Nats had the potential to sweep the series but then the bats went dead the next 3 games.  Going into game 6 it looked like the Astros had righted the ship, ready to win their second championship in three years, but instead the ship sank. Finally the interference call at first base and the reviewing of a non reviewable play in game 6. What more can you say.   It was an odd World Series.

Why did the Nationals win.  It boiled down to two things.  Garrit Cole picked the wrong day to be human.  The ace of the decade,  who had not lost a game since mid May, just had an off day for him.  It was by far the key win of series.  The big names for the Nationals performed and the big names for the Astros did not.    Verlander continued to have problems in the World Series. Strasberg was the Series MVP.    Rendon and Soto  had a combined OPS of just over .2000, while Altuve and Bregman’s OPS was just over .1500. The Nationals simply out played the Astros when it counted the most.   I don’t think managerial strategy and decision making played a big role in the outcome.  But I am going to nitpick and second guess at the same time.  Houston manager  A. J. Hinch seemed to have no confidence in Zack Greinke.   Taking him out in the 7th after only 80 pitches seemed a little premature considering he is still one of the best pitchers in baseball.   I know about all the reasoning behind the third time through the line up and this is the age of great bullpens, but this is Zack Greinke and he seemed to be getting out of trouble just fine in this post season.  If the outcome had been the same, then he would have been criticize for leaving him.  I said this was nitpicking and I think the eventual outcome would have been the same, because the Astros bats went dead.   Congrats to the Nats. It’s nice to see the World Series trophy back where it belongs, in the National League.

Sports: The World Series

The World Series starts tomorrow, with the Houston Astros hosting the Washington Nationals.  Since the middle of May,  they have been the two best teams in baseball.  The Astros go into the series as heavy favorites.  This is the biggest odds differential since the 2007 series, when the Red Sox were big favorites over the Colorado Rockies.  That series went according to plan, as the Red Sox swept the Rockies in 4 games.  The Rockies were red hot going into that series having an unbelievable finish to the season going 21 and 8 and sweeping both the division series and N.L.C.S. going 7 and 0.  The oddsmakers knew something, making the Red Sox big time favorites, and they came through just as predicted.   This Series has a similar feel, with the Nationals coming off a sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals, and upsetting the favorite L. A. Dodgers in the division series.  Yet again, the Astros are considered the overwhelming favorite.  Will the oddsmakers be right again?  I am not too sure.  There are some things in the Nationals favor, that says this should be a tight well played series, that will go 6 to 7 games.

You never know  how a team is going to perform from series to series in the playoffs but so far the Astros are just not hitting.  They have four players with an OPS under 600.  Alex Bregman has walked a lot out of respect but is hitting only .257 with one home run.  You have to wonder if Washington will challenge him more.  One reason the Astros beat the Yankees is that they hit worse.  Even the bullpen game did not produce a lot of runs between these so called offensive juggernauts.  I am not to sure a team can get hitting healthy against the Nationals starting rotation.   The Nationals have a good DH line up for a National league team.  Howie Kendrick seems like the perfect DH and the Nationals will be better defensively for the games in Houston.  The Nationals starting rotation stacks up well against the Houston big three.   If  Anabel Sanchez can continue to pitch the way he has, then it is certainly deeper.  For whatever reason the Astros seem to make things hard on themselves.  When they won in 2017, both the N.LC.S. with the Yankees and the World Series against the Dodgers  were hard fought and went 7 games.   As great as this  team always looks on paper, you could argue that if they had not acquired Justin Verlander on August 31st at 11:59 pm, they would not have been World Champions.

Will the Astros prevail?  Yes, I think they will, but just barely.  They have 2 advantages.  One is Garrit Cole.  He is has been the most dominant pitcher in baseball, not just for this post season, but for about the last 5 months. There are not too many sure things in life, but he looks like he will continue to be excellent  for the next 7 days.  There is more pressure on the Nationals starting pitchers to perform because of the weak bullpen of the Nationals. This could finally take its toll.  Even the bullpen members that have performed reasonably well, like Daniel Hudson and Sean Doolittle could easily wilt under the pressure. There is no question, the Achilleas heel of the Nationals is that darn bullpen, and  you have to wonder if they can manage to get through one more series against a quality opponent.   There is one interesting strategy situation  that might determine the final outcome.  Is Houston going to go with the 3 man rotation, with the starters then going on short rest, or will game 4 be a bullpen game again.   In my view, as good as the three starters for Houston are, trying to pitch them on short rest could be the big mistake of the Series. Cole has never pitched on short rest and the one time they did it with Verlander it was a failure.  Of course if they win the first 3 games it won’t make any difference.   However if Houston decides to go with that 3 man rotation, then I am really liking the Nationals.  Can’t wait to see what happens as another fall classic begins.

Sports: Baseball The Championship Series

We start the baseball championship series tonight with the St. Louis Cardinals hosting the Washington Nationals.  On the American League side we have the two so called super powers, the Houston Astros and the New York Yankees beginning tomorrow night.  Both the Cardinals and the Nationals are the surprise teams. The Nationals pulled the shocker by defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers in 5 games and sending the defending National League champs home very very early.  What did we learn from these division round games?

We learned that Dodger manager Dave Roberts, still cannot manage in the post season.  Trying to get 2 innings out of Joe Kelly was just what the doctor ordered for the Nationals and they took advantage in the 10th inning by scoring 4 runs.  You are eliminated from the playoffs with your best reliever looking through a fence.  They just gave Roberts a nice extension so here is what I propose.   As soon as the regular season ends just send Dave Roberts home and let Brian Kenny manage the team during the playoffs.  I am sure he would do it for nothing, so no extra expense for the Dodgers.   We learned that Garrit Cole  is just starting his post season resume, which could develop into one of the best of all time.  We will just have to wait and see.  One thing for sure, the Astros would have been the other super power to fall if it were not for Cole.  What a pitching performance in his last 2 games.  We learned that the Cardinals still have some of that post season magic left. From little bloops, to playing small ball better than anybody, the Cards may become the shocker of them all.

I am not a prognosticator, but there are some things that I do know will happen.  The winner of the Houston-New York series will be heavy favorites to win the World Series. If the Yankees do not go to and win the World Series, there will be  massive  fan disappointment  and backlash.   Both series should be extremely entertaining and fun to watch.  How super are the two super powers of the American League.  I am not too sure they are all that super. My view is both teams beat up on a lot of bad teams that are in the American League. The media mentions this from time to time, but mostly glosses over this point.  I admit, the most amazing of the two teams are the Yankees, who ran away with the Eastern Division, despite having more injuries than you would think possible.  I think the Astros and the Yankees are very good teams but I do not think that either one of them would have won 100 games if they played in the more balanced National League. I still feel the best team in baseball is gone. The Los Angeles Dodgers  needed a post season manager.  Maybe they will get one next year.  As they say on the airplane, it’s now time to sit back, relax and enjoy the ride.  The semi-finals are ready to begin.