Sports: Baseball, The Final Four

After a long season, we are down to the final four teams in baseball. Three of the four were there last year, after the biggest playoff, in baseball history. The new team to the party is the Boston Red Sox, who upset the Tampa Bay Rays in 4 games, to play the losers of last year’s championship final, the Houston Astro’s. The National League final will be a rematch, between the L. A. Dodgers and the Atlanta Braves, with only difference being, the Braves will have the home field for 4 of a possible 7 games. We all know what happened in the division series, with the 5th game of the Dodger-Giant series being marred by a horrible check swing call. The first base umpire wasn’t the only one to have a bad night, as the home plate umpire made some very bad balls and strikes calls, that probably affected the outcome of game. Umpiring over the last 5 years, has deteriorated to the point of being barely competent. If the umpires ever go on strike again, the scabs will be an improvement. Last nights home plate umpire, should be the poster child for the electronic strike zone. Enough about the past, let’s get to the future.

There is no doubt that the most hated team in all of sports, at the moment, is the Houston Astro’s. The fact that the fans cheer, when a Houston player gets hit by a pitch, leaves no doubt. Even getting Dusty Baker his first World Series Championship, to put a big exclamation point, on a long and illustrious managerial career, won’t be enough to quell the venom that every fan base feels against the Astro’s. Of course on the other side, you have Alex Cora, the manager of the Red Sox, the supposed brains of the sign stealing method that the Astro’s used. No matter who wins this series, the National League representative will have the overall fan base behind them, even if it is the Dodgers. There is no doubt, that at the moment Houston is swinging the bat better than any of the other 3 teams. If they can continue to do so, then I see no stopping them from getting into the World Series. But hitting can disappear faster than a magicians assistant and if by some pitching magic, the Red Sox can hold the Astro’s to 4 runs or under per game then they may have a fighting chance.

In the National League Championship Series unless the bats of both teams wake up, then runs are going to be hard to come by. All of these games should be close, hard fought games. The Dodgers will be the favorites, but what is interesting about the Braves is, that this is their 4th consecutive year in the playoffs, and they have improved their performance in each of the 3 previous years. The only way they can improve their performance this year, is by going to the World Series. There is no doubt that this is a playoff hardened team. To have gotten this far as been amazing, since they lost Ron Acuna Jr. to injury, and Marcell Orzuna to legal problems, for most of the season. As stated before, they will have the home field for this series, but will that be enough. This time it will depend on the Dodger bats. Will they remain asleep, or will the Dodger offense start to wake up, and score a slew of runs. Only time will tell. I am looking forward to a great week of baseball. Now, if we can only find some competent umpires.

Sports: Pirates, The Season is Over

The Pirate season came to a merciful end yesterday, with a 6-3 loss to the Cincinnati Reds. The Pirates failed to get a series sweep the entire year, which marks the first time in baseball history, that a team went the season, failing to do so. We all know that this team was bad, despite what the shills in the broadcast booth say. Here are a few of things that the shills said in order to get you to believe, that there was something positive about the way the Pirates played baseball. The Pirates have improved their defense greatly. Well, if you improve from 30th, which is dead last, to 24th in the defensive efficiency stat, that is an improvement, but is that really significant. The Pirates are still in the bottom third, when it comes to fielding. They actually declined, from last years short season, when they were 15th. In the booth, they rave about Kevin Newman’s fielding. He is not that great a fielder. In all the comprehensive defensive stats, when it comes to shortstops, he is just in the middle of the pack. The idea, that the Pirates have major league players on their team, is another example of trying to hoodwink the fans. Let’s take a look at that claim from a statistical point of view, without the shill bias. There are statistics that give you an overview of a player’s value. Wins Above Replacement (WAR) is an overall value stat of a player. It includes all facets of a players game, which includes, batting, fielding, and baserunning, and the volume of playing time. A major league player should have a WAR of 2.0 to be considered a big league player and a contributor to the team. The other two stats that tell you if you are an average major league player is is ERA+ for starting pitchers and OPS+ for batters. This rates the overall performance of a pitcher and a batter with 100 being an average major league player. Being an average major league player means you are pretty damn good. Just ask the Pirates, who have very few. So who are these elite Pirates?

Starting at the top of course, is Bryan Reynolds, with a WAR of 6.0 and an OPS+ of 146. These are all star quality numbers. He is a good fielding center fielder but not an elite fielder, that the shills would have you believe. However, he is a top 20 major league player. . Next is Jacob Stallings with a WAR of 3.0. He is one of the best defensive catchers in baseball, and is a solid contender for a gold glove. His OPS+ is 92 which is below league average, but his defense more than makes up for this. Some people feel, that he will be the next to go in the Pirate rebuild, but I hope that is not true. His value behind the plate will only magnify, by mentoring both the young pitching staff, and the young catchers that will be coming up. Next on the list, is Ke’Bryan Hayes with a WAR of 2.4. His defense at 3rd is second to none, and you have to hope that his hitting decline was due to the injured wrist, that never quite healed, which led to a very disappointing OPS+ of 89. Even with that defense, his hitting has to improve next year. The last major leaguer the Pirates have is relief pitcher David Bednar with a WAR of 2.1 and an ERA+ of 190. He was about as solid as a pitcher could be, coming out of the bullpen. His FIP was 2.69 and WHIP under 1. That is the end of the list. Now, as stated previously WAR is a volume stat, and there were some Pirates, who did perform at an above average major league level, but did not get enough playing time to get that high of a WAR number, or were just really bad in one area of the game, which caused them to have a WAR under 2. So who should, or could, be on the team next year and contribute to a successful season.

First, let’s get out of the way, the list, that if this regime is serious, should not be on the team next season, for various reasons: Cole Tucker, Kevin Newman, Colin Moran,(even if the NL goes to a DH), Michael Perez, Wilmer Difo, and Phillip Evans. I don’t know if anybody in the starting rotation, should be back, but somebody has to pitch. I suppose you have to give Mitch Keller, one more chance. The two late season acquisitions, Bryce Wilson and Dillon Peters, might be worth a second look. There is always hope, that J. T. Brubaker, might find his previous form. There were some young spot starters, that showed some potential, but everyone of them at some point, got rocked. In a nutshell, the starting rotation is just plain pathetic. In the bullpen, there were two, that did perform at an above average level, with a decent volume of work. Chris Stratton and Chasen Shreve each had ERA+ over the 100 mark at 116 and 132, respectively. Are there any other Pirates that deserve another look? Not many, but here is the list. Anthony Alford, because he did look better the second time around, compared to that awful way he started the season. He wound up with a .4 WAR and an OPS+ of 94. Compare that, with the shill’s favorite player, Kevin Newman’s WAR of .7 and an OPS+ of, are you ready, 56, ouch. Then there is Yoshi Tsutsugo, who as a Pirate had an OPS+ of 136, but he was a major liability in the field. If the NL goes to the DH, then he is a keeper. Even if they don’t, just put him at first base to replace the stoic Moran ,who is just horrible in the field. That just about rounds it out, so the Pirates have lots of places to fill.

I know, that most of what I am going to write in this paragraph is not going to happen, but some of it might, depending on what happens with the new collective bargaining agreement. I am not going into any details, but how rookies are perceived for their first year of service, and when free agent eligibility happens, could change the basic philosophy of major league teams. On opening day, the shortstop and second basemen for the Pirates should be named Cruz and Castro. Brian Reynolds should be flanked by at least one new outfielder, if not two. The starting rotation should have at least 2 new members and both should be 24 years or younger. Even if the results are not perfect, let’s hope we see an influx of new talent come up to the major league level, right at the start of the season. Let’s hope that this bodes well for the future, because it is essentially, here now. Hopefully, the Pirate fans will not have to endure another season like this, where the team plays just bad baseball, and never wins more than 3 games in a row. This great city deserves so much more.

Golf: My Cup Runneth Over

This past weekend, golf had two of its signature events, with the FedEx Cup coming to it’s grand conclusion, and the Solheim Cup finishing up on Labor Day. Of course, golf has a wrap around season, and I think the new season is starting up this week, but who cares, as golf really doesn’t have an off season. The Solheim Cup is the women’s version of the men’s Ryder Cup, and the outcome was the same, as the European Women retained and won the cup. The FedEx Cup is the PGA tour version of the World Series, Super Bowl, and NBA finals. Unfortunately, the PGA Tour doesn’t really understand the concept of playoffs, so they have had many format changes, none of which gives the event a playoff or championship feeling. The Solheim Cup is a much better event, but the media has a hard time understanding, why the Europeans win most of the time, in both events. I will clear that up, at the end of the blog.

Playoffs, in all other sports, are a process of elimination, through head to head competition, which ends by crowning a champion. This concept is totally loss on the PGA tour. They think having 3 stroke play events that eliminate a certain number of players each week, constitutes a playoff. The only way the FedEx Cup finale will ever have a true playoff feel, is to eventually, go to match play. Of course, because of golf’s inferiority complex, in trying to compete against other sports for ratings, the powers to be are petrified of match play. What if there is no star power in the final? What if the final match is a blow out? So what, this is what sports is all about. There have been many lousy Super Bowls, but it is still the most popular sports event in the United States. To help ensure some significance to the long PGA season, and make the finals more fan friendly, here is how I would pare down the field. The top two point getters at the end of the last event, would automatically make it to the final four, of match play. The positions of 3 through 6 would make it to the quarter finals. Then, the next 16 highest point getters, would qualify for the match play final. The finals would be 24 players, not the current 30. On Thursday, those 16 players would play 8 matches in the morning, to get down to 8, and in the afternoon, there would be 4 matches to get down to 4 players remaining. Then on Friday those four player would play the 3 through 6 ranked players with 4 matches in the morning, followed by 2 matches in the afternoon to get down to the 2 players who would meet the 1 and 2 players in the semi-finals on Saturday. The finals would be Sunday with the losers teeing off first to determine 3rd and 4th and then the Championship Match to follow for the 15 million dollar prize. That, PGA Tour, is what is know as a playoff. Get with it.

In the Solheim Cup, the Americans gave it their all, but fell short, as Europe won the cup, again. It was a great show, and there is no need to change anything about either, the Ryder Cup, or the Solheim Cup. The only thing that needs to change, is the US media perception of the European teams. There is always some excuse when the Europeans win. It’s the way they pick their teams, it’s the captain, they like each other more, and the best one, they are use to the format. How is that true? The only reason the Europeans win more Solheim Cups, and Ryder Cups, is that they are simply better players, for what is required. They may not be more use to the format, but they embrace the format, much more than the American team does. I think, overall, they just enjoy playing golf, more than the Americans do. It is as simple as that. The other thing that helps fuel their fire, is that no matter how many Cups they win, they always go into the next Cup as the underdog. Talk about an example of denial. The feeling is always, that there is no way, that the Americans should lose to the Europeans. In the Solheim Cup, Europe has won 4 of the last 6. In the Ryder Cup, Europe has won 7 or the last 9. Even so, in a couple of weeks, the populous will be expecting an easy American win. The simple fact of the matter remains, that the European players are just better, and are better equipped to deal with the pressure of representing their country.

Sports: Pirates, Just One More Month To Go, Thank God

The Pittsburgh Pirate 2021 season is winding down, with August not being very good to the new look Pirates. Yes, I know they have one more game this month, but I wanted to get this over with, and I have the time today. For the month of August, they are currently 8-19, and if they lose to the White Sox tonight, it will tie them for the worst month of the season. It could have been even worse, were it not, for some stirring comeback wins, along the way. The Pirate offense, literally hit rock bottom, as they are last in runs scored, slugging and OPS+. A great time to fire your batting coach, which the Pirates did. In all the other important stats in pitching and fielding, the Pirates are in the bottom 2/3’s of the league, with their Defensive Efficiency being the best at 22nd. They finally cut ties with Gregory Polanco. You can’t say that the Pirates didn’t give him every chance to succeed. He was fourth in plate appearances, and wound up with a negative war, most of which was do to atrocious defense. It did not help that his offensive slash line was .208/.354/.637, and it was only that good, because he had a pretty good last week. Most of the year his average hovered around .200. The fired batting coach made him a pet project in spring training. With those kind of results, that may have been enough to get him fired right there. The most concerning thing about this team, is the way so many players have seemed to digress. I will delve into this more, in the season wrap up blog.

There is a month to go in the season, so some of these players could make a late season surge to bring up some of their pathetic numbers. What do we have to look forward to, in this last month of the season? One thing, it does not look like the Pirates are going to break any records for games lost during a season. They would almost have to lose every game. They are going to play a big role in whether the Reds make the playoffs, since they are going to play them 9 more times, including the last 3 games of the season. It would be nice to see them ruin the Reds chances, after all the things that have happen in previous games and years. Will Bryan Reynolds continue on an MVP pace, or will he collapse in September, like he did in 2019? Can any starting pitcher go 6 innings, and look like he might belong in a big league rotation next year? Will Yoshi Tsutsugo and Michael Chavis, just be another, in a long list of flash in the pans? Could by any stretch of the imagination the Pirates have an above .500 month? If the pitching really stinks in the last month, will they fire the pitching coach? It can be tough being a Pirate fan, but how would you like to be following the Angels and the Padres, seeing them spend all that money, with the Angels not making the playoffs, and the Padres, fighting for their playoff lives. So much for the Padre-Dodger rivalry. After all the analysis and break downs, it all boils down to one thing, you are either in the post season or not. See you for the end of the year wrap up, and the beginning of the post season, where I will finally get to see Major League Baseball being played. Whoopee!

Sports: Baseball’s Economic System Is Just Fine.

When Major League Baseball proposed some changes to teams payroll structure by lowering the luxury tax ceiling about 30 million and raising what the minimum payroll could be to 100 million, there were many complaints, that this was not enough to save a broken system. This was particularly true, here in Pittsburgh, where the “unfairness” of the system has kept the Pirates from competing. The only thing that has kept the Pirates from competing is an owner, who has refused to spend money, and some horrible decisions by the Neal Huntington regime. It is amazing, how everyone is for free enterprise, and the American way, until there is this perceived unfairness of the situation. In this case, the large market teams have an unfair advantage, because they have much more revenues, and therefore can spend more money. The salary cap has always been presented as the solution to the problem, since the other three professional leagues have one. Salary caps are basically an abomination, that causes teams to make hard decisions on getting rid of good to great players, to stay under the cap. Fans are always complaining, about how free agency causes players to move around, and not stay on one team. The salary cap forces them to move on, when they may have many more productive years for that team. There is no proof that this helps improve competition. In the other three sports, the teams that make bad decisions, continue to be bad, and the teams that are better at evaluating, and developing talent continue to play well. So let’s take a look at the current payrolls of all the Major League teams, and, at least according to Fangraphs, their chances of making the playoffs. These are the payrolls when they started the season.

Los Angeles Dodgers 267 mil. 100%

Chicago White Sox 141 mil. 100%

Milwaukee Brewers 98 mil. 99.5%

San Francisco Giants 160 mil. 99.0%

Houston Astros 192 mil. 94.3%

Tampa Bay Rays 70 mil. 94.2%

New York Yankees 204 mil. 81.1%

Atlanta Braves 148 mil. 73.5%

Boston Red Sox 182 mil. 72.4%

Cincinnati Reds 126 mil. 44.9%

San Diego Padres 176 mil. 41.5%

Oakland A’s 89 mil. 37.7%

Philadelphia Phillies 184 mil. 22.5%

The rest of the teams have a less than 20% chance of making the playoffs. Here they are in descending order to make the playoffs, with the last 12 having no chance of making the playoffs. Toronto Blue Jays 151 mil. New York Mets 198 mil. St. Louis Cardinals 169 mil. Seattle Mariners 81.4 mil. Los Angeles Angels 181 mil. Baltimore Orioles 57.4 mil. Texas Rangers 95 mil. Cleveland Indians 47.9 mil. Detroit Tigers 85 mil. Kansas City Royals 85 mil. Minnesota Twins 117 mil. Miami Marlins 58 mil. Washington Nationals 149 mil. Chicago Cubs 141 mil. Arizona Diamondbacks 90 mil. Colorado Rockies 114 mil. Then there is our beloved Pittsburgh Pirates, with the second smallest payroll at 55 million dollars, with 11 million of that going to one, Gregory Polanco. I will say one thing for the Pirates, they are making him earn the money, by playing him as much as possible, which can be the only reason, he is getting so much playing time.

Of the 13 teams that are still fighting for a playoff spot, according to Fangraphs, 3 of the teams are in the bottom half of payroll expenditures. Six teams that have little of no chance of making the playoffs are in the top 15 in total payroll. The Phillies who are fifth in payroll, most likely will not make the playoffs. The Mets, 3rd in payroll, are fading fast, with their chances rated at about 10%. There are lots of things that baseball needs to fix, pace of play being the no. 1, but the way players are paid, is not one of them. Teams spending money is not a guarantee for success, not even close. Everyone deserves to make what the market will bear. Baseball does a good job of spreading the wealth around to the small market teams. When good baseball decisions are made, and players are properly developed, a baseball team will thrive, and contend for championships. One of the final arguments for making change in the economic structure of baseball is, yes, small market teams have great regular seasons, and will make the playoffs, but they will never win a World Series. Looking back over the World Series of this century, the small market teams have had their moments, but there is no question, the big boys win most of the World Series titles. Some of that, may be due to the fact, that the smaller market teams are reluctant to spend the money on late season rentals, that can make a big difference in a short series. Even giving some credence to the World Series argument, it is not enough to change a system, that works quite nicely, in the long run, and gets players the money they deserve, with the exception of Gregory Polanco, of course.

Sports: Pirates, A Brand New Team

Before we get to the new look Pirates, let’s quickly, and I do mean quickly, review the month of July. They were 11 and 14 for the month, with a couple of those wins by the new look Pirates, and it was their second best month of the season. The month was “highlighted” by the Pirates coming back from a 6 run deficit and winning 9 to 7, only to score 6 runs in the first inning the next day, and then lose 7 to 6 to the same New York Mets. The first time in the history of the National League, that a team came back from a 6 run deficit, and then blew a 6 run lead to the same team the next day. Another feather in the Pirates cap. It was amazing, that the Pirates managed to play only 3 games below .500, because statistically the bottom fell out. Even their defensive efficiency rating fell down to 21st in baseball. They hit rock bottom 30th in scoring runs. They are 24th in the league in preventing runs. Pitching ERA+ they are 28th. OPS+, they are the same, 28th, in the league. In the art of getting on base, they are 22nd. This team pretty much stinks. It’s hard to say this, but to be 11 and 14 is nothing short of a miracle. But that team is done for the season, and we practically have a whole new ball team, for the last two months of the season. Of course, they were slaughtered today, but one day does not a month make.

The Pirates have acquired 24 players, or prospects, or what ever you want to call them, since the beginning of the year. Everyone is touting the draft. The Pirate farm system is ranked right around the top 5 by most of the baseball media outlets. There will be more dead wood going out the door at the end of the season, and we pretty much know, who they are going to be. I was not surprised at all, by any of the moves, that the Pirates made this past week, as the trade deadline came and went. The only player the Pirates did not move, who I thought, they could get some value for, was Jacob Stallings. At 31, I don’t think he will be much of a factor, if and when, the Pirates become competitive. In this very weak era of catchers, where J. T. Realmuto is considered the best catcher in the game, I thought there would be more interest in a league average hitting catcher, who is an excellent defender. Apparently, there was not. The trade that amazed me the most was getting two players for Clay Holmes. Getting a pair of shoes for Clay Holmes, would have surprised me, let alone two players. Did the Yankee GM owe Cherrington a huge favor. The same thing could be said for the Red Sox trade, but at least the Pirates only got one player in return for another one of their stiffs. Only time will tell if this boat load of trade returns, and draftees of the last 2 years, are going to make the Pirates competitive in the near future. At least from a fans point of view, these next 2 months should be interesting and entertaining, to see if some of the new players on the team, can be long term contributors, or just are flashes in the pan. My final thought is that I am so glad, that according to the Pirate announcers, Gregory Polanco is seeing the ball better. He still can’t hit, but at least his vision is better. Will revisit the new Pirates on September 1.

Sports: Pittsburgh Pirates, Swooning Continues.

The Pirates showed that May was no fluke, as they stumbled and bumbled their way, to a 9 and 17 record in June. The highlight of the month was the 10 game losing streak. Again there were no surprises, unless you call the bad players, going from bad to worse a surprise. The few major league players they do have, played some solid to excellent baseball. If baseball only put 5 players and a pitcher on the field, the Pirates could make a run at the playoffs. Unfortunately for the Pirates, there are 3 other players that have to take the field. They are so bad, that they desecrate the game. They are so far below the performance of a major league player, that they could only be productive, at the AA level of the game. These players should not even be playing for Indianapolis, let alone the Pirates. The list, in no particular order, is Gregory Polanco, Kevin Newman, Phillip Evans, Ka’ai Tom, Erik Gonzalez, Michael Perez, and Ben Gamel. Here is their corresponding OPS+, with the league average being 100: 74,46,73,60,55,62, and 87. None of them have a WAR of over .3 and most are negative war. The Magnificent Seven, they are not. These players who cannot hit, average one walk per 13 plate appearances. The league average is one walk per 11 plate appearances. The 5 major leaguers, that the Pirates do have on their team, average one walk per 10 plate appearances. Obviously these players do not learn by example. They really do not learn by any method, really. They certainly do not try and improve their game.

Despite having an overall horrible month, the Pirates did improve their Defensive Efficiency to 12th in all of baseball, from 20th. Ke’Bryan Hayes is probably the main reason for this. He has been a defensive star and is still hitting above the league average with an OPS+ of 122. His bat has been slumping a little of late, but every hitter is going to go through this once in awhile. In less than a month of playing is WAR is already, at 1.0. The Pirates are 29th in runs scored, with the New York Mets dead last, but only 5 runs behind. They are fortunate to be 6 games over .500, and the Washington Nationals are feeling the 2019 vibe, all over again. It will be interesting to see, if the Mets can remain in contention, throughout this season, let alone stay in first plate. It shows you what great pitching can do, but can it hold up for another grueling 3 months. Sorry about getting sidetracked about the Mets, but it is really hard writing about the Pirates. Will the Pirates finally go for the full teardown by getting rid of 3 of the 5 major leaguers they have, namely Colin Moran, Adam Frazier and Jacob Stallings. I am only discussing position players, as there are pitchers, both starters and relievers, that could be gone at the trade deadline. Only time will tell, how far the Pirates are going to go, in tearing this thing down. I mean the Pirates are a thing. They are certainly not a baseball team. They are about as bad as I have ever seen, even though they do not have the worse record in baseball, at least for the moment. Remember, I witnessed the mid 60’s Mets, and believe me, they were better overall, than this group. It would be nice to see 7 DFA’s come August 1st, but I doubt that will happen. Hopefully, Hayes bat will get hot again, and the other 4 will perform, as they have been. I guess 5/9ths of a team is better than nothing, or is it? Will look at them again August 1. Maybe they will surprise, that would be nice.

Golf: U. S. Open Impressions

Yesterday, Jon Rahm won the U. S. Open in grand style, by birdieing the last two holes. He played a great round of golf, and was a very deserving winner. I watch some of every round in this U. S. Open, and the entire final round. This was one of the best Opens in a long time. The venue was set up perfectly and the weather co-operated by not having a lot of high winds. The leader board was crowded with some of the top players in the game, and some regular tour players, trying to make the big splash. In the middle of the final round, there were about 10 players within two shots of the lead. Everybody seemed to be going along just fine, when all hell broke loose on the back nine, and just about everybody fell apart, except Rahm and Lois Oosthuizen. It wasn’t until Oosthuizen took a very aggressive line on 17, and knocked his drive in the hazard, and barely missed a par saving putt, that you felt that Jon Rahm had the victory. I have to give Oosthuizen some credit, for taking the aggressive route, and really trying to make birdie on that hole, but unfortunately it did not work out. During the final round, there were many players, who had a chance to win, but none more so than Bryson DeChambeau. When he almost made the hole in one on No. 8 to take the outright lead, I thought we were going to have a repeat champion. Then after making a par on the par 4 10th hole, he decided to take 40 blows on the last 8 holes to fall all the way to 26th place. Bryson characterized his back nine as having bad breaks and just being “golf”. Let’s take a closer look, and also go back to Fridays round.

Bryson blamed a lot of his back nine on bad luck. I attribute his horrible back nine to some of the worse thinking I have ever seen by a top player. I am not talking about bad thinking on one particular hole, like Jean van de Velde did at the final hole of the 1999 British Open, where he made a triple bogey, when he only needed a double bogey to win the tournament. DeChambeau’s bad thinking, is an overall bad approach to the game. It showed up on Friday, when he tried to reach I believe the first par 5 on the back nine in two. He hit a great shot, but it was just short, and rolled back down the hill about 50 yards, into a sand filled divot. That was a very bad break. This was time to take your medicine, and hit a nice little lob wedge, right into the throat of the green, which would have put him about 30 to 40 feet, right of the pin, for a birdie putt. Instead, he tried to hit the ball directly at the pin, over a bunker. He chunked the shot, right into that bunker, and exploded the ball over the green, and was lucky to chip back, and make a bogey. Then, when he drove it into the rough on Sunday, on the same par 5, instead of trying to get the ball back in the fairway, where he probably could have gotten home in three, he continued to hit the ball down the rough and wound up making a double bogey 7. He has a philosophy, that he can hit any shot he pleases, and get away with it. He has done this, in other tournaments, as his whole game lacks any type of strategy. When things go wrong for Bryson, he calls it just golf, and really learns nothing. Unless this philosophy changes, I do not see him ever winning another major. Only time will tell, of course. One things for sure, it is not for the lack of a golf game.

My overall impressions of the tournament were many. These guys make a lot of putts and shots around the greens. One of the odd things about this Open, was the number of truly great shots from fairway bunkers. Many times, the player who hit from the fairway bunker got closer to the hole, than his playing partner did, from the middle of the fairway. I am not going into specific instances, but it was interesting to see, that all the rough was not created equal. There were some spots that were particularly thick and then other areas where it was not near as penal. I am not talking about areas that were trampled down by the fans, speaking of which, it was also interesting to see players, trying to hit in these areas on purpose, rather than the fairway. It shows you, even the best players in the world are affected by hazards, that are close in play. It seems like no matter who you are you are not immune from the pressure of the U. S. Open. You saw it all Sunday, drives out of bound, impossible lies in bunkers, shanks, and even balls stuck in trees. Now, that’s bad luck Bryson. There are many golfers who have been in contention over the years that just don’t seem to be able to seal the deal. You have to wonder are they really trying to do anything different or are they just looking for the answer, too. In the end Jon Rahm stood out as the best player of the week, and took home the greatest prize in golf, the United States Open.

Sports: Pirates, Not Waiting Till June Too Take A Swoon

When we last took a look at the Pirates, they were 14-19, and were barely hanging on, to make something of the season. They nose dived, in more ways than one, to lose 14 of the next 20 games, gave up 20 runs in one game, and made one of the biggest bonehead plays, in the history of baseball. Two to the wins were walk offs, and one was in extra innings, or it could have been even worse. The collapse was a team effort, as all of their pitching, batting, and fielding stats fell dramatically. Their highest rank is FIP and Defensive Efficiency coming in at 19th and 20th, respectively. The rest of the pitching and batting stats are pretty pathetic with ERA+ and Runs scored coming in at 29th each. No one has hit less home runs than the Pirates. They have taken the deadening of the ball seriously. Even though I have called this a team “effort”, there have been players that have stood out by their extremely poor play. Some have not been surprising, but others had some better expectations.

Expected putrid players, that have lived down to their expectations, are Erik Gonzalez, Gregory Polanco, Wilmer Difo, Michael Perez, and 4 of the 5 in the starting rotation. The most disappointing players, who had higher expectations going into the season, are Kevin Newman and Phillip Evans. These players could be some of the worst players in Major League Baseball history. I am not going to waste my finger energy going over some of their pathetic slash lines. Some of their OPSes are not above the league leaders in slugging. As a group their plate discipline is terrible, with Erik Gonzalez being the worse, and they are all allergic to the walk. This group of players is the main reason the Pirates can not score runs. In the starting rotation there is only one pitcher, J.T. Brubaker, who has an ERA+ over the league average 100, at 107. OPS+ and ERA+ are statistics that compare player performances taking in ballparks and other conditions, with the league average being 100. Bryan Reynolds OPS+ is 143, and he has a WAR of 2.2. He is on his way to having an All Star season. Check out these OPS+: Gonzalez 50, Newman 40, Polanco 89, being paid 11 million this year, Perez 37, Difo 81, Evans 89. Now these ERA+: Keller 61, Kuhl 63, Cahill 59, Anderson 86, who if you listen to the Pirate announcers, you would think he is Sandy Koufax. Then, you had the Will Craig gaffe, with Javier Baez at first base, that cost the Pirates eventually 2 runs in a game they lost. I will say one thing in his defense. Why wasn’t someone on the field yelling at him, to tell him what to do. Both the radio and TV broadcast booths sure as hell were. Was it out of respect, or was the whole team dumbfounded speechless, on what they were seeing on the field. Perez could have taken one step, and tagged Baez, instead of trying to tag the runner. On one of the most bizarre plays in major league history, even though Craig took most of the heat, for the huge mistake, you could say, it was a team effort. Is there any hope for this team?

The short answer is no. I am always the optimist, however, and hopefully some good things could happen. Supposedly Hayes is going to be activated this week. That should move Gonzalez to the bench. Moran will come back this month I assume, and his bat, but not his glove, should be an improvement overall for the team. The sad thing about the rotation, is that the fill ins, have pitched better than the regular rotation. I see no hope for Chad Kuhl. The two, that I am hoping, will turn things around, are Newman and Keller. In 2019 Newman hit over .300 and I don’t mind typing this slash line, .309/353/.446, with an OPS+ of 109, and a solid WAR of 3. If he can approach those numbers anytime soon, it would be a huge lift for this team. Keller, who has become every other start Keller, needs to become every start Keller. Hopefully he can find some kind of consistency, and become a top of the rotation guy. I admit these last 20 games have been discouraging, in more ways than one, and I do not know what the schedule looks like this month, but if Hayes comes back, totally able to play, then maybe this team can have a competitive month. The rotation must improve, by finding some arms. If not, then sadly be ready for that 100 loss season. YUK!!!! I’ll next visit the Pirates, July 1.

Sports: Pirates, They Made It, Barely

The Pirates were 5 and 8, and heading into what I called a tough stretch of games, where they would play 15 of the next 20 games on the road. I wrote if they wanted this season to remain viable, they would need to be somewhere between 3 and 5 games below .500, at this point. After a promising 6 and 3 road trip, they really hit the skids, but managed to win yesterday, and are at 14 wins and 19 losses, 5 games below .500. The offense became putrid, which was the main reason for the slide. The OBP dropped to 21st from 8th. Their OPS+, which was 11th in the league at the 13 game mark, fell all the way to 29th. This team could not score runs when they were hitting, so naturally their run production went from 17th to 27th. Their fielding and pitching improved, which allowed them to go 9-11 during this 20 game stretch. The Defensive Efficiency Rating rose to 14th from 22nd, which is one of their highest rankings in about 6 years. Interestingly, their strike out rate took a big drop, to 25th from 11th. All the other pitching stats moved up significantly. Whip was 13th, ERA+ 18th, and FIP 14th, all up, from the mid to high 20’s after 13 games. The most disappointing stretch of games, were the 5 homes games, where they lost 4 out of 5 to the Royals and the Cardinals. The other disappointment, during this stretch, was the continuation of bone head plays. Come on guys, this is the Majors. The loss of Colin Moran will hurt an already struggling offense. Despite what Bob Walk says, Moran does not play 1st base all that well, and who knows, maybe if Todd Frazier gets some steady playing time, he may start to hit. He certainly fields the position better. All in All, the Pirates held it together, barely

I thought some things would have to happen for the Pirates to have success during this 20 game stretch. Most of them, did not happen, and yet the Pirates went a respectable 9-11 during this time. Ke’ Bryan Hayes did not come back, and now appears he won’t be back until at least June 1. This loss just keeps getting bigger and bigger, especially when you consider who is playing third base, but more on that, later. I felt that Polanco may start to contribute, but that did not happen. I guess you could say, he is missing in action, and really, it is no big loss. The K twins got better because one of them is not pitching and hopefully Keller finds a way to have two good starts in a row. Right now, he is on an every other start run, which I suppose is better than nothing. They did get rid of the strike out happy centerfielders, and got more production out of the position, but it was almost impossible to get any less. The starters seem to be going deeper, with Anderson going 8 innings yesterday. I think the bullpen was in such shock, that they almost blew the game. Until yesterday, the Pirates have not really had any good luck. Things were particularly bad in San Diego. They hit a lot of liners right at people, and San Diego just seemed to be able to find the hole, when needed. Yesterday, the Pirates did put on a bloop hit show to score 6 runs, so maybe that will turn this team’s luck around.

The next 20 games will get us through the month of May. The Pirates will play 13 of the next 20 at home, which despite the last home stand, should be a plus. This is what I would like to see happen, with the personal, over this stretch of games. Erik Gonzalez needs to sit. In 110 plate appearances, he has walked twice. This has been his MO his entire baseball career, and it is not going to change. For what ever reason, he looks pretty good until he gets 3 balls on him, and then he swings at anything. The worse plate discipline I have seen in a long time. Try somebody else at third base. I don’t care who, there are numerous candidates. Gonzalez can always be used as a defensive replacement late in games. His OPS+ of 54 is horrific, with the league average being 100. He is good defensively, but not that good, to warrant him in the lineup, on a team that can not score. We are not talking about Javier Baez here. If and when Chad Kuhl gets healthy, he should be moved to the bullpen. He might fare better there, and I feel the rotation is better without him. Phillip Evans needs to get out of his slump. At least he walks, but his OPS+ is down to 88. This will be one of the keys during this 20 game stretch. If he continues to slide, then he needs to sit next to Gonzalez. Adam Frazier and Bryan Reynolds seem to have recovered from their 2020 hitting slumps, but Kevin Newman has not. It would be nice if he can start to hit. Finally, I do not understand what the Pirates see in Clay Holmes. Hopefully, they are right, and I am wrong. I think the Pirates have better talent on their roster, than him. If he proves me wrong, then these 20 games may be alright, because the Pirates use him a lot. Only Sam Howard, has appeared in more games this year. The Pirates have to play at least .500 ball through this stretch, if they are going stay competitive in the division. In order to reach this goal, this team has got to find a way to score runs. We will revisit the Pirates June 1.