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.

Sports: Pirates 5-8, Pretty Amazing

The Pittsburgh Pirates have played 13 games so far this year, and have won 5. Considering all the things that have gone wrong, winning 5 games at this point, goes way beyond expectations. They have not been doing it with mirrors either, but I will get to the stats, later. The biggest thing that went wrong, is that they lost their best player, Ke’Bryan Hayes to injury, after the first game. It was a major blow, almost before the season started. Despite that, they won 4 more games. There does seem to be some hope for this team, since they split a 4 game series with the San Diego Padres, one of the better teams in the National League. One of the Padre games set baseball back about a hundred years, where the Pirate pitchers walked 13 batters, hit 3 more, and yet won the game rather easily, 8 to 4. There are some things to like about this team, and their manager.

Despite losing Hayes, and having no production, and I mean one big fat zero, from the centerfield position, the Pirates did not hit bad as a team. Their OBP is 8th in the Majors and their OPS+ is 11th. Unfortunately, that did not compute into as many runs as it could have, due to the fact, they only had 7 batters, each game, capable of putting the ball in play. In total runs, they are currently 17th. Even when they put Wilmer Difo in centerfield, who at the time was swinging a hot bat, he struck out 4 times and hung an 0 for 5 collar. The pitching and defense have not faired as well. In Defensive Efficiency, they are currently 22nd, which is still a little better, than they have done in the past. In all the significant pitching stats, walks, Whip, ERA+, and FIP, the Pirates rank between 24th and 27th. The only place where they are above average, is striking out batters, ranking 11th. So far, I love the way Shelton has managed. I do not know whose philosophy this is, but the way the bullpen is being managed is brilliant. Everybody is getting their chance to pitch in some high leverage situations, and there does not seem to be the proverbial 7th and 8th inning man. Yes, Rodriguez does seem be the possible closer, but with the Pirates leading 2-1 in the eighth against the Padres, it was Chris Stratton, warming up in the bullpen. The Pirates did score 3 runs in the eighth, but Stratton was warming up before they scored the runs. I hope this bullpen philosophy continues. He seems to be trying to have a very stable starting line-up, with none of what I call the strange Sunday line-up, that Clint Hurdle was famous for. The Pirates are going to play 15 of their next 20 games on the road. In order for this team to remain viable, they need to at least tread water, and stay somewhere between 3 and 5 games below .500. What needs to happen?

Hopefully, Hayes will come back sooner than later, and can stay healthy. There has got to be better production from the centerfield position. Forget the DH, right now the Pirates have 2 pitchers batting in the line-up as it stands now. That has to end soon, no matter how that is accomplished. Polanco is beginning to show some life. If he can continue, and stay healthy, and not hurt anybody else, like throwing a bat in the dugout, or running over Phillip Evans, then that will be a big plus. Hopefully, the base running and fielding will improve. It should, when Hayes comes back. Then, there is the K twins. I wish K stood for strike out artists, but instead stands for killing any chance of winning a game, when they start. Mitch Keller and Chad Kuhl have got to start pitching better. This is the coaching staffs biggest challenge at the moment, getting these two back on track, and staying on track. The whole rotation needs to improve. Nobody has gone 6 complete innings. That hopefully will start to happen. No matter how well Shelton can handle the bullpen, it needs a rest, once in awhile. With all the problems, and some bad luck, running into a red hot hitting Cincinnati team didn’t help, the Pirates won 5 out of 13 games. That doesn’t sound that great and the next 20 games could be difficult, but with any good luck, we will still see the Pirates right around .500 when we visit them again on May 10th.

Meditation: Results

When you read or hear anything about life, or life coaching, it is always about the journey not the destination. It is about the process, not the outcome. This subject, results, could have been written under any of the titles, that I discuss. Food, how does it taste? Golf, what did you shoot? Sports, what was the final score? Meditation, what are the benefits? All the answers to those questions, have nothing to do with the process, but the results. On your job, you need to have results. What is the bottom line? Every boss has said, at one time or another, I do not want to hear about any excuses, I want results. We all want to get to our destination, whatever that may be. People set a goal, and some will have a plan to achieve that goal. The best laid plans can go awry, due to many unforeseeable circumstances. This philosophy, that what’s important is the journey, or the process, is just a way to help handle failure. I am not too sure, if that’s the reason, that coaches try to get their clients to think this way, but to have this results only attitude, is not something that is going to improve your health.

There is no question, the sports fan is at the top of the list, of the results only philosophy. You will see many fans tweet, that if my team does not reach the championship game or series the season is a failure. Now in professional sports you are really fighting the odds. There are 30 to 32 teams in each of the four major sports leagues. That means, that with everything being equal, there is only about 3% chance, that your team is going to win the championship. Now, we all know that everything is not equal, so there are going to be some teams that have a better chance than others, to win the title. The teams that do win the title, seem to have some process, or plan, and when it succeeds, then everybody tries to copy them to some degree, with various results, that are usually not as successful as the original team. One thing about the process it is not ignored, especially in golf. In fact the process is given too much credit, by some professional golfers, who have had success in the past. They have a had a great stretch of golf covering years, and run into a bump in the road, and will change coaches, and swings, to see if they can recapture their previous success. Sometimes they don’t even need a bump in the road, to completely revamp their swing, supposedly, trying to get better. The best example I know of this, is Tiger Woods. After winning the Masters by 12 shots, he changed his swing. Now because he went on to have great success, that decision is not questioned, as much as it should be. There are many other examples of this in golf, the most recent is Rory Mcilroy, who is going through this process right now. He is only ranked 11th in the world, I would be changing my swing, too. Is it really the journey, and process, and what are we to do if the results are not what we want?

To get the first part of question out of the way quickly, the answer is a resounding no. If this kind of thinking helps you, then go ahead and continue, but do not delude yourself into thinking, that results do not matter. The one factor that is forgotten about, when there is any successful outcomes, whether it be on a small or short term scale, or a large or long term scale, is luck. Yes, that’s right good old luck. We never give luck enough credit, whether it be good or bad luck. The reason for this, is if we think luck played a major role in our success or failure, it takes the results, out of our hands. It can also, make it seem like all the hard work we put in, may have been wasted, if we were not lucky. Instead of being grateful for our good fortune, we brush it under the rug, and try to forget about it, because we do not want to lessen our accomplishment. This doesn’t really lessen the accomplishment, it is just our perception. When our luck is bad, we don’t talk much about it then, because it looks like complaining. If it is not the journey or the process that is important, how are we to handle the less than desirable outcomes or failures. You have to handle failure with acceptance. In other words you almost have to be happy to fail. This will not stem your desire to succeed, but it will allow you to move on, and possibly try again, or move into a totally new direction, with a new plan. It is the process that allows you to try and find your path. There is that fine line between having faith in yourself, and continuing on the journey, or finding a new path toward a different life goal. It is the hardest part of the whole process, of finding your way through this life. Results are important, but the most important part of any result, is what you do with it once you get it.

Sport: Pittsburgh Pirates 2021

In a few hours from now, the Pittsburgh Pirates will embark on the 2021 season. This will be the first full season of the Ben Cherington-Derek Shelton regime. The predictions for this season are dire. One headline read, the Pirates embark on their 2021 season, and they are going to be terrible. One person on MLB Network predicted they would lose 115 games, which would be one of the worst seasons in Pirate history. This is all because the Pirates are on the rebuild, or are they? When pressed about this, Ben Cherington has refused to say the word rebuild, and nobody seems to notice. If the Pirates are rebuilding and/or tanking, why didn’t they get rid of everybody. They only made 3 trades, and yes, they added a lot of prospects, to the point, that they have moved into the top 10 of minor league systems. But they still have Adam Frazier, Colin Moran, Kevin Newman, Gregory Polanco, Jacob Stallings, Erik Gonzalez, Richard Rodriguez, and Steven Brault. With the exception of Polanco, all of these players have value, and would have brought even more prospects to the team. The one excuse that is made, is that these players will have more value at the trade deadline, and will bring even more prospects, as the Pirates languish in last place in July and August. The other reason given for such a poor season this year, is how bad the Pirates were last year. They had a record of 19 and 41, which would compute out to 51 and 111 for a 162 game season. In my view, the Pirate management looked at last season as a lost season, anyway. Instead of trying to win games, management decided to evaluate talent for 60 real games, and I think they succeeded. During the 60 game season, they played players all over the place, and used a different batting order, almost everyday. This led to some surprising cuts at the end of spring training. The most surprising in my view was Geoff Hartlieb. He has looked very good at times, and last year had an ERA+ of 127. Obviously, at least for right now, the Pirates feel they have better options in the bullpen, than Hartlieb. The same thing can be said for Edgar Santana, another pitcher with decent major league experience and an ERA+ of over 120,the last 2 years that he pitched. Not putting Cole Tucker and Todd Frazier on the opening day roster, is significant. What kind of season do I think the Pirates are going to have?

I think this team will play right around .500 baseball, and with any luck will finish with 85 wins. Now things won’t have to be perfect, for them to do this, but a few things will have to break their way. The rotation is very thin, and they will have to avoid any more serious injuries, like what’s happened to Steven Brault. He looks like he may be able to return in June, but who knows. The infield is solid and hopefully will have some improved hitting from Frazier and Newman. Moran at first base may be a disaster, but I think Phillip Evans may wind up as the regular first baseman, and Todd Frazier may come up and fill some of that void. Hayes at third, will be solid, no matter what he hits, and hopefully he reaches full potential this year. The outfield does not have a lot of depth but again Evans and Adam Frazier can fill in there, but I hate to see Frazier move off 2nd base, where he really seems to have found a home. Hopefully, Brian Reynolds can get his hitting stroke back, and I am confident he will. Then there is Gregory Polanco, the 11 million dollar man. Hopefully he does not run into anybody and end their season like he did last year. Since 2014 he has had 3 decent seasons for the Pirates and 4 horrific seasons either due to poor play or injury. He practically destroyed his body, sliding into second base in 2018, and has not been the same since. He has become the project of the Pirates hitting coach, Rick Eckstein. If Polanco can stay healthy and have a 2 to 3 WAR season it will go a long way in helping the Pirates, be a competitive team. The bullpen should be solid, and it will be interesting to see how Shelton handles the various arms, and how the Pirates are able to finish close games. I think one of the biggest keys, will be if Richard Rodriguez can develop into the main high leverage guy, and if he doesn’t who will. We will all see what happens with this young Pirate team. Every 10 games I will do a blog on how the season is going. I watch every game they play when televised. I also watch the game with no sound. I am not going to listen to Joe Block, ask questions, that my grandson would ask, who is just learning the game. Could this season be one where they might lose a record number of games? Maybe, but I do not think so. See you at the 10 game mark. HAPPY OPENING DAY! Let’s go Bucs!

Sports: Opening Day, The Best Day Of The Year

That’s all you have to say is opening day, and everybody knows that means the first day of the regular season in baseball. This opening day, is even more significant, as baseball tries to have the first normal regular season in sports, since the pandemic began. It all begins on Thursday, and for me, this is the best day of the year. I know that pro football has supplanted baseball, as the most popular sport, in America, but there is only one sport, that is called our National Past Time. There is still nothing like it. It should be declared a national holiday, and kids should be off school, to either see the games in person or watch them on TV. This year many kids are off, thanks to the Easter break. This year baseball is doing it right, with all 30 teams starting on the same day. Even though around here, it will be far from a spring day, you know the good weather is about to begin. The days will be getting longer, and the wonderful days of summer are just around the corner. There will be that nice secure feeling, that you are about to settle in, to that long, and beautiful 162 game season, that was so missed last year. Yes, the 60 game season was better than nothing, but just barely. Sixty games of regular season baseball, well, it’s just not right. It seemed it was over in an instant, and baseball was very fortunate, that the best two teams made it through the expanded playoffs. This year with the exception of the 7 inning doubleheader, we are totally back to the way things use to be in baseball. The playoffs are the same this year, as they were before Covid, with 5 teams getting in, from each league. As of now, there will be no DH in the National League. Hopefully baseball will be able to maneuver through this long regular season, with no major Covid problems.

I have been following baseball, and the Pittsburgh Pirates since 1958. I will write about the 2021 version of the Pirates on Wednesday. With all those statistics, baseball helped hone my math skills, which in turn, helped me to get into veterinary school. I played the game right through the 60’s until I became obsessed with golf. Baseball to me, is still the best sport to watch, and follow, and by far the most interesting. The most unique thing about the game, is that there is no clock. In order to win a baseball game, a team has to accomplish getting the last out of the game. There have been many times, where teams have never been able to do that. There is no running the clock out in baseball. Baseball is by far the most historic game we have, beginning organized play in 1876, with the birth of the National League. The game has had its ups and downs, through out history, just as America has. It was the No. 1 game in America for almost 100 years, until football took over in the late 1960’s. It is the sport that has it all. Even though there is the team concept, you have that mano a mano confrontation between the batter and the pitcher. Baseball has more strategy in one game than football does in an entire season. Baseball is the only sport whose head man is called a manager. The game and the team needs to be managed, not coached. This week, we will feel as close to normal as we have been in over a year, when opening day arrives. Let’s hope that America’s Pastime, is just the beginning of those normal feelings, as we push past this pandemic.

Golf: Sam Snead

Sam Snead is the golfer, that is most overlooked, when talking about the greatest golfers of all time. Other than Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods, there is not a lot of argument given, for anybody, to join them. in the discussion of the greatest golfer of all time. In fact, in some rankings, you might find Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson, Bobby Jones, Gary Player, Arnold Palmer, Walter Hagen, and even Harry Vardon ranked ahead of Snead. The biggest reason for this, is that Snead has this gaping hole in his record, of never being able to win the U. S. Open. He finished 2ond four times, and the one that stands out, is the 1939 Open, where he needed just a par to win the tournament, and made a triple bogey 8, to fall to 5th place. Snead said, that he thought he needed a birdie to just tie for the lead, and played the hole aggressively, which resulted in the 8. Such a thing would have never happened today, with all the scoreboards around. It is not to say that he would have parred the hole, but he certainly would have played it differently. But Snead’s career had many more highlights, than lowlights.

He won 7 major titles, 3 Masters, 3 PGA’s, when it was a match play tournament, and one British Open. He has 82 official PGA tour wins, and but also a total of 142 professional wins, including being the only man to win an LPGA event. It was in 1962, a par 3 event in Florida, and Snead defeated 14 LPGA players including Mickey Wright. It was held the previous year with 24 men and women playing, and Snead finished 3rd, losing by 2 shots to Louise Suggs. Snead joined the tour in 1937, and over the next 25 seasons won at least one tournament every year, except for 1943, due to military service, 1947, and 1959. He won the Greensboro Open for the 8th time, in 1965, at the age of 54, making him the oldest winner of a PGA tour event, to this day. He won on the senior tour in 1980, making him the only golfer to win senior and regular tour events over 6 decades. Snead made a lot of noise on the PGA tour, even when he was in his sixties. He made the cut at the U.S. Open at age 61, which is a record. He finished in the top ten in three consecutive PGA Championships at ages 60 to 62. In 1974 at 61-62 years of age, he played in 13 events, made the cut 11 times, and finished in the top five 3 times, a 2ond, a 3rd, and a 4th. In 1979 at age 67, still competing on the PGA tour, he was the youngest player to ever shoot his age. On longevity alone, this man could be considered the greatest of all time. His greatest year was 1950. Playing in 25 tournaments, he won 11, finished second in 5 and 3rd in 2. Yet, Ben Hogan was voted player of the year, because of his comeback, and winning the U.S. Open, his only win that year. Before Tiger, Golf Digest voted Snead the 3rd greatest golfer of all time, behind Nicklaus and Hogan. There has always been, some kind of prejudice against Snead, for some reason, in the golfing press.

Snead had this kind of down home folksy persona, but he was, also, pretty much of a skin flint, and was always looking for ways to make money, from everyday activities. There were many stories from the Greenbriar, where he was the pro, where he would ask to join a group, then ask for 100 dollars, from each member of the threesome, to do so. He was notorious for not tipping caddies, and for keeping all his money in cans, buried in the back yard. Nobody in the media, really wanted to ordain this guy, with the G.O.A.T. tag. The U.S.G.A. never seem to like Snead either. The method of croquet putting, where you straddle the line, was invented around 1961, and was being used in sanctioned professional events. It wasn’t until Snead started using it in 1967, to combat the yips, that the USGA got all up in arms about it, and banned the method in 1968. Snead was considered double jointed, meaning he had hypermotility in his joints. There is the famous picture of Snead kicking the top of a door frame when he was in his seventies. How much this helped his swing will never be known. Sam Snead was just a better and more natural player than Ben Hogan. When you think of the greatest golfer of all time you can not simply look at statistics. Think of a beautiful and powerful swing that created some of the finest shots in the history of golf. Think of somebody who played competitively, on the PGA tour, for over 40 years. Think of Sam Snead.

Sports: Baseball, Eliminating the Great at Bat

Anybody who watches or follows baseball, knows what the great at bat is. For those of you that don’t, the great at bat, is where the batter battles the pitcher, by fouling off pitch after pitch. The pitcher will throw between 10 to 15 pitches, and once in awhile more. No matter what the batter does, strikes out, makes an out by putting a ball in play, or gets a hit or a walk, the announcer will say, that was a great at bat. I absolutely agree 100%. It is also very BORING and TIME CONSUMING. As the pitcher gets more and more frustrated by the batter fouling off all those pitches, he usually slows down his approach. In the era of 100 pitch counts, the pitcher is using up 10 to 15% of his limit on one batter. Other than the appreciation of the great at bat, there is nothing good about the great at bat. It slows the game down, it is by far, the longest period of time in the game, where there is little, or no action, except the pitcher throwing, and the batter swinging, and fouling off pitches. It wastes the pitcher talents, by having to throw so many pitches, to one batter. The problem is the foul ball. Baseball has never really known what to do with the foul ball. In the beginning, it was hard to define, and through the years the definition changed. The one thing that has never changed, is there is no penalty for foul balls, except when you foul off a bunt attempt, with 2 strikes, and your out. This all needs to change, if baseball is going to move along in the 21st Century, and add some excitement to the game. It will take a couple of simple, but bold rule changes to make this happen.

We need to make 3 the magic number in baseball. We already have 3 strikes your out. We need for 3 fouls to be an out. Foul balls would become a separate entity. Finally, walks would be reduced to 3 balls. Let’s look at what this would do. The most pitches any batter would face would be 7. The new full count would be, 2 balls, 2 strikes, and 2 fouls. This would be the first true full count, because on the next pitch something is going to happen. The batter is going to strike out, foul out, walk, or make an in play hit, or out. There would be this defined end point, to the pitcher-batter confrontation. It would be the first time in baseball history, that you would know, that something was going to happen, on the next pitch. There would be this new, and I’m sure some would call odd strategy situation, when a batter would foul off the first two pitches. He could take 2 strikes in a row. However, does the pitcher groove two strikes, thinking the same thing. Would the batter take those strikes, or would he go after those pitches risking hitting the 3rd foul ball, and making an out. With these rules in effect, the starting pitcher would have more of a chance of going deeper in the game. Pitchers would be forced to throw the ball over the plate more. The 3 ball rule may not get more balls in play, but it would make walks happen faster. These two rule changes would keep the game moving. It might not cut down how long a 9 inning game lasts, in time, but in that time frame, there is going to be a lot more action. Baseball is realizing that people can not spend 3 to 4 hours at a baseball game. We now have the 7 inning doubleheader, and a runner on 2ond, to start an extra inning. Baseball needs to continue to catch up to the times, and have a game that is going to have continuous action, and not a spot in the game, where one batter fouls off pitch after pitch after pitch, zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. This is the best way to get new fans to start watching, what use to be called the national pastime.

I would be remiss, if I did not mention the NFL Championship games, where my predictions were 50-50, just like flipping a coin. Even though I thought Kansas City would beat Buffalo, I thought Buffalo would give them a better game. They jumped out to that 9-0 lead, when Kansas City muffed a punt, and Buffalo recovered on the 2 yard line. But after that, the Chiefs dominated the action, for a fairly easy 38-24 win. Is Tom Brady riding some kind of destiny thing? I don’t know, but two teams in a row have handed him victories. The Packers weren’t quite as bad as the Saints, but a 50+ yard touchdown pass with 12 secs left in the half, that wasn’t even a Hail Mary, was horrific. Then boom, a fumble to start the 2ond half, returned to the 8 yard line. One play later, Brady threw a touchdown pass, and the Packers put themselves in a huge hole, that they could not overcome, even with Aaron Rodgers. Will the fates be kind to Tom Brady for a third time, who knows? I will be watching, the game only, as I speed through every one of those God blessed commercials, and the ridiculous half time show, on my DVR.

Sports: AFC and NFC Championship Games

Tomorrow, will be the Conference Championship games of the AFC and the NFC. I needed something mundane to write about, for various reasons, and this fits the bill, perfectly.. This will not be an in depth analysis, since I have only seen the Packers, Buccaneers, and Chiefs play once, which was last week, and the Bills twice. Watching the divisional match ups last weekend, did nothing to make me renew my interest in pro football. I will be watching tomorrow, for lack of anything better to do. Since everybody does analysis and predictions, I thought it would be fun to put my two cents in. I admit, I did do a little reading on ESPN, just to get a little more background on the teams, and I was surprised, by how many people think the Buffalo Bills are going to win tomorrow, and then follow it up with a Super Bowl win. The Chiefs won a lot of games down the stretch, by the skin of their teeth, and their defense has always been a little suspect. The Bills got off to a shaky start this year, in one respect, by winning a lot of close games, but then went on a 10 game tear, by going 9 and 1, with 8 of those wins by double digits. Their only loss was by 2 points, and that was on a Hail Mary pass on the last play of the game. Let’s take a look at the match ups.

The first game is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs the Green Bay Packers, in Green Bay. They played earlier this year with Tampa Bay easily defeating the Packers 38-10. It had to be one of Green Bay’s worse games, and tomorrow I do not expect that to happen. As Tampa Bay knows, it does not make much difference what you do in the regular season, as they defeated New Orleans, who had beaten them two times, once soundly. Bruce Arians, does not think the weather will be a factor tomorrow. It is supposed to snow, but most of the snow should stop by game time. It will be about 31 degrees and drop to about 26 when the game is over. According to the forecast the wind should not be bad. Tom Brady has always played well in cold weather. I do not know if that can be said for the rest of the Tampa Bay Bucs. The most impressive unit, last week, was the Green Bay offense. The Tampa Bay offense got handed a lot of opportunities, last week, by the benevolent New Orleans Saints. Even at 43 years of age, it is hard to go against Tom Brady, but I do think the Green Bay Packers are going to win tomorrow, and go on to win the Super Bowl.

The night game will be Buffalo at Kansas City and it does appear that Patrick Mahomes will play. Even if he did not play, I think Kansas City would beat the Buffalo Bills. Buffalo came charging into the playoffs with decisive wins, and momentum, but looked lousy last week even in victory. I feel, the big knock on the Buffalo Bills, is they do not run the football. There is something about that, I just can not get past. It is pretty much a given, that if you want to win championships you must be able to run the football. This team does not even try. Their defense is good, but Kansas City is the best offense in the AFC. I do think the game will be close, but I think the Chiefs will prevail. One thing about the Chiefs, is they seem to know how to win, by hook or crook. Last year they were behind in the AFC Championship game and the Super Bowl by 10 points, and came back, and won both games. In the Super Bowl it was a huge 4th quarter rally. This year they held on to a fourth quarter lead, against Cleveland, to win with their starting quarterback on the sidelines. They have tasted defeat one time this year. One website, called them one of the luckiest teams in football. I do not see any of that changing, and thus Kansas City will beat a red hot Buffalo Bills team. Then we will have to endure the worst spectacle in sport, the Super Bowl. You can check out my views on the Super Bowl, that have not changed, on my blog of January 31, 2020.

Sports: The Division Playoffs

I watched all four division playoff games this weekend, for the first time, in about 20 years. This is what a pandemic can do to you. Normally, I would watch parts of a particular game, or the ending, if it looked like it might be close. Professional football is not what it use to be, and the game is really not all that exciting. We are down to the final four, with the Green Bay Packers hosting the Tampa Bay Bucs, and the Buffalo Bills, taking on the defending champs, Kansas City Chiefs, in Kansas City. I am going to give a brief synopsis of each game, because that is all they deserve, and then just some random thoughts, as it relates to the Steelers, and TV coverage in general. The first game of the weekend was Green Bay beating the L. A. Rams. By far, the most impressive unit of the weekend, was the Green Bay offense. But even as impressive as the Packers were, the Rams were still in the game trailing 25-18, going into the 4th quarter. The Packers got a great break on a fumble, that went right back to Aaron Rodgers, and then a few plays later, hit a 58 yard bomb, to wrap up the game. Then came Buffalo and Baltimore, or should I say, Bufoonalo and Butchimore. Between dropped balls, missed field goals, penalties, and general ineptitude, this game was laughable. The only good sequence of plays for both teams, came at the start of the second half, with Buffalo driving down, and scoring a touchdown, and then Baltimore doing the same thing, until they got inside the 10 yard line. That is when Buffalo intercepted a horrible pass from Lamar Jackson and returned it 101 yards for a touchdown and for this game, an overwhelming lead of 17 to 3. The next day started with Cleveland playing Kansas City. Even though Kansas City won by only 5 points, 22-17, and Kansas City lost their quarterback to a concussion, you never really thought the Chiefs were going to lose. Another game that featured a lot of dropped balls, and that ill-advised attempted stretch across the goal by the Cleveland receiver, which resulted in a touchback and Kansas City’s ball on the 20 yard line. There were some gutsy fourth down calls, but other than that another sleeper. Then, New Orleans decided to gift wrap a game for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Three turnovers all leading to touchdowns for the Buccaneers, with one touchdown drive being 3 yards. Another game where there were many mistakes, by both teams. Buffalo and Tampa Bay, will have to elevate their games, if they want to be competitive next week.

There were 5 quarterbacks over the age of 35, in the playoffs. Going from the youngest to the oldest, they were Aaron Rodgers 37, Ben Roethlisberger 38, Phillip Rivers 39, Drew Brees 42, and Tom Brady 43. There is no question that Ben plays like he is the oldest. My suggestion would be to shed the weight, and get back to playing the game. Both Brees and Brady made successful quarterback sneaks. Aaron Rodgers looks very mobile in the pocket and at times will pick up good gains running the football . Brees seems to have lost some arm strength but seems to move pretty well. Brady looks the same as ever. Ben, you need to recapture that zest to play the game. It was ironic to see so many 4th down chances taken in the Cleveland-Kansas City game, after Pittsburgh punted the ball away last week. The Browns went for it on 4th down, with more time on the clock, and deeper in their own territory. It’s called going after the win, Mike Tomlin. The coverage of the games was not too bad, but it did have it’s humorous moments. Tony Romo saying there is no way they are going to snap the ball, when the Chiefs snapped the ball and won the game. Troy Aikman still does not like any officiating calls and is always quick to point it out. But my favorite “analysis” was during the Green Bay game. There were two plays that were exactly the same thing but because the result was different there was a different analysis for each play. Aaron Rodgers was under pressure from the L.A. defense, scrambled around, threw slightly behind the receiver, the ball went off his hands for an incompletion and the L. A. defense was giving so much credit for “disrupting the play”. Then later in the game the exact same scenario happen. This time Rodgers scrambled, again threw the ball slightly behind the receiver, but this time the receiver caught the ball. The defense got no credit and it was all Rodgers. There is no question that dropped balls are pretty much ignored by the announcers of the game. They do mention them, of course, during the play itself, but the significance of them is quickly forgotten. I think that they want people to forget about some of the poor quality of play in the NFL. All networks are too busy trying to show replays and many times do not get back to the action until right when the ball is snapped and sometimes just after. This can be very annoying. Not quite as annoying as conducting interviews, while the game is going on. That has cut down, thanks to Covid. Next week will be the Championship Games, and it’s a good bet we won’t see any, that will be considered a classic.

Sports: Football Mysteries

As the football season is coming to an end, with the NFL starting the playoffs, and the College Football Playoff Championship game, set for next Monday, it is time to look at what I call, the mysteries of football. Maybe I should say, what is mystifying about the game. I am going to write about what I consider 3 unsolved mysteries when it comes to football. First let’s take a look at what makes football a very unique sport. Of the four major team sports in America, it is by far the most emotional. Emotion is not going to allow you to win a football game, all by itself, some talent must be there, but when a team gets fired up, there is no telling how much this will affect the outcome of the game. This is the only sport, where championships are decided by one game, winner take all. If football even tried to play three game series, most players would be dead, by the time they reach the age of 30. Football can be classified as a brutal and violent sport. Bill Russel said it best, “Basketball is a contact sport, football is a collision sport”. One of the reasons given for not expanding the college playoffs, is that it would make the colleges play more games, and increase the risk of injuries. In order to cut down on injuries, the rules of football have almost made the kick off a non play. Football is having trouble getting participation on the youth level because of fear of brain damage to the young participants. So with all this in mind, it is time to look at these football mysteries.

The first mystery is why would anyone take the chance of inciting a team by belittling them or showing some kind of disrespect. The latest example of this is Dabo Swinney saying that Ohio State did not belong in the final 4 of the college football playoffs. He may have been right. You can find out what he said and did, but the point is, why do it at all. Your not going to change who is in the playoffs, and who is out. It is a done deal. Why give your opponent more incentive and fire. Clemson had eliminated Ohio State last year in the semi finals, so the revenge factor was already motivating this team. Dabo put fuel on the fire by his repeated, inane remarks. He tried to temper those remarks near game time, by saying, he would have said the same thing about any team, that had played only 6 games. The damage was done. Not only did this fire up OSU, but it may have subconsciously made his own team overconfident. Whatever the reason, Ohio State rolled to an easy 49 to 28 win. I don’t think you are going to hear much from Nick Saban this week. The basic rule in football is to never say a disparaging word about you opponent. If you want to predict a win go ahead, but keep those feelings about the other team to yourself. Swinney wasn’t the first to make this mistake and for whatever mysterious reason won’t be the last.

Again targeting was in the headlines this week, for players getting ejected for the foul. Everybody’s screaming that it is an unfair rule, and is ruining the game. The mystery is why do players continue to do it, and more importantly why don’t coaches stop it, by making sure that players tackle with their heads to the side of the player. Being ejected from the game has been part of rule since 2013. This does not seem to be much of a deterrent. It seems like, the player’s overwhelming desire, to hurt and maim, is greater than staying in the game, and helping his team. Let’s face it, if you are leading with the helmet, you are up to no good. There is an easy solution to all of this. Just don’t do it. Don’t lead with your head. For whatever reason, players are not schooled in the proper way to tackle. Maybe it’s football’s way of making sure that more offense is in the game. If the players do not know how to tackle, then there will be more offense. Even announcers call tackles that are bad, good. In my view the only good tackle is when the arms wrap the ball carrier up. If defensive players are ejected for targeting then their replacements won’t be as good and hence more offense. If my view there is no excuse for targeting. There is no ambiguity in the rule, the way the media tries to make you believe. Lead with your head, and you are out of there. Good riddance, as far as I am concerned. Targeting needs to be enforced more, not less.

The final mystery is simply, can anybody make a yard. Watching 3rd and one and 4th and one plays especially in the pros, is mystifying. Offensive coordinators are always being criticized, when their respective offense is floundering, but this is ridiculous, when you see teams, not able to pick up a yard, in two or more tries. I blame it on being a slave to the west coast offense, and the shotgun snap. What would people say on a first and goal, at the one, if quarterback was under center, took the snap, and then pitched a lateral to the running back, 6 yards behind the line of scrimmage. This is essentially what the shotgun snap does, on a short yardage situation. You are one yard from pay dirt, but then take the ball 6 yards further back, with the snap. Let me offer some solutions, for the short yardage situation. Quarterback under the center. A quarterback, who is young, and has the ability to quarterback sneak. Place two other running backs, or even three, in the old T formation. Whether it is, 2 or 3 running backs, make sure, that these are running backs, you give the ball to on a regular basis. Since I am not coaching or playing against any football teams, this weekend, let me be a bit condescending, it’s called deception. Even if there are only two running backs, in the backfield, there are three options. Quarterback sneak, or hand the ball of to either running back, and if you go to the T formation, you will have four options. Football needs to find a short yardage offense, even on the college level. However, this does not seem to be happening in the near future. Teams continue to run plays from the shotgun on short yardage, sometimes with only the quarterback in the backfield. So football will come to it’s grand covid conclusion this month, and I doubt if any of these mysteries will be solved. I will be watching though to see if some are. GO BUCKS.