Thursday, March 31, 2011
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
If you're face didn't look anything like that when you saw that Opening Day is less than 24 hours (from the time of this post being written) away, then I don't know what's wrong with you, and why you've read anything I've written in the past two months.
I contemplated separating this into two posts, one that previews the Dodgers specifically (record, NL West standings, what happens, etc), and one that previews the rest of the MLB (World Series winner, important awards, etc.), but I decided to just make one mega-post. Again, your reaction should similar to the face seen to the left. And now, on with the post!
The Los Angeles Dodgers (of Los Angeles, for anyone who was wondering), could be one of the most unpredictable teams heading into 2011. This is because they were in the NLCS in 2008 and 2009, and haven't lost too much talent since those years (Besides this one guy named Manny, who you may have heard of). If 2009 was a year in which everything went right, 2010 was a year in which everything went wrong. With the team itself is overshadowed by the McCourt divorce, and lacking the star power that Joe Torre and Manny Ramirez brought, this team has flown under the radar all spring. This is good. A common trend in sports teams is that those talented teams who fly under the radar tend to have great success. Just ask the 2010-2011 Green Bay Packers. They were at their best when everyone forgot about them as they were sneaking into the playoffs.
But enough introduction, I predict the 2011 Los Angeles Dodgers will finish 2nd (!) in the NL West behind the Colorado Rockies (!) with a record of 88-74. They will not make the playoffs, as the Atlanta Braves will take the Wild Card spot. Fans will be happy with the managing debut of Donnie Baseball, and won't be too upset at what most will call a surprisingly successful season for the Boys in Blue, even if they don't make the playoffs. Now, if absolutely everything goes right, this is certainly a team that could win 95+ games. I have no doubt of this in my mind, but betting on everything going right for any sports team is foolish. Josh Beckett of the Red Sox can suddenly be really bad, then hurt, then really bad again. A.J. Burnett of the Yankees can have his worst year ever. The once-frightening Phillies lineup can suddenly become destroyed by injuries and merely average across the board. Things like this happen in every sport, all the time. The Atlanta Falcons can win 13 games, but then suddenly remember nobody on their team can get open besides Roddy White, and get blown out in the playoffs by the Packers. You get my point?
So why will the Dodgers improve from an 80 win season? Well, because Jon Garland will (likely) man the 5th starter spot all year long, this year's Left Field platoon will outhit Garret Anderson and Scott Podsednik, and Juan Uribe will absolutely outhit Blake Dewitt/Ryan Theriot at 2nd Base. Matt Guerrier will help bring stability to what was a thin bullpen. Clayton Kershaw will improve, and Chad Billingsley could very easily get a little bit better. These are mostly guarantees.
What could hold them back? Well, Rafael Furcal's back could continue getting hurt at the same rate as Yao Ming's legs. Casey Blake can continue turning into an over-the-hill, below average player. Jonathon Broxton might start listening to everyone telling him he has no spine and can't close. Hong-Chih-Kuo's arm could get hurt (side note, I hate to predict injuries, because they are really random, especially with pitchers. But when guys like Furcal and Kuo have a history with them, you have to take them into account), and Kenley Jansen could suddenly remember he's only been pitching since 2009. James Loney could also continue being the mediocre hitter (and below average hitting 1B) he's shown himself to be.
But enough speculating. Here's what I think will happen. The pitching will be top 7ish in the league, and surprise quite a few people. Kershaw will continue to develop, Bills will get a bit better, and Kuroda, Lilly and Garland will all be solid. Broxton will have a good year and re-establish himself as a top-tier closer, and the rest of the bullpen will be reliable and effective. The offense will hold them back though. Ethier will have another solid year, and Kemp will rebound like the team needs him to. But Loney won't have the success this team needs of him, and will ultimately be traded halfway through the season. Jerry Sands will take his place, but he won't hit well enough in his first big-league stop, and will simply be a bit better than Loney. Furcal will miss 65ish games, and while Tony Gwynn Jr. and Marcus Thames will hold down Left Field fairly well, but it won't be enough. Uribe and Rod Barajas will have power, but will not be able to get on base nearly enough, and Casey Blake will play far too many games as a not-so-effective starter. In short, while the pitching will be a complete package, the hitting just won't be there.
NL Division Winners:
West: Rockies - The Giants don't have anyone besides Buster Posey in that lineup who scares me. It's not wise to bet on veterans all having career years at the same time. It's plain stupid to bet on it twice.
East: Phillies - Pitching will be just as advertised. Hitting will be good enough, especially once Dominic Brown settles in.
Central: Brewers - Offense equal to the Reds, but I like their pitching a lot more.
Wild Card: Braves - This team (as well as the Rockies) is the most complete team in the NL.
Al Division Winners:
West: Rangers - Offensive juggernaut will carry the average pitching staff to the playoffs. A's and Angels aren't quite there yet.
East: Red Sox - Pitching staff worries me a bit, but still the most complete team in the MLB.
Central: White Sox - Deep Pitching, the hitting is better than you think.
Wild Card: Angels - Struggled with this pick the most. Pitching and Hitting is better than you think, similar to the White Sox.
AL - Adrian Gonzales. Just wait to see what this dude can do when over half his games are played in Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium, Camden Yards, and The Rogers Centre instead of Petco Park, AT&T Park, and Dodger Stadium. He'll have unlimited lineup protection by hitting next to all of the Red Sox hitters, rather than the AAA lineup of the Padres. I'm excited as a Baseball fan to see what this guy can do in Boston.
NL - Troy Tulowitzki. I probably have an NL West bias, but he's going to put up his usual monster hitting numbers, while playing Gold Glove defense at Shortstop (not usually an offensive position), and the Rockies will win the division. Being the best player on a division winner can easily net you the MVP award. No disrespect to Pujols or Votto, but they don't play Shortstop.
Cy Young Award:
AL - Justin Verlander. The AL doesn't have one guy who makes you say "Wow, this guy is unbelievable". I don't think Jon Lester or David Price puts up good enough numbers, and honestly, I just really like Verlander as a pitcher.
NL - Roy Halladay. Wow, this guy is unbelievable.
Rookie of the Year
AL - Jeremy Hellickson. This is mostly because I don't know of any other AL rookies getting much pre-season hype. I think he'll be good, and unless Dustin Ackley in Seattle hits amazingly, the award will go to the guy pitching really well in the AL East.
NL - Dominic Brown. It amazes me that a guy with so much hype last year has been forgotten about. He'll be one of the better hitters in a Phillies lineup that has suddenly found itself to be thin. They'll win the division, and he'll take his award.
And now for the moment you've been waiting for... Your 2011 World Series Champions are:
The Boston Red Sox. Their lineup is amazing, and if Beckett and Lackey improve at all, the pitching will be there. I'll say they beat the Braves in 6 games.
Thank you, readers, for sticking around through all of this. Please, feel free to leave a comment to make fun of me, question how anyone who watches Baseball can leave the Yankees out of the playoffs, or whatever you want.
And remember, enjoy your 2011 Baseball season!
Monday, March 28, 2011
The first and really answer is Matt Kemp. After a disappointing year in which his Batting Average dropped about .050 points and his caught stealing % rose sharply, combined with poor defense and what appeared to be a lack of effort (although I don't buy that one bit), Kemp made many fans sad and angry. Did he do anything right last year? Well he hit 28 Home Runs, which was a career high, and his walk rate stayed virtually the same as his breakout 2009. As MSTI points out, according to peripheral statistics such as BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play, essentially measures how often someone gets a hit when they put the ball in play. Probably the best way to measure "luck" for a hitter or pitcher), Kemp was unlucky, and his average should recover (that's assuming he doesn't get any better as a hitter than he was last year, which I happen to believe he will). Davey Lopes is one of the best 1B coaches in the business, and should help Kemp's SB rate climb back up. Plus, the members of last years coaching staff that hated his guts are gone, and finally, Kemp was clearly disappointed with himself last year, and was proud of how he ended the year last year, basically saying that he was giving fans a taste of what's to come this year. Kemp, of all the hitters, needs to rebound the most next year. He's probably the biggest key to the Dodger offense.
Andre Ethier's year last year was only a disappointment because of how he started the year. Before the dreaded pinkie injury, Ethier was hitting well enough to be an MVP (this isn't exaggeration either, even though it's very easy to), and it got to the point where pitchers walked him to get to Manny Ramirez. Ethier finished the year comparatively slowly, and his On Base Percentage tanked after his injury. I'm expecting him to bounce back and have a very solid year, at least for his standards. Again, it's hard for me to say that he needs to bounce-back, because he's such a consistent player and we don't know how his numbers would have ended up had he not been hurt. If he can stay healthy and be his typical .300/30HR/100+RBI self, that'll be more than great.
James Loney is the other obvious candidate, but his situation isn't just needing a bounce-back, it's needing a breakout year. While I like James Loney, you just can't play first base and be as average offensively as he was last year. I've always said that he's a second baseman in a first baseman's body (similar to how many say Dan Uggla is a first baseman in a second baseman's body). Loney will probably never have 30 Home Run power, but if he can show signs that power is actually developing, say by hitting 12-15 before the trade deadline, Dodger fans will be rejoicing. If he can hit 20-25 over a full season while still retaining his good Batting Average and Plate Discipline, he'll be a useful player, one that Dodger fans (including myself) will love. It's just hard to see that happening though. Luckily for the Dodgers, they've got Jerry Sands knocking on the door, so should Loney not be bouncing back, he can be flipped for prospects (Loney seems to have a reputation around the league of being better than he actually is) and Sands can (hopefully) step in and give us the power we've all wanted from the 1B position. Because of Sands, Loney's bounce-back/growth isn't crucial, not in the same way that Kemp's and Ethier's is, but it would certainly be nice.
While it would be nice if players like Casey Blake and Jonathon Broxton rebounded, I don't think it's necessary for this team. As I talked about in the Bullpen post, the Dodgers have 4 guys in Broxton, Kuo, Jansen, and Padilla who can close well enough for this team. Broxton rebounding would be nice (and I think he will, provided the defense starts, ya know, defending whenever he's pitching), but I don't think it's as necessary as Kemp, Ethier or Loney. There aren't too many analysts questioning how good the pitching staff is, or calling the Bullpen the weakness. All the questions with this team lie on the offense. Can they play well enough and score enough runs to win games for this pitching staff? If the core of Kemp, Ethier, and Loney rebound and do well enough, that answer should be a resounding "Yes!"
So there we go. In what I suppose is my first series of posts (I meant to break down each of the Packers opponents in the playoffs, but that obviously didn't happen) I talked about the Left Field Situation, the Starting Pitching, the Bullpen, the Upcoming Minor League Players, and in this post, who needs to bounce back. While some of it is a bit outdated since I wrote it, most of the main ideas should still be relevant. Thanks for following along, and feel free to leave a comment!
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
Reading people's opinions and evaluations of minor league players (specifically the ones in the Dodger farm, who would've guessed?) is one of my favorite things about off-season baseball. Especially after Brandon Lennox made this monstrous but incredibly thorough recap of the Dodger system. So for this portion of the Dodgers, I'll be covering who (I think) will be coming up from the farm and making an immediate impact this year.
The easiest place to start is with Jerry Sands (pictured to the left), who tied for the home run lead last year in the minors, and is probably the most exciting prospect in the Dodger system. I say that because fans (i.e., chicks) dig the long ball, and Sands, if nothing else, can hit a long ball. He might not quite have the face of a champion, but he appears to be most likely to make an immediate impact. Especially if the whole JaMarcus Gwybbons Jr. thing doesn't really work out, (which, as MSTI pointed out today, Jay Gibbons could very easily not make the club out of spring training, and probably shouldn't, in this blogger's opinion). Should the Left Field platoon fail, fans will be begging for Sands to come up, and infuse some likely-much-needed power into the lineup. Now, if he's not doing well in AAA, this probably won't happen, but it's really hard not to do well in AAA Albuquerque. Sands also has the advantage of being Right Handed, which means he can take Ethier's place in the lineup against tough lefties, and his defense is projected to be average to slightly below average, depending on who you ask. I happen to think he'll be serviceable, which is all a corner outfielder really needs to be anyway. There is concern about his ability to hit a major-league breaking ball, so that's the one area to watch if he does indeed get called up. Bottom line, Sands will likely be mashing in AAA, the current left field platoon doesn't look like it will, put two and two together, and it's easy to see Sands being called up by late May.
So what if both the Left Field platoon and James Loney are having poor starts to their seasons? Well Sands can also play First Base, so he could easily be called up to play there, but what about Left Field? Enter Trayvon Robinson. A switch hitting Center Fielder with a bit of power and good speed. He's pretty solid up and down, with nothing spectacular about him. He's one clever nickname away from being the Dodgers version of Shane Victorino. Trayvon could easily play left and bat toward the top of the order, using his good speed and on-base skills to set up the big bats in the middle. Because he simply has less power, and a bit less upside, he excites me less as a prospect than Sands, but he certainly wouldn't be a bad player on this Dodgers team. I see him as more of a late June than early May call-up, but I certainly do look forward to him contributing to the Major League Club in the near future.
Justin Sellers and Ivan Dejesus Jr. look to be the Shortstop and Second Baseman, respectively, of the AAA team, and if the Middle Infield depth of the Dodgers is severely tested, I could see either of them being called up as a temporary replacement. Sellers seems to be the latest version of Chin-Lung-Hu, a guy who can play solid defense, but can't hit much at all. I still think there's good potential in Dejesus, but he's got to really prove himself in AAA this year, both offensively and defensively. Don Mattingly seems to like him, and he knows a lot more about Dejesus than I do. I see both of them being called up before Dee Gordon, who is by far more popular, only because I think Gordon needs to prove himself in AA as a legitimate player, especially defensively. Obviously he's got the speed, but his bat and glove aren't major league ready, and both Sellers and Dejesus are closer than Gordon, so they'll get looked at first. If Gordon is having a big season in AA, then that only makes it more likely he begins next year as the starting Shortstop, assuming Rafael Furcal is let go of, but that's for a whole other blog post.
Lastly, the minor league bullpen is stocked full of capable arms. I talked about it a bit in my last post, but just to recap, guys like Ramon Troncoso and Scott Elbert (assuming neither makes the major league 'pen) are capable arms (although Elbert has well documented control issues, I think he can be effective as a lefty-specialist, at least in the beginning of his call up, just to ease him into the major leagues). Jon Link, once the Dodgers decide to stop stretching him as a starter, is another good arm. Travis Schlichting was actually better in the majors last year than in the minors, not that that's worth a whole lot, because his Major League sample size was very small. Ronald Belisario has proven himself as a solid arm, at least when he's been in the United States. Josh Lindblom is now strictly a reliever forever, and he's certainly got what it takes to be a good relief pitcher as well. I trust almost all of those guys as middle relievers, so should the bullpen be hit with injuries, those guys can all step in and perform well enough.
Overall, Jerry Sands and Trayvon Robinson are the two guys to get most excited about, and while I could see the Left Field platoon not hitting well enough to justify it's own existence, I think James Loney will hit well enough for Ned Coletti not to replace him or trade him, unless a team really wants him and makes an offer Coletti can't refuse. What that means, is that likely only one of Sands and Robinson can/will get called up this year, and as I said before, Sands has power and higher upside because of it, so he's likely to get called up first. And I'm looking forward to that day.
Saturday, March 12, 2011
Well it's hard to say whether or not the Bullpen is ready to rumble, because it's impossible to predict who exactly is going to make it in the Bullpen. The Dodgers will probably have a 7 man Bullpen to start the season, so if I was to make early guesses about who will start the season, I'd say:
Closer - Jonathon Broxton
Set up- Hong-Chih-Kuo
RHP - Kenley Jansen
RHP - Matt Guerrier
RHP - Tim Redding
LHP - Ron Mahay
Swingman - Blake Hawksworth
When Vicente Padilla is healthy again, I expect him to take Redding's spot in the 'pen, which also makes the pen a whole lot better. Between Broxton, Kuo, Jansen, Padilla, and Guerrier, you've got 5 guys who you can confidently give the ball to and expect consistently good results. Sure, Broxton didn't end last year very well, but that was more of a Joe Torre thought he was a starter-thing than a confidence thing. I fully expect Broxton to return to greatness next year in the same way that Chad Billingsley did last year, after his awful 2nd half of 2009. Kuo can't go more than three days in a row because of his elbow, but if nothing else, the dude can flip a bat, and Jansen is very similar to Kuo in that he's a power arm who attacks hitters with a great fastball. His secondary pitches need work, which hopefully won't be an issue by the end of Spring Training, and if they are, I could see him being optioned to AAA to get those fixed up. Padilla has shown success as a starter, and should be great as a reliever. He's also got the ability to go multiple innings or multiple days, depending on what's needed of him. Guerrier isn't a power arm by any means, he induces a lot of groundballs. But the Infield looks strong defensively with Loney-Uribe-Furcal-Blake, so Guerrier will be a good middle-relief type of guy. He can pitch a ton of innings too, as he has shown over his career.
All four of those guys, Broxton, Kuo, Jansen, or Padilla can capably close, and while Guerrier can't close, he's more than capable of a set-up guy. Ron Mahay will likely be the lefty specialist, which is good because he's downright terrible against Right-Handed-Batting. Although his spring has been pretty bad so far, to say the least, I think he winds up getting a spot because the Dodgers are going to need a second lefty besides Kuo, and Scott Elbert's control issues will get him killed in the Big Leagues, even as a lefty specialist. Hawksworth will round out the bullpen as a swingman type, and his greatest strength will be not being Ryan Theriot, which is important and worthwhile for the Dodgers. Admittedly, I don't know much about Hawksworth. The only time I've seen him pitch is when the Dodgers shelled him last year, but from what I understand, he was a fairly highly touted prospect, and that he's been better in the bullpen than as a starter over his major league career. If he's solid, he'll be more than enough for this team.
Should any of these guys get hurt (such as Padilla), there's depth in the minors as well. Ramon Troncoso, Jon Link, the previously mentioned Scott Elbert, and Travis Schlichting are all capable arms that will be hiding in AAA this year, as well as Ronald Belisario, if he can ever get into the United States. The Bullpen, on paper, looks like it will return to the 2008 and 2009 levels of elite-ness, rather than be below average like it was last year. It does appear to be ready to rumble.
Thursday, March 10, 2011
Well, when this dude is your ace, you can't be too bad can you?
The Dodger pitching staff, especially the starters, appeared to be very strong on paper. Then both Jon Garland and Vicente Padilla had to get themselves hurt for the first month or so of the season. The Fish's injury hurts less because he was going to pitch primarily out of the Bullpen, and was the 6th starter, who would only start in the unlikely event that Garland actually got hurt. Funny how these things go sometimes.
Even in spite of that though, I love this pitching staff. Minor Leaguer John Ely, he of the Elymania last year, and Non-Roster-Invitee (aka, an old veteran with "grit", but who probably shouldn't be on an opening day roster) Tim Redding are now battling for the 5th starters spot. If it were up to me, I'd pick Ely in a heartbeat, but that's because I think Ely can and will be a solid pitcher compared to Redding, who I've occasionally mispronounced as "Ramon Ortiz". The great thing is, when Garland and Padilla are healthy again, Ely will be the 7th starter. That's awesome.
But enough about the back end of the rotation, let's talk about the bigger names. Clayton Kershaw is an ace, and only the really misinformed fans will dispute this. The dude will be 23 this year, and he's already pitched as well as the elite NL pitchers, the Ubaldos, the Lincecums, etc. In fact, he actually had a better ERA (for what it's worth) than Lincecum last year. He just doesn't bring a lot of attention upon himself, which I'm perfectly fine with. As Jon Weisman pointed out though, if Kershaw beats Lincecum to start the season, the media is going to take notice. I think Kershaw's walk rate will continue to decrease over this next season, and really that walk rate is the only main thing that can be improved on. He could very easily be a Cy Young contender. Chad Billingsley is a pretty good number two starter as well. According to Fangraphs' WAR calculations, he was worth just a little bit less to the Dodgers as a starter than Kershaw was. So he's pretty good. It feels like he's been around forever, but he's only 26 years old. There's no reason to think he can't improve on last years numbers, and like Kershaw, if his walk rate decreases, he'll put up excellent numbers. I think Kershaw is very capable of putting up a 2.72ish ERA, and Bills can put up a 3.10ish ERA. And as a Dodger fan, you gotta be happy with those as your top two starters.
Your three and four are Hiroki Kuroda and Ted Lilly, although I'm not really sure who's three and whose four. Lilly is more a flyball pitcher, which will be great in Dodger Stadium, as well as AT&T Park and Petco Park. In Coors Field and Chase Field? Not so much. Although that's not to say the dude can't pitch or anything, as he gets his share of strikeouts and will put up solid numbers as the year goes on. Kuroda has great control, and with a fully healthy year last year, he put up his best season in the MLB (admittedly, a three year career isn't very long). If he does what he did last year (and this applies to Lilly as well), the Dodgers will be in many games that they play unless the bullpen gives it away. Kuroda and Lilly are 3.5-3.75ish ERA pitchers, and as with Kershaw and Billingsley, that's excellent as a Dodger fan.
I'll write more about Garland and Padilla when they're healthy, but let's just say I'm happy that both are on the team. When this staff is fully healthy, it will be amongst the deepest in the league. And while their injuries prove that you can never have too much starting pitching depth, I'm still expecting great things from the Dodger rotation this year. I have no problem ranking them behind only the Phillies and Giants in the National League. They're that good. And for what it's worth, Bobby Valentine things Kershaw and Bills will be better than Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain. So there's that.
Tomorrow I'll write about the Bullpen, and the day after that, I intend to write about the months of February and March, and why they suck for me as a sports fan. That's right readers, three blog posts in three days. Fasten your seat belts, or whatever.
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
While most of the Dodgers lineup appears to be stable, with the only major questions being, "How does Don Mattingly plan to give Rafael Furcal and Casey Blake rest consistently?", and "Just how bad is the Catcher position going to be this year?", the glaring hole is at Left Field. Traditionally, Left Field is a place where you can dump a great offensive player who plays average-to-terrible defense, such as Manny Ramirez in 2008-2010. This year, the Dodgers are going to (likely) send out the trio of JaMarcus Gwybbons Jr. (Credit to MSTI for that brilliant nickname), or separately, Jay Gibbons, Marcus Thames, and Tony Gwynn Jr., who are all much less fearsome on their own.
First off, I'd like to point out, that the first name of JaMarcus scares the bejeezus out of me, because of a certain other JaMarcus wasn't what you'd call distinguished, but hopefully the Dodgers won't have to worry about it being that bad in Left Field.
This trio isn't going to scare too many Major League pitchers, because Gibbons had been out of Baseball for three years before his inspiring second half last year, and Tony Gwynn Jr's hitting leaves quite a bit to be desired, to say the least. Thames is solid for sure, and he should do well against lefty pitching in this platoon, and Gwynn Jr. is an amazing defender, and will make for an excellent late-inning substitution. The real key to the success of this platoon is Jay Gibbons, who plays slightly below average defense according to Fangraphs, and Slugged over .500 in his short Dodger debut last year. The defense isn't changing anytime soon, and again, not everyone needs to be Carl Crawford at Left Field to be good, but Gibbons isn't likely to slug over .500 again over the course of a full season. He's got a career .787 OPS against Right-Handed Pitching, which isn't likely to be much different next year, and overall, he's just not that inspiring. Gibbons is probably going to get the most at bats, because generally, there are more Right Handed Pitchers than Left Handed Pitchers, and Thames will obviously be batting against Lefties. Does the outlook look pretty grim? Yeah probably. Left Field doesn't look to be a spot of amazing production in the Dodger lineup, but the good news is, it likely won't have to be.
The main reason for this is, the "traditional" offensive weak spots of Shortstop and Second Base, are going to be manned by All-Star Rafael Furcal, Juan Uribe, and Jamey Carroll. Furcal is one of the best Shortstops in the game when he's healthy (Note: he's not going to be healthy all year), and Uribe hit 24 Home Runs last year, which was 21 more than Dodger Second Basemen hit last year. While Uribe's not good at all when it comes to getting on-base, and he's really only a .250 hitter at best, he's still very capable at driving in runs, and hitting home runs fairly often. Plus, like Furcal, he's a great defender. Jamey Carroll, also a solid defender, can't hit for power, but can hit for average, and take plenty of walks, which is all that's needed out of the bench guy anyway. The Dodgers Middle Infield looks to be very good next year, which should help make up for the lack of offense in Left Field. And if nothing else, the Dodgers have 5-6 good Outfielders working their way up the minors, as well as Xavier Paul if he plays well enough in Spring Training.
I do intend to talk about 5 separate areas of the Dodgers before Opening Day, at a rate of 1 area per week. I'm going to try to be more specific than "The pitching should be solid top to bottom next year.", because really, you can hear that anywhere. If you have anything to say, feel free to leave a comment.
Sunday, February 13, 2011
Sports and Competition: A Human Obsession
Fifty-Six seconds left. Last chance. Game on the line. 4th and 5. Ben Roethlisberger throws an incomplete pass to Mike Wallace, and simultaneously, millions of Americans either screamed in complete joy, or groaned in complete disappointment. This is how Super Bowl XLV ended, which, by the way, was the most watched program on Television ever. Guess what was number 2? Last year’s Super Bowl. Chances are, most of you were at a Super Bowl Party, watched the game, or in some way heard about the game while it was being played. Maybe you didn’t even hear about the teams, but instead heard about how Christina Aguilera got the lyrics to The National Anthem wrong, or about how The Black Eyed Peas put on a pretty average-at-best Halftime show. The Super Bowl grabbed the attention of Americans everywhere for one day, and then you heard about it for a few days after. Usually it takes world news to do something like that, like, say, the turmoil in Egypt, or in last year’s case, the earthquakes in Haiti.
The Super Bowl is the pinnacle of competition in the most competitively balanced sports league in the world. Humans have an insatiable hunger for competition, and sports are the easiest medium for us to witness this. This has been true throughout human history. The Ancient Greeks were best known for their philosophies, but they also came up with the Olympics, which we celebrate every two years around the world. The Romans had their famed Gladiator matches, where the prize for winning was not only the joy that comes with it, but the other important detail of living. The famed Roman Colosseum held matches that were The Super Bowls of their time. Thousands of Romans, even the Emperor himself, would come and watch these events. Rich Romans looking to become leaders of the (then) Republic, would put on public spectacles, including Gladiator matches to gain popularity. The Aztecs had a primitive ball game that was also a key part of their rituals. Sports and competition have been a constant in human history, and in one author’s story, a constant in a twisted future.
And what is that you might ask? Painball. Painball is the premier sport in the future set by Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood. Painball captivates all of its viewers in Atwood’s future in the way that Football does today for us. The rules are simple. Convicts are given the choice of participating in this sport, or going to jail. Those who choose Painball are put on a team with other convicts, with the goal being to defeat the opposing team in battles. What’s the incentive for winning? Your life. Painball is played like Paintball is today, with the primary difference being that the bullets fired in Painball competitions are full of corrosive acid, rather than paint. If you get shot in the eyes, you go blind. If you’re hit in the skin, it corrodes away. Painballers put their lives on the line every time they go into their playing fields. And the best look forward to it every time. Much like the great competitors of our day, the best Painballers want to go out every day, as long as they can. They take pride in their teams, either the Red Team, or the Gold Team. Again, the appeal of Painball to both the viewers and the participants is the fact that it’s a competition, and your life is at stake. As Atwood writes, “Some got hooked on the adrenalin and didn’t want to come out when their time was up.” (98). Atwood also makes sure to point out the fact that there are cameras all across the Arena so that people can watch as this spectacle takes place. While at first it was a place to put crazy convicts, people began to notice it, and it became a huge form of entertainment. Those who survived would tell stories about their accomplishments in the arena, all while beaming with pride. Younger viewers, like Amanda, would sit and listen, completely stunned and in awe of the sports-stars they are talking to. In the same way that we give star athletes our undivided attention when they speak (especially publically), so to do the Pleeblanders give all their attention to Painballers. In one short paragraph, Atwood was able to take an aspect of her future society, and create something we can all connect to and understand.
Even if you aren’t much of a sports person, you can likely still identify with that key aspect of Painball, competition. Many TV shows that get huge amounts of ratings, but aren’t sports related in the slightest rely on our love of competition. Take American Idol for example. People tune in for the auditions, where thousands of people try to impress the judges to get on the show. Then, a couple months later, when there’s not nearly as many people left standing, people tune in on the first of two consecutive days to watch the last few remaining competitors sing. Then the next day, they sit through 59 minutes of pointless talking by the host, and a ton of commercials, just to find out who survived. Then the next week, people sit through it all again. Dancing With The Stars is another great example of this. We love our competitions, we love watching the best of the best compete, we love analyzing what they did right and what they did wrong. We ourselves love competing. There’s usually one or two star Football players on Dancing With the Stars, who are getting their competitive fix either during the Off-Season, or after they’ve retired. There’s TV shows like America’s Got Talent, there’s competitive cooking shows, and I’ve flipped through the channels to see ESPN televising a Spelling Bee. The list goes on and on. Humans have always loved to watch the best, and to prove they’re the best. With television, we’ve obtained the ability to watch people be the best not just at sports, but at any other form of competition imaginable.
So is there anything we can take as a warning of sorts from Painball? Should we be wary of just how far humans are willing to go to watch their beloved athletes on the biggest stage possible? Perhaps, but like Atwood finds it necessary to say for almost every other question regarding her book, it’s just a novel. Atwood never implies that Painball is the absolute future for anyone who wants to watch sports and competition, just that it’s a possibility depending on the society surrounding it. The society of The Year of the Flood is one that is completely desensitized to pay attention to whatever is in front of you, and is most interesting. Besides, our sports today will never reach that level of violence and brutality and still be popular. The closest comparison is Mixed Martial Arts and UFC, where fighters slug and wrestle each other until one gives up. But there are still referees there, and if the fights ever become too violent, they’re immediately stopped. If sports were only about the violence, then Baseball and Soccer wouldn’t be as popular as they are in the U.S. and around the world today. The main appeal of these sports will always be about the competition, and who can do best within the pre-determined rules. It’s true for sports, for American Idol, or anything else. Painball is merely there to show one of the constants of human nature and humans throughout their history: the love of competition.
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
For anyone who didn't get that joke, may I simply direct you here. Best post season run ever? Certainly not. Really really really awesome? Absolutely.
The question before the game was, "do the Seahawks even deserve to be in the playoffs, let alone host a game?", and they proved that the answer is a "Very yes!". My initial thoughts at a 7-9 team making the playoffs were "that would just be funny, I mean, come on. Probably shouldn't host a game though". But as they said over and over again, the Seahawks aren't sorry that they play in the NFC West, they aren't sorry that they got to host a game, and they definitely aren't sorry that they beat the defending Super Bowl champion Saints.
The point is, these Seahawks are great for the NFL. Roger Goddell would be absolutely silly to change the playoff rules now. Does it suck that the New York Giants (and their usual second half implosion) and Tampa Bay (with their one win against a team with a winning record) have to miss the playoffs because of Seattle? A little bit I guess, but adding two Wild Cards to make up for it would be preposterous, and would turn the NFL into the NBA, where more sub-.500 teams could make the playoffs, without even beating their division. Does it suck that New Orleans had to play on the road against a 7-9 team? Well again, maybe a little bit, but they could try winning their division next time, instead of whining about the rules. It's not like they should be complaining about the noise either, because that's their biggest advantage when they play in New Orleans. They should just stick to their personality.
Because of the Seahawks, Roger Goddell has no choice but to do nothing. And that's the way it should be. The Seahawks just solidified the NFL's favorite mantra of "every given Sunday", the idea that any team can beat any other team anytime, anywhere. The NFL's biggest strength is it's parity, and in an age where the NBA has it's 4 Superteams and 26 nobodies, and the MLB has the Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies, and everyone else with just a bit of money to spend, the NFL can rely on it's monopoly on competition.
Again, is a sub-.500 playoff team weird and undesirable? Yes to the first, no to the second. Should seeding be changed? Absolutely not. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. And the Seahawks ain't broke.
Friday, January 7, 2011
The Packers match up very well with the most prominent parts of the Eagles Offense and Defense. On offense, the Eagles have Michael Vick (in case you haven't heard, he's been kind of good this year), Desean Jackson (in case you haven't heard, he's kind of fast), Lesean McCoy, Jeremy Maclin, Brent Celek, and Jason Avant to make up the skill players. The offensive line, from what I understand, is pretty average. Good enough to buy Vick some time, but his legs do the rest. This is good for the Packers. Green Bay's secondary is really, really good. Tramon Williams has pretty much shut down every receiver he's covered (he's allowed something like 1 TD against a receiver he's been covering all year), and he did a great job against Jackson in the Week 1 matchup, for what it's worth. Sam Shields as a Nickel Corner is really fast, and has made improvements in his overall abilities all year. If the Packers have to flip coverage around, Shields has the speed to keep up with Jackson.
And then there's Charles Woodson who obviously plays very physical football. I wouldn't look for him to be covering that much, as I think Dom Capers will have him blitzing very often. The Giants and Vikings seemed to have shown the proverbial chink in the armor of the Eagles by blitzing Defensive Backs to throw off Michael Vick. The Vikings in particular had great success blitzing Antoine Winfield, and I look for the Packers to do similar things with Woodson. Look for Woodson to blitz on the left side of the field, where Vick usually scrambles to, as Clay Matthews usually rushes from the right side. On paper, Matthews should have a field day against RT Winston Justice, who hasn't had a great season from what I gathered at Bleeding Green Nation all week. The point is, the Packers have the Secondary needed to fluster the Eagles. Williams can be kept on Jackson all game, Shields can be put on Maclin (this is a matchup that can be exploited, but not to the point where it's game breaking), and Woodson will be on Jason Avant and blitzing to pressure Vick.
On offense, Aaron Rodgers and company should have no problem putting up points. The Eagles secondary is beat up, aside from the excellent Asante Samuel, and the Packers have 4 receivers who are all really good at getting open and making plays by running after the catch. In addition, Greg Jennings usually lines up on the right, while Samuel usually lines up on the left, so Jennings will be against a rotation of DB's, and none of them where spoken well of by Bleeding Green Nation. James Jones, Jordy Nelson, and Donald Driver should all have good days as well. Not that the Packers can usually run the ball, but the Eagles have a stout run Defense, so that doesn't match up too well for the Packers, but they haven't been able to run the ball well at all this year, so I don't feel like that hurts the Packers too bad.
So this should be a blowout for the Packers right? Well, not exactly. The Packers have a run defense that is suspect. Not horrible, but not great, and LeSean McCoy is a great running back. If Andy Reid actually decides to lean on the run game more (Note, there's a higher chance that I will vote for Barack Obama in 2012 than Andy Reid will create a game plan that emphasizes running), then it could be very bad for the Packers. Lesean McCoy is the key to victory for the Eagles, because he's a great runner, and a really great pass catcher, which is difficult for any defense, especially one that will likely look to keep constant pressure on Michael Vick. Plus, the more you run, the more time you take on your scoring drives, and the more you keep Aaron Rodgers off of the field. In addition, the Packers Defense isn't great against Tight Ends, and Brent Celek is a pretty good TE. The problem is, he's been needed in pass protection all year, and Vick got killed in the Vikings game when Celek was off running routes, so I think he's impact will be limited.
As for Special Teams, the Packers are awful. There was a glimmer of hope last week when Devin Hester was completely neutralized by the punting of Tim Masthay, but this unit could so easily revert back to the one that gave up a 70+ yard run to a large Offensive Lineman. They've been unable to get very many returns that set them up in good field position, and the coverage is very suspect.
The bottom line on Defense, is that you're still playing against Michael Vick. The key is not to shut him out completely, that's impossible. The key is to not allow big explosive plays. Especially in the beginning of the game, because the momentum that creates is huge, especially in a playoff game. That also allows the Eagles to focus more on attempting Turnovers, which is something they are really good at. The Packers have to be able to force Michael Vick to perform sustained drives with precise plays. There has to be pressure during these drives, because Vick tends to start running left very fast, as soon as he senses a tiny bit of pressure. That's when he's both dangerous and reckless. Dangerous with his legs, but his throws aren't very precise when he's forced to scramble like that, and he takes a beating because of all the plays he tries to make with his legs.
So will the Packers lean more on Offense or Defense? They'll lean on the Defense, but this isn't a game either unit can win on their own. Even with the weaknesses that have been examined, the Eagles are a complete team with a good coaching staff. The Packer Defense has the capability to limit this team to under 20 points, but I don't see it happening. At the same time, I'm confident in the Offense to score an excess of 27 points, which allows the Packers Defense to also play more for the Turnover. But still, neither unit can win this game on their own. The advantage of playing in Philadelphia is also significant in a playoff game.
Prediction? Packers win 34-30