Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Playoff Ticket Punched!

In The Immortal Words of Billy Zane: 

It's a walk-off! 

Chipper Jones gets to finish his career the way he and his teams was used to doing-
Going to the playoffs!

One year after a gut wrenching September collapse, that only a Red Sox collapse was able to cover up for the most part the Braves clinched a spot in this year's post season and can at least get the team ready for the one game playoff that comes with the wild card spot and/or make a run to try and catch the Nationals for tops in the NL East, but that is very unlikely. Freddie Freeman's two-run walk-off home run allowed the Braves to win yet another Kris Medlen start while punching their playoff ticket with a 4-3 win over the Marlins at Turner Field on Tuesday night. With Chipper Jones on 3rd Freeeman crushed the Mike Dunn pitch right back dead center right over the 400ft marker in center field.

With the comeback, the Braves won the 22nd consecutive game started by Medlen. As I recently posted the run that the Braves are on when Medlen takes the ball to start a game is just amazing and just goes to show that you need solid combination of luck and skill. Who knows how long the run will last but for now it is pretty amazing.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Monday Night Mayhem

I was tired of hearing about the NFL replacement refs but the last and deciding play of tonight's game was a disgrace. No game should ever end the way tonight's game ended. They say that it is not a missed call that cost a team a win and that had they played better they would not have had to let 1 play beat them. Well in this case that is not true, Green Bay was jobbed at least 3 times during the last drive due to terrible and wrong calls that should have been able to be fixed at some point. What is the point of having coaches call for red flag video reviews or having video replay in the game if it is not used to make obvious wrong calls overturned. If a bad call is made on the field it should be fixed if possible. This was a play that could have been overturned but because the ref with the worst position to see the play makes a call on the field there is no way to have the correct call made, ridiculous. Golden Tate somehow came up with the ball in the end zone to grab a last-gasp "win" Tate not only pushed off 1st but didn't even have possession at any point. The real refs had better be in place by next Sunday after this gong show.The refs didn't even know that after the wrong call was made that Seattle needed to try for an extra point. It took nearly 10 minutes for the refs to get the teams back for the extra try. That oversight just magnified how bad they botched the game. In a Billion dollar industry to have the integrity of the game compromised is a very dangerous thing. Worst of all is that was not the only bad call of the night. Every mistake just gets compounded and that is huge. The money that powers the NFL is outrageous and that doesn't even come close to touching what is generated from both legal and illegal gambling. Somebody in Vegas is getting his legs broken right now after this fiasco.  A lot of money will be changing hands but in the wrong direction.

In a 16 game season each game means even more then in just about any other sport and that could be the deciding factor if they make the playoffs, win the division or get home field advantage. A horrible and wrong call by replacement refs should not potentially ruin a teams season. Hopefully that is not the case but we will know by week 17.

NFL has to get the real refs back, 1 to show they are serious about the integrity of the game and 2 to prevent anything worse from happening. Tempers are already wearing thin and things are already breaking down.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Braves Not 'Medlen' Around

The Atlanta Braves have been known as the team with the best pitching staff over the 1990's and into the 2000's. When you can throw out 3 near lock first ballot Hall of Fame inductees like Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz and then mix in other ace potential starters like: Denny Neagle, Kevin Millwood, Steve Avery, Charlie Leibrandt, Pete Smith,  Jason Marquis and Jason Schmidt, you quickly see that the Braves have a history of building a championship caliber team from the mound out.  It was a great time to be a Braves fan. 14 straight division titles will do that for you. When you looked on the bench you would see Bobby Cox getting ready to get thrown out of a game and pitching coach Leo Mazzone rocking back and forth watching his pitchers.

Now the Braves are looking at going back to the playoffs, this time likely as the Wild Card team. This is for 2 reasons 1) The Washington Nationals have over achieved and have the best record in baseball and 2) The Braves have been hit with big injuries to key pitchers and yet have managed to secure a spot in the post season.

The Braves have managed to do what the Nationals have botched up from the beginning and that is to have a young stud pitcher coming off Tommy John surgery and managing his arm correctly and not harming their team in the process. Washington has the well known big gun Stephen Strasburg, the Braves have much less known Kris Medlen. The Nats made Strasburg the opening day starter and rode him as the ace until late August when they realized that he was getting close to the max innings they were prepared for him to work so as to not harm him long team. A fine Idea if you are the Houston Astros and have no hope of making the playoffs and shutting him down has no baring on anything, but the Nats were supposed to be good and should have know that using Stephen Strasburg as much as they did they would have to shut him down early or risk breaking there plan and putting the golden arm in a potentially dangerous position. The Braves seemed to take the opposite approach with Kris Medlen. The started him out in the bullpen, managed his outings, pitch counts and innings. In mid season they called on him to join the rotation as the rotation had been pounded with injuries and inconsistent starts.

Since then Medlen has been nothing short of spectacular. Currently (9-1) lost the first two starts of his career in 2009. He hasn't taken a loss in any of his 26 starts since, with the Braves prevailing in the last 21 of those...almost unheard of (The Yankees won 22 consecutive times when Whitey Ford started games from 1950 through 1953). Mitch "Wild Thing" Williams said recently on the Dan Patrick Show that he was the best pitcher in baseball right now. Not bad for a guy who started the year as a reliever.

Had Medlen been in the rotation he would likely be in the running for the Cy Young in the NL but then he also would be over his innings limit like Strasberg the Braves still have Medlen's services.  After losing Brandon Beachy's services after he went under the knife with Tommy John Surgery the braves were in need of a new ace. Ben Sheets went on the DL, Tim Hudson was on and off injured, Tommy Hanson had his struggles and Jair Jurrjens was inconsistent and then on the DL.  The braves managed to work through these injuries and still be in a position for the wild card.  No small feat for sure. Going forward they also have 2 guys to help fill out the depth of the rotation in respect to high end prospects; Randall Delgado and Julio Teheran. Both have a high upside and can hopefully come in and compete for a spot, work out of the pen as they mature or be used to help fill out the roster with the holes via trade that will open up this off season.

Just where would the Braves be have they have a full staff.  If Medlen and Beachy were healthy at the same time and Mike minor continued to pitch the way he has been and mix in Ben Sheets and Tommy Hanson WOW, that is one awesome staff and likely top team in the east.  Unfortunately injuries and baseball are and inevitability and that is why pitching depth is so  key.  Braves fans can only hope this is the second coming of a dominant pitching staff like they have in the mid 1990s.  It is too early to put these guys in the same class as future Hall of Famer's but the potential is there.

Hopefully the one game playoff between the two wild card teams does not come back to bite the Braves.  It can be interesting to see what this group can do. A strong playoff runin Chipper Jones last season would be a fitting end to a magnificent career.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Anti-Gay Slur Has Jays Escobar in Hot Water

The Toronto Blue Jays say they are investigating why shortstop Yunel Escobar played Saturday's game against Boston with a homophobic slur written in Spanish under his eyes.

It is too early to know both sides of the story and the truth may clear Escobar of any wrong doing but at first glance this is a very messy situation. It is never a good thing to use slurs of any kind but it is even worse and is more magnified when it is used by high profile athletes. In the heat of competition things are said and trash talking happens. It may not be good, it may not be tolerate or politically correct, but it happens. You can't defend it, but it is a convenient go to response for many people. 

The comments are usually not meant literally but hold a lot of power and are offensive and insensitive. An athlete who uses these sayings do so at their own peril and if overheard usually come with a firestorm from both their league, the fans and the press. That is just from saying it, having it written on your body or on your uniform is just ridiculous. You either had no idea and one of your "friends" thought it would be funny or you are so oblivious that you thought that because it was in another language it would get past people.

If it is found that Escobar knowingly had  "TU ERE MARICON" ("You are a fagot") written on his eye black shows that he is not only immature but not a very bright person. In an age where everyone has a cameras and you are used to being seen by thousands of people to not expect a huge backlash, investigation, and potential penalties is just really short sighted.

There were character questions when he was traded from Atlanta to Toronto and until now he seemed to be an upstanding teammate but now there are questions again. He was never number 1 on former manager Bobby Cox's list and that helped prompt his exit from the ATL and who knows this could be the tipping point that could get him moved again.

When you have a young up and comer looking to take your position like Escobar does being careless like this is a good way to becoming instant trade bait. If he is not smart he could be writing his own ticket right out of town. If the Jays are able to fill a hole in the roster maybe someone with a bad PR rep is easier to make expendable and also make the ball club seem to have high standards and a solid image.

It will be interesting to see how things shake down but there will surely be some repercussions. It is just a matter of how severe they are.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Dead Lock'd

NHL and Media Coverage should both be under a media blackout

As of September 15th at 11:59pm the NHL owners will lock out its players and "negotiations" will continue until a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (from here on known as the CBA) is finalized. The NHL has not had a good record of labour peace in the entire Gary Bettman era and that trend seems to be continuing. This time around it is not a fundamental change line last time. It more or less is the owners and players deciding on how best to divide a lot of money. It is too bad when millionaires and billionaires fight because the only people that loose are the fans of the game and the people who are employed in the organizations and at the arenas that essentially locked out as well.
The league has placed these artificial deadlines like September 15th in hopes to make it appear that there is something to loose right away. Training camp wouldn't plan to start until the 21st so what is the rush. What other organization or business would lock out its workers the minute a deal expires. Why not have training camp and continue to negotiate? Why not make an effort in good faith to get the players feel like they are a part of the grand plan and the owners are not trying to strong arm them. That also gives a good actual deadline to try and hammer out a deal. It doesn't hurt to give the players a feel for the ice and the game they love to play. By that point the players will be closer to missing the first paycheck and might encourage some more serious talks.

It seems like all these meaningless deadlines will come and go until there is something tangible to loose...paychecks, gate revenue and/or the Winter Classic game between the Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs.

It is interesting that the owners voted 100% to lock out the players because that way money is being shared. Just in the last few days 100's of million dollar contracts have been given out by these owners to players before the old deal expires. This CBA is essentially to protect the owners from themselves. If things were so bad why did the Wild spend nearly $100M for 2 players yet claim that they have a problem with the distribution of money? Bell/Rogers JUST took over MLSE as owners of the Leafs. How can they be in a position to vote for or against any proposed deal? Why when both own sports channels with hockey rights think it is either of their interest to not have hockey? They have programming hours to fill and no hockey will leave a big hole. Comcast (Ed Snider from the Philly Flyers) are in a joint venture with NBC who owns the NHL rights in the US. They have launched NBC Sports to compete with the CBS Sports, Fox Sports and the Mother Ship aka. ESPN. Hockey and hockey programming was and is key to the potential growth and viability of this new sports venture in an already saturated sports network landscape. How can this be good for them? I don't think it is or will be.

If any of these Media parties want to get hockey rolling then they should direct all of their sports channels to not report a single thing on the NHL or the lockout until there is an announcement from the league saying that a deal has been struck. No updates, no rumours of talks no mention of back room discussions nothing on Sportsnet Connected, Nothing on Sportscenter. Do not mention it or anything about it. Out of sight, out of mind then maybe there will be discussion in the board rooms and the two sides trying to WIN a PR war instead of negotiating a long term labour deal. The fans would not have to hear updates of items that are neither news or news worthy. Rumours and speculation would not exist and there would be a lot less bitter fans more willing to support the league when they do come back because they won't have a bitter taste in their mouths from having to listen to useless uninformative crap every day and night until a resolution is reached. Just like a judge who puts a media ban on a court case the same should happen in the case of this lockout...a media blackout may be the most productive thing to get this whole circus put to rest.

Time for the madness to stop...before it even starts. Lets only talk about on ice issues and rosters and not topics of discussions driven by accountants and the editors at financial magazines like Forbes.

Monday, September 10, 2012

A Hidden Gem In The ATL

"Jack of all trades, master of none" is a figure of speech used in reference to a person that is competent with many skills but is not necessarily outstanding in any particular one. This person is a generalist rather than a specialist. This phrase is usually not used in a flattering manner.

This is seemingly true when it comes to baseball players. The common term is utility man. This is used mostly for a guy that you have on the bench that can come in and relieve your everyday players or 'starters' when they need a break or succumb to injury. This is a good player to have on the roster and a benefit for a manager to have on the roster but not deemed as valuable as most of the everyday player or a star player.

There are some exceptions to this but very few. It is rare that someone is so good that the can not be taken out of the lineup but is also so versatile that they are able to adapt to multiple roles and do so at a high or above average level. The Atlanta Braves have one of these exceptions to the rule and that is a man named Martin Prado. Prado was a 2010 All Star and was again on the team this year.  Martin usually plays left field in Atlanta but of late he has bounced around the infield filling holes as they crop up. He plays 3rd when future Hall of Fame member Chipper Jones needs a break.He plays 2nd when Dan Uggla is struggling (which is happening far too often this season). He plays Shortstop when inexperienced Paul Janish,  Andrelton Simmons and Tyler Pastornicky need time to watch from the bench and learn. It is a great thing for manager Fredi Gonzalez to have, a player that is good enough to be an All Star and be able to fill so many roles. It allows him to be flexible when making in-game changes but also in day to day roster changes as circumstances change. Prado is such a good and valuable player for the Braves but seems to never get the respect or credit that he deserves for his versatility.

Fans usually look at the big name guys, the ones that have the big gaudy offensive numbers or have a lot of power and perceive them as being the ones worth the most and deserve the big contracts. The Pujols' , ARods, Prince Feilders and David Ortiz's. Prado may not drive in 120 runs or hit 35+ home runs but he put up solid AND consistent numbers, a high batting average and good on base percentage. When  you take into account the offensive numbers as well as the defensive abilities Prado pretty much stands alone in the league. There are not too many compatibles out there that can rival what he brings to the table. Jose Bautista of the Blue Jays is someone who could play that role but is rarely asked to do so. He has the ability to hit the long ball as an everyday right fielder  who has a great arm but is also an excellent 3rd baseman when put in that role. He is more like the reverse Chipper Jones who moved to left for a few seasons because it helped the team when they could get another 3rd baseman to shore up the lineup and give him some added protection.

It is also good for the Braves moving forward into next season to have the flexibility to move him to just about any position and for him to be a qualified starter at any position. They can make him the everyday 3rd baseman when Chipper retires, SS should they not feel comfortable with the youngsters, or leave him in left and fill in around him. With the uncertainty of free agent to be Michael Bourn's return, knowing that Prado gives the Braves plenty of options on where to spend and fill the holes may be his most valuable he can give to the Braves going into the off season.