Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Lost in the Woods

Never Again Will Tiger Roar

The Tiger Woods era is over.
It didn’t end this past weekend when Tiger failed to make the cut at the PGA Championship. Nor did it end the week before, when a back injury forced him to withdraw from the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.

No, the Tiger Woods era came to a crashing halt on November 27, 2009 at 2:30 a.m—we just didn’t know it then.

I remember being in my buddy Mike’s living room the next day when he turned to me and said, “Yo, did you hear about Tiger Woods?”

“Nah, what? He won another tournament?”

“Dude, he was in a car accident last night.”

Mike turned on the television and flipped to ESPN. And, sure enough, there it was—the overhead footage of Tiger’s crashed black Cadillac Escalade.

“Weird, how did that happen? He’s like a block away from his house,” I said to Mike.

“Yeah, for real. I hope he’s alright. If he’s seriously hurt, this could be really bad for him.”

Tiger Woods wasn’t seriously hurt—minor facial lacerations and a ticket for careless driving.

But there was nothing minor about this incident. And, as it turned out, Woods’ driving wasn’t the only thing he had been careless about.

Tiger Woods didn’t die that night—but his golf game did.

And five years later, the only Tiger we see is the one painfully trying to bring his game back from the dead.

But there will be no revival. There will be no more majors won.

The legend of Tiger Woods is ancient history. And the future of golf goes by the name of Rory McIlroy.

Many people think that watching golf is like watching grass grow. But here’s the beautiful thing: you can watch golf and watch the grass grow.

Yes, golf is a game that moves at a snail’s pace. It doesn’t require pure athleticism like most other sports do. Nor does it have the necessary action required by today’s Smartphone-wielding, ADHD-plagued generation. (Social media is a disease with no cure in sight.)

But if you’ve ever played the game, you understand that hitting a golf ball is one of the hardest things to do in sports.

Being out among the brooks, trees, birds, and breeze is supposed to be relaxing.
But let me tell you: after five lost tee shots, two broken clubs, and a couple four-putts before you’ve even reached the back-nine, you’re feeling anything but relaxed.

These are the things you must understand in order to truly appreciate just how amazing Rory McIlroy’s recent winning streak has been.

While Tiger has been busy showing us just how difficult the game of golf is lately, Rory is reminding us exactly how beautiful hitting a 350-yard drive right down the middle of the fairway can be.

McIlroy is now the No. 1-ranked golfer in the world—and he’s playing like it.

What Rory has done these past couple of months has been nothing short of incredible—three tournaments, three wins, and two major championships.

Oh, and, did I mention the man is only 25?

McIlroy now has four career major championships under his belt. There have been only two golfers to reach this mark faster (you may have heard of them): Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus.

I remember when it was a matter of when, not if, Tiger would break Nicklaus’ record of 18 major championships.

Well, it’s been six years since Tiger’s last major win, and he’s stuck on 14 with the big 4-0 right around the corner. The question is no longer will Tiger catch Nicklaus, but rather, will McIlroy?

Everyone is wondering whether McIlroy is the next Tiger Woods. But it doesn't matter.

Being Rory is all I want from McIlroy. And right now, he’s the best that golf has to offer.

Tiger may be lost in the woods, but Rory McIlroy is blazing a new trail.

And it’s worth tuning in—even if you think you’d rather watch the grass grow.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Moneyball's Jackpot Season

World Series or Bust: Billy Beane's A's Are All In

I’ve been on somewhat of a poker binge recently, so I watched Rounders the other night in search of some gambling-fueled inspiration.

It was my fifth time watching it, but it felt like the first. 

If you haven’t seen it, you’re missing out. Matt Damon, Edward Norton, John Turturro, and John Malkovich—enough said.

And right now (if you’ve read this far), you’re probably thinking, “That’s great and all, but what does this have to do with Billy Beane and the A’s?”

I’m getting there.

My favorite scene from Rounders is the one in which Matt Damon’s character, Mike McDermott, watches a rerun of the 1988 WSOP Main Event finale between Johnny Chan and Erik Seidel. (It’s epic. Watch the video. Do it. Do it.)

Anyway, getting to the point:

The second-longest tenured general manager in the bigs resides in Oakland: Moneyball’s Billy Beane. (Some of you may know him as the guy Brad Pitt played.)

2014 is Billy Beane’s Main Event—and he’s all in.

This much is clear after Beane gave up the future (2012 first-round pick Addison Russell and 2013 first-round pick Billy McKinney) in a trade with the Cubs on July 4 for a washed-up Jason Hammel and a season-and-a-half rental of Jeff Samardzija (had to triple spell-check that one).

Then, in one of the more shocking trade-deadline deals in recent memory, the Beanster traded the A’s middle-of-the-order-home-run-derby-champ Yoenis Cespedes to the Red Sox for a few months of Jon Lester’s left arm.

Yes, the man has balls the size of the Bay Bridge. 

But will Beane be the sucker Erik Seidel falling for the bait?

Or will he be Johnny Chan The Master showing the winning hand and taking the championship?

The Oakland A’s (and their now scary-good pitching rotation) have three months to find out.

Billy Beane Becomes Erik Seidel If...

Two Quarters Don’t Make a Half Dollar
It seems as if the words “middle-of-the-order bat” mean about as much to Beane as A-Rod means to the Yankees. (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself. The wound is still fresh.)

Beane doesn’t think in terms of star-power and physical specimens. He thinks in terms of on-base percentage—a “Moneyball” staple.

So to Beane, that means replacing “The Cuban Missile” is as easy as picking up a couple of sparklers.

In addition to Lester, the A’s received the death-cheating Jonny Gomes from the Sox in the Cespedes deal. You may remember Jonny Gomes: man of recent Boston postseason lore (with a strong penchant for army helmets).

And to complete the platoon, Beane dealt a promising, young, left-handed starting pitcher, Tommy Milone, for OF Sam Fuld (big glove, fast legs, small bat) in a trade with the Twins. (The Billy Beane of old never would have made this trade. But, like a hyena stalking its pray, Beane knows his chance to feast on a championship is now.)

But Gomes and Fuld won’t even come close to replacing Cespedes, you say. I’ve never even heard of Sam Fuld, you say.

Well, check out this golden nugget from ESPN.com’s David Schoenfield:

Cespedes versus LHP, 2013-2014: .262/.347/.492
Gomes versus LHP, 2013-2014: .264/.370/.440

Cespedes versus RHP, 2013-2014: .241/.278/.436
Fuld versus RHP, 2014: .250/.343/.340

But, if Beane is wrong, and two beat-up quarters don’t translate into a Kennedy-emblazoned half dollar, then Oakland’s offense is going to have a problem.

Sonny Grays
The A’s 24-year-old phenom, Sonny Gray (12-4, 2.59 ERA), has thrown a career-high 153 innings this season. The most innings Gray had ever thrown in a professional season (before this one) was 152 in the minors during 2012.

This means that Gray will be entering new territory for the rest of the way, and there are no guarantees that his arm will hold up long enough to be dominant into and through October.

Without Sonny, the only things that will be shining in October are Detroit’s World Series rings.

Price Is Right and Lester’s Wrong
At the trade deadline, the Tigers saw the A’s their Lester and raised them one David Price.

When I first heard about the Lester trade my first thought was: Wow, the A’s aren’t messin' around. 

Then, a few hours later, when the Tigers traded for Price, my first thought was: Wait, did the Tigers just one up the A's?

Look, Oakland’s rotation is now a four-headed monster to be reckoned with, no doubt. But, with Price, Detroit’s rotation is even filthier (and, oh by the way, their monster is five headed).

The Tigers’ rotation now features the 2011, 2012, and 2013 Cy Young Winners (Justin Verlander, Price, and Max Scherzer), a guy having a career year (Rick Porcello, 12-5, 3.24 ERA), and Anibal Sanchez, who’s thrown a no-hitter and owns a career 3.55 ERA.

And the craziest thing? Justin Verlander (who is suddenly mortal) looks like the odd-man out in the playoff rotation! (But, hey, I don’t feel bad for the guy. Dude goes home to Kate Upton every night.)

If Price shines for the Tigers, and Lester flops for the A’s, Billy Beane’s huge gamble will have little chance of paying off.

Billy Beane Becomes Johnny Chan If...

The Shark Swims in October
Jeff Samardzija (4-8, 2.92 ERA) hasn’t so much as sniffed the postseason. He was on the Cubs his entire career, remember?

This season, all that is about to change for “Shark.”

The A’s are making the playoffs—there are no doubts about that. But there are some doubts about Samardzija’s ability to pitch in big games in the chill of October, namely because he’s never gotten the chance.

But he’ll get his chance this year. And if the pressure of the postseason proves too much for Samardzija to handle, the A’s will be left looking more like Flipper than Jaws.

Moneyball Keeps Cashing In
The “Moneyball” offense requires that its players walk more, strike out less, and hit for more power in lieu of stealing bases and creating runs, which, in theory, should result in a higher club on-base and slugging percentage.

And where do the 2014 A’s stand in the American League in these categories?

Exactly where Billy Beane expected them to be:

Walks: 1st (399)
Strikeouts: 14th (728)
HR: 4th (112)
SB: 8th (60)
Sac Bunts: 15th (8)
OBP: 3rd (.329)
SLG: 6th (.405)

The A’s also have baseball’s best record (66-42) and run-differential (+161; the next closest team is the Angels at +92).

The only way Beane hoists his first Commissioner’s Trophy is by Oakland’s offense keeping the dough rolling through October.

Beane’s “Shit” Finally Works in the Playoffs
Billy Beane has been famously quoted as saying, “My shit doesn't work in the playoffs. My job is to get us to the playoffs. What happens after that is fucking luck.”

By getting a playoff-proven World Series champ in Jon Lester, Beane is trying to minimize the luck factor.

If luck (and good pitching) is on Beane and the A’s side this October, then maybe Billy can finally win that last game of the season. (And get his daughter to shut up.)

Saturday, July 19, 2014

No Love for Wiggins?

Trading Andrew Is a Bad Move for the Cavs

Would you trade Andrew Wiggins for Kevin Love?

That is the question you’ve probably heard if you’ve so much as been within earshot of a SportsCenter episode in the past week. (Don’t worry, the NFL season is right around the corner.)

“Would you trade Andrew Wiggins for Kevin Love?” is also the question that the real Grantland.com (not to be confused with the shameless, rip-off version: this website) posed in a recent “staff shootaround” article.

Mr. Editor-In-Chief himself, Bill Simmons, took the first shot, so to speak. He made some great points (he always does) with his usual witty and scintillating style. (Sorry, did I over-slob his knob just then?) His best point was this:

“What if sending Wiggins to Playing With LeBron Camp turned out to be the greatest thing that ever happened to Andrew Wiggins? What if this single-handedly altered his professional destiny? What if LeBron turned him into his basketball clone, much like Jordan brainwashed Pippen into evolving into his perfect sidekick?

For this reason alone, the Cavs would have to be crazy not to take a chance on Wiggins becoming the Pippen to LeBron’s Jordan.

Yes, it’s absurdly unrealistic and speculative to believe that some goofy Canadian, with a voice like Urkel, will become the next Scottie Pippen.

In fact, it’s unrealistic to believe that any draft pick is going to become a Hall of Famer. The statistics laugh in that believer’s face.

But Andrew Wiggins doesn’t have to be the next Scottie Pippen (just as much as King James is never going to be the next Michael Jordan). Wiggins just has to be a better fit for the Cavs in the long run than Kevin Love. (Let’s get real, LeBron isn’t coming home for only two years.)

Yeah, Kevin Love is one of the top-10 players in the league right now. He’s an all-world power forward/center who averaged 26.1 ppg and 12.5 rebounds last season.

No other big man can hit the three like Love and he’s Hack-a-Shaq proof—a career 82 % shooter from the line. And, like any native SoCal’er, he’s thinking, “What the hell am I doing in Minnesota?”

Love immediately turns the Cavs from Eastern-Conference favorite to a near-championship lock.

I mean, can you imagine a Kyrie/Love/LeBron trio? Fans in San Antonio are shitting their pants right now thinking about that scenario.

BUT… (there’s always a big ‘ol but)

Kevin Love is never going to be anyone’s Scottie Pippen. He’s going to want the ball—but it’s not his ball to have. It’s LeBron’s.

And after having to do just about everything except mop the court in Miami this past season, don’t you think Lebron would benefit from a pair of young legs to help him on defense? Those are Andrew Wiggins’ legs. Not Kevin Love’s.

Don’t get me wrong. Love is a better player than Wiggins will ever be—he just may not be a better player for LeBron.

If you want to believe that this year’s draft class is the deepest since the LeBron/Bosh/Melo/Wade class of ’03 (and many people do), then how in the name of Dan Gilbert do the Cavs give up on what could possibly be their “next LeBron”? (Metaphorically speaking, of course. There is no “next Lebron.”)

What are they going to do to? Wait another decade for a chance at the number one overall pick in an incredibly deep draft class?

Give Wiggins a chance to play with LeBron, and if he proves to be the next Anthony Bennett, then ship him off for Love to Minnesota in February (the cruelest of punishments).

The Cleveland Cavaliers should play wait-and-see with Wiggins—even if Love is in the air.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Chomping at the Bit

Why America Suddenly Loves Soccer

On June 24, Luis Suárez took the expression “Eat or Be Eaten” to an entirely new level. And instantly, America’s appetite for the World Cup increased.

Soccer has always been America’s least favorite child. Not enough action. Not enough offense. Not enough physical contact. Not enough steroids.

Well, one psycho from Uruguay saw America’s “not enough physical contact” excuse and raised us a blood-sucking bite that made Dracula’s chomp look like a kitten’s.

That got our attention. 

Twitter exploded. Facebook nearly burned down. And within minutes, there were more memes about the incident than Mayweather has millions.  

I mean, this nut job bit a guy. The dude sunk his vampire teeth into another player's shoulder.  

Sure, we watch basketball players tear their ACL’s, pitchers get hit in the face by a ball traveling 120mph, and football players get knocked backed to the 3rd grade.

But this? No, this was something really juicy (pun intended).

Not only did there seem to be no provocation from the Italian player, but, after the match, Suárez added insult to incisor by completely denying that the bite happened.

Oh, and to top it all off, this wasn’t even his first offense. It was the third time Suárez has done this.

I guess you don’t earn the nickname “Cannibal” for nothing.

In light of the incident, FIFA banned Suarez for 9 matches with Uruguay, 4 months from all soccer activities and stadiums, fined him $112,000, and are requiring all future opponents of Suárez to wear garlic around their necks while they play. (Only one of those punishments isn’t real.)

All of America thanks you, Suárez—because now we have one more reason to enjoy watching soccer.

Let’s take a look at some other reasons why America’s interest in soccer has suddenly peaked:

1. The USMNT is Finally a Contender

I believe! I believe that! I believe that we...okay, you know the rest.

But it’s true.

The team that America sent to this year’s World Cup was one that the country could believe in.
They beat a tough squad from Ghana, nearly defeated Portugal (the 4th-ranked team in the world), managed not to get man-handled by the Germans (more than Brazil can say), and made their way out of the “Group of Death” very much alive.

And even in a devastating, hard-fought loss to the red devils of Belgium, Tim Howard showed that we have one of, if not the best keeper on the entire planet, saving 16 shots, the most by any player in a World Cup match over the last 50 years.

Four years ago, watching parties didn’t exist.

And four years from now, we’ll believe even more that the USMNT will win.

2. The FIFA Generation

If you’ve ever been to a college dorm room, you’ve probably played a game of FIFA.

You know, that utterly-addicting video game with the entertaining, imitable, British play-by-play?

It’s a great game, an even better drinking game, and the biggest reason why my generation knows anything about soccer and its players. (Yes, I refuse to call it fùtbol.)

3. Because Baseball is Boring

What else do we have to keep our collective sports attention occupied by during the month of July?

Oh yeah, our “national pastime”, baseball.

But besides myself, I don’t know a single soul who enjoys watching a baseball game from start to finish.

Don’t get me wrong, I love baseball more than anything in the world, but even I can admit that it’s boring.

I mean, seriously, who wants to watch 30 seconds of nothing in between pitches?

Furthermore, without steroids, scoring is down, home runs are down; just about everything is down—besides strikeouts. And this bodes badly for baseball.

And now that the LeBronathon is over (isn’t it great that he’s going back to the Cavs?), what else is there to watch?

The World Cup, that’s what.

Championship Prediction
Ze Germans handle Messi and the Argentines in extra time, 2-1. 

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Five Yankees That Don't Deserve to Don the Pinstripes

The 2014 New York Yankees (41-42) are a bad team.
They’re not a mediocre team, not a below-average team, nor are they a struggling-for-the-time-being team. They are a cringe-worthy, head-shaking, throw-your-remote-at-the-television, reeking-pile-of-garbage bad team. 

And the only consolation is that the Boston Red Sox are even worse.

Okay, maybe I shouldn't have started writing this immediately after the Yankees lost their fifth straight game, a 6-3 defeat by the Tampa Bay Rays, but the hell with it, I'm going to keep fuming. 

The Yankees have one starter who knows how to pitch, the most miserable, range-less infield in the league, and a lineup so anemic and un-clutch that I have come to expect failure from them, and any bit of offensive success has come as more of a surprise than Aaron Hernandez winning Sportsman of the Year. (Fine, that last one may have been an overstatement.)

It doesn’t matter that the American League East is the weakest division in baseball this year. It doesn’t matter that the Yankees are only 4 ½ games out with half the season left to play. It is far enough into the schedule to feel that this Yankees team isn’t going to have what it takes to make the playoffs.

In fact, this “team” isn’t even worthy of that noun as a description.

The 2014 Yankees have shown to be no more than a collection of overpaid, over-aged, fireless individuals who seem more than happy to collect their paychecks and offer the same tiresome answers game after game about their struggles—something along the lines of “We’ve done it before. We believe we can still do it. Look at the back of our baseball cards.”

Well, it’s more than halfway through the season, and when the new baseball cards are printed by Topps this winter, there’s a strong chance many Yankees will no longer be able to say “look at the back of my baseball card” because the numbers next to the 2014 line won’t be something to fall back on. 

I would love for the Yanks to prove me wrong, but this season seems beyond repair, and all I have to say is: thank God for Masahiro Tanaka. Without this guy, most Yankee fans wouldn’t have a reason to watch this sorry excuse of a New York Yankees “team.”

Of course, none of these words apply to Derek Jeter. He’s a living legend who has worn the pinstripes impeccably and deserves better than this for his for final season. (2015 is going to be something bizarre.)

Being a New York Yankee and donning those pinstripes comes with a certain level of expected performance.

But somehow, there are players that don’t even deserve to be in the Major Leagues putting on the most sacred uniform in all of baseball on a daily basis.

Somewhere, at some Starbucks in Seattle, Robinson Cano is laughing. 

Here are five players that don’t deserve to don the pinstripes:

1. Kelly Johnson (.218, 5 HR, 19 RBI)

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but after watching Johnson blunder his way through the first half of the season, it makes me long for the days of the A-Rod circus. 

We knew Johnson wouldn’t come close to replicating A-Rod’s numbers (diminished as they were). And we knew he would be making a transition to a position (3B/1B) that he had never played before. 

But the power numbers everyone thought he would put up with the short-porch in right field at Yankee Stadium simply aren’t there, and watching this guy field has been downright painful at times.

My Little League first baseman would have made this pick at firstbut not Johnson.

I didn’t expect much from a man named Kelly, but watching him play has been utterly brutal. 

2.  Alfonso Soriano (.225, 6 HR, 23 RBI)

At 38 years of age, you expected a drop in production, but not this much. After jolting the Yankees at the trade deadline in 2013, Soriano’s bat looks slow, his swing looks long, and his pitch recognition has been completely nonexistent. 

The whole world knows a two-strike slider is coming his way—except for Soriano. Alfonso has had some of the ugliest strikeouts in the league this season. This pie chart breaks it down pretty accurately.

3.  Vidal Nuno (2-5, 5.42 ERA)

You know things are bad with the Yankees’ rotation when a guy who was pitching in the Frontier League (the Frontier League?) for the Washington Wild Things as recently as 2011 is getting the ball every five days. 

And every five days, I feel like I’m watching a home run derby. Nuno has given up 15 home runs. His numbers speak for themselves: 2-5 with a 5.42 ERA with only 3 quality starts out of 14.

If and when CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda finally return, or the Yankees make a trade for an arm, you can be sure Nuno will be the first to go. His days donning the Yankee pinstripes are limited. 

4. Yangervis Solarte (.260, 6 HR, 30 RBI)

This career minor-leaguer shot out of the gate with a bang and essentially carried the Yankees offense for most of April and May batting .299 with 6 homers and 26 RBI.

But then he showed why he has been a career minor-leaguer, going through a 10-for-61 (.164) slump in June with no homers and only 4 RBI. 

The Yankees must have read this post, because after writing it, sure enough, Solarte was sent back down to the minors and is no longer wearing the pinstripes. 

Your energy and awesome name will be missed, Solo. 

5. Brian Roberts (.237, 4 HR, 17 RBI)

Everyone knew that Roberts would be no Robby Cano, but I expected more than what Brian has brought with the bat thus far.

His batting average with two outs and runners in scoring position (the situation which has haunted the Yankees all season long) is the worst on the team at a pathetic .148. 

Like his stature, his range at second base is miniscule. If I have to watch one more ball go just over his leaping try, I’m going to personally send him a pair of shoe lifts myself. 

Let’s hope another Rob (ascending Yankees’ Triple-A prospect Rob Refsnyder) takes Roberts place soon enough. 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The End of an Era

Captain Clutch's Final Chapter

Being a New York Yankees fan isn’t easy.
And now that every Kansas City Royals fan has stopped reading this post, let me explain why.

I get it. You’re laughing at me. How can a fan of a team with 27 World Series trophies make such a ludicrous assertion?

But you see, winning breeds jealously and hate.

This explains why, generally, if you don’t like the Yankees, you hate the Yankees. There is no middle ground. And why? Money. The Yankees have a lot of it—and that makes many fans of other teams upset.

I was seven years old the first time I heard the question.

“A Yankees fan? What the hell do you like them for?” asked a hardened, decrepit Phillies fan.

The answer was easy.

“Because they win,” I retorted.

But then came the response that would soon become all too familiar. 

“But the Yankees buy all their championships!”

And at that moment, I discovered the quintessential comeback to that claim:

“But the Yankees have Derek Jeter.”

15 years later, those words are still my saving grace as a Yankees fan. Derek Jeter has made it easy. But after this season, I’m not sure what my comeback will be...

The captain will be no more. The last of my childhood Yankees will be gone. Never again will we see number 2 roaming the area between second and third base. 

No more beautiful inside-out swings. No more patented jump throws. No more spine-chilling memories from Mr. November.