Archive for September, 2012

by: Tony Leva
email: tonytrucker1969@gmail.com

NFL vs. NHL Lockout Edition…Who Ya Got?

At this moment, there are two lockouts being rammed down our throats.  Both are insanely stupid and could cost one league it’s credibility for a while and the other may cost the other league far more than that.  The NFL refs and the NHL lockout are both maddening, but which one is stupider?  Let’s look at this match-up in detail…..

Money issues….The NFL is refusing to pay their refs what they want since they classify them as part-time employees.  With a record $9 billion and change in revenues, the money they are quibbling over is just stupid.  The percentage the refs want in relation to those revenues is measly at best.  In the case of the NHL, the issues at hand are basically identical to the issues in the 2004-05 lockout that cost us an entire season.  The owners want to reduce the players’ cut of revenue from 57% to 49% and then eventually to 47%.  The reduction last time was from 70% to the current level.  The players can’t stomach getting another royal bowel-ripping and are holding tough.  This is some serious shit here.  BIG EDGE…NHL

Contract Terms….The NFL’s issue here is that they refuse to make the refs full-time employees like the MLB, NHL and NBA all do.  Hence, they keep their salaries low, which returns us to point #1, Money.  The NHL owners want to limit the length of player contracts to 5 years, which still didn’t stop these asshats from signing players to contracts as long as 14 years this summer.  Here’s a hint, fellas, stop fucking yourselves in the ass with contracts like those.  It’s hard to see your side of things when you do shit like this.  Due to the sheer stupidity factor, the NHL takes this one as well.  EDGE…NHL

Damaging Your Sport Factor….The NFL refs have been so bad they’re affecting point spreads in Vegas and are a jokewriter’s dream.  The internet is seeing some pretty good compilation videos of refs mistakes.  Being a national punchline isn’t something you strive for when having labor issues.   But no matter how bad the NFL is looking, that harm will vanish when the real refs come back.  But the NHL lockout may cripple the sport in irreparable fashion.  Nobody knows how many fans will never come back if a second season in 8 years is stolen from hockey fans.  No sport has ever cancelled an entire season, let alone two.  The damage will be unprecedented.  ROSIE O’DONNELL-SIZED EGDE….NHL

It seems by my count the NHL’s lockout wins the battle of  “How stupid are we?”.  There is simply no way the NFL’s ref dispute can compete with such blatant dumbfuckery that the NHL owners are showing here.  In fact, this may be the dumbest sports labor issue ever.  Well done, you band of ringmeats.

Another Clown Claims the Crown

Nearly each season in Survivor, we are gifted with a contestant that hatches some can’t-miss plan.  They usually involve making multiple alliances or a bit of back-stabbing that will end up with a blindside vote at tribal council.  Some plans are brilliantly conceived and are beautifully executed with accordant results.  Those plans are always the brainchildren (is that a word?) of the more educated players.  Some plans are hatched by guys like Zane.  This is Zane.

If I told you Zane here was born and bred in Kentucky, didn’t have a high school diploma, was a veteran of the paper hat and nametag work scene, currently works as  a tire re-treader and was the one to hatch a can’t-miss plan immediately after losing the immunity challenge, which way would you answer?

A…Plan comes off without a hitch.  Zane  the mastermind is installed as the new kingpin of his tribe.  He is now in a position of power.  Shit just got real.  ZANE real.

B…Plan mostly works.  Zane escapes unscathed at tribal, but doesn’t fulfill the endgame of the plan.  He’s still solidly placed in an alliance that controls the game.

C…Plan fails.  Someone else gets voted off at tribal , Zane survives by the skin of his teeth and is now on shaky ground with a weak alliance.  His place in the game is very precarious.

D…Plan explodes in his inbred face.  Zane looks every bit the idiot he’s portrayed himself as and is voted off with extreme prejudice.

Before you guess, let me fill you in on what Zane’s plan was.  During the immunity challenge, Zane, a recent (less than 3 days) ex-smoker caused his team to fall behind in the challenge, a deficit they never made up, losing the challenge and forcing them to vote someone out that night.  Back at camp, Zane decided to take the blame for the loss and insist he was fine with being voted out.  The whole tribe was kind of shocked and looked glad that they had a patsy volunteer for the chopping block.  It’s often tough at your first tribal council, not knowing who is the biggest liability.  Zane made it easy.

So far, so good, I assumed.  I mean, surely this was the groundwork for one helluva plan.  I couldn’t wait to see how this Mozart played the keys of the strategy piano and engineered his salvation.  What was the masterstroke of the can’t miss plan?

He went to the other tribe members and tried to initiate a blindside of Russell by using his Kentucky hillbilly charms on them.  He tried to make himself the lovable loser and went for the pity.  This fucking idiot decided to go for pity 3 days into the game.  Let’s say his gambit DID work.  How long did he hope to milk that angle?  You don’t win Survivor on 39 days of pity.  You get voted out real fast when the pity stops.  Instead of laying low and rallying support to dump the incredibly unpopular Russell, he jumped into the breach and went ass-up.  The bitch of it was he was openly laughing about his gamesmanship and how his plan was sure to work before tribal.

Let’s get back to our quiz.  I bet you guessed D.  Well, you’d be right.  At tribal, the vote went 5 against Zane and only Zane’s lone vote against Russell.  Walking away from tribal, Einstein Jr remarked, “Son of  a bitch” and was flabbergasted in his closing remarks to close the show.  This wasn’t as stupid as how James (twice) got voted off with immunity idols in his pocket, but it sure deserves a spot in the team photo.  Well done, Zane Einstein!!  You are an official Survivor legend!!

by: Mauricio Rubio Jr.
email: mr@99sportsproblems.com
twitter: @MRubio52

The 90 Feet From First To Second

Alex Rios is busting his ass to get to second base. Dayan Viciedo just hit an “uh-oh” groundball to Detroit Tigers “shortstop” Jhonny Peralta and a momentum killing double play is forming. Peralta, to Infante, to Fielder is almost imminent, and all Hawk can say is “Uh-oh.”

It’s more than just a play at this juncture in the season. The White Sox are trailing 4-3 to open the bottom of the fifth. They are sitting on a 2 game lead over these Tigers in the division and this one game can mean the difference between winning and losing the division. Up 1 with 16 games left is no guarantee of anything. Should the White Sox get this game and stretch the lead to three it makes it incredibly hard on the Tigers. Detroit’s schedule might be easier, but at that point the White Sox would have to give the division away.

The White Sox have had their troubles with the Tigers of late. They’ve been swept in 2 of the last 3 series with Detroit, and are looking at losing an extended 3 of 4 against them in this series. Sale vs. Verlander was postponed on Friday, now it’s Quintana vs. Fister. Quintana suffered through a 3-run third but he survived into the fifth. It’s become his trademark of sorts, he’s Livan Hernandez lite in that way. He isn’t the Quintana from the first half, but he will hang around the game even if he goes through patches of early trouble.

The White Sox are battlers though, that much has been made clear this year. Despite injury, ineffectiveness from their position players, and just flat out bad play the White Sox, through the classic combination of skill, smarts, and luck, are still in first place.

Yeoman’s Work

Doug Fister is having a solid follow-up year to his mini-breakout last year. He was left for dead in Seattle, being branded a failure thanks to a 3-12 record that was totally lying about Fister’s ability. Doug Fister had solid peripherals in 2011 before the trade. His 2012 isn’t so much a break out as it is a continuation. Fister is on the mound for the Tigers when the bottom of the fifth begins. He’s been doing yeoman’s work for most of his 4 innings. Fister has interesting stuff, but it is not overpowering. Fister is into the meat of the lineup in this inning, the 3-4-5 hitters. Dunn, Konerko, and Rios. The Tigers are clinging to a 4-3 lead. Fister has to get them through the 5th and into the 6th because the Detroit bullpen is full of question marks. A battle of the ‘pens favors the Sox.

Dunn hits a hot liner to center and Konerko follows with a ringing double to left. At this point Fister is toast and will give way to Al Alburquerque.

Alburquerque walks Rios and AJ Pierzynski lines out hard to right. Dunn can’t score. The bases are loaded and Dayan Viciedo is stepping into the box, with the Sox down 4-3.

Defensive Issues

Peralta is the perfect representative for this Tigers team. Peralta was always valued more for his stick than his glove, but now even the hits aren’t coming like they used to. The combination of Peralta and Cabrera on the left side of the infield is a huge issue. Untold runs are scoring because of the lack of range over there. Cabrera is sure handed, but he can’t move like he used to. Add in the ouchy ankle and you have the makings of a bad defensive combo.

Omar Infante is a prodigal Tiger. He was signed as an amateur free agent in 1999 by the Tigers and enjoyed 6 seasons in Detroit before being traded to the Cubs for Jacque Jones in 2007. Infante has a reputation as being a solid 2B. Some of his tools are in decline, as is to be expected, but he is still the best defensive infielder on the team, and that’s an issue. Infante is best used as a part-time player. The Tigers tried out Ramon Santiago at second, but he couldn’t hit. Ditto with Raburn, Worth, and anyone else they plugged into the keystone. Infante is the best option.

Prince Fielder tries. He’s a big man, and it’s difficult to make some plays. He’s remarkably athletic, and he is also competent at first, but he isn’t Gold Glove caliber. His bat is why he is on the team. Prince is about to encapsulate the Tigers in one picture.

The Interesting Case of Alex Rios

Alex Rios was a dog. He teased Toronto in 2007 with an OPS of .852, good defense and solid speed. Ever since then Rios has been best described as “enigmatic,” and “bad.” Rios looks the part. He’s 6’5, has an athletic body, and the swing is one of the prettiest right-handed swings in baseball. It’s not violent, it’s smooth. To compare, Bryce Harper’s swing looks like a Metallica guitar riff. Rios has a swing that looks like Asturias. It’s smooth and clean through the zone.

That’s what made him so infuriating to watch. He had all the physical tools but it didn’t translate into results. Rios was waived by Toronto in 2009 and Kenny took a risk. The story goes that Kenny Williams claimed Rios to block him from going to the Tigers, thinking that Toronto would pull him back if the White Sox claimed him.

They didn’t.

The Sox were stuck with Rios and he was equally infuriating in Chicago as he was in Toronto. Rios was awful in 2011, he was one of the reasons the White Sox fell flat on their face that year. Heading into 2012 he was a major question mark. I thought that if he and Dunn produced the White Sox would come close to winning the division.

The distance between winning and losing the central might be the 90 feet it takes to get from first to second.

Textbook Execution

So with the bases loaded and one out, Dayan Viciedo hits a ground ball to Peralta that should mean 2 outs, the lead heading into the 6th, and the Tigers increasing their chances at winning the AL Central crown.

Alex Rios is charging ahead, busting his ass to break it up.

Peralta is stepping backwards to gather the ball.

Infante is streaking across from his defensive spot to cover second base.

Dunn is racing home to hopefully score.

Konerko is chugging into third.

Hawk is saying “Uh-oh.”

In a flash the Tigers chances of winning the Central have taken a huge hit. A pariah adds another piece to his image restoration project. A manager steps closer to a forced retirement, and the Tigers come up just short.

The distance between winning and losing.

As I Argue With Myself About The White Sox

  • The Pessimist: It’s still only a three game lead. They might not even make the playoffs.
  • The Optimist: Yeah but it’s 3 with 16 to play. They’re in at least, and if Sale and Peavy go crazy they can make a lot of noise in the playoffs. They play good teams tough this year.
  • The Pessimist: The playoffs are different, and how do we know if Sale is going to hold up against the work load? It’s more innings than the guy has ever thrown in his career, his velocity is down and he’s fallen in love with his slider. Do you really want to pin your hopes on Sale and Peavy?
  • The Optimist: Why not, it’s worked almost all year. Peavy didn’t break down, Sale didn’t fall apart (yet), and the bullpen is solid. The middle of the lineup is annoying to other teams and I think they are among the best in all of baseball.
  • The Pessimist: It’s still a lineup that employs Beckham, Viciedo, and Ramirez. You can’t have three holes like that in your lineup and expect to make much noise. A 162 game season is one thing, where you can rest your starters, like the White Sox did all year. Do you really think Peavy or Sale can go in games 1-4-7 and live? Can you lean on those two guys that much? I don’t think so. The rest of that rotation is a huge question mark, Quintana might be Livan Hernandez lite, but is that a guy who wins playoff series for you? Do you trust Gavin Floyd?
  • The Optimist: I don’t think starters 3-4 matter that much. If they can give you anything resembling a quality start, I think the White Sox will make a deep run into October. I just think the lineup will overcome the SP struggles. The defense is the best in baseball too, I think that can cover some mistakes by the pitching too. The lineup is solid enough, albeit slightly top-heavy. Peavy and Sale will survive and thrive in the postseason. The bullpen is going to get it done. I think they can go far. I think they can win.
  • The Pessimist: Wait, you mean the same bullpen that has Addison Reed as the closer in it? I don’t trust that kid, I don’t trust Thornton either. The only guys I trust in the ‘pen are the LOOGY Veal and the Wife Beating Brett Myers. The lineup is severely top-heavy and 3-4 starters do matter unless you think Sale and Peavy are RJ and Schilling reborn. And there’s no way you can think that, RIGHT!?!?!?
  • The Optimist: Uhhh…
  • The Pessimist: I FUCKING KNEW IT! You’re crazy bro. You’re crazy.

Getting kicked and boxed in Lansing.

Posted: September 13, 2012 by captaingonzo in Sports

How I found myself ringside on my knees with a camera with muay thai kick boxers in my face in Lansing deserves a little explanation.

“If they dimmed the lights a bit this would be like ‘Kickboxer’” Roobs said. Shit, if they dimmed the lights a bit, this would be something that would only happen in the pornos from the 1970s.

No, it wasn’t like that.

This was a round of kick boxing.

Roobs was right in a way because amid the booming muay thai fighting music, the packing sounds of kicks against shins, gloves against faces, grunts within a 2-minute round and sweat falling off people’s ball sacks, this kind of was like the final scene of the movie “Kickboxer” starring Jean Claude Van Damme.

In that movie you could see the sweat falling off people’s ball sacks. But that’s because they were wearing next to nothing when they were fighting during that last fight, with the glass and the glue and that fucking psycho opponent who would kick a cement pillar for practice. Yeah, I saw that when I was a kid. I loved “Kickboxer.” One of his better movies. Rent JCVD if you want to get the faith back. Then play the song by Baby Huey “Hard Times” on loop.

But let me start earlier.

On a random Saturday, a journalist and a photographer were knee deep on their way straight towards Indiana to cover a muay thai kickboxing tournament held at Active Edge fitness gym, 3314 Ridge Road, Lansing. Yes. We were heading towards Lansing, passing billboard after billboard after billboard on that wonderful highway to the other state.

“That’s America. Fast food, health insurance and fireworks.” Roobs said. He was commenting on the bland scene of the highway to Indiana, which we eventually wound up in because it seemed like a swell idea to buy cigarettes. “We’re not that far off.” Take that Governor Quinn.

Indiana the sign said. 

“Alright take the first exit. Exit 1. That’s how you know you are in a different state. What exit is it? Exit 1,” Roobs said.

That must piss people off in legislature. Which exit? Oh, exit 1. The first one right after the state line, then we double back and maybe we can still catch the “Wheel of Fortune” if the traffic is moving.

But while in Indiana, the situation turned grim when we realized that we weren’t wanted there. Take any gas station in the state, and when you go in there you realize that you are in a different country. People don’t like you. They don’t. They can smell that “You ain’t from around here” vibe that you got going. And they know that you are there to get whatever is cheap there or available. Gas, fireworks, cigarettes.

They hate the fact that to you it feels like you are saving money, but to them, it feels just like it does for you in your own fucking state. Broke. They don’t have the money either. To them, $5 a pack is a lot. Especially when everyone is out of work.

This followed us back into Lansing. And as we walked around the town, a sense of “Back to the Future” in 1955 crept up our backs. There was a clock tower. A slew of attorney’s offices, classic cars rolling by, shoe repair shops, bakeries, old time milkshake places, and an old school barber shop. A fine place I’m sure, a place where you can get a really close shave. Or they slit your throat.

“We are strangers in a strange town at a stranger time to cover a fight without a reason,” I said. There was a reason. We needed to dust off those shoes and get back into the game by covering sports. Sports is everything. A teacher at Columbia once told me that.

And the fights were true to its label. Pure muay thai fighting.

While the first two weren’t memorable, which is in no way a disrespect to the fighters because they were just feeling each other out by ways of kicks to the shins, it begs to ask the question, “What does it take to step into the ring?”

An answer like that does not come lightly. All of the fighters were volunteers who choose to do this. Most of them want to go into professional sports. That is a given. But what does it take to actually want to step into the ring? We have no “real” wars that need to be fought now. The only wars we fight now is our personal wars. We fight our demons.

The answer only comes in the ring.

We didn’t find the answer. We tried with tequila. But it only led to more problems. The point is that men will do strange things in order to feel like men. Our society tells men to not feel like real men. I guess these guys were trying to take it back. Even in Lansing, macho still exists. No pussies allowed.

But out of respect for the fighters, here are the results for the 3-round fights.

Alberto Rodriguez, 153 pounds, Chicago Muay Thai, bested a valiant effort by Iszak Morgan, 148 pounds, Team Colon.

Rosario Aybar, 155 pounds, Chicago Muay Thai, beat Monika Reginova, 155 pounds, Hyper Fight Club, during a painful bout.

Andrii Potapenko, 185 pounds, Counterstrike, traded powerful combinations with Carlos Castaneda, 199 pounds, Active Edge, and won.

Yahya Ahmed, 164 pounds, Chicago Muay Thai, overcame Michael Huffer, 205 pounds, Active Edge, with a referee decision to not continue the fight. Huffer was heard as saying that “I had 40 pounds on him.”

Big man Hercules Hayes, 330 pounds, Counterstrike, was outperformed by Steven Lyons, 200 pounds, Midland Muay Thai, during a violent and worthy fight.

An exhibition match between two fighters was also held before the fight lineup.

by: Mauricio Rubio Jr.
email: mr@99sportsproblems.com
twitter: @MRubio52

So You’re In A Pennant Chase

Congratulations, here take this bottle of Mylanta and a packet of Tums. This one is going to be a grind all the way to the end, so prepare your assholes, this is going to get really bumpy.

You see, apparently neither team wants to run away with the division. There have been ample opportunities, especially for the enigmatic Tigers who seem to like sweeping the Sox and then getting swept by the fucking Royals of all teams.

Oh the Royals.

Apparently nobody that is competing for the AL Central is allowed to beat them this year. They aren’t a good baseball team but for some reason they play the top dogs tough. I can’t explain it, it’s just baseball. Shit like that happens.

And that’s really what this article is about. We’ve got well over 130 games played now and it’s “a sprint to the finish” to borrow a tired term, but really at this point it’s less about the accumulated statistics of the past and the general randomness of the future. I mean, Dan Johnson pretty much saved the Tampa Rays season last year when he hit a home run when he and his team were down to their last strike of 2011.

Dan Fucking Johnson.

So how do you watch baseball in September with the finish line in sight? Let me guide you.

Rule #1, No cross sport references.

Your memory should recall 2008 and 2006 and 2005, so I know you, this is just a gentle reminder.

There is nothing like this. There is no sport like this, there is no month like this, there is no comparison for these moments that you the Sox fan will endure. This isn’t like any other sport, this my friends is a day-in, day-out grind that will leave you sick to your stomach most of the time.

The pay-off potential though? That’s big time. You remember it, when Konerko raises his hands and that fat-ass Jenks tries to jump and then Uribe comes running in and then the dog-pile ensues.

Yeah. That’s worth the 2-month supply of heartburn. Trust me.

Rule #2, Any one moment does not make a player better at baseball, it simply defines him.

Baseball in September is a unique creature. Teams live and die in September moments as they are scratching and clawing their way to a playoff berth. Legends are made in these next two months. Shit people in Chicago still love Crede, Dye and Rowand and they haven’t been relevant for years now.

Basically, you win now and you live forever.

Seriously, Bucky Fucking Dent has a career OPS of .618 and he’s a baseball immortal because he just killed the Red Sox. Cue Mazeroski, Boone, Gonzo, and the rest of the not-great-but-immortal gang.

So let’s say the White Sox win the world series on the backs of Dan Johnson, who hits a game winning HR to beat the Tigers in game-163, Gordon Beckham, who goes crazy in the AL-DS and CS, and Phil Humber who steps in the rotation and wins 2 WS games.

Their ability has not improved, they aren’t any better than they were entering the playoffs. As crazy (and extremely unlikely) all of that is, it doesn’t make them any better at baseball. Maz was 23 when he hit that crazy HR for the Pirates. You know what he did after that? He continued to not hit. He put up an OPS+ of 83. He was an awful hitter for the rest of his career. Baseball is littered with these types of stories. Don’t let this cloud your judgement of a player’s past performance. Don’t let “clutch” enter your lexicon quite yet. There are very few players who I would call clutch, and that is not a term anyone should use lightly.

Just, you know, be careful when you throw that shit around.

Rule #3, Honor the Pitcher’s Duel, and a brief guide to observing a pitcher’s duel.

There are a few types of “Pitcher’s Duels.” There is the legitimate kind where two aces run into each other and decimate opposing lineups for 2 1/2 hours, there’s the lesser kind where two lesser pitchers run into each other and decimate opposing lineups for 3 hours, and there’s even a version where two journeymen pitchers get together and go lights out crazy for 8 innings.

Here are the typical signs of a true duel:

  • Strikeouts – A true pitcher’s duel will have the SP’s throw up close to a K per IP. The strikeout is the calling card of an ace, a true ace. Great pitchers know how to miss bats and induce weak contact. Close to a K per IP is 6-7 K’s in 8 IP. Stuff like that. Weak grounders to the left side are important in context, but that can sometimes been chalked up to a poor showing by the offense.
  • Hitter Reax are important – Given the two offenses you’ll be watching, Tigers and White Sox, it is safe to go off the hitter reactions to gauge what kind of stuff the pitcher has. Both lineups have enough good hitters that if you see those guys taking awkward half swings and just looking like little leaguers playing wiffle ball that you know the pitcher has great stuff. Hitter reaction is key, if he’s early on an off-speed offering you know he was looking fastball, etc. etc.
  • Mind the sequencing – Chris Sale got into trouble last time because he threw too many sliders. Delmon Young saw too many of them and hit a really good slider into the seats. Sequencing is pitching. Pitchers need to have a proper attack to keep batters off-balance. It can be any mix of pitches (relative to the situation) so long as there is a mix. Pitching is like real estate (location, location, location), yes, but that only tells half the story. Changing the eye level is important. Mixing speeds is important. Throwing waste pitches is important. Maintaining top velo is important. Knowing what pitches are sharp and what you can get away with early in the count/inning/game and what are your put away pitches is important. Pitching is a composite of knowledge, talent, and pacing. And it’s more than that too. Pitching is hard to define, really. But when you watch a start, look at the sequence. Is he pitching backwards (throwing soft stuff first then whipping the fastball), is he following the old rules and establishing the fastball first, is he changing eye levels, is there a good mix going on or is he too reliant on one pitch? Watch. Learn.
  • Staying power – Endurance is key in a duel. 7 IP minimum. No 6 inning duelers, that’s mere quality. We want excellence in a true duel. 6 innings is fine for one of the lesser duels, but it won’t do in the true tests of Aces. Sale vs. Verlander on Thursday will give you the first real test of that theory.

Rule #4, Overreaction in the moment is fine, but keep perspective.

OMFG SALE SUX BRO

DUDE FUCKING PAULIE HAS NO IDEA AT THE PLATE, BUM

D-WISE HITTING MACHINE!

All of these are examples of people caught up in the moment, and that’s fine. September baseball is all about the moments that define seasons and legacies. The moment is primary this month.

HOWEVA

Sale does not suck, brah. Paulie has the best attack of any hitter I’ve seen this year, and Wise is not a hitting machine. Keep perspective when the moment passes. Understand what you’re watching, this is just the final act of a long season. All the plays before today count too. All the Royals losses in previous months, all those times that both teams got stuck in the mud at varying points, all of that is still a big part of the reason why the White Sox will win or lose the division.

Look at it this way, this month is right in front of you, and it’s paramount. Right now. The Cubs were white-hot in September in 2010 and it didn’t matter because they blew ass the other 5 months of the season. That shit matters too. That time you didn’t beat Luis Mendoza, that time when Cy Chen shoved it to you, that time Hector Santiago gave up a really, really long HR to lose the game? All of that matters, all of that counts, and all those lost opportunities are part of why the Sox are only 2 games up.

So if they lose the division by a game or two, don’t just blame the September losses. There were ample chances before this month to make the Tigers irrelevant (see the Baltimore series).

Similarly, don’t forget the contributions of guys like Rios, AJ and Konerko from the early months if another person rises up and carries the team to October glory. Peavy was spectacular early, and is still good late. Those contributions matter too.

Rule #5, don’t let anyone, even some asshole on the internet, tell you how to have fun while watching your team.

We’re all adults here, so everything is more or less a suggestion. I think these are helpful tips to keep in mind, but basically, it’s your team. Have fun man, enjoy this shit. It is an exciting time to be a baseball fan.

by: Tony Leva
email: tonytrucker1969@gmail.com

Loaded for Bear – The Offense

Going into the 2012 season, there are grand expectations for Bears fans.  Grand, yet reachable.  The reasons for optimism are totally valid in this case.  For years, the team has been plagued by poor quarterbacking and substandard depth and quality at the WR corps.  This season, our franchise QB was given a legit group of weapons to play with. Marshall, Jeffery, Hester, Bennett and Token White Guy have a chance to do some damage.  Adding quality RB Michael Bush was a nice touch to compliment Forte.  It all going to come down to health and the play of the offensive line.  They don’t need to play at a Pro Bowl level, but they need to be competent.  Let’s break down the offense and see what’s what.

QB – Recent Bears history has been full of shitawful QBing. The backup spot never mattered more than this past season when Jay Cutler broke his thumb. A team that had legit Super Bowl hopes was suddenly as impotent as Jerry Sandusky’s wang in a Hooters with Caleb Hanie at the controls.  The very same Caleb Hanie who was championed by the idiot section of the fanbase after the 2011 NFC title game.  Remember those clueless jerkoffs?  Anyway, it was proven that Hanie was shit and he’s been replaced by a legitimate NFL QB in Jason Campbell.  In a similar situation, we’d have someone who could actually play the position now.  That’s a nice feeling.

Going with only two rostered QBs, the Bears are hoping for great health in this spot.  I’d love to see us get some breaks this year and give Cutler a shot at a healthy season.  This season could be special.  GRADE – A

RB – Let’s recap some recent history….Forte wants to get paid, turns down an offer that carried a $14M guarantee, comes to camp and gives away his leverage by showing up, plays at a Pro Bowl-level, gets hurt, wants even more money than he wanted before, looks like a whiny pud, watches the team sign Bush, feels like he may have fucked himself, ends up taking a solid deal to stay here.  Did I miss anything?

Forte and Bush should be about as solid a duo as there is in the league.  Both are solid vets who should compliment each other well.  Armando Allen should provide a nice scatback element to the offense.  Should be a fun group to watch.  GRADE – B+

O-Line – Ummmm, nothing to worry about, right?  I mean, once Gabe Carimi turns into an All-Pro, things will fall into place.  J’Marcus Webb will play like a young Orlando Pace, I’m sure!!  Things will be great!!

Yeah, let’s dial it back a notch.  For this unit to give the offense a chance to thrive, they’ll need one thing above all else….health.  If the starting five guys can stay together and jell a bit, they have a shot at being competent enough to give Jay 4 or 5 seconds on a consistent basis.  We need them to be mentally into it, not letting their minds wander and take penalty after bad penalty.  Competence would be acceptable at the moment.  I’ll believe it when I see it.  GRADE – D

Let’s Wreck Some Shit – The Defense

[youtube http://youtu.be/vGwUpM9QryU]

D-Line – This is, in my opinion, the very key to the defense this season.  In any defense, the pass rush makes or breaks it.  The team addressed this area with their first draft pick, DE Shea McClellin.  Many of us wanted an offensive lineman, but they went this way.  I’m willing to trust someone not named Jerry Angelo in his first draft making this pick.  If he realizes his role, he could give Pro Bowler Julius Peppers someone to take some of the pressure off.  The unit is depending on it’s depth to keep fresh players rotating in and eventually winning the late battles by doing so.  Phil Emery won’t get a pass if his hunch doesn’t pay off.  GRADE – B

Linebackers –  Brian Urlacher’s knee.  Do I need to say more?  I tend to think Urlacher will be healthy enough to start the season and make contributions to a unit that isn’t very deep.  As long as Lance Briggs is the best LB on the team, we’ll still be dangerous.  Urlacher’s knee won’t make or break the season, but a healthy knee will obviously be a tremendous piece of luck.  GRADE – B+

Defensive Backs – No other unit on the team is as dependent on another unit as the d-backs are dependent on the d-line to generate a consistent pass rush and limit the time these guys have to cover opposing WRs, some of which are goddamned monsters….Calvin Johnson, that crew from GB, etc.  Peanut Tillman has been a solid player but it seems he may be slipping a bit.  A hopefully resurgent Kelvin Hayden will provide some depth and experience to a unit that had issues last season.  DJ Moore and Tim Jennings seem to provide a spark at times.  I’d love to see this unit step it up and surprise the skeptics, myself included.  GRADE – C

Special Teams –  With the Greatest Kick Returner of all Time (G.K.R.o.a.T. from now on) back to playing at a Pro Bowl level, the team added former Pro Bowl special teams player Eric Weems and another ST ace in Blake Costanzo to an already unit.  There are few things one can count on in life and the Chicago Bears special teams units playing their asses off and making plays is among them.  Already the NFL record holder for career TD returns, the G.K.R.o.a.T. is as deadly a weapon in the open field as the game has ever seen.  He’s just a joy to watch.

[youtube http://youtu.be/HuCMb9FYyDA]

PK Robbie Gould is the 5th most accurate, by percentage, field goal kicker in NFL history.  He’s always a solid bet and seems to work hard on his game each season.  Having a kicker you don’t have to worry about it a pleasure.

As for the punting, Adam Podlesh and Ryan Quigley will be battling for the spot and doing a credible job of it.  I’m not worried about the punting as it is.  GRADE – A+

Coaching – Lovie is not always a great in-game coach.  I think he does a great job from Monday to Saturday, but he gets dumb somehow for 3 or 4 hours on game day, blowing time outs and challenges like they were free with every purchase at your local 7-11.  Lovie is almost in the same predicament as the o-line….he doesn’t need to be great, just don’t fuck up the easy, basic stuff and let your team win it for you.  I think the rest of the staff will do a good enough job to keep the ship on a straight course.  The schedule this season is filled with winnable games.  Lovie and Co. should be able to guide the squad to at least 9-10 wins, if not more with a good dose of luck and health.  GRADE – B

Outlook – Without a perfect team in the league, the Bears seem to have as good a shot as anyone to get hot near the end of the season, a la the 2010 Packers and the 2011 Giants, and make a serious run at the Super Bowl.  They were hitting their stride last season and have added to that bunch in hopes of sustaining that feeling and success.  The schedule coupled with health and luck could make for some really fun times this season for Bears fans.    Add in the fact that the NFC North is one of the best divisions in football with the dirty rat bastard Packers and the Lions both expected to make a run at the SB and there could be some dramatic football played down the stretch.  I’m going with an 11-5 record and a playoff berth for the team, with a legit shot at glory in attendance.  They’re going for it and should be rewarded.

[youtube http://youtu.be/67BR5zcPAFM]

by: Mauricio Rubio Jr.
email: mr@99sportsproblems.com
twitter: @MRubio52

I know. The Cubs fucking suck. I get it. For those brave souls who would venture into Cubs September baseball, I offer you a congratulations of sorts. That kind of dedication is commendable in some respects. Some circles would call it lunacy, stupidity, and just plain pathetic. Me? I call it being a Cubs fan.

I digress.

You want to know what to watch for in September. Who are the kids that you should be paying attention to. What should you, the Cubs fan, try to find in the mire. Well, I can help you out with that. First things first though.

PUNCHING PEOPLE IN THE FACE ISN’T GOOD BASEBALL.

I can’t stress this enough. If I were on the Cubs it would take a lot of willpower for me to not go around and punch people in the face because of the frustration level would be building to a critical level. Seriously, I would probably go around trying to start fights out of sheer boredom and stupidity.

But I’m not a player, I’m just a fan.

Fan logic is the worst kind of logic. It’s blind and completely based on personal experiences rather than the realities of the game they are watching. For example, whenever a player is negotiating for more money the fan logic says: “I would play for free! These jokers are greedy and should just take whatever’s given to them.” The cousin to this logic is the ‘ole “draw parallels from their job to yours” technique, ala “I show up to work everyday and I play hurt.”

This is incredibly stupid. Nobody pays 40 dollars a ticket to see you work, let alone 30,000 people. Nobody tunes in to watch you work, let alone a million viewers. You have almost zero advertising value compared to a professional athlete, thus their rules are extremely different. Also, their job is incredibly difficult and requires a certain level of health to perform. Trust me, it ain’t easy being a pro athlete. It takes a shit ton of work.

Similar fan logic dictates that players should start fights when they are bad to light a fire under the team and that will magically lead to winning. I call this the “Da Fire and Passion” logic.

Baseball is a sport of relaxing and concentrating. As the original Baseball Annie once said, “Making love is like hitting a baseball: you just gotta relax and concentrate.” This applies to all of baseball. You have to find a good zone to be in. Trying harder rarely leads to better results, as odd as that sounds. Trying harder leads to becoming too tight, holding the bat too tightly and reducing the flexibility in your wrists which will lead to an almost zero percent chance of making contact. It means you’re pressing and that’s the wrong thing to do in this game.

So, punching someone in the face? Wrong thing to do in baseball. It’s cheap. What the Cubs did was bush league. It’s going to lead to some really bad blood for a few years. Harper said it best: “I think I’d be pretty [ticked] off if I was getting my teeth kicked in all [week], too, but you can’t lay down.”

Let’s get to the important hitters:

Starlin Castro

Did you notice that Starlin Castro’s approach got better? No? Ok. Well it did, in a tiny sample. Starlin Castro got to 500 hits, which is great. Castro’s defense has been improving, which is better. The approach has also changed and it looks like he has a plan at the plate, which again occurred in a small sample size. The approach would be amazing if he can hold on to the gains. Castro’s BA took a dip. This is fine. The power is showing up more often and his OBP has actually maintained itself from the early months.

Consider this:

From the first half to the second Castro lost almost 30 pts. of BA, but gained 3 pts. of OBP. Look at August, his BA was .252, but his OBP was 10 pts. higher than his May OBP when he was hitting .304. Castro isn’t a finished product, but he’s slowly putting the pieces together in his age-22 year. This could be big.

What to watch for in September:

It wouldn’t shock me if Castro absolutely broke out in the month and tore it up. He looks relaxed at the plate right now, and it doesn’t look like he’s thinking about the approach, it looks like he’s just doing it. Look for his walk rate, his power, and his average. If those all take a positive up-turn in this month it’s not crazy to think that he can build on it and carry the gains into 2013. I’m not predicting a McCutchen break out year in his age 23 season, but I don’t think it’s crazy to see him turn in a .290/.340/.440 season next year.

Anthony Rizzo

The kid can play, and that’s a big relief. Rizzo had an awful year last year before adjusting at the plate and changing his stance. The swing is compact and it generates real power from the left side. The funny thing with Rizzo is that there isn’t a really good comp for him, so I won’t force it (#Goldstein). Rather, I hope he turns into Paul Konerko, a good sometimes great hitter with a terrific approach. He is having his struggles of late, but that’s to be expected. He wasn’t the guy who put up .330/.375/.567 in July, but he isn’t the .252./.300/.342 August guy either. Oddly enough, he might just be exactly what his .298/.349/.480 2012 slash line suggests: an above average 1B.

What to watch for in September:

Power. The old axioms suggest that power truly shows itself by a player’s age 25 year. Rizzo flashes it every so often as he is capable of hitting absolute screamers out of the park. It might not be in his swing to hit light tower shots, but a hint of the 30+ HR power potential would be nice to see in this month. Rizzo is a good hitter with power, rather than a classic power hitting 1B. I personally think he can be a legit power threat, meaning hit 30+ HR’s consistently.

Brett Jackson

Brett Jackson is hitting .191 and would strike out 220+ times in 500 PA’s and it is glorious. Jackson is an athletic prospect with a vastly under-developed hit tool. The approach, believe or not, is actually pretty good for a rookie. He will take the walk and he knows what he wants to hit. But wanting and doing are two completely different things. He has obvious speed, but his base running IQ isn’t there yet. He’s like the inverse of Scott Rolen in that regard, all speed no smarts.

What to watch for in September:

Assuming health…

I’m on the record quite a bit for hoping Jackson can be Tigers-Era Granderson, or Mike Cameron. Maybe he’s just Dexter Fowler (if you followed all of that, I love you).

Look for his hit tool to either improve or collapse. In an extremely small sample it’s trending downwards, but that doesn’t mean a whole lot. Pay close attention to the BB-K ratio and that Batting Average. It was the right move to bring him up and see what he is. Handling Major League pitching is a bitch, that learning curve doesn’t get much steeper. If he can be a guy who hits .250 with speed/walks/power, that’s a win. I don’t know if he can though.

Josh Vitters

Josh Vitters has a sweet swing, the type of swing scouts fall in love with. He’s also 1-for-27 against lefties and doesn’t fare much better against righties. Vitters is a project, and he always takes a step back before taking a step forward when he goes up a level. Age used to be strongly on his side but that time has run out. Vitters isn’t making good contact and he’s striking out at an alarming rate. He’s overwhelmed right now and just looks lost.

What to watch for in September:

He needs to hit the shit out of the ball to warrant any regular playing time. The Cubs could be looking at bringing Ian Stewart back again if they don’t think Vitters is ready. He doesn’t look anywhere close to ready either. I’m in the Chase Headley in 2014 camp, so anything Vitters does in the short-term is a bonus. He’s a bit statuesque at the hot corner, but he is sure handed. I don’t know about this guy.

…and the one pitcher worth watching,

Jeff Samardzija

Raise your hand if you thought Jeff Samardzija would turn into a reliable starter when he came out of Notre Dame.

Liar.

Shark is having a breakout year. No really, how many times can a reliever whose career was in serious question 2 years ago give you 165 innings of solid, sometimes good/great, baseball? Not too many. His periphs are solid, the velo is solid, and his control didn’t completely collapse.

His control hit a critical moment in June and he posted the ugly 10.41 ERA and saw his WHIP balloon to 2.06. When his command is there, Shark is a very effective pitcher. I do think the bouts of inconsistency are something Cubs fans are just going to have to live with, but he’s moved up from “Maybe a 5 starter” to “A 3 starter that sometimes pitches like a 2.”

What to watch for in September:

He’s not an ace, so don’t act like he is one. Even if he emerges as the Cubs best pitcher that still doesn’t make him an Ace (intentional capital A). You’re going to have to watch the command. I think he retains the solid control and maybe even lowers his BB/9. If he isn’t given the Strasburg treatment look at his armslot late into September. When it dips, his command goes away, when it’s consistent he can put up some good numbers. The fastball combos he employs are the key, coupled with his cute slider. The strikeouts are there, he needs to keep on limiting the walks.

 

Laces out!

College football opening week normally is set with boring match ups between powerhouse schools and Division 2/NAIA cup cakes.  Most teams are looking for those easy wins to get their team off to a nice start all the while hoping to find some consistency in their teams starters.  2012 brought us a few interesting match ups but mostly it was much of the same boring crap.  If you woke up early enough you might have caught Notre Dame making a joke out of Navy.  Or maybe you decided you’d wait to catch the most hated program Penn State taking on the mighty University of Ohio.  Sadly that’s what a tuned into, I thought Bill O’Brien did a great job preparing the kids from Penn State only to fall flat on their faces in the second half.  I’m sure most of the nation was happy about this, I know I didn’t mind it, but really at this point I hold no ill will to this new administration or the players who decided to stick it out.

If you were smart you would have started with the Northwestern/Syracuse game.  Not because either of these teams are in the upper echelon of college football, but they put on a great show.  Syracuse did a great job of battling back only to watch a second string QB come in and save the day.  Speaking of which, what an odd coaching decision by Pat Fitzgerald.  Who brings in a back up to lead the team to victory?  Talk about taking a huge risk!

At this point you were left with watching a few ranked teams that should (key word here is should) take care of their opponents with much ease.  That however was not the case for both Wisconsin and Florida.  Both would eventually win their first games but neither looked very good in doing so.  I decided to take in the Iowa/Northern Illinois game.  Yes, that same Husky team who owned the longest winning streak in the nation.  I was surprised at how Northern took it to Iowa, but after playing 3 ½ quarters of football they gave way to the Big 10 conference.  The bigger story in this game might have been the turf at Soldier Field.  Sounds as if the city of Chicago may need to invested in an artificial turf of some sorts.  Sad to think that the legendary Soldier Field, in all its upgrade glory, forgot to worry about the most important part of the stadium, the field.  Paging the Sod Father!!

The rest of the day was largely uneventful with most teams doing exactly what they should do.  So I waited for the big time matchup between Michigan and Alabama.  This was the game that had bowl implications resting on both teams.  After watching the first quarter you could totally tell that Michigan was well overmatched.  Alabama on the other hand is a team to be reckoned with and should be odds on favorite to win the SEC this year.

Best Performances:

Le’Veon Bell MSU:  Maybe the best game of the week was between Michigan State and Boise State.  Michigan State had to really battle for this opening day victory and who better to lead the way then Bell.   Bell shouldered the load by touching the ball 50 times (44 rushing attempts) racking up 210 rushing yards and 2 rushing TD’s.  Maybe Montee Bell will have a little competition in the Big 10 this year.

Austin Franklin WR NMST:  This will most likely be the only time you will see me mention New Mexico State.  Franklin had one of the best games in the past week hauling in 8 catches while totaling 236 yards and 2 touchdowns.  What’s most surprising is that last year the sophomore had a total of 524 yards.  Talk about having a career day.  I’ll keep an eye on this kid, but when you’re playing Sacramento State I’d hope you’d have a chance to run up the score.

Gino Smith QB West Virginia:  Nobody should be really shocked that senior Gino Smith put up good numbers against Marshall.  Throwing for 323 yards while completing an impressive 32 for 36 should be something to pay attention to.  Smith last year finished 4th in total yards last year and I would not be surprised if he challenges for the top spot this year.

Bjoern Werner DE FSU:  Picking up 4 sacks against anyone is pretty special.  Sure Murray State is not Alabama, but you can only play who’s on your schedule.  We may never hear another thing about the German Werner, but he still should be proud of getting to the QB as many times as he did.

What to watch for this week:

 #24 Florida vs. Texas A&M:  Texas A&M comes into the 2012 season with a lot of question marks.  New coach, new conference and a freshman quarterback trying to lead the way.  Florida came off a win against Bowling Green which was not really impressive.  The Gators had to work for their season opening victory, coming up with two touchdowns in the 4th quarter to hold off a feisty MAC team.  Florida should win the game, but if A&M can keep Johnny Manziel he will have many senior targets to throw to.  Manziel threw for over 3500 yards and 44 td’s his senior year at Tivy Antlers in Texas.

Vanderbilt vs. Northwestern:  It’s kind of a boring week of college football matchups when I put up a game between these two teams.  I’m trying to get excited for an Illinois team and I guess this will be the one I focus on for a while.  Vanderbilt comes in to Ryan Field after losing 17-13 to a very talented South Carolina team.  Northwestern, as mentioned earlier, just survived against a poor Syracuse team.  Vegas has Vanderbilt favored by 3.5 points, but don’t count the Wildcats out.  Fitzgerald clearly has a good read on his team and will have them ready for their home opener.

In other news:

– Savannah State  might not care about taking a 84-0 drubbing by Oklahoma State last week.  The Tigers will take away a hefty 385 thousand dollar check.  But what does this say to the student-athletes?  Sure you made some easy money, but nothing can make a team feel much worse than knowing they were whored out for money.

– Who is Sam Durley?  I know I asked myself that same question.  The Senior quarterback for Eureka College in Illinois broke the single game passing record last week.  Durley threw for 736 yards while leading the Red Devils in a come from behind 62-55 finish.  Durley is not new to holding records as he holds his high school record for passing yards with 375 passing yards, but this one has a little more meaning to it.

Gambling notes:

Last week 1-0-1    Season 1-0-1

This week

If I were you I’d save my money this week, most of the spreads are not worth staking your hard earn money on.  But knowing myself I’ll probably wait till half time on a few of these games.  So if you’re following my bets check out my twitter feed as I’ll post some of my plays there.

aw@99sportsproblems.com   twitter: spike1057

by: Mauricio Rubio Jr.
email: mr@99sportsproblems.com
twitter: @MRubio52

And so there was Delmon Young, standing in the way of Chris Sale as the budding phenom was attempting to pull off another escape trick. This is the scenario that Robin and co. imagined when the reset the rotation this way. Get Sale a start against Verlander in case we have to stop the bleeding. It worked out poorly, but before we get into that, let’s take a look at why this game was so important/meaningful/fun.

Prologue:

Quote:
Andy: RE: Fantasy Baseball:
“Sorry for the anal rapeage on the last day.”

Chris Sale is having a tremendous year at the tender age of 23. The lefty is putting together a Cy Young caliber year in his first full exposure to the league as a starter. He is lightning in a bottle and the Sox are trying to convert it into a post-season berth. Sale has been off a bit lately. The breaking stuff is still sharp, but there is a noticeable dip in velocity that concerns White Sox fans. He is, however, the unquestioned ace of the staff, armed with the stuff (shit your pants slider with a good change) and good feel for pitching. The White Sox moved him back a few days and matched him up with perhaps the preeminent ace of the modern age.

Justin Verlander is having an off-year. And by off-year I mean that he’s only third in the AL in ERA and WHIP, only second in HA/9, and only second in total strikeouts. Verlander set the bar impossibly high last year when he put a filthy repertoire and a feel for pitching together and created a monster that the AL is having great difficulty dealing with. The man is a monster, and I believe he is the best pitcher in baseball. He toys with you in the early innings, hitting 90-95 on the gun as needed before unleashing the hellish 101 fastball that, grouped with an elite curve/slider/change combo, is just unfair to the rest of humanity. He also manages to pitch deep into ballgames, using superior pacing in his game.

Normally, this should be chalked up as an automatic loss. Losing this game would mean many things. Heading into the Tigers series the White Sox enjoyed a fairly cushy 3 game lead, only a sweep would produce a tie atop the division standings and the Sox had their two aces going in Peavy and Sale. Well Peavy did yeomen’s work, but he pitched sub par according to his 2012 standard, and Scherzer shoved it on Saturday, setting up the improbable sweep that the Sox feared.

I would feel better about the White Sox chances with a 2 game lead instead of a tie. Detroit is an enigmatic team that finds “it” in spurts. They are perfectly capable of rattling off an 8-2/9-1 stretch and that could be bad for the Sox. They needed this game and they had the right guy on the mound.

With the division hanging in the balance, there aren’t many pitchers I’d pick over Sale.

There are none that I would pick over Verlander.

1st Inning

Quote:
Keith Law:
MVGIDP ‘@Buster_ESPN: And Miguel Cabrera leads the majors in hitting into double plays. espn.go.com/mlb/stats/batt…’

Verlander:

There was a time when Verlander struggled against the White Sox. It wasn’t that long ago either. The Chicago White Sox are a historically good fastball hitting team. When Verlander was first called up in 2005 he was a thrower with good stuff. He cranked it to max velocity at all times, and that played right into the hands of the White Sox.

You had to think that maybe the White Sox would find a way to get back to those days when De Aza launched a “get me over” fastball into the right field bleachers. The book on Verlander is that you have to get him early, and when he fell behind Youk I thought this would be a big inning for the Sox. Verlander battled in that first inning, he managed to get 3 strikeouts, the first being on Youk, but he was working from behind consistently. The fastball was gettable, the Sox were sitting on it and laying off the two-seamers down and away, and the junk that he was throwing low. As the inning progressed I realized that they needed to score all the runs they could this inning because that slider/curve combo was sharp today, and he gains a feel for those pitches as the game goes along.

What makes Verlander so dangerous and tough is that he doesn’t get weaker as the game goes along.

He only gets stronger.

Line: 1ip/2h/3k/0bb/1er

Sale:

Chris Sale has struggled against the Tigers in his first season as a starter. He carried a 6+ ERA against Detroit heading into the game, so the first go around would be extremely important. In 2012 opponents hit .197 against Sale the first time they face him in a game. By the third PA the average jumps to a still respectable .241. If Sale is going to go deep, he needs to be solid the first time through the order.

It started dubiously, it wasn’t a lead-off HR, but he did walk Austin Jackson. He had a solid attack against Infante and met Miggy for the first time. Sale hints at a strategy forming in this at bat, which only lasted 2 pitches. He pitched backwards a little bit. Old axioms dictate that a pitcher establishes the fastball first and then moves on to the slow stuff. Sale threw Miggy a slider that was high and away before burying a moving fastball low and in to induce a double play. It was smart pitching and a professional attack on a great hitter, ensuring that Prince Fielder would lead off the next inning.

Line: 1ip/0h/0k/1bb/0er

2nd Inning

Quote:
Me:
“Needless to say, Verlander made it move a little.”

Verlander:

Have you ever had your definition of “Art” questioned? I remember once I was sitting in the waiting room of a mechanic, watching as he bent a metal frame and melded it back together with precision and grace. The craftsmanship bordered on art, and I wanted to call it art, but I knew that would be silly. I did it anyway, and I brought it up in art history class where I was shot down, and perhaps rightly so. “There’s no creativity!” the teacher barked.

I suppose not.

I was reacquainted with that feeling when Justin Verlander struck out Tyler Flowers in the 2nd. Verlander dialed up the velocity to 95 in the first as he had to overcome sloppy control. He brought it back down to the usually 90-92 in the second inning and then he found “it.”

“It” can be many things. “It” can be command/control, “It” can be touch on a fastball, the comfortable grip on a breaking ball, the right arm slot for a change. “It” in this case was a combo of breaking stuff and command.

What Justin Verlander did to Tyler Flowers should be illegal but it was wonderful to watch. It will go down as another strikeout, and you might see it on Sportscenter, but the pure attack of Flowers was sublime. Verlander got Flowers to swing at a fastball, wasted a pitch and then threw two breaking balls that made me wish I could do that just once. I would shit my pants against all MLB pitching, but that combo of breaking stuff is probably the closest we’ll get to the baseball equivalent of “The Brown Note.” All that was missing from that sequence were peace doves going off in the background.

It was Art, and it was masterfully done.

Line: 2ip/2h/4k/0bb/1er

Sale:

Chris Sale is hell on lefties. The delivery that he employs hides the ball extremely well. It’s a lot like Jared Weaver from the left side. The fastball isn’t overpowering, but it’s effective as it just looks like it’s coming from behind you to right over the plate. Prince Fielder is pretty effective against lefty pitchers. When I first saw it I thought that Sale was falling in love too much with his fastball. We’ll see in later innings why I was wrong, but for now, Sale was able to get Fielder to swing at a pitchers pitch and fly out harmlessly to center. Delmon Young followed up with an awful at bat, he was confused by a slider on the second pitch and struck out on a fastball.

Peralta made solid contact and I thought it would lead to trouble, but Sale ate Garcia up on a fastball in and worked out of it once again. Sale’s secondary stuff looked excellent thus far, but the fastball was worrisome at this point. He was trying to establish it, but the Detroit hitters looked like they were getting closer to squaring it up. Sale would need to make an adjustment.

Line: 2ip/1h/1k/1bb/0er

3rd Inning

Quote:
Elizabeth Hathaway, with priorities clearly in order:
“I need Sale to do well tonight. My fantasy playoff is in the balance!!”

Verlander:

This was the point of no return for the White Sox. Verlander wasn’t lights out in this frame, but the stuff was filthy and the way he finished was pretty much a sign that it was lock down time. Verlander started the frame by allowing Hudson to single on a bad fastball.

Then he went to work.

De Aza was bunting at this point. Miggy Cabrera has two bad ankles which severely limits his range over at third. Hawk and Stoney were practically begging for the White Sox to bunt/slap shit his way all series and I can’t fault that logic. Pride and honor probably kept Robin from employing that strategy, but when the chips are down and you’re fighting for your playoff life, pride and honor should go out the window. The White Sox should have taken advantage of that situation and did not. De Aza failed on the bunt attempt and then was fooled by an off speed pitch and hit into a fielder’s choice.

Youk is a pain in the ass in the batter’s box. Even though Verlander hit him, Youk was guessing up there. Verlander had him as he set him up with the classic fastball/breaking stuff combo. Youk was fooled so badly that he half swung and ran into the pitch.

Wise notes:
Change, Nasty. Curve, Nasty. FB up the ladder – great attack, doubled up on fb’s, sequence was filthy.

Paul Konerko is fun to watch at bat to at bat. He has a plan when he goes up there and he adjusts on the fly so well. Paulie has an oval that he will absolutely not go outside of unless the stuff is filthy. Konerko is the guy that I would show to my kids if I was teaching them how to approach an at-bat.

Verlander made him swing like a little leaguer.

Line: 3ip/3h/5k/obb/1er

Sale:

Sale flashes a deeper understanding of craft in the Boesch at-bat. One day, if given the opportunity to grow and mature as a big leaguer with minimal injury, Sale will be the perfect blend of dominant and smart, and the league will bend to his will. As good as he is right now, he can be the dominant ace Verlander is if he stays healthy. I have no doubt. He was hinting at nibbling away with Boesch, putting him in his safe zone. Boesch can relax now, he’s going away with soft stuff, and then he blew a fastball by him with no warning.

Laird didn’t want to take the bat off his shoulder and I don’t blame him. It was a bad walk because Sale missed the zone, not because Laird coaxed it. Laird was passive, Sale did not attack here. He did attack on Austin Jackson and induced a double play.

This was an example of good, smart pitching. Sale is flashing that more consistently now that his fastball velo is trending downwards as the season goes on. This is important in the development of a young pitching mind, you have to be able to be on even when your stuff isn’t great. Sale’s slider is the only pitch that is wowing at this point, yet he is pitching smart and working all corners of the plate at this point.

We have a legit pitcher’s duel on our hands.

Line: 3ip/1h/2k/2bb/0er

4th Inning

Quote:
Matt Spiegel:
“So, haven’t watched a ton of Terry francona this year. Disappointed to hear him being MLB Gruden. Everyone is awesome.

Verlander:

At this point, Verlander has settled into his happy zone and there isn’t much you can do about it when he’s there. The curve/slider isn’t so much a breaking ball as it is a snap dragon from hell. Verlander left a fastball up to Rios and he hit a harmless flyball out to center. After that Verlander punished AJ Pierzynski and Alexei Ramirez with breaking pitches. He got Pierzynski looking on a curve and AJ knew it, he calmly left the batter’s box with his head down and a look of confusion on his face that told the whole story. He ramped up the velo on Alexei and made him take a silly swing at an unhittable pitch.

With Verlander settled in it’s up to Chris Sale to not blink.

Line: 4ip/3h/5k/0bb/1er

Sale:

The middle of the Tigers lineup is scary good and the back half of it is absolute shit on a stick. Sale has a test here, and it’s one that young pitchers need to ace in their development. At a certain point, top prospects can get out any AA lineup, even most AAA lineups, but the MLB is a different beast with a steep learning curve. You’re going up against men who have seen everything you have to show them, and it’s up to you to fool them.

Sale had to go through Infante, Miggy, Prince, Delmon, and Peralta. He shoved it to Infante, but then Miggy showed the type of approach that separates the men from the boys. Sale had a good attack, he was working both sides of the plate, but Miggy was waiting for a mistake, and Miggy didn’t swing at pitcher’s pitches. He coaxed a walk and set up a dangerous situation.

Prince Fielder is made fun of quite a bit. I get it, he’s fat and he has dreads, it’s funny in a way. What people overlook is how he’s grown from a slugger to a hitter. He has more walks than strikeouts this year, and while the slugging % is down, he’s become a better hitter this year. Sale worked him carefully, he had him set up for a slider when he hit him inside with it. He had him and then he lost him.

Pitchers fall in love with certain pitches sometimes. When the fastball isn’t working pitchers find ways to work around it. Sale fell in love with his slider in the Delmon Young at-bat. He showed him 3 sliders down in the zone and got him to strike out swinging. This is important to remember, that Delmon saw three sliders in this at bat. It becomes very important in a few innings.

He did much the same with Peralta, didn’t pop a fastball in that at-bat and just threw offspeed stuff. He got Peralta to ground out on a sick slider.

Line: 4ip/1h/3k/3bb/1er

5th Inning

Quote:
Elizabeth Hathaway:
Well I’m indifferent to Sox or Tigers winning, I just want Sale to do well.
Sale gives up a HR to Boesch on a mistake pitch
Elizabeth Hathaway:
Damnit!”

Verlander:

Verlander fell behind on Flowers and let up to issue his first walk of the game. This was the K-CS sequence that had me scratching my head. I’m all for being aggressive in a baseball game against a premier pitcher, but to put on the hit and run with a catcher while the batter has 2 strikes and Verlander is pitching is odd. He’s a good bet to strike the guy out and Flowers is not going to be safe at second. The changeup was sick, and the throw to second wasn’t even that good, but Flowers is slow, so it arrived in plenty of time.

Just like that the dreaded lead-off walk doesn’t matter and Verlander can go back and attack De Aza. Which he did and it was sick.

Line: 5ip/3h/7k/1bb/1er

Sale:

Major League hitting is a bitch.

One moment you’re thrashing around Garcia, making him look like the untested rookie that he is, the next you make a mistake to Boesch and he makes you pay dearly for it. 430 ft. worth of home run later and it’s all tied up. Many things can happen at this point, but this was the junction that I knew Sale wouldn’t get the win. Verlander looked locked in and he can go longer than Sale. All Sale could do at this point was keep it tied.

I think the Laird out was what finally convinced Sale to abandon heavy use of his fastball. Laird hit a big fly ball out to left that he just got under. It was a loud out and it looked like the Tigers were about to break out.

So Sale adjusted and went to the slurve.

Elizabeth: “And for the love of god what was that last play?”
Me: “Twas a Hammertime play, both of them.”

Quick break: There isn’t much in baseball that’s funnier than a pickle. Perhaps a slap hit that the 1b allows to roll, hoping it goes fair, only to bounce off the bag and into fair territory allowing the runner to reach 1st safely. That play was glorious. The pick-off/pickle was equally fun. AJax gave us some grade A entertainment there.

Line: 5ip/2h/4k/3bb/1er

6th Inning

Quote:
Andy: 
“Well this one is done. Gonna need Detroit to continue to suck against the rest of the league.”

Verlander:

Contrary to old SABR dogma, there is such a thing as a pitcher inducing weak contact, and it is documented here. In this inning Verlander got Youkilis to line out softly to third with a good mix of pitches and differing eye levels.

Wise Notes:

LOL Slider
LOL Curve
Weak Contact. Again.

Remember when I said that Paul Konerko has a great approach? This was the at bat that showed it. Remember, the last time he saw Verlander he took an ugly looking cut. Now Konerko was waiting for a pitch, he saw something in the last at bat and adjusted to it. He hit a single, which doesn’t seem like much, but the approach was golden. He didn’t go outside of himself, he remained in his zone and hit a pitch he could do something with. It was a fine piece of hitting.

Verlander dialed it up against Rios and got him to fly out to center. Verlander was in pure attack mode.

Line: 6ip/4h/7k/1bb/1er

Sale:

Infante started the frame with a seeing eye single to left. Sale was then very careful to Miggy and walked him on sliders. Which put Prince on the spot. 2 on with none out and the game/division hanging in the balance.

  1. Slider: strike/sick
  2. Slider: ball (Sale falling into bad habit, needs to get away from sldr)
  3. Change: swing+miss, 1-2
  4. Slider: ball 2-2
  5. Slider: foul 2-2 (CHANGE!)
  6. Slider: K! GREAT attack!

And so there was Delmon Young, standing in the way of Chris Sale as the budding phenom was attempting to pull off another escape trick.

I thought he was going to wiggle out of this at that point, and the game would still be tied. Instead Sale dipped into the well again, throwing more sliders to a guy who’s already seen a bunch of sliders. Delmon Young hit what would be a good pitch in a vacuum. However, Sale’s sequencing deteriorated after the second Young AB and he became to reliant on the breaking stuff to bail him out. Young waited on a slider he could handle and got one, sending the Tigers to first place with one swing.

After that Sale punched out Peralta, gave up a single to Garcia, and then k’d Boesch, but the damage had been done. Pending the BLOLpen, the White Sox had once again been swept by Detroit.

Final Line: 6ip/5h/7k/4bb/4er

7th Inning

Quote:
Me: “Yeah there’s still the Detroit BLOLpen though”
Andy: “Yeah but Verlander may throw 130 tonight”

This was more or less closing time for Verlander. He had a lead, he had a manageable pitch count, he was into the 7th and his stuff was still sick.

AJ Notes: Changeup, still nasty.
2 seamer, still nasty.
Killed with FB’s, nasty.

He walked Flowers and dropped a hammer on Hudson. After 100+ pitches Verlander is just now pumping the velo up to 99 mph.

Line: 7ip/4h/9k/2bb/1er

8th Inning

Quote:
Andy
: “Verlander is a bitch. He’s been talking shit to AJ for years, not sure why.”
Buster Onley: “For those asking: It looks like A.J. thought Verlander was staring him down, and asked what the problem was; Laird waved him to the dugout.”

Verlander:

There isn’t much to say about this inning besides that Verlander finished with dominance. The sequence to Wise was particularly nasty, as was the sequence to De Aza to start the frame. Yes, this was a Sunday lineup, but even so the stuff was biting, and as the game went along, he got stronger and pitched smarter.

Final Line: 8ip/4h/11k/2bb/1er

9th Inning

Quote:
Andy: 
“I know you’re gonna see the new baseball movie, but man I have to download that shit off the net cuz no way in hell am I giving that old bastard my money.”

I hate Jose Valverde, that is all.

Epilogue

Quote:
After watching Valverde suck his own cock on the mound:
Andy: 
“Makes me sick to my stomach watching that cocksucker. I’d say that if he was on a AAA team, he’s just scum! Lol!”

When Chris Sale grows up he will be in the Justin Verlander tier of great. There are probably only 5-8 true aces in the game of baseball, guys that you want starting games 1-4-7 of a World Series. Verlander is at the top of my list. This game if anything showed how smart he pitches. The sequencing by Verlander was absolutely supreme and after the initial trouble he settled in and put the White Sox down.

Sale will learn, it’s all a part of the process. Major League hitting is hard, and this lineup is particularly brutal to learn against. Sale dipped into the well one too many times and he got burned. It happens. He showed enough flashes of smart pitching to believe that pending health, he will be special. Pitching is a craft, one that takes years to hone. Right now his stuff is allowing him to get by. Soon he will hit a rough patch and then he’ll really learn how to pitch.

And then the league is fucked.

September

It’s hitting that familiar fever pitch now. The kettle’s getting hot and it’s screaming for a release. The baseball wave is hitting that crescendo, that peak where every minute detail matters. The pitches are magnified, the losses feel awful, the wins feel euphoric. September is that crazy month where the ragged post season hopefuls beat the ever loving shit out of each other for 30 days. It can be elegant, it can be ugly, but mainly it just is a fight to survive. The White Sox are entering that month tied atop the division, and now it’s like the season started over.

Now the fun shit begins.