Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Pirates season on the way

By Jeff

We're less than 8 days out from the start of the Pittsburgh Pirates season. Now this blog is usually pretty optimistic for the team prior to each year. Unfortunately, that optimism and excitement is missing this year for me.

First, I just look at the infield and shake my head. Pedro Alvarez took a big step back last year and has struck out something like 13 times in 30 at bats this spring. But there is a bright side, he has about four hits. Spring training numbers mean very little, but these types of numbers can't be ignored. This franchise was very excited about having a legit power hitter in the lineup for the first time since Barry Bonds. Now fans are getting the feeling Alvarez is going to go the route of other Pirates first round busts like Kris Benson, Daniel Moskos and just about every other high pick other than Andrew McCutchen.

The rest of the infield isn't much better. First base has a platoon of two flawed players, Clint Barmes is a small step above Ronny Cedeno and Neil Walker is good, but lacks range on defense.

Second, Rod Barajas and Mike McKenry behind the plate does not excite me much. Barajas' 20-homer potential... OK, 15-homer potential is nice, but he is old and won't play more than 100 games. That leaves around 40 games for McKenry and his complete lack of power and hitting in general. Awesome!

Third, the starting rotation is a question mark. Erik Bedard could be excellent, but he could pitch 6o innings and then his shoulder is destroyed. A.J. Burnett could be good, but then again he could be the Burnett who gave up 30+ home runs last year. James McDonald could be solid, if he ever gets past the fifth inning. Charlie Morton needs to be able to channel Roy Halladay for an entire season rather than three months. Jeff Karstens and his success makes no sense to me. Nothing he does stands out, yet he had a great year last season and has been better this spring. I don't get it. That is a lot of uncertainty and there is still no guy in the rotation that the team can count on to get a win when they need it.

Fourth, the bullpen deceptively stunk last year. Other than Joel Hanrahan, no one was very consistent. At least not in the good way.

Fifth, the outfield actually looks good. McCutchen has a new contract and could hit 30 home runs. Tabata is a bargain and could be great if he's healthy. Alex Presley seems to keep surprising people. We count him out and then he produces at every level. He won't be a star or hit for a lot of power, but he could be solid. Nate McLouth as the fourth outfielder is funny. He tried blaming the Pirates for not diagnosing his eye problems when he was with the Atlanta Braves. He then continued to suck with the Braves and had no excuses. And now he's back! Why? No idea.

So that's the Pirates in a nutshell going into this season. I want to get excited about them. I want to think they can build on last year's 72-win season. But I have to be honest with myself. They were lucky to get that many wins last year. The team had no power, a lousy bullpen, a shallow bench and a below average starting rotation. What they did for almost 4 months defied logic and a step back is very likely for this year.

Sorry. I just went Bob Smizik on all your asses. I'm not proud of it.

The Beatles - Ticket to Ride

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Doan gets off easy for elbow

By Jeff

Have you seen this blatant elbow to the head delivered by Phoenix Coyotes captain Shane Doan on the Dallas Stars Jamie Benn?

If you haven't seen it, check it out below.

So what was his penalty for this? A simple three-game suspension. This is despite the fact that Doan is a repeat offender. He was suspended in 2010 for targeting a players head and was fine $2,500 for boarding a player last week.

This is an example of the inconsistent discipline practices of the NHL. I thought it would get better with goon Colin Campbell no longer determining punishment for plays like this. Too bad the league is still a joke when it comes to this matter.

Benn didn't have the puck, and Doan clearly wasn't trying to get it either. He took his right hand off his stick so he could deliver an elbow to Benn's head. Yet he only got a minor penalty in the game and a short suspension?

Pittsburgh Penguins forward Matt Cooke delivered and identical dirty play last year. He was suspended for 17 games because he was a repeat offender.

Cooke was suspended earlier last season for the hit below. It was boarding and it was charging. There is no question. But Fedor Tyutin saw him coming and put himself in a prone position. Cooke should still have held up, but the hit is no worse than Doan's, but Doan only got three games.

I wish I could find a video of Doan boarding Mark Giordano, but no one was at the game so there is no video.

Imagine the hammer the NHL would bring upon Cooke if he delivered the same hit that Doan gave Benn. We would never see Cooke again.

I'd love to see what the league has to say about Duncan Keith's blatant blow to Daniel Sedin's head.

When it comes to hits like this, prior behavior and intent should not factor into suspension decisions. Suspend the offender for a minimum of five games, regardless of whether he meant to hit the victim in the head or not. How else are you going to teach these guys a lesson and prevent serious head injuries?

I am in no way trying to defend Cooke's actions last year. He played recklessly and deserved a suspension. What angers me is how multiple repeat offenders have got off light since then.

Pens fans should actually thank the league for suspending Cooke. He has been a better player this season and isn't taking dumb penalties. Hell, he has more goals (17) than players like Joe Thornton, Mike Richards, Mike Cammalleri, Henrik Sedin and Danny Briere, despite making a lot less than those players.

The NHL needs to decide if it's actually serious about stopping dangerous plays or not. Right now, they talk a big game, but their actions are lacking.

Bob Seeger - Turn the Page

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Despite high points, Chuck finale disappoints

By Jeff

For most of five seasons, NBC's shunned stepchild "Chuck" was one of my favorite shows on television. Hell, it will go down as one of my favorites of all time.

Maybe I just love the underdogs. "Chuck" was always in danger of cancellation because of poor ratings, but it was saved multiple times by fan campaigns.

The show was a great mix of action, comedy and drama. The character of Morgan Grimes, the main character's best friend, will go down as one of the greatest television characters I've ever seen. Maybe because I'm a nerd and Grimes was a huge one that enjoyed video games and classic B movies.

Anyway, a few months ago (I know, I've been slacking) the show finished up and it was quite disappointing. OK, the Jeffster (band featuring key-guitar and a singer) breaking out "Take On Me" with the help of an orchestra was one of the better moments in the show's history. But in general, the last episode, really the last four or five, seemed rushed and lazy.

The main antagonist came out of left field. He wanted the Intersect (Super computer downloaded into the subject's brain to make him ultimate spy) because he was supposed to get it five years ago instead of Chuck. It really made little sense and he was never that believable.

The entire fifth season was a bit of a let down when you think about how they wrapped it all up. At the end of Season 4, we were led to believe that Chuck Bartowski and his family have been targeted by the government for a long time. That Chuck downloading the Intersect into his brain, his dad being it's creator, his mom being a super spy herself, etc., was not an accident. That they were all a part of the government's master plan.

Well, Season 5 came around and that story was never told. It was just forgotten. The whole fifth season just seemed like the writers didn't have a clear idea of where they wanted the show to go. Which was sad. The show always had a good story. Good bad guys. Great dialogue and chemistry. But then came Season 5, and each week was a toss up. It could have been great, or it could have been meh.

Unfortunately, the end to a great show turned out to be nothing special. It's disappointing and I just hope the same doesn't happen to my other beloved NBC show, "Community."

A-Ha - Take On Me

Stop jinxing the Pens!

By Jeff

Watching the Pittsburgh Penguins the past two months has been amazing for any Pens fans.

Everyone on the team seems to be stepping up their game, well Tyler Kennedy tends to miss the net more often than not, or hit the goalie in the chest from point blank. But he just had two goals in the last game, so things could be turning around.

Sidney Crosby is back and playing great hockey, although I don't know if I've seen him win a faceoff since his return.

Marc-Andre Fleury has been at another level that I've never seen him at since Game 6 and 7 of the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

James Neal is a bigger, stronger, younger, better version of Petr Sykora from 2008. He and Evgeni Malkin have unbelievable chemistry.

Speaking of Malkin, he leads the league in scoring and is the favorite for the league's MVP.

So please, national media, stop jinxing this team. Yes, the Pens are playing better than any other team in the NHL and are atop most people's power rankings. But that doesn't mean I want to hear or read it somewhere every day! Just let me watch and enjoy this team in peace and enjoyment.

True Pens fans can continue to talk Cup or bust. You're fans and have thought that way since Crosby came into the league. At least I have. But hearing the national media gush about the team just makes me worry that we're destined for a letdown in the playoffs. I don't think it will happen, the team is that good and can probably overcome the worst of jinxes, but after two early playoff exits, I don't want to chance it. So the national media needs to focus more on this Russian coming to play for the Predators and leave the Pens alone!

The Who - Can't Explain

Saints, Payton slammed for bounties

By Jeff

The NFL announced the punishments for the New Orleans Saints and their staff for their actions in the bounty program put in place under former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.

Williams would offer cash rewards to Saints players for knocking opponents out of games. The NFL warned the Saints to stop the bounty program, the Saints claimed they had it taken care of, and then the Saints continued to let it happen.

The result is the Saints head coach Sean Payton has been suspended for a year, Williams has been suspended indefinitely, Saints general manager Mickey Loomis was suspended for eight games, the team will lose this year's and next year's second-round picks, and the organization was fined $500,000.


Oh, I forgot assistant coach Joe Vitt will be suspended for six games.

It is a very severe penalty for the organization and Williams, who recently signed on to coach to the defense in St. Louis. But one that is deserved.

I've heard countless players and former players act as if the bounty program is not a big deal. They say players know the risks and there is nothing wrong with players making clean hits that result in injuries.

First, it is clearly against NFL rules to pay any kind of bonuses not stipulated in contracts.

Second, the Saints were warned. They could have gotten off easy if they just listened to the league and put a stop to it. Instead they let Williams continue paying his players if they hurt others.

Third, some of the hits that probably resulted in thicker wallets for Saints players were certainly good, clean football hits. But you can't tell me it wasn't in the back of the players' minds that if they hurt a guy, they're getting paid a couple thousand dollars.

Others that are upset with this ruling will quickly point to the New England Patriots and Spygate. I heard numerous callers and DJ's on Philly radio today talking about how they thought Spygate threatened the integrity of the game and should therefore should have been punished more severely than the bounty program in New Orleans.

Any regular readers of this blog, if any are left after my three-month hiatus, know that I strongly dislike the Patriots and Bill Belichick. But come on. Giving players incentives to hurt other humans, cash incentives, is messed up. It's worse than videotaping defensive signals. Belichick should have been punished a little harsher than he was, but not more than those involved with this bounty program.

Those suspended and fined deserved it. I just feel bad for the New Orleans fans who did nothing wrong but will suffer.

Frightened Rabbit - Backwards Walk