Archive for the ‘Sports’ Category

Early Thoughts on Olympic Women’s Curling

February 16, 2018

I didn’t actually plan on talking about “traditional” curling at the Olympics until it was over, but the first three draws have been noteworthy for Canadian fans and so I thought it would be a good thing to talk about it.

The big news is that Rachel Homan has struggled out of the gate, and is now 0 – 3 after her first three games. I think that if she runs the table she can still make the playoffs, but it’s going to be tough. This is a huge surprise considering that Homan is one of the best teams in the world. Falling to Sweden is not that surprising, as Anna Hasselborg is also one of the best women’s teams in the world, falling to South Korea is a bit surprising but she has beaten Homan twice in the recent past, but falling to Denmark is a huge surprise and one of those games that you really, really need to beat as they are the lesser known team (and, right now, their only win has come against Canada).

The good news if you’re a Homan fan is that the games have all been close. Two games went to extra ends, and even the rather lopsided game against South Korea — Homan had to take 2 in the 10th end just to make it 8 – 6 — was a game where it was 5 – 4 heading into the 9th end and all Homan needed to do was blank that end and take the hammer into the 10th down by 1. Instead, she seemingly decided to go for a multiple score and her team missed some shots, while South Korea made some shots, giving up a steal of 3. This is despite the fact that a multiple score in that end wouldn’t have helped her that much. Sure, being up by 2 — if she scored 3 — would have been good, but she was only likely to score 2, which would have given South Korea the hammer one down, and despite the statistics from the current Grand Slam tour suggesting that that isn’t likely to give you a win, I’m going to stick with the conventional wisdom and say that it’s better to be one down with the hammer than one up without, as that has been tried and tested for years by some of the best curlers the sport has ever known, and statistics can fluctuate a lot (especially since this strategy will end up in an extra end a lot, which is going to be a coin toss a lot of the time). There was no reason for her to be that aggressive there, and it cost her badly, as she had absolutely no chance of winning after that end (and I was surprised that she even played it out).

What I realized watching the games — I couldn’t watch the Denmark game — is that this aggressive style is pretty much Homan’s hallmark: she comes out aggressively, makes everything complicated, and then trusts that her team will make more shots than the other team will. It is a credit to her team that this works out so often, as it indicates that they are strong enough top-to-bottom that she can rely on them making more shots — or missing less — than her opponents. But this is a risky strategy, because if your team misses shots or the other team makes them, things can be awfully close. And in the South Korea game, Homan’s team missed shots and the South Korea team made them, which usually results in a bad day at the office for the Homan team (and lead to that steal of 3 that cost her the game). However, this strategy also means that if her team can figure out the shots she can go on a run … and she’s going to need that now just to have a shot at the Olympics.

There was also some controversy in the Denmark game, where Homan asked that a stone that was “burned” — the sweeper had touched it on the way down — be removed instead of just leaving it in place. While that is in the rules, in general in curling if it isn’t felt that the burn greatly impacted where the stone ended up it’s left in place, or perhaps a minor adjustment is made, and in fact in one of the Canadian men’s games Kevin Koe burned a stone and that’s what they did. I haven’t seen the game, but I did watch the shot, and it seems that it happened right at the end with no real impact on the stone itself. Yes, what Homan did was within the rules, but curling has always been a more “friendly” sport, where the players settle things themselves with remarkable sportsmanship, and so I think that Homan broke that a bit in sticking to the rules so strictly. That she ended up scoring four in that end makes it seem so much worse, as it looks like it was a convenient way to eliminate a shot that would have caused her problems in the end. I agree with McCusker that it was a reaction out of frustration, and Homan says that it has happened to her at Worlds before but, really, she should have just let it stand … especially since leaving it is, indeed, within the rules.

Meanwhile, the men’s team is cruising at 3 – 0, as expected.

We’ll see how things work out as the draws continue.


Thoughts on Mixed Doubles Curling

February 14, 2018

So, Mixed Doubles curling has made its debut as a full Olympic sport this year, and the first medals have been awarded. Team Canada — Kaitlyn Lawes and John Morris — won the gold with a dominating 10 – 3 win over Switzerland. I watched most of the draws, which obviously for me focused on Team Canada. One thing that’s interesting (at least to me) is that the team they beat to make it to the Olympics was Val Sweeting and Brad Gushue … both of whom I’d rather watch than those two (although it’s not like I actually dislike them either). Ah, what could have been. Then again, Val Sweeting has a tendency to falter under pressure, so maybe they wouldn’t have won if they had made it.

It’s certain that the two of them wouldn’t be as good at sweeping as Morris and Lawes, who are incredibly strong brushers, and one thing that was obvious is that sweeping is incredibly important in mixed doubles. You generally only have one sweeper, and the general practice was to have the thrower hop up and sweep their own rocks while the other player called the line from the rings, except on some shots. With only one sweeper, that sweeper is going to have to be really, really good at it to hold the line or make it curl, and it’s likely that you aren’t going to be able to get away with having a weaker female sweeper, so both players are going to have to be good at sweeping. This also might meant that skips aren’t going to be as good at mixed doubles as, say, thirds are — both Morris and Lawes are or have been thirds for a significant part of their curling careers — since thirds both have to sweep and make the big and finesse shots. Skips don’t tend to be as good at sweeping as thirds are, just because they don’t have to do it as often and in as important circumstances as thirds do. Sure, you can get skips who can really sweep, like Rachel Homan, but still you aren’t going to say that she’s better at it than her third Emma Miskew is, and she isn’t that much better at the big shots to make going with the skip the better option. And most skips don’t sweep as well as Homan does (for example, Jennifer Jones often looks downright awkward when she has to sweep, as she had to once playing mixed doubles at the Continental Cup).

Another thing that is interesting is that Canada sent a team that was formed out of existing curling teams that didn’t make it to the Olympics. Lawes and Morris had only played 22 games together … counting their games at the Olympics, and obviously the games they played together in qualifying. Joan McCusker commented on the coverage that they were the most accomplished curlers in the field, but that the other teams had a lot more experience playing mixed doubles and, in general, playing together in mixed doubles. And other than the first game, Lawes and Morris ran the table, and ended up beating every single team in the field at least once. This might suggest that it’s more important to have strong curlers than it is to have an experienced mixed doubles team … which is not something that people who would want mixed doubles to become a respected sport out of the shadow of curling would want. If you can take the best curlers from the four-person team game and have them beat the best mixed doubles team most of the time, then mixed doubles isn’t that different from four-person curling in terms of skill set and there’s no reason for curlers to dedicate themselves to the sport.

Another thing that was interesting is the “power play”, and how the typical strategy is to use it to try to generate more offense and big ends. For those unfamiliar with the game, in mixed doubles the ends start with rocks in play: one belonging to the team with hammer at the back of the four foot, and a center line guard belonging to the team without hammer. If the team with hammer invokes their once-per-game “power play”, the guard moves over to cover the corner, and so does the rock in the rings. Since this is what regular curling teams use to set up multi-end games, it would seem that this would be used to generate big ends. Except … I never saw it happen. The most I saw was 2, I think, and there were a number of 1s scored which is absolutely not what you wanted out of that. To make things worse, there were a number of large ends scored without the “power play”. And it seems to me that this is going to be the case, because without the “power play” what you usually ended up with was a very crowded button area, and if you manage to get a few convenient misses — and in mixed doubles there are a lot of misses — you can end up with a lot of your rocks crowded and frozen together with no way to move them and no way to bury or freeze a rock to stop them from counting. With the “power play”, however, you can’t pack a lot of rocks under the corner guard without leaving a draw or freeze that can cut down how many rocks of yours will count at the end of it. So it seems to me that its best use is defensive: you put on the “power play” when you really don’t want the other team to steal on you and you want to make sure that you score at least 1. The “power play” draws the play over to the edges, which usually leaves you some kind of shot to get 1 if you need it, and starting with one buried gives you a decent chance to get 2. So it’s a good thing to use like Lawes and Morris tried to use it: in the last end if you are tied or even down by 1 with hammer, since you’ll probably get at least 1 and have a good chance of getting 2, which is all you need. On the other hand, without that “power play” if you are the team that makes the convenient misses you could end up giving up a steal, and potentially a steal of a bunch. So I’m not sure that the “power play” is really doing what they want it to (although it is claimed that it can be used defensively, but most teams use it offensively when they are far behind and need to generate some offense, and it seems like it hampers offense more than helps it).

So, at the end of the day, as this was my first real, concentrated exposure to mixed doubles, what did I think of it? I think it’s … okay. It does have faster moving ends than four-person team curling … but that’s because the teams throw three less rocks. And there’s a lot more scoring in mixed doubles, but that’s only because there are a lot more mistakes in mixed doubles than there is in four-person team curling. The games are shorter which means that if a game starts at 7 pm I can easily watch the whole game before having to go to sleep, but that’s not that much of a benefit for me — although I fear that it’s a big benefit for broadcasters and a lot of other people. In general, I find the games to be far more reactive tactical games than the rock-by-rock tactical games of four-person curling. Play is almost always right around the button and not in the wings at all unless the “power play” is on … and that also happens to be, in my opinion, when the play is most boring. Shots are missed a lot and so there’s a constant readjustment based on the miss they made or the miss you made that they capitalized on. This makes it hard to plan out sequences and play them out, adjusting accordingly but keeping an overall strategy in mind. So to me it loses the thoughtfulness of four-person team curling and replaces it with an “anything can happen!” excitement.

Ultimately, I think I could enjoy watching mixed doubles … but I don’t want to see it replace four-person team curling, which has the elements that I really like and are the elements that get me watching curling in the first place.

Next up are the men’s and women’s four-person team events.

Scotties at the end …

February 5, 2018

So, the Scotties has ended, and I generally got to watch one full draw and part of another every day during it. Here are my thoughts on it:

Jennifer Jones beat Kerri Einarson again 8 – 6 in the final — which started too late for me to watch — to take her record-tying sixth Scotties championship. This was a rematch of the 1 – 2 game (between the first place and the second place team in the playoffs, with Einarson getting a second chance to make it to the final by beating the winner of the game between the third and fourth place teams) which Jones won 9 – 7. Einarson had managed to beat Jones in the Championship Round 6 – 4 to take first place, but didn’t carry that on to the elimination games.

However, it is interesting to note that these teams were probably the teams that are the best known or had the best records on the Grand Slam tour, although I don’t think Einarson is a constant playoff team there yet. All of the teams that were semi-regulars on the Tour made it to the Championship Round, and the only two of those teams that didn’t make it to the playoffs were Casey Scheidegger’s team — and this was her first Scotties, and she’s still a relative rookie on the Tour — and the very Scotties experienced Michelle Englot, who in general is streaky on the Tour. The teams that made it through that weren’t really known on the Tour were Mary-Ann Arsenault’s team — where she has had tonnes of experiences with Colleen Jones and I think this was at least her fourth Scotties as a skip — and Tracey Fleury, who if I recall correctly does play at least peripherally on the Tour. And you can add in that the Tour teams all had strong records (Englot’s was a bit weak) and that many of them had an easy time in the round robin, with Jones, especially early, completely running away with games to the tune of double-digit points when her opponents had around two or three. This is not something that often happens on the Tour, and certainly didn’t happen at the Roar of the Rings. Even with the Wild Card team — which was Einarson — the provincial format simply didn’t have the quality of teams that you’d expect to see if you really had the best teams in Canada participating, and Arsenault pretty much had to shoot the lights out to make it as far as she did (which she may not be able to replicate next year).

This is not to say that the curling was bad, because at times it was really, really good. But it seems to me that there are too many teams that are weaker, and so those matches aren’t generally that interesting and they often tend to get destroyed when they hit the better teams. At the end of it all, Jones and Einarson were the class of the field and Einarson rarely beats Jones. At best, Jones had some games that she would expect to lose on occasion on the Tour. Sure, she’s one of the best curlers in the world, and maybe the best — although Homan would certainly contest that — but it seems, again, that the Tour is much more challenging to her than this was, which is probably not what we want out of the Canadian Championships.

Also, there were some comments from the commentators that it’s hard to come back in these games, but my impression was the opposite, mostly because while on the Tour the games are eight ends, here the games ten ends. So if you give up more than you’d like in the seventh, you can come back just because you have three more ends to go, instead of only one more end. I watched Hollie Duncan from Ontario do that a lot; she’d make a mistake in either strategy or in shot-making and go down by two or three and I’d think “Well, she’s done” and she’d come back to eventually win the game. They’re talking about going to the five rock rule (and I think they already do that on the Tour) but the continual updates to how many rocks you can throw in the free guard zone in the hopes of generating offense seem to be a bad idea to me. Offense can be fun to watch, but if there’s no strategy to the game curling would lose what makes it great. Sure, you can argue that without that everyone finds the ideal strategy and there’s no variation either, but I think that it might be worthwhile to let players come up with new strategies to take advantage of the set strategy more often. After all, the original rule change soon resulted in the adoption of the “tick shot”, where you move the guard over and out of the way without removing it, which Lisa Weagle of Rachel Homan’s team excels at. I think that offensively-minded teams will find a way to break through defenses and make things tough for defensively-minded teams, and tweaking the rules so much discourages that sort of thinking.

However, the curling was still entertaining to watch if you weren’t watching one of the blowouts, and the semi-final — which I was able to watch — mixed incredibly offense in the first half with solid defense in the second half.

Next up: the Olympics.

Thoughts on the first weekend of the Scotties

January 29, 2018

So, the first weekend of the Scotties was this past weekend, and while I wouldn’t normally comment on just the first weekend while watching it I noticed a few things, and it has a new format, so I thought it would be a good idea to comment on it.

In the past few months I’ve seen the Roar of the Rings which had the very best teams in Canada, and then the Grand Slam which had many of the best teams in the entire world. Comparing those to the Scotties, the field strikes me as being quite inferior. There are more weaker teams and the play seems to reflect that. A big part of this is the result of the format, as it is based on one team per province, which means that the larger provinces may have multiple strong teams where only one of those will make it, while the smaller provinces and territories might not even have a team good enough to play on the Grand Slam circuit, let alone have a good showing there. As an example, Val Sweeting plays out of Alberta, and isn’t at the Scotties this year despite being one of the best curlers on the Grand Slam, because she had to get past Casey Scheidegger, who is representing Alberta this year. Kerri Einarson, in general, couldn’t make the Scotties because she couldn’t get past Jennifer Jones, and only made it in this year with the wild card entry by beating Chelsea Carey in a one-game playoff before the event even started. Meanwhile, there are a bunch of mostly unknowns representing smaller provinces and territories, many of whom don’t have a lot of experience either on the Grand Slam tour or internationally. Add in that a team that gets hot can run away with a short qualifying tournament and so cause an upset, and you end up reducing the quality of the field that you get at the Scotties.

In some ways, the new format makes this worse, because now every single province and territory has to be represented, including some places with a smaller population and who simply don’t have the quality of teams that other areas have, for various reasons. This, I think, has been reflected in the play over the first weekend (one team lost 14 – 1, giving up 8 points in steals and a 6 ender). However, the new format might help this a bit because after the first stage of the round robin, the top 4 teams from each pool will play in a new round robin to determine who gets into the playoffs. Thus, once the first stage ends, we should see the best teams playing against each other, or at least the teams that are playing the best play against each other. We’ll see if this improves the quality of play substantially or not.

That being said, it’s not like the play is terrible either. There have been some great shots made and even the opening flubs could easily be chalked up to teams learning the ice and changing ice conditions (the ice slowed down a lot in the later ends of the later draws on the first day, so adjustments were made that might have caught the teams by surprise when that didn’t happen). It’s just noticeably weaker compared to the admittedly unique quality of the Roar and even the normal quality of the playoff rounds at the Grand Slam. The Scotties used to be the crown jewel of women’s curling, but now it might be fading a bit into the background.

Canadian Open

January 22, 2018

So, this past week was the Canadian Open. For some reason, all of the qualifying draws that I could have watched were men’s draws, so I didn’t get to see much of those. I did manage to watch the quarters and the final, though, since they were mid-afternoon on the weekend.

The Canadian Open uses a format that’s rare in North American — and especially Canadian — tournaments, but supposedly is much more popular around the world. It’s triple-knockout, which means that a team has to win three games before they lose three games. Everyone starts on the A-side, which is for teams that have not lost. Teams that lose on the A-side drop to the B-side, for teams that have lost a game, and finally there’s the C-side for teams that have lost 2 games (where if you lose another game you’re eliminated). I don’t mind that format, but it always gets me thinking of that old song that talks about moving to the A-side from the B-side because there’s nothing on the B-side, and where they’ve been living too long with no special song (which is a remarkably hard song to seach Google for). So that’s stuck in my head now.

Anyway, some thoughts on the event:

Rachel Homan had a very good qualifying round, going 3 – 0 and ended up as the first seed. And then she lost to the eighth seed, Kim from South Korea, who is going to the Olympics, by a fairly lopsided 7 – 4 score. This could be worrying for the Olympics, except that in order for Kim to win she had to make great shots and have Homan miss shots that she otherwise ought to have made. Add in that the rocks Homan had were 2 – 14 during the event, and there’s no reason to push the panic button yet, and instead we probably should feel that Homan is back on track after a lackluster return to action after the Roar of the Rings.

The quarters did not work out well for me as a curling viewer, because the semis created the situation where on both sides of the draw there was a team that I didn’t care about one way or the other playing a team that I disliked. Thus, it was entirely possible that the final would be two teams that I disliked playing each other, which isn’t a lot of fun to watch. Instead, it ended up with one team that I didn’t care about one way or the other — Michelle Englot, who is retiring after this season — playing a team that I disliked, Chelsea Carey (and that’s mostly because I’m not fond of Cathy Overton-Clapham, although she’s been pretty well-behaved over her past few events, whereas in this game Englot’s third Kate Cameron was much more annoying). Carey won, which I’m ambivalent about, although the difference was one three end despite it ending with a 10 – 5 score (Carey picked up a bunch on her last rock in the last end, when Englot was trying to steal at least one and left her a double for the win). Englot had a chance for a three of her own in the next end and missed her shot, and that was really the difference in the game.

Next up is the Scotties, which starts on Friday with a play-in game.

Continental Cup …

January 15, 2018

So, the Continental Cup was on this weekend, which is a North America vs The World curling competition featuring regular team play, mixed doubles, and skins play to decide which group gets the Continental Cup. Team North America pulled out a close win, which means that they’ve won it the past six times and I can’t recall Team World ever winning it, but the gap definitely seems to have closed between mostly Canada — with one American team that is usually seen as the weak link — and the teams from places like Switzerland and Japan (who did surprisingly well here).

I didn’t get to watch much of it for various reasons, but I did note a few things.

First, Rachel Homan, after her win at the Roar of the Rings, struggled badly here. Since she is representing Canada at the Olympics, this would be worrying, despite the commentators attempts at damage control by saying that her struggles indicated that she had really taken the month off which they felt would be good for her at the Olympics. That being said, I’m not that worried about it for a couple of reasons. First, Homan has shown that she’s able to deliver under pressure, winning the Scotties, the Worlds, and the Roar of the Rings, so she isn’t likely to simply choke. Second, Homan was struggling going into the Roar, and even through the first few games, and then came back to sweep the remaining games, so we know that she can recover quickly and get on a huge roll. Still, it would be nice if she was playing better heading into the Olympics.

Second, I ended up mostly watching mixed doubles, and I’m not sure about it. The first time I watched it, it seemed to rely a lot on errors, because it was difficult for curlers who were used to regular team play to figure out how to throw without a broom to aim at or without the dedicated sweepers that they were used to. When I watched it this time, it seemed like there were less mistakes, but then it didn’t really seem all that different from the regular team game, except for again being a bit less precise and involving a bit less strategy. But it’s also generally faster, which makes it a game that TV networks and some fans might prefer. Right now I’m not even sure if I want to watch it, so I’m pretty sure I don’t want to see it replace the team game. But since it is a new addition to the Olympics this year, I’ll wait and see how I like it there.

Next up is the National, starting this week.

Roar of the Rings

December 11, 2017

So, this weekend was the “Roar of the Rings”, where Canada decides what teams it’s sending to the Olympics to represent it in curling. Considering that Canada has enough teams to pretty much fill out the Grand Slam of Curling — that draws teams from around the world — whose top teams are generally Canadian, as you might imagine there are a lot of really strong teams participating, on both the men’s and the women’s sides. But since I focus on women’s curling, I’ll talk about the women’s side only here.

Rachel Homan won the spot, beating Chelsea Carey 6-5. Carey had a double opportunity in the tenth to send it to an extra end, and didn’t make it. Homan, you could see in the replay focusing on her as the shot was taken, pretty much expected her to make that shot, and was surprised and, of course ecstatic when the shot was missed and she got the win.

To be honest, I was hoping that Carey wouldn’t win that game. Part of this was because Cathy Overton-Clapham joined her team at third to replace Amy Nixon, and I’ve never really liked her, partly because she played for a long time with Jennifer Jones and partly because she tended to be aggressive and often critical during games, which rubbed me the wrong way. She was much better with Carey in this tournament, but one worry I had was that both Carey and Overton-Clapham can be critical at times, although Carey is more self-critical and Overton-Clapham is more openly critical of the team at times. If things started to go wrong, if they started being critical the team could collapse. Yes, Amy Nixon was as passionate at times, but they’d known her longer and were less likely to just take it personally. And it was likely that something would go wrong because while they went undefeated in the round robin, they played poorly and got away with it. As I commented when I talked about the Boost National, that’s not good. Winning while playing poorly gives you less incentive to change your game, but the errors will catch up with you eventually. If Carey had squeaked out the win here, there was a good chance that she’d struggle at the Olympics. Given that after she won the Scotties she did poorly at the Worlds, history repeating itself was not unlikely.

The other playoff team, Jennifer Jones, was in the same situation coming in, and it hit her about half-way through. She started off with a win streak while not necessarily playing well, and then ended on a losing streak. I think she went 5 – 0 to start and then dropped her next 5, including the semi-final. However, if she had squeaked it out I would have had less concerns about her because she had the experience to correct it if things went south at the Olympics. However, given what happened here, that might still have been too late.

Homan was coming in relatively cold, and played poorly in her first two games, going 1 – 1. Then she went on a tear, winning her last eight games to win the spot. This ties into what I commented on at the Boost, where at least they knew that they had been playing poorly and needed to correct, and having the example of Val Sweeting who went 0 – 3 and was almost out of it before she had even won a game to look at, that Jones and Carey didn’t have because they were still winning. And since Homan has won a Worlds, she likely can handle the pressure of an Olympics.

One thing that I noticed about Homan’s team — which might indicate the future of women’s curling — is just how good at sweeping every member of that team is. Teams like Carey’s or Sweeting’s have a strong front end, but the thirds are older and not quite as good at sweeping. And, in general, this was fine, because the rocks that you really need to sweep well are the third and skip stones, and your front end does that. But Homan has two of the best front end sweepers in the women’s game — Lisa Weagle and Joanne Courtney — and on top of that Emma Miskew is pretty much as good a sweeper as any on the team, and Homan herself is pretty good at sweeping, too. They can sweep stones out of the rings if needed and Homan even jumps in to help herself at times. There were a number of shots made by sweeping, so maybe sweeping is more important for all members than it used to be. Jones has three solid sweepers on her team, but she herself can be a little weaker.

Anyway, congratulations to Rachel Homan and her team, and the next time I’ll talk about curling will be in the New Year.

Grand Slam of Curling: Boost National

November 20, 2017

So, this weekend was the Boost National. Jennifer Jones won 8-7 over Casey Scheidegger in a match that wasn’t quite as close as the final score indicated, as Scheidegger was pretty much 3 – 4 points behind most of the game (or, at least, pretty much every time Jones got a chance to make some shots). The interesting thing is that in pretty much every end the team with hammer scored multiple points, except for two steals (in the 6th, which pretty much put it away for Jones, and in the 8th when Jones only needed to get rid of one of the two rocks to win the game).

Also, Jones’ team pretty much struggled the entire time. Other than Katelyn Lawes, I’d seen every member of their team with low numbers and missing shots they should have made at some point during the week. Jennifer Jones over the tournament had low numbers for her. Despite that, they’ve now won 14 in a row on the Grand Slam, but don’t seem to be on top form. Unless you’re in a league where every win gets you points, playing poorly but winning anyway is not how you want to go into a big tournament, like the Roar of the Rings which will determine which team will represent Canada at the upcoming Olympics. The reason is that if you aren’t playing that well and are still winning there is a tendency to fall into a mindset that everything is okay and that maybe you need a few small tweaks. After all, you’re still winning, right? But a lot of that might come down to luck or happening to make the right shot at the right time or hitting teams that make mistakes at key moments, either in shot-making or in strategy. If you stop getting the breaks, those wins can turn into losses in a hurry. At least if you are losing, you know that you need to make some adjustments.

Speaking of which, Rachel Homan managed to get back to the playoffs, but then had a disappointing exit in the quarter-finals, losing to Scheidegger (who, admittedly, has been playing very well). Her play was at times a bit odd, as if she didn’t really know what she wanted to do and had no real plan. The commentators noted that she might be overanalyzing things, and I think that she might be trying to predict what her opponent is going to based on what she would do, and then gets surprised when they do something different. In the game against Scheidegger, Homan at one point ignored a stone to place a guard, which Scheidegger then removed, which surprised the commentators as it was a very conservative move, but after that Homan didn’t seem to have any overarching strategy, and seemed to be just reacting. While trying to see where your opponent is going to go is important, maybe Homan just needs to have confidence that she can make pretty much every shot they leave her and plan more on ensuring that she will always be left a shot instead of trying to outstrategize her opponents.

And speaking of strategizing, I can’t recall seeing a draw that Val Sweeting won that didn’t heavily rely on her stealing points, and thus in general on her opponents making mistakes and missing shots. Overhearing her discussions at one point, it seemed like she was planning for that, as she talked about them making a double and rolling out. Sure, you can have forced doubles where the shooter will definitely be lost, but it didn’t seem like one of those and so that her opponent might have been able to stick her shooter, and thus she was planning for them making a mistake. This might explain her results, then, where she relies on her opponents making mistakes and when they don’t she struggles. She went 4 – 0 in the round robin but, like Homan, lost disappointingly in the quarters.

Next up is the big one, the Roar of the Rings which will determine which teams represent Canada at the Olympics.

Grand Slam of Curling: Masters

October 30, 2017

So, curling is back, and this past weekend the Masters was on. As per usual, I only watched the women’s draws, which Jennifer Jones won in a relatively close game over Kerri Einarson, who had to win the Tier 2 event at the Tour Challenge to even get an invite to the tournament and to get onto the main tour, so she’s doing pretty well. Einarson managed to defeat Val Sweeting and Rachel Homan on her way to going undefeated until the final. From what I can tell, right now she isn’t in the Olympic trials, and so has to go through the pre-trials to even make it to the trials, but her team is certainly playing well at the right time if they want to get that shot.

Val Sweeting seems to be repeating her arc from last year, as she won the Tour Challenge and then at the Masters absolutely struggled, not even winning a single game. It makes me wonder what it is about her game where she seems to be so hit and miss, either doing really well or really poorly. She does seem to manage to get a lot of points and wins because of steals, so maybe the problem is with her strategy, where she relies too much on her opponents missing and not enough on setting herself up for shots that she can make to score points. If her opponents don’t miss, then she has a hard time either setting herself up or getting herself out of trouble. As an example, in the Tour Challenge final she did just miss a few shots that got her in trouble early, but her comeback was driven at least as much by Hasselborg missing shots she should have made as by Sweeting starting to make shots. So maybe it is strategy that she’s lacking.

Rachel Homan is struggling as well. She’s the defending World Champion and certainly would want to be playing well heading into the Olympic trials, but the only team she beat this week was Val Sweeting’s, and she didn’t have a good showing at the Tour Challenge either. She will certainly want to turn this around heading to the trials.

The next event is the Nationals, in November.

A Disappointment …

September 29, 2017

So, the MLB regular season is just about to end — this is the last weekend — and the team I cheer for — and pretty much the only MLB team that I care about one way or another — the Toronto Blue Jays are not going to be playing games in October after having made the playoffs the past two seasons. More disappointingly, they weren’t ever really close to making the playoffs, even the Wild Card game. And even more disappointingly, they weren’t really close despite the fact that for the longest time being under .500 pretty much put you in the thick of the hunt, and it’s only now, at the end, that both AL Wild Card teams are significantly over .500. The Blue Jays were never over .500 for the entire season.

The thing that struck me the entire season, however, was that despite the lamentations of many Blue Jay fans, the Blue Jays really shouldn’t have been that bad this season. Their most significant loss in the off-season was Edwin Encarnacion, but numbers-wise that wasn’t that significant; Morales and Pierce alongside the great season Justin Smoak had probably made up for that loss. They kept a pretty good rotation and had a decent if somewhat cobbled together bullpen, and had most of the offensive pieces they had last season. While they still had some weaknesses, given the players they had if the ones who had struggled a bit last year recovered and the players that performed well last year just kept it up, they should have been in the hunt for at least a Wild Card berth, even assuming the normal 90’ish wins usually needed to get there.

But Jose Bautista didn’t bounce back, becoming a liability both at the plate and in the field. Tulowitzki and Martin struggled, both with injuries and when they were playing. Steve Pierce struggled with injuries and at the plate/in the field. Donaldson missed significant time with injuries. Aaron Sanchez missed most of the season with blister problems. Devon Travis missed most of the season. Marco Estrada struggled, and there were other injuries in the rotation, requiring a number of fill ins who were, in fact, relatively weak. And the weaknesses were never fixed, and so when the purportedly strong areas faltered, nothing was there to pick up the slack.

The result was a much worse season than the team, on paper, should have had. The Blue Jays were not, on paper, as bad a team as they were for most of the season.

Going into next season, though, it’s hard to conclude that they are a really good team. Sanchez will hopefully be back, but even if he comes back and Estrada regains his form, they don’t even have a fifth starter as reliable as Liriano was (or at least seemed), and that wasn’t saying all that much. Tulowitzki, after a few seasons of sub-standard play, seems like he might be declining sharply and has a contract that you can’t trade. Martin seems to bring the best out of the pitchers he catches for but might not be as strong offensively or with throwing out runners as you might like. Donaldson seems to be recovering from a poor start to the season, and so isn’t a point of concern, but Bautista almost certainly won’t be back next year which means they need a new right fielder … when this season they had issues with and never did find a good left fielder. Their only really reliable outfielder, then, is Kevin Pillar … who is certainly serviceable but is not likely to be an offensive force. It’s probably time to cut bait on Devon Travis, who might be able to provide offensive spark but can’t stay healthy enough to actually contribute. Goins and Barney are serviceable at best but right now one of them would likely have to be a starting infielder … and Barney’s contract is up after this year, I believe. Carrera seems to be able to provide some offensive spark at times, but is a liability in the field. The bullpen is probably okay, but could definitely use improvement.

Maybe they can bring up some younger players and give them a chance, but that’s a risk and many of them — like Hernandez, who did pretty well offensively in his limited playing time as a September call-up — have potential offensive upside but are weaker defensively.

The front office has said that they don’t want to blow it up and start over, but it’s hard to see where they are actually secure and don’t have huge question marks for next season. Of course, they don’t even really have any players that they could generate decent value from if they wanted to blow up the team without getting rid of the young core that they’d want to build around. Unless some of the underperforming players recover or some of the prospects seize the reins, next summer could be another long one for Blue Jays fans.