Archive for the ‘Sports’ Category

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.

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Tour Challenge …

September 11, 2017

So, the first stop on the Grand Slam of Curling schedule happened over this weekend, the Tour Challenge. I actually didn’t get to watch much of it as I was pretty busy this weekend with things that kept me away from the TV while it was on, but I did manage to catch the women’s Tier 1 final, with updates from the Tier 2 final.

The Tier 1 final was between two teams that gave me the impression last season of being teams that tended to do really well in the round robins and even in the playoffs but tended to fall flat in the big games, like finals. Both Val Sweeting and Anna Hasselborg tended to be factors in every tournament but never seemed to be able to put in a really strong, consistent performance in big games. Things started out that way for Sweeting, as she gave up a steal of three in the first end and was constantly just missing shots for the first half of the game, leading to her saying “We got one!” when she finally made one of those close shots. But Hasselborg struggled in the sixth, allowing Sweeting to take three, and her last shot in the eighth was heavy, giving Sweeting a steal of one to win the game. So, in the struggle of two teams that didn’t seem to be able to win the big game, Sweeting won … but has to be a bit concerned over coming out flat, again, in a big game, and only winning because Hasselborg kinda threw it away.

In the Tier 2 final, Kerry Einarson beat Chelsea Carey, which only cements my view of Carey’s team that it isn’t that great a team, but was getting a lot of attention because she won the Scotties once. But every time I see her play, I find that both her shot making and shot selection is a bit weak. She’s on the low-end of the Tier 1 teams, and won’t be playing there, for the most part, this season.

The other thing that really struck me is that given the nature of curling it can and has gotten a bit more personal than some other sports. At the finals, you tend to have two teams of four people, with focus on the skips. And you usually can hear what they’re saying. Exhibition tournaments have even mic’ed up the players so that the audience can hear them, and they’ve often responded by making more jokes and comments that the audience have laughed at and reacted to. I noticed that this time because Sweeting is pretty expressive, but is in a nice way most of the time, and the cameras focused on her after she missed and made shots to get that reaction, which definitely added a personal touch to it, which I think adds to the watchability of the game. You can now cheer for a team based on how well you like the players, not just on skill level, geographical level, or general impressions of them from interviews, but instead on how they really act and talk in a game.

Next up is the Masters, just before Hallowe’en.

Everest Challenge …

August 28, 2017

So, this weekend the curling season sort of started with a new event, the Everest Challenge. This is essentially a mixed event, where they take four men’s teams and four women’s teams, set aside the skips, and have them draft a completely new team mixed between men and women. And from that comes a sharp divide in teams, as they alternate, from the skip, men and women. So if a team has a female skip, then the skip and second are women and the lead and third are men, and if the team has a male skip, then the skip and second are men and the third and lead are women.

This interested me, as I wondered if the women-led teams would have their third throw skip stones instead of them. And while I couldn’t watch a lot of the event for many reasons, it seems that that wasn’t allowed, and so there was a sharp contrast between the teams. And the event schedule was set up to allow us a direct comparison, by having the male-skipped teams and the female-skipped teams play against each other to get to the semi-finals, so we’d potentially get an answer to the question of whether the skip being a man or a woman would matter to the outcome.

Now, my initial thought was that having the skip be a man would be a huge advantage, just because of how much harder they throw. But then I wondered if having a harder thrower at third might not be a bigger advantage, letting them get out of trouble. Or maybe it wouldn’t make any difference at all. And when the first round was done …

… all of the male-skipped teams beat the female-skipped teams. And except for the Val Sweeting/John Epping game, the scores weren’t even particularly close at the end.

So, heavy-thrower at skip is best, right? Well, except that I watched quite a bit of the Kevin Koe/Chelsea Carey match, and Emma Miskew, the third, threw a lot of high weight shots. So much so, that she had to extend her arm to add extra force to the throw instead of the usual just aligning your arm with the broom and letting go and letting the drive from your legs generate the speed. And Koe seemed to be playing a lot of finesse shots, which shouldn’t really be an advantage for men over women. So, then, why did the men have such an advantage? It could be that they know better how to shoot to take advantage of the really, really good sweeping that men’s teams can get that women’s teams can’t, but could it be that the men’s teams are just that much more skilled overall than women’s teams?

There’s some reason to think that the men’s game was overall more competitive over the past few years than the women’s game was, and so the men had to up their game more than the women did. Now, there are a number of really good women’s teams, but was the women’s game as overall competitive — meaning a number of teams that were very high quality requiring the teams to grasp for every advantage — as the men’s team over that period? I actually can’t say myself, because I didn’t have cable at the time and so wasn’t watching any curling. But having to be more competitive could explain it, as well as having more cash bonspiels that let them play more and gain skill that way (women are just now getting into all of the events on the Grand Slam of Curling).

This could have just been an anomaly, or it could reflect a major difference in skill, particularly in shot selection and game management. This event might become an annual, and so it will be interesting to see if the event continues and, if it does, how this divide shakes out over time.

Ultimately, this could just have been

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Summary

June 12, 2017

So, with Pittsburgh winning the Stanley Cup last night, I went a respectable 10 – 5 this year. Home ice advantage also went a respectable 9 – 6. What’s most interesting about that, though, is that that’s exactly the same as what happened last year.

Anyway, that’s it for hockey until October, other than, well, the expansion draft, the entry draft, free agency, etc, etc.

NHL Playoff Predictions: Stanley Cup Finals

May 29, 2017

So, in this round, I went 2 – 0, leaving me at 10 – 4. And the “home ice advantage” track went 1 – 1, leaving that at 8 – 6.

So, all that’s left are the Stanley Cup Finals:

Nashville vs Pittsburgh: Nashville has been playing incredibly well, behind great goaltending by Pekka Rinne and great play by their defense corps. On the flip side, Pittsburgh is banged up and hasn’t been able to deal with the teams they’ve faced as handily. However, they do have a lot of experience with the finals and a number of really, really good players, and they are the defending champs. So this is a close one, but I’m going to go with … Nashville. Yes, their forwards are banged up, but they’ve been relatively handily beating far better teams than them the entire playoffs, and there’s no reason to think they can’t do that again.

Prediction: Nashville

Summary

Nashville vs Pittsburgh Incorrect

Overall Record: 10 – 5
Home Ice Advantage Team Record: 9 – 6

NHL Playoff Predictions: Conference Finals

May 11, 2017

So, in this round, I went 3 – 1, leaving me at 8- 4 over the first two rounds. This means that I’m guaranteed to finish no worse than 8 – 7 this year, which means that I’ll at least do as good as a coin flip. And the “home ice advantage” track went 2 – 2, leaving that at 7 – 5.

So, then, the conference finals:

Eastern Conference:

Ottawa vs Pittsburgh: Ottawa was the only team that I got wrong last round, which was okay since I wanted them to win that series anyway. They’ve also been surprising the entire time, and are incredibly resilient. You just can’t kill this team, no matter how hard you try. On the other hand, Pittsburgh is a little banged up and almost blew a 3 – 1 series lead. However, Ottawa really hasn’t faced a team like this so far, and Pittsburgh has at least arguably beaten two far better teams that the teams that Ottawa faced this year. I wouldn’t be shocked if Ottawa managed to pull it off, but this one is probably too much for them.

Prediction: Pittsburgh

Western Conference:

Nashville vs Anaheim: Anaheim finally managed to win a Game 7, which has to give them a huge boost. But John Gibson has struggled at times, while Rinne has been on fire. I don’t think that Anaheim is, overall, that much better a team than Nashville that they can pull it off if that continues. So I’ll have to go with Nashville here.

Prediction: Nashville

Summary

Eastern Conference

Pittsburgh  vs Ottawa Correct

Western Conference

Anaheim vs Nashville Correct

Overall Record:  10 – 4
Home Ice Advantage Team Record:  8 – 6

NHL Playoff Predictions: Round 2

April 26, 2017

So, in the first round I went 5 – 3. And while I now always compare my results to what you’d get if you only picked the teams that had home ice advantage, that was kinda pointless this time around because I happened to choose all the teams that had home ice advantage myself, and so the teams with home ice advantage also went 5 – 3. Let’s see if we can get some separation in this round.

Eastern Conference

Washington vs Pittsburgh: While young teams have been far tougher than anyone expected the entire year, Washington did not look all that great in the first round against the Leafs, while Pittsburgh did pretty well against Columbus. While Washington is a strong enough team to at some point make it past their playoff struggles and make a run all the way, I’m not sure that having to go through the defending champions in this round is going to do that for them.

Prediction: Pittsburgh.

Ottawa vs Rangers: Ottawa has a good team and there are a lot of reasons to want them to win. I do think that in terms of skaters they can keep up with the Rangers. That means that the deciding factor will probably be goaltending. And while Anderson is a good goaltender and can certainly steal a series, it’s hard to bet against Lundqvist, especially when he just got done outduelling Carey Price.

That being said, I did that once before when Ottawa played New Jersey and I couldn’t bet against Brodeur, and the Senators won that one. Still, for predictions I’m going to have to go with the better bet in goal.

Prediction: Rangers

Western Conference:

St. Louis vs Nashville: Jake Allen played brilliantly in the first round, but again he was left at home at one point in the regular season because he was struggling and inconsistent. It’s not a sure thing that he’ll be able to keep that up. On the other hand, Nashville swept the best team in the conference. Nashville seems to have the edge here.

Prediction: Nashville

Anaheim vs Edmonton: You never want to bet against the young, up-and-coming team that has been surprising everyone all year. But Anaheim is not San Jose, and they are a much healthier and better team. The Oilers are likely to be in tougher in this series than in the last one.

Prediction: Anaheim

Summary

Eastern Conference

Washington vs Pittsburgh  Correct
Ottawa vs Rangers Incorrect

Western Conference

St. Louis vs Nashville  Correct
Anaheim vs Edmonton Correct

Overall Record:  8 – 4
Home Ice Advantage Team Record:  7 – 5

NHL Playoff Predictions: Round 1

April 11, 2017

It’s that time again! Time for me to look at teams that I haven’t watched at all this season and try to figure out which of them is going to advance in the playoffs. Here are my predictions for the first round.

Eastern Conference

Washington vs Toronto: This is the year to be scared of overperforming young teams, starting from the World Cup of Hockey with Team North America and continuing through the season with young teams like Toronto and the Edmonton Oilers that did far better than anyone expected them to given where they were in their development. The problem for the Leafs is that they didn’t manage to get a point on Sunday and so have to face Washington, and Washington is certainly a harder opponent than the Senators would be, and I think is a really bad opponent for the Leafs. All season long, the Leafs have had a hard time keeping a lead, as evidenced by blowing a 2 – 0 lead on Sunday. Not being able to hold a lead is not what you want going up against Washington. But the Leafs might be able to cover up their relatively weak defense by playing run and gun, and they have the young talent to do that … but Washington has more than enough firepower to play run and gun with any team and have a pretty good shot at coming out ahead. So I think Washington takes this one.

Prediction: Washington.

Montreal vs Rangers: It was almost the case that the team with home ice advantage in this series had less points during the season, but some wins by Montreal and the Rangers struggling a bit meant that things worked out. This one will probably come down to goaltending. If Weber is healthy and Price plays well, Lundqvist will have to stand out for the Rangers to have any chance here, and Lundqvist has been inconsistent this entire season. If both goalies play at the top of their game, this could be a long series, and home ice advantage is a boon in long series.

Prediction: Montreal

Pittsburgh vs Columbus: Columbus had a great season, and in fact had a far better season than anyone expected them to. They’re certainly capable of an upset here. But the Penguins are still a very strong team, are playing better than Columbus right now, and have two capable goaltenders who have proven that they can win in the playoffs. I think Pittsburgh is just too high a mountain for Columbus to climb this year.

Prediction: Pittsburgh

Ottawa vs Boston: These teams are so close that you almost might as well flip a coin to decide who’s going to win. The health of Erik Karlsson is key to the success of the Senators here, but all of the rumblings are that his being out for the last few games of the season was more precautionary than necessary. Ottawa has two relatively reliable goaltenders, but I don’t expect either of them to steal a series, while Rask is more capable of that, but hasn’t had his best year. The key to this series, though, is that Ottawa has faced a lot of adversity throughout the season, with injuries and Anderson leaving the team for long stretches because of his wife’s cancer treatments. You can’t underestimate how important knowing that you can battle through tough circumstances is in the playoffs, as it makes your team hard to demoralize. When bad things happen — and they always do — Ottawa will not think “Oh no!” but instead think “Well, here we go again”, and soldier on. This is going to be a close series, but I give Ottawa the nod here.

Prediction: Ottawa.

Western Conference:

Chicago vs Nashville: There’s not much to say here. Nashville is a better team than you might think, but Chicago still has the team that they’ve won Cups with, for the most part. This one should go to Chicago.

Prediction: Chicago

Anaheim vs Calgary: Calgary had a bit of and up and down season but again performed better than a lot of people expected them to. Elliot struggled at the start but I think has come around a bit and at least settled in to being mostly reliable. But Anaheim has more experience and a better team, and so will likely win this series.

Prediction: Anaheim

Minnesota vs St. Louis: The Blues thought that they weren’t going to get very far this season, and so traded away some players in preparation for next season and the expansion draft. And then they made it into the playoffs. Oops. That being said, Jake Allen has been inconsistent and Minnesota has a pretty decent team. While St. Louis could certainly pull off an upset, I’ll have to give this one to Minnesota.

Prediction: Minnesota

Edmonton vs San Jose: Edmonton is another one of those young teams that are overperforming. Their defense is a bit inexperienced, which goes along with, well, most of the team. That being said, adding Milan Lucic who has lots of playoff experience ought to help settle them down, and talent wise they’re pretty strong. This is likely to be a close series, but I expect that even if San Jose manages to shut down Connor McDavid Lucic will help that second line fill in the gap, and having a productive second line is key to winning playoff series.

Prediction: Edmonton

Summary

Eastern Conference

Washington vs Toronto Correct
Montreal vs Rangers Incorrect
Pittsburgh vs Columbus Correct
Ottawa vs Boston Correct

Western Conference

Chicago vs Nashville Incorrect
Anaheim vs Calgary Correct
Minnesota vs St. Louis Incorrect
Edmonton vs San Jose Correct

Overall Record:  5 – 3
Home Ice Advantage Team Record:  5 – 3

Team Canada Wins Women’s Worlds in Curling

March 27, 2017

So, early Sunday morning, Rachel Homan’s Team Canada beat Russia 8-3 to win the Women’s World Championships in curling.

Due to the time difference between Canada and China, I didn’t get to watch much of the tournament, and so won’t comment on it too much. But it is interesting to note that Homan’s team was the first team to go “perfect” through the event, as they didn’t lose a game the entire time. So congratulations to them for winning and for winning so handily.

We need more philosophy …

March 9, 2017

So, I was reading this article on the NHL GMs meeting, and one of the discussion points made me almost literally face palm, and then realize that we really need to find a way to teach people basic reasoning. Either that, or get them thinking about why things were brought in in the first place before assessing whether something fits or not.

It involves the recently instituted rule where if you ice the puck, you don’t get to change lines during the stoppage of play. However, some coaches, at key times in the game, would use their one timeout per game — which is also required if they want a video review — to rest their players. The NHL is tweaking the rule:

The other would see coaches lose the ability to call a timeout and rest players following an icing.

“I’ve sort of been thinking that way all along: Why do you not allow a change after an icing, but then you’re allowed to take a timeout?” said Columbus Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen. “It just doesn’t make any sense to me.”

Seriously?!?

Okay, let’s go back to why the rule was instituted in the first place. The issue was that if a team was under huge pressure in their own end and particularly when they had a line that had been out for quite a while, simply icing the puck was seen as a good way to relieve the pressure. Sure, you ended up with a face-off in your own zone, but that’s a small price to pay if the other team was buzzing around your goal. It would also let you change lines and so if that line was either tired or a very poor match-up against the line they had out there, that was an advantage as well. And the ability to change lines meant that even the face-off might not be the big a deal because you could put your best face-off player out there and were more likely to win it. Thus, this encouraged players to break up such pressure by simply dumping it out; the worst that could happen was an icing, which wasn’t that bad.

So, the NHL decided to make there be consequences for icing the puck, and the consequence they chose was that you couldn’t change lines if you iced the puck. This means that the line you had out there had to stay on. Sure, icing the puck is still better than simply letting the other team buzz around your offensive zone, but not being able to change means that a tired line has to stay out there, and the other team — whether the home or away team — effectively gets to create the best match-up against the line you have out there. So you don’t want to ice the puck unless a) you don’t care about any of that or b) you’re desperate, which then would reduce the number of times teams ice the puck to get out of trouble.

So, keep in mind that the purpose of doing this was to discourage teams from simply dumping the puck out to relieve pressure. Now, remembering that teams only get one timeout per game, ask yourself if not allowing the coach to call a timeout if their team has iced the puck is actually going to be strong discouragement from their icing the puck. To answer this, we have to ask if having the ability to call a timeout in those situations would be a significant incentive to adopt an overall strategy of “If we’re under pressure and tired, dump the puck out and if we get an icing we can just call a timeout”. Well, since you only get to do it once per game, you’re certainly not going to adopt that as a strategy. You might consciously do it once if you were in really, really bad shape, but that’s it. But then we have to consider what doing that will cost you. Teams now use timeouts for a) video reviews, as mentioned above, b) settling down the entire team if the other team is at risk of running away with the game and thus breaking the momentum of the other team and c) resting your key players and drawing up a play if, late in the game, you find yourself down by a goal with the goaltender pulled. Are you going to risk not being able to do that just to avoid leaving a tired line on the ice after an icing? Well, not as a regular strategy. So, then, the only time a coach would do this is if they feel that this is a critical part of the game and that they really need to rest those players, and thus that the game might well turn on this situation. Which is the sort of strategy decisions that we want coaches making. If they feel — rightly or wrongly — that the game might well turn on this post-icing face-off, then why would we stop them from doing that? What does it add to the game to do that? Again, they aren’t going to adopt this as a general strategy because they don’t get enough timeouts to spend them recklessly and timeouts are needed for other things as well that might also be game changing.

So, with all due respect to the quoted GM, it doesn’t make sense to not allow a timeout there, because taking the timeout doesn’t clash with the purpose of the rule in the first place, and the change will in no way help to achieve the intent of the rule. While some may see taking the timeout as a way to “cheat” the rule, the rule wasn’t made to deal with one specific case that might come up in a game, but to deal with that being used as a general strategy. Taking the timeout there can’t be a general strategy and will never making icing the puck a general strategy. Thus, the rule change is ill-advised and poorly reasoned.