Archive for the ‘Sports’ Category

Baseball Speculation: Toronto Blue Jays

October 24, 2016

So, the Toronto Blue Jays — the baseball team I follow — lost in the ALCS, and now head into the off-season with a number of free agents. The two most prominent ones are Edwin Encarnacion an Jose Bautista, who have been the subject of discussion for, oh, about the entire season. And the fans have been wondering why neither of them were extended before the season. I have some speculations about that, and the key piece of evidence for them is the signing of Justin Smoak at about mid-season.

At the start of the season, the Blue Jays knew that they’d have to deal with the two of them, and did at least discuss some things with them at various times. But there were two main issues that they had to deal with. The first was that Bautista wanted a pretty significant contract to extend and resign, and the Blue Jays aren’t as free spending as some other teams are. The second is that Encarnacion stated that he wouldn’t negotiate at all during the season.

So, the Blue Jays had to decide if they wanted one, both or neither of them back. There would be a possibility of signing both, but that would depend on what budget they could finagle out of Rogers and what the two players were demanding. With Bautista’s first demand, it was unlikely that they could keep both … but maybe his asking price would come down as the season wore on, depending on how he did. Additionally, it was clear that they didn’t want Encarnacion to be an everyday first baseman — or else he would have been in the mix when Collabello and Smoak were platooning it — and so they knew that he was going to be a DH who occasionally plays first base. This means that in order to have them both back, Bautista had to be a regular player in the field. But his age meant that if both he and Encarnacion got long term deals, at some point they’d have two players that they would be paying lots of money to that were effectively DHs. This, then, seemed to encourage them to only keep one of them. If they were only going to keep one of them, if Bautista could play in the outfield he’d be the more valuable to keep. Otherwise, the already proven DH of Encarnacion would be the more valuable, and possibly cheaper option.

So this meant that they really wanted to see how the two players played this year, at least for the first part of it, before deciding which of them to try to resign. But Encarnacion wouldn’t negotiate during the season, which made that problematic. So I speculate that they decided to wait and see, knowing that they were risking both of them leaving and having to restock in other ways.

And then … Bautista had a season where he struggled, on the field, in the batter’s box, and with injuries. Whether reasonable or not, this gave the impression that Bautista’s days as a regular outfielder were numbered, leaving them in the situation where they would have two DHs with massive salaries and not have a position player out of those combined salaries. This, to my mind, is the point where they signed Smoak. He was a proven platoon at first base, with strong defensive skills and some power, although he wasn’t a particularly good hitter. He’s the perfect player to complement Encarnacion, as he is a competent first baseman when you want Encarnacion DH’ing, and if you want to give Donaldson or someone a turn at DH you can put Encarnacion in at first and take Smoak out without actually losing much at the plate. On the other hand, Smoak doesn’t hit well enough to be a regular first baseman on a team that’s trying to compete, which is the role he would have to have if you kept Bautista as the DH. Thus, I think that at mid-season the Blue Jays focused on Encarnacion, and aren’t all that interested in bringing Bautista back.

The possibility of getting Joey Votto adds another interesting wrinkle. If the Blue Jays thought that they might be able to get him — I think that would require a trade, though — then he fits the Encarnacion mold as well, since his position is first as well.

If the Blue Jays get neither, then Smoak is an excellent throw-in in a trade for a team that wants a solid first baseman who’s under contract.

Anyway, that’s my speculation on the matter. We’ll see who the Blue Jays manage to land over the off-season.

Insert Standard “Price is … ” Headline Pun Here

October 12, 2016

So, late last season, the Toronto Blue Jays traded for David Price. While he was definitely instrumental in their making the playoffs that season, he was pretty much a bust in the playoffs. Still, he was strong enough in the regular season that many Blue Jays fans wanted them to resign him for this season. For whatever reason — likely just that the salary and years he wanted were just too much for the Blue Jays to swallow — they didn’t really pursue him and he ended up signing in Boston. The Blue Jays, instead, resigned Marco Estrada and brought back J.A. Happ, neither of which caused any excitement among Blue Jays fans.

Price jokingly commented that he was saving all of his playoff wins for Boston. Now that the two ALDSs are over, let’s see how he worked out compared to the two pitchers who could be put up as his replacement in Toronto. Actually, given salary commitments, it’s arguable that the two of them replaced him, meaning that we don’t even have to really choose which one is the best comparison. But feel free to do that if you want to.


David Price struggled in his one playoff start, a game that Boston lost 6 – 0. He only pitched for 3 1/3 innings. Even worse, that was Game 2, which meant that after their Game 1 loss Boston was facing elimination in Game 3 and facing having to win all three of the remaining games to win the series, so he not only lost, but lost a critical game.

Marco Estrada was brilliant in Game 1, a 10 – 1 Blue Jays win. He almost pitched a complete game shutout, leaving after 8 1/3 innings. Most importantly, he allowed the Blue Jays to rest Roberto Osuna, who had left the Wild Card game with stretching in his shoulder. Osuna would go on to close out the remaining two games of the series.

Happ, on the other hand, gave up a lot of hits in his 5 innings of work, but only one run. The Blue Jays ended up winning that game 5 – 3, which put them up 2 – 0 heading home, where they closed out the series.

No matter how you compare them, in terms of this playoff run Estrada and Happ clearly outperformed Price. And that’s not even taking the regular season into consideration, where both of them were solid starters for the Blue Jays the entire season. Maybe not signing Price wasn’t such a bad move after all.

Now we can turn our attention to debating Jose Bautisa and Edwin Encarnacion …

Leaving Las Winnipeg …

September 26, 2016

I follow sports quite a bit, and probably should post more about them. I’m going to look into that in the future, but let me set the stage by talking about Jacob Trouba, a defenseman for the Winnipeg Jets, a restricted free agent, publicly asking the Winnipeg Jets to trade his rights. Obviously, a number of fans are upset about this. Jets fans will obviously see this as a betrayal, while other fans will note that he seems to be holding out for reasons that aren’t really valid.

I, personally, don’t really have any problem with the request … except for the fact that it was made public. Trouba, from what I’ve read, has decided that he’s better as and wants to play as a right defenseman and not a left defenseman. On the Jets, there are two defensemen on the right side who are both seen as being better and as having more seniority than him. Thus, if they stay on the right side and he wants to stay on the right side, he’ll be relegated to the third pairing, and get the least amount of minutes. But the coaches aren’t likely to ask the two ahead of him to change sides, and are willing to ask him to do that. So his choices are to play on the right side and be on the third pairing, or move to the left side which he doesn’t want to do.

Now, if he was indeed actually under contract, then the reasonable reply to him would be to suck it up and play the way the team wants him to play. But he’s not under contract. While as a restricted free agent his options are … restricted, he still doesn’t actually have a contract to play for the Jets. If he really feels that the team, as constructed, isn’t one that he wants to play for and he’s willing to sit out until he can get a deal with a team that he feels fits him better, what’s the problem with that? This is the sort of thing that contract negotiations and contracts and employment are designed for.

Now, you can argue that his reasons don’t make sense. because lots of players have changed sides and positions and been very successful, so he really has no reason not to make the move other than that he doesn’t want to try, which has led to claims that he’s being “lazy”. But, again, this works if he’s under contract. As he isn’t, why shouldn’t he take any steps that he’s willing to take to try to get a contract in a situation that’s as ideal to him as possible? He’s not bailing on the team, but is just pointing out that the team doesn’t seem to be a good fit for him right now and he’s not willing to sign a contract with a team that isn’t a good fit, no matter how much control they have over his rights. They can keep his rights, but they can’t make him sign a contract with them if he doesn’t think it’s a good deal for him.

So the only issue I have is that they made it public, which puts the team under pressure and lowers the market value. However, I suspect that they did this not to put pressure on the Jets, but instead to encourage offer sheets from other teams. That being said, doing so publicly might well encourage the Jets to match the offer sheets just to stick it to him, so again it doesn’t seem like a great way to make that work.

It’ll be interesting to see how this turns out, and if he really means this or if it’s a negotiating tactic.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Summary

June 13, 2016

So, with Pittsburgh winning last night, I ended up at 8 – 7 for the playoffs, which is just over .500. A little disappointing, but a decent result. On the other hand, if I had just picked the team with home ice advantage to win in every series, I would have gone 9 – 6. So it looks like the best bet is still to choose the team with home ice advantage.

Well, that’s it for hockey until the World Cup of Hockey in September.

NHL Playoff Predictions: Stanley Cup Finals

May 30, 2016

So, needing only one correct prediction in the third round to guarantee myself going at least 8 – 7 for the year … I completely flub it, getting both series wrong, leaving me at a dead even 7 – 7. Well, both of those series were essentially coin flips, and the last series is even worse. Which, really, is what you want in the Stanley Cup playoffs, especially if you have the coin flip because both of the teams are really good and are playing really well.

Stanley Cup Finals

Pittsburgh vs San Jose: Both teams are strong but have weaknesses that neither team has been able to exploit. Both teams are led by veterans who are motivated to win, although San Jose’s veterans have more motivation while Pittsburgh’s have more experience. Both have suffered from adversity and have just kept on going. It’s a tough call, and I’m still not sure that this is right … but I think I’ll take Pittsburgh. The teams with home ice have a slight advantage this year, and Pittsburgh has home ice advantage in this series, and they’ve been here before, while San Jose doesn’t have as many players who’ve won it all before. This ought to be a close series, and most people say that the West is a lot stronger than the East, but I think this time the East will take it.

Prediction: Pittsburgh.


Stanley Cup Finals

Pittsburgh vs San Jose Correct

Overall Record: 8 – 7
Home Ice Advantage Team Record: 9 – 6

NHL Playoff Predictions: Round 3

May 13, 2016

After starting off poorly in the first round — going 4 – 4 or exactly what a coin flip would give you — I did much better in the second round, going 3 – 1 and ending on a 7 – 5 record, which means that if I get even one more series right I’ll be guaranteed to be above .500.

Also note that this year I added a category that tracks how many times the team that had home ice advantage wins the series in this year. I was inspired to do this after noting that a number of them did seem to win their series or at least be winning it, and wondered if the much lauded “parity” was still everything it was made out to be. In the first round, teams with home ice advantage went 5 – 3, but only 2 – 2 this round, which means that they have a 7 – 5 record.

Thus, if I hadn’t even bothered to think about any of this at all, and had just chosen each team with home ice advantage, I’d’ve had the same record. Huh.

Anyway, these match-ups are what you want in the semi-finals in you’re a hockey fan, and thus what you don’t want if you’re trying to predict who will win: the series are really too close to call.

Eastern Conference

Pittsburgh vs Tampa Bay: So, here’s the dilemma here. Tampa Bay has been playing without one of if not its best player with the injury to Steven Stamkos, which leaves, in theory, a big hole to fill in their line-up. For Pittsburgh, even though Crosby and Malkin were underwhelming against Washington, they are in the line-up, have been playing, and could take over the series at any moment. Even if Stamkos comes back, he’s not likely to be in top form and so may not have the impact Tampa would like. On the other hand, Pittburgh has been playing Matt Murray and Marc-Andre Fleury is just recently back on the bench and hasn’t played in quite a while, so their goaltending is suspect, while Tampa can rely on Ben Bishop.

What makes things really difficult to predict here is that both of these teams have had these issues throughout the entire playoffs, and have managed to overcome them and, in fact, to do so relatively handily. Tampa is getting great performances from their secondary players, while Matt Murray has outduelled stronger goaltenders to win series. So we have two teams with what look like glaring weaknesses that haven’t been weaknesses for them throughout the entire playoffs.

I’ve been betting against Matt Murray the entire playoffs so far. Have I learned my lesson? Well … no. The issue here is that if Tampa Bay can get into Murray’s head or pick up tendencies and exploit them, Pittsburgh is likely finished, while if Stamkos comes back that will likely only help Tampa Bay. So I’m going to go with the established goalie again this round.

Prediction: Tampa Bay

Western Conference

San Jose vs St. Louis: Here, we have two teams that have become known for underachieving in the playoffs, and that even this year have not looked like exceptionally solid teams, both flirting with upsets at times. One of them is going to have to actually win this series, and both of them are clearly capable of winning it all or handing it to the opposing team.

It’s a tough decision to make, but I think I’m going to go with St. Louis here.

Prediction: St. Louis


Eastern Conference

Pittsburgh vs Tampa Bay Incorrect

Western Conference

St. Louis vs San Jose Incorrect

Overall Record: 7 – 7
Home Ice Advantage Team Record: 8 – 6

NHL Playoff Predictions: Round 2

April 27, 2016

So, this year the NHL scheduling powers-that-be have decided to screw me up completely and start the second round in the Eastern Conference before the first round in the Western Conference even ends. So what I’m going to do is predict the three series that I can predict, and then go back in on Thursday and predict the Sharks series. Hopefully, this will be so seamless that you won’t even notice … well, except for the text here saying that, of course [grin].

Eastern Conference

Washington vs Pittsburgh: After Pittsburgh’s relatively easy ride through the first round and Washington’s surprisingly tough one, it might be difficult to take the Caps here. But while their young goaltenders played well in the first round, they’re still a big question mark, especially now that the teams have had lots of time to study the video on them and look for tendencies. The teams ought to be close in terms of talent, but Holtby will almost certainly show up to play, while Lundqvist, surprisingly, sometimes didn’t. Give Washington the edge here.

Prediction: Washington

Tampa Bay vs Islanders: Now, the Islanders are one of my favourite teams, as I started cheering for them as a young lad when they went on their Cup run. which created the interesting situation in the Islanders/Florida series where if the Islanders won the team I liked better advanced, but if Florida won my prediction would be right. And in this round … the same thing is going to happen. And, for the most part, it’s for the same reasons as the Washington/Pittsburgh series: Greiss, though playing well, is still a question mark, while Bishop isn’t. Given the loss of their superstar, though, picking Tampa is tougher, but I think I’m still going to go with them.

Prediction: Tampa Bay

Western Conference

Dallas vs St. Louis: St. Louis has potentially, at least, overcome their choker reputation and at least some of their playoff demons. Dallas looked vulnerable against Minnesota, and their goaltending situation is a bit in flux. It might be a mistake, but I’m going with St. Louis on this one.

Prediction: St. Louis

San Jose vs Nashville: If any series might feature the underdog upsetting the favourite, this might be the one. However, San Jose has managed to overcome at least some of their playoff demons, and Nashville has to be tired from their long series with Anaheim. While it always makes me shudder with fear to think that the Sharks might actually win a series, I’m going to go with them here.
Prediction: San Jose


Eastern Conference

Washington vs Pittsburgh Incorrect;
Tampa Bay vs Islanders Correct

Western Conference

Dallas vs St. Louis Correct
San Jose vs Nashville Correct

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

NHL Playoff Predictions: Round 1

April 13, 2016

And, yet again, I put on my prognosticator’s cap and try to predict who will win what series. I heard a quote from some coach that this year there are no favourites, which ought to make these predictions … interesting, to say the least. So, without further ado, here are my predictions for the first round.

Eastern Conference

Washington vs Philadelphia: The team that finishes first overall almost never wins the Stanley Cup. Philadelphia had to go on a bit of a run to just make the playoffs, but they did stumble a bit at the end. Washington, however, has disappointed before in the playoffs. That being said, it’s hard to bet against a team that has been that dominant the entire season and has one of the best players in the game.

Prediction: Washington

Pittsburgh vs Rangers: Pittsburgh started slow but has surged over the last few months of the season, overtaking teams to not only make the playoffs, but to finish second in the Metropolitan division, ahead of the two New York teams. But they’ve had some injury troubles of late, most importantly to Fleury, their number one goaltender. The Rangers’ biggest injury woe is Eric Staal, who was brought in as a supplemental player, and so isn’t as big a loss. So there are doubts around Pittsburgh. If Fleury comes back and doesn’t struggle, Pittsburgh has a good chance. But if he doesn’t, Lundqvist will carry the day. Going with the odds, I’m going with the Rangers.

Prediction: Rangers

Tampa Bay vs Detroit: They’re baaaaack. Tampa Bay and Detroit face each other again in the first round. Detroit, though, was lucky to just continue their streak of playoff appearances (it’s now at 25); they aren’t likely to make it through the first round.

Prediction: Tampa Bay

Florida vs Islanders: The Islanders kinda backed into the playoffs, and Florida had a great season, and Jagr has been there before. With that veteran leadership, the Islanders will be in very tough in this series.

Prediction: Florida

Western Conference

Dallas vs Minnesota: I don’t think that Dallas has any big injuries, and they had a great season. Minnesota is a good team and can force the upset, but I don’t think they’re playing any better than Dallas is right now. So I’ll give this one to Dallas.

(Yes, this is, in fact, my prediction for the St. Louis/Minnesota series last year, with Dallas subbed in for St. Louis [grin]).

Prediction: St. Louis Dallas

St. Louis vs Chicago: St Louis has been disappointing people in the playoffs for years now. Is this the year that they finally stop doing that? Chicago kinda backed into the playoffs as well, and St. Louis is on a roll. However, it’s hard to bet against the Stanley Cup Champions. On the other hand, they won it last year, so this is their year off, so they might as well just lose now and get it over with.

Prediction: St. Louis

Anaheim vs Nashville: Anaheim, after a slow start, has really come on over the past few months, finishing much higher than anyone expected. They just beat Washington in the last game of the season, and don’t seem to have any serious injuries. Nashville probably doesn’t have a chance.

Prediction: Anaheim

L.A. vs San Jose: This one should be very close, but L.A. just has the experience and talent to lean on here, and San Jose, again, tends to disappoint in the playoffs.

Prediction: L.A.


Eastern Conference

Washington vs Philadelphia Correct
Pittsburgh vs Rangers Incorrect
Tampa Bay vs Detroit Correct
Florida vs Islanders Incorrect

Western Conference

Dallas vs Minnesota Correct
St. Louis vs Chicago Correct
Anaheim vs Nashville Incorrect
L.A. vs San Jose Incorrect

Overall Record: 4 – 4

Is it over yet?

April 1, 2016

I am not built for playoff drives in sports.

I can take it in curling because an entire bonspiel lasts a week, and so by the time you get into debates over what teams need to do to make the playoffs you only have about a day or so — and likely about three games — left. So you start from musings about how a win or loss might impact the standings, and what they might have to do based on that, jump to the more definite discussions, and finally end up knowing the final results in a very short time. So I can live with it and even kinda enjoy the musings.

But in any sport with a longer season — baseball and hockey being the two that I most follow — I burn out on that sort of tension very quickly. I always end up wishing that the whole thing would just end already … even if a team that I’m cheering for is still trying to make the playoffs, like what happened with the Senators in hockey last year, and even with the Blue Jays last year. When you have a season that’s run for several months, and the playoff hype is starting, it seems that I, basically, just want the playoffs to start, and for the season to end.

Maybe the issue for me is that I consider the regular season to be more routine watching, and the playoffs as the more interesting and important thing to watch. Generally, I watch the regular season when convenient and make an effort to watch the playoffs. The end of the regular season kinda falls in-between those two, since it’s still kinda routine and still kinda important; the specific games matter but not as much as playoff games. Thus, while I can tolerate the tension for short periods of time, over the long haul I burn out because the only reason there’s tension there is because they’re trying to get into the playoffs, and at that point I’m already looking forward to the playoffs starting, which is what I’m more interested in. In curling, the games aren’t routine — because this is the only week you’ll be able to watch that bonspiel, at least, and each of them are different — and so I treat them all like special events, with the playoffs then merely being the culmination of the tournament, instead of being something completely distinct from it.

Ultimately, then, the issue is that the longer regular seasons hide too much the importance of the games — as early losses can be as devastating as late losses, even if they don’t look like it — which allows me to think of the games as routine, which then leads to a bit of fatigue with how long the season has been running, especially when the hype is pushing me to really care about those games that I haven’t been caring that much about for months, and maintain that for weeks at a time. I just don’t have the hype stamina to do that [grin].

Commentary on Women Playing with the Men

March 28, 2016

So. as I noted last week, I watched Rachel Homan playing in the Elite 10. What was surprising about that was not the outcome, but that in her first match … I was cheering against her. Now, I really like her team, and think that she’s a good curler, and usually have no trouble cheering for her, and yet I was cheering against her when she played a men’s team that I had no reason to actually cheer for. Additionally, I managed to see her last match against Brad Gushue and had a much easier time cheering for Homan … at the point where she still had a chance to make the playoffs but was unlikely to. So why was I cheering against her in the first match?

And, after some thought, the conclusion I’ve come to is … I’m sick of it. I am thoroughly and heartily sick of women playing against the men and the attention that garners.

First, I’m just sick of the gimmick. Yes, as Rob Faulds said, Rachel Homan can curl, but her playing in the Elite 10 was still a gimmick, and was still heavily promoted as one. When this all started long ago, for the most part everyone watched because we wanted to see if the women could compete with the men, and we hadn’t have enough matches like that to see if they could or couldn’t, or how well they’d do. And they managed to pull off some upsets, although almost always that was against average or aging men when the women were the elites of their sport. But we’ve been doing this for decades now, and for the most part everything has been settled: in general, in any case where women and men can and do indeed play the same sport, women at the very best hold their own, but aren’t really competitive against the men. Homan made history by beating a men’s team that everyone beat that bonspiel, in conditions that most favoured her. Women not only have nothing to prove against the men anymore, we all pretty much expect them to, at best, not get slaughtered.

This means that, for women, there’s absolutely nothing at stake for them here. They have nothing to prove and aren’t going to prove anything. If they get blown out, it’s a disappointment, but not a big one, and something that most people will think wasn’t unexpected. If they keep it close, then that’s great. If they manage a close win, that’s outstanding. Thus, there’s little pressure on them because if they lose, it’s expected … and they don’t usually have a chance at really winning. Thus, it’s nothing more than a gimmick, but we all pretty much know what will happen: the women generally don’t embarrass themselves, but don’t do anything really monumental either. So there’s no drama in this anymore, and no real “Battle of the Sexes” like we used to have, because for the most part the war is over and the women lost.

So women doing this aren’t being brave or taking a stand or trying to prove how the quality of women’s sport, no matter how much the media or event organizers play that up. They’re just playing against the men, mostly for personal experience or for themselves. They aren’t doing it for women everywhere anymore. And so it being portrayed has such has gotten annoying.

Which leads to the second thing: if this isn’t to support women in general, why do they do it? Well, the underlying attitude seems to be — and I’m not saying that this is what any of the actual athletes really think, even the Homan rink — is that if you have elite female athletes and they’re dominating their field, what they need to do to get a real challenge is … play against the men. But what this does is suggest that the women’s sport is just an inferior men’s sport, an attitude that I think really hurts women’s sport. Because if women’s sports are just inferior men’s sports, then there are only three reasons that I can think of to prefer to watch the women’s sport, or to watch it when men’s sports are available:

1) Patronizing: “Aw, look at those women, trying to play that men’s sport. We should support them doing that!”. I don’t think that’s what anyone wants.

2) Sex Appeal: “Yeah, they aren’t as good, but at least the women are hot!” (See beach volleyball). You can try to point out that one of the appeals for me of women’s curling is the attractiveness of the curlers, but this is belied by the fact that I like the women’s game better. I’ve made the analogy before of the two restaurants that serve equally good steaks but if one of them gives me a free dessert, I’ll choose that one, but in this case it’s more like I like the steaks at one restaurant better and they give me a free dessert, so I’m not really watching based on that alone. That being said, this is another thing that women’s sports can appeal to … and one that they. rightly, have resisted appealing to.

3) Sexism: “You have to support women’s sports because men have dominated sports for so long and so women have to finally get some support, regardless of the fact that the games aren’t as good”. This is usually accompanied by unconvincing arguments that the women’s sport is just as good as the men’s sport. But at the heart of it, this is an argument that people should support the women’s sport despite it being inferior because of patriarchy or sexism or because it’s only sexism that would make you see the games as inferior or things like that. Again, that’s not something that women should want.

Ultimately, at the end of day, I think women in sports, at least, should stop trying to be like the men, and start focusing on building a sport that leverages the physical differences between women and men in their favour. I still remember the Nagano Olympics where I saw women’s hockey for the first time, and loving it because it was different than the men’s game, since there was no body contact and no one had really hard shots, so it required different strategies. And then they started getting women who could shoot the puck and loosened up on the body contact and it because an inferior men’s product. Tennis’ hard servers are doing the same thing to women’s tennis, as are the women with the up-weight in curling. Even if it requires radically changing the rules, making the women’s game importantly different from the men’s game is the key to making women’s sports a success … and, unfortunately, most people trying to make women’s sports successful jump to the three points outlined above instead of to this one.