Archive for the ‘Sports’ Category

Continental Cup …

January 16, 2017

So, the Continental Cup was on this weekend. This bonspiel is essentially curling’s equivalent of the Ryder Cup in golf, where they take teams from North America and pit them against teams from the rest of the World in a number of different types of games, specifically team, skins and mixed doubles. North America won the event for the second year in a row, although they won it much more convincingly this year than last year.

Now, you’d think that this would be an event that interested me, but it didn’t. While in the past I found it easy to cheer for North America and against the World, this year I found that I didn’t care that much. Part of this was because the teams that represented North America — especially on the women’s side — were at least teams that I has no real opinion on (Chelsea Carey), didn’t know at all (Jamie Sinclair) or didn’t really like (Jennifer Jones). About the only team on the North America side that I might consider cheering for on occasion was Kevin Koe’s team … and at least part of that was his reaction to the mixed doubles which was a “Tell me what to do, and I’ll go out there and do it”. Thus, I didn’t really have any strong reason to cheer for North America, or pretty much any of the teams on either side.

So I didn’t really watch that much of it. But let me comment on a few things I noticed when I was watching.

The biggest thing is, of course, the mixed doubles, which I had never really watched before. I don’t think I like it. While a lot of that might come from the bad ice conditions and players who are not used to mixed doubles being forced to play it, I found that it relied far to much on mistakes to generate its offence. Yes, there were a lot of rocks in play and that led to big ends, but a lot of the time that only happened due to bad strategy or, more often, shots that missed. With more experienced players, either that will happen less or the lack of sweeping and a broom to aim at will keep the players struggling. Neither is good for the sport, as the former will return to a low scoring game with less strategy than a full team game, while the latter will essentially reduce the sport to a comedy of errors, and thus a sideshow when compared to curling. It may be fun, but so far it is not curling.

Also, it generates a lot of its offence by restricting what can be hit when. This is not a good long term strategy, because players who want to play defensively will keep finding ways to do so despite the existing rules. For example, curling introduced the four rock rule where you can’t remove a guard with the first four stones. Almost immediately thereafter, teams developed the “tick shot”, which moves the guard out of the way without actually removing it, making the rule much less effective. In mixed doubles, since the men generally throw rocks 2, 3, and 4 (out of 5) I can see them letting the first four build up and then throwing really, really hard with runbacks and the like if they want to play defense … as happened in a few matches. In general, you want players to use their creativity to try to overcome the strategies the other players have adopted, not to overcome your rules.

Other points:

– Jennifer Jones is surprisingly awkward on the ice for someone who has curled for so long. This was made apparent on the few occasions when she had to sweep during the mixed doubles.

– I’m reminded about why the women’s game relies more on the soft weight shots than the men’s game does. It’s not that the men can’t make those shots, it’s that freezes and taps are less useful when the opponent will toss it as hard as they can and knock things out. In fact, at one point in the mixed doubles Kevin Koe saw a potential triple for the opposition, but even the commentators conceded that the woman player probably wouldn’t have the weight to make it.

At the hundredth Meridian …

January 9, 2017

So, this past weekend was the Meridian Canadian Open curling bonspiel. As usual, I watched as much of the women’s game as I could and very little of the men’s side.

At any rate, this tournament is a bit different from the normal Grand Slam of Curling events but, I am assured by the helpful commentators, is actually fairly standard for most non-Grand Slam and most non-Worlds/national final events. It’s a Triple Knockout format, where in order to make the playoffs you have to win three games and if you ever lose three games you’re out completely. So they start with a round and everyone who wins stays on the A side (livin’, lovin’) and the those who lose stay on the B-side. Those on the A-side then play each other and the losers drop to the B-side, and the B-siders play each other and the ones who lose move to the C-side. If you’re on the C-side you’re in trouble because a loss would, obviously, be your third loss and you’d thus be out of the tournament. Eventually, the ones who survive from all three sides are in the playoffs.

Val Sweeting and Silvana Tirinzoni came through the A-side with perfect 3 – 0 records. But the biggest news here was that after losing her first two games and despite winning an entire game 6 – 0 on steals (steal away the night) and never having the hammer, Rachel Homan missed the playoffs at a Grand Slam event for the first time ever, losing in a C final to Casey Scheidegger. This streak takes us back to 2009.

Which, I suppose, ends up possibly being even bigger news than Homan not making the playoffs, because this was Scheidegger’s first Grand Slam event, and after beating Homan she then went on to beat Jennifer Jones and then Val Sweeting to face off against Silvana Tirinzoni in the finals. Scheidegger beat her 5 – 4, with a steal in the final end after Tirinzoni’s draw to the four foot came up very short, in an end that most of the commentators said was Tirinzoni’s to lose after one of Scheidegger’s early guards ended up way too high and so couldn’t really be used to put much pressure on Tirinzoni. It was, however, enough to hide behind to force Tirinzoni to draw a turn that she wasn’t used to rather than hitting. Thus, the rookie team managed to pull off the upset.

Some other interesting notes:

1) Rachel Homan has been struggling lately, and whenever I watch her team there seems to be frustration setting in a lot. Obviously, they’re all very competitive but I’m wondering if the team dynamic is working as well as it used to, or if they always used to act that frustrated when things weren’t going well (generally, things have been going well for her so there’s not much opportunity to see what happens when they lose). They’re trying out some new things this season which is a good time to do so since if they work they’ll be well in place by the Olympic trials this December, but still they’ve been a bit off, even losing the Scotties qualifiers last season to Jen Hanna.

2) Val Sweeting continues to play amazingly well early in the events but come up short in the playoffs. She has won events before, but really needs a breakthrough soon, as she’s following up great round robins and early playoff rounds with not even making the finals.

3) Scheidegger should be full marks for the win, but she’s tended to win her games because of the mistakes the other team is making. Jones missed something like 5 of her last 6 shots to give Scheidegger the win, Sweeting struggled early in their game, and Tirinzoni had brutal numbers and, as noted above, missed the critical last shot to give Scheidegger the win. They’ve beaten big names before — they beat Eve Muirhead in another tournament to win that one — but a lot of it seems to come from mistakes from her opponents and not great curling on her part. The commentators noted that Scheidegger doesn’t seem to be comfortable with the five rock rule and prefers more open ends, and I wonder if that difference in style might be encouraging the other teams to press harder to try to get more rocks in play, leaving things open for mistakes.

4) Tirinzoni has made the finals in two straight events and lost both, and both were probably games that she should have won. You have to wonder when she’s going to finally stick one of those finals.

The Continental Cup is this week, and then we’re into qualifying for the Scotties and the Worlds.

Encarnacion Leaves Toronto

December 24, 2016

So, a couple of months ago I talked about the Toronto Blue Jays and their free agent considerations. Specifically, I said that they wanted to keep Edwin Encarnacion and didn’t want to keep Jose Bautista. They qualified both players, and both declined the qualifying offer. At the beginning of the free agent seasons, the Blue Jays offered Encarnacion a 4-year, $80 million deal, which he declined. Soon after Encarnacion turned down their offer, they signed Kendrys Morales, making a return to Toronto for Encarnacion difficult. Not long after, they also signed Steve Pearce, which made it pretty much impossible. On the Bautista front, there doesn’t seem to be much action, although Bautista has said that he wants to come back to Toronto. Finally, Encarnacion signed with Cleveland for a deal with roughly the same money per year as the one Toronto offered, but potentially less term (it’s 3 years guaranteed with a buyout option on the fourth year).

So, what happened? From listening to and reading all of the various discussions, it seems to me that the Jays put together a fair offer for Encarnacion that he thought he might be able to beat, and so he replied to the Jays not that he wanted more money or term, but that he wanted to test the free agency waters and see what he could get first. The Blue Jays didn’t want to wait for someone who might walk, especially since the DH position is one that’s theoretically easier to fill; Encarnacion was a great DH and a clutch one at times, but in general you can even platoon DH and do reasonably well. There are less qualifications and considerations in a DH, and they don’t even have to be power hitters; good on-base with speed works well as well. So rather than risk losing Encarnacion and losing out on Morales, they quickly signed Morales, who gave them some options that they needed. Then, as it dragged on a bit, they signed Pearce who also gives them more options. Meanwhile, Encarnacion waited for offers that, it seems, never came. Some of the big teams that might have been interested weren’t, and so he had to settle for what he could get.

I think the big issue here was that early in the process — and even late — Encarnacion’s camp was talking about how he wanted to test the market, while later in the process there was more talk about how he always wanted to come back to Toronto. He might well have wanted that, but saying that he wanted to test the waters made the Jays fear that they’d lose him anyway, and would put other acquisitions on hold. If he had made it clearer that the Jays were his first choice if they could match the market value, they might have waited longer … although they might have believed that they’d be priced out of the market value anyway, and still moved. At any rate, it’s hard not to believe that Encarnacion’s side over-valued the market and so ended up with a worse deal and not in the city that he says he wanted to stay in.

As for Bautista, the Jays still need a corner outfielder, and he is now talking like he’s turned down deal just because they didn’t come from Toronto. However, I think the Jays believe that Bautista isn’t really capable of playing in the field, and they don’t have room at DH for him, and so I don’t think they have much interest in him, no matter what he says. About the only benefit now is to avoid ticking the fans off by losing both fan favourite free agents after losing Price last season, and his bat is still strong enough to make that potentially a risk worth taking. But I don’t really expect it unless it’s a really good deal; don’t expect the Jays to overpay for Bautista.

National Boost …

December 12, 2016

So, again, I watched some curling on the weekend. The National was on (it’s sponsored by Boost) and so I again watched a lot of the women’s competition and not all that much of the men’s.

Kerri Einarson managed to win it, with a 5 – 3 win in a back-and-forth, close game on Sunday. I was very happy for her to win, not so much because I really liked her team, but mostly because the so-called “Super Sub”, Cathy Overton-Clapham, was playing for her opponent — Silvana Tirinzoni — and I never really cared for her. While everyone talks about how nice a person she is, she’s also very competitive, and so I’ve found her to be quite snippy at times … and she played for Jennifer Jones when Jones was beating all the teams I really liked, which didn’t help.

One of the most interesting parts of the tournament, at least for me, was the play of Val Sweeting. She went 4 – 0 in the round robin to take the top seed, and during those games it seemed that she could do no wrong. In one game, she controversially deliberately took a single point when she hadn’t set up the end to do so and could have blanked, in the hopes that she’d get the hammer back for the last end … which she did and managed to win that game. In another against Jennifer Jones, she left Jones arguably the easier shot — a draw — that Jones missed to give Sweeting the win. Unfortunately, all of that ran out in the quarter finals, as it seemed that nothing could go right for her … as she even commented at one point that it was just one of those days.

The next curling action that I know about comes up right after New Year’s, so curling will stop interfering with my schedule until then [grin].

Captain Canada (Cup)

December 5, 2016

So, the Canada Cup was last weekend. This is an event that seemingly has been around for ages but that I have absolutely no recollection of, and am not sure I ever watched. This time, I didn’t watch any of the men’s playoffs, but did catch pretty much all of the women’s.

I was, as anyone who has followed any of my discussions on curling would have guessed, disappointed that Jennifer Jones won the event. She pretty much rode a terrible third end — where Homan gave up a steal of four — to the end, and beat Homan twice — once in the round robin and again in the final — to get the win. Homan hasn’t won the last two tournaments and doesn’t seem to be peaking, at least not yet, heading into the qualifiers for the Scotties and, ultimately, into the Olympic qualifiers — to get an idea of how much Canada loves curling, we call them “The Roar of the Rings” and not just an Olympic qualifier — next year. That being said, supposedly she’s experimenting with her style and taking more tournaments off this year, so she might round into form soon. But this season has been somewhat mediocre of Homan fans, despite her still making the playoffs pretty much all of the time.

What was most interesting to me was a comment made by the commentators in the semi-final between Homan and Kerry Einarson. They commented that both of these teams played more of a men’s game than a women’s game, with the hitting. I hope that this won’t be a trend, because the hitting and bailing out of ends when you get in trouble is the most boring part of the men’s game. And I blame Jennifer Jones for this, too (as she was probably the first of the big hitting women’s skips).

How Sweeting It Is …

November 14, 2016

Oh, come on, I’m not going to be the first one to use that line!

Anyway, the Grand Slam of Curling Tour Challenge was on this weekend, and as is my wont I paid a lot of attention to the women’s side and little attention to the men’s … and, particularly, followed the Tier 1 Women’s event.

One of my favourite teams — Rachel Homan’s — disappointingly lost in the quarter finals to Michelle Englot, who had recently taken over Kristy McDonald’s team. That team made it to the finals, and is a team that I didn’t know at all and didn’t particularly care for, so I was hoping that a team that I did like would make it through to give me an obvious team to cheer for in the final. And, as it turns out, it was the other of my favourite teams — Val Sweeting’s — that made it through and, ultimately, ended up winning it all.

The most interesting thing about that, to me, was that Sweeting made it through the semis and won the final mostly on her ability to steal. In the semi-final against Allison Flaxey, she stole her first eight points and only ended up scoring 1 when she had the hammer to end up with a 9 – 2 win. In the final, it looked like Englot was going to turn the tables on her after Englot stole 2 in the first, but after Sweeting took 1 in the second she then went on to steal 4 more before Englot replied with 2. Sweeting finally took 3 in the seventh to seal an 8 – 4 victory. So, at least this weekend, I was happy.

I also caught some of the men’s action, and in a match between Charley Thomas — who should be better known as the only man who lost to Rachel Homan — and John Epping I was reminded of why I prefer the women’s game. Epping had loaded up with a lot of “frozen” rocks, where the rocks are stacked so tightly together that trying to remove the closest one will end up removing only the furthest one. Thomas reared back and threw the rock really hard and moved almost all of them out, leaving his own around (I believe) getting himself out of trouble … which ended all of the suspense around that end and made the strategy superfluous. Women don’t usually have enough weight — against, insert your own joke here — to do that, and so that would require more finesse or else would result in the strategy producing points for the team that set it up in the first place. I don’t find the “If we’re in trouble, throw really hard and see what happens” strategy all that interesting to watch.

Anyway, there’s more curling to come, and I expect to talk more about curling as the season goes on.

The Grand Slam of Curling is Back!

October 31, 2016

So, curling is back on TV with the WFG Masters happening over the weekend. As most people know, I tend to follow the women’s game more than the men’s game, and this is a tournament that Rachel Homan’s team tends to dominate, having won it three of the four times women were included in it and making the semi-finals the other time. This time, she made it to the finals, against a fairly new team in Alison Flaxey that had to sneak in through a tie-breaker and had made a habit of beating far more experienced and accomplished teams, often by stealing — she stole 7 points in one game in the playoffs — and often by large margins.

So, given that, the final result was obvious: a 6 – 3 Flaxey win.

One of the more interesting games in the playoffs was the becoming-routine Rachel Homan-Jennifer Jones quarterfinal match. Jones was up 4 – 1 with 3 ends to play. Homan took 2 in the sixth, Jones took 1 in the seventh, and Homan took 2 in the 8th to leave it as a 5 – 5, requiring an extra end. But since Jones would have the hammer in that end, it seemed like it would be a Jones win. However, Homan’s team made eight perfect shots and Jones’ team … didn’t. This allowed Homan to steal two and win the game, allowing them to get to the final.

I enjoyed watching what I could of this tournament, and look forward to the next tournaments and the rest of the season.

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.

Anyway:

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.