9/17: Griggsy’s Gripes

Griggsy is back on his game and not a day too soon. It only seems fitting that I finally start getting my feet under me and Chris gets his next round of Gripes up the same day that the Penguins opened up training camp. I am trying to get all of the papers graded tonight so that I can get a post up tomorrow about the Pens (I have two I am working on now), but at least for tonight and part of tomorrow we’ve got the Griggsy’s love.

 

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It’s once again time for the best part of your week. With a lot of goings-on lately, let’s just get right into the gripes….

 

->Well, that was quite an egg laid by the Steelers against Baltimore. The offense couldn’t stop turning the ball over, the defense couldn’t stop anyone, and there were a lot of players looking disinterested far

too early on in the game. It’s just not something I’m used to seeing from that team, especially against arguably the team’s biggest rival. They looked like it was preseason game number five, basically. And for a team that usually shows a ton of pride in their game, they didn’t show quite as much last Sunday….

 

->However, there are two additional thoughts I have about the game. First, the Ravens deserve a lot of credit for playing about as well as I’ve seen them play in the last 3 years. It pains me to say that, obviously. But I would be a fool not to say it. They looked hungry, hey looked multi-dimensional offensively, and they looked like a much better team that I expected.

 

But that brings me to my next point. In the NFL, there are two weeks of the season that tell you very little about the season as a whole, and how teams will play for the entire year. Week 17 is the biggest

misleading week of the year, because teams are either resting players for the playoffs, or playing backups to make decisions for next season. The next biggest in terms of misleading weeks, however, is

Week 1. Some teams don’t come into Week 1 with everything figured out. Some are still trying to figure out new schemes, or are still trying to get the chemistry right to be successful. This is especially the case in this season, where teams only had 7 weeks worth of training time prior to Week 1’s games.

 

Back in 2003, the Patriots went into Buffalo for a Week 1 game against the Bills. They returned home after Week 1 with an 0-1 record after a 31-0 ass-kicking. At the end of the season, the Bills weren’t the team raising the Lombardi Trophy. New England won it all that year, despite the waxing they took in Week 1.

 

So, what does that all mean for the Steelers, the Ravens, and the NFL after the first week? Honestly, I don’t know. And neither does anyone else. And that’s ultimately the point. Don’t assume that the 2011

season is over for the Steelers, or that the Ravens will run away with the division and such. 16 games may be the shortest schedule in all of pro sports. But it’s a very long time, and things are going to change in a big way before the season is over….

 

->I will say this, though. I don’t envy the Seattle Seahawks for Week 2….

 

->The Penguins’ training camp has opened officially, and excitement is high. Sidney Crosby’s practicing (albeit without contact), and Evgeni Malkin has returned after a disappointing wasted season that was riddled with injuries. There aren’t many open spots on the roster, with many returning players from last season. We all could probably list our projections for the opening night roster, and we’d be able toget it 90% right (or better). The question, in my eyes, is what the lines will look like, especially if Crosby isn’t ready for Game #1 (which is expected to be the case). Everyone has their guesses, and

this is mine, based on both what I want to see and what Dan Bylsma’s tendencies are as coach:

 

Sullivan-Malkin-Neal

Kunitz-Staal-Kennedy

Cooke-Letestu-Dupuis

Jeffrey-Adams-Asham

 

This is assuming that Dustin Jeffrey is ready to go in October. If not, you may see Eric Tangradi, Richard Park, or Nick Johnson get that spot. Hell, I suppose that Steve MacIntyre may get that spot, if Bylsma feels he needs a fighter against Vancouver. Regardless, you can see that there aren’t a lot of guys in danger of losing their spot. Hopefully, there won’t be complacency from any of those guys.

 

The defense and goaltending are similarly set, so don’t expect to see any “camp darlings” getting an immediate shot in the NHL at any position. But those guys may very well set themselves up to be the

first call-up due to injury. Teams suffer lots of injuries during a typical NHL season. Hell, just look at the Pens’ season last year. So, positioning yourself to get an early call-up is a big deal. The aforementioned Tangradi and Johnson may be two that are at the top of the list, if they don’t make the Pens’ roster out of camp….

 

->The Pirates finally lost game 82 earlier this week. Around the same time, Neal Huntington got a three-year extension as GM of the team. This may stun you, but I actually think this is a good move for the team. There will be continuity in the organization for an extended period now, and the team is certainly making strides, both at the MLB level and in the minors. Many more prospects, and lots of quality players in Pittsburgh, it’s all leading to a legitimate positive outlook for the Buccos in the future. They may not win a World Series anytime soon. But they will win 82+ games sooner than later….

 

And on that bombshell, this is where the Gripes sign off….

8/6: Griggsy’s Gripes

Double dose of Griggsy’s lovin’ on AtC. First we got an unreal write-up about the Pirates and now some more gripin’.

Griggsy, roll that beautiful bean footage.

 

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As I’ve mentioned in the past, I’m bad at writing intros. Because of that, let’s get right into things. This is what I’m griping about this

week:

 

->2011 Pittsburgh Pirates, we hardly knew ye. When you lose seven games in a row, nine of your last ten, and fall two games under .500, the dream has probably ended. It was a fun ride, and I will still be in front of the television for most of the games the rest of the season, but contending for a playoff spot appears to be beyond theBuccos’ reach for 2011. I’m not writing an epitaph on the team’s year yet, nor am I here to celebrate achievements. Instead, allow me to focus on the rest of the season.

 

The Pirates now have a fine line to walk. They need to make decisions about players going into next season, but they also need to keep 81 wins for this season as a possibility (or likelihood, to be honest). Is it going to be tough to do both? Based on the current 40 man roster, and in no particular order, here’s my (uneducated) analysis:

 

Sure To Return- K. Correia, J. Hanrahan, P. Alvarez, A. McCutchen, J. McDonald, N. Walker, J. Tabata, T. Watson, C. d’Arnaud, A. Presley, J. Jaramillo, J. Harrison, D. Moskos, B. Lincoln

 

Likely To Return- R. Ohlendorf, M. Diaz, R. Cedeno, J. Karstens, E. Meek, C. Morton, C. Resop, X. Paul, D. McCutchen, M. McKenry, C. Leroux, P. Ciriaco, E. Fryer, T. Wood

 

Unsure About Returning- R. Ludwick, P. Maholm, R. Doumit, J. Veras, G. Jones, S. Pearce, B. Wood, K. Hart

 

Unlikely To Return- C. Snyder, J. Beimel, J. Grilli

 

Will Not Return- D. Lee

 

Looking at that list, I don’t think it’s going to be that tough to analyze players while chasing after the elusive .500 record at the end of the season. The Pirates pretty much know what they are getting out of everyone listed, with the exception of Kevin Hart, who has been injured for a majority of his time with the organization. In past years, the latter part of the Pirates’ schedule was exclusively for the purpose of identifying who is worth keeping for the next season. This season, that won’t be the case. So, all that will matter will be finding a way to win 81+ games…

 

->Another big question about the Pirates going into 2012 involves the manager. Is Clint Hurdle the right man for this job? No question, he

is a master motivator, getting the maximum effort out of his charges on every gameday. But is he the right guy to have in there strategically? He makes fans and analysts tear their hair out with all of his bunting, his questionable lineup choices, and as Thursday night against the Cubs reminded us, his mismanagement of the bullpen is borderline criminal. Does this make him worse than a lot of managers in the league? The scary thing is that he probably isn’t any better or worse than most of them. Hurdle’s motivating makes him worth keeping around, but some type of adjustment needs made. The best way of doing this, in my opinion, is to get a strong-willed bench coach for Hurdle. Ideally, he will have no fear to tell Hurdle he’s making a potentially horrible decision. But I would take someone who would at least make Hurdle re-think his decisions…

 

->So, I hear football’s back. Both pro and college football training camps are underway. At some point, someday, I’ll get to my college football rant (and it’s a long one). But for my sanity, and yours, let’s keep the focus on the NFL for now. The labor strife in the NFL is over, teams are gearing up for the preseason, and fans are going crazy. Me, not so much. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I still love football, and I’m glad it’s back. But I hate the lunacy that shows up around this time of year. I can’t speak to whether this is common around the country, but in the Pittsburgh area, crazy behavior reigns supreme from mid-July on. It started a little later this year, due to the extended lockout, but it’s shown up in full force now that the Steelers are back at St. Vincent College in Latrobe. Too many fans that are only willing to talk about the Steelers, to the point that they will argue about the 7th wide receiver on the team, or the 3rd string left guard, etc. Some guys and gals will go into major rants about guys that will be bagging groceries by September 1. And while I appreciate attention to detail, I don’t need to know about the yards per carry average of the undrafted free agent fullback who won’t even get on the field in preseason.

 

The scary thing, though, is that it’s not just the fans that are insane this time of year. Media members are just as bad.

 

I get that the local NFL team needs to be covered by the local media. It makes sense that sports writers and TV sports guys need to be all over Latrobe this month. They need to make their 3 minute reports regarding who looks good, who looks bad, and who got hurt. But what we don’t need are four or five writers from the same newspaper, or worst of all, serious news reporters for local TV stations doing daily reports from training camp. This drives me insane. I turn on the news at 5 or 6PM to see the major news stories of the day. I don’t turn it on so that ten minutes in (or sooner), that news guy is going to talk about the Steelers’ day on the practice field. It makes the station look like a joke organization, and takes away lots of credibility for the reporter and the news team. I love sports more than you can imagine, but when I turn on the news, I want news. If I want all the football you can fit in one hour, I have channels for that. A handful of them, actually. Leave it to them!

 

Deep breath…

 

->To be fair, though, I am very excited to see the guys back on the field. There has been a bad taste in my mouth since February. Coming so close to another ring, and falling short in such tough fashion, it stays with players and fans for a long time. For that reason, games can’t come fast enough. I’m not making any predictions yet (there are a couple of weeks left for that, stay tuned), but I like the Steelers’ chances for a good season. Lots of players are returning, and with that comes experience. In some years, a worry may be the age of the players, but not this season with special circumstances. Any team with lots of new players and/or new coaches will struggle early, because the lockout set their learning (or teaching) curve way back. Teams like the Steelers have a big advantage in that regard, and they could well ride that advantage to a very successful 2011 campaign…

 

->This just in: The weather still sucks…

 

->Because of the above fact, it makes me very happy that hockey is less than 2 months away. I love football and love baseball, but hockey will always hold the highest regard in my heart. I’m starting to get antsy, like a drug addict going through withdrawl. I have watched some replays of games on the NHL Network, but that really hasn’t helped. I am probably going to turn to my “Penguins 10 Greatest Games” DVD set soon, but I know that will be a temporary fix. Hopefully, though, it will hold me over until training camp. Don’t worry, I’m not a hypocrite. I won’t start talking about Wilkes-Barre’s 3rd and 4th lines or the plus-minus stat for the Pens’ 5th round pick in 2010 (or whatever). But I can’t wait to start thinking about lines, D-pairs, and matchups against the rest of the NHL. Let’s hope I can make it until then…

 

->The following statement may make you think less of me. I accept that.

 

I love the Harry Potter movies.

 

There, I said it. Judge me if you will. I’m not sure why I’m telling you this. I guess it’s because I am a man who loves movies nearly as much as I love sports. I watch a ton of them. So, when my girlfriend (thanks, honey) pushed me towards watching the set of movies, it took up a lot of my viewing time.

 

Now, to go back, let me say that I never watched a single minute of the movies prior to the last few weeks. This is not to say that I actively avoided them. I just never sought them out. I’ve done this with movies before (notably, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which I never saw in theaters, but fell in love with via the extended edition DVDs). I am sure I will do this again with movies I should watch. Again, though, I finally was convinced to try the first movie and go from there (thanks again, dear). I was skeptical, naturally. Wizards and such, not my usual cup of tea.

 

But I was hooked very quickly. It was a fun series of movies, with many emotional moments that got to me. I’m an emotional guy to begin with, so the movies were able to latch on to me pretty easily. I am just so impressed that a compelling story could be told, both for the entire series and for each individual movie.

 

The gripe is with movie makers and movie crowds today. I fear we’re never going to get a steady stream of good movies with substance anymore. The three most popular types of movies (both in number of them made and number of hits from the genres) are the mindless slasher, the gross-out comedy, and the no-depth action movie. With rare exceptions, these are the movies that get the most attention, and the most box office action. It depresses me that too many people are willing to turn out for those movie types listed above, while ignoring the movies that have something substantial to them. Will this ever turn around? I sure hope so, but I fear I shouldn’t hold my breath…

 

2011 Pittsburgh Pirates: A Season on the Brink

Foreword: I approached Griggsy the other day about writing an article about the Pirates because he is a much better and more learned fan of baseball than I am or could ever be. It just so happens that we are on similar wavelength regarding the Pirates’ season and the infamous Jerry Meals safe call to end the 19-inning marathon game. I hope Griggsy and maybe even some of you out there will continue to make Avoid the Clap an enjoyable blog and provide some different perspectives on things. Comments are appreciated or you can contact us directly here .

With that, I give the floor to Griggsy.

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The Major League Baseball season lasts 162 games. It’s by far the longest of any pro sport. Baseball fans will tell you that this makes certain that the teams that deserve to make the playoffs are the ones who get in. They also will tell you that it ensures that no one game makes or breaks a team’s season.

Tell that to the Pittsburgh Pirates and their fans.

In the aftermath of a 4-3 loss to the Atlanta Braves in 19 innings on July 26th (and 27th), the Pirates have gone into a tailspin of epic proportions. That game was the beginning of a stretch of 7 losses in 8 games. The Pirates have gone from a first place tie in the NL Central to being in third place, 5.5 games behind the Milwaukee Brewers.

All of this, as the result of arguably the worst blown call by an umpire in the history of baseball.

Before I get into that, let me state that I do not like blaming officials. By and large, the players on the playing surface decide who wins and loses. Blaming officiating tends to mask mistakes made by the players that cause them to lose.

But, in this case, the call actually decided who won the game. Not saying the Pirates would have ultimately won the game. This call, however, did not allow the Pirates to win or lose the game on merit. Jerry Meals’ call, which I won’t get into detail because everyone who is reading this either has seen the play or can go find it in 5 seconds, prevented the fair outcome of the game from occurring. After using just about every player on the roster, some for far too long, it’s a massive stomach punch to lose a game in that manner.

Teams tend to get their mettle tested after something of this nature. A lot of adversity is heaped upon a team, with exhausted and frustrated players having to come back to play another game 17 hours later. It’s not as easy for players to put a game like this behind them. It tends to linger or fester, with all the replays shown on TV, and the media wanting to talk about it, and fans complaining about it, and the team’s front office releasing a statement about it, and so on. Men that are taught to have short memories inevitably cannot shake this moment from their brains.

As mentioned, the Pirates have stumbled in the aftermath. A team that stood at 53-47 after 100 games, as they took the field for this 19-inning marathon, now has completed two-thirds of their season, and they are wobbling at 54-54. And in the last eight games, the major problem has been pitching. Before the marathon, Pirates pitchers were giving the team consistent turns through the rotation. Since then, here are the rotation’s results:

7/27- @ATL – L, 2-1 (10 Innings) – Maholm: 7IP, 9H, 1R, 1ER, 0BB, 8K
7/28- @ATL – W, 5-2 – Correia: 6.1IP, 9H, 2R, 1ER, 1BB, 3K
7/29- @PHI – L, 10-3 – Morton: 4IP, 9H, 8R, 6ER, 4BB, 4K
7/30- @PHI – L, 7-4 – McDonald: 5IP, 10H, 5R, 5ER, 2BB, 5K
7/31- @PHI – L, 6-5 (10 Innings) – Karstens: 7IP, 7H, 3R, 3ER, 2BB, 5K
8/1- v. CHC – L, 5-3 – Maholm: 6IP, 6H, 4R, 4ER, 3BB, 3K
8/2- v. CHC – L, 11-6 – Correia: 2IP, 10H, 8R, 8ER, 0BB, 2K

[EN: Per Griggsy’s request, it is to be noted that this was written prior to the loss to the Cubs on 8/3, as such those stats have not been included.]

Now, to be fair, of the seven games after the marathon, there were 3 awful starts, 1 average start, 1 good start, and 2 great starts. But it’s not just the starts themselves. It’s also the workload on the bullpen that is making the pitching staff as a whole fall apart. After the bullpen worked 13.1 of 18.1 innings in the marathon, they were forced to pitch 24.1 of 61.2 innings in the seven games since. For relief pitchers that were thriving on a reasonable number of innings, this change in workload for them has turned the bullpen into a disappointing entity as a whole. This is without even mentioning the inconsistent usage of the best reliever, Joel Hanrahan.

To review, this is now a struggling (at best) rotation, an overworked bullpen, and a confusingly used closer. It’s no wonder that the team has lost 7 of 8 games now. With the offense sputtering along (3.75 runs per game in the last eight, consistent with the 3.84 runs per game average for the season), the pitching has to be similarly consistent with the season totals. Obviously, giving up 5.88 runs per game will not cut it (nearly two full runs over the 3.94 runs allowed per game average for the year).

For those of you looking to take this forward a step, you’d ask how the Atlanta Braves are doing over this post-marathon stretch of games. If the Pirates players are worn out, the Braves played the same game, and would be similarly worn out. This has shown slightly for the Braves, as they are 4-4 over those same eight days, dropping their last three. The fatigue may be catching up with them a little bit now, but it did not in the immediate aftermath. Including the 19-inning game, the Braves went 4-1 right away. The momentum and adrenaline provided by winning that game carried the Braves in the short-term, allowing them to stay afloat despite fatigue issues. This has kept them in control of the NL Wild Card lead, albeit a slightly shrinking lead. Meanwhile, if the Pirates had gone 4-4 instead of 1-7 in these last eight games, they would be sitting in a 2nd place tie in the division, only 2.5 games behind a hot Milwaukee team.

Is the 2011 season over for the Pittsburgh Pirates, at least in terms of playoff contention? Not quite, but it is certainly at the precipice. They are a team teetering on the edge, and one more turn through the rotation with bad results would send them falling away for sure. Jerry Meals’ call didn’t devastate the season for the Buccos, but he has given them a push that may send them falling back to earth, hard, after four months of climbing towards the pennant.

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