Archive for July, 2011


Fantasy Football

The sh*t is hitting the fans

Fans of the NFL, it’s time to admit the ugly truth; we are in an abusive sports relationship. Whenever this lock-out finally ends, players will be able to get more money and have less required of them; no more training camp two-a-days, fewer OTAs, limited workouts in full pads, and so on. The owners will be better off because of rookie wage scales and lowered salary caps. The fans? We’ll still be required to pay full price for preseason games. And we will. The owners know it. The players know it. We know it.

That’s why the attempts by the owners, players and media to portray the useĀ  fans’ “good will” as a bargaining chip is ridiculous. ESPN tries to kill time on SportsCenter by debating on which side of this stand off the fans’ sympathies lie. Do we blame the owners or the players for this mess? (submit your answer online now!). Yesterday, the owners apparently (and I say apparently because I don’t really care enough to find out the fine details) voted to approve a proposal that the players hadn’t seen yet, allegedly as a way to put the onus on the players in the eyes of the public. The NFL may have done this for strategic reasons, but I can assure you “public perception” isn’t one of them. How do I know? Because both the players and owners know that whenever, however they decide to settle this, we’ll be waiting with open arms wallets. Public perception has zero affect on either side, and for the NFL and media to pretend otherwise is adding insult to injury. Yes, we know that no matter how the NFL treats us, we’ll be back when they tell us to be, cash in hand. It doesn’t matter who we blame; it doesn’t matter if we are anti-owner or anti-player; tell us when to be there, and how much it’ll cost, and we’ll pay it.

Aren't we cute?

I’m not asking for an attitude adjustment from the fans. Maybe one day in some alternate universe, fans will actually pull off a “fan strike” and leagues will have to take us into account. All I’m asking is that ESPN, the NFL, and the NFLPA stop mocking us by pretending that public perception means anything to the union or the owners. If and when we have our first preseason game, the stadium will be full, and people will be so grateful that the lock-out is over that any sort of anger or resentment towards the NFL will be forgotten. We will happily buy our $10 beers while we sit and cheer Joe Something-ton lead the Bengals’ third stringers onto the field.

So please, NFL, stop pretending that you give a damn about the fans, and just get this thing done. Stop acting like any sort of public pressure could intimidate one side or another into making a deal, when both sides are well aware that when the NFL snaps its fingers, we will come running. We’re not proud of ourselves for it; please stop taunting us. Please don’t say it is important to get this done for the fans. You care about the fans because they pay your bills, and you know that you could cancel the September 11 game in New York on the 10 year anniversary of 9/11, and would (at worst) have to deal with a light smattering of boos before the kick-off of the next game. What we think doesn’t matter; certainly not to you. Stop using the media to negotiate. Stop sending out press releases. Stop trying to paint yourselves as martyrs. At this point, we hate all of you. But we’ll be there.

Please get this done so you can take our money and we can go back to pretending that you care.

 

Touched by the Angels

(just pretend I made a clever pun on "Wells")

It’s hard to get too worked up over one loss in July, especially when it signals the end of a 12-game winning streak. Sooner or later, someone in the rotation was bound to have an off night. The past 3 weeks of Ranger baseball shifted so much focus onto the talent of this rotation that it may have caused many to forgetĀ  just how young it actually is. Maybe there is no reason for angst over 1 game in July that marked the end of a historic run of pitching, defense, and winning; after all, this team has shown incredible resiliency under Ron Washington, whether it be in the face of on-field adversity or real life tragedy.

On the other hand, last night certainly felt like more than just .62% of the 2011 season. The fact that it came against the only other credible threat in the division hurts. With more than half of the game complete, the Rangers had a five run lead, and the Angels were reeling. The top of the 5th could have easily been a catastrophic moment for the Angels season, culminating in Wells’ humiliating misplay in left field where he simply lost the ball in the lights, turning an out into a 2 run double for Torrealba. Finish that game off, and the Angels are 6 games back and on the verge of getting swept at home. Maybe doubt starts to creep in. Maybe the Angels front office is pushed one step closer to making another desperate move in the trade market and over-paying for a rental player. At worst, it would have guaranteed that the Rangers leave Los Angeles/Anaheim with a larger lead than they had when they arrived. Instead, the Angels will throw Jared Weaver in the rubber match of a home series with a chance to pull within 3 games of the division lead.

For those who would argue that July is too early in the baseball season to worry about one game, remember this: a game is a game, regardless of when it happens (Yogi Berra wishes he would’ve thought of that). It doesn’t matter when it was played. Adding one game to a division lead is critical, especially early on, and precisely because no one knows what will happen during the season. God forbid one of the starting pitchers gets injured, or Hamilton goes down again, or Kinsler gets mired in another slump, or Cruz pulls another hamstring, or Ogando wears down at the end of the season–but any of those things can happen, and odds are at least one of them will. When a team has a five run lead past the 5th inning, it simply must take advantage. Win the games now, and when Hamilton misses two weeks, it doesn’t mean the difference between playing in post-season and watching it. When the Rangers game against Oakland was called because of weather despite being two outs away from an official game and having built a 7-0 lead, it hurt. Sure, it was only May, but when the team does that much work to build a lead, it stings to lose that opportunity. Whether the game is played in April or September, it all counts the same. If you wait until September to play meaningful ball, there is usually no meaningful ball left to play.

For Whom the Bell Tolls?

But beyond that, a game like last night hurts the Rangers because it once again exposed the soft underbelly of the bullpen to the rest of the league. It is no secret that the Rangers are in the market for an impact bullpen guy, and teams like San Diego, Oakland, Washington, etc. are looking to deal. In one sense, Texas is dealing from a position of strength because their farm system is so incredibly stocked with talent that they could put together a package that no other contenders could match, if they chose to do so. More importantly, the 12 game (pitching-led) winning steak made the Rangers appear more as a team that could afford to pass on any deal if they felt it was mortgaging too much of the future. Last night’s bullpen failure reminded the league that Texas needs bullpen help, which can only serve to drive up the price of a Heath Bell, Mike Adams, or a Tyler Clippard. The fact that it happened in such a high profile divisional game and in such dramatic fashion can only hurt the Rangers’ chances of acquiring an impact pitcher without giving up too much.

The bottom is, last night stung. It makes it more likely that Texas will have to win one, two, or even three of those games in LA at season’s end, instead of using those games to rest Andrus, Hamilton, and Cruz while setting up the playoff rotation. It reinforced the idea around the league that the Rangers need bullpen help, instead of being a team that is open to a deal for the right price. The mentality of the Rangers is not in question. They will bounce back immediately from such a disappointing loss. Would the Angels have been able to do the same? I guess we’ll never know.

Statement 1: The Rangers are not a first place baseball team.

Statement 2: This statement is false.

As a philosophy student, statement 2 messed with my head. The problem is that if statement 2 is true, than it is false. But if it’s false, than it has to be true. (Take a minute to allow your mind to re-congeal.) The problem with statement 1 feels very similar to statement 2; the Rangers actually are in first place in their division, despite nearing completion of an extraordinarily frustrating first half of the baseball season. It feels neither true nor false. Through 86 games, the Rangers are last in Major League Baseball in fielding percentage, having committed a league-leading 72 errors (compared to 105 for the entire season last year). Taken as a whole, the pitching staff is about where it was last year (team ERA of 3.96, compared to 3.93 in 2010), as is the team batting average (.268 compared to .276 last year, when they led the league). It is difficult to put a number on how many games the sub-par Ranger defense has cost this team, but it might mean the difference between leading the division at the break and falling into second (third?) place. The Angels are streaking. The Mariners are stacked on the mound. Meanwhile, the Rangers drift listlessly through a stretch of games against last place teams and struggle to play .500 baseball. Defense is the difference; and while this truth is pretty clear, it just doesn’t make sense. Andrus should be getting better. Beltre should be an upgrade at 3rd over Young. The core of this team is in tact and in its prime. The parts seem greater, and yet the whole is not.

Elvis Has Left The Building…Mentally (see what I did there?)

Since this slam dunk Andrus line rarely gets used as a home run call (3 in the last 2 years), it might be better served as an indication that Elvis has temporarily spaced out. Official scorers have determined that thus far Andrus has failed to make the routine play sixteen times this season, prompting the “E6” graphic to flash often enough that some may wonder if he simply adopted the number as his middle name (E. 6. Andrus). Elvis is a young player who shot up through the minor leagues. The major league team moved a reigning gold glove shortstop (asterisk, but a true statement nonetheless) and the face of the organization to 3rd to make room for him. Last year he made the all-star team, and was a critical part of winning the AL Pennant. This year, he’s playing like he knows it. The Andrus problem seems to be a case of a player who got too good too quickly. Now he is taking his enormous talent for granted, and the result has been unsettling. He’s been pulled, benched, and publicly reprimanded by his manager, but only time will tell if this has an effect on him.

We're having fun here, no?

Washing-fun (see what I essentially failed to do there?)

The bigger concern is the collective lack of focus that this team shows in the field and on the base paths, of which Elvis is a simply a microcosm. The Andrus problem speaks to a larger issue that will likely define the season for Texas, and it centers around the manager. On the scale of coaching, Ron Washington is much closer to Wade Phillips than Bill Parcells; he is a players’ coach as opposed to a disciplinarian. Both types can be successful, but both sides also face their respective challenges. For the hard-ass coach, the problem comes when the players get sick of being yelled at and micromanaged, to the point where they finally tune him out. The players’ coach, on the other hand, often struggles to get the best out of his team, especially after having some success. It’s not that the players don’t respect him; they simply no longer fear him. Right now, this team is starting to show a lack of fear. It is apparent in the team’s waning defensive focus, but even more so in the way players deal with the media. Michael Young had no issue making his frustrations very public over the winter and into spring training. Josh Hamilton did not hesitate to call out the third base coach for sending him home on the play that put him on the DL. Last year, Ranger fans came to appreciate the huge smiles on the faces of Elvis and Cruz. Funny how quickly charming becomes annoying when the player is struggling; the last thing Ranger fans want to see after an error are rows of teeth flashing under the guilty party’s nose.

Consider the Cowboys as a cautionary tale: In Wade Phillips’ first year, the Cowboys enjoyed immense regular season success. They quickly became enamored with their raw talents (despite playoff failure), and stopped paying attention to the details. When the talent lost focus, the team suffered. They made dumb, inexcusable mistakes that cost them games. Despite all the experts who insisted that the Cowboys had outstanding talent on their roster, the team continued to struggle because they no longer obsessed over the details of preparation. The fans screamed for a disciplinarian. Eventually, the team quit on its coach.

Ron Washington is no Wade Phillips. He has a more holistic understanding of his sport that Phillips did, and he has shown the moxie to sit players for mental errors and call them out publicly if necessary. Having said that, it is clear that the second half of this season represents a crossroads for Washington, because he has to do something that has never been a part of his job description; he has to convince these players–Andrus, Cruz, Hamilton, and so on–that they are not as good as they think they are. That’s what success does to a players’ manager; it requires him to find ways to keep his team humble, hungry, and focused on details. He has to find ways to get them to think the game all the time. He cannot let them do what Elvis appears to be doing: fall in love with his own talent. For the first time in team history, the Rangers are no longer the scrappy underdogs. They are now perennial contenders who are expected to win their division and compete for World Series titles. As great a job as Washington did last year, the thankless life of an MLB manager demands that he re-invent himself to some degree. These are the situations where disciplinarians usually excel, and it is now up to Washington to find a way to effectively challenge and motivate his team to eat, sleep, and obsess over the the minute details of the game. If not, Texas may find itself watching October instead of making history.

Looks like he picked the wrong week to stop snorting cocaine.