Thursday, September 18, 2014

Down to the Wire

A good few days for the teams I follow.  At the moment both the Pirates and the Giants are two games back (in the loss column) in their divisions, and ahead for one wild card or another.  The Pirates at home are hitting and pitching very well and have taken two from the Red Sox with the third yet to be played, for 8 victories out of the last 10 games.  The Giants took 2 of 3 in Arizona while the Dodgers lost 2 in Colorado.

But the Giants are still on thin ice, mostly because once again Angel Pagan is out of the lineup.  Without him the hitting tends to fall apart.  Brandon Belt is still working on getting back to speed, and Michael Morse has a nagging injury.  The Giants could use Belt and Morse for RBI power but they really need Pagan, especially for the 3 in LA and whatever postseason they may get.

The Pirates on the other hand are getting healthy at exactly the right time, which is often a prescription for success.

The Pirates may have a slightly tougher schedule of remaining games though.  Three games with the Brewers are at home, which gives them an edge, but they are away for 4 games with Atlanta and 3 with the Reds.  Atlanta loves to break Pittsburgh's heart.

The Giants need to dominate the Padres and hope the Dodgers' fate in Colorado transfers elsewhere.  Unless the Padres sweep the upcoming three, those games in LA will be as advertised: a deciding series.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Giants-Dodgers, Pirates and RIP Football

Neil Walker
The two NL West rivals throwing their best pitchers against each other, and each of those pitchers among the best in the league--so three very tight games, right?  Not until Sunday.  Friday it was 9-0 Giants.  Saturday the Dodgers beat up Tim Hudson and ultimately won by the football-season score of 17-0.

But Sunday it was a real pitching duel, and the underdog Petit of the Giants held his own against the superstar of the year, Clayton Kershaw.  Unfortunately, Giants veterans made key fielding and base-running errors, Petit threw one more bad pitch than Kershaw, and the Dodgers left town with a 4-2 victory, and two out of three in this key series.

But again in this game, the Giants rookies (or at least new players) stood out.  Petit pitched valiantly, and flamethrowing rookie reliever Strickland pitched a scoreless ninth.  The big hits of the game were by rookies Andrew Susac and Matt Duffy.

Now both teams play lesser teams for awhile--always a dangerous thing at this time of the year--before meeting again in LA.  But with a 3 game lead, the Dodgers just have to remain steady, while the Giants would need a winning streak plus some luck to contend for the division lead.  I assume they are still good for a wild card but as I've always demonstrated, that math is beyond me.

But I read that the Pirates are still the team to beat for the second wild card slot.  They were behind Chicago 3-0 when on defense they pulled a triple play.  That seemed to inspire their hitting, and they went on to win 7-3.  Neil Walker homered, and the hometown boy broke the record for Pirates homers in a season by a second baseman held by none other than Bill Mazeroski.  Maz, though not a Pittsburgh native (like Walker) remained a western PA resident after his long career with the Pirates, his own big league team.

Lots of news and pseudo-news in football this week but all of the usual noise won't mean anything next to the court-mandated NFL study that says it expects one in three players to suffer cognitive problems from brain trauma, and at a significantly younger age than average.  Playing football also increases the chances of various neurological diseases.  It's the most authoritative, comprehensive document yet.

It will probably take awhile, but unless football changes the way it is played and its equipment significantly, its days as a major sport are numbered.  All the publicity about concussions has I am sure already reduced the number of kids going out for football in middle school and high school.  That's only going to increase.  Then there will be high schools that drop football--especially schools in high income areas.

Football continues to be highly profitable for high schools and especially colleges, but some attrition will be felt in their ranks as well.  Professional sports has always provided opportunities for those from poor backgrounds, and this will only intensify in football until the risks are judged to be greater than the possible rewards, as those with other options opt out.  If it continues without change--or only cosmetic change-- NFL football will increasingly take on the look and reality of gladiatorial entertainment.  How long it can go on like that is anyone's guess.  But probably not forever.