Wednesday, January 06, 2016

It's Not the Baseball Hall of Fame...Yet

Back to baseball for a moment.

Department of I could still kick myself:  Some years ago I found myself footloose in Seattle and a couple of hours too late realized it was the home opener of the baseball season.  Bad enough, but Ken Griffey, Jr. homered that day.  It wasn't one of his best years but still...I never saw him play.

He made it into the Hall of Fame today with a record proportion of votes, all but unanimous.  But frankly I can't take the Hall of Fame seriously.  It's just not a Baseball Hall of Fame if Barry Bonds isn't in it, period.  It's just another hall of politics.

On another note, I've written here several times about my belief that the San Francisco Giants broadcasting team is as good as it gets, especially after listening to announcers for other cities.  Now here's a piece by someone who claims to have heard announcers for every MLB team--and he agrees.

Tea leaves seem to fall in favor of Dexter Fowler as the free agent outfielder most likely to come to the Giants.  Not the acquisition some are hoping for, and bigger names are still out there, but the Giants have won championships with over-achieving outfielders in the postseason.

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Hype or Hope? Steelers The Most Feared

Is it hype, hope or what?   A long article by Andy Benoit details reasons for the headlines' assertions: Nobody Wants to Face the Steelers: An explosive downfield passing game and a creative defense make Pittsburgh the most dangerous team in the AFC bracket.

Another article by Hunter Felt in the Guardian details why the Steelers are "a force to fear" in the AFC playoffs.

Benoit's reasons are the lethal passing attack as deployed by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who he calls "the league's most gifted QB."  In addition to a quick and big scoring offense, enabled by a sturdy offensive line, Benoit cites an improving defense in the later part of the season.  He also sees intelligence in defensive designs that make up for weaknesses as cornerback.  He concludes: "The Steelers, on both sides of the ball, give an opponent a lot to prepare for. That alone is dangerous. Factor in that the Steelers in many places, including everywhere on offense, are more talented than those opponents and what you have is the scariest team entering the AFC postseason."

Hunter Felt admits the defensive breakdowns and Big Ben's interceptions, but if they can be controlled he sees the Steelers as strong against less than stellar AFC opponents.  A lot of quarterback uncertainty on the other teams is the big factor, he believes (including Tom Brady's ankle).  The Steelers may not be the best team in the conference he concludes. "They could, however, very well be the team that none of the others want to face when the games matter the most."

So is the remarkable coincidence of two such articles due to sportwriters talking to players etc. or to each other?  There's undoubted merit in the case they make, but it doesn't seem Pittsburgh sportwriters are so buoyant.

Anyway, the passing game may depend on a versatile running game, and so far that's been DeAngelo Williams.  Late Monday the unofficial word/rumors are that his ankle is sprained, the MRI was negative, so he's "day to day" (hopeful) but the Post-Gazette writers are suggesting that his chances of playing Saturday against the Bengals are slim (hopes dashed.)

With injuries for a playoff game, teams get cagey.  But if Williams isn't near 100% he might not be effective anyway.  His yardage gains slowed towards the end of the season, but he's been important as an outlet and short pass receiver.  So it's a good thing that the next guy up, Fitzgerald Touissaint, caught a two-point conversion in Sunday's game, though his 24 yards on 12 carries wasn't great.

The Bengals announced that they aren't preparing to bring back their injured starter at QB for the Steelers game Saturday, so McCarran will start again.  He did pretty well against the Steelers before, but one stat from the Bengals victory over Baltimore Sunday stands out: they went the entire game without converting a third down.

Sunday, January 03, 2016

New Year Updates

First the (unexpected) good news for Steelers fans: they're in the playoffs.  After they unaccountably lost to a terrible Ravens team (for the second time this season), they needed Buffalo to defeat the Jets, and they had to win against an even more terrible team, the Browns.  Underdog Buffalo did win, and the Steelers mostly let Cleveland defeat itself.  Within minutes after the game, just about everybody on the Browns was fired.  Quarterback Johnny Football was reportedly in Las Vegas gambling.

The Steelers are the sixth seed but they won their first Super Bowl of this century from that position.  However the difference is in the Bad News: in the Cleveland game, running back DeAngelo Williams had what looks like a serious ankle injury.  Not many teams had a running back as good as Williams when their star running back went down for the season.  But if Williams is gone, too, the Steelers prospects even for a win against the Bengals in the wild card game are pretty dim.  Even the ever-impressive receiver Antonio Brown can't win it by himself.

That's the difference--the Steelers got healthy at the end of the seasons when they got to the Super Bowl and won it.  They are not healthy now, and though essentially backing into a playoff spot isn't fatal (witness the 2014 SF Giants in baseball), they already have little margin for error, without a dominating defense.

What the Steelers do have going for them is playoff experience, especially at quarterback but also across the team.  That made a big difference for the 2014 Giants, who had great heroic moments but also profited mightily from the jitters and mistakes of opponents.  The Steelers will need lots of mistakes by their opponents to get very far.

On the other hand there's an NBA team so deep that injuries barely register: the Golden State Warriors.  Steph Curry's current nagging bruise is clearly having an impact, but in the 3 games he didn't play or played little, the Warriors won two.  If not Klay Thompson, then Draymon Green or somebody else steps up and looks superhuman.   Granted the Warriors haven't been putting teams away lately but a record of 31-2 is merely ridiculous.

In baseball, everybody's waiting for the remaining name free agent outfielders to make their choices, but none of them are.  It's rumored that the Giants are actively interested in at least one, but of course nobody really knows.  There's certainly no panic about it in San Francisco.

Meanwhile the Pirates seem to be having a decent off-season with acquisitions.  There are several ex-Giants on the team now, most recently pitcher Ryan Vogelsong.  With the Cubs making a big offseason push to dominate in the division, the Pirates are basically strong but will need perseverance and steadiness to weather things in the toughest division in baseball.