Wow, where did September go? Where did summer go? I always find that Green Day song “Wake Me Up When September Ends” annoying to me. I can’t put my finger on it, but I have always had a mixed emotion love for September.
Back in the day, I was never one to hate the start of school. Yes, I was kinda that kid that liked school. I liked seeing friends again…liked all the extra-curricular activities that came with it. I have always loved hoodies, and September is the time when you get to break out the hoodies again.
It is a great time in sports too…for me it is the end of baseball season (ya, I survived, mostly!) and start of hockey season! In terms of spectator sports, I am not sure there is a busier time of year! So much to talk about, so let’s get to it!
My good friend Mark Mancini expressed his disappointment last week with my lack of golf coverage. I am nothing if not a people pleaser, and what a great week to talk some golf!
There can only be one lead, which of course would be the passing of Arnold Palmer. For my two cents, “Arnie” was more than a legend in this game. He was as iconic an ambassador for the game as any man in any sport. You can argue that he brought golf to the mainstream, and brought with it the start of golfers as great merchandisers as well. They trail only Nascar in number of endorsements per square inch of fabric worn. He was all class, yet a fierce competitor. And maybe some of the best quotes in golf. Two that really struck me;
Golf is deceptively simple and endlessly complicated.
I have a tip that can take five strokes off anyone’s golf game: it’s called an eraser.
And how do you talk “Arnie” without talking about “Arnie’s Army”, which really was the conduit to golf as a spectator sport, and ultimately a televised sport.
Important little piece of trivia for you too! Arnie’s first PGA win was the Canadian Open, in 1955. That’s cool.
And of course, there is the drink! When you have a drink named after you, you have established a legacy!
Also in the world of golf, the Tour Championship and FedEx Cup were both won this past weekend by Rory McIlroy (a good Irish lad!), and added a little more heartache to the legend that is Dustin Johnson. DJ really only needed to have an OK day Sunday to secure the FedEx, but his Sunday stumble of 1-over 73 at the Tour Championship cost him a cool $10 million dollars. To put it in perspective, Arnie won $2500 for that first Canadian Open Title! All these young guys should be paying homage to Arnie, Jack, and Tiger, for creating the environment where they can make $10 million dollars over a weekend.
Don’t feel too bad for DJ…he is just under $10 million in earnings for the year, and is a new Dad. Me thinks he is still winning in life…and he has done OK in the stepfather category too!
Has golf ever been better though? Yes, I for one miss Tiger, and am still clinging to an increasingly foolish belief that he will return to form, and win another major. Golf has never been this competitive or compelling though. Rory, DJ, Jordan Spieth, and Jason Day have all shown moments of dominance over the past 12 months. And there are countless great golfers in contention to win any given week. With all due respect to Tiger, he never faced fields this deep in his prime!
Ryder Cup is this weekend, if you need a golf fix. Always interesting how it turns out (and who the American’s blame for losing!), but it has always been missing something to me. Of course, the “secondary” theme will be how the crowds behave, which has always been my problem with professional golf. A little uptight maybe? This guy scored a win for all of us!
World Cup of Hockey
A few takeaways as the World Cup of Hockey ends, with Canada hoisting a trophy much less impressive than Lord Stanley’s gift.
- The word I kept using for this Team Canada was “clinical”. I will admit to being a little behind on my watching, as “adult life” kept me from seeing all of the final, and a blissful weekend at Killbear kept me away from the semi-final versus Sweden. While they at times appeared “disinterested” or “sleepy” I don’t think they were ever rattled. Even down late 1-0 in game 2. Surgeons, despite completing operations where their patients life is in their hands, are calm. That is the demeanor I saw with this team.
- If you are a Montreal Canadiens fan, you have to be pretty stoked about the return of Carey Price. Little doubt that he is back in elite form. He was tested too, this wasn’t the Sochi Olympics, where I may have been able to play goal behind that team. Price was his usual steady, calming presence. His return instantly changes the Canadiens’ outlook in the Eastern Conference.
- Most men would find it a little depressing, going from coaching a ridiculous Team Canada roster, to coaching a young, rebuilding Maple Leafs team. I don’t think that is the case with Mike Babcock. I think he relishes the challenge, and is starting to assemble the roster he wants in order to compete. I don’t think it is this year, but there is more hope than normal for this Leafs team that they will do this rebuild right.
- These tournaments are so often some lesser known player’s coming out party. Word Cup 2016 presents Brad Marchand. Up until now, he was a good Bruin that the rest of the league loved to hate. He is still on my “Clothesline in an Airport List”, but his skill level is undeniable. Don’t underestimate the impact this tournament had on his contract negotiations either. They too saw the chemistry he had with 87, and the stories popping up about him joining him in Pittsburgh. My initial reaction was that it was a bit far-fetched, but when you contemplate how many wingers have NOT fit with Sid, would it not be almost impossible to “overpay” for a guy who clearly shows that kind fit? Yep, I think this may have played in the Bruins minds too.
- Speaking of “Uncle Sid”, not a bad little run he is on the past few months? Stanley Cup, Conn Smythe, World Cup, MVP? Yep, I’d say those reports of his demise last winter were a little premature. I also heard Steve Kouleas make a great point following the game last night on SiriusXM NHL Radio. He thinks Sid may just be motivated to hold his place as the face of the NHL for a little while longer. We all know that it will soon be McDavid’s crown, but maybe Sid isn’t quite ready to pass the torch yet.
Not much good to say here. This team just has not been able to find that same spark that carried them on their magical run last year. What is so disappointing is the offence. This was supposed to be a “murderers row” batting order, but it really has struggled. And now, the bullpen is coughing up wins again. When the year began, it was starting pitching that appeared to be the biggest concern. Stroman has been a little off, but could we have expected much more from Happ, Estrada and Sanchez? Liriano now appears to be finding his form to. But the bats, other than Edwin, Donaldson and Devon Travis, have simply been consistenyl inconsistent all year.
To me, the hitters mindset is just off throughout the lineup. Too many strikeouts, and to many pop tart fly balls. At their best last year, they were putting together hits and then hitting the deep ball. Remember “stir the pot”? Where did that energy and enthusiasm go? If this weekend continues to go sideways, you can always look back on the magic of 2015 here.
So what is it? What is wrong with this team? Their issues with hitting with runners in scoring position is my biggest frustration – it ultimately cost them in the Divisional series versus KC – and just seems have deteriorated this year. How many times have they had runners in scoring position, no outs, and not cashed the runner? Yes, not good last year, as the team batted 0.269 with runners in scoring position. They are worse this year, at 0.249. That is a pretty big difference.
The stats don’t lie on this team. The Jays offence, while still decent, is scoring 4.71 runs per game, well off the 5.5 runs per game of last year. They have managed just 53 stolen bases, down from 88 last year. Not that this team ever ran much, “small ball” is a foreign concept to Gibby, who thinks it is a comparison of softballs and hardballs. The big statistical difference though – strikeouts. The Blue Jays have gone down on strikes 1343 times this year, versus 1151 for all of last year. There is a reason they now spell Justin Smoakkk’s name with 3 K’s.
I thing the issue is bigger than on field performance though. I think the mood changed this year, when Alex Anthopoulos was allowed to walk, replaced with Mark Shapiro. Don’t get me wrong, I think the Shapiro/ Atkins combo has done a pretty good job in baseball terms. They shored up the bullpen with the additions of Grilli and Benoit, and bringing back Darwin Barney has been a under-rated boost. What I mean by the mood changing is the lack of movement on contracts for Edwin and Jose. I think maybe these guys had assurances from AA that they would get taken care of, and new management has not followed through on those assurances. I believe Edwin has become the emotional heartbeat of this clubhouse, and when he is a little off, that mood is felt.
What is saddest about this is that Edwin very much wants to be a Blue Jay for life. He has spoken openly about joining the Blue Jays greats on the ring of honor. I seriously hope that Blue Jays management can find a way to make this happen. In my opinion, if only one can stay, it should be the man with the parrot.
Final thought – anyone feel good about the Jays chances in a one game playoff? I would argue, as good as their starting pitching has been as a group, that any team they face in the Wildcard game will have a better starter going. So it will come down to whether the big bats can send a few deep. Swing away right Gibby.
Another wild and wacky week in the NFL…and I saw none of it. Not a game. Strange for me, for sure, but it was too nice a weekend not to enjoy outdoors!
I did get caught up of course on the goings on for the week, and as always will pass on a few random thoughts.
Surprise of the Week
Fly Eagles Fly! After calling out the ridiculousness of the Carson Wentz “love in ” on Monday Night Football, Wentz and the Eagles went out and crushed the Pittsburgh Steelers 34-3. I guess that puts me in my place! Oh and Wentz went out and threw for 301 yards and 2 TD’s. Color me impressed. I am not sure I am happy that the “KC East” Eagles gave us a wealth of film to study as my Chefs prepare to face those same Steelers this week…or be angered that we will get a “butt hurt” Mike Tomlin and Big Ben.
Something That Really Bugged Me This Week
Let’s just say the “Football God’s” seemed to be foil me at every turn last week. My second week in a row going 7-16 in picks. I guess that is why I don’t post them here. The fact that the Dolphins needed a missed FG and OT to beat the Browns for my Survivor pick was right up there. Having to scramble to replace my TE Antonio Gates Sunday morning from the beach…and getting it way wrong by choosing Jared “unfulfilled promise” Cook instead of Jimmy Graham. And then to top it off Monday Night, I needed a very pedestrian 50 yards from stud Julio Jones to win my week…and getting 1 catch for 15 yards.
Something That Made Me Smile
This week, I smiled for Coach Zimmer and the Minnesota Vikings. I am sure at some point, this Vikings team will find a way to put my boy Trevor Waldron on a watch list. They always do. He literally had all his Vikings gear packed in a box for the United Way last year after the playoff loss. In the Osborne days, I was always entertained by the weekly rants to fire the Offensive Co-ordinator, or Denny Green, for their failures.
But this week was a make-up day for years of suffering. The Vikings went into Carolina, with no Adrian Peterson, no Bridgewater, no Kalil, no Floyd…and stomped a mud hole in the Panthers. And they did it with the D! Eight sacks of Cam (what happened to Superman anyway??), 3 interceptions. This is what good coaching does, and I think they Vikings have it in Coach Zimmer. He waited too long for his chance to be a head coach, but he is making the most of it. Where Bruce Arians gets so much love for his unconventional calls and long path to a head coaching gig, Coach Zimmer does it the old fashion way. They are good on D, and take care of the football on offence. And they can beat anybody.
That trade for Bradford was costly, but it looks more and more like money (and assets) well spent. It didn’t just fill a hole at the Quarterback position. It instilled in the whole locker room that this was not a lost season. That is so important in a short NFL season.
A Few More Things I Think I Think
- Have to throw a little love in a direction I really don’t like to, but looking good Denver Bronco’s. There was no denying that D was going to be good. And lets just say it right here, Wade Phillips is a great D-Coordinator. He failed as a head coach, but he can coach up a D. Do you read my column Rex – Wade is the ghost of Ryan’s future! But more importantly, I see you over there John Elway, you and your brass balls. Good on you for holding firm to what you believed was Brock Oweiler’s value, and not caving. We know that Trevor Siemian is not the second coming of – well, John Elway – he doesn’t need to be. This team won the Super Bowl with barely competent Quarterback play, and Siemian is giving them better than that so far.
- Hey Ryan Fitzpatrick, how is that holdout looking for you now? Maybe the Jets were right, and you are not a world beater? Or maybe that Harvard education didn’t cover the difference between green and red. You may also want to tell your quarterback friends to not throw towards Marcus Peters. Six Picks, that can’t be good!
- The NFL is a little less fun with JJ Watt shelved. He is a generational defensive player, a one man wrecking crew from the defensive line. Get well JJ, a back is not something you want to mess with!
- Nice to see the Packers look like an offense again…but can somebody introduce Aaron Rodgers to Randall Cobb?
- Just when you are ready to write them off, the Bills emerge from the dumpster to win a game they shouldn’t. This is Rex Ryan in a nutshell. He simply won’t go away quietly. I am not sure Rex can go anywhere quietly.
- Bad news this week that they are finally admitting Sammy Watkins is not right, putting him on IR-designated to return. Can’t see this offense putting up much without Watkins.
- Speaking of the Bills, do you think they want a re-do on that Watkins draft trade. If you recall, the Bills moved up from 9 to 4 in the 2014 draft, giving Cleveland their first and fourth picks in 2015. Good news – Cleveland hasn’t exactly rebuilt the franchise with those picks. Bad news – Buffalo, you gave up 2 picks to move up 5 spots in a draft where you could have just selected from a list that includes Mike Evans, Odell Beckham Jr. (wouldn’t he be fun at the Rex Ryan circus?), Brandon Cooks and Kelvin Benjamin. And that is just the first round guys. Also entering the league in this draft were Jordan Matthews, Allen Robinson and Jarvis Landry. Sorry Bills Mafia, I feel your pain.
- Maybe I am gambling a little too much, but I have some upset specials going this week in my picks. Homer pick of my Chefs over the Steelers, I have the Jaguars beating the Colts in London in a get well game, the Jets beating the East Coast hating Seahawks (who need to sit Russell Wilson and get him healthy!), and the Chargers beating the Saints, who also don’t love the road.
I’ve said it all. I’ve said too much. Thanks for reading. And I will leave you with the earworm that is in my head now!
PS – Extra marks if you pick up the irony in this song choice? Not sports related.