Wednesday, August 03, 2016

So You're Saying There's a Chance. . .

In words rarely used together and in this order - it all started in Nebraska. Shortly after, it spread to Colorado, Missouri, and Texas. With one fell swoop, college athletics spun and turned and twisted like a Rubiks cube as universities bolted from their historical conferences in a quest for greener pastures and that ever-growing mighty dollar. The effects of this systemic overhaul continue to reverberate through the college athletic landscape even today as the rumbling of expansion rumors have magnified. But this time, my alma mater actually might get to play.

When the Cornhuskers made the initial move from the Big 12 to the Big 10, their former conference began a slide from a legitimate claim as the best Power 5 conference to arguably the worst of the five in the past few seasons. Even with the addition of TCU from the Mountain West Conference and West Virginia from the Big East, the loss of Nebraska, Texas A&M, Missouri, and CU eliminated the opportunity to host a conference championship game - a luxury item (and money making television event) for the other four Power 5 conferences that include twelve or more teams. The Big 12 has discussed expansion in previous years in order to capitalize on the dollars associated with the additional members and that coveted conference championship game. This discussion reached a boiling point at the end of the 2014 college football season as the 12-1 TCU Horned Frogs were not selected for the college football playoffs. The playoff committee instead selected the ACC champion (Florida State), the SEC champion (Alabama), the Pac-12 champion (Oregon), and the Big 10 Champion (Ohio State), all of which had won their respective conference championship games. After the 2014 exclusion, it took another year and a half of mulling and debating and pondering and hemming and hawing and thumb-twiddling, but the Big 12 Conference finally made a decision. The decided to maybe potentially possibly look at expansion. But maybe not. Despite the grey nature of the announcement, the news was more definitive than anything previously released by the Conference - expansion is now on the table.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Teetering On the Brink

For any baseball team with playoff aspirations, a 13-14 record in the month of June is unacceptable. A record one game below .500 in the heat of summer traditionally projects mediocrity across the second half of the season. For other teams, June is typically so terrible that fans patiently await the arrival of the "June Swoon." That team, of course, is the Rockies. When that same Rockies team finished June of 2016 with a 13-14 record, I started wondering if this was the beginning of a new era in Rockies baseball. Those thoughts evaporated in July. A disastrous road trip through Los Angeles and San Francisco resulted in a lone victory in six attempts. Luckily, the last home stand before the All Star break provided an opportunity for redemption as the lowly Phillies visited Coors Field. . . where they managed to take two of the four games against our local nine. That was not the way anyone wanted to finish the first half of the season.

With the All Star break ending today, the Rockies own a 40-48 record; eight games below five hundred, sixteen games behind the (MLB best) Giants in the National League West, and seven games out of the Wild Card. But there is some good news accompanying the 3-7 slide in July - the Rockies became sellers.

Courtesy of Getty Images
Dick Monfort has a reputation for viewing his team through purple colored glasses and letting his skewed view affect team decisions. If his team hovers around that .500 record as the trade deadline approaches, the organization tends to be the lone believers that they are in contention. As a result, they overvalue, and subsequently hold onto, assets that could be moved for younger talent. What the July slide has created is a sizable gap between the Rockies and the actual contenders. Even Monfort should agree that this is not the year for the Rockies to be in the mix. Trading off a few assets like Jorge De La Rosa, Charlie Blackmon, Carlos Gonzalez, or some of those veteran bullpen arms would go a long way to continue what Jeff Bridich has done in his year and a half on the job - bolster the farm system for the next few years.

And in the next few years, we could be looking at something special. The biggest knock on the Rockies for the life of the franchise has been the lack of competent pitching. Now for the first time since the playoff seasons on 2007 and 2009, the pitching staff finally looks. . . dare I say. . . competitive?

  • Jon Gray has shown why his name was atop the prospect charts since being drafted third overall in the 2013 MLB draft. Gray's power arm is missing bats at an increasing rate - he averages 9.6 strikeouts per nine innings. He has also reduced his walks and hits per innings pitched from his rookie campaign from 1.623 to 1.173. That one less base runner every two innings has reduced traffic and improved his overall performance. Gray's issue this season has been his bad inning; a single inning each game where he struggles to control his pitches. Thankfully, he recovers quickly and minimizes damage.
  • Tyler Chatwood has been dominate on the road (1.30 ERA, .183 BAA) and quite the opposite at Coors (5.32 ERA, .299 BAA). Even a slight improvement from Chatwood at home makes him a solid #2 or #3 starter for any major league team, much less a Rockies team that struggles to maintain success on the bump. 
  • Tyler Anderson was called up in June to fill a rotational hole that Eddie Butler, Chris Rusin, Jordan Lyles, and Christian Bergman had destroyed emptied (although Rusin was not the issue). All Anderson has done is provide a safety net for the back end of the rotation. In six starts, Anderson owns an ERA of 3.03, 8.1 strikeouts per nine innings, and a WHIP of 1.262; all while averaging nearly 6 innings per start. For an organization that has defined how to tax a bullpen, getting 6 innings consistently out of a start has been a godsend. 
  • Chad Bettis has pitched phenomenally. His alter ego on social media, Bad Chettis, has not. While the Bettis/Chettis has been a replacement level player (-0.1 WAR), he has not pitched poorly enough to be eliminated from the future of the Rockies rotation. 
  • More talent is coming, too. Jeff Hoffman, the centerpiece of the Tulo trade, will be a late-season call up with the big league squad. Kyle Freeland pitched well enough in Hartford to earn a promotion to AAAAlbuquerque during this season. German Marquez (2.63 ERA in 17 starts) and Antonio Senzatela (1.82 ERA in 7 starts) are a pair of Venezuelan pitchers currently ripping up AA batters for the Yard Goats. Add in a squad of younger guys (Lambert, Castellani, the recently drafted Pint) and this squad finally has quality depth at its historically weakest position. 
Courtesy of Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
The rotation is improving; Boone Logan and Carlos Estevez have provided quality out of the bullpen; the offense ranks in the top five teams in MLB in average, on-base-percentage, and slugging percentage; yet the Rockies' record is only one game improved from last year at this time. One game better than a team that finished with 94 losses and in last place in the National League West. Even with reduced walks and increased strikeouts (the Rockies are middle of the pack in both categories), the pitching staff as a whole still owns the second highest ERA in baseball (5.08), second highest batting average against (.278), and second highest WHIP (1.44). These numbers need to improve if the Rockies plan on being competitive, but we can see the Bridich plan - a shift from the pitch-to-contact era to a new age of power arms, missed bats, and reduced traffic on the base paths. [Seemingly, the inflation of these stats always happens with two outs. Potentially due to their youth and inexperience, Rockies pitchers cannot close out innings. Again the hope is that as the staff garners that experience, their ability to pitch with two outs will improve as well.]

With all the pitching talent on the cusp of breaking into the league, Jeff Bridich and baseball in Colorado might be on the brink of breaking out. Should Bridich convince Dick Monfort to move a few valuable pieces for even more young, talented, pitching depth; optimism will swell at 20th and Blake. 

As a Rockies fan, I should know better. 
Courtesy of Westword

Thursday, July 07, 2016

No Answers to the Hardest Questions

I do not fear much in my life. This statement is not a testament to my macho tough-guy persona. In fact, my entire being is quite the opposite of tough. But I am a 33 years old, 6', 215 pound, middle class, white, suburban male. There are not many reasons to have fear when you are a member of the most privileged group of people in the history of the world.

Yet last night, I could not sleep. I was uneasy. I was uncomfortable. I was scared.

The videos are chilling. A man selling CD's outside of a convenience store bull rushed by an officer, restrained on the ground, and shot point-blank in the chest. A man sitting in his car, pulled over for a busted tail light, following the officer's instructions, and then shot at close range as he reaches for his identification with his girlfriend and daughter in the vehicle.

I own a pair of heavy feet and that extra weight on the pedals has instigated more encounters with police officers than I should probably admit. As the blue and red lights flash behind me and I pull onto the shoulder of the road, the question "Will I survive this interaction?" never crosses my mind. But I'm not black.

Something is wrong with our system when events like these continue to occur. If you are reading this in a search for answers, I am sorry as I have none. I am not in law enforcement. I am not of African descent. I cannot directly relate to either side. But as an observer and (most importantly) a human being, I know that what I see is wrong and something needs to change. At the core, our empathy for people unlike ourselves must improve. That includes me. Different, yet the same. We must remember this.

Please do not interpret my words as an attack against police. As with most groups, the actions of a few stain the reputations of the majority. Members of my family and friends made along my journey have chosen this arduous profession and they deserve our utmost respect. Every day on the job may be their last and this should be commended. While those countless police officers merit our admiration, we must hold accountable those who violate basic humanitarian principles.

Stay safe, friends.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Boom Xhaka Laka

The 2015-2016 Premier League season had the makings of something special for the Gunners in North London. The summer signing of Petr Cech from Chelsea added a top-tier keeper to Arsene Wenger's dynamic squad. While Cech's signing from Chelsea was truly the only major action taken by the club in the offseason, expectations -- as always -- were still high for the perennial contender. With their last Premier League hardware coming in the undefeated season of 2003-2004, the Ozil/Alexis duo orchestrating the offensive end of the pitch, and the relative health of the fragile midfield, Arsenal was due for a championship run. 

Courtesy of The Sun
Then the season started.

#FavoriteMLBPlayersOfMyLifetime, #PartTwo

When we last spoke, the election of Mike Piazza and Ken Griffey, Jr. to the Baseball Hall of Fame coupled with the Twitter hashtag of #FavoriteMLBPlayersOfMyLifetime had steered me down a path of internal debating about who makes my list. My last post focused on my favorite players currently active in the League. I had grand plans of publishing this second part of this series on Opening Day. In early April. It is now almost June. Today (FINALLY), we focus on those old geezers who have since retired.

Courtesy of Boston Red Sox
First, let's cover the one guy that I wish I could have on this list but does not qualify - Ted Williams. Williams never played during my lifetime and it wasn't even close; his last season was in 1960. However, the most famous frozen head in the world was my Grandpa's favorite player. Since Grandpa was my favorite baseball reference, Ted Williams was also MY favorite player. Williams is in the Hall of Fame for obvious reasons. A two-time MVP, Williams hit at least .400 in three different seasons (1941, shortened 1952, shortened 1953). In his other 16 seasons, his batting average at the end of the season dipped under .300 only once in 1959 at the age of 40. To make sure he ended on a high note, his final season batting average at the age of 41 was .316. Suck it, Father Time! He is a member of the 500 home run club, hitting 521 in his career. He also amassed 2,654 hits, including 525 doubles and 71 triples. Did I mention that he missed three seasons (1943-1945) in the prime of his career during a stint for the Marines in World War II and parts of two additional seasons (1952-1953) because of the Korean War?

But alas, I was not even close to alive in 1960 so Williams is off the list.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

#FavoriteMLBPlayersOfMyLifetime, #PartOne

On January 6th, the Baseball Hall of Fame announced that two stars from my childhood had received enough votes to be enshrined in Cooperstown - Mike Piazza and Ken Griffey, Jr. The following day, #FavoriteMLBPlayersOfMyLifetime was trending on Twitter. Since baseball is the greatest sport ever, these two events prompted debates in my head about my favorite players that I have had the pleasure to watch. As it is now months later and Opening Day is right around the corner, I clearly took my time in digesting this information. The result of all that gear-grinding is two posts covering two distinct categories - my favorite players who are currently active in MLB and my favorite players that have retired from the game. Today, we dig into the actives.

Courtesy of
10. Brandon McCarthy, SP - Los Angeles Dodgers - I can imagine that if you polled baseball fans around the country for a list of their favorite current MLB players, McCarthy would not appear often. He has been a MLB migrant, spending time in Chicago, Arlington, Oakland, Arizona, New York, and now LA. He has never been an elite pitcher and he has been injured a ton over his career. So why would he be one of my favorites? Easy. He played with my college roommate in high school, spent several nights in college sleeping on the couch in our house, and is one of the best Twitter follows in MLB. Despite his natural inclination to play for teams I despise, I continue to cheer for BMac. Although the personal connection is reason enough to become a fan of the guy, McCarthy has provided plenty of other reasons to be on this list. While playing for the A's, McCarthy was struck in the head with a line drive. This accident was not just career-threatening; it was life-threatening. After months and months of rehab and uncertainty, McCarthy returned to the mound to pitch again. I am not sure that I would be able to stand on the bump again had I been in his situation. He also has embraced the statistical elements of the game; adjusting his approach to pitching based on what his research of the numbers revealed. ESPN did a great story on his belief in sabermetrics and the effect pitch analysis had on his performance. It also touches on his fanboy moment with Bill James, which is funny to me. His quirky personality shows through interviews as well, like this one from Buzzfeed and this Q and A with the Players Tribune. During the Q&A, McCarthy was asked "If you could go back in time and take back one pitch you threw, which would it be and why?" McCarthy responded, "Probably the one that was hit back at my head and required lifesaving brain surgery. If you still need to know why, please reread the previous sentence."

Saturday, February 06, 2016

The Sheriff

Two years ago, I remember stepping onto my back patio at halftime of the Super Bowl, starting the grill, and breathing in the cold February air. The neighborhood was silent. I stood there, enjoying the quiet while the crispness of the air battled with the warmth from the grill. It was the best I had felt in hours.

The first half did not go as anyone in Denver had hoped. From the first offensive play of the game, a snap that sailed over the head of Peyton Manning for a safety, the Broncos looked outclassed, out-coached, and out of hope. The most promising season in recent Bronco history was sadly disintegrating on the field at MetLife Stadium. 

Tomorrow, we get to try again. The Broncos are facing off against a scary-good Carolina Panthers team. Boasting a stout defense, a dynamic ground game, and the likely 2015 NFL MVP, the Panthers are understandably favored against a team that has the number one defense in the league (but a stagnant offense). In order to win the game, the Broncos have to contain Cam Newton and their running backs on first and second down to pit the strength of the Denver D against the Carolina's weakest link - 3rd and long passing situations. On the other side of the ball, the Denver offense needs to limit turnovers, catch the damn ball, and stay productive enough to keep the defense rested and Cam Newton on the sidelines. I honestly cannot predict how this game will play out. Regardless of the final score, I am going to be glued to the television for one major reason - Peyton Manning.