April 1, 2013

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The Week In Sports

By: Anson Whaley

Final Four set: The NCAA Tournament will conclude next week and the Final Four has been set. Like many years, the top seeds have disappointed for the most part. Included in the Final Four are No. 4 seeds Syracuse and Michigan, and No. 9 upstart Wichita StateLouisville was the lone No. 1 seed to get into the elite club. My bracket is completely busted at this point, but since I had the Cardinals to win it all, I can still finish respectably. And after two weeks of NCAA Tournament action, I’ve got to say Louisville is looking like the nation’s best team.

Kobe Bryant is now 4th on the all-time scoring list.

Opening Day is here: With Spring Training over, Major League Baseball officially got its season underway on Sunday night with a game featuring the Texas Rangers and new AL West team, the Houston Astros. As always, there are plenty of questions heading into this season. Will Stephen Strasburg continue his dominance after surgery? Can the Yankees overcome all of their injuries? Will the Angels’ additions of Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton the past two years pay off? If you forced me to make an early season World Series pick, I’ll go with the Nationals vs. Angels, but don’t take that too seriously.

Dallas Cowboys all in with Tony Romo: The Dallas Cowboys have shown plenty of confidence in starting quarterback Tony Romo over the years. After another disappointing season, Romo was rewarded with a six-year $108 million extension. The deal could take Romo, who turns 33 this month, to the end of his NFL career. The $55 million guaranteed money he will get even topped the deal Super Bowl quarterback Joe Flacco recently got with the Baltimore Ravens. Many Cowboys fans likely aren’t all that thrilled with the new deal for a quarterback who hasn’t gotten them to a Super Bowl since he’s been with the team. But finding a franchise quarterback isn’t the easiest thing in the world to do and the Cowboys think they’ve got their man in Romo.

Kobe Bryant passes Wilt Chamberlain on all-time scoring list: Los Angeles Lakers’ guard Kobe Bryant passed legend Wilt Chamberlain this past weekend for fourth place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list when he tallied point number 31,421. Statistics aren’t valued in basketball as much as they are in baseball, but Kobe’s achievement is still a big deal. Next up for the Mamba is none other than Michael Jordan, whose 32,292 points are third on the list. Bryant should easily pass up Jordan next season, but getting into the top two could be quite a feat. Karl Malone is second at 36,928 and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar tops the list at 38,387. Bryant will likely need to play at least four more seasons to have a shot at catching Malone, so Jordan could be the last person he passes on the list. But if there’s anything Kobe has proven over the years, it’s that he shouldn’t be doubted.

Good news and bad news for Pittsburgh Penguins: The Pittsburgh Penguins experienced some highs and lows last week. The team traded for star winger Jarome Iginla earlier in the week in a move that may put the team over the top to win the Stanley Cup. But on Saturday, Pittsburgh lost captain Sidney Crosby to a broken jaw after he was hit in the mouth with a puck during a game. Crosby underwent surgery on Sunday and is now out indefinitely. The Penguins are still in pretty good shape, but losing Crosby to injury yet again has to be frustrating for the team. Crosby is regarded by many as the league’s top player but has dealt with setback after setback in the league.

Miami Heat winning streak ends: The Miami Heat’s long winning streak ended with a loss to the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday, 101-97. Even though the Heat’s streak was snapped at 27 games, Miami still put together one of the most impressive stretches the league has ever seen. Plus, while the loss meant they fell short of the Los Angeles Lakers historic 33-game streak back in 1971-72, the Heat’s real target is another NBA title. The goal here is to keep everyone healthy for a long playoff run.

August 21, 2012

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The Washington Nationals’ Proposed Shutdown of Stephen Strasburg

By: Anson Whaley

When the Washington Nationals announced a plan early this season to shut down prized pitcher Stephen Strasburg once he reached a strict innings count, there was little pushback from fans. The move appeared to be a sensible one and they were only protecting what has become the best young pitcher in all of baseball.

Now that the Nats are likely heading to the playoffs, though, there’s not the consensus there once was. Fans, and even players, are starting to make their feelings known that the club should continue to play Strasburg now and worry about the future later.

Nationals fans are wondering how much longer they will get to enjoy seeing Strasburg pitch this season.

In case you’ve missed it, the Nationals reportedly have a plan in place to shut down Strasburg once he reaches a set number of innings. The number being bandied about the most is somewhere in between 160 and 180, though management hasn’t openly confirmed that. As of this weekend, he’s getting close to that number as he had just under 140 innings pitched so far this year. If Strasburg goes deep in his next few starts, that could mean he’s done after three more games.

Veteran utility player Mark DeRosa was the latest to speak out on the matter, saying last week that the loss of a team’s best pitcher would be ‘devastating.’ To have fans speak out is one thing, but when players do it, management takes far more notice.

The problem isn’t that the Nationals really have such a plan. Regardless of where you come out on the matter, it’s hard to blame a team for wanting to protect a pitcher that can be a legitimate ace for at least 10-12 more seasons if he stays healthy. It’s incredibly difficult to find quality starting pitchers and it’s unfair to say that Washington is foolish for potentially throwing one season away in the hopes of keeping him off of the DL.

Assuming the shutdown plan exists, a better strategy for Washington would have been to spread his starts out and/or limit his innings per start from the beginning of the season. That way, the team could have ensured they’d have him ready for a stretch run. Strasburg has gone at least six innings on 18 separate occasions this season. Why not limit him to five in most of those games or have him skip a start from time to time instead? Saving a few innings here and there could have meant they’d have him around for the playoffs while sticking to the planned restriction. Strasburg hasn’t gone deeper than the seventh inning in any of his starts, so the Nats have definitely tried to be a bit conservative. But I would have taken that a step farther to stretch his innings even deeper into the season.

But perhaps only 20 innings away from the limit now, that advice has come too late. So what should the team do now?

If it were up to me, I’d pitch him the rest of the way with some restriction. The Nationals have about 40 more games left, which means Strasburg would have eight starts remaining. They could keep him to five innings in his remaining outings and also skip his turn a few times along the way. And when it comes to the playoffs, even if the team goes on to win the World Series, Strasburg would have a maximum of about six more starts. The team could limit him to six innings, he’d only have a maximum of about six or seven starts. They could limit him to six innings in each of the postseason games and while removing him in the middle of a close contest would be agonizing, having him for half of a game is better than not having him at all.

In the end, I can understand Washington’s concern about protecting their investment. But for a franchise that hasn’t seen a winning team since they’ve moved back to Washington, fan frustrations are understandable. If management is wise about his use down the stretch, they can take a conservative approach with him and ensure their best pitcher is on the field when the playoffs roll around at the same time.

May 14, 2012

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A Night at the Ballpark

By: Anson Whaley

Who doesn’t love a night at the ballpark? Even if baseball doesn’t happen to be your favorite sport, attending a live game is still a good time. So when Stephen Strasburg and the Washington Nationals came to town to play the Pittsburgh Pirates, I couldn’t think of a better way to spend the evening. And the fact that I found seats about ten rows off the field behind the visitors’ dugout for half-price through an online vendor made it even more of a slam dunk.

PNC Park is a great place to go and catch a game.

The on-field action, though, wasn’t the only part of the night. Here’s a brief recap of the evening:

6:40 – Arrive at PNC Park (seriously, if you’ve never been there, you’re missing out) and promptly head into souvenir shop with time to kill. After browsing the hat section, I find a minor league prospect paperback book that caught my attention … until I noticed the $24.00 price tag. Quickly head out, opting for the $7.00 yearbook instead.

7:05 – Settle into my seat just in time for the opening pitch. Seated next to me are a father and son, each with the largest bucket of wings available. My only thoughts are, ‘Good luck finishing those, guys.’

Bottom of 2nd Inning – Strasburg strikes out the side. Eh, not so impressive.

Top of the 3rd Inning – Strasburg gets hit by a pitch and is jeered relentlessly when he asks for a jacket at first base. A female Pirates fan in front of me asks her companion, “Who is this Strasburg guy,” pronouncing it “Strays-burg.” I can’t help but think this is going to be a long night.

Bottom of the 3rd inning – Strasburg strikes out the side. Again.

Top of the 4th Inning – When Ryan Zimmerman comes to the plate, a somewhat drunk fan behind me tells his friend how great he is, repeatedly calling him ‘Ray.’ This all happens despite the fact that we happen to be facing the scoreboard with his name on it in gigantic letters.

Middle of the 4th Inning – The Pirates host their own version of the Price is Right’s Hi Lo game. The team provides a statistic and a selected fan has to determine whether a certain Pirates player had a higher or lower amount of that statistic than the previous player shown. The category in question is the amount of career walks.

Honus Wagner comes up as one of the players and the previously-referenced fan is at it again saying, “Honus Wagner couldn’t have walked a lot since he swung at everything.” I’m not sure which was more amusing – the certainty with which he said it or the fact that he appears to have studied Wagner’s prowess in actual game footage from nearly 100 years ago. At any rate, a somewhat confused contestant reaches the final question and after giving what is clearly the wrong answer, an exasperated host asks her if she wants to reconsider her choice. After a brief pause, she says no and loses. Fun, fun, fun.

Top of the 5th Inning – Strasburg smashes a double at the plate. Is there anything this guy can’t do? By the end of the night, he’s hitting .308 on the season. Forget the pitching, I’m thinking he’d look pretty good in the middle of the Pirates’ anemic batting order.

Middle of the 5th Inning – The Pittsburgh Pierogi mascot race also features the Washington Nationals’ President mascots. The mascots run around the park, much to the fans’ delight. Well, at least the ones under the age of 12.

Top of the 6th Inning – Zimmerman again comes to bat and the now clearly drunk fan behind me calls him Ray yet again. After his friend politely corrects him by saying, “I think his name’s Ryan,” there’s an eerie silence followed by an “Oh.” Said fan then ceases to talk for the rest of the inning, which quickly becomes the highlight of the night.

Middle of the 6th Inning – Father and son duo next to me not only finish off both buckets of wings relatively easy, but leave and return with a jumbo-sized portion of nachos. Yeah, I got that one wrong.

Top of the 7th Inning – Steve Lombardozzi comes to bat as a pinch-hitter as Strasburg exits the game. Despite a close contest, many fans follow suit, heading for the turnstiles after watching him toss 13 strikeouts in only six innings.

Middle of the 7th Inning– Another fan loses an inning break game. This time, a guy misses out on a jacket and then a hat, selecting a mystery box, which included an assortment of beef jerky instead. The irony that the fans are losing seemingly as much as the Pirates do isn’t lost on me.

Top of the 8th Inning – Harper comes up for his final at bat. After striking out, more than half of the remaining crowd files out.

9:43 – Game ends as Pirates lose, 4-2. All in all, well worth the $21.00 ticket price. I’d traveled to Altoona to witness Strasburg’s debut in AA two years ago and though he’s lost some velocity either because of his surgery last year or through his own choice (he topped 100 miles per hour then and touched the upper 90s only a few times last week), he’s still one of the most dominant pitchers in all of baseball.