Thursday, October 30, 2014

NFL Picks Week Nine: The Mets are tied for first place again

Ladies and gentlemen, the 2015 World Series New York Mets are currently undefeated and tied for first place in the NL East with an inside track for home field throughout the playoffs. That is the most exciting baseball news I have become aware of in months, and I am currently the most optimistic I have been about the Mets in years. I mean, how can you not be when they haven't lost a game yet?

This is the anticipation the offseason brings sometimes. While I actually am somewhat cautiously optimistic about the 2015 Mets, I now can sort of think about them in earnest since the 2014 World Series featuring Madison Bumgarner against the Kansas City Royals came to an end last night. It's always a bit wistful when baseball season ends, and perhaps more so when Alex Gordon doesn't get waved home by the third base coach as the tying run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth like he should have been, but I am enthused about next season, both because the Mets will have Matt Harvey back and because they won't have to face Bumgarner three times in a seven-game span.

I mean, seriously, that was one of the greatest performances in World Series history, perhaps the type of thing you'll tell your children about. In fact, if you're a San Francisco Giants fan, it is almost certainly the type of thing you will tell your children about.

Royals fans...maybe not so much. Coming so close only to see a wild ride like theirs end with the game-tying run 90 feet away must be a brutal feeling, but, uh, hey, the Chiefs host the Jets on Sunday! And unlike the Royals the Chiefs have actually won four of their last seven games.

Sorry, that was a low blow, wasn't it?

Thursday, October 23, 2014

NFL Picks Week Eight: What the hell am I going to do this weekend?

It's that time of year again. I have discussed more than once just how dull and mind-numbing it is to endure the annual bye week of the New York Giants. After all, fall is my favorite season because it carries with it the promise that even if the Giants are bad, at the very least they're giving me something to watch. But once over that 17-week stretch of entertainment that is the NFL season, the Giants take a weekend off. Often it leaves me wondering what I should do with my time and how I can kill the next 14 days until I see them play again, but usually there is one carrot that gets me through the drudgery. At least on Saturday I can watch Northwestern play, even if it also delivers its special brand of frustration and disappointment.

2014, however, is an entirely new kind of manufactured disappointment. This time around, in a cruel aligning of the stars, my cure for boredom is also talking the weekend off. And I have no idea what to do with myself.

That's right. This weekend both the New York Giants and the Northwestern Wildcats will be on their respective bye weeks.

This particular set of circumstances hasn't occurred in 10 years, when both Northwestern and the Giants took off the weekend of October 16-17. Of course, that was during my sophomore year of college, and considering the late-autumn chill had not yet set in in Evanston by that point I at least had drinking to help occupy my time. I could do the same now, but as a 29-year-old professional I should probably have a more responsible and socially acceptable solution to the problem.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

NFL Picks Week Seven: Ned Yost is making my head explode

The MLB Playoffs are a funny thing. Boiling down an extensive 162-game season that presents a large enough sample size to more or less separate the wheat from the chaff to a series of lightning-quick postseason series that are largely dependent on randomness and pitching matchups seems silly on the surface. This is because, well, it is. If the goal is to crown a true champion that is the best team in a sport each year, then a playoff system that twice per year requires two teams to play a single elimination game after a marathon season kind of flouts the purpose. Anyone who has studied statistics knows small sample sizes are prone to random variation and that larger sample sizes are needed to bear out the true nature of things. To that end, several studies have shown the MLB playoffs are largely a crapshoot.

I mean, that doesn't mean it isn't fun. And to be fair, if the Mets were somehow defying the law of averages on a nightly basis, I'd be loving every minute of it.

But the point remains. Ned Yost, or as I call him, Bunty McBunterson, should have managed this team out of the postseason about 19 times by now. Yost is a man whose managerial strategy thrives on old-timey small ball used at all the incorrect times with a little bit of bullpen mismanagement mixed in. This is not an unpopular opinion to have. Far and wide in both Kansas City and Yost's former home city as a manager Milwaukee has it been talked of that his management is, well, terrible. Even in mid-Septemeber his blunderous moves one after the other were ridiculed. A light has been shined on how his old-school mentality is completely inconsistent with statistical evidence. His total bungling of the AL Wild Card game this year is legendary. Not only did his inexplicable decision to bring in starter Yordano Ventura in relief on two days rest raise the public ire of Pedro Martinez, but his persistent dedication to sacrifice bunting has been mind-boggling. In that game, which the Royals somehow won despite their manager, after getting the leadoff man on, sacrificing him to second in the 9th, 10th and 11th innings, which according to the Wins Probability Added statistic had a negative impact on Kansas City's chances of winning. This included a ninth inning in which the Royals trailed and gave Oakland a free out when they had three outs left in their season.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

NFL Picks Week Six: The 2014 NLCS bores me to death

At the outset of the 2014 MLB playoffs there was one thing more than any other that I simply did not want to see. Of the 10 teams in the postseason field, I knew I would be bored out of my gourd if I had to watch the goddamn St. Louis Cardinals reach or, heaven forbid, win the World Series again.

Well, look who just happened to upset the heavily favored Los Angeles Dodgers. Yet again the Cardinals and their brand of unsexy and mildly wholesome baseball have managed to reach the NLCS and the only thing that stands in the way of a fifth pennant and potentially a third World Series title in the past 11 seasons is... the San Francisco Giants.

Retread, retread, retread.

Don't get me wrong. I don't have any issues with the Giants. As the one-time team of my family before it moved west and the theoretical ancestor of the New York Mets, there are a lot of reasons to like a team that is rich in history and was, until four years ago, equally as frustrating to root for as mine. In addition, I certainly don't have the kind of vitriol for them that I do for St. Louis, a dull team that ruined what was supposed to be the most special kind of special seasons for the Mets back in 2006. But the Giants are starting to wear on me, too. I've seen them succeed with two championships in the past four seasons and seeing someone fresh and new win the pennant, even if it's a team I'm supposed to hate like the Washington Nationals, wouldn't be the worst thing in the world.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

NFL Picks Week Five: The Royal Treatment

Of all the cities in America for me to have something of a second home base or social network, Kansas City is far from the obvious choice. New York is, and almost certainly will always be, my home, but Chicago is the only other metropolitan area in the world in which I've lived. San Francisco is a place I know well and in which I know many people. Hell, even Los Angeles, a place for which I have less than zero fondness is a locale I can map out geographically and have several couches I could crash on if necessary.

I could not draw you a map of how Kansas City is laid out, nor could I explain to you its mass transit in any meaningful sense. But for some reason, as I keep thinking back to it, it is a place that feels like home whenever I'm there.

This all started because 11 years ago I worked at Fairview Lake YMCA with a girl named Susie (because what girl from Kansas City wouldn't be named Susie), who eventually led me on a friendly visit to her hometown that opened the door to an entire group of people in the City of Fountains, a nickname KC has rightfully earned. I've now been back to Kansas City three times, once to learn that I will never be able to dunk on a regulation rim, once to experience Real America in all its glory and once more to see Susie tie the knot. There is a whole handful of people in the city I could happily stay with the next time I'm in KCMO (and there will definitely be a next time because have you had the BBQ?), and each of those people is always welcome to stay with me, which many have done.

Also, need I note that Kansas City is the birthplace of my beloved New Jersey Devils?

Needless to say, my feelings for the Paris of the Plains are clear, and it's because of those connections that I've felt a twinge of wistful excitement watching the Kansas City Royals play playoff baseball for the first time since I was three months old. We could talk about championship droughts ad nauseum. Hell, the Detroit Tigers, Baltimore Orioles, Pittsburgh Pirates and Washington Nationals are all currently in the postseason this year and each is currently in the midst of a longer wait for a World Series title. But each of those teams has had stretches of competitiveness and near brushes with glory in between. The Tigers have won two pennants in the last decade, while the Orioles, Pirates and Nationals can all claim multiple division titles since the Royals last played meaningful games in October. Even the Chicago Cubs, they of the century-plus wait for a title have reached the NLCS in the past 15 years.