Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Weekly Sports Burns (1st. Ed.)

Welcome to the Weekly Sports Burns! If you want to know how the column works, check this out.

LOCAL NEWS


THE BEST

I was twenty-two when the Blue Jays won their second consecutive World Series. With the highest payroll in all of baseball at $56M, WAMCO (White, Alomar, Molitor, Carter, and Olerud) was a team for the ages. They'd been good for so long, it seemed inevitable that they would always be good. Then 1994 happened, the year of the strike, and everything changed. For the next twenty years they would toil in mediocrity, their highwater year an 88 win team under disgraced manager Tim Johnson. Along the way, they would never hit a real low until 2013, but in the most powerful division in baseball, they couldn't climb over the Red Sox and Yankees, who for the best part of fifteen years,  became the richest teams in the league with staggering $200M payrolls.

And then this year happened. Anthopolous, the Jays' GM, pushed all his chips into the middle of the table and turned the roster over by a staggering eighty percent in a twenty month span, and added Troy Tulowitski, Ben Revere, Mark Lowe, LaTroy Hawkins, and the big get, David Price, at the trade deadline.

For the next two and a half months, the Blue Jays played at a .750 clip, unheard of in baseball, where even the worst teams win forty per cent of their games. Down eight games to the Yankees at the beginning of August, they blew past them like they were standing still, culminating in a division championship.

It's been the best year of baseball for Jays' fans in a very long time.

But after losing their first two games at home this past weekend, the Jays looked like they might be swept out by a powerful Rangers' squad with a resurgent bullpen. Tasked with winning two on the road and attempting to come back from a 2 -0 deficit for only the third time in Major League history, the bats loosened in the Texas heat, and the Jays bombed the Rangers in two games to tie the series and take it to a Game Five here in Toronto on Wednesday.

There are no guarantees, obviously. But the greatest season in baseball for Toronto fans in nearly two decades continues.

And that, was the best news of the week.

THE WORST

I'm tempted to point to the Jays' losing their first two games at home, but from a local standpoint, despite the Bills win over a bad Titans team, the struggles on the offensive line continue. Tennessee was in Buffalo's backfield all day. Seantrel Henderson looked about as effective an over-sized saloon door. Incognito has played very well, and Wood has been okay. But the Bills cannot allow Taylor to be running for his life all game, even if he's able to make plays with his legs (RGIII, anyone?) If the line doesn't get better, and get better fast, this team, despite their defense and weapons on offense, is not going to the playoffs.

(UPDATE) Taylor is out for several games due to a sprained MCL. Dammit!

FAVOURITE MOMENT

In Tampa last weekend, they had a shot before the game of left-fielder Ben Revere chatting with some Blue Jays' fans at field level. One little boy was wearing a Revere jersey, and the left fielder took a few pictures with him and ruffled his hair. Now, players do this all the time, more than we realize, but what this notable for me was the way the woman (who might have been his mom) was communicating with the boy using sign language. I paused the TV and rewound it, and then showed my wife. I asked her what she thought, and she confirmed what I'd seen.

As someone who spent nearly twenty years working with special needs' kids, that made my night. Truly, this is what sports is about. It looks like Revere might be one of the good guys.

SEVEN THINGS

1. The impact of Mike Babcock is already evident. Last year, for the first in a decade, I stopped watching the Leafs. They were a damn disgrace. No effort. Everyone doing whatever the hell they wanted. No one seemed to care. But their opening game against Montreal shocked me. They played an organized and aggressive style of hockey that but a weak goal and lack of scoring would have got them the win. It's going to take a while, folks, but make no mistake, this team is FAR different from last year's team.

2. If you're not impressed by a nationally ranked college football team that has lost its starting tailback and starting quarterback (and is now starting a freshman) nothing will. Yes, they were favoured against Navy, but that triple option is a pain to defend, and Navy will be a bowl team this year. If Kizer keeps progressing, look out. Notre Dame has a ton of talent on both sides on the ball.

3. One m ore thing about the Irish, thank you NBC for showing the Alma Mater. Some of us believe in that tradition. DON'T CUT IT!

4. If you haven't seen a picture of slimmed down Kyle Lowry, you need to, Raptor fans. I hardly recognize him.

5. It's preseason, but the "new" Lowry seems to have taken his game to the next level. Like dropping forty on the Lakers the other night. Again, it's preseason, but this looks like the MVP candidate from the first two months of last season. Great news for Raptors' fans.

6. Gibbons took a lot of flack for bringing in Price so early when Dickey seemed to be cruising in the fifth inning of Sunday's Jays' game. I don't understand the fuss. Loup wasn't available, and with Cecil injured, the only lefty they had was Price. It made perfect sense to bring in Price to go through the lefty dominant lineup of the Rangers at least twice. They couldn't have done that if they weren't sold on Stroman starting Game Five. But I'm sold. And if you're not, why not? The kid's the real deal.

7. Worried about Stroman's nerves? Today he was in the clubhouse, sitting by a bunch of the media guys, getting his hair done. Yeah. The kid will be fine.


NATIONAL NEWS


THE BEST

It has to be the Chicago Cubs, doesn't it, after taking a 2 - 1 lead over the Cardinals in the National League LDS. Look, everyone who follows baseball has the utmost respect for St. Louis. They run the best organization in the game and they are always in contention. (They're like the New England Patriots, only likable) But outside of Cardinals' fans, if you're not cheering for the Cubs, you might want to check your soul meter. Yeah, I'll cheer against them if they play the Jays' in the World Series, but no single fan base deserves to win more than the Cubs.

THE WORST

(I'm sticking with baseball a lot this week, but it's the only sport in the playoffs, and as I mentioned in my breakdown, playoffs come first.)

I hated Hundley's slide into second. I thought it warranted a two game suspension. Forget that it broke Tejada's leg, it was a dirty play. He was PAST the bag when he started to slide. If you're going to eliminate blocking the plate to protect catchers, why not protect middle infielders? Two players who were lauded and feared for their slides throughout their history were Frank Robinson and Don Baylor. And the dirtiest of them all was the first player ever elected to the Hall of Fame, Ty Cobb. (Bet you thought Ruth was the first one in, didn't you?) Cobb was famous for going spikes high. There's a reason everyone hated him. And feared him. But baseball has changed, and the game should NOT revolve around players avoiding injury.

FAVOURITE MOMENT

Nothing stuck out this weekend for me, except perhaps watching the Cubs win the Wild Card game. Arrieta is just... wow. Read this if you want to know how he's emerged as such a dominant pitcher.


FIVE THINGS

1. That Broncos defense is frightful. Peyton Manning has been playing like Eli played last year and it hasn't mattered. We'll see if he gets healthy. If he does, look out.

2. The Red Wings look like legit contenders to me, and that young kid, Larkin, looks special. He's the first teenager to crack the Red Wings lineup in twelve years, and you can see why. They bombed a disciplined if not terribly talented Leaf squad on Friday. If their goaltending remains solid, they're contenders. Period.

3. I honestly didn't think the Mets had much of a chance against the Dodgers, but suddenly a lineup that features YC and bite your tongue is an offensive powerhouse. As a Jays' fan, I can't help but sigh every time I watch young Thor pitch, but such is baseball.

4. I would very, very much like for the New England Patriots to stop losing. That's all.

5. The Association (NBA) is going to be interesting this year. When you watch Golden State, you can't help but wonder if the other teams are going to catch up. Because, damn, they're SO good. But they're are a lot of good teams in the West, though. I imagine it will come down to injuries. Except for the Clippers, I still think that they're overrated.