Kevin’s Blog: The Pittsburgh Pirates Get To .500 (At Least)

Pirates Hats

’97, ’06 and ’11

My beloved Pittsburgh Pirates have not had a winning season since I got my driver’s license in 1992. I have suffered through the majority of the twenty consecutive seasons of a losing record. I will admit to being so ticked off at baseball for striking in 1994 that I stopped watching until 1999. During that time period though, I still sported a Pirates hat that I bought in the summer of 1997. It was an easy time period to keep the team out of my life since it was during my college years. I’d be home for the summer, mow lawns for twelve hours a day then go spend some of my money on some really cheap beer. Few of my friends liked sports and if they did, it was football. I had also convinced myself that it was a boring sport. Of all things that drug me back in, it was fantasy baseball. I hate losing, even if there isn’t money involved. But when my friend Jason invited me into that league in 1999, it changed the way I looked at the sport.

I have been a Pirates since I can remember. My mother was the big baseball supporter in the household while my dad was more of a Steelers guy. Both of them grew up in Pittsburgh. Three of my four grandparents were born in Pittsburgh. The fourth moved there from Penne, Italy when she was fourteen. All of them were invested in the sports products of the ‘Burgh so it was easy to become a fan. We went to Pirates games in the summer when we went to visit the grandparents. We never went to Steelers games as a family. I also went to a lot of games with a friend’s family because they were from Lancaster, PA and were huge Philadelphia Phillies fans. Our present for a good job in little league or for a job well done as an altar boy was of course a trip to a Pirates game.

But as already mentioned, my fandom was derailed by a bunch of idiots in 1994. When I got back into the swing of things in ’99 though, I went all in. I understand better why this sport wasn’t boring. I had acknowledged when I was a kid that pitching was important but I never thought about the cat and mouse game that pitchers and hitters play with each other. I remember arguing with fellow fans in grade school the day after I went to see the Atlanta Braves at the Pirates in the NLCS in 1991, Game 2. Zane Smith was out dueled by Steve Avery. Everyone thought I saw a boring game but I knew I saw two pitchers at their peak shutting down two great offenses. Now though, I understand more of the ideas behind scouting reports, good pitch location and mixing up pitch types. I didn’t realize how much space you needed to cover in the outfield, despite having been to Three Rivers Stadium more times than I can remember. The ability of the current Pirates outfield to cover that much space is incredible and requires more athleticism than I thought as a kid. The outfielders aren’t the only ones devouring tons of space to make plays. I thought it was easy to play infield since there was less space to cover. Even though it may be the case for first and third base, second base and shortstop have gobs of space to cover. Even though a third basemen might not have as much territory, they have the toughest throw to make in very little time to make an out and that’s just on a routine ground ball.

It was time to read the minor league scouting reports, check out the draft and international signings. I knew that the Buffalo Bisons were the Pirates AAA farm team when I was a kid but I couldn’t have told you anyone who was there. These days, I go to Indianapolis Indians to see the next set of prospects. I had a friend move to Indianapolis. Since I was strapped for cash at the time, I crashed at his place to go see the Indians play the Pawtucket Red Sox. I got to see Andrew McCutchen, now an MVP candidate, in his next to last minor league start. I was bummed earlier this year when I thought Gerrit Cole, their No. 1 pick in 2011, was going to pitch the day before they came to Columbus. An extra day of rest helped me out and I got to see Cole in his next to last start in the minors. I was bummed that the Pirates next big time prospect, pitcher Jameson Taillon, didn’t come here to Columbus after he got a bump up from the AA Altoona Curve. Which is another fun part of the process, my hometown now has the Pirates AA team. Much more exciting for me than some other small city in the state or another state. It was a blast last year going to a game with my family when we were all back in Altoona. As for the international signings, I had no idea where the Pirates looked for talent. Now I know that they have the third best facility in the Dominican Republic behind the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. The Pirates signed Luis Heredia in 2010 as a sixteen year old. I would never had worried about that in high school.

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The Pittsburgh Penguins Dilemma

Poker chips, large sum conceptJeremy thought this topic would be more interesting than another ROH bashing. I’m not sure his level of surprise when he IMed me this article from Deadspin but he did get me riled up enough to do this article. Here’s my take on their questions.

As I noted back on March 28th, the Pittsburgh Penguins decided to go all in during the trade deadline. I hoped they wouldn’t go bust but here they are. My beloved Penguins went down in flames in four short games in the Eastern Conference Final to the unheralded Boston Bruins. They scored a measly two goals in four games. Two goals might not even allow you to win a game much less a series. I’m going to break this down into a couple of categories for what happened and what needs to be addressed.

The Games

One pivotal moment came in the Penguins first round series against the New York Islanders. Marc-Andre Fleury has been the franchise goaltender since being picked with the number one overall in 2003. He started at the NHL level for a majority of that time. The guy even backed the team that went to back to back Stanley Cup Finals in ’08 and ’09 and winning the later of the two match ups against the Detroit Red Wings. Fleury wrapped up the Stanley Cup victory with a diving save on Niklas Lidstrom. In those years, he had a save percentages of 93.3% and 90.8%.  For those that don’t watch hockey, anything below 90% is bad. Ever since that save though, he has fallen apart in the playoffs starting with a terrible showing when they played Montreal in ’10. He had a save percentage of 89.1%. The hope of playoff success was low in 2011 because Evgeni Malkin had blown his ACL and Sidney Crosby was sitting with a concussion. Fleury could have stolen a series against the lowly Tampa Bay Lighting but he posted an 89.9% and the Penguins got booted in the first round. Last year is when things went to hell in a hand basket. Both the Philadelphia Flyers and Penguins decided that playing defense was no fun so they turned the playoffs into an All Star game by potting goals at a ridiculous pace. Fleury gave up 4.33 goals a game for a 83.4% save percentage. He couldn’t even stop basic shots and when the defense is that bad you need that to happen.

He rebounded from the terrible offseason (I’m going to skip over that whole lock out thing because it isn’t relevant to this discussion) and helped to lead the Penguins to a first place finish in the Eastern Conference. The problems looked resolved with a first game shut out of the Islanders. Unfortunately, he gave up four goals in the next three consecutive games. Fleury’s stats aren’t online now but you can’t win many games giving away four goal. The Penguins did pull out one of the three games. Former starter Tomas Vokoun played Game 5 and never looked back. Vokoun had one bad game though and it was Game 2 against the Boston Bruins. The Pens went down 3-0 in the first period. Dan Bylsma, the Pen’s coach, decided to pull Vokoun and send Fluery back in for the first time in a round and a half. Pens Center Brandon Sutter came streaking down the right wing and sniped a shoot over Tuuka Rask’s shoulder to make it 3-1 with a minute left in the first. Brad Marchand, who scored a goal earlier, came down less than thirty seconds later and floats a goal over Fleury’s glove hand which broke the Pens back. All Fleury had to do was make a damn save on a wrister from about the middle of the circles and the Pens have momentum going into the second period.  The guy let’s a floater go over his glove hand? Christ on a pony.

Game 3 in Boston had a bad moment too. The Pens needed a win. Despite playing well, they played their way into overtime knotted 1-1. The referees called three penalties in the first overtime. Mike “Doc” Emrick, NBCSports play by play man, noted with each penalty how long it had been since that number of penalties had been called in a playoff overtime game. Evgeni Malkin got the third while tired and trying to flip a puck up over the defense of Boston for a streaking, fresh Sidney Crosby. It went over the glass half a rink away. The Pens finished the first OT with some penalty time to kill still in the next OT. They killed the penalty. Later in the period, Malkin steals the puck from Jaromir Jagr, an ex-Penguin, who then clearly hooks Malkin to regain the puck. The Pens didn’t have time to recover as Jagr dished it to Marchand who scored the game winner. Former referee Kelly Fraser was asked whether this call should have been a penalty and he ripped the referees for not calling the penalty. Even my room mate Baby Momma Drama, who was born and raised in Boston, had to admit upon seeing a replay that Jagr committed a penalty. None of that matter though because the referees on ice didn’t call it. The Bruins are up 3-0 and pretty much all hope is gone.

The Coach

Dan Bylsma has been under fire at various points in his tenure in Pittsburgh because he’s at the helm of a team that boasts two of the most talented players in the world, Crosby & Malkin. He won a Stanley Cup after Michel Therrien had been fired in February or March of ’09. From what I’ve read, he has had some innovative strategies that he’s brought into the NHL as far as puck retrieval, especially for defensemen, go.  Ever since then, it seems other coaches have adjusted to his strategies. Last year’s debacle against the Flyers landed Bylsma on the hot seat. Crosby wasn’t playing well against Claude Giroux so instead of getting away from that match up at home when they have the last change, he stuck with it. Malkin was getting frustrated by Sean Courturier but he stuck by that match up too. Jordan Staal, the defensive specialist amongst their elite centers, sat by twiddling his thumbs. It may have been for the “better” considering that the Pens penalty killing, number one during the regular season, which was anchored by Staal was stinking out the joint too. Did Bylsma change strategies on the PK? Nope.

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Stunt Granny Audio #148

Oh shit, we’re back one more time for you people with audio number 148. Dusty and Kevin are your early entry, high upside, long length hosts this time around. Herein we talk about CM Punk’s worked shoot and the ramifications thereof. The internet is aglow with buzz about this, but was it really 100 positive? The cru delves into the logistics behind it, and whether Vince McMahon was guffawing backstage while it was happening. Is Punk really done after the pay-per-view, or is he going to stick around? Can he actually extract a good match out of John Cena? Can Cena raise his game after working consecutive programs with the Rock and Punk? Also, the gang talks about Chavo Guerrero’s recent release from WWE. What dark secret did he hold over the McMahon family that he had to ask for his release in order to actually be released? Or did they simply forget he was still on the payroll? Also, who will win the College World Series, where will Jaromir Jagr finish his storied career, and a whole lot more, so just fucking listen, dammit.

Stunt Granny Audio Show #148

Kevin’s Blog: Definitely Live & Half Assed Review of Raw

What does this picture have to do with Raw? Absolutely nothing.

I’ve recently been amused on Twitter by the guys from The Pensblog doing #Jagrwatch, which is an amusing way of lobbying for the Penguins to rehire Jaromir Jagr. I decided I’d do some similar shenanigans and try to get #JeffHardyWatch trending while he is awaiting his verdict on his drug trafficking charges. You try to mimic lyrics, crack jokes or find numerical patterns and apply them to Jeff Hardy. My latest tweet: Carolina barbeque is not served in prison. #JeffHardyWatch. I may as well mention it on the site to continue my futile efforts to get more people to follow us. I haven’t been able to mention Twitter on things like the Big 11 because we’ve all been assholes and slacked off on that duty. Time to spin the wheel and try to make Raw a big deal. I’ll be live in no time since I’m starting at 9:20.

Booker T gets to spin the roulette wheel all night. HBK comes out to start things off. He couldn’t stay away. He’s still not getting in the ring. He goes with the DX shameless plug. CM Punk saves us. Mason Ryan suffered an injury over the weekend. Did I miss some news or is this a story line? I love Punk ripping on the addictive personality and losing in his last match. HBK can always pull the Super Kick out of nowhere. Punk gets the first match of the night. Mystery opponent for all of five seconds. Kane and they at least admit he’s from Smackdown.

According to Cole’s logic, which makes sense, no one would ever wrestle until the pay per view. Punk gets counted out because wrestling sucks.

Bourne vs. Sin Cara has to wait until Booker does another intro for the match. Cow girl Eve is smoking. No count out. Booker tries to sell the stip. No one is buying it. Sin Cara is tightening his stuff up some but he’s still sloopy. Bourne even has to put over Sin Cara. I wish Bourne were in an ethnic group or from another country. Del Rio, Sheamus, McIntyre, Sin Cara, Jinder Mahal & Great Khali have been given better pushes and far less jobs. Vickie interrupts Kofi and spins the wheel for him. Player’s Choice and Kofi bans Vickie from ring side. They make good on both botched matches from last week. I guess they did have legit problems last week. Sorry WWE.

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