Game of Thrones: Who Gets the Iron Throne in the End?

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WHAT??!! No Star Trek: Discovery review?  You’re a Trekkie!  You MUST have something to say!”

Yes, I do…when the time comes for me to do so.  For now, I will say this:  I love it so far, but I won’t comment more fully until I’ve seen it more.  I need to see more of the story line before I pass judgement.

So how about some Game of Thrones while we wait?

I finally caught up on all seven seasons of Game of Thrones.  Season 5 was tough to get through with so many bad things happening, but it’s worth it to get to season 6 and 7, which were the two strongest of the series in my opinion.  (Walking Dead writers, take note.  GoT knows how to make a series more interesting as it continues on).

For those who have not finished season 7 of GoT, here’s your warning: SPOILERS AHEAD!

After watching the Wall come tumbling down and the army of the dead begin their march on Westeros, it got me to thinking: when it’s all said and done and the series ends, who will be sitting on the Iron Throne?  There are certainly a number of possibilities.  Let’s examine some of those, the odds of them taking the Iron Throne, and how it could happen.

Daenerys

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Odds: 4/1

Capturing the Iron Throne and ruling Westeros has been her sole mission.  She’s had some bumps on the way, but you can’t argue that the Mother of Dragons will take what she feels rightly belongs to her.

Will it happen?: Very likely, but there are some obstacles standing in her way, such as Cersei Lannister, the army of the Dead (who took out one of her dragons in one ice blade toss), and the possibility of her losing her mind like her father. And there is, of course, her vision.

Jon Snow

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Odds: 8/1

Revelations about who he really is and the true story of his parentage means he is not the bastard Stark child everyone thought he was. Once this news is out, we may see Jon develop a stronger desire to lead.  He’s already built a backing in the north and an alliance with Daenerys in the south.

Will it happen? Jon’s ascension as a leader has been growing since he joined the Night’s Watch.  He is the embodiment of the statement “great leaders do not set out to be a leader, they set out to make a difference.”  He’s already bent the knee to Daenerys, but if something happens to her, he’s ready.

Cersei Lannister

Cersei

Odds: 12/1

The current throne sitter. She’s been the real power behind the throne all this time.  Her children were mere puppets as she set out to rule how she wanted, through manipulation, bribery, and fear.

Will it happen? She has to face a united army in the north, Daenerys’ army and dragons to the south, and the incoming army of the dead.  However, she will go to any means to maintain her control, even if it means making a humiliating Walk of Atonement or blowing up the spiritual center of Kings Landing.  Never, ever bet against Cersei.  Just when you think she’s beaten, she has another ace up her sleeve to piss you off.

Daenerys/Jon Snow Joint Rule

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Odds: 9/1

Both want to unite to defeat the army of the dead.  One of fire, the other of ice.  It’s a marriage that could unite the known world and, in the event they defeat the army of the dead, could bring a unity to Westeros like it has never seen.

Will it happen? Very likely.  In fact, this scenario seems like it was born to happen.  Dany wants the throne, Jon wants to make a difference.  And they both want each other. But can they both share the crown? 

The Night King

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Odds: 5/2

Until season 7, I thought the only thing that could stop the Night King and his army were the dragons.  He showed in one stroke that even dragons won’t slow him down. And now, he has a dragon of his own.

Will it happen? He has the largest army in the known world.  He has an undead dragon.  He might not desire the throne, only conquest and destruction, but he may claim Kings Landing as his ultimate prize.  Also, in Dany’s vision we did see a lot of snow falling on a heavily damaged throne room (or was it ash?).  Winter and destruction are the Night King’s specialty.  And the writers are known for letting the bad guys win.

Sansa Stark

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Odds: 100/1

(Not so) deep down Sansa has always been tempted by power.  Littlefinger may have taught her how to embrace power, but the dreadful experiences with King Joffrey and Ramsey Bolton have hardened her.  Those experiences have made her more determined to rule instead of be ruled.

Will it happen? A LOT has to happen for this to come to pass.  Not impossible, but highly improbable.  Arya would have to kill Cersei, Jon and Dany would have to die or rescind the throne, and she would have to fend off other challengers to the Iron Throne.  I think the odds of her dying at the hands of the Night King are much higher.

Euron Greyjoy

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Odds: 750/1

Euron seemed to come out of nowhere and immediately consolidate power.  In a short time he has amassed the strongest navy in Westeros, taken the throne of the Iron Islands, captured Yara Greyjoy and Ellaria Sand, and curried favor with Cersei Lannister.  What’s next?

Will it happen? He has his eyes on the Iron Throne, but his one weakness is his overconfidence.  It’s more likely Cersei will have him removed from the equation once she’s done with him.  But not before he’s wreaked some serious havoc.

NO ONE

Odds: 50/1

Massive destruction and death are on the horizon for season 8.  It’s Lannisters vs. Dragons vs. the dead vs. the Greyjoys.  If Ellaria Sand gets out, you can throw Dorne into the mix as well.  When the dust has settled, there might not be much of a Westeros left to rule.

Will it happen? Stranger things have happened.  It could be that the seven kingdoms have no choice but to stand on their own.  Kings Landing could be obliterated, armies crushed, and cities raided.  Faith in the crown has to be weakening with such a quick succession of rulers and, once the battle with the army of the dead is over, it’s possible the seven (or however many are left) kingdoms will each just fend for themselves in a post-war apocalypse.

 

 

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NASCAR Gets Worse…and Here’s How to Fix It

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You hear that hammering sound?  That’s the sound of the final nails being driven into the coffin that holds NASCAR’s popularity.  To say the past two months have been difficult for NASCAR is an understatement.  Let’s recap:

-Denny Hamlin had his wins taken away from Darlington for failing multiple inspections.  While his win was taken away from the season Cup standings toward the playoffs, it won’t vacate it in the record books, according to NASCAR.

-Two former winners of the Daytona 500 and Cup Championships are without rides in 2018 (Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch).  These aren’t past their prime drivers like the Labontes and Waltrips who spent the last few years of their career hanging out in the back of the field every race, only making it in on past champ provisionals.  These are two drivers who are both in the playoffs.

-An ambulance was parked near the entrance of pit road during the Richmond race, yet NASCAR officials kept the green light on to indicate that pit road was open.  This resulted in Matt Kenseth rear-ending Clint Bowyer, taking him out of contention and nearly costing him a spot in the playoffs.

-With three laps to go in the Richmond race, the caution flag flew for Derrick Cope…who was 15 laps down and still out on the track.  Martin Truex, who had nearly a 4-second lead, ended up wrecking on the restart and finishing 20th.

-Smithfield has left Richard Petty Motorsports, and Aric Almirola is out as their driver.  Apparently, Richard Petty still thinks handshake deals are just as good as legally binding multi-million dollar contracts.  And that, folks, is why RPM is a non-competing, one-car outfit.

-Danica Patrick has “retired.” I.e., sponsors are pulling out left and right and no one wants to sponsor a driver who has had great equipment and zero success on the track. She is also no longer a marketing darling. That ship has sailed.

And finally, speaking of sponsor dropouts…

-Target has decided to no longer sponsor Kyle Larson, who is second in the point standings and has 4 wins and 15 top tens on the season. In fact, Target is leaving NASCAR all together so that they can focus their sponsorship dollars on…soccer.  Yes, NASCAR fans, this is what it has come to.

So what’s next? NASCAR is about to begin the playoffs, just as the football season has gotten underway, the MLB playoffs are about to start, and soccer is in full swing (which Target certainly thinks is more valuable). Will anyone watch? Does anyone even care anymore? NASCAR is headed into a lot of uncertainty, more than it’s ever known. There are, however, two certainties ahead of them if they continue at this pace: fewer sponsors, and fewer fans in the seats. And if massive change isn’t done and done soon, the next TV deal could be the largest drop off between deals we’ve ever seen.  It could even be a future where NASCAR can only be seen on the same channel that broadcasts tractor pull competitions…in France.

But fear not, those who hold out that tiniest sliver of hope that NASCAR can be saved. I’m here to help! Here are five ideas that NASCAR desperately needs to implement to save itself. France family, pay attention!

1.) SIMPLIFY, SIMPLIFY: Get rid of these stupid “stages” during the race.  You don’t see other sports doling out these participation-trophy-style awards.  Redskins leading the NFC East halfway through the season? Let’s give them an extra W for their efforts! Yeah, right. The point system has become more and more convoluted, and the casual fan has no idea who really is winning.  Instead of this clusterfuck that NASCAR has now, I propose this:

-50 points to the race winner, 45 for second, 40 for third, 30 for fourth, and one point down for each position after that.  If there are 40 cars in the field, that means the last ten get nothing.  That way it encourages drivers to compete from top to bottom.

-No more bonus points for leading at halfway, and no more lucky dog.  Get back to how it was when it was a real sport.  The faster you go, and longer you’re in the race, the better you do.

-Cut the “playoffs” to ten drivers with the highest point totals.  After the first five races, the lowest five are eliminated.  One driver each is eliminated over the final five races.

2.) CHANGE THE FINAL TEN RACES: The final ten races should be indicative of all that the NASCAR circuit has to offer.  It should not be based on location (for example, kicking off the chase in Chicago because it’s a big city of people that don’t give a shit).  I propose the following schedule:

Race 1: Darlington

Race 2: Talladega

Race 3: Michigan

Race 4: Bristol

Race 5: Charlotte

Race 6: New Hampshire

Race 7: Sonoma

Race 8: Atlanta

Race 9: Phoenix

Race 10: Las Vegas

 

3.) SHORTEN THE SEASON: NASCAR racing through the heart of football season and through the World Series is incredibly dumb.  Shorten the season to a maximum of 30 races.  If it can be less, that’s better, but no more than 30.  Cut these races to start with: Auto Club, one of the Pocono races, Chicago, Homestead, Kansas, one of the Michigan races. They’re boring to watch and they can’t fill the stands.  Have the season end by mid-October.

4.) EMBRACE THE TALENT WITH THE ATTITUDE: NASCAR should embrace driver attitudes.  It makes the sport more exciting.  NASCAR is a sport where the focus is on the individual drivers, not so much the teams.  (You think Earnhardt fans suddenly started pulling for Jeff Gordon when Little E joined his team?)  They crave the drama and the rivalries, and nothing better illustrates that fiery passion than when drivers are allowed to speak their mind and let their emotions get to them.  This may lead to retaliation on the track, and maybe in the garage, but as long as it does not lead to over-the-top retaliation, like a car coming out 130 laps down only to wreck someone else, it should be welcomed. Basically, just don’t do what Cole Trickle did here:

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This is very tricky territory, however.  Brash drivers like Jimmy Spencer were fun to watch, but you didn’t see fans lining up to buy his merchandise or sponsors lining up to slap their logo on his car.  What would benefit NASCAR the most is if a driver, or drivers, who could win AND be brash stepped up.  Kyle Busch is certainly one, but he’s about the only one and he certainly can’t bring in ratings alone.  What NASCAR really needs is for Jimmie Johnson to snap the next time he’s wrecked by, say, Austin Dillon, leading him to race to pit road to pimp smack Dillon’s cowboy hat off his head while screaming “THERE ARE NO COWBOYS IN LEWSIVILLE, NORTH CAROLINA, HOME SLICE!”

5.) JUST GET RID OF THE FRANCE FAMILY: That would basically solve 90% of the problem right there.

If NASCAR listens to me and starts to implement some radical changes, it could return to the glory days and recapture their core fan base.

If not?  Well, there’s always soccer to look forward to in all its flopping glory.

miss

Panic Time in L.A.

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“I didn’t think home runs could fly that far.”

It is officially time to panic, Dodgers fans.

As I sat up watching that painful 10th inning the other night, watching Pedro Baez once again collapse in a critical situation, I began to wonder: Where did it all go wrong?  Was it the Milwaukee series?  Was it that gut-wrenching silence of the bats during Hill’s attempt at a perfect game?  Through the first four and half months of the season, there was no better team in baseball.  The Dodgers built a gigantic lead in the N.L. West behind a solid starting rotation, top-line relievers, an absent (and then traded for some peanut shells and a six pack of Tab) Chris Hatcher, and amazing hitting.  The Dodgers could hit. They could pitch. They could score.  They could play defense.  It had been almost 30 years since the last Dodger championship, and fans were getting that feeling.  That feeling that this team was “it.”

And then the wheels fell off.  Hard.

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Is it time to panic?  Is it time to chill? The reaction has been mixed among the Dodger faithful.  Here are the top two reactions I’ve seen the most:

“FIRE DAVE ROBERTS!!! FIRE HONEYCUTT!!! FIRE THEM ALL!!! AAIGGHH!!!!

“C’mon guys, we have a HUGE lead!  We’re going to the postseason! Relax!  The Diamondbacks won’t catch us!”

I don’t think either of these reactions are correct.  I don’t think we should start wielding an ax and firing everyone in the clubhouse.  It is WAY too early for that.  If the Dodgers have an epic collapse like the Red Sox and Braves had several years ago?  Well, that’s a different story.  That being said, the “c’mon, relax, we have this amazing record and big lead” mentality is total and utter BS.  While we don’t need to be assigning pink slips right away, it IS time to panic.  Here’s why.

1.) The first reason is very simple.  The last month of the season is NOT when you want to forget how to play the game, especially in baseball.  September is the month when rookies get called up to see what they’ve got.  Some of the team’s best prospects have been called up, not so much to see what they’ve got, but in hopes that some kind of spark can happen to get the team back on track.  That’s a lot of pressure on them and a lot of guess work on the team to figure out what’s going to work best.  You don’t want either of those things to happen when you’re gearing up for the playoffs.

2.) The best way to prepare for a team in the playoffs, is to play them when they are busting their ass trying to make the postseason. Milwaukee is a team that might slip into the playoffs, a team the Dodgers should have prepared for. The Dodgers scored three runs in the series and lost two of three.  The Diamondbacks have just straight up murdered the Dodgers.  They’ve outscored them 39-13 in back-to-back sweeps.  The D-backs are almost assuredly a team the Dodgers will have to face in the first round of the playoffs.  If this is how they’re playing against them this late in the season, don’t expect the Dodgers to get to the NLCS, to say anything of the World Series.

3.) Have you looked at the 15 teams in baseball history that have finished the season with a .700 record or better?  Of those 15, only 7 went on to win the championship.  There was talk the Dodgers could win 116 games this season.  The only two teams to win that many?  the 1906 Chicago Cubs (lost in the World Series) and the 2001 Seattle Mariners (lost in the ALCS).  Perhaps having such a strong season wears the team out.  Perhaps we’re seeing fatigue setting in for keeping up such a torrid pace.

So what happens now?  It’s possible the rookies coming in will take some of the relief off.  Maybe a spark will happen.  It happened with Puig, and it happened with Bellinger. If the Dodgers can stop playing baseball with this kind of laziness,

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Then maybe we Dodger fans can stop doing this every night:

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College Football 2017! Football is Back, Baby!

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IT’S HERE!!!!

My (and pretty much most of America’s) favorite sport has arrived!  Yes, baseball is awesome.  Yes, basketball is pretty sweet.  But there is absolutely, positively NOTHING that compares to football.  For me, it’s college football above all else.  I love college football so much that I would rather watch a 1 a.m. Hawaii vs. Fresno State college football game over the NBA Western Conference semifinals.  And depending on which teams are in the NBA finals, even more than that.  I love college football so much that, every time I started dating someone, one of the first things out of my mouth is “okay, so for Saturdays in the fall, I am not to be disturbed when the Gamecocks are on.  When they win, it’s celebration time.  When they lose, just leave me be.”  When my wife and I were first dating, and I broke this information to her, this is how the conversation went:

Her: “What if it’s an emergency?

Me: “It can wait.”

Her: “What if I told you that we’re going to have a baby? What would you say?”

Me: “Are you going to have that baby in the next two and a half hours?”

Yes, I love college football.  I was born and raised in South Carolina.  I loved the Gamecocks since I was a kid.  I always wanted to go to school there and I did.  I got my Bachelor’s degree from there, as well as my Master’s degree.  I worked there for five years after I graduated.  Garnet is in my blood (well, technically, I guess that color is in everyone’s blood.)

College football, in my opinion, goes far deeper than any other sport.  It’s tradition.  It’s school and state pride.  In most states, you are born the fan of one school or their rival.  Families send their children there.  Generations go through those doors.  There are no unions. No free agency.  No contract negotiations.  It’s football.  It’s state and school pride.  It’s family pride.  Nothing is better.

Each week I will post three games of significance and my picks on how to bet on them, plus one upset alert pick. As always, comments are welcome:

Week 1 Games of Significance Betting Picks:

Alabama (-7) over Florida State. Alabama ALWAYS comes out of the gate strong.  They win by two touchdowns, and then all the talking heads will rant about how overrated the game was after they hyped it to no end.

Michigan (-4.5) over Florida. As much as I REALLY want Florida to win this game and shut Harbaugh up, half of the Gators are suspended. They might hang for a little while, but Michigan takes it by 10.

West Virginia (+4) over Virginia Tech. This will be a nail biter. A criminally underrated game that should provide excitement. Yee haw! The Burning Couches cover and take the win.

UPSET ALERT! Appalachian State (+14) covers the spread against Georgia. App State was 10-3 and finished first in their division. They opened their season with a close loss in overtime to the Vols.  Georgia has a tendency to play to the level of their opponents.  I think Georgia wins, but it will be close.  Kirby Smart gets put on notice.

Dolla’ Dolla’ Bills, Y’all: What the Redskins Should (and Shouldn’t) Learn from the Panthers Firing of Dave Gettleman

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Do you see this man?  He’s happier than you think he is.

Why wouldn’t he be?  Cuz is making bank!  You may think Kirk Cousins is upset with the lack of loyalty the Redskins have shown him, and their unwillingness to lock him to a long term deal.  But I assure you, he’s not worried. Not one bit.  After franchising him last year, the Redskins wanted to see if Cousins was more than a one-year wonder.  That was a logical thing to do, and Cousins made $20 million dollars by signing that contract. So Cousins went out the next year, set team passing records, and had another phenomenal season.  In nearly every scenario this would result in a long-term contract.  Generally, when an employee goes above and beyond, and has the respect of those around him, a company will want to lock that employee up for a while to prevent competitors from poaching him.

But not the Redskins.  Most definitely not the Redskins.

Instead of signing Cousins to that long-term deal, the Redskins signed him to yet another franchise tag, a one year deal that will pay the QB $24 million in 2017. This gives Cousins all the leverage…and $44 million dollars in two years. When the sides could not reach an agreement on a long-term deal, that pretty much assured that Cousins would be playing elsewhere next season.

The Redskins have become the poster organization for ineptitude.  I go into great detail here describing why and how they have a long history of poo-pooing fans under Snyder’s leadership.   But can they ever learn any lessons?  Perhaps they need to look south, to my beloved Carolina Panthers to get some ideas.

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Former Carolina Panthers’ GM David Gettleman

This week, the Panthers abruptly fired General Manager David Gettleman.  Gettleman was hired in 2013 to clean up a massive front office mess that former GM Marty Hurney left behind.  Hurney was notorious for looking in all the wrong places when it came to players.  He was decent when it came to first round picks (when he had them), but was horrendous in rounds 2-7.  Don’t believe me?  Take a look at his draft history here. In free agency, he shelled out loads of money to aging and oft-injured veterans like DeAngelo Williams, Jon Beason, and Olindo Mare.  After Jake Delhomme threw footballs to everyone not in a Panthers uniform in the playoffs at home against the 9-7 Cardinals (on his birthday, no less), Hurney signed him to an extension.  The term “cap hell” was commonly used to describe the Panthers’ financial situation because Hurney liked to make it rain year after year.

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Gettleman came in and immediately began getting the Panthers out of cap hell. To do so, he needed to make the hard decisions; decisions that angered a lot of players.  Gone were the days of veterans in their twilight getting big pay days just because they were loyal. Gone were the days of using most of the team’s cap space to keep intact a 2-14 team.  Gettleman chose winning over loyalty.  Yes, some fan favorites were shown the door, like Steve Smith, but talent that could contribute for years was locked up (Newton, Keuchly, Short), and expensive, aging veterans were let go.  It was a painful transition for some of the players, but it did lead to winning.

Gettleman’s approach of winning over loyalty was a hard concept for owner Jerry Richardson to accept.  Richardson has always been loyal to his players, as long as they showed loyalty to him and his franchise, and carried themselves in the right way.   Gettleman’s approach was different from that.  An example of his hardball tactics could be seen with how he handed negotiations with  cornerback Josh Norman. A lot of people around the league scratched their heads when the franchise tag was rescinded from the talented fan-favorite and he was allowed to leave for nothing.  It was a message that it was Gettleman’s way or the highway, and that no player was safe.  This strategy caused the Panthers to start two rookies at cornerback the next year, which resulted in one of the worst passing defenses in NFL history.  This year, with contract negotiations becoming tense between Gettleman and fan-favorites (and Richardson favorites) Thomas Davis and Greg Olsen, Richardson stepped in and put an end to the madness by giving Gettleman the boot.  Loyalty had to mean something.

What can Bruce Allen and Dan Snyder learn from this? Winning is important, but sometimes character and loyalty also come in to play with Pro-Bowlers who wish to stay with your team.  In Washington’s case, you have a General Manager who would rather play hard ball than sign one of the top QBs in the league to a long-term deal.  Cousins is a fan favorite (some would say THE fan favorite), and the unquestioned leader of this team.  In the NFL you cannot win without a top flight QB, and Cousins is the best one they’ve had in a generation.  What Dan Snyder should do in this situation is what Richardson did, which is step in and fire the incompetent Bruce Allen, then get Cousins signed to a long-term deal.  Show some loyalty to Cousins and I guarantee it gets reciprocated. Only then can the team can build around Cousins and move ahead.  

Gettleman was fired because he negotiatied too hard.  At least he put a winner on the field.  Allen negotiaties hard and still can’t get a winner on the field, which makes it even more preposterous that he’s still in his position.

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“If Cousins doesn’t take my paltry deal, he can hit the road to San Francisco! I don’t care if we get nothing in return!”

Though the firing of Gettleman should be a lesson on how to handle the current situation with Cousins, what the Panthers did next should be a lesson on what NOT to do.  Remember the guy I said earlier that Gettleman replaced in 2013?  The one that left the Panthers in cap hell for years and couldn’t draft anyone below round 1?  Well, he’s back.  He was introduced as the interim GM of the Panthers this week.  Needless to say, Panther fans are NOT pleased.  When the team broke the news, this was my reaction on Twitter:

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The lesson here is that loyalty can be seen as TOO important.  It should be important, but not everything. Loyalty might win you brownie points with the owner, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into points on the field.  What the Redskins need to do is find that balance.  Find loyalty but also work out a fair deal for both sides.

Who knows what the Redskins will do next.  It’s likely another boneheaded decision is coming.  Dan Snyder does love loyalty and he loves those that kiss his feet.  I’m pretty sure that’s what drives his decisions.

You know what?  There is a QB out there looking for work who held Snyder in high esteem.  A QB that knows the organization well and would welcome the chance to come back. Snyder loved him, and Snyder loves those loyal to him.  You might want to check out those sports apparel sale racks at Wal-Mart and get the jerseys before they go back up in price.  He might be back:

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You might think “hell nah!”  But think of this:  These are the Redskins.  This is Dan Snyder.  Dan Snyder feeds off your anger. Anything is possible.

tenor

 

Major League Baseball: Stalvey’s First Half Awards

ledeOh my, the home runs!  Major League hitters are on pace to slug over 6,000 total home runs this season.  6,000!  That would shatter the record of 5,693 hit back in 2000, right in the heart of the Steroid era.  Right now, there are eight players with the potential to hit 50 or more home runs this season.

Naturally, when you think about who was hitting most of the bombs in 2000 and then look at the home run rate this season, the first thing to come to mind is “steroids?”  As much as the Steroid era made me a skeptic, I honestly believe that’s not the case.  Instead, I think what we are seeing are two things:  A completely new strategy in hitting, and juiced baseballs.  With the rise in sabremetrics, striking out is no longer seen as such a negative.  Don’t believe me?  Take a look at the records for single-season strikeouts by hitters.  Seven of the top 11 came within the last five years.  This season, Miguel Sano is on pace for 240 strikeouts, but 40 home runs.  In fact, ten players on are on pace to strikeout over 200 times, but eight of them are on pace to hit 30 or more home runs.  It’s all about go big or go home.  Rob Deer and Adam Dunn would be megastars in today’s MLB.

As for juiced balls, you can’t possibly tell me there’s not something fishy going on there.  What do most people want to see when they watch a baseball game?  A pitcher’s duel?  Stolen bases?  Singles? Doubles?  Well, according to MLB Commissioner Adam Silver, “our research shows that people love to see home runs.”  (I hate to think of how much was spent on that research…but I am also thinking of how I could get paid to do a research job that reaches obvious conclusions.)  So if MLB could find a way to tweak the balls a bit so that we see more home runs, you don’t think that they would?  You’d be naive to think they wouldn’t.

I suspect we will continue to see massive home run production throughout the rest of the season, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  I’m more of a fan of pitching, which is also great for me because so many hitters are striking out at record paces.  Needless to say, the sport has been exciting to watch this year…unless you are a fan of the Padres, Giants, Phillies or any team in the AL West not named “Houston Astros.”  (Side note, the team that hit the most home runs in 2000?  The Houston Astros.  The team that currently leads MLB in home runs in 2017?  The Houston Astros.)

On to the mid-season awards!

AL Rookie of the Year:  Aaron Judge, Yankees.  No one in either league is playing to his level right now.

NL Rookie of the Year: Cody Bellinger, Dodgers.  While he’ll likely have a second half slowdown, his first half was one for the record books.

AL Cy Young: Chris Sale, Red Sox. Mowing down hitters like they’re ugly throwback White Sox jerseys.

NL Cy Young: Max Scherzer, Nationals. You get a lot of strikeouts when you pitch a lot of innings, and you get a lot of innings when your bullpen is a dumpster fire.

AL MVP: Aaron Judge, Yankees. I know sports writers hate giving two awards to the same person, but can you see anyone else making a case for this award?

NL MVP: Bryce Harper, Nationals. I want to put Paul Goldschmidt here, but let’s face it: MVP winners almost never come from teams not in first.  The D-backs have cooled off as of late.  If they make it to the wild card, PG could have a chance, but the Nats are too strong right now and Harper is more visible.

AL Manager of the half-year: Paul Molitor, Twins. Despite the fact that the Twins give up more runs than they score, Molitor still finds ways for this scrappy team to to stay in the hunt.

NL Manager of the half-year: Craig Counsell, Brewers. In a division featuring the Cubs and Cardinals, Counsell has kept his team atop the standings, surprising everyone.

The Brady Anderson “Where the hell did that come from?” Award: Dan Straily, Marlins. Straily has played on five teams in six seasons and sported an ERA well north of 4.00 before this season.  The key to his success this season is cutting his 2:1 K:BB ratio down to 3:1.  Must be the calm silence in Marlins Park that has settled him down.

The Kevin Maas “Where did he go?” Award: Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies. I thought about putting Jose Bautista here, but his decline really began last year.  Alex Gordon also makes a strong case for this award.  But CarGo was a home run hitting and batting average machine for years.  Now in the last year of his contract, he is hitting a paltry .221 with 6 HRs and 22 RBI in 74 games.  A far cry from his 40 HR season of 2015 and his 100 RBI season of 2016.  Anyone who signs him risks an Andruw Jones contract-style fiasco.

Best Player No One Talks About:  Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks. He has a good shot at winning the NL MVP, but if he came to your door in street clothes, would you recognize him?

Player Least Deserving of a Roster Spot (Tie): Keon Broxton, Brewers and Chris Hatcher, Dodgers.  There are a lot of players that can win this award, but these two stand out the most right now.  As mentioned earlier, strikeouts for a hitter are no longer seen as such a negative stat…as long as you are hitting home runs and have a decent on-base percentage.  Broxton leads the NL in strikeouts and is hitting only .227 with a .304 OBP.  He also has only 14 home runs and 35 RBI, so the only thing he contributes are automatic outs.  Hatcher is the player that terrifies Dodger fans the most.  The way he seems to get hitters on base and blow leads is almost artistic.  He always finds creative ways to let opponents into games. How he’s been able to stay on the roster this long is still a mystery.

Book Review: How the SEC Became Goliath

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For those that don’t know, I’m a huge SEC fan.  A bit of a snob, really.  I grew up in South Carolina, pulling for the Gamecocks.  When they joined the SEC, Steve Tanneyhill was my favorite player.  I went to school at the University of South Carolina, graduated with a Bachelor’s in History in 2002 and a Master’s in Public History and Museum Management in 2005.  I worked at the University of South Carolina’s McKissick Museum for nine years.  My blood bleeds Gamecock garnet and black.  The SEC is the conference of my beloved university and I will defend it as long as South Carolina is there.

A couple of months ago I came across the book How the SEC Became Goliath: The Making of Football’s Most Dominant Conference by Ray Glier.  It had been a while since I read a book on sports, so I thought I would give this a try.  What I expected and what I got were two very different things.  What I expected was a history of the Southeastern Conference’s rise as the top football conference in the country.  Instead, what I got was, well, a hodgepodge.

Glier starts the book well enough.  He talks about the SEC as both a dominant conference and one filled with flaws.  I think this introduction is meant to show that, although he is a fan of the SEC, he also recognizes its imperfections.  The first chapter is without a doubt his strongest writing in the book.  Glier talks about the early days of the SEC, and I do mean the early days, going way back to the early 20th century.  The stigma of the SEC as a “cheating” conference began much earlier than I had imagined.  It began when the SEC wanted to grant scholarships to college football players and other conferences complained, even though the other conferences were giving paid jobs to players like “shoveling snow by the L.A. Colosseum.”

After the first chapter, Glier just goes all over the place.  Suddenly you’re thrown into the 21st century, skipping over a few decades.  Not talked about at length are the Fulmer Tennessee teams, the Spurrier Florida teams or the Stallings Alabama teams.  In fact, other famous coaches and teams from the SEC are briefly mentioned, such as Les Miles and Gene Chizik’s Auburn Tigers. The bulk of the book’s coverage is about three men:  Nick Saban, Urban Meyer and Ron Zook.

Saban and Meyer are clearly excellent coaches who have shaped the SEC into what it is today.  Glier does an excellent job breaking down their recruiting methods, coaching styles, and how they relate to their players.  He talks about the impact they have had on player’s lives, and how many of their players have gone on to the NFL.  However, although Glier tries to not be too much of an SEC apologist, the deeper you get into the book the more he just turns a blind eye to anything negative.  For example, he extols the virtues of Meyer and how he built great teams, but he barely even glances at the fact that so many of his players at Florida had problems with the law. He doesn’t even talk about his “retirement” or the connection he had with Tim Tebow.  When it comes to Nick Saban, he goes on and on and on, from his time with the Cleveland Browns to the present day.  One would think that Glier is actually writing an autobiography on Saban and not the rise of the SEC as a power football conference.

While the book had some excellent moments, I feel that this was less about the “rise” of the SEC than it was a retrospective of Meyer, Saban and Zook (he is clearly a Zook apologist and spent a good portion of the book defending him as a great recruiter and coach).  Surprisingly, there is very little on Steve Spurrier, Marc Richt, or Phil Fulmer, three coaches who truly made the SEC into what it is today.  Oh, and if you’re a fan of any SEC team besides LSU, Alabama or Florida, don’t expect to read a lot about your team.  The book doesn’t follow any kind of chronological order, which is kind of what you expect from the title.  Instead, it jumps all over the place. Aside from the first chapter, there is very little history, and more a celebration of three coaches.

FINAL RATING:  2.5 of 4 stars.