Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Late Summer Sports

I realize this has become more of a guitar-building blog lately, and that may be fine for some of you, but I do have other interests, so let me try to broaden my horizons a little.

Usually by this time of year it's too painful to pay much attention to the Orioles, and I find myself paying more attention to the Redskin's training camp. Like baseball spring training, hope abounds during NFL training camp season. Every team is 0-0, and every season has a surprise team or two that exceeds expectations. The Redskins are usually the winners of the off-season, adding high-priced free agents and drafting a guy or two with high expectations. Every August they tease us with hopes of a successful season and a run, not just to the playoffs, but deep into the playoffs.

And then the season starts, and it's just frustration. They beat some really good teams like the Eagles or Cowboys, and then lose to some dogs like the Rams. The offense struggles to put up 20 points, and the defense, while strong, can't sack the quarterback or force turnovers which lead to points. If they make the playoffs, it's just barely, and they usually lose the first game.

Yet every year they talk about the Super Bowl. Seriously, win the division before you talk about the Super Bowl.

On the other hand, the Orioles for the last few years have stunk it up the last half of the season. August and September are brutal. The worse part is, there's little hope. The veteran pitchers can't get anyone out, the young pitchers they bring up from the minors aren't good enough, and there's no reason to think anything is going to change anytime soon.

This year is different. Training camp has started for the Redskins, and I'm hardly paying any attention to it. They signed Albert Haynesworth to a trillion dollars, and maybe he'll be as good as he has been the last few years and will improve the pass rush.

But the offensive line is old, injury prone, there's no depth, and everything starts with the offensive line. If it can't open holes for the running backs, and if it can't protect the passer, there are going to be a lot of 3-and-outs. The offense is going to look like all the previous years: gaining lots of yards between the twenty yard lines, but unable to deliver more than a field goal if that.

What good is a great defense if the offense can't score more than 15 points? Not a lot of low-scoring games in the NFL, and that's all the Redskins have been able to win lately. Most people are predicting that Washington will finish behind the Giants, Eagles, and Cowboys, and I can't find any reason to contradict that.

Meanwhile, the Orioles seem to be repeating their late-season swoon, but this year it's different. This year the rookies they have brought up have been good. Nolan Reimold, whom few were talking about in the off-season, is making a case for Rookie-of-the-Year. Matt Wieters is learning how to hit major league pitching and appears to be everything that people said he would be when he was pegged as the top minor-league prospect in all of baseball. Brad Bergeson has been the Orioles best pitcher. David Hernandez has shown he can shut down good hitting teams. Chris Tillman has been hit hard in his first two major league starts, but he has the stuff to be a #3 or maybe even a #2 pitcher in the O's rotation. He has to learn to keep the ball down in the strike zone, and he may need to pitch backwards i.e. instead of using his fastball to set up his other pitches, using his outstanding curve to set up his fastball. But few pitchers have immediate success in the majors. It's a big jump between the high minors and the majors. He'll get better.

Tonight Brian Matusz makes his major league debut. He'll probably lose, but that's all right. He has blown through the minors in his first season of professional ball. I wish they O's could have kept him in AA this year, started him in AAA next year and brought him up after a couple of months--the Wieter's Plan, they call it, since that's what the O's did with him. That was the plan, but Bergeson got a bruised knee from a line drive last week and can't pitch for a couple of weeks, and Matusz did so well at AA that he became their best option. He's never pitched into September, so it will be interesting to see if the O's stretch him out into September, shut him down after another month or so, or even go to a six-man rotation to give everyone more rest.

I vote for the latter. We're playing for next season right now. Protect their arms, but give them the experience they need to be successful, and let them get used to throwing to Wieters.

So there it is. For the first time in years, it's August and I'm more interested in the Orioles than in the Redskins.

And that's the way it should be.

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