Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Debate Over the 2013 NHL Hart Trophy...Was Alex Ovechkin the Most Valuable?

As word leaked on June 15, 2013 that Alex Ovechkin would win his 3rd Hart Trophy (league MVP) I knew that there would be much outcry from fans, writers, etc around the NHL. Be it the Mike Milbury types, Crosby/Penguins fans, just about any homer of any player on any team that's not the Washington Capitals or people that believe that awards in a strike shortened season shouldn't count or should carry an asterisk, there was bound to be debate.

When Crosby was announced as the Most Outstanding Player (Ted Lindsay) recipient, I felt that it was fitting. Crosby was NOT the Most Valuable Player, not to his team and not to the league. Sid the Kid was playing out of his mind before being beset by injuries however those injuries killed any chance of him being named league MVP, whether that's fair or not. The fact remains that the Penguins survived just fine with Crosby sitting in the press box. As it turned out, despite missing so much time (12 games), Crosby still finished 2nd in assists and 3rd in the league for points. While great numbers he still paled in comparison in other categories compared to the players that finished in the Top 5 (forwards) in vote getting in shooting percentage (12% - last) and game winning goals (1 - last) while collecting 17 power play points (T-2nd but second lowest in goals with 3...he did lead in assists with 14). Crosby still ended up finishing second to Ovechkin but for me he was no better than 4th.

The 4th and 6th place finishers were Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane respectively.  Being on what was the best team in hockey for most of the season certainly helped these two get their votes, not to say they weren't deserving, they just weren't necessarily as valuable as their goalie tandem, in my opinion, and in the end the two pretty much cancelled each other out for the MVP voting. Both players scored 23 goals which puts them behind John Tavares and Ovechkin for most goals scored of the top 5 (forwards) MVP vote receivers while shooting 16.1% (3rd) and 16.7% (2nd) respectively.  Toews did very little on the power play while Kane had 8 goals (3rd) and 9 assists (3rd) for 17 points (T-2nd) among the top 5. In the end they'd probably end up my 5th and 6th choices for MVP.

The remaining 3 I would have been fine with any of them receiving the MVP award because they earned it.  Tavares, along with goalie Evgeni Nabokov, propelled the Islanders into the playoffs where they were a few calls and bounces away from eliminating the Penguins. While Nabokov was a huge upgrade over Rick DiePietro, and the worst contract ever handed out in sports history, it was Tavares and his leadership that really propelled the Islanders this year. With the shortened season I expected the Islanders to fight for a chance and possibly make the playoffs and I expected Tavares to be at the forefront of the elite players in the league and he didn't disappoint.  Of the Top 5 (forwards) Tavares had the worst +/- rating at a -2, the only player finishing in the negative, and finished 5th in total points with 47. Tavares finished 3rd in the league in goals, scored 16 points on the power play, netted 5 game winning goals (tied for most among the top 5) and scored on 17% of his shots. The Islanders also saw an improvement in their record, winning half their games (24) after winning only 34 of 82 the previous season. While I would have been okay with Tavares winning the Hart, he'll get 3rd from me

The lone goalie to make the Top 6 in votes was Sergei Bobrovsky. Bob showed flashes of brilliance two years ago in Philly before being jettisoned to Columbus prior to the season. Columbus just missed the playoffs, but if it weren't for Bob they wouldn't have been close. Finishing with 21 wins (T-3rd), a 2.00 GAA (T-3rd), a .932 save percentage (2nd) and 4 shutouts (T-2nd) Bob put up similar stats to other top goalies in the league (Rask, Anderson, Crawford, Lundqvist) but one glaring difference...the Blue Jackets don't have near the talent those other goalies do. Had CBJ made the playoffs then Bob wins the MVP, they didn't and instead he ends up 2nd in my book, but again I have no problem with him finishing 1st.

That brings me to Ovechkin. There is a lot of talk that Ovi only scored against the more inferior teams, that he played in the weakest division in the NHL, the Southeast, and that most of his scoring came on the power play so he needed to have an advantage to score. While valid statements, the Capitals were complete and utter garbage early in the season as they learned on the fly under new head coach Adam Oates and Ovechkin was attempting to adjust to switching to playing right wing after playing left wing his whole career. Down the stretch the Capitals caught fire and it happened to coincide with Ovechkin getting hot. Ovi ended the season as the top goal scorer with 32 goals, half of them on the power play, and only 4 of them game winners. Overall Ovi scored 27 points on the man advantage leading in both goals and total points (tied with teammate Mike Ribiero). Ovechkin's shooting percentage was 14.5%, the 2nd highest of his career and only .01% less than his best season in 2007-08. Had Ovechkin not channeled the Ovi of old there is no way the Caps would have made the playoffs nor garnered him to be the most valuable player. The Caps needed every one of those goals to get them into the playoffs, without them or him they wouldn't have been close. Of course there was much debate throughout the season that Mike Ribiero was possibly the team's most valuable player but he was more so just the perfect fit for their #2 Center position than he was the most valuable since other players put up similar stats metrically to what Ribs put up.

So there you have it. Was Ovechkin worthy of the league MVP? Yes. Should he have won it? Probably. In the end Ovechkin wins his 3rd Hart Trophy, tying him with Mario Lemieux. That has drawn the ire of many Penguins fans and writers. While Ovi isn't in the same stature of Super Mario, don't blame him. The game was different when Mario played and had a lot more worthy candidates.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Caps Eliminated From the Playoofs. What to Take From the Season and Where Do They Go From Here.

That is not a typo! Fans are going OOF this morning after that kick in the gut and while I tried to keep my expectations low going into the season because of how the off-season went and the injuries to Laich and Backstrom early on, the team sucked me in with their play and gave me and all fans hope that this year would be something special. Unfortunately.....

A season of ups and downs came to a crashing and resounding halt last night as the Capitals inexplicably failed to show up for a series deciding Game 7 against the New York Rangers. One game removed from a heavily one-sided and poorly officiated Game 6 in New York the Caps saw the team's disappointing history once again rear its ugly head. Game 7's are not good to the Caps, now 2-7 all-time. Of course this series never should have gone 7 games. Despite the Rangers being one of the least penalized teams, and the Caps one of the most during the regular season, there was a lot of questionable calls or non-calls throughout the series that extended it to play until there was nothing left. 

Some people say "God hates Game 7's" or "God hates the Caps" by no stretch of the imagination is that remotely true, unless you believe that Gary Bettman is indeed God, which he himself does, so if that's the case then I guess it would be true. If you listen to Ovechkin after the game he said somebody wanted it to go 7 games, the NHL needed ratings, the NHL needed extra revenue, well after the first two East series ended in six or less it kinda makes sense. In fact of the "Original Six" that made the playoffs Chicago advanced quickly against Minnesota, Montreal went out quickly in an ugly series against Ottawa and the other 4 (NYR, Boston, Toronto and Detroit) all went 7 games with three of those teams winning, Toronto being the exception but they were playing Boston and blew a 4-1 lead to lose in OT.

I'm not saying there is a conspiracy and I'm am salty over what happened. Its one thing had the Capitals completely blew it themselves like they did against Montreal a few years back or Tampa Bay but this series was dictated by the refs who did a poor job in most of the game. However good teams find their way to overcome it. If there was one good thing to come of it, you have to hang your hat on the fact that the Caps penalty kill was very good against the Rangers allowing only 2 goals.

All of that said the Caps fans should be satisfied. The season could have been completely lost to the lockout. Once the season started fans had high expectations, they've become accustom to their team making the playoffs the past 8 or so years. However the season started terribly. I, as did many, chalked it up to a 3rd (or 4th) coaching staff and regimen in the past year. Once the team fully bought in to Oates' system, learned the power play, and became 100% healthy, or at least as close as they would get over the final two months of the season, the Caps rallied from being the worst team in the NHL to the 3rd seed, albeit by default to being the winner of the Southeast Division...a division which no team seemed to want to win and which if not for the NHL's set up they'd have been looking at a lower seed.

Regardless the Caps saw a resurgence from Alex Ovechkin which could end up with him being the MVP of the league, if only because Sidney Crosby ended up breaking his jaw and missing the final month or so of the season. A season that saw Mike Green healthy for the first time in 3 years recapture his offensive prowess. A season that saw a Power Play start slow and finish at 25%.  The Caps have a long way to go though. Their defense let their goaltending down far too many times. Their second tier players either struggled (Chimera, Mojo, Perreault) until late in the season or were injured (Laich) for most of it. Penalties became the team's undoing early in the season and ultimately at the end. To win you have to stay out of the penalty box or your team will be too tired to hold a lead or make a comeback at the end. The Caps main problem was the delay of game penalty though they also were a team hit with unsportsmanlike conducts for chirping the refs, mainly Mike Ribeiro. Ribeiro was also a huge positive as he was the 2nd line center the team has been seeking for years but with the lower salary cap, how much Ribs wants and his stupid penalties you have to wonder if he'll be back.

Next season won't be an easier. I've stated for years the Caps window of opportunity would be closing this season, that's not to say they don't still have a few more years it just won't be as easy. Now that the Southeast Division doesn't exist they'll be facing the Rangers, Penguins, Flyers Devils and Islanders more often and in turn it will make getting to the playoffs that much tougher. Of course gritty wins against those teams could help increase the Caps likelihood for advancement in the Playoffs as it will make them that much more tougher and hopefully smarter, even if the playoffs are a totally different ballgame. One positive, and huge lift, would be if the Caps are able to bring over Evgeny Kustensov. That kid could be better than Ovechkin and if he joins the team late in the season he could end up being a secret weapon if he adapts to the NHL game quickly and the other teams don't have a good scouting report on him or aren't used to him since they haven't played against him.

As the off-season approaches changes are bound to happen though most guys are signed for next season. In my mind the locks to return, unless the team needs to get under the cap or can acquire other pieces to build their depth with, are Ovechkin, Backstrom, Brouwer, Green, Carlson, Oleksy, Hillen, Alzner, Laich, Hendricks, Beagle, Erat, and Holtby. Players on the bubble, based on cap situation, their play this season or the fact that they could be replaced internally, include Perreault, Johansson, Riberio, Ward, Fehr, Chimera, Erskine, Crabb, Volpatti and Neuvirth. Players that won't be back are Wolski, Schultz, and Poti. And players who could fill needs internally include Wilson, Kundratek, Orlov, and Kustensov. All of this is my opinion and I'd be fine with seeing most of the roster return but I know its not overly likely. Some of my "safe" guys could be traded though I'd hate to see them go since they're vital cogs and the radio guys are already saying to trade Backstrom and Green because they have the most value and will reduce their cap number. I feel that's drastic talk out of emotion in the hours after a let down, though I'm sure on other blogs like Japer's Rink or Russian Machine Never Breaks fans have been reading that for months, definitely years, but with better analysis as to why.

Alas the season is over and for the next few days and week speculation will run rampant. You can't but feel that let down with so much left to play and with the talent this team has and has had for the past 5+ years and you can't help but wonder if or when it will be our time. As my favorite reporter (who I swear I'm in love with...if that's possible, though I'll always keep it professional between us, unless she doesn't want me to lol)  put it the way I've felt for years "a professional goal of mine to cover Stanley cup finals. Just may not happen here in DC" (say it ain't so..tho we'll chalk it up to the years of underachievement). For me the Caps are one reason I've stuck around this area, I love my team, I love going to games, there is no better atmosphere in sports. I still have the taste of success and the bitterness of defeat from the team's 1998 run that ended in a sweep in the Stanley Cup Finals. I do fear that I may never see them play another game in the Finals whether I'm still in the DMV or if I decide to call some other place home. I'll always know Caps fans are the best and if you live or lived here and grew up a Caps fan, you'll always be pulling for them no matter where you are. I'd love to bring myself far enough along in my writings to be able to cover this team one day but I won't deny this is just a hobby for me, one that I don't do nearly enough. Maybe this will light that fire inside me again to take my writing to the next level. At least for the time being I know that my blood pressure can now return to normal and my sports stress has been lessened...until football season.

Friday, February 1, 2013

What the Hell is Wrong with the Capitals?

Once the NHL lockout ended everyone knew it wouldn't be easy out of the gate for the Washington Capitals. While the majority of their players were returning from the prior season many of the players hadn't played in an actual professional game since last May. Add to it that the team was going to have 6 days before the season started to gain chemistry with their lines and learn and adjust to their 3rd Head Coach and offensive and defensive scheme in 14 months and one had to figure the team would need some time to adjust to everything while having to play games every other night.

We are now two weeks and 7 games into the 48 game season and Washington is a cellar dweller at a lackluster 1-5-1. Scoring has been hard to come by for the team as has the ability to avoid committing penalties. In turn the Capitals end up with no energy by the end of the game which has lead to consecutive late game losses on their two game road trip to Canada.

The season started sluggish with an ugly loss to Tampa Bay in which the team gave up 6 goals which primarily came at the fault of poor defensive positioning, lazy neutral zone turnovers, and a failure to kill penalties. Six games later that still seems to be the case. The Caps dropped their home opener in similar but even uglier fashion against Winnipeg and failed to set up any type of offensive strategy against Montreal. As if the team's performance wasn't bad enough the usually raucous Verizon Center crowd was not only dead but half empty by the start of the 3rd period of the Montreal game. In the games to follow the Capitals fell behind New Jersey 2-0 before mounting a valiant comeback in the final 5 minutes thanks to some power play execution, but ultimately losing with under a minute to go in overtime. The team's ability to battle back however left fans optimistic. The team no longer gives fans the impression that they can come back when down a goal let alone two or three goals but in the New Jersey game they strung together a solid 10 minutes to end the game against the Devils and then put forth a solid 40+ minutes against Buffalo which lead to the team's first win of the season. The Caps came out pretty strong against Ottawa with a solid first 40 minutes and a 2-0 lead before the wheels fell off and the team allowed the Senators to score 1 in the 2nd and 2 in the 3rd. Against Toronto the Caps held again held a 2-1 lead heading into the 3rd period, this despite 8 Toronto power plays in the first 40 minutes, before ultimately falling 3-2, the 4th straight game with a 3-2 final.   

Entering the Ottawa game the Caps were 94-0-9 when leading after two between February 24, 2009 and Tuesday,  now they've lost 2 straight. The refs definitely got to the Caps in the team's first two games especially the first home game where Mike Ribiero was high-sticked twice but no penalty was called and yet he got hit with an unsportsmanlike conduct for chirping at the refs. Last night the eight penalties just gassed the Caps by the time the 3rd period came around and they had nothing left in the tank, they couldn't skate with the Leafs and they couldn't muster a shot on the Leafs goalie for over 10 minutes in the final period.

Add to it the players that played during the lockout, Ovechkin, Backstrom, Perreault, Johansson, and Holtby among them, have done nothing of use this season. Ovechkin has two goals, both on the power play, Backstrom has 4 assists, Perreault and MoJo spend more time in the dog house than they do on the ice and Holtby has lost his spot to Michal Neuvirth. On the flip side Joel Ward leads the team in goals and will soon eclipse last year's total, Matt Hendricks has played hard and tough, Ribiero has shown flashes, Joey Crabb has been a huge surprise and the most consistent player, Neuvirth has kept the team in most of the games he's started, and on defense "the Lumberjack" John Erskine has been blocking shots, hitting players...he rocked Phil Kessel last night, and even scored a goal on a muffin shot but has also blasted some beauties on net. The rest of the team has been mediocre (Mike Green) to unfortunate (John Carlson who has been on the ice for most of the goals for and against).

Adam Oates isn't a coach that's going to motivate his players. He feels they have a job to do, they know it, and they need to do it. They're trying the experiment of Alex Ovechkin on the right wing, it isn't working. Until Ovechkin learns to evolve and adapt to the fact that the NHL opponents know he's going to use the same stupid moves as he enters the offensive zone he's not going to be the Ovechkin of old, in fact with the gray showing in his hair he's just becoming old Ovechkin. I read he did relatively well in the KHL, I guess teams over there don't watch game film and plan for facing him or he's such a superstar over there they let him do his stuff because they're in awe of him. Add to it the detractors of Ovi will be willing to point to the fact that his offensive production as well as Mike Green's have been on the decline since around the time a doctor was busted for steroids and records showed unnamed Capitals players were his clients. I don't believe they used them nor do I think it would have helped their performance but I do think Ovi may need to go to the Eye Doctors of Washington and get some Lasik since he seems to be missing the goal just a bit to the right...and why not its worked for Green right? Unfortunately unless Ovi is willing to grind and battle and even go so far as to stand in front of the net to try and deflect shots he's going to be stuck in his rut of shooting long shots with little traffic in front and an easy save for the goalie because he can't blow past defenses like he once did.

If the Caps are going to make a run they'll have to do it soon. The next two games are both at home but they're against Philadelphia and Pittsburgh and with Caps fans growing so frustrated with the team's effort, record and play and there being more and more empty seats with each passing home game I would expect the Flyers and Penguins fans to pack the Verizon Center..tho with the tighter security at Verizon I'd expect some of those opposing fans to not get in because of weapons. 
So that goes back to the original question...What's wrong with the Capitals? Its a little bit of everything. I've stated for years that their window of opportunity would be closing by the end of this season or next and it could be upon us or it could just be the whole lockout situation. What seems to be a lack of offensive strategy definitely isn't helping this team and not having the time to install it prior to the season, or in game because of penalties, makes the learning curve that much more difficult. Having Brooks Laich out with a hip injury certainly doesn't help since he's a leader on and off the ice and a grinder that gets dirty. In the end penalties is a main culprit. Too many 5-on-3 shorthanded situations; chirping at the refs, which seems to get called more against Washington than their opponents even though both sides do it and we'll see how strict the refs are when Pittsburgh comes this Sunday because Crosby constantly chirps at the refs especially against Washington; many of the penalties are careless some are even questionable and it gets even more confusing when the opponents do it and nothing gets called. The Caps can't control that they can only control their actions and they're going to have to learn from it, stay under control and do their best to put together solid efforts. If not the season will fully be lost. While the team has been outscored more in the 2nd period than any other they are dead in the 3rd so every opponent knows if you work the Caps hard the first two periods they'll have nothing left to finish and that will be the time to strike. Its essentially Dale Hunter hockey but with less energy in the final stanza. Is coaching the problem? Its too early to tell but I don't think so. These players are veterans and they shouldn't need a lecture. They've been there before and they're better than they're playing. They can talk a good game with they know what they're supposed to do and how they can make things easier but they aren't executing. A trade won't fix the problems but with George McPhee's fingerprints all over this team there is a chance that before the season is out Leonsis may decide that GMGM needs to be too.

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Digital Age Takes a Bite Out of Sports Tickets

The day of the souvenir ticket stub may be a thing of the past. One thing that can be a cherished reminder of an experience one had at a sporting event is being pushed by the wayside by many a sports team and soon ticket stubs may be no more. Why this is being done can be argued but should it be done isn't even up for debate in my opinion.

For many years I used to keep the tickets from games that I went to in great condition. I'll admit over the past few years I've just jammed most of them into my pocket only to be disappointed when its all crumpled up by the time I get home. This last happened with the Nationals first home playoff game in team history, I still kick myself for not keeping that ticket in as mint condition as possible. It was a historic game for the franchise and while some may see it as less significant if not totally insignificant others share the same belief I do. Now while that ticket may not be in the best of condition it and the painful memories of that game will be something I'll still cherish for years to come.

You see a ticket stub is more than the cost of the ticket or the location of where one sat or even the two teams or certain players out there doing battle. Ticket stubs hold memories that one can share with their children and grandchildren down the line. For some its the first game a father takes a son to, for others its the first date a couple went on and for others its a historical moment in sports history. Stories decades old have been told of a young boy that went to a game with their father and at that game they saw Jackie Robinson become the 1st African American to play in Major League Baseball; of grandpa taking in the game where Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points in a single game; Roger Maris hitting his 61st Home Run; The Ice Bowl; Gretzky's first game, Cal's 2161; whatever the case may be. Many of those stories are accompanied with the ticket stub from that game. Either its been kept in a safety box, in a top loader, a book, been signed or even framed. All those games are a piece of history. And while tickets can be bought after the fact on the secondary market it doesn't make them any less special to he who bought it, at least if they're a collector, because that game holds a special or significant meaning to that person or someone they know.

In fact my boss told me a story earlier this month about his son giving him a Christmas gift. That gift was a framed picture of the two of them at a Baltimore Ravens game and next to the picture was one of their tickets from the game. That is what a ticket stub means to some people. I myself purchased a ticket from the 2002 NCAA Championship Basketball game because Juan Dixon and the Maryland Terrapins not only played in that game but they won it. Its an item I've added to my collection and the closest I'll ever come to having attended the game. The ticket also looks better than some shitty black and white or color 8x10 sheet of paper with details of the game and ad that isn't as easy to store or as nice looking as that little rectangular one.
The decline in the original ticket began a few years back as more people went electronic and "green." You could order tickets online and have the option of having them mailed to you at your home or you could print them off from your computer. Sure that was an easy option and you didn't run the risk of them being lost or stolen by the postal service. My first time dealing with the "print it yourself" option not only was there a service charge for handling of like $18 but you also had to pay $3 to print your tickets. Yes that's right. Not only was I using my ink and paper which I had paid for but I also had to pay $3 for a "convenience fee." Any way for a company like TicketMaster to make a buck. Then when you printed the ticket there would be extra stuff on it, like an ad or offer that would eat up that ink and helped to take up the whole page.

Earlier this year my work received our package for our Georgetown Hoyas season tickets but all that was inside was a card, much like a savings or debit card. With the card you have the option of using it at the stadium to get in and take your seats or you can print them off from the Hoyas ticket site. Luckily printing them off or emailing them to someone else was a free option with these but I'm not so sure that's the case if you bought single game tickets.

A few months later the same thing happened with our Washington Wizards tickets, and then our Washington Capitals ticket. Monumental Sports and Entertainment was moving full fledged into this new and cheaper way of doing tickets, any why not they were the ones running or part owners of the TicketMaster company when the previous situation happened, at least I believe they still were at the time. Plus Ted Leonsis is a mogul and technology guy so he's going to go for online and cheap the best he can so as to continue to grow his empire. That's not to say there hasn't been a lot of bumps along the way.  Fans are complaining about it taking longer to get into Caps games and the cards taking longer to get people in. I went to one game and did not see the cards being the problem as much as the security measures but I also got there 30 minutes prior to the game and had a paper printed ticket in hand.

Today comes word that the Washington Nationals will also be going the online route with their tickets and this just saddens me. I knew it would most likely be a reality at some point but there are just so many people, especially baseball fans, that love the thicker stock ticket over a card or the personal computer printed ticket. I loved seeing the special ticket that the teams would use for the team's first home game and then seeing different players for each of the next 4 or 5 games that would then recycle over however many pages the ticket book went. Now that's going to be gone.

I will say the card can make it a tad more convenient if you have one per ticket compared to one per account as Washington Monumental has done. It is also something you can just keep in your wallet at all times but what if you lose your card or it breaks? Isn't it more of a hassle to have to report it stolen and have the tickets reassigned electronically? Also this is a real cost cutting measure. While programming the cards could cost a pretty penny, and I'd assume their is a computer program that is a huge time saver, its a lot cheaper for the sports teams to purchase the cards in bulk than it was to print season tickets in mass as they have for many years and then send them via FedEx, UPS or DHL to the season ticket holder. Now that the teams are saving money on the printing don't you think some of that savings should trickle down to the people who are buying the tickets? I mean depending on the sport and where one is sitting you're paying at minimum of $50 and up to a few hundred for every game. Sure a giveaway at a game is nice but just as the owners would like to save money so would Joe Schmo who makes a less in a month or even year than some players make in a game.

I'm sure another reason the ticket industry is changing is to cut down on scalpers outside of the stadium. Knowing that someone can print the tickets off of a computer like you can with these, the buyer will be more suspect to trust someone outside the stadium than they would if they had the rectangular ticket so more people are likely to go to the box office to try and purchase tickets than go to the homely looking dude shouting "TICKETS! TICKETS! WHICH ONE OF YOU CRAZY MOTHER F-KERS NEED A TICKET?"

What's even sadder is that the sports teams know that they can exploit the fans even further. Say you go to a game and see a perfect game thrown or someone breaks Kareem's all-time scoring record, or whatever other notable achievement that will cause resale of a used ticket to sell for more than a ticket normally would after the event. After the accomplishment has taken place you have to figure that the teams will see it as a perfect opportunity to capitalize on the fans that want to have a better looking piece of history by printing out 17,000 tickets that resemble the soon to be old school style and sell them for like $20-$50 per ticket. They know people will pay and those poor saps that already paid $50 to see the game may be paying another $50 on top of it. Don't believe me? They know we're all suckers and owners are all about the dollar. After all they need to have a profitable company or they'll just tell you that you're going to have to pay more while they still fail to improve their roster or upgrade the facility.

I really hope that fans voice their frustrations enough that the owners reconsider it but this reminds me of growing up and listening to Sony and Nintendo tell the consumers that the cartridge games cost more because of what they have to do in terms of making them and that once the games go to a disc the prices will drop. Well as the years have gone on and the systems have switched to the disc games the prices are still $50-$60 for most games. And why not...they know that we're addicts and we're going to pay exactly what they tell us to. Maybe not all of us but the majority.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Beast Leaves DC, Leading to Saditude

This day was bound to come. The writing has been on the wall for months, despite the feeling yesterday that the Nats could wait on making a move. Who knows who gets injured in the coming weeks or Spring Training. Many of us held out hope not wanting to accept facts or face the reality of the situation.

You see I became a Michael Morse fan in 2010 when he smacked 15 Home Runs for the Nats in 98 games. I had no idea who he was and at the time I was only really coming around to giving the Nationals a chance. I knew who most of the players were but like much of the DMV I didn't pay too much attention to the Nats because, well they sucked. This Morse fellow though, he had that something special to me as I looked over the box scores. The team boasted power from Adam Dunn, the seemingly oft-injured and "under performing" (to my expectations) Ryan Zimmerman, and the slow trotting and underrated Josh Willingham. Morse hit one less Home Run in nearly 160 at-bats less than Willingham, good enough for fourth on the team.

In 2011 Morse had a strong Spring Training but was kept in a platoon in Left Field with Laynce Nix. Because of this The Beast struggled mightily through May before being relegated to the bench. In late-May Morse was given a shot at first base when Adam LaRoche went down for the season due to injury and Beast Mode swept across NatsTown. The legacy began and, in my mind, Michael was the biggest character on the team. A team mired in a losing culture for so long had an identity. There was playfulness, there was excitement, and while winning can do that, you knew that Morse had a huge hand in that. By season's end Morse finished in the Top 10 in batting average, home runs and RBI, and fourth in Slugging Percentage.

After the season I came across this article regarding Ryan Braun's PED case and was surprised to read about Morse's situation from year's before. The story actually made me more of a fan. Here was an athlete that accepted the punishment handed too him. He didn't make an excuse, he didn't deny it or lie or go through some charade. Then to see that he was suspended three times for the same thing because of a technicality, I felt bad for the guy but knew I'd support him for the rest of his career. He was refreshing. Not a Lance Armstrong or a Barry Bonds.

Morse started 2012 on the disabled list and didn't return to the lineup until June. Once back Morse was the team's primary Left Fielder and added protection to a line-up that consisted of rookie phenom Bryce Harper, LaRoche, Zimmerman, and eventually Jayson Werth upon his return from injury. As Natitude soared throughout DC many a fan became accustomed to participating in Morse's late inning walk-up music A-Ha's "Take on Me."  Morse helped lead the Nats to the best record in baseball and had possibly the highlight of the year when he had to replay a grand slam after the umpires had to go to the video replay.

A season that saw a Morse bobblehead, females who loved him, and males who had man crushes on him didn't come without some hate.  Despite being a huge part of the team and being knowingly slower than most of the players Morse drew the ire of some fans, we'll go with intoxicated since they thought they could play it better, when he failed to get to some balls hit to Left Field in the team's first home post-season game in history. I sat their and listened to the negativity all the while going "hey dumb asses you realize he's playing with a sore hamstring AND they have him shaded too far towards center when a right handed batter is up?" But I digress.

For me I was lucky to attend the bobblehead game and I was lucky to attend that first home playoff game, a game in which I sat in Left Field right behind Morse. Loving The Beast like I did I started a card collection of him and was able to grab some very rare cards. My favorite, which started the collection was a card from Topps Tier One that he inscribed "BEAST MODE," I later picked up a Topps Tribute auto inscribed "The Beast." They are by far two of my favorite pieces in any of my collections. At the playoff game I also ended up picking up a game-used bat which is just amazing to look at and for Christmas I bought myself a Morse jersey.

Unfortunately the off-season came to early for the Nats and certain players would be staying and certain players would be going. Morse was a bubble player. It would depend on what transpired between the Nationals and LaRoche. Before the Nats and LaRoche contact talks got serious, the Nats added Denard Span to play CF. That move meant Harper would play LF and Werth would be in RF. Morse was now a option at First Base or a trade chip because you're not going to have a guy getting paid $7 million getting paid to come off the bench...this isn't the NBA and in baseball guys making that much tend to either start or spend time on the disabled list...I'm looking at you A-Rod.

For months the saga between LaRoche and the Nats played out with LaRoche wanting a 3 year contact and the Nats holding steady on a 2 year offer. The drama went on for so long because if LaRoche signed somewhere else then the team signing him would forfeit a 1st round draft pick to the Nats. Many fans, especially me, preferred the Nats save the money on a LaRoche deal and use it for help in the bullpen. This month however the Nats and LaRoche agreed to a contract and that set in motion the move that would eventually make Morse a member, once again, of the Seattle Mariners. There was talk of Seattle, Boston, New York (Yankees), Texas and Baltimore all being in on Morse. I'd have loved Baltimore since I'm a fan of theirs as well and they're still local so I could go to O's games, he'd be reunited with his pal Adam Jones and I could see him play over 100 games in the season.

The move is unfortunate since I feel that LaRoche will not only not duplicate his production from last season but I feel he's likely to get injured again. I didn't like the signing two years ago and I'm not too fond of it now. I love how well he produced last year and I get the team needed a left handed power option in the lineup but Morse is THE MAN, even if he is addicted to those Real Housewives shows. The team also has durability issues with Zimmerman and Werth so if either of them goes down the team will be missing more power from the line-up and Morse could fill in in the outfield. The team also could have rotated players allowing them to rest, of course not keeping a regular lineup or routine can hurt more than help.

As I mentioned the Nats decided it was in their best interest to stick with LaRoche as well as stick with younger options on the bench in Roger Bernadina and Tyler Moore who will most likely supplant LaRoche in a year or two. My preference would be to see the team trade LaRoche after the season and re-sign Morse since he'll be a free-agent at the end of the year. Injury riddled or not, which Morse admittedly has been, the kid has talent and power, he's hit some of the longest home runs I have ever seen and playing first base will limit his injury risk compared to being in the outfield. And while he's not as good defensively at first base as Roach he's not much of a dropoff.

You better believe the first thing I'll do when MLB The Show comes out is I'll be trading Roach for Beast the second it enters my PS3.  Yes I'm really gonna miss Michael. From his long flowing locks (man crush) to his running around the field and high-fiving fans when the team clinched a playoff spot to his laid back joking demeanor to his presence in the lineup I will miss Beast but will also cherish so many memories from his time here in DC. While I'll still be able to follow and interact with him on Twitter I'll always be saddened that he's no longer rocking the Natitude. Thank you Michael for all that you did for the team and the fans. Hopefully that ballpark doesn't stunt your numbers out there on the West Coast and hopefully you'll be back on a team in the DMV after the season. Keep BEAST MODE alive!