Friday, April 24, 2009

Stop with the Speculation Screeds!

There is much in the way of myth generating in regard to the figures that rule over the DC sports landscape. It seems that certain players, coaches, front office types, and owners around here make statements without even saying them, plan to perform actions that are never performed, and have certain personality traits that have never been completely accounted for. While they attempt to keep their personalities/decisions/feelings about whatever completely under wraps, the dilligent sports reporters and analyzers attempt to unearth these completely secret aspects of their lives in order to compose screeds on how terrible these people actually are at their jobs. Now, we don't want to discount the intrepid work of these writing professionals. Their thankless job provides the conversations we all enjoy having more than the conversations about Susan Boyle. Yet it becomes frustrating when the unknown decisions, feelings, and actions of these figures receive what amounts to a complete and utter bashing despite those feelings not being correctly interpreted and subsequently rebuked once truth or results prove these bashers wrong.

For example: the Wizards recently had what amounted to an aberration of a season (meaning the whole roster was hurt, not just a key cog or two). They realized that with the opportunity to re-assess their needs, they could address the lingering concerns while simultaneously staying the course of their ultimate structure. So they hired Flip Saunders, the most decorated coach in the market, which, unless Phil Jackson was available, isn't exactly brimming with proven ability. Saunders ran teams similar to the Wiz to great success. Sure, he didn't win a title, but only four active coaches can claim that anyway. Maybe his lack of title would be more motivation to make this squad run on all of its cylinders.

Yet, there were echoes of doubt from the analyzers and writers of sport, all of whom were doubtful Flip Saunders would ever wrangle in that insane clubhouse killer Gilbert Arenas, whose zany ways would drive any coach batty. How did they determine that Gilbert would be a problem for any coach he didn't choose via flipping coins? Not through any statements from Gilbert, or any actual proof of his past issues with coaching, but through speculation. Naturally the union of Arenas and Saunders is already off to a fantastic start, with Flip commending Gilbert, and Gilbert lauding the new constructor of his plays. What happened to the impossible-to-coach Gilbert driving every coach insane? We don't think many coaches would hate having a guy who can drop thirty, dish out ten-plus dimes, generate free throws instantly, and hit massive game-winning shots, yet sports analyzer Michael Wilbon figured Saunders would not be able to generate results from this mercurial player, and as a result, the hiring was terrible, awful, laughable, dump-onnable, etc.

Yet yesterday's formal introduction of Flip went with tons of mutual appreciation from Saunders and his new point guard, who will obviously transform into a quicker, more dynamic Chauncy Billups under this new tutilage. Speculation was wrong there, which made the immediate hating of the hire, transcribed through panic-ensuing screeds problematic.

We have the same problem with the sports reporters' treatment of the Redskins' upcoming draft. Now, we aren't going to go all Larry Michael and ask for the heads of these NFL Sources that keep reporting the impending doom and gloom eminating from the unwanton desires of Dan Snyder. We just find it troubling that far-reaching results of player transactions have already been documented despite any sort of genuine happenstance of a Mark Sanchez selection. The skins haven't made any trades, haven't formally swapped any contracts, nor have they stitched together any uniforms with these new players' names on them. So why, again, does Mr. Wilbon tap out another screed about the Redskins' front office inabilities, when none of these crippling transactions have actually been made? Sure Wilbon crows about how idiotic the skins are for not trading down, like they should, yet he fails to mention that the skins did in fact trade down last year. They have traded down to acquire picks a number of times. Just because the skins wine and dine a potential prospect (the same way they wined and dined another potential prospect) doesn't mean that their decision has been curly-R stamped in burgundy and gold. Plenty of speculated skins selections have not happened in the past, why must we assume the ravenous desires of the owner will always be sated, even if no official statements of these desires are ever actually made? If the supposed loud overtures of desire for a rookie quarterback are never actually resulting in his selection, why should you, Denver, Colo ask Jason La Canfora (of all people) for a new team to root for? And what happened to the last quarterback Dan Snyder supposedly lusted after?

We just ask that you all try to save your imminent frustrations for actual football/basketball play. Or consider this extremeskins thread created by DCO homeboi da#1skinsfan. That is, if you are in the mood for more speculation.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Needless Piling-On Is Becoming Tiresome

The Nationals have won two in a row (perhaps paving the way for the Caps’ to win two in a row, seeing how the collective fates of the franchises are intertwined, at least in our eyes), stingily holding on to one-run, ninth inning leads on consecutive nights.

Still, the resounding attitude towards the club is defined by snark, as illustrated by the blow-up over a couple of missing “O’s” on a couple of uniforms and, most disappointingly, if subtlely, a needless, uninformed shot in a Washington Post piece not even about the Nationals.

The article in question was written by Keith Richburg and was about the alleged over-the-top home-run-friendliness of the new Yankee Stadium. Of course, to put it in proper context, a shot at the Nationals is in order:

“Nationals Park in Washington, in its second season on the Anacostia River, featured 18 homers in the first six games -- more because of the Nationals' pitching than the wind or sloping stands.”

Haha, see, the Nationals are so bad that naturally it’s just their pitching and only their pitching that has caused this home run explosion at their second-year park. Of course, a closer look at the numbers, and not just a lazy reach-back for another “Nats stink” dig, reveals that the Nationals themselves actually hit eight of those home runs. So, perhaps an improvement in the team’s hitting, and not just a sluggish start by its pitching staff, has something to do with this gaudy total, huh? Again, though, this does not fit in with the motif that the Nats just flat out stink in every way and must be ridiculed with no mention whatsoever of any positive developments.

It really seems that in the heart of every baseball writer is the desire to pen cheeky “ho ho ho, our home team is so bad, those bums, heh heh heh, what are ya gonna do” types of columns. Everyone wants to wax on about their own “lovable losers”. And when they can't write full columns prematurely predicting historical catastrophes for the home team, they write little zany one-liners in unrelated columns. Anyone who loves optimism like we do should not let it go unnoticed.

Fortunately, our man Boz still gets it, even if he does throw in a completely unnecessary crack about “Natinals”. But at least his is a delightful piece of positivity in a newspaper world of smarm and sarcasm.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Changing the (Hot) Goalie Conversation

Remember two whole days ago, when normally ‘tism-centered Tom Boswell bemoaned the Caps’ “April Curse” of running into that dreaded playoff nemesis, the “hot goalie”? Oh, Henrik Lundqvist was the absolute worst the Caps had ever seen, having not won the Vezina three times and being the latest to inevitably join playoff tormenters with names like Wregget, Barasson, Hextall, etc.

That looks to be changing, and maybe now it is a Washington Capitals opponent who will have to deal with the phenomenon that we Caps’ fans have been forced to suffer for so many past (emphasize past) playoff series.

Let’s be honest: how many Rangers’ fans and members of the New York media were salivating, absolutely drooling uncontrollably and thinking things like “desperation” and “easy series win” when it was announced, shortly before Game 2, that rookie goaltender Simeon Varlamov would be taking over netminding duties for the Capitals? Why, a win in that very Game 2 must have re-enforced the notion that the Caps had taken their last, best shot and failed, they were done, they had pulled out all the stops and were still defeated. Bring on the Bruins in the second round, right?

As we know by now, that Game 2, one-goal-allowed performance by Varlamov was merely a precursor to the shocker at the Garden last night, the sublime shutout performance (despite the best efforts at jinxing throughout the entire third period by the Rangers’ broadcast team) by the not-legal-drinker who apparently already knows how to ignore/enrage Sean Avery. The goaltending future of the Capitals arrived a year or two earlier than forecast last night, and it could not bode more well for this team’s current playoff run.

Sure, it’s two games against the Rangers, with their flaccid scoring rate of 2.56 goals per game in the regular season and their holding of the distinction of being the only NHL playoff team with a negative goal differential (210 for, 218 against). But it counts. It doubly counts because Varly pitched a shutout in “the world’s most famous arena” (as MSG always reminds us), and was un-intimidated by those suddenly boastful Rangers’ fans who crowded behind every MSG announcer and in front of every MSG camera to chant nonsense like “sweep” prior to Game 3.

It’s now the young Russian’s series. He now boasts more gaudy numbers than the vaunted King Henrik. While DCO may admittedly be a blog more geared towards (positive) emotion than cold hard statistics, let’s take a look at the latter in the series thus far to shake things up perhaps just this once, or whenever it serves the cause of DC-sports-related optimism.

Save Percentage
Varlamov: .982
Lundqvist: .936

Goals Against Average
Varlamov: 0.50
Lundqvist: 2.33

It’s a different game, and a different series now. We look forward to numerous reports from Washington and national media declaring that there is a new hot goalie in the NHL playoffs, and that he minds the pipes for the Capitals, seeking to put to rest yet another playoff demon. The King is dead. Long live the Czar.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Caps Finding Creative Ways to Battle Demons of Playoffs Past

Remember back when the Caps made that little run to the Stanley Cup Finals over a decade ago? Remember all that talk of burying demons of playoff failure past, specifically those particularly spiteful demons who would cause the choking away of 3-1 series leads? They were dead. Gone. Exorcised, to use the popular cliché of the time, in the wake of a trio of 3-1 series leads successfully held on to in wins over the Boston Bruins, Ottawa Senators, and Buffalo Sabres (they had a pretty good goalie too, no?).

There may be, however, another, similarly insidious demon that has until this point lived latently, only mildly detected in the hearts of die-hard Capitals’ fans: the demon of Winning The First Two Games On The Road Only To Lose The Series. Such a gruesome fate has befallen two Capitals’ teams in the past, two teams looking to slay the dragon of first-round underdog-ness. The ’95-’96 team took the first two games in Pittsburgh then lost the next four. The ’02-’03 Jagr-infested iteration won twice in Tampa before again dropping the next four, against a John Torterella-led squad no less. Kind of see where we’re going here? (Disclosure: I have a personal interest in seeing this matter settled, having been present for key games in both series: the epic, miss-school-the-next-day 4 OT Game 4 loss to the Penguins on April 24, 1996 [curses upon Petr Nedved for now and for all time], and an overall letdown of a Game 4 loss, 3-1, to the Lightning on April 16, 2003).

Clearly, there is only one way to settle this demon’s hash once and for all, and we chastise ourselves, as the theoretical leading purveyors of optimism in DC (if only because of our blog’s name and not because of our frequency of posting), for failing to see it before now: the Capitals must BE the favorite who drops the first two games at home before coming back to take the series against a lesser foe. Perhaps then, and only then, will all past playoff shortcomings be expunged, moreso if the Caps happen to win one of their games in four overtimes or more.

So, there may yet be a greater (subconscious) reason for the Caps dropping these first two games in a building in which they have, for six months, owned the opposition. It could be a step towards, finally, for good, putting behind all those bad memories from the past two decades. If that's the case, these painful losses in games we thought would be pushovers will have been worth it.

Not over. Definitely not over.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Caps Set to Defy Naysayers Again

A throwaway line from a Capitals Insider post on Saturday night may hold more meaning than its parenthetical aside nature originally intended. The line:
“(Weird, meaningless fact: The Caps' season began and ended with a 7-4 loss.)”

That season-beginning loss, of course, was what turned out to be a minor setback in Atlanta. The Caps went 50-23-8 after that game, compiling the fourth-best record in the NHL. We weren’t worried about that loss, and we aren’t worried about this meaningless season-closing contest against the non-playoff-bound Panthers.

Then, as now, prophets of doom reacted to a 7-4 defeat with their well-prepared statements of optimism-hating: Jose Theodore stinks and was a disastrous signing, the defense is incompetent, George McPhee assembled a team incapable of winning anything.

So perhaps it was appropriate that the regular season was bookended by losses of the same score, to remind us how the naysayers were proven wrong in October, and how they can be proven wrong again in April, May, and June. The Caps rebounded nicely from that dark night in the early fall to put together a historical season. There’s no reason they can’t rebound again and put together a historical post-season.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Nationals Inching Closer to Victory

The first victory of the Nationals’ season is imminent as the team has gradually reduced its non-winning deficits through the first four games of the season. Since Opening Day, the Nats have not won by 6, 5, 2, and finally 1 run. Last night’s almost-had-it game against the Braves even took 10 innings for the ultimate result to be had.

This, of course, means that the young team with so much new blood is starting to gel, and that the Master’s proclamation that they will “be fine” deserves to be heeded, and that the team deserves better than the incessant snark delivered upon it by haters of optimism and hacky writers looking for the next bad baseball zing.

Also encouraging is the clear truth that the Nationals’ offense will be able to produce enough runs to win many games this year. The run totals through the first four games may appear pedestrian at first, but there are hits and opportunities to score many more buried in those stats that speak to a squad that will score much once they’ve worked through these early tough times. The key, of course, is not surrendering quite so many in return. Kind of reminds us a little bit of another young Washington team with so much potential offense that ultimately exploded to grandiose proportions, all the while nurturing a young defensive (pitching?) corps that has proven at least adequate to keeping the opposition scoring totals down. We have seen those clear similarities for a while.

Victory is coming, and we not alone in this belief. ‘Tism yet lives out there.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Nats End Extended Spring Training in Florida, Haters Rampen Up the Snark

The Nats emerged from their first few early-regular season workouts with some strong contributions in the realm of hitting and bullpen work, two aspects of last year's team that were glaring weaknesses. Now that the Nats have started to realize the potential of their potent lineup and unmatched depth in the outfield reserves, and they have found reasonable bleeding stopping from the arms in the pen, the settling down of the starting pitching and the adequate playing of the starting defense ought to settle into place now that the team has left Florida. In fact, so different is this team from last year's squad that so far, only one starting fielder is on the disabled list, and instead of a false-hope-inducing 3-0 start, the team has already erased hope bypassed that by losing their first three in the barren stands of Miami. Simply put, this is a different Nationals squad from last year's last-in-the-majors team.

So why has this team already been buried by unfunny cynics and baseball writers alike despite only being three games into what will ultimately be a redeeming season? The genuine impatience is so palpable that Stan Kasten is heard traversing decrepit landscapes off of 95 North to invite cretins to don their XXXXXL Chase Utley jerseys in our stands, despite the fact that these people shouldn't be allowed to roam outside of their personal living-room tailgate. Even the newly unveiled statues at Nationals park bear snarky reviews that lamely reference the temporarily-troubled ways of the hometown team. The praise of the new punch in the lineup has been replaced with punchlines by often-reaching scribes looking for easy ways to rampen up the doom and gloom and make everyone avoid the nice little Southwest shrine that bears the team name instead of a corporate logo.

It would be lovely to have a brand-new team that never had its entire innards gutted during an unfortunate fire sale at the hands of 29 inept major league co-owners who served as the team's runners, but that is the legacy the Nats bear. As we have noted, the Nats are victims, and these tough rebuilding years serve only to erase the poor upbringing that plagued the team once the unit was adopted like a troubled puppy from Montreal. The patience that needs to be utilized when cultivating a genuine ballclub cannot be damped into hasty hatred so early in the season. One wonders whether the Nats simply tack an entire Washington Post to their bulletin board of motivation, because the paper (outside of our homeboy Boz) does little else than crush the team with every sentence (but of course they don't because no one buys newspapers anymore).

But through these hardships that have beset the team, glimmers of 'tism have emerged like a phoenix in the shape of the new screech rising from ashes. Adam Dunn has already crushed a homer and rallied the 'house toward winning ways. Elijah Dukes has shooken off a tough Spring to become a viable contributor. Austin Kearns has figured out how to hit in his first three starts. Jordan Zimmermann has yet to show off his impressive array of pitches. And despite the fact that the DCO wasn't invited to participate in their fantastic advertisements (we even have our own dance! C'mon!), MASN2 has debuted some truly awesome Nationals commercials. It might even be a bit too early in the season to bury this team and its stadium and its capacity for fan fullfillment and the viability of baseball in the district, etc. Nope.

In fact, we are so confident that this season will turn itself around soon because we now have the Master providing his special brand of 'tism to these snark-infested internet waters with his own(?) blog! And what nuggest of 'tism is the first to be noted from the master?
"we'll be fine."
Manny proves that he is a natural at posting as well as managing. Now can we get a link?