I was part of the KDKA Sports Showdown on Sunday night. On a couple of occasions, our host (debonair, golden voiced, immaculately coifed) Bob Pompeani asked us to sum up a topic in a word or less.
Jesus, Bob, we’ve got a half hour to fill! Gimme some latitude.
But Bob got me thinking. We could do that with a lot of Pittsburgh Sports topics of late…
THE STEELERS GAME IN SAN DIEGO: “In a word…PIVOTAL.” I’ve had this game circled on the Steeler’s schedule since it was released and have said so on a quite a few occasions. Why? Well, I didn’t see the Steelers winning the AFC North back then. And without Ben Roethlisberger for 4-6 weeks, I sure as heck don’t see it happening now.
Factor in that the Broncos, Patriots, and Bengals appear destined to win their divisions. And that the AFC South probably won’t get a wild card team in, and that the Ravens and Chiefs appear to be sinking fast, the Chargers and Steelers are likely going to be battling with one or two AFC East teams for the wild card spots. The head to head result of this single game may end up determining a tie breaker on week 17 between SD and PGH as these teams try to squeak into the playoffs against one another as was the case back in 2013.
THE AFC DIVISIONAL RACES: “In a word…OVER.” As referenced above, where’s the drama? If the Steelers lose, the Bengals will already have a three game lead in the North. If the Chargers lose, the Broncos will have a three game lead in the West. The Jets and Bills are playing well behind New England. But the Patriots are a machine. And even though the Colts are disappointing so far, they are the best club in that garbage South Division. The true intrigue of the AFC is which two teams grab wild cards.
THE 2015 PIRATE SEASON: “In a word…UNFULFILLED.” Actually, make this one two words. “UNFULFILLED” and “UNLUCKY”. It was unlucky because the Bucs accumulated 98 wins in a season when the best team in the Division had 100 and the third best had 97.
It was unlucky because Pittsburgh got an irresistible force on the mound in the Wild Card Game for a second straight year (first Madison Bumgarner then Jake Arrieta). Unlucky in the sense that the MLB Wild Card rules stink. Unlucky in the sense that Jung Ho Kang got his leg chopped off at the knee in late July.
But it’s not all bad luck. It was bad play against the bottom of the NL Central. It was bad base-running and fielding. It was a bad start from your ace in the playoff game. It was an “overcooked” wild card line up from a manager that promised not to “overcook” his line up 24 hours earlier.
Too much bad luck and bad play from a team that was largely excellent throughout the year=”Unlucky” and “Unfulfilled”.
THE 2015-2016 PIRATE OFFSEASON: “In a word…IRREVERSIBLE.” Yes, the Pirates are making more money these days. They are in terms of revenue sharing and actual revenue from ticket sales, concessions, and merchandise. But it’s not as if they are a big market team that can buy itself out of bad roster decisions.
That being said there are a few tipping point moves this winter that could determine the club’s fate this season and in years to come.
If they sign J.A. Happ to a two year deal in excess of $20 million dollars, he better work out. If he doesn’t, Jeff Locke and Charlie Morton better improve and stay improved all season. And either way, Tyler Glasnow and Jameson Taillon better be healthy and sharp by the time spring training ends.
If they deal Neil Walker or non-tender him, Jung Ho Kang better recapture his pre injury form. And Alen Hanson better be ready for the big leagues. If they deal or non tender Pedro Alvarez, they better get a capable lefty hitting compliment at 1B for Michael Morse. And if they deal or non tender Mark Melancon, Tony Watson better be able to handle the promotion to closer duties.
My best guess is that the Pirates move on from Alvarez, Happ, Walker, and Melancon. Not because they should. But because that’s how business is often done on the baseball landscape in Pittsburgh. Happ has the best chance to stay. But he’d have to sacrifice some money to do it.
Or maybe the Pirates should sacrifice some money to keep him…and a few of the other guys mentioned.
THE PENGUINS 0-2 START ON THE ROAD: “In a word…FAMILIAR.” A talented but underperforming power play. Defensemen giving away the zone too easily. A PK allowing two goals in the opener. Goalies having “the games of their lives.” An important injury to a forward in pre season affecting the team (Dupuis). Stars failing to score. Inopportune penalties in the third period while trying to catch up. Young players being sent down (Pouliot) or having their butts nailed to the bench (Sprong).
Yeah, sounds pretty familiar to me.
THE BUY-IN on PITT FOOTBALL: “In a word…WORTHWHILE.” The defense is legit. Pitt has the third highest sack total in the country with 21. It is seventh best in yards per game allowed. And it’s #6 in rush yards allowed per game.
Their next two games at Georgia Tech and Syracuse are highly winnable. And their last two games they just won are contests that Panther teams in the past likely would have found a way to screw up.
I thought this team was a 6-or-7 win group to begin the year. It should wind up with 8-9 at this rate.
THIS POST: “In a word…DONE.” Cuz it’s late. And a long week is coming up.