Archive for October, 2009

Must We Win?

Tim and I have each spent time challenging the uses and abuses of the English language. Josh, for his part, has highlighted words the make him cringe. It’s not unfair to say that we are sticklers for linguistic precision here at NPI.

So it is with this in mind that I take umbrage with the overuse of the phrase “must-win” in sports parlance. When the Yankees lost Game 1 of the World Series, people started calling the next game a “must-win” for New York. Except that it wasn’t. “Must” means that something has to happen, from the sheer force of necessity. The Yankees were down one game in a best-of-seven; they didn’t need to do anything. Continue reading

Happy Halloween

In honor of today’s festivities, here is Jerry Seinfeld with some thoughts on Halloween:

In Search of Lost Toaster Ovens

toaster ovenBack when I was an impressionable college freshman, the faculty-in-residence who lived three doors down from my suite left a toaster oven outside her door. Now, at the time, I was a simple-minded and perhaps naïve 18-year-old suburbanite who had been raised on a toaster and with the idea that a toaster oven was needlessly decadent. We have a toaster, we have an oven; why combine them into one appliance that doesn’t perform either of those tasks better?

Thus it was with confusion and, in the end, indifference that I met my roommate’s excitement about the prospect of claiming the toaster oven—old and dirty and clearly bound for the garbage—in our room. As college freshmen, we possessed neither a toaster nor an oven, and Seth (this roommate’s name was Seth*) proudly detailed all the glorious meals a toaster oven would add to our lives. I was skeptical and, like I said, indifferent.

*Although, to be honest, it may have been the other roommate.

And I remained so even when Seth’s attempt to haul the toaster oven the 15 feet back to our room was interrupted by the RA, citing the prohibition of all toasting apparatuses in freshman dorm rooms. This was a surprising occurrence for several reasons:

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What Makes a Great Playoff Series?

Leyrtiz

This is a question that has been on my mind since Tim undertook his massive investigation of the 1999 NLCS last week.

The seven-game playoff series (we’re not even going to talk about the atrocious five-game divisional format) is really one of the best things about sports when it unfolds right. It takes the highs and lows of a great game and stretches them over a week and a half. Rooting for a team involved a great series, as Tim can attest, essentially consumes your life for those days. You’re either riding a high from a great win, resentful and angry at the world after a bad loss, or anxiously awaiting an upcoming match-up. The best series have the dramatic arc of a great novel.

I’ve been thinking about this question because I’ve been wondering if the 2009 ALCS between the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim was a Great Series. Superficially, it looks like one: two extra-inning, walk-off games, questionable managerial decisions, close contests in five out of six games. If not for inexplicable errors by Howie Kendrick and Scott Kazmir in Game 6, four of the six games would have been decided by one run. Continue reading

Real World/Road Rules Challenge: The Ruins, Week 5 Power Rankings

Wes goes home“How is this happening?”—Wes

This question—in addition to going through my mind as I watched Cliff Lee completely smother the Yankees lineup and, even more surprisingly, CC Sabathia struggle slightly against the Phillies last night—was plaguing Wes as he struggled in the elimination against Cohutta.

Eventually, despite all of Wes’ macho talk about sending his girlfriend’s ex home, Cohutta completed what Derrick called “one of the best things to happen in challenge history” and defeated Wes. Apparently, Cohutta was the only one who figured out that the key to the challenge—in which the players had to drag a rope through a short obstacle course*—was not getting your rope tangled up. As a result, Wes got worn down trying to drag his pile of rope and untie the knots, while Cohutta took a pretty decisive lead.

*I don’t mean to denigrate it; it was actually one of the better designed competitions, since it neutralized size and required a modicum of strategy/intelligence. Continue reading

MLB Postseason Preview: The World Series, Continued!

In Part I, John S and Tim exhaustively and inconclusively dissected the Yankees and Phillies’ respective lineups. In the much-anticipated (and admittedly more concise) Part II, it’s time for the pitching staff and predictions–detailed predictions.

THE ROTATIONS

LEE V. SABATHIA

TIM: Everyone knows Mets fans are devastated about this series. But what about Indians fans having to watch this?

And do you expect CC to ever give up TWO runs in a playoff game?

JOHN: It’s probably especially rough for Indians fans given the trajectory of each of their careers. Both Cliff Lee and CC Sabathia were always guys who had tons of potential who couldn’t stay consistent. Then each of them put it together for a Cy Young year….and was promptly traded to a playoff team.

My confidence in CC at this point is reaching a point I’ve never reached with a starter. This is odd, given that as late as July I was wondering if he was worth the money. I’m kind of hoping for a rainout betwen Games 3 and 4, so Sabathia can pitch 3 times this series (although I guess they’d just ditch the off-day if that happened). I cannot conceive of losing a game he starts in the playoffs, despite his shaky history against Philly in the postseason. I’m adamantly for going with a 3-man rotation, something I’d always thought was a bad idea when other teams considered it.

Phillies fans, however, probably have similar confidence in Cliff Lee. I’m a little worried about Lee, despite his bad numbers vs. NYY in his career. Those are mostly from pre-2008, so it was really a different pitcher. But I know you think he’s a pretty weak ace, right?

TIM: I never said he was a “weak” ace. I did need to see some validation this year from him, and I have. The thing about Cliff Lee is that nothing he does looks very impressive. He doesn’t blow anything by anyone, he doesn’t make hitters look silly very often, and his stuff doesn’t jump off the TV screen. He’s just a very good pitcher…that I think is going to have one bad start in this series. I think he and Sabathia each have one good and one bad start, but Sabathia will be better in both (assuming they match up twice). Continue reading

MLB Postseason Preview: The World Series!

After about as many off-days as game days, we’re finally down to two teams in Major League Baseball: the last dynasty against a team hoping to build one. It’s Yankees-Phillies in what many expect to be the most exciting World Series since 2001.

Resident Yankee fan John S. and Phillie hater Tim break it down.

THE LINEUPS

LEADOFF: ROLLINS V. JETER

TIM: So, John, make the case to me that Derek Jeter is not only a better leadoff hitter than Jimmy Rollins (which he is), but that he’s the best leadoff hitter the Yankees have had during this 15-year run. Am I forgetting somebody better?

JOHN: As for why he’s better than Rollins, do I need to say more than that Rollins OBP this year was .296? That’s 110 points less than Jeter’s. As for in the last 15-years of the Yankees, that’s similarly obvious. NY has basically had 3 lead-off hitters since then: Chuck Knoblauch, Alfonso Soriano and Johnny Damon. Knoblauch was good his first 2 years, but never as good as Jeter’s been this year. Soriano was always miscast in the leadoff role, and Damon’s best years were in Boston. Jeter wasn’t actually new to the leadoff spot this year, as many people thought him to be; he did it for pretty much all of 2005, and he’d done it over 400 times in his career before 2009.

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The Mets Fan’s Nightmare

So it’s come to this. We didn’t only have to endure losing hundreds of millions of dollars to a Ponzi scheme, we didn’t only have to endure injuries to our five best players, we didn’t only have to endure a dropped pop-up to lose a game to our crosstown rivals, we didn’t only have to endure our general manager blaming his own firing of a team executive on a newspaper reporter and then having to apologize—twice—for it, we didn’t only have to endure a 92-loss season.

Now we have to endure this: a World Series between our two most hated rivals that appears, on paper, to be one of the most compelling matchups in decades.

Things, as they say, have been better for Mets fans.

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Unabated to the QB, Week 7: The Right to Parity

manning brees

“Mediocrity seeks to endure by any means, including bronze. We refuse its claims to eternity, but it makes them every day. Isn’t mediocrity itself eternity?”

—Albert Camus

The Saints’ remarkable comeback victory over the Dolphins late Sunday means that there are three undefeated teams through seven weeks for the first time in NFL history. There are also three winless teams, who lost their most recent game by 28, 36, and 59 points, respectively.

And this is supposed to be the league of parity?

Let’s consider this for a moment: For at least the last decade, all talk of the NFL and its place within the context of the four major sports has included the word “parity.” Most people interpret “parity” in this context to mean equality within seasons, when really it more accurately refers to equality across them. The NFL produces just as many dominant teams as the NBA or Major League Baseball does. In fact, if pressed into naming a Team of the Decade across sports, the answer would almost certainly be the New England Patriots (in the same way that the 49ers could make a claim to it in the ‘80s, if we exclude hockey and the Oilers).

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Learn How to Swim

Chuck Klosterman did an interview with The A.V. Club in which, in honor of Halloween, he discusses his fears. Here is an excerpt:

A few years ago, that movie Open Water was out. I can’t swim, so of course the idea… It’s really hard for people who can swim to relate to this. If you can’t swim, the idea of being in nine feet of water is terrifying, much less the ocean. So when I saw the trailer for that movie, I just couldn’t fathom seeing it. I get no pleasure from that. People who can swim just can’t get it. They’ll push you into the water, assuming that you must be lying.

The interview is, as all interviews involving Klosterman are, very much worth reading. But I don’t want to talk about Klosterman right now; I want to talk about people who don’t know how to swim.

For some reason, it seems unreasonable to me that some people don’t know how to swim. I don’t know why. Swimming hasn’t been essential to the survival of the human race for a few millennia now, and unless you’re a lifeguard, a pirate, or an employee of the Coast Guard, I don’t see it really being integral to your day-to-day life. And it’s not like I swim very often myself. Continue reading