Royals skipper can’t get out of his own way

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When Detroit catcher Alex Avila took Royals starter Jeremy Guthrie’s 0-1 delivery and lifted it just over the left-centerfield wall for a two-run, opposite-field homerun to give the Tigers a 2-0 lead early in the bottom of the second inning, Guthrie did what he has done time after time this season.

The lanky right hander hunkered down, scattering 11 Detroit hits, and finding a way to keep his pitch count low, as he battled inning-for-inning against Cy Young favorite Max Scherzer to give his Royals a chance to pull out a win and keep their October hopes alive.

Five-and-a-half innings later, when light-hitting shortstop Alcides Escobar doubled to left and stole third base before scoring the game-tying run on a wild pitch by Detroit reliever Drew Smyly, Guthrie had done his job.

He’d gotten out of multiple jams, most notably in the fifth when after a lead-off single by Miguel Cabrera and a double down the right-field line by Prince Fielder left Guthrie and the Royals facing runners on second and third with no outs.  The right-hander calmly coaxed weak ground ball outs to the right side off of the bats of lefties Victor Martinez and Andy Dirks.  Then routine grounder to Escobar killed the Tiger threat to end the inning.

Fast-forward back to that bottom of the eighth inning after Escobar nabbed the game-tying run and the scene is set for the type of thing that has been maddening, confusing, and undoubtedly making countless Royals fans pull their own hair out for the better part of the 2013 season.  A season that happens to be the first time that many of those fans have been a part of a real October hunt in their lifetimes.

The Royals, who have ridden run-saving defense, good starting pitching and the best bullpen in baseball — a bullpen that has remained one of the freshest in baseball all season — to within 3.5 games of the Wildcard, were right where they needed to be as the game headed into crunch time.

Only Ned Yost either didn’t see it, or even worse, he blatantly ignored it.

Rather than look to any one of his bullpen arms that have been so solid, Yost trotted Guthrie and his 12 hits allowed out to the hill one more time.

This move on its own, though questionable, isn’t the facepalm worthy call deemed just the latest “Yosting” that the Royals’ skipper has pulled off this season.  The Tigers led off the home half of the eighth with Omar Infante, a right handed hitter, who was 0-for3 up to that point and followed suit by striking out looking at Guthrie fastball.

If Royals fans weren’t ready for the bullpen to begin the inning, they were surely screaming at their televisions as the lefty Avila walked out to the plate for another opportunity to put the Tigers ahead.

Yost did nothing.

Three pitches later Guthrie left a slider out over the plate that Avila launched into the right-center field seats to give Detroit a 3-2 lead that they would hold for the win.  Guthrie recovered to retire the next two Tiger batters, but the damage was done.  Avila, who had already homered off of Guthrie earlier, had done it again and there really was no good reason for it to have happened.  You can’t blame him either.  He never should have been put in that position in the first place.

The man on whom the blame falls for that Avila homer — the one that dropped the Royals to 4-games back in the Wildcard race — is the man, Ned Yost, who was seen staring blankly ahead as Avila circled the bases after ripping the hearts out of countless Royals fans on a Sunday afternoon in the fall.

At a point in the season where every game, every inning, every at bat is magnified these “Yostings,” like this afternoon or Yost’s discombobulated management of the batting order in the top of the ninth inning in the Royals’ 3-4 loss at Cleveland last Monday, a team in a playoff hunt just cannot afford for these type of occurrences to happen.

Unfortunately for long-suffering fans in Kansas City, their best team in a generation is getting snake-bitten right out of the playoff picture by a manager who cannot get out of his own way.

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K-State’s Rodriguez steps up when the lights shine brightest.

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Angel Rodriguez steps up for a crunch-time layup against Oklahoma.
Photo by Bo Rader

Big-time players step up and make big-time plays.

It’s been an adage ever since then Miami Hurricane football player Santana Moss said something similar after doing just that years ago.  Saturday afternoon in Bramlage Coliseum Angel Rodriguez, the Miami native and Kansas State point guard who plays with a confidence that sometimes may seem larger than his ability, added his own chapter to the legacy of the oft-used phrase.

His No. 16 Wildcats had seen visiting Oklahoma whittle their once 14-point lead down to just seven with 6:24 left to play on a layup by OU forward Romero Osby. Osby blocked a Rodriguez attempt on a desperation drive on K-State’s next possession.  Rodriguez, up to that point, had shot just 1 of 11 from the field. He was 0 for 3 from three-point range.

Kansas State needed a spark.

When the Wildcats got the ball back, the score remained the same, and Rodriguez didn’t waste any time extending the K-State lead.  He took the ball on an outlet from Thomas Gipson, made his way down the right side of the court and with a hesitation move a step inside the free-throw line, blew past Osby and OU forward Cameron Clark for the score off of the glass.  54-45.

Then, after Oklahoma’s Steven Pledger and the Wildcats’ Will Spradling traded a three for a long two, and two free throws by Amath M’Baye cut the K-State lead six, Rodriguez went to the paint again. This time within the framework of K-State head coach Bruce Weber’s motion offense.

Receiving a pass at the top of the key Rodriguez turned down a screen from Gipson to the left side, crossed-over Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield and drove past a host of Sooner defenders for his second lay-in in a row. 58-50.

Osby answered with a jumper to cut the lead back to six, but on the ensuing possession Rodriguez sank his first three-pointer of the game, an off-the-dribble 23-footer with seven seconds left on the Wildcat shot clock. 61-52.

Three huge buckets in 3 minutes 43 seconds of game time that were vital to holding off head coach and K-State alum Lon Kruger’s Sooners.

That isn’t so say that Rodriguez wasn’t heavenly in other aspects of the game before his shots started falling.  He was tough on defense, picking up three steals and frustrating the Sooners by constantly hedging on screens and getting in the grills of OU ball-handlers without a hint of the foul trouble that has plagued him in recent weeks.

He was conscious with the basketball, committing just one turnover and dishing nine assists in 32 minutes of play recognizing the hot hands of teammates Rodney McGruder, Shane Southwell and Spradling, who carried K-State’s scoring load for much of the game. None of which were bigger than a highlight-reel drive, stop, between the legs dribble and dish to a cutting McGruder whose reverse lay-in gave the Wildcats a 64-54 lead with 1:29 to play.

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Rodriguez celebrates late in K-State’s 69-60 win over Oklahoma on Jan. 19, 2013.
Photo by Bo Rader

“Big-time players make big-time plays in big games,” was the quote from fellow Miamian Moss, and it was apt to describe Rodriguez’ effort that helped K-State to it’s 69-60 win over Oklahoma on Saturday, securing K-State’s fourth Big 12 win this season, and an undefeated conference record.

Rodriguez displayed every ounce of that Miami toughness, that moxie on Saturday. It’s why Louisville head coach Rick Pitino once coveted him on the recruiting trail, why some K-State fans worried that former K-State head coach Frank Martin might take Rodriguez along with him to South Carolina last spring, and why Weber has so openly said that the Wildcats need Angel to play well and for a high amount of minutes to find success.

With a mammoth Tuesday-night showdown with No. 4 Kansas in Manhattan that will grant one Sunflower State team sole possession of first place in the Big 12 looming, Rodriguez should have ample opportunity to, once again, step up to the challenge soon enough.

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Sunshine Swap?

James for Howard, straight-up?

 

The 2011 NBA offseason is upon us, and barring a lock-out the most pressing matters as far as NBA fans and GMs are concerned is the free-agent market and player transactions.

Of course, the Miami Heat certainly won’t be involved in any major capacity this time around.  They did their damage last year signing the two biggest free-agents out there in Lebron James and Chris Bosh.  Those guys, along with the Sheriff of Dade County: Dwyane Wade, took the Heat to the brink of an NBA title.  Plus, it isn’t like Miami has gobs of money floating around under the salary cap to make room for new additions.  No, the Heat should and will stand pat.

Or should they?

The main questions heading into the 2010-11 season for the Heat were how long would it take for the Big 3 to gel, and how would they cope with not having a significant post presence? Well, we got our answers.  When the Heat were able to cause havoc on the defensive end, causing turnovers which led to break away opportunities and dunks Wade and James thrived.  They delegated scorer and facilitator duties based on feel and on a nightly basis.  Often times they overwhelmed teams with their talent that questions regarding lack of a post-presence seemed moot.

But against teams with a significant post presence of their own, the Heat’s liability was clearly visible.  Miami went 58- 24 overall, but that record dipped to just 7-5 against the top 3 centers in the league (Dwight Howard – ORL, Amare Stoudamire – NYK, Al Horford – ATL).  They also split games with Chris Kaman’s lowly LA Clippers, and weren’t able to beat Boston early in the season when Shaq was still on the floor with fresh legs.

With regards to who “the man” would be in Miami, we saw just how tricky that could be in the NBA finals.  Well, maybe it wasn’t tricky, but it was definitely apparent that Lebron James wasn’t going to grab the reigns and bring home a championship against Dallas.  I won’t get too carried away by that though, James was outstanding in the earlier rounds of the playoffs, using uncharacteristically great 3-point shooting to take over series against Boston and Chicago.  Still, his lapses in crunch time this season and throughout his career have become readily apparent.

So, what do you do if you are Heat GM Pat Riley?

If I’m in Riley’s shoes I think long and hard at a trade proposal with the Orlando Magic for All – NBA center Dwight Howard.  Sure, there will be a certain level of “egg on face,” cutting bait with James after just one year of service, especially with all the hoopla surrounding “the Decision,” and the fact that the Big 3 did lead the Heat to the NBA finals.  That said, those finals left an indelible mark on the Heat as well as James specifically.  The questions about the Heat’s post deficiencies still remain and picking up Howard would be a huge coup in that regard.

Orlando doesn’t want to get stuck in a situation similar to Cleveland in the wake of James departure last summer.  They would most likely jump at the chance to get something for Howard, who will be gone after next season anyway and the addition of James to a roster that already includes Jason Richardson (pending the re-sign him), and Jameer Nelson and would be a pretty salty team itself.  This is about as good a trade that Orlando could hope for with regard to Howard, though I still don’t think James for Howard straight-up makes the Magic any better.  Howard is so much better than any other center out there that even James can’t really offset his value.

Back to Miami’s coup of Howard.  It is no secret that the Lakers are another team in hot pursuit of the All – NBA center.  They aren’t the only ones who are licking their chops for the 2012 offseason and a shot at picking up “Superman.”  The Heat could squelch all that talk in one fell swoop by swapping straight-up for James.  If they did so they would immediately get better, as least in my opinion, and become the overwhelming favorite to win the title in 2011-12.

Wade would be free to command the scoring responsibilities, and any decent spot up shooter would be lights out with the attention paid to Wade, and defenses forced to sag and help out on Howard and Bosh inside.  Speaking of Bosh, the addition of Howard would relieve Bosh from the banging duties that he isn’t suited for and free him up to be the offensive weapon that he is capable of being.

Howard’s addition speaks for itself, his defense is unmatched, and he could be a near 20 ppg scorer on garbage baskets alone.

Dwight Howard – Center, Chris Bosh – PF, Mike Miller (or insert player name here) – SF, Dwyane Wade – SG, Mario Chalmers – PG

That is a line-up that has multiple NBA titles written all over it.

It probably won’t happen, no one likes to admit a mistake, and no one likes to cut bait so soon, but a “Sunshine State Swap” might just be the best thing for both the Heat and the Magic.

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Thought provoking question: Put Dirk on the Heat, and switch James to the Mavs. Does either team win the championship?

Not a real lengthy post, just hoping for some comment feedback here maybe to get some discussion going.

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What about the champions?

Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd and Jason Terry celebrate NBA Championship. Photo courtesy of D. Phillip/ APof

Since the final horn sounded in Game 7 of last year’s NBA finals there have been a myriad of noteworthy storylines with regard to the current NBA season.  Could Phil Jackson and Kobe lead the Lakers to another 3-peat?  Would the new look Chicago Bulls dethrone the Celtics in the east?  And finally, where on earth would Lebron James land?

James, in a media-event, like none of us had ever seen before, shocked everyone when he announced that he would be, “taking my talents to South Beach” to team up with Dwayne Wade, fellow free-agent signing Chris Bosh, and the Miami Heat.  The “Big 3,” then followed that with a self-aggrandizing welcome party in Miami and immediately become one of the most polarizing squads in professional sports history.

Oh, by the way, Tim Duncan and the Spurs were still really good.  Superman was still manning the middle in Orlando.  Oklahoma City had a dog in this fight too with their young and talented team led by Kevin Durant.  Carmelo Anthony teamed up with Amare Stoudamire in New York as well.

Nobody, and I mean nobody, was talking about the Dallas Mavericks.

Dallas quietly went 57-25, good enough to tie the Lakers for 3rd in the Western Conference.  They headed into the playoffs as an afterthought.  We’d seen this Mavs team before, win a good chunk of games in the regular season, then fold in the playoffs.  Dallas has been nearly universally thought of as soft by NBA media types for years.

Heading into the playoffs more pressing matters than the Mavericks were at hand.

This years playoffs were supposed to be all about the Lakers, and whoever would emerge as the beast from the east.  MVP Derrick Rose* had led Chicago to the best record in the League and became the sexy new pick to advance out of the East.  The new “Big 3,” in Miami and the older version in Boston were geared up for a finals run as well.

*Dirk was a distant 6th in the 2011 MVP voting despite leading Dallas to a 55-18 record in games that he played.  The Mavericks were just 2-7 in games he missed due to injury.

Miami, Boston, and Chicago dominated first round opponents.  Los Angeles had little trouble with New Orleans.  Oh yeah, the Mavs advanced too, heading into a second round series against Kobe, Phil and the Lakers.

Then the Lakers tanked and were eliminated in 4 straight.  Nevermind Dallas, the team who laid the beat down to the defending-champs.  This was all about the collapse of LA.  This was about the Lakers losing.  At least that is how the media portrayed it.

On other side of the bracket Lebron James looked like the greatest player in the world as Miami dominated series’ against both Boston and Miami.  All of a sudden the NBA playoffs became some sort of Miami Heat invitational.  All the hoopla, all the fireworks from the off-season were paying off.  Miami looked primed to kickoff their Dynasty in high-fashion.  It was “Miami is going to win the NBA finals, and I’m not even sure who they are playing.”

Has there ever been a team (Dallas) who put on such a great playoff run and remained so under-the-radar?

After crushing the Mavericks in game 1, Miami took an 88-73 lead in game 2 with just 7:14 left to play.  It came on a 3-pointer by Wade, right in front of the Dallas bench.  As Dallas head coach Rick Carlisle called a timeout, Wade and James celebrated.  Wade held up his shooting hand for a good 5 seconds after the shot hit, stared at the Dallas bench as James came over also scowling, and mock-punched Wade in the chest.

Bad move.

Dallas closed the game on a 22-5 run, spurred on by aging veterans Jason Terry and Jason Kid they closed the gap to just 4 points with just over 3 minutes to play.  Dirk took it from there, scoring the Mavericks’ final 9 points of the game, and Dallas escaped with a 95-93 game 2 victory.

Still, after the game it wasn’t about the comeback.  It was all about Miami and how they choked it away.  Many in the media dismissed it as an event where Dallas just had nothing to lose, Miami took their foot off the gas.  No way the Mavericks could stand toe-to-toe with Wade, Bosh and King James when the pressure was on.

Miami then took a hard-fought game 3, the first in Dallas, and claimed a 2-1 in the series.  The question at that point wasn’t who is going to win the series, it was only a question of who (Wade or James) would emerge as the Finals MVP and best player on the Heat.  Wade was looking like he did in the 2006 Finals in which he torched Dallas for over 30 points a game en route to the Championship and MVP trophies.  James seemed to shrink in the 4th quarter.  No mention of Dallas who came back time after time in the game on numerous spectacular plays by Dirk and was only a shot away from sending it into overtime in the closing seconds.

When Dallas took game 4 86-83 to even the series at 2-2 it wasn’t the Mavericks who were the story. Nor was it Nowitzki, who battled a 102 degree fever, en route to 21 crucial points including a driving lay in to put Dallas up by three with 15 seconds left to play.  It was James, who scored just 8 points in the game, that gained the attention of the media.

Wade and James’ stole media attention again with their mocking of Nowitzki’s fever.  Heading though the tunnel prior to game 5, both players covered their mouths with their shirts and began coughing and laughing.  Nowitzki dismissed their act as, “childish.”

Still, not many really believed that Dallas could take the series.  Lebron was sure to bounce back with a phenomenal game 5, right?  Wrong.

Dallas took game 5, behind incredible, team-wide 3-point shooting. The Mavericks went 13-19 from deep for the game.  Everyone chipped in.  JJ Barrea, the waterbug-quick guard drove the lane as well as hit from deep, Dirk hit an incredible high-arching 3, Jason Kidd hit timely jumpers.  Jason Terry, who had himself been non-existent in the fourth quarter of finals games but still found the confidence to call out James in between games 4 and 5 hit two nail in the coffin type threes to put the game out of reach.  James notched maybe the least impressive triple-double in NBA history, fading once again in crunch time and while Wade was in the locker room getting treatment for injury.

Even with the 3-2 series lead many felt that the series was still Miami’s to lose.  They still had both the remaining games at home. and if they could nab a win in game 6 history has been very kind to home teams in game 7s.

Jason Terry had other plans.

Dallas’ veteran guard again backed up his claims of Lebron James having trouble keeping up with him, scoring 19 first half points as the Mavericks took a 53-51 lead into halftime.  From that point on it was a team effort, Kidd, the 17 year NBA vet, made timely jumpers, dished assists, and played uncanny positional defense. Barrea pestered the Heat with his quickness.  Terry kept hitting. Even little-used big-man Mahimi got into the act with a key offensive rebound and buzzer-beating elbow jumper to close out the 3rd quarter.

But it was Nowitzki, the MVP, who stepped up in the 4th quarter after having an otherwise pedestrian game.  Dirk scored 10 points in the final quarter, to close out the championship.

And with the final seconds winding down.  With players untucking their jerseys.  Heat players looking bewildered. Heat fans emptying the aisles.  Mavericks players and fans rejoicing in the stands, on the court and via satellite in Germany and Dallas.  Nowitzki walked of the court and into the tunnel in a manner quite synonymous to his team’s entire championship season, quietly, and under-the-radar.

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Beer Review: Ska Brewing Co.’s True Blonde Ale

 

Craft beer in a can

 

This offering from Durango, Colorado’s Ska Brewing Company had been catching my eye for a while.  Why wouldn’t it?  Ska is one of a growing number of microbreweries that has been putting their craft made beers in a can, and what an interesting looking can it is.

Seen above, the can boasts a bright yellow basecoat.  Checkered-flags and a retro depiction of a sultry blonde’s blue eye are the centerpiece of the artwork.  Still, we all know the old saying about books.

In general blonde ales are brewed with a conservative amount of hoppy bitterness, a higher carbonation count and are often given added flavor and aromatic depth by adding floral notes.  Grainy and malt profiles are often the most notable aspect of these brews.

Scoring

  • Appearance – 4 of 5
  • Smell – 3 of 5
  • Taste – 2.5 of 5
  • Mouthfeel – 4 of 5
  • Drinkability – 2 of 5
  • Overall –  3.1 of 5

 

True Blonde’s appearance is a sparkling copy of both its name, and the blue-eyed spokeswoman featured on its packaging.  Boasting a bright yellow body reminiscent of a sun-drenched wheat field ready for harvest, and a one finger width, off-white head this beer pours a really nice looking-glass. There is also noticeable carbonation that adds a sparkle to the appearance of  this “True Blonde.” The head quickly dissipates and sticks surprisingly well to the side of the glass as it empties.

The aroma of this beer is not quite strong but remains pleasant.  Floral notes and hints of citrus (lemon), are the main attractions of its nose.   Any malt or grain aromas are subdued which disguises their bombardment of the flavor profile of True Blonde.

The flavor is very pleasant upfront, though this may be due to the carbonation and mouthfeel than the taste itself.  True Blonde doesn’t really start registering strongly with the taste buds until the backend and the aftertaste.  Unfortunately, outside of a hint of citrus, when the flavor finally starts to come on strong it is of a very grainy malt.  It’s almost grassy in its flavor, and as the beer warms similarities to malt liquor arise.  Out of all the factors, flavor is the lowest registering aspect of this brew.

True Blonde’s mouthfeel is every bit as delightful as it’s flavor is disappointing.  A high carbonation count, and a nice creamy body really hit the spot upfront. It really is a shame that the taste lags because the texture is close to perfect.  It isn’t sludgy or watery, and it holds form as the beer empties and warms.  A real treat.

The drinkability is hurt by the steadily increasing domination of grainy, grassy flavors in the aftertaste.  I really couldn’t see myself drinking more than one of these in a sitting if there were other beers available.

In the end Ska Brewing Company’s “True Blonde Ale,” is a decent brew that comes in a cool can.  Though not exceptional, it would be a nice, cold brew to put down after mowing the lawn on a hot summer day.  definitely a step up from pounding your garden-variety macro swill, and something that is worth the occasional purchase.  Just make sure you have something else on hand if you plan on having more than one or two.

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Beer Review: Pale Ale from Schlafly Brewing Co.

Schlafly Pale Ale bottle and pint-glass

As a Kansas City, and Boulevard Brewing Co. homer, I had been reluctant in purchasing beers made by the Schlafly Brewing Company of St. Louis.  In fact, during my now three years as a craft beer drinker I had yet to purchase a single one of their products.  Luckily, for me, the lady of the house picked up some of their Pale Ale up by chance the other day at, one of our local liquor stores.

Shclafly’s version of the pale ale is made in the style of the old English Pale Ales rather than its American counterparts like Boulevard’s and Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale offerings.  It uses traditional English hop varieties rather than American.

Scoring

  • Appearance – 4 of 5
  • Smell – 3.5 of 5
  • Taste – 4 of 5
  • Mouthfeel – 3.5 of 5
  • Drinkability – 5 of 5
  • OVERALL – 4 of 5

Its appearance boasts a medium copper/ amber body that becomes more orange when held to a light.  The body color also has a definite haze, which makes it difficult to see through to the other side of the glass. (though on further research pictures found on the web feature glasses poured showing little to no haze at all) It pours with a finger width, off-white head that dissipates quickly and leaves little lacing as the beer recedes down the glass.

The aroma is a fairly even balance of hops and biscuity malt.  Significantly more malty and less hoppy than most American pale ales.  The scent is of a medium strength and there are hints of floral and herb as well, but they are only faint.

The taste, much like the aroma of this beer is a wonderful balance of hop bitterness and malt flavor.  The first thing the drinker should notice is the coating, biscuity flavor of the malt, which is followed shortly after by the faint floral and herbal notes, then again by the hops for a dry, crisp finish and a pleasant alcohol burn.  I personally, really like the taste and mouthfeel on the back of my tongue, as Schlafly’s pale ale delicately works on those bitter-sensitive taste-buds.

The mouthfeel of this beer is very nice.  It is light enough without being watery, and thick enough without being too heavy.  It coats the drinker’s mouth nicely, and could be described as a “fluffy” mouthfeel. Note again the dry finish from before.  Its only flaw would be that if drank slowly too slowly it has a tendency to become a bit watery.  Again, this is not typical and with its drinkability should rarely be a problem.

This brew is also very drinkable, and would be suitable for a session at any time throughout the year.  It is quite easy drinking and when served cold would be perfect for an afternoon of yard work or at the ballpark.  It also has a slight warming effect that translates nicely to a winter session.  As it says on the bottle, “Perfect for those summers days and nights as well as a cozy winter fire. ”

Schlafly Pale Ale would pair nicely with spicier dishes from the Mediterranean, India, and the Americas featuring poultry and fish.

Overall, I think this brew will be a definite mainstay in my beer rotation.  It would also be a great transitional beer for those looking to break away from the typical American macro swill.

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