Monday, September 29, 2014

The MLB Postseason Slant for 2014 - No, Your Eyes Aren't Mess Up

October baseball. I already have Andy Williams cued up in my head, in case you were wondering. Here's to another awesome postseason, my friends.

If you follow me on Twitter, I've said it a million times that this year has gone by so fast and I feel like it should still be May. But no, the bus won't stop. Because once you hit your 20's, you're 35 by next Tuesday. Because of that, we're already hitting the strides of the NFL season, and now this:

2014 MLB Postseason

Well, now that we've got all of the #RE2PECT stuff out of the way (which, all in all, was a great gesture) in regard to the now-retired Derek Jeter (don't forget that Paul Konerno retired too, you guys), we've made it to the 2014 MLB Postseason. Last year's World Series champs, the Boston Red Sox, are nowhere to be seen. In fact, they actually finished dead last in the AL East. My, how the times have changed.

Admittedly, this was my face while reading last year's Postseason Slant.
So basically, we're in for a boatload of surprises. Remember, when you read this, you might come to expect a lot of things. There may be others in which you do this. You have been warned. Let's get started.

National League Contenders

Washington Nationals (96-66) - These guys are a high-octane, momentum-driven team with a strong pitching rotation and some fireworks in the heart of the lineup. Okay, I'll be honest...they seriously ran away with this one this year because they had no competition in the NL East whatsoever. I digress. They've earned their record, and their star power can get them places.
(I'm still waiting for Jayson Werth to cut his hair. I seriously don't think he's touched it since he left the Phillies. True story.)

St. Louis Cardinals (90-72) - After an expected slugfest in the NL Central, they're back for more. The pitching is as tough as ever, and their collective experience in the postseason is really going to come in handy as far as their next opponents in the team mentioned below here. Patience and taking things one game at a time is important here. Wanting their second ring in four seasons is their destination, and they're the team to push to that limit. Yadier Molina has to set the tone for this team like he usually does.

Los Angeles Dodgers (94-68) - With a rather-stacked lineup in tow, it comes as no big shock that they've made it back here for the second straight season. With a fearsome rotation holding guys like Kershaw, Ryu, and Greinke, you're bound to see some low-scoring games. With absolute strength in a hard-hitting offense with some speedy assets, we're bound to hear a bunch of Randy Newman this October. I actually went to a game of theirs this year too, so pfft.
[Note: Once I get issues with the SNB e-mail straightened out, I'll be able to access Flickr and get those photos up from that game. It was good times.]

[Wild Card] Pittsburgh Pirates (88-74) - They fought hard for this spot this year, and since they were here last year as well, they're not going to settle for anything less. Led by 2013 MVP Andrew McCutchen and an always scary-looking pitching staff, it looks like Pittsburgh fans will have something to cheer for when the Steelers don't show up to their games.
[Wild Card 2] San Francisco Giants (88-74) - Despite some frail players on the team (here's looking at you, Buster), their pep talks from Hunter Pence have certainly been the fuel for late-game heroics and effective pitching not only from the rotation, but from the bullpen as well. To make it far, they need to remain focused and keep their patience in check. It could get ugly otherwise.

American League Contenders

Baltimore Orioles (96-66) - Get all of your PED jokes out of the way now regarding Chris Davis. Done? Good. A young and hungry team, these guys have come a long way since being the laughingstock of the AL East for the past decade. Their pitching is crisp, and their clutch hitting can often lead to problems for the opposition. With their matchup against the team below here, their durability and their nerves will be tested for sure.

Detroit Tigers (90-72) - Ah, a fourpeat in AL Central pennants. And for good reason too. You can probably name a good amount of this lineup because they can absolutely kill you at the plate. Then you've got pitchers like Scherzer and Verlander that are killing to go past the ALCS this time around and get the job done. If they thought the AL Central was a tough customer this time around, it's only going to get rowdier from this point forward. This is also going to be a great time to follow Detroit sports fan and soccer commentator Ray Hudson. You will read gold.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (98-64) - Not to sound like "that person," but there was never any doubt that these guys wouldn't make it just by looking at their team on paper. While there were some health scares in the beginning of the season, we have a stellar list of power despite the youth and the old age on the team. In fact, it's a pretty healthy marriage when it comes to that (see the Pujols/Trout dynamic). But marriages also have their struggles. We don't want to see an Angelic divorce this October, now do we?

[Wild Card] Kansas City Royals (89-73) - WHOAAAAAAAA. One more time: WHOOAAAAAAAOOOAOAOAOO. Welcome back, Royals! After 29 years--with a good amount of them in the basement--we have the most stable squad that is capable of shutting down offenses with a single throw. My assumptions on lack of experience have come back to bite me, and these guys look like viable candidates to make a fantastic run throughout the month. It's totally possible, you guys. Could you imagine?
[Wild Card 2] Oakland Athletics (88-74) - I said it in July, and I'll say it again: WELCOME TO THE LAND OF BEARDS AND GANGS. Let's add saxophones to that too. That's hilariously great. After edging out the Mariners by a game in the Wild Card race, it's up to the offense to back up the pitching and vice versa. They were here last year, and there's no excuse to get kicked out early just yet.
(Side note: Tuesday night is going to be so difficult to watch. I want both of them to win so badly.)

Individual Winners

NL MVP - Andrew McCutchen (Pittsburgh Pirates) - A repeat can definitely be a possibility if the stars are aligned correctly. Having almost a carbon-copy season except for a few cleanups, The Cutch has been a huge anchor on this squad, and more fireworks in the postseason can help his cause.
Next Best Choice: Giancarlo Stanton (Miami Marlins)/Jonathon Lucroy (Milwaukee Brewers) -- I couldn't decide here. This one's fuzzy.

NL Cy Young - Clayton Kershaw (Los Angeles Dodgers) - He is having the season of his life. If you don't think he's deserving of this award, you might want to check your vital signs or something, because I'm slightly worried about you. He really needs no description, only that you should check his stats and wear a bib, because you'll most likely drool over them.
[NOTE: I hate putting a pitcher as an MVP Candidate when he could just as easily be one for the CY. If he gets both, then good for him.]
Next Best Choice: Adam Wainwright (St. Louis Cardinals) [...But really. This is doubtful.]

NL Rookie of the Year - Jacob deGrom (New York Mets) - For starters (no pun intended), I really like his hair. Secondly, he's been a fantastic asset to an already consistent (and effective) rotation in Queens. Low ERA = high amounts of swagger that'll hopefully carry over for the next couple of seasons.
Next Best Choice: Billy Hamilton (Cincinnati Reds)

AL MVP - Robinson Cano (Seattle Mariners) - He's a dark horse that came from absolutely nowhere. Arguably one of the biggest highlights of this team, his appearance on each lineup has made all the difference, whether it's on the field or at the plate. That definitely accounts for something.
Next Best Choice: Felix Hernandez (Seattle Mariners)

AL Cy Young - Corey Kluber (Cleveland Indians) - Strikeout pitchers are a bit of a dying art in today's game, but this guy hasn't faltered at all this year. Great stats across the board means that he's a pure frontrunner in what is always a very hard-fought race to the end.
Next Best Choice: Felix Hernandez (Seattle Mariners)

AL Rookie of the Year - Jose Abreu (Chicago White Sox) - I seriously don't care that he plays for a sub-.500 team, you silly critics. (See Scott Rolen's 1997 season, fools.) His breakout first few months were a spectacle, and despite an injury not too long into the season, his batting average is over .300 and has high numbers in all other stats. I'd say that's pretty convincing.
Next Best Choice: Uhhhh.... There really isn't anyone else that could touch this. I'm dead serious. The rookies upset me in this category this year.

I am often sad when the MLB season starts coming to a close, but to be frank, this is my favorite month of the year for multiple reasons, this being one of them.

Oh...and PS....
I couldn't bear to forget this guy. After all, this is his last MLB Postseason as the Commissioner. Thanks for the Wild Card and the instant replay stuff, y'old whippersnapper.

Until we meet the next MLB season, kiddies!


Sunday, September 7, 2014

AZ's Slant on Sunday - The Estrogen Revolution: Four Years Later

I like to think I know a lot about this topic. I am a woman, you know. Plus, there's a massive paradigm shift in the world of women's sports, and it has nothing to do with feminism. Crazy, right?

Many eons Four years ago, when I first started this blog, I wrote about the female side of sports, and how there were very few women's leagues that were stable enough to survive at that time. I had written about women's soccer leagues, women's softball, and how they've had a history of floundering. However, when I write about women in sports this time, it has nothing to do about leagues as a whole, but with individual women making strides where the boys and the men currently walk. If it's right for me to say, since they're not being taken seriously as a whole, women are beginning to invade. Is it a warm welcome? That remains to be seen, but it has been quite interesting over the past few months.

Within the past three months alone, we have seen three big national sports stories involving women young and old.

This summer, the NBA Champion San Antonio Spurs announced that their new full-time assistant head coach would be WNBA player Becky Hammon. Before her election, she had already been respected by numerous officials, staff, and players of the NBA, who had claimed that she had a great knowledge of the sport, and that was the big key in wanting her for the position. She was also held in that regard as well among her peers in the WNBA. Believe it or not, this is kind of a big deal. Not only does this make Hammon the first woman to be any sort of full-time coach in the Big Four, it's also a testament to how far women have come as far as being respected by knowledge and mastery of the sport. She was given a chance, and she blew her naysayers out of the water, so to speak. Women can coach men. Heck, we can change their diapers and teach them manners, so why not aid them in sports too? It's just another example of stereotype and mental blockage and choosing to see the inferiority complex. However, Becky just nailed a jump shot over that wall now, didn't she?

Photo via Bleacher Report
In perhaps what was the biggest story of the summer, or what I like to call "the biggest sports story that the media could possibly shove down our throats," we were introduced to Philadelphia Little League pitcher Mo'ne Davis. Without doubt, it's always a treat to see a girl on a boy's team, because you automatically think that they had some kind of "it" factor to play with the boys instead of trying to go somewhere else for a Little League Softball team, but this... I can't describe this one. This 13-year-old pitcher dominated with different kinds of pitches, and became the first female to record a win in the Little League World Series. Right after that, she landed the cover of Sports Illustrated, becoming the youngest athlete to do so. She became a household name in my area, and she also made national headlines for her style, and because she was striking boys out. With some of the questions she was being asked during the LLWS, I felt extremely embarrassed for her, but she handled it like a champ, and I give her props for that. [Note: If you really want to know, that FN guy was the reason why I wanted to write this post. Thanks, Scrub.]

Back in August, Paul Farhi of The Washington Post wrote about how women have little-to-no visible opinion when it comes to the world of sports, and that is evident by their absence in sports debate programming. After reading this article, I pretty much exploded with the amount of truth in the article. While journalism as a whole is still dominated by men, tempers flare if (Heaven forbid) a woman makes an opinion or is involved in an athlete's controversy. Sure, there are women like Jemele Hill on ESPN who may make appearances on ESPN's First Take and Around The Horn, but she's one of like, two women out of how many guys that argue with each other on that station? Grant it, there's the philosophy that men are more likely to hire men, but what, is it out of fear? Is it out of the superiority complex? I could totally get myself in a bit of trouble for saying this, but the "TV look" really knocks down the credibility factor a couple of pegs, especially when it comes to women. This is why outsiders don't take women like Erin Andrews seriously. This is why when you see a woman take the upper hand in an argument, they're automatically assumed butch or lesbian. There, I said it. Get over yourselves and accept a different perspective instead of belittling a woman who might just know a little bit more than you. While it has gotten better as of late, the scales are still a little unbalanced. This will take some time.
Oh, and shall we talk about what Stephen A. Smith said about women "provoking" their husbands into domestic violence? That's another day and another time where I need to take my fists and feet to a sandbag.
You can read the article for yourself here.

When a woman makes an impact in the sports world somehow, it might seem like there is too much exposure on it, or that it might be overblown. However, let's put things into perspective for a second--we hear news stories about men all the time. When we hear a story about a woman in sports, whether it's about a young woman like Mo'ne Davis or a domestic assault involving US goalkeeper Hope Solo, it's like we're going: "Oh no, not this again." It's because we're not used to hearing it that it drives us nuts. If different things about women in sports were more mainstream, it wouldn't seem like it's being constantly sensationalized for our eyes and ears. The news stories this summer may have been stretched a bit too much for comfort, but we have seen a great improvement on the female's place in what looks like a faltering male domination in sports.

Can you say "Girl Power?"


Saturday, September 6, 2014

THIS Sword Is Mightier Than The Pen

For a tomboy like me, this is the kind of stuff that dreams are made of. When you're messing around on YouTube and find something that you never thought could come true, it does, and this whole other world opens up. Go. Read on. You'll understand why. I dare you to not flip out and automatically want to try this to some degree.

Imagine your local Renaissance Faire.
Photo from
Then add some hardcore, modern day spice a la UFC and ECW to it.
Photo from NY Times

And ladies and gentlemen, you have what may be the most insane[ly awesome] sport to ever be contrived in the history of the universe. Medieval Combat. Yes. Blunt swords, shields, armor, and chain mail. It makes Medieval Jousting look like a peewee football game.

When I had first discovered this sport the other day, my inner adolescent wanted to grab old boxes and make armor and buy a pool noodle from Rite Aid so I can have a sword fight with my younger brother. He didn't know about this tidbit, but trust me, I would think he'd be all for that. Once I snapped back into adulthood, I started thinking: "Holy cow, this actually exists? In 2014? And it isn't scripted?" Lo and behold, there are Medieval Combat teams that exist around the world that involve armored men (women too) attacking one another with blunted weapons and defending with shields. Most teams are found in Europe, like Poland, Russia, Ukraine, and Bulgaria, but don't fret, the United States has a league for this as well. Please, ladies and gentlemen, try to contain your excitement.

Based on all of the research I've done, this sport has been traced all the way back to the year 2009. No, really, this sport is literally in its infancy. While this style of combat was born centuries upon centuries ago, this hasn't been seen as a competitive type of sport until recently. In fact, it started as a social thing in the regions within Kharkiv, Ukraine, and a league was formed soon after. Two world championship leagues [currently at odds, ironically enough] currently exist: the HMBIA (Historical Medieval Battle, known best for the "Battle of the Nations") and the IMCF (International Medieval Combat Federation). Allegedly, there was a split due to corruption occurring between nations in each league and a large amount of rule-breaking that was never reported. It really is as close to how most wars started in medieval times, if you can believe that. You can't script stuff like this--it still happens today.

For each tournament/league, there are rules. No, you can't do everything like you would in an actual war setting. If I could make any sort of parallels, there are similarities between fencing and judo with Medieval Combat. One set of rules permits tripping and strikes with the head and knees, while another does not. However, both will agree on no striking during weapon loss or when the opponent is on the ground, and where on the body one can and cannot strike. Both sets of rules can be read here (HMBIA) and here (IMCF).

Now that we've gotten the premise and the rules out of the way, you're probably thinking of one thing: This has to be the most dangerous sport that exists today. Believe it or not, it really isn't that bad. In fact, it can be considered safer than American football and even competitive cheerleading. There are the issues in which a knight can suffer a concussion from a poorly blocked blow that went to the helmet, but that's about the worst you can get. Some suffer arm and shoulder injuries (mostly from excessive swinging and blocking) and that can be expected from a type of sport like this.

The most interesting part of all of this is that each respective league keeps the history of Medieval Combat sacred and as historically accurate as possible. While there may be a points system and nobody is expected to die, most fights take place in well-fenced fields and proper padding and armor and weaponry that are used remain faithful to original counterparts. Plus (this is my favorite part), the next IMCF World Championships in Poland will take place at a castle. Holy flipping flip, how cool is that? While YouTube videos exist of fights where they have extreme metal music in the background showing the most painful-looking of hits, that can be rather deceptive of each fight. Sure, there is background music at the venue during each round, but the fights are at the same crowd and excitement level as a boxing match or an MMA bout, just with old school weapons and armor thrown in the mix. There are no reenactments; everything is true-to-form and no-bull.

Because it's a more history-based sport along the lines of martial arts, it has a slim chance to make it to the mainstream in media-booming regions outside of Eastern Europe. However, it has a pretty faithful following and is a pretty great spectacle to tak ea look at. You get history, entertainment, and a rush of excitement all in one. It's like Braveheart meets Highlander meets A Knight's Tale meets every single childhood swordfight you have ever had. And personally, I hope this catches on even more. If you want to see some fights and highlights for yourself, check these two videos out. (1 - 2)


[Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go watch some more videos and buy myself a foam sword to train.]

Friday, September 5, 2014

Welcome to Fantasy Land!

I can't believe it's taken me almost four and a half years to write about this topic. Excuse me while I give the "oh my God, you might be stupid" face to myself.

It's time to set the mood for this post. How about some Earth, Wind, & Fire? Don't like them? That's okay. Groovy things just might not be for you.

Have you ever wished to be a part of a sports organization? Did you ever want your dreams in Madden or in NBA 2K to become a reality? Has your tendency of being an armchair coach or analyst gotten to a point where any of your friends or family members have to leave the room or throw something at you to shut up? If that last part is true, I'm laughing at you in my corner. But I digress.

Have you ever thought of joining a fantasy league?
...No, not that kind of fantasy, you silly goose.

Fantasy leagues are extremely popular among sports fans in the realms of American football, baseball, soccer, and even basketball and hockey. [Fun fact: Through asking my friends on Facebook, I've found out that there is fantasy NASCAR. Yes. You can wrinkle that eyebrow.] The most common fantasy leagues take part in the workplace, as many offices and groups have their respective leagues for their employees to participate. Others can include groups of friends, or even church groups. You can either do these leagues for no charge, or you can participate in a league where there is money involved and the top teams get cash prizes. It may be risky, but people do like that rush sometimes.

Originally, they weren't referred to as "fantasy leagues," but back in the 1950's and 1960's, groups of men would keep track on stats on particular players in sports like baseball and golf and do the math. The trend on keeping baseball stats originated in the 1960's at Harvard University--are you really that shocked--and slowly but surely spread from professors and students, to people around the whole region. By the 1980's, the phenomenon caught the eye of USA Today. The science of keeping stats and checking them by newspaper or magazines became a religion to hundreds of thousands of baseball fans.

Once the Internet took off the water wings, fantasy sports took flight and sites like (now belonging to CBS Sports) and became a mainstay for fantasy sports. The kind of sports covered now blanketed the NFL, NHL, and other major sports in the US and across the pond. In fact, social media is also being afflicted with the fantasy bug, as you can access stats and gameplay through apps and even while watching another program on television.

Draft days for these leagues are usually preceded by a boatload of research and planning for drafting particular players. Even today, magazines are still a necessity, and others check online resources for what the "fantasy experts" say on websites like ESPN, FOX Sports, and CBS Sports. Then on draft day, "commissioners" will park themselves on their computer chairs or couches or whatever they sit on and begin warfare. If they don't do that, they all attend a full-out party at a friend or co-worker's house and do a draft with laptops, white boards, and copious amounts of alcohol and snacks. It's as big as the Super Bowl, when you really think about it--I mean by the snacks and booze and stuff. I don't know how seriously everyone else takes their drafts, but I've seen the big parties before, and they're quite intimidating.

To get some input on what kind of people do fantasy leagues and why, I "took it to the streets," as it were, and asked the question on my personal Facebook page. Interestingly enough, I got all of my answers from males, even when I know that there are a number of girls that do fantasy leagues as well, myself included in that fold. Anyway, based on what I got, the answers on which leagues they played ranged from a number of sports, including Arena Football, NASCAR (as I had mentioned above), soccer, and the most common were baseball and football. It seems like the way they all began was that they were talked into it and found it to be more fun than they had originally thought. Some who had answered had only begun fantasy leagues recently, while others have been doing them for well over a decade. It gave the participants a reason to watch the sport and in watching, they either learned something about the game, or they had more of a drive to work on their team. As one mentioned, "It's a lot of luck" when it comes to taking part in these leagues, as sometimes your research may not always bring you the best results. It also brought a sense of community and understanding among the participants of the league, and it also shakes off poor habits that one may have, especially in the world of gambling.

Admittedly, I got roped into doing fantasy football myself, and to tell the truth, it has really helped me write recaps on the NFL season. Since I have to pay attention to what is going on and how certain players and teams are faring out, it's as if I'm doing homework on these posts weeks in advance. It's like I'm cheating, but I'm totally not. Am I good at fantasy football? I think the best I ever did was a 7-7 season, and that was because I had the common sense to draft halfway decent wide receivers. Anyway, it works a part of your brain when it comes to common sense, strategy, and the part to love every athlete and give them a chance. It sounds really cheesy, but it's totally true. There are some players that others want nothing to do with, but they'll get points where it counts most. Tough love, I suppose.

Fantasy leagues are a fun way to compete with others, money or not, and it also helps people learn more about the sport. While you may not like the idea strictly for the fact that you're afraid you won't stick with it, you may be wrong. I have gotten competitive on numerous occasions with people I have never met before. It really is a different experience that I would recommend. If you want to learn more about a sport and want to develop a different bond with friends, a fantasy may be a good idea for you. Ha ha ha.


(Many thanks to Billy DeRosier, Alex Hamell, Andrew McErlean Jr, and Brian Barrish for their input on this post. Invisible fruit baskets will be delivered to your door soon.)