Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Washington Sports

DC teams just don't seem to be able to get past a certain point of success, no matter what regime is in charge, or how many times they upgrade management, coaches, players, or facilities.

The Nationals, despite Bryce Harper, Max Scherzer, Steven Strasburg, and David Murphy, have yet to make it to a World Series, or even to contend beyond the first round or so.  Now, of course, Harper is expected to defect to the money machine that is New York as soon as his contract expires.  Multiple managers have come and gone, and the Nats are still basically in the same pattern.  Compete well during the season, and then go out early in the playoffs.

You could see the hand of fate pushing them right out of contention five years ago against the Cardinals.  With like one out to go, the ball seemed to have a mind of its own as the Cards made a miraculous comeback.

Same thing this year.  Best record in the NL all year.  They come in as heavy favorites to make a run.  In the first couple games, Scherzer and Strasburg dominate the Cubs into the 7th inning, but Washington bats go right to sleep.  They finally wake up in the middle games, but then in Game 5, Scherzer comes in to the 4th inning and can't get the third out until he sees two singles and then a double in consecutive batters.  OK, so a couple runs are in.  Not "normal" for Scherzer, but plausible.

Then it just gets weird.  They intentionally walk a guy to put an out at every base.  The next guy swings at three pitches.  Should be over, right?  Oh no,  the ball goes past the catcher, who gets hit in the face with the backswing.  He then throws it past the first baseman and into the outfield.  Another run scores.  The next batter hits the catcher's glove on a swing, and is awarded first base.  Max then hits the next guy, which forces in another run.  Finally, after the Cubs have completely batted around, Bryant, who made the first out, makes the third.

The same guy that pitches not one, but TWO no-hitters in a season, and wins Cy Youngs, has a passed ball, catcher interference, a throwing error, and a hit batter all happen consecutively.  This crap doesn't happen to other teams!  Not even the past versions of the Cubs!

And just for insurance, a snap throw to first generates a challenge, which is repeatedly discussed as uncertain at best, but is decisively reversed by New York, killing an 8th inning Washington rally.  Try again next year....

The Capitals have followed a similar pattern for several years now.  Almost completely dominant in the regular season, they have won multiple President's Trophies for the most victories.  They won their division regularly for many seasons, until the league reorganized in 2013-14.  This put them together with playoff rivals Pittsburgh and New York.  New York is generally the largest market, but in the NHL's case, Pittsburgh is the marquee team of the whole league.  And Washington is lucky enough to be their bitterest rivals.  The normal routine is that Washington makes the playoffs easy every season, and Pittsburgh plays with stunning mediocrity until the last month, and then squeaks in.  Then suddenly the Penguins are unbeatable superstars, while Washington goes home early.

I could go for a whole column on just the bias on Crosby, NBC, and league marketing (and I have), so I won't rehash it again.  Always a no-win situation for the Caps.  All the star power, goal scoring and secondary trophies can't help them.

The Redskins compete within their own division with the New York Giants, who are in the largest national market, the Dallas Cowboys, who get hyped by the media no matter how they're doing, and the Philadelphia Eagles, who have a decent market and are up and down competitively each year.

They get the least respect from the national media, and the league in general.  The other three teams get all the accolades while the Redskins are largely ignored or discounted as pretenders.  I can't say that they haven't shown up on the nationally featured games recently.  Before the last couple games against the Raiders and Chiefs, they generally had a horrible record when they were the only game going on.  Except for beating a depleted Packers team a year or so ago, it was routine that they would fail early and often and get blown out and humiliated in every night game they played.  All the highlights, promotions, and favorable discussion by the commentators would focus on the opponent.  If the Redskins did something good, it was spun into what the other team has to overcome.  If they faltered, it was replayed over and over.
This bias continues now, too.  You'll notice that all the cute animations featuring individual players during the KC vs. DC game on Monday night were about the Chiefs.  There were no fancy graphics about Kirk Cousins, Trent Williams, or Jordan Reed.  Even John Gruden only mentioned his own brother, who is the 'Skins' Head Coach, once or twice during the entire broadcast.  The promo ads for the Monday night tilt against the Eagles was all about how the Eagles were fighting to stay on top of the NFC East.  And the commercial ended.  No equal time to say that the 'Skins were trying to knock them out of first place or anything.  Just Eagles and end of story.

There are a lot of people that don't respect the Redskins just because of the team name.  I'm not going to spend a lot of energy on refuting their opinion, mostly because there aren't many of them who are Native Americans in the first place.  The ownership and team officials made an effort to evaluate the "offensiveness" of the name with the actual people who are reportedly offended and found it wasn't that big a deal to them.

Their "natural" rivals are the Dallas Cowboys.  Everyone who follows football knows that Jerry Jones owns pretty much the most (over)hyped team in the league.  They got a couple good rookies recently, one of which is a lengthy suspension waiting to happen, but of course, he's getting to play months beyond what normally happens, and has even challenged the leauge in court.  What other team could get away with that?  And don't get me started on their players somehow exempted from rules about being on the field without a helmet and yelling at officials.  I'd say Jerrah pays extra for a lot of stuff that goes on.

He paid some extra a few years ago when the New York owners crippled the abilities of both Dallas and Washington to build their teams a few years ago with charges of improper contracts or something.  DC and Dallas paid hefty fines, which screwed up our ability to pay players for a couple years.  The New York Giants are a league favorite when it comes to getting feature games.  The largest market always gets the perks in any sport, and the G-Men reap the benefits.  They were forecast to be the division winners this year.  Sadly, they haven't won a game, and I'm sure the hype machine is freaking out.

But even outside of all that, their luck just stinks.  When finally able to take advantage of a high draft pick, they select Robert Griffin III who actually produced for a year and won them the 2012 division title.  But the continuous soap opera between Griffin, the coaches, the media, and the team degraded their next couple seasons.  Gruden came in and eventually replaced Griffin and won the division again, but they haven't advanced past the first round of playoffs for years.

Other players were hyped as major talents, but ended badly.  Albert Haynesworth, Adam Archuleta, Donovan McNabb, and many others were signed for millions and produced little.  And then there's Sean Taylor.  An almost certain perennial All-Pro safety who was quickly becoming a superstar on the field, was tragically killed during his fourth season in the pros.

Kirk Cousins, their current promising quarterback, has signed one-year franchise contracts for the last two seasons.  He's being cautious about how the team is run, and how a lot of new players will affect the performance on the field, so he hasn't committed to a long term deal.  The team officials seem to be maintaining a very conservative opinion on Cousins' potential even though he's set Redskins records in major stat categories and had better seasons than dozens of past DC QB's.

They fired the first General Manager who seemed to have a far superior knack for finding quality players than the regimes from the last several years.   Almost all the players he signed are still contributing on the team.  But clashes with the team president (who was in charge during the more lean years recently) led to his dismissal.  It's hard to say who's really picking the players now.

The Wizards made it to the playoffs the last couple years, but then were eliminated in the second round both times.  They have a solid team that had several key injuries and a suspension or two along the way.  They don't have the mega-star power besides John Wall, who still doesn't quite hold the spotlight like Wade, Westbrook, Curry, or James.  There was a campaign to attract native son Kevin Durant, but to do that, the Wiz would have to compete with the big money and big(ger) media market teams.  It didn't work, as he signed with the defending champion Warriors.
They seem to have the best chance of avoiding the "Washington curse".  They are steadily trending up and attracting positive attention around the league.  I can see them actually competing and being respected by the media in the near future.

But of course, I don't really follow basketball....

So I'll continue to watch as the other three repeat the same patterns.  I've thought about switching to another team now and then, but just can't be that kind of fan.  Leagues are all supposedly geared to parity, so maybe in another decade or two, it'll swing back in our favor and we'll win something.

I should look on the bright side.  At least Washington is not Cleveland.


  1. The Wizards are good...might get to the Eastern Conference finals this year...but they can't beat Cleveland. Only the Warriors can do that. I want to see them do well but LeBron is so good I don't see them getting to the finals anytime soon. The crazy thing is that pretty much every team can say the same thing!

    I was hoping the Capitols would beat Pittsburgh last year. Not really sold on the Penguins. Ovechkin seems to be on a mission this year, will be curious to see how the season plays out. The NHL doesn't seem to have a stopper like LeBron but this being my first full season, I may not be totally aware of everything yet.

  2. I'm praying that Harper signs with anyone except the Yankees. That's all I need is to live through another Yankees dynasty.