On Wednesday, the Warriors and Cavs will continue an NBA Finals that is at best only halfway complete but is already being talked about in the past tense by many. With the understanding that the Cavs winning at home is entirely possible and would change the conversation, I want to make one quick point in the wind of #Takes.
If the Warriors do close this out, and particularly if they do it in four or five games, I hope this can be more about their accomplishment than LeBron James’ failure.
Because the criticisms are already coming out, about LeBron being 2-5 in the Finals, about being a good loser, about being just good enough to come out of an often crappy Eastern Conference, and it’s all nonsense.
It’s nonsense for a lot of reasons, and not just because LeBron has been good enough to drag rotten teams to the Finals* or because he’s been one of the best three or so players in the world since his second season in the league or that he’s the rare athlete to be overhyped and actually live up to it or that he’s led an exemplary public life under constant national attention since he was 16 years old.
* In 2007, the Cavs’ second-best player was Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Last year, after Kyrie Irving was hurt in game one, the Cavs’ second-leading scorer in the Finals was Timofey Mozgov. When the Heat lost to the Mavs in 2011, that was the only time you could say LeBron had the better team.
The biggest reason that it’s nonsense is that this should be about the Warriors achieving, and not the Cavs losing.
The Warriors won more games than any team in NBA history this season, and are two wins in five games away from becoming the eighth team to win consecutive championships.
There is what seems to be a movement to discredit what the Warriors are doing, either because their style is different or fans of a certain age (mine and older) are protective of Michael Jordan and the Bulls, or for any number of other reasons that are ultimately pretty silly.
History has a way of changing minds, and that’s been obvious in the last few days as the memories of Muhammad Ali have poured in. Sticking with basketball, history has a way of making people forget that Jordan was once a score-only guard who couldn’t win a championship.
For all the talk of how vulnerable the Warriors are or shaky they were against the Thunder, the Bulls’ first title defense included seven playoff losses and a Game 7 against a Knicks team whose two leading scorers were Patrick Ewing and John Starks.
The Warriors have lost five playoff games, and came back from down 3-1 against a team whose leading scorers were Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
I am not making the case that these Warriors would beat those Bulls. What I’m saying is that in five, or 10, or 20 years, we’re going to remember that a team won a second consecutive NBA title with more wins than anyone in league history and a playing style that at least at the moment appears to be changing the way the sport is played.
That’s pretty damn cool. And if you’re not enjoying it now, you’re going to either pretend like you did later, or grind in as a grumpy old man throwing Keystone Light cans at the neighborhood kids.
This week’s eating recommendation is the catfish at Lutfi’s, and we actually have three reading recommendations: Jessica Contrera on what it’s like to grow up in the ages of likes, lols, and longing, Anna Fifield on Kim Jon Un’s aunt living the American Dream, and Mark Kram’s story from 1975 on Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier.
The fishing trip is always awesome. I literally look forward to it for 51 weeks every year. It’s family, in a beautiful part of the country where the weather is almost always great this time of year, and the cell phones hardly ever work. Beers are opened in the morning, cigars smoked in the afternoon, and nobody judges you if you’re asleep by 9.
The trip is Memorial Day week every year, and one thing I’ve noticed, though, is that something nuts always happens when I’m gone. This is one of those things that only sports fans think about, probably, and I’m under no delusion that there is a connection beyond coincidence, but walk with me for a few paragraphs:
2013: The Royals finish a miserable May on an eight-game losing streak. Later, Dayton Moore would call this the one time in his 10 years here when he was the most worried. He fired two hitting coaches, and replaced them with two more, including franchise icon George Brett. Busy week!
2014: The Royals are again struggling, and calls for Ned Yost’s job intensify. This week, they again fire the hitting coach and hire a new one. Yost admitted to frustration watching his team, and publicly called for more leadership from the players. Oh, and Yordano Ventura walked off the mound holding his elbow after just 2 2/3 innings after a four-game sweep by Houston. Busy week!
2015: The Royals score seven runs in six losses that include a sweep in New York low lighted by the worst start of Jeremy Guthrie’s career* and Danny Duffy goes on the disabled list with an arm injury.
* I heard your joke there, and, well, to be honest, it wasn’t bad.
2016: The Royals complete the greatest comeback in franchise history — I probably wouldn’t have stuck around either — while losing their most irreplaceable player to an injury. Their six-game win streak pushes them from some saying the season is over to some noticing that they are in first place. Then, because of course it did, a four-game losing streak pushes them back out of first place.
What I’m saying here is that I can’t wait for next year, when Vahe gets to write about Ned Yost, in his last season with the Royals, finally managing a game with no pants on.
OK, so the #VomitIndex is something stupid that I came up with a few weeks ago to simplify following the Royals. It is based on the fact that asking a major-league starting pitcher to go at least five innings is the bare minimum, sort of like asking your co-worker not to vomit on his or her keyboard today.
By that standard, Royals pitchers have vomited on their keyboards 14 times this year, most recently with Chris Young giving up four home runs* in 4 2/3 innings in Cleveland on Sunday.
* Young is having a nightmare. He leads baseball in home runs surrendered despite pitching just 41 innings. That is an astounding number. Max Scherzer is second in homers surrendered, and he has thrown 81 1/3 innings. Hitters are slugging .629 against Young, which would rank second in the American League, behind David Ortiz, and ahead of everyone else.
To be fair, I like to take away the two vomits from Danny Duffy, because he was working his way into the rotation, and limited by pitch counts. The Royals knew that going in, and were able to plan accordingly. So that’s 12 vomits.
The Royals are 1-11 in those games, when a non-limited starting pitcher fails to at least complete the fifth inning. They are 29-16 in vomit-free games. That means the Royals are worse than the Cleveland Spiders in vomit games, and on a 104-win pace when they stay vomit-free.
For comparison’s sake, the Indians are 2-8 in their vomit games, and 30-16 when they stay vomit free. The White Sox are 0-4 and 29-24. The Tigers are 2-6 and 27-22. The Twins are irrelevant so let’s not waste our time there.
That means the Royals have the most vomits, the most losses in vomits, and are in a virtual tie with the Indians in non-vomits. Reverse the vomit record, and the Royals would be in first place right now.
I believe this is more than a statistical anomaly. The way the Royals are built, they don’t need a lot from their starting pitchers, but they do need the bare minimum. So far, too often, they are not getting that.
As likely as Kansas City landing an expansion NHL or NBA team.
Four teams in baseball’s division era have made the postseason with a negative run differential, most famously the 1987 Twins, who beat the Cardinals in game seven of the World Series*.
* The others: the 1997 Giants, 2007 Diamondbacks and, ahem, the 1984 Royals. The Giants and Royals were swept in their first playoff series. The D-Backs beat the Cubs before being swept by the Rockies.
Right now, the Royals are 30-27 while being outscored by 12 runs. If the Royals make the playoffs, it will be because the offense picks up (which means Gordon, Morales, and figuring out second base) and the rotation stabilizes, which would mean playing well enough that the run differential flips.
The American League is too deep for a team to sneak in with a negative run differential. This isn’t the National League, where as many as five or six teams aren’t trying. For just a Wild Card spot, you’re probably going to need at least 90 wins, maybe more, and even for a team that should make some of its profit in one-run games (9-6 this year, 23-17 last year) it’s hard to imagine them getting there while being outscored.
The answer in early June has very little to do with what the answer will be in mid-to-late July. The Royals could be in first place, fourth place, leading the league or falling behind in the Wild Card race. Any of this is possible.
But the most likely scenario, particularly if the standings are vaguely like they are now, is the Royals not making any major moves.
Some of this is that last year’s trades — the ones that led to that parade, remember that? — have depleted the farm system to the point that it would be very difficult to pull of a major move. Please read more here.
The least likely outcome is that they’ll be sellers. I don’t say this often, but I would be shocked if they sold. It just wouldn’t make sense. Even if you’re at the point where the playoffs this year are unlikely — and with the Wild Card, you always have a chance, because don’t forget the 2014 Royals were under .500 shortly after the All-Star break — you still have at least one more year with this core group.
If you’re selling off pieces, you’re doing it with the hope to, basically, someday have a team like the 2017 Royals.
That’s also the smart move, by the way. Wade Davis, Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, Eric Hosmer, and Danny Duffy are among the scheduled free agents after the 2017 season. You should try to win with those guys while you can. If for whatever reason you’re out of it next July, then sure, make a good trade if you can find one and kick-start the next build.
Well, one thing I believe quite strongly is that there are few things — even by the forgiving standards of following sports — that are a bigger waste of time than an offseason examination of whether a schedule is difficult or easy.
We just don’t know. You don’t know. I sure don’t know. Every year, teams we think should be great end up falling on their faces, and teams we think should be crap end up winning divisions and, bless our hearts, we always come back the next year and think we have it figured out.
That said, sure, you can talk yourself into finding some wins on the schedule. The Broncos fit the profile of a Super Bowl champion ready to fall back, and the Chargers might stink, and the Raiders are talented but also are the Raiders. That’s six games. The Chiefs have proven they can win in Houston, the Jets scare nobody, the Saints are kind of a mess, the Jaguars are the Jaguars, and there are games against the Bucs, Falcons, and Titans.
I mean, yeah, sure. Lots of winnable games. If you are so inclined, you could make the case that a purely league average team could win nine or 10 games with that schedule.
But that’s almost always nonsense. The Chiefs’ three-year run of relative success — first string of winning seasons since the 1990s — is hard to sustain. NFL teams without elite quarterbacks do not tend to stay up over long periods. I also believe that Sean Smith’s departure is a bigger problem than most, that Justin Houston will miss a chunk of the season, that Tamba Hali is getting older, that Dee Ford is not ready, and that the offense remains at least one dynamic playmaker short of being top-third.
The good news if you’re a Chiefs fan, of course, is that I don’t know any more than anyone predicting 12 wins.
Close readers of the Minutes — Hi Mom! — might know I’ve always been higher on Bruce Weber than most*. But the trends on Weber aren’t good.
* Which, to be fair, is a bit like saying I’m higher on the flu than most.
We’ve probably spent too much time here talking about Weber, but one of the reasons I thought he’d be good at K-State was a freedom to recruit who he wanted, guys who fit his system, who would respond to his coaching. People close to Weber will tell you he did not always have that freedom at Illinois.
But the house-cleaning after the 2015 season indicates either a miscalculation on who he recruited, or a continuation of some of the mistakes he made at Illinois.
The other thing is the lack of progress in the league, which is made worse by Weber’s consistent excuse making. That team faded, and if you’re looking for a a coach to lead a program through tough times, you’d want to see that reversed.
Now, all that said, I do think Weber is positioned to have a good 2016-17 season. His team returns essentially intact, and there is an underrated value in a year of growth and improvement in college basketball. Also, the league should go from the best in the country to mediocre, meaning that even without any improvement K-State would expect to win more games.
With Big 12 expansion, I just don’t see the urgency, motivation, or, most importantly, the options. They got their football championship game, and reaching for two new members from a pack of B-minus candidates would be exactly the sort of short-money, insecure decision that created a lot of the league’s problems.
Blair mentioned something that makes the most sense to me, and you should listen to his full explanation on the podcast. The Big 12’s stability — their grant of rights agreement extends through 2025 — combined with a bunch of underwhelming applicants gives the league every reason to be patient and picky.
So why not assign a secret committee to monitor how discontented schools like Arizona, Arizona State, Clemson, and others from Power 5 leagues might be? That’s the move for the Big 12. Get bigger and stronger with big and strong programs, not just with quantity.
Only if you’re OK with the possibility of limping back down the aisle after a collision with your best man.
So, what you’re betting here is whether Young stays in the rotation. Or, really, even in the big leagues.
The home runs against Young are eye-popping. And not just the numbers we’ve already been over. Did you know he’s already given up more this year in 41 innings than he did all of last season in 123 1/3 ? His home-run rate this year is more than triple his career rate.
Nine of those home runs are in two starts, so the numbers may be inflated by two horrific outings, but still. Those home runs happened.
But even if, from this moment on, Young went back to his form of a year ago, he would end up with something like 29 home runs allowed. Hosmer, at the moment, is on pace for 29 home runs.
It is highly unlikely that Chris Young instantly reverts back to what he was, but when you look at it like that, it’s a little closer than I thought.
The other part of the bet would be if you think Young is going to be hurt again, or otherwise not part of the rest of the Royals’ season. Which, well, is certainly possible at this rate.
I was happy to see Ned say what’s been obvious, that Whit Merrifield is the new regular second baseman. Infante has not played since the loss on Thursday which, for all the talk about the bullpen usage and Paulo Orlando’s mistakes in the outfield, may have gone the other way if Infante turns a fairly routine double play in the eighth inning.
Dayton Moore often says you don’t make a decision on things like this until you’re forced to, and right now the Royals are not being forced into a decision on Infante. Christian Colon could, in theory, change that. So could a number of other injuries in the majors (if the Royals need Infante’s roster spot) or runs of production in the minors (and someone forces their way in).
The Royals owe Infante something like $14 million through next year (including a $2 million buyout). That’s a sunk cost, and the teams operate in different financial galaxies, but we saw the Dodgers walk away from Carl Crawford this week. I’m skeptical about whether David Glass will green light a payroll bump at the trade deadline, but I also think the Royals are past the point of chasing money that’s already down the drain.
I would expect them to try to get whatever they can out of Infante, but if they face a moment when their hand is forced on something, I don’t think any of us should be surprised if he’s cut loose.
As someone who is under 40 ... maybe?
Obviously I can’t have the same experience as someone who remembers watching his fights and rise in real time, but I think you touch on something there in your question that makes the point — he was the most famous person in the world for much of his life, including the last 30 years or so.
There were so many terrific pieces on Ali this weekend. My favorite was Jerry Izenberg’s personal piece, but one of the themes of others was how Ali’s fame and iconic stature transcended even other famous people. Vahe wrote about that. Dan Wetzel, too. There is a famous passage in an Esquire story from 1983, where Ali and the writer were on a plane together.
“Look at all those lights on all those houses,” Ali said. “Do you know I could walk up to any one of these houses, and knock on the door, and they would know me? It’s a funny feeling to look down on the world and know that every person knows me.”
The thing about Ali is that he would’ve been invited in, with a smile, and made the day of anyone in any of those houses.
I’ve watched the documentary, and read The Fight, and watched some of his old fights on YouTube. And I’m not even much of a boxing fan. I believe that Muhammad Ali changed the world in a profound way, and in ways much more important than merely inventing trash talk. I believe he stands as perhaps the greatest modern example of principles, or always doing what’s right, no matter the consequences, and of so much more.
That is all true, and yet Ali was done as a boxer before I was born.
There are millions just like me, and that, honestly, is one of the most incredible truths of an incredible life.
The first year I went on this fishing trip I came back with a legit gut. It was probably 10-15 pounds, all in my stomach, and I just looked ridiculous. The next year on the trip, I cut back on the Snickers and mixed in some light beer, and the weight gain was much less ridiculous.
That’s as close to a weight loss scam as I’ve tried.
Coincidentally, I’ve never really lost a bunch of weight.
I love food too much to do anything drastic, so the times I’ve been in good shape — like a month from now!* — have been when I’m exercising.
I actually have a few hundred words of advice I send to young writers desperate enough to ask me, and if you email I’d be happy to send it. The quick-and-dirty version:
▪ Read as much as you can. Find a manageable number of writers you admire, and read everything of theirs you can. Study what worked, what didn’t, what you’d do differently, and what they did that you wouldn’t have thought of.
▪ Write as much as you can. And take chances. If you’re getting started, and don’t look back on something you wrote six months earlier with embarrassment, you’re probably doing something wrong.
▪ Understand that if you want to make a living doing this, it can be a brutal, unforgiving, ego-crushing and isolating pursuit. There are a lot of reasons to love it, too, but you don’t get to the good parts unless you absolutely need to do this, unless you embrace all the crap and find a way to enjoy the journey and the grind. If you’re not OK with all of that, you should do something else and save yourself a lot of trouble. If you are, it’s a joy.
I am irrationally bothered by this.
This makes me inappropriately upset.
I am, at least by some measures, a grown adult man. I have a wife, two kids, a dog, a mortgage, a “job,” health insurance, and some other familiar symptoms of responsibility and interests that should keep me from seeing a hackneyed former actor from a scripted sport let the name of the greatest athlete of my lifetime pass through his lips without being frozen by anger and spending a half hour Googling reasons Brock Lesnar is a fraud and then watching old Bo Jackson videos and then toasting my righteousness on this topic with a smirk and a beer.
But, yet, here we are.
It is my favorite beer in the world, and as long as we’re shopping at different liquor stores, or if you’re at my liquor store after me, I hope you get your hands on a bottle and experience the sweet pleasure.
Happy Saison day, everybody.
We brought home as much Walleye as the law allows, plus lots of other fish who will soon become delicious tacos.
Look, I am not a fisherman. The first time I did this, on the very first day, I still remember the look of horror and disappointment when the guide asked me the last time I was fishing and I told him, “I was 8.”
I was skeptical about the whole thing, because I’ve always thought of fishing as boring, and unproductive and generally a waste of time that could be spent on a deck.
You do not need advice from me. But if you are like me, and if you ever find yourself in a situation where you’re asked to do something like this, and you find yourself focused on what you’re going to do while staring at the end of your fishing pole, understand that you are focused on all the wrong things.
Again, I am not a fisherman. But there is something refreshing and therapeutic about a week without worry or cell phone reception.