There has been a lot of news in sports since Saturday night and aside from a DC bifecta and burgundy football pants on Sunday, it’s been really bad. Let’s cheer up a little and remember that the Washington Nationals have won the National League East for the third time in three seasons.
Kind of nice to clinch in Pittsburgh too, even though they didn’t take it well on Sunday. On Saturday night though, Nats fans who made the trip had a good time:
The Nats will face the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS and are 1.5 games up on home field advantage. Two more series, both at Nationals Park remain for the Nats, starting the Arizona Diamondbacks, followed by the grieving Miami Marlins. The Dodgers will be on the road, finishing in San Francisco in Vin Scully’s much-discussed final game.
Let’s all welcome back Sam, The Maryland Bureau Chief Emeritus (not pictured), to guest prognostication. The first Washington Nationals vs. Pittsburgh Pirates series has passed and we’re now into gridiron Q&A. TMBCE emeritus, is of course a straight ticket black and gold fan. Just back from last night’s Bruce Springsteen concert he’s answering a few questions about tonight’s season opener between the Redskins and the Steelers and even a few Nats and Buccos.
WFY: Let’s talk about magazine covers – I saw your (yinz?) Stillers on the cover the other day. Are they a legitimate contender or did Sports Illustrated destroy that possibility? Where is the strength, offense, defense or special teams? Also, Northern Virginia magazine has Pittsburgh on the cover as a road trip. Not a bad place to visit, but with both the Steelers and Pirates on the DC September schedules, a slap in our faces down here.
TMBCE: Did you go to the Pirates/Nats series in July? (WFY: No) I remember that Sunday game was a classic. An 18 inning classic! In terms of the SI cover, I think that was a bad prediction by SI. The Steelers have potential, but the defense is still suspect and multiple players are on suspension/injury. The Steelers offense is by far the strength of the team. However, any significant injury to Big Ben ends the season.
WFY: Who, other that Ben Roethlisberger is left from those Super Bowl teams?
TMBCE: Three Steelers remain from the 2005 team: Ben Roethlisberger, James Harrison (LB) and Greg Warren (the designated punt/extra point snapper!). Those 3 were also on the 2008 Super Bowl winning team, in addition to Lawrence Timmons (LB) and William Gay (CB). As an aside, William Gay is still a starter for the Steelers (which is a BAD thing). Of course, several others played on the 2010 Super Bowl (that lost to Green Bay in the final game). I still can’t believe we lost that game. It still gives me chills. But to quote Tony Kornheiser “That’s it…That’s the list.”
WFY: What’s the Pittsburgh perception of the opener against Skins? I mean, they are facing the defending NFC East championon the road on Monday night. They’ll be burgundy towels given out too!
TMBCE: I think its an interesting match-up. This should be a game the Redskins need to win: Steelers #2 WR Martvaius Bryant is out for the season, TE Heath Miller is retired, and RB Le’Veon Bell is suspended. Plus, the Steelers secondary is still awful. However, Big Ben is the best player in this match-up. I expect a high scoring game. Isn’t it weird that the Pittsburgh and Washington are in two different conferences? I wish they could play more often.
WFY: You know, a number of Super Bowl winners have lost to Washington over the years, so losing might not be so bad, right?
TMBCE: A loss to the Redskins would not kill the Steelers, but I think this could be a big push for the Redskins. The Cowboys don’t have Tony Romo. The Eagles seem to be in transition. It seems to be a two-horse race with Brad Stratton’s team for the NFC East title. Most media types are already ignoring the Skins, but I think they are better than expected.
WFY: I’m going to be frank — the overt display of Pittsburgh sports fandom is not as prevalent in BeltwayLand as it was 10 years ago. What’s going on? Are more natives returning to Western Pennsylvania like you did or is it the lack of Super Bowls of late?
TMBCE: Its hard to measure. Usually, Pittsburghers growing up here either stay forever or leave and don’t come back. Doesn’t seem to be a middle ground. For example, this year is supposed to be my 20 year high school reunion (and YES, that scares me by itself!) Too many of my class have left the area and aren’t able to make it back consistently. I can only speak for myself, I really do like Maryland (although I do not approve of Ravens fans). It’s a beautiful area and very active too. You know one thing that is much better than Pittsburgh? The DC Metro. (WFY: Should I tell him?) That was well maintained and more effective to travel around. The Pittsburgh “T” needs significant improvement.
WFY: Who made the better cameo in a disaster movie, Hines Ward in that Batman movie or the entire 1975 team in Black Sunday? In fact, what’s the best Pittsburgh sports cameo in a major motion picture?
TMBCE: Sadly, nothing special really stands out. Pittsburgh is better known for hosting/filming some excellent movies, such as Silence of the Lambs, Pretty Woman, and Dogma. Of course, there were a few bad movies filmed here as well. Lets just move on.
WFY: There is one correct answer:
NFL players and police, still getting along!
WFY: Since you were there, any commentary on the Penn State at Pitt game the other day?
TMBCE: I don’t understand the overall obsession that Pitt has with us. I don’t hate Pitt, but the Pitt fans seem to HATE us with an anger that I don’t understand. They also copy things from us. For example, the Pitt fans now chant: “We Are…..PT! We Are….PT” They also started singing the “Sweet Caroline” (WFY: a stupid tradition ripped off from the Red Sox for no good reason) after the 3rd quarter, although PSU has been doing that longer. Further, the Pitt fans BOOOOOED the Blue Band at halftime. I don’t remember any opposing team band getting booed at Happy Valley. They need to think for themselves! I would add that I had expected to see more Penn State fans at the game on Saturday.
WFY: How many Pittsburgh fans do you expect at the game? I’m guessing 10,000 to 15,000.
TMBCE: I’m going higher. 20,000 Steelers fans (of course, not all of them are from Pittsburgh).
WFY: Predictions! This game and the respective seasons of the opponents.
TMBCE: Washington 27-24. I predict the Redskins will start off with a big lead and the Steelers will come back. A late FG will win it for the Skins. Overall, I see both teams at 10-6 (WFY: 6-10 for Skins) and both finish in 2nd place in their divisions (and both make the playoffs).
WFY: Meanwhile on the other side of the Fort Duquesne Bridge, what’s going on with the Pirates? Their annual appearance in the play-in game seems in jeopardy. Has their window closed? Has anybody noticed since it’s football season?
TMBCE: It is not in jeopardy. Its done. Over. Collapse complete. I have predicted since spring training that meeting tried to put together a $et of player$ that could $upport the team win at an “affordable” price. I am extremely angry and upset about it. (Yes, I should be happy since our city has won a championship this year, but I’m not). The Pirates decided to trade productive players for “more affordable” options; all the while, the Pirates raised ticket prices. I am upset. The best thing the Pirates have done is the “Stand Up for Cancer” night, which a portion of the tickets go to cancer research (a important event that I was happy to support). Otherwise, the Pirates had a terrible off-season and made horrific trades. Are you happy with Mark Melancon? Last week I gave up on the Pirates. I don’t even know what their record is anymore, but I expect a losing season (which I predicted back in March). And yes, the fans are definitely unhappy.
WFY: Andrew McCutchen doesn’t seem to bat .550 against DC anymore. What’s going on with him? Was it cutting off his hair?
TMBCE:Cutch seems to want to obsess with the strikezone and what the umpire is calling. Its insanity. Some speculation around here includes that Cutch is trying to play his way out of Pittsburgh. At this point, I am fine with it. As long as they trade him for an ace
starting pitcher, I will be good with it. I’m sure that will never happen.
WFY: Gio for Cutch – let’s make it happen.
Oh look, bonus questions from TMBCE:
Bonus #1 Question and answer provided by Sam: What are your thoughts on the Penguins winning the Stanley Cup?
GREAT QUESTION! The highlight of the playoff run was beating the Washington Capitals in the 2nd round of the playoffs. (Sorry William, but its true). Overall, the Penguins continued their playoff dominance of the Capitals. I really didn’t think the Pens could beat the Caps in the playoffs, because the Capitals had such a dominating season. But once the Pens beat the Caps, I knew we would win the Stanley. Aren’t Capitals fans disappointed to have such a dominating regular season but lose to Pittsburgh in the playoffs?
Bonus #2: Question and answer provided by Sam: How was the Bruce Springsteen concert last night?
It was TREMENDOUS! It was my first concert to see BRRRRUUUCCE, and The Boss did not disappoint. It went 3 hours and 45 minutes! That was a bucket list item that I can cross off for me. It was very emotional, and I’m extactic that he played so many songs from The Rising album. It was such a great mix of old songs with newer albums and kept the momentum strong. THANK YOU BRUCE!
It’s a later than normal Q&A and prediction with New York Mets fan Eric McErlain (not pictured), long time guest prognosticator on this site. Is he still basking in the reflective glory of last year’s Mets NL Pennant? Can his Amazins catch my Washington Nationals? Let’s find out:
WFY: The Mets are 9 games back in the division, but I just saw the standings and saw they are 1.5 games back for the second Wild Card after a strong 8-2 over the last 10 games. Here in D.C. we know Matt Harvey’s gone for at least the season, but I understand other pitchers have been injured too. How have the Amazins been getting by? Does the schedule and current health of the team have you optimistic they can find a way into the postseason?
EMc: Yeah, Harvey was lost for the season early on after pitching horribly early on. The team has since struggled to find somebody, anybody to take his spot in the rotation. By this time, they had expected to have Zach Wheeler back, but he’s had a setback and is unlikely to return before next season. Steven Matz is currently out and Jacob deGrom has had to skip a turn after getting crushed in back-to-back starts. Jim Henderson has missed a lot of time, and Jonathon Niese headed straight to the DL more or less as soon as he returned from Pittsburgh. The recent surge has been keyed by Jose Reyes and Yoenis Cespedes. Without those two, these team would be totally dead in the water.
WFY: Flags fly forever! They won their first pennant in 15 years. For all the troubles this year and potentially to the longer term, is it worth the tradeoff to win one World Series game? Also, it seems the Mets win the pennant every 15 years or so which can’t be too bad.
EMc: Are you kidding? I went to 13 games last season in Port St. Lucie, Washington, Baltimore and Queens. The Mets won all 13, including Game 3 of the NLDS vs. the Dodgers and Game 1 of the NLCS vs. the Cubs. Losing the World Series stung as much as any of the other losses, but the memories were more than worth it. Even as good as Michael Fulmer is with the Tigers, I take the trade for Cespedes again without any hesitation.
WFY: How is the offense going? Is Jay Bruce the Yoenis Cespedes of 2016?
EMc: It’s one of the worst in baseball. In addition to the pitching injuries, David Wright and Lucas Duda have been lost for the season, and a passel of other players, including Cespedes, have missed time. It’s as bad as I’ve ever remembered it being. As for Bruce, he started slow, but has started to pick up of late.
WFY: How big is this series with the Nats being perceived by Mets fans? Also, some bad weather may headed up the East Coast, does this help the Mets get another some time off or are you hoping the Mets can keep play through?
EMc: Now that the team is in striking distance of the second wild card, every series is critical. Nobody thinks the Mets can catch the Nats, but the Nats could certainly hurt the Mets something awful. As for the rain, I don’t care. Play the games.
WFY: Jose Reyes is back – is it awkward to have him on the team given his offseason domestic violence allegations?
EMc: Just because I cheer for the team doesn’t mean I approve of the man.
WFY: As the late John McLaughlin would say: PREDICTIONS! How are things going the rest of the regular season for the Mets and Nats?
EMc: I’m not sure the pitching can stay healthy the rest of the way. I’m sure they’ll hang in there, but fall short.
On Friday, Washington, D.C.’s all-time home run leader, Frank Howard was added to the Ring of Honor. He’s the only non-Hall of Famer in the ring which is no longer restricted to just that membership. Howard is also immortalized in a statue (that the D.C. Fine Arts Commission installed) and in the Hall of Stars (Events DC) all of which are around Nationals Park. It’s a bit confusing, particularly when Montreal Expos are included.
I was hoping his #33 (worn 1969-1971, before that he wore #9 which he gave up for Ted Williams) would be retired as well. Back in 1992, his #33 was “retired” before an (rained out) exhibition game between the New York Yankees (he was hitting coach) and the New York Mets (whom he managed for a season). My wife and I met him in 2007 a Maker’s Mark event in Northwest.
There were tributes to Hondo in the D.C. media this week that are worth a read: