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!
My friend Sam, who migrated back to Southwest Pennsylvania from Maryland a few years ago, joins us to talk about the Washington Nationals vs. Pittsburgh Pirates series that begins tonight.
WFY: After several years of teasing respectability and over 20 years of losing seasons, the Pittsburgh Pirates advanced to the NLDS last year, but started off sub-.500. and had me wondering if the 2013 maxed out on this groups potential. They have been on fire the last couple of months and worked their way into contention for the play-in game if not the division; do you think they can get in?
TMBCE: Of course I think they can get in. Do I think they will?? Probably not. The Buccos didn’t go out and pick up another bat at the deadline or starting pitcher, although they made a nice bullpen addition yesterday with John Axford. The team is still batting a bunch of injuries, and the starting pitching is still a wee bit inconsistent. It will probably prove to be too much. However, it is nice to think they will have two straight winning seasons after 20 years of futility, so for that I’m really happy! The Buccos are trending upward in my view.
WFY: When I think of the current Pirates, I think of Andrew McCutcheon, Nats-killer and panda hater, but he’s out. How long? Who is filling the void?
TMBCE: Not only is Cutch out, but so is Walker (2nd best hitter on the team) as well as stud pitcher Gerrit Cole. Many of the regulars have missed significant time this year too, such as Marte and Martin. By far, the unsung hero through all this has been Josh Harrison (who we call “J-Hay!” around here). He was barely supposed to make the team out of spring training, and has been a utility player the last few years. But he has really stepped up!!!!
WFY: How has attendance been at the best ballpark I ever attended? Is the fanbase still energized? Have you made it out it to a game so far? I’m hoping to return for the 2015 Nats-Buccos series.
TMBCE: I’ve been to 2 games this year- a win and a loss. Attendance has been really good, and as of now, the projection is that the team will break the single season attendance record.
WFY: A.J. Burnett traded Primanti sammiches for cheesesteaks and signed for the Philadelphia Phillies in the offseason. How much is he missed and how is the rotation holding up? By the way, he got thrown out of his last start against the Nats for arguing with the umpire after giving up a big homer.
TMBCE: Some in the fan base miss, but its not universal. I for one do not miss him. He was a great team leader, but appeared to clash with Clint Hurdle late in last season, and never really appeared to take fondly to coaching. I have a lot of respect for what he did for the team, but I don’t want him back. Bigger than that, I think the Buccos need to re-sign Russell Martin in the worst way.
WFY: I said it last year that the PNC Park is the best thing about Pittsburgh. Normally, that’d be an insult to a city, but I’ll argue that PNC Park celebrates the Paris of Appalachia with the view of the skyline, bridges, river, hills, and proximity to the Golden Triangle. Am I right?
TMBCE: I have been to several current ballparks in my life: Camden Yards, Nationals Park, Jacobs Field in Cleveland (or whatever they call it now), and Fenway Park. PNC is by the best in my view. The most underrated place to sit is in the “upper deck” behind home plate. Its not really that high, offers a great view of the whole field, and a beautiful view of the city. Great prices for tickets too The next 2 parks I’d like to see are Wrigley Field and the Giants ballpark, which I hear is also outstanding.
WFY: What’s your favorite way to get to a Pirates game since it’s possible to go via automobile, bicycle, walking, light rail or boat?
TMBCE:My favorite way is to get the trolley (light rail) and get off at the Gateway Center stop, and then walk across the Clemente Bridge to the game. Its also possible to take the Trolley over to the North Shore and have a shorter walk to the stadium, which I will do in a pinch. But if I prefer the walk across the bridge. I am VEHEMENTLY OPPOSED to driving to PNC Park for any reason.
WFY: I know you avoid buying beer at the ballpark, but what regional offerings other than Iron City (which you questioned my purchase of last May)? I want to try a local craft beer the next time I am sitting in that magnificent edifice. I’ll even buy you one.
TMBCE: Maybe we should get the beer passport and participate in the local pre-game craft beer sampling that they have. I am not sure which ones are offered at the park, because its difficult for me to pay $10 for a beer that I may not enjoy. One local beer that I am enjoying this summer for the first time is the Rivertowne beers. They offer several in a wide range of beers, most of them I like (except for the really hoppy ones). Nicole even likes the Hala Kahiki (pineapple ale) offering, and she isn’t even a beer aficionado.
WFY: Any change to the Pirates standing in the Pittsburgh sports power rankings? How do the Stillers look for the upcoming season? What about Pengyunz?
TMBCE:A weird dynamic has happened with the Pens. A lot of the “new” Pens fans (the ones who just showed up when Crosby was drafted, much like the “new” Red Sox fans who just showed up when the Red Sox started winning) are put off by what has happened with the teams playoff struggles. They expect a Stanley Cup every year, and the playoff games are not always sold out anymore. I too am not pleased with their playoff performances, and agree changes are necessary. But a lot of the new fans are spoiled, in my view. All that said, I think the Pirates are catching up to the Pens in the power rankings. If the Pirates can sneak into the playoffs, and the Pens bow out early again, I think the Pirates overtake them. I expect a big year da Stillers–11 or 12 wins.
WFY: A sportswriter you have mentioned, Dejan Kovacevic, has started his own site. How is that going and have you subscribed?
TMBCE: Dejan is very knowledgeable about Pittsburgh sports but in recent years, has started to come across a bit too arrogant for my liking. He has plenty of connections and is well informed, but I was not sad to see him live the Trib and do not plan on subscribing to his new website.
WFY: So, do the Pirates sweep the Nats or just take two of three?
TMBCE: I think the Nats sweep, and I’m not just saying that flippantly. The Buccos offense is really hamstrung right now, and our ace (Liriano) isn’t pitching this series.