Friday, March 31, 2017

2017 MLB Season Predictions

Even as it feels as if it has snuck up on us, the 2017 MLB season begins this weekend. After last year's incredible season for both the Indians and the Cubs, it feels like it may well be hard to top all of the drama and demons and stories that permeated every day throughout the season. However, the league is getting younger, more athletic, and the big guns are still in line to be really, really good. While a 108 year title drought is over, there is still plenty to look forward to in 2017. So, let's look forward, shall we?

AL East:

1) Boston
2) Toronto
3) Baltimore
4) New York Yankees
5) Tampa Bay

NL East:

1) New York Mets (this is a homer pick but I don't care)
2) Washington
3) Philadelphia
4) Miami
5) Atlanta

AL Central:

1) Cleveland
2) Detroit
3) Kansas City
4) Chicago White Sox
5) Minnesota

NL Central:

1) Chicago Cubs
2) St. Louis
3) Pittsburgh
4) Milwaukee
5) Cincinnati

AL West:

1) Houston
2) Seattle
3) Texas
4) Anaheim
5) Oakland

NL West:

1) Los Angeles
2) San Francisco
3) Colorado
4) Arizona
5) San Diego

AL Wild Cards: 1) Toronto, 2) Seattle

NL Wild Cards: 1) Washington, 2) San Francisco

AL Playoffs:

ALDS: Cleveland over Toronto in 4
             Boston over Houston in 5

ALCS: Cleveland over Boston in 6

NL Playoffs: 

NLDS: Chicago over San Francisco in 4
             Los Angeles over New York in 5

NLCS: Los Angeles over Chicago in 7

2017 World Series: Dodgers over Indians in 6

Awards Predictions:

AL MVP: Mike Trout
NL MVP: Corey Seager
AL Cy Young: Chris Sale
NL Cy Young: Thor! (Another homer pick from yours truly)
AL Rookie: Andrew Benintendi
NL Rookie: Dansby Swanson
AL Manager: Scott Servais
NL Manager: Dave Roberts

Simple, and effective. Last year, I was wrong, but not hysterically wrong (I had the Blue Jays and Giants in the World Series). I'm going a little against the grain this year, because it's not like the Dodgers winning is going way out on a limb, but with that lineup and that bullpen and two dynamite starters, they have a good a chance as any. If they solve the back end of that rotation, and they have the prospects and cash to do so, they can win it this year, though they'll have to grind their way through a brutal National League to do it.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

This is the Anthem and We Hope you Stand Up

Not so quietly and not so subtly, US Soccer injected themselves into a debate that has been subsuming the entire country since Colin Kaepernick's famous anthem protests last summer: what is proper conduct when the Star-Spangled Banner is played? A now infamous policy code, 604-1, mandates US Soccer players to stand respectfully during the anthem when it is played, obviously in response to Megan Rapinoe's kneeling during the anthem last September as she protested the injustices and inequality in this country in a most American way.

I've already spent many column inches speaking about how protesting during the national anthem is more American than robotically standing up and badly mouthing the words to Francis Scott Key's poem, and so have many others. You'll be surprised to hear my opinion hasn't changed in the last six months, and in fact I've not been standing for the anthem when its been played recently in my own personal protest against injustices, inequality and the like. But since I'm relatively unimportant and not famous outside of a few Twitter bots, my protest means little. When someone of Megan Rapinoe's stature protests in the same way I have however, it becomes a story, and therefore a "problem" or "distraction" away from the game.

Whatever you think of the anthem, and what is respectful to do when it is played, most people will end up agreeing on this, even after a long and wasteful argument: you can go do what you please. Such is the glory of free speech in this country that the government can't tell you what to do or not to do during the anthem. US Soccer, despite what people might think, is a private entity with no connection whatsoever to the government in Washington, meaning they can pass whatever codes and bylaws they wish. They aren't trampling over the 1st Amendment because they are a private entity. That does not mean they shouldn't be criticized for passing an arcane and anti-American rule while on the other hand Tim Howard and Abby Wambach aren't at least publicly sanctioned for making anti-American comments about foreign players.

In this country, especially after 9/11, the national anthem became a staple at every single sporting event, from high school to the pros and back. It is indelible. However, that is not the case everywhere. In England, "God Save the Queen" is not played before almost any sporting event, outside of national team games and the FA Cup Final. Hearing the Star-Spangled before a Tuesday night Carolina Hurricanes-Arizona Coyotes game is almost mechanical at this point, and the meaning of hearing the anthem, the images it invokes and the symbolism it draws upon. So when the anthem plays before a US Soccer match, some of that desired affect is lost because everyone rising for the anthem hears it so often; perhaps too often.

More specifically however, what is this policy designed to accomplish? Most players will stand with their hand over their heart during the anthem anyway without prompting from some code in a rulebook they've never seen, so why even bother? Are they really desperate to win support from a segment of the American populous that isn't likely soccer fans anyway? And what will happen if someone violates the policy? Will they be suspended for important matches if they happen to sit or kneel or don't put their hand over their heart? What would the reaction be then?

When standing for the anthem is such a knee-jerk and innate reaction, it takes concerted thought in order to not do that thanks to heavy cultural appropriation that all of us have experienced throughout our lives. Representing our country means representing the best values that we have, and one of those is the freedom of expression. That means if someone feels the country isn't serving the best interests of everyone, or they themselves feel personally under attack by a government that isn't doing its job, then they have the right to speak out.

The Star Spangled Banner is a projective surface; it means what each individual wants it to mean. It can be a symbol of the best of this country, a time to honor those who have served it with distinction and honor, or can be a reminder that this country is not objectively achieving the goals its founders set out to. But whatever you feel about the anthem, and what is appropriate conduct when it is playing, we can all agree at least on this: you have the ability to do what you want during its playing, whatever the reaction is from others.

US Soccer has the right as a private organization to dictate conduct from those who they employ, however that doesn't mean they cannot be criticized for policies that do not serve their best interests. Whatever the policy is supposed to achieve, and whatever consensus the policy apparently built inside the organization has not achieved the desired affect. This policy codifies something that without even thinking about, most of us do without instruction or prodding.

Whether you think this policy is great, anti-American or anything in that spectrum, it comes of as excessive, unnecessary and over-bearing. This is US Soccer legislating for events that happen as rarely as Haley's Comet blasting through the night sky, and for a purpose that doesn't accomplish much of anything other than empty satisfaction and a chorus of criticism from a vocal segment of their core fanbase.

Representing your country should mean more than robotically standing for a poem and the music it is put to. US Soccer knows this, even as 99% of players, coaches and fans will stand for it unimpeded and automatically.

Friday, March 3, 2017

2017 MLS Season Predictions

While this preview post won't necessarily be as all-encompassing as some MLS preview pieces I have written elsewhere (check out my Twitter feed @MattsMusings1 for that), here I will post my predictions for the major awards, regular season standings and who will end up winning the Cup come December. These are probably going to be very wrong (dang Whitecaps), so laugh at me when the time comes, but here are my predictions for the 2017 MLS Season.

Eastern Conference:

1. Toronto FC
3. New York Red Bulls
4. DC United
5. Columbus Crew
6. Montreal Impact
7. Atlanta United
8. Philadelphia Union
9. Chicago Fire
10. New England Revolution
11. Orlando City

So yes, the expansion darlings who spent all that money and brought in all that starpower won't be making it to the playoffs in year one in my mind, though they're certainly going to contend for it. The best teams in the East are the same as they always have been, and look for the Crew to rebound from their disastrous 2016 campaign. Chicago is also much better, but they aren't quite there yet either. And Orlando still has more building to do if they want to finally make the postseason.

Western Conference:

1. FC Dallas
2. Seattle Sounders
3. Portland Timbers
4. LA Galaxy
5. Sporting Kansas City
6. Real Salt Lake
7. Vancouver Whitecaps
8. Colorado Rapids
9. San Jose Earthquakes
10. Houston Dynamo
11. Minnesota United

The other expansion team won't be as likely to fare well, and most people expect that from Minnesota United based on the way they've built their roster. No one is likely to complain about this immediately, but it still feels likely. Portland will be rebounding big time because of their ability to score, but their inability to keep other teams from scoring will prevent them from being higher up the table. Colorado will end up falling back down to earth, while SKC and RSL will just hold up enough to make the playoffs.


MVP: Sebastian Giovinco (Toronto FC)
Golden Boot: Ola Kamara (Columbus)
Rookie: Jeremy Ebobisse (Portland)
Defender: Jelle Van Damme (LA Galaxy)
Manager: Ben Olsen (DC United); Benny Ball reigns supreme!

And as for who wins the Cup, anyone can win it, as evidenced by Seattle being awful until August then getting hot. But for me, it seems that it's going to be the year for FC Dallas, as when they're healthy, they're in another stratosphere compared to the rest of the league. Seattle and TFC are the two teams closest to them, followed by a whole host of others.

Happy season, everyone!