Erik Ritland’s Sports Ramble: 9/14/12

Hello boys and girls and welcome to my inaugural Sports Ramble! In each edition I’ll analyze the major sports stories of the week – or at least the ones I find interesting enough to write about. This week I remind people that baseball is still going on and look forward to this weekends football games.

Wait a minute…baseball season is still going?
It’s sad that once football season starts everybody forgets about baseball. While each week in the NFL has its stories, thankfully for hacks like me who need something to write about, it’s not like the games are make-or-break or anything.

On the other hand September baseball is often noteworthy and intriguing. Here’s a rundown of the best reasons why it’s worth paying attention.

The battle for the AL Central
Going in to the 2012 season it was assumed that the Detroit Tigers would easily win the AL Central. They were even seen by many as serious World Series contenders. With the addition of Prince Fielder to an already potent lineup and Justin Verlander, 2011 baseball MVP, anchoring their starting rotation, it’s easy to see why.

Yet things haven’t shaken out very well for the Tigers. Verlander, while still a major force, is not nearly as dominant as he was last year, the rest of the Tigers pitchers have not been carrying the rest of the load very well until recently (their team ERA has gone down almost an entire point in the last couple months), and their starting lineup, while certainly very good, has not lived up to its potential. Then there’s also the team’s abysmal fielding skills.

The Tigers have been in the rear-view mirror of the Chicago White Sox for most of the year. The 2012 Sox are one of the most surprising stories this season. Although they began the year in rebuilding mode they currently find themselves a game ahead of the Tigers for the division lead. New manager Robin Ventura has somehow gotten a lot more out of this team than it appeared they had on paper. Everyone, from their starting lineup to their rotation to their bullpen, has appeared to overachieve under him. One has to wonder how long they can keep it up. No doubt they’ll at least keep this race interesting – and perhaps even pull out victorious.

The Oakland A’s and the AL West
Another team that has greatly underachieved is the Los Angeles Angels. Their rotation is possibly the best in baseball and with the addition of Albert Pujols they were, like the Tigers, a favorite to go deep into the playoffs. But a shaky start has plagued the Angels all season. At this point they’re a long 3.5 games out of a competitive Wild Card spot. The Texas Rangers, who are as stacked pitching and hitting-wise as the Angels, have not underachieved, and are currently in first place in the division.

The surprise story of the year, though, is the second half surge of the Oakland Athletics. The A’s began the year looking like one of the worst teams in the league. But recently they have won an unprecedented 21 of their last 27 games and 39 of 57 since the All-Star break. Like the White Sox it’s hard to see how they can keep up this pace with the talent they have but we’ll see what they’re made of in the coming weeks. As a wise man once said, if you have great pitching and defense (both of which the A’s have), you put yourself in a position to win games. Let’s hope they can keep riding this momentum to a playoff berth – or even a division title.

The Baltimore Orioles and the AL East
I don’t ever remember a year in baseball where so many teams who were slated to have awful seasons have risen up to be serious contenders. The White Sox, the A’s, and the Orioles are all teams who have done this. And all in basically the same way: good pitching (take note, Twins front office). The Orioles have had the good fortune of surging at the same time that the evil Yankees are slumping. Currently the two teams are tied for the AL East lead and are neck-and-neck for a Wild Card spot. Then you have the Tampa Bay Rays who are only 4 games out and also having an ace pitching staff. It’s refreshing to see the East not come down to the Red Sox, Yankees, and Rays. Let’s hope the good guys win.

The NL Wild Card
Usually there are two or maybe three teams vying for a Wild Card spot per year. That there are seven teams that could conceivably win the NL Wild Card shows how crazy and exciting that race will end up being. The slumping Cardinals and Braves currently hold the lead for the spot with the Dodgers two games behind, the Pirates three, and the surging Brewers, Phillies, and Diamondbacks creeping close behind. At this point it’s impossible to pick who the favorites are here, which is why it so interesting and will make these last few weeks worth paying attention to.

R.A. Dickey
It wouldn’t be an Erik Ritland baseball article if I didn’t at least mention my hero R.A. Dickey. His story of triumph is well-documented (even if I did blog about it two years before it was cool to…). His bid for the NL Cy Young is growing by the day as he leads the NL in nearly every major pitching statistic. At 18-3 it is conceivable that he could be the first 20 game-winner for the Mets since Frank Viola in 1990. It has been a career year for the knuckleballer who has finally seemed to find his kuckling mojo.

NFL Week 2 Preview
Alright, enough stuff about the boring sport that you actually need an attention span to enjoy, right? On to a look at this week in football.

– Five Games
Ravens @ Eagles If the Cleveland Browns didn’t have an unproven rookie quarterback starting last week they would have beaten the haphazard looking Philadelphia Eagles. This week, then, they’ll have something to prove, especially against the potent Ravens offense. I’ve always thought that Vick, and the Eagles offense, is pretty overrated, so my guess is that they’ll get shut down pretty easily. Ravens 27, Eagles 13

Jets @ Steelers It didn’t surprise me that the Jets dominated the Buffalo Bills last week. It surprises me more that it surprised so many other people, as the Bills are not a very good football team. The Steelers, however, are. And they’re at home. While I expect Sanchez to have an amount of success against the Steelers I don’t see Ben Roethlisberger letting down his home fans. Steelers 23, Jets 17

Lions @ 49ers It’s never a good idea to judge a team by their first game. Despite that week one was a harbinger of things to come for each of these teams: the 49ers, who beat the mighty Packers handily, are going to be hard to stop this year (which is why they’re my Super Bowl pick for the NFC). The Lions, who looked awful and barely beat the lowly Rams due to a blown call, will be mediocre at best. The 49ers defense will make life difficult for Stafford and company on Sunday. The score will be low but Alex Smith will toss to Moss a few times and they’ll pull it out. 49ers 24, Lions 16

Broncos @ Falcons Last year the Falcons and Texans were supposed to be very good. I was one of the only commentators who did not believe in them and I was actually right. This year, however, I think the Falcons will make a decent playoff run. The Broncos defense will have trouble with the Falcons offense, though Peyton Manning will keep things interesting. Being at home will help the Falcons overcome in a close game. Falcons 31, Broncos 23

Vikings @ Colts I mentioned in my Football Ramble earlier this week that amidst the joy Vikings fans felt in lieu of their exciting victory they were forgetting one thing: that the team really didn’t play very well. Yet one of the only teams that played worse than they did was the Indianapolis Colts. While one proved that Andy Luck may need a little time to become an elite NFL quarterback (which isn’t atypical), if there’s a defense that has enough holes in it to make him look like a superstar, it’s the Vikings’. I have a feeling that the Vikings defense will do better than I figure. Luck won’t do that well but he’ll do well enough to win his home debut. Colts 30, Vikings 21

The Rest…
Winners in bold

Kansas City at Buffalo
Cleveland at Cincinnati
New Orleans at Carolina
Houston at Jacksonville
Oakland at Miami
Arizona at New England
Tampa Bay at NY Giants
at Philadelphia
Washington at St. Louis
Dallas at Seattle
Tennessee at San Diego

Erik Ritland is a writer and musician from St. Paul, Minnesota. His blog and podcast Rambling On features commentary on music, sports, culture, and more. He is also a contributor for Minnesota culture blog Curious North. Support Erik’s music via his Patreon account, reach him via email, or find him on Facebook and Twitter.





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