Saturday, May 05, 2012

Sports Saturday: 5/5/12

MLB - It's been an interesting couple of weeks for the Washington Nationals. Their best two offensive threats* are currently on the Disabled List, and not coincidentally, they lost five games in a row. But they followed that up with two straight wins (as of Friday afternoon) to keep them in first place at 16-9. It still seems like they're hanging on by a thread, though...

* - Actually, one could argue that rookie 19-year-old phenom Bryce Harper is already one of the team's top offensive threats. He's started his career 6-for-16 with 3 RBI, which is pretty impressive...but let's give it a little more time. He hasn't even been in the major leagues a week yet. But he's another reason to get excited about this team. Nats Fever!

This weekend, the Nationals host the Philadelphia Phillies in what the team is calling "Take Back the Park" weekend (or something), in response to the fact that past home series against the Phillies have seen some very pro-Phillies crowds. We'll see if the promotional effort worked. And, the Sunday game is the ESPN Sunday Night game, which is the first time I can remember the Nationals getting a Sunday night game. Big weekend ahead! Philadelphia at Washington - Sat 1:00p, MASN; Sun 8:00p, ESPN

I'm personally looking forward to seeing a Nationals game on a network other than MASN. ESPN Sunday and FOX Saturday are the only MLB exclusive broadcast windows (I think), so any other time a national broadcaster shows a Nationals game, the national broadcast is blacked out in favor of the MASN broadcast. The MASN team isn't terrible, but they're pretty big homers, and it'll be nice to get a different perspective. By the way, MASN is still not carried locally on Time Warner Cable, which means satellite TV is still the only (legal) way I can watch the Nationals. This also means that this Sunday night is one of the rare opportunities all season long when Time Warner Cable customers will be able to watch the Nationals.

NHL - Well, the Florida Panthers almost proved every single prognosticator wrong and made it out of the first round after all, losing both Games 6 and 7 in overtime. On one hand...hey, at least they didn't get swept! But still, ugh. And Ottawa lost Game 7 on the same day, too, which means the four remaining Eastern Conference teams are all I-95 northeast corridor teams. For me, that absolutely blows. I wouldn't say that I've completely lost interest in what's left of the Eastern Conference playoffs, but I'm less interested in them now than I have been since, well, who knows when. NY Rangers at Washington - Sat 12:30p, NBC; Philadelphia at New Jersey - Sun 7:30p, NBCSN

Thank goodness for the Western Conference! Chicago and Detroit are gone, leaving four teams that have never won the Stanley Cup (St. Louis, Phoenix, Nashville, and Los Angeles), , and none of which are shoved down our throats by NBC, either. I can't watch too many Western Conference games given the whole time zone thing, but I'll be rooting pretty hard for the Western Conference team in the Stanley Cup Final, whoever it is. And at the moment, it looks like that won't be St. Louis. (They're down 3-0 to the Kings.) St. Louis at Los Angeles - Sun 3:00p, NBC (I'm surprised that NBC took Blues/Kings and pushed Flyers/Devils to NBC Sports Network this Sunday, but it's possible that was dictated by Staples Center scheduling needs.)

Auto racing - A couple of weeks ago, I said NASCAR appeared to be done throwing questional debris cautions as an excuse to bunch up the field. Finally! And then, at Richmond last weekend, out comes a caution with less than 20 laps to go for what Tony Stewart (who basically lost the race as a result of the caution) claimed was for a plastic bottle well outside the racing groove. NASCAR says there was a piece of metal on the track, but...did FOX ever show it or talk about it? Nope. And now, this is an issue once again. (I refuse to let this go, because this is my least favorite thing about NASCAR.)

Says NASCAR official Robin Pemberton (via SB Nation): "Sometimes, some people are a little more needy than others and they want to see that for whatever reason. And whatever their thought process and beliefs with the governing body (are), they think they need proof. Sometimes you see (the debris) and sometimes you don't, and that's based on TV coverage, basically."

In the NFL, if a referee calls a penalty, the TV network broadcasting the game often shows a relevant replay in an effort to show the penalty taking place, and perhaps comments on whether the referee's call was correct. But this doesn't happen in NASCAR. The TV networks don't always make an effort to show whether NASCAR officials' claim of debris is legit or not, and Larry McReynolds and Darrell Waltrip rarely ever talk about whether a particular caution flag was really necessary. Instead, the discussion is usually just "Oooh boy, this is going to be exciting" fluff. Why is this? FOX holds NFL officials accountable for their work, so why don't they do the same for NASCAR officials? Because NASCAR doesn't want them to? Pushing as much under the rug as possible in an effort to deflect potential criticism, and telling the public that we should bascially just take NASCAR at their word on pretty much everything...well, that's how they've always run their sport, I guess. For me, the idea that NASCAR encourages non-transparency on this issue proves that at least some of these debris cautions are not about "safety" at all. And this isn't a trivial issue, either, because of the drastic effect one caution flag can have on the outcome of the race.

Fortunately, this weekend is Talladega, so we can forget about this nonsense for at least one week. NASCAR Sprint Cup at Talladega - Sun 1:00p, FOX

There's also the Kentucky Derby this weekend, which is worth at least a few minutes of my time, I think.

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