US Falls Short of Ryder Cup Glory

2014RyderCupIt was always going to be a tall order for the USA Ryder Cup team to pull off the upset victory at Gleneagles, but that doesn’t mean the sting of defeat is any lessened.  The Americans fell by 5 points to the Europeans, losing 16 ½ to 11 ½ over the weekend.  Jamie Donaldson closed it out with a brilliant approach shot on the 15th hole, defeating Keegan Bradley 4 and 3 and clinching the fourteen points needed for the Europeans to retain the cup.

As we look ahead to the 2016 Ryder Cup to take place at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minnesota, there are certainly some areas that look extremely promising for the Americans and some areas that look downright poor.  On the bright side, the three American rookies were a revelation for the American side, particularly Patrick Reed.  Reed was the only American to go undefeated, winning both four-ball matches with fellow rookie Jordan Spieth, halving a foursome match, and winning his singles match on Sunday to go 3-0-1.

Spieth went 2-1-1 on the week, falling only in his singles match on Sunday.  He joined Reed for three of the first four sessions on Friday and Saturday and the two rookies were able to get 2 ½ of the six total points the Americans held after Saturday’s foursomes.  If the two can make the team in 2016, at least fans will know they are both up to the task.

And the other rookie, Jimmy Walker, fared pretty well himself, going 1-1-3 and adding 2 ½ points to America’s coffers.  He teamed up with Rickie Fowler for all four of the sessions on Friday and Saturday and though they failed to win a match, they halved three of them, only falling Saturday afternoon.

It was the veterans of the tourney that did not fare particularly well.  Rickie Fowler and Bubba Watson, two of the highest ranked Americans in golf’s world rankings, managed to go 0-5-3 on the week with Bubba going 0-3-0.  Zach Johnson and Webb Simpson were the two other Americans to fail to win a match during the entire tournament.

The group of Keegan Bradley and Phil Mickelson went a combined 3-3-0.  They played together Friday, winning the morning session Four-ball and losing toe Foursome group in the afternoon.  Captain Tom Watson then decided to sit both players on Saturday, leading to a particularly icy press conference after the tournament.

Now America must look ahead to 2016 when the Europeans will visit the States.  Reed and Spieth are certainly bright spots, and you’d have to expect Fowler, Watson, and Mickelson to all make the team yet again (though Mickelson is much less of a guarantee because of his age.) Tiger Woods may even make an appearance in 2016 if he can stay healthy and return to his play from last year.  But the rest of the team is a bit of a question mark and you can expect a few rookies to make the squad at Hazeltine.

The U.S. has struggled mightily in the past decade and it will be crucial for the team to collectively join together and put themselves in a much better position heading into Sunday’s singles matches.

The one thing that will be assured is 2016 Ryder Cup tickets will be in high demand.

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The Bigger the Better for Jon Lester

27010569_4815477e31_zAt the end of July, the Oakland Athletics made one of the biggest trades of the 2014 season, sending Yoenis Cespedes to the Boston Red Sox for ace Jon Lester. The move was said to bolster what, at the time, looked like a dominant A’s pitching rotation. But instead of sparking the A’s to a winning spree, the Oakland A’s have been on a freefall since the trade. On July 31st Oakland was 66-41, but they proceeded to go 22-33 in August and September, and finished the year 88-74.  The A’s went from being in the running for the AL West pennant, to barely squeaking into the MLB playoffs with the 2nd AL Wild Card spot and having to go on the road in MLB’s ALWCS.

It was during that freefall that the Oakland Athletics and Kansas City Royals first met this season. The two clubs would meet 7 times in August and September, with the Royals dominating, going 5-2 against the reeling A’s. Nonetheless, Oakland has confidence going into tonight’s AL Wild Card game because they have Jon Lester. Their two wins against the Royals came when Jon Lester was on the mound. Lester has faced the Kansas City Royals 3 times this season (once with the Red Sox) and is 3-0. But why does Jon Lester really give the A’s the best chance of winning in the 2014 AL Wild Card Game? We looked at the average number of hits, earned runs, and strike outs for the A’s starting pitching in the 7 games between the Oakland A’s and the Kansas City Royals this season.

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In the 5 games that Jon Lester was not the starting pitcher for the A’s, Kansas City averaged just under 7 hits and had an average of 2.6 earned runs against the A’s starting pitching. When Lester was on the mound, the Royals averaged 7.5 hits per game and 3 earned runs. Looking at these numbers alone, it doesn’t seem that Jon Lester actually pitched any better against the Royals than the rest of the A’s starting pitchers. But Jon Lester in August, is not the same as Jon Lester in October (or September 30th). The playoffs change everything.

As Jon Lester runs out at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City tonight, it will be into an extremely hostile environment. The Kansas City Royals have not hosted a playoff game in almost 30 years. This drought has brought a surge of demand for tickets to tonight’s game, and the median ticket price is up to $132 as of 9/30/14. Despite the environment, and an opposing pitcher of the caliber of James Shields, the Oakland A’s are expecting to win behind a dominating pitching performance. The A’s traded for Lester, not for regular season wins, but for his ability to rise to big games. Lester is 6-4 in 13 postseason starts with a 2.11 ERA and a 0.43 ERA in the World Series. The bigger the game, the better Jon Lester. Does it get any bigger than win or go home?

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New York Red Bulls 2014 Playoff Chances

The New York Red Bulls are in a dogfight as they close out the 2014 MLS regular season.  Presently (9/29/14) sitting in fifth place in the Eastern Conference, the Red Bulls are two points behind the Columbus Crew for the 4th spot.  Not only that, but the Toronto FC are lurking in sixth place, just one point behind the Red Bulls and a playoff bid.RedBulls20141

It is crucial for the New York Red Bulls to try and jump the Crew, and 3rd place Sporting Kansas City to avoid the potential one game knockout playoff that takes place between the fourth and fifth seeded teams in the Conference.  The MLS playoffs have the first three teams have “byes” into the conference semifinals, while #4 duels #5 in a one-game knockout.  The semifinals are determined by a two-game, aggregate score.  So if the Red Bulls can avoid that knockout game, they’ll have a much better chance to do some damage in the playoffs.

After a 4 – 0 loss to the LA Galaxy on Sunday, the rest of the Red Bulls schedule has become much more interesting. This week, New York will return to Red Bulls Arena for three straight home games against the Houston Dynamo, Toronto FC, and the Columbus Crew.  Houston currently has 36 points this year that puts them above only five other MLS teams and they have a -15 goal differential. This means that the Red Bulls should get a victory on October 4th but a stumble in this match will be a huge blow to the New York Red Bulls playoff chances.  The Toronto FC match will be huge for the Red Bulls. Toronto sits at 40 points, just one behind New York, making this game almost a must win if the Red Bulls want to make the postseason. Not last week it looked as if Toronto was fading and that the Red Bulls would have a good chance at making it to 3rd place in the Eastern Conference. Now the two teams are neck and neck and the importance of this game has turned into a do or die for a playoff berth.

The Sunday, October 19th matchup with the Crew is a big one as this is a potential knockout game for the Eastern Conference.  For fans looking to attend, the median ticket price is a very affordable $32.  A win for the Red Bulls would probably cement at least home field advantage for the knockout game if the two ultimately meet there.

The season will end for New York on Sunday, October 26th when they face the Seattle Sounders.  This is the most expensive game remaining this year for the Red Bulls with a $49 median ticket price.  This game is growing in importance as the race for the final two playoff spots is heating up.

Below is the full remaining MLS schedule for the New York Red Bulls:

Saturday, October 4th @ 6:00 PM EST | vs. Houston Dynamo

Saturday, October 11th @ 7:00 PM EST | vs. Toronto FC

Sunday, October 19th @ 3:00 PM EST | vs. Columbus Crew

Sunday, October 26th @ 8:30 PM EST | @ Sporting KC

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