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2016 Campaign Opens vs. the Rangers with #boomstick…and some early-season dugout clearing?

cano.jpg

Welcome back to baseball, Major League style. Spring training is over, the games that matter (all 162 of them) have begun, and the Mariners find themselves at .500 going into today’s series finale with the Rangers.

Starting the season in Arlington Monday, the Mariners had a nine-year Opening Day win streak on the line. Unfortunately, despite a one-hitter from Felix Hernandez, the Ms lost 3-2. The King issued an uncharacteristic five walks in six innings, and was hurt by two Mariners errors, both in the fifth, which led to the Rangers’ three runs. This was the first time since 1913 when a team lost a one-hitter on Opening Day. Sometimes it feels like the Mariners are apt at being first in categories where one really would rather not lead.

Fortunately, the middle game of the season-opening series with the Rangers had a much better outcome. FOUR Mariner home runs (following two on Opening Day), including a Nelson Cruz #boomstick shot in the fourth, and three (that’s right, three) in the eighth inning off former Mariner Tom Wilhelmsen.

The eighth also featured the Mariners, including new manager Scott Servais, coming out of the dugout after Wilhelmsen appeared to intentionally hit new Mariner catcher Chris Iannetta. Wilhemsen wound up giving up five runs to as many batters in that inning, so he must have been frustrated. But the real story here was the quick response from Mariners players and Servais, who were quickly out of the dugout and yelling at the Rangers. Sure, baseball isn’t hockey, and no punches were thrown, but the passion and fire on display were a welcome contrast to some previous Mariners teams.

Other good stuff: Luis Sardinas hit his first home run yesterday. Robinson Cano now has two home runs, including a monster first-pitch solo shot off Wilhelmsen yesterday.  And the Mariners bullpen threw four innings of one-hit ball, holding the Rangers scoreless after Iwakuma’s exit at the end of the fifth inning.

I told some guy who keeps nagging me about writing Mariners articles here that I think two keys to the season are how 1) Cano comes back from his injuries last year, and 2) how the bullpen performs. It’s very very early going, but so far both of those things look good.

Mariners FanFest 2016: Ziplines, Whitesnake, Kyle Seager…and more!

[Author’s note: yeah, this is what happens when I put a post into draft and then forget about it. Without further ado, we take you back to January…]

This weekend Safeco Field hosted the latest edition of the annual FanFest event, a way for season ticket holder wannabes to take a look at their prospective seats…and for all of the rest of us to have some fan hanging out at the ballpark.

Although the line was longer than I wanted to wait through, the zipline in right field proved quite popular (Yogi’s “no one goes there anymore, it’s too crowded” is rather apropos). The kids enjoyed walking around the basepaths, snapping photos in the dugout, and knocking whiffleballs over the fence in left field.

The Q&A and autograph sessions with Mariners past and present were popular as always. Jay Buhner and Dave Valle enjoyed some time with Mariners broadcaster Rick Rizzs, but the highlight today had to be Charlie Furbush, who donned an epic hairpiece and shared some of his best karaoke moves with the fans. Whitesnake’s “Here I Go Again” was good, but Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” really stole the show, despite some technical difficulties. A brief Kyle Seager appearance (Seager: “Who’s your favorite Mariner?”, Furbush: “You!”) generated a lot of applause as well. Furbush definitely seems one of those guys it would be fun to have a beer with; not sure I could keep up with his singing talents, though.

Every year, as we get close to the start of spring training, fans find themselves searching for signs of hope. Will this be the year the catching improves, the starting rotation holds together, the bullpen solidifies, the infield and outfield defense is where it needs to be, and the hitting is timely? We’ll have more on those subjects soon, but at least from the players at FanFest today, there appears to be some of that impossible-to-quantify team chemistry brewing at Safeco Field this year.

Monday Night Heists

Whitecaps Wednesday

Usually, Whitecaps Wednesday is a time of celebration and mirth and, given the recent results of this town’s MLS squads, one would tend to assume that this week would be no different. However, after an introduction like that, one would need be on their sixth pint not to grasp that this week will indeed be different. Ladies and gentlemen of this fine city: we have a thief in our midst.

News (officially) broke yesterday that a large number of boots had been pilfered from the Whitecaps training facility overnight Monday. Head coach Carl Robinson is none too pleased about it, as relayed to us in the tweet below by the gracious and assiduous @Harjournalist.

32. Thirty-two. THIRTY-TWO! PAIRS! 64 boots in total. You could dress a starting lineup three times over with a different pair of cleats each time, especially if you have that weird goalkeeper on your team who insists on wearing one boot. One could presumably use that number of cleats in place of sandbags in case of a flood.

Continue reading Monday Night Heists

Searching for Starters

It’s a testament to the talent within the Whitecaps’ roster that four integral pieces of their makeup will be unavailable for this evening’s matchup versus the Houston Dynamo. Blas Pérez, Kendall Waston, Cristian Bolaños and Tim Parker will all be on international duty for their respective countries, and as such, allow for the depth of the squad to be truly tested. I’m looking forward to it.

The absences represent a both a significant challenge and a significant opportunity for the club; Parker and Waston have formed into a top central-defensive pairing in MLS while Pérez’s influence on a game was noticeable during last week’s victory in Seattle. He appears to be the solution to the oft-quoted lone striker issue that has afflicted Octavio Rivero with frequency since his arrival to Vancouver last summer. Bolaños, for his part, has yet to  fully adjust to the North American game but has shown flashes of brilliance, including the heady-run that drew Vancouver’s first PK against the Sounders. Nevertheless, he is another one of Robinson’s preferred starter and his absence represents an opportunity for someone else to accrue some quality minutes.

Kendall Waston dives for a ball inside the box. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
Whitecaps FC will be without minute-muncher and central defender extraordinaire Kendall Waston versus the Houston Dynamo. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

Continue reading Searching for Starters

Sigi Schmid Doesn’t Agree With You

Whitecaps Wednesday

Sigi Schmid, the rotundiest of all MLS head coaches, disagrees with you, and me, and the 21,000 (now more) soccer fans that pack BC Place whenever we have the chance to swear at the Seattle Sounders. Sigi Schmid likes boring soccer. Or, at the very least, “easy” soccer. Those are the only reasons I can possibly fathom for him announcing his desire to “…not play the Whitecaps 100 times” this season.

Now, I’ve always been a selfish kinda guy. I mean, I’m nowhere near Trump levels of selfish and/or pigheadedness and I like to think I’m actually quite compassionate in my own way. But I’m a fellah who likes what I like, will do what I like and I’m gloriously unapologetic about that.  That’s more or less why I don’t have money-burning and time-sucking children. And one thing I do like, is Sounders vs Whitecaps.

Sounders' Head Coach Sigi Schmid aims to disappoint you. - Photo borowed from mlssoccer.com
Sounders’ Head Coach Sigi Schmid aims to disappoint you. – Photo borrowed from mlssoccer.com

Continue reading Sigi Schmid Doesn’t Agree With You

Is Mattocks gone at last?

Darren Mattocks has been as divisive a figure as they come in Whitecaps MLS history. Okay, not Donald Chump divisive — maybe not even as controversial as Camilo — but darn it, Mattocks is up there. With every midfield giveaway, ol’ Darren takes lumps like a mook in a Bugs Bunny cartoon. With every missed net, Southsiders scream at this guy with the relish usually reserved for casual fans who leave before the final whistle.

Darren Mattocks contemplates yet another lost opportunity during a 2-1 loss to the Colorado Rapids. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
Darren Mattocks contemplates yet another lost opportunity during a 2-1 loss to the Colorado Rapids. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

Mattocks has been linked to trade rumours and transfer talks ever since the 2013 off-season, when he announced on Jamaican TV that he would score 20 goals per season in the MLS, and that “every team in MLS wants me”. My favourite quote: “Vancouver don’t want Darren to leave as yet.”

Well, buddy has scored all of 12 goals since then — he’s never beaten his career high of seven, which he scored in his rookie season — and just about every Caps fan has begged Darren to get the hell outta Dodge at some point. He’s been collecting close to $300K every season to underperform, sulk about less playing time and miss golden chances when he is on the pitch. So, uh, yeah. Today’s rumour piece on VanCity Buzz is ripping up social media round these parts.

Now, he’s been on the block before, and supporters have wound up stunned to see him outlast better players and favourites, like Camilo and Gershon Koffie. Our own Russell Arbuthnot was among the levelheaded pundits who saw the acquisitions of Blas Pérez and Masato Kudo this off-season as a slam dunk reason to cut the fricking cord, already. If he does finally leave the blue and white behind, the club is rid of a player with delicious speed, but also of a drama queen whose attitude has been little but poison the past four years.

Darren Mattocks of Vancouver Whitecaps FC attempts to get round Portland Timbers defender Pa Modou Kah in MLS action. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
Darren Mattocks of Vancouver Whitecaps FC attempts to get round Portland Timbers defender Pa-Modou Kah in MLS action. If rumours be true, then they’ll have switched jerseys real soon. (Oh yeah, Kah came from PDX! Remember that?) Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

The only downside to Mattocks moving as per this rumour? We’ll still have to see him moping on the bench a couple of times a season with the Timbers-heavy schedule MLS gives the Caps every year. Worst case scenario, Mattocks finally finds the form he displays for the Jamaican national side, and lights it up against Vancouver whenever Portland comes to town.

This deal hasn’t been completed yet, but whoa Nellie, will there ever be some beer-flavoured sighs of relief in supporters groups if and when it gets done.

Why is Willie Ducking Criticism?

Last week, the Vancouver Canucks held a couple of town hall meetings with season ticket holders, in which President Trevor Linden and GM Jim Benning outlined the direction of the team, such as it is, and defended themselves against accusations of general incompetence.

Willie Desjardins, Trevor Linden & Jim Benning
Willie Desjardins, Trevor Linden and Jim Benning appeared together in pre-season pressers, but ol’ Willie has been absent from recent town halls. Photo cribbed from an admittedly poorly-written Reddit subthread.

Notably absent from accounts of this meeting was any discussion of head coach Willie Desjardins. The Canucks bench boss seems to me to be coasting along in the wake of terribleness left by the front office. Lost amid the annoyance of the stupid money given to Derek Dorsett is the fact that Dorsett is getting more ice time than youngster Jake Virtanen, with no benefit to the club at all. Sven Baertschi is only barely ahead of Brandon Prust.  Jared McCann is dead even with Adam Cracknell. For an organization that’s prioritizing youth development at the moment, these decisions are incredibly odd, but with Benning flushing assets down the toilet on the waiver wire every week and blundering through trade after trade, nobody seems to pay attention to the coach.

Desjardins is not a tactically strong coach. He was roundly out-coached in last year’s playoffs by Bob Hartley. His stubborn refusal to deploy the Sedins for offensive zone faceoffs to maximize their output, as Alain Vigneault did during his tenure, has cost the club countless scoring opportunities this season.

Desjardins was this regime’s guy. He was the anti-Torts. The one to nurture the kids after a year of neglect. It’s no surprise, then, that odds-makers don’t favour him to be shown the door any time soon. If, though, the Canucks are really serious about making the playoffs every year during this rebuild, he’ll need to be replaced sooner rather than later.

Okay, maybe not ALL the things…

If MLS pundits are to be believed, the 2016 iteration of the Vancouver Whitecaps FC is destined for great things. Our very own Chris Withers, who is actually a betting man and thus should not use the phrase “if I were a betting man” to introduce his prognosticatory prognostications, prognosticated that Vancouver “will win all the things” this season.

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Should they win many things? Probably. Manager Carl Robinson has done a masterful job of assembling a deep, talented roster. Will they? If they go on the attack as relentlessly as they did Sunday, quite possibly. This day, though, they died by the sword. The Caps, known for a deadly counterattack last year, carried much of the play on day one, but gave up multiple goals on the break to fall 3-2 to the dreaded Surrender Monkeys from Montreal.

As Carl Robinson said in the post-game presser, “We gifted Montreal these three points, if we’re to give an honest assessment.”

Continue reading Okay, maybe not ALL the things…

Whitecaps 2016 Season Preview

The Vancouver Whitecaps 2015 season was a great story that never quite materialized. If it wasn’t for them goals that never came, they coulda been contenders. Instead of a bunch of bums, which is what they were, let’s face it.

That’s harsh. I know that’s harsh, but I always liked that Brando line, and it was painful to watch a club who was odds-on for the Supporters’ Shield in September sink out of the race and get bounced without so much as a whimper in their first home MLS playoff game. By the hated Portland Timbers, no less. A stellar defence undone by a lack of any consistent offence, and a plague of injuries. Oh, what could have been. Anyways, they’ve fixed all that now, and they’re totally going to win all the trophies this season. End of preview. Continue reading Whitecaps 2016 Season Preview

Giants drop three straight; LEC just a tactic

For the all the talk of what if and if only, there hasn’t been much hope of post-season hockey in Vancouver for some time now; high profile injuries and fair to middling rosters have plagued both the Giants and Canucks all season. At the Coliseum, the G-Men put up a generous fight during the middle part of the season, but a disastrous start has been mirrored by a terrible stretch run to put them a dozen points out of a playoff spot with only a handful of games remaining.

Brodan Salmon makes a save during his fourth WHL start.
Brodan Salmond makes a save during 2nd period WHL action. The first-place Kelowna Rockets held on for a 4-3 win over last-place Vancouver Giants at the Pacific Coliseum. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

At these high levels of sport, it’s hard to get in the right mindset to compete when the playoffs are off the table. That said, the Giants had given the Western Conference leading Kelowna Rockets all they could handle in back-to-back games just a week prior to Friday’s game. They led early and often in Kelowna before succumbing 6-5 to a late comeback, and were full marks for a 4-2 win over those same Rockets just 24 hours later here in Vancouver. Somehow, they rode Jake Morrissey to a shootout win over the Kamloops Blazers in their third game in three nights last Sunday.

Still, even after picking up four out of a possible six points on the weekend, the Giants sat a full nine points out of that final playoff spot.

Continue reading Giants drop three straight; LEC just a tactic