HAS SEARAGE RUN OUT OF MAGIC?

Pirates P Jameson Taillon got roughed up at Cincinnati last night: Eight hits and six earned runs in six innings.

He started the season 2-0 with an ERA of 1.26. But now Taillon is 2-4 with an ERA of 4.56.

Taillon hasn’t pitched terribly since those first two victories. He’s just been extremely inconsistent. Taillon has made three quality starts out of 10.

Besides Taillon, Tyler Glasnow was once supposed to be the Pirates’ other red-hot young pitcher. But he’s buried in the bullpen with an ERA of 5.96.

Taillon is 26, Glasnow 24. If they don’t find their form soon, when will they?

Meantime, Gerrit Cole got traded to Houston this past off-season. His ERA was 4.26 last year. It’s 1.86 this year.

Is it OK to question Ray Searage, the Pirates’ pitching coach?

Searage has done several notable reclamation projects during his tenure in Pittsburgh, Francisco Liriano and Edinson Volquez among them.

But if he can’t get the team’s best prospects to the next level, how much does he help?

Perhaps Searage is just an ordinary pitching coach.

Like the late Pirates manager Chuck Tanner said, if you’ve got a 12-man staff, the pitching coach will help four, hurt four, and four will do about the same.

Searage isn’t bad. But in the past, we’ve isolated on his positive impact.

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LIVE BY THE SWORD, DIE BY THE SWORD

Tom Wilson of the Washington Capitals took a high hit from Tampa Bay defenseman Anton Stralman last night, then complained about it after:

“It’s a vulnerable position, and no doubt there’s contact with my head. I’m just talking about it for the better of the game and the better of player safety.”

“…better of the game and the better of player safety.” Wilson said that. He sounds really concerned. Ha! What a crock.

If you live by the sword, you die by the sword. If you hit high – which Wilson does, constantly, three times in these playoffs alone – don’t kvetch when you get hit high.

Wilson broke Zach Aston-Reese’s head. He’s got zero right to complain about the love tap Stralman delivered last night.

Washington appeared to be in firm control of the Eastern Conference final, but Tampa Bay looked sharp in winning Game 3, seizing a 3-0 lead by the 3:37 mark of the second period and then storming to a 4-2 victory.

Nikita Kucherov got just one goal in five games during Tampa Bay’s second-round series win over Boston, and had none against Washington before netting last night. Kucherov also added a nifty assist on Victor Hedman’s goal.

Kucherov is Tampa Bay’s biggest threat. If the Lightning is to continue their comeback, he must keep producing. The Lightning must also limit Washington’s odd-man breaks, as they did last night.

 

INSIDE ‘BACKER = LEGIT PROBLEM

The Steelers stink at inside linebacker. They’re going to face a lot of second-and-twos. They can’t legit contend for a championship lacking so badly at that spot.

They have Vince Williams, Jon Bostic, Dirty Red and L.J. Fort. NOT GOOD ENOUGH.

Some feel the Steelers should sign Lawrence Timmons. But the Steelers aren’t generally fond of recycling. And when Timmons briefly went AWOL from the Miami Dolphins last season, he didn’t make himself more employable moving forward.

You can tolerate wacky behavior if a player can excel. But Timmons is 31 and past his prime. He does know both inside ‘backer positions. That’s a plus.

Some feel the Steelers can make a trade for an inside linebacker. Good idea. Maybe they can deal for Luke Kuechly or C.J. Mosley.

It’s not easy to trade in the NFL. The Steelers couldn’t even trade up at the draft. Acquiring a starting-caliber ILB would be even more difficult.

Inside linebacker will be a huge problem for the Steelers. Opponents will want to run the ball, to keep the Steelers’ offense off the field. Against those sub-par inside ‘backers, they will be able to do just that.

The Steelers can win the AFC North with that defense. They can even win playoff games.

But they can’t get home field, and probably not a bye. And they can’t win a bunch of playoff games in a row.

 

HOCKEY HAS NO VOICE OF REASON

In last night’s Penguins-Washington playoff game, the Capitals’ Tom Wilson broke Zach Aston-Reese’s jaw and concussed him with a hit that clearly targeted Aston-Reese’s head.

On ESPN, Barry Melrose said the hit was OK.

Melrose called it a “good, clean hit. Shoulder-to-shoulder.” Melrose then said that Aston-Reese needs to keep his head up.

Others shared Melrose’s opinion.

On NBC, Keith Jones and Mike Milbury both defended Wilson’s hit. Jones said point-blank that Wilson shouldn’t be suspended.

That’s one reason senseless violence will always be part of the NHL.

When we turn on the TV to watch hockey, we don’t hear a voice of reason. We hear musty old-timers wanting the game to be tough regardless of brain damage and bad PR.

When you legitimize, you perpetuate.

ESPN SHOULD PUT DOWN “GET UP”

“Get Up,” ESPN’s new morning show, is tanking in the ratings.

“Get Up” has lost 17 percent of the viewership drawn by “SportsCenter” in the same time slot last year. “Get Up” serves as lead-in for “First Take,” and the ratings for “First Take” are down 4 per cent from last year.

Over-analysis runs rampant.

The problem is simple.

Michelle Beadle and Jalen Rose don’t have enough charisma or likability, and neither is a proven ratings draw.  Beadle went to NBC in 2012, totally stiffed, came crawling back to ESPN in 2014, and fell upward. Her “Get Up” paycheck is $5m per year.

You need a woman and a black man. I get that, and support that.

But get the right woman and black man. Beadle and Rose aren’t.

“Mike and Mike” was a franchise radio show. ESPN ruined that to put something together that isn’t working and won’t. But that’s not Mike Greenberg’s fault.

There was an assumption “Get Up” would be a “woke” show, leaning left politically. It doesn’t. But that notion has hurt.

Perhaps ESPN’s viewership just wants a nuts-and-bolts highlight show. Like “SportsCenter,” ESPN’s franchise that now gets short shrift far too often.

MEMO TO BASEBALL: LET ‘EM FIGHT!

There were a few baseball fights in the last couple days, including last night between America’s teams, the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees. SportsCenter nearly wet its pants. “Get Up” should put that fight on a video loop and play it. Somebody might watch.

Baseball players shouldn’t fight. Actually, they don’t. Oh, they put on a big show. But the second a hitter charges the mound after he gets plunked, everybody tackles everybody.

Baseball should let the hitter and pitcher fight. Don’t get in their way. If they let ’em fight, nobody would ever rush the mound. They don’t really want to throw hands.

The most cowardly thing in sports is when a pitcher intentionally throws at a hitter. He’s launching a projectile at a speed upward of 90 mph, and the hitter has no defense.

When a hitter charges the mound, he should take his bat. Put the pitcher at a disadvantage.

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle got his knickers in a twist because Chicago’s Javy Baez flipped his bat after hitting a HR Wednesday. “Where’s the respect for the game?” lamented Hurdle, shortly before telling a dog to get off his lawn.

In the NFL, players can do a chorus line, a conga line and the death scene from “Camille,” and they’re just having fun. LET ‘EM HAVE FUN! WHY CAN’T THEY HAVE FUN?

In MLB, a mere bat flip draws ire.

Where’s the happy medium?

I avoid the issue by watching both sports as little as possible.

Memo to Hurdle: If you’re offended by Baez flipping his bat, tell your pitchers to quit throwing him gopher balls.

UPDATE: I’m told Baez flipped his bat after a pop-up, not a HR. Geez, Clint…what’s the problem?

MANZIEL & BELL = STUPID IDIOTS

Here’s a great quote from Johnny Manziel, washed up at 25:

“If Cleveland did any of their homework, they would have known I wasn’t a guy who came in every day and watched film. I wasn’t a guy who really knew the Xs and Os of football.”

Manziel appears to be bragging about being lazy and stupid, and trolls the Browns for being dumb enough to draft him with the 22nd pick overall in 2014.

Amazing.

Not far behind when it comes to making eyes roll is Le’Veon Bell of the Steelers.

A month ago Bell went on social media to thank Pittsburgh because the city “took him in” and “made him a man.” He said he wants to “finish the rest of my career in [Pittsburgh].”

Yeah, as long as the Steelers pay him $17.5 million per year.

Then, last week, Bell said, “It’s so hard to be a hero in a city that paints you out to be a villain.”

Bell can’t even win an argument with himself.

Yo, Lev: Do you love Pittsburgh, or hate Pittsburgh? Did we “take you in,” or have we “painted you out to be a villain”? Make up your mind, pothead.

GOALIE INTERFERENCE = HARD TO DECIPHER

The Penguins’ first goal last night vs. visiting Montreal highlighted the random nature of the NHL’s review process for goaltender interference.

Evgeni Malkin smacked a puck on goal from close range. Malkin went down, clearly nudging Montreal goalie Carey Price before Malkin again made contact with the puck and it entered the net.

To me, that’s goaltender interference. Price was prevented from having a chance to stop the puck. Not egregiously so. But he was prevented.

The goal counted anyway. Cue “Party Hard.” That’s no. 41 for Malkin.

But nobody really knows what the goaltender interference rule is. A varying standard is too often applied.

Review slows down the game. Players are afraid to go to the net. The crowd doesn’t immediately pop for goals.

Review changes hockey too much.

NHL GMs have decided to tweak the process for the playoffs. The situation room in Toronto will make the final call, not the referees on the ice. That’s pending approval of the league’s 31 teams.

That should lead to the rule being applied more consistently. But “should” hardly equals a guarantee.

When offside is reconsidered after a goal, losing the challenge gets a two-minute penalty. The NHL should do the same for goalie interference reviews.

If the goal stands, the team requesting the review goes on the PK. That would greatly cut down the number of requests. Coaches wouldn’t take the risk unless they were sure. (Except in overtime, obviously, and perhaps if a tie-breaking goal is scored in the waning moments of regulation.)

A BETTER WAY FOR MARCH MADNESS

No teams from Pittsburgh made (or deserved to make) the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. Local interest is dialed down accordingly (except for bracket pools and skipping work). Duke’s first two games are at PPG Paints Arena. That’s like royalty visiting. Villanova also plays in Pittsburgh.

There are too many teams in the tournament that can’t win. (Some insist that’s part of the charm of March Madness.)

The lowest seed to win the NCAA tournament is a No. 8: Villanova in 1985. It can rightly be concluded that only the top 32 teams have a legit chance.

Why not take the top 32 teams, and have eight divisions of four teams? (That still allows for the televised spectacle of seeding.) Each division plays a round-robin, and the division winners go to the Elite Eight. Single-elimination to a winner.

That would make for 55 games. The current tournament  has 68.

If TV wants a few more games, have play-in games for the last spot in each division. That would take the total to 63 games.

If TV wants more games still, have the top two teams in each division qualify for the Sweet 16. That would keep the format/timetable intact for the tournament’s final two weeks, and bump the games up to 71.

My format would mean better basketball and produce a truer national champ.

But the NCAA doesn’t care about that. It’s laughable when people say, “It’s all about the money these days.” Wake up. It’s always been all about the money. The method has just become more refined.

MALKIN = NHL MVP (SINCE JAN. 1)

Evgeni Malkin was the NHL’s No. 1 star for the month of January.

Malkin was the NHL’s No. 2 star for the month of February.

Uh-oh. Malkin is trending downward.

Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov leads the NHL in scoring and is front-runner in the MVP race. Malkin trails Kucherov by six points (but has three more goals).

Kucherov is out. He’s currently nursing an upper-body injury. So Malkin has a chance to close the scoring gap, and the perception gap when it comes to MVP.

Malkin has undoubtedly been NHL MVP since the New Year. He netted 12 goals in January, 10 more in February. It might not be possible to be more valuable.

Dan Rosen of NHL.com does a quarterly poll of those at the league’s official web site. In Rosen’s most recent survey, Kucherov topped the MVP voting. That’s no surprise.

But Boston’s Patrice Bergeron was second despite 22 fewer points than Malkin. That’s silly. Bergeron’s intangibles don’t compare to Malkin’s tangibles. Malkin was tied for third with Winnipeg’s Blake Wheeler (three less points than Malkin).

As a great man once said, “I judge myself by Stanley Cups and scoring titles, because no one votes on those.” One more of each for No. 71, please.