July begins with a BANG! as the “sports offseason” is rather busy on multiple fronts.  What to do as I try to get my poolside summer reading done…

 

It’s almost fitting that it took until the 82nd game (one after the midpoint) that the Nationals Opening Day Eight finally played a full nine together.  Big Red Machine, they’re not…but you need healthy components to be successful in the NL East race.  Bryce Harper’s return (1-3 with 1 run and an RBI) provided some pop and extends the lineup (Desmond hitting 7th is always nice) while providing manager Matt Williams options against tough lefties (Zim to 1st while LaRoche rests his legs), righties (Harper to CF while Span takes a seat), American League parks (Zim DH’s) and tough pitchers in general (Rendon to 2B while Espinosa slows down his 186 strikeout pace).  Hopefully Jordan Zimmermann can keep up what was an incredible June (six starts, a 1.43 ERA with opponents batting .192).  Will Harper’s attitude in wanting to play CF and bat higher than sixth hurt the club?  I’m happy to see a player of his potential want to hit higher and play a more demanding defensive position…but the key is playing his way into both spots.

 

Despite a Tigerless weekend after Mr. Woods was unable to shake three months rust and a Friday where the notables weren’t on the leaderboard but below the cut-line (Major winners Ernie Els, Vijay Singh, Mike Weir, Keegan Bradley and  Jason Dufner)…at least Sunday at Congressional Country Club began with a former US Amateur Champ atop the leaderboard.  But Ricky Barnes bogeyed consecutive holes on the front nine…and after getting back to 6 under par carded consecutive double-bogeys on the back nine.  Opening the window for Justin Rose…who somehow bounced back from a Thursday 74 (same score as Tiger) to shoot 65, 71 and 70.  That final round placed him one shot ahead of Shawn Stefani (sounds like a designer accessory, but he’s actually a 2-time winner on the web.com Tour) before Rose bogeyed 18.  Stefani’s missed birdie putt on 18 set up a playoff that was rather drama-free when Stefani’s second shot landed in the water hazard.  All in all a nice weekend in Bethesda– and it’s a shame there’s not a course inside the beltway that will embrace this tournament as much as the PGA will embrace said course.  For many in the area:  Gainesville, Virginia may as well be Gainesville, Florida.  The biggest problem for Tiger’s tournament isn’t the place but the timing:  next year the Quicken Loans National takes place during Redskins Training Camp…and the following year it moves to late May.  The bigger a tournament is…the less it moves on the calendar.

 

Americans to the Exits–so much for the US hopefuls at Wimbledon.  John Isner’s loss in the mens’ third round and Madison Keys retiring from her third round match mean that for the first time since 1911– no American man or woman is in the Round of 16.  Make that gentleman or lady.  It’s a shame there are no American elites excelling on the major tournament level…because both games are exciting in completely different ways.  The mens’ game is a full-fledged Fab Four Era where Djokovic, Nadal, Murray and Federer take turns trying to one-up each other (sorry, Stanislas Wawrinka–you’re the Pete Best of the bunch).  Federer may be the lion in winter, but grass is his surface.  Nadal may have Federer’s number, but he’s never been as good on grass as he has been on clay.  Djokovic may be the top seed, but he’s reached the finals here only twice in his storied career.  And Murray may be the only Brit in the bunch, but when he loses he becomes just a Scot.  Barring an upset, there will be compelling fireworks on July 4th.  Speaking of upsets, that’s what makes the womens’ game so interesting to follow come Grand Slam time– witness last year’s carnage at Wimbledon where most of the top seeds were gone by the end of the first week, followed by more blood-letting this year.  Where are OUR underdog women that are shocking the world?  Where’s our elite man that makes the Fab Four a Fab Five?  Sadly the absence of both drains the American rooting interest.  So much for “Breakfast at Wimbledon”;  for years its been the omelet of sports viewing…while for most Americans this year it’ll have the significance of a pop-tart.

 

Speaking of breakfast, according to Wikipedia “the Belgian waffle is identified by its larger size, lighter batter, larger squares, and a higher grid pattern that forms deep pockets.” For those eating today– beware.  As  World Cup Fever reaches a potential apex this afternoon the US National Team faces Belgium in the Knockout Stage.  While Belgium went 3-0 in Group H, let’s remind ourselves that Russia’s ranked #19, Algeria’s 22nd and South Korea currently ranks 57th.  Team USA’s Group (OF DEATH) G path that finished 1-1-1?  A 2-1 victory over #37 Ghana, a 2-2 tie with 4th ranked Portugal and a 1-0 loss to 2nd rated Germany.  So the RPI thing (to go college hoops on you) favors the Americans.  Jozy Altidore’s hamstring remains a question and a concern…and goaltender Tim Howard can only stand on his head so many times this tournament between the pipes, right?  Just like I was rooting for the US not to be subject to the casting of lots (the final tie-breaker in group play)…I’m hoping for no penalty kicks this afternoon.  I accept that penalty kicks is the way of the world…but it seems as arbitrary as free throws.  Instead, I’d rather see the two 15 minute periods followed by 15 minute “sudden victory” periods.  Recalibrate the substitutions after regulation and then if 90 more minutes are played, recalibrate them again.  The World Cup should decide the better/best team– not the better/best shooters & goaltender.

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