MLB The Show 22: Is It Worth Buying?

Alternate title: “The Search for the Flyin’ Hawaiian: Was It Worth It?”

Back when I discussed my early impressions of MLB The Show 22, my impressions were almost universally positive, including with the game’s primary online mode Diamond Dynasty. I had played a few matches and found the mode fun, but matches felt very one-sided, with most opponents sporting entire lineups full of diamond-rated players (and me sporting…well, Luke Maile and Luis Guillorme). With a vibrant (and high-priced) marketplace for top-tier players, the game’s M.O. seemed pretty obvious: Drive gamers to acquire better players using in-game currency, and in turn acquire in-game currency using actual currency. Microtransactions were (and are) the name of the game in modern sports titles, and I was determined not to spend a dime over the $60 I paid for the cartridge, even if it meant limping around with bronze-tier cards.

Then I discovered a special program being run by the game…and in turn, one player I really wanted to add to my squad:

I was a huge fan of Shane Victorino’s game in his heyday, and I just happened to have a massive hole in my lineup in center field (the game had given me Daulton Varsho, who was apparently actually a catcher). The bigger revelation, however, was this: The Victorino card could be earned through the special limited-time ‘Halladay and Friends’ online program, although it took 110,000 experience points to do so.

Thus, the question was raised: Could I add Victorino to my lineup at a cost of nothing but time, and would the game be fun enough to support earning 110,000 XP? I decided to spend a few days on the hard grind to find out. What I found was that the Diamond Dynasty mode was much deeper and richer than I had originally thought, with plenty of modes and rewards to keep players engaged and push them deeper into the game.

Ranked seasons are the primary draw of Diamond Dynasty, but a full 9-inning game is a long affair that doesn’t have the “one more game” magic that shorter games like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe or Splatoon 2 have. However, the game also features a whole bunch of special programs, most of which are not time-limited and most of which offer packs or specific players as rewards. The programs offer bite-size games called Moments, where you take control of a player or team to reach a simple goal (multiple hits, one home run, five strikeouts, etc.) within a small window of time (a few innings, or a game’s worth of at-bats for one player). For a relatively untrained eye like mine, this takes about 15-20 minutes at most (I thought Adam Dunn was supposed to be a power hitter!), and credits you a couple thousand experience points (or a few of whatever tokens you’re trying to earn) towards your current goal. This is where the “one more game” magic finally kicked in: You could play several of these games in quick succession, make substantial progress towards whatever player you wanted in a short amount of time, and have a ton of fun doing it!

In addition to your normal Diamond Dynasty team, you can also play Showdowns, where you draft a team from an initial set of players, then go through a series of challenges to gain players, abilities, and even progress towards a final objective, where you face down a boss character and have to beat them within a specified number of outs. (You can pull a Breath of the Wild and face the final boss immediately with your initial team, but it’s a steeper climb.) I didn’t find this mode quite as compelling between you don’t keep your team between showdowns (and you also have to pay an entry fee, although they’re not steep), but it’s another option that allows you to earn rewards that can upgrade your DD team.

Finally, one of the best things about active programs is that experience points can be earned through any mode, whether it’s related to Diamond Dynasty or not. Even if your Internet connection can’t support a full game, you can play game against the CPU using your DD team (or even an existing team roster!) and still make progress towards your goals. Making money might be the game’s main goal, but goal #2 is to keep you as engaged with the game as possible, and is willing to part with really good cards to do it.

So after five days of grinding, not only did I have my precious Victorino card, I had darn near an entire team of top players: Chase Utley, Carlos Delgado, Ryan Howard, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels, two players from other active programs (Babe Ruth, Bret Saberhagen), and two diamond players from the dozens of random card packs earned along the way (Ryne Sandberg, Kevin Gausman). Suddenly, I had a solid roster that could go toe-to-toe with other teams, and I hadn’t spent a cent over the game’s initial asking price.

The grinding also provided more insight into the game’s other aspects. For example:

  • The graphics continued to impress and held up fairly well, but there were some moments with noticeable frame rate drops (cornfield closeups at the Field of Dreams were consistently slow), and some stadiums (*cough* Coors Field *cough*) would constantly glitch during scene transitions. Overall, however, the Switch continues to hold up well under the game’s pressure.
  • Even with slowdown (and surprisingly, even in the face of online lag), the general gameplay went off without a hitch. Even if the game froze temporarily, the game still allowed you to execute at the plate and in the field without affecting the competition. As much as I’d like to blame my terrible hitting on the connection, the truth is that hitting a baseball in-game is just as hard as hitting a major-league pitch in real life (the difference between my online and offline stats is minimal, and you face harder/meta pitchers online).

In other words, I tip my hat to the Sony San Diego crew: They found a way to keep players playing without the experience wearing thin or getting old. In fact, it motivates players to seek out cards that they want, determine how to get them, and work towards earning whatever is necessary to do it. As an Orioles fan, I’m now eyeing cards for Jim Palmer, Brian Roberts, and Cal Ripken Jr., trying to figure out how to get them and diving into the modes that will make it happen. (I’m even thinking of making a DD meme team of players only named Kyle…) The game remains fun even though I’m still not very good at it, there are plenty of modes (short and long, online and offline) to keep things fresh, and there’s a path to competitive success online that doesn’t involve selling your soul for Shohei Ohtani.

So after all this rambling, is MLB The Show 22 officially worth buying? If you’re a baseball fan (and especially a longstanding baseball fan), I think you’ll find a lot to like here, and even if you want to be the best player on the planet, you can do it without significant financial investment, and while the time investment may large, you’ll still enjoy yourself along the way. Realistic sports games remain a weakness on the Switch, but games like this make me believe closing the gap with other consoles is possible, and I hope the relevant parties take the next steps to accomplish this.

As for me…honestly, I’m still having trouble pulling Maile and Guillorme out of the lineup. I mean, how can I pass up having Maile’s defense and Guillorme’s beard in the lineup? Sometimes it’s just about winning with you people you want on your squad, whether or not they’re considered any good.

MLB The Show 22: Early Impressions

Image from Nintendo

Baseball is back on Nintendo hardware, and it is glorious.

Sports games were a staple of both Nintendo consoles and my childhood back in the day, but as games pushed the envelope and strove for graphical fidelity and realism, they drifted towards more powerful consoles like the Xbox and Playstation (and in truth, much of the player base migrated with them, leaving few diehard fans in the Nintendo-only camp). As the Switch started blowing up, however, my hope was that the console would become too lucrative an opportunity to ignore, and companies like EA and 2K Games would port over their annual cash cows and finally give those of us locked into the Nintendo ecosystem a chance to relive their glory days. That’s only kinda-sorta happened thus far (FIFA has been here from the start but has never achieved feature parity across consoles, and NBA 2K18 was…not a fun experience), but now a surprise combatant has entered the ring: Sony?!

Apparently Major League Baseball asked Sony to put The Show on non-Sony platforms (which would totally makes sense; MLB has been eclipsed by football and basketball and needs to find fans wherever it can), so at long last baseball has returned to Nintendo. Given the power difference between the Switch and other consoles, however, the move raised an important question: Could the Switch feasibly support a game that leaned so hard on a realistic presentation?

Honestly, I would say yes! MLB The Show 22 isn’t just playable on Switch, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable baseball experience that’s been missing on Nintendo’s hardware for quite some time. The game doesn’t quite have feature parity and the ultra-realistic graphics aren’t here, but the major modes are here (for better or worse), and the core gameplay is both solid and accessible. If you’ve been waiting for a major baseball title to return to Nintendo, the moment has arrived.

First, let’s address the elephants in the room:

  • How does it look? If you’re used to being able to count every bead of sweat dripping off the batter’s forehead, you won’t get that here (in truth, if I had one gripe about the graphics here, it’s that players look overly shiny/polished when they’re supposed to look wet). For someone like me (i.e., someone who hasn’t seen a true baseball simulation since MVP Baseball 2005, the graphics looks pretty darn good, even (especially?) when compared to the zombies we saw in NBA 2K18. The animations are fluid, the controls are smooth, and the presentation is solid enough to not break the immersion (perhaps they’re a bit too lifelike for MLB’s liking; the stadiums seem to have a lot of empty seats, just like actual baseball…).
  • How does it play? The game got a ton of bad press from its horrible tech test back in February, but things seemed to run pretty well when I played the game, at least in docked mode. Stutters in the game were rare, even when playing online matches, and while hitting proved to be a challenge, it felt like a fair one: I wasn’t missing the ball because it was teleporting, I was missing it because I couldn’t read the pitch fast enough and was swinging at a curveball in the dirt. Pitching and fielding was quick was pick up and satisfying to execute, and while load times could occasionally rival that of Animal Crossing: New Horizons, there were no noticeable breaks in the action while you were in a game.

Now let’s talk about some of the things this game does really well:

  • Sports games have changed a lot since I’ve really played one (we’ll get to microtransactions eventually), so the big new addition to me was Road To The Show, an RPG-esque mode when your created player gets drafted and works their way up to the major leagues. I absolutely loved this mode: It provided bite-sized bits of gameplay that focused only on the plays your character was a part of (starting pitchers would have to go through longer stretches of gameplay), letting you quickly bounce back from a mistake or power your way through a hot streak. Now that two-way players are a feature, you can get the hitting and pitching experience in the same playthrough, even if you’re not in the lineup every day (which helps if you struggle at one of the modes; my player might struggle to reach the Mendoza line at the plate, but he’s the best blasted closer in Double-A). There are some small minigames you can play to bump up your stats, but for the most part the action takes place on the field (there hasn’t been any drama to speak of off the field, but my character tends to stick with bland answers. I save the controversial takes for Triangle Strategy decisions). The majors haven’t come calling yet, but I’m having a blast trying to get there.
  • I like how the game opens by letting you try and choose from the various control options that are available. I’m more of a “see ball, mash button” kind of guy and prefer to focus on timing and pitch recognition in the strike zone, but if you want a bit more control to aim for where the ball is thrown specifically, you can do it. Same thing on the mound: You can either work through a couple of gauges to execute every pitch optimally, or you can just aim the ball and throw it. Giving the player this much flexibility ensures that they can play the game the way they want to, which is all we can ask for from a game.

So after all this gushing, are there things to be concerned about?

  • First of all, know that the price of this game might not just be $60 for you, even if you swear off microtransactions like I do. The game requires a whopping 17 GB download when you first start (and you’ll have to sit through more downloads as roster updates are released), so you might be forced to spring for a new SD card for the game (or in my case, dump all of your kinda-sorta cool Splatoon 2 clips from 2019 to an external hard drive to make room).
  • In a surprise twist, I kind of wish there was a bit more handholding in some of the game modes, especially Road To The Show. Things just seemed to happen in the beginning that I didn’t expect (wait, what do you mean I have to manually aim my throws to first with the R stick?!), and you’ll get caught in some sticky situations until you figure out what the hack you’re doing (and it will still happen a few times even after you find your bearings). I wish the game was a bit more upfront at time with what it expects of you.
  • As a game mode, Diamond Dynasty is a pretty fun online experience, letting you take on players all over the globe in various levels of ranked matches. However, you’ll quickly notice that everyone you play has a stacked lineup of high-ranked players, and the only way to upgrade your own roster is to earn or purchase better player cards (and you know which one the game would prefer that you do). It didn’t seem like The Show explicitly pushed the microtransactions angle too much, but instead it leans on the fact that you’re constantly overmatched if you don’t sink enough time/money into the team. I could definitely see how trying to play this game competitively could lead to frustration and/or financial ruin.

Overall, however, I found MLB The Show 22 to be exactly the kind of sports simulation I had been craving to see return to a Nintendo platform. Longtime players may find that this doesn’t measure up to the Xbox and Playstation versions, but if you’re willing to concede hyper-realistic visuals and custom stadiums, you’ll find that there’s a fun and rewarding experience waiting for you here. The highest praise I can give this game is that after a few hours with it, I found myself saying “Kirby who?” When you can outshine a first-party Nintendo title, that’s saying something.

Now if only the NHL series would come back to Nintendo…Don’t make me perform a satanic ritual to summon the ghost of Paul Laus, EA. Make it happen.

NASCAR 2021: Who made the Chase?

https://www.nascar.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/7/2021/08/31/2021-TrackAnalysis-625x340.jpg
Image from Nascar.com

As I famously said many years ago, “even a blind nut find a squirrel once in a while.” (Yes, I know it’s wrong; that’s why so many people remember me saying it.)

Back in 2016, before the blog took on its familiar music/gaming format, I wrote a few scattershot posts about sports, including a defense of Buck Showalter, a tribute to David Ortiz, and a eulogy for José Fernández. Among these random posts was an attempt to peer into the crystal ball and predict the future of NASCAR—specifically, which drivers would be part of the sport’s playoff system in 2021? At the time, NASCAR had a wave of promising young talent both on the track and on the horizon, one that had made me bullish on the future prospects of the league and its place within the American sports hierarchy. Which ones would eventually lead the sport to glory?

To be honest, at things stand right now the answer is “none of the above.” Personally, I’m no longer the avid race-watcher I used to be, (although part of this is because I refuse to pay for TV when YouTube exists), and apparently I’m not alone. The downward trend NASCAR was looking to reverse in 2016 just kept on going, with the series seeing both a 50% drop in television ratings and a significant drop in in-person attendance over the last five years. Despite its influx of promising talent, NASCAR remains a niche sport far from the minds of most Americans, a sport whose stereotypical fan is fast becoming an empty bleacher seat.

Still, I made a prediction about the 2021 Chase years ago, and I was curious to see just how well that take had aged. My Splatoon 2 map predictions were pretty bad, but perhaps my NASCAR intuition turned out a bit better? Let’s go to the tape and find out:

Predicted To Make 2021 ChaseActually Made 2021 Chase
Kyle LarsonKyle Larson
Ryan BlaneyRyan Blaney
Martin Truex Jr.Martin Truex Jr.
Kyle BuschKyle Busch
Chase ElliottChase Elliott
Alex BowmanAlex Bowman
Denny HamlinDenny Hamlin
William ByronWilliam Byron
Joey LoganoJoey Logano
Brad KeselowskiBrad Keselowski
Jimmie JohnsonKurt Busch
Carl EdwardsChristopher Bell
Austin DillonMichael McDowell
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.Aric Almirola
Erik JonesTyler Reddick
Kevin HarvickKevin Harvick

…Dang, that’s a lot better than I expected. I nailed 11 of the 16 drivers, including the entire Top 10! So where did things go wrong with the other five?

  • Carl Edwards: Five years ago, I confidently declared that Edwards would be in the mix, saying he “hasn’t gone on the record with any retirement talk…and as one of the fittest drivers on the circuit, his age shouldn’t play a big a role in the decision.” Naturally, Edwards abruptly retired about five seconds after I wrote that, and was last seen sailing across the ocean. While the move may have immediately ruined my prediction, you have to respect a man who made such a tough call and seems so at peace with it all these years later.
  • Michael McDowell: On the opposite side of the spectrum, McDowell is a also-ran who got lucky and won a restrictor-plate race to notch his first Cup win after fourteen years on the circuit. Anyone who tells you they had McDowell making the Chase this year is a liar.
  • Jimmie Johnson: Johnson had been a fixture in the NASCAR playoffs since the playoffs became a thing, and I said that “I’ll believe Johnson’s run of excellence is over when I see it, and not a moment before.” That moment came in 2018, when Johnson barely made the Chase, got eliminated in the first round, and lost both longtime sponsor Lowe’s and longtime crew chief Chad Knaus. He didn’t make the playoffs at all in 2019 or 2020, and seeing the writing on the wall, he stepped aside following the 2020 season. He may not be in the 2021 field, but with seven titles on his mantle, he’ll be on NASCAR’s Mount Rushmore for many years to come.
  • Kurt Busch: I’m not entirely sure why I left Busch off of my prediction list. He was a year older than Edwards, and seemed to be bouncing between teams a lot, so maybe I figured he was on the downside of his career? His results, however, have been both respectable and consistent over the years, and though he’s switching teams again after this year, I’m starting to think he may still be a factor in the 2026 Chase.
  • Erik Jones: Young NFL quarterbacks are barely given any leash before their teams starting looking for the next big thing to replace them, and Jones wound up getting the same treatment from Joe Gibbs Racing. After performing well in the Xfinity series in 2016 and spending a year in the 78 car, Jones made the Chase in 2018 and 2019…and then got bounced from JGR in 2020 in favor of a driver who was a year-and-a-half older than he was. He found himself on the outside looking in driving the 43 this year, but mark my words: He’ll be back.
  • Christopher Bell: Bell was a contemporary of Byron’s in the Truck series back in 2016, and while he actually finished higher than Byron in the overall standings, Byron’s game was a lot more flashy (he had seven wins that year compared to Bell’s one), so he was the guy that caught my attention. Since that year, however, Bell’s track record is pretty impressive, with a Truck series championship and two Xfinity series top-fives, so you can kind of see why Gibbs made the move to replace Jones with Bell. I’m not sure I would have made that same move, but Bell did make the Chase this year, and we’ll see if he can keep up his momentum going forward.
  • Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: This was a risky pick from the start, as I noted at the time: “Stenhouse will certainly be around in another five years, but will he ever show enough speed to break into the NASCAR playoffs?” The answer turned out to be “no”: Not only was he a middle-of-the-pack driver for the last five years, but his propensity to winding up in crashes earned him the nickname “Wrecky Spinhouse.” (For a while, it seemed like there were five certainties in life: Death, taxes, and Stenhouse, Trevor Bayne, and Danica Patrick all crashing out of a race.) In the end, not even Roush Racing would stand behind him, dumping him for Chris Buescher a mere month after signing Stenhouse to a new two-year contract. He’s spent the last two years getting the same old mediocre results with JTG Daugherty Racing, and whatever championship window he had is probably closed.
  • Tyler Reddick: Reddick was basically a less-impressive version of Christopher Bell in 2016 and wound up as a part-time driver the next year, so I really didn’t see him as a legitimate 2021 Chase contender. Back-to-back Xfinity championships in 2018 and 2019, however, changed the trajectory of his career, and Richard Childress Racing brought him to the big leagues the next year. Don’t be surprised to see him not only make the Chase in 2021, but contend for the Cup as well.
  • Austin Dillon: This is probably the biggest surprise for me. I figured Dillon was primed for bigger and better things after making the Chase in 2016, praising “his Newman-esque consistency” and saying that “it’s only a matter of time before he finds his way to Victory Lane.” Such trips have turned out to be few and far between for Dillon since then, and he’s mostly been treading water on the playoff border ever since (he just missed the cut this year after a crash in the final regular-season race at Daytona). His career results look awfully similar to Stenhouse’s to my eyes, so you have to wonder how long he lasts in the 3 car before either he or his grandfather Richard Childress decide it’s time for a change.
  • Aric Almirola: If you’re in the “drivers aren’t athletes” camp (for the record, I’m not), Almirola makes a pretty solid case for your argument. This dude was a nothingburger back in 2016, stuck in a second-tier (or maybe even third-tier) ride with Richard Petty Motorsports and watching his results falling as fast as NASCAR’s attendance figures. A switch to Stweart-Haas Racing after 2017, however, turned the man into a monster, and he hasn’t missed the Chase since. (Alex Bowman saw the same transition happen after jumping to Hendrick Motorsports full-time; looking back, I’m honestly surprised I chose Bowman over Kurt Busch for the last slot on my list.) You have to be a good driver to make it in the Cup series at all, but Almirola and Bowman demonstrate the painful reality that if you don’t have the money and the hardware behind you, you’re not going anywhere. As long as Almirola’s in the No. 10, he’s a threat to make this list in another five years.

So where does the sport go from here? While I won’t make any predictions for what the Chase will look like in 2026, my gut feeling is that it will look remarkably similar to the current Chase. Some of the current veterans (Harvick, Hamlin, Kurt Bush, Truex, maybe even Keselowski) will likely ride off into the sunset, but the core of the group here is primed to make noise for at least a few more years. I’m not sure what the sport’s talent pipeline looks like, however, and even if there are some exciting new faces ready to take flight, NASCAR just isn’t the draw that it used to be. (Honestly, cars in general aren’t the draw they used to be; a 2016 survey found that nearly two-thirds of Americans consider their car to be just another appliance.) Despite the sport’s willingness to tinker with its formula (the Chase itself, the implementation of race ‘stages’ back in 2017), nothing seems to be catching the peoples’ attention, and I have no idea what else they can do to recapture the magic.

There will be a Chase for the Cup in 2026. The question will be if anyone cares by then.

Why Can’t We All Have A Decent Baseball Video Game?

Major sports leagues are forever trying to make their games more exciting and attract more fans: The NBA wants teams to play their marquee players more, the NHL keeps adjusting their overtime rules, NASCAR overhauls their entire point system every few years, and so on. In particular, younger demographics are highly coveted by these leagues, as converting them early means a lifetime of fandom (which leads to a lifetime of buying tickets, memorabilia, and other league items).

As video games are still mostly (but not quite correctly) considered the domain of the young, they represent a key part of any league’s growth strategy. Normally, that means you want your games to be a) quality products, and b) as accessible to gamers as possible. Most leagues already understand this: Madden 17 and NHL 17 are already available on both the PS4 and Xbox One, and FIFA 18 and NBA 2K18 have already announced plans to jump over to the Nintendo Switch as well.

Baseball, on the other hand, seems to want to make their products less accessible and enjoyable as time goes on. Sure, MLB The Show 17 looks like an excellent game, but it’s developed and published by Sony subsidiaries and is thus a PS4 exclusive. If you don’t have a PS4, you’re pretty much out of luck:

As a longtime baseball fan, I’m baffled as to why MLB would let all this stand, especially given the status and prestige of its competitors (seriously, the Madden release date is practically a national holiday every year). They’re not only squandering a perfect opportunity to attract more fans, but they’re losing those fans to Madden or FIFA or NBA2K without putting up any fight at all.

The only explanation I can come up with is that MLB is content with the money it’s already making from the game. For example, R.B.I. Baseball is developed directly by the league, and thus MLB does not have to share its revenue with anyone else. (They also have an annoying history of forcing people to watch regional sports networks, which clubs occasionally have ownership stakes in, by blocking national telecasts involving local teams.) While perhaps lucrative in the short term, these policies will bite baseball in the long run by pushing potential customers towards other, more available sports and sport games.

If I were MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, I’d either order my digital arm to put a lot more work into R.B.I. Baseball to make it a more satisfying experience, or I’d start leaning on Sony to make MLB The Show a multi-platform game. Until then, however, baseball is stuck relying on Super Mario and its mediocre R.B.I. franchise to introduce young gamers to its game. Good luck with that one, Rob.

Should Sports Gamers Get A Nintendo Switch?

Image from Forbes

The inclusion of NBA 2K18 in the initial trailer for the Nintendo Switch had sports gamers around the world singing for joy. At long last, after being mostly abandoned during the Wii and Wii U eras, were real sports games finally coming back to Nintendo consoles? At the time, it sure looked like it.

As we draw nearer to the Switch’s launch date, however, it’s becoming clear that the Switch is not the must-buy that we hoped it would be. However, it’s also not a console that sports gamers can dismiss out of hand, which is certainly an improvement from the last few console generations. In the end, it comes down to the specific sports that gamers prefet to play, as support for each sport varies widely.

Here at Kyle’s Korner, we’ve broken down the support for major sports on the Switch, and tried to determine what sorts of sports fans should be all-in on the Switch. Let’s get started!

If you’re a basketball fan…

Game You Want: NBA 2K18

Analysis: Let’s start with the easy one first. Not only is NBA 2K18 already confirmed for the Switch, but Take-Two has already declared that they’re planning on supporting the system in the future. While long-term support will likely be predicated on the Switch’s early sales/success, the short-term outlook is pretty bright for B-ball junkies.

Should You Buy A Switch? Yes.

If you’re a soccer fan…

Game You Want: FIFA 18

Analysis: EA has confirmed that FIFA 18 is coming to the Nintendo Switch, and it will (supposedly) not be a watered-down version of the PS4/Xbox versions, although it will be custom-built for this console. EA appears to be using the FIFA franchise to test the waters before making a full commitment to the Switch, but at the moment, they at least seem interested in exploring the option.

Should You Buy A Switch? Yes. Not only do you get FIFA 18, but every copy that game sells is a vote of confidence for EA to maintain Switch support for FIFA 19 and beyond.

If you’re a baseball fan…

Game You Want: MLB The Show 17

Analysis: This is another easy one: The Show is a Sony property and a PS4 exclusive, and not even R.B.I. Baseball looks to be coming to the Switch. Unlike you like Mario baseball titles, the Switch is not the console you want.

Should You Buy A Switch? No.

If you’re a winter sports fan…

Game You Want: Actually, there doesn’t seem to be a definitive winter sports title…unless you count the Mario & Sonic Olympic games.

Analysis: Ubisoft is bringing its Steep franchise to the Switch, but it’s also already available on other consoles. Unless you think 1080 Snowboarding is making a comeback, this probably shouldn’t factor into your console choice.

Should You Buy A Switch? N/A.

If you’re a hockey fan…

Game You Want: NHL 18

Analysis: Unfortunately, there appear to be “no plans” to bring either NHL 18 (or even NHL 19!) to the Switch. Plans can change, of course, but for now you’re better off sticking to ‘safer’ console choices.

Should You Buy A Switch? No.

If you’re a football fan…

Game You Want: Madden 18

Analysis: While it doesn’t look like Madden 18 will be appearing on the Switch, don’t write off Nintendo just yet. Madden is THE preeminent sports franchise (in the US, at least), and if both the Switch and FIFA 18 sell well in the console’s first year, Madden is likely the next in line for porting due to its sizeable fanbase.

Should You Buy A Switch? Not yet. Take a wait-and-see approach and keep an eye on FIFA 18 sales, because the idea of playing Madden anywhere without having to carry around a bulky laptop is exciting.

Overall, the Switch isn’t quite the return to Nintendo sports gaming that some of us had hoped, but that’s only a short-term prognosis. If the console takes off like a rocket in its early years, gaming companies will be clamoring for a piece of the action, and lovers of every sport will reap the benefits.

A Papi Amongst Men

David “Big Papi” Ortiz’s career ended anticlimactically last night, at the Red Sox slugger watched from the bench as Cleveland wrapped up a 4-3 victory that swept the Red Sox out of the playoffs. After the final outs, Ortiz returned to the field one last time to salute the Fenway Faithful, who gave him a rousing cheer as he rode off into the sunset.

At its core, Ortiz’s baseball story is one of a man overcoming incredible odds to accomplished incredible things:

  • Despite early-career struggles with “injuries and inconsistency” that led the Minnesota Twins to release him in 2002, he went on to hit 541 home runs, drive in 1,768 runs, and compile a career WAR of 55.4. (And that’s just in the regular season!)
  • Despite an 86-year-long World Series drought in drought (and all the depression and cynicism that came with it), Ortiz led Boston to three World Series championships. (A lot of people will point to the epic comeback against the Yankees in 2004 as his defining moment, but I’ll always remember how he singlehandedly beat the Cardinals in 2013.) Ortiz and Tom Brady are probably the ones most responsible for transforming Boston into the sports-crazy “Titletown” it is today.
  • Despite a reported positive steroid test in 2003 (and the scorn and ostracism that usually followed), Ortiz became one of baseball’s most beloved figures, both in Boston and across the nation, and retires as a respected elder statesman in the game.
  • Despite playing in a city with a history of mistreating black superstar athletes such as Bill Russell, Ortiz became arguably the most popular person in Boston during his baseball career. He cemented his status as a Beantown icon with his emotional speech in response to the Boston Marathon bombing (dropping perhaps the most famous F-bomb in sports history in the process).

Throw in Ortiz’s work as a mentor and role model to other players and kids of all ages, and it’s clear baseball is really going to miss this guy when he’s gone. Here’s hoping MLB and Ortiz can find a way for him to stay involved in the game in the coming years.

In another five years, Ortiz will add one more item to our “list of despites”:

  • Despite being “just a DH” for most of his career, Ortiz will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. His impressive statistics and postseason heroics make his case for Cooperstown as ironclad as Derek Jeter’s.

That plaque in Cooperstown will be well-deserved. He may have tipped his cap to all of us yesterday, but we’re the ones who should be grateful.

Thanks, Papi.

The Best Bum in the Business

San Francisco Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner pitched a complete-game shutout last night to lead his team to victory over the New York Mets. In other breaking news, grass is green, water is wet, and Donald Trump tweets a lot.

Seriously, how do we even describe Bumgarner’s postseason excellence anymore? The stats are beyond ridiculous at this point. Thirty years from now, people will be walking around saying, “Nothing can be said to be certain, except death, taxes, and Mad Bum in the playoffs.”

Attempts to find a weakness in Bumgarner’s game are starting to border on laughable. For example, the Washington Post notes that “historically, Bumgarner’s control erodes after 100 pitches.” That’s a bit like saying Jim Brown got tired after his first 150 rushing yards, or that LeBron James looks a little gassed after he scores his first fifty points. If this is the best anti-Bumgarner strategy you can come up with, you might as well concede the game and let your shortstop pitch.

When I called on Dan Duquette to dig up an ace for the Orioles, this is the sort of performance I was thinking about. Who needs an otherworldly bullpen with a pitcher like Bumgarner on the mound? There would be no questioning when to use your closer, because you probably wouldn’t use him at all. Even if you took the lead in the ninth inning as the Giants did, a guy like Bumgarner (much like Justin Verlander a few years ago) can serve as his own closer, dialing up harder throws when needed.

All this being said, can the Giants turn their wildcard success into a deep postseason run? Given that they have to face the Cubs next, I doubt it. A pitching trio of Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija may be enough to match the Cubs trio Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, and Kyle “Wait, this guy’s from Dartmouth?” Hendricks, but their lineup and bullpen can’t match the Cubs’ star power.

If the Giants can force a winner-take-all Game 5, however, all bets are off. At that point, Chicago will have bigger problems than a silly goat curse—they’ll have to face the ever-growing playoff legend of the Mad Bum.

In Buck We (Still) Trust

Last night, the Blue Jays beat the Orioles 5-2 in a wild(card) extra-inning game that featured mammoth home runs, exceptional pitching and defense, and inexcusable fan behavior. Today, however, the internet seems to have one burning question about the game: Where was Zach Britton?

Britton, the Orioles’ lockdown closer with a microscopic era and perfect save record on the season, remained in the bullpen the entire game, and wound up watching Ubaldo Jimenez give up a game-winning home run to Edwin Encarnacion. When asked later if he regretted the decision, manager Buck Showalter answered with a vague, rambling statement:

“You could do [that] afterwards, yeah. But we went for about four innings there trying to get to that spot…It looked like if he pitches a couple innings, if he can physically, then you’re assuming, which is a pretty good assumption with the way he’s pitched this year.

No, playing on the road has a little something to do with it, too. But we have some good options that have done a great job for us all year, and Zach’s one of those.”

Baseball writers were not impressed, to say the least. Before we all break out the pitchforks and torches, however, let’s cut Showalter a little slack and take another look at his statement.

The first part sounds a little scattered, but it mentions a concern about “if he [Britton] can physically” pitch multiple innings, as it appeared would be necessary. This seems like a weak excuse, but it’s a valid concern: Britton only pitched multiple innings in a game seven times this year, and closers aren’t exactly know for extended-inning prowess. Granted, Britton did fairly well in this seven outings, and if you’re ever going to do this kind of thing, it would be when your season is on the line. Then again, Toronto’s closer had a health scare of his own in the 10th inning, which may have played into Showalter’s thinking. This team was a longshot to make the World Series (more on that later); you don’t want to do something that could limit Britton’s availability in 2017.

The second part of the statement? That’s pretty simple: Showalter basically said “Sure, hindsight is 20/20, but I felt like any of our bullpen guys could get the job done.”

You know what? He’s not wrong. Brad Brach made the All-Star team this year. Mychal Givens had developed into a solid, trustworthy bullpen arm. Darren O’Day had a rough year by his own standards, but he was still one of the better relievers in the league. Donnie Hart had a 0.49 ERA in 22 games of work. Heck, even Jimenez had gone from being a tire-fire to a respectable starter in the final months of the season. It’s not like Showalter was sticking the ballboy (or Chris Davis) or the mound!

Should the O’s have brought Britton into the game? Based on FiveThirtyEight’s “leverage index” analysis, yeah, they probably should have. But you know what? The Orioles had a cabal of high-quality arms in their bullpen, and if they were saving Britton for when their offense took back the lead, I’m cool with that. (Heck, I was happy when I saw Britton was still in the pen in the eleventh—there was still a bullet in the gun for when the O’s hit the inevitable go-ahead home run!)

Do I think this move will “haunt Showalter forever” as FiveThirtyEight claims? It shouldn’t. Even if the Orioles had won this game, they still would have had to win three more playoff series with a starting rotation held together with duct tape and bailing wire. There’s a reason their chances of winning the World Series were pegged at a measly 4 percent. (My prediction: The Cubs rip through the postseason so dominantly that they make all the arguments like this one a moot point.)

Given the success the Orioles have enjoyed under Showalter, I’m inclined to give this guy a pass. To be honest, the guy I’d like to see more out of next year is Orioles general manager Dan Duquette: As good as he has been at finding solid contributors at clearance prices (signing Nelson Cruz for $8 mil, obtaining Mark Trumbo for a racist catcher), I think Duquette needs to get his hands on owner Peter Angelos’s checkbook and acquire an A-list starting pitcher by any means necessary (well, almost any; don’t you dare trade Machado!) The offense and bullpen are fine; but a true No. 1 ace would go a long way.

In short, I hereby declare that the baseball world needs to take a chill pill with regards to Showalter’s wildcard bullpen management. It was a defensible move (albeit an ill-advised one), and the good Showalter has done far outweighs the bad that happened last night, regardless of the stakes.

NASCAR 2021: Who makes the Chase?

NASCAR has been in a bit of a slump lately, with declines in both attendance and TV ratings and the loss of major sponsors like Sprint and Dollar General. Since its brief moment in the sunshine in the mid 2000s, the sport has slowly receded from the consciousness of the American public, leading to fears that the sport could eventually wither away into nothingness.

Spoiler alert: The reports of NASCAR’s death have been greatly exaggerated.

Despite a shrinking fanbase and the cost of fielding a competitive team, NASCAR has an abundance of the one things any sport would die to have: a promising group of fresh young talent that is about to take the circuit by storm. These drivers are hungry, talented, and poised to make noise in the sport for the next decade or so.

To highlight these fresh faces, I considered the following question: In five years (2021), who makes the Chase for the Cup? Here’s my list thus far:

  • Chase Elliot. Son of a former NASCAR champion, won the Xfinity Series championship as a rookie in 2014, made the Chase for the Sprint Cup as rookie this year, came within a couple of rough restarts of winning two or three Sprint Cup races. Oh, and he’s only 20 years old. By far the easiest pick for this list.
  • Kyle Busch. The younger Busch (he’s only 31?!) and reigning Cup champion is already one of the winningest drivers in NASCAR history. Barring injury, he’s not leaving the sport—or the Chase—anytime soon.
  • Jimmie Johnson. Six-Time has never missed a Chase since the format was adopted in 2004, and even though he’ll turn 46 in 2021, I’m inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt in this case. (He himself has been vague on the subject of retirement when asked.) Like the New England Patriots and the San Antonio Spurs, I’ll believe Johnson’s run of excellence is over when I see it, and not a moment before.
  • Kyle Larson. The 24-year-old Larson has shown great speed in first three years in Cup, and he finally broke through to pick up his first win (and his first Chase berth) this year. He’s a no-brainer pick for the 2021 Chase, and he’ll win at least one championship before his career is over.
  • Austin Dillon. Despite his relative youth (26), exceptional credentials (he’s a former Truck and Xfinity champion) and numerical legacy (he drives the freakin’ 3 car!), Dillon tends to get overshadowed by other young drivers like Elliott and Larson. He shouldn’t be—his Newman-esque consistency in the Cup Series this year earned him his first Chase berth, and it’s only a matter of time before he finds his way to Victory Lane.
  • Brad Keselowski. He’s a past champion, he contends for wins week in and week out, and at 32 he’s got at least another decade to terrorize the NASCAR circuit. The only way he misses the 2021 Chase is if he gets wrecked intentionally (multiple times) by drivers who get fed up with his hard-nosed, give-no-quarter driving style.
  • Joey Logano. At 26, Logano is basically a younger version of Keselowski. He won’t just be in the 2021 Chase, he’ll probably be a member of the Final Four at Homestead (or wherever they decide to hold the final race).
  • Ryan Blaney. Blaney has been turning heads since he scored a Top 10 in his Nationwide Series debut in 2012, and he’s looked fairly strong in the Cup Series despite driving for the storied-but-small Wood Brothers organization. He just missed the Chase cutoff this year, but at 22, his best days are still in front of him.
  • William Byron. Don’t know who Byron is? Don’t worry, you will—he won the K&N Pro Series East last year, and followed it up with six wins (and counting) and a No. 1 Chase seeding in the Camping World Truck Series this year. He’s 18 years old! He’ll be running in the Xfinity series full-time next year, and my guess is that by 2021, he’ll not only qualify for the Chase for the Cup, he’ll be a legit championship contender.
  • Erik Jones. The 2015 Truck Series champion is on the same rocket-ride to the big leagues as Byron. The 20-year-old has notched three victories in the Xfinity series this year and become a strong contender for the championship, and has already signed on to join Furniture Row Racing in Cup next year. He’ll still be contending for Cups in 20 years, let alone in five.
  • Martin Truex Jr. Speaking of Furniture Row Racing… In the past four years, Truex has transformed from a mediocre, B-level MWR driver to a true championship contender with Furniture Row Racing. Although he’ll be on the back side of 40 by 2021, his recent surge makes me think he’s still got at least 6-7 good years left in him. (Plus, his brother Ryan should be in the Cup series by then, so perhaps that will be further incentive for him to keep on racing.)
  • Denny Hamlin. Hamlin is 35, has fallen just short of championships in the past, and is in a prime position with Joe Gibbs Racing to contend for more Cups in the future. He’s already on record saying he’ll probably race eight or ten more years, and I’m betting he’ll still be a legitimate contender when 2021 comes around. His injury history, however, is a cause for concern.
  • Carl Edwards. Edwards is a more-extreme version of Hamlin: He’s older (37), he’s come as close to winning a title as anyone can without actually pulling it off (losing on a tiebreaker in 2011), and his transition to JGR has been pretty successful. He’s declared that winning a championship is his singular goal, so could he walk away if he wins a title before 2021? He hasn’t gone on the record with any retirement talk, however, and as one of the fittest drivers on the circuit, his age shouldn’t play a big a role in the decision. My money says he’s in.
  • Kevin Harvick. Call this one a gut feeling. Harvick is already 40, and he already captured his elusive championship back in 2014. Would he really still have the desire to keep racing in 2021? Call me an optimist, but I think Happy will stick around: He’s got a great relationship with his crew chief and owner (not so much with his pit crew, though), and he arguably running stronger now than he was earlier in his career. Harvick hasn’t formally addressed retirement, but I see number 4 running strong for at least another 5.
  • Ricky Stenhouse Jr. This pick might be more of a stretch than Harvick! Stenhouse will certainly be around in another five years, but will he ever show enough speed to break into the NASCAR playoffs? Despite his Cup mediocrity, I’m going to say yes: He was a two-time winner of the Xfinity Series championship, so he certainly has the talent to succeed. The Roush-Fenway organization has been struggling for several years now, and other drivers (most notably Logano) have taken a long time (and sometimes a team change) to reach their potential. I’m predicting a similar slow rise for Stenhouse, although his commitment to Roush may hamper his Chase chances.
  • Alex Bowman. Ok, this pick even caught me by surprise. Bowman, however, has acquitted himself quite well filling in for Dale Earnhardt Jr. (although some of the drivers disagreed with me in New Hampshire). He’s convinced me that given the right opportunity in the right equipment, he could make some noise and make the Chase.

To recap: My hypothetical 2021 Chase contains nine drivers that are 28 or younger, five that are 23 or younger, and three that are 20 or less! And as crazy as it sounds, my list still doesn’t capture the extent of of the oncoming talent wave. There’s no Chris Buescher, or Trevor Bayne, or Justin Allgaier, or Ty Dillon, or Cole Custer, or Daniel Suarez, or Darrell Wallace Jr., or Ryan Reed, or Ryan Truex… The list could go on for days!

One thing is for sure: When JJ, Junior, and the rest of NASCAR’s current generation call it a career, the sport will remain in good hands. The only things that could make NASCAR’s future brighter would be turtle shells and banana peels, but that’s a story for another blog post… 🙂

On the Life and Death of José Fernández

My first post on this blog was supposed to be a happy one.

I was all excited about finally jumping back into the blogosphere, and was trying to figure out what topic to discuss in my first post. What could the breakout FPS hit of 2015 learn from the breakout FPS hit of 2016? What could NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup look like in 2021? Is Josh Turner ever going to release another album? The possibilities seemed endless.

So naturally, I jumped online this morning to discover that José Fernández, one of the biggest young stars in Major League Baseball, had died in a boating accident this morning. So much for kicking off the blog on a high note…

Fernández exploded onto the scene in 2013, running away with the NL Rookie of the Year award and even getting some serious Cy Young consideration. Arm troubles derailed him for the next two years, but he had regained his dominant form in 2016, and looked poised to give batters nightmares for the next fifteen years.

At 24, Fernández seemed to have it all: Fame, fortune, and even a baby on the way. If you closed your eyes, you could easily imagine him giving a witty speech on a stage in Cooperstown in twenty years, with a proud family sitting in the front row, a plethora of awards sitting on his mantle, and several hundred million dollars sitting in the bank.

Then you open your eyes again…and he’s gone. That’s what makes this hurt the most: The thought of what might have been, and knowing now that it never will be.

If there is anything we can take away from this tragedy, it’s that death is coming for us all someday, so if you’ve got a dream or a plan or a vision for your future, you’d better get off your lazy butt and start making it happen. Consider the following:

“…Fernandez served as an inspiration to many. On top of making baseball better and more fun, his success kindled hope for the existence of the American dream: Fernandez fled Cuba in a fraught defection at age 15, saving his mother’s life in the process, and moved to Florida with little English and no understanding of the American lifestyle, then turned himself into a superstar in half a decade.” —Ted Berg, For The Win

So in the span of ten years, Fernández achieved the American dream and became a baseball superstar. How did you spend the last decade? If your answer is “Well, um…” then you’d better start figuring out what you really want out of life, because the curtain may fall sooner than you think. (I’m kicking myself right now for not starting this blog years ago.)

In short, José Fernández was a vibrant spirit with a big fastball and bigger personality, a man who lived life to the fullest and enjoyed every moment of it. We should all be so lucky.

Rest in peace, José.