I don't know very much about soccer. At all. I don't know very much because it never really captured my interest, but with the World Cup being on the tip of everyone's tongue for so long, I took it upon myself to read enough to get up to speed. I wanted to get in on the story that grips so many hundreds of millions of people, and so I took to my trusty Internet to get myself educated.
I did learn, a little bit. I'm no longer completely in the dark when I tune in to a game. But unfortunately, and mystifyingly, one thing will stick with me more than anything else. And that's that, with rare exception, there are two types of people in the world:
1) People who really, really don't like soccer, and have no interest in watching it
2) People who really, really like soccer, and want you to know it
It's a shame that [hyperbole] literally 95% [/hyperbole] of the soccer discussion I read was followed by the exact same argument:
Person 1: I can't stand soccer because it is really boring.
Person 2: The entire world seems to enjoy it and you are closed-minded.
Invariably, no matter the article - whether it be about formations, or team previews, or blown calls, or Landon Donovan's heroics - somebody would feel compelled to interject by calling soccer boring, and then it would snowball. So many snowballs. If there were a million different posts, there were a million identical avalanches. Someone would say the game is really boring, and then someone would get defensive, and then more often than not, the rest of the argument would be conducted on autopilot. We even saw this happen on our own SB Nation network mailing list.
It's pervasive, it's predictable, it's childish, and I don't get it. I don't get either side of it. And honestly, I think at least as far as Americans are concerned, both sides could stand to take a lesson from baseball.
All of the complaints that people have about soccer - that it's slow to develop, that there isn't much scoring, that it's complicated and confusing, that some players over-act - could be said about baseball. All of them have been said about baseball. Baseball, for the newcomer and sometimes even for the experienced fan, can be agonizingly glacial. Unlike soccer, baseball takes three hours. Unlike soccer, baseball has commercial breaks. Unlike soccer, baseball pauses for substitutions and has very limited actual game play.
The only real advantage in terms of generating interest is that a baseball game can't end in a tie, but that doesn't seem to be the biggest issue. It's not the fact that soccer games can tie that people don't like. It's that there's such a slow pace, such infrequent chances and such infrequent scores. People want soccer to be more exciting.
Do you really think that baseball is that exciting? Nevermind the fact that many of the same people who complain about soccer will turn around and tell you that the best baseball game is a pitcher's duel. Nothing quite like two aces going toe-to-toe and shutting batters down.
And yet there's little ongoing debate. If I go check out ESPN/MLB or read Joe Posnanski talk about the Royals, the articles won't be followed by a comment thread in which people shout back and forth over whether baseball's a boring game. The sentiment is there, and you hear it from time to time - my girlfriend told me early on that she found baseball remarkably dull - but it doesn't dominate the discussion. It doesn't shape the discussion. It makes up a small fraction of the discussion, and nobody really minds.
The fact of the matter is that, a lot of the time, baseball can be boring. I think even the most hardcore of fans would readily admit that it has a deliberate pace, and that the action takes a little time to build up. But the difference is they don't get defensive about it. If someone were to engage me in conversation and tell me he finds baseball boring, it wouldn't bother me. I'd let it roll off my back. This happens to me maybe every few weeks. People will tell me that they don't care about baseball, and I don't care that they don't care. They're not the ones that watch it every day. I am. What's most important, then, isn't that they enjoy the game, but that I do. And I know the same applies to most everybody else.
The people who don't like soccer should take a page from the people who don't like baseball. Your opinion is perfectly valid, but it doesn't need to be expressed at every opportunity. If you don't like something, you are free to ignore it.
And the people who do like soccer should take a page from the people who do like baseball. You don't need to get defensive. After all, you have the entire world on your side of the argument. You don't need to let the critics bother you. Why does it matter? Why do so many soccer fans seemingly feel this need to proselytize? There is no combination of words that would make someone that doesn't like soccer like soccer. The only way to change is to start watching, and anyone who jumps in to call soccer boring for no reason probably isn't going to start watching. And that's fine. The game doesn't need unanimous support.
It's a silly, immature debate on both sides, and if only the supporters would quit fanning the flames, then it might finally be reduced to a smolder. Baseball can be boring, too. Perhaps more boring than soccer. But because we're not engaged in an ongoing battle over the merits of the sport, it leaves more time for fans to enjoy their favorite game while others get on with whatever it is that captures their own interest.
And now let's get on with making fun of the Pirates and worshiping the AL East.
SBN Blog: Bucs Dugout
2010 record: 26-50
Last week's rank: 29
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 29
The Pirates went 2-13 in interleague play (losing their last 12) and lost 17 straight road games, but they beat the Cubs last night and that should count for something, right? The Pirates have the NL's worst record by 3.5 games despite the fact that they're overachieving their Pythagorean record by six wins.
SBN Blog: Camden Chat
2010 record: 23-52
Last week's rank: 30
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 28
Where did Adam Jones come from? Jones, who started the year unbelievably slow, has finally turned it around. In the last two weeks, Jones is hitting .341 with four home runs and a 1.024 OPS. In June he has seven home runs. All of a sudden, Jones is one of the O's best hitters. That has also translated into wins: Baltimore has won their last four games, including a sweep of their "Geographic Rival" the Nationals. And no, they didn't face Stephen Strasburg.
SBN Blog: Let's Go Tribe!
2010 record: 28-47
Last week's rank: 27
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 25
Cleveland finished just 5-13 in interleague play, finishing the annual gimmick with a 1-6 slide. With just 28 wins, the Indians are creeping into the Oriole-zone and could be a player in the race for next year's #1 pick in the draft. Cleveland's pitching has nearly completely fallen apart, and the Tribe are now allowing the second-most runs per game in the AL. Only, you guessed it, Baltimore, has been worse. A small bit of good news is that highly-touted catching prospect Carlos Santana has had little trouble adjusting to big league pitching. Santana hit .333/.450/.729 (BA/OBP/SLG) in his first 15 games.
27. Houston Astros
SBN Blog: The Crawfish Boxes
2010 record: 30-47
Last week's rank: 28
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 30
If the Astros can take one of their last two games in Milwaukee they'll finish June with a 14-14 record, a pretty nice improvement for a team that lost 20 games in May. The Astros were one of the NL's worst teams in interleague play: Since May 21 they've gone 3-12 against the AL and 14-8 against NL opponents.
SBN Blog: AZ Snakepit
2010 record: 30-47
Last week's rank: 26
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 22
Went 3-3 against the Yankees and Rays, and were a ninth-inning save away from taking both series. Then lost an embarrassing heartbreaker on Monday because of two errors. Edwin Jackson no-hit Tampa Bay, part of a June in which he had a 2.11 ERA, and Arizona held the Rays to just seven hits over the three games. However, Mark Reynolds' struggles continue: since his first at bat on June 13th, the slugger is 7-for-41 with an astonishing 25 strikeouts.
25. Chicago Cubs
SBN Blog: Bleed Cubbie Blue
2010 record: 33-43
Last week's rank: 21
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 18
The Carlos Zambrano saga is just the latest chapter in a down 2010 season for the Cubs, who have lost 11 of 17 to fall into fourth place in the NL Central. At least they're continuing to get surprising performances from Carlos Silva, though: he's provided a quality start in seven of his last eight outings.
SBN Blog: Royals Review
2010 record: 33-44
Last week's rank: 24
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 24
Seemingly, about once a week the Royals have a 12- to 15-hit game and score a bunch of runs. They hit singles like crazy, and don't really do anything else. The Royals are second in the AL in team batting average (.281) but are just ninth in the league in runs scored because they don't walk (2nd fewest in the league) and don't hit any home runs (3rd worst). Still, thanks to all those singles and some improved work by the bullpen, the Royals are 21-21 under Ned Yost. It's unclear what this surprisingly old team is really accomplishing however.
23. Seattle Mariners
SBN Blog: Lookout Landing
2010 record: 31-44
Last week's rank: 25
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 27
The funny thing about the Mariners is that, for as disappointing as they are, and for as weak as the lineup has been (on pace to score a record-low 551 runs), they've been playing .500 baseball for well over a month. There was an eight-game losing streak in the beginning of May that killed them, and outside of that, things haven't really gone too different from expectations. Still, that losing streak counted, and the team now has 87 games to figure out what Michael Saunders can do and test out whatever it gets in return for Cliff Lee. That's something. It's just not much.
SBN Blog: Federal Baseball
2010 record: 33-44
Last week's rank: 22
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 26
The Nationals' playoff chances are approaching zero again, albeit much later this season. Still, Nats fans will be treated to two good shows: the trade deadline with Adam Dunn's impending free agency and Stephen Strasburg's rookie year. The latter just had his worst outing of the year, which is to say he pitched pretty well against a first-place Braves team.
SBN Blog: Athletics Nation
2010 record: 37-40
Last week's rank: 20
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 11
Oakland took a tour through the NL Central and came out 5-7, and though their next six games are against two of the worst teams in baseball, that doesn't matter anymore - at ten out of the division and nine out of the Wild Card, the A's are just kind of floating around. It's awkward, too, because it's not like they're an underachieving team with a bunch of veterans to trade. They're a mediocre, young team that's just going to keep on being a mediocre young team for another three months. Not one batter with more than 30 trips to the plate has an OPS over .800. Not one.
20. Florida Marlins
SBN Blog: Fish Stripes
2010 record: 36-40
Last week's rank: 19
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 15
The Marlins opened up a "home" series yesterday against the Mets in Puerto Rico, which included hot weather and a sparsely populated crowd that was mostly Mets fans--so just like home. Meanwhile, after firing Fredi Gonzalez, the Marlins have reportedly balked on Bobby Valentine's price-tag. Whoever gets the job, he would surely win manager of the year, if he could turn this team's season around.
SBN Blog: Brew Crew Ball
2010 record: 34-42
Last week's rank: 23
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 16
So far, so good for the Brewers on their stretch of 16 of 20 home games: they swept the Twins for the first time since moving to the NL, and took two of three from the Mariners to get back to seven games below .500 for the first time since May 29. Rickie Weeks has been hot on the homestand, hitting .481/.576/.852 over seven games.
SBN Blog: South Side Sox
2010 record: 39-36
Last week's rank: 16
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 12
Thanks to an 11-game winning streak, Chicago is back in the AL Central race. Such a streak was a fairly stunning development for a team that had trouble winning even two in a row for the season's first month. Nevertheless, since April 23, the White Sox have gone 33-25, the best record in the division over that span. Just a fortnight ago, the Sox appeared headed for a tumultuous summer, but a 15-3 run through interleague play has completely altered the script in Chicago. It will be fascinating to see what Kenny Williams does next.
17. Colorado Rockies
SBN Blog: Purple Row
2010 record: 40-36
Last week's rank: 14
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 23
Colorado split six interleague games, beat the Padres, and hit .298, but caught a case of the K's, fanning 69 times, most in the National League over the past week. Perhaps more of concern is a pitching staff that allowed 43 runs, a season high for any seven-game period. Closer Manny Corpas continues to meltdown - since June 19th, he has allowed 12 runs in only four innings of work. Huston Street will likely take over this week.
SBN Blog: True Blue LA
2010 record: 41-35
Last week's rank: 15
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 21
Interleague play has not been kind to LA. Losses to the Red Sox, Angels and Yankees left them 2-8 over a ten-game span, a pace that saw the Dodgers drop out of the NL West lead, at one point falling five games back and in to third place. A win on Monday was good, but they'll need a lot more. Manny Ramirez is back to form - 22-for-49 in his past baker's dozen appearances - but Andre Ethier has a sub .600 OPS over the same time, and still seems bothered by the broken pinkie.
15. Cincinnati Reds
SBN Blog: Red Reporter
2010 record: 43-34
Last week's rank: 17
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 14
The Reds are 13-12 in June and might be coming back to Earth a bit. This upcoming stretch in their schedule could go a long way towards determining their long-term path: They face two more games against the Phillies, a road trip through Chicago, New York and Philadelphia, and then a home series against the Rockies.
SBN Blog: Bluebird Banter
2010 record: 40-37
Last week's rank: 13
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 10
The only team on a worse slide than the Rays in the AL East is the Blue Jays, who are 9-15 in the month of June. The offense is a big part of the problem: in May, the Jays scored 164 runs. In June, they've scored just 75. The Jays haven't been so fortunate in interleague play either, racking up a 7-11 record. The Jays now sit eight games back in the East. It took a little while, but it would appear the AL East has finally sorted itself out as expected.
13. Detroit Tigers
SBN Blog: Bless You Boys
2010 record: 41-34
Last week's rank: 7
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 7
No one's really caught Tiger mania, but the Motor City Kitties wake up on Tuesday morning in first place in the AL Central for the first time since May 20th. Detroit is just 4-4 in their last eight, so it isn't like they're on a tear. Instead, they've merely hung around. The bullpen has been a huge asset for this team, so it will be interesting to see how the injury to Joel Zumaya affects the team's ability to win close games. Of note: Max Scherzer's 2.95 ERA in six starts since returning from the minors. Scherzer has struck out 49 batters in just 36 innings over that span.
SBN Blog: McCovey Chronicles
2010 record: 40-35
Last week's rank: 11
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 13
Nearly stayed in second-place, but dropped series in Houston and to Boston before losing to LA on Monday, to fall five games back after a 2-5 week where they scored only 18 runs, conceding 30. A potentially crucial week for San Francisco beckons, as they face division rivals Los Angeles at home, then travel to Denver to face Colorado: none of the trio can afford to lose much more ground in the NL West.
SBN Blog: Viva El Birdos
2010 record: 42-34
Last week's rank: 9
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 8
The Cardinals went 3-3 on an interleague road trip to Toronto and Kansas City last week but that wasn't good enough to hold off the Reds, who have retaken the division lead. Nine of their next 12 games are against the Diamondbacks, Brewers and Astros (and six of those games are at home), so the Cardinals could start off hot in July.
10. Minnesota Twins
SBN Blog: Twinkie Town
2010 record: 41-35
Last week's rank: 3
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 1
After losing to the Tigers on Monday night, Minnesota finds themselves in second place for the first time since April 11th. After starting 19-9 however, the Twins have gone just 22-26, which is only a game better than what the Royals have done in that span. Moreover, while the Tigers and especially the White Sox racked up wins against the National League, the Twins went just 8-10 in interleague play.
SBN Blog: The Good Phight
2010 record: 40-34
Last week's rank: 18
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 20
Check back with me after Chase Utley's MRI results, and I'll give you one of two answers on how the rest of the Phil's season might go. Good teams can overcome injuries, but Chase Utley is as irreplaceable as any player in the majors, including Albert Pujols. With Placido Polanco, a potential candidate for a shift to second, also injured and backup Juan Castro massively incompetent, Philadelphia would likely have to swing a major trade to stay in contention.
SBN Blog: Amazin' Avenue
2010 record: 43-33
Last week's rank: 10
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 17
The Mets aren't losing a step in their pursuit of the Braves, thanks to the re-emergence of Jose Reyes and David Wright as themselves, pre-2009. And while their excellence comes as no surprise to anyone, the other twosome powering the Mets, Hisanori Takahashi and R.A. Dickey, are understandably being treated as ticking timebombs. Look for the Mets to make a play for one of Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, or Dan Haren soon, as they wait for someone to pitch themselves out of the rotation.
SBN Blog: Halos Heaven
2010 record: 43-35
Last week's rank: 12
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 19
It's cruel, winning and still losing ground, but that's what happens when the team you're chasing goes up against the dregs. Still, the Angels are 22-9 since late May and have pulled within short distance of the Wild Card, which is something I don't think a lot of people saw coming. That said, it's still probably not going to happen. Realistically, LAnaheim needs to set its sights on the division, which makes this upcoming three-game set with Texas so huge. As the Rangers are a good degree easier to deal with on the road, there's an opportunity here.
SBN Blog: Lone Star Ball
2010 record: 46-29
Last week's rank: 4
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 5
8-1 over nine games against Houston and Pittsburgh. It's how it was supposed to happen, and it's how it happened. A lot of times, teams will look back on golden opportunities and express regret for not seizing them. The Rangers seized theirs. Now they get another, with three games against the Angels. Sweeps are unlikely, but this team is a sweep away from being able to coast to the finish line. Fun Fact I Didn't Realize: Josh Hamilton is slugging .620. It seems 2009 was nothing but a little hiccup.
SBN Blog: Gaslamp Ball
2010 record: 45-31
Last week's rank: 9
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 1
Is it time to finally admit that San Diego is for real? Could be. The past week saw solid performances on the road in Florida, beating the Rays and sweeping the Marlins, extending the Padres' division lead to a season-high gap. The Elias Sports Bureau says the bullpen is nearly on track to be the first ever to throw 50+ innings in a calendar month, with a sub-two ERA (currently 2.06) and over ten K's per nine IP
SBN Blog: Talking Chop
2010 record: 45-32
Last week's rank: 3
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 6
The Braves made Strasburg lose! ...And it was kind of his fault! ...And they did it without Jason Heyward, something they'll have to do for at least the next fifteen days. A strained thumb ligament prevents Heyward from gripping a bat, not a reason for surgery, but a reason for his nearly 200-point drop in OPS this month, from 1.017 on May 30 to .821 today. Playing without Heyward may be the first real challenge for the first-place Braves, but the return of Jair Jurrjens should soften the blow.
SBN Blog: DRays Bay
2010 record: 44-31
Last week's rank: 5
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 2
Everything seems to be coming apart for the Rays. Not only are they losing, but they're fighting, too. B.J. Upton and Evan Longoria had to be separated in the dugout on Sunday. After winning 17 games in April and May, the Rays have won just ten in June. Their run differential in June is just +4, considering it was +68 in April. Tampa Bay hasn't had back-to-back wins since June 9th against Toronto. They're better than this, but on May 23rd, they held a six-game division lead. Now they're back by three and scrambling to keep up.
SBN Blog: Over The Monster
2010 record: 46-31
Last week's rank: 2
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 4
As the Red Sox continue to ride high, the inevitable has struck: injuries. Dustin Pedroia and Victor Martinez have both been put on the disabled list, with Clay Buchholz also suffering an injury over the weekend. With Pedroia and Martinez out, the Red Sox will need to fight to stay alive near the top of the AL East. Buchholz isn't expected to miss any time, but timetables for the returns on Pedroia and Martinez are more significant and damaging. The Sox lost a series in Colorado this week, but thanks to a Pedroia "Laser Show," the Sox managed one win. The Red Sox's next 11 games are against the AL East, minus the Yankees.
SBN Blog: Pinstripe Alley
2010 record: 47-28
Last week's rank: 1
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 1
Like a lot of American League teams, the Yankees are fans of interleague play. New York went 11-7 against its NL foes, including winning six of its last eight. The pitching staff is still led by Andy Pettite (ERA+ of 149) and Phil Hughes (128), a combo many didn't expect at the beginning of the season. Derek Jeter has also picked it up as of late, hitting .353 with an .888 OPS in the past week. There just aren't a lot of weaknesses. Nor should there be.