The Week That Was In Pittsburgh Sports: Week of 6/22

Coach speak, football canceled, baseball on

Matt Koll
June 26, 2020 - 10:45 am
Josh Bell, Adam Frazier, Cole Tucker

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Here are five things across the Pittsburgh sports landscape to happen this week, with some spin on it as always. 

5. Pittsburgh Not Named An NHL Hub City 

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STORY: The NHL still hasn't announced their two hub cities as of this writing, but this week it eliminated a few candidates. Dallas, Columbus and Pittsburgh will not be host cities. Cities still in the running at this point are Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Edmonton, Toronto and Chicago. 

SPIN: Would it have been nice for Pittsburgh to host these games? Sure. Would have been a good boost to the local economic and would have been cool to have the eyes of the hockey world focused in on the city. In a hockey sense though, it doesn't matter much. Every venue will be sterile without fans and the Penguins wouldn't have even played in Pittsburgh, so there is no decided advantage of hosting games in your home city. 

It's interesting that there are all west coast and Canadian cities left in the running, which calls for some schedule-balancing skills. The league will have to juggle game times to make sure we aren't made to watch playoff games at 3 pm on a Wednesday. I'm confident they will, even if it means a bit later puck drop for games involving west coast or central time zone teams.  

4. Derek Shelton Runs Through DH Options 

STORY: On with the Cook and Joe Show on Wednesday in his normal slot at noon, the Pirates manager laid out his DH options for 2020 now that we know the Bucs will have one. "We could use Moran, we could use Polanco, we could use Bell, we could use Riddle (?!?), we could use Osuna, we could use Phil Evans (?!?)..."

SPIN:  The (?!?)'s there were my insertions as in..."what in the world?!? Let's hope not." I mean, I know the Pirates aren't necessarily boasting a Bronx Bombers-like lineup, but come on. JT Riddle or Phil Evans? There better be some injuries across the board if it gets to that place. I don't want to look into that too much, I think it was more of Shelton just running through every possible name in his head. 

The DH certainly provides some flexibility for the corner infield spots and in right field with any combinations of Moran, Polanco, Bell and Osuna. For me, Osuna is clearly the better defensive first baseman and I still want to see what he can do with close to every day at-bats so a frequent move to the DH for Josh Bell makes sense. The candidate right behind him would be Polanco. We still don't know how strong that arm is anymore for him and if he proves he can't even get the ball into the infield on a fly, then he makes frequent trips to the DH spot. That scenario is more interesting because who plays in right? Josh Bell? There was some scuttlebutt about signing Yasiel Puig this week, which would be nice...but ain't gonna happen. I think this is an evaluation year for a new regime trying to get a handle on what they have. I don't expect much in the way of additions, if there are any at all. 

3. Mike Tomlin Reveals Early Lineup Possibilities, Player Support 

STORY: In a Zoom conference call with reporters on Tuesday, Mike Tomlin covered a variety of topics. As expected, he said he would support any players who choose to kneel or protest this season, but did say he wants them to do so in a classy, thoughtful way. He also revealed that Matt Feiler will get the first snaps at left guard in replacement of the now retired Ramon Foster and Chuks Okorafor and Zach Banner will duke it out for the right tackle spot. In more depth chart talk, Tomlin said Tyson Alualu will get #1 nose tackle reps, with Dan McCullers behind him. 

SPIN: Mike Tomlin was well-prepared and thoughtful as always this week on everything he touched on. He also said all is good on the Ben Roethlisberger rehab front. The last time we saw the Steelers take on the anthem issue head on, it was a disaster as Al Villanueva stood a little farther out from his teammates in the tunnel and it sparked national controversy. I don't expect the same this time around, as the Steelers will have plenty of time to figure out their plans. I just wonder if it will be an attempt united front again like last time or each player will choose his own way.

As far as the lineup, the offensive line news didn't really surprise me. This is the first year in about a half a decade really that I've felt a little uneasy about that group. They took a step back last year in my estimation and now there will be two new starters. I like Alualu, I think he was a key piece in not missing Stephon Tuitt last year. Dan McCullers amazes me with his ability to stay on this roster, seemingly just because he's a humongous human being. That's about it. 

2. Hall Of Game Game Canceled 

STORY: ESPN's Adam Schefter was the first to report this Thursday morning, as the game between the Steelers and Cowboys slated for August 6th was nixed. The Pro Football Hall of Fame class of 2020 induction ceremony, featuring Troy Polamalu and Bill Cowher, was also postponed to 2021. 

SPIN: This wasn't really a surprise and it also didn't mean the NFL season is in any kind of serious jeopardy. When Cam Heyward came out so strongly against it being played last week, that was the writing on the wall for me that the league felt much the same way and we wouldn't see it. It's just too early in the process and overall, too meaningless a game to force into action. I think this is the first domino to fall in what will likely be a 2-game preseason schedule, which isn't really a bad thing. League rumors have already surfaced of that happening, to limit travel and potential spread before the regular season, the real money maker. 

The NFL has been so aggressive in keeping things the same, I find it hard to believe we won't start the season on time unless there is a tremendous spike in COVID numbers across the country, not just in hot spots. But as always...who really knows. 

1. Bucco Season Is On!  

STORY: After much painful deliberation and negotiation, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred finally enacted a 60-game season, slated to begin July 1st with Spring Training 2.0, or "summer camp" as I saw on social media, with a start date on July 23rd or 24th. The universal DH will be featured and so might a rule in which a baserunner is placed at second base to begin each half inning of extras. 

SPIN: Baseball is back. I guess that's what is important. For now. Until the CBA talks come around in 2021 and these two sides go back at it again in hopes they can actually be reasonable with each other and not waste more playing time. A 60-game season means the standings will likely be closer, but with the playoffs staying at the standard 10 games league-wide, the Pirates prospects at postseason play look slim. This season, to me, is about as non-traditional as it gets and when we look back, will only be a minor blip in the history books without anything substantial coming from it in terms of the champions crowned or the stats accrued. 

Related: How Does Joe Musgrove Think About The DH Coming To The NL?

What could make this season substantial, though, is if any of these new rules stick. DH in the NL? Runner on second in extra innings? Apparently the latter works well in the minor leagues, but I'm not crazy about the idea although I've shifted to a "wait and see" attitude with it. The DH in the NL I think has real staying power. I think most players want it, I think many fans do as well, especially younger ones. I wouldn't be surprised if we have seen the last of pitchers stepping up to the plate. ​

 

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