We are now more than two weeks into training camp, which means the Pittsburgh Sports Power Rankings are more powerful than ever. Drop and give me 10.
10. Fake News!
Did you hear the one about Steelers linebacker James Harrison saying that if “anyone on my team sits for the anthem, they better be in a wheelchair?” Then you, dear reader, have heard Fake News!
That quote, which Harrison never said, was circulated this week by former NHL player and current NBC hockey analyst and bad Twitterer Jeremy Roenick.
Roenick has yet to remove his post. (Shocking that a colleague of Mike Milbury and Pierre McGuire’s would do something dumb, I know.) But both the Steelers and Harrison have made clear the quote is made up.
This is actually the second time a false, anti-Colin Kaepernick quote has been attributed to Harrison. The same thing happened last September and even Snopes debunked that one. The point is this: Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet. Except, of course, for the preceding three paragraphs on the Internet that I wrote. Believe them.
9. Gerrit Cole
When the Pirates drafted Gerrit Cole No. 1 overall in 2011, the hope was that he would be their Clayton Kershaw. That didn’t happen.
Not a big deal. There aren’t many Kershaws in baseball history. But then the idea was that he would a legitimate ace, the team’s first since … Doug Drabek? And while it took a while for Pirates fans to accept that Cole wasn’t an ace either, at least being a solid No. 2 or even No. 3 starter was fine. Winning teams need good middle of the rotation starters, right?
But now we’re at the point where it would be nice if Cole just performed like a solid No. 5 starter. On Wednesday, the Pirates, having lost three in a row entering the game yet somehow still in the playoff race, faced about as must-win a game as you can have in a sport that plays 162 games a season. At the very least it was must-win adjacent. And so the offense came out against the second place Milwaukee Brewers and took a 4-0 lead in the top of the third inning. And then not-Kershaw, not-an-ace, not-a-No.-3, barely-a-No.-5 Cole gave it all right back. The Pirates went on to lose, 7-6, and fell four games back of the Brewers and 5.5 back of the Cubs thanks to getting swept.
The original fear with Cole was that the Pirates would lose him after the 2019 season to a big budget team like the Yankees. Now the more concerning thought is that the Pirates might keep Cole on the roster longer than he deserves.
8. Matt Cullen
Sit down, Pittsburgh. We need to talk. I have some bad news. Your hockey dad is leaving.
Look, it’s not your fault, okay? This was a decision that he made, and he will have to live with the consequences. You’ll still see him from time to time. When the Penguins play the Wild this season, for example. Or when he comes back here for Stanley Cup reunion ceremonies. But he’s gone. He chose a new team. We must move on without him. Maybe you’ll get a new hockey dad. There’s a handsome 45 year-old named Jaromir that’s available.
7. Neil Walker
Matt Cullen is gone and Neil “The Pittsburgh Kid” Walker is now on the Brewers … and not only on the Brewers, but helping them beat the Pirates. In Milwaukee’s mini, two-game sweep, Walker went 3-for-6 with a home run. And former Pirates outfielder Keon Broxton also hit three home runs in the two-game series. Fun!
The Pirates play four games against St. Louis now, so expect Cardinals reliever and former Pirate Zach Duke to pitch 36 no-hit innings.
6. Sammie Coates
Sammie Coates’ wife gave birth to the couple’s first child on Tuesday, and then on Wednesday, the Steelers receiver practiced with the team for the first time in training camp.
With both Coates and Martavis Bryant now back, joining Antonio Brown, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Eli Rogers, Justin Hunter, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Cobi Hamilton, Marcus Tucker and Demarcus Ayers, the Steelers can begin implementing the 10-receiver sets they’re apparently planning. The key, of course, will be Ben Roethlisberger getting rid of the ball quickly, before the defense gets by his zero offensive linemen.
5. Little League
The Pirates play the Cardinals on Sunday night on national television in Williamsport, Pa. Surely if the Pirates lose that game, no one will make jokes about how the Pirates can’t even win on a Little League field. That fruit would be so low-hanging that even a Little Leaguer/Pirates player could reach up and grab it.
4. Josh Bell
Hey, want to hear about a Pirates player who is good? Josh Bell! The rookie first baseman hit .198 in May, .250 in June, .290 in July and .372 in August. At his current rate of improvement, he will hit close to .500 in September (and then .000 in October because there’s only one Josh Bell on the Pirates, unfortunately, so when the postseason begins, they won’t be playing in October.)
Look, only idiots get excited about performances in preseason games. BUT HOLY CRAP. DID YOU SEE HOW GOOD T.J. WATT LOOKED IN THE STEELERS’ PRESEASON OPENER?!?! Two sacks, and he was chasing people down all over the field. If there’s anything that wipes away the disappointment that is the Pirates, it’s knowing that the Steelers will go 19-0. Hashtag blessed.
2. NL Central
This horrific division just won’t put the Pirates out of their misery. The first place Cubs have lost 8 of their last 14. The Cardinals have lost three in a row, and the Brewers had lost six of eight before getting to play the Pirates. Yet one of these teams is still going to make the playoffs. Just another example of Millennials expecting to be rewarded for their mediocrity. Sad!
1. Phil Kessel
What else could be No. 1 this week than one of the greatest photos in sports history?