Friday, March 22, 2013

2013 MLB Predictions Sure to Go Wrong

I am switching up my preseason predictions for baseball this year.  Normally I just pick divisional winners, World Series champs, and major award winners.  This time I'm changing things up to match the theme I use for my NFL season predictions, so here we go....

1. The Yankees and Red Sox will both fail to make the playoffs.  Many baseball talking heads on TV seem to think the Red Sox will be much improved this season.  Admittedly, they can't be much worse than they were last season, and they certainly had no choice but to fire Bobby Valentine for the job he did (or rather, didn't do).  But how exactly has the team improved?  They have no power bats in their lineup now that Adrian Gonzalez is long gone, their starting pitching is slightly above average, and their speed is average. How are they going to even finish above .500, much less make a playoff run?

As for the Yankees, there's a real chance that Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez could miss most, if not all, of the upcoming season.  Curtis Granderson is also out until nearly Memorial Day, which leaves Robinson Cano as the only power in their lineup.  That's anything but intimidating.

2. Mike Trout will come back to Earth.  Mike Trout's rookie season was one for the history books.  I have no doubt he will be an elite player for his career long term, but I would be shocked if he kept up the same pace he had set last year.  He's the consensus #1 overall pick for fantasy baseball, but I don't see how he could put up the kinds of numbers this year that he did last year.  Pitchers and catchers will figure him out, and he'll face a learning curve this season.

3. The Pirates will finally have a winning season.  The Pirates gave their fans something to cheer about for the first time in 20 years last year, looking destined to contend for the divisional title.  They tapered off in August and September, but they have a good core of young players, led by Andrew McCutchen.  I don't know if they'll make a playoff run this year, but Gerritt Cole will anchor their pitching staff by season's end and for the foreseeable future.

4.  The Tigers' margin of victory in the AL Central will be the widest of all divisional winners.  The Tigers somehow managed to underachieve most of the season, until a late push edged out the White Sox and resulted in them winning the division.  I don't think winning the Central will be a cake walk necessarily, but given how almost every other division has at least two teams who could realistically win the division, I don't see any other division winner with a wider margin of victory than the Tigers.  The White Sox and Indians will both be good, and the Royals might actually be ready to compete more, but I expect the Tigers to still win the division by at least 5 games over the next team in line.

5.  At least three teams will lose over 100 games.  Miami, Houston, and Minnesota will all field the equivalent of Triple-A teams this year.  They're all deep into rebuilding mode, and are a long way off from contending again.  Miami fans in particular have a reason to be upset since the team had been so aggressive in spending money in the off-season a year ago.  Now the only notable player the Marlins have left is Giancarlo Stanton, and I wouldn't blame him if he wanted out too.

6.  The Braves' outfielders will combine for over 90 home runs.  The Braves' trio of Jason Heyward and the Upton brothers is the best overall outfield I can recall in memory.  I'm really pressed to think of a trio of teammates with a better combination of power and speed than those three guys, and if anyone can think of a better group of outfielders on the same team, please tell me.

7.  The Rangers will not finish any higher than third in the AL West.  The Rangers are by no means a bad team, but they have to compete with the Angels (who have too much power and pitching to underachieve yet again) and the A's (who played with house money for most of last year, but aren't going to fall backward).  The Mariners are better too, and could end up in a dogfight with the Rangers for third place in their division.

8.  Stephen Strasburg and Jered Weaver will win the Cy Young Award.  Strasburg is going to play this season with a chip on his shoulder, given how the Nationals stuck to their guns about shutting him down after pitching 160 innings last year.  This time, he will be Strasburg Unchained, and he is going to dominate opposing lineups.  Meanwhile, Weaver has consistently quietly put together one good season after another, and this year he will have too good of a lineup to give him run support to go along with his strikeout numbers.

9.  Matt Kemp and Jose Bautista will win the league MVPs.  There are a number of similarities between these two guys.  Both had injuries cut their 2012 seasons short, and I expect both to bounce back in 2013 in big ways.  They could both lead their individual leagues in home runs, and I expect them both to lead their respective teams into the playoffs come October.

10.  The Reds will defeat the Angels in the World Series in 7 games.  I normally don't get more than 3 predictions correct per season in this format, but if this prediction comes true I think we could get one of the greatest World Series ever.  It would almost certainly be the best World Series so far in the 21st century, and there would be plenty of story lines for the average baseball fan to enjoy.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Review: The Bible

My title is slightly misleading.  I'm not going to review the actual Bible; my ego isn't that inflated.  I also don't think it's a good idea to take on The Almighty and tell Him what parts of His book worked and what didn't work so well.

I'm talking about the History Channel's miniseries The Bible.  It's a five-part miniseries, and as of this writing three of the five parts have aired.  So far the series has been very impressive from a technical standpoint.  The cinematography, music, special effects, and overall production values are excellent.  The acting has been solid as well, which isn't easy when spouting off lines about God and spirituality.  Many religiously-based films I've seen in the past have come off somewhat hokey, in my opinion, when bringing in spirituality in the mix.  Here, the writing has been at least decent, and in many cases very mature.

The series so far has not been nearly as family-friendly as previous Biblical epics have been (The Passion of the Christ notwithstanding).  Most of the biblically-based films made to date have been about either the teachings of Jesus, or centered around a single character from the Bible.  Here, the story starts off with creation, and jumps forward in time periodically to cover some of the most well-known stories throughout the entire Bible.

Like I said, the special effects are first-rate.  Moses parting the Red Sea and leading the Jews to freedom from the Egyptians was one of the most exciting sequences so far.  Last night's episode featured Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego being set afire by King Nebuchadnezzar, and the CGI fire was extremely well-done.  I don't know for certain what the budget for the miniseries is, but it has to be along the lines of what some major Hollywood productions have been.

I mentioned how this isn't as family-friendly as other previous Biblical productions have been.  The violence in this series is borderline R-rated, filled with copious amounts of blood, brutality, and whipping.  Since this is cable television, I'm not saying it's anything close to the whipping scene in The Passion of the Christ (I could only watch about half that scene before I finally had to tilt my head down and wait for it to end), but it's certainly a far cry from the traditional Jesus of Nazareth miniseries that shows up on television every Easter.

I should mention that I'd glad and grateful that A&E chose to include the violence in this series.  One thing that has always upset me about many Christians today is their aversion to violence, even in The Passion of the Christ.  I've found it to be quite hypocritical to talk about Jesus being whipped and beaten by the Romans, leading to his crucifixion to die for the sins of mankind, but turn right around and never want to watch the actual brutality.  I won't spend too much time on my soap box about this subject since that's better saved for another blog post, but I will say I hope Christians do tune in to this miniseries and realize the violent stories contained in the Bible aren't just fun stories to share and inspire others.

If there is a complaint I have about this series, I would have to say I'm disappointed at the omission of several important figures and stories from the Old Testament.  There were plenty of great stories included, such as Abraham, Moses, David, and Samson, but the likes of Job, Jonah, and Joseph were all notably missed.  I'm sure they were left out for time reasons, considering this is a 10-hour miniseries.  Had there been twice the amount of time than what was provided, those figures who were left out could have very likely been added back in.

Part three ended with Jesus recruiting Peter to aid him in his quest to become "fishers of men."  I have to assume part four will be all about Jesus and his teachings, leading up to his crucifixion and resurrection.  The final part will probably be about the Apostles and Paul's writings, concluding with what is projected to happen when the End Times arrive.

Overall I'm very happy with the production, and I'm thrilled it's gotten great ratings so far.  If you haven't checked it out yet, the episodes that have aired so far are likely available on demand, and each 2-hour episode flows by very quickly.  I'd highly recommend checking it out.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Fans Can Dream Outside the Box

I haven't said anything specific about the Ravens winning the Super Bowl, despite my previous warning about being super obnoxious about it.  However, the last few days have been tough for a lot of Ravens fans if Facebook is any indication, considering the mass exodus that has seen the likes of Anquan Boldin, Dannell Ellerbe, Paul Kruger, and Cary Williams leave to play with other teams on top of Ray Lewis and Matt Birk choosing to retire.  There's also a strong possibility that Ed Reed will leave the team since he carries a high price tag and the team has to leave enough cap space in order to sign their draft picks in April.

Fans seem to be jumping on Joe Flacco and his monster $120 million contract as the reason why the Ravens are clearing house.  That's a ridiculously stupid thing to say on many levels, not the least of which being Flacco is only being paid $6.8 million in 2013.  The team intentionally backloaded his contract as many teams do with big money contracts awarded to veteran players to avoid having to cut even more players now.  The organization also wants the team to get younger as a whole, which is a smart move for the future.  It just looks worse than it otherwise would since the team just won the Super Bowl.

I have my own take on this series of movies which is a little outside the box, but it's had precedent in the NFL.  I just ask you to stay with me and hear me out before you decide to flame me.

I don't really care if the Ravens are competitive in 2013.  In fact, I hope the team tanks the season in order to get a high draft pick after next season.

I'll give you a moment to pick your jaw up off the floor.

The obvious question you're probably asking is, "Why?"  Allow me to answer.

Next year one of the premiere prospects coming out of college is South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.  He would have declared for the NFL draft this year, except he is only 2 years removed from high school, and the NFL requires players to be at least 3 years removed from high school before declaring for the draft.  His own head coach even went on record to say he is ready for the league now, and college has merely been a formality for him before he goes pro.

Clowney is 6'6" and weighs 275 lbs as a defensive end.  He recently ran a 40 yard dash in 4.5 seconds, which is insanely fast for a man of his size.  He also can play defensive tackle and linebacker in addition to defensive end, making him the ultimate defensive hybrid player.  He is generally considered one of the best prospects coming out of college at any position in years, particularly on defense.  

Considering all his attributes, it's no surprise to consider that he will certainly be drafted near the very top of next year's draft, possibly #1 overall.  And I would run through the streets of Baltimore screaming at the top of my lungs like a little girl if the Ravens somehow got him.

Of course, such an opportunity would come at a fairly high price, that being the Ravens would have to be no lower than third overall in next year's draft order, depending on what other college players choose to go pro next year.  In theory, the Ravens could find themselves in the top ten draft order, and then move higher in order to get him, but moves like those typically come at high prices (see: Griffin III, Robert).  They certainly wouldn't be able to move high enough in order to get Clowney if their draft position is in the mid to late 20s, or even in the teens for that matter.

No, the only feasible way I can see the Ravens having a chance at landing Clowney would be if they draft in the top ten next year, which means they have to have a really bad 2013 season.  I'm talking win 5 games at most this season.

Such a season would be a classic "lose the battle, win the war" type of situation.  Fans would be incredibly outraged, and probably even blame Flacco and his contract all over again for putting the team in this chaos.  Even if the Ravens did land Clowney, it could be two years at least before the team reaps the benefits of getting him.  That's an incredibly tough pill for most fans to swallow after watching the team make the playoffs for 5 consecutive years,win two division championships, and a Super Bowl title.  

But Clowney fits the kind of players Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome likes.  He loves hybrid defensive players like Terrell Suggs and Courtney Upshaw, and Clowney would fit in perfectly with those two guys.  Add in another inside linebacker from this year's draft - like, say, Alec Ogletree or Kevin Minter - and the Ravens' front seven on defense would be set for years to come.

Like I said earlier, there has been precedent for moves like this.  The most recent example of a team having an awful season and landing a grade A prospect in the draft is the Colts from 2011.  Peyton Manning didn't play at all that season while he was recovering from his neck surgery, and the team had no other option at quarterback that season.  They ended up only winning 2 games and landed the first pick in last year's draft.  They took Andrew Luck, who was generally considered the best quarterback coming out of college since...well, Peyton Manning.  

The Colts bounced back this past season, won 11 games, and got into the playoffs as a Wild Card.  They're now set at quarterback for the next decade and can build the rest of their team around Luck.

Lose the battle, win the war.  

I'm fully aware if next season played out like this, it'd be an extremely hard sell on the fans.  I'd probably be just as frustrated as the rest of Ravens Nation, and I'd find myself looking forward to the 2014 baseball season very early on.  I might not even watch too many Ravens games if they find themselves at 2-7 during the course of the season (which isn't too crazy considering they have games against the Patriots, Texans, Broncos, Packers, Vikings, and Bears next season in addition to their division opponents).  

Hey, if it means landing Jadeveon Clowney, I'll bite the bullet.  But then, this is why fans aren't allowed to be GMs.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013


Life took a sharp left turn last week.

My girlfriend and I recently celebrated our one year anniversary, or as I called it, one year of her not suffocating me under her pillow.  I put together a weekend getaway for us in Baltimore and made reservations at a place in Little Italy for dinner.  I wanted that weekend to be perfect.

In almost every way it was perfect.  We went out for brunch with some friends the next morning, and everything was awesome.  She had a busy week at work after our getaway, so I knew I wouldn't be able to see her much the next few days.

Right now you're probably wondering where I'm going with this.  You might even think you know where this story is going, and you could well be partially right.

The weekend after out getaway she was getting back on her diet and cleansing her system.  We only got to see each other briefly, but I didn't think much of it since I knew she was busy between work and had a migraine from her rough week.  We didn't talk too much over the course of the following days either since she was still swamped with work.  I still didn't think too much of anything at this point since she was waiting on refinancing her house now that her divorce had been finalized.  I knew the waiting was a source of stress, so I wasn't about to add any pressure by trying to find five minutes to see her and the kids.

Last Tuesday she called me with some exciting news: her refi on her house was approved, and all she needed to do was sign the papers.  Excellent!  Now we could finally talk more about me moving in with her!

I should mention here that since the first week of the year I've been sleeping in my buddy's basement in his house.  It's fairly complicated to explain, but I had moved to the basement temporarily because he had a new roommate moving into my old room in his house.  We agreed to have me live down there part time while my girlfriend and I worked on finding a date for me to move in with her.  It was just a matter of time, but we had expected me to move in by early spring.

Then came this past Thursday.

I was at my girlfriend's house, and she had told me earlier in the day she needed to talk to me.  She was definitely not her normal self, especially considering how happy she was just two days before after learning her refi was good to go.  After the kids were put to bed, we had a long conversation.

The short version: I'm a single man again.

I won't go into all the details, but I was extremely caught off guard hearing her tell me why she wanted to end things.  When it was all over, I couldn't believe how in the span of less than two weeks, we went from being an incredibly happy couple to complete splitsville.  I packed up all my things I could gather and tossed them in my car.  I drove away from her house for essentially the final time, still in amazement over how quickly things had fallen apart.

Don't forget - I'm sleeping on my buddy's couch in the meantime, figuring I'd be moving in with my girlfriend in the near future.  Now that expectation is completely off the table, and I have to scramble to find something much more permanent for myself.  I had moved most of my furniture and belongings into storage around the same time I had moved to the basement, but I had to find a much more permanent place to live.  Fortunately, two of my closest buddies put me in touch with a friend of ours who is buying a house and wants to rent out her basement.  She closes on her house the end of this month, and I can check out the place after she moves in.  It sounds very promising, so it could be the best possible solution in a bad situation.

Starting life over really sucks and blows at the same time.  I have no idea if my (ex) girlfriend and I will reconcile, but in the meantime I'm strongly thinking of seeing a therapist.  I've taken a long look at myself in the mirror the last few days, and I've identified several things that need work from a mental and emotional standpoint.  I feel a little better knowing that I have friends and family members who love me enough to pick me up when life forces me onto a detour that I didn't previously anticipate.