Tuesday, March 18, 2014

2014 MLB Predictions Sure to Go Wrong

You'd never know it if you looked out a window in the Baltimore area today, but spring starts this week.  With spring also comes the return of baseball, and there will be much rejoicing at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.  Of course, that also means another round of my predictions that are bound to be seen as laughable by season's end.

1. The Yankees will miss the postseason for the second straight year.  Hank Steinbrenner's head will likely explode if this were to happen.  If the Yankees did fail to play October baseball again, it would be the first time in over 20 years such a feat occurred (heads across the league office and TV networks would also likely explode).  My argument is based largely on the Yankees' lineup; it's a mishmash of veterans way past their prime (e.g. Brian Roberts, Vernon Wells, Brian McCann, Ichiro, and Carlos Beltran) and a bunch of guys who don't generally hit for power (e.g. Jacoby Ellsbury, Derek Jeter, and Eduardo Nunez).  The main power bats in the lineup will be Mark Teixeira and the aforementioned McCann and Beltran, which is a far cry from some of their lineups over the last decade.  The only way they can possibly try competing is if they change their philosophy to play small ball to generate runs, which I don't see as a likely switch to happen.

2. The Orioles will win the AL East. Homer pick alert!!  Yes, my heart is getting a little bit of the best of me, but compare the Orioles lineup and rotation to the rest of their division.  Their offense is arguably the best, and their pitching staff is probably third in the division behind Tampa and Boston.  Dan Duquette shopped wisely in the offseason by adding Ubaldo Jimenez and Nelson Cruz, and if Jimenez is anything like he was in the second half of last season, the Orioles' pitching will be markedly better overall.

3. The Phillies will have a firesale come July.  If this were 2006, the Phillies would have one of the best teams in baseball.  Unfortunately, their lineup is much like the Yankees, filled with veterans well past their prime.  Chase Utley and Cliff Lee will probably be the most valuable trade chips for Ruben Amaro to rebuild the franchise, and they've already put Jimmy Rollins on the trading block.  Who would be interested in acquiring any of their aging vets and how they'd work out the remaining dollars on some of those huge contracts are the million dollar questions.

4. The Angels will still finish under .500.  The Angels are without question the most disappointing team over the past two seasons.  They managed to finish 2012 strong and only missed the Wild Card by 4 games, but last year was an atrocity that nearly cost Mike Scioscia his job.  Texas has rebuilt itself, the A's will still be great, and Seattle will be improved.  The only reason the Angels will avoid finishing in last place is because Houston is in their division.

5. Danny Salazar will have a breakout year.  Full disclosure: I never heard of this kid until after I had accidentally drafted him in fantasy baseball.  I was ready to drop him right away until I did a little reading and research on him.  He's one of the Indians' top pitching prospects, and was called up late last season as the Indians made their run for the playoffs.  His fastball has already been clocked in the high 90s, and that's supposedly not even his best stuff.  He probably won't throw more than 160 innings or so this year since he's so young, but he'll be a household name by the end of the season.

6. None of last year's Wild Card teams will return to the playoffs in 2014.  And yes, I realize that includes the Rays and Pirates.  The Pirates were last year's darling team, finally breaking a streak of over 20 years without finishing over .500.  They will be this year's version of the 2013 Orioles: a team who is in the hunt until close to the end, but still find themselves on the outside looking in.  As for the Rays, I don't have that much faith in their offense being able to consistently put up enough runs on the board to support their incredible pitching staff.  I also expect the Indians and Reds to slightly regress from last year.

7. The Diamondbacks will be the upstart team of the season.  Arizona finished at .500 each of the past two seasons, and they lost their best starter in Patrick Corbin to the dreaded Tommy John surgery for the year.  However, Paul Goldschmidt is going to put this team on his back for the bulk of the season, and lead them into October.  The Dodgers will still win the NL West by a healthy margin, but the Diamondbacks will snag one of the Wild Cards.

8. Yu Darvish and Gio Gonzalez will be this year's Cy Young winners. Both guys have been incredibly dominant over the last couple years, though Gonzalez has flown under the radar somewhat in his first two seasons with the Nationals.  I expect both the Rangers and Nationals to play some October baseball, with their rotations anchored by these two guys.

9. Mike Trout and Paul Goldschmidt will be the league MVPs.  Neither pick here is terribly original or surprising, especially in the case of Trout.  They also each finished second in MVP voting in their respective leagues last year, so jumping up a spot won't be that much of a leap.  Still, Mike Trout will finally win the award he came so close to winning each of the last two years, and Arizona will look like a bunch of thieves for signing Goldschmidt to a six-year deal prior to last season.

10. The Oakland A's will defeat the Atlanta Braves in 6 games in the World Series.  My World Series pick is already in serious jeopardy considering both teams have at least one starting pitcher hurt; the Braves already have Kris Medlen headed for Tommy John surgery and the A's are losing Jarrod Parker for the same reason.  On top of that, the Braves' Brandon Beachy may well need Tommy John surgery also, and the A's will be without A.J. Griffin for at least the start of the season.  I'm still sticking with it though, mostly out of stubbornness and clinging to a small hope that both teams will make a play for a starter or two by the trade deadline.  I'm also counting on the A's Sonny Gray and the Braves' Julio Teheran to have big years.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Follow Up

Some good news regarding my mom's condition came through last week.  To recap, while she was in the hospital a neurologist had ordered both a CAT scan and MRI.  Both tests were negative, and the doctor had wanted my mom to come back in a few days for an EEG.  If there was anything to find, the EEG would show it.

Within a few days after being dismissed from the hospital, my mom started feeling quite a bit better, save a few fleeting moments of dizziness.  Signs were pointing towards her seizure being a fluke at that point, but we still wanted to find out the cause if at all possible.

I took her to her appointment, which was nearly a week after her hospital stay.  The appointment took nearly two hours, and she emerged wearing this headdress of sorts that was connected by a tube to a battery pack.  She had to wear this unit for the entire weekend, and any headaches or dizzy spells would be recorded for further evaluation.

I stayed with her most of the day before having to leave.  She wanted to be on her own for the weekend to see if she could take care of herself after spending the past week with my sisters and me taking care of her.  By Sunday night, she had removed the unit and was going to return it the next morning.  She told me she had no symptoms at all, and felt pretty close to her normal self.

On Thursday she was due for her test results.  The EEG came back negative as well, which all but confirmed the seizure was a fluke after all.  The cause was still a mystery, but we're out of the woods.  My mom is still not allowed to drive for the next 10 weeks, but it's a small nuisance to make sure this doesn't become a recurring problem.

The first 24 hours or so after her seizure was initially very scary.  My mom has been in fairly good health her entire life, and she's even taken measures to improve her health by getting some regular exercise and switching to a predominantly gluten-free diet.  We're all relieved that her condition isn't debilitating or long-term.  Still, we're all lucky she was able to get in the hospital as quickly as she did, or else this post would have a very different tone to it.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Too Close For Comfort

I've been sitting and stirring over writing about what happened late last week, unsure over whether I'd talk about it on here or what I'd have to say about it.  Blogging has been very therapeutic for me since I started writing over 4 years ago, so I figured I might as well discuss it here.

I got a call last Friday night into Saturday morning around 2:30 AM from my sister.  I knew something had to be up just from the sight of her name on my caller ID.  Before I even had answered the phone, I was a little nervous about what this was about.

She said our mom had some kind of seizure that night and was already in the hospital.  At that point, there was also the possibility she had had a stroke, though no one was sure what exactly she had experienced.  To say I was shocked and unprepared for that kind of news would be an understatement.  My sister went on to say that she and her boyfriend were going to head to the hospital to stay with her the rest of the night.  My mom was already set to have both a CAT scan and MRI, though neither had been performed just yet.

We hung up, and I laid in bed wondering what to do next.  Do I get dressed now and head to the hospital as well?  Should I wait until morning?

I wound up trying to go back to sleep and would go to the hospital in a few hours.  Going back to sleep was almost out of the question since my mind was racing in all kinds of directions.

At that point, I was somewhat hoping my mom had a seizure instead of a stroke.  It felt like the lesser of two evils, considering recovering from a seizure is a much less daunting task than doing so from a stroke.  I've known people who have dealt with seizures since childhood, and they're able to live fairly normal lives.  Strokes can be much more severe (from the little that I know of them), and I didn't want to think about what kind of effect a future stroke could have on my mom.

By morning, I called my sister back to check up on her. She was quite frazzled to say the least, and even got pretty emotional over the sight of our mother laying in a hospital bed.  Mom had already had her CAT scan by then, and the doctors found no abnormalities on her.  The MRI was coming later, so we had to play the waiting game on that.

In the interests of relative brevity, I'll jump ahead a bit to her MRI.  Those results didn't show anything either, and a neurologist examined my mom as well.  All signs and symptoms had pointed towards seizure, and my mom had talked about feeling dizzy at times over the previous few weeks.  The doctor wondered about the possibility that my mom had experiences seizures during her sleep and woke up not even aware of what may have happened overnight.

My mom was discharged from the hospital on Sunday, and this week my sisters and I have taken shifts over watching her and taking care of her.  I'm on duty as I write this, and later today I have to take her in for an appointment to conduct an EEG.  My mom is in much better condition now than she was on Saturday, and we're more concerned about determining the cause of the seizure than anything else now.

Still, this entire ordeal got me thinking about something from a much more macro perspective than the immediate fact that my mom was in the hospital.  As children - and to our parents, we are all still children even once we become grown adults - it's easy to think our parents will always be around.  We may even take them for granted in that regard, possibly thinking of them as immortal.   After the first phone call with my sister, my mind started to picture what life might be like without my mother.  Those thoughts had scared me more than most anything else I had thought about in a very long time.

It's probably fairly selfish of me to think that I'm not willing to part with my mom yet.  I have several friends who have lost at least one of their parents, and they've been able to keep on living after the grieving period.  My mom is still fairly young though; she just turned 59 in January.  She's even been fairly conscious of her health prior to this incident, so she's been eating healthier foods and getting regular exercise.  She's worked on adding years on her life, and frankly I hope that I don't have to think about the idea of losing her again for a very long time.

During my second year of college, I took a sociology class.  One thing that has stuck with me from that class nearly 15 years later was an exercise my professor had conducted one day.  He told us all we would have to write down an instinctive response as an answer to a question about a scenario, and we wouldn't have time to think about what we were going to say.  The scenario was this: You're stuck on a life raft with your mother, spouse, and child after your boat out in the ocean had capsized.  Suddenly, a storm comes in, and waves rock the raft back and forth.  Everyone in the boat is thrown clear, and you have only enough time to save one of the three other people in your boat.  Write down which person who you're going to save.

My professor yelled out, "WRITE IT!"

Everyone in the class was obviously startled, and my instinctive answer was "child."  That was the most popular answer in the class by far, but once my professor had tallied up all the numbers he pointed out something very interesting.  In our country, our natural response would be save the child since the kid has virtually his or her entire life to live.  However, in other places across the globe - especially the Far East - the most popular answer to that question by far would be mom.  The logic behind it is in such a dire situation, a person could theoretically marry again and/or have more children later in life, but an individual is only ever going to have one mother.  A mother - or father, for that matter - can't be replaced.

I suppose I sound like a mamma's boy in writing this post, and to some extent that's true.  But when I think about what may have happened had one or two details of this story been different, I don't mind being a mamma's boy.