Tuesday, October 27, 2015

2015-2016 Atlanta Hawks Preview

The Atlanta Hawks won 60 games last year which is a great season by any standard.  Still they slowed some down the stretch (Milsap's injury didn't help) and were vulnerable in the playoffs (even before the Korver and Carroll injuries).  It really made me wonder if this team can make it as a true contender.  So I was excited to see what the team would do going into the off season.  And I left truly disappointed.  DeMarre Carroll left via free agency and the major acquisitions were Tim Hardaway Jr., Justin Holiday, and Tiago Splitter.  While they may be nice additions they aren't game changers.  And much of them being nice additions depends on how they hopefully get better this year while fitting into the Hawks' scheme. 

Jeff Teague once again anchors the team at point guard.  He is steady and one of the better point guards who can give you points when you need it.  Dennis Schroder is a good backup who shows flashes of brilliance but his jump shot is iffy.  Kyle Korver will return as the three-point shooter who helps set it all up.  I'd still like to see his output increase (12.1 PPG last season) but there is some truth that he helps the system by making teams guard him close why making them pay with his outside shot when they don't.  Kent Bazemore is a decent backup but don't expect anything fancy from him. 

Thabo Sefolosha will try to replace Carroll which will be near impossible to do.  He is very good defensively but isn't as good a scorer.   Hardaway Jr. and Holiday will also get minutes at small forward.  Atlanta is really hoping a change of scenery does Hardaway some good and he can up his shooting from the three point line.  Milsap should be good for 16 points and 7.8 boards a game again this year.  His passing in coach Mike Budenholzer's system is almost as important as the other stats he puts up.  I've never been a huge Milsap guy but I have to admit he works in this system well.

Al Horford is back to be the big man.  Like we say every year he is an undersized guy playing center but does a great job of doing just that.  He can be as good as any on his best nights.  I know it is too early to be thinking about this but I worry about whether or not Atlanta will be able to resign him at the end of this year.  I'd hate to see him go. Tiago Splitter will spell Horford and will also log minutes at power forward.  Coming from the Spurs one would hope he can adjust quickly to his new team. 

This is a good team but Atlanta really didn't make any impact moves leaving the Carroll departure as the biggest thing to affect the lineup.  Can Sefolosha or someone else step up and fill that whole?  I'm not sure.  I think Atlanta is good when firing on all cylinders.  Last year worked but now that Carroll is gone how big a deal will that be?  Budenholzer will have to figure that out moving forward. I think 50 wins is doable for the Hawks and maybe, just maybe they can get back to the conference finals.  Believe me I am hoping. 
These new Hawks uniforms are horrible!

2015-2016 Portland Trail Blazers Preview

I think the picture of Damian Lillard is appropriate for this since he is about all they have left from the 51 win season of last year.  Gone are starters LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, Wes Matthews and Robin Lopez.  Wow.  Replacing them are miscellaneous players the front office has been able to gather up.  Lillard will anchor the point guard spot and with all the departures I think he can increase his scoring output.  After that it gets shaky. CJ McCollum has the edge over new guy Gerald Henderson at shooting guard.  McCollum actually has upside but isn't the shooter that Matthews was.  Keeping that theme, we'll see Al Farouq-Aminu and Alan Crabbe compete for minutes at the small forward sort.  Neither is proven and will be hard pressed to fill Batum's shoes.  At power forward Ed Davis looks to be the guy and I think he can develop into a nice player but I'm not sure how effective a scorer he'll become.  Mason Plumlee, Myers Leonard and Chris Kaman will be the centers.  Again many questions at a position that will have to be answered once the season starts.  I hope Plumlee can be the guy many think he will.  We haven't seen it yet but who knows what can happen once he is actually starting.  Way too many question marks to make me think this team is a playoff contender.  I am thinking 35 wins.  I sure hope I am wrong but only time will tell. 

Monday, October 26, 2015

Moses Malone Passes Away

It has been a few months since the passing of NBA great Moses Malone at the age of 60.  I wanted to throw a few thoughts out there.  Malone was a dominating player who played 20 seasons averaging 20 points and 12 rebounds for his career.  The three-time league MVP (one-time Finals MVP) made his money on the offensive boards.  He led the league in offensive rebounds nine times and is the all-time career leader in that category (3rd overall in total rebounds).  He was also a master of getting to the free throw line landing second on the all-time free throws attempted and free throws made lists only behind Karl Malone.  Moses will routinely show up in the top 10 of the all-time NBA greats lists and it is well deserved.  He was a beast underneath.  Not a guy that was going to look for a jump shot he did his best work underneath scrapping for rebounds and the put back.  Moses made the all-star team 13 times and was first team all-pro 6 times and second team all-pro 5 times.  He should never be overlooked when talking about all-time great centers in the NBA  I was very sad to hear of his passing and he is one of my favorites players and it is a shame he died too young. 

2015 World Series - New York Mets vs Kansas City Royals

While I could have seen the Kansas City Royals here at the beginning of the season I really didn't see the New York Mets in the World Series.  While I have no love for the Mets this is a great matchup.  The Royals are a great contact hitting team while the Mets starting staff loves to strike out opposing batters.  So where do you go with choosing a winner?  I'll go with New York.  When in doubt go with pitching.  While the bullpens favor the Royals the Mets definitely have an edge with their starting rotation.  They also have enough offense to back it up.  With a few good starts by their pitching this could go Kansas City's way.  Still I'll say the Mets win this one in seven games.  That said, I'm rooting for the Royals.  I love this team and really want to see a World Series banner raised at Kaufman Stadium.  Should be a great series no matter who the eventual winner is.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Hotel Transylvania 2

Was able to see Hotel Transylvania 2 movie recently and I wasn't disappointed.  These are just fun little movies and it of course is great fun with Halloween just around the corner.  I won't go into a huge review or detail but this is a fun movie.  I've always loved the classic monsters and they are done well here in an animated environment.  Adding to it is the human boy who marries Dracula's daughter and now the son they have.  Of course grandpa and all his friends are doting family who can't wait for him to grow into his fangs.  There is also much more interaction with humans in this movie which adds to the adventure.  Again, this is just an enjoyable movie that any kid will enjoy and I recommend you take a look. 

2015 Topps Baseball Update Series Trading Cards

Grabbed a retail box of the 2015 Topps Baseball Update Series from the local Wally World.  For just under $10 you get 72 cars which I broke out below.  Standard update stuff with lots of young players and those who have changed teams.  Always nice to see players in their new unis.  They also throw in some inserts from the original series as well as some new ones.  I really like the All-Star Game and Homerun Derby cards.  Those are always a favorite of mine though I really, really dislike the hats the players wore for the game.  The team cards were also nice.  Nothing special but a nice pic with a little write-up on the back.  I've always liked this set and I didn't find any reasons not to like the update cards...though pulling a relic would have been nice.
Base Cards - 47 (12 Rookie Cards - RC/1 Future Stars)
All-Star Game/Home Run Derby - 14
Team Cards - 2
Rookie Combos - 2
1st Homerun - 2
Checklist - 1 (Miguel Cabrera 400th Homerun)
Pride and Perserverance - 1 (Anthony Rizzo)
Rookie Sensation - 1 (1997 Livan Hernandez)
Tape Measure Blasts - 1 (Mark McGwire)
Highlight - 1 (Joe DiMaggio)

2015 MLB Playoffs - League Championship Series Are Set

NOTE:  I posted this much later than expected so both the ALCS and NLCS have started.  This was written prior to the start of those series though.
Great games and series in the Wild Card and Division Series playoff rounds.  All you want are good games and great moments and we got both.  The Pittsburgh Pirates didn't beat Chicago but the Cubs did beat the Cardinals which I thought would would happen. It is great to see Chicago get to the National League Championship Series but it was just as fun watching them beat the Cards who are their big rival.  This Cubs team is young and easy to like. These guys aren't a fluke and it isn't hard to think they could go all the way...which is exactly what I think they'll do.  I expect to see the Cubs in the World Series. 

The Mets are a good blend of offense and pitching but I didn't think they'd be able to defeat the Dodgers as they did.  They are a tough matchup for the Cubs and should provide for an excellent series.  You have to like any team who can beat a team that throws Kershaw and Greinke at you in a five game series.  The moves New York made at the trade deadline were great and they have backed those moves up with a nice post season to this point.

Kansas City beat a Houston Astros team which surprised me by beating the New York Yankees in the wild card game.  I loved this matchup and wasn't surprised it went five games.  Kansas City is still that team that just makes it happen.  Hits can come from anywhere and if their pitching can get to the seventh inning with a lead, the win is almost guaranteed.  K.C. also had to be excited to see the outstanding effort by Johnny Cueto in the clinching game five.  The Royals can't be counted out in any series. 

Toronto stormed back after losing their first two games to Texas to stamp their appearance in the ALCS.  I love this team and that power.  With all the great pitching we now see in the big leagues it is fun to see a team who can seemingly hit one out during any at bat.  And what did I think of the Jose Bautista bat flip?  Loved it.  While I enjoy the prim and proper respect that baseball cherishes I also think that moments like that, great moments, should be full of emotion.  Bautista didn't direct his actions at any particular player.  It was just emotions flowing.  I stand by my original thoughts and think Toronto will make it past Kansas City to reach the World Series. 

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Baseball Mogul Diamond Review

This year I picked up Baseball Mogul Diamond.  The last version I had, and reviewed, was Baseball Mogul 2013.  Diamond is a Major League Baseball simulation game that uses players from 1900 to allow you to play teams and leagues as you wish.  You get to be the manager and general manager as well as the player during in game simulations if you wish.  I love this game.  I can get lost in it for an hour or so without even thinking.    I won't go into as much detail as the 2013 review so please take a look at it to get more information.  Bottom line with Diamond is it is a very good simulation game that allows you to play with players from as far back as 1900, customize leagues, have fantasy drafts, be a general manager, a manager, make trades, set strategy, sign free agents, and much much more. 
Setting Lineups & Managing the Minor Leagues

I love the ease.  I usually start my franchises in 1964.  I complete a fantasy draft which allows me to draft some of the all-time greats.  I tend to have the computer finish most drafts as they can be plenty lengthy.  From there I try to win with the team I drafted.  If that doesn't work I quickly go to work making trades to build up my minor leagues with prospects.  Trading is easy and I love the feeling of making decisions that could turn things around.  I mean who hasn't thought they could do that.  Each season takes me less than an hour to go through depending on how many individual games I end up finishing (usually not many).  As you progress throughout the years, you'll see things change just as they did in the majors - more playoff teams, division alignments, and expansion teams. 
Individual Game Screen
I suggest starting with the big market teams the first time you play this game.  It is very easy to start running out of money when you aren't keen on the nuances.  You don't want the game to get frustrating before you know how to play so starting with a big marked team with a bigger budget allows for a little easier going early on.  Games can be saved at any time so you can play one game, multiple games or even multiple seasons.  I love that. 
Standings, Team Stats, Quick Budget View, and Team Leaders
The game is also available on Amazon.  Some of the reviews are pretty negative.  I take this into perspective.  I think this game offers a lot of great options, stats, capabilities, and simulation choices.  For me the price point is great considering how much is included.  I get that there are hardcore fans of this game who want to see more and better changes but I think this game does a great job providing what is advertised.  Some think it should do more but I think much of that is sour grapes.  This is a great game. 

Individual Player Stats & Scouting
Sports Mogul allows you to download a free version of their 2012 Baseball Mogul game here.  It doesn't have all the functionality but you'll get the idea.   The only real drawback to me is the lack of Major League team licenses.  While it is a bummer the logos are the only things missing.  You still have the actual teams and team name.

If you enjoy baseball at all enjoy the thought of being a general manager in the major leagues you need to check this game out.  It is nothing but a joy for me and I think serious fans will also get hours of fun from it.   
Available Free Agents

Free Agent Negotiations

Trade Negotiations

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

2015 MLB Playoffs

Playoff time is here again and I have to get my two cents in.  I'll start in the National League.  If you are the Pittsburgh Pirates you are hating life even if you won't say it publicly.  First you're perennially stuck behind the St. Louis Cardinals which has meant you are again a wild card team despite winning 98 games this year (88 in '14, 94 in '15).  To add insult to injury you are stuck playing the 97 win Chicago Cubs and their Cy Young candidate in a one game playoff tomorrow night.  As much as I love the Cubs' story I'm rooting for the Pirates.  They have done well the last three years and I'd like to see them rewarded with a division series win.  To do that they'll have to get past the Cubs and the 100 win Cardinals.  Their work is cut out for them but I have hope.  The Dodgers host the Mets in the other Division series.  I like L.A. here if for no other reason than the 1-2 punch of Kershaw and Greinke.  If by chance the Mets can win one of those games they have a shot at winning this series but I think this series hinges on those first two games.  The Cardinals just win.  I don't have a clue how but they win.  Living near St. Louis I have to live it all season...in depth.  That said I think that some of the injuries they're dealing with may be too much for them to overcome.  The Cubs and Pirates are both loaded for bear and should be able to beat the Cardinals.  It may be wishful thinking but I think they can.  I give Pittsburgh a better shot than the Cubs but neither can be counted out.  So I'm thinking Dodgers-Pirates in the N.L. Championship Series.  From there I have to stick with Pittsburgh.  I think in a seven game series they can still beat the Dodgers even if they have to face the "Dynamic Duo" four times.  The Dodger's inconsistent offense will be their downfall. 

In the American League the Houston Astros and New York Yankees square off tonight in the wild card game.  I have a feeling the Yankees win this game but how great would it be for Houston to host a playoff game this year?  Their fans and the franchise has suffered for a long time.  Still New York probably takes it.  I don't think either team can beat the Royals so Kansas City should be in the A.L. Championship series for the second year in a row.  Toronto hosts Texas in the other series.  The Rangers are another team we didn't see coming this year, especially after the first half of the season.  Still Toronto has great offense and enough pitching to get by most teams and that includes the Rangers.  Can Toronto get past Kansas City in the next round?  I think so.  Again their offense should be the tipping point.  Kansas City is a very good team overall so I would never count them out (see last year's playoff games as proof). 

So how about a Blue Jays - Pirates World Series?  I'm digging it.  I think the Blue Jays take it all though with an offense that can pummel the best of pitching staffs.  It could still go seven games which of course is what I'd be hoping for in any scenario.  With my teams nowhere to be found in the playoffs I always find teams to root for and this year has plenty of options.  I'm all in on Pittsburgh but the Cubs are so good of a story that a World Series appearance would be nothing less than lots o' fun.  In the American League Houston and Texas have never won a World Series and Kansas City and Toronto haven't won one in a very long time.  All would be great stories but that doesn't mean any of the other teams wouldn't be.  I just know who I'll be rooting for.  Pittsburgh and Kansas City (with Houston close behind).  Still I believe we'll see Toronto as the champs once it is all said and done.  More than anything I hope for some great moments, great games, and plenty to talk about the next day at the water cooler.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Star Wars: Journey to the Force Awakens Trading Cards

Grabbed a couple of packs of the Star Wars: Journey to the Force Awakens trading cards.  Two key thoughts to this set.  The price point of $4.98 for 14 cards is too high.  You can get 30 Topps football or 40 Donruss football cards for the same price so I don't get why these have to be so expensive.  My other takeaway is the base cards are pretty blah.  While they hearken back to to older Star Wars cards it seems like we've seen this set before.  That said I'm a huge Star Wars fan and was very excited going in and maybe I was expecting too much.  The inserts and many parallel colors are OK but nothing with these cards just wowed me.  I'm not saying these aren't good they just don't do anything for me.  There is of course some good here.  I like the puzzle pieces that are on the back of the cards and of course seeing photos of characters and scenes from the upcoming movie.  I pulled Death Star silver, Jabba Slime Green, and Black Starfield colored parallel cards.  I also pulled a concept art card, sticker card, and Heroes of the Resistance card.  The sticker was pretty cool but didn't take up much of the card and the concept art card is also very nice.  I doubt I'll pick up more of these.  Just not enough wow factor.  I will seek out other reviews to see if maybe I'm missing something.  I hope others do enjoy the set and I do think it helps build the excitement for Star Wars: The Force Awakens.