Saturday, March 30, 2013

Boston Red Sox 2013 Preview

Last year the Red Sox went 69-93 and finished last in the American League East.  That won't happen again this year.  Boston acquired closer Joel Hanrahan from Pittsburgh and signed reliever Koji Uehara, outfielders Jonny Gomes and Shane Victorino and catcher/first baseman Mike Napoli.  These transactions alone won't make them a division contender but for Boston this is a "rebuilding" season so fans can't expect the moon. 
Jon Lester, Clay Bucholz, Ryan Dempster, John Lackey, and Felix Doubront will anchor the starting staff.  Collectively this looks great on paper but as last year shows that means little when the games are played.  None of these pitchers had an ERA less than 4.56, Beckett's was over 5 and Lackey didn't play due to injury.  Lots of questions.  I believe they have to be better than last year when the best any starter did was 11 wins.  Even if the starting pitchers aren't their old great selves they should at least be better than last year and I expect Lester and Bucholz to have solid years reminding fans why they have hope.
The bullpen is anchored by Hanrahan at closer.  His transition to the American League will be key.  If he doesn't cut it the bullpen could be in trouble.  Andrew Bailey is the closer in training and could step in but he is an unknown at this time.  Koji Uehara was signed away from Texas and had a great year with a 1.75 ERA, .64 WHIP, and .160 batting average against.  He is 37 so I have to hope this won't be the year he plays old.  Otherwise the bullpen has decent talent but they don't blow opponents away.  My hope is they can be solid and the additions make big contributions.
David Ortiz is back and DH but won't start the season due to injury.  He is always solid as long as he can stay healthy this year.  Mike Napoli, Dustin Pedroia and Will Middlebrooks will anchor the infield.  All are solid players and they must play good defense and keep the bat on the ball for Boston to succeed.  Jose Iglesius will play short until Stephen Drew returns from injury so this could be a negative for a time. 
Jackie Bradley Jr. is the darling coming out of spring training after a great March.  Hopefully he can prove he belongs when the stats really count and keep his spot on the team when players start returning from injuries.  Jacoby Ellsbury had a sub par season in 2012 but there is no reason to believe he can't stay healthy and bounce back.  Shane Victorino will be the other outfielder and brings much needed energy and speed.  He fits well though it is a wonder why Cody Ross left for Arizona for about the same amount of money.  Jonny Gomes will provide depth and possibly start if Bradley Jr. falters early. 
I like the hiring of John Farrell as manager.  Bobby V. was the worst choice EVER and it was obvious from the start of last season.  My hope is Farrell, previously the Red Sox pitching coach, can return the pitching staff to above average form.  As always the American League East is competitive.  New York is ailing but they still have talent.  Baltimore will have to show they can do it two years in a row and Toronto replaced everyone except the mascot with high profile signings/trades.  I actually think Boston can take 2nd place this year with the Blue Jays winning the division.  I don't think they make the playoffs.  That would take everyone playing at their best and that may be too much to ask for though Red Sox fans will not be happy with anything less.  I think they can compete for the division title but that may be too optimistic.  They just need to get on the right track and should be one of the powers that be in the coming years as some of their minor league talent is ready for the big show.  

Friday, March 22, 2013

Atlanta Braves 2013 Preview

While the 2012 Atlanta Braves made the playoffs after a historic swoon in 2011 left them watching from home, I'm not sure it was that much of an upgrade. They lost their one game playoff series to the St. Louis Cardinals doing away in one game with what they had fought for for 162 games.  This off season Atlanta shook up the lineup and are hoping the pitching can once again be one of the league's best as the Braves look to no longer be a one hit wonder.
Thirty-seven year-old Tim Hudson will anchor the staff with his pitching and leadership.  He led all starters last year with 16 wins.  Hopefully this isn't "the year" in which age catches up to him.  Kris Medlan and Mike Minor will follow Hudson.  Both had good years last year with Medlan coming out of the bullpen for the most part.  This year each will need to guard against a let down as Atlanta will count on them as the number two and three starters.  Veteran Paul Maholm will be right behind the youngsters and inconsistent Julio Teheran will be the fifth starter until Brandon Beach returns from Tommy John surgery. Overall this is a nice group but with the youngsters and an aging Tim Hudson it wouldn't take much for the staff to be in disarray. 
The bullpen is anchored by closer extraordinaire Craig Kimbrel.  No issues there.  The rest of the bullpen is filled with players who have helped Atlanta's bullpen be among the best in the majors the last two years.  They include Eric O'Flaherty, Johnny Venters, Jordan Walden (acquired from Angels), and Luis Avilen.  A few youngsters who pitched well in short stints with the Braves last year will round out the pen.  I like the bullpen and feel very comfortable with it going into the season.
The big news of the off season was the acquisition of the Upton brothers, Justin and B.J.  The outfield hasn't looked this good in some time with Jason Heyward anchoring right field.  Justin is the real deal young star talent.  Hopefully his brother will feed off the family reunion and be able to cut down on his strikeouts while getting on base better than in his time with Tampa Bay.  Heyward mature at the plate last year and Braves fans are hoping for even more this year.  First baseman Freddie Freeman also had a very good year leading the team with 94 runs batted in.  These four give Atlanta a great core with power and some speed while allowing Atlanta to exploit left right match ups.  Rookie Andrelton Simmons will take over at shortstop.  Looks like he can make contact but he'll be put into the lead off spot so we'll see if he can be patient while getting on base.  Brian McCann and Dan Uggla had bad years.  Evan Gattis could be the catcher of the immediate future if McCann can't bounce back or doesn't resign after this year.   Uggla has to have a better year this year or he may go down as one of the all-time worst free agent signings.  If he doesn't improve I'd be OK with him being moved sooner than later.  Third base has a big hole to fill with Chipper Jones retiring.  Newcomer Chris Johnson and Juan Francsisco will share time here.  I think Johnson has the edge with more time but is also a guy who can strike out a lot.  Speaking of, this whole lineup can strike out a lot.  Not saying they'll set any records there but if things are going wrong it could go way wrong.  But I like the changes.  The lineup has more overall pop than it has in years and should be better.  I don't think the offense will be derailed.  Too many good players here.
I like manager Fredi Gonzalez and think he has done well in his tenure with a group of, for the most part, young players.  The National League East will be tough as always.  Not sure what to expect from Philly but Washington has plenty of talent and I don't see a letdown there.  I think Atlanta makes the playoffs but again as a wild card.  I'm worried about the starting staff.  If all goes well the Braves could win the East but I'm not quite sure that will happen this year.  I'll go with 90 wins.  GO BRAVOS!

Four Days...No Internet/No TV - I Survived!

This week the wife and I headed to a local lake for four nights.  It was an early wedding anniversary present to ourselves.  The cottage we stayed at was nice.  A single unit to itself, our back porch looked directly out onto the lake.  The picture above was taken Wednesday morning at sunrise from our porch.  We had everything you could ask for.  Satellite TV, stove, gas fireplace, frig, indoor bathroom and great view.  So we weren't hurting.  Before going out we knew there'd be no internet access so the laptops stayed home.  For the TV we decided we'd use it for the music channels and the weather channel.  That was it.  And I survived! 

While I'm the first to admit I can tie myself down to the TV or laptop I'm also not one who can't live without each.  I love to read but do have issues trying to work reading into my schedule.  We did a great job getting out each day and eploring trails.  Still I was able to finish two books in our time at the lake.  Truth be told if I have books to read I could do that for much longer.  I will admit I lingered on the weather channel a few times allowing myself to watch their random reality fair as opposed to just their forecasts.  But still that was minimal and we had a great time.  I did have some catching up to do tonight when I finally "reconnected" with the world again.  What news did we miss and of course I had to catch up on sports.  Still was a great week and I'm very glad my wife "disconnected" us from the grid.  I highly suggest everyone try it next time they get a chance.   

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Book Review: Loose Balls

Loose Balls was written by Terry Pluto in 1990 documenting the short but eclectic life of the American Basketball Association.  I read this book two years ago but I had to do a review.  This book was very entertaining.  Anyone who enjoys basketball from the 70's should pick it up.  It is an easy read detailing the wild ride by players and owners of the upstart ABA.  While not specifically written in a comedic manner the shenanigens pulled during the life of the ABA can't help but make you smile and even laugh.  The book does a great job in detailing what went on in a league with crazy characters, future NBA stars, teams that were lucky to last a full season, and where nothing surprised you if it happened.  This isn't a long review and is short on details but again pick it up if you have any interest whatsoever in basketball of that era, the ABA, or the NBA.  You won't be disappointed.   

Steven Jackson to the Falcons

Steven Jackson signed with the Atlanta Falcons this week.  I must admit I have mixed feelings about this one.  Jackson is nearing the end of his career.  He averaged over four yards per carry and had another 1,000 yard season but I'm just not sold.  He has always been a guy you can give the ball to 250 to even 300 plus times a year and he'll get four yards a carry (4.2 career average/4.4 peak in three years).  So he is dependable but he isn't going to bust out long runs on a consistent basis.  And how much does he have left in the tank? 
The good news is that he is consistent and pretty durable and hopefully the Falcons will get the same out of him for the next three years.  He is also only making $4M per season over that time so they didn't overpay and won't turn 30 until July.  I don't expect him to carry the ball 250 times as he'll share time with Jacquizz Rodgers.  Michael Turner was not productive last year and my hope is that Jackson can be the back who gets us short yardage when it is needed to keep drives going and gets the ball into the end zone.  Defenses will have to respect the run more which can only be a good thing.  I would have preferred that money to go to the defense but I'm willing to give this signing a chance.   
On a side note:  Living close to St. Louis it has been interesting seeing this play out.  The Rams took the high road allowing Jackson to get out of his contract after last year even though he didn't hit the milestones which would have automatically given him that option.  Of course that served the Rams well.  They are rebuilding and the $7M he was getting paid will help the team elsewhere.  Jackson then had the opportunity to sign elsewhere and get a chance to go to the playoffs for the first time in his career.  And the fans here get that.  Unlike when Pujols left the Cardinals for more money in L.A., fans are happy that Steven Jackson may be able to finally get what he has been chasing his whole career - a chance to be a on a winner.  Good on ya St. Louis fans. 

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Book Review: The Book of Basketball

Last year I purchased Bill Simmons' The Book of Basketball for my birthday.  Wow I didn't know what I was getting into.  The book was released in 2009.  I picked up the soft cover  of the book which is the one I suggest everyone pick up.  He has updated the book over the years only adding to how good it is.  This book is 700  pages long so be ready for a long read.  While it is an easy read for big fans of the NBA it may not be for the casual fan.  If you aren't a fan who loves reading about the past in great detail this book may not be for you.  Me?  I am a big NBA fan and do love its past.   
I will preface everything by saying Bill Simmons isn't perfect but he is a fan, a passionate fan, who has used this medium to put down his thoughts on the sport he loves.  And he did a great job in doing so.  Simmons is a Celtic homer.  No doubts there.  And while it may make you wrinkle your nose at some of his thoughts he is still pretty centered and doesn't go too far left.  Since he grew up going to Celtics games in his youth there is plenty of Celtic love in this book and some Laker hating as well.  Do not let this cloud your thoughts about reading this book.  Simmons did tons of research including reading a library of books on the NBA as well as tons of video research to ensure his writing was as accurate as his memory.  I want to say it took him three years to write the book.  I can't say enough about how much I enjoyed it.  His perspective is a great easy read and he loves having fun with his words.  Simmons also has a love for the footnote.  Almost every page has at least one.  His humor can also be on the adult side at times.  Not that an eleven year-old is going to pick up this book but I just wanted to mention it.       
I didn't start following the NBA until around the time I was eight or nine.  My brother-in-law Curtis got me into playing an NBA board game (Statis Pro Basketball) in the 70's and I was hooked.  Weird how a board game can get someone hooked on sport such as basketball.  Go figure.  It was perfect timing for me as the Larry Bird - Magic Johnson era kicked in at the same time and I've never looked back.  I love history and learning more about things I enjoy.  This book was perfect me.  I wish there had been a little more love for my favorite Dominique Wilkins and the Atlanta Hawks but I was still very happy with his thoughts on both.   
We all look at sports in our own unique way.  I am 43 now and how I viewed and learned the sport of basketball 30 plus years ago is much different in how I learn and view it now.  To that end I loved Bill Simmons' insight into the game.  To quote Paul Harvey this book gave me "the rest of the story".  While I could always see the play on the court I didn't have the basketball/NBA smarts to dissect some of the details.  There was little NBA coverage at that time in small town America and until the NBA hit cable it was just as hard to see games consistently.  This book provides tons of insight I never had.  Nowadays every move is over analyzed instantly on TV and on the web allowing us to make a better informed analysis of what we are seeing in a game and around the league.  It just wasn't that way back in the day.  So as Bill Simmons looks at the NBA from every possible angle I was able to live those early days of watching the NBA all over again.  This time with a new appreciation. 
This is a must read for any NBA fan.  Again it may be a bit much for the casual fan but if you think there is any possibility you might like this book I suggest you spend the $11.11 on Amazon or at some other retailer and I don't think you'll be disappointed.  Below are some links to excerpts from the book.  The first link provides five different excerpts.  The second link has an excerpt about his beloved Celtics in the '87 Finals.  The third is to Grantland in which he is the editor-in-chief.  This is an ESPN property with many good authors to include Simmons.  The last link is to the website Simmons created as a companion to the book.  As someone wrote it allows him to make the book longer.  He are quite a few links to videos on here but sadly many are no longer valid.  Still you may find some information here that is helpful.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Website Review: Major Spoilers

This is my first website review.  I'm doing it for mostly selfish reasons.  I want to share the site with others because of how much I enjoy it.  I don't remember exactly when I found the site but have been going to it for at least four to five years now.  The site centers around comic books but also touches on the pop culture world as it pertains to nerdom.  I think they do a great job with reviews of comics, news and podcasts.  They don't just keep to the big two when it comes to comics, DC and Marvel, and also have a website devoted to the smaller comic companies called Minor spoilers.  They do multiple podcasts with the Major Spoilers podcast anchoring everything with a dueling reviews podcast and a podcast specific to gaming also mixed in.  To top it off the folks running the site do it as a second job.  To that end they rely on advertising and donations to help run the site.  Again I can't say enough about this site and how much I enjoy it.
To be honest I haven't actively read comics in some time but that should tell you how much I enjoy the website.  I do intend on reading actively again when life settles down and Major Spoilers has been a great bridge until I do.  Bottom line is this is a great site with excellent content.  Anyone who enjoys comics should have this site book marked at the top of their list.   Below are links to get you there:

Sunday, March 3, 2013

4th and Inches...2012 NFL Offseason

The Atlanta Falcons made bold moves releasing Michael Turner (no surprise), Dunta Robinson, and John Abraham.  The move free up $16 million in cap space.  With defensive needs and looking forward to extending quarterback Matt Ryan and safety William Moore these look like good moves.  Like most I thought Robinson hasn't been able to live up to the big contract he signed.  Abraham was a short term answer who was injured last year and when he did play wasn't his old self.  Turner has lost his speed and was able to only manage 3.6 yards per carry last year.  Move over it just looked obvious Turner was declining.  A shame as he was very productive his first four years after signing as a free agent from the Chargers. 
Still the Falcons have a plan.  They are trying their best to keep tight end Tony Gonzalez from retiring.  He was important as anyone on the team last year and I think it would be a huge hit to the offense as their is no one ready to replace him.  Another running back to pair with Jacquizz Rodgers is also a priority on offense and like 90% of teams they can use some help on the offensive line.  With Abraham gone a defensive end is a must.  Dwight Freeney, formerly of the Colts, has been a rumored target.  I think he would be a great addition but I also know he will cost a pretty penny.  A linebacker, especially in the middle, would be helpful on defense as well.  I think Atlanta will look to address much of these needs through the draft but as they pick 30th in each round most players brought in will need to be developed over time.  Of course we can hope for lightning in a bottle...
Running back Steven Jackson is also rumored to be on Atlanta's radar.  I like Jackson but he is a running back I see on the back end of his career.  He might work well in Atlanta but I'm not sure it would be worth it as I'm thinking in two years he'll be about done even though he is 29.  He has had a great career in St. Louis and I hope he can hook on with a team that will finally get him to the playoffs but I'd be ok if the Falcons took a pass.
Wide receiver Mike Wallace is my pick as the best free agent out there.  He is a real burner who stretches defenses.  I would think any team would love to have him lining up at receiver.  The local talk radio folks and fans are gushing over him but I doubt Jeff Fisher and the Rams will make that big of a move.  I do think it would be beneficial for that offense which has been devoid of quality receivers for some time.  If you don't believe me ask Sam Bradford. 
Joe Flacco would have been next on my list but he is now the highest paid quarterback after getting paid by Baltimore.  While I've never been a huge Flacco guy I'm definitely on board with any quarterback that gets my team to the AFC Championship in three of five years.  And then he tops it off with a Super Bowl win?  Maybe his stats won't compare to to the great quarterbacks of today but the resume does. 
The Bill have had a pretty quiet offseason but they did put the franchise tag on safety Jairus Byrd on Friday.  It was the non exclusive franchise tag which means other teams can give offers to Byrd but the Bills can match the offer.  And if a team did sign Byrd they'd lose two first round choices.  Don't see that happening.