Sunday, April 27, 2014

2014 Hot Wheels Cool Classics 1977 Pontiac Firebird

Picked up the latest Firebird offering from Hot Wheels.  It is part of the Cool Classics series two cars Hot Wheels put out.  I'm a huge 70's Trans Am fan no doubt due to the Smokey and the Bandit movie coming out in my formative years as a boy.  I have many of the late 70's Trans Am diecast with the Ertl 1:18 scale Smokey and the Bandit version being my favorite.  Back to this car.  I really like the way it is done.  It is just different enough from Hot Wheels' normal offerings to make it worth the $3.79 I paid.  I like the color, the detail, the "glass tops" and the tires.  Just a nice little car.  I have many different Hot Wheels on my desk at work and I'll proudly add this to the collection.  My only complaint would be is the interior color is the same as the exterior.  This really would have set this car apart.  As is it seems like they made a nice car but didn't put that much thought into the colors.  Even having the inside a basic black, a different shade of blue or maybe tan would have worked.  Still I'll just say I like this car.  It will look very nice with all the rest of my Trans Ams.  I found this at my local Wal-Mart for those wondering where they might find one.  You can also look here for a look at the car via a YouTube video (skip to the 1:43 mark of the video). 


Friday, April 18, 2014

NBA Pushes To Up Minimum Age Limit

LeBron James Played His First NBA Game at Age 18
The NBA is pushing to raise the minimum age limit for players to 20 years-old. Some radio types don't agree with raising the limit while it seems many fans are all for it.  My belief in that last part is completely based on my perception and I can't back it up with any stats.  I think fans believe it means rookies coming into the league will be better players than if they had only one year of college.  

One of the basic arguments I hear is that a player should be able to take his talent to the NBA at anytime if he believes himself to be ready regardless of his age or skills.  My thoughts are the NBA as an employer can require whatever they wish.  Many employers require degrees or experience.  They do this to ensure their personnel bring a certain level of expertise.  For the NBA, it is no different.  The minimum age doesn't ensure a certain level of talent but it does ensure players get a higher level of coaching for two years, allows players bodies and conditioning to improve and players mature an additional two years prior to entering the league.  None of this ensures a player will succeed but I do believe it gives them a better opportunity to succeed.  And, in theory, it should mean rookies entering the league will be better players giving the NBA a better product on the court which is their ultimate goal every game.   

NBA commissioner Adam Silver has also brought up the possibility of helping college players specifically with closing the gap between what their scholarships cover and what the costs they incur actually are.  I'm ok with that thought but I'd like to wait and see what they actually propose.  I don't think anything will happen soon but I will be curious what does get put in place as this seems like it will have some affect or tie-in with the possible unionization of college players.  But that is another post...

Thursday, April 17, 2014

2014 NBA Playoff Preview

I wanted to take a quick look at all the matchups in round one of the NBA Playoffs.  I won't get too analytical or too long winded but I think the playoffs are intriguing this year.  That said I'm not sure I see many upsets but that doesn't mean the first round is short on great matchups.  And for all the grief the Eastern Conference has gotten this season the Atlanta Hawks are the only team in the playoffs with a losing record.  The Western Conference is better but I think five of the teams from the East would be competitive in a matchup against their Western rivals.  On to the games...

Pacers-Hawks - See here for my thoughts on the Hawks. 

Heat-Bobcats - I'm a big Al Jefferson guy but Charlotte has little else on this team and will probably bow out in four games against Miami.  It shouldn't diminish the fact that this team is only two years removed from a seven win effort in the strike shortened season. 

Raptors-Nets - Name a starter on the any player on the Raptors...  Rudy Gay!  Jose Calderon!  Oh wait they were both traded...  This team probably doesn't get any respect but it tough as you can see.  Brooklyn is the vogue pick here with their late season surge but it is hard to argue that the Nets aren't the better team.  I'd like to see Toronto win this series but it will be tough unless Brooklyn remembers their team remembers they are actually old and should be getting tired about this time of the year.  I say this could be a seven game thriller.

Bulls-Wizards - Wizards are another team that I'd like to see come away with a series win but Chicago probably won't sweat too much while taking this series.  I'll be curious how star youngster John Wall plays in his first playoff series and the teams first post season appearance since the 2007-2008 season.

Spurs-Mavericks - Yaj has to be stoked with how well the Spurs are playing.  I know I am.  While Dallas has some good players anchored by Dirk Nowitzki the Spurs probably only have one loss in them against Dallas. 

Thunder-Grizzlies - Oklahoma City is the real deal and should compete for the Western Conference title.  Too much talent here though I think the Griz will play big and take a game from the Thunder.

Clippers-Warriors - Golden State looked so good early in the year.  They came back down to earth, remembered they aren't that good on defense, and now must play at least the first round without Andrew Bogut.  I still think they can steal two games from Los Angeles but Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan won't let the Clippers lose this series.

Rockets-Trail Blazers - My thoughts on this series are here.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Portland Trail Blazers to Play Houston Rockets in Round 1 of the Playoffs

Game 1 of the Blazers - Rockets first round seven game series is set for this Sunday in Houston.  Portland had a very good year winning 53 games and looking good doing it.  Portland has studs LaMarcus Aldridge (PF) and Damian Lillard (PG) leading the way.  Both are stars and both had career years.  But they also had a very good supporting staff in the starting lineup.  Wesley Matthews (SG), Nicolas Batum (SF) and Robin Lopez (C) all had good years making this one of the best starting fives Portland has seen in years.  The bench is where things get dicey with point guard Mo Williams being the best of a very thin group.  Still I expect Portland to rely heavily on their starting unit.
Houston will throw out a starting five of James Harden (SG), Dwight Howard (C), Chandler Parsons (SF), Terrance Jones (PF) and either Patrick Beverly or Jeremy Lin at the point.  Their bench feels a bit stronger but I may be overrating them a bit.  I do like what Aaron Brooks (SG) and Omar Asik (C), when motivated, bring to the game.   Harden is probably the best shooting guard in the game and Howard is top three among centers.  I'm a big Parsons fan.  He is a wing guy who spreads the floor with 37% three point shooting, can handle the ball and doesn't turn the ball over (1.9 per game) while playing with a high motor. 
Portland's short coming will be defense as it has been all year.  Stats make the two teams close in terms of defense but Portland doesn't pass the eye test.  Lillard for all his talent hasn't developed into a good defensive player and Aldridge and Lopez while ok on defense aren't shut down guys.  Batum is a very good defender but unfortunately won't be playing Harden.  I think the key will be stopping Harden.  I think Howard will get his though Lopez should play him tough.  It is a matter of how much Harden controls the game.  If he is hitting in the flow of the game allowing the offense to stay in rhythm it will be hard for Portland to win.
It sounds like I'm painting  a picture where Portland loses this series and maybe I am.  I'm not convinced Houston wins this series.  They do have home court and Portland hasn't gotten past the first round in 14 years but the Trail Blazers have a team that can win any given night.  But I can't go with my heart no matter how much I want to.  I truly think James Harden is the type of difference maker who can carry his team and I think that will be the difference in this series.  Combined with the issues on defense Portland has I think Houston wins the series.  I can see the it going seven games and each could come down to the last possession.  I hope the ball bounces Portland's way a few times and they can steal a few games to take the series.  No matter I expect a hard fought matchup that should be fun to watch.   

Monday, April 14, 2014

Atlanta Hawks Clinch Playoff Spot

The Atlanta Hawks clinched the #8 playoff seed in the Eastern Conference with a surprising win over the Miami Heat this weekend.  While I like any fan am excited to see their team go to the playoffs I have to admit I was caught up in the thought of Atlanta getting one of the young phenoms in the upcoming draft.  I mean even GM Danny Ferry doesn't think it is such a bad idea.  Maybe it isn't right to think such things but what is the #8 seed going to get us?

I do think we can win a game against the Pacers but now that we've irritated the Heat I'm not sure we'd get a win in a series with them.  Either way the odds are stacked against an upset.  This team had dealt with so many injuries and while they have some decent parts in Paul Milsap, Jeff Teague, and Kyle Korver, Atlanta doesn't have "that guy" that can carry the team when need be. 

Back to the draft...  That is where my hope for that high draft pick came in.  This lineup needs a dynamic wing player...can you say Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker?  Yes the chances of landing one of those two would be remote but sometimes as a fan hope is all you have.  I like Milsap, Teague, and Korver and with stud Al Horford coming back next year this is a solid lineup that can get the 6th or even 5th seed but there needs to be that difference maker on the team.  A guy who can carry the Hawks on their back.  Louis Williams and DeMarre Carroll just aren't one of those guys. 

For now I'll be excited for the Hawks but only five #8 seeds have won a first round matchup.  I'm just not convinced Atlanta will be team number six when all is said and done.  Still I have to be happy for the players and the team.  It has been a tough year.  After playing well enough to look like a possible #4 seed, injuries decimated this team.  They also endured a 1 and 14 stretch at one point.  But they made it.  That is what matters.  The Hawks can still grab the player I described above with a mid round pick.  Just might take a little more luck and I'm a fan so I'll always have hope...if nothing else...

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Boston Red Sox 2014 Preview

Koji Uehara
The Red Sox are coming off a wonderful 2013 season in which they won the World Series when virtually no one thought they'd win their division nor did most think they would make the playoffs including me.  This year they have the tough assignment of trying to get back to the top with the giant target on their back. 

The starters trot out Jon Lester, John Lackey,
Jake Peavy, Clay Bucholz, and Felix Doubront.  I'd take this starting lineup any day and think it stacks up well against any of those out there.  I think health would be the biggest thing this group will battle.  None will win the Cy Young but you'll get solid numbers which should be good enough to have them in playoff contention. 

The bullpen is solid and was also big plus last year especially once Koji Uehara took over as closer.  The pen looks good again this year and they have added former Cardinal Edward Mujica, former Dodger Chris Capuano and former Brewer Burke Badenhop to the fray.  Gives them more options as they go through the season.  They also have Junichi Tazawa and Brandon Workman returning from last year's team.  Not a ton of sexy names but the bullpen should be solid.    

The offense also looks good:

Mike Napoli
C - New guy A.J. Pierzynski should be good at working with the pitching staff and is an established hitter who won't put up spectacular numbers but won't hurt you either.
1B - Mike Napoli - Should put up good homerun and ribbie totals but his average will probably be just that, average, while striking out a lot.
2B - Dustin Pedroia is always a solid hitter and defender and after Big Papi is the heart of this team. 
3B - Will Middlebrooks - Looks like he is the guy long term though Jonathan Herrera is getting some time there now.  Either way I don't look for a ton of offense here but hopefully either can be a guy who is solid on D and can hit .270 - .290 with a little pop.
SS - Xander Bogaerts is good defensively and folks think his offense will be there in the end.  Hopefully that is true.  He has a big upside and I'd like to see him pan out.
LF - Jonny Gomes will strikeout a lot and be so so in the average department while having some pop.  I'm not real excited about him but he came up big in the World Series last year and I'm hoping some of that will carry over to this year.
RF - Daniel Nava - Last year was a breakout year for him.  If he can come anywhere close to the numbers he put up last year (.303/.385) over 536 at bats, Boston is good in right field.
CF - Grady Sizemore surprised everyone to take the starting job in center.  Everyone wants Jackie Bradley to be the guy in center but Sizemore deserves the spot right now.  I do think if he falters Bradley will get plenty of at bats.  I'm rooting for Sizemore to have a great comeback year.  He is a guy who has had some very good years in seasons past.  And if he does this year, Bradley will still get his at bats somewhere.
DH - David Ortiz makes it all good.  He just received a one year extension on his contract.  He is what makes it all hum.  He has been nothing short of "The Guy" for this franchise for over a decade.  Glad to see him and the team could come together and make the extension happen.  As long as he stays healthy there is no reason to think he won't have another very very good season.

Last year this team came out of nowhere.  That won't happen this year.  All the teams in the AL East are good enough to chip away at the wins total for Boston.  Still Boston should be right there in the running for the East title come October.  Boston won 97 games last year.  This year I think 90 is doable.  Not 100% sure they'll win the East but I'll make that prediction.  I think it would be tough to say they will win the Series again.  So tough to defend the title and I really like what Texas did this year.  Still it should be a very good year for the Red Sox.  I look forward to seeing what some of the players can do and hopefully improve on what they did last year. 

Atlanta Braves 2014 Preview

Julio Teheran
The season has already started so I've slacked some on my team previews.  I'll hit Atlanta now and follow up with Boston soon.  Atlanta is currently in first place, not surprisingly tied with the Washington Nationals at 7-4. 

My big concern coming into the season is starting pitching.  Atlanta has so far started Julio Teheran (staff ace?), Alex Wood, Aaron Harang, David Hale, and Ervin Santana.  Wood, Harang, and Hale won a total of four games last year while Teheran and Santana combined for 23.  This doesn't give me a ton of confidence.  Starters Brandon Beachy and Kris Medlen are lost for the season due to injury but Mike Minor may make it back by the end of April.  That is a lot to deal with for any staff.  Still the starters have so far done well in the short season winning five games and no starter has an ERA over 2.89.  I still think over the long haul the staff will be a concern but I'm happy with their production so far.  They can't keep it up but at least the pressure hasn't got to them yet.

The bullpen, the staff's big strength, has struggled so far though Craig Kimbrel and Luis Avilan have started off strong.   Atlanta will definitely need the relievers to have a good year.  I think the injuries to the starters will put a strain on the bullpen so these guys need to step up.  Johnny Venters is still on the DL and I'm not sure of his return. 

Justin Upton - .366/.435/.635 3 HR 6 RBI Thru 11 Gms (2014)
I won't go too in depth on the starting lineup but do want to hit on each.  While RF Jason Heyward isn't the classic leadoff guy he really has done well since he was moved to the top spot in the order last year.  I really want to see him have more of a 2013 season as opposed to the off year he had last year (he did come on after being inserted into the leadoff spot).  1B Freddie Freeman seems to be the real deal.  I really like him and expect him to anchor this offense for some time.  LF Justin Upton is the key to the offense for me.  He doesn't have to be an all-star but he does need to be consistent and not rely on the long ball as much.  Last year he started off hot (as he has this year) but then cooled off hitting .263 with 27 homeruns but only 70 RBI's and a career high 161 strikeouts.  It seemed to be all or nothing with him.  He needs to cut down on strikeouts and get his RBI count up.

3B Chris Johnson filled a big need at third as a throw in in the Upton trade.  He killed it by hitting .321 and stabilizing a position where there wasn't a clear cut answer after the retirement of Chipper Jones.  C Evan Gattis takes over catching duties full time this year.  He has to get his numbers up from last year (.243/.291/.480) and cut down on strikeouts.  He looks like a guy who could hit 30 homers each year but might also strike out 175 times.  He will also have to show that he can handle the staff while behind the plate.  2B Dan Uggla is the same guy in terms of batting - all or nothing.  I'm actually surprised he is starting this year.  I keep thinking Atlanta will just move on as he doesn't even give you great defense.  Don't get me wrong.  I really like Uggla and loved the move when Atlanta traded for him.  But of late he has played horribly and it is time to move on.  The lack of great options, and his contract, though keep him in the lineup.  I love Andrelton Simmons at shortstop.  He may not hit for anything but he is a stud defensive players who makes this team better with his glove.  I'm willing to give up offense for superb defense at the shortstop position.  Unless CF BJ Upton somehow improves the Braves must also move on.  I'd prefer Jordan Schafer in CF.  More of a contact batting guy who won't strikeout 150 times (in theory) and he can also play solid defense. 

There are definitely some issues with the pitching staff and lineup but this team can compete in the National League East.  Washington will be right there throughout the year making it tough.  While the offense (4th in NL Runs) and pitching (1st in NL runs allowed) were both good last year they each have their challenges this year.  To me the biggest will be the starting lineup and the bats of Gattis, BJ Upton, and Uggla.  Hopefully manager Fredi Gonzalez will make the right moves when he needs to to help both the offense and defense.  I'm thinking this team will win something closer to 88 games and it would be a stretch to say they'll get to the 96 they won last year.  It is early so there is always hope.  I want to give props to Braves' management.  They gave long term deals or extensions to Freeman, Howard, and Teheran.  Nice to see them locking up key pieces to this team even though they don't make the money some of the bigger market teams do.  I'll check back in later this year and see how some of this has played out.