Monday, March 27, 2017

2017 Boston Red Sox Preview

Mookie Betts
The BostonRed Sox won the American League East in 2016 but were quickly swept from the playoffs by the eventual A.L. Champions the Cleveland Indians 3-0.  Still their season was a success as 93 wins is good no matter how you look at it.  David Ortiz is no longer with the team but the team added stud pitcher Chris Sales, reliever Tyler Thornburg and 1B Mitch Moreland to help keep the team atop the A.L. East.  The big news in the infield is the return of Pablo Sandoval to 3B.  He missed most of the year with an injury last year and has been a disappointment overall in his time with Boston. He must look more like his old self to help this team and stay in the lineup.  Dustin Pedroia and Xander Bogaerts are the anchors up the middle.  Both come off great years with Bogaerts looking like a player the team can build around for many years to come.  At first will be new guy Mitch Moreland and Hanley Ramirez who had an excellent bounce back year.  Moreland brings a decent glove to first but his bat is the classic homerun or bust type of swing.  Sandy Leon will be behind the plate.    

In the outfield I think Andrew Benintendi will get the left field job with the expectation he has time
Xander Bogaerts
to grow.  He did well last year but he is young and bumps in the road are to be expected.  Jackie Bradley finally had the year expected of the highly touted center fielder.  In right will be Mookie Betts who had 200 hits and scored 100 runs which was matched by Dustin Pedroia.  His career continues to skew upwards.  Bottom line is the lineup lost a huge piece with David Ortiz retiring.  Boston must also hope most players can continue to play as well as they did last year in his absence.  Many young players had break out years or others had rebound seasons.  Can they continue that trend?  Doubtful they all will but there is so much talent here that the lineup should be fine in the long run.

Chris Sale
The pitching staff also has plenty of talent though David Price’s injury is concerning.  Though he may be slotted as low as third in the starting rotation he is still a guy you counted on for 200 innings of quality work.  Chris Sale, Rick Porcello, Steven Wright and Eduardo Rodriguez will anchor the rotation until Price’s return.  Sale of course was the big catch in the offseason and automatically gives you an ace to throw out there every five days.  Porcello is the AL Cy Young winner while Wright put up a 13 win, 3.33 ERA season last year.  They should both be dependable at the top of the rotation.  Rodriguez must have a better year (4.71 ERA) as he’ll get work as the #4 guy when the season starts.  The fifth position is still up in the air with Drew Pomeranz and Kyle Kendrick in the mix.  Very solid group but it is a long season and the back end could prove to be the weak link if pitchers don’t step up.  Bullpen was tweaked some with Tyler Thornburg brought in to be the setup guy for Craig Kimbrel who must fix the walk issue he struggled with last year.   

Why wouldn’t the Red Sox have a 90 win season and again take the A.L. East?  They can only beat themselves.  I’m not discounting the Blue Jays, the Orioles or that New York could be much better but this team has a ton of talent.  Much of it is young.  So will it get better or digress?  Probably a mix.  Again way too much talent for them to fail.  I expect 90 more wins and hopefully they can make a deep run in the playoffs. 
Dustin Pedroia



Thursday, March 23, 2017

2017 Atlanta Braves Preview

Freddie Freeman
The Atlanta Braves had a bad year in 2016.  They finished 68-93, fifth in the National League East.  That said they finished the second half of the season with a winning record of 37-35.  The trade for Matt Kemp seemed to give the Braves a much needed boost and the Braves have continued to retool during the offseason.  While I wouldn’t say they will contend this year it should be better year overall.

The starting staff added R.A. Dickey, Bartolo Colon, and Jaime Garcia to go along with Julio Teheran and probably Mike Foltynewicz.  Dickey and Colon should eat up innings and if we’re lucky will get Atlanta 12 wins each.  Garcia’s career numbers are good but he always seems to disappoint in the end.  I live near St. Louis and the Cardinal fans do nothing but laugh when this comes up.  Hoping for the best, he is another guy that can get ya 10 -12 wins.  With a little support Julio Teheran should get around 15 wins while Foltynewicz is a bit more of a wild card.  I don’t mind this starting staff.  It won’t wow you per se but it has more upside than what we saw last year.  Dickey and Colon are on one year deals so no huge loss if they struggle but who doesn’t like Bartolo Colon or the knuckleball?  Bullpen hasn’t changed much.  While Jim Johnson resigned to handle the closer duties, all hopes are that Arodys Vizcaino will eventually earn that job from him. 
Bartolo Colon
At catcher the club will go with Tyler Flowers and Kurt Suzuki.  I think Atlanta is happy to go with a defensive minded replacement for now until a better option is available.  Stud first baseman Freddie Freeman returns anchoring the lineup as well as the right side of the infield.  Brandon Phillips was traded for after free agent pickup Sean Rodriguez was injured in the offseason.  I like this move.  Very aggressive even if it is for a veteran on the downside on his career.  Shortstop will again be manned by Dansby Swanson who has everyone excited with his potential.  Adonis Garcia will be at third.  His batting is below average and his defense isn’t great.  They are stuck with him until another option is obtainable. 
Ender Inciarte
The outfield returns Ender Inciarte who has been great in the field and had a very good second half of the season at the plate.  Matt Kemp will man left and I’m hoping he can hit something close to what he did after he was acquired last year.  Light hitting Nick Markakis will be in right.  He at least can get on base at a decent clip and stays healthy but he won’t really wow you otherwise.

Dansby Swanson
Atlanta did a good job in the offseason at least giving themselves a decent team to put out on the field.  Both the offense and pitching should be respectable.  Depth is still an issue so injuries could put a major hurt on them if they pop up.  No one will be expecting them to make a playoff run this year but I do think 70-75 wins is attainable assuming the pitching staff stays healthy and a few things go right for them.  No matter what happens Atlanta should be trending up.  They still have talent in the minors and a new ballpark which should provide more revenue and make them a destination worth looking at for future free agents.   That is the fun part about spring training.  We all still have hope.  And check out this funny five tool Bartolo Colon video hyping his coming to Atlanta. 
Brandon Phillips

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

2014-2015 Panini Prestige Basketball Cards

Another random pack of cards from Target.  These are the 2014-2015 Panini Prestige basketball cards, a set I've never collected before.  There were six cards in the pack, all seen here.  I'm happy with my pull getting Paul George, Kirk Nowitzki, and Andre Jordan among the six.  The Jordan card was an insert, Prestigious Posts.  The fronts are pretty nice having two photos, one of which is black and white which is shown behind a different color photo.  I like how neither photo is obscured giving you two good looks of the player on one card front.  The backs are different with just a few key stats for the player.  Nothing special there.  Still I like these cards.  The photos are nice and the design simplicity is something I like.  Glad I grabbed these. 

Monday, March 20, 2017

2016 Upper Deck Moana Trading Cards

Grabbed a pack of the Upper Deck Moana cards at the local Dollar Tree for a dollar (go figure).  There were five cards in the pack.  The set itself has 20 total cards and the backs of the cards make up a puzzle.  I really like these cards.  They aren't the typical screen shots from the movie but have some great art and presentations of the main characters  I haven't seen the movie but have heard nothing but good things and think I'll see it at some point.  Back to the cards.  I think Upper Deck did a great job.  To me Upper Deck consistently does a very good job and I think these are top notch.  I'm very happy I picked up a pack of these cards.   

Friday, March 17, 2017

Random Pack: 2015-2016 Panini Excalibur Basketball Cards

Grabbed a random pack of the 2015-2016 Panini Excalibur cards at a Target.  I hadn't purchased any before but liked the photos of the cards I've seen.  I do like these cards but I'm not sure why.  I prefer in game photos and backgrounds.  These obviously don't have the photo's background but have a bit of an artistic background to them.  Still it works for me.  The backs are basic but have nice color and design. My pull included Andrew Wiggins, Stephen Curry, and Chris Paul which is a great.  There were eight cards in the pack and I can't remember if the price was $2.99 or $4.99.  I think the former.  Either way they aren't cheap cards. I'll still look for these and pick some up if possible and I'm glad I picked up this pack.     

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Trail Blazers Defeat Spurs

After seeing Atlanta fall to the San Antonio Spurs Tuesday night I was also able to catch the Portland Trail Blazers play San Antonio last night.  It was Portland’s second game in two nights on the road as they fell to New Orleans on Tuesday.  The Blazers prevailed 110-106 in a tough game despite some late game miscues.  Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum starred while new addition Jusuf Nurkic also had a good game.  Lillard led the team with 36 points on 12 of 22 shooting (3/8 threes).  McCollum added 26 hitting both three’s he took.  I like what I see from Nurkic.  He gave them a solid game at center ending the night with 16 points, 9 rebounds, and 4 steals.  Kawhi Leonard had a great game for San Antonio  34P, 9R, 6A, 3S, 2B) while LaMarcus Aldridge added 19 points.  It wasn’t enough in the end.  After erratic play early, Portland put together a late surge to put them up enough to hold off the Spurs.  Lillard and McCollum were once again the driving force and won them the game.  Great to get to see the Trail Blazers play.  They are usually on TV too late at night for my old man schedule.  Also nice to see them win as the season has definitely been a disappointment (30-37) after winning 44 games last year.   

Portland is very reliant on their backcourt as scoring from their forwards has never materialized.  This will have to be addressed at some point.  They gave contract to Maurice Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu but they aren’t getting much back for the money spent.  Nurkic looks really good right now and I am loving that trade with Denver.  I do think if Portland can get a bit more punch from the front line they can compete with better teams.  Some better defense is also up there on the list of needs.  Evan Turner ($16M) and Allen Crabbe ($18.5M) are really tying up a lot of money and, while they are very good in their roles, they can’t be paid that much money to give the team nine and 10 points respectively.  I expect that to change once McCollum’s four year contract extension kicks in next season.  As is, all the pressure and shots are coming from the back court and every team knows that.  I believe the future is bright for Portland.  They have two dynamic young stars that if surrounded by a good supporting staff, can take this team far.  I still think they can make it to the playoffs this year as well (currently 2 games out of the playoffs) but as always there are good teams in the West that they will have to catch up to and overtake.  I have hope…    

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Hawks Lose to Spurs

Was able to catch a good portion of the Atlanta Hawks - San Antonio Spurs
game Wednesday night.  I rarely get to see the Hawks play so it was a treat.
Atlanta lost 107-99.  The Spurs looked pretty good even without LaMarcus
Aldridge and Tony Parker, and Kawhi Leonard not playing up to his normal
standards.  No big surprises for me.  The Hawks are who I think they are.
They are a very good team that could still make noise in the Eastern
Conference playoffs if everything falls right but they just don't have a
scorer to put them over the top.  They have guys who can get buckets but no
true blue get you a basket guys.
Milsap is very good but won't necessarily take them to the next level - at
least not alone - and Atlanta may regret not trading him at the deadline if
he walks in free agency.  Dennis Schoder is a good young point guard and Tim
Hardaway has become a good scoring option but Kent Bazemore is not the
scoring threat they had hoped he would develop into while Thabo Sefolosha is
good supporting player but that is it.  Dwight Howard is playing well but as
in this game his free throws cause him to be off the floor in close games.
Pickup Ersan Ilyasova is a nice addition to the team but comes off the
bench.  I just can't see Atlanta ever being better than a fifth (currently)
or fourth seed but also wouldn't be surprised if they drop further in the
standings.  They need a dynamic wing player.  We'll see how it plays out but
I think the playoffs will end similarly to years past which isn't that good.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

A Look Back at NFL Player Williams Andrews

WilliamAndrews is one of all-time great Atlanta Falcons players.  His career was shortened due to injuries but when he was at the top of his game there were few better.  He starred at Auburn University sharing carries with fellow star running backs James Brooks and Joe Cribs.  Andrews has stated this probably helped lessen the wear and tear on his legs during his college days. 

His rookie year, 1979, Andrews was the feature back for the Falcons and rushed for 1023 yards averaging 4.3 yards per carry while adding 39 receptions.  This was good enough to earn him a spot on the NFL All-Rookie team that year.  The next season Andrews rushed for 1,308 yards averaging a career best 4.9 yards per carry and caught 51 balls.  Atlanta was 12-4 that season and looked like they could do some damage in the playoffs but lost to the Dallas Cowboys after blowing a big lead late in the first round game.  1980 was also the year he was elected to his first of four straight Pro Bowls.   

Andrews had another good year in 1981 with 1301 yards at a 4.5 yards per carry clip, 10 touchdowns and added a career high 81 catches for 735 yards and two more touchdowns.  Atlanta didn’t make the playoffs that year but did the next year in the strike shortened 1982 season.  In nine games he averaged 4.1 yards per carry for a total of 573 yards while his 10 touchdowns were good for fifth in the league.  He added another 42 receptions that year.  Atlanta unfortunately lost again in the first round of the playoffs in a close game to the Minnesota Vikings. 

1983 was Williams Andrews’ finest year racking up 1567 yards rushing, averaging 4.7 yards per carry, 59 receptions and a total of 11 touchdowns.  The team struggled as it only won 7 games and missed the playoffs.  In the preseason of 1984 Andrews sustained nerve damage to his knee that would ultimately keep him out of the game for two seasons.  The Falcons also suffered mightily only winning a combined eight games in those two seasons.  Andrews attempted a comeback but was no longer the lead back.  In 1986 he only had 214 rushing yards but still managed to average over four yards a carry.  I didn’t know this but have read that he even played some tight end that year.  1986 was Williams’ last year in the NFL. 

He retired owning 19 Atlanta Falcons’ team records and was just the second running back at the time to have two 2,000 combined yard seasons.  O.J. Simpson was the other.  Andrews also had more total yards than any other player during his first five seasons in the league.  It is truly a shame his career was cut short.  It isn’t a stretch to think he could have been mentioned among the all-time greats with just three more healthy seasons.  He finished his career with 5,986 yards, a 4.6 average, and 277 receptions for 2,647 yards.  He was inducted into the inaugural AtlantaFalcons Ring of Honor class in 2004. 

I was 10 years old during William Andrews’ rookie year and he made a huge impression on me and I’ve been a huge fan ever since.  I loved his bruising running style and talent.  He also was a guy who could catch the ball out of the backfield which was a big part of his game.  Andrews will always be one of those “what if he had stayed healthy” guys but his career is still worth remembering and I remember it very fondly.   

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Card Show Find #3: 2016-2017 NBA Hoops Trading Cards

This is the last of my "finds" from last year's card show put on by After the Game Inc. in St. Louis.  A 2016-2017 Hoops hobby box isn't technically a find since I went looking for these cards.  This was the first new hobby box I've bought in 30 years?  Who knows, a long time.  I did purchase a box of the Star Wars Rogue One series 1 cards earlier this year so hopefully this doesn't become an expensive habit.  I like these cards.  Nothing too splashy but they get the job done.  Good photos though I would have liked a few more of players playing defense or showcasing their ball handling skills. Those probably aren't that sexy on the fronts of cards so I get why we don't see as many of those shots.   

Each box came with two autographs.  I nabbed Seth Curry and DeAndre Bembry of my Hawks.  Not spectacular pulls but I'm still happy.  The other notable was the #116/149 Karl-Anthony Towns green parallel though I also grabbed an artist proof #/25 and two silver parallels #/99.
The cards have a nice design and the photos are good.  I pulled very few doubles and grabbed most of the big stars so I can't complain with the makeup of the box.  The different inserts and parallels were ok though nothing that just wowed me.  Doesn't mean they weren't fun, just that I probably won't go searching for many of those later.  The NBA 2K17 cards were really duds for me.  They are video game screen shots I guess and were very underwhelming.  Considering I got three of them I would have been happy with something different.  I was hoping for a Champions Trophy Portrait card which I think look really cool. The Road to the Finals cars were my favorite insert.  They highlight players in particular playoff games.  Again good cards. 
288 - Total Cards
1 - Hot Signatures (Seth Curry)
1 - Hot Signatures Rookies (DeAndre Bembry)
7 - Road to the Finals
3 - NBA 2K17 Kobe Bryant
3 - Silver Parallel (1 Artist Proof #/25 & 2 silver #/99)
2 - Blue Parallel
1 - Green Parallel (#/149)
2 - Team Leaders
1 - Courtside, Picture Perfect, Spark Plugs, Highlights, Tip Off, Bird's Eye View, Action Shots

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Kong: Skull Island Review (NO Spoilers)

Saw Kong: Skull Island Thursday night and really enjoyed it.  It may not be perfect but it is entertaining.  My recollection from watching Godzilla from 2014 is a bit different from the review I actually did.  That movie suffered from a long build up prior to seeing some real action involving the real star of the movie, Godzilla.  King Kong didn't make the same mistake.  He makes an early appearance here and has quite a bit of screen time.  The basic plot isn't that far off past iterations but enough to give you something different to look forward to.  I won't go in to great detail but think this was a very entertaining movie.  I like the early 70's setting, the actors (especially John C. Reilly's character), and the action.  There is a bit of a lull midway thorough the movie but nothing that isn't overcome later.  Much better than Godzilla, another monster property I am big fan of.  Everyone should go see this movie if you are at all interested and I'd be curious to hear what you think.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Atlanta Hawks Team Set - 2010-11 Panini Basketball

When I was reviewing the group of Atlanta Hawks Team sets I purchased last year I lost this set but finally came across it. This is the 2010-2011 Panini Donruss set.  This set borrows the 1984 Donruss baseball card design which is one all-time favorites.  The cards look good to me and the backs have the Donruss design we are accustomed to.
With this set I also got a team card and a rated rookie card.  Overall these are nice cards.  The photos seem to be a tad dark or just off for some reason but it isn't a big negative.  I like these and am very happy I was able to add these to my collection. 

Monday, March 6, 2017

A Look Back at NBA Player Latrell Sprewell

Latrell Sprewell is a guy most folks don’t look back on too fondly.  For me I had a connection with him as he attended, and played for, Three Rivers Community College (Poplar Bluff, MO) while I was a student there.  I get that he had his issues, major issues, and I do not forgive him of those but I am fan (probably contradicting myself there).  To that end I am looking back at his career as I have some other players lately.  Drafted in the first round of the 1992 NBA Draft he is most remembered for choking Warriors coach P.J. Carlisimo.   Sprewell was suspended for the rest of the season after the 1 December, 1997 incident and traded him to the New York Knicks after the 1998-1999 lockout ended. 

Before all that the SG was a three time all-star who
averaged 20 points, 4 rebounds and almost 5 assists per game while shooting 43% from the field (33% 3P).  Sprewell also garnered the All-Star Game MVP in the 1997.  He was a really good player who averaged a career 24 points and 6 assists per game in the 1996-1997 season.  The Warriors as a whole were not good and only made the playoffs or won more than 36 games once in his time with Golden State.  His time there ended with a trade to the New York Knicks for John Starks, Chris Mills and Terry Cummings in January 1999.

With the Knicks Sprewell moved to small forward and though struggling with injuries helped lead the team to through the playoffs as a number eight seed.  The Knicks surprised everyone by making the NBA Finals before finally bowing to the San Antonio Spurs four games to one.  Sprewell played well for the Knicks averaging almost 18 points per game though his two-point shooting declined while his three-point shot improved.  Sprewell made another all-star team with New York and the team made the playoffs three out of the five seasons he was with the Knicks. 

Sprewell was traded in July of 2003 to the
Minnesota Timberwolves as part of a blockbuster that also included Philadelphia and Atlanta.  His play wasn’t up to his career stats and had a career low 12 points per game.  But he did pair well with Kevin Garnett and Sprewell’s first year with the team saw them advance to the Western Conference Finals before falling to the Los Angeles Lakers.  His last year in Minnesota, his career worst statistically, the team won 44 games but did not make the playoffs.  After the season he was offered a three year $21M contract, a $5M per year pay cut.  Sprewell then uttered his famous line “I have a family to feed” and declined the contract.  While Sprewell had other contract offers later in the season he wouldn’t swallow his pride and take the lesser money they offered and never played another NBA game.

Latrell Sprewell was his worst enemy.  An excellent player he continually found trouble and his image was a detriment wherever he went.  And for the most part his issues made those opinions well deserved.  After his playing days he ran through what money he had and his financial woes are well documented.  Sprewell is definitely one of those players who sabotaged himself over and over which is too bad.  He was so talented and could have been a fan favorite, not the villain he became.  He was seen lately at Knicks games and I was impressed by his statements after the game.  I’m hoping that means he has matured some but that is no guarantee.  I will always be a fan of Latrell Sprewell with the caveat that he isn’t necessarily a feel good story. 

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Logan Movie Review (SPOILER ALERT)

SPOILER ALERT:  We watched the movie Logan on Thursday and really enjoyed it.  I've heard some say this is the way the hero movies should be made.  It is gritty, has a different tone than other hero movies and showcases violence during the action.  The movie shows Wolverine (Logan) and Professor X in the future where the world isn't dominated by mutants as it once was.  Logan is trying to care/protect Professor X who is now prone to causing destruction when having seizures.  This causes Logan to hide him while using drugs as well as a Mutant named Caliban to help keep him safe.  Logan's goal is to make enough money, as a limo driver of all things, to get them to a place where they can live out life safely.
But things happen as they like to say.  When a special little girl enters their life, the bad guys force Logan and Xavier on the run as they now have X-23 with them.  She is a young female Wolverine with all the ferocity of an adult.  She rarely speaks but is good at getting her point across.  As they head North in an effort to meet up with other mutants making their way to Canada, a safe haven, they all "bond" and learn to rely on each other.  Along the way we learn Logan is being poisoned by the admantium inside him.  He doesn't heal as fast from wounds.  We also know the bad guys have been engineering children to raise as weapons or soldiers using DNA from Logan and other mutants.  Professor Xavier and Caliban dye during attacks by the bad guys.  Still the relationship shown between Xavier and Logan is very well presented and thought out.     
This all culminates in fight with the bad guys that involves other child mutants, Wolverine and X-23. While we don't see the other children showcase their skills to a great extent it does seem to foreshadow something bigger (maybe a future movie?).  Wolverine and X-23 take center stage as they take down the bad guys and save the day.  Unfortunately in doing so Logan dies.  X-23 and remaining children continue their journey to Canada as the movie ends. 
This is an excellent movie.  It is rated R so you must be ready for the violence and language that ensues.  That is where X-23 really shines.  The fight scenes are excellent and you really get a feeling for close hand fighting done by super powerful beings.  The tone of the movie seems right for what our heroes are facing and I think it sets up for a post Wolverine/Professor X centric X-world.  We'll see where it goes from here but hopefully it can build on this very good start.  If I had a negative, it is that you could probably shave about 20 minutes from the movie.  Pacing seemed slow a few times but I think this is probably trivial considering how well the movie is done.  This is based off the Old Man Logan comic books from Marvel.  I haven't read them all but they are of a similar vane as the movie though it is done differently.  If you like the X-Men movies, Wolverine, comics, or hero movies this is a must see.