Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Why Couldn't I Have Said It This Way?

From a letter in today's Washington Post regarding Tea Partiers and the accusations of racism:

If patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel, then racism is the first charge of the intellectually lazy. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly liberal columnists scream "racism" at those challenging their beliefs. It is an easy way to avoid the merits of arguments they oppose and inadvertently dilutes legitimate charges of racism. We as a nation will never reach a point of civil discourse if this highly charged accusation continues to be recklessly thrown about.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Your 2010 Seattle "Iffy" Mariners!

Let me get this out of the way, so there's no confusion: I'm genuinely excited to see the 2010 M's at the Safe this year. After seeing the team up close and personal in my first-ever Cactus League visit, there was a cool buzz around the players and an upbeat vibe coming from the fans.

Heck, even baseball pundits are raving about their rotation and potential to be a contending team.

Um, yeah. I don't get it. Do they see the same team I do?

I know what you're thinking: Here comes Mr. Gloomy Gus.

No, no! I'm excited to see the M's, all right, but the expectations on this team to contend are out of proportion to the one that's going to take the field.

Every team comes with ifs this time of year, of course, but the M's have quite a few—and a lot more than the average Mariners fan is willing to admit, I'm afraid. Given that, and that everyone is ready to hand Jack Z. the keys to the city for the moves he made over the winter, I think an honest assessment is in order.

The good thing is that Jack Z has set the M's up to win even if they fail. So that's a very, very good thing for the future. If the M's falter to before the break, they'll get great prospects/players for Lee and deepen the franchise's talent pool in the minors—something former shit-for-brains GM Bill Bavasi managed to fuck up beyond reproach.

Let's look at the key areas where the iffy issues arise.

The Rotation:
Remember "Spahn and Sain and pray for rain"? Well, nothing weather related rhymes with Felix Hernandez and Cliff Lee, and The Safe has a retractable roof, but the concept holds: The M's have suspect and inconsistent starters after these two.

The 3, 4 and 5 starters are going to have to chew up some innings to keep the 'pen from getting worn down. If Ryan Rowland-Smith and Ian Snell can post .500 records or just below, and keep the ERA in the low-to-mid 4s, then this team will compete. But I don't see it. Rowland-Smith is a serviceable #4 starter, but his stuff isn't dazzling and he wears down after 5 innings. Snell has a great arm, and all kinds of talent. If he can get his head straight and apply himself while coming off an injury, then he's a semi-breakout candidate. That's a big if, though.

After that, and like most teams, the struggle is to find a starter from the pool of Justin Vargas, Doug Fister (love the last name, not the game), Luke French (pitching like a Frenchmen this spring, all right—Jacques Pepin, to be precise) and Oriole-castoff Garrett Olson. And waiting in the wings is the oft-broken Eric Bedard (commonly referred to around these parts as Erica), who might back in June after he recovers from shoulder surgery.

This is not good news. The argument goes that this team is built around speed and defense. Being that, the pitching must play a significant role in keeping the score close. These back-end starters will keep the bullpen busy, likely too busy. This will put additional pressure on Felix and Lee to go deep into their games just to give the 'pen some rest. If those two can do that (and that's now an even bigger if now with Lee starting the season on the DL), then the wear and tear on the 'pen is slightly mitigated.

The Key Trio:
First base, third base and left field are the traditional power positions in baseball. At the very minimum, teams want 70 HRs from these 3 positions. Projecting Milton Bradley in LF, Chone Figgins at 3B and Casey Kotchman at 1b, and using their career highs in HR, they'll produce just 44, if we're lucky. Ouch. Not good.

True, the HR isn't the end all be all stat. So, if we have rabbits like Ichiro or Figgins on base, or both, and with The Safe's spacious and deep power alleys, then what the M's need are hitters with gap power. Kotchman and Bradley have that kind of power. Trouble is, both of them have only surpassed 30+ doubles in a season three times between the two of them. The rest of the time, both averaged under 25 two baggers during their careers, and there's nothing to suggest these two will produce bigger numbers. If they do, the lack of HR power is less of a concern.

One of the key pieces of the offense is Franklin Gutierrez. If Gutierrez, at the breakout age of 27, can produce a season along the lines of .298/25HR/93RBI/302B/20SB, then this minimizes the lack of power. However, if Gutierrez's numbers are on par with last year's (as fine as they were), the offensive production will be slightly worse than last year. Yes, worse.

This team produced just 640 runs while giving up 692. Without Russell Branyan's 31 HRs, and given Kotchman's career high of 14, that's already 17 runs less—at least. Figgins will be lucky to hit 6 HR. Bradley might be able to make up for that loss, if he can't keep his head straight and stay healthy. (The Mother of All Ifs.) So, the onus is on Guti to show some pop. If he can do that, then they'll repeat 640, which, honestly, ain't that great if you're spotting all your opponents at least 52 runs over the '10 season like they did in '09.

This is why I was disappointed with the M's failing to sign Jason Bay. Putting up numbers around .280/34/110, Bay would have put huge pressure on opposing pitchers to keep Ichiro and Figgins off base. Now, without that legit 3-hole power threat, not nearly as much.

To me, the additions of Bradley, Byrnes and Mike Sweeney, is like taking a handful of darts, putting on a blindfold, being spun around and then chucking them at a wall. Bay was a near bull's eye. We won't rue the day or anything, but it sure would've been nice to have Bay's bat in the 3-hole. But I digress....

The Bullpen:
I really, really like what's been done here. Bullpens are like offensive lines in football—thankless, unheralded but absolutely essential for winning games and contending. The addition of Brandon League is very solid as a 6th and 7th inning reliever. I really like Mark Lowe and David Aardsma to close games. They can both deal heat with great movement. I urge caution in thinking Aardsma can produce like he did in '09 because he's never had that kind of success before, but let's call him good with 35 saves. If not, there's Mark Lowe to close. And Kanekoa Texeiria is having an excellent spring. If he continues as he has, then the 'pen is one of the best in the AL.

I'm less enthused by Sean White, Shawn Kelley, Jesus Colome and Chad Cordero. If 2 of these 4 can have solid years, then I'm more optimistic. For now, I'm less so, and I won't be disappointed if they disappoint.

Again, I caution that the back end of the starting rotation will potentially cause each of these middle relievers to be in 45 games+ each. That's too many, and it doesn't bode well for keeping games close.

Jose Lopez:
Why do people in Seattle hate on Jose Lopez? Because he lacks range on defense? Who cares. He plays 2B. Oh wait, the M's are shifting him to 3B. Hmm, okay, maybe I do care a bit more. Sort of. I'm no sabermatician, nor do I care to be one, but dollars to doughnuts says Lopey wins more games with his bat than he loses with his glove.

He's the Mariners only near-guaranteed threat to hit 20, and possibly 25+HRs. However, Lopez has a glaring weaknesses at the plate: an utter lack discipline, best displayed by just 24 BB in 653 plate appearances. That's horrific. (Which didn't scare me from drafting him because I'm an idiot.) But aside from Ichiro, he's the M's best and most dangerous hitter.

Yet the Mariners and their fans would like to see him go in a trade. Trade a power-hitting, 26-year old second baseman? Sorry, I don't get it.

If Lopey hits in the three hole, and he's not too distracted by his new duties at 3B and starts off quick, he'll be key in keeping the M's a contender before the July deadline.

As for the rest of 'em....:

Junior: Oh please, only overly sentimental Mariner ideologues thought he should come back. He'll be lucky to hit .210 with 13 HRs.

Eric Byrnes: If he can come close to producing like his '07 season, it'll be the happy end of Milton Bradley.

Ryan Garko: If he can hit lefties while coming off the bench, he'll be a valuable asset. Just don't count on it. The one-time blue chipper has underachieved throughout his career.

Matt Tuisasosopo: Very intriguing to see if he'll make the club, which is looking better and better each day. Tremendous potential. If Bradley or Byrnes fails to produce, the M's could shift Figgins to left, put Lopez back at 2B and start Tui at 3B. And don't be surprised if that happens, perhaps as early as late May.

Catcher: There is no "if" here, just pure suckage, offensively speaking. Defensively, they're passable.

Okay, so what do I predict? 82-80. Or 78-84. Somewhere in there, anyway.

Yup, no better, but no worse, either. Just probably not what M's fans are expecting given their breathless adoration for Jack Z.'s moves.

This summer should be fun, entertaining and put some butts in the stands—mine included.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

So If i'm Presently a Card-Carrying Member of "The Party of No"....

....I guess that means the Democrats/liberals were "The Party of No" from 2000-2008, too.

My, my, my. What short little memories have if we're buying this demonization attempt.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Cactus League Sights

"This field, this game: it's a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh... people will come Ray. People will most definitely come."

I'm getting all tingly for baseball again. Must have something to do with my first-ever Cactus League Spring Training trip with my close friend, Aaron.

Junior and Ichiro. (Dear Friends, you were right. Ichiro does have the ability to hit 15-20 homers every year. Now only if he would.)

King Felix (looking at the devilishly handsome cameraman, no doubt). And trailing behind him? King TradeBait. Better known as Cliff Lee.

Ocuh, always ouch.

Milton Bradley, perplexed by his bat and what to do with it. Ugh. Watching him play makes you miss Carlos Silva. Double ugh.

Crazy kids living a crazy dream. Lucky bastards.

Traditional Brewers Weiner race! Sweet! (I rooted for the chorizo in the hat.)

That's right, Mariners fans. It's John Halama-LaLa-DingDong!

Creepy Obama Idolarity, Or Oddball Sense of Humor?

Help me out here.

This is the picture one of my coworkers has up as his screensaver at the moment. The portrait has been around since the '08 campaign, and I've never quite known whether or not to take it seriously, or as an intended joke. Given my place of employment and the predominant ideological leanings of my coworkers, I'm inclined to say the former. On the other hand, the latter is entirely possible too—mainly because the portrait is so over-the-top tacky and cheeky. (The white horse behind Obama is hilarious!)

I'm really split: I so want to say some quippy remark in passing (ex: point at the screen and say "Now that's funny!"); but this is work, and work and politics should never mingle.

I think I'll go with the latter.

I really believe he's got it up as a joke, but I'm so tempted to find out!

Lead me not into temptation, Lord....pardon, Obama.*

*I'm sure people are wondering why I'm chuckling at my desk, but they'll just have to keep wondering. :)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Pelosi Channels Jim Jones

Flashback, November, 18, 1978, Jonestown, Guyana: 'Drink the mixtue, children. We're doing something special. I'll tell you what's in it later.'

Subjection to power. It's a dangerous thing. Yet, in a soundbite, that is precisely what Speaker Pelosi wants when it comes to the health care bill: 'Just pass the plan, we'll tell what's in it later.'

Yes, Madame Speaker, pass it to me now.
Gulp, gulp, gulp! Ahhhhhh!

Good God.

May I remind my dear 2.5 Readers that this is from a prepared speech. Not off the cuff. Not a slip of the old windbag's tongue. A prepared speech. And she's deadly serious.

Since I'm not big on soundbites as a means of formulating one's world view or opinions or, possibly worse, partaking in "shitty shorthand," here's her shitty speech in its entirety*.

Finally, if Sarah Palin said this—and it's entirely possible she could say something so demonstrably stupid—the entire op-ed page of the NY Times, as well as DailyKos, HuffingtonPost, Democratic Underground and every other liberal editorial board in the country would be all over this in a bitch-like heat.

What do we get instead? Unquestioning and accepting silence. No words of denouncement. Not even so much as a peep.

Gulp, gulp, gulp, gulp......

*Oh, and it is truly a shitty speech. Here's another doozy: "Health insurance reform is about jobs. This legislation alone will create 4 million jobs, about 400,000 jobs very soon." But only if we nod our heads and say "Yes, we can."....

Thursday, March 4, 2010

MLB The Show: 2010—Quick Review

What better way to kick off my first ever trip to the Cactus League than by picking up "MLB The Show 2010" yesterday!

After taking the annoying 20-25 minutes to update my PS3 software and upload the game's data, I got to play a game—Indians vs. Twins. And here are a couple of things that immediately stood out, graphically and in the play.

Graphically, it's a sweet upgrade from the '09 version. Players move more fluidly; player faces more closely resemble those of that player (Justin Morneau is spot on good); shadows are more ambient and defined, as are dirt stains; and players don't "go through" each other with as much frequency.

One very cool thing was this: I played under partly cloudy conditions, and throughout the game cloud shadows would fade in and out of field of play—some parts of the field would have shadows, others not. It really gives the feeling of playing under those conditions. A very sweet, subtle touch.

Also, from about the 7th inning on, shadows from the stands started to creep across home plate and over the third base line. Another nice touch.

You can also see when a pitcher is getting tired and winded as his shoulders move up and down.

Oh, the fans aren't "repeated" nearly as often—in fact, it's darn hard to find the same fan doing the same gesture in the same section.

On to the play.

So much better! Far more realistic. Infielders no longer seem to have incredible ranges, and their Hoover-esque like ability to snare any ball in their vicinity seems to be gone as well—as is the ability to make off-balance or deep-in-the-hole throws. Example: I hit a ball to short with Nick Punto that the SS had to backhand and I was able to make it first.

The speed of the players more closely matched their real-time speed. Example: I drag bunted twice. With Denard Span, I was able to put one down short and to the left of the mound and beat it out. (No silly-great jumps off the mound by the pitcher and then firing a pea over to first like the '09 version.) On the second drag bunt, I laid one down up the 1B line and was able to beat that out as well.

Double plays are also harder to turn for the computer—and for the player as well.

It was easier to make errors, too. I made an error with Mauer on a steal attempt by the CPU when I overthrew it and the ball skipped into center. I made a second error when I needlessly fired the ball to second with my cutoff man. (This is good. You shouldn't be able to just will-nilly throw the ball wherever.)

Outfielder ranges more closely resemble those of the real player. Example: Jason Kubel is slow to the ball. In the '09 version, Kubel's fat ass could catch balls headed to the alley or he could sprint back to the ball. Not now. Grady Sizemore put one over his head for a triple.

Of note: Games are actually sponsored by real-time businesses, I think. As announcers were doing the pre-game, they said 'today's game sponsored by State Farm Insurance'. Product placement in video games? An interesting tact. As a marketer, I kind of like the idea.

While playing one game doth not a review make, there were a lot of noticeable and excellent upgrades and you'll be very happy with your purchase!

P.S. On a real-time baseball note, just what in the Sam hell was the city of Minneapolis thinking in building an open-air stadium? April and October—and hell, even more so late October—have the potential to be bitterly cold, worse than even Colorado. And while I've never been to the Twin Cities, I get the impression that the summers are sickly hot, ungodly humid and rampant with bugs—especially mosquitoes. Then again, I guess I shouldn't be too surprised about the questionable decision to have an open-air stadium since this is the same state that elected Jesse Ventura for Governor and Al Franken to the House.