On LeBron’s Return: A Written Commentary

bronmagic In case you missed it (you most likely did): I posted a visual commentary on LeBron James’ latest free agency frenzy on Saturday. Now comes the written portion.

I’ll start with the decision itself: I don’t have a problem with it, and I think he made the best choice for himself and for his family. It’s admirable.

LeBron James didn’t want to leave Cleveland in July 2010, but in the end, the teams that management put around him were so devoid of talent that he had no choice. Daniel Gibson had a case as the second-best player on the 2007-08 team. And the 2008-09 team? You know, the one where James averaged 40-10-10 per 100 possessions, recorded a .591 TS%, and registered a 31.7 PER? Its #2 option was MO WILLIAMS. And who could forget the year after that, when an actor portraying Shaq for a biopic that was never filmed arrived and promised to “win a ring for the King”? Good times.

We’ve talked a lot about James’ obsession with building a “legacy” (whatever the fuck that means). Chris Sheridan kept prattling on about it, among other things. A “legacy” is something that the general populace assigns; a player can only do his best and choose whether or not to care when he’s done. The fact is, James was (and is) driven by what drives every great athlete: reaching the peak of his sport. And reach it he did; four straight Eastern Conference championships and two NBA championships in Florida can attest to that.

But James soon found that the problems he experienced in Cleveland were repeating themselves in Miami: the team around him wasn’t nearly strong enough. Dwyane Wade’s knees had turned to jelly by the time the 2014 Finals rolled around, thus making the Big Three a Big Two. James and Chris Bosh were all but forced to go it alone, as the depth that had made the Heat so dangerous in 2012 and 2013 withered away. Rashard Lewis? Sometimes good, sometimes not. Same went for Ray Allen. Shane Battier and Norris Cole were barely factors, and Mario Chalmers now finds himself almost universally reviled by Heat fans for his dismal play in June.

So James bailed. His greatest fear was that the situation in Miami would turn into another 2007-2010 Cleveland. He jumped at the chance his old team offered him: a chance to go home and keep winning before his prime was up with a younger core that the Cavaliers bumblefucked their way into acquiring, a fresh face drawing up plays, and a front office that, at long last, would give him most anything he wants (see Love, Kevin).

James will sign a two-year pact, from which he can opt out after one year. I know it seems scary, but have no fear: he’s not leaving again, nor will there be another drawn-out fiasco that sends Twitter up in flames. The decision to put his John Hancock on a short-team deal is merely a strategic one; the NBA’s getting a new TV deal in 2016, and with that new deal, the salary cap is expected to rise…which means James can pack away more dineros from a max contract.

The man paying him those dineros? Dan “Comic Sans” Gilbert. Over the past five months, it appears as if Gilbert experienced an epiphany with regards to his now-infamous poison message to Northeast Ohio that was posted for all the world to see four years ago. In an interview with ohio.com in February, he expressed remorse for certain portions of the letter, but when Woj got to him for a Yahoo! exclusive, it was full-blown apology time. Gilbert took it all back, insisting that he met with James and begged the man’s forgiveness.

I mostly like Dan Gilbert; after all, he’s a Michigan State Spartan and he’s scooping up property in Detroit as if it were a frozen dairy product. But that hissy fit he threw four years ago has now been validated, and that kinda sucks, so I’m just going to operate under the assumption that he did some hardcore reflecting during and after the Cavs’ tumble out of the playoff race this past spring.

Cleveland, Ohio doesn’t have many good things happen to it at all sports-wise, so James electing to return is a big win for the place. Four months ago, Cleveland was Tribe Town; now, after the Browns drafted Johnny Manziel eighteen selections after they could have and James had his decision published in Sports Illustrated, Cleveland has two polarizing star athletes.

Also, this is relevant again:

So Clevelanders have a right to be happy. Let us not infringe upon that. But what’s going to grind my gears (and probably no one else’s) is all these Cleveland radio personalities–Dustin Fox leaps to mind–and low-level journalists who, in actuality, had no earthly idea what was going on, took a wild guess to drum up excitement with the loyal (snicker) listeners or with Cleveland Twitter…and got it right. We’re never going to hear the end of that.  Oh, and Sheridan, as if he needed another feather in his cap. Had James elected to return to Miami, the slander would have been epic.

Obviously, James’ decision to go back to Ohio has greatly impacted his old team, the Miami Heat. Yeah, they’re still around. The Heat, to the surprise of many, were able to convince Bosh to stay on; Pat Riley only had to dole out a cool $118 million at the last second to pull that rabbit out of the hat. And the four-time defending Eastern Conference champs did manage to procure Luol Deng’s services on a two-year deal in an attempt to replace the irreplaceable. And the legendary McBob is there.

But who else? Norris Cole, who’s been good for 1.8 win shares over three NBA seasons? Shabazz Napier, who was brought in mainly to placate James? Chalmers?!?

Anthony Morrow would have been a nice addition, especially for the price at which Oklahoma City got him. But instead, Riley and Erik Spoelstra will find out whether or not Danny Granger and Wade have two good knees even between them. Riley still has some work to do in filling out the roster, so here’s your “work-in-progress” caveat. We’ll see just how far Chris Bosh can carry that reconfigured group (it’ll still make the playoffs; believe it or not, the East could be WORSE next season).

So, the man made up his mind after a protracted process, the dominoes started falling, and the NBA landscape has shifted once again. The Cavaliers could resume powerhouse status as soon as next season…but perhaps with the provision that the one-man show days are over. Its owner is happier than a pig in slop. Quicken Loans Arena becomes the place to be once again. And, oddly enough, the Heat are more fascinating to me without James; it’s Bosh who will now leap to the forefront with a more varied offensive game, developed through his years of being a second-or third-wheel on conference and league champions.

LeBron James’ choice to trade South Beach for Lake Erie will be measured with rings by some, but to me (and most rational people, probably), such a unique decision cannot be defined as such. An athlete who was a Hall-of-Famer at 25 left his home state, won countless accolades down south, and elected to go back, to give it another go with a team that failed him spring after spring. That’s more than just distinctive or noteworthy. Even if the man known as “the King” leads the Cavaliers to only one NBA championship in his second go-around, it will all have been worth it.

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On LeBron’s Return: A Visual Commentary

LeBron James essentially just reenacted this:

I’ll have more extensive thoughts on Gary’s–er, LeBron’s–decision to sign with Cleveland posted here in due course.

(The episode at normal speed can be found here. You know, just in case you’re like me and would watch it simply because it’s SpongeBob.)

The Day After

Fuck.

It still hurts.

Real Madrid 4-1 Atlético Madrid a.e.t. was the scoreline after 120 minutes, but that didn’t do the 2014 Champions League Final justice. It didn’t do Club Atlético de Madrid, a story as remarkable as its players, justice. Atléti were two minutes from European Cup #1 when world-renowned shitstain Sergio Ramos snuck in and slotted a perfect header past Thibaut Courtois.

And from that moment on, I knew. You knew. Everyone knew that Atlético’s golden opportunity had withered away.

Diego Simeone’s game plan was simple enough: force Real to concede corners, get an early goal, and relentlessly hound its superstar-laden XI on defence. Even after Isco came on and Real began to pepper Courtois’ net, Atlético held firm, nursing the 1-0 lead like a sickly infant. After 92 minutes, it appeared as if Atlético’s belief, intensity, and resilience would result in Champions League glory.

Then the wheels came off.

Atlético had clearly tired before the original 90 minutes were up, but they continued to work diligently in an effort to get the game to penalty kicks. Gareth Bale denied them that chance, as he stopped Spurs-ing long enough to head home the eventual winner on 110. It was bad luck for Courtois after he had saved an Ángel Di María chance, but them’s the breaks.

Marcelo added another at 118, and Cristiano Ronaldo converted a penalty two minutes later, just to make sure the salt had been completely emptied into the gaping rojiblanco wound. Then Simeone went after Raphael Varane after the latter kicked the ball toward the Atléti sideline. You talk about wheels falling off; these wheels flew off and starting hitting players upside the head.

Ok, a few things:

-I love Diego Simeone (nh). His passion and his special gift for connecting with his players and forming them into a tight-knit unit on and off the pitch is unparalleled in today’s game. Without him, Atlético are nowhere near the top of La Liga, let alone two minutes from winning Champions League. But he fucked up royally in starting Diego Costa. Yes, there is a strong possibility that this was DC’s last game for Atlético. I know about the horse placenta treatment he received during the week. But wanting someone to be fit is not the same as them actually being fit. Sentimentality trumped realism here, and including him in the starting XI only to sub him off inside ten minutes was ridiculously stupid. To Cholo’s credit, he owned up to the error after the match, but that gamble indirectly cost Atlético the win. Having one more sub available in the final 20 minutes of regular time would have helped tremendously. Or how about when Juanfran got injured in extra time and began limping around like he’d been shot?

-I don’t think the officiating was talked about enough. It was terrible. Björn Kuipers called foul after foul and produced yellow after yellow for Atlético players (four bookings in the second half, zero for Real players), which allowed for prolonged pressure in front of Courtois. It also led to his adding a whopping five minutes of injury time. Said time, of course, was more than enough for Real to equalise. Then, he gave Ronaldo a penalty in the 119th minute for no reason other than to allow him to make up for a subpar final in his home country. Kuipers’ officiating didn’t cost Atlético the game by itself, either, but instead combined with Costa’s subbing off and the exhaustion at the end of regular time to generate the result.

-Didn’t watch them get their second-place medals. Why? Because I was pissed off and I didn’t want to hear any more about Real Madrid. And because they’re second-place medals. Cholo didn’t even want his. And/or he just really doesn’t like Platini, which is understandable.

(I have since seen them receive their medals. It was about what I expected. Half-smiled when Courtois took his off.)

Now, the most important thing. Through the bitching and bitterness, I fully recognize the magnitude of Atlético’s 2013-14 season as the single greatest season in the club’s 111-year history. Not only did los colchoneros hold off Barcelona and Real Madrid for 38 rounds in the league (something no one had done since 2004, and something Atlético hadn’t done since 1996), it reached a European final for the third time since 2010. Know how many other clubs have done that? Just one: Bayern Munich. Through the lingering disappointment, the big picture emerges: this was an incredible run, one for the record books. And considering the shaky financial ground Atlético stand on, there’s really only one club that can say their season was better. But fuck that club.

From Bosnia to Arizona

This is a piece I wrote for a news writing class at school. Wanted to share it. You can buy his book here.

***

The first thing Esad Boškailo will tell you about himself is that he is a winner.

“I call myself a winner all the time. I win this game with a high score. I’m free, I have a professional career, a family life–everything,” he stated in a thick Eastern European accent.

Boškailo is an attending psychiatrist at Maricopa Integrated Health System (MIHS), and he is the System’s Associate Director of Esad Boskailo soft 3 book (4)Psychiatric Residency Training. He’s also a survivor of the Bosnian War, having lived through placement in six concentration camps over one year. His book chronicling that experience, “Wounded I Am More Awake: Finding Meaning after Terror”, was published in April 2012.

I first met Boškailo when I was 12 years old. My mother worked with him at the hospital, and was able to get me in for an interview so I could complete a seventh-grade Life Science project. I don’t remember a lot about the day I first met him, and I wish I did; it would have given me more of a frame to work with. Regardless of my memory failing, the sheer magnitude of what Boškailo had been through was shocking to me. I was speaking to a real-life concentration camp survivor.

This time, seven years after our first meeting, I was led into his office by an assistant. Clad in a dress shirt/khakis combo and sporting spiked gray hair, he was working at a desktop computer when I entered. The walls of his office were a shade of aquamarine, and to his left hung two framed posters. One poster was a colorful advertisement for a fake Led Zeppelin concert which would have taken place at the legendary Fillmore West in 1969. The other was an enlarged version of the cover of the Jimi Hendrix album “Live at Woodstock”.

“I listen to Led Zeppelin every day. When I listen to them, it changes my whole mood,” he told me.

Across from the posters, on the other side of the office, stood a tall, mahogany-colored bookshelf, on top of which were two action figures, both in their dust-covered cases. One was an Albert Einstein model; the other, a Sigmund Freud. Boškailo quipped with a hearty chuckle that these were gifts.

Throughout the office were images of Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara. The images caught my eye immediately as I entered the office, and he revealed their significance unprompted.

“It is not necessarily what he believed in, but what he symbolized,” he said, referring to Guevara’s long-standing associations with rebellion and independence.

Boškailo moved from the back of the office, where he was sitting and working on the desktop, towards the door, where there was a much larger desk with a laptop on it. I sat down in a chair beside said desk. He pulled out a plastic container that held a meal of scrambled eggs and vegetables, into which he would sporadically plunge his fork and take bites from during our interview.

A complex man such as Boškailo came from relatively humble beginnings. He was born in a small town situated near the Adriatic Sea. His father was a maintenance worker in a large factory, while his mother was a homemaker.

“I lived in a little town called Počitelj in south Bosnia, and life was nice and easy. I had a large family, many friends, liked going to the ocean, playing basketball—I did play semi-professional basketball for four or five years,” he recalled.

After his time playing semi-pro ball ended, Boškailo spent six years at medical school in Bosnia. He was inspired to pursue a career in medicine after a conversation with a cousin.

“One of my cousins told me I had some kind of skills to talk to people, and I was always open. He kind of talked me into it,” he recollected.

Upon graduating, he completed an internship and received a position as an emergency room physician. It was this job he held when war broke out in April 1992.

“One day—April 6, I think—I was going to work five kilometers from my home. I was stopped by five or six masked people with big guns,” he said.

Boškailo defied their orders to return home and insisted that he be allowed to proceed to work, as he had patients that required care. After a young man took off his mask and threatened to kill him, Boškailo acquiesced and went back to his house, where he devised a plan to send three friends and their wives and children to Croatia. He didn’t believe that a party with kids would be detained, and he knew that they would be subjected to far worse if they stayed in Bosnia.

Later on the day he was stopped, Boškailo found himself working on a newly-established front line with little equipment and the knowledge that six of his neighbors had already been killed. His neighborhood was now a war zone, and the conflict would only escalating. For the next year, he helped civilians and soldiers as he went from front line to front line—until he was arrested by Croatians.

“I was placed in a concentration camp, and I spent over a year in six different concentration camps. I was tortured and almost starved to death. When I was freed by the U.N., I couldn’t walk,” he stated with an eerie calm.

Boškailo lost between 80 and 90 pounds during his ordeal. The conditions were terrible. People were interrogated daily and were subject to malnourishment and torture before they were murdered. And Boškailo said that he knew personally several of those who met that fate.

It was mainly because of his occupation that he was allowed to live, but his will and his dogged determination also contributed to survival.

“I want to tell you something—it’s not only about physical freedom. Emotional freedom is much bigger,” he leaned in and declared. “I am free to talk about every single event because I didn’t do anything bad.”

Boskailo arrived in Chicago, Illinois on August 8, 1994. Several members of his family were already in Chicago; they had arrived via a settlement program. He began to learn English, and he became editor-in-chief of a monthly magazine titled “Zambak”. The word is Bosnian for “lily”, and the flower was a symbol of the Bosnian independence movement—much like Che Guevara is a personal symbol for Boškailo. The 50-60 page magazine—which was circulated in major cities nationwide before it succumbed to financial problems in 2008—was designed to help Bosnian refugees adjust to life in the United States.

“I still remember [the articles about] how to buy a house, how not to buy a house, how to get your kid into college on a scholarship, how to protect yourself, how to buy a car,” he recalled.

080712eDuring his time in Chicago, and for a while after he moved to Phoenix in 1999, Boškailo was asked on multiple occasions to write a book about his life, and after several years, he finally agreed to interviews with Julie Liebling, the Assistant Professor of Journalism at Loyola University in Chicago, and the eventual co-author of “Wounded I Am More Awake”.

“I had to write about my experience. I felt it was almost my obligation as a human being, to help others,” Boškailo offered.

The 13th-century poet Rumi is very influential on Boškailo, and he cited a portion of one of the Persian’s poems to explain why he held off in divulging his story: “I was ready to tell/the story of my life/but the ripple of tears/and the agony of my heart/wouldn’t let me.”

Boškailo will be speaking at [REDACTED] on April 10, and along with a book signing, he will be discussing the Bosnian War—but in an unconventional fashion.

“I use the Bosnian War in my talks as a frame of events, a frame of trauma. I use war as a story. I can talk about these events without much hate, and it’s better I do it than someone who has hate.”

Musings at the Outset of the 2014 MLB Season

The Dodgers and Diamondbacks will kick off the 2014 MLB season with two games in Sydney, Australia on Saturday (much to Zack Greinke’s chagrin). With that day quickly approaching (tomorrow!), I figured I’d jot down a few words on the league’s teams.

AL East

Red Sox–The defending champs lost Jacoby Ellsbury to the Yankees (#trader), but that loss alone won’t cause them to plummet in the standings. Plenty of talent on John Farrell’s team. Pete Abraham of the Boston Globe projects the final roster here.

The rotation looks good, and I really like the bullpen, especially if former Cardinal Edward Mujica is the guy he was from April-August (1.73 ERA) rather than the guy he was in September and October (9.68 ERA) of last season. Elsewhere, top prospect Xander Bogaerts will be taking over full-time at shortstop for the Sox, and outfielder Jackie Bradley will get more time, because Grady Sizemore will inevitably sustain an injury. (probably. maybe. i’m not rooting for it.)

Rays–Well, David Price is still there, and that’s good enough for me. This team is good enough to win the East. Joe Maddon has an embarrassment of young pitching riches at his disposal, proving that “Hickey’s shit” really matters (see below). Price, Matt Moore (not of CBS Sports fame), Chris Archer, Alex Cobb…the Rays have “best rotation in baseball” potential (if their FIPs go down). Offensively, the team resigned James Loney after he (unsurprisingly, because Rays) revived his career in 2013, and he’ll form the core of the offense along with the dynamic duo of Evan Longoria and Wil Myers.

(Josh Lueke is still a rapist.)

Yankees–Frugality? What’s that? The Yanks shelled out big bucks this offseason to lock up Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, and Masahiro Tanaka in an attempt to offset the loss of Robinson Cano (who I’ll get to later). Former Cy Young Award winner CC Sabathia was terrible in 2013, posting a 4.78 ERA and a 4.10 FIP, while Ivan Nova was good, ringing up a 3.10 ERA and 3.47 FIP. Go figure. Anyway, the Yankees will be in the thick of what is shaping up to be an intense wild-card race, and Joe Girardi has to hope that Sabathia bounces back and Tanaka isn’t the second coming of Hideki Irabu. The last thing the Yankees want is Jeter retiring with his last postseason game being one where he broke his ankle.

Orioles–They got a pitcher that they desperately needed in Ubaldo Jimenez…if he can bring his sterling 2013 form to Camden Yards. The O’s have an explosive offense and should score a lot of runs, but if Jimenez can’t replicate last season’s 3.30 ERA/3.43 FIP/9.6 K per 9 performance, and if Chris Tillman regresses (his FIP has been above 4.2 each of the last two years, so…), the O’s are probably close to an 85-win team again.

Blue Jays–Toronto had their chance last year in what was theoretically a weaker AL East, but they never got their shit together. The Jays still have a decent team, but the East is very good and the wild-card race will be too congested. In terms of what I’m interested in, I think R.A. Dickey, now that he’s fully healthy, can look more like his 2012 self; that would be nice. Also, how much does 31 year-old Jose Reyes have left in the tank?

On the clipboard are the keys to the universe. Or just useful materials for pitching coach Jim Hickey, aka "Hickey's shit."

On the clipboard are the keys to the universe. Or just useful materials for pitching coach Jim Hickey, aka “Hickey’s shit.” (i mean it could be the keys to the universe have you seen how good his pitching staffs are)

AL Central

Tigers–Hated their offseason. General manager Dave Dombrowski added some speed to a really slow team, but in doing so, he diluted the potency of a lineup that already has problems scoring in fall. Ian Kinsler isn’t quite the same player he was even two years ago (and he only stole 15 bases last year). Rajai Davis isn’t much of a hitter and has a career OBP of .316. Austin Jackson may have plateaued. Torii Hunter may stop talking and regress to hitting like a 39 year-old. And Jose Iglesias could miss the season with leg problems, which will compromise the improved defense.

On the pitching front, the Doug Fister trade slightly weakens a rotation that is probably due for a bit of regression anyway, and the only move of substance the Tigers made to shore up one of the league’s worst bullpens was signing a really good closer (Joe Nathan) to replace a really good closer (Joaquín Benoit). In spite of all this, the Tigers still have Miguel Cabrera, and they should win the Central again. But I’d be surprised if they achieved anything more than that.

Royals–Don’t you just want this team to win? Kansas City hasn’t seen playoff baseball since 1985, and this iteration of the We Could Be Royals (sorry) has enough to end the 28-year drought. Ace James Shields is a free agent after this season, so he could show out this year. Right-hander Yordano Ventura is one of the game’s top pitching prospects, and will start the season as the team’s third starter. Jeremy Guthrie is a somewhat-reliable innings-eater. And how can we forget about Bruce Chen? (easily, until he tosses seven shutout innings throwing 83 mph.) Ned Yost’s bullpen is anchored by closer Greg Holland, who was overwhelmingly dominant last season (1.21 ERA, 103 strikeouts, 47 saves).

The Royals’ offense is just waiting to break out. Eric Hosmer was fantastic last year and could be a .300 hitter for a long time. Alex Gordon is really good. So is Billy Butler. And Salvador Perez. I loved the addition of Omar Infante. They’ll have depth in the outfield with Norichika Aoki, Lorenzo Cain, and Jarrod Dyson all in play. Plus, Mike Moustakas will surely bounce back (right? hopefully?). Can you tell that I like this team? With minimal #royaling, they could nab a playoff spot. But then these are the Royals.

Indians–The Tribe didn’t do too much this offseason, opting to keep most of the 92-win band together. Which means their starting pitching is still kinda average, their bullpen is pretty good, and their offense is well-rounded. The Indians should stay firmly entrenched in the American League wild-card conversation. Here’s a prediction: Jason Kipnis takes the next step and challenges Cano for the honor of being the game’s best second baseman.

Twins–Damn shame that Miguel Sano needed TJ and is out for the year. But Byron Buxton is still waiting in the wings!

White Sox–I freaking love Chris Sale. His elbow better not give out. I’m intrigued by Cuban import Jose Abreu’s raw power. Other than that, looking like another dismal year on the South Side, and the last year for Paul Konerko.

Here's a fun fact: Brian Anderson was the Royals' Opening Day starter in 2004. They lost 104 games that year.

Here’s a fun fact: Brian Anderson was the Royals’ Opening Day starter in 2004. He posted a 5.64 ERA that year, and the Royals lost 104 games.

AL West

A’s–Oakland has a deep lineup that hits for power in a pitcher’s park, and they have lots of promising young pitching, both in the rotation and in the bullpen. Bob Melvin is a mix-and-match wizard, and that approach has carried the A’s to 190 wins and two division titles over the last two seasons, leading to a resurgence in fan support. This season, I’d expect the A’s to win yet another heated division race with the Rangers, but Jarrod Parker needing Tommy John surgery numero dos isn’t at all beneficial. (My expecting this means the Rangers will win the West going away.)

Rangers–The Rangers fixed their DH and outfield problems, trading for Prince Fielder and signing Shin-Soo Choo. Now, if their pitching could stay healthy, we might have something here.

Mariners–The problem with the Mariners is that they signed Cano…and just stopped. Robinson Cano is a great player, but his presence alone is not enough to make the M’s a top ten offense and transform them into a playoff contender overnight. Seattle has a top-of-the-rotation tandem in Felix and Iwakuma that rivals any in baseball, but they’re not much better otherwise. 75 wins.

Angels–TROUT TROUT TROUT TROUT TROUT TROUT

Astros–I’m going to love this team in about five years. Mark Appel, Carlos Correa, and probably Carlos Rodon? /salivates.

Carlos Correa #TurnUp

Carlos Correa #TurnUp

NL East

Nationals–Their 86-76 record last year may not seem horrendous, but for this team and their expectations? Yeah, 2013 was horrendous for the Nationals. But I also think it was a learning experience for them. Matt Williams can feel good about this team; the franchise formerly known as the Expos boasts arguably the best rotation in baseball and a lineup that will be better. Here’s hoping Bryce Harper doesn’t crash into anything this year.

Braves–Replacing Kris Medlen (poor guy) with Santana seems smart, but you have to be careful at Turner Field; he probably won’t be posting a 3.24 ERA again. As bad as I feel for Medlen, I think I feel worse for Brandon Beachy. Can we start a #BanElbows movement?

I’d like to see that outfield consistent (that means you, Uptons) and healthy (ahem, Heyward). Wild-card team imo. Unrelated: I miss 2008 B.J. Upton.

Mets–At least David Wright is the “Face of MLB”? I am interested to see if Bartolo Colon’s anti-suck potion remains effective (he’s moving from one pitcher’s park to another, so it could). And thinking about how good Matt Harvey/Noah Syndergaard/Zack Wheeler is going to be in 2015. Hopefully they won’t be another Generation K.

Marlins–No, Jose Fernandez won’t do *that* again. But the Fish have some pretty good young pitching set up behind him (Henderson Alvarez, Nathan Eovaldi, Jacob Turner). They won’t be awful. Although Jeffrey Loria still is.

Phillies–Three years ago, this team won 102 games. Six years ago, they were World Series champs. And now, they’re a disaster. Entirely possible they finish in last place. Cole Hamels is hurt, Jimmy Rollins is on his last legs, and Ryan Howard is still there. Clifton Phifer Lee deserves better than all of this.

Okay, who remembers these guys?

Okay, who remembers these guys?

NL Central

Cardinals–The BFIB have a reigning NL champion to root for. Not crazy about the Redbirds losing Beltran, but they should still be fine offensively (and not because they gave Jhonny Peralta a crazy contract). Michael Wacha will be a star, and Shelby Miller could put it all together too, forming a three-headed monster with Adam Wainwright at the top of the St. Louis rotation. They could repeat as pennant winners.

Pirates–Everyone seems to think the Buccos will regress this season, but I don’t see it. Well, ok, I see it with Francisco Liriano. That BABIP (.231 at home!) is going to go up, and he’ll probably get hurt because this is Francisco Liriano we’re talking about. Otherwise…I really like Gerrit Cole, the bullpen will probably remain one of the top five units in the NL, Andrew McCutchen is a beast, and if Pedro Alvarez learns a little discipline he’ll be downright scary. I like this team to get the second wild-card in the NL.

Reds–First of all, Mat Latos is one of the most underappreciated pitchers in baseball. He cut down on his walks again last year and his FIP was a sterling 3.10–lower than his ERA! Also, let’s see if Homer Bailey can live up to that ridiculous contract he received. Losing Choo (no, they didn’t find him) is obviously a big negative, and new manager Bryan Price has some lineup shuffling to do. It appears as if Brandon Phillips will bat out of the two spot to start the year, so expect him to…not drive in 103 runs again. And we’re finally going to find out if Billy Hamilton can handle a bat at the major league level.

Oh, Aroldis Chapman is out six to eight weeks after getting drilled in the head on Wednesday.

Brewers–Their pitching staff intrigues me. Yovani Gallardo/Kyle Lohse/Matt Garza looks like a solid top three. Also, Ryan Braun’s back! His reputation is in tatters, but he’s back! And it’ll be fun to see if Khris Davis and that .316 ISO of his can keep it up. The Brewers could be the best fourth-place team in baseball, and could actually slide into third if the Reds suck. GET EXCITED MILLER PARK ATTENDEES.

Cubs–Travis Wood had a 3.11 ERA and a 1.15 WHIP last year. Looks good, right? That is, until you get to the insanely low .248 BABIP and “uh oh” FIP of 3.89 and “OH SHIT” xFIP of 4.50. I keep telling myself not to think of Starlin Castro as Shawon Dunston 2.0. Also, did you know Luis Valbuena hit 12 dingers last year? KRIS BRYANT? WHO NEEDS HIM?

This concludes my thoughts on the Cubs.

"Hey Joey, you're so overrated! Only 73 RBI?!"

“Hey Joey, you’re so overrated! Only 73 RBI?!”

NL West

Dodgers–Hanley Ramirez triple-slashed .345/.402/.638 with 20 homers and 57 RBI in just over half a 2013 season. Think he’s pretty happy to be out of Florida. The rest of the Dodgers should be happy too, seeing as they’re the favorites in the NL. Kershaw and Greinke are as lethal a 1-2 punch as they come, and Hyun-Jin Ryu figures to be just as reliable in his sophomore season stateside. The bullpen has Kenley Jansen. The offense will survive the probable Puig regression. They’re really good.

Diamondbacks–I liked the Mark Trumbo trade; the Diamondbacks needed some extra pop in the lineup. And the two prospects general manager Kevin Towers dealt to get Trumbo (Adam Eaton and Tyler Skaggs) had not impressed in the majors. I also was fine with the acquisition of Addison Reed; his 3.79 ERA in 2013 looked bad for a closer, but he had a 3.17 FIP. Infield prospect Matt Davidson (traded for Reed) had his path to Arizona blocked at third base by Martin Prado and at first base by Paul Goldschmidt. Plus, no more Heath Bell!

The offense was fifth in the NL in runs last season (weird, I know), and didn’t get worse this offseason. Goldschmidt is a sure thing, and if Aaron Hill is healthy, Miguel Montero returns to form (an 80-point drop in BABIP had something to do with his off 2013), an Trumbo slugs 35 homers, they’ll stay in the top five.

The rotation was set up to be solid until Bronson Arroyo developed back problems and Patrick Corbin received a tear in his UCL. Arroyo should be okay by the end of the month. Corbin won’t be as lucky; he’ll probably need Tommy John surgery. That’s a big blow. If they can’t poach a starter from someone (reports indicate that they’re looking), Randall Delgado or top prospect Archie Bradley will step in.

Big picture: the Diamondbacks will contend for a wild-card spot on the strength of a good offense, decent rotation, and a (theoretically) better bullpen, but they may need Atlanta or Pittsburgh or #mysteryteam to fade in order for them to sneak in. Maybe they’re the mystery team. I’m just pondering.

Giants–How about Madison Bumgarner for NL Cy Young? If he’s not their only good starter again, they’ll be in the wild-card race. If he is…hey, have you seen Tim Lincecum’s moustache? That’ll be the most fascinating thing about this team. Well, okay, that’s not quite fair. Buster Posey can hit a little.

Rockies–Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki were both hurt last year; Colorado could have pushed .500 if they had both been healthy. Their pitching stunk (again), but Rex Brothers was lights-out in the late innings (1.74 ERA, 19 saves in 2013), Tyler Chatwood was deceptively solid despite a low strikeout rate and high WHIP (8-5, 3.15 ERA, 3.66 FIP). Jhoulys Chacin, who was probably their best pitcher last year, is out for at least another month with a right shoulder strain, but if he returns and looks good (like CarGo and Tulo), the Rockies are a .500 club, maybe a little better.

Padres–So, hey, that wasn’t really Chase Headley last year, right? But, potential good news: Andrew Cashner was really good in 2013 and was rewarded for his performance by being named the team’s Opening Day starter, and the Friars’ farm system has a lot of talent in the lower levels, including one of the game’s top catching prospects in Austin Hedges.

Tyler Chatwood: right-hander, Rockie, registered nurse.

Tyler Chatwood: right-hander, Rockie, registered nurse.

So that’s it. There’s Major League Baseball live from Sydney just a few hours from now.

2:40 A.M. Music Selection: “Out to Lunch!”

I’ve been firing up some Eric Dolphy as of late. The 50th anniversary of the saxophonist’s death comes in June, so maybe it’s sentimental, idk. Anyway, this is the title track from from his 1964 record “Out to Lunch!”

“Out to Lunch!” is regarded as a masterpiece of avant-garde jazz, and captivating compositions like this one have elevated its standing. Sadly, it was Dolphy’s last album before his death in Berlin later in 1964.

This isn’t for everyone (there’s your caveat), but I wanted to share it anyway.

“…Like Clockwork” Review

Been a while since I’ve posted anything here, so I figured I would dissect one of the best albums I’ve heard this year.

Josh Homme and Queens of the Stone Age released “…Like Clockwork” almost five months ago. It had been six years between albums for like-clockwork-1370289714the group, and “…Like Clockwork” emerged after a tumultuous recording period that saw Homme fire longtime drummer Joey Castillo. Upon release, it received universal acclaim, with many critics calling it QOTSA’s best since “Songs for the Deaf”, which made me instantly skeptical. “Songs for the Deaf” is not only the best Queens of the Stone Age album, it’s one of the best albums of the last 15 years. Anyway, I purchased “…Like Clockwork” and I found myself liking it more and more with each listen. And a couple days ago, I said to myself, “Holy shit. This is really, really good. I need to write about it.” So that’s where I’m at.

Track-by-track breakdown, followed by a brief conclusion:

1. “Keep Your Eyes Peeled”

A lot of the material on “…Like Clockwork” is inspired by Homme’s two-week long stay in a hospital in 2011 following complications from knee surgery (according to him, he died for a few minutes). Homme was bedridden for four months afterward, and accordingly fell into a deep depression. By his own admission, he had no idea if he was going to LIVE, let alone make music. The opening track on “…Like Clockwork” is one of the songs inspired by Homme’s aforementioned deep depression. Driven by a snarling riff that resembles a jet ripping through the sky, the lyrics tell of Homme’s loneliness and hopelessness regarding his future. Refusing to let itself up for air, this ominous opener sets the tone for the rest of the album. 10/10

2. “I Sat by the Ocean”

The second track on “…Like Clockwork” deals with a relationship that failed due to mistrust and the lack of a non-sexual connection. Homme feels it’s more like ships passing in the night than a relationship. Btb. Musically, there’s a fat bass line, powerful drumming, and some wailing guitar. Not incredibly complex, but delicious nonetheless. Like spaghetti and meatballs. Heh. 9/10

3. “The Vampyre of Time and Memory”

Homme is at his darkest here; the lyrics tell of feeling incomplete and lonely despite surviving an ordeal (like being bedridden for four months after nearly dying) and having people around to care, and reaching the point of considering ending it all. It’s “I Appear Missing” lite (don’t worry, I’ll get to that). There’s no happiness to be had. The song is piano-driven and never really rises above a whisper (compared to the rest of the album) until the end. Probably the weakest song of the ten, but not terrible. 6/10

4. “If I Had a Tail”

“If I Had a Tail” is a scathing exposé on how humans have been molded into materialistic creatures with a heavy desire to fulfill their base urges (Homme makes not-so-subtle references to sex throughout the song), and if he were an animal, he’d have a tail and swat away these “flies.” Funky stuff here; a propulsive beat, some hypnotic comping, and menacing vocal from Homme. Also, Nick Oliveri on backing vocals! 9/10

5. “My God Is the Sun”

This is a nod to the old days; the days when Homme was in Kyuss and when QOTSA was young, when it was all about heavy music that was good for those seemingly interminable drives through the desert. “My God Is the Sun” comes at the listener with an aggression that is reminiscent of the group’s best work. It’s a rocker. 10/10

6. “Kalopsia”

Strange track. And for once, with some hopeful lyrics (it describes how it’s possible to see things better than how they may appear).  Musically, it begins with some gentle piano and synthesizer washes before launching into a brief, churning groove and returning to the opening piano/synth combo. 6/10

7. “Fairweather Friends”

The title is self-explanatory; the song is an attack on people who are only around for someone when it’s convenient for them. It could apply generally or to Homme in particular. Anyway, this track features Sir Elton John on piano and on backing vocals, giving it instant credibility. Not that it needs it, though. “Fairweather Friends” kicks, with a growling riff and soulful backing vocals. The music matches the lyrics, really. 9/10

8. “Smooth Sailing”

“Smooth Sailing” seems out of place on “…Like Clockwork.” It is a scorching slab of warped blues-funk, with boastful, cocky lyrics (such as “I blow my load over the status quo”). Nothing can knock Josh Homme’s stride. 10/10

9. “I Appear Missing”

Best song on the album, and also the darkest. In fact, I’d venture to say Homme has never written anything this dark or despairing. The song deals with the brief amount of time in which Homme was dead, and his struggle to resume his life. He feels that his death and intense depression resulted in him losing himself; at the end, he even contemplates suicide. Musically, it’s very dense and hypnotic, with some fantastic slide playing from Homme towards the end. 10/10

10. “…Like Clockwork”

“…Like Clockwork” closes with the title track, a slow, pained study of how nothing lasts. People age, people lose things (like their identities, as Homme emphatically states in “I Appear Missing”), people die. And as he says here, not everything that goes around comes back around. Another piano-driven track, it closes the album appropriately. 7/10

Despite my initial skepticism, I’ve come to the conclusion that this is one of QOTSA’s best. It took a few listens, but definitely worth the six-year wait. It’s refreshing to hear them harken back to the glory days (2000-2003) while managing to move forward lyrically and stylistically.