Saturday, August 27, 2022

Movie Review: Breaking (2022)

Directed by
Abi Damaris Corbin

Breaking is a heart wrenching thriller with one of the year's best performances to date from John Boyega.

In her first feature film, writer/director Abi Damaris Corbin tells the true story of a young man who goes to senseless and desperate efforts to get the justice he feels he deserves.  John Boyega plays Brian Brown-Easley, an ex-Marine who is denied access to his VA disability payments due to a technicality.  Left homeless with no luck being heard at the VA office, Brian takes matters into his own hands by holding up a bank with a bomb.  He has no intentions of robbing the bank.  He is simply using this as a platform to be heard and get what he believes he is owed from the government.  Most people in the bank are allowed to leave, but two bank employees (played by Nicole Beharie & Selenis Leyva) are kept as hostages to protect Brian's safety.  He says he has no intentions of hurting the two women, and he seems sincere, but they quickly recognize they are being held by a man who is impulsive and not necessarily mentally stable.  Hostage negotiator Eli Bernard, played by the late Michael Kenneth Williams, relates to the young man and wants to help him, but he seems to be fighting an uphill battle against a system and fellow officers that seem to be indifferent to the plight.  It all leads to an intense and gripping ride.

The first thing that becomes obvious when watching Breaking is just how good John Boyega is.  Most probably still only see him as the rogue storm trooper in the latest trilogy of Star Wars, but he has been putting fascinating and nuanced performances out the last few years in films from Kathryn Bigelow's Detroit to Steve McQueen's Red, White, and Blue episode of his Small Axe anthology.  However, with his performance here in Breaking, Boyega goes to another level we have yet to see.  He shows an intensity and a range of emotion, paired with undeniable charisma, that shows what kind of special talent he is.  He felt like a young Denzel Washington in this film, commanding the screen and dominating a film where he rarely leaves the frame.  This is an Oscar-worthy turn for him, and between this and his upcoming film The Woman King, Boyega could have a special year and start to earn a reputation as one of the most talented actors at his age.

The stellar performances of this film don't stop with John Boyega.  Nicole Beharie and Selenis Leyva give heartbreaking performances as women stuck in a horrible situation.  Beharie is a definite standout here.  Also, in what is said to be his final film role, Michael Kenneth Williams shines.

This story is undeniably rich and moving, and Abi Damaris Corbin gives a valiant effort letting the story speak for itself and not messing it up.  In the hands of a more experienced filmmaker, this could have been a truly special script paired with the special performances.  It's not that Corbin does a bad job in her first writing and directing effort (in fact, I see her as a filmmaker to watch in the coming years), but these performances with this story had the potential to be truly be something very special.  Instead, there are aspects to the plot and themes to the story left underdeveloped and incomplete.  The ending is also quite abrupt, which does have a definite lasting imprint as you leave the theatre, but more could have been done.

With all this said, I loved this film.  Most of my criticisms were me seeing how the great movie could have become a masterpiece.  As it is, Breaking is an important story that needs to be seen.  It talks about the homelessness crisis in our country, the way we treat our veterans when they come back home, and, without being overly blatant about, how race plays a role in all of the above.  Add to this a host of strong performances (led by the brilliant John Boyega) the story comes to life in a grounded and powerful film.

Rating: 3.5 stars

View the trailer here:

Friday, August 12, 2022

Movie Review: Emily the Criminal (2022)

Directed by
John Patton Ford

Despite a stellar performance by Aubrey Plaza, Emily the Criminal falls short to an underdeveloped story and script, leading to a an average film that had potential to be great.

In the directorial and writing debut from John Patton Ford, Emily the Criminal centers on Emily, a character where you learn everything you need to know about her character in the very first scene.  Emily, played by Aubrey Plaza, is being interviewed for a job.  Everything seems to be going well, and Emily is a very personable and likable person.  Then she is asked to explain a potential blemish on her record that will be found when they do a background check.  She tells a story of a misdemeanor DUI on the way home from a concert with some friends.  It is then revealed that her background check indeed had come through, and they know about her felony assault conviction.  They were testing her honesty and integrity.  Feeling tricked and betrayed, Emily chooses to storm out in a tirade instead of try and make good.  It is a brilliantly acted scene by Plaza.

Now for the actual plot ... Emily is given a phone number by a friend saying she should text for some easy money.  When she texts, she is given details to a meeting where she meets Youcef (Theo Rossi), who offers her $200 for an hour of work.  All she has to do is commit credit card fraud.  Everything is set up, she just needs to buy something with the fraudulent card and her fraudulent ID.  When this works, a relationship begins to develop between Youcef and Emily as she needs to decide if she is going to continue to pursue a legitimate life or follow Youcef into a life of increasingly less innocent crimes.

The best thing this movie has going for it is Aubrey Plaza, who consistently shows over and over again that she is a dynamic actress capable of brilliant performances of so many varieties.  This is a role that she brings so much depth to, not just in her line delivery, but especially in the quiet moments.  Theo Rossi also provides a strong character in Youcef, a man with legitimate dreams that has to revert to a life of crime to make them come true.

Unfortunately, these great performances are hindered by a weak script that leaves holes in what had the potential of being a strong story.  All the elements of a great story are there, but there are holes in the plot and too many conventional beats.  As the film transitions from the second act to the third act, the relationship between Emily and Youcef takes a turn that is inevitable yet not executed in a great way.  The plot seems to take giant leaps, leaving so much plot and character development on the cutting room floor.  This movie could have used an extra 15-20 minutes to fully round out this full downward spiral of Emily, who goes from innocent fraud to Bonnie and Clyde.

Emily the Criminal is worth seeing for Aubrey Plaza, but if you are expecting a great movie to go along with the great performance, you will be left wanting more.

Rating: 2 stars

Watch the full trailer here:

Thursday, June 30, 2022

Chester Bennington: Top 5 Vocal Performances

I have been planning this article mentally for quite some time. I finally had to just throw my thoughts down on paper. On July 20th, it will be 5 years since Chester took his own life. For countless people (myself included), this shook me like no other celebrity death. When I heard the news, I was just a zombie walking around the rest of the day, not knowing what to do with myself. It was just months before I was finally going to see Linkin Park live for the first time.

Chester was a hero of mine. He was a mega-talented singer and songwriter, and Linkin Park came into the fold right at the perfect time for me. I was in junior high when Hybrid Theory was released, which changed rock music. It was what I have always referred to as “pop-metal”, with heavy distortion and lyrics, but they also somehow had a singalong nature that no other band had really ever had. That’s because Chester’s voice is so unique. His screams were out of this world, but his voice also had the purity of a pop singer, and his vocal range as a result was legendary. Just check out him doing covers of AC/DC and Adele.

I have always been in awe of Chester, and here is my tribute to him. We are counting down the top 5 vocals of his career. Not all of them are with Linkin Park, but most of them are. It is not hyperbole to say he may be the best hard rock vocalist ever. Just check out this clip of Linkin Park performing “One Step Closer/99 Problems” at the 1 minute mark, where Chester is just doing his thing at the end of the song, screaming completely in tune, and Jay-Z is just stunned with that look on his face like “...damn…”. I know this isn’t a perfect list. It is definitely subjective, and I am not as familiar with some singles from their later albums, but this is what I got. I’m including live performance videos because Chester always gave 100% in every moment of every live show I have ever seen a clip of.

Honorable Mentions

“Crawling” (Hybrid Theory)

“From the Inside” (Meteora)

“The Little Things Give You Away” (Minutes to Midnight)

“No More Sorrow” (Minutes to Midnight)

“One Step Closer” (Hybrid Theory)

“Shadow of the Day” (Minutes to Midnight)

“System” (Chester Bennington: Queen of the Damned)

5. “Soul Song” (Grey Daze: …No Sun Today)

The quality on this video isn’t the best, but you get the idea. This is the band Grey Daze that he was in before Linkin Park, founded in his hometown of Phoenix. You also see him with some crazy long hair. It has a post-grunge sound, and his voice just soars. It is definitely more low-key and has a jazzy sound that he never really tapped into after that. But even here as a teenager, you can hear just how powerful his vocals can be, almost singing himself into a trance. This is mainly on the list to show that it wasn’t just Linkin Park but it was Chester that was special.

4. “QWERTY” (LP Underground 6)

[There isn't a great video available of the actual live performance, but this is the audio of one (the actual live video that it wouldn't let embed is right HERE]

This song came from an album of live performances and a showcase for this one new song. It is definitely as heavy as Linkin Park ever got. Chester is crazy in this song, absolutely slaying the screams while alternating in and out of his actual singing voice. I don’t know how that’s even possible, but what else should we expect from the man? It is times like this, performing a brand new song that no one has heard, and he gets the audience into it because he never takes a song off. Chester is really feeling it when he has to just stand still and just belt out the vocals. That is definitely the case here.

3. “Lying from You” (Meteora)

This is an unconventional choice, but just watch the video. Chester is out of his mind in this song. It is astonishing what he does. From someone who has watched hundreds of live Linkin Park live videos, when he puts one leg up on the speaker and looks to the sky and screams, that is when he is really challenging himself. This song never gives him a break. He is killing the higher notes, and then there’s a monster scream, followed by more just relentless wailing. He was one-of-a-kind, and he poured every ounce of himself into every live performance. This isn’t even one of their 5 most popular songs from that one album, but he treated it like it was the last time he would ever take the stage.

2. “Given Up” (Minutes to Midnight)

“Give Up” is Linkin Park making a different kind of song than they had done in their first couple major albums. It is rhythmic heavy rock, but Chester is given the room to show off his insane range. He is possessed at about the 2:30 mark. The octaves that he hits when he goes into this low-range that is almost demonic, then his crazy high notes that are nothing short of a roar, but everything is always in tune somehow. I can only think of a few rockers who scream at the rate he did and are perfectly in tune. It is performances like this that made me want to see them in concert more than any other band. The little changes Chester makes to his vocal during this performance are insane.

1. “One More Light” (One More Light)

This is the tough one, the song that Linkin Park dedicated to Chris Cornell. Chester has never displayed as much raw emotion as he does during this song. His voice always had an immense amount of passion and pain buried deep in his soul, but here, he lets it all out in the most emotional live performance I have ever seen. You even get Brad looking over at Chester, as if he’s checking if he’s ok. His voice here is as pure as ever, and the cry out of “I DO” at 3:48 is spine-chilling. It’s hard to not get choked up listening to this song. Chester even loses it and skips a line because he poured everything into the performance, which was simply a live performance on Kimmel, of all places. Chester was unbelievable.

What do you think of my list? What are your favorite Chester vocals? Let me know in the comments.

Saturday, June 18, 2022

Movie Review: Brian and Charles (2022)

Directed by
Jim Archer

Quirky little comedies like Brian and Charles are what independent film is all about and why it is important to still provide opportunities for films like this to be released in theaters.

From the moment Brian and Charles starts, it screams Sundance film.  Based on a short from 2017, screenwriters and stars David Earl and Chris Heyward expanded their short into a full length feature directed by Jim Archer, making his feature film debut.  The premise I felt was very similar to another indie hit from 15 years ago, Lars and the Real Girl.  David Earl plays Brian, a lonely inventor living in a secluded cottage outside a small town in Britain.  His inventions are horrible, either because of their impracticality, their ineffectiveness, or a combination of the two.  A perfect example of this was his attempt to fly a bicycle over town with a grandfather clock strapped to the back so all in town could just look up to find the time.  When Brian finds a mannequin head in a trash pile, he decides to try his hand at building a robot.  By some miracle, the robot works.  Embodied by fellow screenwriter Chris Heyward, the robot names himself Charles and bears a striking resemblance to Jim Broadbent (if Jim Broadbent were 7 feet tall, had the torso of a washing machine, and spoke with a 90's computer voice).  In Charles, Brian has finally found a companion, and with the confidence he gains from this relationship, he is able to strike up more friendships in town, especially with an equally unique girl Hazel, played by Louise Brealey.  Eventually, Charles develops an adventurous curiosity that wants to travel the world.  This rebellion, along with the town bully getting curious as to what Brian is up to, leads to their new partnership being threatened.

Brian and Charles falls into a problem many films of this nature face.  The first 15-20 minutes of this movie are brilliant and creative as you see Brian walk you through his life in a style reminiscent to The Office.  This start, which no doubt was the basis for the original short, is outstanding.  However, once the film starts to transition to the second act, you start to wonder how they are going to pull an entire 90 minute movie out of this concept.  Although the film remains engaging and entertaining for the most part, it meanders its way through the middle third as it works to set up a very predictable conclusion.  In no way is it a polished product, but it also is not intending to be one.

What makes this film worth it is the wonderful characters created and the film's giant heart.  You can't help but fall in love with the bumbling Brian as he wanders his way through life as only he can.  Then there's Charles.  The absurdity of the situation forces you to instantly connect with him.  The bond he and Brian develop is odd yet special.  Not everything works as he matures and rebels, but enough works to allow you to follow it.  The more I think about it, it feels very similar to The Office.  Brian, much like Michael Scott, doesn't know how to be anything but genuine and authentic.  Think Michael Scott builds a robot.  That's not too far from the vibe of this movie.

I am pleasantly shocked that a film like this is able to get a semi-wide theatrical release in a time like this.  It is films like Brian and Charles that are getting squeezed out of theaters by blockbuster after blockbuster.  However, nothing beats finding a tiny little gem of a film in the theaters on a random night in June.  Go find this film!  It's movies like this we need to support all we can so they continue to have a chance in the movie theaters.

Rating: 3 stars

Watch the trailer here:

Monday, April 18, 2022

2022 MLB Pre-Season Predictions: #10-1

We may be over a week into the season, but I wanted to finish my predictions before we got too far in.  Here's the top 10!

Philadelphia Phillies
2021 Prediction: #14, 4th in NL East
2021 Fearless Prediction: Joe Girardi will be fired after the season.
2021 Result: #15, 82-80, 2nd in NL East
Most Important Hitter: Bryce Harper
Most Important Pitcher: Ranger Suarez
Prospect to Watch: Bryson Stott
2022 Prediction: 2nd in NL East, WILD CARD, lose in Wild Card Round

Bryce Harper rode a hot second half to the NL MVP.  If he is able to put another season together like that, it might finally be the time for this Phillies core group to make a postseason run.  If not, this will truly be the end of Joe Girardi's run in Philly.  It might also mean the dismantling of this roster.

Los Angeles Angels
2021 Prediction: #16, 3rd in AL West
2021 Fearless Prediction: Justin Upton and Dexter Fowler will be traded for prospects at the Trade Deadline.
2021 Result: #19, 77-85, 4th in AL West
Most Important Hitter: Anthony Rendon
Most Important Pitcher: Noah Syndergaard
Prospect to Watch: Reid Detmers
2022 Prediction: 1st in AL West, lose in Wild Card Round

The success or failure of the Angels all has to do with health.  If Ohtani, Trout, Rendon, and Syndergaard all stay healthy for the majority of the season, then the Angels could surprise everyone and come away with this division.  Can you imagine the hysteria around the league if Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani finally play their first postseason games?  It would only make sense if they lose in the first round.

Seattle Mariners
2021 Prediction: #22, 4th in AL West
2021 Fearless Prediction: The Mariners will have four straight Rookies of the Year.
2021 Result: #10, 90-72, 2nd in AL West
Most Important Hitter: Jesse Winker
Most Important Pitcher: Logan Gilbert
Prospect to Watch: Julio Rodriguez
2022 Prediction: 3rd in AL West, WILD CARD, lose in ALDS

As a Mariners fan, it scares me to place them this high in my preseason rankings.  Maybe that's why I'm predicting them to finish 3rd, but still make the playoffs and get out of the Wild Card Round.  The M's were a surprise success last year and have definitely upgraded the rotation and the lineup.  If everything pays off, the longest playoff draught around should end.

Houston Astros
2021 Prediction: #13, 2nd in AL West
2021 Fearless Prediction: One of the Astros three core players left is playing their last season as an Astro.
2021 Result: #2, 95-67, 1st in AL West, lost in World Series
Most Important Hitter: Kyle Tucker
Most Important Pitcher: Justin Verlander
Prospect to Watch: Jeremy Pena
2022 Prediction: 2nd in AL West, WILD CARD, lose in ALDS

How many times can a team lose a superstar and not skip a beat?  After the 2019 season, Gerrit Cole (3rd in team WAR) signs with the Yankees.  After the 2020 season, George Springer (team leader in WAR) signs with the Blue Jays.  After the 2021 season, Carlos Correa (team leader in WAR) signs with the Twins.  Somehow they keep excelling.  They have to be coming to the end of this magical run though.

San Diego Padres
2021 Prediction: #9, 2nd in NL West, WILD CARD, lose in Wild Card Game
2021 Fearless Prediction: The San Diego Padres will win the NL West in 2022.
2021 Result: #16, 79-83, 3rd in NL West
Most Important Hitter: Manny Machado
Most Important Pitcher: Yu Darvish
Prospect to Watch: C.J. Abrams
2022 Prediction: 2nd in NL West, WILD CARD, lose in NLDS

The Padres had an epic meltdown in 2021, going from one of the best teams in baseball in the first half to looking like a mess in the second half.  Now they have one of the best managers in the game, one of the best young stars in the game, and still one of the best storylines in the game.  The Padres are still ready to break out.  They might not win the division this year, but they have to take a step forward.

Milwaukee Brewers
2021 Prediction: #15, 2nd in NL Central
2021 Fearless Prediction: The Brewers will have no offensive players make the All Star Team.
2021 Result: #3, 95-67, 1st in NL Central, lost in NLDS
Most Important Hitter: Christian Yelich
Most Important Pitcher: Corbin Burnes
Prospect to Watch: Ethan Small
2022 Prediction: 1st in NL Central, lose in NLDS

The Brewers rode one of the best pitching staffs in baseball to another playoff run.  They will need a repeat performance from the pitchers, led by reigning Cy Young winner Corbin Burnes, and a resurgence from former MVP Christian Yelich, to make a deep run in 2022.

New York Mets
2021 Prediction: #7, 2nd in NL East, WILD CARD, lose in NLDS
2021 Fearless Prediction: Robinson Cano has played his last game in the big leagues.
2021 Result: #17, 77-85, 3rd in NL East
Most Important Hitter: Francisco Lindor
Most Important Pitcher: Max Scherzer
Prospect to Watch: Brett Baty
2022 Prediction: 1st in NL East, lose in NLCS

If it was possible to buy a championship, the Mets did so this offseason.  Max Scherzer, Starling Marte, Mark Canha, Chris Bassitt ... they definitely spent the most money over the offseason.  Now they have an All Star lineup with an old school veteran manager in Buck Showalter.  They just might have what it takes to make a deep run in 2022.

Chicago White Sox
2021 Prediction: #2, 1st in AL Central, lose in World Series
2021 Fearless Prediction: Tony La Russa wins AL Manager of the Year.
2021 Result: #6, 93-69, 1st in AL Central, lose in ALDS
Most Important Hitter: Luis Robert
Most Important Pitcher: Michael Kopech
Prospect to Watch: Yoelqui Cespedes
2022 Prediction: 1st in AL Central, lose in ALCS

The White Sox have put together a terrific roster that looks ready to make a deep run in the postseason.  They have had some experience the last few years.  Even though they are starting the season with a bunch of injuries, they look ready to take another step forward this year.

Los Angeles Dodgers
2021 Prediction: #3, 1st in NL West, lose in NLCS
2021 Fearless Prediction: This is the last year Clayton Kershaw wears Dodgers blue.
2021 Result: #2, 106-56, 2nd in NL West, lose in NLCS
Most Important Hitter: Cody Bellinger
Most Important Pitcher: Julio Urias
Prospect to Watch: Michael Busch
2022 Prediction: 1st in NL West, lose in World Series

The amount of talent on the Dodgers roster is borderline ridiculous.  To pick anyone other than the Dodgers to win it all should be considered controversial.  It's also extremely boring.  On top of that, the only time the Dodgers actually pulled out a championship during this run was the COVID-shortened 2020 season.  They will be right there again in 2022, but I have them just short once again.

Toronto Blue Jays
2021 Prediction: #5, 2nd in AL East, WILD CARD, lose in ALDS
2021 Fearless Prediction: The Blue Jays will trade for a closer before Memorial Day.
2021 Result: #9, 91-71, 4th in AL East
Most Important Hitter: George Springer
Most Important Pitcher: Jose Berrios
Prospect to Watch: Gabriel Moreno
2022 Prediction: 1st in AL East, win World Series

No team has been through more adversity over the last two years than the Toronto Blue Jays.  The 2020 season was spent in Buffalo, the 2021 season was split between their Spring Training home, Buffalo, and finally Toronto when COVID protocols allowed the border to be opened enough to let them travel there.  They also play in probably the best division in baseball.  They also have one of the greatest young cores in the game.  They are battle tested, they have a perennial MVP candidate ... as long as their pitching can hold out, they have to be a candidate for the title.  I can see it happen in 2022!

Monday, April 11, 2022

2022 MLB Pre-Season Predictions: #20-11

Texas Rangers
2021 Prediction: #29, 5th in AL West
2021 Fearless Prediction: Chris Woodward will be fired mid-season.
2021 Result: #28, 60-102, 5th in AL West
Most Important Hitter: Adolis Garcia
Most Important Pitcher: Jon Gray
Prospect to Watch: Josh Jung
2022 Prediction: 4th in AL West

The Rangers spent loads of money this offseason establishing their lineup core for the next decade with Corey Seager and Marcus Semien.  Now they just need to wait for a young wave of players to work their way through the system.  The free agents definitely gave them a jump start, but they still have a ways to go.

Chicago Cubs
2021 Prediction: #21, 4th in NL Central
2021 Fearless Prediction: The only player in the dugout from the Cubs' World Series roster on Opening Day 2022 will be manager David Ross.
2021 Result: #24, 71-91, 4th in NL Central
Most Important Hitter: Nico Hoerner
Most Important Pitcher: Marcus Stroman
Prospect to Watch: Brennen Davis
2022 Prediction: 3rd in NL Central

The Cubs did indeed trade away almost everyone remaining from their World Series run just 6 years ago.  Now they are starting over and rebuilding, but they are a little further along than others.  They still have a legit ace or two, and they signed one of the ultimate wild cards in the free agent pool this offseason in Seiya Suzuki.  They also are in one of the weakest divisions in the league.  They could easily flirt with .500 in 2022.

Tampa Bay Rays
2021 Prediction: #11, 3rd in AL East
2021 Fearless Prediction: Randy Arozarena will hit less home runs in 2021 than he did in 2020.
2021 Result: #3, 100-62, 1st in AL East, lost in ALDS
Most Important Hitter: Randy Arozarena
Most Important Pitcher: Shane McClanahan
Prospect to Watch: Shane Baz
2022 Prediction: 4th in AL East

At some point, they way the Rays operate has to catch up with them and lead to a down year.  They can't keep dominating the toughest division in baseball.  There are only so many wins to go around, and although they have one of the most exciting young players around in Wander Franco, 2022 looks to be the year they struggle.

Minnesota Twins
2021 Prediction: #10, 2nd in AL central, WILD CARD, lose in Wild Card Game
2021 Fearless Prediction: The Twins' top starting pitcher entering the postseason is currently not on their roster.
2021 Result: #23, 73-89, 5th in AL Central
Most Important Hitter: Byron Buxton
Most Important Pitcher: Chris Paddack
Prospect to Watch: Joe Ryan
2022 Prediction: 3rd in AL Central

The success of the Twins in 2022 revolves entirely around whether Byron Buxton can stay healthy.  They have a pretty formidable lineup, adding Gio Urshela, Gary Sanchez, and Carlos Correa.  Their pitching is pretty unproven, shown by one of their top prospects making his big league debut starting Opening Day.  This is a team that could make the playoffs or finish in the cellar or end up anywhere in between.  It all depends on their health.

St. Louis Cardinals
2021 Prediction: #1, 1st in NL Central, win World Series
2021 Fearless Prediction: Jack Flaherty win the NL Cy Young Award.
2021 Result: #10, 90-72, 2nd in NL Central, WILD CARD, lost in Wild Card Game
Most Important Hitter: Nolan Arenado
Most Important Pitcher: Steven Matz
Prospect to Watch: Matthew Liberatore
2022 Prediction: 2nd in NL Central

I was really high on the Cardinals last year, picking them for a surprise run to the title.  I thought I had something when they went on their crazy run to end the season and make the playoffs, but ultimately ended up short.  Now I might be a little too low on them.  With star pitcher Jack Flaherty still hurt, their mismatched rotation will have to be strong for their season to be a success.  If nothing else, they will be a fun watch as Albert Pujols, Yadier Molina, and Adam Wainwright appear poised to make 2022 a joint farewell tour.

Detroit Tigers
2021 Prediction: #23, 4th in AL Central
2021 Fearless Prediction: Miguel Cabrera will become a 3000/500 hitter in 2021.
2021 Result: #20, 77-85, 3rd in AL Central
Most Important Hitter: Javier Baez
Most Important Pitcher: Casey Mize
Prospect to Watch: Spencer Torkelson
2022 Prediction: 2nd in AL Central

The Tigers are poised for a breakout.  They have amassed a ton of young talent reading to emerge, and they went out and signed a leader to anchor their team at shortstop.  If Baez can live up to his contract, if Casey Mize and others can show their promise in the rotation, and if a phenom like former #1 overall pick Spencer Torkelson can have a solid rookie season, the Tigers might ride this wide open division to a playoff birth.

San Francisco Giants
2021 Prediction: #18, 3rd in NL West
2021 Fearless Prediction: At least two of the Giants' starting infielders will be traded mid-season.
2021 Result: #1, 107-55, 1st in NL West, lost in NLDS
Most Important Hitter: Brandon Belt
Most Important Pitcher: Logan Webb
Prospect to Watch: Heliot Ramos
2022 Prediction: 3rd in NL West

No one surprised quite as much in 2021 as the San Francisco Giants.  I was predicting them to potentially be sellers at the Trade Deadline.  Instead, they had the best record in all of baseball.  Their leader, Buster Posey, retired which will be hard to replace.  If the veterans are able to continue to contribute, and if their pitching staff can dominate again, they could repeat last year's performance, but it will be really tough.

New York Yankees
2021 Prediction: #4, 1st in AL East, lose in ALCS
2021 Fearless Prediction: Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton will hit 100+ hone runs combined.
2021 Result: #7, 92-70, 3rd in AL East, lost in Wild Card Game
Most Important Hitter: Josh Donaldson
Most Important Pitcher: Luis Severino
Prospect to Watch: Oswald Peraza
2022 Prediction: 3rd in AL East

The Yankees always look like they should be one of the best teams in baseball on paper, but the pressure of the bright lights in the Bronx prove to be harder to overcome than anyone realizes.  Their lineup is always loaded, with Donaldson being a key addition if he can stay healthy.  Their rotation has some holes, and everyone needs to stay healthy.  I have them just missing the postseason party, which probably will lead to several firings, starting with Aaron Boone.

Atlanta Braves
2021 Prediction: #6, 1st in NL East, lose in NLDS
2021 Fearless Prediction: Ronald Acuna Jr. wins the NL MVP.
2021 Result: #12, 88-73, 1st in NL East, won World Series
Most Important Hitter: Matt Olson
Most Important Pitcher: Kenley Jansen
Prospect to Watch: Spencer Strider
2022 Prediction: 3rd in NL East, WILD CARD, lose in Wild Card Round

The Braves got hot at the right time and ended up winning it all in 2021.  Then they dropped the ball on signing back their leader in Freddie Freeman.  Instead, they traded away a lot of top talent from their farm system to bring in Matt Olson, who they signed to the extension they wanted to sign Freeman to.  Magical runs like last year don't happen twice.  I have them sneaking into the playoffs thanks to the expanded field, but they won't even host a playoff game.

Boston Red Sox
2021 Prediction: #26, 5th in AL East
2021 Fearless Prediction: J.D. Martinez will be traded before the 2022 season.
2021 Result: #8, 91-71, 2nd in AL East, WILD CARD, lost in ALCS
Most Important Hitter: Trevor Story
Most Important Pitcher: Chris Sale
Prospect to Watch: Jeter Downs
2022 Prediction: 2nd in AL East, WILD CARD, lose in Wild Card Round

The Red Sox in 2021 proved how much a manager matters.  They were a step away from the World Series with Alex Cora when they were horrible in 2020 without him.  The big question mark for them this season is the rotation.  If they can get healthy and stay that way, they can dominate again.  If not, they will have to outscore a lot of teams (which they have the lineup to do).

Thursday, April 7, 2022

2022 MLB Pre-Season Predictions: #30-21

Happy Opening Day!!!  One of my favorite things to do every year is take the month before the baseball season starts and do a preseason write-up and prediction article for each team.  Thanks to the lockout, a shortened Spring Training, and the crazy flurry of free agency signings during that shortened Spring Training, I did not have a chance to write these before the season starts.  With that said, I want to get my predictions out there in some way before the season gets going too much.  So here are teams #30-#21 in my pre-season power rankings.

Oakland A's
2021 Prediction: #8, 1st in AL West, lose in ALDS
2021 Fearless Prediction: Before Opening Day 2022, Matt Chapman and Matt Olson will be traded, a new ballpark deal is done, or the A's will announce a relocation.
2021 Result: #13, 86-76, 3rd in AL West
Most Important Hitter: Sean Murphy
Most Important Pitcher: Frankie Montas
Prospect to Watch: Cristian Pache
2022 Prediction: 5th in AL West

After a lackluster end to 2021, the A's (as I predicted) traded away or let walk away almost their entire roster (including their manager).  Now the A's are starting over as they do every few years, but this one feels different.  They stripped the roster down to the studs without a next wave ready to compete.  Their most important players are the only ones left, and it's only a matter of time before they get traded too.  Are they trying to alienate the fanbase to make a move to Las Vegas easier?  Maybe.  On a side note, what is Oakland doing?  Do they just hate having sports?  They have already watched the Raiders move to Vegas, the Warriors move to San Francisco, and now the A's are on their way out since they refuse to build a new stadium to replace the worst facility in American professional sports.  Sad to see for a once proud sports city.

Pittsburgh Pirates
2021 Prediction: #30, 5th in NL Central
2021 Fearless Prediction: Ke'Bryan Hayes will be an All Star and Rookie of the Year in 2021.
2021 Result: #27, 61-101, 5th in NL Central
Most Important Hitter: Bryan Reynolds
Most Important Pitcher: Mitch Keller
Prospect to Watch: Oneil Cruz
2022 Prediction: 5th in NL Central

The Pirates are a pretty lousy organization, shown by the fact that they just shelled out their biggest contract in franchise history at ... wait for it ... $70 million.  Then Ke'Bryan Hayes goes out and gets hurt in the first inning of Opening Day.  They seem to be the only team still concerned about service time manipulation by keeping Oneil Cruz in the minors to start the year because I think they are the only team that can't afford to sign a good player to a real contract.  Until they learn how to spend, they will only be good if they get lucky.

Colorado Rockies
2021 Prediction: #28, 5th in NL West
2021 Fearless Prediction: Trevor Story will be traded before the Trade Deadline.
2021 Result: #21, 74-87, 4th in NL West
Most Important Hitter: Kris Bryant
Most Important Pitcher: German Marquez
Prospect to Watch: Elehuris Montero
2022 Prediction: 5th in NL West

The Rockies had an interesting offseason where they watched one of their stars leave in free agency while they brought another in.  What looked like a full blown rebuild got an uplift.  They don't have a lot of established players heading into this year though.  They should bounce back quick, but this year might be rough.

Arizona Diamondbacks
2021 Prediction: #27, 4th in NL West
2021 Fearless Prediction: Madison Bumgarner will not be on the Diamondbacks roster at the start of 2022.
2021 Result: #29, 52-110, 5th in NL West
Most Important Hitter: Pavin Smith
Most Important Pitcher: Zac Gallen
Prospect to Watch: Alek Thomas
2022 Prediction: 4th in NL West

It's easy for the top of the NL West to rack up as many wins as they do when they have two door mats like the Rockies and Diamondbacks to deal with as many times as they do.  The Diamondbacks are trying, but they are so far behind the rest of the division (Rockies excluded) that it will take awhile for them to be relevant again.

Cincinnati Reds
2021 Prediction: #19, 3rd in NL Central
2021 Fearless Prediction: Over half of the Reds' Opening Day lineup will no longer be on the roster Opening Day 2022.
2021 Result: #14, 83-79, 3rd in NL Central
Most Important Hitter: Jonathan India
Most Important Pitcher: Luis Castillo
Prospect to Watch: Hunter Greene
2022 Prediction: 4th in NL Central

My fearless prediction came true as the Reds unloaded a ton of their strong core and hit the full reset button.  They have a lot of promise with guys like reigning ROY Jonathan India and phenom Hunter Greene, but their step back will take a few years to bounce back from.

Baltimore Orioles
2021 Prediction: #25, 4th in AL East
2021 Fearless Prediction: Trey Mancini will win Comeback Player of the Year.
2021 Result: #30, 52-110, 5th in AL East
Most Important Hitter: Cedric Mullins
Most Important Pitcher: John Means
Prospect to Watch: Adley Rutschman
2022 Prediction: 5th in AL East

It feels like the Orioles are starting to turn the corner.  The problem is they are in a division with 4 other teams that are World Series contenders.  They won't compete this year, but they will be interesting.

Washington Nationals
2021 Prediction: #12, 3rd in NL East
2021 Fearless Prediction: Max Scherzer and Ryan Zimmerman will play their last games in a Nationals uniform in 2021.
2021 Result: #26, 65-97, 5th in NL East
Most Important Hitter: Josh Bell
Most Important Pitcher: Josiah Gray
Prospect to Watch: Cade Cavalli
2022 Prediction: 5th in NL East

It was time for the Nationals to take their step back and start to rebuild, but what a run they had!  They have another couple steps to fall back all the way before they start building back up, but when they do, they should still have possibly the best hitter of his generation in Juan Soto.

Miami Marlins
2021 Prediction: #20, 5th in NL East
2021 Fearless Prediction: 2021 will be the last time the Miami Marlins finish in the cellar of the NL East for the next decade.
2021 Result: #25, 67-95, 4th in NL East
Most Important Hitter: Jazz Chisholm Jr.
Most Important Pitcher: Jesus Luzardo
Prospect to Watch: Max Meyer
2022 Prediction: 4th in NL East

The Marlins fell back down to earth in 2021 after a magical 60 games in 2020.  Now they are back on schedule with a lot of fun young talent.  It will be tough to compete with the top of the division, but they will cause headaches for the top teams throughout the season.

Cleveland Guardians
2021 Prediction: #17, 3rd in AL Central
2021 Fearless Prediction: Shane Bieber will win a second straight Cy Young Award.
2021 Result: #16, 80-82, 2nd in AL Central
Most Important Hitter: Jose Ramirez
Most Important Pitcher: Shane Bieber
Prospect to Watch: Logan Allen
2022 Prediction: 5th in AL Central

The Guardians rely on one or two players more than any other team in the league.  If Jose Ramirez or Shane Bieber get hurt, they really don't have much of anything.  That's why they finally committed and paid Ramirez.  Scoring runs will be tough this year, but they can still pitch.  Bieber is the best and the leader, but not all they have.  My biggest issue with the Guardians this year ... can we stop this trend of rebranding a franchise but not changing a thing besides the name of the jersey?  The Guardians, the Commanders ... new name, exact same jersey.  It's going to take forever for people to get the name right because they look just like they did before.  Start over!

Kansas City Royals
2021 Prediction: #24, 5th in AL Central
2021 Fearless Prediction: The Royals will sell at least two starting pitchers before the Trade Deadline.
2021 Result: #22, 74-88, 4th in AL Central
Most Important Hitter: Salvador Perez
Most Important Pitcher: Zack Greinke
Prospect to Watch: Bobby Witt Jr.
2022 Prediction: 4th in AL Central

This season for the Royals is all about veterans imparting wisdom on the young up and coming starts.  That's why they bring back Zack Greinke.  This season in KC is all about Bobby Witt Jr. though.  How quickly he breaks out will determine how successful their season is.