Monday, February 29, 2016

2016 Pre-Season Profile: Cincinnati Reds

The Cincinnati Reds finished 2015 in the cellar for the first time since 1983.  Will 2016 bring about a different result?

Last Season
My 2015 Prediction: 5th in NL Central
2015 Result: 64-98, 5th in NL Central
No one in 2015 had the loss column hit triple digits, however the Reds are one of several teams that sure came close.  The Reds got caught with an aging core and not enough talent ready to play to replenish the declining talent.  Even if they did, they had too much money committed to their roster that they couldn't really get rid of many of their problems.  Needless to say, their season end up as a disaster with few prospects to be better soon.

2016 Additions / Subtractions

Starting at the 2015 Trade Deadline, the Reds started unloading some of their better talent to get back prospects that could bolster their farm system.  Johnny Cueto and Mike Leake was traded last season, then the offseason saw Todd Frazier and Aroldis Chapman moving on.  Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce were in serious trade talk as well, but the deals fell through.  They have started to show that their strategy is a franchise reset.

Most Important Hitter
Jay Bruce
Jay Bruce is one of the best hitters the Reds have left, however there is a different reason he is their most important hitter this year.  Bruce is the best trade chip the Reds still have.  If the season heads south quick, which a lot of people expect it to, the question stops being if Bruce gets traded, and switches to when Bruce gets traded.  How well the Reds orchestrate a trade of Jay Bruce will help determine how good they will be in the future and how long it takes them to get there.

Most Important Pitcher
Homer Bailey
The Reds are pretty shaky all around their lineup.  One of the biggest question marks entering the season for them is how good Homer Bailey will be.  Bailey missed most of last season with Tommy John surgery.  He might be ready in time for the season to start.  If this doesn't happen, or he struggles when he comes back, look for Homer Bailey's season to become an audition for all teams looking to trade for an established starter at the Trade Deadline.

Player to Watch
Jesse Winker
A team like the Cincinnati Reds usually has a lot of opportunities to get their prospects time in the big leagues.  As they are attempting to build from the ground up, their top prospects will slowly but surely work their way in.  Jesse Winker is their top prospect right now.  This left-handed hitting outfielder could be a call-up if a Jay Bruce trade ever gets finalized.

2016 Prediction
4th in NL Central
It looks like the Reds have a little farther to fall before they can bounce back.  The only reason they are not in last place is because of a team in their division that is even worse off (mainly, because they don't have Joey Votto).  The Reds will be in the bottom five of the league, especially considering how good the top three in the division are.  Hopefully, it can start to turn around soon, but not in 2016.

Fearless Prediction
Manager Bryan Price will be fired before the All Star Break.
When you have a team like the Reds, it is hard to determine whether the poor play on the field is a result of the aging roster or a bad manager.  Either way, the manager ends up getting blamed at some point.  Bryan Price barely made it to 2016 after their terrible 2015.  Pitching coaches rarely make good managers, and I don't think Price is an exception to that rule.

Reaction to the 2015 Academy Awards: Was "Spotlight" the Most Shocking Win of the Last 25 Years?

            The 2015 Academy Awards put the “guilt” back in guilty pleasure.  If Chris Rock didn’t make you feel ashamed for watching a broadcast (and supporting an industry) which actively promotes discrimination and racism, then Lady Gaga made you feel bad for turning a blind eye to the epidemic of rape on college campuses.  If Leo didn’t make you feel bad for polluting our planet, then Sam Smith made you feel bad for following a ceremony that had never previously awarded an openly gay recipient (never mind the historical accuracy of that claim).
            Then there were the moments when you really should have felt bad: Alexandro G. Inarritu, the first director to win back-to-back Oscars since the Truman Administration, giving what was clearly the night’s most impassioned and sincere speech, void of any vanity or insincerity . . . only to be abruptly cut off by Wagner’s “March of the Valkyries” (Wagner, Max!).  By contrast, Lady Gaga got a warm introduction from her “friend” Vice-President Biden, and five minutes for a song that didn’t even win.  Does anyone even remember the name of the film her song was from?  But I suppose it could be worse; you could have been one of the two Song nominees (“Manta Ray” or “Simple Song #3”) that wasn’t even invited to perform onstage.  It felt reminiscent of Rock’s witty joke about sorority racism – “we like you, but not that much.”
            And then there’s the moment that everyone is (or should be) talking about: Stacey Dash.  If you had Stacey Dash on your betting slip for person most likely to be talked about after the Oscars, congratulations and I would like to borrow some of your millions.  In keeping with the passive aggressive spirit of this year’s awards, many have said that if you didn’t understand the Stacey Dash joke, it’s because you’re an ignorant opponent of #BlackLivesMatter.  My response is that I didn’t understand the joke because Stacey Dash actually is an ignorant opponent of #BlackLivesMatter.  In theory, it may be funny to suggest that she could serve as a director of minority outreach – but when Dash actually strutted on stage and gave a diabolical laugh like Elle Driver in Kill Bill, the joke became uncomfortable confusion.  Was she satirizing herself?  Was she in on the joke, making the audience feel like dupes?  At a time which Donald Trump’s parody of himself is one of the two people that will be elected President, uncomfortable self-reflexive meta humor has become the norm.


            Finally, there was the thing that no one really talked or cared about: the movies themselves, crudely disregarded by the Compton audiences polled on the street by Chris Rock in a sketch which somehow managed to feel mean-spirited toward both black lives as well as the nominated films.  Mad Max set some kind of record by winning six Oscars in the first 75 minutes of the broadcast, while the colorful acceptance speeches went a long way in further cementing the unlikely diplomatic ties between Australia and Namibia. Then, a series of surprising upsets woke up the few audience members who actually cared about the identities of the recipients: First, the Mad Max: Fury Road train was abruptly halted when Ex Machina upset it in the category of Visual Effects (eliminating the chance of anyone filling out a perfect Oscar ballot).  Then, Oscar voters decided that Creed wasn’t a serious enough film and gave Best Supporting Actor to Mark Rylance as the avuncular, friendly, cute old Soviet spy onscreen for ten minutes in Bridge of Spies.  Finally, Lady Gaga didn’t get another platform to talk for five minutes about giving consent when the unmemorable song from Spectre upset it.
            The rest of the night followed in predictable fashion: Inarritu’s small fraction of a speech, Brie Larson, Leo, and Morgan Freeman announcing that The Revenant had taken Best Picture.  Just like we all thought it would.  Except, OH WAIT.  Out of nowhere, Spotlight – a film which had only won one prior award, a film with no special effects, historical backdrop or over-the-top acting, a film grossing under $40 million and produced by Open Road – was the name read by a stunned Freeman.  Huh?  Going into the night, Spotlight certainly had a shot of winning Best Picture . . . but The Big Short was the film fresh off key wins in award season, Mad Max was the film that was dominating the evening, and The Revenant was the heavy overall favorite. 
            Needless to say, I, along with everyone else (except Terry), was in complete shock.  Nothing in the evening had prepared anyone for Spotlight taking the top prize; Mark Ruffalo had lost to Mark Rylance, Rachel McAdams had lost to Alicia Vikander-Saltz, Tom McCarthy had lost to Inarritu, and Spotlight failed to pick up Best Editing (which in the last few decades has become a key predictor of Best Picture).  I believe that Spotlight was the right choice, although Mad Max and The Revenant were excellent films in their own right.  But it didn’t win the Golden Globe, the Director’s Guild, the Producer’s Guild, or the BAFTA. 
            The only question left to ask: How shocking was Spotlight’s win?  I’ve been watching the Oscars the last two decades and have seen plenty of upsets.  So let’s break down Spotlight’s Best Picture win in the context of the biggest Oscar upsets of the last 25 years:

10. 1999 Best Actress: Hilary Swank over Annette Bening
Perhaps it’s not as shocking in retrospect, but it’s worth remembering that American Beauty was the overwhelming favorite in 1999 and for the most part, it absolutely delivered on awards night.  Bening was a high-profile actress who, by all accounts, did the best work of her career.  Swank was an unknown whose film (Boys Don’t Cry) was made for $2 million and almost wasn’t released.  Furthermore, while American Beauty was an uplifting, polished and constantly witty throughout, Boys Don’t Cry was a stark, depressing true story set in a Nebraska trailer park and released in a time when honest depictions of LGBT issues were taboo.  Most critics knew that Swank was the more deserving choice, but they had said the same thing about Emily Watson in 1996, Linda Fiorentino in 1994, and Ellen Burstyn the next year in 2000.  In other words, the critic’s favorite is usually not the winner at the Oscars.  But Swank’s win was a rare bucking in the trend.

9. 2006 Best Foreign Film: The Lives of Others over Pan’s Labyrinth
Foreign Film isn’t exactly the sexiest of categories, and is in fact often really difficult to predict, but Pan’s Labyrinth appeared to be the clear favorite in 2006.  It was made by a director who was well-known in the United States (Guillermo Del Toro); it had already won three awards for the evening, and was even nominated for its screenplay; it was a huge hit with critics (see this if you don’t believe me) and fans loved its mixture of lowbrow fantasy and highbrow historical and cultural memory.  If it had a “lock” on any category, it was Best Foreign Language Film; but out of nowhere, it was upset by The Lives of Others, a little-known film not yet released in America.  Furthermore, it was a German historical drama that wasn’t about the Holocaust.  I mean, look at Cate Blanchett’s reaction when she reads the envelope – it is total and complete shock.  Today, the award makes a little more sense; The Lives of Others turned out to be just as great as Pan’s Labyrinth.  For those who really pay attention to the Oscars, this upset should perhaps rank higher, but again, Foreign Film is a relatively obscure category where upsets aren’t too uncommon or significant.

8. 2002 Best Actor and Director: Adrien Brody over Daniel Day-Lewis, Nicolas Cage, Jack Nicholson, and Michael Caine; Roman Polanski over Rob Marshall.
Yes, I’m cheating a little here but very few people predicted The Pianist to perform as well as it did in the major awards.  Best Actor was wide open, with Day-Lewis as perhaps the slight favorite (in Gangs of New York), so perhaps Brody winning was not so much of an upset as much as it was a surprise that he beat the other four actors, each of whom was a towering previous winner.  Polanski was a major shock.  It’s important to remember that Chicago was a Miramax-backed spectacle in an era right after Moulin Rouge when musicals were hot again.  It was nominated for 13 Oscars.  The Pianist was financed in Europe, featured an unknown lead actor, and was released in the United States the last week of December.  The only reason it wasn’t a bigger shock?  Polanski was long overdue for an Oscar (with his scandalous past a distant memory for many voters) and most everyone knew that The Pianist was a better film than Chicago.  But ultimately, the voters chose to award style over substance. 

7. 2001 Best Actor: Denzel Washington over Russell Crowe
A little like Annette Bening losing to Hilary Swank, except Crowe seemed like even more of a shoo-in than Bening.  Coming off a rather undeserving victory the year before for Gladiator, winning Best Actor for the second consecutive year would cement his legacy as the best performer working in Hollywood.  Furthermore, his performance in A Beautiful Mind was spellbinding; he’s in 95% of the movie and is unquestionably the biggest reason why the film ultimately won Best Picture.  But an ugly little thing called “Oscar politics” began to sneak into the race in January 2002; Crowe received negative publicity for his gruff attitude and unfriendly family image.  It didn’t help that A Beautiful Mind got some backlash for deceptively cleaning up the life of an adulterer and communist sympathizer.  Enter the all-American Denzel Washington, whose performance in Training Day gave no bones about him being a villain.  Training Day had just enough 30-second clips of Washington screaming to satisfy Oscar voters and in a stunning and unjust upset, one of the best performances of the decade was denied an Oscar victory. And nothing against Washington, who is of course a great actor, but Training Day set the benchmark for better performances of his after 2001. 

6. 1993 Best Supporting Actress: Anna Paquin over Rosie Perez and Winona Rider
Like 2002 Best Actor, this race was as wide open as any in Oscar history.  Perez and Rider were mostly the favorites, since they were well-known young actresses who were on the brink of major stardom.  Both Fearless and The Age of Innocence were high-profile, well-reviewed films.  The Piano had received more nominations than either film, but Paquin was an unknown first-time performer from New Zealand and was only 11 years old.  Her win is generally considered one of the most shocking in Oscar history, but it’s worth remembering that The Piano performed very well at the 1993 Oscars (with additional wins for Best Actress and Original Screenplay).  Additionally, Paquin had more screen time in The Piano than anyone else in both her film and her category, and although Supporting Actress was wide open in 1993, none of the performances were that memorable except Paquin’s.  It’s always shocking when the Academy honors someone that young, but in this circumstance, the stars aligned perfectly to enable one of the more memorable and entertaining of recent Oscar upsets.

5. 1996 Best Supporting Actress: Juliette Binoche over Lauren Bacall.
This is the first thing that pops in many people’s minds when the words “Oscar upset” are uttered.  Let’s run down a few reasons why it wasn’t really all that shocking, albeit with the luxury of hindsight.  First, Binoche’s film (The English Patient) was the overwhelming favorite at the 1996 Oscars, and ended the evening with nine wins.  It was a historical drama based on a best-selling book that had been praised by critics and audiences all around the world.  Bacall’s film (The Mirror Has Two Faces) was a minor romantic comedy (minor even by Barbra Streisand’s standards) which got mixed responses from critics and received only one other nomination, for Best Song.  Binoche’s role was a pivotal one in the story, while Bacall’s role was mostly for the purposes of bitchy one-liners and perfectly-timed comebacks.  The English Patient was produced by the Weinsteins, while Barbra Streisand’s films had always been well-documented for their repeated failure to receive considerable Academy Award attention (justified or not).  Still, it seemed apparent to everyone in the room that night that Bacall would win what was generally tantamount to a lifetime achievement award; instead, the Academy honored Binoche, a well-known actress in the European art house circuit and someone who wasn’t exactly tough to stare at either.

4. 2006 Best Supporting Actor: Alan Arkin over Eddie Murphy
This was a shocker.  Dreamgirls was Eddie Murphy’s triumphant comeback, a perfect blend of comedic timing and powerful onscreen presence.  The film was well-received (although not overwhelmingly so), but perhaps even more importantly, it was heralded as a breakthrough – the first film to receive considerable award attention with an all-black cast.  It was also a musical made in the heyday of the Moulin Rouge/Chicago musical resurgence.  It was shocking when Dreamgirls didn’t receive a Best Picture nomination, but the prevailing logic was that acting awards for Murphy and Jennifer Hudson – each of who won practically everything during award season – would compensate.  Instead, Hudson won while Murphy lost to Arkin’s rather vulgar and embarrassing turn as the dirty grandpa in Little Miss Sunshine.  Maybe Oscar voters didn’t like that the February 2007 ceremony coincided with the theatrical release of Murphy’s follow-up to Dreamgirls, the abominable Norbit.  Maybe the writing was on the wall for Dreamgirls when it failed to secure a Best Picture nomination.  Maybe they just liked the sight of Arkin swearing.  Whatever the case, this was an inexplicable and surprising outcome.

3. 2005 Best Picture: Crash over Brokeback Mountain
The 2005 Academy Awards ended like the infamous Seahawks-Packers “Fail Mary” game: It was extremely controversial and everyone had an opinion about it, one way or another.  Looking back on it today, the consensus is that it was a poor decision by the Academy – Crash is remembered as a TV-like diatribe on race relations, with poorly-developed characters getting involved in obvious situations resolved by an overly simplistic liberal message.  Meanwhile, Brokeback is revered as the great love story of this generation, with the second-best performance from the most tragic actor of this generation (Heath Ledger).  Not awarding it Best Picture was just another example of homophobia destroying what is pure and true in the world.  The reality, however, is different and somewhere in the middle.  Both are good films, with Crash slightly underrated and Brokeback slightly overrated as a result of the Academy’s vote.  It was genuinely surprising – especially considering that Crash was a low-budget film with no A-list talent that had been released in March and had received virtually no prior awards – but critics like Roger Ebert championed it, and the film had momentum heading into the night.  There was no single dominant film that year (Crash and Brokeback won three Oscars each, tied for the most).  But judging by Jack Nicholson’s timeless expression, a win for Crash was unexpected to say the least.

2. 1998 Best Actor: Roberto Benigni over Tom Hanks, Edward Norton, Ian McKellan, and Nick Nolte.
Here’s the category everyone forgets.  Even when people remember the 1998 Oscars, they tend to only remember one thing – Shakespeare in Love upsetting Saving Private Ryan.  I didn’t even include that on this list because (A) Shakespeare in Love was backed by Miramax, (B) It had more nominations and wins than Saving Private Ryan, and (C) Saving Private Ryan was released in July while Shakespeare was released in December. No, the great surprise of 1998 was Roberto Benigni beating the likes of Tom Hanks, Edward Norton, Ian McKellan, and Nick Nolte.  It remains the only time a non-English-speaking role won Best Actor.  So what happened?  Nolte was overshadowed in his own film (Affliction) by James Coburn, who won Best Supporting Actor; McKellan’s film (Gods and Monsters) was too small; Norton’s film (American History X) was too violent and threatening for conservative Oscar voters; and Hanks was overshadowed by the visual effects spectacle of Private Ryan.  In addition, there were a handful of Best Actor snubs, the most notable of which were Jim Carrey (The Truman Show), John Travolta (Primary Colors) and Warren Beatty (Bulworth).  I suppose this meant that the race was up in the air, and even though Life is Beautiful was a hit with audiences and critics as well as a Best Picture nominee, Benigni’s performance was rarely mentioned.  On top of that, Best Actor is typically the least conducive category to comedic roles.  My theory about this race is that if today’s voters decided the outcome, Norton would be the winner.  But at the time, American History X was considered too low-budget, too grisly, too in-your-face.  Norton played a profoundly unlikeable character and the movie barely grossed $20 million.  But both at the time, as well as in this very moment today, it has to be considered the most shocking upset in Oscar history, until . . .

1. 2015 Best Picture: Spotlight over The Revenant, Mad Max and The Big Short
Spotlight didn’t come out of the blue like Benigni, Paquin, or Arkin.  In fact, it was the front-runner for Best Picture for at least a month or two and had all the chops to back it up: Great reviews, depicting not just one but two Important Topics (the Catholic clergy sex abuse scandal as well as the collapse of investigative journalism), A-list cast, a shoo-in for Original Screenplay.  But once the 2016 award circuit commenced, it was clear that Spotlight had serious shortcomings as a Best Picture contender.  Tom McCarthy was not an A-list director (and he was coming off The Cobbler); it was a quiet, talky film with no explosions, sex scenes, or characters who scream (minus one oft-repeated award-bait moment); it was financed by a low-profile studio (Open Road) which couldn’t afford a major campaign blitz; and it became pretty clear that The Revenant and Mad Max would dominate most of awards.  Both it and The Big Short were in a similar third-place position heading into last night – topical films with a few big stars that were talky and probably wouldn’t win much.  Even with that said, The Big Short had Brad Pitt producing, portrayed a more recent Important Topic (the economic collapse), and won the most predictive of all pre-Oscar awards (the Producer’s Guild Award for Best Picture).

            So why did Spotlight prevail?  It may have to do with the relatively new balloting system installed by the Academy, a preferential system which benefits films with wide appeal over films which receive the most first-place ballots.  In other words, a film like The Revenant may have garnered considerable first-place votes, but it may have also turned off voters who didn’t like the violence or the somewhat preachy and superficial message about colonialism and encounters between settlers and natives. Mad Max surely got many first-place votes, but perhaps also as many lower-place votes as a result of being a summer action movie which was (technically) a sequel.  Both Spotlight and The Big Short had excellent reviews, and probably many 2nd and 3rd place votes.
            But it still doesn’t answer the question of why it beat The Big Short.  And did The Revenant truly contain more uncompromising or potentially divisive content than Inarritu’s previous film, the 2014 Best Picture winner Birdman?  Furthermore, Spotlight was having a poor showing for almost the entire night; it’s a wonder that its producers and cast hadn’t bailed out and preemptively exited for the after-parties.  Kenneth Turan wrote a good piece today which contends that of the three or four major Best Picture nominees, Spotlight was the most emotionally satisfying.  The economy is still in recovery, indigenous people (and the earth’s temperature) are still suffering, and summer action movies still have no place winning Best Picture.  But in Spotlight, Goliath (the Catholic church) was defeated by David (ragtag journalists) and at the end of the day, Academy voters prefer emotional uplift and a happy ending.  And although I enjoyed Spotlight thoroughly and would have gladly awarded it my first place vote, the shocking conclusion of the 2015 Academy Awards may go down as less Frank Capra and more M. Night Shyamalan.

            What were your thoughts?  Were there any other moments or awards that deserve attention? Let me know below! 

Saturday, February 27, 2016

SNL 41.13 Review - Melissa McCarthy, Kanye West

Original Airdate - 2/13/16

One of the most popular hosts of the last few seasons at Saturday Night Live has been Melissa McCarthy.  As her star continues to rise in Hollywood, she keeps on getting asked back.  She has had poor performances, and she has had great performances.  It either seems to be one or the other.  Where would this episode fall?

Cold Opening

This was possibly the most creative political sketch of the season so far.  It starts with a group of people talking about the election.  They all agree Hilary is the logical choice, but they all lean towards Bernie.  Then we hear what could only be referred to as "Hilary's Lament."  It's such a strange way of looking at this presidential race but such a fun look at the environment.  Oh yeah, and poor old Jeb...


I loved this monologue.  Melissa McCarthy comes out so excited that she finally gets to join the exclusive "5 Timers Club" for those that have hosted the show five times.  She even has a song prepared for it.  Then she realizes the 40th Anniversary Episode last year doesn't count.  She was one of many that spoke on stage so she considered it a hosting gig.  So it's just her fourth turn, but look for that celebration to take place soon.

Weekend Update

Weekend Update has been one of the highlights of every show this season.  It's the one thing that can be counted on in a bad episode, and something that puts good episodes over the top.  This one put this episode over the top.  First, there was a great cameo by Super Bowl MVP Von Miller, asked to talk about science which he constantly compared to hitting Cam Newton.  Then we have an impression that Vanessa Bayer can actually do, and it's a good one.  She channels her inner mid-90's Rachel Green from Friends and completely nails it.  Last, we have another appearance by Leslie Jones as she gives her Valentine's oratory.  I was laughing the whole time.

Best Sketch

Melissa McCarthy is a master of awkward comedy, and this sketch is a perfect example.  A teen has decided to sit down with his parents for a movie night.  However, everyone forgot this movie has a sex scene, and there is nothing more awkward than watching a sex scene in a movie sitting next to your parents.  This was one of many great sketches in this episode where McCarthy uses that awkward comedy to perfection, but this one is the best.

Worst Sketch

This sketch was all right, but I am just not a fan of comedy revolving around race relations and tensions.  This sketch talks about the latest Beyonce song and how it is forcing white people to come to grips with the fact that Beyonce is black.  There is an interesting point to the sketch, but I just don't find it that funny.

Dark Horse Sketch

Whenever Kyle Mooney has one of his sketches make the show, this spot really just becomes a time to focus on his genius.  This sketch is just crazy.  Apparently, Kyle Mooney thought he could be a rapper and decides to challenge Kanye West to a rap battle.  That's really all you need to know.  Enjoy.

At the beginning, I said there are two types of Melissa McCarthy episodes: really good ones and really bad ones.  This was a really good one.  There were times in this episode I was laughing harder than I have all season.  You add to the great sketches the spectacle that is a Kanye West performance, and you have one of the best episodes of the season.  This is the second episode in a row I have said that.  This group is really hitting their stride this season.


View the whole episode here:

Friday, February 26, 2016

2016 Pre-Season Profile: Colorado Rockies

The first National League team to be previewed is one of the more interesting teams every year.  Their offense is always strong, but is it because of the park?  Because of the park, it is next to impossible to get quality pitching.  All this leaves a team constantly trying to rise above mediocrity.  Let's look at the 2016 Colorado Rockies.

Last Season
My 2015 Prediction: 4th in NL West
2015 Results: 68-94, 5th in NL West
Another lackluster year for the Rockies in 2015 led to a Trade Deadline move that sent away their superstar shortstop Troy Tulowitzki.  I pretty much predicted their season right, thinking they had a chance to be a little higher.  This was less about misjudging the Rockies and more about misjudging the success of the Arizona Diamondbacks, who I picked for the cellar.

2016 Additions / Subtractions

The trade of Tulo started the Rockies' offseason early.  However, they had a surprisingly quiet yet confusing offseason otherwise.  They signed some bullpen help in Jason Motte and Chad Qualls.  They signed Gerardo Parra, but already had a full outfield.  So that meant they had to trade one or more of them.  Instead of trading Carlos Gonzalez, whose value is at its peak for a big return, they traded Corey Dickerson for a 29 year old lefty reliever in Jake McGee.  Now McGee is a good pitcher, but they did not get the prospects they needed.  Now Jose Reyes is on administrative leave and may not play for awhile depending on how the investigation of his off-field issues goes.  Here is another instance where Ian Desmond might come in handy.  Seriously, someone sign this guy!

Most Important Hitter
Charlie Blackmon
This was a toss up between Blackmon and DJ LaMahieu, but Charlie Blackmon has been the stronger hitter and is more essential to the offense.  The Rockies have one of the best sets of power hitters to anchor their lineup in the league with CarGo and breakout star Nolan Arenado.  For them to be successful, they need someone on base in front of them.  Blackmon broke out in 2014 and made the All Star Team.  He was solid in 2015, but not All Star level.  He needs to be All Star level for the Rockies to be successful in 2015.

Most Important Pitcher
Jason Motte
In 2012, Jason Motte led the league by saving 42 games for the St. Louis Cardinals.  He followed that up by missing all of 2013 with an injury, a shortened 2014 season, and a 2015 campaign where he was finally healthy enough to pitch a full season.  Now the Rockies are bringing him in to hopefully be their closer.  They do have Chad Qualls and Jake McGee just in case Motte doesn't work out, but they are more built for the setup roles.  For the Rockies' bullpen to be strong this year, Motte needs to return to his 2012 form.

Player to Watch
Jon Gray
Jon Gray is one of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball.  It must be tough to be a pitcher trying to break into the big leagues in Colorado.  Gray had a short run with the big club in 2015 that was disappointing.  He is slated to start 2016 in the rotation for the Rockies.  Colorado needs Gray and other pitching prospects like him to work out to have the success they hope for.  An honorable mention here is reliever Miguel Castro, who closed some games for the Blue Jays last year before being traded to the Rockies in the Tulowitzki deal.

2016 Prediction
4th in NL West
The NL West is very competitive this year, especially with the improvements made by the Diamondbacks.  I think the Rockies might surprise some people this year, and by surprise, I mean not finish in last place.  They have a very strong offense and a lot of young talent.  The only question is if they can find enough pitching to stay in some games.  If they do, they might be respectable this season.

Fearless Prediction
Carlos Gonzalez will be part of a blockbuster trade at the Trade Deadline.
Like I said earlier, CarGo not being traded this offseason was a surprise, especially after Troy Tulowitzki was traded in July.  I don't think the Rockies are unwilling to trade him, but they are waiting for the right trade.  Carlos Gonzalez is under contract until 2018 and is a bonafide power hitter.  Someone is going to get desperate in July and give the Rockies the package they are looking for.  Then they Rockies will look like geniuses for not trading him this offseason.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

2016 Pre-Season Profile: Kansas City Royals

The Kansas City Royals have put together one of the best two year stretches any franchise could wish for.  Now that they have reached the highest pinnacle, will they be able to make it three years in a row?

Last Season
My 2015 Prediction: 1st in AL Central, win World Series
2015 Results: 95-67, 1st in AL Central, won World Series
I was so upset that I never got around to writing my 2015 preview article for the Royals, especially after I they won it all.  I think I may have been the only person to correctly predict KC reaching the World Series again, let alone win it.  There was something special about that team that showed they still had something to prove.  They sure proved it!  And I totally nailed it!

2016 Additions / Subtractions
The Royals brought in two rent-a-players at the Trade Deadline last season that helped propel them to the title.  Both of those players, Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist, have moved on.  Also moving on is starting rightfielder Alex Rios, former closer Greg Holland, and reliever Ryan Madson.  Very little was done to replace any of these, with the biggest acquisition of the offseason being Ian Kennedy.  Joakim Soria and Mike Minor were also brought in to add some pitching depth.  They seemed to replace some superstars with lower level talent hoping they pan out.  However, the biggest move of the offseason was re-signing free agent Alex Gordon to the big multi-year deal they Royals usually would run away from.

Most Important Hitter
Salvador Perez
Salvador Perez is the Iron Horse of Catchers.  The last three seasons, he has played 138+ games.  That is an insane workload for a catcher, especially considering how many extra games he has played with the last two postseasons.  He is needed too as he is one of those catchers that doubles as a pitching coach on the field.  With that kind of workload, Perez is due either for a down year at the plate or an injury.  If that happens, the Royals might struggle through the season more than they have the last few years.

Most Important Pitcher
Yordano Ventura
With as good as the Royals have been the last few years, their rotation has not been great.  In 2014, they had James Shields to anchor that rotation.  In 2015, Yordano Ventura tried to be the ace, but they needed to trade for Cueto after Ventura disappointed.  Ventura has all the skills to be an ace and a superstar, but he is struggling putting it all together.  By "replacing" Cueto in the rotation with Kennedy, who is a solid starter but no longer a superstar ace, the Royals are putting the pressure back on Ventura to step up and be the ace.  If he doesn't do it this year, it may never happen for Yordano Ventura.

Player to Watch
Raul A. Mondesi
The strangest move the Royals made last year was to ask Raul A. Mondesi to make his Major League debut in the World Series.  He barely played, but it showed just how much confidence the Royals have in this second generation talent.  The weakest link in the Royals' lineup right now in Omar Infante at second base.  Look for Mondesi to be called up at some point to add some flash and energy to the lineup at second.

2016 Prediction
2nd in AL Central, WILD CARD, lose in ALDS
I correctly called the Royals winning the World Series last year when no one saw it coming.  Now they are much more respected after winning the title, and I have them coming up short.  This team will still play as hard as they have the last few years.  The main difference between the 2016 and 2015/2014 teams is a lack of depth.  They still have Wade Davis and Kelvim Herrera, but Madson and Holland gone loses some of the depth that made that bullpen their super strength.  In rightfield, Nori Aoki played right in 2014 while Alex Rios played there in 2015.  Jarrod Dyson, who was a primary backup the last two seasons, will now be asked to start in right.  His defense and speed is first class, but his bat is nowhere near as strong as the other two.  They will still make the playoffs, but the current lineup will not quite make it back to the top.

Fearless Prediction
The Royals will trade for a starting pitcher before the Trade Deadline.
Ian Kennedy will spend time on the DL.  Yordano Ventura won't look like the ace they are hoping for.  Edinson Volquez will be what he has been his whole career; brilliant and inconsistent.  Their best starting pitcher will once again be the ageless tower, Chris Young.  They will need to bolster their staff again if they want to make another postseason run, especially since their bullpen won't be the unstoppable machine it has been the last few years.  It will be great, just not so historic it will make up for the weak rotation again.  Making that move (maybe bringing back James Shields???) will help put the Royals back into the postseason.

Monday, February 22, 2016

2016 Pre-Season Profile: Detroit Tigers

Over the past decade or so, the Detroit Tigers have been one of the strongest franchises in all of baseball.  After a down year, will their aging core bounce back or continue to drift away?

Last Season
My 2015 Prediction: 2nd in AL Central
2015 Results: 74-87, 5th in AL Central
Heading into the Trade Deadline last season, the Tigers were still realistically in the running for a playoff spot.  They had to decide whether to be buyers or sellers moving forward.  They chose sellers, giving up on their season in 2015 to have better opportunities moving forward.  By moving Yoenis Cespedes and David Price at the Deadline, they were able to gather in some prospects on expiring contracts they most likely were not going to re-sign.

2016 Additions / Subtractions
The Tigers were quite active in the offseason.  Their main subtractions were Cespedes and Price at the Trade Deadline in 2015, however they were able to replace them quite well with Justin Upton (changing uniforms for the third time in four years) and Jordan Zimmermann in free agency.  Then they upgraded their closer with Francisco Rodriguez and upgraded centerfield with Cameron Maybin.  Add in a role player like Mike Aviles, and it is easy to see the Tigers are much improved from where they were in September.

Most Important Hitter
Miguel Cabrera
This seems like a no-brainer, but last year proved just how much the Tigers' success is tied to Cabrera's health.  Miggy isn't necessarily old yet, but he is starting to age as this will be his age 33 season.  Even with all the fire power in their lineup, it all revolves around the man who is still the best hitter in baseball.  If he stays healthy, there is no limit to how far the Tigers can go.

Most Important Pitcher
Justin Verlander
I think Jordan Zimmermann will end up being the best pitcher on the Tigers' staff this season.  With that said, Verlander is their most important pitcher.  The former MVP is a shell of his former self, but he started to show the second half of last season that he can still be successful even if the radar gun doesn't hit triple digits anymore.  He needs to keep pitching like this throughout the entire 2016 season and show that he can combine with Zimmerman to be a formidable top two starters in the league.

Player to Watch
Steven Moya
Most of the Tigers' prospects are still a few years away from making a serious impact at the major league level.  The one most likely to make an impact is Steven Moya, a 6'7" 260 pound power hitting corner outfielder.  He made his big league debut down the stretch last season, and has the potential to have an impact in 2016 if there is an injury to any of the Tigers' big sluggers (Cabrera, Upton, Victor Martinez, JD Martinez).  If the Tigers have a strong season, Moya might be trade bait to improve the roster down the stretch.  If the Tigers disappoint, perhaps some of the aging stars for the Tigers will be traded to make room for Moya.

2016 Prediction
1st in AL Central, lose in ALCS
The Tigers have a lot of fire power all over their roster.  They might be one of the best all-around rosters in baseball.  Look for them to have a strong season and show once again that they are the class of the AL Central.  They will fall short of the ultimate goal, but after finishing in the cellar in 2015, a first place divisional finish will make for a great bounce back year.  The window is starting close for this team though.

Fearless Prediction
Jordan Zimmermann will win the AL Cy Young.
Jordan Zimmermann was always the most underrated pitcher in the Nationals' rotation, at least since Stephen Strasburg came along.  Moving to one of the better pitchers' parks in the league should resurrect Zimmermann's career to superstar status s he has potentially the best year of his career.  Leading his new team to first place could make him the top pitcher in the American League.