Sunday, April 23, 2017

Movie Battle The Finals: Best Disney Animated Film!

This is it folks, the finals are finally here!  Out of 32 competitors we are only left with 2 that hope to be crowned, "King of Disney Animation".  Both films had a hard fought road just to make it to the finals.  Lets take a look at the results and how we got to this point!

Princess vs Talkin Animal:
#1 The Lion King (54.29%) takes down #2 Beauty and the Beast (45.71%)

Pixar vs Wild Card:
#1 Toy Story (55.71%) takes down #3 Aladdin (44.29%)

The Lion King, had to defeat - #8 Bolt, #4 Dumbo, #7 The Jungle Book, and #2 Beauty and the Beast.

Toy Story had to defeat - #8 Walle, #4 Inside Out, #7 The Incredible, and #3 Aladdin.

Similar roads for both films, though Toy Story had harder opponents.  #7 The Incredibles gave it a run for it's money! 

So lets find out who is going to take the crown!  Also there will be some choices for the next Movie Battle too!


Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Power Rankings: Top 10 Narrations in Movies and TV

Image result for 13 reasons whyOne of the most difficult things to pull off in film and television is successful narration. Sometimes it can just get in the way of the plot; instead of letting the story tell itself visually (the whole point of motion pictures), we get told what is happening instead. Other times, it can enhance the story or give character info that would ordinarily have been non-verbal or not obvious. This is the case in the 2010 crime masterpiece Animal Kingdom, in which protagonist Jay subtly gives details about his family through quick voiceovers. Another approach is shown in 2006’s Little Children, where we are faced with an omnipresent 3rd person narration that may seem out of place in a melodrama, but once it catches on, the film adopts the feel of visual poetry.

For this list, I decided to exclude documentaries since narration is the backbone of most docs. I’m also excluding film noir since narration is a staple of those films, so films like Double Indemnity, Sunset Boulevard, and even Inherent Vice could easily flood the list for the exact same reasons. So, inspired by the brilliant narration of the current hit Netflix series 13 Reasons Why, here is my countdown of the best uses of narration I have ever seen…

Others receiving votes: Boiler Room (Giovanni Ribisi; Seth Davis), Heathers (Winona Ryder; Veronica), Oldboy (Min-sik Choi; Dae-su Oh)

10. The Shawshank Redemption (Morgan Freeman; Red)
Maybe the narration of Shawshank only works as well as it does because of the soothing voice of Morgan Freeman, but it really becomes essential to the film. Through veteran prisoner Red’s eyes, we see the story of wrongfully-convicted murderer Andy Dufresne arriving at one of the toughest prisons in the country. Red gives a unique perspective on each character and the environment, basically acting as a stand-in audience member. None of the prisoners have a solid idea of what Andy is truly up to, but if anyone is going to know anything, it is Red, his only friend in the penitentiary. Even as events begin to unfold for Andy (whose presence is always very mysterious), Red is there to explain what it was like for the people around him. It is a beautifully used narration in a pitch perfect screenplay.
Image result for morgan freeman shawshank redemption
"We sat and drank with the sun on our shoulders and felt like free men. Hell, we could have been tarring the roof of one of our own houses. We were the lords of all creation. As for Andy: he spent that break hunkered in the shade, a strange little smile on his face, watching us drink his beer."

9. The Informant! (Matt Damon; Mark Whitacre)
While the movie was only a modest hit back in 2009, Steven Soderbergh’s dark comedy The Informant! had one of the most memorable narrations of the last decade. The film is about Mark Whitacre, a dim-witted yet high-ranking executive who gets caught up in a web of deceit, price-fixing, and an FBI investigation. He is the classic example of an unreliable narrator. He is a complete nutcase. The narration is his inner dialogue, so when a typical person would start daydreaming, we get a voiceover of some random thought that comes into his head. It is hilarious and really gives the film a unique and dry sense of humor. Mark is also a compulsive liar, so anything we hear we have to take with a grain of salt. The movie is unbelievably entertaining with this format, getting a glimpse inside the head of someone who is either a complete idiot or a complete genius…or both?
Image result for matt damon the informant
"When polar bears hunt, they crouch down by a hole in the ice and wait for a seal to pop up. They keep one paw over their nose so that they blend in, because they've got those black noses. They'd blend in perfectly if not for the nose. To the question is: how do they know their noses are black? From looking at other polar bears? Do they see their reflections in the water and think, "I'd be invisible if not for that?" That seems like a lot of thinking for a bear."

8. The Usual Suspects (Kevin Spacey; Verbal Kint)
This one might be cheating a bit since Verbal Kint is a character in the present day telling a story in flashback, but it still qualifies. Verbal is a crippled criminal who is relaying the story of his experiences with four other career cons who got recruited by the mythical druglord Keyser Soze to pull off a huge dope heist. What makes Verbal’s narration so interesting is that it is his recollection, which may obviously be tainted out of self-preservation. Verbal leads us (and Agent Kujan, to whom the story is being told) down a perfectly detailed path, throwing in tropes and stories about the legend of Soze throughout. Verbal plays it completely innocent and vulnerable the entire time, guiding us to potentially the greatest ending of any movie in the last 25 years. If not for Spacey’s brilliantly realized narrative, it would not have been nearly as authentic or believable.
Image result for kevin spacey the usual suspects
"It didn't make sense that I'd be there. I mean, these guys were hardcore hijackers, but there I was. At that point I wasn't scared. I knew I hadn't done anything they could do me for. Besides, it was fun. I got to make like I was notorious."

7. Adaptation (Nicolas Cage; Charlie Kaufman)
The greatness of the narration in Adaptation cannot be overstated. It makes the movie what it is. Charlie Kaufman wrote himself into his own movie, and Adaptation is about his inner struggle going through the chaotic process of writing this movie while he writes himself into the movie within the movie...yeah… Cage’s narration is tremendous, giving the movie its own distinctive feel. You get inside the head of one of the most interesting screenwriters in the industry, and while some inner rants may seem extreme, it is difficult to not feel some form of realism. He is clearly crazy and schizophrenic (he even makes up a brother, credits him with co-writing this Oscar-nominated screenplay), but maybe we all are crazy since we can relate. There is even a brilliant scene when Kaufman goes to a seminar about the writing process in which the class is vehemently discouraged from ever using voiceover in a script, which is what Kaufman was also doing at that exact moment. The movie is a mind trip, but it is brilliant and just offbeat enough to give it modern classic status.
Image result for nicolas cage adaptation
"I need to fall in love. I need to have a girlfriend. I need to read more, improve myself. What if I learned Russian or something? Or took up an instrument? I could speak Chinese. I'd be the screenwriter who speaks Chinese and plays the oboe. That would be cool. I should get my hair cut short. Stop trying to fool myself and everyone else into thinking I have a full head of hair."

6. Taxi Driver (Robert De Niro; Travis Bickle)
This is one of the more obvious choices on the list. De Niro’s Travis Bickle is a fascinating character. He is a war veteran who gets a job as a taxi driver. We get narration throughout the movie chronicling his every thought, which gives an upfront view into the mind of someone who is slowly descending into insanity. Whether it is Travis describing his new workout routine or how protective he feels over a woman he has never actually met, the audience is spellbound by the invasive and tragic scope inside the head of one of cinema’s all time greatest characters.
Image result for robert de niro taxi driver
"All the animals come out at night: whores, skunk pussies, buggers, queens, fairies, dopers, junkies, sick, venal. Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets. I go all over. I take people to the Bronx, Brooklyn, I take 'em to Harlem, I don't care. Don't make no difference to me. It does to some. Some  won't even take spooks. Don't make no difference to me."

5. Arrested Development (Ron Howard; 3rd Person, Himself)
Ron Howard’s constant voiceover in Arrested Development is as good as comedic narration can get. It is through his sarcastic and direct descriptions of what is going on that gives the show its incredible wacky humor. So many of the laughs in the show are from communication breakdowns, and that is only highlighted by Howard’s take. For example, there are several scenes where he describes what is going to be said by one of the Bluths, and then that is overlapped with it actually being said almost in unison, but not quite. That would be too obvious. Howard is also a character in the movie playing himself, which only adds to the awkward and absolutely irreplaceable narration in the show.
Image result for ron howard arrested development
"GOB was intrigued. He also suspected he couldn't return a completely frozen dove to a pet store and get the full refund he felt he was entitled to."

4. Fight Club (Edward Norton; The Narrator)
David Fincher’s masterpiece Fight Club is more reliant on its narrator than most any movie or show. The main character doesn’t even have a name credited to him. Edward Norton is simply credited as “The Narrator”, and he walks us through the wild antics of this cult classic by telling us everything that is going through his head. He is not necessarily a dishonest narrator, since we are faced with the same bewilderment and manic anxiety that he is faced with. If not for this format, the movie would never have been able to pay off its groundbreaking twists as effectively. Making this even more of an indispensible form of narration, the megahit TV series Mr. Robot shamelessly adopted the exact same narration technique, to which it was showered with rave reviews and a Golden Globe win for Best Drama Series. Fight Club changed the game for narrators in movies, and it has seldom been surpassed since.
Image result for edward norton fight club
"Tyler sold his soap to the department stores at $20 a bar. Lord knows what they charged. It was beautiful. We were selling rich women their own fat asses back to them."

3. American Psycho (Christian Bale; Patrick Bateman)
The use of narration in American Psycho is about as vital to any movie’s effectiveness as I can think of. Without the view inside Wall Street yuppie/serial killer Patrick Bateman’s warped mind, we might not ever care about what we are watching. No one in the movie is all that likable on the surface, but the superficial description of every single thing and person that Bateman comes across is fascinating. Having read the book, it is clear why this character had to be written this way. The book is loaded with paragraphs upon paragraphs critiquing art and the fashion sense of everyone that Bateman encounters. The movie has a little less of that, but it does a commendable job recreating that sense of what it was to be like in New York in the late ‘80s and how you develop a desire to destroy everything that irritates you in life.
Image result for christian bale american psycho
"There is an idea of a Patrick Bateman, some kind of abstraction. But there is no real me, only an entity, something illusory. And though I can hide my cold gaze, and you can shake my hand and feel flesh gripping yours and maybe you can even sense our lifestyles are probably comparable...I simply am not there."

2. Dexter (Michael C. Hall; Dexter Morgan)
Another serial killer? I couldn’t resist. Dexter is first person narration at its most intoxicating. The show follows Dexter Morgan, a blood spatter analyst working for Miami Metro Homicide, but he is also a vigilante serial killer. We get a voiceover from the emotionally absent Dexter in basically every scene, describing his desire to please his “Dark Passenger” or letting us know exactly how uncomfortable he feels around the people in this world. Since Dexter is so detached from human connection, we get a glimpse into the awkward situations and conversations that a one might face on a daily basis with that type of personality. Without the view into the actual motives and thoughts of Dexter, then the show would be way too much of a surface genre exploration. Instead, we get a somewhat humane, thought-provoking, and addicting television series.
Image result for michael c hall dexter
“I love Halloween. The one time of year when everyone wears a mask…not just me. People think it's fun to pretend you're a monster. Me, I spend my life pretending I'm not. Brother, friend, boyfriend - All part of my costume collection. Some people might call me a fraud. Let's see if it will fit. I prefer to think of myself as a master of disguise.”

1. Goodfellas (Ray Liotta; Henry Hill)
“As far back as I can remember I always wanted to be a gangster…” What else could possibly have been #1? Martin Scorsese’s masterwork mob movie is the perfect use of narration. With Ray Liotta’s flawless New York accent that is music to listen to on a voiceover, we get the full scope of Henry Hill’s career in organized crime, taking numerous direct quotes from the actual Hill in his biography, which only makes the feel of the film and the setting that much more authentic and convincing. Whenever there is a voiceover in the film, whether it is hearing what Hill is really thinking or introducing us to his associates in a long tracking shot, our ears are open while trying to take in every bit of the atmosphere that is provided to us. There really is no other option for #1 in my eyes. Ray Liotta could narrate absolutely anything and it would be wildly entertaining.
Image result for ray liotta goodfellas
"For us to live any other way was nuts. Uh, to us, those goody-good people who worked shitty jobs for bum paychekcs and took the subway to work every day and worried about their bills were dead. I mean, they were suckers. They had no balls, If we wanted something, we just took it. If anyone complained twice they got hit so bad, believe me, they never complained again."

That’s my list! What would make your list? How I Met Your Mother? Stand by Me? The Wolf of Wall Street? Let me know in the comments!

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Movie Battle: (Final Four) Best Disney Animated Film!

We are finally at the Final Four films in the Movie Battle, to determine the Number One Disney Animated Film.  Its been a crazy road up to this point.  A lot of good stories have come from this tournament!  We watched higher ranking films not even make the second round.  We watched as underdog films made the elite eight!  It's been fun seeing the films battle for the top spot, but now we are down to just four films left!

Here are the results for the 3rd round!

Princess Bracket:
#2 Beauty and the Beast 73.53% takes out #4 Cinderella 26.47%.  (Beauty and the Beast has the highest percentage of the votes out of all the films in this round!  Can it go to the finals?)

Talking Animal Bracket:
#1 The Lion King 67.65% devours #7 The Jungle Book 32.35% (The number 7 seed put up the hardest fight for the number 1 seed but it was all for not.  Has the Lion King lost some steam?)

Pixar Bracket:
#1 Toy Story 52.94% holds off #7 The Incredibles 47.06%  (The Incredibles almost had the up set.  They were leading the whole week until the very last day of voting and lost by two votes.)

Wild Card Bracket:
#3 Aladdin 53% upsets #1 Pinocchio 47% (Aladdin had the lead the whole week and never gave it up.  Did the Genie help it win?)

Here are the match ups for the Final Four!

Princess vs Talking Animal: #2 Beauty and the Beast vs #1 The Lion King

Pixar vs Wild Card: #1 Toy Story vs #3 Aladdin

Saturday, April 8, 2017

2017 Pre-Season Profile: Boston Red Sox


The Boston Red Sox saw the retirement of one of their all-time greats in David Ortiz in 2016.  Will 2017 be a let down year, or will it see the emergence of the next generation of all-time Red Sox greats?

My 2016 Predictions
2nd in AL East
David Price will spend time on the DL in 2016.

2016 Results
93-69, 1st in AL East, lose in ALDS
The Red Sox had a great season in 2016.  After a disappointing finish in the cellar in 2015, the team bounced back, led by a farewell campaign from David Ortiz that Hollywood couldn't have written.  Led by their 40 year old slugger, and some young new stars, the Red Sox won the division.  Once in the playoffs, they ran into the buzzsaw that was the Cleveland Indians.  As for my Fearless Prediction, it appeared to just be premature.  I said the workload of David Price was going to catch up with him.  After leading the league in innings pitched in 2016, Price is starting the 2017 season on the DL which might result in Tommy John surgery.

Additions / Subtractions
The biggest subtraction is obviously the loss of David Ortiz.  Despite what many people hoped, he did indeed retire.  He has been replaced in the lineup by Mitch Moreland, a defense-first first baseman that allows Hanley Ramirez to inherit the DH spot.  Otherwise, the lineup didn't change much.  As far as their pitching goes, the Red Sox once again won the lottery.  After signing the biggest fish last season in David Price, they traded for the biggest fish on the market this year in Chris Sale.  They gave up a good portion of their farm system to get him, but get him they did.

Most Important Hitter
Pablo Sandoval
The success of Pablo Sandoval's season might be more important to Pablo Sandoval than the Red Sox.  After signing a big free agent contract with the Red Sox a few years ago, Pablo Sandoval has been an epic disappointment.  His 2016 season was defined by being overweight, breaking his belt on a swing, and a season-ending injury that dd the Red Sox a favor because now they had an excuse not to play him.  After several attempts to fill the third base hole last season did not work as well as they had hoped, the Red Sox are giving The Artist Formerly Known as Kung Fu Panda one more chance to show why they paid him so much money.  If this season goes well, Sandoval will be a candidate for Comeback Player of the Year.  If this season goes poorly, not only will the Red Sox move on, but Sandoval's career will most likely be over.

Most Important Pitcher
Rick Porcello
Entering the 2016 season, everyone was talking about how the Red Sox signed David Price.  However, it was Rick Porcello that got the headlines by the end of the season, winning the AL Cy Young.  Now the Red Sox have added Chris Sale to the top of the rotation, giving them three established aces.  At least that is the hope.  More times than not, when a top-notch pitcher changes teams the first season is a bit of a letdown.  At the same time, David Price is on the shelf with no guarantee that he pitches at all this season.  Rick Porcello is going to be counted on as the stabilizing force in that rotation to hold it together no matter what happens with Sale and Price.  For someone who just had his first elite season, that might be too lofty a task for Porcello.

Player to Watch
Andrew Benintendi
This is an easy one.  The only reason he still qualifies as a rookie was an injury last season that kept his game total down below the limit.  However, Benintendi burst on the scene in 2016, showing he was ready to break out and be a star.  This season, he is the Opening Day rightfielder for the Red Sox.  He will not only be a fun rookie to watch, but he is being counted on to join their young core of Betts, Bogaerts, and Bradley.  Add Benintendi to that ... talk about the new "Killer B's!"

2017 Prediction
1st in AL East, win the World Series
This team is loaded.  Their lineup is possibly the best in the league, led by Mookie Betts, who has the potential to join Mike Trout as the two best players in the league.  Their pitching is elite and deep, even if David Price ends up not pitching this season.  This new core of stars had a taste of the postseason last year, and now they are ready to take it all the way.  If they are able to stay together, this might be the making of a dynasty.

Fearless Prediction
Chris Sale will win the AL Cy Young.  Mookie Betts will win the AL MVP.
Sale's career has been building to this.  He has been on this slow rise to dominance, but has yet to break through as the best pitcher in the league.  I think the biggest reason for this is the fact that he has yet to play on a team good enough to support him.  The White Sox have yet to contend since Sale's career has taken off.  Now he is on one of the most talented rosters in the league.  Combine that with Sale's dominance in the prime of his career, and this could be a special season for Chris Sale.  For Mookie Betts, his career has been building as well.  Last season, he took second in the MVP voting to Mike Trout, however he is close to eclipsing and possibly passing Trout.  Winning Cy Young, MVP, and the World Series is rare, but not a far-fetched prediction considering the circumstance.

2017 Pre-Season Profile: Washington Nationals


The Washington Nationals have been on the brink of winning a pennant for years now.  Will 2017 finally be the year the franchise makes its first World Series?

My 2016 Predictions
2nd in NL East
Stephen Strasburg will be traded before the end of the season.

2016 Results
95-67, 1st in NL East, lost in NLDS
The Nationals had a better season than I anticipated.  Despite Bryce Harper having a sub-par season compared to his MVP 2015 season, the Nats were able to win the division behind their elite pitching.  The addition of Dusty Baker as manager seemed to have more of an impact than many expected.  With all that said, the Nationals still came up short, not even winning a series in the playoffs before being ousted once again.  As for my Fearless Prediction, I said the team had a choice to make: either sign Strasburg long term or trade him.  I simply chose the wrong option as Strasburg will be a Nat for the foreseeable future.

Additions / Subtractions
The Nationals were active this offseason.  They also made several of the more scrutinized moves of the offseason.  Leaving the team were catcher Wilson Ramos, rented closer Mark Melancon, ad shortstop Danny Espinosa.  The Nats were a leading candidate this offseason for ace Chris Sale.  When they lost the bid to the Red Sox, they immediately turned around and traded multiple top prospects for outfielder Adam Eaton.  Many have argued, although the advanced analytics say Eaton was worth the trade, the Nationals overpaid for him.  Late in free agency, they brought in catcher Matt Wieters to replace the departed Ramos.  The other questionable move involves a move they didn't make.  After losing Melancon to free agency, the Nats left themselves without an elite, or even a proven, closer.  They could have acquired guys like David Robertson from Chicago or Alex Colome from Tampa Bay.  Instead, they chose to fill this role from within, even though they had no one on their roster with big league closing experience.

Most Important Hitter
Adam Eaton
With the amount the Nationals gave up for Adam Eaton, he needs to show that he was worth it.  Eaton is a really good defensive player with a decent bat and a knack for getting on base and causing havoc once he is there.  With the sluggers the Nats have in the middle of their order, they felt their urgent need was a table setter to get on base in front of guys like Harper, Murphy, and Zimmerman.  Not only is Eaton being counted on to be that guy, he has to be that guy not only for the Nationals to succeed this season, but also to justify the big trade made for him.

Most Important Pitcher
Tanner Roark
To make a deep postseason run, a team usually needs three great starters to dominate a series.  After the Nationals lost the Chris Sale sweepstakes, they will be counting on Tanner Roark to be that #3 starter behind Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg.  Recently, Roark has shown he can be that guy.  After being the odd man out a few years ago when the "Super Rotation" came to DC, Roark worked his way back into the rotation full time in 2016, winning 16 games with a 2.83 ERA in 210 innings.  He followed that up with a successful run in the WBC this spring.  If he pitches how he is capable of pitching, the Nationals may have their third ace without making a move.

Player to Watch
Koda Glover
At the end of the 2016 season, the Nationals had a farm system stocked full of talent poised to burst on the scene in 2017.  After the Adam Eaton trade, most of that talent is gone.  However, one player that is worth paying attention to is Koda Glover.  Glover, who played a little in the big leagues last season, is a live arm starting the season in the Nats' bullpen.  Under ideal circumstances, Glover becomes the reason why the Nationals didn't trade for a closer this offseason as he takes the job and runs with it.

2017 Prediction
1st in NL East, lose in World Series
I think this is the year the Nationals finally do it!  Their lineup rivals the Cubs in talent and depth.  Their top three starting pitchers can rival the Mets.  The moves they made this offseason, especially the Adam Eaton trade, not only show a commitment to winning now, but also will greatly help the team be better this season.  However, the X factor for the Nationals is their manager.  This team has found the perfect balance of analytic, sabermetric front office with an old school, clubhouse manager in Dusty Baker.  Baker in DC is a perfect fit, and last year's success proves my point.  This team is strong and has the experience across the board to make the deep run in the postseason the city, and the league, has been waiting for.

Fearless Prediction
Trea Turner will start the All Star Game at shortstop.
In 2016, Trea Turner showed that he is a star in the making.  He finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting, only losing to Corey Seager.  That was while only playing half a season (73 games) and playing out of position (centerfield instead of his original shortstop).  Yet he had a .342 average, 13 homers, 40 RBI's, and 33 steals.  Now he is the Opening Day shortstop and leadoff hitter.  By the end of the season, Trea Turner will be considered one of the best young shortstops in the game with names like Lindor, Correa, Diaz, Story, and Seager.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Movie Battle: (Round 3) The Best Disney Animated Film!

Round 3!
When we started this tournament, we had 32 Disney Animated films in the bracket!  Now we are down to the Elite 8!  This last round, we lost a mermaid, a voyager, Nemo, our emotions, a flying elephant, a warrior princess, a city of animals, and a group of six heroes!  Lets check out what won our votes!

Princess Bracket:

#4 Cinderella 58.33% beats #8 Mulan 41.67%   (Mulan's Cinderella like story is over)

#2 Beauty and the Beast 63.89% beats #3 The Little Mermaid 36.11%  (Did the live action remake help Belle and the Beast?)

Talking Animal Bracket:

#1 The Lion King 86.11% beats #4 Dumbo 13.89%  (The Lion King is looking like the favorite)

#7 The Jungle Book 58.33% beats #3 Zootopia 41.67%  (Old School beats New School)

Pixar Bracket:

#1 Toy Story 66.67% beats #4 Inside Out 33.33%  (The Power of the number one seed.  Inside Out traveled to the moon !)

#7 The Incredbiles 52.78 beats #3 Finding Nemo 47.22%  (The slimiest of margins proved to much for Nemo)

Wild Card Bracket:

#1 Pinocchio 61.11% beats #5 Big Hero 6 38.89%  (Pinocchio proves to us, there are no strings on him!)

#3 Aladdin 69.44% beats #2 Moana 30.56%  (It looks like Moana was to close to the water and fell in) 

Here are the match ups for Round 3

Princess Bracket:

#4 Cinderella vs #2 Beauty and the Beast

Talking Animal Bracket:

#1 The Lion King vs #7 The Jungle Book

Pixar Bracket:

#1 Toy Story vs #7 The Incredibles

Wild Card Bracket:

#1 Pinocchio vs #3 Aladdin


2017 Pre-Season Profile: Chicago Cubs


The Chicago Cubs made history in 2016 and finally ended the curse that kept them from winning a championship since 1908.  Can they make history again in 2017 and repeat?

My 2016 Predictions
1st in NL Central, lose in NLDS
Jake Arrieta will spend at least 1-2 months on the DL.

2016 Results
103-58, 1st in NL Central, won the World Series
Going into the 2016 season, few would argue against the fact that the Cubs were the most talented team in the league.  Being so young, I thought they were one or two years away from finally putting it all together.  I was wrong.  They dominated the regular season and showed that destiny was on their side by making their way all the way to the championship.  It is impressive to pull off something like this when the pressure of so much futility is on your backs.  The Cubs overcame that and did the impossible.  As for my Fearless Prediction, Jake Arrieta may not have ended up on the DL, but he did see a drop off in production as his work load finally caught up with him.

Additions / Subtractions
The scary part when you think about the 2017 Cubs is they are bringing back almost the exact same roster they had in 2016.  Very few changes were made simply because so much of their roster is so young.  Aroldis Chapman went back to the Yankees, but the Cubs traded Jorge Soler to the Royals for the dominant Wade Davis.  Jason Hammel signed elsewhere in free agency, but he was replaced with veteran Brett Anderson.  Dexter Fowler signed with the Cardinals, but he was replaced internally with the Cubs' outstanding farm system.  Not to mention, Kyle Schwarber is now healthy, considered one of the best young hitters in baseball.

Most Important Hitter
Jason Heyward
If anyone on the Cubs was disappointed by the way the 2016 season turned out, it was Jason Heyward.  After signing the huge contract before 2016, Heyward's bat fell asleep, leading to a .230 average with 7 home runs and 49 RBI's.  This led to Heyward watching most of the postseason from the bench.  The Cubs are talented all over the field, but unless Heyward starts to produce at the plate like he is capable of, 2016 might be remembered for both the World Series win and one of the worst free agent contracts ever given.

Most Important Pitcher
Kyle Hendricks
For the second year in a row, a pitcher for the Cubs came out of nowhere and is now considered one of the best in the game.  2015 brought us Jake Arrieta.  2016 brought us Kyle Hendricks.  Although the Cubs' lineup is filled with young talent, their starting rotation is quite old, with Hendricks the only pitcher under 30 starting the year in the rotation.  With Jon Lester continuing to age and Jake Arrieta entering his contract year, the Cubs need Hendricks to emerge as the ace of the staff moving into the future.

Player to Watch
Albert Almora, Jr.
The player benefiting the most from the absence of Dexter Fowler in the Cubs' outfield is rookie Albert Almora, Jr.  Almora got a decent run last season, playing in 47 games.  He barely kept his rookie status for 2017, and now he is entering the season as the team's starting centerfielder.  The Cubs have an outstanding farm system, but Almora is one of the few great prospects they have that is poised to make an impact for the Cubs this season.  Some might have an impact through trade, but Almora will be patrolling the outfield for the Cubs for awhile.

2017 Prediction
1st in NL Central, lose in NLCS
The Cubs are once again the most talented team in baseball.  I see them once again having the best record in baseball.  With all that said, it is extremely hard to win back-to-back World Series championships.  It hasn't happened in almost 20 years, and it has only happened three times for a National League team.  (One of those three just happens to be the last time the Cubs won...)  The Cubs will have a good run, but I see the age of their pitching catch up to them, leaving them just short of the World Series.

Fearless Prediction
The Chicago Cubs will set the record for most wins in a season in 2017.
I see the Cubs writing a similar script to the Golden State Warriors in 2017.  The Warriors were the up-and-coming team everyone loved that played their way to a championship in 2015.  The 2016 Warriors won more games than any other NBA team in history, but they couldn't win the title.  I see the Cubs following a similar path.  Everyone loved the 2016 Cubs as they won their title.  With the makeup of this team, I could see them respond this season by having a historic run.  However, it seems every historic run ends in something less than a championship.  Look for the Cubs to top the 116 win total set by the 2001 Mariners and the 1906 Cubs.

Monday, April 3, 2017

2017 Pre-Season Profile: Houston Astros


Sports Illustrated predicted the Houston Astros would win the 2017 World Series ... in 2014!  The Astros made the playoff appearance in 2015 with their young stars, but followed it up with a letdown season in 2016.  Will 2017 prove the Sports Illustrated writers to be geniuses, or will they underwhelm once again?

My 2016 Predictions
1st in AL West, lose in ALDS
Carlos Correa will win the AL MVP.

2016 Results
84-78, 3rd in AL West
The win total of the Houston Astros only dropped two games from 2015 to 2016, however everyone around them got better, dropping them to third in their division with no chance at a playoff birth.  The 2015 Astros were much better than they were supposed to be.  This raised expectations much higher than was realistic for 2016.  A key example of this was Carlos Correa, who exploded in 2015, but did not come close to winning the MVP as I predicted he would do.

Additions / Subtractions
For so long, the Astros have been all about building the farm system and building the future.  The 2017 offseason showed that the Astros have arrived at that future.  All of a sudden, they started to spend money and acquire veterans to complement their group of young stars.  Josh Reddick was brought in to start in rightfield.  Nori Aoki was brought in to start in leftfield.  Brian McCann was brought in to be a power-hitting catcher.  Carlos Beltran was brought back to Houston to try and relive some of his past heroics in an Astros uniform.  The only notable subtractions were upgrades at catcher (McCann over Jason Castro) and leftfield (Aoki over Colby Rasmus).

Most Important Hitter
Carlos Correa
It is easy to forget that Carlos Correa is only 22 years old.  Being a number one overall pick and having instant success will make that happen.  With all that said, Correa is a centerpiece of this franchise and a key to the Astros' present and future success.  I predicted him to be the MVP last season, which may have been a little premature.  However, he needs to be at an MVP caliber this season or very soon after for the Astros to reach the championship level they feel they can reach.

Most Important Pitcher
Dallas Keuchel
In 2015, Dallas Keuchel won the Cy Young.  Again, when players find instant success, quite often a player regresses the next season.  That is what happened for Keuchel.  He went 9-12 with a 4.55 ERA, far from his Cy Young level.  Many people believe the Astros should have traded for Jose Quintana over the offseason (and still might mid-season) because of the fact that no one knows if there is a true ace on this staff.  Whether a trade happens for Quintana or not, Dallas Keuchel needs to get back to the level he was at in 2015 if the Astros want to get back to the playoffs.

Player to Watch
David Paulino
The Astros have several prospects that could play a role for the team in one of two ways.  They may either make an impact for the team down the stretch, or they might be part of a package that helps bring an ace like Jose Quintana into Houston.  David Paulino is one of those propects.  This 23 year old pitcher got a taste of the big leagues at the end of 2016 and could be a presence in the rotation for the Astros (or White Sox) at any point this season.

2017 Prediction
1st in AL West, lose in ALCS
After a year of regression, I see 2017 as the year the Astros take the next step forward.  They have such a great combination of young budding stars and established veterans that have been there before.  They should have no problem scoring runs.  Their pitching will be good and potentially great if they make the trade everyone expects them to make at some point.  They won a Wild Card Game and went to the ALDS in 2015.  Look for the Astros to win their first AL West division title ever and make it all the way to the ALCS this season.

Fearless Prediction
Jose Quintana will be an Astro before Memorial Day.
It won't take the Astros long to realize they need that extra arm in their rotation.  The White Sox want to get rid of Quintana, and he would be a perfect fit in Houston.  With all the moves the Astros made this offseason, it is obvious they want to win either this year or next year.  If one more move is going to get you there, you make the move.  Look for it to happen sooner rather than later.