3/6/15

MLB Preview: How the NL West Will Be Lost


This won't be a brilliant division this year. The defending World Series champion Giants will be weaker, as will the Dodgers, the team that actually won the division last year. Neither the Diamondbacks nor the Rockies are substantially better. That has led some observers to pick the revamped Padres to contend for the NL West Crown. Somebody has to win this division, but I don't think it will be the Pads.

Wil Myers swings at another ball out of the strike zone.
Why the Padres could win: If Matt Kemp stays healthy, Will Middlebrooks regains his (long lost) mojo, somebody (Medica? Alones?) plays like an everyday first baseman, Justin Upton fulfills his potential, and Wil Myers isn't a bust, the Padres could ride a staff headed by Shields. Cashner, and Kennedy to glory.

            Why it won't happen: Because Middlebrooks is lost, Kemp too fragile, Upton too temperamental, and Myers is a fraud. And because Brandon Morrow is the # 4 starter.

Why the Dodgers will win: Too much pitching. Greinke, Ryu, and Kershaw—MLB's best pitcher)–head the division's best staff. The Dodgers overpaid for McCarthy, but he only needs to be so-so (and so-so he'll be). Jimmy Rollins won't hit as well as Hanley Ramirez, but his defense will be way better. I look for Ethier to supplant Pederson in center, who isn't ready. AGon is steady at first. Crawford is much maligned, but a good player.

            What could go wrong: Puig might be one of MLB's best players; he might also be to jerks what Miley Cyrus is to twerks. If he goes Bad Boy poisonous, I'm not sure this team has the character (or leadership) to right a listing ship.

What about the Giants? Nobody–and I mean nobody–wants to face Bumgarner, Cain, Hudson et. al in the playoffs, but the Giants have to get there first. Are Belt, Posey, Pagan, Pence, and Aoki enough to get them there? I'm skeptical. I'm downright cynical that Casey McGhee will make anyone forget Sandoval, as overrated as he is. Besides, it's an odd-numbered year and the Giants only win in even years!

Most likely to stink: The Diamondbacks could easily lost 100 games, despite a few good players (Goldschmidt, Hill, Trumbo). Their "ace" (Collmenter) won all of 11 games last year and two-thirds of their starters were  cast-offs from a team short on pitching (Red Sox, 2014). Hellickson would be useful if healthy, but he's injured again and it's only March.

Could surprise: The Rockies have Morneau, Tulowitzki, Arenado, and GarGo. They will score some runs, but that won't matter unless the pitching is better than it looks.
Should win, though I don't think you'll see them in the World Series.

Predictions: 

1. Dodgers (Call it prediction without conviction)
2. Padres (Not because they're all that good, but because the division is that weak)
3. Giants (Sometimes addition by subtraction really is subtraction)
4.  Rockies (If they get pitching, they could pass the Giants and maybe the Padres)
5. Diamondbacks (Is that a dead snake causing that horrid smell?)

3/4/15

Balkan Clarinet Summit Transcends Language


BALKAN CLARINET SUMMIT
Many Languages, One Soul
Piranha 2857
* * * *

It’s an orchestra! It’s a small jazz ensemble! It’s a heavy metal concert! And it’s many other things as well. The Balkan Clarinet Summit is a veritable United Nations of woodwind talent, fertile ideas, and musical mastery. It’s fourteen tracks and more than an hour’s worth of live clarinet-based instrumentals like you’ve never heard them before. Go ahead and scoff. I did before I listened.

The Summit is composed of Stavros Pazarentis (Greece), Slobodan Trkulja (Serbia), Sergiu Balutel (Moldavia/Rumania), Oguz Buyukberber (Turkey), and Orlin Pamukor (Bulgaria), with arrangements and other contributions from Claudio Puntin (Italian Swiss and Steffen Schorn (Germany). As the album title suggests, these skilled reed players communicate in the language that transcends words: music. In one of several bold moves, the project opens with a piece titled “Nostalgia,” and it’s a bit like what you get if you took some Gershwin, a medieval pastoral, and classical orchestral music and whirled it about in a blender. If that doesn’t sound particularly “Balkan,” try pieces such as “Geamparale” or “Severniaski Tanc,” each of which pulse with the nervous energy of a dog chasing its own tail. Do you prefer an introspective, forlorn feel? Try “Po√©me.” Want to evoke a “Sorcerer’s Apprentice”-like foray into 20th century modernism? Listen to “Sirba De Concert.” Or maybe you just want to hear how many sounds you can get from a reed instrument.  Check out the heavy metal licks of “Snake Lick Jab,” which also contains scratches and funky grooves that will make you ponder, “Clarinet hip hop?” There’s even a brief moment in “Breaza” where the clarinet evokes a didgeridoo, though most of the piece sounds like a drunken dance of mosquitoes (in a good way).  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow remarked that “music is the universal language of mankind.”  Many Languages, One Soul is living testament to the truth of the poet’s words. – Rob Weir

Here's the official trailer

3/2/15

Time to Ban Josh Hamilton


No more chances. MLB needs to ban Hamilton.
This is going to sound cruel, but here goes: If Major League Baseball is serious about cleaning up its drug problem, Josh Hamilton needs to become the star poster child for three strikes and you're out. Let's face it; if a sober Josh Hamilton couldn't hit a baseball a country mile, he would have been tossed on the trash heap long ago. Lucky for him he can–or at least, he could. It's no longer clear if Hamilton can perform at all, but it has become abundantly clear he can't be trusted.

Only pop stars and movie idols are as pampered as athletes. Fall outside that exalted company and society is content to allow you to suffer from any demon of your own construction. Part of the conceit of those profiting from the chosen, though, is that somehow their rehabs and special programs will work better than those of mere mortals. They don't. An unassailable fact: junkies lie. Second unassailable fact: there are far more relapsed junkies than there are ex-junkies. When I heard that Hamilton has (allegedly) being using coke and alcohol again, I couldn't get ex-manager Earl Weaver's words out of my head. When mercurial and pitcher Mike Cuellar complained that his skipper didn't give him a "chance" after he lost his effectiveness, Weaver retorted, "I gave Mike Cuellar more chances than I gave my first wife."

Josh Hamilton has certainly has his chances. He was suspended from 2004 through 2006. Despite stringent intervention involving thrice a week testing, Hamilton fell off the wagon in 2009 and again in 2012. Alas, it appears that 2015 is the latest bout. At some point, tragedies become farce and one must simply admit that the cause (and quite possibly the individual) is a loss.

Steve Howe
Does anyone remember Steve Howe? In his sixteen MLB years (1980-96) he was suspended seven times for drugs. Each time tears were shed, pledges were made, and the word "tragic" appeared. Steve Howe died a junkie in 2006, his penultimate act having been penning an autobiography in which he claimed to have kicked the habit through his conversion to evangelical Christianity. Remember–junkies lie. All the promise, all the interventions, and all the good intentions simply don't matter if the momentary rush is better than the long-term effort of getting clean. Ask Jeff Allison, the can't-miss pitcher who did because he liked heroin better than heroism. Or Daryl Strawberry, who exchanged his #39 jersey for a Florida State Prison number.

Strawberry claims he's turned his life around. I hope so. I hope Josh Hamilton will too–outside of Major League Baseball. The game has done all it can for Hamilton. He's no longer a tragedy; he's a farce. Ban him from the game, sever his ties to his MLB enablers, and let him show us if he's the next Daryl Strawberry, or the next Steve Howe. So long, Josh. You could have been a contender.