MLB Preview: How the NL West Will Be Won

Call it a hunch!
The Dodgers now outspend the Yankees, are the runaway favorites in the NL West, and a trendy pick to win the World Series. Haven’t I heard that somewhere before? Gonzalez, Ramirez, Puig, Ethier, and a healthy Matt Kemp–LA should hit a ton. Kershaw, Grienke, Billingsley, and Ryu can pitch and Jansen’s a proven closer. What could go wrong? Chemistry, for one. Which outfielder will sit? Crawford? Kemp? Can Puig and Beckett stay of trouble? Other than Kershaw, the staff is solid but inconsistent. Is Grienke an ace, or one of MLB’s chronic underachievers?  

Breaking news: Grienke left his first spring training start after three pitches. 

Baumgardner, Cain, Hudson, Lincecum, Vogelsong…. The Giants simply have too much pitching for 2013 to have been anything more than a fluke. Posey, Belt, Sandoval, Pagan, and Pence don’t match up with the Dodgers’ heavy hitters, but they’ll do. Sergio Roma as closer? I’ll withhold judgement for another year. As much as people talk of the Dodgers’ staff, the Giants have the potential to be better. You know what they say about good pitching versus good hitting…

The Rockies are the annual mystery team and this year is no different. We know that CarGo, Tulowitzi, and Cuddyer are pretty good, and that De La Rosa and Chacin are crafty pitchers. What we don’t know is anything else. Is Arnando the future at third base? Will Morneau stay healthy? Can an unproven closer (Brothers) do the job? Who comes after Chacin in the rotation? 

Breaking news: Chacin has had spring shoulder problems. This is very bad news for the Rox. 

The Diamondbacks are also a mystery team. Goldschmidt, Hill, Prado, and Trumbo are proven hitters, Cody Ross an occasional one. The staff has an innings eater in Arroyo, but he’s no ace. And neither is the maddeningly inconsistent McCarthy or the fragile Cahill. Corbin was the man last year. If he slumps… If things click properly, the D’Backs can make some noise, but they could go south faster than a D.C. conservative.

The Padres won’t suck this year, but they look to be a few years away from being contenders.  Quentin is the real deal and there are some nice prospects on this roster (Alonso, Gyorko, Cabrera). They also have a lot of garbage (like Venable and Maybin). The pitching staff is a very big question mark. Which Ian Kennedy and Josh Johnson will show up? And who are the rest of these guys? This is Headley’s year to prove if he’s an elite player, or just one that had good early press.


1. Giants: Total hunch; could be out to lunch
2. Dodgers: Proving again that money buys respectability, but not a brass ring.
3. Rockies: I’m betting things go well, but wouldn’t be shocked if the Rocks sink.
4. Padres: They surprise by escaping from the Lower Ring of Hades.
5. Diamondbacks: I don’t like their pitching staff at all. But if things go right...


Debra Cowan John Roberts: Folk Music for Real Folks

Debra Cowan and John Roberts
Live at the Ashfield Community Hall
February 22, 2014

Hype and Flash have left the building, and that’s a good thing–a very good thing. Last Friday night, Debra Cowan and John Roberts reminded me of why I love folk music so much–it’s the ripping yarns, the sparse tunes, and the joy of singing along. It was a drear night weather-wise––warm enough to turn the entryway into muck and transform snow banks into fog, but cold enough for us to know we’d have to be careful later on when the melt turned to glaze. Translation: only a few dozen hearty souls ventured forth to what we in Western Massachusetts call a “hill town,” Ashfield being tucked into a crevice of the rolling Berkshires foothills. A small audience like that could have been dispiriting, but Cowan and Roberts deftly converted the hall into an extended living room.

Call it homespun at its very best. The duo dropped all pretenses and delivered the sort of performance that evoked the early Folk Revival days: a song swap with audience participation. Roberts, an English émigré, has been singing traditional music since the 1960s, and possesses a large repertoire of sea shanties, broadside ballads, pub tunes, and British traditional songs. (Think The Copper Family or Peter Bellamy.) What little Roberts has lost in voice power in the past six decades is more than compensated by his storytelling ability. Like a good shanachie, there’s a twinkle in his eye that suggests that some of what he’s telling you might be true. It’s always about the song when Roberts sings, and he backs himself with either the humble concertina or, on occasion, banjo.

Cowan provides the nightingale contrast to the Roberts’ spare voice. Her tones are strong, clear, and lovely. She admits that she loved Julie Andrews as a lass, but if you think you’re going to get a girly-girl, forget it! Hanging out in folk clubs, singing at Mystic Seaport, being involved with the musicians’ union, and cavorting with other musicians makes her as likely to belt out Ray Davies’ “Alcohol” as some frothy love song. Belt it out she will. Cowan plays guitar, but she often leaves it on the stage because, when you’ve got a voice like hers, that’s all you need. Nor is she timid about reworking old love songs, sea shanties, and ballads to give them feminist twists.

There’s no point in fixating on the set list, because it was fluid. A song about a rogue reminded the other of one about a pirate. And so it went. What impressed me most was the way Cowan and Roberts turned a small audience into a big chorale group by patiently teaching complicated (and often tongue-tying) choruses, mixing in familiar songs, and letting the audience sing to the point where my only critique of the evening was that I seldom heard their two-part harmonies over the din. Call it as billed––folk music as music for the folk. --Rob Weir


MLB Preview AL West: Cano Won't Make the Mariners Go

Rangers will knock the cover off the ball.
Seattle is the sexy pick because it overpaid for Robbie Cano, the season’s elite free agent. Pick ‘em as the Best of the West if you want, but it says here that it’s Texas, Oakland, and the rest.

Let’s start with the Mariners. Cano is a thoroughbred, but the M’s really need to sign someone like Nelson Cruz, or Cano will be in a barn with plow horses. Smoak is decent, Seager may be an ascendant third baseman, but will Hart hit in the AL? Felix the Great anchors the staff, but Iwakuma might start the year on the DL and there’s nothing but question marks after him. Cano will also miss Yankee Stadium’s short fences. This is a team headed by two superstars with not much to support them.

The Rangers should knock the horsehide off the yarn. Fielder, Andrus, Profar, Beltre, Rios… ridiculous! Choo will set the table. The question mark is pitching. Holland, Darvish, and…? Perez remains unproven and Harrison was riddled by injuries last year. Is Ogando a for-real starter, or a bullpen guy? Soria can close games, though.

The A’s ought to adopt the slogan: “The Power of Fundamentals.” Manager Bob Melvin manages to get high mileage out of guys who were in Pawtucket for much of their careers: Moss, Lowrie, Reddick, Crisp. Céspedes looks like he’s going to bust loose soon; look out when he does. But pitching is the real key to the A’s success: Parker, Griffin, Gray, Straily, and whomever else Billy Beane manages to unearth.

The best everyday lineup ought to belong to the Angels if Pujols and Hamilton pull their heads out of their behinds and give the magnificent Mike Trout the support he deserves. Add Freese and Kendrick and these guys will unravel the yarn left by Rangers’ hitters. Alas, once one gets past Weaver and Wilson, the pitching staff looks thinner than hobo stew. Frieri to close? I don’t think so. This team needs to score a lot of runs to win.

Everyone’s a hopeful for the Astros and fans simply need to understand that this is going to take a while. If you live more than 20 miles from Houston you’ve not heard of anyone in the starting lineup. Of their pitchers, you might recognize the names Feldman, Crain, Qualls, Albers, and Oberholtzer. Of these, only the last is worth being excited about. The kids are going to play, some of them will be good, and the Astros won’t lose 111 games again, but 95-100 is probable.

1. Rangers: Awesome lineup. If the pitching holds, this team wins.
2. A’s: If Rangers hurlers falter, Oakland wins another improbable NL West crown.
3. Angels: This team is like the Tigers of the 1980s. It will win and lose 7-5 games.  
4. Mariners: This doesn’t look like Yankee Stadium, Toto.
5. Astros: Youth and prayer. Both will be in abundance. 

PS--Nelson Cruz signed with the Orioles after this was prepared, so scratch that bat for the Mariners.