2023 MLB Preview: National League


2023 National League Preview




NL East


This is a strong division that might send more teams to the playoffs than other.


Who will win it? The Braves are just a year removed from winning the World Series and always manage to have superb pitching. If they falter, it will be because Acuna and Albies fail to bounce back from their 2022 injuries and the durable Charlie Morton finally pitches his age. The rest of the lineup could struggle if Acuna and Albies don’t fully recover.


For the above uncertainties, the Mets are my pick to win the East. On paper, the pitching is dominant, as long Father Time doesn’t catch up with Verlander and Scherzer. Alonzo, Nimmo, Lindor, Marte, et al. should put a lot of runs on the scoreboard.


In my view, the Phillies simply got hot at an opportune time last year. They have lost Harper until around the All-Star break. In theory there is plenty of offense (Turner, Schwarber, Realmuto, Hoskins), but Nola and Wheeler, and Walker will have to pitch well for Philadelphia to get into the postseason. I think I’ve seen enough of Nola to be skeptical that he’s much more than a should-have-been.

     Note: Rhys Hoskins tore his ACL after this was written and will miss the 2023 season. Coupled with Harper's injury, this will hurt the Phillies very badly. Last year's NL champs might struggle to make the playoffs in 2023.

They aren’t good enough to win, but the Nationals get my vote for the division team that will be tougher than anyone thinks. Robles needs to be a stud again for that to happen and Corbin needs to pitch like he deserved the ridiculous contract Washington signed him to. They will struggle again, but they will show marked improvement if the young pitchers mature. If they don’t, it’s another last place finish.  


The Marlins have emerging young players and, in Alcantara, a perpetual Cy Young candidate. I doubt they will hit well enough to be much of a threat though. What the Fishburgers need more than anything is relocation to Montreal.


NL Central:


What’s up with teams in the middle of the country? Call this the other Perpetual Disappointment Division.


Never discount the Cardinals. Goldschmidt, Arenado, and Contreas can bash if others get on base. They freakin’ stole Montgomery from the Yankees to go with Flaherty, Mikolas, and the ageless Adam Wainwright. If Matz makes it back from injury–a big if–this is a very strong pitching staff. St. Louis could easily steal the NL Central.


The Brewers will go as far as bounce backs from Yelich, Naquin, Winkler, and a few others take them. This is a low OBP team that’s built a bit like the all-or-nothing Yankees. They’ll need to score runs as the pitching is Woodruff, Burnes, and pray for a miracle. Milwaukee might well end up the most disappointing team in the division.


The Cubs should be better this year. Taillon came over from the Yankees—detect a theme here?—but it could be young Hayden Wesneski that New York will most regret losing. Bellinger, Swanson, Mancini, Hosmer, and Gomes will like hitting in Wrigley Field and we know Ian Happ is a good player. They Cubbies are my surprise team for the division.


The Pirates need new management. They might be better but who knows? I’ve not heard of half their lineup and most of those I do know are over the hill. They will trade Reynolds, their best player, as soon as the price is right. I’m not seeing much on the staff except high ERAs and 43-year-old Rich Hill.


Still, Pittsburgh will probably be better than the Reds. The Reds lineup with Joey Votto on the shelf won’t cause pitchers to quake and anyone who still thinks Wil Myers has promise simply hasn’t been paying attention. The kindest thing to do would be to not mention Reds pitching. It’s heresy to say this about MLB’s oldest franchise, but it would a good idea to move Cincy to some place that cares. (Charlotte? Vancouver? Nashville? An NL team in Boston?)


NL West:


Until someone knocks them off–and I’m not seeing it–the Dodgers remain the class of the West. Betts, Freeman, Muncy, Will Smith, and new D.H. J.D. Martinez will drive in runs. Losing Lux to injury will hurt and I’ve no idea why they or anyone else wants Heyward, but it’s fair to ask how many runs they’ll need with pitching like Kershaw, Urias, Gonsolin, and Syndergaard racking up Ws in the standings.  


The Padres are the sexy pick unless, like me, you’ve seen them disappoint more often than a politician with his fingers crossed. Bogaerts, Soto, Machado, center a potentially explosive lineup. It doesn’t help to have Musgrove on the DL, but Darvish. Snell, and Wacha should pick up the slack. Do they have enough to dethrone the Dodgers? Doubtful. But if the Pads don’t get a Wild card, heads will roll.


Should San Diego stumble, the window opens for the Giants to bounce back and steal a Wild Card. That becomes a definite possibility if Wood, Cobb, and DeSclafani pitch to their capability (which they did not last year). The hitting isn’t as good as San Diego’s or as consistent as that of Los Angeles, but if Jupiter aligns with Mars, I think San Francisco will be the comeback team of the division.


The Rockies have a decent lineup—Bryant, Cron, Blackmon–but also a lot of injuries and question marks. I’ve seen sumo wrestlers with thinner profiles than Colorado’s team ERA. That must improve, or Arizona will dodge the basement.


The Diamondbacks improved their hitting by prying Gurriel from Toronto, but it looks like another long year in Phoenix. The pitching is so weak that they have no idea yet who will be the number 4 starter if Bumgarner is as done as he appears to be. Who the # 5 will be requires Nostradamus and a crystal ball. 


Tar: Great Acting in So-So Film


TÁR (2022)

Directed by Todd Field

Focus Feature, 158 minutes, R (language, very brief nudity)





Tár was nominated for numerous Oscars but was shut out, though Cate Blanchette won Best Actress awards at the Golden Globes, BAFTA, and numerous film festivals. Many have said she didn’t get an Oscar because the Academy opted for political correctness rather than serious performance. I’ll get back to you on that, as I haven’t yet watched  Everything Everywhere All at Once. I will say, though, that Blanchette was riveting in a film that was not.


Lydia Tár (Blanchette) is the first female conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic and deep into plans to put her own stamp on conducting a reinterpretation of Gustav Mahler’s Fifth Symphony. That’s quite a climb for a gal from New Jersey, the accent mark in her name an implication of her own reinvention. She’s internationally famous, imperious, and when need be, ruthless. Tár is also married to Sharon Goodnow (Nina Hoss), whom she advanced as her concertmaster, which was another tall obstacle to surmount amidst wagging tongues and traditionalists. She is also trying to convince investment banker Eliot Kaplan (Mark Strong) to underwrite the Accordion Foundation to advance female musicians. All of this requires her to lean heavily upon her assistant Francesca Lentini (Noémi Merlant) to take care of details.


Lydia has character flaws that go beyond the bounds of being driven. She doesn’t have many filters and freely speaks her mind, is an egoist, and has a roving eye. She has many admirers, including Andris Davis (Julian Glover) her kindly predecessor in Berlin, but also makes enemies easily. We see her at a master class at Julliard as she coldly eviscerates a student named Max (Zethphan Smith-Gneist) who says that, as a gay person of color he’s not “into” Bach. Instead of trying to help him confront his blinders, she opts for aggression and feels that, as a lesbian, she has that right.


Tár’s lack of subtlety is deep-seated. She plots to replace her aging assistant conductor Sebastian (Allan Corduner) and implies that Francesca is under consideration, though she’s not. She also abruptly changes an upcoming performance by setting aside her first chair cello to include an Elgar concerto played by young Olga Metkina (Sophie Kauer). Never mind that Olga is a brilliant musician who easily surpasses the first cello in a blind competition; it’s easy for all to see that Lydia has a crush on Olga. Alas for her, it’s implied that the same was true of Accordion board member Krista Taylor, who sent despondent emails to her via Francesca before committing suicide. In other words, Lydia is arrogantly building a house of cards in the belief that no one would dare blow it down.


Blanchette is spellbinding in a role that requires her to be fierce, controlling, and emotionally buttoned-down. If you don’t already know, she’s the sort of actress who commands the screen with such a presence that one roots for her even when you hate her guts. Kauer and Merlant are also standouts, the first because she’s so enigmatic that we can’t discern her motives, the latter because in her own way she’s as petulant and vindictive as Max. Corduner is also very good as Sebastian, a hangdog old-timer who still has bite in his jaws.


It is the case, however, that Tár is less than the sum of its wonderful performances. My own bias is that I dislike the music of Mahler and there’s a lot of it in the film. I suppose Mahler was chosen because many of his compositions are so mannered that they stand as counterpoints to Lydia’s fieriness. For me, though, they were cold water that lowered the film’s temperature.  


I suspect, though, that politics played a bigger role in the film’s tepid response in North America. It’s hard to escape the implication that director Todd Field intended a takedown of cancel culture. Lydia didn’t always play fair, but does that justify falsifying the truth to bring her down? Some also expressed discomfort with how Lydia belittled Max, but one could just as easily conclude that a Julliard student who can’t handle harsh critiques shouldn’t be there. Music criticism is often a tough place for snowflakes in the same way that residency is a weeder for aspirant doctors. The film has a surprise ending in which Lydia remains true to form, her circumstance notwithstanding. Call Tár a flawed film, but one worth watching.


Rob Weir



Lost Towns Reveals What the Quabbin Displaced





By Elena Palladino

History Press, 143 pages.



Find a pre-1938 map of Massachusetts, locate Ware in the western part of Commonwealth, and trace the Swift River, a tributary of the Ware River. You will find small dots bearing the names Enfield, Greenwich, Dana, and Prescott. Now consult a more recent map and you will see a broad swath of blue where those villages once stood. You couldn’t find any the above villages even if you had a diving suit; whatever wasn’t burned was carted away. 


Enfield Lookout Today; Photo copyright Rob Weir

Those who reside in Western Massachusetts are familiar with the broad outline of the building of the Quabbin Reservoir. Even after filling the Wachusett Reservoir in 1908, Bostonians needed more water. The Ware River Act was passed in 1926 to connect a new reservoir to the Wachusett via a 12-mile long aqueduct. Some tried to stop it, but from 1926 on the clock was ticking for a quartet of Swift River settlements that collectively had fewer than 2,000 people. The final end came in 1938, when the few remaining residents were forced to move. By 1946, the valley was filled with 412 billion gallons of water so pure that to this day it is unfiltered. (Think what you want about Boston, but you can drink the water!)


Elena Palladino developed an interest in the Quabbin through a circuitous route. Eight years ago she moved into a large home in Ware that was the post-1938 dwelling of Marion Andrews Smith, one of the last residents of Enfield. Her research into Smith’s life took her to the elderly Marian (“Tuda”) Tryon Waydaka, the daughter of a groundskeeper for whom Smith was a benefactor and de facto grandmother. One of the unique parts of Palladino’s book is that she builds her account around three of the Swift River Valley’s movers and shakers: Smith, Doc Segur, and Edwin Howe. They are also Palladino’s entry point for discussing others whose lives intersected with her core three.


The history of small places remains an under-examined topic. On the surface it wouldn’t seem a huge sacrifice to vacate four remote villages in order to benefit a thirsty metropolitan area of around a million residents. In her short book illustrated by numerous archival photographs, Palladino dives into the rhythms of small town life. If you’re thinking agricultural settlements, think again. The imperious Marion Smith was probably area’s wealthiest individual, but the money came from manufacturing, specifically the production of textiles and fabrics. There were several other mills and businesses, all of which depended upon a railroad trunk line that ran through the Valley and made so many stops that it was jocularly dubbed the “Rabbit Run.”


Willard “Doc” Segur was indeed a medical man, but he wasn't exactly a country doctor; in 1905 he bought a Dodge coupe to help him make his rounds. Those knowledgeable about automotive history realize that’s very early­–three years before the Ford Model-T. Edwin Howe was an educated man who was essential to locals. He operated the telephone exchange, served as postmaster, was a town clerk, a notary, and operated Enfield’s general store. There was scarcely a civic enterprise in which Smith, Segur, and Howe were not involved: the Congregational Church, local schools, fraternal organizations, the library, the planning of Old Home Week…. They were also organizers of the Farewell Ball when the towns were disincorporated in 1938.


All of this is a poignant reminder that for many, “home” was more than house or a job. Imagine the last dozen years after the 1926 bill sealed the Valley’s fate. Reactions varied. Some knew it was a fait accompli, wanted the Commonwealth to get on with it, and tried to strike shrewd bargains on their land; others held out hope for a miraculous change of plans, while still others stayed to the bitter end as construction crews systematically cleared away buildings, burned vegetation, and bulldozed the land. The grisliest job went to those who disinterred bodies for reburial.


Quabbin from a tower; Photo copyright Rob Weir

 Those who visit the Quabbin remark upon its beauty and tranquility. If you do so, think of those who once dwelt there as you traverse dams named for engineers such as Frank Winsor and Henry Goodnough. Remember too that not everyone thrived in their new homes and most missed their old ones. If you forget, you have but to leaf through the photographs for a reminder. Never fall prey to the belief that modernity is consequence-free.


Rob Weir








The Fablemans is Merely Okay



Directed by Steven Spielberg

Universal Pictures, 153 minutes, PG-13 (language)





The Fabelmans is a thinly veiled memoir and origin story of director Steven Spielberg. As we now know, it was nominated for seven Academy Awards and came away empty-handed. It will be months before I see all of the films that actually won hardware, but I can see why The Fabelmans was blanked.


I should confess my personal bias upfront. Many have called Spielberg a master storyteller, but I have always found him more interesting visually. With the obvious exceptions of Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, Munich, and Amistad, his plotlines are too Disneyesque for my tastes. This is exactly how I felt about The Fabelmans. It’s an okay movie, but not an impactful film; in other words, it’s safe and mainstream rather than artistic or revelatory. 


Spielberg based the story on his parents and extended family. Like his father Arnold, Burt Fableman (Paul Dano) is an electronics whiz whose work paved the way for the computer revolution. As the movie shows, it also uprooted his family from New Jersey to Phoenix (1957) and eventually to California (1965). Spielberg’s mother Leah is reimagined as Mitzi (Michelle Williams), a former concert pianist turned homemaker. The narrative begins in 1952, when Burt and Mitzi take young, shy Sammy to his first movie, The Greatest Show on Earth. As the cliché goes, he never looks back. By the time he is an adolescent and the family is living in Phoenix, Sam (Gabriel LaBelle) is a Boy Scout/aspiring Eagle Scout earning merit badges in photography and 8mm movies based on films he has seen in theaters.


The Fabelmans is also about his parents’ escalating marital woes. Bennie Loewy (Seth Rogan) is both Burt’s best friend and Mitzi’s fantasy crush. The latter increases as Burt dives deeper and deeper into his work. You know what happens when fantasy, boredom, and reality bleed into each other. Mitzi begins to rekindle her concert career, slowly drifts from Burt and Sam, and emotionally craters after her mother’s death. Sam bears the double burden of having advance knowledge of his mother’s fixation on Bennie and his need to cope with anti-Semitism at his California high school, especially at the hands/punches of bullies Logan (Sam Rechner) and Chad (Oakes Fegley). He’s so out of place that his savior, Monica (Chloe East), wants him to embrace her savior, Jesus. Of course, his actual salvation came in Hollywood, though he actually met John Ford when he was 15, not as an about-to-be college dropout as depicted on the screen. (Richard Zanuck was more influential than Ford in launching Spielberg’s career.)


There are good things to say about The Fabelmans. Dano and Williams are strong as Burt and Mitzi. Likewise, Judd Hirsch, as Sam’s great uncle Boris Podgorny, and David Lynch in a cameo as John Ford have tasty small roles. Julia Butters is also affecting as Sam’s sister Regina/Reggie, who is based on Spielberg’s oldest sister Anne. It was also a clever touch to recreate Spielberg’s boyhood 8mm projects for the film, as they demonstrate his precocious visual imagination.


At several points, though, the movie goes off track like Sammy’s Lionel train. There is too much time wasted establishing family dynamics in an overly long film, thereby forcing Spielberg to truncate anti-Semitism themes. Although Sam’s “Ditch Day” film is delicious revenge, the movie’s Jew-baiting is more standard public school bullying than a serious exploration of Golden State prejudice in the mid-1960s. For what it’s worth, it also bugged me that as the movie goes on, Sam looks and acts more like Dustin Hoffman’s Benjamin Braddock in The Graduate. I also began to wonder if the movie’s title was a self-serving pun on “fable-man” with the b and the l transposed. Mainly, though, I pondered what happened to co-writer Tony Kushner’s edge; he’s usually more adventuresome. In addition, parts of The Fabelmans are as overblown as a John Williams movie score, and he happens to have scored this one.


I reiterate that it’s not a bad movie, but though I’ve seen just a few of the Best Picture nominees, I can easily imagine there were at least five better choices for consideration. If you want to watch a great film about a boy whose imagination was sparked by cinema and went on to become a director, the gold standard is Cinema Paradiso (1988), director Guiseppi Tornatore’s semi-autobiographical retelling. It’s a beautiful mix of sentiment, tragedy, and nostalgia.


Rob Weir