Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Baseball 2019 Predictions

Though it is still cold here in the woods of Maine, it is time for baseball - Sox start up tomorrow, out on the west coast - there have already been two games! The Mariners are well on the way to an undefeated season! etc. Spring is coming - it might see 50 this weekend! Time for our annual baseball blowout post - let's get at it, shall we?

AL East:
1. Boston - I may be a homer. When they fall out of contention, I pick them until they win; when they are winning, I pick them until they lose. There's no reason to pick against them this year (except the Yankees) - they brought back most of a dominant team, and while their luck may fail, or they may regress, they have plenty of areas where they could get better. Sale could last the whole season, or E Rod; the catchers have both hit in the past, and could again (at least league average, for catchers), and are both prime defenders; Devers and even Benintendi could get a lot better. So why not?

2. NY Yankees - They were good last year, if not as good as the Sox; they tried to bolster the rotation and bullpen, but they are not having the best of luck. Gregorius is out for at least half the season; Severino is having trouble; Hicks is hurt again. But they still have plenty of pop - Judge and Stanton, Andukar and Torres, maybe Sanchez healthy - they will be in the 90s at least, and could be better than that.

3. Tampa - they hired another actual starting pitcher! I can’t guess what will happen to them. They look dead, but they contend; one of these years they’ll look great breaking camp and disappear. Who knows. However they divide up the innings, they have a lot of pitching talent, and some interesting position players - they should hang around, hoping to pick off the also rans in the West and Central. Sox and Yanks are probably out of their reach unless things go very bad in the northeast, but Tampa should be in reach of the playoffs.

4. Toronto - they looked like they could be Tampa north a couple years ago, with Stroman and Estrada and Sanchez and Happ - it didn’t happen, and I don’t see it happening again any time soon. But pitchers are volatile - someone like Stroman could suddenly be back at his best. Stranger things have happened. But that’s just hoping for a shot at the Rays’ wild card spot, no more. Mostly they're just waiting for Vlad 2.

5. Baltimore - they've been cruising for a fall the last couple years, but when it came, it all came at once. Did it ever. It's not getting better this year - Davis is still around, to cash checks and strike out - Trumpb is hurt, but might come back. Otherwise, it's - not much. I suppose you need to have a couple of these teams around to get 2 teams over 100 wins in a season in a division.

AL Central:
1. Cleveland - they are starting to cur it close. They still have an all world rotation, they still have Ramirez and Lindor, two of the best in the game - though it's not certain when they'll have them. (Lindor coming in hurt, and getting hurt again...) They still have Tito and they have the AL central to beat, so they should be all right when they get healthy.

2. Minnesota - I am hearing hype about them. They were terrible last year - but very good the year before; terrible the year before that, and very good the year before that. You tell me. They are young, though not as young as they have been - players have stalled out (Sano), or left (Escobar and Dozier), but they still seem to be all right. They have a new manager, Rocco Baldelli, another young, smart guy - who knows. This is a year for winning, so why not? If everything goes right, they might challenge the Indians; if enough goes right, they might still challenge the Indians, if they fade, and stay in there against Tampa and whatever west teams show up after the second wild card. Decent contention is probably about right.

3. Detroit - might be a stretch, but they are not terrible, necessarily. I admit, along about here I start to tune out. Trying to form an opinion of which of these teams is going to get to 78 wins this year is not an easy or pleasant task.

4 Chicago - the pale hose at least have some interesting young talent. There was talk in the off season about getting into the Machado or Harper sweepstakes, but they did not get any of them, so what do we have? Another year of finding out if Yoan Moncado will reach base as often as he strikes out. 217 strikeouts! More than Joey Gallo! With 23 fewer home runs! He actually looks like he will turn into something, eventually - he’s not exactly a liability now (any more than Gallo). They might be sort of interesting, as a team, to see how they go.

5. Kansas City - I’d rather get on to the west now, thanks. They aren’t the team to win 78 and tease their fans with hopes of a wild card for a few weeks in August. They are the ones trying to win more than Baltimore.

AL West:
1. Houston - Like Boston and NY, they were incredibly good last year, haven’t lost a lot (some of their nice spare parts, like Marwyn Gonzalez, a couple pitchers), but they have plenty more where they came from (signing Brantley, developing people like Josh James.) They aren’t going anywhere, and I don’t think anyone in this division is likely to catch them.

2. Oakland - this division is interesting, at least. The A’s won a ton last year, but they lost some pitching and I don’t know if they have anything to replace it with. The offense looks okay - Davis and Piscotty and Chapman and so on - but it might not be enough. The rest of the division looks intriguing without quite being convincing. I suppose it comes down to which surprising starting pitchers emerge - of course that’s usually true. They seem to have the strongest base line to build on, though.

3. Angels - lots of joy over Trout’s signing, and hope when Ohtani is able to hit again, and - that’s about it. Still missing the pitching to really contend, I think, but a bit of luck gets them into the race with Tampa and Minnesota for that second wild card. Hard to see them catching Houston though.

4. Seattle - 2-0 start! They unloaded their expensive talent, and some good talent - Paxton, Segura, Cruz and Cano all gone - what does it mean? Likely that they sink down into the 70s and stop teasing us, but they never seem to do what they are supposed to, so who knows.

5. Texas - they still have some pop - Gallo and Odor (who came back a bit last year) and the like, but there’s not much more to say about them. Beltre is gone, so there’s less sentimental reason to cheer for them. They have the rotation of which 100 loss seasons are made...

NL East:
1. Philadelphia - screw you, all the rest of you! This is less about Bryce Harper than the rest fo the team - Segura, Realmuto, even McCutcheon, Robertson - it's a nice team, solid everywhere, with Nola to anchor the rotation, Harper to be an offensive centerpiece. Why not? The biggest drawback is the difficulty of bringing a retooled team together immediately - and Gabe Kapler, for all his merits, didn't seem to handle the team quite right last year.

2. Washington - they underachieved woefully last year, as if they thought they made the playoffs on opening day, and started choking early. Now they don't have Harper anymore - but they are still pretty loaded. Turner and Rendon and Soto, maybe Victor Robles - the rotation, which is very strong. This is avery competitive division, and they are as likely to run the table as anyone.

3. Atlanta - maybe. Some issues with injuries, but they are also stacked with young talent, and old talent - it's a good team. Acuna should be a superstar; the rest are solid everywhere. Again - this division is going to come down to who executes, and who stays healthy.

4. NY Mets - there's even optimism in Queens! DeGrom and Syndegard and Wheeler and - the usual story, a great rotation, offensive questions, defense. They added Cano, but who long can he be expected to hit like he has? Will the Confortos and Nimmos of the world step forward? If they do - this could be a very strong club. They have not had the best luck through the years, though.

5. Miami - they, at least, are not going to win the division. (Watch them win 90 games!) No.

NL Central:
1. Chicago - I am not positive about this, but I am inclined, cautiously, to think that Bryant comes back, Rizzo picks his game up a bit, guys like Schwarber and Happ hit a bit more, Lester's decline remains gradual enough to not hurt them, Hamels, Hendricks and even Darvish do some good things - they should manage it, by default. They will get flogged in the playoffs, because they are old and slow and dull, but that's a ways away.

2. Milwaukee - I like the Brewers. They put together a strange team consisting entirely of third basemen, center fielders, first basemen and middle relievers - and Ryan Braun - but it worked last year. Not as easy this year, but they can still win. They might end up the season with Travis Shaw pitching to Braun behind the plate and Josh Hader at shortstop, but if it works, what the heck?

3. St. Louis - they have restocked - Goldschmidt, in particular - they have a strong roster, players everywhere. But it is a tough division, and a few injuries or young players regressing or not developing, and they could fade in a hurry. I'm inclined to think they will be in the middle of a free for all for both the division and the wild card spots, with most of the West and East. Every one of those teams is likely to win 87 games ands finish in a 8 way tie behind the Dodgers.

4. Pittsburg - they aren't exactly awful themselves, though they aren't likely to be in that pile up. I could see them falling apart before I see them contending - they don't have a lot of real pop, their pitching might fade - but they are more likely to be in a high 70s than 60s, I think.

5. Cincinatti - I see they have been getting some hype too - though I don't know. A cast off rotation, a bunch of half or unproven youngsters, Joey Votto's declining years - lots to go wrong there. Enough that could go right that they could be hanging around the edge of the playoff scrum, looking for a way in, but it's not likely.

NL West:
1. LA Dodgers - they didn't get any superstars off season, so they have the same deep, solid lineup that has been int he world series two years in a row - oh, they got Corey Seager back - a better addition than Manny Machado, I think. They are having trouble with their rotation - but they have a mob of good young arms hanging around waiting for a chance - they aren't going anywhere. I think they can still put daylight ahead of the rest fo the division.

2. Colorado - this is a fine team. Solid last year, still respectable. They'd developed pitching! they have to keep doing it, but it's been working the last couple years, so good luck to them! Arenado and Story are prime players, Blackmon is still very good, the rest fo the offense is likely. I don't think they are going to win enough to take down the Dodgers, but they will be in the thick of the playoff hunt. Might havd the advantage, playing in a division with a couple bad teams.

3. SD Padres - are they a good team or a bad team? They have been developing pitchers again. They have some neat looking hitters. They have Machado now. They should get around 80 wins, with the chance to do more - but it's no guarantee. Manny knows how to lose.

4. Arizona - Goldschmidt is gone, but they still have respectable pitchers around. Offense is not promising. They might hang around, high 70s, but they might serve mainly to give the Rockies enough in division wins to take the wild card honestly.

5. San Francisco - the dominant team of the decade has come a long way. They still have a lot fo the players they had on those world series teams - Bumgarner and Posey and Pablo Sandoval and - the red sox last year had 1 player active int he world series from their 2013 team. (They dropped a second - Brandon Workman - before the series.) Sometimes you have to move on.

And so - post season? predictions?
Boston
Cleveland
Houston
+NY
+Minnesota
- I will predict the Red Sox coming out and winning the world series, but Houston is dead even as far as I can see.

NL:
Philadelphia
Chicago
LA
+Colorado
+Washington
- That's a weak slate, so I am going completely off the grid and saying Washington. Who could be scary in the world series, if they could actually get that far.

AL MVP - Trout of course, or Mookie, with Judge, Ramirez, Bregman as wild cards.
NL MVP - let's take Bryant for a come back. With Seager, Harper and Acuna in the hunt.
AL ROokie - Vlad, why not?
NL MVP - Robles
AL Cy Young - there are lots of options here. I will say Kluber, partly because they might be forced to ride him harder than the Sox or Yankees or AStros have to ride their top guys.
NL Cy Young - it's Scherzer's to lose, though DeGrom and Syndegard and Nola could all win it.

Scott Walker

It's been a couple years since he died, but I wanted to put up something to commemorate Scott Walker. (That's Noel Scott Engel, by the way, the musician, not the goggle eyed homunculus former governor of Wisconsin, who dragged the good name through the mud.) Walker started as a fairly straightforward pop singer, with the Walker Brothers, then shifted to a more sophisticated, darker style as a solo artist, Jacques Brel style, rich ballads with detailed stories and scenes, that became more experimental and surrealist as he went along. He then faded for a while - doing half-hearted pop projects in the 70s, surfacing every decade or so afterwards to release another record of increasingly difficult and experimental material. And then, mid-2000s, he must have found something - because after releasing records in 1984 and 1995, he released three in fairly short order, in 2006, 2012 and 2014, the third with Sunn O))). These records are, to be sure, daunting experiences - but fascinating, lyrically intense and detailed, musically surprising, and anchored as always by Walker's voice.

That's his life. When did I hear of him? Somewhere in the early 2000s, I imagine, a time when I discovered a lot of prog and experimental rock. Japanese noise bands like the Boredoms and Acid Mother's Temple led me to Krautrock and the more adventurous strands of Prog (Van der Graf Generator or Soft Machine), and somewhere in there, that led me to Scott Walker, specifically the old Scott records. I fell for immediately - the complex, dense pop sounds - the stories and images, the sad powerful melodies, and that voice, deep, rich, expressive crooning - I loved it. And the later records worked as well - they might fit even better with my taste for experimental rock, jazz and the like - fragmentary, constructed pieces, anchored by the voice.

And there we are. He was one of those people who is massively influential, but had become almost completely unknown. But you hear him in those prog groups (Pete Hamill in particular), in Nick Cave, I can hear him in PJ Harvey, Radiohead and a lot of similar British groups, as well as in acts that picked up his style almost whole - David Sylvain, notably. (Another favorite). It is strange to think that he was in fact very popular in the 60s, given how obscure he could seem in the present - though never completely gone. Sneaking into soundtracks (Futurama! Life Aquatic!), things like that. (Though so many of his songs sound like complete soundtracks unto themselves.) He was one of the good ones.

Some video: starting with the Walker Brothers, The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Any more:



Finding performance video of Walker is very hard. The Walker Brothers were on TV enough (and tapes are preserved), but those aren't live. Walker had his own TV show for a while, but I don't think the video survives - but audio does. This is a recording of It's Raining Today, from his show:



Jump ahead 26 years and what do we find? Jools Holland presenting Walker, live, in the studio, with Rosary, from the Tilt album - full on late career Scott Walker, and live to boot:



What the late albums had, though, are very interesting videos made for their songs. Experimental films to match the experimental music. This is Brando, from Soused, the album Walker made with Sunn O))) - one of the strangest combinations you could imagine, except it makes perfect sense. Walker's deep voice and the band's low end guitar drones - Walker always liked drones (those old songs - like It's Raining Today - are often built on drones) and he fits in almost seamlessly with them. It's an excellent record, that one, a fitting end to his career.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

It's A Cold World Outside

2019 is almost a month old without a post. So much for resolutions.

There is not a lot to write about, other than politics. Okay - the weather - cold! not so bad here on the coast, but bad in the mid-west. We keep getting promised snow, but keep getting little storms that end up leaving ice everywhere - that might be worse than getting a good 20 inches of powder, to be honest - it's certainly less entertaining.

I could say something about sports - being a New Englander, I know I am supposed to be all excited about the local brain damage and steroids club heading for the super bowl again, but I can't muster it. I can find the energy to wonder if the Sox can fill out their bullpen for the season, though; and Liverpool is winning the Premier League! I do like some football...

And there is politics. I'm not sure why I don't write more about politics: politics is engaging just now, and desperately important. I know I stopped writing about it all the time because it was just too depressing, back in the days of Bush the Less - I turned to movies and music and tried hard to avoid driving myself crazy. Now? It is easy to despair, but on one hand, there's not much room for the luxury of despair, and on the other - Trump and the Republicans hold power by the thinnest of margins, and any work to take that power away from them has the chance to do it. You can see that - the Democratic party has come back strong, and moved to the left doing it - we have responded well, over all. Fight the good fight and all that.

The other problem, though, is that there is so much to write about - and so much talk about it already. So far this month we have had the shut down, and all that entailed. Trump's baby and he got stuck with it and had to back off in the end. Labor! shut down the airports! and the Democrats not blinking: they were right, they always had the votes, etc...

Or the MAGA kids vs the Native American parade. Everyone has an opinion on that. The right wing loonies managed to twist the story enough that people began doubting their eyes and ears - they are a shameless and astonishing bunch. I don't know if it they would be better or worse if they just said what they meant from the beginning: "He's a white kid, the old guy is some kind of foreigner, and probably a liberal. People like that should be silenced." This week, Jussie Smollett, a black, gay actor, was attacked by (allegedly) racist homophobes - I imagine again, the right will find ways to attack the victim and defend the attackers, and never quite say what they mean: "He's black and gay - he should be lynched."

That's harsh. Sorry, MAGA hat wearing fascists; go fuck yourselves.

Or a series of mass shootings, by young white guys - including a man executing 5 women in a bank - yeah. We still don't address that as a country - the degree to which violence is still gendered, men against women. Racism is real and pervasive, but so is misogyny. There are signs, real signs, that the country as a whole is becoming less racism, less homophobic, less misogynist - but that very loss of white, male, power seems to be inspiring more aggressive open terrorism against blacks (and other ethic groups), women, gays. Encouraged by the fascists in the wWhite House. Fuck them all.

Sorry. That was harsh. Where was I? Venezuela seems to be getting worse (somehow), and now members of the Trump administration are floating the idea of getting involved, sending troops, that kind of thing. Good god. Though it is predictable enough - as Trump's hold on power gets more and more precarious, it is likely they will try more extreme ways of holding power. Flirting with a "national emergency" during the shut down was bad - starting a war somewhere is simpler, maybe, more traditional, among Americans. Their defenders saying openly a war with Venezuela will "unite" the country - not even trying to pretend, are they. Though of course they are also typically ignorant of history: wars do not unite much of anything, unless they are either widely popular before they start, or someone attacks you. Did war in Iraq unite the country? did war in Vietnam? invading Mexico in 1846 tore the country apart, was a major step toward the Civil War in this country. Even WWI created significant rifts. People look at WWII, and they say, war will bring us together - but wars don't do that. They are at least as likely to wreck the current administration as save it. (See Richard Nixon and Barack Obama. Hell - Ike got elected because of Truman and Korea.)

Thus current events. Future events? the 2020 presidential campaign is starting to get into gear. Acquaintances on the internet are starting to get stupid - someone said something about Democrats losing to Trump again - I'm not sure how that is going to happen. Trump won in 2016 because of James Comey, the Russians, the press pissing on itself, and the Electoral College - you can add in whatever degree of hatred you have for Hillary Clinton if you like - and even then, in the end, it was the Electoral college that did it. In 2020, we will still have the Electoral College, we will probably have Russians playing games, and the press (if there is any of it left), is as likely as ever to let itself get played by the right wing propagandists - but everything else is going the other direction. No one will be in Comey's position - who is going to trust anything coming from the Trump administration? The country will have had 4 years of Trump, and has been going as hard as they can in the other direction. What's better, as a Democrat, is that not only are people voting for Democrats, but the Democrats themselves are moving left - that has been true since the middle of the Bush administration at least, but it is getting more significant all the time.

And as far as the presidential campaign goes - I like the way the Democrats are shaping up. There were good choices in 2008 - but in 2016, no one had emerged to challenge Clinton, who, whatever her merits, was something of a relic from the days when the Democrats thought they had to move right to get more votes. Sanders came along, and he was all right, but he never had a chance to win the primary, and didn't always react to losing with the sense or grace one would like. But this time? Going on both the people who have declared for presidency and those flirting with it - I see four people I could be enthusiastic about: Gillibrand, Warren, Harris and Sharrod Brown. I see a number of others I either like with some reservations or don't know enough about - Klubuchar, Beto O'Rourke, Cory Booker - maybe even Pete Buttigieg, though he seems like the longest of shots. Any of them would be fine, even now. And beyond that are a couple people who I am not voting for in any primaries, and don't really want clogging up the race - Sanders again, and the inexplicable idea of Joe Biden running - but would happily support in any general election. (Hell, Clinton would fit into this, though I don't think she's fool enough to get involved this time.) That pretty much leaves Tulsi Gabbard - right wing crank in the wrong party? - on the outside.

That's a great set of choices. I suppose you can find faults in all of them, but grownups weigh pros and cons and make their choices - and though a lot of Democrats and liberals (especially the ones who call themselves "progressives" and complain about Democrats) don't sound like grownups a lot of the time, they usually end up acting the part. (Though less whining about whoever we do put forward would be nice.) If the republic can survive these next two years, we should have a pretty good president in place to start the 2020s, and we might have even better options in 10 or 12 years. Though surviving those two years might not be assured.

And of course, we might all be under 10 feet of water 10 years from now. There's always that....