Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Why Your Team Won't Win the 2009 World Series

For the fourth year in a row, here's my baseball forecast for 2009... with a twist. The start of Spring Training is a time for optimism, when the various setbacks of the previous season and off-season are erased and everything starts anew. I see no fault in looking at the glass as half-full, but sometimes you need a big dollop of reality. With my predictions I've included one or two key reasons why your team won't go all the way this year. Some teams are legitimate contenders, while others are merely trying to paint a pretty picture for '09. Mind you, I have a 1-in-30 shot of being proved wrong.

Here's my divisional picks (asterisks denote wild cards):

1. Rays. There's still a margin of a chance that last year was a fluke.
2. Yankees*. AJ Burnett could easily become the next Carl Pavano.
3. Red Sox. Could be the first 100-win team to ever finish third.
4. Blue Jays. In any other division Toronto still wouldn't compete.
5. Orioles. Matt Wieters is the real deal, but he won't make an impact until midseason.

1. Indians. Cubs' sloppy seconds (Wood and Derosa) joins injury-prone roster.
2. White Sox. They're in a well-disguised youth movement, but the kids aren't ready yet.
3. Royals. .500 is very likely, but there are bigger fish in the sea.
4. Twins. Not enough turnover; too many pitching questions.
5. Tigers. No pushovers, but too many players need rebound years.

1. Angels. The bullpen will miss K-Rod dearly. Good luck beating any AL East teams.
2. Rangers. Everything about this team is very, very average.
3. Mariners. Excellent defense doesn't justify weak bats and suspect rotation.
4. Athletics. 2009 will be a trial-and-error, experimental year. Is there any strategy?

1. Phillies. No NL team has won back-to-back titles since 1976.
2. Mets. Malnourished farm system will come back to haunt them. Best team in baseball until September.
3. Marlins. Expectations are low, and they'll play like it.
4. Braves. Chipper should be a DH somewhere. Youth will be served à la carte.
5. Nationals. Average bats + slapdash pitching = 97 losses.

1. Cubs. Uh... because they're the Cubs?
2. Cardinals. Save for Pujols, '06 Champs have been more or less dismantled.
3. Brewers. Trevor Hoffman has two career saves outside of a Padres' uniform.
4. Reds. Not a single competant LHP to be found. Might contend in 2010, though.
5. Astros. Far and away the oldest team in the league. Roster has a thrown-together feel.
6. Pirates. Uh... because they're the Pirates?

1. Giants. Talented, but too much youth for a long playoff run.
2. Dodgers*. The Manny circus will prove distracting.
3. Diamondbacks. Two ace pitchers (Haren and Webb), the rest are scabs.
4. Rockies. Like St. Louis, their bullpen is in absolute turmoil.
5. Padres. Their infield couldn't catch a beach ball. Hello, rebuilding!

For all my sarcasm, the bottom-feeders of the league have at least one thing to forward to. The Orioles probably have of the best defensive outfields in baseball, as long as the Padres keep Jake Peavy they're sure to avoid 100 losses, and... well, I hear Nationals Park still has that new stadium smell.

In all seriousness, however these are my "real" predictions for the coming season:

NL MVP: Albert Pujols, Cardinals
AL MVP: Evan Longoria, Rays
NL Cy Young: Johan Santana, Mets
AL Cy Young: James Shields, Rays
NL ROY: Andrew McCutchen, Pirates
AL ROY: Matt Wieters, Orioles
NL Manager of the Year: Bruce Bochy, Giants
AL Manager of the Year: Trey Hillman, Royals
First Manager Fired: I'm torn on this one. If the Yankees are somehow below .500 on June 1st, Joe Girardi will probably take the fall. If the White Sox struggle --and I mean really struggle-- Kenny Williams might sack Ozzie Guillen to wake the team up. Realistically, I think Cecil Cooper will get the boot first; it won't be his fault, but the Houston organization is a mess and they need a scapegoat.
World Series 2009: If somebody absolutely has to win the whole shebang, I'll take Tampa Bay over Philadelphia in 6. A lot of people are picking the Cubs to win the NL pennant, but I'm prognosticating a third consecutive first-round choke.

Questions or comments, anyone?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

That Wonderful Year in Music... 2004

For this month's musical tribute I chose 2004, a year that featured a number of albums that were greater than the sum of its parts. Don't get me wrong, some amazing music came out five years ago, but many discs were stronger artistic statements than the individual songs. If there was a theme to '04, it was the year of the comeback; Green Day, Mission of Burma, David "Fathead" Newman, and even Loretta Lynn resurfaced from long absences to release critically-acclaimed albums. (R.E.M., not so much.)

Where was I in 2004? Well, it was my first full year at WDCB-FM in Chicago (my very first paying job), where I was given the Sisyphus-like task of writing playlists for a Sunday morning new age music show. I edited five shows and ten people at the old TV Tome (but not SNL or Letterman, believe it or not) while taking classes at the College of DuPage, where I was earning my associates in arts. 2004 was also the year I made my first (and so far only) trip to Canada, specifically Toronto, where I caught a Blue Jays-Red Sox game and visited the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Here's my favorite albums from 2004:

1. American Idiot, Green Day. At this point in time GD was AWOL after a string of hits in the mid-to-late '90s; two members of the band were raising young families while frontman Billie Joe Armstrong battled a personal demon or two. That made their return to form all the more shocking; most of these tracks trump anything they'd recorded since Dookie.
2. The Gray Album, Danger Mouse. This copyright-baiting fusion of Jay-Z and The Beatles is a marvel. DM's take on "Encore" not only puts a unique wrinkle on the Fab Four's "Glass Onion" and "Savoy Truffle" but puts Kanye West's original mix to shame.
3. Louden Up Now, !!! Catchy, fun dance-punk. "When The Going Gets Tough" and "S*** Scheisse Merde" are the stand-out tracks.
4. Good News for People Who Love Bad News, Modest Mouse
5. The College Dropout, Kanye West
6. Bows and Arrows, The Walkmen
7. Get Away from Me, Nellie McKay
8. Franz Ferdinand, Franz Ferdinand
9. ONoffON, Mission of Burma
10. Song for the New Man, David "Fathead" Newman. Earlier this year we lost one of the all-time great jazz saxophonists in Fathead, and this late-period outing with Curtis Fuller and John Hicks was probably one of the strongest efforts as a headliner. One of the better straight-ahead jazz discs of the past decade.

Honorable Mentions: Talkie Walkie, Air; Our Shadows Will Remain, Joseph Arthur; How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, U2.

Best Album of 2004 That I Incorrectly Credited on a Previous List as a 2005 Release: Funeral, Arcade Fire

These are my ten favorite songs, not including tracks from the aforementioned discs:

"Somebody Told Me," The Killers
"Walk Idiot Walk," The Hives
"Take Your Mama," Scissor Sisters
"Now Here is Nowhere," The Secret Machines
"Maps," The Yeah Yeah Yeahs
"She Wants to Move," N.E.R.D.
"Over and Over," Nelly feat. Tim McGraw
"C'mon C'mon," The Von Bondies (if you watch the MLB Network, you probably hear this song about every five minutes)
"Banquet," Bloc Party
"Portions for Foxes," Rilo Kiley

My five favorite music videos from 2004:

1. "Walkie Talkie Man," Steriogram. You'll never look at yarn or clay the same way again.
2. "99 Problems," Jay-Z. The last single from what was supposed to be Hova's farewell album is a doozy. One "final" jab at urban race relations, complete with a shocking, violent ending.
3. "Pony Ride," Bumblebeez 81. An instance where the video makes the song... because the song makes absolutely no sense.
4. "Mr. Brightside," The Killers. Arguably the best performance of Eric Roberts' career.
5. "Ocean Breathes Salty," Modest Mouse. You were probably expecting to see an individual mention of "Float On," a magnificent song in spite of getting way too much radio play. In the video category, however "Float On" is no match for "Salty," a charming little clip about a little boy and a wounded bird.

Next Week: My 2009 baseball preview.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Requiem for the Scandal Sheets

About a week ago, Time published an article predicting what major city newspapers will fold in 2009. The fact of the matter is, no major city can sustain having two daily papers anymore, and the down economy will only accelerate the death of the medium. My lament coincides with the last issue of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, which after today will be available online only. Other notable dailies are near their end, including the Philadelphia Daily News and the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, both of which have filed for Chapter 11 protection. While my hometown Chicago Tribune grows deeper in debt by the day, it's crosstown rival the Sun-Times has a smaller circulation and fewer resources and probably won't live to see the end of the year.

There are few things that I enjoy more than spending the weekend reading the Sunday papers. To me, that's where the future of the newspaper stands; in a world where news is available it happens, whether on cable TV or online or even on your cell phone, shifting the focus to feature articles and generating revenue via coupons and supplemental ads is the newspaper's most realistic shot at survival. Eschew the daily papers and focus on the weekends. Of course, that's all just wishful thinking; most of these publications are too proud to drop five or six days of the week from their regular deadlines. Another article by Time suggested that newspapers should introduce a fee for all their online content, like a flat monthly subscription or a rate of 5 cents per downloaded article, but I doubt most major papers will adapt to such a daedalian idea.

Other random notes:

+ I'm probably just as annoyed about the whole AIG thing as you are. The decision to give out bonuses --whether or not they were promised long before the bailout, or if the recipients were deserving-- was very poor timing. This is undeniable proof that our nation's banks are out of control, and that the last three presidential administrations have done little to control or regulate their actions.

+ Several months ago, I signed up for a fantasy hockey league and promised to update you on the status of my team. After a hot start, I quickly plummeted to fourth place (out of five) after a string of hair-brained and hair-trigger moves. Shortly after trading Markus Naslund for one of the Niedermeyer brothers at the deadline, I was able to inch my way back into third place, where I remain to this day. With the NHL season winding down (and two teams having already clinched playoff spots) I'm crossing my fingers for a decent finish.

+ As someone who's one-quarter Scots-Irish on my dad's side, let me wish you and yours a Happy St. Patrick's Day.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

20 Things That Make Me Laugh

Like many of you, I have the Compare People application on my Facebook account, but something about this profile filler has been troubling me lately. On a weekly basis I receive an e-mail that lists my three greatest strengths and weaknesses. My bottom three has been subject to a lot of turnover, but one trait that tends to stick is "person with the best sense of humor."

Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of CP rankings that I'll never win- "who has the most attractive body," "who is more likely to win a fight," "who would make the best mother," the list goes on and on. This concerns me because I think of myself as an inherently facecious and belligerent guy; I may come off as shy and pragmatic at first, but once you get to know me I'm pretty easygoing. Let's not forget that I've dabbled in stand-up comedy on and off for the last five years, though I've only performed once in the past year. (Of course, if you're on Facebook you can always make me feel better and start stuffing the ballot boxes.) Nonetheless, the question remains- what makes Stuart Allard laugh? Here's 20 random things that tickle my funny bone:

Saturday Night Live. That's no big surprise, though I don't feel like a fan anymore as much as I just write about and critique the show.

SCTV. An obscure curio to today's generation but played Pepsi to SNL's Coca-Cola in the late '70s and early '80s. A sketch comedy series that was perfect in places where SNL was flawed and vice versa.

Overweight women that refer to themselves as "divas."

People that write in stereo equipment questions to the Playboy Advisor.

Werewolves and Lollipops by Patton Oswalt. I haven't laughed harder at any comedy disc in the past year.

Teen poetry, especially the kind written by white middle-class teens. "Look at me- I think I have issues!"

Conspiracy theorists.

The career trajectory of Kate Hudson. Has she even made a good movie since "Almost Famous?"

People that name their children after seasons, cars, or brands of cooking oil.

Anyone that takes Nickelback seriously.

Francesco Marciuliano and Sara Benincasa. Right now, they're the duke and duchess of the underground comedy movement. I've discussed these two in the past (I plugged Ces' blog about a year ago, and Sara gained notoriety for her Sarah Palin vlogs) but I can't emphasize enough what gifted comedians they are.

That one time many years ago when Nolan Ryan put Robin Ventura in a headlock.

The Detroit Lions.

People that criticize baseball players for using performance-enhancing drugs while praising the benefits of Cialis.

Dress Barn. What self-respecting women would shop anywhere with "barn" in its name? What does that say about their clientele? Would Victoria's Secret be the same store if it were called the Bra Barn?

McSweeney's Internet Tendency. It's like MAD magazine for English majors.

Men's briefs. It's almost impossible to look good in tighty whities.

When my dog tries to pick a fight with another dog. Duke weighs 7 1/2 pounds; the average dog in our neighborhood weighs 50-60 lbs.

"The Road to Betterness," the third episode of Breaking the News. Don't get me wrong, all four episodes were pretty good in their own right, but if I had to choose a favorite...

My inability to come up with a 20th item.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Politics as Usual

It normally doesn't generate much media attention, but this year's Conservative Political Action Conference might've been the most bombastic ever. Usually this annual powwow is a mostly wonky, drab affair, but this year the tighty righties pulled out the knives. It wasn't terribly surprising that a fair part of the CPAC was spent criticizing Former President Bush; as much as he adored the conservative movement, Bush had such a poor handle on these ideals that his own party gave him the cold shoulder. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich dared to compare President Obama to Bush by comparing their "failed" economic policies and propencity for humongous bailouts. Gov. Mitt Romney took another stab at Bush, wishing that our 43rd president had laid out a stimulus package before he left office, while Gov. Mike Huckabee cited the need for competant conservative leadership that Dubya only intermittently offered.

The 800-pound gorilla in the room wasn't the past or present but the future of the GOP. With the Democrats controlling the presidency, both houses of congress, and possibly the Supreme Court in a year or two, the Republicans are feeling increasingly marginalized. Some might argue that the conservative movement is digging its own grave, that an inherent lack of focus resulted in crushing losses in the 2006 midterms and the 2008 presidential race. Non-conservatives will suggest that it's the media representation of the right wing --not the politicians themselves-- that's bringing them down. After Rush Limbaugh declared that he hopes Obama fails, did anyone really expect him to tone his bluster down? Were we really expecting any new insight from Ann Coulter, outside of her usual cartoonish liberal-bashing? Are there any conservative pundits that can keep their egos seperated from their opinions?

There's still reason for optimism, though. This year's CPAC was attended by a record 9,000 Republican gearheads, most of whom were college kids and politically active twenty-somethings. It's not too often that you see youngsters looking wide-eyed with their mouths agape at the likes of John Boehner and Ron Paul. This is the future of the Republican Party, tomorrow's campaigners and speechwriters and somewhere down the road candidates in their own right. The near-future isn't quite as rosy; Gov. Bobby Jindal's response of the Obama's state of the union address was criticized by both sides as too feeble and homespun, and some moderate Republicans still aren't warming up Gov. Sarah Palin, but they're still viable sparing partners for President Obama in 2012.

Finally... I really don't know what to make of the Roland Burris situation, probably because I'm still burnt out from the Blagojevich impeachment. I can't tell if it makes sense to kick Burris out of office at this point; after all, he's only finishing out President Obama's term and it's unlikely that Burris will get reelected to a full term on his own merit. I don't doubt that Burris deceived the state of Illinois, it's just a question of how much he's hiding. On the other hand, Burris is not Blagojevich; our former governor was an arrogant buffoon and got what he deserved, whereas Burris is a longtime Illinois politico that keeps finding himself in the wrong place at the wrong time.