Monday, April 26, 2010

Links: Beach, Joyce, and a lost Guru

As I type this, the Padres are losing 10-0 to the Marlins and Jaroslav Halak is becoming a Montreal Canadiens playoff hero, withstanding a barrage of shots from the vaunted Washington Capitals. Just as I typed his name, he allowed the first Caps goal of the game on their 52nd shot.

I've got a few links to bring attention to.

I found another article on Sylvia Beach and James Joyce, this one from the Irish Times. The article has another cool photo of Beach and Joyce with JJ sporting his dapper suit, walking stick, and sneakers. Just like the last piece I discussed, this one begins with some extremely high praise for Beach:
SYLVIA BEACH would not have considered herself a candidate for sainthood: yet it is hard not to feel a certain reverence and awe when faced with someone who so assiduously and indefatigably advanced the difficult cause of literary Modernism in the early decades of the last century.
But the article doesn't have such high praise for the editing work done on her letters which have been gathered in a new book (it is this book that generated these recent Beach news items), noting many factual errors and faulty editing.

Speaking of which: an anonymous commenter had some very interesting things to say regarding my recent post on the "new" Finnegans Wake that recently came out. He brought my attention to John Kidd, a deceased Joyce scholar who had come under fire not too long ago for criticizing Danis Rose, the same editor who is largely responsible for this new "corrected" Wake. In an incisive article for The New York Review of Books, Kidd shed light on the new "Reader's Edition" of Ulysses that Mr. Rose had edited and released in the late 90s, changing much of Joyce's writing in the process to the point where the Joyce Estate went to court demanding that James Joyce's name be stripped from the book's cover and spine. They cited that Rose had made almost 7,000 editorial changes "that do not appear in any existing manuscript or edition, [and] are so anti-Joycean that the author is Danis Rose, not James Joyce."
It's actually pretty funny to read Kidd ripping Rose a new one. Rose described his own new edition of Ulysses as one which "liberates the text… and makes it possible for the first time for the general reader to relish every nuance and beauty of Joyce’s masterpiece” and he brags about smuggling Ulysses "out of the ivory tower of the academics" to bring it back to the common man in the marketplace. But before his version of the book even begins there's 80 pages of ridiculous prefatory material (preface, three-part introduction, appendix, footnotes, and something called a Technical Appendix discussing Rose's novel techniques) which "alone will intimidate all but the professional textologist or software engineer."

I'm still reading up on John Kidd after the interesting info the commenter passed along but I can say that, after thumbing through the two latest editions of the James Joyce Quarterly I don't agree with his negative assessment of it (the commenter paraphrased him describing it as a "circle-jerk") but it could be that they've changed things up since Kidd's scathing indictment.

*     *     *
Along the same subject of forging an artist's words...One of my favorite hip hop emcees of all time, Guru from the group Gang Starr, passed away from cancer last week at the age of 43. The sad news comes a few months after he'd entered into a coma spawning swirling rumors of his untimely death. But last week it happened for real. Guru was the voice behind the legendary Gang Starr along with producer DJ Premier and he's responsible for some of the greatest hip hop songs of all time including one of my favorites, "Above the Clouds" featuring Wu-Tang Clan's Inspectah Deck:

Guru's intelligent lyrics provided a major influence throughout my teenage years and, along with the Wu-Tang Clan, helped inspire me (amidst a materialistic, dummy culture prominent amongst the youth in my hometown of Staten Island, New York) to become, or at least try to become, an intellectual. Over melodic, booming DJ Premier beats, Guru glorified the mind ("Street knowledge, intellect and spirituality: my survival package as I deal with reality") and downplayed material objects ("My sense of self and my mental health is much more powerful than any inch of wealth").

The controversy that has arisen after his death has been more than a bit discomforting for me. A slimy, sleezeball named "DJ Solar" who had been working with Guru the last few years (and was possibly involved with him romantically) apparently would not allow Guru's family members to see him on his deathbed, he also tried to prevent long time collaborator DJ Premier from seeing his old friend. The "official" statement that was released after his death seemed to overly praise Solar and there are rumors that he's trying to get in on the royalties from the deceased artist's estate. Things have gotten so bad that Guru's father, a prominent Massachusetts lawyer, had to send police to recover his son's body from the covetous Solar.

Here are two videos that perfectly paint the picture of the man trying to gain off the death of a so-called friend. The first is from a recent interview with MTV's Sway who openly grilled a sweaty, sunglasses-wearing Solar (the video has a bunch of segments, it is the second in the sequence which I bring attention to). The second is an interview with Solar and Guru which...speaks for itself.

*     *     *
Changing things up...A cool piece in GQ magazine about perhaps the most unique (and entertaining) player in baseball.
*     *     *
This sounds very cool: a marathon where actors are reading Joyce's books aloud. And they all drink beer afterwards. It's the James Joyce Ramble. Sign me up.

And, last but not least, the Ulysses spacecraft discovers our solar system's biggest comet. Somehow, the article doesn't allude to the "Ithaca" chapter.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Home Stand Part II (Padres-Giants Game Story)

I've been house sitting at my friend/co-worker's home for the past four days, feeding his dog, watching sports on his TV, and sleeping in his guest bed with my girlfriend. It's the first time I've done something like that and it was an interesting feeling, especially this morning when we gathered all of our things and left. It felt like we'd been staying at a nice hotel that had an exuberant English bulldog for us to hang out with. I first went to my friend (let's call him Joe)'s house on Tuesday night so he could show me around, explain what I needed to do, and have me sleep over so I could drive him to the airport at 4:30 in the morning. We ate pizza and watched the Laker game (fittingly, because heavy clouds were gathering all day, they were playing the Thunder) before going to bed and then popped up at 4 AM and drove in the dark to the airport.

After dropping him off, I went back to my apartment (which is pretty close to the airport) while the sun crept up giving a gray tint to everything and I hurried inside to get some sleep before having to wake up again and go to work.

The weather that day would be very un-San Diego-like, chilly with varying degrees of heavy downpouring showers and dark clouds. I spent most of the afternoon trying to secure someone to come with me to see the Padres-Giants game at Petco Park in the afternoon at 3:30, a game for which I'd been given free tickets. At about 2:45 my buddy Allan indicated that he was ready and willing and so I picked him up after leaving work at 3 and cruised southward through heavy rain showers, heading towards downtown San Diego and hoping the rain would let up so we could watch some baseball.

Thankfully, it did. But it was still freezing, windy, and drizzly. It was as though the San Francisco Giants had brought their cloudy Bay Area weather with them. I recalled how, in August 2008, I ventured up to San Francisco for a couple days to visit a potential grad school and went to a Giants-Braves game that I had to leave early (something I never do) because it was just too cold and windy. This time, though, we would bear the elements. We sat in the upper deck just behind home plate and watched as the Padres finished off a sweep of the Giants for their 6th win in a row, putting them in first place.

A chilly Wednesday afternoon game in April (that wasn't even televised) with an unspectacular pitching matchup is about as nondescript as a baseball game gets but, as I looked over the lineups, I found a way to be excited about seeing such players as Giants leftfielder John Bowker whose defensive ability Baseball Prospectus 2010 likened to a James Thurber-invented monster named Todal: "It sounds like rabbits screaming and smells of old, unopened'd think his glove work was so Todal-y awful you dared not go looking for him, lest he gleep you." Sounds cool!

Bowker didn't do anything to attract attention in a game the Padres completely dominated. Starter Jon Garland shut down a meek lineup (7 innings, 6 hits, 1 run) and the Padres struck big blows (homers by Adrian Gonzalez and Nick Hundley) and tortured crappy starter Todd Wellemeyer with their patience, drawing four straight walks in the second inning. Wellemeyer was wild throughout the game but somehow managed to gut out 4 innings only giving up 2 runs. It was the Padres' continued propensity to pound bullpens that would put the game away, as they knocked 6 hits and three runs off the Giant penmen.

The game was pretty sparsely attended and featured a very diverse crowd including many bundled-up elderly folk. By the 9th inning, whatever warmth the sun provided was gone as it had retreated behind the stadium walls and most of the attendees had retreated along with it. Thankfully, we stayed and got to see Pablo Sandoval swing from his heels at a 3-1 pitch and make perfect contact on an absolute missile of a homerun. It was undoubtedly one of the hardest-hit homeruns I've ever seen in person (and I've been at Shea Stadium for a doubleheader with a couple Mark McGwire bombs) as Sandoval laced a line drive to dead centerfield in the major league's biggest park. Here's a video of the hit.

I walked out of the game proud of a team that I'm growing to really enjoy. They'd swept two straight division rivals handily (and, as of this writing, they've continued their streak with their 8th win in a row) and my bold prediction that they'd win 80-82 games and finish ahead of the Giants seemed more realizable than ever. Yes, it's only April. But this team looks very good. My blog voice is still a developing whisper but I look forward to yelling in the faces of the many analysts who have thoughtlessly brushed aside the Friars as 2010 cellar dwellers. Go Pads!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Sylvia Beach and Company

"If the world's dwindling independent bookstores have a patron saint...she is Sylvia Beach"

Quoted from a nice little article in Sunday's New York Times about Sylvia Beach who was the first publisher of James Joyce's Ulysses at a time when nobody would publish the great work of art because in 1921 it had been declared "obscene."

Originally born in Baltimore, Maryland, Miss Beach eventually moved to Paris where she established an English-language bookstore in 1919, Shakespeare and Company, that became a hang-out for many of the famous writers of the time whom she befriended including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, and especially James Joyce. She met Joyce in the summer of 1920 and timidly approached him to ask "Is this the great James Joyce?" As Richard Ellman describes,
She expressed her admiration for his books, and he asked her what she did in Paris. When he heard the name of her bookstore, he smiled gently and wrote it down in a little notebook which he nearsightedly held close to his eyes. He promised to come see her, and in fact arrived at her shop the next day. He wore, she noticed, a dark blue serge suit, a black felt hat on the back of his head, and rather dirt tennis shoes, with a twirling cane contributing an incongruously dapper element to this costume.
When I first read that I laughed out loud. Joyce rocking dirty tennis shoes in 1920 reminds me of Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm. Maybe he's wearing tennis shoes in that photo above. When they met that day, Joyce told her of his financial troubles. For the past five years he'd been engaged in the process of completing Ulysses and trying to get it published and he wasn't earning any steady income  while trying to feed his wife and two children. Sylvia Beach would eventually offer to publish Joyce's great masterwork which was being rejected by the publishers Joyce sought because it had been declared "obscene" for its sexual language.

The stories of the stress they had to go through to publish Ulysses are very entertaining (similar to those which I described regarding Finnegans Wake not too long ago) as, while the typeset was being put together and proofs printed, Joyce would cover the proof pages with notes and additions to the text. These handwritten notes were almost indecipherable and typists had to be hired to put it all together. One of these typists, hired to type up the "Circe" episode---the longest and dirtiest of the whole book---was getting along fine until her husband glanced at the manuscript and threw it into the fire in a fit of rage. The only other person with a copy of those manuscripts was a lawyer in New York named John Quinn who had been collecting and purchasing manuscript portions of Ulysses directly from Joyce. Quinn would not give up the manuscripts but then, after correspondence from Beach and Joyce, he gave in and had the pages photographed and the draft for the episode was completed.

Beach's efforts to help Joyce (both professionally and--often lending him money--financially) were vital to the publication of Ulysses and she holds an important spot in history because of that but it was a draining and stressful enterprise. The resilient woman would later write in her memoir, "It seemed natural to me that the efforts and sacrifices on my part should be proportionate to the greatness of the work I was publishing."

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Home Stand (Padres vs Diamondbacks Game Story)

My Sunday afternoon was spent soaking up the bright spring sun sitting with my ladyfriend and 21,000 other people in Petco Park watching the Padres finish off a sweep of their weekend series with the rival Diamondbacks. I say "rival" mainly because there's a pretty large contingent of people from Arizona, "zonies" as they're called, in San Diego and it usually leads to a sense of rivalry (and post game gloating in the stadium exodus) amongst the game's attendees and the local downtown San Diego residents around the ballpark. Last year, following the ending of a Diamondbacks victory over the Padres which I'd attended at Petco along with my lady (the first game I brought her to), we were walking through the loud and crowded city streets to my car and saw a huge lit up sign from an apartment building window flashing "D'backs win!"

This was the first Sunday afternoon home game for the Padres and, since I had nothing else going on today, it seemed like a great way to initiate my (live) 2010 baseball experience. We parked for free on the corner of 10th and E Streets, only a four-block walk away from the stadium but hanging out in my car eating pregame veggie burgers delayed us a bit and we arrived at the end of the 1st inning. I decided to splurge a bit for my 1st game of the season and shelled out $58 bucks apiece for two great seats in the very first row of the 2nd level. The seats provided an absolutely perfect view of the diamond and we were uncovered out under the beaming sun. This was our view:
You can see the big "Opening Week" decorative sign painted on the grass and I'm pretty sure this is the first time I've ever been to an "Opening Week" baseball game, although I don't know if it's something all team's paint on their home grass. The Pads' special week had begun with an anomalous 17-2 demolishing of the visiting Atlanta Braves only to have the Braves deflate and defeat them by a combined 12-3 score over the next two games. Friday night the Diamondbacks came into town and pitcher Edwin Jackson carved through the San Diego lineup for 6 shutout innings before the home team rallied for 6 runs on the Arizona bullpen capped off by Chase Headley's walkoff three-run bomb that was the most exciting play of the young 2010 Padres season. They carried momentum and confidence into last night's 5-0 defeat of the D'backs (although they could only muster 2 runs off of a shaky Kris Benson) and so I assumed today would be a perfect game to watch in person; the home team going for a sweep on a sunny day game.

The game featured a very interesting pitching matchup, the Padres sending out crafty young lefthander Wade LeBlanc, a Triple-A callup who barely missed out on the 5th spot in the rotation to open the year and was stepping in for the injured veteran Chris Young. He was opposed by Arizona righty Ian Kennedy, a former Yankee prospect acquired in the winter's biggest trade. The two twenty-five year old hurlers didn't throw very hard and both relied on their changeups to generate lots of swings-and-misses. LeBlanc obviously had some nerves working against him to start off as he allowed a run on two hits and walk to start the game, but he settled down pretty nicely and kept the crimson-clad Arizona hitters whiffing at changeups to the tune of 7 strikeouts in 5 innings, with that first inning run the only one he allowed. Kennedy had a similar pitching line (5 IP, 7 Ks) but never seemed to be in any trouble and worked confidently, only allowing one extra base hit and generating lots of flailing swings with his changeup. For a while the Padre hitters couldn't make good contact against him and just kept tipping foul balls, the only hard-struck ball a double by Everth Cabrera when Kennedy was almost at 100 pitches. He surrendered only 2 hits and didn't allow a run. Interestingly, both pitchers hit a single against one another.

When the young soft-tossing starters departed and the firearmed relievers took over, the feeling of the game changed sharply and you could hear it. The loud crack of the bat, heard rarely throughout the first five innings, resonated on Edward Mujica's first pitch of the sixth, a fastball that Mark Reynolds knocked into the second deck in left field putting his team ahead 2-0. Mujica settled down and didn't allow another baserunner over his two innings but the D'backs did make four loud linedrive outs. The Padres' first look at a reliever (former Friar farmhand Leo Rosales) saw them put two runners aboard with no outs but a foul popout and a nifty double play from Mark Reynolds at third quieted the rally.

It would soon become apparent that Diamondbacks manager A.J. Hinch had made a mistake in only bringing Rosales in to pitch one inning. The pitcher's spot was due up next in the Arizona order when Hinch brought Rosales into the game and it seemed like a perfect opportunity for a double switch but Hinch instead opted to restrict Rosales to one inning and replace him with a pinch hitter in the 7th. The pinch hitter, Gerardo Parra, flailed at a fastball far out of the strike zone and, when it was the Padres' turn to hit in the bottom of the seventh, reliever Aaron Heilman entered the game for Parra. I knew this would be a big boon to the Padres and noted to my girlfriend how Heilman had often sucked with the Mets and practically played his way out of town. The Padre rally got started right away with Scott Hairston smacking a homerun to left field. Heilman managed to get two more outs but the Pads showed the same two-out resilience they'd shown in the previous two games. Everth Cabrera singled and stole second, setting the stage for the other Hairston brother, acrobatic utility infielder Jerry, Jr., who hit a double over the leftfielder's head to tie the game at 2-2. That was it for Aaron Heilman. I kind of felt bad for him as he skulked slowly off the field after being removed from the game. I thought of his past pleads to the morons running the Mets to let him be a starter instead of a reliever that always went unheeded.

The next Arizona pitcher, Juan Gutierrez, entered the game facing Adrian Gonzalez with the go-ahead run at second and didn't offer A-Gon anything to hit, eventually just giving up and issuing a free pass after missing the first three pitches. To the plate stepped the burgeoning star Chase Headley and he continued his breakout 2010 season with a smash into the left centerfield gap that plated two runs and then himself as he came across to score on what was ruled a triple but the play had the excitement of an inside-the-park homerun. The crowd was loud and joyful and the game was all but over. San Diego closer Heath Bell allowed a run before finishing off an exciting 5-3 win and the series sweep.

Further Notes:
- In the bottom of the 8th, manager Hinch tried to show everyone that he could, in fact, execute a double switch but it was too late and his efforts seemed like overmanaging. His decision was to shuffle up 4 positions in a lineup card sleight of hand that left the scoreboard operators puzzled and picking the wrong card. Going into the gory details, he brought in pitcher Blaine Boyer and inserted him into the leadoff spot where leftfielder Conor Jackson was, then brought in Stephen Drew to play shortstop and hit in the pitcher's spot, moved starting shortstop Tony Abreu to third, thirdbaseman Mark Reynolds to first, and firstbaseman Rusty Ryal to left field. This merry-go-round didn't show up on the scoreboard for a while after it was announced, then showed up incorrectly. I entered it correctly in my (free) scorecard, though so ha!

- I do think it's a smart move on Hinch's part to bat Conor Jackson leadoff and I'm glad to see such a break from tradition as Jackson is a big guy who doesn't physically profile as a "typical" leadoff hitter but always has a high on-base percentage. Jackson looked impressive today, although he had only one hit he smoked two line drives right at fielders.

- Neither starting pitcher recorded a win in the game and their combined career big league record sits at 5 wins, 6 losses. But they both showed the stuff of solid major league pitchers and both should stay in a big league rotation for years.

- I described Jerry Hairston, Jr. as "acrobatic" above because this weekend he made some spectacular plays in the field and, taking note of him during the between-inning infield warm-ups, he handles the ball with the finesse of a Harlem Globetrotter or old barnstorming Gashouse Gang infielder or something. It's really fun to watch.

- I don't think I've seen this comparison made before, but Nick Hundley reminds me of A's catcher Kurt Suzuki but doesn't get anywhere near as much praise. They're very similar hitters (.238/.313/.406 for Hundley last year in the worst hitter's park versus .274/.313/.421 for Suzuki who also plays in a big park) and have reputations for being good defensive catchers. They're both 26 years old (Hundley is almost exactly one month older), but Suzuki has been doing his thing for a few years now whereas Hundley is in second full season. As a fan of both teams, I'm pretty happy with who we've got behind the plate for the next few years.

- In the first paragraph I mentioned the first game I brought my girlfriend to. Justin Upton put on a show that night, basically winning the game singlehandedly. He launched two homeruns and was responsible for all three Arizona runs in a 3-1 while also gunning down a runner at the plate. In today's game he was quiet: 0 for 3 with a walk.

I'll be back there on Wednesday afternoon to see Padres-Giants.

Monday, April 12, 2010

A Padres Flashback

I first visited San Diego in the summer of 2006. My brother had recently been stationed there with the Navy and was in the process of getting established and settling into a nice little one-bedroom apartment just off of Orange Avenue in Coronado. At the time of my visit, this little apartment had no furniture besides a round metal kitchen table. We walked to the beach just about every day and slept on an air mattress at night.

I had planned my visit so that it coincided with my 21st birthday and my brother's gift to me was two tickets to a Friday night baseball game between the hometown San Diego Padres and the Atlanta Braves. Our seats were four rows behind (directly behind) home plate, the best seats I've ever had for a baseball game. What ensued that night was possibly the most exciting baseball game I've ever seen.

Playing in the major leagues' biggest run-suppressing ballpark, Petco Park, the two teams combined to hit 8 homeruns and score an unprecedented total of 27 runs. It began in the first inning when, following an Edgar Renteria double, the two Joneses (Chipper and Andruw) hit back-to-back homeruns. After the Padres went down quietly in their half of the 1st inning the Braves were up 4-0 and, needless to say, the chances of us witnessing a competitive baseball game seemed pretty low.

Then, to lead off the Padres' 2nd inning, brand new first baseman Adrian Gonzalez thwacked a Tim Hudson pitch so hard that, from where we were sitting, it looked like he'd just hit a Super Ball. It landed over the fence for the Pads' first run of the game, making the score 4-1. The Braves tacked another run on in the top of the 3rd but then the Padres came back with a rally that was capped off by another Adrian Gonzalez bomb, this time a three-run homer. After three innings, the game was tied 5-5.

The Braves' swung back with two more homeruns (including number two on the night for Chipper Jones) to take an 8-5 lead but it didn't last long as Mike Piazza, in the middle of a productive (.283/.342/.501) swan song season after departing my beloved Mets, cracked a three-run dinger to tie it up.

Fast-forward to the 9th, Padres ahead 9-8, "Hell's Bells" plays, Padre legend Trevor Hoffman in the game to close it out...and he allows three runs, putting the Padres behind 11-9 going into their final at-bat. But it wouldn't end like that, not after all the fun we'd already had. It couldn't end like that. San Diego super hero Adrian Gonzalez was due to lead off! But A-Gon flew out for the 1st out of the inning. Before I continue, I must note that for some silly reason (ie, they had no reliable closer) the Braves were using a former failed Devil Ray, Jorge Sosa, to close this game out for them. Sosa had a strong season with the Braves in '05 but he was showing his true self again at that point of the 2006 season with an ERA over 5 and he never had another good season again (although he had some good games with the Mets in 2007). Sosa did manage to get 2 outs on the Padres, though. The home team was down to their last out, Josh Barfield at the plate with a man on second. Barfield kept the fans at their edge of their seats while fouling off six straight pitches and keeping the game alive. On the 9th pitch, Barfield grounded a single into center field that scored the runner from second. 11 to 10, game not over yet. To the plate stepped catcher Josh Bard.

Earlier that season, Bard had been sent to the Padres by the Boston Red Sox after embarrassing himself trying to catch Tim Wakefield's knuckleball. Upon arriving in the National League, Bard caught fire and ended the season hitting .338, by far his best season ever. His confidence was sky high when he stepped to the plate against Jorge Sosa. With two outs and the tying run on first base, Bard smoked the first pitch down the left field line sending Barfield on a sprint around the diamond which he completed by sliding in safely on a close play at the plate to tie the game 11-11.

In the 10th, Adam LaRoche led off with his second homer of the game, deflating a hyper-excited crowd. With all these homeruns and excitement, the fun was not just going to end there. The Padres came back and tied it yet again in the bottom of the 10th, Adrian Gonzalez pushing the 12th run across while grounding into a double play (the man can do no wrong). The fun did finally end there, though. The Braves came right back in the 11th inning with three more runs, putting the Padres away for good. The game ended quietly on a grounder to third base. Braves 15, Padres 12.

Why did I just type all of that? I can't remember the last time I was more excited for a new baseball season than I am this year. This enthusiasm is perfectly evident in my geeked-out baseball preview of every single team as well as in my rantings to co-workers that the Padres will NOT, in fact, suck this year. I declared on this very blog that they will even finish ahead of the Giants.

As I've mentioned before, I am now a resident of the fine city of San Diego and so I was eagerly anticipating today's home opener against the Atlanta Braves. Yes, those Atlanta Braves. And what did the Padres do? They went out and scored 17 fucking runs, defeating the Braves 17-2. That's what they did.

Stanley Cup Playoffs Preview

I've been absent for a little while as the baseball games consumed me but I'm back now for a quick look at the final regular season NHL standings and how things will shake up in what should be an exciting Stanley Cup playoffs.

Back in January, in a preview of the NHL season's second half, I examined each conference and all everyone's chances of making the playoffs. In the Eastern Conference, I totally botched the Ottawa Senators and stated that they wouldn't be going anywhere but down for the remainder of the season. Instead, they went up a bit from 6th place to 5th. I also chose my ol' hometown team, the Rangers, to finish ahead of the Canadiens and get in the playoffs with the final spot. That didn't happen. In the West, I was wrong in picking the Predators to fade from the race but they'll surely be knocked out easily in the first round.

Here are my picks for each match-up in the first round:

Eastern Conference
#1 Capitals vs #8 Canadiens
Caps but it won't be as easy as people think.

#2 Devils vs #7 Flyers
Should be a gritty, closely-matched series. If the Flyers get some solid work in goal they have a strong chance for an upset. Then again, Ilya Kovalchuk has an actual chance to win a championship and might just take over the whole show. My bet is on the Flyers.

#3 Sabres vs #6 Bruins
Another great match-up between division rivals, I'll take Ryan Miller's team (the Sabres).

#4 Penguins vs #5 Senators
I showed the Sens no respect in my second-half season preview and I show them no respect here. Pens will dispose of them quickly.

Western Conference
#1 Sharks vs #8 Avalanche
The biggest question going into the playoffs is if the Sharks can finally succeed in the playoffs. Well, they'll certainly make it past the first round this time.

#2 Blackhawks vs #7 Predators
Nashville has a very tough defensive corps but this team doesn't stand a chance against the vaunted Blackhawks.

#3 Canucks vs #6 Kings
I saw the Canucks play in person the other night and really was not that impressed (they beat the Ducks in a shootout). I must note that superstar goaltender Roberto Luongo was on the bench, though. The Kings are the team I most often watch on TV and I've grown to really like them. I think this will be a tough series, very likely to be decided in 7 games. The Canucks are a popular pick to win the Cup and I even mentioned them as a Cup sleeper pick back in January, but I'm going to make a bold prediction and take the Kings.

#4 Coyotes vs #5 Red Wings
Another great looking series. The Wings are absolutely on fire and the Coyotes are out to show that they deserve respect as a contender. Goalie Ilya Bryzgalov is capable of taking over this series by himself and I think he'll be a major factor for the Coyotes before they bow to the charging Red Wings. I actually like the Red Wings to make it as far as the Conference Finals and maybe even the championship...

My Stanley Cup pick is a bit of a cop-out perhaps but:
Red Wings over the Penguins

Here's the TV schedule for the first round.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

A Swift Peek at the New Wake

The special new edition of Finnegans Wake that I spoke about last month got some attention from BBC News recently. It's only a brief news item but there's a clip from an interview with Danis Rose, one of the men who edited the new version of the book and I think it's worth a listen (only 3 minutes long).

His answer to the final question is great:
Alot of people will have come across this book at school and they'll think "it's really hard and really inaccessible so why would I want to bother to read it now that I'm grown up"?
I would read a section for them personally and I guarantee they would agree that it is the most beautiful thing they have ever heard.
They posted up a reading of one sentence by some woman but it's nothing special at all and actually kind of sucks. Listen to this to hear what Rose means.

The new edition was published by a company called Houyhnhnm. Try to pronounce that. The name comes from Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels. There are actually many allusions to Swift in Finnegans Wake, especially the densely written opening paragraphs which contain the sentence:
not yet, though all's fair in vanessy, were sosie sesthers wroth with twone nathandjoe...
"Nathandjoe" is an anagram for Jonathan who, as noted in A Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake, is "split in two and turned head over heels by his two young-girl loves, Stella and Vanessa." Stella and Vanessa were nicknames for two separate young girls Swift became infatuated with during his life, they both were actually named Esther.

Here's the website for the Houyhnhnm edition of Finnegans Wake describing the contents of the special limited edition package. At the bottom of that page there's a quote from an old Finnegans Wake review by Harry Levin and it's one of the best summaries of Joyce's art I've ever read:

Joyce renews our apprehension of reality, strengthens our sympathy with our fellow creatures, and leaves us in awe before the mystery of created things.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Ready for the season to start...

 My kitchen table. This is what I've been consuming for the past few weeks.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

A Double Feature Extravaganza! 2010 MLB Season Preview Parts 5 and 6: AL Central and AL East

Due to my attending the Anaheim Ducks-vs-Vancouver Canucks hockey game last night, I was unable to spend any time putting together Part 5 of our continuing preview of the baseball season. I was aiming to finish this 6-part preview today and so what that means is: a Double Feature! With the season starting tomorrow night and exhibitions already underway in the major league stadiums (Angel Stadium was packed last night as they played the Dodgers and I watched the Twins and Cardinals play a game at brand new Target Field earlier today) let's take one last look at what's to come.

AL Central
It's taken an extra game to decide the division in each of the last two seasons and it just might happen again this year as things are looking to be very tight between five flawed teams. Just like their cousins in the National League Central, this is the weakest division in the AL and it might only take 82 or 83 wins to come out on top. The new-look Twinkies are considered to be the favorite but the White Sox have assembled a pitching staff that can match up with anyone. Detroit, Cleveland, and Kansas City are all closely bunched together and if a few things were to go right, they can be in the mix too.

1. Twins
PECOTA: 81-81
My take: Over

The lineup looks great but do they have enough pitching to win the division? I think it'll be enough to just barely get them over the hump. A deeper lineup than they've had in recent years with the additions of J.J. Hardy and Orlando Hudson to go along with Mighty Joe Mauer, Denard Span, Michael Cuddyer and Justin Morneau will scare the bajeebies out of their AL opponents and I think it'll be enough to supplement their unspectacular pitching. In the wake of closer Joe Nathan's injury they've decided to replace him through the trade wait, a closer-by-committee system! ah, forget it...they'll actually just hand the ball to 6-foot-11 behemoth Jon Rauch. The loss of Nathan is a big deal but I don't think Rauch will represent such a significant drop-off as to ruin the team's chances. Not with the lineup they've assembled. The rotation is nothing special but what it lacks in frontline production it makes up for in sheer quantity of capable contributors. 84 wins and another division title.

2. White Sox
PECOTA: 79-83
My take: Over
Kind of the opposite of the Twins, they've got a superb rotation from top to bottom and a pretty good bullpen to back it up (especially the fire-breathing monster that is Matt Thornton) but a lineup of question marks. Can Carlos Quentin stay healthy? Will Gordon Beckham improve on his solid rookie debut? Does Paul Konerko have anything left in the tank? Can Andruw Jones buy his soul back from the devil? Will Juan Pierre provide anything other than frustration?
The White Sox chapter in this year's Baseball Prospectus annual was actually so good that it kinda turned me into a bit of a Sox fan this year. It describes how, through trades and picking up other teams' developed prospects as well as over-the-hill veterans (like Andruw Jones this year), Kenny Williams has taken big gambles but  assembled a strong competitve squad these last few years and I'm curious to see if this year's gambles (Rios, Jones, Pierre, Mark Teahen) will pay off. Led by Mark Buehrle and Jake Peavy, the pitching is going to be wonderful and at least keep the team afloat. If even a few of those question marks turn out well though, they'll be fighting the Twins up until the final day of the season if not longer.

3. Indians
PECOTA: 79-83
My take: Under
An absolute disaster last year, the Tribe is generally looked upon as a rebuilding non-contender this year. But they might surprise alot of people. Just like the other imperfect teams in this division, they have the makings of a nice offense but zero pitching. They haven't really done much to try to improve their wretched run-prevention and they'll be depending on a front three of Jake Westbrook (missed all of 2009), Fausto Carmona (6.32 ERA last year), and Justin Masterson (reliever-turned-starter who walked 5.5 per 9 innings in '09). Reports out of Spring Training about the 26-year-old former 19-game winner Fausto Carmona are very positive and if the rediscovery of his ability to pitch well is indeed true, this team might actually hang in the race for a while on the strength of their lineup. That lineup is not only good but also young (aside from DH Travis Hafner, the projected starters are all 28 or under) and so there is plenty of break-out potential. There ought to be alot more excitement in Cleveland this year but I don't think they'll be in the mix for the division title. 76 wins sounds good.

4. Tigers
PECOTA: 79-83
My take: Under
An incongruent mix of expensive veterans and cheap youngsters, this team faded out of first place last year and I expect them to continue to fade in 2010. Justin Verlander had a terrific season last year (league-leading 269 Ks) but was worked like a mule, throwing 300 more pitches than any other pitcher in the majors, and more than any American League pitcher in the last 10 years. It'd be a nice surprise if he made it through this season without an arm injury and he's anchoring this team's strength, the rotation. Although it wasn't well-received in Detroit, I liked the trade GM Dave Dombrowski made in the offseason shipping out Edwin Jackson at his peak value and Curtis Granderson as he approaches 30 and bringing in a young centerfielder (23-year-old Austin Jackson) and a young pitcher with ace-level potential in Max Scherzer. The signing of Johnny Damon also makes sense although his production will probably suffer in their big ballpark. With all its pieces working properly, this looks like a .500-level team and, yes, that would be good enough to win this division. Because I imagine they'll have some injuries and old players being ineffective, they look more like a rickety old car sputtering along with shiny new rims and a sweet stereo system. They won't be in it for the long haul.

5. Royals
PECOTA: 77-85
My take: Under
Nobody is quite sure what it is the Royals are trying to do. They spent the offseason adding some more crappy veteran players (Scott Podsednik, Jason Kendall, Rick Ankiel) to a lineup that already had more than enough crappy veteran players. Ankiel and Podsednik might help out their atrocious defense but bringing them on board is really just a sad attempt by general manager Dayton Moore to get into the hip new fad of focusing on defense. While Podzilla has speed and Ankiel a great arm, neither player has ever been noted for above-average defensive performance and so it's another example of Moore's incompetence and ignorance of advanced metrics. If not for Zack Greinke, there would be no reason to ever watch this team play and even with Greinke there is no reason to believe they will be anywhere near competitive, even in a perennially weak division.

And now, the grand finale...

AL East
This is it, the main event, the Royal Rumble Battle Royale. We've got three teams vying for two playoff spots and those three teams are also the winners of the last three American League pennants. They've all made adjustments and are primed to do battle. (We also have a couple other punching bags, one of which might punch back sooner or later.) PECOTA's predictions for how things will turn out are included here but I must note that the CHONE projection system has a much different view, with the Yankees running away with the division again at 99 wins and the Rays left out of the mix with a mere 88 while the Red Sox draw the Wild Card to the tune of 93 victories. Here's what I think will happen:

1. Red Sox
PECOTA: 95-67
My take: Under
The Theo Epstein Era (or Dynasty) faces a new chapter. After a strong year in '09 followed by an early postseason exit, the young Sox GM sought to address the team's main and perhaps only weakness: it's defense. To address this need, he scooped up one of the one best fielding centerfielders (according to UZR or Ultimate Zone Rating, that hip "new" thing) from the last few years, Mike Cameron, as well as one of the baseball's best defensive third basemen, Adrain Beltre. Great pick-ups both, they've brought the team plenty of press (too much) about it's focus on defense and how they are finding a new way to win. What's being neglected is the fact that Beltre (three straight 25+ HR seasons before an injury riddled '09) and Cameron (.281 EqA last year) can both hit a little too as can Marco Scutaro, the new shortstop who finished last year with a 5.6 WARP (higher than the likes of Derek Jeter, A-Rod, and Justin Upton). One mustn't forget that those three will merely be the last three hitters in what will be a very strong Red Sox lineup. As a team, they had the 3rd-highest EqA in the AL last year and, even with the loss of Jason Bay, they've probably got a better lineup than the one trotted out on Opening Day of 2009.

With the addition of former Angels ace John Lackey, the rotation looks absurdly good. Lackey will slot in as their #3 starter behind Josh Beckett and the Sox' emerging ace, 26-year-old Jon Lester. The lefty Lester placed in the top 5 in both ERA and strikeouts last year and led the Sox team with a 5.5 WARP. They'll probably have the best back-end starters in baseball as well with the combination of Clay Buchholz, Daisuke Matsuzaka and the ol' reliable knuckleballer Tim Wakefield. To go along with that, their bullpen has a chance to be the best in baseball as well. The closer, Jonathan Papelbon, showed a tiny chink in his armor losing last year's deciding playoff game but he's still one of the most dominant hurlers in the game right now with a career 1.84 ERA in almost 300 innings. With that rotation, a strong defense behind it, and a deep lineup (the #9 hitter will probably be Marco Scutaro, he of the .379 OBP last year) this powerhouse squad will come out on top in an ultra-competitive AL East.

2. Rays
PECOTA: 91-71
My take: Over
One look at their roster and the depth is staggering. Going down the lineup:
-Shortstop Jason Bartlett is coming off a monster .320/.389/.490 season and, even with any expected regression, should still be good
-Carl Crawford is turning 28 and his 2010 season is basically one extended opportunity to showcase his skills and why he deserves a huge contract from a new team next season. Yes, the contract-year theory.
-Ben Zobrist is the new baseball sensation, bursting onto the scene last year with a reconstructed swing (tweaked for him by The Swing Mechanic) that knocked 27 homers while the versatile Zorilla played all over the field with splendid defense everywhere. He was neck and neck with Albert Pujols in WARP for a while even though Pujols batted 100 more times than he did. This year he'll play rightfield, secondbase and anywhere else Joe Maddon needs him to while putting plenty of runs on the board.
-24 years old, coming off a 33-homerun season, one of the best defensive players in the league last year, and primed for a monster season in 2010, Evan Longoria is "all that and a bag of chips" as BP says in this year's book.
-#5 hitter Carlos Pena led the American League in homeruns last year with 39 and, like Crawford, this is his contract year.

Need I go on? That's just the first five hitters in a lineup that does not have a weak spot. Catcher Dioner Navarro isn't a great hitter but his back-up Kelly Shoppach is and he'll probably get plenty of playing time from Joe Maddon, perhaps as part of a platoon. Pat Burrell had a bad year in '09 but, if he doesn't rebound, there's enough depth to plug another hitter in the DH spot.
I haven't even mentioned their rotation which consists of five young pitchers (oldest is 28, James Shields) that all have the potential to be an ace, especially the pitcher who will be their #3 guy: 24-year-old former #1-overall draft-pick David Price. The bullpen is a potential weakness but they've signed the reliably effective Rafael Soriano and the farm system is so rich with prospects that they can pick somebody up in a trade if need be. They're awesome but in this division they'll be the Wild Card team. Expect a tight finish, though, and plenty of exciting games against the Sox and Yanks.

3. Yankees
PECOTA: 90-72
My take: Over
The 103-win behemoth that ran through the league like an unstoppable force last year will be toppled. Adding Javier Vazquez and Curtis Granderson to an already awesome rotation and lineup sounds great but I think last year's run will leave the oldies like Derek Jeter (36 years old), Jorge Posada (38), Mariano Rivera (40) on the ground gasping for air in this year's Roller Derby-style race. GM Brian Cashman is a sharp fellow and he recognized the need to curtail the potential drop off if the aforementioned Yankee statues suffer setbacks and he went out and added more talent. He also let old-timers like Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon hit the road. But I think they're due for some nicks and scratches. Injuries and missed-time as well as obligatory regression. Granderson and Vazquez have hopped on board a presumed-powerhouse defending-champion looking to cruise through the season like a shiny new sports car on the highway. But the Orioles' dumptruck is letting out little rocks and pebbles that'll crack the windshield and scratch the paint on that sports car and the Rays and Red Sox are souped-up vehicles moving with greater urgency towards their destination. For the Yanks it's a tie for second-place with the Rays at the finish line (92 wins apiece), bowing out of the picture on a tie-breaker.

4. Orioles
PECOTA: 78-84
My take: Under
No, Matt Weiters did not solve world hunger or blast a pitch so hard that the Big Bang reoccurred, but he made a pretty strong debut for a 23-year-old catcher with absurd expectations and continued the process of trickling in prospects with star-level potential for the Orioles. This team is not ready to compete, their pitching rotation will mostly serve as a homerun-launching machine for the AL East beasts above, but they've come a long way and a deep lineup will make them respectable this year.

5. Blue Jays
PECOTA: 72-90
My take: Under
Unless Major League Baseball does something drastic like realigning the divisions, it will be more of the same for the Blue Jays for the foreseeable future. The new GM seems like another potential wiz-kid but he's got a long way to climb and he's already a few steps behind the Orioles who have assembled the pieces of a long-term contender the last few years while the Jays tread water. Adam Lind and Travis Snider both look like the real deal and maybe prospect Brett Wallace will turn into a nice player but that's about it as far as young hitters. The Jays have gained a reputation for having a seemingly endless supply of capable young pitchers but none of them have really amounted to much thus far and there's a Grand Canyon-sized gaping hole to fill now that Roy Halladay is gone. This year they'll be a pretty bad team with a good bullpen. I predict them to lose 100 games and trade off whatever they can, most likely the constituents of the pen.

Happy Baseball Everyone!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

2010 MLB Season Preview Part 4: AL West

Before we continue our series, I'd like to point out that the baseball blog Wezen-ball has a predictions contest going on where everybody can submit their choices for who will win each division (as well as MVPs, World Series winners and all that good stuff). It's a pretty cool set-up actually with one community spreadsheet where everybody can make their entries and look at who others have picked. I've entered my picks but, with the restraints of making sure every game is accounted for when all the win-loss records are added up, it made things much harder. I tried my best to transcribe the picks I've already made here but some minor adjustments had to be made to their records at times. No biggie. So, we move on to the American League today with possibly the hardest division to predict.

AL West
Take your pick. There are four teams: three of them are poised to enter the playoff picture after spending the last few seasons rebuilding. The other one has won the the last three division titles and 5 out of the last 6. The Angels won 97 games last year and won the division by 10 games over 2nd place Texas, but a look at everyone's Pythagorean records (as listed in Baseball Prospectus 2010) shows a much closer spread:

2009 AL West
Angels 87-75
Rangers 85-77
Mariners 83-79
Athletics 82-80

A five-game spread between first and last place. BP's depth chart page (featuring the PECOTA forecasts I've been referencing in the division previews) shows another close race with the A's and Rangers tying for the lead with 83 wins, Seattle at 82 and the Angels with 78. Again, a five-game spread between the division winner and cellar-dweller. CHONE's projection looks very different, showing the Mariners in last with only 78 wins and the Rangers running away with the division at 86 wins. Here's how I see it all playing out...

1. Athletics
PECOTA: 83-79
My take: Over
Similar to the NL West, the division is so ultra-competitive this year that I expect everybody's records to suffer. There will not be a 90-game winner in the AL West this season. Not even 85 wins, I'm predicting the A's to take the division with 84. From top to bottom, their pitching corps looks superb. They've got five above-average starters penciled into the rotation and when (not if) someone gets hurt, there's almost an entire back-up rotation of arms prepared to provide league-average innings. Behind them, Billy Beane has once again assembled what should be one of the league's best bullpens. While Seattle has gotten so much attention for its defensive attributes and the Rangers praise for finally showing they can assemble a pitching staff, the A's still have the best pitching in the division.

Offensively, they're a different story. While there probably won't be any one glaring weakspot in their lineup, nobody is going to mash 30 homers, maybe not even 25. Jack Cust remains their biggest power threat and they've added Kevin Kouzmanoff who, while moving to another park that suppresses offense, will at least be relieved to escape PETCO Park which is by far the worst park in baseball for hitters. Daric Barton will get probably his last chance to show that he can hit and he's looked pretty good in Spring Training. I'm rooting for him to do well but the A's have minor league firstbaseman Chris Carter waiting in the wings who PECOTA thinks can hit 27 homers if he played a full season in the majors this year. One of my favorite players of all time, Eric Chavez, will also get a shot to play some firstbase after missing significant time with various injuries the past few years and there's an outside chance he'll provide some offensive value too. Lately, they've begun to place more emphasis on speed and will have Rajai Davis and Coco Crisp wreaking havoc on the bases. It won't be much, but it will be enough to back up their pitching and win a tight race by a hair.

2. Rangers
PECOTA: 83-79
My take: Even
A tough team to project. They should have a very strong bullpen and will definitely put up runs but the rotation, which finally looked good last year, looks very shaky to start the season. I love Rich Harden, he's one of the most unhittable pitchers in baseball, but he hasn't reached 150 innings in a season since 2004 and he is supposed to anchor the rotation. Scott Feldman was terrific last year but a regression is expected. Other than that, there's really nothing to get excited about unless they eventually plug either of their two young flamethrowers (Derek Holland and Neftali Feliz) into the starting rotation but they'll probably allow the other guys to crash and burn first.

The offense, which faltered a bit last year (.255 EqA) has much more reason for optimism. A bounceback is expected from Josh Hamilton who suffered a bunch of nagging injuries last year, Ian Kinsler is a beast, Michael Young is consistently around the 200-hit mark, Nelson Cruz exploded last year and should keep it up, Chris Davis is a popular candidate to have a huge year, and they've added Vlad the Impaler. If Vlad stays in the lineup enough to get 500 at-bats this will be one of the best offenses in the game. In this division, though, I peg them for 83 wins.

3. Angels
PECOTA: 78-84
My take: Over
Reports of the Angels' demise have been overstated. They lost John Lackey, Chone Figgins and Vladimir Guerrero during the offseason but I think they've found some able replacements. Figgins played a big role atop their lineup last year, getting on base like crazy ahead of their sluggers. Bobby Abreu will still be up at the top of the lineup drawing lots of walks and they still have Kendry Morales and Torii Hunter who were the team's two best hitters (.298 and .296 EqA, respectively) in its offensive resurgence last year. They went out and picked up Hideki Matsui who should get on base plenty and also smack a few homers and perpetual prospect Brandon Wood will finally get an opportunity to play, replacing Figgins at third. The lineup now has less speed but they will still certainly still hit. The main question mark is supposed to be their pitching. Lackey's replacement Joel Piniero actually had about the same value as Lackey did last year (2.7 WARP compared to 3.3) and everybody else from a strong 2009 starting rotation returns. Jered Weaver should continue his ascent and Scott Kazmir/Ervin Santana have the potential to put together good seasons if healthy. The bullpen carries a shaky reputation because they no longer have Francisco Rodriguez pitching the 9th inning and, collectively, the unit got off to a horrible start last year. But, as Baseball Prospectus 2010 points out, they were actually the 2nd-best bullpen in the league from May 1st on. I expect them to be in the mix all season but finish just out of first place, relinquishing their crown. I wouldn't be surprised at all to see them hold on to it, though.

4. Mariners
PECOTA: 82-80
My take: Under
The A's and Rangers are organizations stacked with budding young talent that will enable them to be competitive for the long run. The Angels are the perennial division winner trying desperately to maintain their hold on the top spot. The Mariners, on the other hand, have slowly constructed a catapultation device with the aim of flinging themselves up to the top of the division this year ahead of everybody else. They're ready to win now and they may never be quite as ready. A renaissance of defense carried them to 85 wins last year and they were the most active team this past offseason, scooping up a table-setter (Chone Figgins), another ace (Cliff Lee), and an enigmatic slugger (Milton Bradley). Is it enough to win them the division? Probably. But I don't think they'll do it.

I love the moves they've made, Figgins was a perfect pick-up for a team that doesn't get on base and I've always liked Milton Bradley (I look at him as my generation's Dick Allen) but I just don't think it's enough to resurrect the American League's worst offense from 2009.  The combination of Cliff Lee and superstar Felix Hernandez is scary but the rest of the pitching staff is not. The Mariner defense was out of this world last season and it is just for that reason that I expect them to regress a bit in that area this year. Above all, the Mariners are a perfect candidate for what is called the "Plexiglass Principle" which states that a team that significantly improves (or declines) one season has a tendency to bounce back in the opposite direction the year after. Seattle won only 61 games in 2008 and jumped all the way to 85 last year. They'll be a fun team to watch but expect them to bounce back down to earth a bit.