Saturday, March 30, 2013

2013 MLB Season Preview Part 3: AL East

It all boils down to whether this guy is on the field or not.
AL East

1. Rays
PECOTA: 87 wins
My pick: Over

Joe Maddon's squad ended last year with the run differential of a 95-win team but underachieved to the tune of 90 wins, just short of the playoffs. Despite trading away a key contributor in James Shields and losing B.J. Upton, this team actually might have improved. New shortstop Yunel Escobar upgrades what's long been a key weakness, while newly acquired outfielder Wil Myers is projected to be an elite all-around slugger whenever the team decides to let him play in the pros (certainly this year at some point). 

The pitching staff lost a big-time innings-eater but the organization already had an overflowing supply of young starters to work with, hence the need for a trade. Even without Shields, their rotation runs 7 or 8 deep right now. This team can pitch. It's the lineup that could potentially be a problem. Evan Longoria tends to miss too many games, Myers is currently being kept in the minor leagues for money reasons, Toronto's discarded keystone combo (Escobar and Kelly Johnson) could easily falter, they're getting no offensive value from the catcher and first base spots, and newly-minted centerfielder Desmond Jennings is still unproven. Even with so many question marks, this should still be the best offense the Rays have had in a few years. With Longoria playing at full strength, I think they'll edge out Toronto for the division and be a good bet for the World Series.

Friday, March 29, 2013

2013 MLB Season Preview Part 2: AL Central

Snoop Lion in the house.

Continuing our quick rundown of each division...

AL Central

1. Tigers
My pick: Even

They spent most of last season figuring things out, not solidifying first place until late September despite being the odds-on favorites to run away with the division. Once they settled in (and patched a major hole at second base), they were dominant on their way to the AL pennant.

With free agent Torii Hunter and a recovered Victor Martinez joining the star trio of Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Austin Jackson, this is a much deeper lineup than they've had in recent years. Despite the Triple Crown performance by Cabrera, the team only put up 726 runs last year, their lowest total since 2005. They should easily exceed 800 runs this year.

The rotation is loaded, led by last year's top 2 strikeout pitchers in the American League with three above-average starters behind them. This could easily be the best starting staff in the AL. The bullpen situation is unsettled but there are enough good arms (Coke, Dotel, Albuerquerque, Benoit) to get by. They should run away with the division from the start this time and compete again for the AL championship.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

2013 MLB Season Preview Part 1: AL West

And another new season begins.

This will be the fourth time in this blog's history that I'll be writing up a division-by-division baseball preview. Each time in the past I've gotten at least a couple predictions dead wrong. Last year, for instance, I had the Nationals finishing in last place and the revamped Marlins winning the NL East. Instead, the Nats won 98 games and the division while the Marlins imploded with a 69-win last-place disaster season.

All of which is to say: don't take this too seriously. No matter how well you know baseball, it's impossible to predict the outcome of a six-month-long season with any sort of accuracy. This format is merely the most convenient for discussing each team's chances. I like to yap about baseball and looking at each team's projected record represents a good starting point.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

On the Lofty Potential of the Human Brain

Stephen Wiltshire draws a city from memory

Soaking in certain books and lecture materials (mainly revolving around the works of Robert Anton Wilson and Timothy Leary) over the last few weeks has had me often floating in a deep, blissful and prolonged appreciation and consideration of the human brain, nature's astounding biocomputer.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Cassiopeia and Tycho's Star in Ulysses

One of the websites I visit regularly is NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day page. Last week this magnificent image of the so-called Heart Nebula appeared:

It was noted that the Heart Nebula appears in the constellation Cassiopeia, a name which immediately rung a bell as it recurs in the thought streams of the two main characters in Ulysses: "delta of Cassiopeia." While that phrase has occasionally echoed in the back of my mind the last few years, I never took the liberty to find out what exactly it means and why it pops up a few times in Ulysses. I frequently find that, when dealing with the art of James Joyce, there's always a reason for the recurrent phrases. They always mean something if not multiple things. Every microcosmic grain, when closely examined, tends to open up a new world.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

NHL 2013: The Truncated Season at its Midpoint

Nobody is catching Jonathan Toews and the Blackhawks.
It's about that time for me to compose some thoughts on the current NHL season and its combatants. My hockey fanhood seems to peak each year right around the midpoint of the schedule, slowly trailing off into the spring as baseball begins and the combo of stretch-run NBA, NHL, and a fresh baseball season becomes too much for me to keep up with all at once.

For now, I'm intensely following the lockout-shortened 2013 NHL season and greatly enjoying it. The condensed 48-game schedule has teams only playing opponents from the same conference and lots of games going on virtually every single night. This feels like the way it should always be. Both the NHL and NBA (and MLB, for that matter) badly need to shorten their regular season schedules but with massive amounts of TV revenue flowing in, that's just not going to happen.

Since we're dealing with a relatively small sampling of games (just a handful of teams have reached the 24-game halfway mark at this point), I'll try to keep this short.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

An Eclectic Array of Bullet Points

Limiting myself to just one picture to sum up this weird post.
My writing has begun to fall off the rails a bit the last few weeks as I've been drawn in many different directions by a combination of life events (all good ones!) and overindulgent devouring of my favorite types of brain food. The latter is always the source material for my writing but instead of taking the time and focused energy to express my thoughts about these things I've been just been consuming it all. In an attempt to start bringing balance to this gluttony, here are some words on the extremely varied things I've been spending so much time gobbling up the last few months.
  • The Coolest Game on Earth: The return of hockey sucked me in immediately and I've been closely following the new NHL season ever since. While the lockout that wiped away half the league's regular season was an ugly and embarrassing disaster for the sport, the actual gameplay on the ice hasn't suffer from it one bit. Hockey is still amazing to watch. Perhaps more than ever. (I can't help but watch anytime it's on---a game currently plays in the background as I type this.) Similar to the NBA's lockout-shortened season last year, the abbreviated schedule feels easier to digest. I'm of the opinion that every sport, with the possible exception of the NFL, has an overly long and drawn-out schedule that badly needs to be pared down. A 48-game NHL regular season (in which each team only plays opponents from their own conference) seems perfect. It bears mentioning that the sportswriting conglomerate site now features two great hockey writers in Katie Baker and Sean McIndoe whose work has been contributing to my intense interest in the sport this year. To be posted here soon will be a large post of all my thoughts on the NHL season thus far.
  • Spring Has Sprung: The arrival at my doorstep of Baseball Prospectus 2013, the annual season preview book, has officially signaled the beginning of spring and the return of the beautiful outdoor game. I love watching and keeping up with the NHL and NBA but inevitably each year when the new BP annual shows up and Spring Training begins, my baseball obsession quickly stirs awake from its winter slumber, making it hard to maintain any balance in my sports fanhood. For the fourth time since this blog's inception, I'll be putting together my own season preview/predictions for each team in the weeks to come. Also, expect a critique of the BP annual soon as the phonebook-sized text which I look forward to reading every year made some major changes, mostly for the worse.
  • "Yeah I'm Underground/ Straight Outta the Bat Cave": Two new hip hop albums have brought me lots of audio ecstasy already this year. The latest offering from Bronze Nazareth and his Detroit-based Wisemen crew is a solo album for the group's dynamically grimy and gravelly-voiced flow master Phillie entitled Welcome to the Detroit Zoo (produced and directed by Bronze). A pure album in every sense of the word, it is front-to-back filled with quality tracks, not a single bad beat (as per usual with Bronze & crew), and maintains a thought-provoking theme variously inflected throughout: that of captured animals in zoos being a metaphorical equivalent to "what it's like to be a n**** in America" as the oft-quoted Katt Williams has it. After two full months of constantly listening to and never getting bored with that album, another long-awaited record has just recently reached its release. The mesmerizing psycho-cosmic-occult-spiritual-street-poetic mysticism of Wu-Tang tribe shaman Killah Priest bursts forth through a massive 41-track collection in his most ambitious project to date, his tenth studio album, a double-cd entitled The Psychic World of Walter Reed (aka PWOWR). I'm still absorbing it, but will soon have lots to more to say about it as well as a full review of Phillie's album.
  • Engaged in Guerilla Ontology: Inspired by the ongoing reading group over at the Robert Anton Wilson fan blog, I've been reading RAW's historical fiction novel Masks of the Illuminati. Through his always refreshingly smooth and creative prose, Wilson weaves a strange tale of secret societies, occult magic, astral projection, and global conspiracy with a thoroughly spooked main character who happens to cross paths with two of the greatest minds of the 20th century, James Joyce and Albert Einstein (at the earliest cusp of their fame), who are compelled to help him solve his harrowing dilemma. As always happens when I indulge in reading RAW's books closely, weird yet innocuous synchronicities keep popping up around my life lately.
  • Finnegans Everything! I've got a new favorite blog and, as you can probably ascertain from reading this space, it's a weird one. Entitled Groupname for Grapejuice (a phrase from Finnegans Wake), this blog uses a mix of comparative mythology, occult knowledge, numerology, and some subjective free association to engage in what I can only call synchronicity detective work. The process might rankle the corduroys of the average skeptical rational materialists, but for me, having often indulged in this kind creative associative detective work myself, it's a delight to read. If you any interest in Finnegans Wake, synchronicity, numerology, Kabbalah, or conspiracy theories, then I can't recommend this blog highly enough. While the synchro-knots revealed can be a little scary sometimes, it's a good kind of scary, the kind that shakes up your world view, forcing you to reorganize your reality tunnel. Healthy mental exercise. Robert Anton Wilson would've loved it. In addition to that, I spent a month obsessively reading arguably the best critical work on Finnegans Wake called Joyce's Book of the Dark by John Bishop. It's an incredibly dense, information-filled book and so my attempt to summarize and review it has been a difficult one, but I'm about halfway done with that review piece so expect to see a big post on that soon at my other blog. My friend Gerry Fialka, who runs the long-standing Marshall McLuhan/Finnegans Wake Reading Group in Venice, California recently published a superb article weaving together a variety of threads, the associative style of which will appeal to anyone who derived intellectual pleasure from this specific bullet point.