The Warning Track: Power Rankings, Week 8

The Warning Track is a blog that covers all things Major League Baseball on a weekly basis, from discussing why some teams are getting hot, who’s in line for awards at season’s end and who is getting ready to make the leap to contender status, as well as off-the-field issues like first-time Commissioner Rob Manfred, which players could be headed to new homes, and A-Rod’s latest conundrum. 

If you have anything MLB-related that you would like to see discussed in the upcoming edition of The Warning Track, or have any comments at all, you may suggest/comment/rant/agree/disagree/tell me I know nothing about baseball at any time on Twitter @RealDavidLynch. 

 

Fab Five

1. St. Louis Cardinals (33-17, 1st in the NL Central)

Ranking two weeks ago: 1

After stumbling a bit against the Royals, the Redbirds rebounded by sweeping the Diamonbacks at home and taking the opener against the Dodgers, who they are on track to possibly match up with once again when October rolls around.

St. Louis continues to face adversity in the form of the injury bug. Matt Adam is now presumably done for the season after undergoing surgery for a quad injury that he suffered in a game against Arizona, leaving many to wonder if the Cards will go after Ryan Howard of the Phillies to re-fortify the lineup.

Adams’ injury is countered by the return of Jon Jay, as well as the continued production of Matt Holliday, who set a National League record on Wednesday for most consecutive games reaching base safely to start the season (43). That streak has since been extended to 44, 10 away from setting a new major league record (Jeter holds the record with 53 from 1999).    

2. Houston Astros (31-20, 1st in the AL West) 

Ranking two weeks ago: Not ranked

Almost two months into the season, it’s starting to become an inescapable truth: These Astros might just be legit, as I examined last week. Dallas Keuchel has been electrifying with his arm, Jose Altuve with his bat. In fact, everyone’s bats are alive; Houston leads baseball in home runs (68) and have scored the seventh-most runs in the American League (219).

They are also second in the AL with 43 stolen bases, just one behind Detroit. All this despite sitting last in the league in batting average at .235. Imagine what we’ll see from the team with the second-best record in major league baseball once that average starts rising.

Springer, one of the many young Astros, has 7 homers, but is only batting .222. There's only one direction that number can go for him and his teammates.

Springer, one of the many young Astros, has 7 homers, but is only batting .222. There’s only one direction that number can go for him and his teammates.

  3. Kansas City Royals (29-19, 2nd in the AL Central)

Ranking two weeks ago: 3

Taking 2 of 3 from the Cardinals awarded KC the league’s best record for a short time, only for them to be swept by the Yankees in New York early in the week, being outscored 23-4 in the process. But they remain one of the most complete teams in baseball, ranking 7th in the bigs in team ERA (3.53) while also having scored the fourth-most runs (223).

Those numbers are the tale of the tape for the Royals when it comes to their run differential, which remains the second-best in baseball (behind St. Louis) at +50. The 2015 Royals are just as good as the club that roared through most of the postseason. In fact, with their newfound and somewhat surprising offensive firepower, they’re even better.

 

4. San Francisco Giants (30-22, 2nd in the NL West)

Ranking two weeks ago: Not ranked

The Giants were dead in the water at season’s start, as many predicted they might be – it is an odd year, after all. But after posting a 9-13 record in April, and being outscored by 28 runs, the defending champions have roared to life in May, garnering a 21-7 record, including 6-4 in their last ten games.

Their offense has been revitalized with the return of Hunter Pence, and their pitching has been stellar.

San Francisco has played their way to a tie at the top of the NL West after being as far back as six games in late April, setting up what should be an exciting race to watch in the coming months with the Dodgers and Padres on deck.  

5. Washington Nationals (28-22, 1St in the NL East)

Ranking two weeks ago: 4

The Nationals have cooled off just a bit after going on a 18-4 run earlier in the month, but Bryce Harper sure hasn’t.

Surprisingly, their offense (226 runs scored, second in the NL) has outperformed their hyped rotation (3.82 starter ERA, seventh in the NL), even with Jayson Werth yet to play, something the Nationals will have to start getting used to.

Darker days may be ahead for Washington, with Strasburg continuing to struggle due to injury and Doug Fister on the DL, but for now, a weak division should help the Nats stay a few games above .500, as should Bryce Harper staying in Unhuman Mode.

 

Flawed Five

1. Milwaukee Brewers (17-34, 5th in the NL Central)

Telling statistics: 29th in MLB in team ERA (4.67), 29th in MLB in opponent batting avg. with RISP (.290), last in the NL in batting average (.227), 29th in MLB in errors (44)

2. Philadelphia Phillies (19-33, 5th in the NL East)

Telling statistics: 26th in MLB in opponent batting avg. with bases loaded (.371), last in the NL in runs scored (154), 13th in the NL in batting average (.237), 13th in the NL in batting average with RISP (.223), last in MLB in home runs (27)

3. Oakland Athletics (20-33, 5th in the AL West)

Telling statistics: Last in MLB in bullpen ERA (4.83), last in MLB in errors (51)

4. Cincinnati Reds (22-27, 4th in the NL Central)

Telling statistics: 28th in MLB in bullpen ERA (4.63), 14th in the NL in runs scored (175), last in the NL in batting average with RISP (.185), last in MLB in doubles (59)

5. Miami Marlins (20-31, 4th in the NL East)

Telling statistics: Last in MLB in opponent batting average with RISP (.305), 13th in the NL in runs scored (182), 28th in MLB in doubles (66), 27th in MLB in home runs (36)

 

 

 

David Lynch likes to talk about and write about movies, sports, and important happenings around the world. He can be reached at alex.695@hotmail.com or on Twitter @RealDavidLynch.

Advertisements

The Warning Track: A Year of Resurgence

The Warning Track is a blog that covers all things Major League Baseball on a weekly basis, from discussing why some teams are getting hot, who’s in line for awards at season’s end and who is getting ready to make the leap to contender status, as well as off-the-field issues like first-time Commissioner Rob Manfred, which players could be headed to new homes, and A-Rod’s latest conundrum. 

If you have anything MLB-related that you would like to see discussed in the upcoming edition of The Warning Track, or have any comments at all, you may suggest/comment/rant/agree/disagree/tell me I know nothing about baseball at any time on Twitter @RealDavidLynch. 

 

The 2015 major league baseball campaign has been, thus far, dominated by surprising individual performances. Bryce Harper is finally doing what everyone in Washington expected him to do. Shelby Miller has pitched his way into the Cy Young discussion. A-Rod is etching his name into more pages of the records books. And Kershaw hasn’t been Kershaw thus far.

With all the fanfare surrounding individual players, whether for better or for worse, it’s easy to overlook the status of whole ballclubs, some of which are giving their fans new faith after years of holding the position as cellar-dwellar, lending a whole new dimension to a sport that prides itself on parity in the process.

 

Houston Astros

The Astros – who have averaged a 69-93 regular season record since they got swept in the 2005 World Series – have the best record in the American League at 30-18, second-best in the bigs only to St. Louis.

Read that sentence again. Take a deep breath, maybe two. It’s okay, everyone else it just as shocked as you are. Led by AL Cy Young contender Dallas Keuchel (6-1, 1.98 ERA) and hit machine Jose Altuve (.299 batting average, AL-leading 15 swiped bags), the Astros are coming into their own as a team that is completely defying all expectations – which, admittedly, were minimal – and becoming legitimate threats for the AL West crown.

It’s one thing to have brushed the 2015 Astros off as a team that is simply hot for the time being, but it’s nearing the end of May, and they have yet to lose more than three games in a row.

They embarked on a ten-game winning streak from late April to early May to make a statement, and so far they have justified it, as they are one of only five ballclubs in the major leagues (and only one of two in the American League) to have a winning record both on the road (15-8) and at home (15-10).

That being said, it’s time to take the Astros seriously, something I thought was still a couple years away from happening. They’re proving me and many others wrong, and the sport is all the better for it.

And when you take into account the youth that is energizing the team – Altuve is 25, George Springer 25, Luis Valbuena 29, Keuchel 27 – as well as the fact that Carlos Correa and Mark Appel (the 2nd- and 28th-ranked MLB prospects, according to minor league baseball’s Prospect Watch) have yet to arrive, maybe it’s time we settle in and enjoy this team, because their time might just be right now, and it might just last for the better part of the next decade.

 

 

Minnesota Twins

The Twins haven’t won more than 70 games in a season since 2010, when they were swept in the division series for the second consecutive year. They have’t advanced passed that round since 2002, where they lost in the ALCS 4 games to 1.

They’ve set a benchmark for futility and irrelevance for baseball, but lately they’ve been looking like a team ready to forget all of that history, to the tune of an 8-2 record in their last ten games and a 28-18 mark overall.

That’s good enough to tie them for first in an ultra-competitive AL Central division, where the Royals, Twins and Tigers are all separated by just 1.5 games.

But the Twins are the hottest of those three, as well as one of the hottest clubs in all of baseball, having not lost a series in over two weeks and outscoring opponents 27-11 on a current five-game winning streak.

These are the Twins, mind you. It’s been a long long time since they’ve been this intimidating. But they are, and the return of Torii Hunter, who spent his first ten big league season in Minnesota, is a big reason why. He’s 29 RBI and 7 dingers to go along with a .280/.333/.457 line. In addition, their pitching has improved by leaps and bounds this season. An AL-worst 4.57 team ERA from 2014 has undergone a seemingly impossible evolution in 2015, where they now sport a 3.94 team ERA.

They’ve also already won half as many extra-inning games this seasons as they did in all of 2014 (3-1 versus 6-7), showing that they have a newfound resilience to churning out victories.

Time will tell if the Twins can live up to the new expectations they’ve set for themselves, expectations they know they’re capable of. It isn’t the most common thing in baseball for a team to go from worst to first as the Twins are gunning to do this season, but at the very least, for the time being, it makes for a good story, and one that might be worth revisiting in the coming weeks and months.

 

Chicago Cubs

Unlike the Astros and Twins, the Cubs entered 2015 with expectations as high as a ball hit off the bat of Nelson Cruz, looking to end over a century of disappointment.

Although they’ve been inconsistent at time, they will have a record over .500 once the calendar flips to June – they are 25-21 entering play today – which for the Cubs is reason enough to get excited, especially seeing as they would be only one game back of a wild card spot if the season ended today.

Much of what the Cubs are expected to do this season and in the coming years is dependent on the performances of their stars – experienced ace Jon Lester, inexperienced phenom Kris Bryant, and budding MVP candidate Anthony Rizzo. So far the potential has not only been warranted, but fulfilled.

After struggling in April to begin his National League career, Lester (has pitched his way back into his starring role as rotation leader, giving up two earned runs or less in 5 of his last 6 starts. He hasn’t quite performed at the plate, but Rizzo, the undisputed face of the franchise at just 25 years old, has more than made up for it, batting his way to a .315 average to go along with 9 homers and 29 RBI.

But the star of the show, and the storyline of the season on the North Side, has been the arrival of basher Kris Bryant. After taking a couple weeks to adjust to the big leagues upon his advent, the third baseman began to hit like we all knew he would. He leads the team in RBI (31) and also has hit 7 longballs and crossed home plate 26 times, all top three for the Cubs.

Although a struggling bullpen (4.07 ERA) has caused them to drop some games in the late innings, the Cubs so far have been making their fans happy.

There’s excitement in the air on the North Side of the Windy City, and if the Cardinals ever cool off on their historic start, the NL Central race should be a fun one to watch down the stretch, especially with the Pirates winning their last seven and making a move toward the front of the pack.

 

 

David Lynch likes to talk about and write about movies, sports, and important happenings around the world. He can be reached at alex.695@hotmail.com or on Twitter @RealDavidLynch.

The Warning Track: A Near No-No and the Fallout

The Warning Track is a blog that covers all things Major League Baseball on a weekly basis, from discussing why some teams are getting hot, who’s in line for awards at season’s end and who is getting ready to make the leap to contender status, as well as off-the-field issues like first-time Commissioner Rob Manfred, which players could be headed to new homes, and A-Rod’s latest lie. 

If you have anything MLB-related that you would like to see discussed in the upcoming edition of The Warning Track, or have any comments at all, you may suggest/comment/rant/agree/disagree/tell me I know nothing about baseball at any time on Twitter @RealDavidLynch. 

 

A Star in the Making

Last Saturday, against the Miami Marlins, Braves pitcher Shelby Miller came an out away from a no-hitter for the second time in his young career. It was, incredibly, not even the most eye-opening linescore of his time in the bigs.

Acquired in an offseason trade with the Cardinals, Miller has done more than finally give us a taste of his full potential; he’s taking over the position of Braves ace, the guy who can be counted on to put in gem after gem, from Julio Teheran. But last weekend’s performance put him on a whole other tier, one which puts the rest of the National League on notice.

Miller sits first in major league baseball in ERA (1.33), ahead of established superstars like A.J. Burnett (1.38), Zack Greinke (1.48) and Max Scherzer (1,67). He also leads baseball in WHIP (0.83), batting average against (.156) and complete games (2) and is a bona fide Cy Young contender in the early going, a discussion that many foresaw when he was with the Cardinals.

Miller spent his first two big league seasons in St. Louis, where he garnered a 3.40 ERA and 25-18 record in 62 starts. That’s not bad for a young hurler getting his first taste of The Show, but issues with St. Louis brass, as well as the need for an upgrade in right field in The Gateway City, led Miller to Atlanta while Jason Heyward was shipped to the Cardinals.

Now, without the chip on his shoulder and on a club working to rebuild, Miller is dominating the opposition in a way that was seemingly inevitable.

And it couldn’t have come at a better time for the Atlanta Braves and their fans, who have had to settle for only one division title in the last 9 seasons after being crowned NL East champions every year from 1991 through 2005, with the exception of 1994.

For the better part of the past decade, the core group of Justin and Melvin Upton, Freddie Freeman, and Dan Uggla couldn’t translate 80-plus win seasons into postsesaon success, leading to the exporting of most of those players and the start of a new rebuild.

Freeman has helped lead the Braves to three postseason appearances since 2010, but the team has yet to advance to advance to the League Championship Series for the first time since 2001.

Freeman has helped lead the Braves to three postseason appearances since 2010, but the team has yet to advance to advance to the League Championship Series for the first time since 2001.

But as the organization develops young talent for the big leagues – their farm was ranked 15th before the season began by Baseball America – Miller is giving them some hope for the future of their franchise every fifth day. He is the only Braves starter with an ERA under 3.00, and has at least 6 innings in every one of his starts but two. He has yet to give up more than earned runs in a start, and even then he has only given up that many earned runs thrice.

In addition, Miller is dominant no matter what the situation is. His home and road ERAs are virtually identical – 1.29 versus 1.36, respectively – and he has a 1.20 ERA in day games compared to a 1.38 mark in night games.

Miller is the future of the Braves franchise, that much as been made clear through the first seven weeks of the 2015 campaign. He’s flown under the radar for much of that time, but with his nearly-flawless performance last weekend, the rest of major league baseball has been put on notice.

 

A Fishy Move

While we’re on the topic of Shelby Miller’s excellent outing against the Marlins, let’s talk about the aftermath: the unsurprising dismissal of manager Mike Redmond immediately following the game.

His seat has definitely been scorching for a while. Two years ago he had been expected to help lead the resurgence of the franchise, and this year was when everything was supposed to come together, what with the established superstar status of 300 million dollar man Giancarlo Stanton as well as supporting players like Christian Yelich and Dee Gordon.

But his 155-207 record in Miami hasn’t amounted to much other than disappointment, and unfortunately home runs hit out of the stadium alone won’t amount to much success.

So while many wondered who would succeed Redmond, some in the media were getting tips that Bartolo Colon would hit a home run before guessing who would take over as Marlins manager.

Ultimately, the baseball world was left incredulous at the announcement that General Manager Dan Jennings would take over managing duties.

Jennings has never coached in the big leagues, nor in the minors. His experience amounts to four years of coaching at Davidson High School in the ‘80s. He has also never played in a major league game.

In a sense, this is an extremely Marlins-esque move. The organization hasn’t exactly had a stable, successful manager for some time, and this is as perplexing a move as we’ve ever seen them make.

One manager in the last 22 seasons has had a winning tenure in Miami.

One manager in the last 22 seasons has had a winning tenure in Miami.

It’s tough to see the pros of this move from owner Jeffrey Loria, and certain figures around the sport haven’t exactly endorsed the move. The only thing I can think of is that Loria and Marlins brass believe Jennings has the ability to instill an enduring culture in the Marlins clubhouse, one set on winning at all cost and utilizing the talent that the club knows they have.

jennings

Jennings certainly knows they have it. After all, he crafted this team. Maybe he knows them better than they know themselves. And if not, if the experiment turns out to be a bust, then it isn’t like the Marlins’ championship window is closing.

Heck, it hasn’t even fully opened. Maybe Jennings will be able to show his squad how beautiful it can be outside their ongoing nightmare of underperforming, because right now it’s a storm.

 

David Lynch likes to talk about and write about movies, sports, and important happenings around the world. He can be reached at alex.695@hotmail.com or on Twitter @RealDavidLynch.

 

 

Mad Max: Fury Road is a feast for the superhero-weary, carnage-hungry action enthusiast

George Miller’s original visions of Mad Max from the ‘70s and ‘80s were never really about one man, but rather an entire desolate world, barely grasping onto threads of hope for sanity in a post-apocalypstic wasteland.

At its best, George Miller successfully recaptures those themes in Mad Max: Fury Road, the first installment in the franchise since Beyond Thunderdome 30 thirty years ago, while serving up some of the most primal and relentless action in cinema today.

Luckily for the audience, whether they are new to the franchise or grew up with Mel Gibson’s version of the hardened road warrior 30 years ago, Fury Road is at its best for virtually its entire running time, offering up two hours of pure carnage and mayhem that is a breath of fresh air at a time when heroes in capes reign supreme, while also subverting gender tropes senseless in its portrayal of the female heroine.

Tom Hardy (Inception, The Dark Knight Rises, Warrior) is the titular Max this time around, and he is as mad as the title suggests; haunted by an ambiguous past that seems to be his only real connection to the world, eating creatures of the desert like popcorn and straying just barely of the insanity that chases him endlessly.

When the white-body painted crazies do capture him and take him for their own nefarious uses, the film’s over-the-top tone and scale are introduced, albeit in a small but effective way. By the time the title card is embroiled on the screen, the audience knows it’s in for something much for lustfully violent and demonic than standard Hollywood fare.

The punk-Western influences of the original Mad Maxes still dominate Fury Road.

The punk-Western influences of the original Mad Maxes still dominate Fury Road.

That grittiness later becomes debauchery of the most satisfying kind, as Fury Road eventually evolves into an orchestra of madness and vehicular carnage that is rarely even attempted in modern film. Fury Road isn’t necessarily dark, but like previous entries in the franchise, it strives to be as hyperbolic as it can, presenting a world where steering wheels are weapons, blood is fuel, and minions who call themselves War Boys are devoted to finding salvation in their violent exploits. It’s twisted and elegantly maniacal in a way that makes it stand out amongst more standard Hollywood offerings.

Miller doesn’t want to be standard, he refuses to be. That much is clearly apparent by the time the flame-spitting guitarist contributing musically to the madness is first introduced.

Fury Road doesn’t trouble the audience with establishing these visceral tones on a large scale, focusing instead on the chase between self-proclaimed ruler Immortan Joe, his appearance as disconcerting as his name suggests, and Imperator Furiosa, played by Charlize Theron (Prometheus, The Italian Job, Snow White and the Huntsman).

Furiosa is attempting to liberate Immortan Joe’s Five Wives, essentially his property, and to bring them from where she came, a promised land dubbed the Green Place where women aren’t viewed as things and from where civilization could begin anew.

Max is along for the ride, but this is Furiosa’s show as much as it is his. Miller effectively gives the finger to the seemingly universal unwritten laws of modern cinema that women in action flicks have to be the one being rescued, the one who can’t shoot the gun. Theron, with her short hair and lubricant-lathered stare of determination, doesn’t take lightly to those tropes as Furiosa, a character as strong and willing as any Captain America or James Bond or Jason Bourne. She is threatening and unwavering in her pursuit of finding hope where none may exist, and male and female audience members alike will find it easy to cheer her on.

furiosa

And she isn’t the only one lending the film a feminist tone, which becomes apparent by the time the film’s third act begins. I’ll just say the final action piece is a thoroughly welcome destruction of gender constructs, one which elevates Fury Road to become a statement about our reality and the way women are viewed. In that sense, Miller has crafted this year’s Wild.

Hardy is as memorable as Max, whose lines we can probably count on two hands, but whose character conveys the hopelessness and single goal of survival that is the staple of the franchise. Hardy is influenced by his performance as Bane from The Dark Knight Rises, as his eyes have to do all the acting when his face is covered for a good chunk of the film. When he finally gets it off and later finds the humanity he seemingly lost so long ago, it’s hard not to applaud.

The writing is also very strong, vibrant and enthusiastic in its embrace of the masochistic undertones that Mad Max is grounded on. The music plays just as big a role in painting that devious and relentless atmosphere, tense and foreboding all the way through.

But audience members paying ten bucks for a movie ticket are here for the spectacle, and that is exactly what they get. The vast majority of Fury Road is nonstop vehicular warfare of the definite R-rated variety – bloody, visceral and unforgiving. Individual set pieces are pulled off to incredibly satisfying effect, never taking its audience for granted. Fury Road’s trailers tease the action that audience can expect, and it lives up to the hype it places on itself.

Miller's world is as beautiful as it is violent.

Miller’s world is as beautiful as it is violent.

Even the hand-to-hand combat is excellently choreographed and executed, the moment when Max and Furiosa meet resulting in one of the most memorable sequences to be had at the movies this year. And it’s just in time, what with Marvel entries starting to becoming somewhat stale and predictable with the type of spectacle that audiences have come to expect for years now.

By contrast, Miller doesn’t go huge with Fury Road, but deep, immersing all the audience’s senses into the chaos. The action in Mad Max is fresh and imaginative, buoyed by its desire to resemble the old action pics of yester-century. Classics like Die Hard, First Blood and The Terminator clearly influenced Miller, who seeks to give audiences a display long forgotten by the (mostly) unimaginative modern choir of industry leaders.

Fury Road truly does look like something out of place. It’s genre bending with its portrayals of heroes and sacrifice, while embracing old-school action and spectacle outfitted with the best visuals that modern cinema has to offer. It prides itself on carnage with levity; a story that, while entertaining and memorable, works to also let audiences know what they’ve been missing, whether they’ve realized it or not. It doesn’t subvert substance for style, but combines them. In that sense, Fury Road is long overdue.

hardy

 

In a Nutshell

Wild meets a version of Fast and Furious for the demonic, Fury Road is one of the most unique films to be had in years, its punk-Western mayhem a sight to behold and its societal messages hinting that the world of Mad Max may not be as much a fantasy as we think.

 

9.2 / 10

 

Mad Max: Fury Road is rated R for intense sequences of violence throughout, and for disturbing images

Starring: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult

Directed by George Miller

2015

 

 

David Lynch likes to talk about and write about movies, sports, and important happenings around the world. He can be reached at alex.695@hotmail.com or on Twitter @RealDavidLynch.

The Warning Track – Week 6

The Warning Track is a blog that covers all things Major League Baseball on a weekly basis, from discussing why some teams are getting hot, who’s in line for awards at season’s end and who is getting ready to make the leap to contender status, as well as off-the-field issues like first-time Commissioner Rob Manfred, which players could be headed to new homes, and A-Rod’s latest lie. 

If you have anything MLB-related that you would like to see discussed in the upcoming edition of The Warning Track, or have any comments at all, you may suggest/comment/rant/agree/disagree/tell me I know nothing about baseball at any time on Twitter @RealDavidLynch. 

 

A Blockbuster in the Making?

For a couple years the Colorado Rockies have tempted 29 other clubs by dangling their star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki like a carrot for one or two or ten young guys (because let’s face it, Tulo is worth it), only to snatch it back in the hopes that their team might one year get out of the basement of the NL West.

Well, in 2015 Tulowitzki is 30 years old and the Rockies continue to be unforgiving to their fans, already nine and a half games back of the Dodgers in their division and losers of 9 of their last 10. .

So, naturally, Tulowitzki came close to taking matters into his own hands and getting the rumor train a-chugging with reports that he was considering asking the organization he has been with his whole career for a trade, only to forego/delay the move.

It all seems pretty inevitable. Tulowitzki is one of the premier shortshops in the majors, and even with his susceptibility to injury – he failed to play in 100 games in two of the last three seasons – he is still a considerable upgrade at the position for several contenders, including the Mets and Mariners, as someone who averages 29 home runs and 101 RBI over a full season.

But all that production in Colorado has been made moot by Rockie pitching, among the league’s worst in recenty years. It’s no different this year with their 5.30 team ERA, the worst in baseball by over half a run. It would be a win-win situation for Colorado and a potential trade partner if they got Tulo’s worth in young pitching with potential as part of a complete rebuild.

And Colorado wouldn’t be surrendering all of its offensive firepower. Player like Nolan Arenado (.291 avg., six home runs, 17 RBI), Charlie Blackmon (.298 average, five home runs, 14 RBI), and Corey Dickerson (.315 average, five home runs, 15 RBI), all aged 28 or under, have done just as much, if not more, than Tulowitzki (.284 average, 2 home runs, 11 RBI) this season.

As a result, for the price of someone hungry to play in October, the Rockies would ask for pitching, pitching, and more pitching, especially when their top two prospects, Jon Gray (7.75 ERA in 33.2 innings) and Eddie Butler (4.24 ERA in 34.0 innings), aren’t exactly tearing it up in the minors.

If another organization was willing to pay that price, Tulo could play this October – something every baseball fans wants to see – and the Rockies could be two or three years away from (finally) winning games on a consistent basis.

Wouldn’t that be a sight to see?

 

Power Rankings

The Cardinals stay strong despite losing their ace, and the Dodgers are giving them a run for their money as the best team in the National League. The AL Central is becoming a fun race to watch, with the Royals, Tigers and surprising Twins all within three games of each other. And a couple of teams make their Fab Five debut thanks to some offensive firepower.

 

Fab Five

1. St. Louis Cardinals (24-12, 1st in the NL Central)

Ranking two weeks ago: 1

An NL-best bullpen (1.71 ERA) and rising offensive attack (5.3 runs over the last ten games) have helped the Redbirds overcome some shaky starts by Adam Wainwright’s (temporary?) replacement Tyler Lyons and Carlos Martinez, who after giving up five earned runs through his first five starts to the season, has given up seven in each of his last two start to inflate his ERA.

The Cards are owners of the second best run differential in baseball at +51, and a weekend series with the Detroit Tigers (21-14) will play a big part in legitimizing them as the best all-around team in baseball, or a club whose easy early schedule plays into their MLB-best record.

 

2. Los Angeles Dodgers (23-12, 1st in the NL West)

Ranking two weeks ago: 5

A 15-4 home record and MLB-best +61 run differential has helped to compensate for a 7-8 road record, as well as an offense that has scored the most runs in baseball (178), along with leading the bigs in home runs (53), on –base percentage (.352), slugging percentage (.485), on-plus-slugging percentage (.837) and walks (138).

Upcoming series’ with the Padres, Braves and Cardinals should test a Dodgers club that hasn’t yet reached its full potential with a subpar Kershaw (1-2, 4.26 ERA through seven starts).

 

3. Kansas City Royals (23-13, 1st in the AL Central)

Ranking two weeks ago: 2

One of only two teams in baseball (St. Louis) whose longest losing streak was two, the Royals took two of three from Detroit, hot on their heels in the Central, to whom they lost an earlier series. They then went on to split a 4-game series with the Rangers. KC is top five in runs scored as well as team ERA, and they’ve shown that they can win without getting physical with their opponents.

 

4. Washington Nationals (20-17, 2nd in the NL East)

Ranking two weeks ago: Not ranked

The team most everyone has pegged to win the World Series has gotten hot as of late, winning 5 of their last 7 and going 7-3 in their last 10 overall. And they’re doing it not with their pitching, which has allowed at least 6 runs four times in the last week, but by the leadership of Bryce Harper, who has burst into the MVP discussion, hitting seven homers in 9 games, with five of those being multi-hit performances. He’s raised his average from .256 to .303 over the last two weeks.

 

5. Chicago Cubs (21-15, 2nd in the NL Central)

Ranking two weeks ago: Not ranked

Welcome to relative consistency, Cubbies.

After losing two of three to the white flag-waving Brewers last weekend, Chicago came back home and cooled off a hot New York Mets team by sweeping all four games, all but one of them being one-run affairs. That’s important if Chicago wants to make any noise in September in October; games like Wednesday’s comeback from being down 5-1 early to win 6-5 will give some experience to Chicago’s youngsters who have yet to experience October.

And speaking of youngsters, Kris Bryant has officially arrived. After a couple weeks of homer-less baseball, he’s hit four in seven games, and doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.

Ace Jon Lester has also settled in, giving up only four runs over his last three starts (15 in his first four) to drop his ERA to just over 4.

 

Flawed Five

1. Milwaukee Brewers (13-23, last in the NL Central)

Telling statistics: 27th team ERA in MLB (4.49), NL-worst .228 team batting average, NL-worst 262 hits (7.5/game)1 dismissed manager

2. Colorado Rockies (12-20, last in NL West)

Telling statistics: 27th in MLB in runs scored (121, 3.9/game), MLB-worst 61 walks (1.9/game), MLB-worst 5.29 ERA, MLB-worst .287 batting average against, NL-worst 26 runs scored in 7-8-9th innings

3. Oakland Athletics (13-24, last in the AL West)

Telling stats: MLB-worst 36 errors (1/game), AL-worst 4.98 bullpen ERA, 27th in MLB in batting average against left-handers (.206)

4. Cleveland Indians (13-21, last in AL Central)

Telling stats: 13th in AL in team ERA (4.49), 13th in AL in batting average against (.267), 13th in AL in runs scored in 7-8-9th innings (38)

5. Philadelphia Phillies (14-23, last in NL East)

Telling stats: MLB-worst 103 runs scored, MLB-worst 19 home runs, 26th in MLB in batting average (.232), 14th in NL in starter ERA (4.85), NL-worst 11.89 ERA with runners in scoring position and two outs, 

 

 

David Lynch likes to talk about and write about movies, sports, and important happenings around the world. He can be reached at alex.695@hotmail.com or on Twitter @RealDavidLynch.

 

 

Captivating performances and a soaring script elevates Ex Machina above the grandeur of modern blockbusters

What if what we think is the right thing actually isn’t so? How far are we willing to go for a love we’re aren’t sure is real? Who do we place our faith in: a mysterious creator or the ostensibly naïve created?

These are the kinds of questions set forth by Ex Machina, an intimate yet intense thriller that combines all the elements of classic science fiction to craft a two-hour cinematic metaphor about the occasionally faulty outputs of human nature.

Writer-director Alex Garland, known for penning Danny Boyle’s zombie classic 28 Days Later, doesn’t leave a stone unturned as he creates a wholly original and memorable movie that is as thought-provoking as it is entertaining.

Domhnall Gleeson (Unbroken, Frank, Harry Potter) plays Caleb, a programmer for the world’s most powerful search engine, Bluebook (sorry, Google). He wins a contest to spend a week with one of the leading thinkers of Bluebook, Nathan, and examining the tortured genius’ newest project – Ava, the world’s first artificial intelligence.

But as these tales always go, there is more than meets the eye with almost every party involved, and the film consistently has an air of mystery and dread to it that fills every scene with tension.

Much of that is attributed to Oscar Isaac’s (Drive, Inside Llewyn Davis, A Most Violent Year) performance of Nathan, suspicious and intriguing from the moment we meet him. Isaac adds another illustrious performance to an otherwise colorful yet overlooked career, but that should change with the forthcoming Star Wars: The Force Awakens. He is as intellectually sound as he is drunkenly enigmatic, perfectly conveying Nathan’s sense of gaudy superiority.

issac

Gleeson also puts in a fantastically believable turn as Caleb, with whom the audience can relate almost all the way through, with every untrustworthy conversation with Nathan and the more intimate experiences with Ava.

But she is undoubtedly the star of the show, played by the Swedish Alicia Vikander (The Fifth Estate, Anna Karenina). Surrounded by an aura just as mysterious and threatening as her creator, the audience is put through the same test as Caleb is to ensure that Ava can make us believe she is human, and she does. Vikander perfects a curious naiveté while seemingly knowing all there is to know about being human that we forget she is until we hear the mechanical whirring of her being when she makes even the slightest move.

From her slightest of smiles that always turn a moment too soon, to the craving in her eyes to know about the world outside Nathan’s lab, Vikander is simply incredible, overpowering and overbearing just in the way she speaks.

Like every great entry in the science fiction genre, Ex Machina has a certain self-awareness about it where the audience never feels cheated. Every piece of dialogue, every plot point is carefully constructed to form a bigger picture that is slowly revealed, and there is almost never a slow point precisely because Garland keeps us so engaged in what is happening on-screen.

ex-machina-movie-large

In addition, he takes us on such a deep journey through each character so as to make us feel it is reality and not just science-fiction, as if we have to question their motives for our own sake. Deep philosophical questions are at play, some which are admittedly too grand to get a grasp of in a first viewing, but the film is predominantly about the struggle to differentiate between what we think we know and what we are led to believe.

It’s easy to focus on those themes, too, because the plot is so straightforward and delicate. Isolation is another key theme in Ex Machina, of both the literal and figurative kind. At times you feel like you’re peeking into a conversation or an action that you shouldn’t be, and that is a testament to Garland’s direction and the actors’ performances.

All good sci-fi also has a haunting soundtrack, and Ex Machina’s is blistering and preeminent at times, like the most macabre parts of a David Fincher movie.

The strength in Ex Machina, and what makes is so wholly original, is that it’s impossible to know what forces are really at play. Motivations are foggy and Garland is so cunning a writer that there is a never-ending stream of twists and turns conjured up, and you never see them coming because you’re so drawn in to what you think you know.

maxresdefault

Garland is out to tear apart what preconceptions are formed in an hour and a half in the final twenty minutes, every moment of which is thrilling, poignant, and cinematically gorgeous. You never see the ultimate villain coming, and, indeed, might not even be sure who the bad guy really is, leaving it as a topic of debate in the audience’s head long after the credits have rolled.

And he does it without explosions, without warning, without conviction. Just a careful deconstruction of what we’ve seen, thinking at first that it makes no sense, only for it to come full circle once we do what the movie asks us to do: examine ourselves and our faulty superiority.

 

In a Nutshell

Most science fiction is content with offering up a distorted view of the world and saying it’s a metaphor for reality. But when it comes to questioning our own lives in an intimate and profound way while building up to an ending that is entirely uncommon and satisfying, Ex Machina reigns supreme.

 

9.5 / 10

 

 

 

Ex Machina is rated R for graphic nudity, language, sexual references and some violence

Starring: Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander, Oscar Isaac

Directed by Alex Garland

2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

David Lynch likes to talk about and write about movies, sports, and important happenings around the world. He can be reached at alex.695@hotmail.com or on Twitter @RealDavidLynch.

The Warning Track: Week Five

The Warning Track is a blog that covers all things Major League Baseball on a weekly basis, from discussing why some teams are getting hot, who’s in line for awards at season’s end and who is getting ready to make the leap to contender status, as well as off-the-field issues like first-time Commissioner Rob Manfred, which players could be headed to new homes, and A-Rod’s latest lie. 

If you have anything MLB-related that you would like to see discussed in the upcoming edition of The Warning Track, or have any comments at all, you may suggest/comment/rant/agree/disagree/tell me I know nothing about baseball at any time on Twitter @RealDavidLynch. 

 

Awards Watch

With this year’s contenders, for both the postseason and individual awards at the end of the season, starting to becoming clear, it’s a good time to look back and see how off The Warning Track was with its preseason predictions, as far as the five-week old season is concerned.

 

American League Most Valuable Player

Who I said: Mike Trout, with Miguel Cabrera and Jose Abreu on deck

Trout and Cabrera are in the top ten in homers (seven and six, respectively), with Abreu close on their heels with five. Their among the leaders of their respective teams in most offensive categories, and have certainly performed as expected.

But two key things: The Angels and White Sox are playing sub-.500 ball, so Trout and Abreu are susceptible, just susceptible, to getting knocked out of the conversation in the early going. Cabrera’s Tigers are 19-12  in the early going, but players like Jose Iglesias, Yoenis Cespedes and J.D. Martinez are contributing just as much on a team that has averaged four and a half runs a game.

And, secondly, other players have simply been more incredible as of early May, dominating the opposition consistently and unabashedly.

As such, we have a couple new contenders, including one who would be named MVP of both leagues should the season end today.

1. Nelson Cruz, Seattle Mariners (12-17)

MLB-leading 14 home runs and .748 slugging percentage, AL-leading 1.130 OPS, third in AL in hits (39)

Hey, I said Trout and Abreu were susceptible to getting knocked out of the early MVP discussion due to their teams losing more games than they’ve won. Nelson Cruz’s Mariners are currently hanging out in the basement of the AL West, but no player in baseball has been more intimidating than Cruz through five weeks. If it wasn’t for Cruz (and probably King Felix), Seattle might not even be at five wins. He leads the team in average, home runs, RBI, runs, OBP, SLG, OPS, hits and walks.

As of now, there is one Seattle Mariner with his eye on October, and it’s Nelson Cruz.

2. Mark Teixeira, New York Yankees (19-12)

Top five in AL in home runs (10), RBI (23), walks (19), fifth in AL in SLG (.584)

3. Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels (14-16)

Top ten in AL in home runs (7), runs (24), stolen bases (7), SLG (.570), OPS (.959), walks (16)  

 

National League Most Valuable Player

Who I said: Giancarlo Stanton, followed by Jason Heyward and Kris Bryant

Jason Heyward has been eclipsed by another Cardinal, and Kris Bryant isn’t even the top contender for NL Rookie of the Year (yet). But Stanton has surely been tearing up the league, right?

Well, yes. After a slow first couple weeks, he’s turned it on to lead the majors in RBI (29) and lingering at the top of other major offensive categories.

But the National League has had its own Nelson Cruz, another veteran slugger who makes even the most potent National League pitcher drip sweat when he comes to the plate.

Here are my updated NL MVP standings.

1. Adrian Gonzalez, Los Angeles Dodgers (19-10)

MLB-leading 1.166 OPS, NL-leading .727 slugging percentage, top five in NL in home runs (9), batting average (.373), RBI (25), runs (23), OBP (.439), hits (41), doubles (12)

A-Gone came out swinging right out of the gate, becoming the first player in major league history to hit five homers in his team’s first three games, and refused to cool down. He’s led his team to a hot start, along with youngster Joc Pederson, and has wholeheartedly hoisted the Dodgers on his shoulders in the absence of Yasiel Puig. 

2. Matt Carpenter, St. Louis Cardinals (22-7)

MLB-leading 14 doubles, top five in NL runs (23), SLG (.620), top ten in NL in RBI (20), average (.333), hits (36), OPS (1.024)

3. Joc Pederson, Los Angeles Dodgers (19-10)

Top five in NL in home runs (9), SLG (.632), OPS (1.057) , walks (24), top ten in NL in RBI (19), runs (21), OBP (.425)

 

American League Cy Young

Who I said: Felix Hernandez, followed by Chris Sale and Corey Kluber

In a league inhabited by very few consistently powerful aces, my preseason pick, the King, has had another astounding start to the season, with a 1.73 ERA and sterling 5-0 record, a bright spot on an underperforming Mariners squad. But someone on an overperforming American League club has taken the reigns in the early going of what has been a very tight race for best pitcher in a batter-friendly league.

As far as the other guys, Chris Sale is serving a five-game suspension, and reigning AL Cy Young winner Corey Kluber has given up at least four earned runs in four of seven starts. Sooooo……

Updated AL Cy Young standings

  1. Dallas Keuchel, Houston Astros (19-11)

MLB-leading .80 ERA, 0.76 WHIP, fifth-in-MLB 45.0 innings pitched, AL-leading .139 batting average against 

The Astros are leading their division one week into May. Woah.

For the first time in over a decade, they are proving to be a fundamentally complete team. Woah.

And they have a player leading an awards race. WOAH!!!!!

Woah, indeed.

Woah, indeed.

Keuchel has been incredible so far for an Astros squad that is third in team ERA in the AL at 3.40. He’s given up only four earned runs in six starts this season, and in all but one he went at least seven innings. He’s the pitcher Houston needs and the one it deserves right now.

Heck, their fans have been deserving for ten years.

2. Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners (12-17)

AL-leading five wins, top ten in AL in ERA (1.73), strikeouts (44), WHIP (.084), innings pitched (41.2), one complete game along with four other AL pitchers

3. Chris Archers, Tampa Bay Rays (16-14)

AL-leading 50 strikeouts, top ten in AL in ERA (2.59), WHIP (1.01), batting average against (.185)

 

National League Cy Young

Who I said: Max Scherzer beating out Clayton Kershaw and Adam Wainwright

Scherzer has performed okay, Clayton Kershaw hasn’t at all, and the baseball world was rocked when Wainwright went down for the season two weeks ago. That’ll cause some changes.

Updated NL Cy Young standings

1. Zack Greinke, Los Angeles Dodgers (19-10)

Tied-for-MLB-lead five wins, NL-leading 0.84 WHIP,  ERA (1.56), top ten in NL in batting average (.174), innings pitched (40.1)

Clayton Kershaw hasn’t been himself this season. He is 1-2 with a 3.72 ERA through six starts, numbers he has no right to own. He’s gone at least seven innings his last two times on the mound, after failing to do so the previous four starts, but he has yet to not allow a run in a game.

In the meantime, Greinke has made up for it with, filling his role as co-ace admirably for a team that might that’ll make a huge jump once Kershaw is his old self once again.

Oh he’s raking at the plate, too, and he wants the world to know.

2. Gerrit Cole, Pittsburgh Pirates (13-16)

Top ten in NL in ERA (2.27), wins (4), strikeouts (39)

3. Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals (16-15)

Top ten in NL in ERA (2.11), strikeouts (49), WHIP (0.94), batting average (.216), innings pitched (42.2)    

 

An Ovation With An Asterisk

When Alex Rodriguez hit his 661st career home run on Thursday, passing Willie Mays to solely occupy fourth place on the all-time career list, there was excitement among those in the Yankees fandom who had forgiven A-Rod, accepted A-Rod, and now cheered on A-Rod.

But outside New York, there seemed to be little ovation to be had. As for me, I got an alert on my phone form my favorite sports app, followed quickly by a brief twitter takeover by various sports media bringing attention to the historic moment, and then nothing.

With a sigh, I went back to my day.

It’s unusual, and a little bit frightening, to think about what could have been, would have been, should have been. It’s no secret that the Yankees organization was planning a huge marketing campaign to be centered around A-Rod’s journey to 660.

We’re talking a big, season-long campaign. Creative slogans. Countless billboards in the Big Apple. Nike-endorsed commercials. Merchandise upon merchandise upon merchandise. A-Rod everywhere, the prodigy, the champion, the modern day Babe Ruth, just as it was meant to be.

And now, we’re left wondering whether it would have ever even been considered if A-Rod hadn’t used PEDs. Would he even have gotten close?

There would have been grandeur, lights, fireworks, spectacle. Every baseball fan form Yankee Stadium to AT&T Stadium in San Fran, whether they loved him or loathed him, would have at least given him a tip of the cap for what he accomplished.

I’ll give him a golf clap. 661 is still an astounding number, and hitting a baseball in general is still one of the toughest, if not the toughest, tasks in sports. But a golf clap is all I’m willing to do before contemplating how magnificent the event could have been, would have been…perhaps may never have been.

His name would have been written in the history books of baseball in sharpie with a flourish and an exclamation point, as someone who, in the Golden Age of Pitching, would have dominated the competition.

Instead, a miniscule “Alex Rodriguez: 661 and counting” is inscribed rather feebly into the margins between Willie Mays Babe Ruth. With pencil and an enormous asterisk, etched in such a way that perhaps the name might be someday be erased or otherwise wiped away, with no one noticing.

 

Alex Rodriguez

Rodriguez sits at 2,963 hits, setting up another uncomfortable celebration for the near future as he looks to become the 29th player in history to garner 3,000 hits.

 

 

The Minority Report

In 2009, ten of major league baseball’s 30 managers belonged to a minority.

At the start of last season, that number was whittled down to five.

Now, only two major league managers – Lloyd McClendon of the Mariners, an African American, and Fredi Gonzalez, a Latino, in Atlanta – are not white.

Those interesting facts once you consider that the same figures aren’t reflected on the diamond. According to a 2014 report by Dr. Richard Lapchick, director of The Institute of Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES), 60.9 percent of players on 2014 Opening Day rosters were white, compared to 93.4 percent of managers.

Manager trends over the last five seasons concerning race.

Manager trends over the last five seasons concerning race.

The game is more diverse than ever, with major league clubs looking more and more at big-time prospects from Cuba, Japan and other countries who could make an impact on their squads.

So why isn’t that commonplace when it comes to the ultimate leader of the clubhouse?

Major League Baseball is also seemingly concerned about the trend, issuing a memo to its 30 clubs reminding them of a protocol that was installed in the Bud Selig era. The rule calls for teams to at least consider those of minority descent when looking to fill the roles of general manager, assistant general manager, field manager, director of player development and director of scouting positions.”

It’s a good move on their part, because how would it look to have a game that is becoming more global being represented by 30 managers who are all white?

It’s as big as issue as is the dropping levels of black players on the field. According to the TIDES study, only 8.2 percent of players were black, a sharp decrease from 13 percent at the start of the millennium.

It isn’t necessarily a new problem when it comes to managers, either. In every years 1991, at least 76 percent (about 23) of major league baseball’s managers where white. The one outlier came in 2002, when there were eight black and two Latino managers in the league.

While the problem is an enduring one, the trends are disturbing, seeing as baseball is on track to have all-white managers sooner rather than later.

There are obviously facts we don’t know. Perhaps there aren’t people of ethnic descent interviewing for the position. Maybe teams are only relaying information about job openings to a certain group of people, though that is unlikely.

But it’s something to keep an eye on – and major league baseball is, rightfully so – in a game that is becoming more globalized.

The TIDES report at the start of 2014, when there were five minority managers in the bigs, gave major league baseball an A when it came to hiring practices. It would be interesting to see what grade the league would get a little over a year later.

 

 

Other baseball thoughts from the week

 

David Lynch likes to talk about and write about movies, sports, and important happenings around the world. He can be reached at alex.695@hotmail.com or on Twitter @RealDavidLynch. He is a student at the University of New Mexico. 

The Warning Track: One Month Later

The Warning Track is a blog that covers all things Major League Baseball on a weekly basis, from discussing why some teams are getting hot, who’s in line for awards at season’s end and who is getting ready to make the leap to contender status, as well as off-the-field issues like first-time Commissioner Rob Manfred, which players could be headed to new homes, and A-Rod’s latest lie. 

If you have anything MLB-related that you would like to see discussed in the upcoming edition of The Warning Track, or have any comments at all, you may suggest/comment/rant/agree/disagree/tell me I know nothing about baseball at any time on Twitter @RealDavidLynch. 

 

Does the National League Designated Hitter Have Its Posey?

Last weekend, in a game against the Brewers, Cardinals’ ace and superstar Adam Wainwright lookup up at a popup, needlessly started for first base, and then, as 40,000 Cardinals fans and the rest of baseball took a collective breath, he started limping.

He would come out immediately, of course. And over the next few days, major league baseball would be partially turned on its head as the Cardinals would confirm Wainwright being out for the rest of 2015 due to an Achilles tear.

So, naturally when a pitcher who ranks first in total innings pitches since 2012, and right at the top of most major pitching statistics, goes down in his unnatural habitat – behind the plate – the questions arises: to DH or not to DH in the National League?

Some of the game’s biggest hurler have already made some of their opinions known on the issue.

And the man who went down himself.

One may find it surprising what Wainwright thinks of the situation, given his current situation. But if you really knew Wainwright or follow St. Louis baseball, it also isn’t too startling.He’s always been a man of the game, and, like Bumgarner – who is one of the better-hitting pitcher in the league in his own right – he respects tradition.

I myself was conflicted on the issue for a time. As a Cardinals fan, obviously my immediate reaction after even the first hint of speculation that Wainwright might be out for an extended period of time was “It’s time for the DH, plain and simple. No pitcher should be out for a year after getting injured at the plate.” I even talked myself into thinking I would be saying the same thing if someone like Kershaw or Cueto or Bumgarner went down – and I probably would.

That perspective strengthened as I read various opinions from figures in the sport, columns from baseball writers. It also weakened as I read others.

Now, it’s almost completely diminished. I agree with what many have said: it was a freak accident that could happened at the plate, on the mound, in the shower, walking on the street.

More importantly, as Wainwright said, baseball is a game of tradition. Tradition dictates that the pitcher is in the lineup. It adds a whole new dimension to the game, calls for much more strategy on the manager’s part, and is a huge reason as to why major league baseball is the only one of the “Big 4”American sports – NBA, NFL, NHL being the others – that has a legitimate distinction between it’s two leagues/conferences, as well as a legitimate reason as to why there is an MVP handed out for both leagues at season’s end.

Having the pitcher bat makes the National League special, just like having the designated hitter makes the American League special. It shouldn’t be messed with. Even though one superstar’s injury caused one of the most drastic rule changes in recent memory, injuries to pitchers at the plate simply aren’t common enough. Otherwise it would be a different story.

Wainwright’s injury has revived the debate, there is no doubt about that. And it will continue throughout the season, perhaps the offseason, maybe into next year. It’s always been there. It’s simply a bit louder now. But a truly legitimate argument for the adoption of the designated hitter into the National League is yet to arise. It could be to revive the offense, an ongoing topic of discussion. It could be that pitchers are restless of having to worry about putting in work at the plate, which is almost unseen.

The argument isn’t here yet. It may come next year. It may come in ten years. But Wainwright’s freak occurrence – and that’s exactly what it is – simply isn’t reason enough to change the way the game has been played for over a hundred years in a major way.

And no, Commissioner Manfred, your ongoing initiate to infuse more excitement into the game isn’t valid enough.

 

The Right Priorities? First-year commissioner Rob Manfred has been working on all fronts toward a primary initiative in the short time he has led major league baseball: making the game more exciting and adapting it to entice a younger generation that for the most part prefers to tune in to football.

I can write a whole other column about my not-so-agreeable thoughts on that, but I’m going to focus my argument on something else that has been prevalent in the league in recent years: the drastic increase of players taking trips to the disabled list.

The problem with today’s game isn’t its pace – something I’ve recently touched on – it’s an alarming amount of injuries that impact clubs, and sometimes their entire seasons. Once the first pitch of the season was being thrown by Jon Lester in Wrigley a month ago, there were already some big names sitting out to start the season, including Justin Verlander, J.J. Hardy, and a record 113 others. 

And then, for some reason, when Wainwright went down last weekend, a handful of other stars in the game followed suit. Jed Lowrie will be out 2-3 months. Masahiro Tanaka has a torn UCL after enduring an injury-prone 2014.  The Dodgers’ Carl Crawford, a career. 292 hitter, has an oblique strain.  All those players, major components of their respective teams, hit the DL on Tuesday.

What should we really be focusing on? If Manfred argues that the new pace-of-play protocol will hopefully spur greater interest in the sport, what argument does he have for the fact that people getting into baseball aren’t able to cherish it’s greatest athletes?

 

 

There is so easy fix to something like injuries. But there is an issue, that much is clear. The Rangers used a record number of players last year, while a record number were hurt.

In 2014, a major point of discussion across baseball was the alarming number of pitchers missing entire seasons due to a Tommy John epidemic. ESPN’s baseball insiders acknowledged there might be no easy fix for the issue in professional baseball, where players make careers on the health of their arms.

The amount or pitchers forced to undergo Tommy John surgery has astronomically increased in the last ten years.

The amount or pitchers forced to undergo Tommy John surgery has astronomically increased in the last ten years.

 

Certainly that’s a place to start the conversation, considering the role that pitchers have in the game. And if the conversation is present, and it is prevalent – which it should be, as the numbers show – Rob Manfred to enter it, be fully engaged in it and lead it.

Maybe there is something that can be implemented on the farms to reverse the injury trends. Maybe the way players warm up, work out, cool down can have an impact. There needs to be ideas, and there needs to be focus and attention on the issue.

Baseball players are seemingly getting hurt every day. That’s only the slightest of exaggerations.


dl graph

 

If people really want to get through a baseball game with their families as quick as possible so they can get home, fine. But what would they rather pay for: a two-hour and 10-minutes game with lineups back of minor leaguers as starters warm the bench, or a two-hour, 30-minutes matchup between two teams that are as even matched as could possible be?

Something to think about, Commish.

 

 

April Fools?

There was a whole lineup of surprises in the first month of regular season baseball, mostly due to over performing clubs and individual players putting MLB’s parity on full display. Here’s the top five things we did not expect to begin the 2015 campaign.

 

1.The Astros blast off to a 15-7 record

The Houston Astros, basement dwellers for a decade in the NL Central before assuming the same position in the AL West for the last two seasons, have come alive with a vengeance. They have the second-best winning percentage in baseball (.696) and lead a division in which, perhaps even more surprisingly, they are the only club over .500. Those other teams include the Angels, A’s, and Mariners.

Talk about flipping the script.

The Astros have been on an absolute tear as of late, winning. seven straight and nine of their last ten. And they don’t exactly have an advantage by way of their schedule; they’ve been beating the Angels, Mariners, Padres and A’s as of late, all of those clubs expected postseason contenders.

They’ve been led mostly by their pitching: they have an AL-best 3.04 team ERA and are in the top five in team WHIP, opponent average, and innings pitched. Reigning major league hits champion Jose Altuve is off to another incredible start, hitting .373 and second only to Miami’s Dee Gordon for the major league lead in hits. Who knows if the Astros will be able to keep this up, but for a team that has averaged a 62-100 regular season record since 2010, their April was pretty special.

2. Something’s up with Kershaw

Clayton Kershaw hasn’t been himself this season. Like, at all.   As in, he has an ERA close to 4.00 through five starts. As in, he has yet to have an outing where he hasn’t allowed an earned run. As in, he’s already almost halfway (4) to allowing the number of home runs he gave up in his 2014 historic campaign (9). Maybe that’s just it. Maybe we’re looking too much into this – I certainly have done my share – when Kershaw has just set his standards at level that simply can’t be maintained. For the first time in a long time, he looks vulnerable. For the first time in a long time, he’s beatable. His current record stands at 1-2.

Nothing's been the same ever since CardinalNation attacked.

Nothing’s been the same ever since CardinalNation attacked.

It would be foolish to even suggest that his reign of dominance may be over – he just turned 27, after all, and he’s healthy so far as we know – but until he can regain the form we’re all accustomed to seeing, Kershaw has looked, dare I say it…human. And it’s just weird.

The Kansas City Royals are an offensive powerhouse

We all knew Royals pitching was good, even with James Shields’ departure. We all knew their defense was solid, probably the best in the bigs. We all knew they would score runs…wait, no we didn’t!

The Royals, amid all their drama on the field, have scored 119 runs. They’re on pace to bring 880 across the plate for the season, 149 more than 2014. Oh and remember that deadly pitching, led by Yordano Ventura and an elite bullpen? Combine those two facets of the game, and the Royals lead major league baseball in run differential in April, with a +45.

They’re right up there with the best records in baseball, tied with the Astros in winning percentage, trailing only the Cardinals. But make no doubt about it, they are the most complete team in baseball. It’ll be all on them to keep up the high-octane start.

 

4. A-Rod’s Resurgence

The Yankees, who haven’t played in October since they last won it all in 2009, are back on the throne of the AL East at 15-9. And they are led by none other than Alex Rodriguez himself.

What an interesting , conflicted situation that club is in.

Remember that $6 million bonus the Yankees owe Rodriguez if he ever tied Willie Mays’ fourth-place spot on the career home run records list? Maybe it was the cynic in all of us – okay, it was the cynic in all of us – that thought “No way 39-year old Alex Rodriguez is going to hit six balls into the stands this season, especially when we don’t know if he’s ever hit a clean longball in his carrer.”

Welp. Here we are, at the beginning of May, and A-Rod’s asterisked name is officially in the baseball annals.

Can he keep it up? Who knows, and that’s a question more of his body’s durability at this point in his career more than anything. But he might have to keep hiting, along with a dominant Mark Teixeira, for the Yanks’ sake. Oh, the irony.

5. Kris Bryant has yet to hit a major league dinger

Seriously, guys, what’s going on. Kris Bryant’s been in the bigs for a few weeks and he hasn’t hit one out of the park? What the…what?! Kris. C’mon, man. Don’t tease us with your nine-homer Spring Training, only to come up empty in your first couple weeks in the bigs!

I kid, of course, but not really.

 

Power Rankings

1. St. Louis Cardinals (17-6)

Ranking two weeks ago: 3

2. Kansas City Royals (16-7)

Ranking two weeks ago: 2

3. New York Mets (16-8)

Ranking two weeks ago: 5

4. New York Yankees (15-9)

Ranking two weeks ago: Not ranked

5. Los Angeles Dodgers (14-8)

Ranking two weeks ago: Not ranked

 

David Lynch likes to talk about and write about movies, sports, and important happenings around the world. He can be reached at alex.695@hotmail.com or on Twitter @RealDavidLynch. He is a student at the University of New Mexico. 

Avengers: Age of Ultron, a disenchanting and explicitly naiive roadmap for Marvel’s Phase Three

Avengers: Age of Ultron is opening to some fairly lofty expectations. Everyone knows it, what with the first Avengers premiering to nearly universal acclaim, bringing every comic book fanboy’s dream to life while garnering $1.5 billion in the process.

So yes, director Joss Whedon (The Avengers, Serenity) in some respects set the bar incredibly high for himself. But over the last year, it’s been raised even higher. Last year’s Marvel Cinematic Universe offerings – the noir thriller Captain America 2: Winter Soldier and Star Wars/Dirty Dozen mashup Guardians of the Galaxy – were some of the studio’s strongest outputs to date, and it was up to Whedon to keep the ball rolling.

He stumbles.

And, tragically, he starts with the titular villain, Ultron: James Spader (Boston Legal, The Blacklist, Lincoln), who voices the robotic nemesis, does his job. Whedon does not.

Ultron is scene-stealing, and it’s all thanks to Spader’s trademark verbal flourish, menacing and charming all at once. He would make an excellent Bond villain sometime just with the way he speaks, he’s so ostensibly threatening.

Spader brings Ultron to life – and literally so in a sequence that is gorgeously written and hauntingly brilliant, in the way it’s cinematically choreographed – but unfortunately it’s just downhill from there. Whedon simply can’t balance Spader’s euphemisms with the threat that Ultron poses. He ends up being underwhelming, comic relief more that we’d like. Which is a travesty given how horrifying the trailers built him up to be.

Oh, what could have been.

Oh, what could have been.

Loki, a constant highlight in MCU films, is a hard enough enemy to top in himself, but it seems like all the attention Whedon put on making Loki so endearing and mystifyingly brilliant in The Avengers was concentrated elsewhere.

That elsewhere being our heroes, banded together to finish off the remains of Hydra/S.H.I.E.L.D., albeit for only a time before cracks start to show. Age of Ultron once again does a great job balancing each hero’s contributions and showing off their abilities in battle and their humanity while not taking down enemies, especially – and invitingly – when it comes to Jeremy Renner’s (The Hurt Locker, American Hustle) Hawkeye, who has an exponentially larger role than he held in 2012’s The Avengers.

As with The Avengers, Whedon again shows his strength in the various little moments between huge action set pieces, as well as within them. The film is expectedly full of hilarious one-liners – heck, the very first bit of dialogue in the movie will make you laugh out loud – and there is even an unexpectedly human romantic storyline between Bruce Banner and Natasha Romanov. Their relationship is eloquently done, with just enough focus on it to detract from the world around them falling apart.

As awesome as the team is, it’s certainly not as exciting seeing them together on the screen this time around, which was what made the first Avengers so fascinating to behold. To compensate, Whedon goes noticeably darker with his sequel, something increasingly common in the MCU with recent films. The tone is about as consistent as you can be, and definitely puts the film on a different tier than Avengers, but not necessarily a higher tier.

There are some pacing issues too. It takes its sweet time on occasion, testing our patience, and Age of Ultron does have a small case of “How did you get here? Why are you here?” syndrome with some characters.

Be afraid, box office competition.

Be afraid, box office competition.

The plot isn’t exactly as straightforward as it could be, but in the increasingly interconnected and complex MCU web, when is anything ever simple anymore?

The premise is basic. Tony Stark has an idea. The idea goes berserk. Avengers assemble. It’s almost completely predictable, committing one of cinema’s cardinal sins. But Whedon covers his backside with new inclusions.

The bigger of which are the twins, themselves more interesting characters than Ultron ever hopes to be. While what drives Ultron is basically ripped off of Terminator, the motivations behind what drives Wanda and Pietro Maximoff – Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver – is much more down to earth and also much more sympathetic.

And interesting. Just much, much more interesting. Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Kick-Ass, Godzilla) and Elizabeth Olson (Godzilla, Oldboy) do a substantial amount with the limited exposure they have, something to be admired.

The twins also add an interesting new dynamic to the film’s action pieces, along with newcomer Vision. Whedon makes sure to get them their due diligence in what eventually becomes a pretty crowded field of players. Quicksilver doesn’t quite match the glory of Evan Peters’ iteration in X-Men: Days of Future Past, but he provides his own standout moment nonetheless.

Welcome to the party.

Welcome to the party.

Much of Age of Ultron’s two and a half hour running time can be attributed to his devotion to each individual hero, Thor’s “side mission” being the supremely weak link; it’s distracting and almost certainly there just to serve as a set-up for future MCU films (I mean, of course).

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the growing rift between Captain American and Iron Man is fascinating to behold. We seen the two going at it as they did in Avengers, and they have even more at stake by being at each others’ throats this time around. Get excited, people. Captain America: Civil War should be a good one.

Wait. You're not Thor.

Wait. You’re not Thor.

But enough about plot and intimate moments. We know why we’re all here, why Age of Ultron is going to be filling up movie theaters for weeks to come – the action and spectacle!

Concerning explosions, flying cars and flying punches, this must be said: if you’ve seen the ten or so films in the MCU, you know what you’re getting. The action delivers at times, but in other moments it is mundane, kind of like you know you’ve seen a certain way Cap throws his shield at baddies fifty times before, or how you’ve become so familiar with Iron Man whizzing through the sky blowing up baddies.

At least they’re consistent, right?

That being said, out of the four or five distinct action set pieces, two of them stand out. The finale, obviously, is one of them. Michael Bay should take a few pointers from Marvel as to how to create action with weight and levity. Age of Ultron does an excellent job in his final, destructive act of infusing drama with the punches, actual consequences with each car or building that is blown up. The finale may run a tad long, but it’s something to behold, even though it is barely not just a rehash of Avengers’ New York City piece, with robots replacing alien invaders this time around.

And then there’s the Hulk vs. Iron Man Hulkbuster suit, without a doubt the most high-octane sequence of the film. Everyone wants to see the Hulk go out of his mind, and he does in a memorable sequence that the audience wouldn’t watching on repeat for an hour.

Maybe he should have been the primary antagonist. Avengers: Age of Hulk? No? Okay.

 

In a Nutshell

Whedon brings his strengths to the table with Age of Ultron, but also offers a glance at his weaknesses. If only he’d spent more time exploring the potential of Ultron himself, the film could have been much different.Thanks for the ride, Joss, but it’s time to hand the reins to the Russo brothers to finish off the Avengers’ story.

7.5 / 10

 

Avengers: Age of Ultron is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action, violence and destruction, and for some suggestive comments.

Starring: Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffallo…ahh c’mon, you’ve seen this lineup before.

Directed by Joss Whedon

2015

 

 

David Lynch likes to talk about and write about movies, sports, and important happenings around the world. He can be reached at alex.695@hotmail.com or on Twitter @RealDavidLynch.