Monday, April 17, 2017

Royal Rematch: The Giants Return to Kansas City

Danville, Kentucky -- There is no feeling more disturbing than the familiar becoming foreign. I think it was the spring of 2009. I was exhausted after a long day of working at the tire factory, and eager to go home and recuperate. But when I got home, the fridge was empty. I had eaten my last pepperoni Hot Pocket® for breakfast. Grudgingly, I went back to my car and headed to a nearby McDonald's.

McDonald's is great because it's familiar. McDonald's is a pillar of stability in a fragmented world torn asunder by the forces of globalization, the decline of the conventional nuclear family, ideological polarization, and forcible secularization. The connective glue that once held society together has disappeared. All the old institutions that once gave a man certainty -- the church, the union, the Blockbuster video store -- are all gone. Yet, a man can find comfort in the knowledge that at McDonald's, you can get the same burger in Danville as you can in Marmet, Flint, Bakersfield, and Deerfield. Or you could, at least.

That evening in the spring of 2009, I walked into McDonald's; but I didn't recognize what I saw. Apple slices. Side salads. Carrots. Parfait. Cucumbers. Sandwich wraps. Oatmeal. It dawned on me how long it had been since I had last been to a McDonald's. In a few short years, McDonald's went from being an unabashed all-American staple, to a weak-kneed Panera-wannabe. McDonald's was great because it had a formula: tasty food served quick for a cheap price. It wasn't healthy, but that wasn't the point. In attempting to cater to health-conscious liberals, McDonald's forgot what made them great.

No thanks, McCommunists.
Folks, for a while it looked like the Royals forgot what made them great as well. I felt a similar sensation -- that disconcerting vibe when something familiar feels foreign -- when I watched the 2017 Kansas City Royals. The 2015 World Champion Royals were great because they played their brand of baseball. They stole bases. They bunted. They played great defense. They made productive outs. They did the little things. They went to third base on a single. They put up runs without hitting dingers. It was Royals baseball, and they were proud of it.

The 2017 Royals had an abysmal 2-6 start because they forgot this formula. They were without Jarrod Dyson, the teams's swaggering id, and one of their primary threats on the base-paths. They uncharacteristically signed Brandon Moss, a lumbering slugger who had previously been their sworn enemy as an Oakland Athletic and Cleveland Indian. They traded elite closer Wade Davis for some kid from the Cubs who hits dingers and can't play defense. Their once invincible bullpen was a shadow of its former self, giving up runs in bunches in the late innings. The Royals looked out of their element, like a fruit salad at a burger joint. Until one man stepped in.

With two dominating starts, Jason Vargas got the Royals back on the winning track and stopped their season from being smothered in the cradle. So far this season Vargas has been the unquestioned ace of the Royals staff, besting even the beastly Danny Duffy. His most recent start -- a 7.2 inning, 8-strikeout, 4-hit performance against the Oakland Athletics -- not only put an end to a horrific losing streak; it put Vargas firmly in the Cy Young conversation. That's no small feat for a man recovering from Tommy John surgery. On a pitching staff that is now full of mercenaries like Ian Kennedy and Chicago Cubs castoffs, Jason Vargas is an anchor of familiarity, a reminder of the glory days when guys like Jeremy Guthrie and Bruce Chen were mainstays of the Royals rotation.

Folks, some familiarity is just what the Royals needed. Thanks to Vargas, the Royals are looking like their old selves, having clawed back to the .500 mark after that awful start. That momentum is a good thing, as the San Francisco Giants -- their rivals from the 2014 World Series -- come to town for some inter-league action. On Wednesday, Mr. Vargas will square off against Madison Bumgarner, the man who single-handedly thwarted the Royals' World Series hopes that autumn. Although Bumgarner's reputation as a postseason God was tarnished this past fall when he ran into the Cubs buzz-saw, nobody in Kansas City has forgotten what he did in 2014: 3 games, 20 innings, 1 run.

Vargas doesn't usually crack baseball's list of dominant lefties: Clayton Kershaw, Madison Bumgarner, Chris Sale, David Price, etc., etc. After a couple more starts and a chance to prove himself against a hated rival, that will change. And when it does, the league better watch out.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

TWTW's 2017 March Madness Preview

Danville, Kentucky -- It's that time of year again, folks. The time of year where kids leave it all on the court. The time of year when boys become men. The time of year where my panicked wife frantically calls the police for information about my whereabouts after my phone dies while watching basketball at Buffalo Wild Wings for days at a time. It's March Madness time, folks.

Unlike Rachel Maddow, I won't waste your time with a twenty-minute buildup culminating in nothing. I'll cut right to the chase. Here are the games to watch during the first round of this year's tournament:

Maryland (6) versus Xavier (11)

Folks, I'll be upfront that I have a slight bias for the Musketeers, a scrappy team hailing from Cincinnati. But this game has huge upset potential. This Maryland team is soft; softer than the mushy interior concealed within every terrapin's protective shell. This is to be expected from Maryland, a soft state. I once spent a night at the Caroline County Department of Corrections for using non-standard crabbing technology in violation of state regulations. Maryland's crabbing scene isn't the only thing that's overrated: their basketball team has had some bad letdown losses to the likes of Penn State and Nebraska. The Musketeers will get it done.

Michigan (7) versus Oklahoma State (10)

This is another intriguing can't miss game. Brad Underwood is one of the most underrated coaches in the country. Michigan, on the other hand, is the school that passed on the blue collar fierceness of Rick Pitino en route to irrelevance for most of the 2000s. Stillwater is a much tougher town than Ann Arbor. Take the upset, folks.

Cincinnati (6) versus Kansas State (11)

I'm taking K-State here folks. Don't get me wrong - I'm a Cincy man through and through; the city that brought us Pete Rose, the best chili on the planet, and Neil H. McElroy, the Defense Secretary under President Eisenhower. But K-State has so much momentum after falling just a point short of winning the Big 12 tournament when nobody expected them to. Don't best against momentum, folks.

Dayton (7) versus Wichita State (10)

This is the crowned jewel of first round match-ups during this year's tournament, featuring two of my favorite teams. Wichita State and Dayton are teams that love to beat Ohio State; both of them handed the Buckeyes shocking Ls in 2013 and 2014 respectively. I have nothing but respect for Dayton; it's a great area, with one of the best Taco Bell restaurants I've ever been to - this place was clean as a whistle. But pick the underdog here, folks. Not that Wichita should be underdogs; they've been criminally under-seeded by the crooked NCAA elites that want to lock out small schools from the competition. The Shockers are a team that could run the table at this tournament.

Teams to Watch:

West Virginia: The Mountaineers are a team on the upswing, fresh off of an excellent Big 12 tournament where the 'experts' thought a Kansas Jayhawks victory was a fait accompli. This team plays with such tenacity, using the full court press for entire game to grind down the willpower of their opponents. I think this is the year they make a deep run. They say the Appalachian mountains are alive with the sound of coal mining once more, folks. They're bringing home some hardware this March too.

Purdue: Purdue is another blue collar team that is going to turn some heads. This is the school run by Mitch Daniels; former Republican governor of Indiana who handed over control of the state to our current Vice President, Mike Pence. The Boilermakers are not to be trifled with.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Not the End of the Line: Omar Infante for Tigers Opening Day Center Fielder

Danville, Kentucky -- It's easy to forget what a marvel trains are. Before Al Gore's internet, before Dwight Eisenhower's interstate highways, before Henry Ford's Model-T, only railroads connected Americans to one another. America's system of rail transportation has roots dating back to the First Transcontinental Railroad of the 1860s, a marvelous but loose network of train tracks that connected the country's breadbasket to the western frontier and the still fledgling settlements on the Pacific coast. Before the dawn of the railroads, America didn't have time-zones. Life was isolated, parochial, and pastoral. The emergence of railroads made every corner of the continent accessible and revolutionized our way of life.

Folks, in the summer of '75, there was nothing better than hopping aboard a train and seeing how far it would take you. One hot, smothering day in July of that summer, I was feeling particularly defeated. The bitter taste of the Watergate scandal was still depressing my spirits. An oppressive tax code and restrictive land use ordinances were hindering my dream of opening Danville's first ever combination sports bar and daycare center. I needed to see the world beyond my humble Danville abode. I longed for the sense of adventure that my ancestors must've had as they broke fresh ground in the New World and explored the vast and uncivilized frontier lands. So I headed down to Louisville's historic Union Station. I took a train to St. Louis. Then Fort Worth. Then El Paso. I took train after train after train till I ended up in Salt Lake City, Boise, and finally Reno.

Several hundred dollars worth of train tickets and a few weeks later, there were no more trains left to ride. No more sights I hadn't seen. Unlike my ancestors who were lured out west by the promise of unexplored land and new challenges to conquer, by 1975 all the blank spaces on the map had been filled in. I didn't find adventure or new beginnings out west; all I found was a gang of bikers that jumped me and left me for dead in the desert after a misunderstanding over gambling. I can still feel the coarse sand in my beard and the midday sun beating down upon me as I laid there in Nevada's barren wastelands, my face in the dirt. I can still smell the scorched dusty earth. I can still taste the sand. It tasted like the end of the line.

Many folks are saying that Omar Infante has reached the end of the line as well. The thirty-five year old second baseman from Puerto la Cruz, Venezuela certainly seems to be past his prime, a relic of a bygone era of baseball, an anachronism like the idea of riding trains in 2017. He has had a storied career. Since making his debut with the Detroit Tigers in 2002, he has played every position except pitcher, catcher, and first base. He's been an AL Champion four times: with the Tigers in 2006 and 2012, and the Kansas City Royals in 2014 and 2015. He's had a 7 RBI game, been a postseason hero, spun gem defensive plays, and done everything else under the sun. But last season he was unceremoniously cut by Kansas City, seemingly marking the end of the line for him.

But it wasn't to be the end for Omar. Al Avila's Detroit Tigers have brought Mr. Infante's career full circle by giving him a minor league contract with an invite to spring training, and one last opportunity to prove he belongs in the majors.

Omar has risen to the occasion, folks. He sports a massive .400 batting average so far this spring. Earlier today he netted a pair of doubles and RBI while turning several eye-popping defensive plays in the field. Omar's efforts to revive his career haven't gone unnoticed.

In spite of Omar's monstrous spring training output, the Tigers won't commit to giving him a roster spot for the regular season. That's a mistake, folks. The Tigers need to think outside the box. Mr. Infante is thinking outside the box. He suggested that he'd like to play center fielder for the Tigers.
The organization should take him seriously and give him a chance. Their season depends on it.

The Tigers' infield is set: future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera is a fixture at first base. Gold Glove winner Ian Kinsler will be the starting second baseman. Defensive specialist Jose Iglesias will be the starting shortstop, while up-and-coming slugger Nick Castellanos mans the hot corner.

The Tigers' center field situation is much less clear. Anthony Gose struggled in Double-A last year after being demoted for a clubhouse incident with Toledo Mudhens manager Lloyd McClendon. Tyler Collins has had unfortunate incidents of his own, and has not set himself apart in spring training. Recent acquisition Mikie Mahtook has had an abysmal spring training, sporting a .074 batting average. Youngster JaCoby Jones holds the most promise but probably needs some more seasoning in Triple-A.

Omar, on the other hand, is major league ready right now. Omar's offensive explosion in spring training has laid to rest fears that his bat won't play. His glove will play in center field too. He has a total of 609 major league innings played in the outfield under his belt, including 182.2 innings in center field. Even the most ardent stats-lover would have to acknowledge Omar is the man for the job:


He's never committed an error in center field. His fielding percentage in center field is a perfect 100%. Folks, that's a track record that none of the Tigers' other center field options have.

Omar is the center field solution the Tigers didn't even know they had. Omar's veteran presence, playoff experience, smooth glove and hot bat would solidify the Tigers' center field situation and give the team certainty heading into the regular season. Louisville's Union Station has laid dormant for several decades, but it's clear that this is not the end of the line for Mr. Infante. It's up to the Tigers to let Omar aboard, lest he ride off into the sunset with one of their competitors.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

The Only World Baseball Classic Preview You'll Need - Part II

Danville, Kentucky -- Welcome to Part II of my power rankings of all 16 World Baseball Classic teams. You can read part one here. I'll cut to the chase, folks. These are the bottom eight teams. Some are worse than others. All are worse than America. Without further ado, here they are:

9. Korea

Korea has an exciting team, folks -- and not just because these players were born and raised in the shadow of a nuclear-armed madman. Although doubts remain as to whether North Korea has ICBM technology capable of striking the mainland United States, there can be no doubt that the Korean national team is stacked with power. Korea has one of my favorite players in the whole world, folks: Dae-ho Lee, native of Busan, South Korea and former Seattle Mariner. Dae-ho showed some real pop last year with the Mariners, hitting 14 bombs with 49 runs driven in.

But the real reason to love Mr. Lee is his demeanor. He's always smiling; as a Mariner, he was truly a ray of sunshine in an otherwise perpetually overcast and grungy city. He's a jolly, rotund fellow, evoking a simpler era of baseball when sluggers like Babe Ruth crushed hot dogs in between innings in the dugout. I dare you to look at this man and not feel a warm, tingly sensation deep in your heart.

More importantly, he made his homeland proud, becoming an ambassador of the game and hero to Koreans everywhere. Thanks to Dae-ho, we have some of the greatest home run calls of all time.

(skip to 50 seconds)

Dae-ho represents everything that is great about the game of baseball. It breaks my heart that he has left the MLB and announced his intention to return to Korea's league. But I have to respect the man for loving his country. The fact that the Korean team also has Seung-hwan Oh -- aka the "final boss" -- is just a cherry on top. This Korean team could go places.

 10. Colombia

Don't sleep on Colombia, folks. Not that Colombia's amphetamine snorting population does much sleeping anyway thanks to abundant supply of narcotics. Colombia lacks the position player talent of the teams ranked higher than them here, but they can pitch. Although they often fly under the national radar, Colombians Jose Quintana and Julio Teheran are two of the most quietly brilliant pitchers in the MLB. I'll also be playing close attention to Colombia's Dilson Herrera, one of the prospects my Reds acquired in the foolish Jay Bruce trade.

But the real guy to watch on this squad is Yohan Pino, or as I like to call him, "Pino Noir," because his slider has more depth than the bitter notes of a fine red wine. Mr. Pino was an unsung hero in the Royals 2015 World Series championship. Yes, I know he got put on waivers mid-season. But before that he had an impressive 3.26 ERA and several excellent high-leverage appearances. Like Bernie Sanders after the DNC conspired against him, Pino spent 2016 watching all the action from the sidelines. But he recently signed a minor league deal with the Twins. I think he could go places. During the World Baseball Classic, we'll find out if he can. Because of their strong pitching -- led by Quintana, Teheran, and Pino -- this Colombia team has sneaky upside.

11. Japan

I'm not very high on Japan's team, but I'm obliged to mention that Japan's own Nori Aoki, Kansas City Royal turned San Francisco Giant turned Seattle Mariner turned Houston Astro, is a hell of a player. He's a world class talent. I love his swing. He won't hit for much power. But he can slap the ball all across the field and boasts a career .286 batting average in the MLB. It's a joy to watch him play. In an era where the nerds have decided that strikeouts don't matter and that batting average is irrelevant, Nori shows how valuable it is to have a guy that can put the ball in play. 

That being said, I'm down on Japan. The rest of the team outside of Aoki isn't particularly interesting. And as a country, Japan is adrift. Several weeks ago, Japanese Prime Minister Abe looked out of his element with a real leader like Trump.

The World Baseball Classic is about the talent on the field, but it's also about the intangibles, like the national mood of each respective country. With Japan's precious TPP trade deal recently killed by Trump, momentum is definitely against Japan. It's not happening for Japan this year.

12. Netherlands

On the surface, the Netherlands has quite a bit of talent. Although most of the team has names like "Stuifbergen," "van den Hurk," "Heijstek," or "Thijssen," the discerning baseball fan might notice a few big names. Xander Bogaerts, Didi Gregorius, Andrelton Simmons and Kenley Jansen all apparently play for the Netherlands. But I'm not buying it. To illustrate why, let me point you to a map.

Yes, that's the Netherlands right next to Merkel's Germany and right across the European-body-of-water-I-learned-in-high-school-but-can't-remember from the lawless crime-hole Sweden. European social democracy has been a failure. The Netherlands national baseball team will be too. Next.

13. Canada

Canada is a team so pathetic they couldn't even persuade Joey Votto to take some time away from meaningless spring training games to stand around with a bat on his shoulder and try to draw walks on behalf of his country. Don't get me wrong. Canada has some interesting players. Like Braves slugger Freddie Freeman. Or 2006 AL MVP Justin Morneau. There's also the intriguingly named Blue Jays outfielder Dalton Pompey. But this is Canada, folks. A country that's perpetually second fiddle to the U.S.A. Not happening.

14. China

To be honest, I know absolutely nothing about China's team. I think the Chinese Communist Party has more or less suppressed all information about their national team, which is par for the course with this authoritarian nightmare of a country that stifles freedom of expression and the open exchange of ideas. I'll still put them ahead of Mexico and Australia because of China's sheer ruthlessness. 

15. Mexico

Mexico has some real gems on their team. Like Joakim Soria, the Royals' designated 8th inning guy and one of the best free agent signings Dayton Moore has ever made. There's also Sergio Romo, the scary-as-hell looking guy who recorded the final outs of the 2012 World Series for the Giants and for some reason got signed by the Dodgers. Did I mention that team Mexico has a lot Dodgers? Also on Mexico's team is the left-handed wunderkind Julio Urias and hitting guru Adrian Gonzalez of the Los Angeles Dodgers. But it's just not Mexico's year. Not with The Wall on the way, along with punitive tariffs aimed at bringing back manufacturing jobs that Mexico stole via NAFTA. Next.

16. Australia

Australia occupies the last place spot in my power rankings. Look, I love Outback Steakhouse as much as the next guy. In fact, I've praised Outback's excellent Australian cuisine in glowing terms not once, but twice. This team has some pieces I like. Peter Moylan, the bespectacled ex-Royal with a slider juicier than Outback's QUEENSLAND CHICKEN & SHRIMP PASTA™, plays on this team. He had a 2-0 record and a 3.43 ERA last year with the Royals.

There is some fight in this team. Literally. Aussie Warwick Saupold of the Detroit Tigers organization got in a brawl last summer. We can assume this fight started when another bar-goer made an insensitive joke about Steve Irwin. 
But outside of Moylan and Saupold, things are looking bleak for Australia in my opinion. Countries that get on Donald Trump's bad side won't be long for this world, folks. The folks down under may serve Bloomin' Onions with the best of them, but they're bad allies and even worse at baseball outside of a few exemplars like Moylan. They're dead last, barring a miraculous effort to make amends with President Trump from Prime Minister Turnbull or a major splash like an official sponsorship from Outback.


There you have it folks. All 16 teams. Or rather, America and 15 losers. Enjoy the WBC, folks.

Friday, March 3, 2017

The Only World Baseball Classic Preview You'll Need - Part I

Danville, Kentucky -- Folks, baseball is a uniquely American game: made for Americans, by Americans. Baseball is a game played in cornfields and on blacktops across our great nation; sometimes with sticks and stones where bats and balls aren't available. But like anything truly worth treasuring, it is the sacred mission of all Americans to spread the great game of baseball across God's green Earth. America saved Europe from the scourge of fascism and war. We brought capitalism to the satellite states of the Soviet Union that were trembling from behind the Iron Curtain. We guided Iraq along the path towards democratization. Now, thanks to the World Baseball Classic, America has brought the greatest game ever played to nearly every corner of the globe.

It wasn't an easy job, folks. The primary driver of historical development is the ongoing antagonism between the forces of capitalism and communism. Just as the battle between capital and labor for control of the means of production has animated all conflict since the dawn of industrialization, the battles between America and its socialist opponents like Cuba, Venezuela, and China will be the most fiercely contested match-ups of this year's World Baseball Classic.

In this article, I preview the 2017 World Baseball Classic and 8 of its 16 competitors. Lots of folks are dismissive of the WBC. Critics have a point: the field of teams is very limited. It is nothing short of a travesty that Max Kepler, the Minnesota Twins slugger who hails from Berlin, will not get to participate in this spring's events, due to the lack of a German national team. But let's be honest, the last thing Angela Merkel's re-election efforts need right now is for Germany to get embarrassed on the global stage by Trump's America.

It is also unfortunate that many national teams fail to entice their country's best players into playing in this globally significant event. There is no reason for so many great players to be sitting on the sidelines. The fire of patriotism does not burn brightly enough these days, folks. But until President Trump implements compulsory conscription of all eligible young men into the WBC, it's what we're left with. But folks, it ain't so bad. The competition looks to be stiff. Here are my power rankings of the top 8 World Baseball Classic teams:

1. The United States of America

I can't pick against the good guys this year. They have finally put together a team worthy of the red, white, and blue. The management will be top-notch, led by Jim Leyland, one of the wisest skippers in the game. This team can do it all. They can pitch. Led by Kansas City Royals ace Danny Duffy, a gnarly bearded man who embodies the pioneering spirit of the American frontier, this team will be able to hurl with the best of them.

They also boast Andrew Miller, the man who almost single-handedly won the World Series for Cleveland last fall. If I'm Leyland, I'm using Miller aggressively. No need to hold anything back: the pride of our country is on the line. Use the starting pitcher for 6 innings then immediately turn to Miller to close out the last three innings. If Miller is a true patriot, he should be willing to sacrifice the health of his elbow just as our men in uniform make sacrifices for our nation every day. Country first, arm health second.

The U.S. team also boasts an excellent pool of position players. Eric Hosmer: the reigning All Star Game MVP. Matt Carpenter: one of the best looking guys in the game and greatest underdog stories around. Ian Kinsler: a gritty as heck guy who bruises and bleeds for his team. Daniel Murphy: a man unafraid of being politically incorrect, and precisely the kind of guy we want to represent the U.S. in the era of Trump. These are just a few of the All Star talents that in my opinion will put Uncle Sam's team over the top.

Player to watch: A.J. Ellis

Folks, I know Buster Posey is a sure-fire Hall of Famer and looks like he could play Captain America on the big screen. But the U.S. national team has a secret weapon behind the dish: A.J. Ellis, the man who was once Clayton Kershaw's best friend and personal catcher. Look for him to call a nice game and make some great blocks on pitches in the dirt if called upon by his country.

Player to ignore: Chris Archer

Folks, I was disappointed to see Chris Archer made the team. He's always been more style than substance. Instead of watching tape, he spends his free time tweeting at the Obamas. He spent all winter criticizing his own front office for not pursuing a more aggressive offseason strategy. Folks, nobody is more sympathetic than me on this front: the Tampa Bay Rays are indeed an incompetent organization who are squandering the prime years of their young players. But a young man should know not to attract attention from the crooked media by speaking out on these issues. The team needs a leader, not a whiner. Keep that stuff within the family, Mr. Archer.

2. Venezuela 

Folks, Venezuela has a scary team this year. They are America's greatest competition. The baseball genius of Jim Leyland is matched only by that of superstar shortstop Omar Vizquel, Venezuela's skipper. Their team is absolutely packed with talent: Miguel Cabrera, Jose Altuve, Salvador Perez, Victor Martinez, Francisco Rodriguez, Felix Hernandez, and many more. The baseball bonafides of this crew are beyond reproach.

But I can't pick this team over team USA. Venezuela's horrific experiment with socialism has wrought unimaginable suffering upon its people. Venezuela's economic success has proven to be nothing more than a mirage: the recent decline in international oil prices has been absolutely devastating to their resource-dependent economy. Their failure is our gain: Venezuela's hyper-inflationary turmoil ensures that baseball players bring their talents over to the United States as fast as they can.

There is an argument that Venezuela's team is more talented than America's, but there is no argument that the Venezuelan team's hearts are filled with more love of country than that of the American team's.

Player who might surprise you: Hernan Perez and Alcides Escobar

I have always been high on Hern, super-utility guy from the Milwaukee Brewers. The Detroit Tigers nearly ruined this 25 year old kid's development by rushing him to the major leagues in 2015. When they put him on waivers in the middle of the 2015 season, the Brewers snatched him up and haven't looked back. In 2016, little Hern hit 13 bombs with 50 RBIs and notched a whopping 34 stolen bases. Look for this kid to make an unexpected impact for the Venezuelans.

Alcides Escobar is another Venezuelan to watch. I know he's attracted lots of scorn lately, mostly from irate Royals fans who don't understand how the game of baseball is played.

If Omar Vizquel is half as sly as Mr. Yost, he'll bat Escobar first. I've already written about why, contrary to fangraphs, Escobar is the ideal leadoff hitter. With Escobar in the leadoff spot, the Venezuelan national team could become the most serious challenger to U.S. hegemony since the Soviet Union.

3. Israel

After 8 years of abandonment and betrayal by Obama and Clinton, things are looking up for the Israelis. Prime Minister Netanyahu knows he has a true friend in the White House these days. The Jewish state has a nice mix of fine young men playing for them, along with a new sense of confidence thanks to the imminent repeal of the awful Iran nuclear deal. Better yet, team Israel may actually stand a chance this year without Dartmouth nerd Brad Ausmus at the helm. This team is on the upswing, folks.

Player who might surprise you: Ty Kelly

Perhaps the greatest "Ty" in baseball since the legendary Cobb, Mr. Kelly is a truly underrated player. Ty Kelly is a toolsy utility guy from the New York Mets; a team that every bit as much of a staple of Jewish culture as pastrami and Seinfeld. With better defensive skills than an IDF officer, Ty Kelly is a slick defender anywhere on the infield or in the outfield. Mark my words, he will make more noise than one of Hezbollah's scud missiles with team Israel this spring.

4. Italy

Italy is my dark-horse team for 2017. Italy is a country on a mission these days: a mission to escape the clutches of the treacherous European Union via an Italexit. I can't bet against the country that brought us Olive Garden, DiGiorno Pizza, and proto-Trumpist strongman Silvio Berlusconi. I know the Italian team isn't as stacked as some of the teams lower on this list. But they've got heart where it counts, namely in Drew Butera. Drew is the backup catcher for the Kansas City Royals, a World Series champion, and has James Bond levels of suave. His resume is impressive. Aside from admirably spelling Salvador Perez from time to time, he caught the game-winning strike from Wade Davis to clinch the Royals' first World Series win in two decades back in 2015. Not to mention, he might have the best hair in all the WBC.

5. Taiwan

Folks, I know I'm supposed to call this team "Chinese Taipei." But I won't. The Taiwanese deserve the right to organize as their own nation, the right of self-determination, and their right to independence from Chinese suppression. The Chinese think of Taiwan as a renegade province that will inevitably be absorbed back into the mainland, but Taiwan is its own democratic nation; it is a pinnacle of freedom in a sea of authoritarianism, a capitalist success story just a stone's throw away from the brutal communist Chinese regime.

Things were looking bleak for Taiwan prior to 2017. But with Trump having reversed the "One China" policy and the pro-secession DPP party now in charge, Taiwanese independence looks closer than ever. You can bet they'll be motivated to prove themselves at the WBC.

6. Cuba

You can always expect the Cuban team to be packed full of talent, folks. But they're always fighting with one hand tied behind their back because they won't allow defectors to play on their team. That means no Yasiel Puig, no Yoenis Cespedes, no Jose Abreu, no Kendrys Morales, no Jose Iglesias, no Aroldis Chapman and even more tragically, no eternally-smiling Brayan Pena. Hate to say it, but it's hard to see this team going anywhere until the Castro regime inevitably collapses under its own contradictions. But until then, they'll still be great entertainment. Keep an eye on Yoelkis Cespedes, a budding superstar and half brother of Yoenis. If he has half the swagger and arm-power of his brother, we could be in for a bigger treat than a fat, freshly rolled Partagas cigar, folks.

7. Puerto Rico

I like this Puerto Rican team quite a bit. They have a great mix of young kids and wily veterans. Any team would kill to have Carlos Correa, Javier Baez, and Francisco Lindor on their roster; though I'd get more excited about Frankie if he hadn't taken sac-bunting out of his game last season. On the pitching side, they have exciting young closers like Edwin Diaz of the Mariners and Joe Jimenez, the Tigers' closer of the future and rare bright spot in a farm-system more barren than the Democratic Party's depleted bench. That being said, the Puerto Ricans also have some serious veteran presence: namely the eternally smooth pure-hitter Carlos Beltran and catching maestro Yadier Molina, one of the only men to wear a St. Louis Cardinals uniform I will ever respect.

But I can't get fully behind this team. Look, I love West Side Story and its bunch of salsa-dancing Puerto Ricans as much as the next guy. But their country is going bankrupt. It's like a miniature Greek debt crisis just a few thousand miles from Florida. Until Puerto Rico gets their fiscal act together, it's hard for me to take them seriously.

Player who could surprise you: Mike Aviles

Folks, I know lots of people were counting Mike Aviles down and out after the Atlanta Braves cut him last summer. But you can't keep a multidimensional guy like Aviles down for long. Look for him to prove his doubters wrong with team Puerto Rico this spring. Keep an eye out for his 80-grade batting stance. Unlike Lindor, this guy isn't afraid to lay down a wicket sac-bunt.

8. The Dominican Republic

I hate to put the Dominican Republic this low, because they have a hell of a team, folks. They can pitch. They can hit. And with Jose Bautista on their team, they could very well spark an international crisis if one of his bat-flips is poorly received in a foreign capital. They might have the best pitching of any team here, folks. What other pitching staff is led by Bartolo Colon and boasts such arms as Fernando Rodney, Edinson Volquez, and Dellin Betances? Not to mention they have mashers like Nelson Cruz and Adrián Beltré.

However, there are some serious headwinds facing the Dominican Republic's team. Johnny Cueto, one of the most electric pitchers around, might not be available to pitch for them. Losing Cueto would be the biggest blow taken by a Caribbean country since Teddy Roosevelt's charge up San Juan Hill during the Spanish-American war.

Other aspects of their roster worry me. Manny Machado and Hanley Ramirez are talented, but perhaps destined for some sort of dramatic incident that will distract the team and take their eyes off the prize. This team has too many hot heads for my taste. Not to mention they are carrying Carlos Santana: the OBP-obsessed base-clogger who strikes out like 11 year old Will Hart at a Danville Middle School dance. I can't believe in this team.


That's all for now folks. Stay tuned for teams 9 through 16!

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Save Our Sox: How to Replace David Price

Danville, Kentucky -- Folks, disaster can strike when you least expect it. Take it from me. Just the other day, my whole lunch was ruined when I tried to use an expired Wendy's coupon. The only thing that got me out of bed that morning was the idea of digging into a hot bowl of chili, baked potatoes with sour cream, topped off by a Baconator.

I planned my entire day around a trip to Wendy's for an early lunch. I got to my local Wendy's promptly at 11:15 AM, and placed my order: 1 bowl of Dave's famous chili, 1 baked potato with all the fixings, and 1 extra-large Baconator. My mouth was watering at the mere thought of that heaping stack of beef with thick peppery bacon snugged between those sizzling patties. I could practically taste the rich sour cream, chives, and shredded cheese that so lovingly adorn every wholesome baked potato served by Wendy's. I had a coupon for each component of my order. But when I went to pay, the cashier shot me down. My coupon was expired - the promotion only lasted through January. My world was upended. I was not prepared for this contingency. I had to improvise.

Good baseball teams are prepared to deal with unpredictable contingencies: like the stunning news that David Price might have to undergo Tommy John surgery. This revelation has caught the unprepared and poorly-managed Boston Red Sox totally flat-footed. Aside from acquiring the temper-tantrum prone Chris Sale in a blockbuster trade, the Sox have spent the off-season shedding invaluable pitching depth like Clay Buchholz, despite the voluminous injury histories of Steven Wright and Drew Pomeranz.

The Red Sox would be better positioned to absorb the loss of Price if they had kept Buchholz and been more aggressive in pursuing many of the high marquee pitchers available via free agency and trade. Jered Weaver could've been had. John Danks, R.A. Dickey, and Bartolo Colon were available as well. Any of those four pitchers would've made great additions to the suddenly thin Red Sox rotation. Big Bart Colon, in particular, was signed for a bargain price - he would've been an excellent fit in Fenway, and has been considerably more successful in the postseason than the overpaid playoff under-performer David Price.

But the past is past. The Red Sox need to look to the future. Fortunately, all is not lost. David Price is not as hard to replace as you might expect; especially with Rick Porcello, the reigning Cy Young champ and stalwart groundball guru, still leading the rotation. There are plenty of worthy arms available on the free agent market or via trade that would make excellent additions to the Red Sox rotation. Here are just a few:


If I'm Dave Dombrowski, this guy is #1 on my list of replacement options. I laid out the case for why the Colorado Rockies should sign him earlier this winter. He's a groundball guy - the type of batted ball profile you want when you play home games in Fenway Park, a toy stadium that turns lazy fly balls into two-baggers thanks to the Green Monster. He rebuilt his value by winning 12 games in limited action with the Houston Astros last season. Just a couple of seasons ago he was a serious Cy Young candidate with the Washington Nationals, posting a sterling 2.41 ERA and 16 wins.

Moreover, Doug makes sense from a chemistry perspective. Dave Dombrowski knows this - back in 2011 he swung a season-changing trade for Doug Fister while serving as GM for the Detroit Tigers. In addition, Doug Fister and Rick Porcello are former teammates; while Rick is clearly now the groundball master, he wouldn't be what he is today if Fister hadn't taught him how to Dougie.


If I'm Dave the dealer, Peavy is option #2. The chemistry case for Jake the Snake is obvious. As the GM of the Tigers at the time, Dave is no doubt aware of the three team trade made in 2013 between the Tigers, Red Sox, and Chicago White Sox that won Boston the World Series. Avisail Garcia to Chicago. Jose Iglesias to Detroit. Jake Peavy to the Red Sox. And from there, the Red Sox to a World Series championship. In 2013, Peavy helped shepherd the Red Sox to the promised land. The next year, Peavy won the World Series again with the San Francisco Giants. Rings on rings on rings.

Peavy was injured in 2016, but posted a solid 3.73 ERA in 2014 and an even better 3.58 ERA in 2015. Both of those ERAs bested David Price's bloated 3.99 ERA in 2016. It's shocking to me that he is still unsigned. With the 2013 championship core slowly disappearing from the team - David Ortiz has retired, Mike Napoli has moved on, Buchholz has been traded - it's important to have some guys who have "been there before" around. Peavy has been there before. Bring him aboard, Dave.


There are other great options to be had. Perhaps the Tigers could be persuaded to part with the electric Mike Pelfrey. Tim Lincecum, Tim Hudson, and Matt Cain are other veterans who could be had for a bargain price, and who also have extensive postseason experience during the San Francisco Giants' reign of even-year dominance over the MLB. But Fister and Peavy are both no-brainers for the Red Sox. They can go toe-to-toe with David Price, particularly in the postseason where Price has always been a non-factor.

Sometimes you have to improvise. I ultimately didn't get my chili, baked potato, and Baconator. I planned my day around that Wendy's coupon - but life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans. An expired coupon, like an unexpected elbow surgery, can be a bit of a gut punch. But it wasn't the end of the world, though I did have a bit of a meltdown that resulted in an embarrassing trip to the county sheriff's office and my expulsion from that Wendy's restaurant. I ate at Popeye's Chicken later that day and was pleasantly surprised by the quality of their mashed potatoes and spicy chicken. It wasn't the Baconator that I so craved, but sometimes, your second best option can be just as good as the real thing. Hopefully the Boston Red Sox learn that lesson before it's too late.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Bring Carmelo to Cleveland

Danville, Kentucky -- Folks, I do not speak Chinese. I made a point of avoiding foreign language classes during high school. Why learn how to speak like some foreigner when you could be taking shop class, learning how to build stuff with your own bare hands? Moreover, learning Chinese (or any other non-American language) is utterly unnecessary for a man like myself with no plans to leave the United States (or even the Eastern Time Zone). With jobs rapidly returning to the United States thanks to Trump, there is no longer any business rationale for learning the tongue of Middle Kingdom either.

Yet, there is one word from the Chinese language that every American should know and internalize: 危机.

This is the Chinese word for "crisis." It is composed of two characters; the character that signifies "danger" and the character that signifies "opportunity." Out of crisis comes opportunity.

Folks, the Cleveland Cavaliers are in crisis. Kevin Love blew out his knee. He will likely miss the rest of the regular season. When he returns he may be a hollow shell of himself, representing a huge question mark for the Cavaliers as they attempt to defend their NBA title. The last thing the Cavaliers need is for one of their key pieces to be hobbled as they make a push for a second consecutive NBA championship against a formidable Golden State Warriors team that has added the traitorous but highly talented Kevin Durant. The Warriors cared more about breaking regular season records than winning rings last year, but that might not be the case in 2017. The Cavaliers will need to be at full strength. They need Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks.

Folks, Carmelo has already replaced the injured Kevin Love on the Eastern Conference All Star team. It's time for him to take Love's spot on the Cavaliers' roster as well. You have to fight fire with fire. The Warriors think adding Durant gives them an advantage? The Cavs should re-raise by acquiring Melo, one of the league's premier scoring threats.

It makes too much sense, folks. Carmelo has played in blue states like Colorado and New York his entire career, a sad reality that has limited his potential. Playing in a hard-working red state like Ohio would be a welcome change of scenery.

Mr. Anthony is a three time Olympic gold-medalist and a patriot. He led the Syracuse Orangemen to an NCAA title en route to becoming the NCAA Tournament's "Most Outstanding Player" in 2003, a simpler year when nobody had heard of kale or quinoa. Carmelo guided his college team to a title; when Kevin Love's UCLA Bruins lost in the Final Four, he abandoned ship. I know which guy I'd rather call my teammate.

In addition, playing in Cleveland would fix many of Carmelo's chemistry issues. He would no longer be playing in the shadow of the tyrannical Phil Jackson. Jackson keeps trying to change Melo, to turn him into a player he's not. Folks, as a man who has been divorced four times, let me tell you that people are who are they are. For a relationship to work, you have to accept your partner unconditionally, faults included. If you try to change people, you'll only bring misery upon yourself. If the twice-divorced Jackson had a few more divorces under his belt, he'd probably have figured this out by now. Melo has chafed as Jackson has attempted to bully and intimidate him into changing his game by moving away from isolation plays. If Melo were traded to Cleveland, he'd no longer have anything to prove to Jackson. Indeed, Melo could escape the spotlight - the Cavaliers will always be LeBron's team.

Trading Carmelo makes sense for the Knicks as well. The injured Kevin Love will not help them much in the short term, but in the long term they will have brought a ceasefire to the Jackson-Anthony Cold War while obtaining a player that they can rebuild around. It's time for the Melo era of the Knicks to end; the Ron Baker era must now begin. By trading Carmelo, the Knicks can move past the era of constant feuding between players and the front office, and begin an era characterized by players that simply show up and do their jobs, like millions of other Americans do every day without fanfare or renown. No player better encapsulates this blue-collar lunch-pail mentality than the inveterately gritty Ron Baker, proud product of Wichita State University. By clearing their roster of high-profile tabloid characters like Anthony (and eventually the aging and ineffective Derrick Rose) the Knicks can give folks like Ron Baker the playing time they deserve and bring some heartland-raised common sense to their team in the process.

The Cavaliers and Knicks both face a crisis. The injury of Kevin Love has put the Cavaliers' title defense in grave jeopardy. The Knicks organization faces a crisis of confidence as the war between Jackson and Anthony escalates. Both sides need to remember that out of crisis comes opportunity. Make it happen, James Dolan and Dan Gilbert. Bring Carmelo to Cleveland.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

TWTW's Super Bowl LI Preview

Danville, Kentucky -- Long, long, ago, in a far-off distant land called Foxborough, legend tells of a boy who rose from obscurity to become a great leader of men. A man who stood in the shadow of lesser men while serving as the backup quarterback of the Michigan Wolverines. A Michigan man who became a New England man, thrust into service after the injury of Drew Bledsoe back in that fateful 2001 NFL season. An unheralded 6th round draft pick who showed America that any man can do anything with hard work and a little luck.

Folks, I remember where I was in February of 2002, when Tom Brady and the New England Patriots faced a team from St. Louis that belonged in Los Angeles in Super Bowl XXXVI. After Bledsoe's injury, I followed Mr. Brady with a great degree of curiosity; even then, it seemed as though we were witnessing history in the making. Fast forward 15 years, several lousy trade deals and disastrous forays into nation-building in the Middle East later, and Tom Brady is on the precipice of providing a tidy bookend to an illustrious NFL career that began with an improbable Super Bowl victory all those years ago.

Tom Brady's path to Super Bowl LI, to be played tonight against the Atlanta Falcons, was not without controversy. Folks, I thought Brady was dead to me after news of the heart-breaking Deflate-Gate scandal of 2015 broke. To an uninformed outsider, it seemed as though Brady had abandoned the Michigan Man grit so central to his legend and mythos, in favor of becoming a member of the NFL aristocracy that plays by a different set of rules. But sometimes, a man must admit when he has made a mistake.

Folks, more often than not I'm right. I correctly predicted that the Kansas City Royals would emerge victorious in both the 2015 American League Championship Series and World Series. I correctly predicted the resurgence of Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander. I correctly predicted that Peyton Manning would lead the Denver Broncos to victory in the last Superbowl, despite the scorn I received from liberal commentators heralding the rise of Cam Newton. I correctly predicted that Donald Trump would win the 2016 election. Folks, if liberals didn't look at me like I'm some sort of neanderthal just because I enjoy a good bowl of queso at Chilis now and then, I'd already have a job at FiveThirtyEight given this pedigree and resume of correct forecasts. But I'll admit: I got Tom Brady wrong.

When the Deflate-Gate news broke, I was dumbstruck. How could the man who had authored so many Super Bowl success stories be nothing more than a liar and a crook? I even called for the man to be banned from the NFL. In retrospect, the swiftness with which I condemned Mr. Brady was uncalled for. But the mainstream media deserves its share of the blame. The media is always quick to pounce upon those who wear their political opinions on their sleeves like Mr. Brady. Crooked Roger Goodell was also quick to stack the deck against Brady by falsifying pounds-per-square-inch data, cooking the books worse than the National Park service did with Trump's historically well-attended inaugural address.
I was misled by the corrupt NFL establishment and their media toadies. But I won't be misled again. I un-apologetically predict a Tom Brady triumph tonight, on the biggest stage in all of professional sports.

Touchdown Tom has so much more to play for than the Atlanta Falcons: with his 5th Super Bowl victory, he would secure his legacy as the greatest NFL quarterback of all time. A final Super Bowl ring would be a fitting bookend to career that has spanned nearly two decades, beginning with his first Super Bowl win at age 24 and a 2017 swan song at age 39.

My unabashed admiration for Mr. Brady is no longer fashionable; the radical left is determined to politicize this Super Bowl, citing Brady's "Trump Problem." Folks, I don't know when it became a "Problem" to be on the winning team or why it is now politically incorrect to be an outspoken supporter of the President of the United States. St. Louis Cardinals slugger Stan Musial didn't get lambasted by the media for campaigning with John F. Kennedy, the man who brought us the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion. Folks, I don't remember Steph Curry getting criticized for being an avowed supported of Marxist tyrant Barack Obama.

Nope, this is just part of the continuing double standard, a double standard that leads the media to smear good men like Brady, a double standard that keeps me unemployed while Nate Silver lives large despite an awful track record of predictions. It turns out that in the world of sports, only liberals are allowed to express their political opinions.

The Atlanta Falcons really have nothing on the Patriots. Teams from Atlanta can't win; it probably has something to do with lingering humiliation over Sherman's March. Just ask the Atlanta Braves: perennial regular season champs, permanent postseason losers. I have no respect for the city of Atlanta ever since my wife deserted me at The Varsity drive-in restaurant, taking my kids, my car, and my collection of Bon Jovi cassettes with her. Matt Ryan, aka "Matty Ice," is a Boston College educated elitist who has never known the crisp taste of "Natty Ice," a drink of the people.

Super Bowl LI has become more than a football game. It is now a referendum on Trump's America writ large. The stakes are high: this game will decide the fate of both Tom Brady and Donald Trump's legacies. This Super Bowl presents the nation with an easy choice: a New England Patriots win will be yet another victory for the still-young Trump administration, imbuing further momentum in Donald's efforts to Make America Great Again. An Atlanta Falcons win would be a catastrophic setback, imperiling Trump's efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare, secure our borders, and reverse globalization. Tom Brady's journey to legend status began some 15 years ago. It's ending has not yet been written. Tonight, Mr. Brady will not only deliver a win for the New England Patriots; America itself will be taught a valuable lesson on how to win with class and dignity. That should cause every loyal American patriot's heart to inflate with pride.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

De-Fund Berkeley and Bring Back Logging

Danville, Kentucky -- For several fruitful centuries, the lumber industry was a vital driver of economic prosperity and job growth in the nascent American colonies. When the English settlers landed in the New World, they encountered massive forests full of fresh timber, begging to be logged and used as the raw material for houses, furniture, and sturdy wooden paddles perfect for disciplining an unruly child. The lumber industry was the lifeblood of the newly independent American nation's economy; millions of feet worth of timber were exported each year, providing bountiful profit to industrious loggers and millers while employing thousands of honest Americans. A man could make a dignified living by going out into the woods and communing with nature before harvesting the mighty oak, elm, and pine trees of America's forests.

But somewhere along the line, something went wrong. The sawmills of old were shut down, no longer churning out freshly-hewn logs at their once prolific rate. Many an ax became dull and rusty as it fell into idleness and disuse. The stout lumberjacks of old were forced to leave this once proud industry for other jobs. The sounds of swinging axes and slicing saws in the forests became anachronistic and rare.

Why did the logging industry suffer such a precipitous decline? Some would say overbearing big government regulations. Some would say NAFTA. Some would blame tree-hugging environmentalists, with their shrill shrieking about "deforestation" and "irreversible ecosystem collapse culminating in devastating loss of biodiversity." They all have a point. But the true culprit was much more sinister: college education.

Somewhere around the 1960s, American men went soft. They stopped going out into the woods to appreciate its sights, sounds, and smells: the tarry trickle of sticky maple sap, the sound of wind whispering through leaves, the feel of dirt and bark in one's fingers. They went to college instead. Economists heralded the advent of a "consumer" economy rather than a production-oriented economy.

Look where college education has gotten us, folks.

Kids these days don't make anything with their hands like greater generations of Americans once did. They'll never know the smooth touch of a well-crafted ax in one's fingers, and the feeling of power that toppling a majestic tree brings. College educated snowflake brats don't know what it feels like to make something, to produce something. They only know how to riot and destroy whenever they encounter somebody who disagrees with them.
President Trump is exactly right to demand that our college campuses protect free speech while remaining riot-free. Instead of funding some rebellious urchin's Art History degree, why not put our taxpayer dollars to better use? All that money could be better spent building The Wall, investigating Rafael Cruz, or invading the crime-ridden scum-hole of Chicago.

These days, a college degree isn't worth much. So many kids can't find jobs after graduating college, and find themselves eternally burdened with student loans. We could use big government socialist loan bailouts to fix this problem, as Bernie Sanders has suggested. Or we could teach America's youth a valuable lesson in diligence.

The President should immediately de-fund Berkeley and similarly riotous universities. Instead, this money should be devoted to the logging industry, to encourage timber companies to hire America's youth in their lumber and sawmill operations. Teach America's youth how to produce, rather than teaching them how to riot and destroy. The best way to get America's youth off the streets is to get them back in the forests, harvesting our nation's glorious wooden bounty.