Saturday, May 31, 2014

Braves end lackluster May looking to recapture momentum of April

Back on April 26, I wrote how I could not relax even though the Atlanta Braves had begun the baseball season on a tremendous hot streak.  The Braves ended April with a 17-9 record and a lead in the National League Eastern Division.  However, the success was built on a remarkable hot streak by the pitching staff and covered the sins of an offense that was inconsistent at best.  At some point something had to give, and unfortunately, we saw some of that in May.

The Braves completed May with a 13-16 record for the month.  The good news is the team is still in first place by two games, but bad times could continue if more offensive consistency cannot be found.

The team's strength is its pitching staff, but there was no way it could continue the high level of work it produced in April.  The team still leads the league in Earned Run Average, but some performances plateaued.  Julio Teheran continues to do excellent work (5-3 record, 1.83 ERA), but Ervin Santana and Aaron Harang both came down to earth a little.  Before today's start, Santana had gone 0-2 over a three-start period with an ERA of 9.00.  As for Harang, he had a few bumpy starts, but his ERA remains a solid 3.29.

However, as I previously wrote, this team's problem is not its pitching.  It's just that the pitching cannot continue to cover for a frustrating offense.  The problems remain the same.  Second base is a flat-out disaster.  Four people have played there (Dan Uggla, Tyler Pasornicky, Ramiro Pena and the recently called up Tommy La Stella).  Three of those players have batting averages slightly below or above .200.  As for La Stella, it is his turn to see if he can provide some offensive punch from that position.  Today, the results were good as he had two hits, but as the last game of the Red Sox series showed on Thursday, his defense is likely a work in progress.

Additionally, B.J. Upton's bat remains a problem.  He adds a lot to the team defensively in center field, but he is only batting .216.  My expectations for him have become so tempered that I would be happy if he could get his average up to .230 and keep it there.  If he did that, I think he would be able to hit 15-20 home runs with the same amount of stolen bases.

There are bright spots on offense.  Justin Upton is hitting .301 with 13 home runs and Freddie Freeman is being Freddie Freeman.  Lead-off hitter Jason Heyward has found his stroke the last couple of weeks and has his average up to .246.  If he can keep improving, he can be the threat we desperately need at the top of the line up.

As we enter the season's third month, the Braves are fortunate to be playing in the league's weakest division. None of the teams have shown a sign of putting it all together and getting on a sustained hot streak.  If this continues, the divisional winner might be able to do it with only 85-88 wins.  And if a team from this division wants to make the playoffs, it will have to win the East.  At this point anyway, it doesn't look like the division will be good enough to produce a wild card team.


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

That old black dog is sniffing around again

Winston Churchill referred to the depression he suffered from as his "black dog" like it was his companion.  In a sense, I understand where he was coming from because my depression feels like it is someone (or something) that travels with me.  I don't always sense it is there, but when it clears its throat, it can be the dominant force in my life.  I don't know how to describe it as Churchill did, but then again, I don't really think it is necessary.

How does a person turn his brain off?  Silly question on the surface, but it is a very relevant one when dealing with this topic.  Sure, depression provides sadness and other similar symptoms, but I sure wish I could get my brain to slow down.  The only comparison I can make is that it feels like when we mash the gas pedal of our car all the way to the floor, but in this case, when we take our foot off the pedal, nothing slows down.  This is what my brain is like.  When this thing is at its worst, my brain goes faster and faster and won't stop throwing thoughts and images at me.  I won't elaborate on what those thoughts and images might be, but let's just say they range from the aggravating to the scary (it is called depression, you know).  As this throwing continues, I get more and more tired until it wears me down, and I just want to lay in bed with the covers pulled over me.

And so it goes.  I am a realist about such things.  As we get older, we all get ailments that begin to weigh us down.  If we didn't, we would live forever.  Still, this ailment is particularly frustrating because I can't really see it.  I can only feel it.  Also, it is an illness that some people treat trivially and do not accept it as an illness at all.  Even at this late date, many still equate common mental illnesses like this as a type of kookiness or craziness that is not applicable.  Even though those people frustrate me, I pray they never get this.

At some point, this flair up will recede and balance will return (I think....I hope).  Until then, all a person can do is persevere.  It's nice to have something in common with Winston Churchill.  So, I've got that going for me.....which is nice.




Saturday, May 24, 2014

I'm going around and around and around and around and around and around

I'm going around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Redbox delivering movie gold

As much as I like going to a theater to watch a movie, I don't do it much anymore because it is too expensive.  Unfortunately, it is becoming tougher and tougher to find a theater that sells tickets to a matinee for less than eight dollars.  It's not that I can't afford the ticket.  It's just the principle of the matter because eight dollars is too much for a matinee ticket.

The last movie I saw in a theater was at the two-dollar theater near the old Hickory Hollow Mall in Nashville.  I'm glad I went because I saw Gravity and it is a film that really needs to be seen on a big screen.  On the negative side, that is not the safest part of the city, and I feel a little uneasy there after sunset.

Because of this, Redbox has become an invaluable resource when seeing films I want to view.  Of course, this means a person has to wait a few weeks/months before seeing new releases, but I think saving the money is worth it.  In recent weeks, I've caught up on many of the critically-acclaimed films from 2013.

American Hustle, The Wolf of Wall Street, Inside Llewyn Davis, and Dallas Buyers Club have all gotten close inspection at my house in recent weeks.  Of that group, I believe American Hustle and Inside Llewyn Davis are the best.  Of the two, American Hustle is slicker, but it tells its story well and has a strong ensemble cast (Amy Adams, Christian Bale, etc.).  Inside Llewyn Davis is another strong film from the Coen Brothers and is a well-told story about a folk singer who is frequently unlikable but still compelling.

I guess the point of this post is that if a person likes movies but is sick of theater high prices then use resources like Redbox.  It does require some patience, but the savings add up.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

2014 is a third complete...if you don't believe me, do the math

If it is May 1, it must mean that 2014 is one-third finished.  The math is quite simple.  We have twelve months and the fourth one just ended.  4/12 = 1/3.  I've had math on my mind a lot lately, but that is another story for another time.

The first third of the year has been eventful and flown by.  This isn't an original thought, but time does move faster as we get older.  It seems like the other day we were freezing our rear ends off in the below zero chill of January, and now, spring is in full bloom with all the spectacular colors it produces.

If we all agree time is moving fast, then we need to be about making the most of our time. This is because we aren't getting any more of it.  So, let's get things together and get the most out of the rest of the year.

As for me, I'm about to go eat chicken.  I've got a coupon from KFC.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

The Braves are off to a hot start, so why can't I relax?

It's late April, and the Atlanta Braves are off to a hot start.  So, all is well, right?  I guess so, but I just can't seem to relax when it comes to this year's team.  True, we are in first place, and the pitching and defense have been good.  However, when I look at the team, I see many holes.

My anxiety may be a holdover from spring training when the team suffered key injuries.  Starting pitchers Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy were lost for the year, and a third pitcher (Mike Minor) has been on the disabled list all season (though he is expected to return next week).

I guess the problem is I am waiting for our rag tag starting rotation to go poof.  Seriously, who expected Aaron Harang to be 3-1 with a 0.85 earned run average at this point?  Also, the entire starting rotation has an ERA under three.  Even if all these guys have good years, there's no way we can continue at this pace.

Also, the offense continues to live and die by the home run.  When we are hitting them, life is good.  When we are not, we are incapable of manufacturing runs.  For example, our starting pitchers appear allergic to bunting.  At this point, they have only managed to lay down three successful sacrifice bunts.  Call me crazy, but I think a major league player (even if it is just a pitcher) should be a skilled bunter.

Additionally, the top of the batting order is a concern.  Jason Heyward is not a prototypical lead-off hitter and has only hit around .200 so far.  He is certain to improve, but I wonder if leading off is a big distraction.  B.J. Upton as the number two hitter does not help me sleep better either.  We all know what a disaster last season was for him, and he is not exactly the contact hitter needed for the two hole.

The good news offensively is that Freddie Freeman is knocking the cover off the ball, and Evan Gattis and Justin Upton are not far behind.  Freeman and Gattis are both hitting over .300, and Justin is not far below it.

Maybe I just need to relax.  The baseball season is a marathon and not a sprint, and it's too early to get worked up about some of the things I have whined about. If there is anything I've learned about baseball, it is that a person should soak it in when his team is in first place whether it is in April or September.

Success comes and goes like the wind in baseball.