09 May 2008

Chicago White Sox, A May Reflection

This has been a very interesting start to the season. We came out of the gate strong, then we played pretty well for a while, and now we've had our first big slump. How we do over the next week can say a lot about this team. But first, I'll analyze what's been happening

Injuries to Owens and Richar played a role in shaping this lineup, but I have been pretty impressed with it. Here's what we've had for most of the season:
CF Swisher
SS Cabrera
DH Thome
1B Konerko
RF Dye
C Pierzynski
LF Quentin
3B Crede
2B Uribe

Toby Hall gets some starts at C, Brian Anderson in the outfield, Pablo Ozuna in the infield, Alexei Ramirez in both.

CF Swisher - First, he's playing an excellent center field. He started off the season so well, drawing walks. Other teams seem to have caught on to this, as he's seen a lot of 0-2 counts lately, which is hurting him. Hopefully he can find his balance again quickly. But I have confidence in him as a player, even if he doesn't stay in the leadoff hole all year.

SS Cabrera - Cabrera's interesting. He hasn't been phenomenal, but he has come up big from time to time. I'd like to see him start hitting better, and I think he can. But it worries me with Cabrera-Thome-Konerko all struggling with the bats. His defense has been good. He's a very alert player, and he knows what he's doing.

DH Thome - Thome has struggled so much this year. It makes you think about last year, but Thome was solid for most of last year, one of the pillars that didn't crumble (except for injury). I'm not sure there's a better place for him in the order, but he seems to be striking out more frequently and walking less. Over the last several seasons, he has been reliable in getting those walks, so it will be interesting to see what this season brings. He certainly has the power, though, when he locks in.

1B Konerko - Again, another struggling hitter. He's been on here and there, but for the most part is not the Konerko we all want to see. That combined with his slower speed makes him into a bit of a problem. He's a good mistake hitter, but pitchers aren't terrified of him. They don't pitch him many mistakes. Interestingly, I think he has been pretty solid with RISP. But with his struggles last year, I'm worried that he might just be on the decline.

RF Dye - I was worried about Dye last year, between his knee problems and his low production for much of the season, but he did very well late in the year. This year, I have been impressed. Dye consistently performs at a higher level than I expect. But now I'm going to be expecting more. Dye is a very solid part of this lineup, and it might be wise to switch him with Thome. I believe he spent a good deal of time in the 3 hole at the end of '06, and was effective....

C Pierzynski - Yes! A. J. struggled a lot last year, but he is focused and solid this year. Last year, of course, he was being batted fifth a whole lot, whereas now he's back sixth and seventh. I think he's more effective when he doesn't feel like he has to be one of the top power guys on the team. He can be a very good hitter, and I have high confidence for him throughout the year.

LF Quentin - The guy who wasn't supposed to make the team has been a bright spot. He's struggled the last week or so, but Quentin has been a big part of the lineup. I don't like batting him near the top so much, and honestly, I think Crede often affords him as much or more protection than Thome. This kid is good, and if we go far this year, he will be a big reason why.

3B Crede - Joe is back. He looks just as solid as ever. In fact, he looks phenomenal. Having Quentin-Crede at 7-8 gives this lineup a lot of potential. If 2-3-4 can play like 2-3-4. Which I think they can, but I'm not sure if they will. Crede has been so solid, and I think teams either fear him as much as the other sluggers or they underestimate him. Either way, he does well. And the defense is amazing.

2B Uribe - Juan is definitely a good double-play partner, and with Crede and Cabrera, that infield has the potential to save a lot of games. And while he has been the same poor hitter as always, I've seen more clutch performance from him than I've expected. As long as 2-3-4 are struggling, it will hurt to have Uribe in the 9 spot, but if they get on track for an extended period of time... We're good.

OF Anderson - Brian hasn't been phenomenal like he was in spring training, but he's certainly capable. He's a good guy to have around.

IF(/OF) Ozuna - Pablo hasn't been what I've expected this year. Hopefully he will settle in better. He's a passable sub at this point, not a super-sub.

C Hall - Toby has done the job, and he isn't struggling as much as last year. Still, having him in the 9 hole after Uribe always looks like we're asking to lose. I haven't seen all of his starts. Jury's out.

IF/OF Ramirez - So far he's struggled. I don't think he'll stay with the White Sox all year, but I have high hopes for him. Given a chance to start every day, he could become a key contributor. I'm just not sure if he's quite ready. And I haven't gotten a good assessment of his second base yet. We probably can't afford him to start there if he'll perform at Uribe-level offensively and poorly defensively. Let's see what happens.

The rotation has been solid, but I'd like to point out how we started last year. Last year at this time, I believe we were in the middle of a consecutive quality starts streak that lasted maybe 24 games. By the end of the year, Contreras was horrible, Danks had fallen off, and Floyd was a big unknown.
This year, I like what I've seen from Contreras. Not dominating, but he's been strong and, perhaps most importantly, consistent. He's the biggest surprise on the staff to me.
Vazquez I expected to perform at ace level.
Danks I expected to do well, and that cutter could only help. His pitch count has been better at times, but not always. He's developing, but he's a strong pitcher either way.
Floyd has outperformed my expectations. I wasn't as worried about him as I was about Contreras, but I was still very uncertain. It seems that he regularly throws at least several no-hit innings to start off a game, and that's amazing. With his newfound confidence, he's the second-best pitcher on this staff, fighting for first.
Which brings us to Buehrle. I haven't been too impressed with Buehrle over the last few years, despite his ace status. He's good, don't get me wrong. And the no-hitter was great. But I'm not sure he should be considered the ace of a staff. Luckily, we've got Vazquez and Floyd performing at ace level. And Danks and Contreras are solid.
Which brings us back to Buehrle again. He hasn't underperformed my expectations by that much, which is sad. I know he's a good pitcher, but he's not a 17-5 kind of pitcher. He's a 14-10 kind of pitcher. And he's been hit a lot this year. I hope he settles down. And I think he'll have a good, extended stretch of ace pitching. But right now, he's fighting for the 4 spot in my mind.
Which is a good thing. We've got pitching!

The bullpen looks great. It has its issues.
Dotel, Thornton, and Logan have underperformed, though Dotel especially was an unknown at this point. And Dotel's outing yesterday shows that he certainly can right the ship and be a very solid pitcher this year. Which I very much hope for.
Logan's good, so I expect him to be effective.
Thornton's usually pretty consistent, so I expect he will be pretty good all year.
Jenks has been wonderful, outside of his Orioles games. And that goes back beyond this year, so I'm not worried about it. Big bad Bobby is a great closer who should be among the leaders in saves again.
Masset has been stronger than I feared, though to me he's just a big variable. I don't know what the future has in store for Nick.
Wasserman will be a very good ROOGY, but I hope he figures out how to get lefties out a little better.
Even MacDougal has impressed me. He's no 8th-inning guy, but he hasn't been nearly as wild as last year. I fear this may be the best he'll get, but he can be effective if used properly.

What about Owens and Richar? And Fields could always make some kind of an impact. Will any of these guys see the light this year? I think Owens would be good to include in the mix. But he'd be replacing Ramirez, and Owens can only play outfield. Which leaves Ozuna as the only utility infielder. And I'm not sure I like that, unless Ozuna starts playing better. Which he may. Richar? I have no idea what's up with him, but he did look like he had potential last year. Is he ready? I couldn't tell you.

So what do I think of the Sox? Preseason I had them 3rd. Right now, it's all up in the air. Will this be a down year for Cleveland and Detroit? Will Kansas City last? Will it be Chicago v. Minnesota? Hard to say. I think we have a good chance, as do the other teams. It's a good season.

19 April 2008

Is the best you can do good enough?

My thoughts this week have centered on the concept of Excellence. All my life, I've been fairly good at most everything I've done. It's a curse as much as a boon, as it inspired poor habits of study, practice, and work ethic with which I still struggle.

I've largely ended up in music because I'm good at it. And I am. But there are a lot of facets to music, and I'm interested in so many of them. However, I don't want to be good at what I do. I want to be excellent. I want to be like so many of my professors have been--masters at their craft, or at least masters at sharing insights and guiding students in that craft. I don't want to be a second-rate voice teacher, even one with a well-paying, tenured position at a good university. And I'm not sure if I have what it takes to be one of the greats, one who can hear a voice and, almost instinctively, but guided by a depth of knowledge and acuity of observation, know the best way to nurture that voice. I'm not sure if I can develop the personal skills needed to gain the trust of a student to the point where they are willing to feel completely vulnerable, trying things with their voice that they're embarrassed to have heard.

Along the same lines, I can probably become a good conductor, but can I excel there? My personal skills again present one hazard, but I believe I can, with experience, overcome nerves and fears in conducting just as I have in singing, in playing, in friendship, even. But I am again unsure. I don't know what the path is, from a gifted musician to a musician who can inspire others to higher levels of musicianship. From an ear that can listen critically to an ear that can listen critically when standing on the podium, with all those eyes (hopefully) looking to me for what to do...

So I wonder. But I can't truly predict how far I can go. But all my life, I've been able to achieve relative excellence, in comparison with what was required. All my life, I've been better than "good enough," even when hardly trying. Yes, I have innate talents, and should be quite thankful for them. And I am. But I'm approaching a dangerous precipice. Climbing a slope is one matter. Continuing to ascend when the cliff is passed, in short, to take flight... So I fear. How far I can go is a great unknown, and I'm embarking on this journey without knowing whither I go. Where will it end? And, when I do the best I can do, will it be excellent, or will it be merely good enough?

13 April 2008

Preseason Predictions

I know the season's already begun, so I have to get these out before anyone suspects tampering:

American League
1. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
2. Seattle Mariners
3. Texas Rangers
4. Oakland Athletics
1. Cleveland Indians
2. Detroit Tigers
3. Chicago White Sox
4. Minnesota Twins
5. Kansas City Royals
1. Boston Red Sox
2. New York Yankees
3. Toronto Blue Jays
4. Tampa Bay Rays
5. Baltimore Orioles
Wild Card: Detroit Tigers

National League
1. Los Angeles Dodgers
2. Arizona Diamondbacks
3. Colorado Rockies
4. San Diego Padres
5. San Francisco Giants
1. Chicago Cubs
2. Milwaukee Brewers
3. Cincinnati Reds
4. Houston Astros
5. St. Louis Cardinals
6. Pittsburgh Pirates
1. New York Mets
2. Atlanta Braves
3. Philadelphia Phillies
4. Washington Nationals
5. Florida Marlins
Wild Card: Arizona Diamondbacks

In the unlikely scenario that these playoff teams actually make it, here's my playoff prediction:

Boston over Detroit
Cleveland over Los Angeles of Anaheim
New York over Arizona
Los Angeles over Chicago
Cleveland over Boston
Los Angeles over New York

World Series (Home field to Cleveland; I'll go with the percentages on that)
Cleveland over Los Angeles [Edit: accidentally typed New York, though I had LA advancing]

A couple notes. First, I'm an American League fan, so my assessments of National League teams are usually going to be rougher than in the American League. Second, I'm not claiming incredible confidence in my rankings. Rating the NL West, for instance, is a crap shoot. Any one (or two, or three, or four) of those four top teams could have a great year, and any one (or two, or three, but four?) of them could bomb.

Already, I'm starting to change my mind a little. I'm thinking 3rd for Oakland, and Kansas City may get out of the AL Central cellar this year. I like what I've seen from the White Sox so far, but even though the Tigers are starting to look like the '07 White Sox, I'm not ruling them out yet. The Cardinals were surprising last year when they caught up to within a couple games of Chicago and Milwaukee, and they're surprisingly strong to start this year. You can't rule them out, either. That's the one team in that division I could realistically see finishing anywhere from 1 through 6.

Who knows what to think with the lower spots in the AL and NL East? Only the season will tell. That's baseball.

Perhaps I'll go through each team in-depth at some point during the early summer.

28 January 2008

The State of the Union

First a few words of warning for the uninformed reader: I am a liberal.

I'm still not sure what my final verdict will be on this address. Many things irked me. Issuing an executive order not to enforce pork-barrel provisions not debated in Congress. Yes, I agree that pork-barrel spending is a problem, and I don't think that so many provisions should be inserted so freely at the end of the consideration process. However, the theory of the unitary executive is simply unconstitutional, and an abuse of presidential authority. The only way the President can limit pork-barrel spending is through the veto, which he also threatened. My only fear is that the President will end up vetoing nearly every spending bill, which will be counterproductive, despite positive intentions.

"A quick up-or-down vote" on judicial nominees... I refer to Barack Obama in The Audacity of Hope:

a good argument could be made that a vote on judicial nominations was precisely
the situation where the filibuster's supermajority requirement made sense:
Because federal judges receive lifetime appointments and often serve through the
terms of multiple presidents, it behooves a president--and benefits our
democracy--to find moderate nominees who can garner some measure of bipartisan
support. (p. 82, paperback edition)
I use the example of the filibuster as it is the most dramatic method of prolonging debate. Obama argues well for the length of debates on judicial nominations. Judges serve life terms, and a mistake in appointing them will last for a long time. The intentions of the Constitution are that the President and Congress will decide, together, on the best persons to serve the judicial system. I quote from Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution:
[The President] shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent
of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls,
Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States... (emphasis added)

I'll also add the point that George Bush's nominees tend to be right-wing ideologues intent on rewriting the Constitution, unlike the claims in his address.

I was stunned to hear Bush speak frankly to the fact that lowering greenhouse gas emissions was important. Of course, his focus on energy is based on security and cost, but he addressed environmental concerns in a very conceding way. He seems to be relenting on his anti-truth campaign in that regard.

Immigration is one issue where Bush is mostly right, and I applaud his efforts.

However, free trade is a problem. In principle, it makes sense, but I'll echo the Democratic candidates in a call for fair trade restrictions. If trade with America will lead a country to exploit its workforce, displace native communities, and create hazardous environments for wildlife and citizens alike, as is regular in much of Central and South America, then trade with America should not be allowed. The United States needs to support and enforce human rights, or at the very least not to pursue their demise. That, of course, is not a particular concern of the present administration. Making the United States one of the world's human rights trouble nations... That was a brilliant plan.

I hope the "surge" and ensuing military strategies do continue to improve the conditions on the ground. I also hope the political situation will strongly improve. I just hope that the American people don't use that as a reason to elect another Republican President.

I find it hilarious that Bush waited until his last year to visit Israel, and now an Israeli-Pakistani peace resolution could become a major part of his legacy. But I care much more for world peace than for the accurate preservation through history of the legacy this President deserves.

All in all, Bush took a step back from some of his more extreme speeches. He seems much more willing to compromise than in the past. Maybe he's learned a little from the rhetoric he spewed out in the Middle East. I hope both parties can work together as people of the same country, seeking how to make their country and the world a better place. That's their job, after all. Strident rhetoric and political posturing is rarely the best way to run the country. Do what's right, and make compromises on your pet ideas. That's what you can do for your country.