Defeating Dodger Doldrums

I am 40 years old, yet I fight to choke back tears upon the completion of baseball season.

I’m not articulate enough to describe the metaphor for life that is baseball, but I’m sure you’ve heard the trope: the metronomic reliability of having a ballgame to turn on each night; hope springing eternal in the spring and dashed permanently in autumn. For me, recently, the revelation that the autumn of my life is rapidly approaching seems to take on more meaning as the curtain falls on each heart-breaking Dodgers season finale.

Halloween. Thanksgiving. “The Holidays.”
These are some of the Best Moments of Our Lives; when even the temperate Los Angeles air takes on a crisp, cool feel in the mornings. Neighborhood decor evolves from ghoulish delights to bountiful cornucopias to finally, the festive lights that represent the closing of yet another calendar year. Yet here we are, staring into the void of
Yet Another Winter to Ruminate on Missed Opportunity.

Dave Roberts and Clayton Kershaw broke my heart. Again. It’s easy to pin the losses on those two; Kershaw’s postseason struggles are as ghastly as his regular season successes are noteworthy; Roberts is now single-handedly responsible for four of the eight World Series losses over the last two Octobers. Really, though, this was a team collapse. Ryan Madson’s ‘perfect’ performance, allowing seven of seven inherited baserunners to score; Scott Alexander’s 13.50 ERA, Kenta Maeda allowing the death blow – the bases-clearing double to series MVP Steve Pearce in the ninth inning of Game 4. And that offense! Much was made about their inability to push runners across by anything other than a home run. The team batted a collective .180 with a .550 OPS. Austin Barnes was hitless in 11 at-bats. Cody Bellinger, Matt Kemp, and Joc Pederson combined to go 3-for-37. David Freese, Justin Turner, and Yasiel Puig were the only batters that hit .250 or better. Include Max Muncy and you don’t have one other player that exceeded .630 OPS. And that fearsome mid-season acquisition that was supposed to put the Dodgers over the top, Manny Machado? He hit .182 with a robust .390 OPS in the series, so yeah – that’s definitely not my cup of tea for a so-called superstar.

Yep, there’s more than enough blame to go around, which brings me back to the Real Life part of this depressive fog. Who is to blame for real-life woes? I broke a dish this morning in the kitchen, I’m 12 pounds overweight, my head is throbbing fiercely, and my Mom witnessed what was most likely her final World Series ever. Life happens. And sometimes there’s nobody to blame. The Red Sox were damn good in this World Series. Phenomenal, in fact. I would frequently receive texts from objective baseball fan buddies reminding me that the ‘superior’ team resided in Boston, and wouldn’t you know – they were ready to Do Damage.

The Sox incinerated L.A.’s pitching staff, and blew the doors off of one of the most meticulously-constructed rosters in Major League Baseball history. So kudos to those guys – and their fans. I have never – and I mean never – seen such a heavy presence of visiting fans inside dodger Stadium. I estimate about forty percent of attendees were Red Sox fans when I stepped inside Dodger Stadium on Saturday for the Infamous Game Four Collapse. I also noted on television for Game Five, that when the Red Sox had big moments it literally “sounded” like they were on their home field. So good job, Bostonians, you came with it.
In Our House.

In My House.
This was the place that I dreamed of playing during my adolescence, the place that I spent so many springs, summers, and now autumns into my adulthood; cherishing some of the best moments of my life – with my Dad, Mom, Wife, and Son. It is now going on 31 years since Chavez Ravine was the epicenter for a World Series celebration, and it will take every bit of the four month offseason to accept that fact. But it is only a game, and life does indeed go on. When the dust settles from the holidays and the calendar turns to 2019, the Dodgers will head into a new season with or without Machado, Kershaw, Roberts, Kemp, Hyun-Jin Ryu, and Yasmani Grandal. They will keep going forward, because that is Life. So I will wipe away the tears and know that when pitchers and catchers report next spring, I will be ready to pull up a chair and enjoy the freshly mowed ballfields and beautiful crack of the wood bats anew.

In the aftermath of the loss last night, with the dark enveloping my corner of the San Fernando Valley and bedtime looming, my five-year old son Felix said:
Papa, let’s go hit some homers.
So I turned on the backyard lights and pitched to him, even with my heavy heart. Because I know that though the 2018 season is in the history books, Life is writing new chapters every year.
And that’s why I love baseball, heartbreak and all.
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2018 World Series Preview: Dodgers vs. Red Sox

As I sat down to do my analysis, I really thought I was going to see more of a discrepancy between these two teams. The Red Sox won 108 games; the Dodgers needed an extra game to get to 92, in a supposed ‘weaker’ division, and in the ‘junior varsity’ National League. The Red Sox cruised through the season, having won more than 67% of their games up to this point; the Dodgers were nine games out of first place on May 8th, and 10 games under .500 on May 19th. In addition to the extra win necessary to get into the Division Series, they were taken to seven games by a good, but not great, Milwaukee Brewers team. The Red Sox, on the other hand, dismantled the Houston Astros, last year’s World Champions, by taking the final three games of the series in the Astros’ home park. So through that lens, the Red Sox should be a huge favorite. It says here, however, that these two teams are VERY evenly matched – and whoever wins this series better be packing some scary costumes because they will need the full seven games to hoist the trophy on Halloween night in 2018.

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Let’s start with the ManagersAlex Cora and Dave Roberts.
Cora, 43 years old, and Roberts, 46, are part of the player-friendly, analytics-driven, bullpen-heavy wave of managers that are extensions of an influential front office. Riding under the guidance of veteran bench coaches – in the case of Cora, Ron Roenicke; for Roberts, it’s Bob Geren – they provide a heavy dose of reaffirmation, high fives, and support that tend to endear themselves to players. Neither manager is hesitant to rely on bullpen arms, and both are avid utilizers of their bench. Though the payrolls are extensive, each manager has a deft touch and capability of getting maximum production from both minimum and maximum talent. Roberts was questioned thoroughly in 2018 by Dodger fans, but his resume reads extremely accomplished: Manager of the Year as a ‘rookie,’ followed by back-to-back World Series appearances. Cora replaced the 93-win John Farrell, and improved on that first place total by 15 games.
AdvantageEVEN. Roberts has the in-game World Series experience, but that did not go perfectly and some key decisions (Yu Darvish) were rightfully second-guessed. Cora, remember, was bench coach for AJ Hinch during the Astros World Series run last year. 
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Starting Rotation:
Chris Sale, David Price, Nathan Eovaldi, Rick Porcello
Clayton Kershaw, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Walker Buehler, Rich Hill
This is another fun one. Sale is one of the two most feared pitchers in baseball, a Randy Johnson 2.0 that is all knees, elbows, and wicked sliders that follow high-90’s heat. Kershaw, known for a decade as The Best Pitcher on the Planet, is considered more of a lower-tier Ace now, though he is (once again) pitching for his legacy. He is also the Modern Era record holder for lowest career ERA, so that looms significantly. Price and Ryu are not superficially similar, but their playoff versions are counterpoints. Price is a Cy Young pitcher that, until his Game 5 ALCS gem vs. the Astros, was the Worst Postseason Pitcher of All-Time. Ryu, who was exempted from military service due to his performance in a Gold Medal game in the Summer Olympics, is the definition of a big game pitcher – or he was, until the Game 6 implosion in the NLCS against the Brewers. Eovaldi and Buehler are, perhaps, the most exciting of this bunch as each is a young fireballer set on building off of a foundational year. Eovaldi has shown flashes of being unhittable, and Buehler reminds of Justin Verlander. Pretty heady stuff on that matchup. Then you have the two Ricks. Well, Rick & Rich. Each is crafty, took a while to get their career in order, and performed well enough to merit accolades; for Porcello, that was a Cy Young; for Hill, it was a nice contract. Each is very hittable and will have a short leash.
Advantage: Dodgers. This would be even were it not for Sale’s subpar health over the last two months of the season, culminating in a belly button infection during the ALCS. Though not quite mirror images, these rotations are very similar 1-4.
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Closer:
Craig Kimbrel 
Kenley Jansen
Okay, this is getting ridiculous. Simply put, these are the two best closers in baseball over the last half decade. Kimbrel has saved 91% of his career opportunities; Jansen clocks in at 90%. Jansen’s career ERA is 2.20. Kimbrel’s is a microscopic 1.91. Kimbrel’s K/BB ratio is a hefty 4.23. Kenley’s is an unthinkable 5.76. What about WHIP, you ask? Kimbrel’s is 0.92; Kenley 0.88. So yeah, good luck against either of these fellas. The difference will be their recent body of work. Kenley struggled (by his standards) to a workmanlike 3.01 ERA in 2018, whereas Kimbrel’s was a career-high 2.74. Kenley, however, has been back at his best lately, cranking his cutter up to 96 mph in the final game of the NLCS, and he has yet to be scored upon in his six playoff appearances. Kimbrel, however, sits at an unsightly 7.71 ERA, with scare after scare versus both the Yankees and Astros. That said, he has yet to blow a save in the playoffs so once again, the
Advantage: is EVEN. Both of these guys are too good, and will likely close any ballgame once the ball is in their hands.
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Bullpen:
Joe Kelly, Ryan Brasier, Matt Barnes, Eduardo Rodriguez, Heath Hembree, Brandon Workman 
Pedro Baez, Ryan Madson, Kenta Maeda, Julio Urias, Caleb Ferguson, Dylan Floro, Scott Alexander/Alex Wood 
Both of these bullpens were maligned heading into the postseason. The Dodgers did not have a ‘bridge’ to Kenley Jansen, as they had recently moved Maeda out of the rotation to become the presumptive eighth-inning pitcher. . .except when Roberts would use his matchups. That meant, any one of Flora, Ferguson, Baez, Madson would, at any time, be brought in to face whoever the numbers dictated. But a funny thing happened after Pedro Baez was sent down to the minor leagues; he came back as one of the most effective relievers in Major League Baseball, allowing only one earned run over his last 24 appearances. This gave the Dodgers a bonafide set-up man, and a reliable power arm to complement the one-off approach Roberts generally uses. The Red Sox counter with a duo to fill the role, as Barnes and Brasier have each outpunched their regular season statistics, allowing only one run in a combined 13 1/3 innings. Kelly and Hembree have been equally reliable, with a 1.69 and 0.00 ERA as well. Not to be outdone, Floro, Ferguson, and Madson have only allowed one earned run in 14 combined innings. The difference here is that the matchups favor Roberts; he simply has more left-handers in the ‘pen, and in games that will be this close, the bullpen gates will be swinging open wildly, and Roberts will use that to his advantage.
Advantage: Dodgers – they figured out the roles at the right time and their depth and matchups prove will key in this series. 

 Red Sox postseason bullpen stats:

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Dodgers postseason bullpen stats:

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Catching:
Christian Vasquez, Sandy Leon 
Austin Barnes, Yasmani Grandal
This position is essentially a black hole of offense for both teams. Christian Vasquez gets the bulk of playing time for the Red Sox, but is hitting .227 in the postseason, an improvement on his regular season .207. Leon is a good defensive catcher but has yet to collect a hit in the playoffs. On the Dodgers’ side, Grandal, for the second consecutive season, lost his starting job to Austin Barnes in October, and has played himself into contention for Worst Player in MLB Postseason History, after his glove inexplicably turned to cement in the NLCS. Barnes has a great approach and is a good defensive catcher, but has not been able to capture his 2017 hitting prowess, and is hitting .111 in the playoffs in 2018.
Advantage: Red Sox. The weakest position also happens to be one of the most important, and though nobody stands out here amongst the four players, it might be an unsung hero from this grouping that changes the complexion of the series. Though not impressive by any means, the Sox have the better backstops here.
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Lineup:
Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi, J.D. Martinez, Xander Bogaerts, Steve Pearce, Eduardo Nunez, Ian Kinsler, Christian Vasquez, Jackie Bradley Jr. 
Chris Taylor, David Freese, Justin Turner, Manny Machado, Cody Bellinger, Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig, Brian Dozier, Kiké Hernandez, Austin Barnes
These lineups are subject to change based on handedness of the opposing pitcher as well as the whims, intuition, and analysis of their respective team’s front offices. This is my projection, however, for Game 1 lineups and both are fierce. Though the Dodgers sport only a .691 OPS as a group in their 11 games, the designated hitter plays directly into their hands, as their depth is significant and will play well in the American League ballpark. The Dodgers feature nine players that hit 20 or more home runs during the regular season, and finished with the sixth most home runs all-time in a single season, 235. The Red Sox counter with eight players with ten or more home runs, and come in with a .745 collective OPS in the postseason, and are averaging a little more than six runs per game. The Dodgers are, if anything, too reliant on the long ball and have only averaged four runs in their 11 playoff games in 2018. The Green Monster will be inviting to the homer-happy, as the 310′ distance is shorter than most high school fields. The right field line is only 302′, so do not expect the Dodgers to shorten their swings; they rarely do. The top half of the Red Sox lineup is filled with not just good hitters but professional hitters, as Betts is expected to be the American League MVP, only because Martinez did not complete his run at the Triple Crown; otherwise he would have won the award. The back half of their lineup is not as deep as the Dodgers’, though they are not strikeout-happy either, averaging only seven per game as a team. The Dodgers average ten per game; a typical byproduct of swinging for the fences
Advantage: Red Sox because – how do you pitch to these first four guys?
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Bench:
Mitch Moreland, Rafael Devers, Brock Holt, Leon
Max Muncy, Joc Pederson, Grandal
Some great depth here on both sides. As the Dodgers are expected to go with one additional bullpen arm, they’ll likely have one less bat, though all three of these players will likely start against right-handers. The Red Sox are no stranger to matchups either, as they have started Moreland, Devers, and Holt against right-handers as well. Moreland and Holt have a 1.101 and 1.145 OPS in the postseason, and Devers sits at .909. Muncy was at .973 for the regular season, but is at .736 in the postseason – along with 18 K’s in 33 at-bats. Pederson comes off of a 2017 World Series with three home runs, but is at a .741 OPS thus far in October 2018.
Advantage: Even. Though the numbers in these particular instances seem to favor the Red Sox, this is only a snapshot of the bigger picture. Roberts’ willingness – and the Dodgers’ ability – to mix and match positionally give them a unique advantage on the field, if not on the stat sheet. Bellinger, Muncy, Taylor, Hernandez, Barnes, and Freese are all proficient at multiple positions and can be used accordingly. Keep this in mind for the inevitable extra inning contest(s) that will arise in this Series. 

Red Sox 2018 Postseason Batting:

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Dodgers 2018 Postseason Batting:
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Running/Defense:
The Dodgers have stolen 13 bags this postseason; the Red Sox have swiped five. Though the element of speed should not be a defining aspect of the World Series, look no further than Dave Roberts to understand what one well-swiped bag can do for a team. The Dodgers have the advantage here. Defensively, both teams play clean baseball and were each ranked in the top ten during the regular season.
Advantage: Dodgers, but slight.

 

And this wouldn’t be a preview if I did not mention the Stadiums, yet another element of similarity between these great organizations. Dodger Stadium was built in 1962, and is the consummate ballpark; a picturesque, symmetric field surrounded by palm trees and nestled in mountains, with nary a bad sightline in the park. Fenway Park, completed in 1912, is an urban stadium with nooks & crannies, columns that block vision, and standing room only attendance in areas. Along with its history, the charm is undeniable, as watching a game in these confines is both intimate and awe-inspiring.
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Prediction: This series will, as all postseasons do, come down to pitching. The Dodgers have more of it and they have better matchups. A fully healthy Chris Sale could turn this series for the Red Sox, but as it stands, the Dodgers have shown that they can hit anybody, even if they are capable of striking out incessantly in concurrence. Price may have solved his postseason woes, but he is is still a question mark heading into the highest stakes he has ever faced, and the fact remains that the Red Sox do not have a quality left-hander out of the pen, meaning Roberts can lean heavier on his right-handed lineup to provide the bulk of the offense. This bodes well for the Dodgers.
Dodgers in 7.

Dodgers vs. the 818 Brewers (NLCS Preview)

Screen Shot 2018-10-09 at 12.18.01 PM.pngI’ve been intrigued with the Brewers all season. It is not solely because they have an owner and THREE players from the 818. They are a young team with a gritty manager that has an outstanding bullpen. This club is somewhat reminiscent of the Royals ‘mini-dynasty‘ from earlier this decade, which reached two World Series and took home one ring. Those Royals, led by the oft-maligned Ned Yost, rode the arms of Wade Davis, Ryan Madson (more on him later), Kelvim Herrera, and closer Greg Holland to become a precursor to the 2018 model of ‘bullpenning it’ in order to win ballgames. These Brewers approach the game similarly. 

With a starting pitching staff of Jhoulys Chacin, Chase Anderson, Gio Gonzalez, and Wade Miley, the Brew Crew wins games from the backend with Jeremy Jeffress, Josh Hader, Corey Knebel, and to a lesser extent Dan Jennings and Corbin Burnes. The Jeffress/Hader duo has been particularly remarkable this season, combining for a 1402 record and 1.85 ERA, with 232 K’s in 158 innings. Knebel is the closer, and after mid-season struggles that prompted a demotion to AAA, he has reclaimed closer duties, though his 3.58 ERA on the year proves that he is indeed fallible. They key, ultimately, is for the Dodgers to jump out to early leads, as they have excelled in that area this season, scoring in the first inning 38% of the time during the 2018 season, second in MLB. Brewers manager Craig Counsell has proven adept at managing a pitching staff, even going with an outright “Bullpen Game” in Game 1 of the National League Division Series vs. the Rockies.  Starting Brandon Woodruff – who only appeared in 19 games during the season, starting four – the Brewers built the proverbial bridge throughout the game, winning the first of what would be an eventual sweep. 

The Dodgers, on the other hand, come in to the series with outstanding starting pitching. Clayton Kershaw, bemoaned throughout the year as he evolved from power pitching left-hander to crafty off-speed southpaw, still compiled a 2.73 ERA. Walker Buehler, despite his second inning jitters in Game 3 of the NLDS, proved his mettle, completing five innings even after the implosion, and is truly an Ace-in-the-making, if not already. Perhaps most impressively for the Blue Crew, Hyun-Jin Ryu extended his amazing 2018 season, taking his regular season 1.97 ERA into the postseason and spinning seven more scoreless vs. the Braves in a surprise game one start. Rich Hill provides a change of pace for virtually any lineup, throwing a higher percentage of curveballs than any pitcher in the major leagues. he also delivers from many angles, which tends to befuddle hitters two times through the lineup. It is on that third time around, however, that Hill struggles, and along with the other starters – the bullpen plays a prominent role for manager Dave Roberts. 

That is where the Dodgers are the most vulnerable. Though Kenley Jansen stands as the inimitable closer, he has been vulnerable at times throughout the season, perhaps a result of his heart issues, or perhaps mechanical – but regardless, his 3.01 ERA is downright unsightly for a pitcher of his magnitude. Roberts tends to use a pastiche of relievers based on matchups, but it looks as if Kenta Maeda has been his ‘eighth inning guy’ in recent weeks. Pedro Baez, the source of much heartache and consternation for Dodgers fans over the last few years, has re-emerged as a reliable power arm, and is the preferred seventh inning pitcher, though he may be saved for matchups against Ryan Braun. Otherwise, Dylan Floro, Scott Alexander, and Ryan Madson will be counted on to get the difficult outs, as well as Ross Stripling, who is expected to be placed on the NLCS roster. Madson could end up being key here – as he was during the Royals run – as he was a late-season addition for the front office, a 38-year old cast aside by his former club, picked up as yet another reclamation project. The Dodgers hopes that he turned into the next Brandon Morrow were quickly dashed during some uninspiring outings in late August and early September, but it appears he has rediscovered his devastating change up, getting two key outs with the bases loaded in the Game 4 clincher vs. the Braves. He is another example of Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi valuing experience and track record to help guide the Dodgers to another World Series appearance.

But to get to the bullpens, both teams need to hit – this is where the Dodgers, in my assessment, have the advantage. Much has been made of their struggles to hit in clutch situations, but their team record 235 home runs has enabled Roberts to stack lineups with the specific purpose of bludgeoning opponents. This team is more Eal Weaver than Whitey Herzog, and Roberts is content to wait around for the longball, because in an offense with eight players that eclipsed 20 home runs in 2018, the odds are that the home run is only a few swings away. Roberts favors platoons, and really uses a “vs. righties” and “vs. lefties” lineup that frustrates fans, but the players have bought in and, in the words of Matt Kemp, “we’re trying to win a championship, and every guy is on the same page, and our own common goal is to win a championship.” That is a testament to the respect that Roberts receives in the clubhouse, and a major reason that the Dodgers are able to function with this much talent in one room. The fact is, Justin Turner is still their best hitter and as a postseason on-base machine – he is third all-time to Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in on-base percentage (minimum 100 PA) – and the team will go as he goes, regardless of who is around him. It does appear that Manny Machado is starting to get locked in, and I expect a big series out of him vs. the Brewers. Yasiel Puig’s approach has been notably improved this season, Kiké Hernandez is playing an extremely valuable & versatile part in this run, and look out for more big moments from David Freese, former World Series MVP and another elder, with clutch hits and key experience in his bones.

Now on to the 818 Brewers. Owner Mark Attansio sits on the board of Studio City Harvard-Westlake High School, not to be confused with Westlake High School, the alma mater of 2018 NL MVP-to-be Christian Yelich. Right down the 101, you’ll find Mike Moustakas alma mater Chatsworth High School, a rival of Ryan Braun’s Granada Hills High School. Safe to say that most, if not all, of these folks grew up rooting for the very team they will be trying to defeat in the NLCS. The Brewers’ offense is not nearly as potent as the Dodgers, but with Yelich’s 36 home runs ande 119 RBI backing up Lorenzo Cain’s .395 OBP, with Jesus Aguilar and Travis Shaw’s 35 and 32 home runs, there is more than enough pop to do some damage to the Dodgers. That said, Dodger pitching coach Rick Honeycutt is a master at game planning, and the Brewers’ lineup has enough holes to provide outs when necessary. Catcher Manny Pina and shortstop Orlando Arcia each hit less than 10 home runs and batted lower than .262. Braun is not the player he once was, but he did launch 20 home runs in 125 games. The Brewers have a little bit of depth with Eric Thames, Schoop, Domingo Santana, Hernan Perez, and recent postseason hero/backup catcher Eric Kratz, so Counsell will have some good matchup options in this chess match. 

It is worth noting that the Dodgers took four out of seven games from the Brewers during the 2018 regular season, and that’s the exact outcome I’m picking here. Dodgers in seven. When the Dodgers score first, or more accurately – when the Dodgers attack the Brewers starting pitching – they will win. If the game gets to the bullpen with the Brewers ahead, it will be tough for the Dodgers to surmount. The key to the series will be the bullpen – if Kenley Jansen holds up, the Dodgers will once again face the Houston Astros in the World Series.

KIDS SEE GHOSTS

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The third release in the Kanye West pentalogy, KIDS SEE GHOSTS serves as a wildly successful (re)union of West and Kid Cudi. The chemistry exudes throughout the album, as Cudi’s emotive howls haunt Kanye’s ghoulish production.  

Operating as the climax in Kanye’s dramatic structure, KSG follows Pusha T’s Daytona energetic sultriness with an honest emotionality absent on ye, Kanye’s expositionary outset.  From the moment “Feel the Love” hits, you know that this is the Cudi/Kanye chemistry you loved on the unexpectedly influential – and excellent –  Man on the Moon I and II. Pusha-T’s verse ensures that the listener is hearing a continued musical creation with the release of these five albums in subsequent fashion.

Coming in at a tidy 24 minutes, the album seethes, emotes, and viscerally envelops the listener. It moves fast, but lingers. The Andre3000 (nee Benjamin)-produced “Fire” literally picks up musical threads from “Feel the Love” and flips into a Kanye verse much different than anything on ye. The words are sharper, the syllables are placed with more exactitude, and the mirroring of voice/track adds a layering more robust than the minimalist ye.

Cudi and Kanye have both expressed mental health challenges and it fuels KSG. The adopted moniker for the duo, KIDS SEE GHOSTS, is appropriate – and the music feeds off of the visualization of the name. “4th Dimension” takes the 1936 Louis Prima single “What Will Santa Claus Say,” features a haunting echo and a spine-tingling bass line that conjure both literal and mental ghosts.

“Freeee (Ghost Town Pt. 2)” once again nods to the continuity of This Kanye Project, as Kanye exudes on the the hook “I don’t feel pain anymore/ guess what baby I feel freeeee.”  This harkens back to “Ghost Town” on ye as 070 Shake painfully exclaims “we’re not the kids we used to be/ I put my hand on a stove to see if i still bleed.”

“Reborn” is where we see both Cudi and Kanye at their modern best. “I’m so reborn/ keep movin’ forward” is Cudi’s hook, sung in straight-forward and melancholy fashion, leading right into Kanye’s best verse in a long time:

Very rarely do you catch me out
Y’all done “specially invited guest”‘d me out
Y’all been tellin’ jokes that’s gon’ stress me out
Soon as I walk in, I’m like, “Let’s be out”
I was off the chain, I was often drained
I was off the meds, I was called insane
What a awesome thing, engulfed in shame
I want all the rain, I want all the pain
I want all the smoke, I want all the blame
Cardio audio, let me jog your brain
Caught in the Audy Home, we was all detained
All of you Mario, it’s all a game

Introspective, honest, addressing his demons, cohesive and intelligent. This is the Kanye you love, and the reason why his makeshift effort on ye was such a disappointment. My gut instinct is that there is much more material of this particular nature that was scrapped after the TMZ debacle, but frankly – this verse, and Kanye’s on “Kids See Ghosts” (the track) are more indicative of Kanye doing what he can/should be doing as the King of 21st Century Music.

The title track here features Yasiin Bey (nee Mos Def), whose self-imposed exile in South Africa left a gaping hole in 21st century lyricism. Mos Def always carried gravitas to any project on which he was featured. Bey continues to do so here, with a halting iteration of “Kids See Ghosts sometimes/ spirits moving around/ just moving around (yeah that’s a king)” which hands off into a melodic Cudi verse, which parlays into more hungry, honest – there’s that word again – Kanye. Once again Kanye chooses his words carefully, “ye just going to live up to everything that sucks to you. . .to everybody that said I was better off dead” followed by

Got a Bible by my bed, oh yes, I’m very Christian
Constantly repentin’, ’cause, yes, I never listen
Don’t like bein’ questioned and don’t like bein’ less than
Any a competition in any of my professions

Again, Mr. West at his purest – religious and flawed, hyper self-aware and emotional. Cudi also orates musically what can only be described as “ghostly sounds” that serve to close out the track and evoke the name of the track, album, and duo. Brilliant.

“Cudi Montage” is a very intriguing finish to the album, and veritable transition to Nasir. Using a Kurt Cobain sample from a home recording, Kanye continues to induce spine-tingling in the listener, while figuring out a way to meld the asymmetry of the genres into a work of art.

Because KIDS SEE GHOSTS is essentially a “pop-up” art gallery of music. Kanye West fully intended for his pentalogy to be dissected, discussed, analyzed; criticized & lauded. Here, with KIDS SEE GHOSTS hiding in plain sight as the third of five releases, he gives his effort at brilliance, yet it is intentionally ephemeral. As the sum of all parts, the five albums may not hold up as a classic. But KSG certainly is excellent, and carves out a niche in Kanye’s ultimate pantheon.

Kanye West and ye: minimalist deflection

Screen Shot 2018-06-04 at 9.20.37 AMI initially thought that I would wait my prerequisite three months to listen to Kanye West’s new release, “ye” – I typically want the ‘noise’ to subside so I can take an uninhibited, zero-influence approach to an album.

That didn’t quite work out – instead, I spent the weekend listening to “ye” on repeat. As I began to internalize the album more thoroughly, I feel that “ye” is ultimately a strong listen, but falls short in one area where Mr. West usually thrives – genuine honesty.

But why? What is actually going on here?

My initial thoughts after my first listen is that I think Mr. West wants the listener to feel  that he is in a super dark place. Confusion and depression are underlying themes throughout the album – maybe not the “depression” associated with somebody that “lost everything,” but from Kanye branding himself as a great artist/iconoclast and feeling the pressure of living up to that standard.

Perhaps Kanye is exhausted with this role; witness him holing up in Wyoming for this album/ gaining weight/ deleting twitter/ disappearing for about a year. After an unparalleled-so-far-in-the-21st-century string of great critical & commercial albums, he thoroughly knows that “ye” needs to follow in that lineage – he MUST produce a magnum opus.  The fact is, in my mind, Kanye probably just wants to hang up the mic. The “ye” album has elements soul-baring and depth; the music is heavily gospel and spiritual, though not groundbreaking like his previous work. And the length. . .this release is only seven tracks and only 24 minutes, with not one six- seven- or eight- minute track as he is wont to do? Dude is tired.

Upon my my second listening and more mental digestion, my theory expands. I think this album is mea culpa. The music, while minimal, is more labored than I even picked up on during the first listen. While gospel over soul samples with hip-hop beats is his true/primary sound – that’s basically all Kanye is producing here.  Some haunting sounds and Slick Rick sample dot the production, but there is no grandeur. It’s concise musically, but basically Kanye-by-numbers. Lyrically, I perceive a sweeping, general “apology” “for whatever I may have done” – kind of half-assed with nary a desire to be genuinely specific.

Overall, I “like” the album –  but this is the sound of a guy who needs to take about five to 10 years off, though I don’t know he has that in him – or if this is possible in today’s milieu. I also can’t escape the thought that this album is somewhat “making excuses” – but for what? The TMZ zaniness? His MAGA hat? Something deeper?

There is also something very peculiar about the overall “sound” aesthetic: this album lacks the complex, driving drum loops that are Kanye’s hallmark; instead, it contains a distinct minimalism; creative, assertive drum use is basically what made Kanye the producer he is today and though he is an expert at utilizing space and time in his music, he is far from a “minimalist.”

After my third trip through “ye,” I was pretty sure that this album is either a partial album and some sort of marketing tactic (a.k.a. he released Lift Yourself and the underrated Ye vs. the People a month ago yet they are nowhere to be found on the final release). My guess is that this particular “EP” release is a substandard yet well-intentioned attempt to address mental health – though even there, I don’t believe it was fully honest. Specifically, Wouldn’t Leave, No Mistakes, Ghost Town – ironically/intentionally his “gospel” tracks – have the potential to really expound upon his mental state, struggles, ‘the feels,’ but they fall short.

What “ye” does, in my opinion, is speak directly to Kim and their marriage. I stand by my assertion that this is a “mea culpa” – though it still does not feel as if Mr. West is directly apologizing or being fully honest to Kim, or more generally, his family – for the pain he caused/is causing).

Here’s another thing. This is the first time I’ve ever sensed Kanye as disingenuous. There is a willingness and a want to be introspective and extant but there is some albatross holding him back from exposing what he really wants to discover.

Not maliciously disingenuous, or even manipulative – I really, really think he wants to discover something but just isn’t getting there.

Furthermore, indulge me as I throw complete curveball that trivializes all of this – what did I really think when he went nuts on TMZ during that whole brief period? I think he cheated on Kim, or worse, and this last six week period has been an act to deflect addressing his shortcomings in their relationship. Basically he was busted and still can’t confess, and all of this “I’m crazy“ and subsequent half assed apologizing through the release of a short album, calculated erratic behavior/bipolar. . .I do not intend to marginalize any of the mental health things he is addressing but it seems to me that it’s a really, really good excuse – this “ye” album – where he doesn’t need to confess his sins/truth to Kim. I mean, when I was a dark place with my wife, I did all kinds of crazy shit just to deflect from the reality that we were living in which I caused. Didn’t matter who or what was in the way, I would manifest medical issues, excuses, apologize for literally six hours straight, write poems, sing songs, buy gifts, whatever resources I had to avoid talking about the real issues.

I kiiiiiiiiiind of sense there’s an element (or more) of that, on a really hypermediaized (hello, 2018) level.

I’m convinced that the seven songs on “ye” are the “see Kim? I made an album detailing my pain (I Thought About Killing You) our travails (All Mine) and apologizing to you (Wouldn’t Leave) and showing how much I love you (No Mistakes, Ghost Town) and care about our family and children (Violent Crime)” – and-thus are probably not the entire (real) album. There has to be more to this.

UPDATE:  there’s an interview with Big Boy (previously of Power 106 fame, currently with 92.3) where he says he literally “scrapped the entire album”  (after the TMZ fiasco) . This makes sense – the two tracks that were “released“ were both not on the album and sounded nothing like the album. Ironically, Lift Yourself (aka Poopity Scoop) is music wise one of the best tracks he produced this time around and to be honest and not to go more psycho babble on it but he literally might have been in a manic phase had just said “fuck it I making this song for North” because musically that song is straight dope

Lastly, there have been artists and musicians historically that are bipolar and I think there something more with his “acceptance” of it and he’s using it as a crutch like “see Kim I told you I am not right in the head.”

Sidenote: it literally makes me cackle incessantly how the critics literally don’t know how to approach this album including a (solid, but wandering) Pitchfork review.

Again – when my wife was dealing with my utter bullshit for literally three years, it was something new every week that would explain away my bad behavior – “I think I’m having a heart attack” “you have no idea how bad things are at work” “I’m under so much pressure” or literally other bullshit.  If I would have thought of bipolar back then I probably would have used that as an excuse. Which is to be clear, not a trivialization of bi-polar or any mental issues. I just personally think Kanye is using that as a deflection point within his serious personal relationships or introspection and not digging into the ‘real Kanye.’

And that is where “ye,” though enjoyable, is lacking.

 

MLB 2017: Quick Analysis, HR Totals

whether ball is or isn’t juiced, there are 28 guys with 30+ home runs and 30 more between 25-29.
So that’s
FIFTY EIGHT
batters with 25 blasts right now.
 
In 2002, there were 54.
In 1998, there were 52.
in 1987, there were 53 (including Dale Sveum!).
And to look closer, I will assume 23 blasts is the cutoff for guys that, with 15+ games left will ‘likely’ reach 25. Well, that would add another FIFTEEN 25+ HR guys in 2017.
The total would be 73. SEVENTY THREE players with 25+ home runs in 2017.
We’ll check in with final numbers in a couple weeks but, WOW.
And just as a bonus FYI, here are some guys that are, um, interesting to note:
Justin Smoak, 38
Logan Morrison, 36
Mike Moustakas, 36
Jonathan Schoop, 32 
Adam Duvall, 31
Lucas Duda, 29
Corey Dickerson, 26
Scott Schebler, 26
Ryon Healy, 25
Eugenio Suarez, 25
——
Matt Davidson, 24 (in his first career 370 AB)
Scooter Gennett, 24
Joey Bats “only” 22
Paul DeJong, Cardinals shortstop, 22 (in only 359 AB)
Rhys Hoskins, 18 (in 118 AB)
Enjoy the homestretch!!!!
Ev

My Favorite American Cities

I recently went to Miami for the first time. It was only my second time in a state I have tried arduously to avoid. A 2000 vacation to Spring Training when my high school buddy was with the Braves in Orlando had permanently and adversely affected my opinion of the state. This opinion that has only been emboldened in the recent decade by “Florida man” and other such anecdotal material. Enough people have opined breathlessly on how amazing and wonderful Miami is, so I obviously wasn’t expecting a clone of Orlando, but was nonetheless unimpressed.
A colleague, who makes no secret about Miami being one of his favorite cities – “I’ve been there 300 times!” –  brought up the excellent observation that  I neither spent the prerequisite $5000 for bottle service in South Beach nor spent the majority of my time on the beach. Fair enough. Regardless, The quote that sparked this email thread was, “Miami is not even in my top 15 American cities.”  We toyed around with a little bit of discussion and then he said that that would be a perfect conversation to memorialize, so let’s get to it.
#1 – Los Angeles. Here is the latest paean to the city that I wrote for Quora a few months back: in short, I find it hard to believe that any city – at least that I’ve seen – has the breadth of activities, food, cultureS, quirks, people, ideas, space and creativity. Super glad that my birth lottery dictated I was born here, and no matter how fun a vacation may be, I am always excited to come back.

#2 –  New York. Every time I go, the first three days are amazing and then I think about living there and become claustrophobic and suffocated. It’s amazing, and I truly believe the adage “if you make it there…” Absolutely wonderful city in every regard, but just “too much city” or my L.A. ass to challenge for the top spot.

#3 – Las Vegas.  I mean, it’s the best of the best and the worst of the worst but all the rules are laid out carefully before you go. You know *exactly* what you’re getting into. However you pursue your day (and night) is up to you and therein lies the pleasure (or pain, if that’s your vice).

#4 – San Diego. I used to think the city was too casual, too said, to Republican, too white. Then I realize the diversity the city and the stupendous nature of the cuisine. It is also a city that I could very much see myself living in, and the proximity to Mexico is a huge plus for me/my family.
#5 – Seattle. Kind of a “home-field advantage” for me, if you will, as I was a resident from 2002-2003. The secluded nature of the city and the fact that it’s a city in the middle of a  rain forest make it unique and extremely interesting. I also find it’s a city that revels in its overlooked nature and the arts and technology that come out of there are unparalleled for the city of that size. The food, specifically the seafood, is amazing – and the proximity to Canada is a plus in this case.
#6 –  San Francisco. Although the rise of Silicon Valley (and Silicon Beach) has detracted from the level of tech innovation and overall excitement in the city, it is truly a World City of Renown, and frankly reminds me more of a European city than anywhere in the United States. The food is good, though not as great as it once was, and the weather, especially during the summer, is the pits. But I have fun there and I get genuinely excited when the work schedule brings me that direction.
#7 –  Washington D.C. I initially thought I ranked the city too high but I’m sticking with it.The summers are ghastly with humidity, the winters are frigid with snow but around every corner, literally, is United States history in its most literal sense. There is also a different energy here than any other city I’ve visited, directly attributed to the cast of characters plugged in to the city’s main industry – politics.  It has the best, most efficient mass transit for my money in the United States, good food and a fine collection of old-school bars give it some much-needed flavor. Strictly based on gravitas it also holds extra points in my mind.
#8 – New Orleans. For sheer fun, and I’m not talking about Bourbon Street, this city literally can’t be beat. Grown-up fun of all kinds or you don’t feel the need to be in your 20s to party balls off. The music scene is incredible, the selection and variety and uniqueness of its culinary scene is stupendous,  and it’s deceptively walkable, even on the outskirts. That said, I wouldn’t want to spend more than five days here consecutively and don’t feel the need to go back every year.
#9 – Savannah.  I kind of can’t believe how enchanting, mystical and whimsical this city is. The vision of southern hospitality is alive and well here. The people are probably the most generous and kind that I’ve met in the states. The food is great, everywhere you walk feels like a novel, and drinking is highly encouraged when it’s not Sunday. Really cool place that I’m willing to bet it’s similar to Charleston (where I have not been but is high on my list).
#10 – Austin. Kind of like New Orleans, but clean and with a different cuisine. Also literally too hot during the summer and I say this as somebody who spent my youth on the streets of the San Fernando Valley where 110° wasn’t abnormal. It just *really* feels like the sun is hotter during the summer there. That said, Congress and Sixth are two of the coolest, most fun boulevards I’ve experienced domestically where the music is awesome and the drinks are dirt cheap. I’m not a huge fan of TexMex so it gets derogatory points for it’s overrated food scene, but the outstanding barbecue is worth having time and time again. Some funky, great hotels and I’m always a fan of universities so to have UT in the middle of the city is a huge plus.
Honorable Mentions:
Atlanta –  Cool, fun, probably didn’t see enough Flavor to give it a real ranking.
Philadelphia – Believe it or not, just misses this list. Amazing and underrated food scene, tough but approachable people, really cool history.
Hawaii –  I mean if I can include the whole state this definitely makes the list. Top five, in fact.
Palm Springs – Really, really fun if you’re in the right places. And great for a romantic getaway.
Portland – I know it’s supposed to be hipster central so if I love Seattle and Austin why doesn’t Portland get much love? Basically because I feel that it’s trying a little too hard even though it really is a great city. It’s also smaller than I would have imagined for it outsized reputation.
Denver – I went during the Spring and I loved it but I have a feeling that it would’ve been better if I was there during winter. Didn’t amaze me but it was definitely a cool city.
Miami – see intro.
Chapel Hill –  The University of North Carolina campus alone is worth a mention.
Worst:
Charlotte, St. Louis, but both pale in comparison of “worst”ness to Orlando.
Bucket List:
Charleston, Dallas, Boston, Detroit, Phoenix, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Providence, Minneapolis, Nashville, Madison