OUT WITH THE OLD, IN THE WITH THE...NEON?
After nearly two years of blogging, I have to admit I tired of my old templat, which was one of the Blogger standards and was used by numerous blogs, so I set up this new one and created the banner, which I'm not sure I like, at least not yet. I thought about reusing my banner from my old website, but that struck me as nostalgic and unoriginal, thus the new one.
I'm also not sure about the green text either. Sometimes it's too hard to read. The photo of C and I under the Millennium Park "Bean" was too large, making the page too busy, so I've finally shrunk that. Additionally, when I switched templates, I lost my by Books picks list, as well as my original StatCounter, which had exceeded 119,000 total viewers, and had to plug in another one from the same site, which bumped me down to 79,000 viewers. Slowly but surely the number's rising again, even with me posting little original content.
Overall, what do you think? Is it keeping you away?
CARDS KAPUT, RAMS AWFUL
It's official. Last year's World Series winners are no longer contention, so there won't be any Redbirds homering and basestealing their way to yet another championship to whip Chicago's northside fans into a lather. No, the Cardinals simply went into a tailspin after it was revealed that feel-good-story protagonist Rick Ankiel, once an emerging star pitcher who completely lost his control and returned as one of the sharpest young batters in years, had basically purchased a year's supply of Human Growth Hormone in 2004. The Cards were only a game and half or so behind the division leaders, but then lost 10 straight (or something like that). Their starting pitching collapsed; several starting field players got injured (Albert Pujols, pictured above, has been hobbled by a calf pull); and their manager, Tony LaRussa, turned positively Hamlettian as the media tried to figure out if he was staying in St. Louis next year or leaving. (The verdict is still out.) Ankiel also stopped hitting, out of shock, fear, lack of confidence or 'roids, who knows?--and that spelled the end of what was already a shaky campaign. Now the team will have to rebuild its starting pitching corps and address the managerial issue. LaRussa has frequently been a bit of a liability, especially because of his bizarre playcalling, his unwillingness to bench favorites, and, this preseason, his DUI, but he did take an underachieving team all the way last year--luck?--so go figure. Front office, get to work.
Instead, the Chicago Cubs (with the incandescent Derrek Lee, pictured at right) are in first place in the Central Division, and unless they catch a case of Bartmanitis, they appear to be decent contenders for the league title. The New York Mets have been playing sloppily and stumbling this last month (though they're my choice to go all the way), while the Arizona Diamonbacks (snooze) lead the Western division. The probable Wildcard team is the Philadelphia Phillies, though the San Diego Padres have been hanging in the race. All of these teams have problems, though, and it's hard to say which one could outlast the rest. I think the Mets have the best chance, simply because of their overall talent, but the Phillies have one of the league's best sluggers, the Cubs have a solid lineup, San Diego has the league's top starters, and Arizona...I don't really know what to say about them, and don't even know who's on their squad, truthfully.
The National League yet again appears weaker than its counterpart, the American League, which has several highly talented and capable teams (the Boston Red Sox, the New York Yankees, the Cleveland Indians, and the Los Angeles Angels) seemingly ready to stomp whichever National League club emerges. These AL teams are winning machines. The Red Sox can hit and pitch and close, as can the Yankees, and the Angels. The Yankees, in fact, have the best player in either league, the drama-plagued, profligately talented, emotionally volatile, matinée idol-faced Álex Rodríguez (posing, at left), who has managed to hit 52 home runs, 10 more than his closest challenger, and drive in 142 runs. After the usual early-season media-led Sturm und Drang concerning the starting pitching and lack of hitting, A-Rod's "Stray-Rod" scandal, and assorted other imbroglios, the Bronx Bombers have reverted to form and are winning as usual. Winning so much, that is, they're just 1.5 games out of first place in their division!
Cleveland has two innings-devouring, 18-game winners, Fausto Carmona and C. C. Sabathia (the 6'7", 280 lb. hurler pictured at right), who are among the most talented pitchers under 30 in either league. If I were the National League pennant winner, I would not want to face any of these teams, not at all. Since it's unlikely that last year's Series contender Detroit is going to break through, though, the National League winner will unfortunately have to face one of them, so perhaps it ought to be Cleveland, which hasn't won a World Series in half a century and thus has less recent playoff experience than the other three juggernauts. The Red Sox won the Series in 2004, the Yankees in 1996 and then from 1998 through 2000 (and played in it 2001 and 2003), the Angels in 2002.
As last year proved, however, the favorite doesn't always win the trophy. (I know there's a statistical formula that demonstrates this, right?) This should give consolation to all those people who viscerally loathe either the Red Sox (and Manny Ramírez, at left, one of my favorite players) or the Yankees, or who are praying that Cleveland breaks its half-century drought and that the Cubbies do something similar with their century-long exile from the championship ranks. Look, it worked for both of the Sox teams, White and Red, in the last five years. Let's not even get into all that "curse" nonsense. As I noted above, I want the Mets to win it all, but I will watch with glazed fascination and a smidgeon of delight if the team that regularly bumbles around Wrigley Field somehow figures out a way to overcome its limitations and win it all.
That brings me to a completely different sport, Pro Football, and the Saint Louis Rams, who are now 0-3, and coasting towards a 2-16 season. (This season would be a winless affair, except the Rams are in the same division as the perpetually horrible Arizona Cardinals, so they have two possible wins if they exert themselves even a little.) This team, whose players are collectively making probably more than some entire school district's teachers combined
1) cannot come up with anything approximating a 4-quarter offense;
2) cannot score in the red zone or get into the end zone;
3) cannot sustain defensive play for 4 quarters;
4) cannot make field goals;
5) cannot execute special teams plays.
In a word, there is no reason why they should be on the field.
Their head coach, Scott Linehan, seems incapable of guiding the team to a victory. Their offensive coördinator, Greg Olson, keeps running plays that not even the worst high school team would attempt. They have no offensive line, having lost their best players to injury. The lack of an offensive line has led to their quarterback, the middling multimillionaire Marc Bulger, being sacked multiple times to the extent that he's terrified of being crushed again, and playing accordingly. Their wide receivers are senescent and have surrendered more than a step. Their kicker is also at or near the end of his career. They have no secondary. Their inner and outer linebacking corps is also shaky. Did I say they have one of the worst offensive coordinators in the league?
The Rams had a strange and quirky coach named Mike Martz. He wore glasses and made faces and took them to the playoffs and Super Bowl. He liked to run trick plays, was overly fond of the passing game, and appeared not to realize that defense and special teams were integral parts of the game. Yet he took them to the playoffs and Super Bowl, and even when he had losing seasons the team's offense was fast and exciting. Under Martz they slid from their best years of 1999-2001, but they were still not at the league's bottom. Fans tired of Martz's shenanigans, all those trick plays and obsession with passing and failure to improve the defense or special teams, as did the ownership, and so they banished him, and hired this person named Scott Linehan, who'd never coached a professional football team. He's pleasant and soft-spoken and upbeat, and doesn't have a clue. Last year with Martz's players he posted a .500 season, and fans and the media held out hope. Yet this year he's demonstrated that last year was nothing but a mirage, a foxfire, a phantasm left in the wake of Martz's departure. This team is so awful it's painful to watch.
They are lucky they're in one of the weakest divisions in the National Football League. That will prevent them from a lot of enduring gross embarrassments this season. Yet they're already on their way. And they get paid far too much money to perform so lousily. Maybe they should all quit en masse and go into politics.