Bird Watch: Closing Time?

Yes, the Blue Jays are currently 16-6 so far in June, that’s a fact. And yes, playing .727% ball will allow for a cute little mask to be placed over some of the more short-term “issues” a team might have, that’s a near-fact.

But this closer carousel business that’s happening right now, is still a giant question mark for the team. One that needs a concrete remedy. Or at least some formal plan of attack.

When the Jays didn’t even have a save opportunity present itself for almost an entire month, no one really noticed that there was no guy at the back of the pen. Then Brett Cecil imploded (posting a 11+ ERA in the month of June alone) and the ninth inning chaos resumed. Earlier this week he was removed from the role he never really owned.

The very loosely coined “closer by committee” setup is always such a weak, band-aid attempt by teams who either can’t decide on a closer or don’t have one stocked in the cupboard. I’m convinced that teams are convinced that it’s a viable option. It doesn’t work. It’s not sustainable. A confident, hard-throwing juggernaut is damn near a requirement for the ninth inning, especially in heat of the playoffs.

This is clearly one of the Jays lingering and obvious problems. So what exactly do they do? First, what are their potential options? In the order of what makes the least sense to the most sense, here are my inner thoughts.

5. Convert a starter

Back in Spring Training, the “Aaron Sanchez as closer” idea was toyed with and talked about. It was exciting at the time, but now that he’s worked out to be a very capable starting pitcher with a very high ceiling, I’m grateful the closer gig didn’t actually happen. Once he’s back from his somewhat mysterious (it’s his lat) disabled list stint and now that he’s stretched out into throwing starter innings, would it makes sense to revert him back to less work and higher pressure innings in the closer role? Definitely not.

As for the rest of the rotation being used in the role? Not a chance. Not unless we want R.A. Dickey shattering the single season record for most bases loaded walk walk-offs. Ditch this idea.

4. Keep the committee

Sorry, I’m not a fan. I understand that the handedness matchups are often key in late innings and I like the idea of adjusting to that, but not in closing situations. I want the no-brainer option in there, that one dude. With a bullpen that already features far too many changes, the thought of just any random guy out there is scary. Cecil, Roberto Osuna (who’s actually been pretty nice in middle relief), Aaron Loup, Bo Schultz, Rob Rasumussen, Phil Coke, Todd Redmond… that’s not even the full list, and some aren’t even up with the team any longer. But they could be at the drop of a hat, which is kind of the point.

3. Steve Delabar

Stevie Delabar, the 2014 Vote-In All-Star, who started the season with a surprise demotion to the minors, certainly seems like the most likely candidate doesn’t he? He’s been very consistent (2-0, 1.41 ERA, 0.79 WHIP, 9.95 K/9) since re-joining the team and probably still pitches with at least a small piece of that early season chip on his shoulder. He also has some experience with the late innings. So much so, that officially closing ball games would be far removed from a true “experiment,” something the Jays don’t need any part of. Stevie needs to at least be in the conversation.

2. Play the ‘rent-a-closer’ game

Obviously, this is the most “exciting” of options, and especially since the rumor mill has linked the Jays to veteran closers like Jonathan Papelbon (13/13 saves, 1.88 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 10.05 K/9) and Francisco Rodriguez (15/15 saves, 1.00 ERA, 0.78 WHIP, 10.67 K/9). While neither of these two guys are spring chickens, they are two of the most successful closers the game has seen and are having absolutely dominant seasons in 2015, despite pitching for terrible teams. Now, coming to Canada can be a particular issue for some players (remember when Mark Buehrle had to leave his dogs behind?), but consider again that Papelbon and Rodriguez currently pitch for the Phillies and Brewers, who happen to be the two WORST teams in the entire league. If Alex Anthopoulos really wants an exclamation point in the ninth inning, he could treat this as a rescue mission for one of these unfortunate guys, make a deal and end up with “hero” status. Sounds fun for all involved.

1. Liam Hendricks

Here’s where my thinking wanders completely outside the box. If we reflect on who has been the most consistent of all the Blue Jays bullpen arms this season, you can make a solid case for my man Liam Hendricks. Although he’s racked up most of his innings in long relief (32.2 innings), he’s been extremely steady in middle relief as well, posting a season line of: 2-0, 2.76 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 35/6 K:B ratio. He’s been impressive all season.

He also possesses many of those unique closer attributes. He throws hard (mid-to-high 90’s fastball), goes after hitters while issuing very few walks AND he’s Australian! Who’d be cooler under pressure than an Aussie? Fellow countryman Grant Balfour had some success in the closer role back in the day, perhaps he could achieve some inspiration from him.

Baseball talk aside, the guy has also been featured on the TLC wedding show “Say Yes to the Dress.” I say that if he can handle that kind of treacherous spotlight, closing ball games should be a rather ordinary task.

After that, my other overwhelming argument for trying Hendriks remains (emphatically): Why the heck not?!

MLB Power Alley: Week 11 Rankings

Very soon, when the Cavaliers, Warriors, Blackhawks and Lightning are finished with their Finals business, three of the four major sports will be dead and gone until the fall. So what do some/most/all of us do as a collective sports fan base when limited in our gaming and entertainment options? We turn to baseball. I mean, not like the XFL or SlamBall still exist right?

So as we inch our way toward the official stamping of summer, we need to a collective snapshot to understand where all 30 of these ball clubs stand. Luckily, by placing one team on top of another, I’ve completed all the tedious and difficult work for you. Each week, I’ll highlight a few teams, write down some stuff and rank the rest, with some supporting digits. You just have put your feet up and sift through the order. Since I intend it to be ranking perfection each week, if you do have beef with where your team lands, I need to know. You can find me here: –>

So welcome to my MLB Power Alley, the most unofficial, official, summer-long representation of Major League Baseball Jenga that you’ll see out there. Enjoy yourself. And yes, I’m starting in Week 11.

Rank Team Record Diff. L10 Streak
1. St. Louis Cardinals 41-21 +68 7-3 W3

In 2015, the “consistently boring, but consistently winning” St. Louis Cardinals have been a primary example that power isn’t everything in baseball. The team with the league’s best record (by a healthy 4.5 game margin) are hardly near the top of the league in putting up runs, where they rank a mere 26th in home runs (47) and 24th in runs scored (247). In fact, there isn’t a single sexy power number that stands out when it comes to the Cards offensively.

What they do have in the lineup, are guys that hit for average and rely on the timing is everything premise. Four of their everyday lineup and volume at bat players in Jhonny Peralta, Matt Holliday, Kolten Wong and Matt Carpenter are hitting over .290. Yadier Molina, perhaps their best pure “hitter,” is close at .278 (even though his power seems completely zapped so far this year with NO home runs to date). If the likes of Jason Heyward, Matt Adams, Mark Reynolds and John Jay pick up the production, this could be a team staring down 100 wins.

Where the Cardinals have found their ultimate success in compiling the MLB’s best record, is on the hill. The pitching has been flat out fantastic, even without their ace in Adam Wainwright, who only managed to start four games (with a 1.44 ERA in those four starts) before hitting the DL and bowing out for the rest of the season. The remaining members of the rotation, Michael Wacha (2.45 ERA), Carlos Martinez (2.93), Lance Lynn (3.07) and John Lackey (3.74), have been valuable workhorses in that they’ve all pitched over 73+ innings, while compiling a record of 23-12.

The Cardinals bullpen has been the very best in baseball, allowing very little in the late innings and significantly contributing to the overall staff’s league-best ERA of 2.65. Just check out how stingy some of these bullpen guys have been (Innings Pitched + ERA):

Trevor Rosenthal: 30.1 IP, 0.59 ERA (21/22 saves)
Carlos Villanueva: 24.0 IP, 0.75 ERA
Jordan Walden: 10.1 IP, 0.87 ERA (10.45 K:9 ratio)
Kevin Siegrist: 27.2 IP, 1.63 ERA (12 holds)
Matt Belisle: 26.1 IP, 2.05 ERA (7 holds)
Jaime Garcia: 35.0 IP, 2.06 ERA (5/5 quality starts)

With the struggling Twins, Phillies and Marlins next on the schedule for the Cardinals, they have an opportunity to widen their already impressive lead.

Rank Team Record Diff. L10 Streak
2. Los Angeles Dodgers 37-26 +60 6-4 W1
Rank Team Record Diff. L10 Streak
3. Kansas City Royals 34-25 +45 5-5 L2
Rank Team Record Diff. L10 Streak
4. Pittsburgh Pirates 35-27 +45 7-3 W4
Rank Team Record Diff. L10 Streak
5. Toronto Blue Jays 34-30 +71 10-0 W11

Seeing as this is my inaugural Rankings column, I’m simply obliged to put down some words about the Jays. First, because they are so close to home and second (most importantly), they are by far the hottest team in baseball right now with their franchise record-tying 11 straight wins.

This Jays offense is absolutely rolling. I mean firing on ALL cylinders. The Donaldson-Bautista-Encarnacion spots in the order continue to produce at an absurd pace. Donaldson’s bat in particular (.315-17-45), paired with his stellar defensive skills, has him in prime position as a legitimate AL MVP candidate, especially if the Jays continue to win.

But the rest of the group is consistently following suit. Jose Reyes very quietly has his average up to .300 and looks healthy. Chris Colabello, who was rescued off the scrap heap early in the season, just recently lost a very unexpected 18-game hitting streak and forced John Gibbons into making him an everyday player who he routinely hit in the middle of the order. Russell Martin has tremendous offensive numbers (.285-10-34) while playing elite defense at the normally-unproductive catcher position and has been worth every penny of the huge contract the Jays handed him in the offseason. The rest of the crew, Kevin Pillar, Justin Smoak, Dioner Navarro, Ryan Goins, Ezequiel Carrera and even the beloved Munenori Kawasaki have held their own. And do NOT forget about Devon Travis (currently residing on the DL), who was likely leading the way as AL Rookie of the Year at the time of his unfortunate injury. He’ll be back soon enough.

Some very impressive numbers and rankings below:

  Blue Jays 2015 MLB Offensive Ranks
  Category Stat Rank
  Runs/RBI 356/340 1st
  Doubles 134 1st
  Home Runs 79 3rd
  Total Bases 974 1st
  Batting Average .271 2nd
  On Base + Slugging .784% 1st
  Stolen Base Percentage 85.11% 1st
  Extra Base Hits 221 1st

We can all safely bet that this lineup will continue to perform at a reasonably high level, but the pitching, though it’s seen some recent success during the month of June, is where all the pressure lies. It’s been fun, but the Jays won’t be able to sustain this “out-mash every opponent” kind of run, at least not to the degree they have this month.

But the mound has seen some minor improvements over the first two and half months:

  Blue Jays Pitching 2015 Pitching Splits
  Month IP Record SO:BB Ratio ERA BAA OPS%
  April 201.1 11-12 2.01 4.78 0.270 0.788
  May 252.0 12-17 2.30 4.43 0.244 0.722
  June 100.0 10-1 3.95 2.88 0.235 0.649

But with Aaron Sanchez hitting the disabled list, the rotation is still plenty weak and with a couple of holes. Marco Estrada has been hanging tough and the likes of Scott Copeland could be appearing more frequently in a starting role and as we approach the trade deadline. With the Jays very much in play within the division, they will be sure to get plenty of questions about being a “deadline buyer” to acquire a veteran arm for a second half push. For now, I can attest, this ride has been wildly enjoyable.

Rank Team Record Diff. L10 Streak
6. Houston Astros 36-28 +27 2-8 W1
Rank Team Record Diff. L10 Streak
7. Chicago Cubs 34-27 +6 7-3 W2
Rank Team Record Diff. L10 Streak
8. New York Yankees 34-28 +23 7-3 W1
Rank Team Record Diff. L10 Streak
9. Tampa Bay Rays 35-29 +14 7-3 W3

This is my analysis for the Rays this week (and every week): I am entirely clueless as to how they continue to do THIS. “This” being be relevant and even somewhat good. I guess it’s the same formula they’ve used for years now. Homegrown pitching and unknown hitting. At least that’s what I’ve arrived at.

Rank Team Record Diff. L10 Streak
10. Washington Nationals 33-30 +2 4-6 W2
Rank Team Record Diff. L10 Streak
11. Minnesota Twins 34-28 +2 3-7 W1
Rank Team Record Diff. L10 Streak
12. San Francisco Giants 34-30 +6 4-6 L4
Rank Team Record Diff. L10 Streak
13. Detroit Tigers 33-30 +4 5-5 W1
Rank Team Record Diff. L10 Streak
14. New York Mets 34-30 0 5-5 W1
Rank Team Record Diff. L10 Streak
15. Baltimore Orioles 31-31 +15 8-2 L1
Rank Team Record Diff. L10 Streak
16. San Diego Padres 32-33 -6 5-5 L1
Rank Team Record Diff. L10 Streak
17. Texas Rangers 33-30 +11 6-4 L1
Rank Team Record Diff. L10 Streak
18. Los Angeles Angels 32-31 -2 4-6 L1
Rank Team Record Diff. L10 Streak
19. Arizona Diamondbacks 30-32 +5 5-5 W3
Rank Team Record Diff. L10 Streak
20. Atlanta Braves 30-33 -14 4-6 L1
Rank Team Record Diff. L10 Streak
21. Cleveland Indians 29-33 -10 4-6 L1
Rank Team Record Diff. L10 Streak
22. Colorado Rockies 28-34 -35 4-6 W1
Rank Team Record Diff. L10 Streak
23. Seattle Mariners 28-35 -45 4-6 L1

The MLB season is a marathon, not a sprint. Or, at least that’s what I keep telling myself when I reflect on my original season projections. Almost embarrassingly, the Seattle Mariners were my very early (preseason) pick to get to the World Series. But this extremely punchless squad looks like a long shot at this point.

After an encouraging 2014 campaign, what’s happening in Seattle?

Simply, the hitting is completely anemic and they can’t score runs, period (they rank 29th in the entire league with only 216 in 63 games, which works out to only 3.43 runs per ball game). The pitching hasn’t been great either, but the lineup has actually been pretty terrible. But some credit to GM Jack Zduriencik, who didn’t stand around too long, hoping things will get better. He went out and acquired slugger Mark Trumbo from the Diamondbacks, who’ll instantly serve as a power source, if nothing else. And may he drive in runs, and plenty of them.

The catalyst of this offense is (and should be, based on that massive contract) Robinson Cano. But someone might want to remind him of that. Cano is easily off to the worst start of his major league career and the 2015 version has become almost a liability at the dish. At his current 2015 pace, the numbers are UGLY:

Robinson Cano AVG R HR RBI OPS%
Previous 5-years average 0.312 94 26 102 0.892
2015 (at current pace) 0.237 66 5 51 0.606

If you add up the warning signs of Cano’s season-long struggles, Nelson Cruz’s untimely injury, King Felix’s recent clubbing (8 ER in only 0.1 IP) at the hands of the Astros (a division rival) and Trumbo’s slow start… it all means trouble. I just happen to be a fool that picked them to play in October. Oops.

Rank Team Record Diff. L10 Streak
24. Chicago White Sox 28-33 -53 4-6 L3
Rank Team Record Diff. L10 Streak
25. Cincinnati Reds 28-34 -17 5-5 L2
Rank Team Record Diff. L10 Streak
26. Boston Red Sox 27-37 -60 3-7 L6
Rank Team Record Diff. L10 Streak
27. Miami Marlins 27-37 -22 5-5 L1
Rank Team Record Diff. L10 Streak
28. Oakland Athletics 26-39 +15 4-6 W1
Rank Team Record Diff. L10 Streak
29. Milwaukee Brewers 24-40 -64 6-4 L2
Rank Team Record Diff. L10 Streak
30. Philadelphia Phillies 22-42 -91 1-9 L6

The downtrodden Phils own baseball’s worst record, worst run differential, worst offense and is in a very tight race for the worst pitching as well (all the while having the ninth highest payroll in the league at $140.6 million). So naturally, they also own the basement spot in my rankings. What all this means is that it’s no longer become a question of “will the Phillies play better?,” but rather, “when does the massive fire sale begin?” Lord knows, they possess the parts to make plenty of deals. It might actually be easier to list who’s not available on this team.

Jonathan Papelbon (rumored to be talking to the Blue Jays), Chase Utley (veteran with a big contract), Ryan Howard (veteran with an even BIGGER contract) and Cole Hamels are the big names that could be dealt. Papelbon does fit very nicely with the closer-less Jays, while Hamels already used his no-trade clause (which includes 20 teams) to veto Toronto. Could he end up back in his home state of California? Utley and Howard? Who really knows. Is anyone going to be lining up for an aging second basement who’s hitting .184 and makes a ton of money? Probably not. And the same with Howard. He’s shown pop this year (11 HR), but his contract is almost untradable.

What we do know is that the Phillies rank dead last in the league in runs scored (197) and just completed an 0-6 week. True to #30 form.

Final(s) Thoughts

I certainly wasn’t alone in this thinking, but approximately two years ago, and almost immediately after the Miami Heat edged the San Antonio Spurs to capture their second straight NBA title (also long before the rumor mill was at full capacity), I tweeted that I couldn’t help but feel like inevitable was upon us… that LeBron James would go back to Cleveland.

I didn’t understand how it would work financially and I hadn’t a clue what kind of disarray the roster might be in when he got there, but I thought (and admittedly hoped) he would return to right his “wrongful” exit. And yes, that’s me semi-bragging about calling it.

So this is a horseless race for me. As a Raptors fan, the disappointment phase occurred weeks ago, at the hands of another clutch Paul Pierce performance, as much as I hate to type those words. What this all means for me right now as a true NBA fan, is that I’m actually impartial to who wins the title this season. I wish both teams could win. Both are incredible stories.

On the Cleveland side, it’s truly about LeBron and his city, let’s all be real about that. Of course the other players “matter,” but without fault, they all find themselves in The King’s shadow on this stage.

“The Redemption of LeBron” and the headlines of a Cavaliers title practically write themselves. It’s the kind of story that you see movies made about, minus “The Decision.” The synopsis reads like this, and yes, we’re all witnesses: After taking the Cavaliers to unimaginable heights during the early part of his career, he now returns home to the sports-tortured city that he left behind for warmer, greener pastures, leading them back to the Finals (his fifth straight appearance) in his very first season back.

As James continues to make his gradual ascent toward becoming the greatest player of all time, I’d challenge anyone to explain how they could be rooting against this adventure from playing out accordingly.

Unless of course, you just like the Warriors better, then I can’t really judge you, bandwagon or not.

How can you not love and appreciate this team?

The Dubs, led by league MVP Stephen Curry, was an absolute juggernaut all season long (on both ends of the floor) and finished with one of the most impressive NBA regular seasons of all-time. An astounding 67 wins and with the entertainment quotient of a travelling circus, they were just one of those things you just had to see on a nightly basis. The playoffs have been no different.

After the same bloodlines have been rotating in the NBA Finals pool for years now, it would definitely be refreshing to see a new team hoist the trophy, as well as seeing the best and most consistent team all season be rewarded. A first-time MVP winning his first title has a nice ring to it.

With who I want to win, it’s a total toss up. I’m happy with either scenario, I just want an entertaining and competitive Finals matchup. God, put a hex on the sweeps.

The Pick

The W’s were not only an offensive juggernaut this season, but they were also the best team defensively. That’s rare territory. While, the offense that Steve Kerr has running is primarily based on shooting, it’s practically unstoppable, with fast breaks and ball movement that the league has seen very infrequently in it’s history. Every guy on the team loves to pass, especially the big men. Cleveland, while they’ve improved defensively over the course of the playoffs, don’t have enough to hold this beast back.

The Cavs could potentially exploit a few matchups in the series though, particularly when the Warriors go small. The Mozgov-Thompson combination on the glass could end up being a major issue for the W’s, as they’ll lose out on possessions and likely pace. And who checks LeBron when Iguodala is out of the game? Barnes? Green? Good luck. If Kyrie Irving is really healthy and J.R. Smith keeps them in games with his shooting rather than shoot them out games, the Cavs are dangerous. I mean, they are here for a reason (even with the much weaker Eastern Conference path).

The bottom line for me is that Warriors have had an answer for everything and every team this entire season. Regardless of matchup or where they were playing (46-3 at home is pretty ridiculous though), they just won. I expect it to be a back and forth series, but ultimately the Warriors and the power of Oracle will win out in the last possible game of the season.

I’m going with the Warriors in seven games.

Screen Shots: Grand Theft Auto, Top Gear, Five Nights at Freddy’s

All good things must, inevitably, come to an end. This week that all too depressing phrase managed to encompass famed British television program Top Gear. After the show was put on hiatus following the departure of lead host Jeremy Clarkson, many fans were rightfully concerned about the future of Britain’s premier car program. As a result of the fallout, fellow hosts James May and Richard Hammond have opted out of renewing their contracts for the show’s continuation. Despite this harsh blow following nearly 22 full seasons of nearly sky-high ratings, this may be good news. It’s clear that Hammond and May see no future in Top Gear without Clarkson and, ideally, the trio will look to another production studio outlet to showcase their talents. There’s really no reason why it shouldn’t work out that way simply because of the fanbase that these men have together. It should be a no-brainer to any studio presented with the opportunity to house the group and most importantly, to let them do the show the way they want. In the meantime, Top Gear is gone and the only fix you can get for some time is the previously filmed Patagonia Special which was released on DVD just a week or so ago.

While on the topic of the BBC, the studio is currently working on a drama centering around the initial creation and reception of Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto series. While this is not news, the BBC’s 90-minute production has apparently tapped Hogwarts’ very own Daniel Radcliffe as Sam Houser, a co-founder of Rockstar Studios and the films lead protagonist. The film will be called Gamechanger and is to be directed by Owen Harris, who’s prior BBC work includes directorial credits for episodes of Misfits and Black Mirror.

And since we’re already talking about video games, 2014’s runaway indie success, Five Night’s at Freddy’s, which has already spawned twos sequels. is now in talks to becoming a movie. I don’t know who this idea came from, (mostly because Warner Bros. has stopped sending me hourly updates on that sort of thing) but it doesn’t seem to be an exceptionally good one. The game puts players in the shoes of the latest nighttime security guard at Chuck E. Cheese rip-off, Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza. Your task is not to thwart nefarious criminals, but to prevent the resident murderous animatronic animals that come alive at night (a la Night at the Museum mixed with Saw) from forcibly stuffing you into one of their suits, killing you in the process. The whole gimmick of the first game is that you sit stationary in the security room, only able to look left, right, or down at the various restaurant camera feeds on your tablet. To each side is an open door and a window looking out into the hallway, which can be closed or illuminated respectively. Viewing camera feeds, closing the doors, or illuminating the hallways all use up increasingly limited amounts of power, but they must be utilized to keep the creatures at bay. Surviving until morning can be quite tense, but the narrative just doesn’t translate well enough to engage audiences for the duration of a full-length feature. What little exposition and insight that there is into this game’s world is told in brief answering machine messages from your predecessor at the beginning of each of the games ‘nights’ or levels. It’s fun and fascinating to play, but I think the screenwriters will have really develop the lore of this demented pizzeria if they want to be successful in turning this point-and-click survival horror game into anything of merit for the silver screen.

Additional food for thought: indie games attract indie audiences!

Do You Know Bloodborne?

Bloodborne is the kind of title that earns every bit of merit and praise it’s garnered as well as the loathing and disdain players feel as they’re slaughtered again and again by the same relentless foes. Alone and under-powered, players set off into the decrepit and savage streets of Yharnam, a Gothic city filled with various creeps, ghouls, goblins, and monsters of every sort. The odds are against you and your mission is vague. Push forward. Survive. The tension is real and the stakes become higher as you progress further. This is the Playstation 4’s must-have title; it’s first killer app, reason enough for it’s existence.

This punishing, but fair game was developed by From Software and was directed by Hidetaka Miyazaki, who also developed the groundbreaking and very closely related Souls series on last-generation consoles and PCs. This production has remarkably similar role-playing and interface mechanics, but the action is notably more quickly paced and the setting has changed drastically. Users are treated to gloomily glorious Gothic structures and imagery thanks to a fully realized and meticulously rendered world akin to an macabre 18th century London. Players are dropped into this environment defenseless and completely unguided, banking on other online players leaving notes on how to best progress. This initial learning curve is as steep as they come and are arguably the most difficult sections of the game. Uneasiness and hesitation kills you more often than unavoidably swift blades or scenarios without escape.

I learned these things not from my own playthrough, but by watching another’s. Two others if we’re going to get technical. Two of my co-workers (who shall remain unnamed to spare them embarrassment) recently created their own characters on my Playstation in order to try out the game I haven’t stopped talking about since it came out a week and a half ago. Neither of them had ever played a Souls game, something I found to be vital to learning the mechanics quickly, but both were familiar with console gaming in general. The ensuing repetition of the same first area of the city became too much to bare after several hours and despite their efforts did not make any progress whatsoever in the game. But they learned. That’s what the game becomes about, not only making the controls second nature, but memorizing enemy locations, numbers, and animations that over time will telegraph when to make your move.

Bloodborne is a test of wits, resourcefulness, and reaction time as well as your ability to remember the city’s areas in which enemies always re-spawn in exactly the same fashion as they were originally incarnated.

This article is not a review, but a message to those in those trialsome opening hours. They’re meant to break you, it will get better. Once you’ve become familiar with the games mechanics and controls, everything becomes infinitely more manageable. That’s not to say that it gets easier, but it does get far more accessible. Bloodborne is a beautiful and ambitious production and should be played by everyone that owns Sony’s latest console. The searing sights and staggering sounds should not be missed by anyone up to the task. You will be rewarded justly for your efforts. In words familiar to anyone who’s played anything from the Souls series, Praise the Sun.

One last note/tip: Use the online message boards and wiki’s! They will be essential to your survival!

The 2015 MLB Preview

This is it for me, when the real spring season arrives… in the form of Major League Baseball! Shout out to The Masters for finishing in a close second.

Like every year, the storylines are abundant: The return of A-Rod, the Nationals scary rotation, the Jays, Padres, White Sox and Marlins all making big moves, the Cubs under a new regime, the Red Sox trying to go from worst to first to worst to first, the young but improving Astros and Mets, the potential regression of the World Series teams in San Francisco and Kansas City, a brand new Commissioner, the sad expected falls of the Phillies and Rays… there’s really just too many to list here. We have 162 games and about six months to let it all play out.

Here’s my best shot at predicting what will happen.

American League East

Projections 2014 2015 +/- Wins
1 Boston Red Sox 71-91 89-73 +18
2 Toronto Blue Jays 83-79 86-76 +3
3 Baltimore Orioles 96-66 82-80 -14
4 New York Yankees 84-78 80-82 -4
5 Tampa Bay Rays 77-85 70-92 -7

Boston Red Sox
The illustrious Boston Red Sox will be attempting to do something in 2015, that no other team in Major League history has done before, in trying to go from worst to first to worst to first. With the (expensive) additions of Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez to the lineup and the implementation of a more stable starting rotation (that included picking up Rick Porcello and Justin Masterson), I think they have the tools to pull it off. A bounce back season from Clay Buchholz, who was two completely different pitchers in ’13 and ’14, would be a big help.

Toronto Blue Jays
The Jays also completed a small roster makeover in the offseason that included the big additions of Josh Donaldson (whose numbers should get even better by playing half his games in the Rogers Centre) and Russell Martin (the perfect steady hand to support the plethora of young arms expected to pitch this season). And speaking of the youthful pitching, if Drew Hutchison, Aaron Sanchez and Daniel Norris all have solid seasons, the Jays could be extremely dangerous. The Reyes-Martin-Bautista-Encarnacion-Donaldson combination in the batting order is already plenty scary. Also of note is the fact that the Jays did rid themselves of a couple of strikeout machines in Colby Rasmus and Juan Francisco (who played way too much last year).

Baltimore Orioles
I think the Orioles, who did very little in the offseason, will take a step back from a very impressive 96 wins last year. The losses of Nelson Cruz (the reigning AL home run leader) and long-time Oriole Nick Markakis will be a detriment to the offense. Chris Davis absolutely needs to return to a silhouette of his former 2013 self. Kevin Gausman is an intriguing prospect on the hill, if only the O’s can figure what they want to do with him. It’s a less magical middle-of-the-pack season for Baltimore in 2015.

New York Yankees
The Yankees, now one of the oldest teams in the league, will immediately look quite different without #2 in the starting lineup. Instead, the media circus that will be following them around will be the one tracking the progress and return of Alex Rodriguez, missing since the ’13 season. If the vets can stay healthy and produce at the plate, they’ll have a shot, but I’m not expecting that to happen and have them pegged as a .500 team at best. White a few question marks, the pitching must prove itself.

Tampa Bay Rays
After some great seasons under Joe Maddon, the Rays simply subtracted far too much this offseason without getting much back in return. The homegrown talent approach just won’t be enough in the division this year. While their young arms look promising on paper, as they always do, the offense is in rough shape to deliver enough run support. It’s going to be a long and miserable season at the Trop.

American League Central

Projections 2014 2015 +/- Wins
1 Detroit Tigers 90-72 90-72 0
2 Chicago White Sox 73-89 82-80 +9
3 Cleveland Indians 85-77 81-81 -4
4 Kansas City Royals 89-73 79-83 -10
5 Minnesota Twins 70-92 74-88 +4

Detroit Tigers
The Tigers remain the cream of the crop in the American League Central. The loss of Max Scherzer will be minimal (especially at that price tag), as this rotation is already plenty deep and with David Price ready to resume his previous role of staff ace. I can’t help but see a bounce back season from Justin Verlander. He’s just too good (and Kate Upton won’t stand for it). Their offense should again be one of the very best and most efficient in baseball.

Chicago White Sox
The middle of the division is where there will be some shuffling in comparison to 2014. The White Sox, one of the league’s most active offseason teams, made some significant upgrades all over the diamond. They grabbed Jeff Samardzija to support Chris Sale in the rotation, they brought in Melky Cabrera to provide some hitting in front of Jose Abreu and lured a new elite closer in David Robertson away from the Yankees. It won’t be enough to win the division, but they could make it close.

Cleveland Indians
I’m seeing the Indians getting an absurd amount of love from a ton of experts as a potential “sleeper” team this season. I’m just not in that camp. Aside from Cy Younger Corey Kluber, I’m skeptical on that starting rotation (along with the bullpen for that matter). I also don’t think Michael Brantley is going to duplicate his ridiculous season from 2014. Aside from Carlos Santana, Yan Gomes and Brantley, it seems this team is pretty lacking in the power department. The Indians won’t be able to “manufacture” enough runs to compete for the division.

Kansas City Royals
The Royals are in for a reality check as they’re about to fall from the grace of the World Series. They had an almost unusual run all the way to the Series last year with their much-praised “small ball and speed” approach. I think the Central division will get the better of them this time around. I do like the Kendrys Morales and Alex Rios additions, but the back end of the rotation concerns me to be as successful as ’14. We all know the bullpen is the true strength of this team, but the starters have to get it to that point with the lead. It won’t happen as much this year.

Minnesota Twins
I like what the Twins are cooking in Minnesota with their offense. They now have some young guys with pop and even more lined up in their system, waiting for their chance. The rotation is scary (not in a good way), especially with the loss of Ervin Santana for roughly a third of the season. They’ll improve by a couple of games, but won’t be enough to climb out of the basement. But it’s coming Twins fans, be patient (again).

American League West

Projections 2014 2015 +/- Wins
1 Seattle Mariners 87-75 92-70 +5
2 Los Angeles Angels 98-64 90-72 -8
3 Houston Astros 70-92 80-82 +10
4 Oakland Athletics 88-74 77-85 -11
5 Texas Rangers 67-95 66-96 -1

Seattle Mariners
I love the pieces on this team. They have such a versatile mix of hitting and especially pitching. The starting rotation one through five is actually pretty intimidating, especially in pitcher-friendly Safeco Field. They have leadership among Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, King Felix Hernandez and even Fernando Rodney. The M’s enjoyed a nice improvement last season, to which I expect another jump in 2015.

Los Angeles Angels
This team is a little hard to figure out. There are some nice individual pieces, but also some gaps. We can pencil in Trout and Pujols in for great numbers, but there are a few holes in the lineup, namely second base and left field. The back of the rotation (currently slated as Hector Santiago and Drew Rucinski) is a bit suspect. If Garrett Richards can make it back all the way, that will be a huge lift. I think the Angels will still be good enough for a playoff spot, but this is the Mariners AL West to lose.

Houston Astros
I’m liking the direction the Astros franchise is heading. They didn’t go make a huge cannonball-like splash in free agency, but their moves were all pretty solid. After a 19-game improvement in 2014, they’ll continue to trend upward. And well, if you like “feast or famine” style baseball, the ‘Stros will be entertaining to watch. They hit the fourth most home runs in the entire league last year (163) and nearly died trying to hit even more, striking out a whopping 1,442 times, only 25 behind the league-leading Cubs. Is there still time to trade for Mark Reynolds or get Rob Deer out of retirement? I like them to sneak past the A’s for third in the West.

Oakland Athletics
Josh Reddick needs to grow his beard back and newcomer Brett Lawrie needs to throw a few tantrums, because this team is a snooze fest. The A’s are often best known for their something-from-nothing starting pitching, but I see that good fortune running out this season, especially with a more competitive AL West. Even with some pitching, this team doesn’t have the bats.

Texas Rangers
After establishing a winning culture that included four straight 90 win seasons and two World Series appearances, to say the Texas Rangers took “a step back” last year would be quite an understatement. This team experienced a major reality check, one that saw them finish with the third worst record in baseball. The injury bug ravaged the team in 2014 and already reared it’s ugly head again in 2015, by taking away their one major bright spot on the mound in Yu Darvish. Unfortunately, it’s going to be another season deep in the basement for the Rangers.

National League East

Projections 2014 2015 +/- Wins
1 Washington Nationals 96-66 97-65 +1
2 Miami Marlins 77-85 85-77 +8
3 New York Mets 79-83 80-82 +1
4 Atlanta Braves 79-83 76-86 -3
5 Philadelphia Phillies 73-89 65-97 -8

Washington Nationals
This rotation is Greek God-like. With the addition of Max Scherzer, this starting five (Scherzer, Strasberg, Zimmermann, Fister and Gonzalez) has the opportunity to be one of the most dominant in years. It’s certainly the reason that many have picked them to capture the World Series this year. They also have bats to back up the pitching, especially if one Bryce Harper stays on the field for 150+ games and takes a step forward to matching the hype. The Nats should at least take the NL East in a slight landslide.

Miami Marlins
Just two seasons ago, the 100-loss Miami Marlins were the laughingstock of the entire league. A fancy new stadium with no one to fill it, an embarrassing payroll and well, losing 60% of the games you play isn’t much fun either. In 2014, they significantly improved to the tune of 15 games. Fast forward to 2015, and after an exciting offseason shopping spree, suddenly there’s no room left on the new-look Marlins bandwagon, who many are picking to reach the postseason. If that happens, I guess that will work as evidence that not all rebuilding processes have to be slow and painful. It’ll be a fun crew down there in Miami.

New York Mets
It’s still hard to fathom that the New York Mets, irrelevant for a while now, finished second in the division last year. With a lineup primarily filled with veterans, they could contend for second place once again (the Nats should have this thing wrapped up), in which their playoff ticket would have to be one of the Wild Card spots. A huge bonus for the Mets is having flamethrower Matt Harvey return from Tommy John surgery last year, giving them a dominant lead guy on the mound.

Atlanta Braves
The Braves are certainly undergoing a major “transition” period right now. If you didn’t believe that before, perhaps the trade of Craig Kimbrel, only the single most dominant closer in the game the past four seasons, will serve as evidence. While I’m sure they’re pleased to finally be rid of the B.J. Uptons and Dan Ugglas of the world, they do find themselves with some less established players at second base and the outfield, as well as on the mound. This year’s team won’t exactly resemble the 1990’s Braves, or even the 2000’s for that matter.

Philadelphia Phillies
The 2010 Philadelphia Phillies won 97 games. The next season, the 2011 squad won 102 games! Those days in the City of Brotherly Love are long gone, as they’ve been on a steady decline since then, finishing .500 in 2012 and with an identical 73-89 record in both 2013 and 2014. With aging (but handsomely paid) stars, an mostly unproven lineup, a rotation that would likely hold up well in AAA and having addressed none of it in the offseason, the Phillies are about to experience one of the worst seasons in a LONG time. If there are any true “fanatics” out there, brace yourself…

National League Central

Projections 2014 2015 +/- Wins
1 St. Louis Cardinals 90-72 93-69 +3
2 Pittsburgh Pirates 88-74 88-74 0
3 Chicago Cubs 73-89 79-83 +6
4 Cincinnati Reds 76-86 75-87 -1
5 Milwaukee Brewers 82-80 73-89 -9

St. Louis Cardinals
The Cards are like one of those cagey old golfers. Boring, always down the middle and somehow manage to be ahead of you on the scorecard at the end of the round. This team just wins. Since 2000, they’ve captured 8 division titles (including a bunch when the division still included six teams), have been to the postseason 11 times and have held the World Series trophy twice. Fast forward to 2015 and they have excellence in the batting order, in the starting rotation and out in the bullpen. While people love to root for up-and-comers like the Cubs and Pirates, it’s going to be “boring, old” St. Louis in the driver’s seat again.

Pittsburgh Pirates
If anyone is going to challenge the Cardinals for the division crown, it’s the Pirates, who were only two games short of them last season. They have practically the same roster back this year, so chemistry and consistency should be a strong suit. Andrew McCutcheon (a now annual MVP candidate) will lead the offense, while they’ll lean on a mix of vets (Liriano, Burnett) and youngsters (Cole, Locke) on the pitching staff. It should be a fun year again in the Steel City, especially if they can extend their season into October.

Chicago Cubs
Look, I love The Sporting News’ MLB Previews as much as the next baseball fan, but when I grabbed a copy of this year’s mag, I experienced a ‘WTF?’ moment regarding their take on the Chicago Cubs. They have the Cubbies (who just finished last in the NL Central for the second straight year) not only winning the division, but winning THE WORLD SERIES! Wow, the boldness! A team that’s showed very little progress with improvement over the past decade, going from worst-in-division to raising the World Series trophy in October? Hey, I’m optimistic about what the Cubs did in the offseason (including Joe Maddon) and about some of their talent-in-waiting, but c’mon, a little less drama and an injection of logic please? Let’s start with a third place finish, alright?

Cincinnati Reds
I hate to lay it out for you Cincinnati Reds fans, but the high point of your season might be when you get to host the 2015 MLB All-Star Game in July. The postseason chase won’t be quite as exhilarating. I actually don’t think the lineup is half bad, provided they get a nice, healthy comeback season from their Mr. Joey Votto. In terms of pitching, their ace (Cueto) and their closer (Chapman) are fine, but everything in between is anything but a sure thing. The Reds just won’t have the depth to compete with a few of the other Central teams, who are just plain better, top to bottom. Oh, and the Homer Bailey contract gives me indigestion.

Milwaukee Brewers
Let’s be honest… the Brew Crew had a serious overachieving season a year ago. Personally, I don’t expect them to be quite as close to .500 this season. Maybe it’s because I find them incredibly boring to watch, and that’s not exactly fair, but I have a really hard time associating the 2015 Brewers with a “winning” team. Call me paranoid, but I’d like to see the Fiers-Nelson combo in the rotation be solid for an entire season first.

National League West

Projections 2014 2015 +/- Wins
1 San Diego Padres 77-85 92-70 +15
2 Los Angeles Dodgers 94-68 91-71 -3
3 Colorado Rockies 66-96 79-83 +13
4 San Francisco Giants 88-74 78-84 -10
5 Arizona Diamondbacks 64-98 66-96 +2

San Diego Padres
This team re-wrote the book on “offseason movement” over the winter… and I love all the moves they made. They went from a punchless offense (almost historically so), to acquiring enough significant hitting upgrades to immediately change the direction of the franchise. Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, Wil Meyers and Daniel Norris can all rake it. On the hill, they made almost as big a splash, grabbing themselves an ace in James Shields, took a flier on a potentially dominant guy in Brandon Morrow and most recently, acquiring the best closer in baseball in Craig Kimbrel. I understand that it’s so very easy to get caught up in flashy player movement and the notion that making moves for the sake of making them equals more wins. It often doesn’t. But these weren’t just moves, they were a collective statement. Many teams added pieces, but this is the one team I think pulled off the perfect set of upgrades for what they lacked. I think it was just enough to overtake the Dodgers out West.

Los Angeles Dodgers
All of the talent money can buy! After a 94-win season in 2014 (with Clayton Kershaw missing 5-6 starts), I expect the Dodgers to come close to reaching that number again. I liked like pick ups of Jimmy Rollins and Howie Kendrick to solidify what’s been a weak middle infield and I’m very curious to see Joc Pederson in action. While I’m unsure as to what they’ll do with the final spot in the rotation, I trust that they’ll figure it out, especially with new management in town. And if it’s not working by July for some reason, they’ll just go get someone. It’s that easy.

Colorado Rockies
While crushing the baseball is definitely the “cooler” of the two elements, pitching is where the wins are located. Or, where there are not located, as evidenced by the 2014 Colorado Rockies. While the Rockies, in their cozy, weightless-aired confines of Coors Field, ranked in the Top 5 in most offensive categories in the entire league last year, won a pathetic 66 games. Why? Two reasons. Their pitching was just gross. It was so horrible that they must have addressed it in the offseason right? Well, not exactly. However, the second reason is health. I’m banking on the Rockies being a surprise team this year, one in which their core remains healthy for most of the season.

San Francisco Giants
We’ve called the Giants the “defending World Series Champions” more than enough over the past five years (three times, if you can’t remember). I have the Giants as one of the teams taking a major step back this season. I think the field in the NL West has finally caught up. The offense doesn’t “wow” me and Bumgarner excluded, I think the age of their starting rotation is a slight concern. I don’t think they’ll get as many innings they’d like.

Arizona Diamondbacks
Almost unfathomably, not a single team in Major League Baseball lost 100 games last season. However, the bad news for the Arizona Diamondbacks is that they were the closest to that futile number with 98 losses. While they added a very high upside player in Cuban import Yasmany Tomas, they didn’t do nearly enough overall to keep pace in an improving division. While another 98-loss season projection might be a tad harsh, they won’t be that far off. This team stinks. We should all pour out a little liquor for Paul Goldschmidt, the D-Backs underrated superstar that won’t receive nearly enough attention because of his under-performing surroundings.

The Postseason

American League Division Winners and Wild Cards
East Central West WC1 WC2
Red Sox Tigers Mariners Angels Blue Jays
American League Wild Card Game
Angels over Blue Jays
American League Division Series
Red Sox over Angels Mariners over Tigers
American League Championship Series
Mariners over Red Sox
National League Division Winners and Wild Cards
East Central West WC1 WC2
Nationals Cardinals Padres Dodgers Pirates
National League Wild Card Game
Dodgers over Pirates
National League Division Series
Nationals over Dodgers Cardinals over Padres
National League Championship Series
Cardinals over Nationals
Seattle Mariners over St. Louis Cardinals

The Award Winners

American League
MVP Mike Trout, Angels
Cy Young Felix Hernandez, Mariners
Rookie of the Year Aaron Sanchez, Blue Jays
National League
MVP Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins
Cy Young Adam Wainwright, Cardinals
Rookie of the Year Kris Bryant, Cubs

∗ ∗ ∗

Screen Shots: Trevor Noah, Fargo, Jackman, Cruise, Swift, Lawrence

»  The Daily Show‘s Trevor Noah has been announced as the successor to the dauntingly popular and insightful Jon Stewart on the program following his recent departure after 16 years of news and satire. Noah was a recently added anchor to the program and has quickly gained some popularity after audiences became familiar with the 31-year old South African through his reporting and stand-up comedy specials. Now, filling perhaps the largest comedic shoes in television, one can only hope that Trevor is up to the task. While I admittedly did not enjoy or finish Noah’s stand-up special, I can see why he was chosen to run the series in the wake of losing Stewart. He has a finger on the pulse of many cultural and racial issues that continue to become more prevalent problems in today’s society as well as a broad, light humor that can be easy to warm up to quickly for most general audiences. Comedy Central made the sensible choice here and only time will be able to tell us if it was the right decision.

»  Bruce Campbell is making big moves this season and his latest consisted of securing a place on one of my favorite television programs to come out in the last decade. Bruce will be playing the role of Ronald Reagan in the upcoming second season of Fargo. If you read my review, you’ll be aware of my mild fanaticism regarding these snowy, desolate landscapes that lie just West of the Great Lakes. Campbell is a great edition to the anthology series as his talents are suited well for the whole serious, but darkly silly tightrope act the show and the film it’s based off of are known and loved for. The second season will go back in time to 1979 and feature an entirely new cast that has for the most part yet to be revealed. It’s safe to say there’s a lot to love up to considering last years star-studded and varied cast. We’ll all find out soon enough as the series is set to start back up again this fall.

»  Several other announcements have been made regarding the comings and goings of celebrities in their respective arenas. This week it was made official that Jeremy Clarkson of the BBC’s highly popular car show, Top Gear, will not be coming back after the “fracas” that led to his suspension. How the network or Jeremy’s co-hosts plan to continue from here is still largely up in the air and many fans of the show currently in its 22nd season have openly voiced their disapproval. For now the program remains off the air.

»  As many of you may know, last Sunday night was the season 5 finale to AMC’s insanely popular Walking Dead series. The show has proved to be a fan favorite year after year and the networks have taken note. As complimentary as accompaniments get, the Walking Dead’s previously announced spin-off series debuted its first teaser trailer alongside last nights finale. The show will be titled Fear the Walking Dead because apparently the showrunners are already strapped for ideas and will involve an entirely separate cast of characters fighting the infection on the West coast. The trailer doesn’t show much as these initial teasers are generally intended for ramping up audience intrigue,but the companion series has already been picked up for two seasons. The first season will premiere sometime late this summer, but after last nights impossibly disappointing finale I think I’m going to handle the brief absence just fine.

»  Hugh Jackman has finally announced that he will be stepping away from the Wolverine role after his next foray into the Marvel cinematic universe. I’m quite frankly astounded he did it for as long as he did. Then again, he made millions off of each of these projects and his Wolverine character has clearly been among the most prominent reasons behind his current household name status. Since he first took the helm of what is arguably the X-Men’s most iconic character in 2000, the entire industry has been rocked with the staggering popularity of bringing these comic book action franchises to the big screen. Now, as announced on several twitter feeds, Jacked Hughman will be reprising the hot-headed mutant “One last time” in a sequel to 2013’s The Wolverine slated to be released in March of 2017. Jackman is set to have a cameo appearance in the more imminent X-Men: Apocalypse, but it will be a brief segment if it exists at all.

»  Robert Durst has been denied bail after being deemed a flight risk during his extradition from Louisiana to California and his upcoming trial regarding the murder of Susan Berman in 2000. Durst was arrested earlier this month after the finale premiere of the HBO documentary series The Jinx that centered around the mysterious circumstances involving the disappearance of Durst’s wife as well an old friend and former neighbor almost two decades later. The series reviewed and scrutinized the Durst cases and found a number of previously undiscovered articles of evidence that were enough for the state of California to issue a warrant for his arrest. Texas courts tried Durst for the murder of his former neighbor, Morris Black, in 2001 who was shot and dismembered, but Durst was found innocent. The crime in which he is currently being tried for involves the execution-style shooting of Durst’s longtime friend who was thought to have information regarding the disappearance of his wife some 19 years earlier. Durst is the son of New York real estate mogul Seymour Durst and brother of commercial developer Douglas Durst. Their vast family estate and holdings is said to surpass the $4 billion mark, but brother Douglas has been in charge of the company since their father’s death in 1994. At the time of his arrest, the FBI estimated Robert’s net worth to be approximately $100 million. If found guilty, Durst may face the death penalty.

»  As if three deaths weren’t enough for this article, Paramount pictures seem bound and determined to run with the Mission Impossible franchise until its leading man Tom Cruise dies, leaves his “meat body”, and is reborn into another (Scientology 101). Yesterday saw the release of the first trailer of the latest installment into the series and looks to be more of exactly what we’ve come to expect from IMF’s top agent. Honestly, I’m not as opposed to the continuation of the series as I thought I would be at this point. Cruise is in a good place in his career with his last several films, including the last Mission: Impossible, being received well critically and more importantly, commercially. So strap in for another high-stakes, over-the-top ride, this will be the last time you can count out the M:I franchise entries on one hand. This message will self-destruct in 5 seconds.

»  In another public display of Taylor Swift not taking shit from anyone we see the teen female pop idol buying up internet domain names like to in a preemptive strike against sexually induced tomfoolery. As of June 1st, the internet will be opening up to a great deal of expansion in the form of 547 newly acquirable domain names that include .porn, .sucks, .adult, and many more classy options. T. Swift has taken it upon herself to purchase several of these so that anyone with less than noble intentions or at the very least leaked nude photos of the pop star can’t post them to a website with her name directly attached to it. Unfortunately, that doesn’t really save her from postings on literally any other websites on the planet. So was this a savy purchase? A futile attempt against the inevitable? Perhaps a little conceited? You decide.

»  For all of you who decided that the one thing Angelina Jolie‘s latest directorial effort was missing was more God, your prayers have been answered. This has to be one of the most obscure and unnecessary add-on’s to a video release to ever be proposed. Many who read the novel that last years by-the-books inspirational drama Unbroken was based off of complained about how the film glossed over the subject’s Christian epiphany which encompassed roughly a third of the written work. Jolie’s response to this criticism was that they thought it would be important to present a universal theme of faith rather than specifically tie the film just to Christian mythology, which to me makes a great deal of sense while trying to tap into a larger audience base. Apparently, this left some rubbed in the wrong way. This special edition of the film will be dubbed the Legacy of Faith edition and is said to include over 90 minutes of additional, Christian faith related materials and will be sold exclusively in Christian stores. In other news regarding Mrs. Jolie, the actress and director recently wrote an op-ed piece in The New York Times where she discussed a recent operation she had undergone to remove her ovaries after a cancer scare which if you ask anyone was more than likely God’s punishment for not making her movie His way the first time around.

»  In more comic book franchise news, Jennifer Lawrence said that the upcoming X-Men: Apocalypse will be her last in that Marvel universe. This will be the 2nd of the two major franchises she is contracted to that will be over after their next installments, the other being The Hunger Games. After this, Lawrence’s schedule will be drastically opened up to the more character-driven work she seems to really excel in like Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle. Now that Jennifer is a household name, her presence in large, mainstream blockbusters is less vital to her career’s progression and I think this will prove to be an exceptional decision for her overall. Last week I told you that the Russo brothers were in talks to direct a male-cast reboot of the Ghostbusters franchise, something I’m still losing sleep over. Fortunately, the duo have signed on to a project that is seemingly much better tailored to their talents in the form of Avengers: Infinity War Parts 1 and 2. Seeing how well the two have done with the Captain America sequel and, hopefully, the upcoming third entry, I have moderately high hopes for what these two can do here. Time will tell and much time indeed; these releases aren’t expected until 2018 and 2019.

∗ ∗ ∗

Screen Shots: New Mallrats and Clerks, John Wick Death Count, Jeremy Clarkson

»  Kevin Smith has posted a teaser photo of himself with frequent co-star Jason Mewes as well as Stan Lee and Michael Rooker in order to raise audience interest in Smith’s upcoming sequel to his popular 1995 cult classic Mallrats. Smith announced his intentions for a sequel just a week ago as well as a third installment to the Clerks franchise. Hopefully these visits into familiar territory will see Smith come back to form. His most recent attempt at direction was a questionable effort and resulted in essentially The Human Centipede in Canada, which actually makes it sound about as bad as it is.

»  Earlier this month, Top Gear UK‘s Jeremy Clarkson was suspended from the BBC program following a “fracas” where the host allegedly threw a punch at one of the program’s producers. Clarkson is said to have been upset about a lack of food provisions at the venue and is only the latest of a number of controversies involving the British icon. Other grievances include racist comments and on and off the air as well as a separate assault on British newscaster Pierce Morgan. Despite this, a prevailing outcry of fans has resulted in over a million signatures on a Kickstarter campaign advocating for the popular host’s reinstatement. Another similar campaign has pushed for Steve Coogan to reprise his hilarious British television character Alan Partridge as Clarkson’s replacement. Coogan has guest starred on Top Gear several times in the weekly Star in a Reasonably Priced Car segment of the program and the campaign has reached a little over 32,000 signatures. More recently, the beloved Clarkson expressed his opinions on more than just this incident claiming the BBC was going to sack him and that they’ve essentially ruined the program. With an 18-year waiting list to appear as an audience member on the show, the BBC ought to think of something quickly as fans have grown increasingly anxious since the show was taken off the air mid-season as a result of the altercation.

»  A graphic has surfaced detailing an obsessive breakdown of the kills of what is arguably 2015’s best action film thus far, John Wick. This flick was a decidedly brow-raising affair deserving of attention and admiration for the 50-year old action veteran Keanu Reeves as long as you can ignore that the story centers around the murder of nearly 100 people as a result of one of them killing Keanu’s dog. Admittedly, that dog was damn adorable. There have been several kill compilation videos and related fanfare creations, but nothing with this kind of attention to detail. The graphic accounts every kill made in the film, its location, method used, shots fired, accuracy percentages, and more. It’s nice to see Reeves doing what he does best and audiences receiving his work well enough to dedicate this kind of time and attention to. Hopefully, they don’t screw it all up with the sequel already in the works.

»  In other news, Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams lost their lawsuit regarding 2013’s most popular song/music video “Blurred Lines” and reportedly had to pay the heirs of Marvin Gaye $7.3 million for sampling his song “Got to Give it Up.” Snoop Dogg is helming the production of a HBIzzle television series and will focus on a family in the 1980’s and the political landscape around them. And finally, human remains were found in the stove belonging to a man who is alleged to have murdered a former contestant of the television program Food Network Star. With irony like this, one might guess that Dr. Seuss became a sadist after he died and began writing the script for the lives of everyone in Hollywood.

∗ ∗ ∗

March Madness 2015: Take Me To Your Bracket!

We’ve now reached that point in time during the month of March where we all become incredibly vulnerable. Some of us like to think we’re experts (over here!), while others skim the records, perhaps glance at cool mascot names (maybe even team uniforms) and well, hope for the best. Regardless of the pool or community of competition belong to, whether it be two people, or two million people, when we wake up Thursday morning with the field of 64 finally set in stone, we all have the same chance of filling out a winning bracket. As well, we all have ZERO chance of doing it perfectly. But one can dream.

I’ve chosen some favorites, picked against some enemies and of course, tossed in an absurd upset or three. There is simply no time of year like this. The buzz is incredible and watching the games, even more exhilarating. And no matter how much we’d love to just pencil in all of the higher seeded favorites, there’s always an elephant-sized “fuck you” to relative logic that exists. Some big guns are going to fall, we know this.

So here’s my deep breath and “full frontal,” the exposing of a potentially embarrassing or potentially genius March Madness ’15 Bracket! But what am I worried about, I’m an expert right?

First, I should get extra points just for going old school with the handwritten ink! Just looks way more authentic.

Some very quick notes:

»  My thoughts on picking an actual winner was based on Kentucky being such an overwhelming favorite, so I wanted to be different. Not stupid different (I obviously still have them plowing through the Midwest Region and into the Final Four), but I took a chance on someone else. I love Wisconsin’s team and they’ll have the likely Player of the Year in 7-footer Frank Kaminsky, as well as another NBA super prospect in Sam Dekker. They’re insanely deep and I like them to make it out of the West Region and ultimately cut down the nets in April.

»  I like Northern Iowa to upset Villanova in the Sweet 16. Though they don’t play the level of competition that ‘Nova does, they passed the eye test with me after watching them a couple of times this year.

»  The biggest upset is having #13 seed Eastern Washington take out a weak #4 Georgetown team, the Hoyas just don’t deserve to be that high and it’ll bite them.

»  I went almost all-in on the #11 seeds. I picked #11 Texas over a trendy #6 Butler team, #11 Ole Miss to stay hot after winning their play-in game, beating #6 Xavier and the exact same scenario for #11 Dayton in tipping over #6 Providence.

»  I also like a couple of #10’s to beat number #7’s in Ohio State and Davidson to take out VCU and Iowa, respectively.

»  As a Tar Heels guy, please know that I absolutely hated picking Duke over Gonzaga in the Elite 8, but I had to do it. It’ll be a damn close game.

∗ ∗ ∗

Songs of the Week: Coheed and Cambria, Sleater-Kinney, Hellacopters, Lit

“Those who dance are considered insane by those who cannot hear the music.” – George Carlin

Of tracks past and present, here’s a look into our heads this week…

“Gravemakers & Gunslingers” by Coheed and Cambria (2007)

I will forever be a huge subscriber to the claim that Coheed and Cambria is one of the most underappreciated musical acts in all of music. The complexity at which Claudio Sanchez and his band plays, is near indescribable. Just watch one of their live shows, or better yet, go SEE THEM. There are very few songs written that pump me up quite like “Gravemakers & Gunslingers.” Right from the opening riff, the blazing guitar work just has such an incredible pace. The solos put it over the top. And well, when Claudio delivers the “Go on and pull that trigger!” at the end of each chorus… pure adrenaline.

“Fade” by Sleater-Kinney (2015)

I’d never heard Sleater-Kinney before. I’ve never watched Portlandia. I had no frame of reference for this band at all. I had gotten my hands on the record, but didn’t listen to it until a friend recommended it. “Fade” is an amazing tune. Great guitar work in the verses and the chorus soars. To me, almost a perfect song.

“By the Grace of God” by The Hellacopters (2007)

Less famous than, but more talented than The Hives, their older brothers The Hellacopters have released one great rock and roll record after another. The song “By The Grace of God,” from the album of the same name, still blows me away. Delivered with tongue in cheek bravado, the track singes without being over the top.

“Cancer” by My Chemical Romance (2006)

I can’t say we’ve all been there, but we’ve all know someone that has experienced the death grip that is cancer. From The Black Parade album, one of my favorites ever, “Cancer” is one of the most brutally poignant and honest songs about death that I’ve ever heard. Gerard Way’s lyrics describe a cancer victim’s thoughts in their rawest form, with all of the emotions in tact. Does it get much worse than someone apologizing because their body is “soggy from the chemo?” No, it doesn’t. It’s certainly not a song you can “enjoy,” but it’s relevant. I feel like songs like this need to be written. Get’s me every time. Fuck you cancer!

“I Can’t Make You Love Me” by Bonnie Raitt (1991)

My Dad got me into Bonnie Raitt when he joined Columbia House, but didn’t let me pick any tapes, so I just started stealing his. This song comes from a place of power, and a place of weakness. Knowing that what you want is over, but having the strength to know that and pick up and carry on. Well written, well sung. Great song. For bonus points, the cover that Bon Iver did was pretty fantastic, too.

“My Own Worst Enemy” by Lit (1999)

Let’s end on a brighter note here. Last night on the drive home, “Miserable” by Lit came on. It’s a good song with a funny video, but it got me remembering the A Place in the Sun album and in particular, how a song like “My Own Worst Enemy” never seems to get old. I mean, when you’re able to play and sing the song in Rock Band, on expert, without barely looking at the screen, THAT’s a classic song! It’s upbeat and people generally just know the words to sing along. Long live Lit!

That’s the end. Until next week…

∗ ∗ ∗