Wednesday, March 31, 2010

TBG TV: Lost -- "The Package"

Three Things I Dug:

Yay, Aphasia!: The scene only ran a few seconds, but I loved the machine-gun give-and-take between the characters while Jack was examining the lump on Sun's head. Ben's exasperated "Look for the FOURTH time...!" alibi explanation and the patter between Miles and Lapidus kept the mood around one of the show's more ludicrous plot points relatively light. I remain frustrated that characters as potentially useful as Miles and Lapidus are relegated to comic relief most weeks, but with six episodes left, I guess I'll take what I can get.

Evil Hulk Locke Rules!: Terry O'Quinn is killing it this season. The overt manipulative turn from the smiling, polite, "I won't make you do anything against your will" Dark Locke to the version that coldly motivated a disenchanted Claire -- with Kate's life as the bargaining chip -- was fun to watch unfold. Dark Locke's frustration with the assortment of road blocks (Sun's refusal to follow him, the loss of Jin to Widmore's unit) has been a sweet little slow burn.

Mart'in!: If there's a way for Martin Keamy to be involved in everyone's alternate reality flash-sideways, I'd be on board with it. Kevin Durand has been fantastic in the two episodes he's appeared in this season. He plays Keamy with a controlled lunacy that's right on the edge of the shoot-first mercenary he portrayed in season four. The scene where Keamy tends to Jin's head wound while simultaneously revealing that he's been hired to kill Jin was FEE-nominal.

Three Things I Didn't Dig:

"Sun Fail English? That's unpossible!": There was an episode of Gilligan's Island where Gilligan got popped in the mouth and the fillings in his teeth somehow turned his pie-hole into a radio receiver. This is where I'd slot the "Aphasia Sun" storyline. And, I don't care that aphasia is a real thing. Especially, if the end result is going to be more of Sun giving viewers a Korean take on the tired I Love Lucy bit where Ricky Ricardo expresses rage by screaming in Spanish for five minutes while Lucy, Ethel and Fred stand around dumbfounded.

I'm Not Buying What Sun's Selling: I never connected with the post-island rescue "Sun Bradshaw Layfield" corporate shark character and the whiny, fruit-throwing version that opened this episode didn't do it for me either. I'd nearly forgotten about her and Jin's daughter until Widmore broke out the digital camera. I get that Sun is frustrated and wants to be reunited with Jin, but...well, let's put it this way: Mrs. Bootleg loves me and she loves our son. But, I'm not entirely sure she'd leave Jalen behind for a wild goose chase to find me when there's a real possibility that neither she nor I would return home. Am I alone on this?

Zombie Sayid: I've defended Sayid when others have taken their shots at him, but his unintentionally funny "I feel nothing" spiel perfectly summed up my reaction to (formerly) one of my favorite characters. Apparently, Sayid's been infected with milquetoast. And, not to be "that guy", but if Sayid feels no fear, no pain, no emotion...why does he raise up with a start when Widmore's crew invades Locke's camp? It also sounded like he grunted in pain when he was shot with that dart. But, I don't wanna be "that guy".

The Verdict: The Keamy and Dark Locke stuff was enough to cancel out the ridiculous "Aphasia Sun" stuff. The Desmond twist at the end came off a bit flat, but at least things continue to move right along to the eventual endgame.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

TBG TV: Lost -- "Ab Aeterno"

Three Things I Dug:

THE Answer: Whether you loved this episode or hated it, at least it offered up an explanation for character motivation -- something Lost has been maddeningly ambiguous about over the years. Now, maybe you rolled your eyes at the whole "bottle of wine/the island's a cork" analogy, but I appreciated not only the delineation of Jacob as "good" and the Man in Black as "evil" -- not exactly breaking news, I know -- I also liked that we now know what each man wants to do with their respective good and evil. Man in Black = spread, Jacob (and the island) = contain. Simple and accessible plotting at its core, set against a complex -- convoluted? -- backdrop.

Stone Cold Jacob: Don't ask me why, but I thoroughly enjoyed the brief, balls-out beatdown that Jacob laid on Richard. Maybe it was because the set-up was identical to Sayid's ill-fated attempt to stab The Man in Black a few episodes back -- right down to the bizarro reaction of the intended victim (Man in Black all but laughs it off, Jacob commences with an ass-kicking). Maybe it was because the beating was SO over-the-top that it begged the obvious question: Why didn't Jacob put up a fight when Ben killed him? Maybe it was because 1867 Richard just needed a punch in the face.

It Wasn't THAT Bad: M'man Movie Joe has a very insightful post on this episode over at
Low Resolution. Honestly, I didn't think Nestor Carbonell's performance was nearly as shrill as Joe believes. In fact, I really liked the subtlety of the incredulous, high-pitched titter that Richard spit out at the episode's opening when Ilana and the castaways turned towards him, looking for answers. And, at the end, I dug the pathetic wish-casting of a beaten, broken man who'd lost everything -- in this life and, seemingly, the afterlife -- bargaining with a higher power and "settling" on immortality over eternal damnation.

Three Things I Didn't Dig:

It Wasn't THAT Good: C'mon, internet...the near-universal praise this episode has received is beyond me. The extended flashback took the air right out of the show for the first 30 minutes or so. Things picked up when ol' Smoky reached the ship, but we were never given a reason to care about the Richard/Isabella relationship and it was hard to generate sympathy -- for me, anyway -- towards Richard's whole "I ain't mean to murder him!" alibi.

1868 - 2007?: If viewers are going to get THIS much background into a character whose importance (to date) has been more implied than actual, then I don't think it's unreasonable to ask for...more. Immortality just seems like one of those character traits that going to f**k with a man's mind at some point during the past 140 years. We're to believe that Richard has dutifully stood in the background as a humble servant without question for all this time? Why? What did we really learn about Richard?

All In: From time to time, it's seemed that the show's writers have painted themselves into a corner. By going all in on Richard for an episode, the writers have turned a primary, secondary, tertiary character into an essential piece of the end game. Let's just throw him on the pile with Walt, Rose, Bernard and that damn dog.

The Verdict: Not great, not god-awful. Let's all move on.

30 A's in 30 Days – Chad Gaudin

Acquired: Signed as free agent (March 29, 2010).
Contract: One year thru 2010. (Eligible for free agency after season.)
Position: Long reliever, mop-up, "Anvil".

Projected ERA: 4.72

Over/Under: I'm always going to have a soft spot for Gaudin. In June 2007, I
flew out to the east coast for a long weekend with m'man Nick'a and caught an A's/Yankees game at Yankee Stadium. Gaudin got the start for Oakland (vs. the Yanks' Kei Igawa(!)) and no-hit the Bombers for 5 1/3 innings. Gaudin and Rich Harden(!!) combined on a one-hitter as the A's won 7-0 – powered by back-to-back home runs from Jason Kendall(!!!) and Shannon Stewart.

Sadly, that was probably Gaudin's career apex. In his next start, he gave up just two runs in 7.2 innings vs. Seattle. After that, his ERA was 6.30 in his final 16 starts. He'd lose his spot in the rotation for good in May 2008 – to make room for Rich Harden, of all people – before being traded to the Cubs with Rich Harden in July of that year. I'm not sure how much Gaudin's got in the tank after spending the past season-and-a-half in an extended stretch of mediocrity with the Cubs, Padres and Yankees. He's always walked too many and been prone to the long ball. And, now he's nearly three seasons removed from the best run of his career. OVER.

By the Numbers: 1 – According to our friends over at Baseball Reference, Gaudin's #1 comp is former Phillies, Braves and Rockies pitcher/beanpole Starvin' Marvin Freeman. Believe it or not, kids, there was a time when spindly African-Americans took the mound with great regularity. 20 years ago, the game featured guys like Freeman, Oil Can Boyd and Chuck McElroy. If I'd been born 10 years earlier…

Surefire 2010 Prediction: Gaudin's
Neidhartian goatee – which toured National League parks during his time with the Cubs and Padres – will become the most annoying broadcast talking point for this season once he's grown it out a few feet.

Snoop Dogg Track for the Season:
Chin Check

Monday, March 29, 2010

TBG TV: FOX's Animation Domination -- 03/21/2010

Sunday's Rankings (5, 3, 2, 1 scoring)

(1) The Simpsons ("Stealing First Base") -- While not fall-down funny, this was still a fun little episode. I especially dug how much of the material related to me. Like Lisa, I was stigmatized as "gifted" in grade school. Oh, the jealousy. Wear your "A+++" proudly, girl. I know I did. The "first kiss" moment for Bart and Nikki (guest voiced by the terminally unfunny Sarah Silverman) included the same stomach-wrenching reaction from the girl that MY first kiss produced in Sara Gonzalez back in third grade. And, who doesn't love a skateboard montage set to the theme song from
Midnight Express? I can't forget the Michelle Obama (voiced by Angela Bassett) "She-Hulk" moment, which -- personally -- served as a terrific inside joke. For me.

(2) The Cleveland Show ("Once Upon a Tyne in New York") -- This...was a mess. Remember that episode of The Simpsons in which Homer
takes the family to New York? It was made up of a thousand satirical knives that gently stabbed with brilliant abandon. With the bar raised so high, The Cleveland Show gave us 30 minutes of Tyne Daly, Donald Trump, Robert DeNiro and Tyne Daly (again and again) jokes. She's fat, you know.

(3) Family Guy ("Peter-assment") -- From time to time, I feel the need to preface any criticism by letting readers know I'm not the type to be offended by anything on television. It's all entertainment. I get it. But, Terri Schiavo jokes? Let's set aside the obvious tastelessness...she died five years ago. The subject matter was almost as old as R. Kelly jokes. This segued into an unfunny mini-plot about Peter becoming paparazzi-crazy with his camcorder which (finally) turned into the primary plot involving Peter's female boss and sexual harassment.

MVP: Bart's inability to figure out the fairer sex gets him a sympathy nod here.

Quote of the Night: "[Pabst Blue Ribbon]?! I hope it can stay chilled for 16 years! (wink)" -- Rallo (The Cleveland Show)

Current Standings

The Simpsons -- 58
The Cleveland Show -- 46
Family Guy -- 33
American Dad! -- 30

30 A's in 30 Days – Adam Rosales

Acquired: Traded from Cincinnati Reds (with OF Willy Taveras) for UT Aaron Miles and a player to be named later (February 1, 2010).
Contract: One year thru 2010. (Not yet eligible for arbitration.)
Position: Utility infielder

Projected BA/OBP/SLG: (.245/.310/.395)

Over/Under: Rosales is another 11th hour addition to this feature. Originally earmarked for either a bench role in Oakland or a starting infield job (shortstop, most likely) at AAA-Sacramento, he's used a solid little spring to create competition for the A's incumbent shortstop, Cliff Pennington. In five minor league seasons – totaling nearly 1,900 plate appearances – Rosales has posted a .289/.364/.491 slash line. His .605 career OPS over 296 big league PAs is more than 100 points lower than Pennington's (.719, 346 PAs), though.

The over/under for Rosales is entirely dependent on the role he fills. His only chance to hit the "over" is as a starter. In the American League, where double-switches and inevitable pinch-hitters are all but nonexistent, Rosales won't get enough playing time to find the rhythm and routine needed to reach his projection. I'll take the UNDER. (But, thanks for signing my son's ball last weekend, Adam!)

By the Numbers: 7 – Rosales' assigned jersey number this spring. The last Athletic to wear it was reviled erstwhile SS Bobby Crosby. It is my fervent hope that Oakland's boy-genius GM obtained the services of
this guy and this guy to purge the negative ju-ju from his number.

Surefire 2010 Prediction: Rosales will be compared to Lilliputian Venezuelan – and former A's utility infielder – Marco Scutaro about a billion times between now and the end of the season.

Tupac Track for the Season:
Fair Xchange

Sunday, March 28, 2010

30 A's in 30 Days – Eric Patterson

Acquired: Traded from Chicago Cubs (with SP Sean Gallagher, C Josh Donaldson and OF Matt Murton) for SP Rich Harden and RP Chad Gaudin (July 8, 2008).

Contract: One year thru 2010. (Not yet eligible for arbitration.)
Position: IF, OF and out of minor league options.

Projected BA/OBP/SLG: (.258/.322/.392)

Over/Under: In last year's "30 A's…" feature, I was able to find appropriate angles on exactly 15 hitters and 15 pitchers. This year, I've done write-ups of 15 hitters and 12 pitchers, with the only arms remaining either injured (Joey Devine, Josh Outman) or uninteresting (Jerry Blevins, Brad Kilby). Fortunately, the A's have dialed up the drama regarding their pending decision on the roster's "25th man". Patterson is battling Jake Fox for the team's lone IF/OF bench role.

Both players are out of options and can't be sent to the minors without first clearing waivers. Patterson, 26, is a year younger than Fox, but Fox (.252/.305/.457 in 230 ABs) has a more impressive small sample career than Patterson (.233/.320/.310 in 232 ABs). Fox has had a terrible spring, but he's right-handed and could see legitimate time at 1B or DH vs. LHPs. Both guys seem redundant, but I still think Fox wins the job. Oh, and take the UNDER. If the 98-pound Patterson slugs .392, I'll punch myself in the mouth.

By the Numbers: 10 – I was shocked to see that Eric Patterson's brother Corey has played in parts of ten big league seasons. He was the #3 prospect in the game – according to Baseball America – in 2000 and then moved up to #2 in 2001. His perseverance has inspired me to hold on to those Jeffrey Hammonds and Marc Newfield rookie cards.

Surefire 2010 Prediction: Patterson will be dealt to a National League team before the start of the regular season.

Tupac Track for the Season:
Wake Me When I'm Free

Saturday, March 27, 2010

30 A's in 30 Days – Henry Rodriguez

Acquired: Signed as non-drafted free agent (2003).
Contract: One year thru 2010.
Position: Relief pitcher, Venezuelan Rick Vaughn

Projected ERA: 4.60

Over/Under: There's no chance that Rodriguez will make the A's Opening Day roster, but he's a lot more fun to write about than choosing from the handful of "coming-off-injury" Oakland relievers I've yet to profile. All you need to know about Rodriguez can be found in his 2009 numbers at AAA-Sacramento (43.2 innings, 38 walks, 71(!) strikeouts and an ERA of 5.77(!!!)). Over two consecutive appearances in late July, he surrendered seven runs on five hits and three walks – while retiring just ONE batter.

He made his Major League debut on September 21 vs. the Rangers and by the grace of God, I was still awake during that meaningless end-of-season two-team sleepwalk. Rodriguez came out to pitch the eighth inning and his game log reads: single, groundout, wild pitch, wild pitch, walk, hit by pitch, error, deep flyout, and strikeout. I didn't want that inning to end. OVER.

By the Numbers: 308 – Rodriguez's career minor league innings pitched over four seasons. In that time, he's compiled the following statistical roller coaster: 1.627 WHIP, 7.9 hits per nine innings, 0.4 HR/9, 6.8 BB/9, 11.5 K/9.

Surefire 2010 Prediction: I'm not saying that Henry Rodriguez will put it all together this year, but if he does, I guarantee I'll be the first in line with the Henry "
Rowengartner" Rodriguez nickname. I want you ALL to remember who christened it when everyone in Oakland is using it. Someday.

Snoop Dogg Track for the Season:
Loosen' Control

Friday, March 26, 2010

30 A's in 30 Days – Dallas Braden

Acquired: Drafted in 24th round (2004).
Contract: One year thru 2010.
Position: Starting pitcher, half-man/half-M*A*S*H unit

Projected ERA: 4.11

Over/Under: As
predicted in this space roughly 365 days ago, Braden turned a corner last year and was well on his way to a breakthrough campaign when a freak injury ended his 2009 season in late July. He developed a nasty rash on his left foot, which later became infected and ultimately – irreversibly, as it turned out – damaged the nerves within the foot. Braden and the A's have been publicly optimistic about the left-hander's recovery, but in the past 48 hours Braden received word from his neurologist that he'd never regain feeling in two of his toes and the left side of his left foot.

Additionally, he's just been diagnosed with a possible staph infection…on his left shin. Braden's a warrior (in baseball terms, not by
sports-entertainment standards) who's gotten by on guile, but there's only so much the weight-bearing leg of a southpaw can take. He's one of many A's who are easy to root for, but until he shows he can pitch a full season on 60% of a left foot, I'm going OVER.

By the Numbers: 0 – The number of stolen bases Braden (and his catchers) allowed in 136.2 innings last year after picking off seven base runners in 2008.

Surefire 2010 Prediction: Braden "courageously" ignored doctor's orders and pitched in a Spring Training game earlier today against the Cubs. The prediction here is that someone on the A's medical staff will eventually realize that staph infections can be extremely serious – not to mention contagious – and in the month of March, discretion is always the better part of valor.

Snoop Dogg Track for the Season:
My Medicine

Thursday, March 25, 2010

30 A's in 30 Days – Andrew Bailey

Acquired: Drafted in sixth round (2006).
Contract: One year thru 2010. (Not yet eligible for arbitration.)
Position: Closer, Rookie of the Year, Raconteur

Projected ERA: 3.48

Over/Under: Pretty much all of the complex projection systems have Bailey regressing from his terrific 2009 form, but none is more pessimistic than the CHONE output above. 3.48 ERA? Yes, Bailey's been recently shelved this spring with what's being described as "tennis elbow" by the notoriously injury-obfuscating A's. Yes, he appeared in 68 games last year (easily a career high) and had to adjust to the "all-out" closer's philosophy after three seasons in the minors where he could pace himself as a starting pitcher.

But, a 3.48 ERA? On June 10, Bailey gave up three ninth-inning runs in a loss to the Twins – driving his ERA up to 2.58. In his next 40 appearances, through the end of the season, his ERA was 1.20 (in 45 innings). I don't think a regression is entirely unreasonable, but an ERA of 3.48 would be more akin to a collapse. Take the UNDER.

By the Numbers: 0 – The number of current video game commercials that can touch
this one for sheer awesome AND unintentional comedy.

Surefire 2010 Prediction: Bailey will finish third in the AL in saves. Why third? Look for the A's to play several close, low-scoring games that require Bailey's late inning services. The team won't win enough to get him a Mariano amount of chances, but, he'll continue to convert the leads he's given.

Snoop Dogg Track for the Season:
My Heat Goes Boom

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

30 A's in 30 Days – Trevor Cahill

Acquired: Drafted in 2nd round (2006).
Contract: One year thru 2010
Position: On the bubble.

Projected ERA: 4.70

Over/Under: Prior to 2009, Cahill had yet to pitch above Double-A. He broke camp with the A's out of Spring Training last year and
I was in the stands for his Major League debut in Anaheim. His performance foreshadowed Cahill's entire season: not enough strikeouts, too many walks, but somehow just enough to keep his team in the game. Cahill won 10 games in his rookie season, but enters the 2010 season in a competition for the team's fifth starter slot.

He needs to turn around three disturbing trends, if he's to tighten his tenuous hold on a big league roster: (1) His K/9 rate has fallen off a cliff in just two years (10.61 in A-ball (2008); 8.03 in AA (2008); 4.53 in Oakland (2009). (2) In the same three stops, his K/BB ratio – chronologically – is 3.32, 1.74 and 1.25. (3) Cahill completely ditched his plus-curveball after repeatedly falling behind in the count. I'm not sure he can improve enough in these areas for me to take anything except the OVER.

By the Numbers: 18 – The number of starts in which Cahill surrendered two earned runs or less. In another 8 starts, he allowed five or more earned runs. Cahill made 32 starts on the year and it was usually pretty clear within the first few innings which version A's fans would be watching.

Surefire 2010 Prediction: Last week, I predicted that Gio Gonzalez would win the #5 starter sweepstakes. I'm already hedging on that one, so…let's go ahead and call Cahill the new #5 starter, too. I'm getting at least one of these right.

Snoop Dogg Track for the Season:
What Cha Gon Do?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

I Don't Know How to "Do" Las Vegas

I'm heading out on my first business trip in two years with a two-day dalliance to Las Vegas later today. It should be quite the surreal experience, as the Unnamed Defense Contractor that I work for has already announced layoff notices will be issued...later today.

I'm putting my current odds for survival at 50/50. Of course, I don't want to get sh*t-canned, but it would make a helluva post if my company called me back while I was sitting in the terminal at San Diego's Lindbergh Field airport.

Now, would I think about going "George Constanza" on my management and avoid answering my cell phone while it rang alongside my fourth or fifth company-comped airport beer? G*ddam right. See y'all in Vegas.

Follow me on
Twitter or bookmark my Twitter profile to keep up with me for the next few days.

Or, the next few hours.


30 A's in 30 Days – Vin Mazzaro

Acquired: Drafted in 3rd round (2005).
Contract: One year thru 2010.
Position: Starting pitching depth for Oakland. Starting pitcher for AAA-Sacramento

Projected ERA: 4.47

Over/Under: My family and I have been in the stands on two separate occasions when Mazzaro was on the mound. In those two games, his ERA is a robust 12.86. (Full disclosure: the last time I saw him was in a spring training game this past Saturday, but I'm counting the three earned runs he gave up in two innings since I paid for my family's tickets.)

Mazzaro made his Major League debut on June 2 and promptly shut out the White Sox for 6.1 innings, picking up the win. Five days later, he defeated Baltimore on a combined five-hit shutout. In his next 15 starts, his ERA was over 6.00. Mazzaro's a sinkerball pitcher whose maddening tendency to overthrow caused his stuff to flatten out. If he goes back to trusting himself, I like the UNDER. Unless a spot opens up in the rotation, though, most of his 2010 will be spent with the Rivercats.

By the Numbers: 6 – On August 2, 2009, I was in attendance for Mazzaro's start against the Blue Jays. The first six hitters reached base (walk, home run, double, walk, walk, double) as Toronto cruised to a 7-2 win. This really put a damper on "Rickey Henderson banner day".

Surefire 2010 Prediction: Earlier this spring, Mazzaro stated that his surname is pronounced "muh-ZAIR-oh", as opposed to "muh-ZAR-oh". This will be the most interesting news item about him all season.

Snoop Dogg Track for the Season:
Step Yo Game Up

Monday, March 22, 2010

30 A's in 30 Days – Brett Anderson

Acquired: Traded from Arizona (with 1B Chris Carter, SP Dana Eveland, SP Greg Smith, OF Aaron Cunningham and OF Carlos Gonzalez) for SP Dan Haren (December 14, 2007).
Contract: One year thru 2010.
Position: Starting pitcher, ace in waiting.

Projected ERA: 4.04

Over/Under: After Anderson's first 18 Major League starts in 2009, his ERA stood at 5.45. On July 6, he became the first rookie LHP to shut out the Red Sox at Fenway in 20 years. Including that start, Anderson took the mound 16 more times on the season and recorded an ERA of 3.03. Seven of those starts were against eventual AL playoff teams. I'm taking the UNDER on that projection.

I'm sure the league will catch up to him a bit, but Anderson's mound presence and demeanor remind me of former Oakland SP Mike Moore. Neither guy looked intimidating – Moore was tall and gawky, while Anderson's build sways slightly towards
Stay-Puft – but, both could be simply filthy when everything was working. It was bad enough that Anderson finished sixth in last year's Rookie of the Year balloting, but that he finished three places behind Tigers SP Rick Porcello… Let's agree to call it Bud Selig's darkest hour.

By the Numbers: -3, -7, +61 – Anderson threw about five more innings than Porcello in 2009. He gave up three fewer home runs, seven fewer walks and struck out 61 more batters. Porcello couldn't even achieve a 2:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Y'know, there ARE teams west of the central time zone, BBWAA!

Surefire 2010 Prediction: In last year's "30 A's…" preview, I predicted that RP Joey Devine would be Oakland's lone All-Star. A few weeks later, Devine would undergo Tommy John surgery. I have to prove to myself that I'm not jinx, so I'm calling Anderson's first All-Star nod in 2010. I'm not worried.

Snoop Dogg Track for the Season:
Tha Shiznit

Sunday, March 21, 2010

30 A's in 30 Days – Brad Ziegler

Acquired: Signed as free agent (June 18, 2004).
Contract: One year thru 2010.
Position: Set-up reliever, my son's favorite pitcher.

Projected ERA: 2.92

Over/Under: Ziegler's regression from his ungodly 2008 numbers was baseball's easiest-to-predict event. He was exceedingly lucky on balls in play which helped him post a 1.06 ERA over 59.2 innings, despite a mediocre strikeout rate and strikeout-to-walk ratio. In 2009, Ziegler was almost equally unlucky. He was felled by the flu in late April, missed a week and then came back too soon – plus nearly 10 pounds lighter. From his first game back on May 7 through June 6, he gave up 10 runs in 12.1 innings and hitters pounded him at a .364/.419/.509 clip.

From June 8 through the rest of the season, Ziegler's ERA was 2.54. He finished with a 3.07 ERA and accomplished this in spite of a crazy-high BABIP (.351). With an improved defense behind him and the likelihood that his BABIP will normalize somewhat, his projected high-twos ERA isn't an unreasonable place to set the bar. I'll take the OVER, though, as Ziegler's Achilles heel remains an established blind spot against left-handed hitters.

By the Numbers: .568, .861 – On the left, you'll find Ziegler's career OPS vs. righties. On the right, you'll find his career OPS vs. lefties. He gives up 71 more points in batting average to lefties, 117 more points in OBP and 175(!) more points in SLG.

Surefire 2010 Prediction: After watching a few minutes of the MLB Network's laughably bad "Fantasy 411" studio show, here's some free advice from me to you: With A's closer Andrew Bailey out with (sigh) tennis elbow and RP Joey Devine still on the mend from ligament replacement surgery, Ziegler will be a great fantasy play for saves over the first few weeks of 2010.

Snoop Dogg Track for the Season:
Balls of Steel

A Great Day to be Jalen's Dad

We're still on vacation in Arizona. Today was one for the books blog. And, even though it included a trip to Urgent Care for Jalen - he's fine, y'all - I'd still put it up there with the best days I've had as a father. Yeah, yeah, the pictures below had something to do with it (and there are more from the weekend on Facebook - including a shot of your favorite emaciated blogger in a wet suit top!), but when a LONG day ends with Jalen - groggy and almost out of it - pleading with me to stay up way past his bedtime to watch the end of the 3rd period, overtime and the concluding shootout of the Chicago Blackhawks v. Phoenix Coyotes game...then, it's all good.

(Photos, top to bottom: 3B Eric Chavez, OF Michael Taylor, SS Adam Rosales, RF Ryan Sweeney)

Saturday, March 20, 2010

30 A's in 30 Days – Michael Wuertz

Acquired: Traded by Chicago Cubs for IF Justin Sellers and OF Richie Robnett (February 2, 2009).
Contract: Two years thru 2011 (with club option for 2012).
Position: Set-up man who murders by slider.

Projected ERA: 3.27

Over/Under: In last year's "30 A's in 30 Days" feature; there wasn't any bigger whiff on my part than Michael Wuertz. I referenced hated names from past A's bullpens like Kiko Calero and Jim Mecir in describing what fans could expect in 2009. I called the over on his projected ERA of 3.98. I might've even
coined a catchphrase for him, in anticipation of the T.J. Matthews-moments that were certain to occur whenever he took the mound.

Instead, the A's got an ERA of 2.63 in 78.2 innings with 102(!) strikeouts and a slider that performed microfracture surgery on American League knees all summer long – including an ERA of 0.94 over the season's last two months. Eligible for arbitration after 2009 (and slated for free agency after 2010) the A's, in a mild surprise, signed Wuertz to a two-year extension through 2011 ($5.25M total). Relievers are notoriously unpredictable from year-to-year, but I'm taking the UNDER. Wuertz has the make-up to string together a few Eric Plunk/Paul Assenmacher-type run of solid seasons.

(TBG Note: I wrote this review last weekend and pre-posted it for today. I hadn't realized that Wuertz had not pitched in a game all spring before reading this
curiously-reported piece on him back on Friday, March 12. I normally dig this writer's work, but...well, let's just say that there's NO convincing spin that can be put on a story like this. Five days later, Wuertz was listed with the dreaded parenthetical body part next to his name. Yesterday, Wuertz said that his slider would be at full-strength by the first week of April. I'm now taking the OVER. This...won't end well.)

By the Numbers: 31 – The number of 2009 appearances in which Wuertz struck out two or more batters.

Surefire 2010 Prediction: In 2009, Wuertz set a career high for innings pitched. He's not topping that number this year.

Snoop Dogg Track for the Season:
Y'all Gone Miss Me

Friday, March 19, 2010

30 A's in 30 Days – Craig Breslow

Acquired: Signed off of waivers from Minnesota Twins (May 20, 2009).
Contract: One year thru 2010. (Eligible for arbitration after season.)
Position: Southpaw reliever,
world's smartest man.

Projected ERA: 3.72

Over/Under: I'll admit that I'd barely heard of Breslow when my A's plucked him off the waiver wire last May. He'd had two cups of coffee here in San Diego with the Padres late in the 2005 season, which is to say I knew of him in the way most casual followers of the Friars knew little-used relievers at the back of the bullpen – four years ago. Last season, Breslow had a few of those "2 runs in less than an inning" outings for the Twins that ran his ERA over 6.00, but he righted his ship ("S.S. Situational Lefty") in Oakland.

His ERA was 2.60 with the A's and his WHIP was under 1.000 in 55.1 innings. Amazingly, the A's are Breslow's fifth Major League team over four seasons. His career 2.79 ERA in 153 relief appearances proves again that spending insane amount of money on fungible bullpen components is a fool's game. Breslow's posted an ERA higher than his 2010 projection just once over a whole season (13 appearances with Boston in 2006, 3.75), so I'll take the UNDER.

By the Numbers: 2002 – The year Breslow graduated from Yale(!) with a degree in molecular biophysics and biochemistry. He was also captain of Yale's baseball team and led the Ivy League in ERA as a senior. ("Honestly, Smithers, I don't know why Harvard even bothers to show up. They barely even won.")

Surefire 2010 Prediction: Breslow's academic résumé will be mentioned eleventy-billion times during Oakland A's road broadcasts this season. And, if last year is any indication, it'll be done in that passive-aggressive way broadcasters use to mock intelligent jocks while celebrating their own moronia. (Did I use it correctly, Craig?)

Snoop Dogg Track for the Season:
White Boyz

Thursday, March 18, 2010

By the Time I Get to Arizona…

If it's March, it must be time for the one event I look forward to all…uh, first quarter of the year. My birthday! Wrestlemania! Spring Training!

Once again, The Cam Fam is heading very slightly east to Phoenix, Arizona for a weekend of baseball games that don't count. Kudos, of course, to Mrs. Bootleg who is always a good sport. It could be reasonably argued that my son Jalen and I get slightly more out of exhibition baseball than the wife.

But, that's not to say the weekend's going to be all about baseball. In fact, here are the top five FAMILY activities that I'm most excited about during our stay in the desert:

5.) Thursday – Oakland A's vs. Arizona Diamondbacks: OK, Thursday is going to be all about baseball. Our flight arrives in Phoenix just after 11:00 AM, which gives us precious little time to grab our bags, secure the rental car or strap on Jalen's seat belt. The game starts at 1:00 PM and will be held at the A's depressing concrete edifice. The one in Phoenix, not Oakland. Roasted corn on the cob for me, chocolate ice cream and the 2010 team media guide for Jalen and we're good.

4.) Saturday – Oakland A's vs. Cleveland Indians: Sorry, Mrs. Bootleg – I already bought tickets. This'll be at the Indians' new facility in the city of Goodyear. We caught a game out there last year and it's a phenomenal little ballpark. I can't say I'm looking forward to the 45-minute drive, but Jalen will get to play on the "kids' diamond" again and I'm already planning a TBG post in which I'll compare Goodyear's "Cleveland Dog" (bacon, chipotle BBQ sauce) to their "Cincinnati Dog" (chili, cheese, onions).

3.) Friday (?) – An evening with friends: Ummm…for the record, I didn't necessarily say this list was in any particular order. We're still working out the details on this one, but the tentative plan is to get together with our families for dinner. And, then, later in the evening…the patriarchs will abandon their families (AFTER the kids have gone to bed!) in search of adult beverages and/or debauchery. I'm pretty sure Mrs. Bootleg will sign off on this.

2.) Thursday – Lolo's Chicken & Waffles: M'man JP – the neglectful father mentioned immediately above – sent me
this link when he heard I was coming back out to his adopted home state. Since then, I've made weekly visits to their menu in an attempt to mentally pre-order my meal. I still don't know what I'm going to get. I'm running out of time!

1.) Dunkin' Donuts Waffle Breakfast Sandwich: During an all-day training session at work on Wednesday, I jotted down five thoughts for this post. At the time, Dunkin' Donuts didn't make the list. By the time I sat down to pound this out, I'd received an email from m'girl Elena. She referred to
this sandwich as "the post opportunity of a lifetime" and I cannot disagree. As most of you know, we don't have Dunkin' Donuts in California. (Seriously, I would trade ALL of our In-n-Out franchises for just one Dunkin' Donuts.) So, there's no way I'm passing up this "limited time only" window of awesome.

Y'all know the drill: Follow along with my weekend adventures on
my Twitter feed, find me on Facebook or just pop on back to this lightly-read blog over the next few days.

30 A's in 30 Days – Gio Gonzalez

Acquired: Traded from Chicago White Sox (with OF Ryan Sweeney and SP Fautino De Los Santos) for Nick Swisher (January 3, 2008).
Contract: One year thru 2010. (Not yet eligible for arbitration.)
Position: SP and recovering head case.

Projected ERA: 4.35

Over/Under: Sometimes playing for a small fanbase within the boundaries of baseball obscurity has its benefits. If Gio Gonzalez had posted his phenomenal minor league strikeout rate (10.3 K/9) in Pawtucket or Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, most of you would've heard about him two or three years ago. Instead, A's fans have watched Gonzalez yo-yo back and forth on Interstate-80 – sometimes coming back from, sometimes going back to AAA-Sacramento – while waiting for him to put it all together.

He's got a terrific curveball and a fastball that sits in the low 90s, but when he loses the strike zone with the heater, hitters lay off of everything. Gonzalez has walked 5.5 hitters per nine innings during his short stays in the Majors. He's in the right type of low-pressure environment to turn things around, but pitching coach Curt Young's track record of "fixing" pitchers is poor (Huston Street, Dana Eveland, Sean Gallagher…just off the top of my head). I'll take the OVER.

By the Numbers: 11 – The number of runs Gonzalez surrendered
during a start against the Twins on July 20, last season. In just 2.2 innings, he allowed 10 hits and four home runs, but landed a no-decision when the A's offense rallied from a 12-5 deficit to win the game. After that start, Gonzalez's ERA on the season was 9.33. In his next 13 starts, through the end of the season, his ERA was 4.40.

Surefire 2010 Prediction: Gonzalez is in the mix for the fifth-starter spot this spring. His chief competition is 2009 holdover Trevor Cahill and Vin Mazzaro. Gonzalez has the best stuff of the trio and is capable of putting up the kind of quasi-impressive small sample line in March to win the job. And, he will.

Snoop Dogg Track for the Season:
Ups & Downs

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

TBG TV: Lost -- "Recon"

Three Things I Dug:

Detective Sawyer - The First Scene: This episode started out with a firecracker opening sequence that included a note-for-note homage to a Sawyer flashback from several seasons ago, the Bizarro cop twist and an opportunity for Miles and Sawyer to show off the chemistry their characters displayed during last year's "1977" storyline. For the first few minutes, I was eating it up with a spoon.

Charlotte - Every Scene: Rebecca Mader briefly revisited her "Charlotte" character for the alternate timeline story. In what would turn out to be an exceedingly uneven episode, Mader killed in the little bit of time she had. In rapid-fire succession, she pulled off (1) sexy blind date who won't suffer Sawyer's B.S. (2) A six-second love scene that was more (television) sensuous than all the other Sawyer-conquests combined. (3) Target of Sawyer's cartoonish mood swings. (4) Rejecting Sawyer's reconciliation attempt with an iciness worthy of any of my ex-girlfriends.

A Few Feet of Miles: Well, it wasn't much, but I'll take "sidekick cop" Miles over the neutered, two-scenes-an-evening version we've gotten all season. I liked how his detective mind always seemed to be "on" -- not unlike Batman -- as he was suspicious of every syllable that spilled from Sawyer's mouth. Running his partner's credit card was an absolute douche move...and one that I'd have expected from "Island Miles", too.

Three Things I Didn't Dig:

Detective Sawyer - Every Other Scene: In Josh Holloway's defense, last night's script did him no favors. I was cringing -- practically convulsing -- when Detective Sawyer punched the mirror in the locker room. And, when does his epiphany occur? During a rerun of Little House on the Prairie?! Michael Landon helps Sawyer see the light?! REALLY? Viewers were then subjected to Holloway's "conflicted face" as he squirmed in his seat while coming clean to Miles. Let's be kind and call his performance "rough".

Untwisted: Yes, the endgame is approaching and the time for long, drawn-out storylines is winding down. But, the revelation of Zoe's true intentions (and boss) and the alternate-timeline Kate reveal were obvious from the start of their respective scenes. That's not to say I have a better idea on how they should've been shoehorned into the story, but the choppy camera shots of Kate -- face obscured -- running from the police was just silly when every viewer knew it was her. And, it sure seemed like it took Island Sawyer -- professional con man -- a few too many minutes to figure out Zoe wasn't one of the good guys.

Sorry 'bout That Knife Thing: So, m'girl Killa Claire has a knife to Kate's throat. Kinda-sorta intense. Dark Locke has to pull Killa off'a Kate and then he explains to Kate that Claire's gone cra-zay. Cut n' dry, no ambiguity here. In their very next scene together, Claire apologizes to Kate and hugs her. Here's my issue: there's no way in the world this woman (Claire) gets within 50 feet of me. She had a knife to Kate's throat! Kate had even armed herself, but still allowed herself to stand within Claire's established stabbing radius.

The Verdict: The winning streak ends at two, as Lost served up a table-setting episode instead of a continuation of the main course. Points for the forwarding of the Widmore angle, I suppose, but this one peaked for me in the first five minutes.

30 A's in 30 Days – Justin Duchscherer

Acquired: Traded from Texas Rangers for RP Luis Vizcaino (March 18, 2002).
Contract: One year thru 2010. Eligible for free agency after 2010.
Position: #2 Starter…?

Projected ERA: 3.81

Over/Under: Specifically citing the physical (elbow) and mental/emotional (depression) setbacks that kept Duchscherer off the mound for all of 2009, a writer on the Fangraphs stat site
wrote the following on Duke's prospects entering free agency during this past offseason: "Even though MLB teams may not want him, your fantasy team will." Despite the miles of progress made in society's perception of mental health we've got a long way to go, yo. Good to know Duchscherer might bring stability to your keeper league.

For 2010, here's what we know about the 32-year-old righty: (1) He's never thrown more than 141 innings or made more than 22 starts in a big league season – reaching both marks in 2008, his first and only year as a full-time starter. (2) Since '08, he's missed time for injuries to his bicep, hip, elbow and – this spring – his back. (3) He hasn't thrown a regular season pitch since August 2008. I'm absolutely rooting for him, but my love can't keep him from hitting the OVER.

By the Numbers: 2.500 – That's Jason Giambi's career slugging percentage off of Duchscherer. Giambi is 6 for 8 lifetime off Duke with two doubles and four home runs. Obviously, with Giambi resplendently rocking Rockies purple these days, this small-sample stat doesn't mean much. But, it's still pretty damn nifty, no?

Surefire 2010 Prediction: I'm contributing to the 2010 baseball preview over at Inside Pulse. In it, I set the over/under for combined starts by Duchscherer and Ben Sheets at 30. Yesterday, I called Sheets for 16 starts…leaving Duke with the difference. Wait, give me a minute here…14! Duchscherer will make 14 starts this year while bouncing between the bullpen and the disabled list.

Snoop Dogg Track for the Season:
Betta Days

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

TBG TV: FOX's Animation Domination – 03/14/2010

Sunday's Rankings (5-3-2-1 scoring)

(1) Family Guy ("Go Stewie Go") - Just so we're clear…the evil, Lois-hating, would-be world dominating version of the "Stewie" character was phased out a few seasons ago for an ambiguously gay, occasionally cross-dressing caricature – save for this past week's episode when Stewie is attracted to a little girl…while keeping up the cross-dressing gag. This one was all over the place, as the "Stewie in women's clothes" bit has been beaten to death by the writers and the over-the-top accent of faux female "Karina Smirnoff" made each scene excruciating. I did, however, dig the Meg/Lois subplot. When this show's impulsively immoral characters hit the right tone, it works. Lois seducing her daughter's boyfriend? Works.

(2) The Simpsons ("Postcards from the Wedge") - Wow. The Simpsons had enjoyed a small renaissance of sorts this season, but this week's show was staggeringly awful. It felt like a throwback to the writing from the middle of the last decade – relying on misplaced character motivation (Homer's
pro-education and Marge is agin' it?) and a tossed-off vulgarity or two. Bart's a bad student, his parents argue and everything works out in the end with the help of a long-abandoned subway train that still works. Lucky for them, this was only a two-episode Sunday.

MVP: Lois Griffin's takedown of Meg's boyfriend was gold – right down to the menstrual schedule. Although, I'm not sure I'll ever be able to look at a "slice of pizza" the same way, ever again.

Quote of the Night: "Uhh…rape?" - Lois Griffin (Family Guy)

Current Standings

The Simpsons – 53
The Cleveland Show – 43
Family Guy – 31
American Dad! – 30

30 A's in 30 Days – Ben Sheets

Acquired: Signed as free agent (January 26, 2010).
Contract: One year thru 2010. (Eligible for free agency after season.)
Position: Half-man, half-disabled list.

Projected ERA: 3.83

Over/Under: I pilloried this deal to death
when it went down, so let's jump off with some positive thinking – take the UNDER on Sheets' projection. The A's aren't getting the 2004-05 version of the pitcher who posted a 2.95 ERA and 1.016 WHIP in just under 400 innings, but there are a few reasons for cautious optimism. Oakland's home ballpark – have you heard about their spacious foul territory? – still plays as a pitcher's park and Sheets will have a pretty nice defense behind him.

His health is still the biggest question mark heading into the season, but Sheets is also auditioning for a midseason move to a contender. No one expects him to be on the roster by August 1 and it won't take much for the pressures of this inevitability – and the small sample size of a few bad performances – to seep into Sheets' head and/or fracture team chemistry. (Here's
Exhibit A in my theory.)

By the Numbers: .076 – That's Sheets' career batting average (33 for 433). I know it won't come into play much in Oakland, but it gives me one more thing to shake my fist at in a comically threatening manner.

Surefire 2010 Prediction: Pencil Sheets in for 16 starts with the A's this season. I figure a starting pitcher averages about 5.5 starts per month. Subtract Sheets' guaranteed four-week disabled list visit during the regular season and the deadline deal that moves him off the roster…16 starts. It's science.

Snoop Dogg Track for the Season:
Wrong Idea

Monday, March 15, 2010

30 A's in 30 Days – Landon Powell

Acquired: Drafted in first round (2004).
Contract: One year thru 2010. (Not yet eligible for arbitration.)
Position: Backup catcher

Projected BA/OBP/SLG: (.227/.314/.399)

Over/Under: Last May, Landon Powell injured his hamstring while running down the first base line. My A's – as an organization – are almost comically tight-lipped about in-season injuries, but when a 260-pound player whose job description is "infrequent squatting" hurts his leg, the disabled list is inevitable. Unless your team only carried TWO catchers on its 40-man roster. Putting Powell on the 15-day DL would've required the removal of someone from the 40-man, if the A's promoted a catcher from the minors. This led to a gimpy Powell missing just six games immediately after his injury.

I like the OVER on his projection. Powell had some surprising bursts of productivity during the season – most of which was spent on just one leg. This year, he was one of the first players from this year's A's to be featured in the annual Spring Training
puff-piece profiles. Translation: he's in the best shape of his career!

By the Numbers: .505 – Powell's slugging percentage last year (in 111 plate appearances) vs. RHP. He also hit .316/.372/.658 with runners in scoring position – again, in a small sample size.

Surefire 2010 Prediction: I went back through almost every year of the Oakland A's team pages on Baseball to find this, but Powell and starting catcher Kurt Suzuki will be the first pair of A's catchers to hit 10 home runs in a season since 1970. Move over
Frank Fernandez and Dave Duncan!

Tupac Track for the Season:
Part Time Mutha

Sunday, March 14, 2010

30 A's in 30 Days – Eric Chavez

Acquired: Drafted in 1st round (1996).
Contract: Six years ($66M, total) thru 2010 with 2011 team option ($12.5M).
Position: Terminal

Projected BA/OBP/SLG: (.234/.315/.392)

Over/Under: As of this writing, Eric Chavez is healthy and in camp with the A's, attempting to reinvent himself as – in his words – a "utility" player. Never mind that three seasons worth of neck, shoulder and back woes limit his utilities to first base. Chavez had played in only 121 games since 2007 and with the acquisition of 3B Kevin Kouzmanoff, the A's finally surrendered the notion that Chavez might someday return to the line-up full time.

I'll take the UNDER on his projection, simply because I don't see how a left-handed back-up first baseman – and emergency third baseman – will get enough at-bats on an A's team where his skill set (left-handed, struggles vs. LHP, decent, but not superlative power) is redundant with so many others on the roster. Chavez has been unfairly maligned by A's fans for so long that it's easy to forget how great he was at his peak.

By the Numbers: .280/.357/.513, 30 HR – That's Chavez five-year slash line and average home runs per season from 2000-2004. Proving that All Star Game appearances is a lame way to retroactively judge talent, Chavez never made an ASG and was beaten out by the likes of Troy Glaus in an off year, the corpse of Cal Ripken and g*ddam Shea Hillenbrand.

Surefire 2010 Prediction: Eric Chavez will announce his retirement before season's end.

Tupac Track for the Season:
Runnin' on E

Saturday, March 13, 2010

30 A's in 30 Days – Jake Fox

Acquired: Traded from Chicago Cubs (with IF Aaron Miles) for RP Jeff Gray, 1B/OF Matt Spencer and SP Ronny Morla (December 3, 2009).
Contract: One year thru 2010. (Not yet eligible for arbitration.)
Position: Jake of All Trades

Projected BA/OBP/SLG: (.257/.316/.452)

Over/Under: Thanks to the unmitigated majesty of the MLB Extra Innings digital cable package, I saw quite a few Cubs games last summer. And, it seemed that Jake Fox was mashing whenever I watched. Listed at 6'0" (but looks shorter) and 210 lbs. (but looks heavier), Fox was hitting .409/.495/.841 at AAA-Iowa in almost 200 plate appearances when the Cubs finally recalled him back to Wrigley Field. On August 2, after his first 121 PAs with the Cubs, he was batting .308/.347/.607. In his next 120 PAs (taking him to the end of the season), he hit just .211/.275/.330.

His above projection appears to split the difference, but I'll go UNDER. I don't even think the A's know what Fox's role will be. He played five positions with the Cubs (C, 1B, 3B, RF and LF) and was terrible everywhere. Jack Cust was brought back to DH and the right-handed Fox doesn't show much of a platoon advantage vs. LHP.

By the Numbers: 50 – Fox's jersey number this year. With his stocky build and "Hulk SMASH!" approach at the plate, I'm looking forward to the memories of Benny Agbayani filling my TV screen this season.

Surefire 2010 Prediction: Fox is out of options, so the A's can't send him to the minors unless he clears waivers – and that won't happen. I just don't see a fit for him on the 2010 team. He's a better fit in the NL where he can serve as a spot starter and pinch-hitter or on an AL team with gaping need for a DH. Fox might start the year in Oakland, but he won't end it there.

Tupac Track for the Season:
Can U Get Away

Friday, March 12, 2010

30 A's in 30 Days – Rajai Davis

Acquired: Claimed off waivers from San Francisco Giants (April 23, 2008).
Contract: One year thru 2010. (Eligible for arbitration after 2010.)
Position: Starting LF

Projected BA/OBP/SLG: (.270/.329/.375)

Over/Under: Most of the major projection systems have concluded that Rajai Davis' 2009 campaign (.305/.360/.423) was a fluke. Entering last season, with more than 450 career plate appearances under his belt, Davis' lifetime OBP was .314 and his SLG stood at .354. He was just barely hanging on to his roster spot as a pinch runner/fifth outfielder by the end of May – posting a .351 OPS in 44 PAs and accumulating a handful defensive/baserunning misadventures. Through injuries and other roster machinations, Davis landed the everyday CF job and hit .323/.374/.459 in his final 89 games.

He was undeniably aided by a .361
BABIP, but I'm not entirely convinced Davis is going to lose all of the OBP gains he made in 2009. He had 22 infield hits last year and as long as he can continue to use his speed to make the most out of all the groundballs he hits, then another solid season isn't unreasonable – even if regression from 2009 is guaran-damn-teed. Take the OVER.

By the Numbers: 75-80 – The A's invited Rickey Henderson to Spring Training as a guest baserunning instructor. After an extended session with Rajai Davis,
Henderson proclaimed Davis could steal 75 to 80 bases this season. Only two players have stolen 75 bags in a season since 1996 (Kenny Lofton, Jose Reyes). And, Henderson was the last guy in the AL to steal 80 (1988). Call me skeptical of Rickey predictive skills.

Surefire 2010 Prediction: Davis WILL lead the A's in stolen bases. (See, Rickey…that's how you make a prediction.)

Tupac Track for the Season:
Runnin' (Dying to Live)

Thursday, March 11, 2010

TBG Eats: Batter Up Cupcakes

Current Weight: 165.2 lbs.

Batter Up Cupcakes Website

I'm now at the age where all the latest fads make no sense. For instance, someone I work with told me that watches were "coming back" for men. I haven't worn a watch in 25 years and back then, we didn't abbreviate…we called them by their FULL name – Swatches. Besides, I've got a fancy new cell phone that I'm using to nearly 2% of its capabilities and included amongst the small handful of features I actually understand: a clock.

The cupcake trend ranks right up there for me.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that – given a choice of desserts – I'll take pie over cake any time, any place. A slice of pie has substance…as evidenced from the presence of the plate and fork that always accompany pie. Cake, meanwhile, is a glorified finger food.

We lick the batter from a bowl off our fingers. We use the very same digits as a means for absconding with a little icing. If we cut the cake into small enough pieces, it magically becomes "coffee cake" and can be eaten on the commute into the office with the other hand on the steering wheel.*

*-- For those of you in New York, feel free to substitute "that unsanitary subway holding bar thing" for "steering wheel".

My top five favorite pies, in order, are: (1) key lime, (2) Mrs. Bootleg's sweet potato**, (3) lemon meringue, (4) banana cream and (5) pecan. These are indulgent desserts made for savoring -- perhaps out on the deck, after a sumptuous meal, as the sun sets in the distance or at a 24-hour diner, after a night of drunken debauchery, as the sun rises in the distance.

**-- Not a euphemism.

So, with my psyche's pie bias ever-cooling on the windowsill of my soul, I was intrigued by the recent opening of a cupcake shoppe (NOT pronounced "shop-PAY", as I embarrassingly learned during an unfortunate "reading aloud" moment in fourth grade) next to my regular dry cleaner.

Batter Up Cupcakes is located in one of those sprawling outdoor business areas that fall somewhere between "strip mall" and "mall mall" on the spectrum of retail relevance. (And, for the sake of argument, let's all pretend that malls are still viable business models in this era of and other e-commerce. Cool? Cool.)

The theme of Batter Up is baseball – a sport I've written about and watched a little in my lifetime. The décor of the bakery is exceedingly sparse (two small tables, a few chairs and some artsy baseball pictures on the wall). The wall-mounted menus are written on two large chalkboards that cover the "home team" (everyday cupcake flavors) and the "visitors" (a rotating assortment of specialty flavors).

Since I'm all about supporting local businesses – and NOT because I'm a dessert hypocrite – I've visited Batter Up several times over the past few weeks.

The red velvet (pictured above) was deliciously not-too-dense and not-too-light, while nailing the off-chocolate flavor that so many bakeries can't quite get. The German chocolate – in all honesty, my favorite cake flavor – was full of cocoa goodness and light on the coconut, which is too often overused in others I've tried. The carrot cake had a true carrot flavor – not the "spice cake with carrot flecks" made in many places, such as Costco's bakery – and wasn't smothered in frosting, while the bananas foster had a mildly sweet taste with a cinnamon-y kick at the end.

Mrs. Bootleg – a self-styled dessert expert – called the vanilla cupcakes the best she'd ever had, while the Strawberry Lemonade((!) - pictured above) cupcakes had the same refreshing citrus finish as the summertime beverage that shares its name.

The last time I was there, I think I met the owner. He was working the counter and noticed the Oakland A's lanyard (oh, shut up) I wear at the office. I showed off my knowledge of the 1970s A's teams and, specifically, Gene Tenace's
World Series feat. He one-upped me by name-dropping his golfing buddy Blue Moon Odom.

Sorry, pie…I still love you, but I'm officially a dessert adulterer.

Grade: 5 (out of 5)

30 A's in 30 Days – Travis Buck

Acquired: Drafted in first round (2005).
Contract: One year thru 2010. (Not yet eligible for arbitration.)
Position: Unloved and abused

Projected BA/OBP/SLG: (.262/.336/.418)

Over/Under: I'm a bigger Travis Buck fan than most A's supporters, but take the UNDER on that projection. Whatever numbers he puts up this season almost certainly won't come in Oakland, as Buck isn't just "in the doghouse" of team management. He's been kneecapped, bludgeoned and left for dead as our boy-genius General Manager poured cement atop Buck's barely-breathing body, making him one with the foundation that Billy Beane built the doghouse on.

explanation: Buck asked out of the line-up in late May after straining a muscle and then publicly questioned the team's decision to put him on the disabled list the following day. Buck's reward – in a season when the A's all but held open auditions after All-Star Break – was another summer at Triple-A and a few sporadic stints on the A's bench. In the offseason, the A's acquired, like, 80 new outfielders.

By the Numbers: 6 – Buck's jersey number. For the past three years, my son's favorite number was identical to his age at the time. And, Jalen's favorite A's player was whoever wore his favorite number. J turned six last month and it appears the Travis Buck era is heading for the same parting-of-the-ways as last year's Matt Holliday (#5) experience. Sorry, Jalen.

Surefire 2010 Prediction: Considering the A's once let their talent and statistical evaluation methodology become public record in the best-selling Moneyball, it's no surprise the team's poker face on Buck isn't fooling anyone. Despite Oakland's proclamations to the contrary, Buck is DONE in Oakland. And, the A's won't get equal value for a player who's so obviously fallen out of favor. Buck won't get 100 at-bats in Oakland this year.

Tupac Track for the Season:

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

30 A's in 30 Days – Michael Taylor

Acquired: Traded from Toronto Blue Jays for 1B/3B Brett Wallace (December 15, 2009).
Contract: Not on 40-man roster.
Position: Future corner OF

Projected BA/OBP/SLG: (.272/.324/.437)

Over/Under: By most accounts, Taylor is the #2 prospect in the A's organization. The obligatory comparison of one black ballplayer to another black ballplayer leads most analysts to associate him with Jermaine Dye – presumably the good version, not the one-legged out-machine the A's employed from 2002-2004. If you believe in translated minor league stats, Taylor might be Oakland's best OF right now. But, he'll almost certainly start 2010 in AAA for the usual insipid "service time" explanation that's nothing but a slap in the face to the fanbase. I'll take the OVER on his projection, even if it's in less than half a season.

One word of warning, though: here's a list of A's outfielders who placed in the top three of Baseball America's annual Top 10 Prospects list over the past 20 years: Felix Jose, Darren Lewis, Mike Neill, Ben Grieve, Jose Herrera, Ryan Ludwick, Eric Byrnes, Javier Herrera, Travis Buck and Carlos Gonzalez. Good to know the best case scenario might be watching Taylor succeed for another team.

By the Numbers: 19 – The average number of home runs Taylor has hit in each of his last two minor league seasons. It's also the combined number of home runs that current A's corner outfielders Rajai Davis and Ryan Sweeney have hit in their entire big league careers. Just sayin'.

Surefire 2010 Prediction: With CF Coco Crisp coming off of double shoulder surgery, it's a virtual certainty that Taylor will be called up at some point this season. In fact, he'll be Oakland's everyday right fielder no later than the All-Star Break.

Tupac Track for the Season:
All Eyez on Me

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

TBG TV: Lost -- "Dr. Linus"

Three Things I Dug:

Em-MEE! Em-MEE! Em-MEE!: For more than two years, Henry Ian Cusick's performance in the Lost episode "The Constant" reigned as the single greatest acting achievement during the show's run. Last night, Michael Emerson needed just 60 minutes to put the bar out of reach for anyone else in the cast -- sorry, Daniel Roebuck! Ben's exposition-at-gunpoint to Ilana was simply a phenomenal finish for a character who's been completely obliterated and can now, finally, begin his resurrection. As I told m'man Sam over Twitter last night: if Ilana had shot Ben, after all that, I'd have jumped through the TV screen.

The Geek in Me: I'll concede that the alternate-universe "flash sideways" thingie lacks the context of the greater storyline. Consequently, many of the Bizarro stories have felt inert and superfluous. But, I'm willing to look the other way during weeks when we're given such a barrage of nods to the primary story's continuity. Alex! Ben's dad! Ben and his dad were on the island!

"Not Yet": Those words were uttered by Nestor Carbonell's "Richard" character as Jack and Hurley were pressing him for details on his mysterious past. I can't help but think this was a wink and a nudge to the hardcore fans who know Richard's story is scheduled to finally be told on March 23. I wasn't all that keen on Richard's scenes in this week's episode, but it really did seem that the writers were having a little fun by dropping enough hints to increase the anticipation for the upcoming "Richard Reveal".

Three Things I Didn't Dig:

"You're in high school?": While not as obviously unconvincing as the cast of 21 Jump Street infiltrating seedy high schools, Tania Raymonde didn't win me over in her "alternate Alex" role of spunky high school senior. It probably didn't help that she was forced to keep up with Emerson in almost every scene she was in, but she really looked ill-at-ease and more than a little out of place.

One More Island Connection: It's WAY too late in the game to casually throw out revelations like this week's involving Frank Lapidus and how he was supposed to be the pilot of Oceanic 815. Ben's disinterested "well, the island got you anyway" reaction mirrored my own disinterested reaction. Destiny, fate and crazy co-winky-dinks. We're six seasons in, writers...I get your mission statement.

Dyn-O-Mite!: The submarine/periscope scene at the very end of the episode is getting killed online, but I thought the Jack/Richard tete-a-tete was much more absurd. Jack's still a doctor and I'm pretty sure the Hippocratic Oath prevents him from blowing up immortal men with dynamite. He was obviously up to something and -- as we found out while the five-minute dynamite fuse burned out in the background -- Jack's NOW a believer. The whole sequence seemed especially self-aggrandizing for a character who doesn't need help becoming more unlikeable.

The Verdict: Equally as awesome as last week's episode, but in an entirely different way. If any of the remaining nine episodes can merge the performance of "Dr. Linus" with the whiz-bang-boom of "Sundown"...oh, I'd better not jinx it.

30 A's in 30 Days – Chris Carter

Acquired: Traded from Arizona (with SP Brett Anderson, SP Dana Eveland, SP Greg Smith, OF Aaron Cunningham and OF Carlos Gonzalez) for SP Dan Haren (December 14, 2007).
Contract: One year thru 2010. No Major League experience.
Position: First baseman of the future.

Projected BA/OBP/SLG: (.239/.318/.402)

Over/Under: Carter is pretty much the consensus top prospect in the A's organization. And, because he's big, black and a first baseman; lazy sportswriters have been comparing him to a "right-handed Ryan Howard". Thankfully, Carter hasn't inherited Howard's
KRS-One nose, son. Carter had a monster 2009 at AA-Midland (.337/.435/.576) in almost 600 plate appearances and then slugged .519 in a late-season, small-sample call-up to AAA-Sacramento.

He could stand another half-season in Triple-A – his defense is more akin to "designated hitter" and the A's need to see if incumbent 1B Daric Barton can put together more than one good month in a Major League season. I like the OVER for Carter. And, if Barton again struggles early or DH Jack Cust continues to decay, Carter could be up before the All-Star break.

By the Numbers: .345/.451/.704 – In 1999, A's prospect Adam Piatt won the triple crown in the Texas League (.345 39 HR 135 RBI) and posted the above BA/OBP/SLG slash line. He was named a Top 100 prospect by Baseball America entering the 2000 season…and was out of baseball by 2004 with a career Major League line of .248/.323/.422. Just sayin'.

Surefire 2010 Prediction: Carter will be in Oakland no later than the All-Star Break. Nonsensical "service time" issues aside, the A's – as currently constructed – don't have anyone with the power that Carter potentially provides. Barton or Cust will be moved to make room.

Tupac Track for the Season:
Young N****z

Monday, March 8, 2010

30 A's in 30 Days – Mark Ellis

Acquired: Traded as part of a 3-team trade (including Tampa Bay Devil Rays) by the Kansas City Royals (January 8, 2001).
Contract: Two years ($11M, total) with 2011 team option ($6M).
Position: Starting Second Baseman

Projected BA/OBP/SLG: (.248/.312/.386)

Over/Under: Mark Ellis epitomizes everything – good and not-so-good – about the Oakland A's. Like the franchise he's played for his whole career, Ellis has been mostly anonymous on a national level. His jaw-dropping defense is common knowledge among A's fans, but – like a lot of things about this team – needs the kind of complicated acronyms fancied by our boy-genius GM for those who don't follow the A's to appreciate.

And, like most of the A's teams of recent vintage, he's got the personality of tap water. I'm not saying you need charisma to hit a curveball, but it is hard to market the lunch pail throwbacks who've hit .247/.314/.387 over the past two seasons. Those numbers fall right in line with his projection, but I'm taking the UNDER. Ellis turns 33 this year and he's been unable to stay on the field for a full season since 2007.

By the Numbers: 78 – Career home runs by Ellis as a second baseman, which makes him the all-time Oakland A's leader at the position. Players behind Ellis include Dick Green, Tony Phillips, Scott Speizio and Davey Lopes. Quite a rich legacy, no?

Surefire 2010 Prediction: In a mild surprise, the A's will pick up Ellis' $6M option for 2011. Top 2B prospect Jemile Weeks is so raw on defense that the team is considering a move to the outfield. 2B/3B prospect Adrian Cardenas didn't impress management with a .689 OPS at Triple-A (in 207 PAs) in 2009.
Better the Devil You Know, I s'pose.

Tupac Track for the Season:
Soldier Like Me

TBG Eats: The NEW Pacific Shrimp Taco from Taco Bell

Current Weight: 166.2 lbs.

All my life, I've had a love/hate relationship with shrimp.

When I was very young, I remember my mom had a short-lived longing for single-serving shrimp cocktails. They were sold in small, bulbous glass jars at the supermarket -- right next to the fresh fish, ironically enough. This may surprise you, but it wasn't the image of diced, day-old and unsold shrimp swimming in cocktail sauce that turned my seven-year-old stomach. My most lasting memory is how one empty four-ounce jar could make our tiny apartment smell like horseradish and shellfish for days.

My dad favored the peel-and-eat variety. And, if my dad was eating shrimp for dinner, this meant one of two things: (1) it was "share-a- frozen pizza night" for me and my brother -- an especially cruel food tactic since these were my childhood obesity years, when I could've easily completed a three-way with two of
Mama Celeste's pies by myself. Or, (2) we were visiting my dad's family in Georgia, where beer buckets full of fresh shrimp were a summertime BBQ staple -- along with heaping helpings of mocking laughter whenever I asked if there were any hot dogs or hamburgers.

Years later, while sitting in my junior high school Spanish class -- having conquered my obesity issues and feeling better about myself than ever before -- a room full of 15-year-olds learned that the Spanish translation for "shrimp" sounds an awful lot like
my last name. On the plus side, the adolescent teasing unified the cool kids, the un-cool kids and the faculty for a few weeks.

Despite these seemingly insurmountable anecdotal challenges, I actually do like shrimp.

Like most unsophisticated American adults and/or anyone who orders off the kids' menu, I prefer it fried if I'm eating shrimp by itself. When it's used within other entrées, I'm a little more particular. Some shrimp-based dishes don't really fill me up. For example, Mrs. Bootleg has a recipe for a garlic-shrimp angel hair pasta that's tasty, but not very satisfying. (Don't tell her!) As you might imagine, I'm all over shrimp served in something hearty like jambalaya, seafood gumbo or my wife's ridiculously delicious spinach-and-shrimp enchiladas.*

*-- And, if Mrs. Bootleg is reading this, I like to point out that you haven't made this in forever.

Essentially, I'm no different from anyone else in that shrimp isn't usually my first choice off of a seafood menu, but I'll eat it if it's placed in front of me.

So, did you hear that Taco Bell -- the most trusted name in imitation Mexican food -- is now serving shrimp? With expectations appropriately lowered, I ordered the "Pacific Shrimp Taco combo" this past Friday. I wasn't expecting much in the way of culinary authenticity and considering Taco Bell's occasionally inconsistent cleanliness, I'd be lying if I said there weren't
other gastronomic thoughts on my mind.

Here's the marketing department's description from Taco Bell's website:

A warm, soft flour tortilla filled with six succulent shrimp marinated in a mix of spices, then topped with crisp shredded lettuce, fiesta salsa, and avocado ranch sauce.

From the picture above, it's obvious that the first, second and third most dominant flavor comes from the avocado ranch sauce. I mean, it's everywhere. With my first bite, the sauce was all I could taste until that familiar shrimp flavor snuck through right before I finished chewing. The flavors never really balanced out for me, but the shrimp actually was seasoned pretty well by fast food standards. The fiesta salsa wasn't all that bad either, but with the pint of avocado ranch sauce that topped my two tacos, I could only intermittently taste it.

Believe it or not, there's some surprisingly decent eatin' in here. The Pacific Shrimp Taco doesn't have an overpowering seafood flavor and with a little mix n' match diligence over the other ingredients (ditch the lettuce and ask 'em to go easy on the avocado ranch) Taco Bell could have quite the sleeper meal on its hands. As it stands, most TB eaters will be scared off by the shrimp concept and the rest will run the other way based on one cell phone photo posted on this lightly-read blog.

Grade: 3 (out 5) Calories: 180 Fat: 7g

Sunday, March 7, 2010

30 A's in 30 Days – Cliff Pennington

Acquired: Drafted in first round (2005).
Contract: One year thru 2010. (Not eligible for arbitration.)
Position: Starting SS

Projected BA/OBP/SLG: (.243/.325/.341)

Over/Under: This might be the inherent happiness that comes with the long-awaited absence of former shortstop Bobby Crosby from my favorite team's roster, but I really like what Pennington brings to the table. He won't hit for much power (his minor league high for home runs in a season was eight in 2007), but I think his OBP will take him OVER that projected OPS. In 247 career plate appearances vs. RHP, he's hit .280/.367/.407.

He was called up after the trade of Orlando Cabrera and consistently hit the ball hard, frequently found the gaps (11 doubles, 3 triples) and occasionally overswung (100 Ks combined in '09). He reminds me of Mike Bordick – capable of a solid season at the plate if the BABIP deities shine upon him.

By the Numbers: 21 – The number of stolen bases Pennington has averaged in his five minor league seasons. There's a strident – albeit naïve – slice of baseball fans who believe speed and small ball can win in today's game. With the stolen base potential at the top and bottom of the A's batting order, this team might actually be watchable, regardless of their record.

Surefire 2010 Prediction: Every year, an otherwise anonymous player starts the season on fire in April, becomes the focus of a two-page piece in Sports Illustrated come May, generates an ill-fated small market All-Star Game campaign in June and then collapses in the second half. This year, that player will be Cliff Pennington.

Tupac Track for the Season:
Y'all Don't Know Us