September 29, 2009

Makin' me nervous.

Tonight is a must-win game for the Philadelphia Phillies.

But not because a loss will directly impact their standing in the MLB postseason chase. I refuse to accept the possibility that the Phils will miss out on the playoffs, and the 99.4% chance ESPN.com gives them to play into October reaffirms that belief.

It is because their performance of late does not befit a playoff team, especially compared to the head of steam the 2007 and 2008 Phillies built up in September.

In 2007, they ran into Rocktober and it didn't matter. But last year, a little older, a little wiser, the Phillies took it to a Milwaukee Brewers team that seemed as good, if not better, than them on paper. And you'd be hard-pressed to find a Phillies fan who didn't think their great regular-season play in the fall carried over into that NLDS.

But right now, almost everyone looks tired, worn-out, overused, as the 162-game season winds down. Cole Hamels can't make the big pitches late, when it counts. Cliff Lee can't make the big pitches at all. The back of the bullpen is a disaster, and the offense has sometimes looked even worse. Chase Utley's batting .222 in September; Jayson Werth's batting .239.

But the pieces are all there for another World Series run, even in the 'pen. As long as they can squeak out the few necessary wins this week, J.C. Romero, Chan Ho Park and Brett Myers should all be ready for the postseason roster. It remains to be seen how effective they'll be, but with Tyler Walker reverting to the norm and Clay Condrey not looking anywhere close to 100%, they'll be the best non-Madson options we have. And if they do come back like we're hoping and praying for, well-rested and healthy, they're among the best options in the league.

That being said, it's impossible to have a World Series-level of confidence right now. Most people would tell you the St. Louis Cardinals are the favorites in the National League, and they're probably right. If we can't hit Yorman Bazardo, how are we going to hit Chris Carpenter or Adam Wainwright? If we can't get Miguel Tejada out, how can we take care of Albert Pujols?

We're used to seeing the relatively untested New York Mets come up short when it counts, but watching the defending champion Phillies threaten to do the same is very disconcerting. Maybe they don't have any gas left in the tank, or maybe the Atlanta Braves nipping at their heels is what they need to get off the shnide; tonight will be a good opportunity to find out. J.A. Happ and his 2.79 ERA take on Wilton Lopez and his 8.44 ERA, as much a mismatch as you can hope for in late September.

Seven in 17 already happened; four in six won't. I know it won't...I think it won't...I hope it won't. Will it? Only Charlie Manuel and company know for sure.

September 25, 2009

Get happ-y.

Back on August 6th, I wrote:
"If the Phillies hold onto to win the NL East, J.A. Happ should start Game 4 of the NLDS. That, in my opinion, has become a foregone conclusion."
And if all things were equal, that would probably be the case. As well as Pedro's done in a Phillies uniform, Happ's given the team a year of exemplary pitching, not to mention what he contributed in the 2008 playoffs. For better or worse (for an example of worse, see Brad Lidge) Charlie sticks by his guys, and his recent Happ-related comments...
"He's not afraid to throw his secondary pitches. He's really improved a whole lot. He's still got a little ways to go yet, but he has really improved as the season goes along."
...indicate that J.A. is, indeed, one of his guys.

But injuries have felled the Phils. J.C. Romero has barely been heard from all year, Scott Eyre is pitching through a loose body in his elbow, Chan Ho Park is still out and God only knows if Brett Myers will contribute in the postseason. Couple all that with the struggles of Brad Lidge and the jostling around of Ryan Madson, and the bullpen is by far the biggest question the Phillies must deal with going into October.

So it looks like their savior will have to be J.A. Happ. If Pedro looks good and healthy on Saturday, one of the team's main goals for the final week will probably be getting Happ a few innings out of the pen. It shouldn't be too much of an adjustment for a guy who has been moved there and back already, but this time around, he might have to do something he hasn't before.
"Yeah, probably."
That's Charlie Manuel, after being asked if he could see Happ as a ninth-inning guy.

I don't think J.A. is the best man for the job, but right now, he might be the only man for the job. Lidge is either injured, tipping his pitches, a mental mess or all three. And whether Madson can close or not is becoming inconsequential -- he's needed in the eighth.

I don't think anyone really knows what the Phillies will do with their bullpen when the playoffs roll around. Injuries and blown save after blown save are fueling speculation; in all honesty, I'd be surprised if Happ gets a serious look as the closer. But the one thing we can all agree on is that the pen has become paper-thin at the worst possible time, and it needs an injection of new life to last until the World Series and beyond.

And the only ace Manuel and company have up their sleeve is J.A. Happ.

September 23, 2009

You wreck me, baby.

My girlfriend innocently posted this quote on my Facebook wall last night:
"Beer is living proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy."
-Ben Franklin
She was merely making reference to an inside joke (yes, about Ben Franklin) that we have, so I was able to forgive and continue to date her. But just looking at it reminded me of the dozens of times I've seen this quote thrown around by uncreative people I know, unnecessarily promoting their love of American-style lagers/eighteenth-century free thinkers/a combination of the two.

And if not that, this:
"I feel sorry for people who don't drink. When they wake up in the morning, that's as good as they're going to feel all day."
-Frank Sinatra
Now, as an almost-Philadelphian, I love Ben Franklin. And as an Italian and enjoyer of wonderful singing voices, I love Frank Sinatra. But to boil them down to these generic, college-happy poster-friendly quotes makes me want to punch someone in the face. They're probably two of the coolest hundred people born in the last 400 years, and now a ton of people will partially know them for saying some stupid shit about getting plastered.

But the worst is by far this:
“You have four years to be irresponsible here. Relax. Work is for people with jobs. You'll never remember class time, but you'll remember time you wasted hanging out with your friends. So, stay out late. Go out on a Tuesday with your friends when you have a paper due Wednesday. Spend money you don't have. Drink 'til sunrise. The work never ends, but college does..."
-Tom Petty
To borrow a phrase from John Malkovich in Burn After Reading, "What the fuuuuuuuuuuhhhhck?" What the fuck does Tom Petty know about college? Did Tom Petty even go to college?

(goes to Wikipedia)

He didn't! Motherfucker. The worst part is, it's hard to disagree with Tom's sentiments. College is a thousand times easier than real life, and it's definitely the best time for most people to let loose and have as much fun as they can. If someone had said to me three years ago, "Hey, let's take it easy on the studying tonight and go out drinking," I'd say, "Sure." Most people would.

But when the masses adopt something, it inevitably a) starts to annoy the crap out of you and b) becomes full of crap, itself. I thought Garden State and Juno were really good movies when I first saw them, and now I fucking hate them. And they haven't changed as movies, and I haven't really changed as a person. But they were quoted a million times, and people began to publicly and openly adopt them as inspirations for their own lives, and as a general rule, most people are disappointing and uninteresting. And, perhaps viewing the films with a more critical eye the second or third time around, the movies suffered. And now, Tom Petty suffers, as well. A quote that was probably innocent at the time now seems insufferable and indicative of the bland, banal people who threw it up on their Favorite Quotes.

I still love Full Moon Fever, and I think Runnin' Down a Dream was the best four-hour Peter Bogdanovich-directed documentary I saw in 2007. But there's a part of me that kinda hates Petty, Sinatra and Franklin, and it sucks because it's not their fault. But as the guy in Seven who owns the sex shop where the girl gets killed by the knife dildo says, that's life.

September 20, 2009

Prove it all night.

What the Philadelphia Eagles can prove today:

-That Kevin Kolb is worth a damn. At this point, the bar is set low enough that a single good game from the Kolbster would go a long way towards justifying his place on the roster over the last three seasons. Everyone says he's never had a chance to prepare with the first team offense, never gotten the opportunity to show what he's really got, and I happen to agree with them. But if Kolb comes up small today, with Jeff Garcia and Michael Vick waiting in the wings, not to mention the impending return of Donovan McNabb, Kolb's days as a viable quarterback option for the Eagles would be numbered.

-That the defense is as good as it looked. The general perception of last week's game seems a bit skewed: Sure, the Eagles defense played incredibly well, but Jake Delhomme is also in the midde of what seems to be an epic quarterback implosion. I get the sense that their performance kind of had an asterik attached to it nationally, even though everyone in Philadelphia was salivating over the schemes and strategies rookie defensive coordinator Sean McDermott was employing. How they perform against the Saints will help to clarify the situation -- they're probably one of the top two or three offensive teams in football.

-That running the ball might be in the cards for 2009. The optimum strategy against the Saints, it would seem, is to run the football. Even though they shut down the Detroit Lions' running game last week, they were among the middle of the pack in 2008 in rushing yards allowed. Plus, running the ball would slow down the tempo of the game, something that could knock the quick-throwing Saints from their rhythm. Easier said than done, I know, but watching Nick Cole and Jason Peters smash linebackers while pulling last week, along with a few solid LeSean McCoy runs, made me think that maybe the run-blocking and backup running back situation have been improved to the point where Andy Reid will feel comfortable upping the emphasis on the ground game.

-That this team has a good head on its shoulders. A cliché, I know, but an apt one. Last year there were games where the team started slow, looked lost or just plain looked uninterested, and it was unbelievably frustrating. They looked headed for yet another one of those games early last week, but (coincidentally or not, after what appeared to be a pep talk from Brian Westbrook) they snapped themselves out of it and terrorized the Panthers. At the first home game of the year, against a legitimate playoff, and maybe Super Bowl, contender, there's no excuse to show up unprepared. That, along with the team's confidence level with Kolb at the helm, will be something to keep an eye out for.

I said before last week's game that I had no idea what to expect: A blowout on either side of the ball wouldn't have been too surprising. But now that we're 1-0, I'm ready to expect more from this team. As much as I want to say it's OK to lose to a talented team like the Saints, especially if your backup quarterback is starting, coming up short in your first home game would be borderline unacceptable. This team looks capable of, although not yet destined for, greatness, and this is as good a week as any to confirm that their opening week fustigation of the Panthers was not a fluke.

September 16, 2009

More than just the dad fish in Nemo.

I place a lot of faith in Rob Turbovsky's opinions.

If you aren't familiar with him, here is a glamour shot of Rob:



He currently attends USC in some creative/film bullshit program that will probably enable a wonderful writing career at a formulaic CBS sitcom. But before he gets to all that, back in the good old days when we used to spend time together, he insisted I watch a movie by Albert Brooks called Real Life.

Now, I only knew Albert Brooks from his truly wonderful guest appearance on "The Simpsons" as Hank Scorpio and a book I had recently read called Comedy at the Edge, where numerous people insinuated that, even from childhood, he was the funniest person they had ever met. It turns out I also knew him as the father of Nemo in Finding Nemo, something I found less exciting because that's by far the shittiest recent Pixar movie.

But Real Life blew me away. Brooks, playing the director of a movie capturing a year of a family's life and a (hopefully) more egomaniacial version of himself, toys with the dynamics of capturing reality on film or screen long before it became wildly popular, and he adds onto the role his own personal twinge of manic desperation as a man starved for an odd mix of success and affection.

This set me off on an Albert Brooks binge. In the last three to four weeks I've watched Modern Romance, Lost in America, Defending Your Life and Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World, along with about a half hour of Mother on HBO one afternoon. And while most of his movies didn't work as perfectly as Real Life, I was extremely impressed with the central ideas that powered each of them (besides Mother, that seemed like it was just about Debbie Reynolds).

Whether the theme is life, jealousy or the imbalances of post 9/11 America, Brooks approaches it from an interesting angle. I get the impression that people would have called him "subversive" back in his heyday, but, especially in Defending Your Life and Looking for Comedy, he loses his way far too often to make the kind of serious, overarching message that warrants such a classification.

In Defending, for example, the main idea seemed to be that Brooks' character still had a lot to learn about living without fear, which is presented as the most important trait of a successful human being. At the end, however, the fact that he loves Meryl Streep and spends 30 "harrowing" seconds showing this is enough to allow him to move onto the next step of the afterlife. This was a tacked-on, Hollywood ending in a movie that could have really said something about the basic instincts that power humans to full, happy lives. What it really could have used was an injection of what made Real Life so great: self-deprecation. Brooks' character could have been an example of a human life gone astray, but instead he redeems himself, unnecessarily, I guess because he's Albert Brooks.

Looking for Comedy gets this right, to a point, but it still bounces around a bit too much for its own good. For me, it wasn't until the very end of the movie that the overly indulgent self-importance he feels from being an "helpful" American really starts to shine through. His quest to understand Muslim humor feels genuine, albeit misguided in practice, for the bulk of the film, and the confusion and eventual conflict between the two countries he's trying to learn from feels like yet another tacked-on moment until you realize, "Oh! By trying to do good, he's doing bad! Just like a stupid American!" If that was the direction Brooks was looking to take his movie, he should have had his character rant about the medal he was hoping for at the completion of his study, instead of the neurotic and harmless conversations about his 500-page report. It doesn't feel complete, and it unfortunately takes yet another interesting idea and leaves it unfulfilled.

I know that I said I really liked Albert Brooks and then proceeded to bash two of his movies, but I don't want these to seem like attacks. He's the filmmaker, and it seems like he's spent his entire career making the movies HE wants to make. Plus, he cast Drew Carey's transvestite brother as one of the State Department agents in Looking for Comedy, and that always gets a thumbs up from me. But as it is with most critics and fervent fans, those who see something special in a filmmaker and want him to replicate that over and over, we start to decide that there's a pecking order in their work, that A is better than B and C has no place being anywhere near D. In Brooks' case, I saw a truly funny man who took a relatively simple idea in Real Life and ran with it in his own special way, and I expected the same generic but outside-the-box touch in his other work. Lost in America and Modern Romance are both wonderful movies that embody this greatly, and as for the vanilla aspects of his later work, it's almost expected at this point to see a comedian become more formulaic as they get older.

The general consensus I've formed on Albert Brooks, though, is that there's no one like him. He has a joke in Looking for Comedy about starring in an Al Jazeera sitcom as a Jew surrounded by Muslims, and he expresses concern about starting a TV career of any type because "he's a filmmaker." The humor is in the absurdity of the show concept, but if you've seen more of Brooks' movies, you know it's true. There's a touch of him in all of his films that I've seen, a throwaway line that makes you rewind, a look or a gesture or (especially) a change in his tone or volume that is perfection personified, and, most importantly, an idea that he twists in one way or another to make you laugh.

So thanks, Rob Turbovsky. You've done it again.

September 1, 2009

Wow.


All credit to The Fightins

This is the greatest thing I have ever seen. I'd say their public humiliation is complete.

In other news, Cole Hamels is awesome. See everyone in October.