Friday, October 30, 2009

The House of the Devil

I've always been a sucker for horror movies from the 1970's.

The Exorcist, The Omen, Halloween...

Each of those movies had something that's usually missing in modern-horror films: tension and atmosphere.

So when a modern horror movie is actually able to hearken back to those better times, I make it a point to check it out.

Such was the case with The House of the Devil, which aired on HDNet Movies last Wednesday night before getting a very limited release in theaters this weekend.

The House of the Devil was made by Ti West, a low-budget director (The Trigger Man, Cabin Fever 2) who obviously feels the same way I do about horror movies. There must be loads tension and atmosphere, and West gives us just that during the first hour of his film. He also sets the film in the early 80's, a time when horror movies just felt smarter and people were less connected. IE, no cell phones.

The plot is simple and doesn't try to be original. A girl named Samantha (Jocelin Donahue, a dead ringer for Kate Bosworth), who needs money to move out of her shitty dorm and into an apartment, responds to an ad for a babysitter. But the job turns out to be something totally different than she originally thought. Turns out the Ulmans (Tom Noonan & Mary Woronov with their creep-o-meter jacked up) don't have a child, at least not one who needs babysitting. Instead, they want Samantha to watch over his mother.

Samantha almost leaves when she's thrown the curveball, but the Ulmans raise the rate, and money-hungry Samantha can't resist. "I'll basically get $400 for just watching TV", she tells her friend, Megan (Greta Gerwig), who's given her a ride to the house. After all, mother is said to be sleeping.

But is mother really sleeping? Is there even a mother at all? And is it a coincidence that all this is happening during a lunar eclipse?

Sounds like it could be the plot of any horror movie from the last 30 years, right?

But the difference with The House of the Devil is the execution. Pretty much nothing happens during the film's first hour. OK, something shocking does happen about twenty minutes in, and it's enough to keep us glued to the screen for the remainder of the slow build-up. And thankfully, Donahue is appealing enough to keep us entertained as she huffs her way through the house with boredom and then starts to get creeped out the longer she's in the house.

But other than one good shock and a slow middle portion, it's really just a set-up for the film's final twenty-five minutes.

And when those final twenty-five minutes arrive, you'll realize why the wait was worth it.

I also won't spoil any of the surprising details.

The House of the Devil transports viewers back to a simpler time when horror movies were smart and left the viewer on edge for long periods of time instead of trying to make them jump in their seats with loud noises and false alarms.

It might be a challenge to find the movie, but if you do, you can thank me later.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Baltimore deserves new arena -- and possibilities that come with it

It's not me, it's you.

I've been on a new arena kick lately, as the plans for a new Baltimore arena have been caught up in the red tape that seems to cover all of downtown.

The plans do seem to be moving along, albeit at a snail's pace, at least according to my old friend Chris Stoner's blog, Baltimore Sports & Life. But there's no denying that this new arena talk seems trapped in suspended animation.

I'm all for a 18-20K seat arena built at the current site of the First Mariner Arena. The light rail and metro subway already service the location and the proposed Red Line (I call it the Red Tape Line) would run close by.

And even though tearing down the First Mariner Arena would force out the arena's current tenants, most notably, the Baltimore Blast, I say it's high-time that Baltimore got a new arena. Besides, the Blast draw approximately 7K per game and the Towson Center at Towson University holds 5K. Cole Field House at the University of Maryland is currently sitting vacant and can accommodate many more fans.

The First Mariner Arena is 47 years old. It's a relic. Dozens of arenas across the country have been built and demolished during that time, and yet ours keeps chugging along, seemingly indestructible. It's actually still a profitable asset for the city, much in the way that an old car is still profitable for a driver. No car payments, great, but the gas mileage sucks.

The First Mariner Arena still attracts some decent concerts and other events. But it is what it is. A 11,000 seat dinosaur. With a stage.

A new arena would do so much more for the city, starting by helping revitalize the west side of downtown Baltimore. The Hippodrome remodeling project went a long way to restore the west side's past high-class heritage, but the sudden downturn in the economy froze the remainder of that urban renewal project.

That's where a new arena comes in. It gives local businesses a shot in the arm. It brings in people who spend money in a neighborhood that looks more like a ghost town than a downtown. It'll force crime out of the area with more police patrol and security guards. It'll attract more homeowners to the area.

And it'll do what a new arena does best -- bring more top-tier events to Baltimore.

NCAA Tournament games. Better concerts. And dare I say, it might even attract a troubled NBA or NHL team.

You say the NBA or NHL will never work in Baltimore? Well, I'm tired of Baltimore being told that they can't have this or that.

After the NFL went out of their way to deny Baltimore a football team throughout the 80's and 90's, I've become greedy when it comes to my city. We should have it all. A comprehensive mass-transit system, a state of the art arena, and NBA and a NHL team, if we want one.

Yeah, I said it.

Google "Baltimore NHL or NBA team" and listen to people say it won't work. That we're too close to Washington DC or Philadelphia.


They said the same thing when we were trying to bring an NFL team back to Baltimore. Yet the Ravens have sold out every single game since they moved into M&T Bank Stadium.

That's right. Every. Single. Game.

Even with the Redskins 40 miles down the road and the Eagles 90 miles to the north. Oh and with more Steeler fans in the area than imaginable. Even with all that going against her, Baltimore still supports her own.

And I believe she'd be able to support an NBA or NHL team without a problem.

Baltimore is the 20th biggest city and metro area in the United States. It's one of the most affluent metro areas in the country. It has some of the country's biggest employers located within or near its borders. Social Security Administration, Johns Hopkins University, T. Rowe Price.

Baltimore can support at least one more pro team, if not two. All it takes is a new arena.

Build a new arena and Baltimore instantly becomes a contender for relocation the next time a NHL team in Phoenix or Nashville or an NBA team in New Orleans or Memphis has trouble at the gate.

Like they say in the movies...If you build it they will come.

But even without a NHL or NBA team, a new arena still makes sense for the city.

I'm just tired of being told we can't have what we want...what we deserve.

And Baltimore deserves a new arena and the possibilities that come along with it.

Don't you agree?

Trick r Treat

I always wondered why there aren't more Halloween-themed horror movies.

One thing that I loved about the original Halloween was the idea that all of it was taking place on Halloween night. Trick or treaters were out on the street, parties were taking place all over town, and yet in the middle of all that commotion, someone was being stalked by a behemoth in a William Shatner mask.

But despite the built-in creepy factor of movies set during Halloween night, there aren't many movies that take place during the holiday. Most horror movies are set around generic teenage rituals like the prom, a random house party, a school event, or nothing in particular at all. Hell, even the lamer-with-each-installment Halloween sequels and remakes are released at the end of summer (!) instead of being released at uh...Halloween?

Thankfully, Michael Dougherty (Superman Returns, X-Men 2) understood the need for movies taking place on Halloween night and made Trick r Treat. But the road from production to release was not an easy one. Maybe studio heads have something against Halloween-set horror movies. Who knows?

Trick r Treat was filmed and completed way back in 2006 and was originally intended for an October 2007 release. For whatever reason, Warner Bros. pulled it from that release date, perhaps fearing the stranglehold that the Saw films had on October release dates. But then 2008 came and went and still no release date was announced.

Finally, Trick r Treat saw its release come in the form of direct-to-video earlier this fall, something that's usually foreshadows a movie's quality. Meaning, there is none.

But Trick r Treat could quite possibly be the best direct-to-video movie of all time. And it still baffles me how studio heads could let this film, with its Halloween antics, fall through the cracks without an October theatrical release.

The film is an anthology, much in the vein of the Creepshow movies, or Tales from the Crypt. There are several stories being told at once, and sometimes they cross paths. This just adds to the feeling that there is a lot going on this Halloween night.

I won't say too much about the plot of each story because they are best to be discovered on your own, and much of the fun is seeing where they bleed into one another and how a character from one story shows up in another. But I will say that each story hearkens back to the days of childhood, where a scary story could terrify you, and keep you wanting more, all at once.

As for Halloween as a holiday, Dougherty nails it. He litters each scene with creepy Halloween imagery, be it dozens of glowing Jack-O-Lanterns, fog, leaf blown streets, a party in the woods, or an abandoned rock quarry. The film just oozes Halloween at every turn.

Surprisingly, some familiar faces also show up in the film. Brian Cox (Troy, The Bourne Identity), Anna Paquin (True Blood) and Dylan Baker (Spider-Man 2) all have major roles. And for a movie that was kicked to the direct-to-video curb, the film looks great. At no point do you feel like you're watching a low-budget horror movie. This is the real deal, folks.

So, unless your reading comprehension is pre-school level, I absolutely loved Trick r Treat. It could quite possibly be the best Halloween movie of all time, behind the original Halloween, of course.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Did I really just buy that?

I finally bought a Blu-Ray DVD player recently, after waiting out the HD-DVD/Blu-Ray war. So this past weekend, I decided to buy a good BR disc, one that would show off my new 7.1 Dolby Digital set-up as well as display a razor sharp image.

And as fate would have it, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen was just released on DVD. So I bought it, knowing ahead of time that it would be a big dumb movie with lots of special effects. I also enjoyed the first movie a little more than I should have, and also have it on DVD, so what the hell.

I turned down my IQ-o-meter before throwing the disc into my DVD player and sat back ready to be entertained for 147 minutes.

Wait, 147 minutes? Are you kidding me?

Sadly no. And that is Revenge of the Fallen's major flaw -- it's just too damn loaded with nothingness. Sitting through this movie was like going to McDonald's and forgoing a combo meal for five milkshakes. You'll feel bloated when it's all over and done with, but you won't have any pleasant memories of the experience, and you'll be hungry for some sustenance in no time.

But that's what Michael Bay is, right? A flashy director who does and says nothing with his movies? I enjoyed his Bad Boys films, The Rock, and I'll even admit that Pearl Harbor isn't as bad as people make it out to be.

But even Bay reached a new low with Revenge of the Fallen.

Whereas the original Transformers movie was in itself a very bloated movie, it at least told a simple story that was pretty easy to follow. At its heart, it was a movie about a teenager and his first car. Everyone can understand that, right?

Well, in this movie, Bay and the film's writers, Ehren Kruger, Roberto Orci, and Alex Kurtzman (look up those guys on IMDb and be amazed at the movies they've written that haven't sucked) decided to throw the "less is more" mantra out of the window at the outset of production.

Not only does Shia LeBeouf's Sam Witwicky go to college in this film, he deals with his long-distance relationship with Mikaela (Megan Fox), he meets a new girl who may not be human, meets his comedic "relief" roommate, deals with his parents' separation anxiety, gets implanted with random robot knowledge, gets transported to Egypt, dies, and comes back to life.

That also doesn't factor into lots of screen time for the various military characters who are all brought back, and about a dozen expository speeches about Transformer-lore complete with flashbacks. None of it, however, makes any sense.

Oh, and then there are a couple of action sequences where you can't figure out what the hell is happening.

But maybe that was my problem...that I went into this movie expecting to watch an actual movie. Maybe I should have just skipped from scene to scene, jacked up the volume, and been blown away by the movie's awesome technical specs, which is the only thing it has going for it.

The movie is filmed in 5.1 True HD Dolby Digital, and it sounds...well, there hasn't been a word invented yet to describe the sound. Even if the movie did suck ass, it was at least a good movie to introduce me to the world of Blue-Ray. The visuals are just as impressive, with certain scenes filmed in an IMAX-mode, which ditches the black bars at the top and bottom of the screen and the picture gets, believe it or not, sharper.

So all in all, I guess it gets balanced out. I will never watch Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen from start to finish ever again. But I will put it in my DVD player from time to time and get blown away by the crazy-good A/V specs.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Third time's a harm

Ugh, it's been hard writing this blog the last 2 weeks, and as I write now, it's been about an hour since the Ravens lost to the Vikings, 33-31. I figured I might as well get it all out of my system now and move on rather than wait until tomorrow morning and pick at the wound after it's had a chance to scab over.

First, let me say that we should consider ourselves lucky for even being able to watch that game on pins and needles. When the Ravens were down 17-3 and 27-10, I thought the game was over and didn't want to watch any more. But, the Ravens staged an amazing comeback, scoring 21 points in the 4th quarter, and took the lead, 31-30 with 3:37 left on the clock.

But, as the Ravens defense had done all day, they allowed too many big plays, and a Brett Favre to Sidney Rice 58-yard pass put the Vikings in field goal range, where they kicked the go ahead FG to take the lead, 33-31.

Joe Flacco and the Ravens offense got the ball back with 1:49 left. Flacco has not yet completed a game-winning drive, and it looked like today would be his first when he drove the offense down to the Vikings' 27-yard line, where Steve Hauschka attempted his first game-winning FG.

It was just slightly wide-left.

The Vikings win, remain unbeaten at 6-0 and the Ravens drop to 3-3.

It was hard to take at the time, but some minor reflection does put the game in a more positive light. Especially when you consider the offense.

Flacco absolutely exploded today, for 385 passing yards and 2 touchdown passes. Ray Rice had 194 all-purpose yards and 2 touchdowns. And Derrick Mason returned in a big way after being held without a catch last week, with 97 receiving yards and a touchdown. Even Mark Clayton got in on the action, with 57 receiving yards and a TD catch. Clayton had been the unfortunate whipping boy during the Ravens previous 2 losses.

But, as good a day as the offense had today, the defense was just as disappointing. For one, they gave up another huge day to the opponent, this time it was 426 yards to the Vikings. Favre tossed for 278 yards and the Ravens allowed their second consecutive 100+ yard rusher as Adrian Peterson rumbled for 142 yards.

The secondary is becoming, in a word, shitty. They routinely left Viking receivers wide open all over the field and exemplified poor tackling all day. The only positive that can be taken from the defense today was their ability to hold the Vikings to field goals late in the game, when touchdowns would have ended the game a lot earlier. But those "holds" only came after allowing huge plays to the Vikings offense, so even that positive is outlined in negativity.

Greg Mattison is not having a good showing as Ravens Defensive Coordinator through his first 6 games as he's allowed opponents to rack up yardsand points week after week. His failure to design effective blitz packages have allowed opposing QB's to have success picking the Ravens secondary apart. So while the secondary is extremely weak, it's not all their fault. The Ravens simply have to get after the QB more often.

Then there is Hauschka.

There was some talk by fans during the preseason that letting Matt Stover go was a mistake. Hauschka was untested, and Stover had been money when making crucial kicks late in games. And while Hauschka unfortunately missed the potential 44-yard game winner today, there is no guarantee that Stover would have made the kick either.

The Ravens were right to go in a different direction. Stover's leg was getting weaker with each kick and his failure to handle kick-offs forced the Ravens to waste a roster spot on a kickoff specialist (Hauschka, last year).

If there was any mistake made by the Ravens relating to the kicker position, it was going with an untested kicker in Hauschka. Maybe they could have gone after a different kicker, who was younger than Stover, and had been tested in crucial late situations.

But all that is just second guessing in my opinion. Pinning losses on a kicker has always been something I've hated, because there are usually a ton of other things that could have prevented putting the game into the kicker's hands. And today the Ravens could have stopped the Vikings offense on any number of occasions. So today's loss is squarely on Mattison and the Ravens defense.

Hopefully Steve Hauschka will get another chance to knock a game winner through the uprights and settle his nerves.

As for the Ravens, who are 3-3 as they head into the bye week, it doesn't look good. The way I see it, the Ravens are going to need a 11-5 record to have a chance to either win the division or make the playoffs as a Wild Card team, and that means going 8-2 down the stretch against tough teams in Denver, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh x2, and then Chicago and Green Bay.

The Ravens can still make the playoffs, but they are going to have to make drastic changes to the defense to do it.

Until then, it's probably a good time to enjoy the bye week. The same should go for the team too.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Just Jauss?

The Orioles fired bench coach Dave Jauss yesterday while keeping all their other coaches, even Juan "The Aztec God of Human Sacrifice" Samuel, who routinely gave runners the green light at third base, only to be thrown out at the plate. Samuel was also very critical of (and almost unprofessional in his criticism) of Orioles whipping boy Felix Pie at one point during the season.

Anyway, letting Jauss go won't get much attention by O's fans, but I think it's another troubling move by an organization that can't seem to get out of its own way.

In my opinion, Jauss should have been the only coach kept of the current coaching staff and would have made a worthy candidate for the managerial job if Dave Trembley was not kept for 2010.

Jauss' track record is impressive. He started in the Montreal Expos organization in 1988, a time when they were routinely bringing up future All Star players. Then he went to the Red Sox organization and bounced around at various positions there from 1997 to 2005 before going to Los Angeles to coach with the Dodgers before coming to the Orioles in 2008.

He's been in winning organizations before. Yet he was let go for reasons that are currently unclear.

If Andy MacPhail wants a more experienced bench coach, maybe someone with previous managerial experience, that's fine. But then why didn't he just let Dave Trembley go if he felt that the Orioles needed more managerial experience?

I'm probably making a mountain out of a molehill, but given the Orioles previous track record, even the smallest moves are cause for concern.

They usually reflect on deeper issues within the organization.

Until then, I'll wait to see what MacPhail says about this personnel change or who he hires to replace Jauss.

As for Jauss, I am sure he'll catch on somewhere else. People will look at his track record and realize he's an asset to any organization.

For whatever the reason, the Orioles didn't think that of Jauss, at least not any more.

Ghosts of the Colts

While watching the wonderful ESPN "30 for 30" documentary, The Band that Wouldn't Die, about the Colts leaving Baltimore and the marching band that stayed behind, I got to thinking about my childhood as a football orphan in the wake of the Colts moving to Indianapolis.

I am 30 years old, which means that I was 4 going on 5 when the Colts left Baltimore in the winter of 1984. I don't have a single memory of the Colts.

Part of me is mad that I can't connect with the old Colts fans who occasionally still scratch their Colt phantom limbs. When they bring up the past, I feel alienated and frustrated to the point of saying "let it go". After all, we're lucky to have the Ravens who have already won a Super Bowl and are competitive year in and year out.

Then another part of me is glad that I didn't have to go through the heartbreak of losing a beloved team.

Take the Orioles for instance. They've been here for my entire lifetime, and I came up an Orioles fan. It was the same as inheriting my parents features -- I inherited their love of the O's. And even though the Orioles haven't supplied me with a wealth of fond memories (I basically live off of '89, '96 and '97), they are still my one and only baseball team.

And if they ever left Baltimore, I'd be devastated.

For my generation of football fans in Baltimore, we grew up as orphans.

We knew little of the Colts in Baltimore, so we were forced to adopt other teams to root for. I dabbled in fandom for the Bengals and Steelers (Yes, I'll admit it) while my friends attached themselves to the Saints (they had family in New Orleans) while my cousin jumped on the Cowboys bandwagon during their Super Bowl runs in the early 90's.

A lot of kids I went to school with became Redskins fans, and it wasn't hard for them to do since the Redskins were winning Super Bowls in the late 80's, early 90's.

I'd like to think that experience as a football orphan made me a better, more loyal fan when the Ravens arrived in Baltimore. When that happened I instantly fused them with my being, and I never take them for granted.

Meanwhile, as an Oriole fan, I have a blog called "The Bad Oriole" where I trash the Orioles every chance I get, and believe me, they don't leave me with a shortage of chances to do it.

But while watching the documentary, directed by Baltimore native director Barry Levinson, I was reminded of how strong the Colts roots were in the city and how much of an impact the team had on today's NFL. The 1958 Championship game versus the New York Giants transformed the NFL into the TV giant it is today. And Super Bowl III forced the NFL to recognize the fledgling AFL, even if the Colts had to play the part of the once-favored loser.

But most of all, it gave me a new found respect for the old Colts Marching Band. At Ravens games, they strut out on the field at halftime, play their renditions of five year old pop songs while fans either call their friends for their fantasy football score, or go to the bathroom. I've even gone as far as calling the band an embarrassment.

But all that changed while watching The Band that Wouldn't Die. I realized that they were largely instrumental in keeping Baltimore at the forefront of any NFL expansion or relocation. They toured other cities' stadiums, and kept Baltimore in the minds of the powers that be. And they didn't give up, even after the NFL passed Baltimore over in the 1993 Expansion for Carolina and Jacksonville.

So when they come out on the field at the next home game, I may not exactly enjoy their cheesy performance, but I will give them a hearty applause. They deserve it for enduring for so long.

In the end, The Band that Wouldn't Die made me proud to be not an Orioles fan or a Ravens fan, but a Baltimore fan. There is so much history around us and sometimes we get so caught up in the present that we forget that the past is even there.

And while we may roll our eyes whenever some salt-of-the-earth Baltimore fan calls into a sports radio talk show and brings up the Baltimore Colts, the past would cease to exist if we weren't occasionally reminded of it -- packed up into Mayflower vans and driven off to some barren wasteland.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Ravens stumble against Bengals

It was one of those games that could be brought up in the future for many reasons.

It could be the game where the Bengals showed us why they are to be taken seriously in 2009. After all, they are a fluke play away from being 5-0.

It could be the game where the Ravens showed that they are unable to play as a favorite.

And it could be the game where Ravens fans have to finally accept the fact that the defense is not the team's asset any more and is now the team's liability.

The Ravens allowed 403 yards of offense yesterday in their 17-14 loss to the Bengals including 120 rush yards and a touchdown to Cedric Benson, the first 100+ rusher they've allowed since Larry Johnson in 2006.

The Ravens also committed a ton of penalties that were either sloppy and undisciplined or were ticky-tack calls by the referees who seemed to be trigger-happy after the Ravens were critical of them after their loss to New England a week ago.

But penalties aside, the Ravens looked as flat as a pancake yesterday in pretty much every aspect of the game.

The offense couldn't get anything going for most of the game. They totaled just 257 yards and lost the game clock battle by almost 10 minutes. They scored one touchdown, and even that came on a Joe Flacco screen pass to Ray Rice, who scrambled 48 yards for a score. It was almost like they scored their one touchdown by accident.

But even after that TD, the Ravens were up 14-10 and looked to be in control. After stopping the Bengals on the following drive, all they had to do was burn the clock, which was at 5:29. They killed over 3 minutes of the clock, but after a deep 3rd down Flacco pass to Mark Clayton was overthrown, the Ravens had to punt with 2:10 minutes left. The Bengals had 2 timeouts and the two minute warning in their pocket.

And that was when the defense handed the Bengals the game. They allowed Cincinnati to waltz down the field on them, and even handed them an extra 25 yards on the drive via 2 penalties, which included a vicious late hit by Ray Lewis on Chad Ochocinco.

Carson Palmer found Bengals WR Andre Caldwell a few plays later for the go ahead score.

Ballgame. And my worst nightmare come true.

Where were Derrick Mason and Willis McGahee yesterday? Why was Cam Cameron both aggressive and conservative at the same time? And WTF is up with the penalties? The Ravens committed 10 for 76 yards and are the most penalized team in the NFL. I thought John Harbaugh had this team well disciplined after last season, but now they appear to be coming apart at the seams.

At least the Ravens are now in their comfort zone again. Their backs are against the wall and they are no longer the favorites. They seem to thrive in the underdog role, and that's exactly what they'll be next week when they travel to Minnesota to take on the 5-0 Vikings.

It doesn't look good. And if the Ravens lose next week, they'll be heading into the bye-week 3-3, which will be almost impossible to overcome. Teams like Denver, Cincinnati, Green Bay, Indianapolis and Pittsburgh (twice) are still on the schedule. Ouch.

So in closing, yesterday's game could also be the game where the Ravens forced fans to re-evalaute their expectations for the season. And the post-season.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Thinking of Carlos

The Orioles need a new 1B in 2010 like humans need air to breathe.

And with 1B prospect Brandon Snyder coming off a disappointing stint in Norfolk where he hit just 2 HR and had a .671 OPS in 262 AB, the Orioles should look outside of the organization to fill this glaring hole.

Enter Carlos Delgado, former Blue Jays, Marlins and Mets 1B.

Remember Delgado? He completely mashed the Orioles when he was with Toronto.

In about a season's worth of AB's against the Orioles, Delgado had 28 HR, 106 RBI and a .919 OPS. Delgado signed with the Marlins in 2005, had another Delgadoesque season, and then was traded to the Mets when the Marlins decided to slash payroll for the millionth time in their history.

Delgado has had some trouble staying healthy lately (he only played in 26 games in 2009), but that gives the Orioles an advantage. Coming off a year when he missed most of the season, Delgado won't command a big contract, and most contending teams won't give him a starting job. The Orioles can. And they can give Delgado a chance to showcase his talent when healthy in hopes that some other team is dumb enough to give him one last payday.

He'll turn 38 next June, and while most O's fans would do a double-take when someone advocates signing another aging slugger whose best days are behind him, I do believe the move makes sense for the Orioles.

Remember Frank Thomas? He was very much like Delgado throughout his career. And as he got older, injuries started to hamper him, and the White Sox let him go his merry way after the 2005 season. Thomas signed with the A's for one season at age 38, stayed healthy for most of the 2006 season, and bashed 39 HR and 114 HR in only 136 games. His OPS was .926.

Now, just because Frank Thomas did it at age 38 doesn't mean that Delgado will. But look at the payoff. The A's never traded Thomas, but if they did, they could have gotten a nice return for him. And if the Orioles sign Delgado and he had a Thomas-like comeback season, the Orioles would benefit no matter what they did -- regardless of whether they traded him or kept him.

But one thing the Orioles better not do if Delgado does have a comeback is sign him to a multi-year deal like the Blue Jays did with Thomas after he left Oakland.

Anyway, a healthy Delgado could still be a threatening clean-up hitter. Just imagine the potential of this line-up:

Roberts 2B
Jones CF
Markakis RF
Delgado 1B
Reimold or Scott DH
Wieters C
Pie LF
Wigginton 3B
Izturis SS

That looks a lot better with him in it than not, doesn't it?

So just remember. If the Orioles sign Delgado this offseason, it won't be for more than one year. Andy MacPhail isn't Syd Thrift or even Mike Flanagan, Jim Beattie or Jim Duquette. Hopefully Delgado will perform at a high-level again and the Orioles can trade him for their future SS or another pitching prospect.

And hopefully, Brandon Snyder will earn his way to the majors at some point in 2010.

Monday, October 5, 2009

2009 in review

Thankfully, the 2009 season is over for the Baltimore Orioles. Despite winning their final 4 games to avoid their first 100-loss season since 1988, the Orioles were a largely a disappointment from start to finish.

The highlights were few and far between.

* There was the epic comeback against the Red Sox, you know the one where they came back down 10-1 in the 8th and 9th inning? You know, the one where they blew their own 4 run lead in the 9th the next day?

* There was a great Nolan Reimold walk-off HR against Toronto in May, capping off a sweep of the Blue Jays. But then the Orioles went 4-10 in their next 14 games.

* And there was the sweep of the defending World Series champion Phillies, in Philadelphia no less. But then the O's were swept by the Florida Marlins.

Although GM Andy MacPhail all but punted the season before Opening Day (how else can you explain starting 2009 with untalented placeholders like Adam Eaton, Mark Hendrickson, and Alfredo Simon in the rotation?), one would've been correct in thinking that the Orioles would have improved as the season went on and the Orioles added quality prospects to their MLB roster. Guys like Nolan Reimold, Matt Wieters, Chris Tillman, and Brian Matusz.

But no matter how you slice it, the Orioles played sub-.400 baseball regardless of who was on the roster. In fact, the one positive to take away from 2009 is the fact that the Orioles gave 1,077 at bats to Matt Wieters, Nolan Reimold and Felix Pie and got 452 IP from Brad Bergesen, David Hernandez, Jason Berken, Chris Tillman and Brian Matusz, all of them rookies.

Reimold, Wieters, Pie and Bergesen impressed in extended looks, while Tillman and Matusz gave us enticing coming attractions. But Berken and Hernandez both struggled at times. So goes a rebuilding process.

But what made 2009 perhaps the most disappointing was a letdown from some veteran players.

Nick Markakis needed a final 2-week surge to get his OPS above .800 (.801). He was not himself for the better part of three months.

Adam Jones got off to a blistering hot start in April and May (11 HR, 36 RBI), but cooled off to the point of freezing in June and August before getting hurt.

Aubrey Huff, coming off a great comeback 2008 season in which he posted 32 HR and a .912 OPS, struggled to the tune of a .725 OPS with just 13 HR before being traded in August.

Melvin Mora, who came on strong in the second half of 2008 (1.073 OPS), petered out with a .679 OPS in 2009, what should be his final year as an Oriole.

Ty Wigginton, signed as a slugging utility man with a career OPS above .800, slumped for most of the season and finished with a .714 OPS.

Rich Hill was a reclamation project after a great 2007 and a bad 2008, so there was no guarantees with him, but after he started off reasonably well (O's were 4-0 in his first 4 starts), the wheels fell off and Hill became the 2009 version of Daniel Cabrera and was yanked from the rotation after 13 starts.

Finally, Jeremy Guthrie, who'd turned in back-to-back seasons with an ERA less than 4.00 in 2007 and 2008, watched his ERA soar above 5.00 on the season. Some have blamed his poor performance on participating in the World Baseball Championship in March, but others have said that Guthrie's peripherals have been somewhat lucky in '07 and '08 and the 5.04 ERA Guthrie could be the real Guthrie we're seeing now.

The only veteran on the Orioles to play to their average was Brian Roberts. Roberts set an Oriole record for most doubles in a season, 56, and finished his 3rd consecutive season with 50 or more doubles and an OPS above .800.

As for the bullpen, don't get me started. They repeatedly blew...leads, that is. And once closer George Sherrill was traded in July, the wheels fell off. Jim Johnson was moved to closer and struggled. Chris Ray came back from Tommy John surgery and posted a 7.27 ERA. Matt Albers, a solid reliever in 2008, had an ERA of 5.51 in 2009. Ironically, Mark Hendrickson fared well in the bullpen (3.44 ERA) after failing in the rotation (5.40 ERA). And while Danys Baez seemed to give up the long ball at the worst time possible, he actually performed decently in the bullpen (4.02 ERA) for someone who was about to be released before opening day.

Overall, the pitching was horrible. The Orioles allowed a league leading 218 home runs and were last in the league in many statistical categories. They did improve on walks, moving up to 9th in the AL from 14th a year ago. Yippee.

It should get better in 2010, as the rotation will consist of Bergesen, Guthrie, Matusz and Tillman, but the O's pitching is still a work in progress -- a work that will largely determine whether or not the Orioles see the postseason in the new decade.

And Andy MacPhail won't make any blockbuster moves this offseason, but he should find a veteran starting pitcher who can eat innings, and a stop gap 1B and 3B who can keep the seat warm for corner infield prospects Brandon Snyder and Josh Bell. He also needs to overhaul the bullpen.

That leaves us with Dave Trembley. Trembley's option was picked up just days before the season ended, so he will be back in 2010. It was probably the right move, as Trembley was playing with a short deck talent-wise for most of the season. However Trembley oversaw a 2009 team that continuously made outs on the basepaths and failed to do little things like sacrifice bunt or play fundamentally sound defense. If the Orioles start off slow in 2010, I doubt Trembley makes it through to the end of the season, which makes it curious why is was invited back for 2010.

So could 2009 be another 1988? A season where the Orioles took their lumps as they waited for the future to arrive? We'll see. There are a lot of talented players on the major league roster and in the minors who could be part of an Orioles renaissance in the next few years.

But as we've continuously seen over and over again, the Orioles usually take 1 step forward and 2 steps back, and I expect something similar to happen in 2010.

Expect the unexpected.

This isn't called the Bad Oriole for nothing.

Patriots beat Ravens (with help from officials)

The Ravens lost their first game of the 2009 season yesterday, 27-21, to the New England Patriots. It's a game they could have easily won if they made some plays late in the game and had the officials not been a part of "the Brady Bunch" all afternoon.

The game included, quite simply, some of the worst officiating I have seen in a Ravens game in a long time. Terrell Suggs, after swatting at Tom Brady as he fell to the ground, was called for a 15-yard "roughing the passer" after Brady pleaded to the refs to call a penalty and the ref obliged. The penalty extended the drive which resulted in a Patriots TD that made the score 17-7. Earlier in the game, a similar penalty occurred when a Ravens defender (I can't remember who) went for the ball and came down, brushing up against Brady's grill. He too was called for a RTP penalty, which extended the drive which resulted in a Patriots TD. Also, head coach John Harbaugh could be heard on the telecast complaining about a bad call, calling it a "bullshit call", to which the ref, who must have virgin ears, threw a flag on the Ravens bench for another 15-yard penalty. Thankfully, that drive ended in a Patriots punt.

The officials must have gotten a memo from the NFL before the game that read: "Dear officials, we cannot accept the Patriots going 2-2. Throw flags at will".

Horrible, terrible and disgusting officiating aside, the Ravens beat themselves. On 4th and 3 on the Patriots 14-yard line, Mark Clayton dropped a pass from Joe Flacco that hit him in the chest. It would have given the Ravens 4 shots at the endzone to win the game from within the Patriots' 10 yard line with 25 seconds left on the clock.

Also, I have to wonder what Cam Cameron was thinking yesterday. Don't get me wrong, I love the man and he has brought a whole new identity to the Ravens offense, but he had several occasions yesterday to establish the run and decided to pass the ball 47 times and run only 17 times even as the Ravens RB's averaged a whopping 6.8 yards per carry! The lack of running game allowed Brady and the Patriots to control the game clock (34:56 to 25:04) and gave the Patriots too many chances to put points on the board.

The defense also allowed too many long drives (thanks in part to the terrible officiating which extended multiple drives), and the secondary was exposed, especially cornerback Dominique Foxworth. The Ravens also failed to pressure Brady, sacking him just twice. He literally had all day in the pocket to pick the Ravens secondary apart despite a key sack of Brady that resulted in a fumble and a Ravens defensive touchdown.

Harbaugh, a former special teams coach, must be fuming at the lack of performance by his special teams. Return man Chris Carr fumbled the opening return, giving the Patriots the ball on the Ravens 20-yard line. Thankfully the defense held them to a field goal. However, the Ravens' ST unit failed to give the offense a decent starting position for most of the afternoon.

Meanwhile, the offense had their worst performance of the season. Flacco played reasonably well, throwing for 264 of those 363 yards, with 2 touchdowns and 1 costly interception at the end of the first half that took away a chance at a field goal. Derrick Mason disappeared after having a huge first drive in which he hauled in 6 catches and a touchdown, but had only 1 more catch the rest of the game. Kelley Washington, who had been a key part of the offense in the last 2 weeks and was facing his old team, disappeared for the most part, catching 4 passes for just 31 yards. And Clayton, who had a chance to extend what could have been the Ravens' winning drive, caught 5 balls for 45 yards.

On the rushing side of the offense, Ray Rice had a great game, running for 103 yards on just 11 carries, which makes the lack of consistent running plays that much more depressing. Rice was slashing through holes all day, but Cameron kept opting for the pass instead.

In the end, the Ravens lost a close game they should have won due to crucial mistakes which are only magnified by some pretty awful officiating. It should force Cam Cameron to look at the boxscore, realize he only ran the ball an unacceptable 17 tiems with what could be the best 3-pronged rushing attack in the NFL, and revamp the offense in the coming week to focus more on ball control.

The Ravens host the Bengals this Sunday in what will be a battle for first place in the AFC North after the Bengals squeaked out an overtime win against the Browns. Both teams are 3-1 with the Steeler a game back at 2-2. The Browns are 0-4.

NOTE: OL Jared Gaither, who was carted off the field after suffering an apparent spine injury, was taken to an area hospital and was able to move his extremities. LB Brendon Ayanbadejo will likely miss the rest of the season after injuring his knee.