Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Ravens Shoot Off Foot...Again

Derrick Mason's drop of a pass in the endzone was one of 3 touchdowns the Ravens cost themselves in a loss against the Steelers.

The common theme in Ravens' losses against quality opponents has been the Ravens tendency to shoot themselves in the foot, costing themselves a win. This was no different last Sunday, as the Ravens choked their way to a 23-20 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Ravens had 3, count 'em, 3 touchdowns called back because of penalties or dropped passes. There was the Dominque Foxworth interception and touchdown, which was called back because of a Terrell Suggs block in the back on the return. There was Willis McGahee's TD, called back because of a Kelley Washington holding call, and then there was Derrick Mason's drop of a pass in the endzone in which he was wide open.

In total, the Ravens had 10 penalties for 103 yards and are still the NFL leaders in penalty yards, by far. And that, my friends, must be laid at the feet of head coach John Harbaugh. Harbaugh has gotten rid of players he couldn't get along with (Chris McAllister) and it's been widely known that players such as Willis McGahee and Todd Heap have been in Harbaugh's doghouse. So, if Harbaugh has the guys he wants on this team, then he must shoulder the blame for the Ravens chronic penalty problems.

Last year, the Ravens appeared to be a more disciplined team than the Brian Billick-lead teams, who seemed to do their own share of melting down (see the 2005 Lions game and the 2007 Patriots game). But now we appear to be back to a Ravens team dominated with players who play sloppy football and can't control their emotions. Like O'Niell Cousins, who hit Steelers linebacker Lamar Woodley long after the whistle blew, knocking the Ravens out of a potential game-tying field goal.

As for the impact this loss had on the Ravens playoff hopes, at the time of the loss, it was decimating. But, after the Broncos and Janguars both lost, and the Colts let the Jets win, the Ravens still control their own destiny as the #6 playoff team. So if they win in Oakland this weekend, they are still in the playoffs.

But will Harbaugh be able to reign this team in for a playoff run? That is the question.

Aside from the maddening mistakes, penalties and dropped passes that cost the Ravens this game, there were some standout performances. Joe Flacco hooked up with Todd Heap for 2 TD's and his 1 INT came on a tipped pass. Ray Rice had the first 100-yard rushing game against the Steelers in almost 2 seasons, rushing for 141 yards. And Derrick Mason hauled in 7 passes for 77 yards, the sure-fire TD pass he dropped the only blemish on an otherwise stellar day for the veteran wide receiver.

On defense, Dominque Foxworth had an excellent game, the abovementioned INT his biggest play of the day, and he was also in on several pass defenses. Chris Carr had a shaky start to the game, but stepped up as time went on. Frank Walker, as usual, was picked on all game, and failed to step up.

So, there you have it. Another excrutiating Ravens loss which came at the hands of themselves. But if they can beat the Raiders this weekend, they will still get into the playoffs and face either the Bengals or Patriots.

Remember, Oakland has beaten Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Denver this season, so assuming the Ravens go into Oakland and demolish the Raiders could make an ass out of you and me. But, the Harbaugh-lead Ravens teams have never lost to a team with a losing record.

It would just be nice if he could beat teams with a winning record a little more often.

Monday, December 21, 2009

For the love of God, please stop!

After a recent entry on sequels I'd like to see, I realized that there are probably just as many sequels I don't want to see. So, in typical year-end fashion, I've complied another list.

10. Animated Sequels. Disney and Pixar can make as many animated movies as they want, but please, stop after first one. Did we really need 3 Ice Age movies?
9. Meet the Parents. I really liked the original movie a long, long time ago. It was funny and sweet and proved that a PG-13 rated comedy could actually be funny. But then the filmmakers crapped out Meet the Fockers and I didn't crack a smile once. Well, OK, the part where Dustin Hoffman lays down in front of the RV had me laughing, but the baby learning sign language did not! And since Little Fockers has been announced, I am ready to not laugh once again.
8. Resident Evil. I'm still pissed that one of the best video games ever made, and one that could have been an amazing film adaptation, was fumbled by hackmaster Paul WS Anderson (Aliens vs. Predator). Very little of what made the games such a creepy (and fun) experience was brought to the screen. And for some reason, 3 sequels were made to the original movie, each diverting further and further from the video game. It was at one time rumored that Anderson was going to direct the forthcoming Castlevania movie, but thankfully, he left the project.
7. Harry Potter. I know, they are based on the books (can't remember how many there actually are), but when is it going to end for good? Maybe I will sit down and watch them all one long weekend, but until then, I'll just laugh when I think about the "Harry Twatter" joke from 40 Year-Old Virgin.
6. Fast and the Furious. This franchise has always been geared toward the texting-while-driving crowd and maybe that explains why the scripts to these movies felt like they were typed on someone's cell phone. What could have been a fun dumb movie was just dumb, and then they churned out 3 sequels, each with varying cast members returning but the end result always being the same -- a movie that made you feel like you were stuck in traffic.
5. Ocean's [insert number here]. The first one was fun but overhyped, the second one completely sucked, and I couldn't finish the third one out of boredom, even while being trapped on an airplane. The thrill of seeing all those big actors on the screen together wore thin half way through Ocean's Eleven.
4. Saw. I'll just say this. Whoever walked out of Saw 5 and said to their friend, "I can't wait for Saw 6" should be kidnapped and put into one of those torture devices from the movies. If ever there is a film franchise that represents the downfall of America, it's the Saw movies. Oh and any film franchise that has a movie come out a year apart - instant suckage.
3. Shrek. If ever there was a movie that was old after its first entry, it's Shrek. I mean, I get it, Eddie Murphy is a talking donkey. Hil-arious. Whereas Michael Myers was once one of my favorite comedic actors, now I just wonder what the hell he is thinking half the time and The Love Guru proves my point. At least he had the good sense to do a cameo for Inglourious Basterds.
2. Pirates of the Caribbean. Ah, 2003. Everyone and their mother was in love with Johnny Depp after seeing this movie. Except me. I thought it was good enough, but didn't understand in insane hype-machine surrounding it. The second one, I felt, was the best of them all, despite it being really long and confusing at times, and the third one just seemed to throw everything at the wall in hopes a few story lines would stick. Rumor is that a fourth movie is in the works. Let's hope that it never sees the light of day.
1. Transformers. OK, the first one was a big dumb movie with cool enough special effects and Megan Fox to keep you from noticing that the plot was completely insane. Plus, for someone like me, it was a way to relive your childhood a bit, since I grew up watching, and playing with, Transformers. But the limited goodwill of the first movie was completely railroaded by the idiotic and bloated sequel. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen proved that special effects aren't very special without a good story line to tie them together, and at over two and a half hours long, the movie felt like it would never, ever, end. Not only do I hope that they never make another Transformers movie (fat chance) it was so bad I hope that Michael Bay never makes another movie (another fat chance).

Bear Hunters

Todd Heap caught 2 of Joe Flacco's 4 touchdowns.

The Ravens solidified their playoff hopes yesterday with a big win over the Chicago Bears, 31-7. It was a day where everything seemed to go the Ravens' way, from Joe Flacco's career best 4 touchdowns to the playoff hopeful Jaguars, Broncos, Dolphins and Jets all losing.

The Pittsburgh Steelers, however, won on the last play of their game, beating the Green Bay Packers. The Steelers, at 7-7, are still in the hunt for a playoff spot and with the Ravens traveling to Pittsburgh this weekend, things are shaping up for another epic game with the Ravens most hated rival.

As for the game yesterday, it was all Ravens all the time.

In a game that was delayed to 4:15 p.m. to give the stadium crew more time to remove snow from the premises (the MSA and MTA did an awesome job by the way), including a delayed flight from Chicago for the Bears, the Ravens forced 6 turnovers en route to their victory.

Right off the bat, the Ravens cashed in on an early Dominique Foxworth interception of Jay Cutler, as Flacco connected with Todd Heap for his first of 4 TD's on the afternoon. On the next drive, the Bears held the ball for almost 6 minutes and drove to the Ravens' 14 yard line before Jarret Johnson intercepted Cutler. Six plays and 81 yards later, Flacco hit Heap for his second TD, putting the Ravens up 14-0.

The next drive saw the Bears move the ball to the Ravens 4-yard line with first and goal, where they failed to score on a 4th down. At that point, it was clear that a win was in the cards for the Ravens.

The Ravens allowed the Bears to return a punt for a TD, and closed the lead to 14-7 at the half, but the Ravens responded immediately after halftime, as Flacco hit WR Demetrius Williams for his 3rd touchdown of the day (and Williams' first TD of the season).

On the kickoff, the Bears fumbled, and the Ravens recovered the ball and after 5 plays, Flacco hit Derrick Mason for Flacco's 4th TD of the game. After a Billy Cundiff 40-yard field goal put the Ravens up 31-7, both teams essentially packed it in during the 4th quarter.

On the ground, Ray Rice rushed for 87 yards. The receivers, Mason and Williams, each had big games, racking up 87 and 71 yards respectively. Williams, who was sitting behind Mark Clayton for most of the season has taken advantage of the opportunity he was given when Clayton was injured. In the Green Bay game a few weeks ago, he was the target of 2 deep passes in the endzone that drew pass interference penalties. Even though he didn't record a catch in that game, he was a threat on the deep ball. And yesterday, Williams got open consistently and his TD catch was in tight coverage, so tight, that the refs called pass interference on the Bears defender.

On defense, the Ravens allowed the Bears to move the ball during the first half, but they tightened the screws during halftime and the Bears only managed 62 yards of offense in the second half. They didn't allow a point, as the Bears' lone touchdown came on a special teams play.

If The Ravens win their next 2 games, they will make the playoffs as the #5 seed. But the road to the playoffs still goes through Pittsburgh, as we thought it would at the beginning of the season.

Funny how things change during the course of a season, and after the Steelers loss to the Browns a weel ago that knocked them down to 6-7, they looked to be dead in the water. But next week is sure to be another epic game between two division rivals, each with their season on the line.

And I wouldn't have it any other way.

Friday, December 18, 2009

O's lowlights of 2000's

The 2000's are filled with moments to forget for Orioles fans.

As the decade comes to a close, it seems like everyone is putting out their "top 10 of the decade" lists, myself included over on my other blog. But when it comes to the O's, are there really any highlights to be listed in the 2000's?

Most of them would be offseason acquisitions that seemed good at the time instead of on-the-field accomplishments. The Erik Bedard trade is probably the decade's best moment for O's fans, a trade that netted them an All Star closer and center fielder, as well as a top pitching prospect and a promising bullpen arm. But after that, it drops off quite drastically. Maybe you could consider the Miguel Tejada signing in 2004, but we all know how that ended.

Anything else? I think we swept the Yankees twice in the 2000's, including the end-of-season sweep of New York in 2000 which caused the Orioles to miss on drafting Mark Teixeira by one spot. So would that actually be considered a highlight? Don't think so.

If anything, the 2000's were a decade to forget as an Oriole fan. There wasn't a single winning season and the good things are far outweighed by the bad. So we might as well accept it and enjoy it before we close the drawer to this decade and forget it ever happened.

Here are my top 10 Orioles lowlights of the 2000's.

10. Orioles swept by Nationals at home. Ever since the Nationals arrived in D.C., Oriole fans have considered the Nationals to be one of the few teams below them in terms of suckitude. In early June of 2007, the Orioles were hovering around .500 like they always tend to do early in the season. And after the O's had dropped 2 of 3 to the Rockies, the Orioles were licking their chops as the 27-37 Nationals were coming into town. Wrong. The Nationals proceeded to sweep the hapless birds in front of shocked and distraught Oriole fans. The Orioles would then go onto lose 4 more games, losing 9 total games in a row, and killing any chances of salvaging a winning record for the season.

9. Raffy, Part II. When the Orioles signed Rafael Palmeiro in 2004, it seemed that the Orioles were righting their past wrongs. After all, Palmeiro left the Orioles for the Rangers in 1999 after Peter Angelos jerked him around during contract negotiations. But Raffy was not the same player he had been when he re-joined the Orioles, and when the Congress got involved with baseball's steroid scandal, Palmeiro was called to testify in Washington. Images of him angrily pointing his finger at Congress, saying he's never ever taken PED's, are now infamous. Well, Palmeiro tested positive mid-way through the 2005 season and was suspended. When he returned to the Orioles, he was booed so badly he had to wear earplugs. The Orioles sent him home at the end of the 2005 season and the second go-round with Palmeiro, one that was supposed to heal old wounds, had just ripped them open again.

8. Sidney Ponson. Ponson was recently named "worst pitcher of the decade" by ESPN. There have probably been worse pitchers in the aughts, but none have squandered more talent than Ponson. His early career in Baltimore was full of hope and promise and his 2003 season was proof that he'd finally turned the corner. But after he was traded during that season, he resigned with the Orioles the following year and never became the pitcher we all hoped he'd become. His off-the-field escapades are infamous, including getting drunk at Metallica concerts the night before he is scheduled to start and punching judges in Aruba. Once Ponson was arrested for a DUI in 2005, he was released by the Orioles, who claimed a breach of contract. Since then, Ponson has bounced around the league, failing to hang on anywhere.

7. The downfall of Miguel Tejada. Prior to becoming an Oriole in 2004, Tejada was an ambassador of baseball, much in the way that Cal Ripken was before him. Tejada always had a smile on his face and was as competitive as they came. When he signed with the Orioles in 2004, he vowed to turn the Orioles around, and was told by the Orioles font office that they would surround him with talent to win. Only they didn't. And once Tejada slowly realized this, it was probably one of the most depressing Oriole subplots in the 2000's. Tejada had just spent the prime of his career on a team that had lied to him. That isn't to say that Tejada didn't give it his all. His 2004 season ranks as one of the best offensive seasons in Orioles history. But once the mid-season 2005 collapse occurred, Tejada sulked, asked to be traded, and just looked like a worn down factory worker for the following 2 years before he was traded.

6. Say it ain't Sosa. In the offseason before 2005, the Orioles traded for Cubs slugger, Sammy Sosa in a move that raised a lot of eyebrows. Despite having declining numbers for a couple of seasons, Sosa was still a homerun machine, and many thought Sosa would add power to a line-up that had Miguel Tejada and Javy Lopez in it already. Instead, Sosa hit a dreadful .221 with 14 HR and 45 RBI. He was sent home at the end of the season and like Palmeiro, connected to the steroids scandal. His time spent in Baltimore is as much an oddity as Reggie Jackson spending the 1976 season with the Orioles and Pete Rose playing half a season for the Montreal Expos in 1984.

5. Intentional walk results in game winning hit. Reliever Todd Williams was trying to put Marlins' slugger Miguel Cabrera on base late in a game in 2006. Cabrera alertly swung at the first pitch, which wasn't that far off the plate, and blooped it into shallow right field, scoring the go-ahead run. The Marlins would go on to win the game, 8-5.

4. Jack Cust Slip-N-Slide. In 2003, the Orioles were playing the Yankees at home in Baltimore, a team they went 6-13 against that season. In the 9th inning with 2 outs, Jack Cust rounded third representing the tying run. He would have scored easily had he not fallen down as he rounded third. Cust then began to crawl toward home plate and was tagged out easily. Game over. Orioles Lose.

3. Mother's Day Massacre. The Orioles were in Boston, and had won game 1 of the 3 game series. That Sunday, Mother's Day, Jeremy Guthrie pitched one of his best games as an Oriole, after he had just entered the rotation after beginning the season in the bullpen. The Orioles entered the 9th inning ahead 5-0. Guthrie even got the first batter to ground out. But then the horrors began. Ramon Hernandez dropped a pop fly, allowing a runner to get on base. Sam Perlozzo, about to lose his job, removed Guthrie for Danys Baez, who promptly allowed a double and a single. That's OK, the O's were still winning 5-1 and only needed 2 outs. Everything is still OK. Wrong. Perlozzo brings in Chris Ray who promptly walks the next 2 batters, including walking in a run. So now it's 5-2. But the bases are loaded. Next batter? Varitek doubles, driving in 2. O's are still winning 5-4. We just need 2 outs, people! Ray intentionally walks the next batter and then retires Alex Cora. Just 1 out to go! Julio Lugo dribbles a grounder to Kevin Millar who flips the ball to Chris Ray for the final out, only Ray drops the ball and 2 runs score to give Boston the win 6-5. Mothers across the Baltimore metro area throw the remote at the television and rip apart their bouquets.

2. 4-32. It's hard to believe that the 2002 Orioles were 61-61 on August 23rd. It actually looked like the team had come together and would actually finish out the season in a respectable fashion. WRONG. The Orioles set a record for the worst record in a 36 game stretch, finishing the season 4-32. Ouch.

1. 30-3. The Orioles received the worst beating in modern baseball when they lost 30-3 to the Texas Rangers in 2007. Oh, and at the time, the Rangers had a worse record than the Orioles! It's hard to believe that after 3 innings, the Orioles were actually winning 3-0, which means that the Rangers scored a whopping 30 unanswered runs in just 6 innings. They scored 16 runs in the last two innings. Two Texas hitters had 7 RBI a piece and two others had 4 RBI a piece. No Orioles pitcher allowed fewer than 6 ER. I could go on with the embarrassing stats for days, so I will simply end it here. In a decade of lowlights, the Orioles 30-3 loss takes the cake.

So did I miss any? There are so many to choose from, I am sure there are some that I missed. Let me know if I forgot any other lowlights from the 2000's.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

O's getting busy

The Orioles made some moves yesterday, signing former Rockies 3B Garrett Atkins and former Braves relief-pitcher Mike Gonzalez. There were also rumblings about the Orioles getting in the mix for free agent OF Matt Holliday and Padres 1B Adrian Gonzalez, who is likely to be traded this offseason.

Where to begin?

Let's start with the surest bet, which is LHP Mike Gonzalez. Gonzalez will be 32 in 2010 and was signed for 2 years, so it's safe to assume that he will continue to be the rock-solid 2.57 ERA, 11 K/9 pitcher that he's been over the life of his contract. He's filled in as closer during his time in Pittsburgh and Atlanta, which means that Gonzalez is your closer in 2010.

Gonzalez strikes out almost 11 batters per 9 innings pitched.

Gonzalez may remind a lot of people of George Sherrill, minus the flat brim, since he is left-handed, strikes out a ton of batters, but also walks his fair share too. But, his signing makes the bullpen much stronger, as it moves Jim Johnson back into the set-up role, where he flourished in 2008 and 2009 before shakily taking over the closer role for Sherrill.

Atkins looks to improve on his horrid 2009 season in which he had a .650 OPS.

Moving on to Atkins. After a rocky 2009 in Colorado, where he was replaced as the Rockies 3B after suffering through a miserable .650 OPS season, Atkins will look to get back to his former self. During 2006-2008, Atkins hit 21+ home runs. A change of scenery might do Atkins some good, but when looking at Atkins home/road splits, it appears Atkins was a product of Coors Field and its hitter-friendly high-altitude. Atkins career splits are .892 at home and .735 on the road. And over the last 2 seasons, Atkins failed to get that road OPS above .661. Ouch.

But let's face it, Camden Yards is not a pitcher's park by any means, so Atkins should improve a bit as he gets comfortable in Baltimore. He's known as a solid defensive 3B, so at the very least, he should be able to field his position well if he doesn't do much at the plate. And let's not forget that 3B prospect Josh Bell is waiting in the wings, and could force his way onto the Orioles at some point in 2010, so it makes Atkins' 1-year contract a safe risk for the Orioles to take.

As for the rumors surrounding Matt Holliday and Adrian Gonzalez, I am not sold on the Orioles actually following through with either player. Here's why:

Holliday will command a lot of money and years after his excellent 2009 season with Oakland and St. Louis. And with Holliday, it's important to remember that, like Atkins, he played a majority of his time in Coors Field. Holliday's career road OPS is .808. Above average, but nowhere near the 1.066 OPS he had during his career in Denver. But, if Andy MacPhail deems Holliday worth the contract he will get, Holliday instantly becomes the Orioles clean-up hitter and makes a line-up full of potential that much more dangerous.

To land Adrian Gonzalez, the Orioles will have to part with at least 2 of their top pitching prospects, which would likely be Chris Tillman and Jake Arrieta, and that's not even factoring a 3rd or 4th prospect it would likely take to land Gonzalez. Gonzalez is one of the best young hittrs in baseball, and will be only 28 in 2010. His offensive stats have improved over the last 4 seasons. If the Orioles were expecting playoff contention in 2010, it would make perfect sense for the O's to trade for him. But it appears likely that the Orioles will be in for at least one more year of rebuilding in 2010, and Gonzalez becomes a free agent after 2011. It's also unlikely that he will extend with any team since he's so close to a massive payday in 2012.

So I'd pass on A. Gonzalez and look at free agent 1B such as Adam LaRoche or Carlos Delgado. Keep the pitching prospects.

So coming away from yesterday's Orioles movement, the O's filled two decent sized holes going into 2010. They've got a sure bet in Mike Gonzalez for closer and they've got a 3B in Garrett Atkins who could be a hit or a miss.

Neither move makes the O's substantially better, but it does make them a more fundamentally sound team.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Top 10 Shows of 2000's

10. The Office, NBC. The Office is one of those shows that I just want to watch each week. Some shows are a chore, but with this, I know that I am going to either: A) Laugh or B) Be made to feel uncomfortable a couple of times during each episode. Yes, some of the episodes feel flat or are too crazy for my liking, but on the whole, The Office is one of the most consistent shows on TV as far as entertainment value is concerned. I might be labeled a blaspheme for saying this, but it's waaaaaaay better than the British version too.
9. How I Met Your Mother, CBS. Remember when NBC was busy racing around trying to find the next Friends? Remember Coupling? Well, if ever there is a show that is the next Friends, it's How I Met Your Mother. What makes HIMYM so great is its total lack of regard for the standard sitcom formula. Sure, there is a laugh track, but HIMYM is actually funny minute to minute. The jokes aren't rationed out per episode and telegraphed from a mile away like most sitcoms. Also, the plot is actually linear throughout the show's history, instead of being self-contained in each episode. And Neil Patrick Harris as Barney? Legend...wait for it...ary.
8. Big Love, HBO. Aside from too much "Paxton ass" in its first season, Big Love is a drama that would feel at home on any of the major networks. There is not much language, little violence and the family, while polygamists, are a good portrait of a troubled, but loving, modern American family. And that is essentially what Big Love is, a family drama. HBO has a way of raising your expectations for shows, and for good reason, but with Big Love, its important to appreciate it for what it is, not what it isn't.
7. Alias, ABC. JJ Abrams left a big mark on TV in the 2000's, and while Felicity was the show where he found his footing, Alias was the show where it all took off. At its core, Alias was Felicity with spies and it also foreshadowed the kind of mystery that Abrams and Co. would later employ in Lost. Like 24, Alias trailed off quickly after its first 3 seasons, but those first 3 seasons...wow.
6. 24, FOX. If ever there was a show living off its previous glory, it's 24. What has become a tired show, recycling previous plots and characters several times over, 24 was once one of the most gripping shows on TV. It still has its moments, but for me, the first 3 seasons of 24 will go down as some of the best in TV history. And given its now-mediocre existence, Keifer Sutherland's Jack Bauer is still reason enough to tune in each week.
5. The Shield, FX. The Shield proved that cable could do TV just as good, and as racy as HBO. Despite its somewhat tedious first 2 seasons, The Shield grew into a show where every action had a reaction, as Michael Chiklis' corrupt cop, Vic Mackey, dealt with the consequences of something he did in the show's pilot -- all the way to the series finale. Whereas most TV shows have plots which are self-contained within a single episode or season, The Shield carried out one linear plot for its entire run.
4. Rome, HBO. Rome lived a short life on HBO. What was originally to be a mini-series became a 2-season show, which is now rumored to be continued again as a theatrical movie. We can only hope to see Kevin McKidd and Ray Stevenson on screen together again as the troubled widower Lucius Vorenus and the violent but loyal Titus Pullo.
3. Friday Night Lights, NBC. Shows based on movies rarely ever work. Anyone remember the TV show version Ferris Bueller's Day Off? I do. FNL is true to the film in that it tells raw stories about people who happen to be related to the town's high-school football team in one way or another, but that's it. There are no other comparisons to be made. FNL works because its largely improvised, which elicits realistic performances from its actors, and the writing is not content to spin generic TV drama yarns about characters getting pregnant or coming back from the dead. It's about real people. Good people. FNL doesn't need villains.
2. Lost, ABC. It's really unfair to Lost that The Wire existed in the same decade, because put simply, Lost is the greatest network show ever created. It transformed the serial and then turned it on its ear. Has a show ever been as rich in detail as this? I mean, Lost has its own wiki-page -- and it's about as vast as Wikipedia! At times the show can be frustrating, but as we've recently seen, it does intend to answer most of the questions it has asked over the course of its run.
1. The Wire, HBO. What else can I say about a show that has been hailed as the best TV show ever?

Contenders: Big Brother, The Contender, Damages, Gossip Girl, Tell Me You Love Me, True Blood.

Note: Shows such as The Sopranos, which started in the 90's didn't qualify.

Top 10 Movies of 2000's

10. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003). Peter Wier authentically takes us back to the early 1800's in a film that balances swashbuckling action with fascinating takes on sciences and philosophy. Russell Crowe and Paul Bettany are excellent foils, and surprisingly, the fireworks come more from their clashes on war and science than the action itself.
9. Lord of the Rings: The Followship of the Ring (2001). The odyssey begins in an epic fashion. We're introduced to the characters we'll follow for the next 2 movies, and thankfully, FOTR does more than just set-up those next 2 films, like most introductory movies in a trilogy tend to do. Put simply, FOTR made the year-long wait between LOTR movies almost unbearable. That's how good it was.
8. Black Hawk Down (2001). Ridley Scott turned in the most accurate portrayal of modern war in this adaptation of the book, based on the 1993 incident in Mogadishu, Somalia. At times its exhausting, and confusing, since most of the cast looks similar in their buzzcuts and fatigues, but it all lends itself to the cluster-fuck that is modern warfare.
7. Brokeback Mountain (2005). Yeah, I did it. I've included "that gay cowboy movie" on this list. You know why? It deserves to be here. At times it's shocking, especially for heterosexual males, but before long, it becomes a tragic love story. It could really be about any couple, gay or straight, and that's credit to director Ang Lee, who doesn't hover on the gay subject matter. Instead, he makes the film more about forbidden love and loss. It also doesn't hurt to watch as Heath Ledger transforms from teen heartthrob to brilliant character actor right before our eyes.
6. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000). Director Ang Lee showed stubborn American audiences what they were missing by ignoring foreign-made movies. CT,HD contains some of the most beautifully filmed and choreographed action scenes of all time.
5. Gladiator (2000). Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe relaunched the epic sword-and-sandal genre with much success. The fact that scenes from Gladiator are played at football stadiums across America is proof that the movie struck a chord, especially with men. The underdog Maximus is one of the most iconic characters of the decade, and Jaoquin Phoenix's douche bag villain, Commodus, is a worthy foil to Crowe's tragic hero.
4. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007). Brad Pitt turns in his most impressive acting job to date, and Casey Affleck proves he's the Affleck sibling with all the talent in director Andrew Dominik's epic bio-pic about the outlaw Jesse James. Dominik's straight-forward directing style gives the film and its characters a timeless feel, and the dialog, also written by Dominik, is flawless and authentic.
3. There Will Be Blood (2007). Paul Thomas Anderson's complex character study of selfish oil tycoon Daniel Plainview elicited the best performace of the 2000's (Daniel Day-Lewis). The soundtrack, by Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood, is the film's other equally as impressive highlight.
2. Kill Bill, Vol. 1 (2004). Kill Bill, much LOTR is one big movie. However, Quentin Tarantino wisely decided to split the film in two, right when the tone shifted from epic Kung-Fu flick to Spaghetti Western. The second half of the film is slower-paced than the first, and somewhat anti-climactic, but the first-half is action packed and features one of the best action sequences ever captured on film (House of Blue Leaves). I didn't think QT had it in him to do action like this. I was wrong.
1. Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003). Peter Jackson's trilogy reaches its high-point in the epic finale. The Oscars waited for this film to be released to bestow it with Best Picture, and deservedly so. The trilogy was made all at once and are essentially different chapters in the same movie. In an era of bloated special effect-laden films, Jackson remembered that humanity is more important than "wow", and it's the biggest reason why ROTK is the best film of the decade.

Contenders: The Departed, Inglourious Basterds, Kill Bill Vol. 2, Memento, No Country for Old Men, Zodiac.

Top 10 Albums of 2000's

10. Stars, Set Yourself on Fire. Sometimes Stars can be too "cute". But on this album, they resist the urge to be too cutesy and offer up some great though-provoking songs, such as the excellent album opener, "Your Ex-Lover is Dead". The album was eventually covered by several Canadian indie-artists on Do You Trust Your Friends?, thus sealing its legacy as one of the decade's best albums. And after hearing some of the odd interpretations of songs from the album, it makes you appreciate the original album even more.
9. Pete Yorn, Musicforthemorningafter. In a decade that produced dozens of "singer songwriter" douchebags (John Mayer, Jason Mraz), Yorn set himself apart by writing vague lyrics that demanded repeat listens as opposed to the "I got it the first time" songs written by the aforementioned asshats.
8. Radiohead, Kid A. Looking around a lot of "best of 2000's lists", I am finding that Kid A is often ranked at #1. I can see why. Radiohead transformed themselves on this album, after they had transformed themselves on 1997's OK Computer (the best album of that decade), and still managed to sell a shitload of albums while doing it. Kid A not only challenged listeners, it baffled them, which is why I often put Kid A back on the shelf and listened to Computer or The Bends instead. But after years of wearing me down, Kid A has won me over. Songs like "The National Anthem", "How to Disappear Completely", "Optimistic", and "Motion Picture Soundtrack" are some of the best songs the band has ever written. You just won't hear me rave about "Treefingers".
7. Ours, Distorted Lullabies. Ours' frontman, Jimmy Gnecco, has repeatedly been compared to the late Jeff Buckley, and it's as apt a comparison as it is tiresome. Look up any article on the band and you're bound to see the comparison made in the first paragraph. But once you get past the haunting similarities in both singers' voices, you'll find that Ours is more of a Cure-meets-U2-meets-Radiohead blend of melancholy lyrics that somehow uplift instead of depress.
6. Neko Case, Fox Confessor Brings the Flood. Case doesn't sing songs, she tells stories, and there is no better example of this than the album's first two tracks, "Margaret vs Pauline" and what is perhaps the best song of the decade, "Star Witness". Case's voice is haunting, and so are her lyrics.
5. Wolf Parade, Apologies to the Queen Mary. Dan Boeckner and Spencer Krug hand the mic off to one another on the band's debut, but eerily their voices and lyrics start to blend together over the course of the album as they sing about cities, whales, wedding cakes, fathers, sons and ghosts. It might just be the most challenging album of the 2000's to get into (it took me a couple of years to break through and appreciate the album), but it's also perhaps the decade's most rewarding.
4. Radiohead, In Rainbows. Radiohead returned to glory with this 2007 album, which they released on their own, on a "pay what you want" format. In Rainbows is also a return to an easier Radiohead sound, hearkening back to earlier albums such as The Bends or OK Computer. Whereas Kid A challenges the listener's patience at times, In Rainbows does nothing but satisfy.
3. The Strokes, Is This It. The Strokes brought in the aughts with a much hyped debut album that resurrected post-punk-garage-rock with some pop thrown in for good measure. It was such a good album, that it inspired dozens of bands to adopt similar band names (The Shins, The Stills, The Sounds, etc...) and even rip off some of The Strokes' now-identifiable sound. Is This It is probably the album that best captured the sound of indie rock the 00's.
2. The Walkmen, You & Me. I was torn on this one, but ironically, I was always going to choose from two different Walkmen albums, the other being 2004's Bows + Arrows. Whereas that album has about 5 of the best songs the band has ever recorded on it, it also suffers from some lazy throwaway tracks. That's not the case on You & Me. Every song is a masterpiece, from "Donde Esta La Playa" to the album closer, "If Only it Were True".
1. Arcade Fire, Funeral. This album still gives me goosebumps, right from the first note of "Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels). Arcade Fire runs the gamut of emotions from loss (hence the album name), sadness, nostalgia, love, and finally, optimism. In a decade of great albums, Funeral is the one I go back to the most, and I'm blown away each time I revisit it.

Contenders: The National, Boxer; Arcade Fire, Neon Bible; Camera Obscura, My Maudlin Career; Bloc Party, Silent Alarm; Radiohead, Hail to the Thief.

Cowardly Lions

The Ravens set a franchise record for total yards (548) in their 48-3 win over the Lions.

The Ravens beat up on one of the worst teams in the NFL yesterday, like they should, winning 48-3. It was a record setting day for the Ravens franchise. They racked up the most ever yardage on offense (548), and tied their mark (48) for the most points scored.

If the Lions were a better opponent, even a mediocre team, the Ravens could rally around this game as they contend for the playoffs. But the Lions are 2-11 for a reason, and are very much the same team that went winless a year ago.

But, yesterday the Ravens went back to what worked in 2008, and that was the running game. They rushed for 308 yards and 5 rushing TD's. Ray Rice ran for 166 yards and a TD. He had runs of 52 and 59 yards. Willis McGahee also ran well in mop-up duty, rushing for 76 yards and 2 TD's, and Le'Ron McClain chipped in as well, scoring a TD on 32 yards.

Hopefully the Ravens will stay with the run as they move foward, and get away from Cam Cameron's cute throw-first offensive scheme that has gotten them in trouble in the past. The Ravens clearly have 3 capable running backs on their roster and should utilize that strength more against better teams.

On the passing side, Joe Flacco had a good game after his 3 INT debacle in Green Bay last Monday night, throwing for 230 yards and a 62-yard TD to Derrick Mason who shook off two tacklers converging on him at the same time for the score.

The defense played the way it's supposed to against a 2-11 team, allowing 229 yards of total offense and forcing 3 turnovers. They allowed some Detroit receivers to get open early in the game, which is cause for some concern, but once the game got out of hand the defense dropped back into pass-coverage from first down and took away any chance of the Lions cutting into the lead.

I won't get too excited about this win. I've seen the Ravens shoot themselves in the foot with bad turnovers and stupid penalties too many times to get excited about the Ravens going schoolyard bully on the Lions.

The 5-8 Bears might offer up more of a challenge next week, but with their playoff chances eliminated, I wouldn't be surprised to see them lay down either. Basically, the rest of the season hinges on beating the slumping Steelers in Pittsburgh. I don't want to look past the Bears, but if the Ravens consider themselves playoff contenders, they have to beat Chicago and go into Pittsburgh and handle a Steelers team that has lost 5 straight, including losses to the Chiefs, Raiders and Browns. The Steelers also face the red-hot Packers this week, so it could very well be 6-straight losses for the Steelers when the Ravens buses roll into the Steel City on December 27th.

So there you have it. The Ravens still need some help to make the playoffs, as the Jaguars are ahead of them for the 6th seed, but if the Ravens win out, I do believe they will get in.

Are they good enough to do it? Even though they shellacked the Lions yesterday, I am still not sure.

The uncertainty of the up and down 2009 Ravens season continues.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Johnson claimed in Rule 5 draft

Johnson was claimed by the Giants in the Rule 5 draft.

I talked about it in a recent blog entry, the possibility of pitching prospect Steve Johnson being claimed in the Rule 5 draft because he was left unprotected while dime-a-dozen players like Brian Bass, Chris Waters and John Hughes were protected.

Well, the nightmare came true. Johnson was claimed by the San Francisco Giants yesterday.

I really don't know what MacPhail was thinking by leaving him unprotected. Johnson is a 22-year-old prospect who had accumulated almost 50 IP at AA ball last year with a 2.63 ERA. His K/9 rate was close to 9. And he was one of the players we got back in the George Sherrill trade.

So why did MacPhail decide to leave him unprotected???

I don't know.

OK. So it's unlikely that the Giants keep Johnson on their MLB roster for the entire season. Like I said, he hasn't even had 50 IP in AA. But the Giants could stash him in their bullpen, and if he succeeds in that role, we lost a solid pitcher for no reason.

Chances are he doesn't make the MLB roster and is offered back to the Orioles. But I still don't understand why we're having this discussion in the first place.

Thank God we still have Chris Waters and Brian Bass!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

O's trade Ray for Millwood

Millwood tossed 198 IP in 2009 with an ERA of 3.67.

The hot stove season officially began today when the Orioles traded Chris Ray to the Texas Rangers for Kevin Millwood.

Millwood was 13-10 in 2009 with a 3.67 ERA, and is 155-121 lifetime with a career 4.02 ERA. He averages 208 IP a season. So it's safe to say that the Orioles got themselves an innings eater in 2010 to lead a rotation of otherwise young pitchers in Brian Matusz, Brad Bergesen and Chris Tillman.

And to think, the Orioles only had to give up Chris Ray, he of a 7.27 ERA in 2009, including a whopping 9.64 career ERA against the Yankees. Granted, Ray was not the same pitcher he was in 2005 and 2006 after suffering through Tommy John surgery in the 2008 season, but it's safe to say that even at his best, Ray was worth trading for an established veteran pitcher in Millwood.

Millwood at his core reminds me of Rick Sutcliffe, and many O's fans will remember his stabilizing presence in a young O's rotation in 1992, the same season the Orioles moved into Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Sutcliffe was 36 when he arrived in Baltimore, with a career ERA right around 4 (same as Millwood) and lead a rotation in which Bob Milacki (27), was the second oldest pitcher on the staff. (Mike Mussina, 23, and Ben McDonald, 24, also made up that rotation, which helped the Orioles win 89 games that year.)

Also, Millwood sports some decent stats against the Orioles 2 biggest rivals in the AL East, with a 3.84 career ERA against the Red Sox and a respectable 4.86 ERA against the Yankees. Surely, that weighted into Andy MacPhail's reasoning to target and acquire Millwood when there were about a dozen other veteran pitchers he could have targeted just as easily.

In the end, the Orioles landed themselves an established veteran SP who can teach the youngsters a thing or two about pitching in the major leegaues. And while the Orioles will only have Millwood's services for a year, as he becomes a free agent at the end of the 2010 season, it was still well worth Chris Ray to land him.

Welcome to Baltimore, Kevin. Good luck in 2010.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Slayed by Green Bay

The Ravens allowed 350 yards of offense to the Packers in the 27-14 loss.

The Ravens let another game get away from under them yesterday, but ironically, they never held the lead in the game. No, instead they just committed 12 penalties for 135 yards that helped the Packers on their way to a 27-14 win. Even more ironic, the Packers committed 11 penalties themselves, for a whopping 175 yards, but the Ravens still couldn't come away with the win despite the advantage.

A large part of that is thanks to Joe Flacco, who threw 3 interceptions in the game, 2 of which came in the red zone and killed scoring drives that would have either given the Ravens the lead when they were trailing 17-14, or pulled the Ravens within 3 points of the Packers when the Ravens were down 24-14.

Don't look now, but Flacco is a mediocre QB. After a lightning hot start to the season in which Flacco threw 8 touchdowns in the first 5 games, versus just 3 INT's, Flacco has now thrown 8 INT's in his last 7 games, including the 3 he threw last night. He now has 14 TD and 11 INT on the year.

His decision making has taken a step back as well, and last night saw him throw into triple coverage on one INT as well as throwing across his body on another. Maybe Flacco is suffering from the general lack of focus that the Ravens are suffering through right now, as they lead the NFL in penalties. Who knows. One thing is sure, and that is Flacco is costing the Ravens games more than he is winning them.

The Ravens gained only 185 yards of offense on their own, and couldn't get any thing going on offense all night. Ray Rice was held in check for 71 total yards from scrimmage.

On defense, the Ravens reverted back to their pre-bye vanilla defense. While they did force the Packers into 4 turnovers, they allowed 350 yards of offense, and got to the much-sacked Aaron Rodgers only once. Once! A QB who has been sacked 45 times this year. ONCE!!!

Going forward, the 6-6 Ravens are still in the hunt for the playoffs along with pretty much every team in the AFC minus the Browns and the Chiefs, but at this point, it's hard to even care anymore. The Ravens routinely find ways to beat themselves so excuse me while I go back to work instead of working out the scenarios.

The Ravens host the 2-10 Detroit Lions next week.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

One for Two

After a trip to Prague, Vienna and Budapest, I'm back in the states.

On one hand, I'm happy to be back in the land of hot showers and free water at restaurants. On the other hand, I'm back at work. I'd much rather still be across the Atlantic, looking up how to say "thank you" in Hungarian, even if that means being 3,000 miles away from my Ravens.

But it didn't feel that long. During my week-long jaunt, I was able to catch the second half of the Ravens loss to the Colts at a bar called Jama Pub. It's owned by a Chicago native, and he's able to show a few games each week thanks to the American Forces Network. I am not sure if I should be thankful for that or not. The game was a classical Ravens choke job against a superior opponent that I wished I'd missed.

Flacco threw for 256 yards, but no TD's and his lone INT was costly.

In a game that many Ravens fans thought would be lost before the first quarter ended, the Ravens hung with the Colts for the entire game, despite not scoring a touchdown on the day. The defense held Peyton Manning in check for the most part, holding him to just 1 TD, and intercepting him twice. The Ravens forced the Colts into 3 turnovers on the day but still couldn't come away with the win.

After a Joseph Addai rushing TD put the Colts up 14-9 in the second quarter, the Ravens eventually took the lead at the start of the 4th quarter thanks to newly signed kicker Billy Cundiff's 5th FG of the day. The FG, however, came on a first and goal situation where the Ravens were unable to find the endzone. And after a Matt Stover FG (remember, he plays for the Colts now, sigh) put the Colts back up 17-15, the Ravens had an opportunity to win the game on their final drive.

Joe Flacco lead the team down to the Colts 14-yard line, and they were already in position to set up a potential game-winning field goal, but Flacco threw a pass over the middle which was intercepted by Colts linebacker Gary Brackett.

Game over.

It was another Ravens loss full of missed opportunities and self-inflicted wounds. Where to begin? Despite Cundiff hitting 5 FG's on the day, he missed one, which was the difference in the loss. Then there was the failed goal line stand that resulted in a FG. And then there is Flacco's costly INT, which was just another reminder that he hasn't been himself since the Minnesota game where he suffered a foot injury after being stepped on. And finally, there was coach John Harbaugh calling a timeout, then deciding to challenge a questionable call by the refs, which he lost, resulting in another used timeout.

So another season comes and goes without being able to beat the Colts.

The only bright spot of the game was Derrick Mason, who hauled in 9 passes for 142 yards.

The loss to the Colts set up a huge game at home against the Steelers the following week, after the Steelers lost to the Chiefs in a game where QB Ben Roethlisberger suffered a concussion. Safety Troy Polemalu was also still out, meaning that the Steelers would be severely undermanned coming into Baltimore. Third-string QB Dennis Dixon would be starting, and Ravens fans were frothing at the mouth for some payback against a Steeler team they had lost to 3 times the year before.

Rice rushed for 88 of the Ravens 132 rushing yards against the Steelers' #1 rush defense.

And despite being undermanned with the aforementioned injuries, the Steelers gave the Ravens all they had, before eventually losing in overtime.

It was a game the Ravens desperately needed. A loss would put them at 5-6 and essentially end their playoff hopes. But even with the win, the game showed why the Ravens are still in trouble going forward.

For one, penalties plague this team. They committed several boneheaded penalties last Sunday night, especially on Special Teams, which is Harbaugh's former specialty as a coordinator. You'd think he'd be able to reign that unit in, but they've regularly had good returns called back thanks to block in the back penalties.

Secondly, this team still has no pass rush. Dixon didn't throw very often, but when he did, he had all day. Whether it is Greg Mattison failing to design effective blitz schemes, refusing to blitz at all, or the players failing to execute, something has to be done to get more pressure on the QB.

Also, the Steelers ran the ball very effectively against the Ravens, totaling 152 yards on the ground. Thankfully, the Ravens were able to offset some of that with a solid rushing game of their own against the #1 ranked rush defense in the NFL. They gained 132 total rush yards.

And while the offense moved the ball up and down the field pretty well (393 total yards), they still failed to put the ball in the endzone consistently, which allowed the Steelers to hang around for most of the game, and eventually take the lead in the 4th quarter thanks to a Dennis Dixon 24-yard scramble for a TD.

Thankfully, the Ravens answered, eventually tying the game with 1:51 left in the 4th. They had an opportunity to win the game on a 51-yard field goal by Billy Cundiff, but after Flacco was sacked and fumbled with 25 seconds left, the Ravens had to hurry, which resulted in the ball dropping just feet in front of the goal post.

The Ravens held the Steelers in overtime, and a Paul Kruger (remember him?) interception of Dixon set up the Ravens game-winning Cundiff field goal. Dixon had played a good game up to that point, but you had to wonder when the Ravens would take advantage of his inexperience coming from his first career start in the NFL. And it was good to see Kruger, who had been inactive for most of the games this season and looking like a second-round bust, play a key part in the victory.

The win helped the Ravens as much as it hurt the Steelers, who have lost 3 in a row and are 2-3 in the division. They, like the Ravens, are 6-5.

Going forward, the Ravens still have two very tough games on the road remaining, next Monday night in Green Bay and December 27th in Pittsburgh. At 6-5, the Ravens could afford one more loss and still have a chance to make the playoffs at 10-6. But it'd be even better to run the table and basically guarantee a playoff berth at 11-5.

But the Ravens issues, and injuries, pretty much making running the table impossible.

The 2009 season was saved last Sunday night...but it still remains very much in jeopardy.