Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Best Albums of 2010

Wow. It's over already, huh?

It seems like just last month that WOXY went off the internet after playing "Answer to Yourself" by the Soft Pack as its last tune.


So looking back, 2010 was pretty good for music. Aside from the whole surf rock "slapping an echo on my voice is awesome" craze that bands like Best Coast reintroduced to us in the Big Dime, 2010 will go down in the record books as a solid, if not stellar year, for indie rock.

Here are some of the albums I had on heavy rotation this year....

1. Beach House, Teen Dream

Like The Wire, it's always awesome when something comes out of your hometown and completely knocks your fucking socks off. That said, Beach House could be from Iowa and that would not stop Teen Dream from being the absolute best album of the year and it's not even close. I discovered this album in January while painting a room in a blizzard and it will be something I remember for the rest of my life. It was one of those instant connections between an album and an action. Yeah, painting a room isn't as cool as cruising for chicks or a summer of baseball, but it will still always take me back to a moment in my life. On Teen Dream, Beach House took their cheap Casio keyboard drum machine sound and made it bigger without selling out. Now, instead of wishing Beach House songs were bigger, they are. It was like watching that scrappy shortstop come back after an offseason of hard work and hit 40 homeruns.

2. Arcade Fire, The Suburbs

I know what you're thinking. This album should be #1. And you may have a good argument as to why it should be. But #2 is still good, is it not? On The Suburbs, Arcade Fire strung a clothesline across the length of the album and hung their grievances with suburban sprawl on it. Although it's more restrained than their previous work, the band still knows when to turn it up and let it loose. This is the album we'll all come back to when we're forty, balding, with children who don't know us, and say "Fuck. Did these guys get it right or what?" And at the same time, our kids may be listening to the album thinking, "I'll never turn out like my parents" when we all know its inevitable.

3. The National, High Violet

If ever there was an album that upon first listen prompted disappointment and the feeling that "they'll never be like they were ever again" before giving way to acceptance and pure enjoyment, High Violet is it. For months, I couldn't get past a few songs on this album. The melancholy subject matter, the monotone way in which Matt Berninger delivers his lyrics, and the restraint the band showed throughout the album...it wore me out. It still does. At times I still think "this is the point where they're going to let loose" and then comes "Afraid of Everyone" and the band does the complete opposite. But in the end, I've come around. This is a great album to throw on when you're driving home after a hard day's work and you don't feel like feeling anything. And the National make that seem so easy.

4. The Walkmen, Lisbon

Lisbon, is basically High Violet times ten. If you know me, you know that The Walkmen can practically do no wrong, and with Lisbon, the same is still mostly true. But I still can't help but feel a little let down after what I thought was their best album, You & Me, where they reinvented themselves as a Sun Records revival act. On You & Me, everything worked. On Lisbon, there are hits and misses. Songs that were performed live a year ago are different on the record, and IMHO, different for the worse. "Juveniles", which was a country western tune, complete with whistling (!) when I heard it live in the fall of 2009, is now an almost cheesy lounge-act Rod Stewart wannabe tune. "Angela Surf City" was also much different live, but for whatever reason, the band changed it and it is what it is now -- one of my least favorite tracks on the album. But aside from that, Lisbon continues The Walkmen's evolution away from "The Rat", and whatever they got wrong before is made right with "The Sky Above". In the end, Lisbon is a great album, one of the best of the year, but an album that could have been better. The Walkmen, by default, usually have the top spot reserved when they make an album. Just not in 2010.

5. Wolf Parade, Expo 86

Maybe I didn't listen to enough music this year because Expo 86 fails to ignite much passion in me like the other four albums do. Yeah, that must be it. Maybe I need to go check out Kayne West's new album. Now that I think about it, Wolf Parade has let me down ever since their stellar 2005 debut, Apologies to Queen Mary. Maybe it's the dozen side-projects between them. Maybe it's just because their debut was just that good. Whatever he reason, Expo 86 is the band's most sonically crowded album to date, which is a change from a band that sounded like it was performing on the top of a scrap heap after an apocalyptic event with just a guitar, a crashing symbol and a synth keyboard straight out of a John Carpenter film. Now, there's too much drumming going on, as if every verse needs a breakdown ripped from the intro from "Hot for Teacher". Overall, Expo 86 reminds me that the bands I love will not always make music I love, and that I should be thankful for the ones that still do. There are some bright spots on Expo 86, but it's gotten to the point where this supergroup has stopped being super, and the band members' original/side-projects are where they make their best music.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Get on the bus, Gus

The #40 QuickBus has been an effective addition to rapid transit in Baltimore.

For whatever reason, the bus gets a bad rap in Baltimore.

Maybe the beating of a white passenger, Sarah Kreager, in 2007 by nine black school children is still fresh in everyone's mind. But what I've come to find in my experience with the bus in Baltimore has been nothing but pleasant.

Coming from Frederick County, I've long been waiting for work on the red line to begin so I am able to get to Baltimore without having to drive on 695 to catch the light rail or metro subway. But since the red line has been held up in red tape for the last few years, I got antsy and wanted to find a different way to get downtown.

After looking at the MTA bus schedule, I quickly learned of a couple of routes called "QuickBus". These bus routes don't act like most other buses, in that they stop at key transfer points and major landmarks, whereas the local bus can stop every block or two, making for a very long bus ride.

Currently, there are only two full-time QuickBus routes, the #40, which runs from Woodlawn to Dundalk and the #48, which runs from downtown Baltimore to Towson.

So I investigated the #40 a little more, seeing that it could satisfy my fix for a mass transit option into the city from the west. When I found out that the bus ran right by the park and ride located at the end of route 70, I pulled up Google Maps and found that I would need to walk on the shoulder of the entrance ramp to route 70 in order to catch the bus at the Forest Park stop.

So therein lies the one catch with the QuickBus -- it doesn't take advantage of any park and ride lots to allow commuters who don't live on the immediate bus route to take the bus downtown. Had the MTA built a walkway from the park and ride lot to the Forest Park stop, they could advertise the QuickBus as an alternative to the light rail and metro subway as a way to get to work or other events in the city. For now, adventurous riders, like me, can park at the park and ride and hoof it down the entrance ramp to the Forest Park Avenue bus stop.

The #40 QuickBus has 15 minute headways all day, meaning that buses are scheduled to arrive at any stop every 15 minutes. So far in my experience, this has been pretty accurate with a few instances of having to wait longer, but on average, I've waited 5-10 minutes for a bus.

From Forest Park Avenue, the ride downtown takes about 25 minutes. It travels down Cooks Lane, makes a left on Edmonson Avenue and then takes a right on Franklin Street before taking the two mile stretch of the "Highway to Nowhere" before entering downtown Baltimore. The route is very similar to the route planned for the red line, so getting downtown is a cinch. The Baltimore and Paca Street stop is close to the stadiums and the Charm Bus route is just a block away if riders want to head to the Inner Harbor, Harbor East, Fells Point or Federal Hill.

Another major issue with the QuickBus is that it's currently designed for work-day commuters only. The bus stops running around 10 p.m., which means it's not a good option for Oriole games that commonly run later than 10 p.m. or other nighttime events downtown. For that, the MTA feels that the light rail and metro subway should suffice, since both run until midnight.

So while the QuickBus may not be the answer to your east/west transit blues in Baltimore, it could be a start, and hopefully it's a preview for what is to come with the red line.

Ravens beat Browns, heading to playoffs

Ray Rice had another good game, rushing for 92 yards in the Ravens 20-10 win over the Browns.

On various Ravens message boards and sports talk shows, fans have been noticeably critical of the Ravens coaching staff this year, Cam Cameron and John Harbaugh in particular.

But the fact that cannot be argued is that Harbaugh and Cameron have taken the Ravens to the playoffs three years in a row. With a 20-10 win over the Browns in Cleveland, the Ravens clinched a playoff spot. It's looking like the #5 seed right now, but with a Steelers loss and a Ravens win over the Bengals this Sunday, the Ravens would find themselves with the #2 seed and a first round bye. And that would be about the time I kick myself for not buying playoff tickets.

So while there is plenty to be critical about when it comes to Harbaugh and Cameron, they have taken the Ravens to the post-season three times in a row -- something Brian Billick never did in his 9 years as Ravens head coach.

Yesterday, the Ravens relied on their bread and butter: their running game and creating turnovers.

Ray Rice rushed for 92 yards on 25 carries and the Ravens took away the ball from the Browns 4 times. And as the weather gets cold and the playoffs draw closer, it's about time that Cameron returned to the smashmouth football that has been the Ravens M.O the last decade.

Running the ball comes at the expense of the passing game, which us why Flacco threw for 102 yards yesterday. He chucked 2 more touchdowns and had a deep pass picked off. And while Flacco is capable of doing much more in this offense, these are the kinds of games we want to see him play.

Derrick Mason was the leading receiver, with 50 yards and a touchdown, while TJ Houshmandzadeh hauled in 4 passes for 30 yards and a touchdown. Meanwhile, Anquan Boldin caught just 2 balls for 15 yards. You have to wonder when the Ravens are going to work in Boldin more, but if he's content playing the decoy role for Mason and Houshmandzadeh to flourish, it's OK with me.

The defense rose to the occasion. After allowing an early touchdown, the Ravens defense hunkered down and put the brakes on the Browns offense. They scored only three more points and turned the ball over a total of four times on the day. Peyton Hillis, who had shredded the Ravens defense earlier this season, was held to 35 yards on 12 carries.

So even though there is one more game left on the schedule (Bengals), the playoff scenario is pretty much locked up. If the Ravens win and the Steelers lose to the Browns, the Ravens will get the #2 seed and a first round bye. But otherwise, they are the #5 seed and most likely headed to Indianapolis to take on the Colts.


And it doesn't get any easier, with the road to Dallas likely going through Pittsburgh and New England.

But at least the Ravens have made the playoffs again, and we can have this discussion.

And that alone feels good.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Ravens edge Saints

Ray Rice had a huge day, both on the ground and through the air.

While walking down the route 70 on-ramp to to get to the #40 QuickBus stop, Ben and I saw a bad omen. A Raven had been hit by a car and lay dead on the asphalt. A feeling of dread rushed through me. Was this a sign? Were the Ravens going to lose to the Saints?

Thankfully, that omen was proven false, as the Ravens snuck by the Saints, 30-24 in the kind of close game that the Ravens have made a habit out of losing this year.

Actually, the Ravens played what could be called their most solid game of the season. Cam Cameron went back to the Ravens bread and butter -- running the ball a whopping 39 times. That meant Ray Rice had a huge day, carrying 31 times for 153 yards and a score.

The ground game was running on all cylinders last Sunday, and the Ravens simply dared the Saints to stop them. But the Saints, thanks to some very poor tackling, could not.

Joe Flacco continued his streak of mistake-free football play, passing for just 172 yards, 2 touchdowns and no interceptions on the day. He completed 50% of his passes, but on a day that Flacco wasn't asked to do much, he did what he had to do to win the game, completing several big passes to extend drives.

Just to show you how big a day Rice had, he lead receivers with 80 yards and another touchdown. And when Flacco only completes 10 passes, guys like Anquan Boldin (1 catch, 2 yards) and TJ Houshmandzadeh (2 catches, 15 yards) aren't going to have big days.

But the Ravens won, so everyone should be happy. Let's hope.

The defense played a solid game, and had the Saints not scored their final touchdown on a fluke catch, the game wouldn't have been as close as it was. But that said, the Ravens held the explosive Saints offense to just 269 yards of total offense, intercepted Drew Brees once and sacked him 3 times. They kept him flustered, which meant he had to get rid of the ball quick and missed out on what could have been potentially big gains.

The only question mark of the day came with 9 seconds left in the game when John Harbaugh opted to kick a field goal to put the Ravens up 30-24 instead of going for it on 4th and 1 and ending the game. Had the Saints been able to return the kick for a touchdown, the loss would have created a mob outside of M&T Bank Stadium after the game. Thankfully, it all worked out, but I didn't see the harm in going for it. Had they not converted, the Saints would have gotten the ball on their own 9-yard line, with 9 seconds left and no timeouts. And ironically, DeSean Jackson of the Eagles did the very thing that Ravens fans had feared would happen when the Ravens kicked off to the Saints. Jackson's punt return capped off a wild comeback win over the Giants.

Next week, the Ravens take on the Browns in Cleveland, where wins are never easy. And with a win, the Ravens clinch a playoff spot, their third playoff appearance in three years -- a team record.

And yet people want Harbaugh fired.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Ravens survive Texans

That's right, Josh. The Ravens won by that much.

The Ravens almost gave away a game as well as their season in Houston last night in one of those wins that feels more like a loss.

The Ravens led 21-0 in the first quarter and 28-7 after David Reed's kick-off return for a touchdown at the start of the second half, but couldn't put the 5-8 Texans away. Instead, the defense looked the worst they've looked since 1996, allowing Matt Shaub and the Texans to put together drives of 99 and 95 yards to tie the game at 28-28 and force overtime.

The Ravens won the coin toss in OT, but were as hapless on offense as they'd been for the entire second half. After a short drive went nowhere to start overtime, the Ravens punted the ball to the Texans, thankfully pinning the Texans within their own 10-yard line. Two plays later, Josh Wilson picked off Shaub and took it to the house, ending the game and giving the Ravens a narrow escape.

Had the Ravens lost, they would have been 8-5 and a game in front of the Colts for the #6 seed. But thankfully, the Ravens were able to survive Houston and earned themselves the #5 seed, with the tie-breaker over the Jets, who are also 9-4.

However, with the hair-raising win, the Ravens don't look poised to make much noise in the playoffs. First and foremost, the defense was downright embarrassed last night. After turning in a dominant first half, they were absolutely torched in the second. They couldn't get off the field on third down, which resulted in the defense wearing down to the point of them almost not even being on the field at all.

The offense played the same kind of game. They moved the ball well through the air in the first half, scoring 3 touchdowns with relative ease before packing it in with 1:37 left in the second quarter. The offensive line really melted down in the second half, getting Flacco sacked a total of 6 times. They also failed to open substantial holes for Ray Rice to run through. Rice rushed for only 54 yards with a dismal 2.8 yard per carry average on the night. All signs for the Ravens offensive problems point to their inability to run the ball.

Joe Flacco played well, when he wasn't on his back, completing 22 of 33 passes for 235 yards and 2 touchdown passes. But his games are becoming repetitive. He plays well for a half while disappearing for the other half. Whether it's Flacco or Cameron to blame, something needs to be done to spark this offense because it's downright maddening to watch. And while Flacco isn't getting much time in the pocket to throw, he needs to be smarter under pressure and start throwing balls away to avoid costly sacks.

But Flacco deserves credit for his performance. He was responsible for 235 of the Ravens 253 total yards of offense. While many Ravens fans will surely be critical of Flacco after this game, it's important to remember that the Ravens won because of what Flacco did.

Derrick Mason had a great game, despite dropping a long pass in the first quarter that would have given him about 60 more yards on the night. He caught 6 balls for 78 yards and 2 touchdowns. Ray Rice had the screen game working well last night, catching 8 passes for 66 yards. Meanwhile, Anquan Boldin had trouble getting going, catching 3 balls for a paltry 41 yards.

And so it comes down to this: Cam Cameron needs to start utilizing the talent he has on this offense. He has 4, count 'em, 4 all pro wide receivers...and he can't even devise a way to take advantage of something that would give other offensive coordinators wet dreams. He's been calling the same ho-hum offensive game plan all season, despite costing the team several games. He almost cost the team another game last night with his one-dimensional play calling. Has a 9-4 football team ever fired their offensive coordinator? I don't think anyone in the country would bat an eye lash if the Ravens were to do just that.

Meanwhile, John Harbaugh deserves his share of the blame, too. When his defense was getting beaten like they stole something, Harbaugh opted to keep two timeouts in his back pocket rather than give his defense some time to breathe while the Texans were mounting their epic drives. When the Texans scored their final touchdown to bring the score to 28-26 and took the field for a two point conversion, Harbaugh AGAIN failed to call a time out. Instead, the Texans were able to convert their two-point conversion and force overtime.

While the Ravens may be 9-4 and holding down the 5th playoff spot, they look like a team headed more for trouble than making noise in the playoffs. And with the New Orleans Saints coming to town this week, you might get your preview of what will happen to the Ravens if they do hang onto their playoff spot and make the postseason.

And it won't be pretty.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

O's trade for Hardy & Harris

JJ Hardy has potential to significantly upgrade production from the SS position.

GM Andy MacPhail is still busy at the winter meetings, pulling off another trade, this time sending minor league pitchers Jim Hoey and Brett Jacobson to the Twins for SS JJ Hardy and utility infielder Brendan Harris.

Hardy is the centerpiece of the deal, as he is a player who has once hit 26 and 24 home runs. Unfortunately, Hardy has seen his production slip the last 2 years due to injury. In 2010, he batted .268 with 6 home runs and a .714 OPS in 101 games. And while that is already a huge upgrade from Cesar Izturis, there is potential for Hardy to offer even more.

So already, the O's have made two significant upgrades at positions of need in Reynolds and Harris. At 3B and SS last year, the Orioles got an OPS of .668 and .549. In 2010, Reynolds and Hardy each had an OPS of .753 and .714. And with MacPhail left with several options at 1B, it'll be almost impossible not to upgrade on the .625 OPS the O's got from that position last year.

Harris looks to be a decent utility player. His career .701 OPS is average, but he's had an OPS of .672 and .446 in the last two years, so it won't be a surprise if Harris doesn't last long in Baltimore. But the O's got the player they wanted -- Hardy -- for much less than it would have cost to get the other SS they were looking at, Jason Bartlett. The Rays were rumored to have wanted Nolan Reimold and Alfredo Simon for Bartlett, who is about the same kind of player that Hardy is at this point in their careers. And the O's were right not to give up on Reimold yet. Although he is 27 years old, his off the field issues resulted in a 2010 season that Reimold is hoping to bounce back from. And there is reason to hope he will. His OBP has always been solid and his potential for power is tough to ignore. Hopefully Reimold will be one of the better stories throughout the 2011 season.

To get Hardy and Harris, the O's gave up Jim Hoey and Brett Jacobson, and it doesn't look like the O's gave up much. Hoey has a 8.13 ERA in 34.1 innings pitched with the Orioles, but his MiL numbers point to him being a live arm out of the bullpen. But with many live arms, there is potential for little control, which resulted in Hoey's departure. Jacobson, the player the O's received in the Aubrey Huff trade to Detroit in 2009, is the more promising pitcher. The 23 year old posted an 8-1 season in Frederick with a 2.79 ERA in 2010. And while he is a little old to be in Frederick, he still could be a useful arm for the Twins down the road.

So there it is. The O's continue to improve, although not drastically, and not in ways that are going to sell many tickets ahead of time. But there is potential for each move to work out more than it doesn't.

I guess we can be happy about that.

Monday, December 6, 2010

O's trade for Mark Reynolds

The O's traded for 3B Mark Reynolds, who many O's fans will no doubt compare to Rob Deer.

The Orioles made their first big move of the offseason, trading pitchers David Hernandez and Kameron Mickolio for Diamondbacks 3B, Mark Reynolds.

It's a solid move to get a right-handed power bat into the line-up and fill a position of need at 3B. Reynolds has hit 32, 44 and 28 HR in the last 3 years and has a career .908 OPS against LHP.

The downside?

He hit .198 last season and lead the NL with 200+ strikeouts the last three seasons.

Yeah, you read that right.

Reynolds is not without some risk, but his upside is pretty big. He may strike out a ton but he can also get on base. Last year, with his .198 average and 211 K's, he was still able to get his OBP up to .320. And while Reynolds will never be a .300 hitter (his best year was .260 in 2009), if he can just get his average up to .220-.240 range, he could get on base at a .360 clip.

Then again, he could continue to struggle to get his average above the Mendoza line and his power could continue to decrease. He is, after all, going to be facing some of the best pitching the MLB has to offer in the AL East.

But when you consider what it took to acquire the 27-year old player, it was a good move.

David Hernandez was a promising pitcher, when he was coming up through the O's system with a K/9 rate that was around 10. But when he broke into the majors in 2009, the strikeouts weren't there. Hernandez threw a lot of pitches and never had an out pitch. He did well in the bullpen in 2010 (2.95 ERA in 39 IP with a 11.1 K/9), but you have to give up something to get something in return, and Hernandez was the centerpiece of the deal for Arizona.

Mickolio, whom the Orioles acquired in the Erik Bedard trade back in 2008, always had potential to blossom into a powerful arm out of the bullpen, but he never lived up to that potential due to injuries and control issues. Mickolio had a K/9 rate above 12 in Norfolk this year, but his BB/9 went up to 4.

The Diamondbacks needed bullpen help, and with Hernandez and Mickolio, they got two good youngish arms that could do well with a change in scenery. And since the DBacks made it well known that they wanted to shed some of the K's in their line-up, Reynolds was not going to cost the Orioles that much.

Strangely, rumors were that the O's wanted to trade Chris Tillman to the the Diamondbacks, but the Dbacks were insistent on Hernandez. Why the O's would give up on Tillman so soon is curious. Do they know something about Tillman that fans don't? Sure, Tillman hasn't done well outside of a few promising starts here and there in his two brief stints in Baltimore over the last 2 years, but he's still 23 and younger than both Hernandez, 26 and Mickolio, 24.

So at least the O's made a move. It's not something that's going to sell a lot of tickets, but it could be a move that we look back on by mid-season and think, "I am glad the Orioles made that move".

But then again, we could be asking ourselves, "Why did the Orioles make that move?"

Ravens fumble away win to Steelers

Fumbled Away: Troy Polamalu causes a Joe Flacco fumble that set up the Steelers game-winning touchdown.

Well, it finally happened.

Baltimore sports fans had to endure that rare coaching blunder that haunts fans for weeks, months...maybe years.

It was as bad as Bill Belechick going for it on 4th and 2 on his own 30 yard line against the Colts last year. It was almost as bad as Marty Morningweg opting to kick the ball off in overtime.

Trailing 13-10 with less than a minute to go at the Steelers 31-yard line, John Harbaugh elected to go for it on 4th and 2 instead of bringing in strong legged kicker Billy Cundiff for a 49 yard field goal attempt.

On that 4th down, Flacco passed to the left for an incomplete. The ball was tipped at the line of scrimmage and bounced to Ed Dickson. Game over, Ravens lose to the Steelers, 13-10 and put themselves in the hunt for one of two wild card spots at 8-4.

Granted, Cundiff's potential 49-yard game tying kick wasn't a gimme by any stretch of the imagination. But it was the call that should have been made. Going for it on 4th and 2 would have only prolonged the drive, and Harbaugh used the last timeout before opting to go for it. Had they converted the 4th down, there would have been no more timeouts and Cundiff would have had to rush a field goal kick.

It was just an inexcusable decision by Harbaugh. And this is coming from someone who has routinely stuck up for him when Ravens fans criticize him for being too smug with the media and a jerk. But his decision last night was just troubling on every level.

Harbaugh blamed the wind for the decision to go for it, and said the ball wasn't tracking well during field goal practice kicks before the game. And yes, the wind was blowing hard last night and Cundiff would have been kicking into the direction of the wind on the east side of the stadium. But from where I was sitting, the flags on the eastern goal posts were not blowing at the time of the 4th and 2. The Ravens had a window to kick a field goal and they decided to close it instead.

Harbaugh's questionable decision making was the final nail in the coffin, but it is arguably not the biggest turning point of the game. Up 10-6 on their own 43 yard line, with 3:13 remaining, Flacco dropped back in the pocket to pass on 2nd and 5 and was immediately hit by Troy Polamalu (who else?) and fumbled the ball. The Steelers recovered the ball and returned it to the Ravens 9 yard line where they scored on a Ben Roethlisberger pass to Isaac Redman 3 plays later.

So why were they passing you ask? It's your basic damned if you do, damned if you don't situation.

The Ravens are routinely blasted for being to conservative with small leads late in games, and they played conservative many times last night. But just when they decided to get aggressive, and pass on that 2nd and 5 so late in the game, it blows up in their face. No one touched Polamalu on his way to Flacco, so there was a missed assignment in there somewhere. It was the Steelers being the Steelers, and getting the big play they need late in the game to steal another win from the Ravens.

There were some positives that are sure to be overshadowed. Joe Flacco played pretty well, completing 17 of 33 passes for 266 yards, 1 touchdown and 0 interceptions. He made some great passes on the scoring drive in the first quarter. Anquan Boldin had a huge night, catching 5 balls for 118 yards and a score. And the defense played exceptionally well last night, bending but not breaking against the Steelers, who scored their only touchdown after the Flacco fumble gave them the ball at the Ravens 9 yard line. The defense's lone stumble was on the Redman touchdown, where they missed several tackles.

After the game, Derrick Mason was critical of the offense, saying what has been on the minds of Ravens fans since the beginning of the season. Why is the Ravens offense failing to take advantage of the multiple weapons it has? There has never been a good rhythm on offense since the beginning of the year, and it looks like there never will be one in 2010. It's week 13 and the Ravens are a mediocre 14th overall in yards and 17th in points scored. Is it Cam Cameron's play calling? Too many chefs in the kitchen on offense in Boldin, Mason and Houshmandzadeh?

Who knows. But the Ravens better figure out what they want to be on offense and stick with it. Last night they came out with a game plan -- to pass on the Steelers -- and it worked for a short period of time, as Anquan Boldin slipped past his defender for a wide open touchdown catch in the endzone in the first quarter. But after that touchdown, the Ravens predictably let off of the gas and allowed the Steelers to do what they do best -- chisel their way back into the game.

So where does this loss put the Ravens? At 8-4 and in the 6th playoff spot. Whoever loses between New England and the New York Jets tonight will have the 5th spot with the winner of tonight's game, the Steelers, Jaguars and Chiefs as the leaders in their division.

The Ravens still control their own destiny to make the playoffs, but with last night's loss, a division title is looking impossible. The Ravens have a tough schedule remaining, with games at Houston, home against New Orleans, at Cleveland and then home against Cincinnati.

The Steelers, meanwhile, have three home games in a row against Cleveland, New York Jets and Carolina before closing out the season at Cleveland. It's gonna take an epic Steelers meltdown for the Ravens to make-up two games against the Steelers for the division. I don't see it happening, which is why I'm not sending in the money for home playoff tickets. If the Ravens make the playoffs, they're gonna have to do what they've always done: go on the road.

Meanwhile, the Ravens locker rom is not a place you'd want to be right now. Reports are that the underlying tensions between offensive and defensive players are starting to come to a head. The dislike of Harbaugh by some players is starting to cause problems. How this team responds in Houston next Monday night after such a demoralizing loss at home to the Steelers is what could be the difference between a playoff spot and watching the playoffs from home.

So there it is.

It was the kind of game you expected, but in the end, the result was inevitable against those MF Steelers. And as with each loss so far this season, Ravens fans can't help but feel like they let another one slip through their fingers.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Dunn signs with the White Sox, O's offer lowball deal

Stop right there, Andy. I will not take $16 million dollars less to come play for the Orioles. Thanks but no thanks.

Left-handed slugger Adam Dunn signed with the White Sox for 4 years, $56 million. $14 million a year for a clean-up hitter who hasn't hit below 38 home runs since 2003 is a very fair deal to me. Plus, Dunn is only 31 years old, so it's not likely that he starts to decline by the end of his contract like most of the other available 1B free agents.

And it should also come as no surprise that Dunn signed with the White Sox, a competitive team that won 88 games a year ago.

But what is surprising -- and embarrassing -- is that the Orioles offered Dunn a deal far below the deal he got from the White Sox.

The Orioles offer? 4 years, $40 million dollars.

That's right -- $16 million dollars below what he got from the White Sox.

Dunn turned down a 3 year, $45 million dollar extension from the Washington Nationals, so what the hell did MacPhail think Dunn was going to do with his offer? Dunn is probably lining his birdcage with the Orioles offer sheet today.

And so it continues. The Orioles keep offering free agents far below their market value. It's like Andy MacPhail is an elderly shopper, refusing to believe that it's 2010. He still believes he should be able to buy stuff for what it cost back in 1976.

With the Orioles having had a great final 2 months to the 2010 season, and Buck Showalter in the manager's seat, MacPhail should be doing all he can to add talent to this roster and shed the image that the Baltimore Orioles are a failure.

But his lowball offers are doing nothing to squash that image. As a matter of fact it's only making that image worse and frustrating the few remaining fans that the Orioles haven't alienated over their 13 year losing run.

Does MacPhail really think that a player of Dunn's stature would accept $16 million less to play on a team that hasn't had a winning record since Dunn was 17 years old?

Or is this just another CYA move so that the Orioles can say "We offered him a deal". I wonder if we'll start to hear "confederate money" being thrown around the warehouse again. The ghost of Sid Thrift lives.

Wake up, Andy. Either make a fair deal or don't offer anything at all. Your cheapskate lowball offers are only embarrassing the Orioles even more.