MLB Second Half has begun

With a full slate of games tonight, the second half of the MLB season has truly begun.

The first certainly produced a few surprises.  The slump of David Ortiz, the scuffles of the Tampa Bay Rays, the never ending soap opera that is the NY Mets, the surprising start of the SF Giants, the mess that are the Central divisions in both leagues, A-Roid, and Manny-gate.  You just never know what’s going to happen in Baseball.

I’d like to give my condolences to Manny Acta, the recently let go manager of the Washington Nationals.  I really feel bad for him.  He was handed a bad situation, exacerbated by injuries, and was expected to perfrom a miracle.  So, when Washington performed to expectations, ok, maybe a little below expectations, he got the axe.  Maybe if the brain trust in DC would have given him more pitching, particularly in the bull pen, the Nat’s wouldn’t be so awful.  they’d still be bad, but not awful.  And the nagging injuried to guys like Ryan Zimmerman don’t help either.

Now for some 1st half “awards:”

Al Cy Young- Roy Halladay (TOR).  Josh Beckett (BOS) is a close second, but Roy takes it.  He should win it at the end of the year, as long as he stays in the AL.

NL Cy Young- Tim Lincecum (SF).  Matt Cain (SF) his teammate can give Tim a run for it, but I think that Lincecum is the odds on favorite to win his second consecutive award.

AL MVP- This is a tough one, with so many good candidates.  Jason Bay and Kevin Youkilis (BOS) are solid contenders, as is A-Roid (NYY), Nelson Cruz (TEX), and even Torii Hunter (LAA).  For myself, it would come down between Bay and A-Roid.  I’d give the edge to Bay mainly for his complete lack of controversy, and how he carried the Red Sox while Ortiz struggled.

NL MVP- Albert Pujols (STL).  Is there any doubt?  I can’t think of anyone else in the NL who even comes close to meaning what Puljols does to the Cardinals.

AL Manager of the Year- Mike Sciosia (LAA).  Jim Leyland (DET), Ron Gardenhire (MIN), and Terry Francona (BOS) deserve some notice, but none of them have faced the adversities that Scioscia and the Angels have this year.  Don Wakamatsu of Seattle should finish a close second.

NL Manager of the Year: Bruce Bochy (SFG).  Joe Torre (LAD) will get some votes, being Joe Torre and managing in LA, but Bochy should win this.

Looking forward, I expect to see a few things happen.  Texas will fade in the AL West.  They just do not have the pitching, in the rotation or the pen, to compete with the Angels and Mariners.  If the Mariners get a big bat to help their offense, they can give the Angels a serious challenge for the division, and the Yankees for the Wild Card.

The AL Central will come down to the Twins and Tigers.  The White Sox are just too inconsistent to pose a real threat.  The Twins have a terrific 1-2 punch with Mauer and Morneau, a top notch closer in Joe Nathan, and enough pitching to compete in the division.  The Tigers have an issue in the bullpen with no clear closer, but their rotation is by far the strongest in the division.  Expect the Indians to sell of a few players before the trade dead line, like Jamey Carroll and Rafael Betancourt.  Don;t believe the rumors surrounding Victor Martinez.

The AL East is going to continue to be a slugfest.  The Red Sox should win the division by 4-5 games.  The Yankees are something of an enigma, and what actions they take may be dictated not by baseball reasoning, but by the sports writers and vocal fans.  Brian Cashman may be forced to amek a deal he doesn’t want to, with Toronto’s Roy Halladay the main target.  The problem with the Yankees is that they are one injury away from being dead in the water.  The loss of an OF, A-Roid, or another SP will kill their season, trade or no trade.  Toronto is in a tough position, especially with Halladay.  He’s owed a lot of money for next year, and Toronto is 2-3 years away from being truly competetive.  They could get a lot for him, if they deal him.  He’s the prize of this years trade sweepstakes.  Tampa Bay could be surprising in the 2nd half, potentially passing the Yankees in the standings.  Despite the loss of Aki Iwamura, they have a solid offense, defense, and pitching staff.  You cna just write Baltimore off now.

Over in the senior circuit, the NL East is one ugly division.  It seems like half the time no one wants to win it.  The NY Mets are wracked with injuries (Reyes, Delgado, Beltran), and guys like David Wright are under performing.  The Phillies are so streaky, just like the Marlins, that one week they’re hot, the next they’re cold.  I’m not sure adding Pedro Martinez will do much for the Phils, given that Pedro likely won’t go more than 5 innings in any given start.

The Central division is far more competetive, probably the most competetive in Baseball.  The Cards, the Cubs, the Brewers, and Astros are all in it.  Only Pittsburgh is out.  The top teams are so evenly matched, which surprising given that an ace like the Astro’s Roy Oswalt is having an off year.  These will be the teams most active in acquiring a player before the dead line.  Look for the Brewers to get a pitcher, the Cubs a hitter, and the Cards for the best player they can get(a pitcher most likely).  I would offer that who ever makes the best deal by the trade dead line will win this division.

The NL West is a run away for the LA Dodgers so far.  San Francisco is off to a somewhat unexpected start, and could nail down the Wild Card for the NL by the end of August.  The Diamondbacks season was lost when Brandon Webb went down to inury.  Sand Diego, who had one of the more coveted SP in Baseball, lost out on a chance to make a big deal when Peavy went down to an ankle injury.

The Red Sox and Julio Lugo are about to part company.  This is far from unexpected.  The only question is if he will be traded or released, as I don’t expect he will accept assigment to the minors.  Likely suitors for Lugo will be Seattle, Tampa Bay, San Francisco, and Chicago Cubs.  If a deal is made, the Sox will have to pick up most, if not all of his salary, and will only get a medium level of value in return.

Expect eric Wedge to be fired in Cleveland.  He may last the season, depending on how the Tribe’s 2nd half goes, but he won’t be back next year.  Joe Girardi may be on the hot seat as well, more so if Cashman makes a deal and the Yankees don’t make the play offs.

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This is just Effing Ridiculous!

I was alerted to this little bit of a travesty by a friend through Facebook:

http://www.kmart.com/shc/s/dap_10151_10101_DAP_Christmas+Lane?adCell=W4

WTF!  I mean really!

I know the “shopping season” keeps getting pushed earlier and earlier, but this is bleeding ridiculous!  It’s July for Pete’s sake!

It’s bad enough that the season has become entirely commercialized, with all being about the shopping and stuff rather than family and faith.  But this just goes too far!  I boycotted Target a few years back (I’m over it now), when they ran Christmas ads around Halloween.  Now K-Mart is on my shit list, probably permanently for this atrocity.

I won’t even entertain thoughts of Christmas until after Thanksgiving here in the USA (end of November for those that don’t know).  One holiday at a time please.  I can start to get in the “holiday spirit” at Thanksgiving.  There isn’t any major holidays (for us) between Thanksgiving and Christmas, so I can get ramped up for it.  But not in July.  The Fourth has only just passed, there’s still Labor day, Columbus Day, Halloween, Veteran’s Day (Remembrance Day in Europe), and Thanksgiving to get through.  Why on Earth should I be thinking about Christmas now?

Of course, K-Mart is not alone here, as they’ve dragged Sears into it.  As they’re one company now, it was unlikely that one would go down this road but not the other.  So I guess that both K-Mart and Sears on my shit list.  No more shopping there for the fore seeable future.  If more people do this, we can try and take back the holidays from the crass commercialism that has usurped them.

Wii Game Review: Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10

I’ve never been a big fan of golf games on consoles.  The button pushing just left a great deal of somethings to be desired.  But I saw potential in the Nintendo Wii and the Wii-mote system for sports games.  The basic Wii Sports package had a short golf game in it, a mere 9 holes, and only 1 course, but it showed me the potential for game play in such games.  I ws intrigued enough to begin considering the Tiger Woods golf game.  When I began looking at the game, I noticed it was only a few more weeks before Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10 would be released, and with the new Wii-Motion sensor attachment.  So I held off buying the game, and it was worth the wait.

The biggest addition to the franchise, and the Wii in general is the new Wii-Motion sensor attachment for the Wii-Motes.  This new sensor addition allows the system to pick up on rotation of the Wii-Mote in addition to the usual motion sensor aspects.  With the sensor attached, the system will pick up on left-right rotation, beyond the usual up-down, left-right cardinal movements.  For a game like Tiger Woods, and I can imagine for games like tennis, this adds a wonderful new layer of “realism” and game play.

The game itself is pretty straight forward.  It plays almost exactly like real life golf.  Anyone who has ever picked up a club will have no problem settling into this game out of the box.  More so on the Wii, as if you use the Wii-mote as a golf club, as you will get a real feel of playing.  This is unlike either the PS3 or X-Box systems, where you would still be using a traditional controller set up.  In other words, on the Wii this is an active participation game, where on any of the other consoles, you;d still be sitting on the couch.

The games has several game modes, from casual play (pick a course and go), a career mode (where it’s really at), a “party” mode (multiple players in a casual setting), and several on line features.  The real meat and potatoes of the game lay in the career mode, which is standard for most sports games.  Just like many other sports games, be it MLB, or Madden, or what have you, you create your golfer from the ground up.  The customization is fairly extensive, and perhaps over done given the level of details you can adjust.  I’m not one to bother adjusting my eye widths or tinkering with chin shapes, but there are those that do, and it’s here for them.

As with other similar games, you can set your player’s statistics.  As you progress through the game, you will gain experience points, by making good shots, meeting challenges, and winning tournements, which you can then spend to improve your player.  Unlike other game however, the experience points are specific to the skills, with a general category which can be used for any skill.  So just because you have great drives off the tee, doesn’t mean your putting will improve.

Once you have your player, you can begin in one of three categories: PGA Tour; FedEx Cup; Tournament Challenge.  So far, I have only played the PGA Tour.  In this mode, you start as a rookie amateur golfer.  You have a certain set of objectives to meet to gain your Tour card, after which you can compete with the Pros.  The game will provide you with hints and tips as you play, and if things seem to be going badly, will even offer to ease the difficulty for you.  I have yet to earn my Tour Card, but I’ve still managed to achieve several trophies and win several challenges.

The other career modes, FedEx Cup and Tournament mode, are also accessed from the “My Career” screen.  The FedEx Cup is just as it is in real life.  Individual tournaments and a combined scoring in the chase for the Cup.  The Tournament mode allows you to compete in historical tournaments, against the actual players in those tournaments.  I haven’t tried this one yet, as I’d like to improve my game a great deal before going up against the likes of Nicklaus, Palmer, and Woods.

As you progress, you will get opportunities for things like sponsors, who give you bonus cash for using their gear in tournaments, endorsements, and the like.  This will unlock more items in the club house, such as clubs, clothing, balls, and other gear.  You can adjust what you bring to the course at your leisure, making changes in nearly every aspect.  Club selection prior to a tournament may be important, so be sure to check what you have before each round.

All types of golf tournaments are present in game.  There are match play events, standard tournaments, skins games, and scrambles.  Some are four day tournaments, some less.  The various PGA tournaments, amateur and professional are here to be played, and on the associated courses.

The course selection here is impressive.  All the majors are covered, as are several of the smaller courses.  Every course from Bethpage to St.Andrew’s in accounted for, and are accurately rendered in game.  On of the neater on line features of the game is that you can have the game connect to the Wii Weather Channel and play in the actual weather conditions for that course.  Just as in real life, weather can be a significant factor in how a course plays.

Once you’ve created a profile and a golfer, you can use that golfer in any mode, on or off line.  You can earn some experience points (but not cash) from casual play or in party mode, so it’s worth your while to do so.  The only mode where you don’t (or at least not thaty I’ve noticed), is in Frisbee Golf.  Yes, Frisbee Golf.  Anyone who had a gym class in the 80’s, or spent time on a college campus in that era, will remember this.  It’s silly, it’s fun, and it’s a good easy family type game.

The online aspects, other than the afore mentioned weather connect, are interesting, though I have yet to try most of them out.  One mode allows you to “play along” with the real pros.  So, when say the Masters comes up, you can play along with the real Pros, and compare your game score to their real life scores on the same course on the same day.  There are also online tournaments where you compete against other players, and happen on a regular (weekly I believe) basis.

No matter what mode you choose to play, or at what difficulty, I highly recommend going through the tutorials.  Especially if using the Wii-motion sensor.  In a departure from the usual, these tutorials are actually worth while.  Even if you are an experience golfer, going through the tutorials will give you the feel for the game play, and how to make use of the various features and sensor capabilities.  It will also show you the various differences in some options, such as between classic and precision putting, and how to intentionally do a draw or fade (aka hook or slice).

While I am certain that graphically the PS3 and Xbox versions blow the Wii version out of the water, the game play on the Wii more than makes up for it.  As I said, it’s a more “natural” game play with the Wii-mote compared to the traditional controllers.  You take your stance, then back swing and swing through.  The Wii-mote system is sensitive enough to pick up on the actual force of your swing, so you can control how much force you use in a natural way.  Just like using a real golf club.  It is all very intuitive and wonderfully easy to pick up.

Putting is the same way, no matter which mode you choose to use.  The classic mode is what has gone before.  Anyone who has played a Tiger Woods game prior to this will be familiar with this mode.  It’s an easier (supposedly!) method of putting, geared now more towards the casual and new player.  The precision mode allows for greater individual control, from putter choice, to angles, spin, and strength of putt.  Personally, I much prefer the precision putting to the classic mode.  I just found it easier to assimilate into my game play, and found it a more “natural” choice.  YMMV as usual.

So far, I have progressed about 6% in my career.  I’ve only won 2 tournaments, The Highlands Challenge at Turnberry, and the European Shootout at St.Andrews.  The Highlands Challenge was a 16 player natch play tournament.  After winning round 1 on a play off hole, I quickly dispatched my remaining opponents by the 15 hole in each successive round.  This win earned me a “Player of the Month” trophy ball (there is one for each month).  I then struggled through three more tournaments before the European Shootout.

I only wish I could play like I did at the European Shootout.  After a +1 first round, I shot a -9, -11, and -11 to finish the tournament at a whopping -30!  This was by and far the most impressive game of my life.  I eagled (2 under par) 7 holes, including a par 5.  I was consistently sinking 40+ foot putts, and in successive rounds hit all fairways, then all Greens in Regulation (GIR).  I set course records for lowest score in a round (tied the record actually), fewest putts, most fairways hit, and most GIR.

I can’t quite give this a perfect score.  I’d like to, but Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10 suffers from the same issue as every other sports game out there.  That problem is the commentary.  It doesn’t matter what game it is, be it Tiger Woods, MLB09, Madden, NCAA sport game of choice, or what not, the commentary tracks universally suck.  The canned comments get real old real fast.  You play through once with it on, and that is more than enough.  No matter the game, the canned dialogue is generic at best, and inappropriate at worst.  It fast becomes an annoying distraction, and really doesn’t add anything to the game play.  Play with it on once, then turn it off.

Even so, I think that this is by far the best sports game out there, especially on the Wii.  The game play aspects alone makes this more than a worth while pick up.  If you have any interest in golf, this is a game for you.  One of the selling aspects of the game is how professionals say “it will help improve your game,” so it will also appeal to regular golfers as well.  I will say this, it can help your real life game, especially if you have a hook or slice in your swing.  I myself have “corrected” my usual slice (to a degree at least), and improved my putting approach.  And where else can you get 72 holes of golf in 2 hours, and feel like you’ve actually played 72 holes?

9/10