Here are the nominees for next month's awards. What else are you watching?
Ok, I'll set this up again. Congrats to hungry joe for winning last season! Your choices:
Brighton & Hove Albion
West Ham United
SPOILERS below and I'll get it all compiled. (Or maybe I'll outsource it.) You got till next August 18 to get it in.
The 2019 Twins are officially half-baked. No, literally.
The Twins played their last game of the first half yesterday. It was another ugly end to a pretty solid game, which is hopefully sufficient signal to the front office to turn the pan & lower the heat. With the loss, the 2019 club fell from a tie with the 2001 Twins for the third-best winning percentage over the first half of a season since the franchise moved to Minnesota.
I've included the top six for two reasons. First, those are all the clubs with a .600 or above winning percentage in the first half. Second, those teams were not too bad: one pennant, two excellent division champs, a squad motivated by the owner's collusive attempt to contract the team, and the follow-up squad to the 1991 World Champions. The 1991 Twins were, in fact, the next team on the first-half leaderboard, at .566. So, how did these squads fare in the second half?
Here we see the challenge ahead. Each of these teams cooled off in the second half — it's pretty hard to continue winning nearly two-thirds of the games you play. The 1991 Twins make their appearance here, and it makes sense that the top four teams all won their divisions or better. The second half swoon that sunk the '92 Twins is modest compared to the bottom that fell out of the young League of Nations/Soul Patrol team. The 2019 Twins’ postseason odds — 99.3% at the end of the first half — are as encouraging as we’ve seen in years, behind one of the most impressive half-seasons in franchise history. (It beats 2011–2017, that’s for sure.) Oddly enough, their World Series odds increased after the loss yesterday, up to 14.2%.
Even with the bats of ass they've been swinging over the last couple weeks, the Bomba Squad has obliterated the ‘64 Twins’ first half record home run record by 41 bombas. The 166 homers of the first half equals the club's full-season total last year. Not bad. When healthy, there aren't many holes in this lineup. The injury bug has stretched the team thin, but the excellent depth of this roster has helped maintain altitude throughout the turbulence.
The most notable hole appears to be a solid, three-position reserve outfielder. Depending on who is available, Gonzalez, Astudillo, Adrianza, and Arraez have been able to plug holes in the corners, but none of them are natural outfielders. Jake Cave has been beyond mediocre — .176/.299/.243 (49 OPS+) — despite a slightly lower SO% and nearly double BB% over last season. His line drive rate is down from 31% to 24%, and his HR% has dropped 75% from last year. That all adds up to a BABIP .101 lower than 2018. His numbers at Rochester are actually significantly better this year than last season — .327/.370/.536 vs. .269/.352/.403 — which probably explains why he's continuing to be in the mix as guys cycle through the injured list. With three center field-capable starting outfielders, the Twins are in a much better position than they could be, were Cave their only alternative to Buxton.
Meanwhile, Luis Arraez has had an incredible first half. Even though his average finally fell below .400, he's still had one of the best starts to a rookie season in Twins history:
Here's a list of Twins who have equaled or exceeded Arraez' 1.0 rWAR in 200 or fewer PA:
Arraez' hot start has been fueled by a .413 BABIP, which is higher than he's ever managed in the minors. He had a .376 BABIP through 164 PA at Pensacola this year, up from .315 over 195 PA in Chattanooga in 2018. His highest BABIP — .382 over 514 PA — came at Cedar Rapids in 2016. So, a high BABIP seems to be a repeatable skill for Arraez, even if it's a bit overinflated right now.
Finally, depth has been a sore spot in our conversations about the pitching staff. I'll admit that my mind has been shifting from bolstering the rotation to stacking the bullpen in recent weeks. Berríos has been awesome. Kyle Gibson is, at this point, Kyle Gibson. I'm holding my breath that Pineda's improvements hold, Odorizzi's blister heals, and Pérez stays in his May/June form. Two of those guys won't be starting games after September, assuming the season maintains the present course. Much as I hate paying through the nose for relievers — this was a very addressable problem between November and February — bullpen arms are what will allow the starters to stay fresh the rest of the way, and what will shut down strong opponents' lineups after the fifth inning in the postseason.
So, let's finish with a few questions:
- Who has been the most pleasant surprise for you in 2019?
- Who are you really done watching? What is next for that player, if you were GM?
- What patches do you feel the roster most needs?
- Who is on your trade deadline wishlist?
- Who are you willing to part with to bring in talent you hope to acquire?
- What position player will have the best second half?
I've been reading memoir in verse recently. In June I read Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson and immediately after that picked up This Is the Change: One Girl’s Story in the Fight for School Equality by Jo Ann Allen Boyce and Debbie Levy, both of which were excellent.
I don't always think poetry is a great fit for nonfiction topics--poetry is often works well to distill a topic to its essence and prompt readers to see something from a fresh perspective. I don't think poetry is typically good at conveying background information and putting events in a larger context, which is often what I want from nonfiction. But in the case of memoir, poetry can get to the heart of a story and keep things moving along--because even a really interesting life surely contains plenty of mundane details that readers won't really care about.
The latest books I have from the library are not poetry, and every time I look at them, I think about how very many words are on each page. I should probably start one of those books soon, though.
What have you been reading? Have you encountered books that you thought you wouldn't like that surprised you?
Obviously many are waiting for that little comic book movie that's coming out soon. Any others you're looking forward to this summer?
And of course, what have you been watching?
Last week, I closed out the Girl's 529 Account and this week, we'll be making our last ever(?!) tuition payment. We are now entering that netherworld between having "children" and becoming grandparents (with no guarantee that we will ever graduate to grandparent status).
So, what now?
Thankfully, we've been able to transition gradually, via the mostly-empty-nest, for about three years. And let me tell you, having the house to ourselves is pretty awesome. The Mrs and I can have conversations not about the kids, and we can, like we did Friday night, head up to bed at 7:30 p.m. with nobody to give us shit for being old.
Still, the "senior advisor" role takes some getting used to. When do you offer, when do you keep your damned mouth shut?
I'm like many guys, oriented toward fixing problems when I see them, rather than mere, passive availability of emotional support. I have seen my daughter struggling emotionally--with relationship issues, in particular, but also with mild mental health challenges, and found it very hard to find the right pitch. She's a brilliant, talented, highly opinionated, intensely moral, tightly-wound personality, slow to make friends but fiercely loyal when she does.
I've seen her fall in love. It was glorious. She positively shined. And I ached for her, knowing that there are tremendous risks that go with giving your heart to someone, particularly for the first time.
And I've seen that love crumble, as often happens, not-just-but-particularly with first real loves, and wondered how I could support her and give her what she needs.
I went through something vaguely similar when I was a college junior. A long-term, intense relationship died, not of my choosing (although to my long-term benefit). Picking up the pieces after is one of the signature challenges of becoming an adult. So I know that it's something that she mostly has to do herself. Knowing that doesn't make it much easier for a parent.
She comes home in two weeks for her last spring break. I get to wrap her in my arms again, maybe hold her hand on a walk, and tell her I love her. Maybe along the way, we'll get to have one of those conversations that two adults sometimes have with one another about things that matter. And then we'll send her back across the country for a last time as our dependent, before she goes out into the great, wide open.
This post may be a bit less about parenting, and more about being a spouse. A few years back my marriage felt the aftershocks of numerous friend couples getting divorced. To some degree, several of these divorces were affected by some degree by "empty nest syndrome". Like anything in our lives, preparation is so important when any life changing event happens.
I remember when "the couple who will never break up" told us they were getting a divorce. They never mentioned empty nesting, but reading between the lines it was there. It threw me into a panic. I thought "What happens when our kids move out? Will our marriage survive?" I thought about if for a while and then approached my wife. We have a good marriage, but do have our occasional fights. The topic freaked my wife out. "Why would you want to talk about a potential split?" she asked. Once we both settled down, we talked about expectations we each have after the kids fly the coop.
Her expectations: "We will get to spend much more time together. We never get time together now, and it will be nice to see you much more often."
My expectations: "Yes, I get to spend more one-on-one time with you, but I also look forward to spending more time pursuing interests I have mostly set aside the past 15+ years. Golfing, fishing, fast-pitch softball (old-timer league), etc."
The result of this conversation has led to a 2 year journey of exploring what our relationship will look like. My biggest discovery is just how much my wife has poured into this family. I took much of it for granted. Her absolute dedication to pouring all her time, energy and attention into our family is amazing. She has, for the most part, disconnected with many of her friends over the years. She does have hockey mom, soccer mom friends, but only spent time with them during sporting events. Me? I kept many of the friendships on a thin life line. I still found ways to visit my friends or vice versa.
I also hadn't given much thought to the depth of the mother/child bond. I do love and adore my children, but I did not give birth to them and my wife just has a deeper need to stay connected. I already miss my college freshman son deeply, but it is nothing compared to what my wife is going through. It has been very hard on her not to see him every day and not to care for him every day. With only one of two gone, I am already finding myself spending more time helping her with these feelings and doing what I can to become a better husband to her. More than ever she needs me and I have to be there for her. And... that leads me to what I think is the answer (at least for us) to surviving empty nest syndrome.
In my business, I have always said that adversity leads to opportunity. If a guest at our restaurant hates the food we serve, we rush in and make it right. Remake it, try something else, buy the meal, whatever it takes to make them happy. Turns an unhappy guest into a customer who knows you care, who knows you stand by your product, who knows you listen and value honest feedback. I can make that person a regular guest who will come back and sing our praises to the community.
In my marriage, the adversity of sending our children away has led me to a point where I need to be a better husband. I need to be a better friend. I need to go the extra mile to make her happy. I need to listen to her as she voices her thoughts, fears, frustrations, hopes and dreams. Yeah, I am sure I will get more time chasing my other interests, but that will be the result of building a stronger marriage. During this tough transition, my primary goal has to be supporting and loving my wife and helping her cope. For her part, my wife has taken a very similar approach. This adversity is an opportunity for us to grow closer.
Words of wisdom to those beginning, or in the middle of, the great parenting project:
I used to shake my head at couples who would get a baby sitter and go out a couple times a month as a couple or with friends. We rarely did that as we were laser focused on our kids and their happiness. Looking back, we should have done that more. We should have been enjoying our relationship more. We should have skipped some youth games and enjoyed life more. Being a great parent is an important goal in life, but can never supersede the goal of being a great husband or wife. Or... look at it this way: Strong parenting is built upon a solid base of a strong and loving spousal relationship.
Not sure if this will all be helpful to all of you, but it sure has helped me to write this all down and process where our relationship is at during a challenging time. Thank you all for the opportunity to share.
Apparently there's a chunk of movies on the old You to the Tube you can watch for free (with ads). So, if any of you need your Agent Cody Banks fix, you're good to go.
I have found myself reading quite a few debut novels lately.
- Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi
I'm kind of in love with this book right now. A Nigerian woman has multiple gods living inside her (some Ibo spirits, Jesus, etc.) and they sometimes take her over and sometimes fight each other and sometimes just comment on human affairs. It's not going to end well for the woman, that much is clear, but I'm really into this.
- Mikhail and Margarita by Julie Lekstrom Himes
It's a take on Mikhail Bulgakov and the censors in Soviet Russia. I just read The Master and Margarita during October, so I've enjoyed all the little parallels that crop up.
- Pretend I'm Dead by Jen Beagin
(finished last month)
This felt a little unfinished, but it was good. A "finding your way in the world" novel with just enough weirdos to make it interesting.
- The Strange Case of the Alchemists Daughter by Theodora Goss
(finished last month)
Dr. Jekyll's daughter teams up with Sherlock Holmes, and the daughter of Dr. Moreau, and Frankenstein's female monster, and some others to solve crimes. This was ... a lot. I kind of lost my patience in the climactic fight scene, so I struggled to the finish.
- The Pisces by Melissa Broder
(finished last month)
I've enjoyed Broder's poetry and essays, but this one wasn't quite as captivating. A woman suffers a breakup and house-sits for her sister in California where she falls in love with a merman. Broder is frank and sex-focused and a little bizarre. Interesting book.
There is something exciting about discovering a new author, and getting in early on their career. I follow a few early career awards (The Whiting Award, The Locus Award for First SF/F Novel, The Center for Fiction First Novel Prize, etc.) where I found a lot of the books above.
What have you been reading? Any up and coming authors on your lists?
The designated hitter came into being in 1973. That means we have now had forty-six seasons of the DH in baseball. Yet, you will still find people who hate the designated hitter and consider it an abomination. The reason they give, as I'm sure you've heard, is always the same. "The DH takes all the strategy out of the game."
Well, we're all entitled to our opinion. But it's interesting to me that the people who hate the DH because "it takes all the strategy out of the game" are quite often the same people who hate defensive shifts, openers, pitching changes to create favorable matchups, and every other recent innovation with which the "stat nerds" with their "analytics" are "ruining the game".
Again, we're all entitled to our opinion. But if what you really love about baseball is strategy, rather than just tradition, you should love the modern game of baseball. We've seen more new strategies in the last few years than I've seen in my entire life as a baseball fan. I'm not totally sold on all of them, but that's not the point. The point is that if what you love about baseball is strategy, you should be having the time of your life. Every night you're seeing all kinds of innovative strategies being played out right before your eyes. It's incredible. I don't think it's going too far at all to say that what we're seeing now is a golden age of baseball strategy.
I love the baseball I grew up with in the sixties and seventies. It was a great game. But it's a great game now, too. I feel sorry for people who claim to love baseball but are so wedded to the past that they can't see that. They're not hurting me, but they are hurting themselves. There's a great game of baseball going on, and they're missing out on it.