Crash Bag, Vol. 25: Going All-In with The Juggernaut

I know y’all don’t really care about my own personal sports landscape, but I’m going to lament a little bit anyway. It sucks right now. We’re a week into that terrible part of the year where you can go 5 1/2 months without seeing meaningful, San Francisco Giants-free baseball, and I’m already sick of it. The Eagles are starting to get too depressing to watch. The NHL is gone for the foreseeable future. My South Carolina Gamecocks dropped (literally, in last week’s case) two straight winnable games to ease themselves not only out of the national title race but the SEC title race (which, let’s face it, are more or less the same thing), so now the Flying Spurriers are only playing for pride. The Union’s been done for months and Arsenal’s already bowing out of the Premier League race before Halloween…there’s so little interesting sports left this year that I’m starting to worry about how little time is left in the NASCAR schedule.

With no NHL and football and soccer on the suck as far as my teams are concerned, I have the NBA and the NBA alone to sustain me until college baseball starts in February. Which would be fine, but it’s not enough. I need constant sports stimulation. I am the Galactus of sports–even when baseball rules the summer, I consume international soccer, the Olympics and cycling to sate my hunger.

I bring all this up because this oppressive red-leaved, gray-skied ennui brings us to the first question.

@leokitty: “ugh i am too tired to think of annoying things to flood you with”

I totally get that. I imagine there will be many non-baseball questions to come. But seriously, let’s have a question.

@leokitty: “why is the wawa across the street from the convention center the nexus point for all crackheads on the east coast?”

Because it’s in New York? I’d probably start doing crack if I had to live in New York.

@tigerbombrock: “your 5 favorite books”

I’ve actually read a lot more non-fiction than fiction recently, so I’ll give you a top five for each.

Non-Fiction:

  • The Blind Side, by Michael Lewis. Yes, I know, they turned it into a Disney sports movie schmaltz-fest, but the book, which I read before the movie came out, was excellent, exhaustively researched and well-written as you’d expect from the writer of Moneyball and Liar’s Poker, and the story, frankly, was so remarkable that it couldn’t help but be turned into a Disney sports movie schmaltz-fest. This is the kind of book that you can be cynical about, but if you take that route it makes you feel like a real asshole.
  • Football Against the Enemy, by Simon Kuper. This is the best book about soccer I’ve ever read, the best sports book that I’ve ever read, the best book about globalization and the post-Cold War world that I’ve ever read, maybe the best non-fiction book of any kind I’ve ever read. And it was all researched and written independently, for about $7,000 by a journalist in his early twenties. Almost a decade later, Franklin Foer came out with How Soccer Explains the World, another book that uses soccer as a metaphor for different issues in world culture and politics. I read that book first and revered it. A few months later, I read Football Against the Enemy, and since then, I haven’t touched my copy of How Soccer Explains the World, because it seems so facile and trite. I’d take Kuper over any sportswriter working today, and this book is the main reason why.
  • Strong Democracy, by Benjamin Barber. I read this for a political theory class in grad school, and I think it’s great for two reasons: first, it anticipates and attempts to solve the problems of modern American democracy, and second, Barber is unlike most political theoreticians in that he can write. Most political scientists write like they hold the reader in a contempt second only to clarity of meaning. Barber writes very felicitous, straightforward prose that actually betrays human emotion. From what I’ve read, you have to go back to Thomas Paine or Machiavelli to get that combination really interesting political philosophy and good writing.
  • A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, by David Foster Wallace. Apparently, parts of it are embellished or fabricated, but I don’t care, because this is about as fun a read as I’ve ever had.
  • The Right Stuff, by Tom Wolfe. Not exactly non-fiction, but I consider Tom Wolfe to be one of my greatest writing influences, and the subject matter (the early American space program) is of particular interest to me. I’ve long said that if someone made a TV channel that aired nothing but documentaries about NASA from 1958 to 1975 or so, I’d watch nothing else.

Fiction:

  • The Twenty-Seventh City, by Jonathan Franzen. Franzen is my favorite writer, of any nationality, in any genre, living or dead, and while I think The Corrections and Freedom are better books, his debut novel, a political thriller set in mid-1980s St. Louis, is my favorite.
  • Starship Troopers, by Robert A. Heinlein. They don’t make thought-provoking, high-nutritional-value sci-fi like this anymore. Heinlein might have been a right-wing loony, but this is, if nothing else, a fun adventure story. I’d have chosen the more celebrated A Stranger in a Strange Land, but, like Danny Boyle’s Sunshine, it falls into the trap of being awesome to start, then getting too weird to live by the end.
  • A Long Way Down, by Nick Hornby. Four strangers try and fail to kill themselves, and hilarity ensues. I don’t classify Hornby as a “great” writer, the way I do Franzen, Wolfe, Wallace and Richard Ford, but he’s tons of fun. This is, for my money, the best of his books. It’s also coming out as a film next year, starring Aaron Paul and Pierce Brosnan. Considering that the movie adaptations of High FidelityAbout a Boy and Fever Pitch (the original, starring Colin Firth and Mark Strong, not that insipid and opportunistic Jimmy Fallon remake) were, I’m looking forward to it.
  • The Sportswriter, by Richard Ford. It’s about a sportswriter. I don’t know that I enjoy reading Richard Ford, but he makes me emote like nothing else. If you want to feel feelings, you should read this book.
  • Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card. When I’m dictator of the world, this book will be required reading for all high school students. Of all the messianic teenager sci-fi and fantasy (Star Wars, Dune, Harry Potter) this is probably my favorite from storytelling standpoint.

@Ben_Duronio: “Why are the Phillies no longer as good as the Braves”

Because Atlanta’s finally had a chance to rebuild after the Fire Sale of 1864.

@andymoney69: “which are you most looking forward to, the heat death of the universe or another giants World Series title?”

You know, I’ve accepted that the eventual champion is not the best team. But there’s something about the San Francisco Giants that reminds me of the guy who goes all-in with The Juggernaut, catches runner runner for the straight, and thinks he’s good at poker all of a sudden. It’s infuriating. Watching teams lose to San Francisco in the playoffs is like watching a month-long stage reenactment of the book of Job. I can’t stand it. The hell with the World Series.

@CM_rmjenkins: “F the WS. Which Phils prospects should I be excited about in 2013? Whose stock will rise?”

Great question. For the record, we do have a Prospect Impresario on staff, in Eric Longenhagen, who can be reached via Twitter at @longenhagen. Which is not to say that I am unwilling or unable to answer prospect questions, but he might prove to be a somewhat more prospicient voice than I.

Anyway, the stock definition of “prospect” excludes young players who are not rookie-eligible, but the first place I want to direct your attention for this question is to the Phillies’ bullpen. We won’t know for sure, of course, until the season starts, but I have a suspicion that the Phillies’ bullpen will be peopled largely by young guys who can throw hard. If we’re looking at rising stock, the first place I’d go is to the likes of Justin De Fratus and Le Pont Au Papelbon himself, Phillippe Aumont.

But in the minor league system, there are some interesting longer-term guys to look at. Now, before y’all get too excited, because I know the tendency with prospects is to be overly optimistic, let me say that if you gave me the Phillies’ entire minor league system and set the over/under for total number of future All-Star appearances at 1 1/2, I’d take the under. With that said, even though Trevor May is looking more and more like an eventual reliever, Ethan Martin looks like something of a bargain for the price of Lame Duck Shane Victorino, and between him and recent bloomer Adam Morgan, it looks like the Phillies have two mid-to-back-end starters solidly in the pipeline in the high minors.

As you all know, around mid-2009, the Phillies’ farm system was rated among the best in baseball, but since then, it’s been raided for Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Hunter Pence, while some top prospects, namely Domonic Brown, have been slower to develop or have flamed out entirely. In the meantime, the Phillies have drafted primarily raw, toolsy players instead of polished college players, a strategy I bemoan every night before I fall alseep as I close my eyes and imagine Jackie Bradley, Jr., blossoming like a beautiful daffodil in Boston, while Larry Greene indulges his inner Merrill Hess in the minor league equivalent of the Reman dilithium mines.

As a result, for the past year or so, the book on the Phillies’ farm system has been that it’s got some interesting raw prospects in the low minors, but is shallow and short on major-league-ready talent. But as that raw talent matures, we’re starting to see the first bits of hope from the current system.

Based on absolutely nothing, I think this is Tyson Gillies‘ year. I’m not saying he’ll step right in and start in center on Opening Day, but I’ve got a good feeling about him finally putting it together. Odds are we’ll have at least a look at him playing for Team Canada in the World Baseball Classic, and we’ll see where he goes from there.

There are also a pair of exciting third base prospects in the pipeline. Maikel Franco, 20, is an international free agent from the Dominican Republic, who in three seasons in the low minors, has shown good athleticism and hitting potential, though that talent comes with the caveat that he is still extremely raw. Cody Asche, 22, is a little closer. A second-rounder in 2011, he hit .300/.360/.513 in half a season in Reading last year, but no one noticed because he had the second-best season of Reading Phillies who went to college in Nebraska, after Darin Ruf. Asche, because of his position and age, is the far superior prospect to Ruf.

It is possible, however extremely unlikely, that Asche comes to spring training, sets the world on fire, grabs a major league roster spot and hangs on for dear life. It is more likely that he goes back to Reading or Lehigh Valley, gets another season under his belt, and grabs the third base job sometime between Opening Day 2014 and Opening Day 2015.

But my favorite up-and-comer is Roman Quinn, a waterbug shortstop the Phillies drafted out of a Florida high school with one of their compensation picks for Jayson Werth, 66th overall in 2011. Quinn, as I understand it, is a favorite of Phillies Nation minor league correspondent Jay Floyd, and it’s hard to argue. From a personal standpoint (i.e. Do I want to root for this guy?), Quinn is of that cut of Phillies minor leaguer–pioneered by Vance Worley, but carried on by Trevor May and Jiwan James–who carries a charisma that actually him interesting to follow on Twitter. For instance, Wednesday night, he betrayed a talent for amateur philosophy and theology by restating, essentially, Pascal’s Wager.

Now, I know liking a player’s personality doesn’t, and shouldn’t, matter as much when evaluating him as a prospect, but I’ve rooted for Disco Hayes and Michael Roth too long not to notice. On the field, however, Quinn posted a .370 OBP and 30 steals in half a season in the New York-Penn League last year, which is good, but as a 19-year-old in short-season ball, I don’t know how much that tells us. He’ll get his first full season of professional baseball this summer, and if he continues to develop, I’m sure we’ll hear more from him. If you’re looking for the heir presumptive to Chase Utley or Jimmy Rollins, I think it’s more likely to be Quinn than Freddy Galvis.

@scottdkessler: “Is there a way for the Phillies to get better at CF and 3B without getting scumbaggy through trades with the Yankees?”

What do you mean “scumbaggy through trades with the Yankees?”

Oh.

That’s a professional baseball writer? Who thinks 1) that a trade of Curtis Granderson for Darin Ruf is fair and 2) that the Yankees would benefit from such a trade? Lord Child. My favorite part of that column is that he gets all the knocks on Ruf as a prospect: that he’s too old and might not be able to stick as a left fielder, and then essentially throws his hands up and says “Yeah, but still.” Considering that Granderson, while highly-paid, and not the defender and runner he once was and a massive strikeout risk, is coming off consecutive 40-home run seasons at an up-the-middle position, I’d say the best way for the Phillies to get better in center is to get scumbaggy through trades with the Yankees. Yeah, trade Curtis Granderson for Darin Ruf, and then see someone about your overreliance on laudanum.

Center field is easy. With Josh Hamilton, Michael Bourn, Angel Pagan, Melky Cabrera, B.J. Upton and Shane Victorino all hitting free agency, it’s a buyer’s market. I’ve made it clear over the past few months that I am firmly in the B.J. Upton camp because I believe him to be the best combination of performance and value, but the point is, the Phillies have options here. And that’s not even opening up trade possibilities. I’ve heard Peter Bourjos‘ name floated in trade rumors, but I don’t know if there’s anything to that.

Third base is another story. As much as center field is a buyer’s market, third base is a seller’s market–it’s not even a matter of not having any players of good value on the free agent market–I don’t even think there’s anybody who’s worth a crap out on the market at any price. If David Wright‘s option gets picked up, who’s next in line? Scott Rolen‘s retiring–maybe Kevin Youkilis? Can he play third anymore? I guess the best-case scenario is that Asche has his Albert Pujols moment, but it’s not realistic to expect that. I’d be okay keeping Kevin Frandsen, not because I think he’s any good long-term, but because I’d rather punt and go with a replacement-level third baseman at the league minimum than spend any money or any trade resources without really getting much of value in return.

@patchak21: “Best nickname in baseball? In all sports? Both all-time and currently”

I think we need to go back to old nicknames, which we’re kind of doing by calling Mike Trout the Millville Metor (harkening back to Mickey Mantle, the Commerce Comet). Baseball used to have awesome nicknames, and while we probably can’t call everyone “Whitey” or “Dummy” or “Irish” anymore, why can’t we go back to Puddin’ Head Jones? My personal favorite nickname is probably Sliding Billy Hamilton, not because it’s particularly clever, but because it rolls off the tongue so easily while evoking a stirring and yet entirely descriptive image. It’s like a line from Yeats.

My favorite current nickname for a player is “Mini-Keg” for Manny Machado. Which doesn’t really count, because Ryan’s sister came up with it a couple weeks ago and only about ten people use it, but it’s awesome, and we ought to try to make it happen. More on that later. As far as legitimate nicknames go, I’m sure I’m going to forget something, but “Fat Ichiro” is pretty good for Pablo Sandoval. Ideally, a good nickname ought to be descriptive, mellifluous and a little weird. That checks all the boxes. If anyone’s got anything better, or wants to propose an old-timey please, chime in. I’m all for fun-sounding and bizarre nicknames, and while Dayn Perry’s doing yeoman’s work over at NotGraphs, we can do better. Maybe not better than calling Dan Uggla “Stainless Steel Meat Hammer,” but we can try.

@chongtastic: “What are the Crash-team’s favorite off beat food dishes?”

  • Bill: I’m a very picky eater, so I don’t eat any off-beat foods really, unless you consider hot sauce on everything weird
  • Ryan: is a Monte Cristo non-mainstream? I fuckin love a Monte Cristo
  • Paul: Phô and lima beans. Not together, though.
  • Mike: This is only non-mainstream depending on where you live, but I love Indian food. I also like good Italian food, which I note because there’s a law down South that makes it illegal to serve anything but crap like Olive Garden south of the Mason-Dixon line.

Not as involved as the music question, but we’re not a really foody bunch of guys, to be honest. I for one am comfortable with a plate of grilled chicken, a baked potato and a bucketful of Frank’s Red Hot. Wait…oh, I almost left out our resident Prospect Impresario Eric Longenhagen. Take it away.

“There are a lot of parallels between producing quality cuisine and acquiring and developing homegrown talent in baseball, which is probably why I like making food more than I like eating it.  I won’t get into that now but I will give you two twisted recipes I love.  First is a chili recipe I was given recently. No, it’s not a Tennorman Chili recipe. Instead this recipe comes from Baseball Prospectus prospect writer, Jason Parks, who has very strong thoughts on what chili should be. He’s from Texas so there are NO BEANS in his chili. Here’s the link to Jason’s recipe, copied word for word from his own dictation. Warning: this chili recipe contains adult language and sexual content. I’m not kidding. longenhagen.blogspot.com/2012/10/jason-parks-chili-recipe.html

For dessert, a Pennsylvania Dutch Funny Cake.  It’s a cake-pie hybrid invented in the Lehigh Valley area, where I’m from and will stay until the end of time. I’m forbidden from publishing my family’s version of the recipe but I can show you a picture of what it’s supposed to look like when you’re done and let you do the hunting from there:
Two courses. Way to not overdo it, New Guy.

@ETDWN: “MLB’s twitter feed is terrible. How do we go about destroying it?”

Y’all know Paul works in MLB Advanced Media, right? Now, he’d never do anything himself to undermine his employer, nor should we ask him to. But we could capture him and replace him with an operative in disguise. That operative could then chloroform the current MLB Twitter engineers, tie them up and get to work.

But seriously, MLB, your social media is awful. MLB.tv and At Bat are so great–why can’t you get out of your own way when it comes to technology? The Twitter feed bears an uncanny resemblance to something written by a committee of Duke frat boys and your parents and their friends. Hire me, and I will do it all myself. I will be funnier, more informative and less thoughtlessly offensive. And most importantly, it will stop being as painted-on fake cool as your youth pastor’s goatee.

@LonettoMB: “I’m going to the movie theater tomorrow, what should I see?”

I’ve been a little delinquent this summer seeing movies–I haven’t caught a film in a theater since The Expendables 2. I have had it in my head to go spend a day at the theater this week, because there are several films either out now or coming out soon that I’d like to see. So here’s my list for the next three weeks or so.

  • LooperWriter/Director Rian Johnson and lead actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt worked together fantastically well in Brick, a subtle, pitch-perfect gangster film that not nearly enough people saw when it came out a few years back. They team up again for another gangster film with a bigger budget here, and I’m really excited.
  • Seven Psychopaths: Writer/Director Martin McDonaigh and Colin Farrell worked out fantastically well in In Bruges, a subtle, pitch-perfect gangster film that not nearly enough people saw when it came out a few years back. They team up again for another gangster film with a bigger budget here, and I’m really excited.
  • Argo:  It’s an espionage thriller that’s getting Best Picture buzz. So, yeah, I want to see that. It’s become chic in recent months to express amazement at Ben Affleck’s transition from bro/stoner airhead to really good writer/director of action movies with both entertainment and artistic value, but he has, and it’s kind of amazing. I liked The Town enough to want to see this one his next effort, though I’ve literally never seen a heist movie I didn’t like, so I’m not the best person to judge.
  • Cloud AtlasHere is the comprehensive list of movies that have made me break out in hives months in advance of their release, since I turned 18: Star TrekPrometheus and Cloud Atlas. The first two I wanted to see so badly because they were continuations of favorite science-fiction franchises of mine, and both were, in one way or another, supremely disappointing, though I didn’t notice at the time, because I was sitting in the theater, stuffing my face with Sour Patch Kids, nittering about how cool it was that I was seeing a new Star Trek movie or a new Alien movie.
    Cloud Atlas is different. It’s based on a novel that I haven’t read, co-directed by Tom Tykwer (of whose films I have not seen one frame) and Wachowski Starship, whose films I’ve enjoyed, but not in the way I enjoy Peter Berg or Danny Boyle (or Ben Affleck, Martin McDonagh and Rian Johnson, for that matter), at least not since the first Matrix movie. It does have a sunburnt Tom Hanks, but that’s not the selling point. No, what hooked me is the trailer.

I have no idea if this movie’s going to be any good, but given the cast, running time (2 hours, 52 minutes) and the scope, I’m fascinated. Since that trailer came out in July, I’ve spent more time with it than I have with most of my friends, which is sad on multiple levels. I can’t even really tell what it’s about–my best guess is that it’s going to be some kind of epic cross-time historical/sci-fi love story, essentially The Fountain if someone had taken final cut away from Darren Aronofsky and given it to someone with more than a tenuous handle on reality. Anyway, no matter what you do, I’m going to the movies tomorrow, and I’m seeing this movie.

@CrashburnAlley: “If the Phillies played a best-of-seven series with the Tigers and Giants each, how many would they win? (ignore rest)”

Well certainly no more than eight games between the two series.

Seriously? I think the Phillies, with a healthy Ruiz/Utley/Worley/Halladay/Howard, could take either of these teams. The thing about the Phillies is that with the importance of run prevention in the playoffs, they could probably at least throw Lee and Hamels out there four times in a seven-game series and expect to get three wins no matter who the opposing starter was. Of course, I have  to point out the caveat that all things are possible in a short series, so they could sweep the 1927 Yankees or be swept by the 1927 Yankees. But if you want predictions? I’d say Giants over Phillies in 7, because the Phillies’ advantage in starting pitching is negated by the Giants’ bullpen, and I like San Fran’s lineup a little better than the Phillies’. And as a result of having at least two hitters (Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera) who are better than anything the Phillies can throw at them (except maybe Carlos Ruiz) and a starting rotation equal to the Phillies’ own, I’d expect the Tigers to dispatch the Phillies in five or six games. Though because of the Phillies’ advantages in bullpen and defense, the Phillies could probably more easily beat Detroit than San Francisco, particularly if the games tended to be close.

@MCGetting: “for more alternate reality fun, how would the 2012 Phils fare against the 2008 Phils in a best-of-seven?”

The ultimate “unstoppable force vs. immovable object” serious would be 2007 Phillies against 2011 Phillies, matching an insane run prevention team with an iffy offense against an insane offensive team with iffy run prevention. But 2008 vs. 2012 would probably be similar, if more lopsided. I think the starting pitching advantage (2012 Hamels over 2008 Hamels, Cliff Lee over Brett Myers, and so on) would allow the current Phillies to steal at least one game, but prime Utley, Howard and Rollins, plus Pat Burrell, Jayson Werth, Geoff Jenkins and Shane Victorino…2008 would mash 2012 into submission, even when you consider Carlos Ruiz’s evolution. I think Lee or Hamels could steal a game or two, but I like 2008 Ryan Howard‘s chances against Cliff Lee a lot better than I like 2012 Howard’s chances against 2008 Brett Myers. I’d take 2008 Phillies in five.

@tholzerman: “Compare the Phillies options at centerfield in 2013 to items on a typical casino buffet”

I’ve never eaten at a casino. Can I get something else?

“hrm… how about the Taco Bell menu?”

Now we’re talking. Fourthmeal it shall be.

  • Michael Bourn: The Cantina Bowl. Listen, I like Lorena Garcia as much as the next guy. But no matter how you dress up Taco Bell, it’s still Taco Bell. And no matter how much you pay Michael Bourn, he’s still Carl Crawford without the bat.
  • Angel Pagan: The Doritos Locos Taco. Very cool and trendy as a cheap option nowadays, but it might not live up to the hype.
  • John Mayberry: Fire Sauce. It’s good, but it doesn’t work on its own. You need something to pair it with.
  • B.J. Upton: Beef Burrito. The best bang for your buck. Might seem a little passe now that we’ve got the Crunchwrap and the Doritos Locos Taco, but it’ll fill you up for about $4.
  • Josh Hamilton: Taco 12-Pack. It costs more, and it represents the most you can get, but try to eat it all and your innards will turn to clay. Then carbolic acid. Then back to clay.

@magoplasma: “Now that I have a new Manny what should I do with the empty Manny? Make him into a giant vase? Wear him as a helmet on gamedays?”

Not only is Manny Machado the Mini-Keg, but mini-kegs are also Manny Machados by the transitive property of nomenclature. I will say that it’s good that the original Manny was replaced, because nothing’s sadder than having had good beer and not having any more. My suggestion is to continue to consume Mannys, then, once you’ve got a few, cut off the top and bottom of each Manny, then weld them together to make a column, or an umbrella stand.

Other uses for spent Mannys include:

  • Pontoon for the raft you’ll use to escape the island.
  • Get enough of them and find a friend who aced metal shop and you can build your own Iron Throne.
  • Dog food bowl.
  • World’s largest beeramid.
  • World’s largest Wizard’s Staff.
  • Mannyhenge.
  • Suit of Manny armor.

Or you could just wear Manny as a helmet on gamedays.

That’ll do it for this week’s edition of the Crash Bag. Go Tigers, boo Giants.