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The Quintessential Fall TV Preview

Posted by Seth Stringer on September 4, 2013 at 4:25 PM Comments comments (3)

Jenelle (my fiancée) and I are adventurous people.

We regularly travel to Atlanta and New Orleans, and we like to explore area beachside communities. We enjoy playing with spices in the kitchen, and we stay active by hitting up the tennis courts weekly. Also, we've been known to throw down on some Jumbling Tower (the red-headed, cheaper version of Jenga) and Clue with friends on the weekends.

I mention all of this because I want to paint a picture of a modern, active couple who is anything but sedentary.

With that said, we love our TV. Correction ... We fuckin' love our TV. Yes, sometimes expletives are necessary.

The weeknight summer TV lineup can be pretty droll, and the other night Jenelle looked over at me and said, "I really miss our sitcoms."

I could only nod my head.

So while EW's fall TV preview will soon hit newsstands and my mailbox, I couldn't help but jump the gun and beat my good buddy, John Hansen of the incredible blog johnvhansen.com, to the punch on my go-to picks for the fall.

In order, I'm going to provide a list of new shows and a list of returning gems I'm looking forward to most.

New Shows


1. "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" – Andy Samberg, the most talented rapper in the fake rap game and the face of "The Lonely Island," highlights a misfit crew of detectives in the Big Apple. I saw a five-minute trailer for this the other night, and it's comedic gold. It's like watching back-to-back-to-back episodes of Samberg's cult-classic SNL digital shorts videos. The fact that it's written by Michael Schir and Dan Goor, the creators behind Parks and Recreation (the best show on TV), I'm all in.


2. "Sleepy Hollow" – I was engrossed in Washington Erving's book as a child, I loved Tim Burton's film adaptation as a teenager, and now I can't wait for the tale of the Headless Horseman to hit the small screen. The fact that it's set 250 years in the future with Crane and the HH making the time jump signifies it probably won't take itself to seriously. Count me in.


3. "The Crazy Ones" – Welcome back to the small screen, Sarah Michelle Gellar and Robin Williams! I have a soft spot for the duo – Gellar for her role in Buffy and Williams for his Big-Screen success during my childhood – and I know creator David E. Kelley will pen a brilliant script. And based on the previews, I have no doubt this will be funny.


4. "Marvel's Agents of SHIELD" – I think the show's getting a tad overhyped, but that's due to the success of "The Avengers" and the deserved cache connected with Joss Whedon's name. While not a huge superhero movie fan, I look forward to seeing which new characters are introduced to the Marvel Universe.


5. "Almost Human" – The premise that in the not-so-distant future human cops and androids will partner up to protect and serve has me hook, line and sinker. Pairing two loves of mine, sci-fi and crime dramas, just feels fresh. Also the lead, Karl Urban, proved his acting chops in the new Star Trek films and Dredd, and his edginess and deadpan humor should serve the show well.


6. "Super Fun Night" – Rebel Wilson. 'Nuff said.


7. "Dracula" -- Dracula in Victorian London? ... what a cool supernatural period concept. I can definitely get on board with this genre. Looks romantic and dramatic, and hopefully it'll be paced with enough action.


8. "The Goldbergs" – I'm in love with the 80s, and Jeff Garlin – whose work on Curb Your Enthusiasm is vastly underrated – can no doubt carry a show. If they can do a job with the genre, this could be a prettay, prettay, prettay, pretty funny hit.


9. "The Michael J. Fox Show" – I'm nostalgic, so seeing Marty McFly back on the small screen is a welcomed surprise. The fact his Parkinson's will be central to the plot has me interested, plus the previews have made me laugh.


10. "Dads" – It's not so much that I'm looking forward to the new Seth MacFarlane comedy, but anytime Seth Green gets air time I'll tune in. Plus, anytime a TV show gets flack for being racist, it's worth at least a view or two.

Returning Shows


1. "Parks and Recreation" – Alongside "Breaking Bad" and "Game of Thrones," you'd be hard-pressed to find a better show on TV. And simply put, the Pawnee bunch is the best ensemble cast on the small screen. So many plotlines, so many laughs, so much heart.


2. "The Walking Dead" – Enough's been written about this show. But I'm interested to see if the now-expanded group leaves the prison, along with resolution to the feud between the Mayor and Rick.


3. "How I Met Your Mother" – In the show's curtain call, or you could call it the show's final high five, we'll see the gang live out the weekend of Robin and Barney’s wedding. But the most interesting subplot lies within the show's title: How Ted finds the mother of the kids he's narrated this magical nine-season ride to.


4. "Top Chef" – Pair the competition of sports with great food and you have my favorite reality show aside from Comic Book Men.

5. "The Big Bang Theory" – Infinitely clever and funny, and just an easy show to digest and mellow out on. Plus, Kelly Curacao is amazing to look at.


6. "Bones" – An FBI agent, a forensic anthropologist (the better Deschanel sister), and her diverse Jeffersonian team solving crimes never gets old. Definitely not a show to watch during dinner time.


7. "Modern Family" – When at the end of every episode the message of family comes to the forefront, it always warms my heart. Phil Dunphy, the consummate great father figure, is enough to bring viewers in. But like Parks and Recreation, Modern Family works because every member of the ensemble cast carries their weight.


8. "New Girl" – Really a hit-or-miss show, and honestly a little tired of the pacing of Jess and Nick. But what drives this show to me is Schmidt.

9. "Hart of Dixie" – Definitely the most maddening show to watch based on the roundabout nature of its love triangles and feuds, but still a lot of Heart (pun intended). Really just a guilty pleasure, as are most CW shows.


10. "Bob's Burgers" – I wanted to put Revolution here, but it's really not a very well-acted nor interesting show. So instead I chose a show that delivers as many laugh-out-loud moments for me as any other thing on TV. Bob's Burgers is satirical and dry humor, and t it's so, so clever. Really underrated.

As a bonus, here's a comprehensive list of what I'll be DVRing Monday-Sunday. I know it's a crazy amount of TV, and clearly I'll have to lean on Cox's On Demand function to keep pace before I trim the fat.


Monday

Bones (Sept. 16) – FOX

Sleepy Hollow (Sept. 16) – FOX

How I Met Your Mother (Sept. 23) – CBS

The Blacklist (Sept. 23) – ABC

Hart of Dixie (Oct. 7) – The CW

Almost Human (Nov. 4) -- FOX

Tuesday

Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Sept. 17) – FOX

New Girl (Sept. 17) – FOX

The Mindy Project (Sept. 17) – FOX

Dads – (Sept. 17) – FOX

Marvel's Agents of SHIELD (Sept. 24) – ABC

The Goldberg's (Sept. 24) – ABC

The Biggest Loser (Oct. 8 ) – NBC

Wednesday

Revolution (Sept. 25) – NBC

Back in the Game (Sept. 25) – ABC

Super Fun Night (Oct. 2) – ABC

Modern Family (Sept. 25) – ABC

American Horror Story: Coven (Oct. 9) – FX

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (Sept. 4) – FXX

The League (Sept. 4) – FXX

Top Chef (Oct. 2) -- Bravo

Thursday

The Crazy Ones (Sept. 26) – CBS

The Michael J. Fox Show (Sept. 26)  -- NBC

Parks and Recreation (Sept. 26) – NBC

The Big Bang Theory (Sept. 26) – CBS

Glee (Sept. 26) – Fox

Friday

Dracula (Oct. 25) – NBC

Saturday

Saturday Night Live (Sept.2) -- NBC

Sunday

Hello Ladies (Sept.29) – HBO

Bob's Burgers (Sept. 29) – FOX

Eastbound & Down (Sept. 29)  – HBO

The Walking Dead (Oct. 13) – AMC

Greatest TV Couples of All Time

Posted by Seth Stringer on May 16, 2013 at 9:40 PM Comments comments (2)

Recently, Entertainment Weekly weighed in on the “Greatest TV Couple of All Time.” The EW staff chose Ross and Rachel, the on-and-off-again, “He’s her lobster” couple in “Friends,” while the EW readers were polled and whittled down a March Madness-inspired Bracket of 64 to Kurt and Blaine, the gay duo from “Glee.”

The two choices couldn’t have been cut from a different cloth – Ross and Rachel being cut from the Will they/won’t they? fabric, while Glee’s gay duo started off as once embattled rivals only to find love through song. The two choices embodied the broad spectrum of the ongoing debate of what makes a TV couple great.

But I’m here to clarify that argument, which can be solved by an easy checklist.

Fresh off of watching Jim and Pam rekindle their romance on “The Office,” I think I have a good grasp of what makes a captivating couple. It’s actually a quite simple recipe, starting with:

1) Chemistry – Without it, romances appear shallow and empty. And in some cases, couples don’t even like each other (think Ray and Debra from “Everybody Loves Raymond” or Sam and Diane from “Cheers.”;). How are audiences supposed to fall in love with characters that don’t even love each other? SImply put, they don’t. Relationships need layers, plenty of attention, and most of all …

2) A good chase – In this case, TV shows that start off with a married couple are at a disadvantage. And if they have kids, double whammy. It’s not that the family dynamic creates for bad drama or lackluster romance. It’s just that viewers like the build-up. We like to revel in the mystery of a blossoming relationship. The more build-up, the sweeter the reward of that final connection. And we love a relationship that survivies by ...

3) Overcoming adversity – Whether it’s fighting through infidelity, a betrayal, an awkward hook-up, the long-distance set-up, a death, a career change, a love triangle, etc., every great TV couple experiences a laundry list of adversity. Without the conflict, the couple’s path is just too cookie-cutter. It’s not real. And nothing's more real tha n showcasing ...

4) A sense of humor – While good drama is the heart of a good TV relationship, the soul is the humor. Through the tears and day-to-day conflict, there has to be a good give and take of laughs. And there also has to be ...

5) Those “You complete me” moments – When considering if the measure of a couple, ask yourself this question: Have you cried, or at the very least fought back tears, during said romance. If not, then the romance isn’t anything to write home about.

With that checklist in mind, let me present to you the top five TV couples of all time.

1. Jim Halpert and Pam Beesly (“The Office” 2005-2013) – That “The Greatest TV Couple of All Time” is debatable is like saying gravity is debatable.

Not only are Jim and Pam atop the pantheon of all-time great TV love stories, they are near or at the top of all-time TV stories in general. It took 53 episodes spread across three seasons for the two to finally get on the same page, and every moment along the way was TV gold.

Remember the look on Jim’s face in season one when Pam fell asleep on his shoulder? Remember the booze cruise talk between Jim and Michael, the Casino Night kiss, the Yankee swap tea pot, the grilled cheeses on the roof top, and Pam’s coal walk declaration? Remember when Jim turned down the job in NYC, only to return to ask Pam out ("Okay then, so it’s a date.")?

I do. And I will forever.

2. Ed Stevens and Carol Vesey (“Ed” 2000-2004) – It’s the classic love story.

Man leaves cheating wife, gets fired from job and moves back home to smalltown, USA, where he falls in love with old crush, buys bowling alley and devotes life to winning back said crush.

Tom Cavanagh plays Ed, a quirky lawyer who loves to shoot hoops, make bets with his best bud and, more than anything, woo Carol. Before Julie Bowen was Claire on “Modern Family,” she was Carol. Oddly gettable and flawed for a woman of her looks, there was no doubting whether they’d end up together. It was just a matter of when.

Like Jim and Pam, it took three seasons – and many love interests along the way – for Ed and Carol’s romance to blossom. And their relationship hits every one of my checklist items and then some, providing for the second-best romance in TV history.

3. Homer and Marge (“The Simpsons” 1989-present)

So I broke my own rules a bit, as Homer (whom Marge refers to as Homey) and Marge  have always been a perpetually 30something-year-old couple with never-aging kids. But the chase has always been there with the marital discord. For a cartoon built on comedy, Homer and Marge have sure weaved an impressive love arc, replete with both the tender moments – Season 1’s rift on “An Officer and a Gentleman”; Season 2’s The Way We Was”: Season’s 3 “I Married Marge”; Season 5’s Duffless --
and trying times – Season 5’s “The Last Temptation of Homer” and the "Secrets of a Successful Marriage.”

4. Kevin Arnold and Winnie Cooper (“The Wonder Years” 1988-1993) – Unlike the aforementioned couples, it didn’t take Kevin and Winnie to lock lips. Their first kiss, set off by Percy Sledge’s “When a Man loves a Woman,” plays an integral part in the pilot, which is centered on Winnie’s older bother’s death in Vietnam.


Heavy stuff, right?

It sets the tone for their on-and-off-again, at-one-point-long-distance relationship, which (spoiler alert) doesn’t have a happy ending. But that’s ok, because there’s six seasons of Percy Sledge moments. It's the ultimate young-love story, never told again in such a touching way.

5. Leslie Knope and Ben Wyatt (2009-present) – Top 5 favorite things about Knope/Wyatt …

1. She wears the pants in their relationship: Ex. Their careers taking them different paths, Ben proposes. But on one knee, Leslie cuts him off, saying “Wait, wait, ok? I need to remember this. Give me a second. (long pause) … I need to remember every little thing about how perfect my life is right now at this exact moment.”

2. They both love Game of Thrones … and waffles.

3. The flower mural on the second floor is both “their place.”

4. They fight for each other: Ex. After a disgruntled Pawnee citizen calls Leslie a bitch at her bowling alley campaign rally, Ben decks the guy.

5. Things like Mac and cheese pizza make them happy.

Honorable mentions: April and Andy, Luke and Lorelei, Ross and Rachel, Bones and Booth, Buffy and Spike, Phil and Claire, Niles and Daphne.

 

Top 10 Judd Apatow Movies

Posted by Seth Stringer on April 24, 2013 at 6:15 PM Comments comments (3)

There’s no lack of fanfare for Judd Apatow these days, and for good reason. The same man that once vowed to include a penis in every one of his movies is a comedic genius. Yes, his movies tend to drag on a scene too long for my tastes. But at their core is a plot that tugs at the heart strings and delivers on the many spectrums of humor – from dry to potty. Comedians long to work with him and films are marketed around the can’t-miss brand he’s cultivated.


Watching “This is 40” only reinforced my love for Apatow, whose films I thought were long overdue of a top 10 ranking. By his films I mean anything he’s written, produced or directed – some all of the above.

1. “This is 40” – 2007’s “Knocked Up” was great for so many reasons, but at the top of the list were Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann) and their children Sophie and Charlotte (played by the real-life daughters of Judd and Leslie). I love films featuring fucked-up couples and families with real-world problems that we can empathize with, and that's what we have with the perfectly imperfect Pete and Deb.

Pete and Deb are polar opposites in so many regards. He eats terribly, going as far to sneak water-logged cupcakes, and she has a body by Jason (who appropriately is played by the charismatic Jason Segel). His
music choices are eclectic and nostalgic, centering on old white guy jams. She loves Nicki Minaj anthems. He’s very secretive in his struggles with his record label. She’s an open book when it comes to talking about the boutique’s missing revenue. He’s set to embrace 40 with a grand party. She still claims to be 38, or is it 34 or 35? At one point when their differences collide, Deb even questions if they’d be together had it not been for her initial pregnancy.

But at the core of their relationship is love. And while their interests may be different, their sense of humor, approach to parenting and empathy for each other when it comes to their deadbeat dads are some of the qualities that unite them. Also uniting them is mutually threatening a teenage boy who they find out is badgering Sadie – who understands more than anyone how fucked up her parents really are -- on Facebook, setting up a hilarious confrontation with his mom, played by Melissa McCarthy. Hopefully this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Pete and Deb and their kids.

2. “Heavy Weights” – Truth be told, I didn’t realize this was even an Apatow movie until I visited his IMDB.com page. "Heavy Weights" was actually his first movie to hit theaters and was a childhood favorite of mine.

The premise is a group of overweight kids seek comfort at a mom-and-pop-run fat camp (Camp Hope) that is designed not so much around losing weight, but as a safehaven for fat kids to feel accepted and normal. But things go haywire.

The campers are informed upon arrival that the camp has been sold to Ben Stiller’s Tony Perkis, whose methods of weight loss are severe to say the least. But through torture and ridicule the out-of-shape crew bands together. Hilarity ensues through their self sabotage, and from their camaraderie emerges a camp able to take on their rival, Camp MVP, in the Apache Relay. Yes it’s a Disney movie. And yes it is flippin’ sweet.

3. “Step Brothers” – “They grow up so fast" is a phrase that every parent utters about their kid at one point or another.

That is unless you’re the parent of Dale (John C. Reilly) and Brennan (Will Ferrell), who are 40 going on 13. Drum sets are tea bagged, make-shift bunk beds are made, fights escalate to screams of rape and garden burials and the Catalina Wine Mixer is the event of the season. This is one vastly underrated flick.

4. “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” – It’s easy to forget Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell) when you meet a woman as beautiful and funny as Mila Kunis’ character Rachel. But composer and musician Peter Bretter (Jason Segel) struggles with just that issue throughout this comedy, which features a brilliant supporting cast of Russell Brand, Bill Hader and Jonah Hill.

5. “Anchorman” – “Mmm, I love scotch. I love scotch. Scotchy, scotch, scotch. Here it goes down. Down into my belly. Mmm-mmm-mmm.” – Ron Burgundy

A cult classic among 20-somethings and college coeds, thus causing it to be a tad overrated but nonetheless great, Anchorman is why I became news anchor. Wait, I’m not a news anchor? Well, it at least led me into journalism. OK, that’s a lie too.

Regarded as the best Will Ferrell movie, although I’d argue it’s not even in the top three (future blog post to come), "Anchorman" is as much about its strong supporting cast as it is the iconic Ron Burgundy. A misogynist top dog of the anchorman profession, Ron has to adjust his reckless sexism with the introduction of co-worker Christina Applegate’s Veronica Corningstone. Not only fueling his ego, Ron’s crew – which includes Paul Rudd, Steve Carell, David Koechner – provides for a beautiful rendition of “Afternoon delight” and comes in handy for those deadly news team fights.

6. “The 40-Year-Old Virgin – I have a soft spot for Steve Carell, who plays the lovable but still sexless Andy in this classic. He’s a good guy who has had a ridiculous amount of bad luck in the bedroom. But it’s nothing his co-workers, whose sex lives are equally as fucked up, can’t help him out with. Akin to “American Pie,” the true meaning of sex is a focus in this hilarious but heartwarming flick. And in the end Andy finds Trish. Gotta love happy endings. … And a few chest-waxing scenes.

7. “Knocked Up” – A stoner living off the fruits of a lawsuit while helping develop FleshOfTheStars.com, which is later revealed to be a clear copycat of mrskin.com, Seth Rogen’s Ben Stone is a 23-year-old loser. A funny loser with a great rolling the dice dance move and a group of equally hilarious friends, yes. But still a loser. But apparently he’s cute enough to pull Katherine Heigl’s Allison, who becomes pregnant after their one-night stand. Ben is forced to become an adult, which of course has its obstacles, and the movie becomes much more than just a stoner comedy.

8. “Superbad” – Boop … This is a movie that is almost too funny for its own good. The amount of quotable one-liners is insane, yet the film’s just too all over the place to appreciate it all. Still great and infinitely rewatchable, “Superbad” features the brilliant team of Jonah Hill’s Seth and Michael Cera’s Evan. It’s the classic story of unpopular high school seniors scoring a party invite and looking to cap their high school careers with sex and alcohol, a la “Can’t Hardly Wait.” While too all-over-the-map, it’s a fun ride that culminates with two friends lying next to each other in a drunken stupor, vowing to literally shout their mutual love for each other from the roof top. Boop … Classic.

9. “Talladega Nights” – Like David Spade and Chris Farley, John C. Reilly and Will Ferrell are a match made in heaven on the big screen. Even they can make NASCAR interesting, which is no easy feat. Everyone needs a little Shake to their Bake, or vice versa. And everyone needs a baby Jesus reference in the dinner prayer once in a while.

10. “Bridesmaids” – Up there with Amy Poehler and Tina Fey, Kristen Wiig is one of the funniest women in the biz. And this tale about a maid of honor bumbling her way through all the rituals of preparing for a wedding while trying to make sense of her shitty life is pretty hilarious.


Agree, disagree or have any changes with the list? Let me know.

 

Movies on the rebound?

Posted by Seth Stringer on April 22, 2013 at 5:25 PM Comments comments (6)

After a pair of successful trips this weekend to Redbox, which I can never praise enough for its affordability and convenience, I got to say I’m pretty happy with Hollywood.


“This is 40” and “Django Unchained” were both home runs. I'm talking tape-measure, no-doubters -- not the Sammy-Sosa-PED-infused moon shoots but pure Josh Hamilton Home Run Derby long balls.

With both flicks I went in with high hopes, and each delivered. Like my good buddy John Hansen, the face behind the vastly underrated and brilliantly penned johnvhansen.com (check it out, now!), would say about a Diet Dr. Pepper and a box of sour patch kids, the duo hit the spot.

In fact, I’d say “This is 40” is my favorite Judd Apatow movie. “Django Unchained,” meanwhile, delivered on both the deep-from-the-gut, laugh-out-loud moments and edge-of-your-seat action -- qualities that are too rare in movies today.

Pair that with the week’s previous Redbox rentals – “Skyfall” and “Zero Dark Thirty” – and my love for the cinema is at a near all-time high. Emphasis on near.

I’m always in search of the next movie that will transport me to that alternate universe, where Tom Hanks represents the everyman and Natalie Portman is gettable. Simply put, I’m looking to hearken back to my childhood, the late 80s/early 90s, where movies seemed simpler, better soundtracked and more innocent (Man I miss John Hughes.).

Keeping with the nostalgic message, I’m going to focus my writing over the next couple of weeks on “Best-of” movie lists. From best baseball movies to best rom-coms to best bad dumb movies, I’ll be your guide to must-see cinema. Stay tuned.

Editor's note: This will be the first step in progressing this blog -- formerly just a sports-centered site -- into an all-encompassing venue for my thoughts on movies, music, TV and, yes, sports.

 

Opening-day thoughts

Posted by Seth Stringer on February 25, 2013 at 11:30 PM Comments comments (5)

I’ve yet to meet a bigger Astros fan than me.

That’s not to say I’m the biggest Astros fan alive, it’s just that I’ve yet to meet someone who identifies with/fully appreciates/loves the AL-West newbies like I do. Win or lose, rebuilding or thriving, I watch EVERY game.

I pride myself on knowing past and present stats of our players. I pride myself on knowing the team’s records, regular season and playoff. I pride myself on knowing the prospects, coaches and draft prospects.

And that’s why I entered Sunday’s Spring Training home-opener against the no longer Amazin’ Mets at Osceola Stadium feeling nervous. Considering the longest-tenured Astro was Wesley Wright, I not only worried about not knowing stats, but simply names and faces.

 

But my fears were alleviated when I wandered over to the left field standing room only deck, where a crowd of autograph-hungry baseball fans were hanging out. Some had on Astros gear, others donned Red Sox and Royals gear. While diverse, the crowd was united by one keepsake: a binder full of baseball cards and pictures waiting to be signed. They were hoping and praying for Clemens, Bagwell, Biggio to walk out of the clubhouse.

 

But not me. Yes, that would have been cool, possibly orgasmic. But I wanted to meet the young guns. I’m done living in the past. I wanted to meet the present Astros.

 

Right when I arrived, who walked by but Justin Maxwell. No one said a word in the crowd of probably 10-15 strong, each of whom flipped through the books trying to identify the 6-foot-5 OF. I yelled out, “Justin!” And he came by for a chat. The same scene ensued for the next 10 players/coaches, me being the first – and only – to identify each one.

 

Next was Dallas Keuchel, Wesley Wright, Fernando Martinez, J.D. Martinez, Jason Castro, Brett Wallace, Marwin Gonzalez, Former O’s manager Dave Trembley, Bud Norris and a bunch of new guys, like Jake Elmore, Robbie Grossman, Rick Ankiel and so forth.

 

I gobbled up the autographs, all but Martinez, who was recently implicated as a steroid buyer, and asked each one of them the same question: How do you like the new uniforms? Each replied back with the same message in some form: "I love them." Hell, even Grossman wore my Nike orange shoes, which looked perfect with the Blue and Orange Uniform. My favorite part of the duds? The orange line along the side of the pants. After years of those dark red and black unis, these blue, orange and white pieces of cloth were a breath of fresh air.

 

Which brings me to my point. The makeover is scary and I’m nervous about having to compete in the toughest division in baseball, against the likes of Anaheim, Texas, Oakland and Seattle. But I love this team. I love the infusion of youth. I love the prospects getting extended looks. I love the energy that can only be found on a team making less than 30 million. These guys are hungry. These guys are upbeat. These guys are owning their place in Astros history.

 

So what else did I learn Sunday?

 

-- Delino Deshields Jr. is fuckin’ fast, all 5-foot-9 of him. Like Michael Bourn who? fast. With Billy Hamilton’s record-breaking 155 steals in the minors last season, Deshields’ 101 steals flew a bit under the radar. And by a bit I mean completely.

On Sunday, the 20-year-old, 2010 first-round pick flashed that lightning-bolt speed.

Coming in as a pinch-runner for Brett Wallace (who will be mentioned later) in the sixth inning, the Atlanta native easily stole second, advanced to third on a catcher’s throwing error and then dashed home on a wild pitch to George Springer (who I’ll also get to later) that barely escaped the batter’s box. His hustle not only capped of five unanswered runs for a ’Stros team once down 6-1, but the dugout erupted over the capper to the three-base heist. Yeah, did I mention this guy’s 20. I’d say the over-under on career stolen bases is, say, 600?

 

-- Jason Castro, who last year missed the season with a torn ACL, is back. The Stanford prospect who once ripped a three-run homer in the All Star Future’s game has yet to live up to the hype. And for a program mired in light-hitting batteries, his struggles have been impossible not to dwell on. But on Sunday, I saw a 6-foot-4 man tee off on a 3-1 fastball to straightaway right for a two-run homer. The relief on the bench was evident in the ensuing celebration, and postgame quotes indicated that Porter and the coaching staff have seen a resurgent Castro so far in camp.

 

-- Nate Freiman is impressive. It’s not just his 6-8 frame, a stature typically relegated to the hardwood, that’s striking. It’s what the 26-year-old does with it. At the dish on Sunday, Freiman covered more plate that should be physically possible with a one-handed single to right. Then for an encore he singled up the middle.

Proving more than just a hot at-bat, Freiman used his frame to dig out a ridiculously bad throw from 3B Brandon Laird. With a logjam at first and DH (Chris Carter, Carolos Pena, Wallace and Freiman), I’d love to see Paul Bunyan play himself into at least a weapon against LHP.

 

-- Wallace is, well, more sketchy then an etch-a-sketch. Thrice now I’ve mentioned Wallace, who has been a lightning rod for the Astros’ offensive struggles over the last three seasons. Simply put, whether at third or first, he’s been a mess. The journeyman and once top prospect was dubbed a solid starter when he arrived in Houston in 2010, yet he’ never hit above .260, has struggled to drive in runs and hasn’t even been able to draw walks. Last year Wallace hit rock-bottom when Lee was moved to 1B and he was relegated to the minors, where he never earned the call-up. On a team full of minor leaguers, he wasn’t good enough to obtain AB’s. The path to returning to a starter was in his favor before camp started, but Lowrie was traded to Oakland and in came Carter. Now, there’s a logjam. Even if Carter moves to left field in place of Martinez. Wallace will still have to compete with Pena and Freiman.

 

-- Springer is my new favorite player. My favorite story from Sunday was Springer’s banner day. The 2011 first-round went 1-1 with two walks and tallied the game-tying single in the ninth inning. The 6-3 beast was everything advertised and more. The funniest part of his banner day?: The playful ribbing he took from Mets fans behind home plate. Unaware of the $2.525 million signing bonus he received, they pelted him with everything in their arsenal. They debated where he would be coaching high school baseball in a year. They brought up the tired, “Major League” joke about red/pink slips in the locker. They questioned his place with a team coming off back-to-back 100-loss seasons after coming off the bench in the 6th. They had no idea they were looking at one of the top-50 prospects in baseball, a guy projected to be a future Ryan Braun (without all the injections of course. As the Lonely Islanders would say: When I say cheating, you say sucks. Cheating ... Sucks! Cheating ... Sucks!)

The guy that had hit .302, stolen 32 bags and hit 24 HRs in his first year in the minors ... Yeah, they were clueless. As was the rest of the crowd, who in their eyes were watching a seemingly hopeless prospect get his 15 minutes of fame.

Reminiscent of when the day started, I was validated in my fandom. And fittingly, after the game Springer and Stringer had a one-on-one chat. The ultimate fan and the ultimate prospect together. In it for the long haul.

 

Young arms, bright future

Posted by Seth Stringer on June 28, 2012 at 2:35 PM Comments comments (2)

Ranked 26th in team ERA (4.40) and giving up the second highest batting average (.267)  in the bigs, it’s safe to say the Houston Astros’ pitching staff won’t be listed among MLB’s elite rotations anytime soon.

To be fair, headed into the year  the staff was never hyped up to be a stable full of potential Cy Young winners or even aces. But with the bullpen - which hasn’t exactly lived up to the “Regulators moniker -  dealing with the loss of Wilton Lopez, amassing a 4.55 ERA (good for 26th in the league) and surpassed only by Milwaukee in average allowed (.272! Yikes), and our starting rotation ranked a not-so-much-better 21st in the league in ERA (4.33), the mound has been especially unkind for Doug Brocail’s crew.

But with that said, the last 10 games have been especially fun to watch.

During that stretch, the Astros' rotation has spun nine quality starts and, with Bud Norris coming off the DL to start tonight, has now forced manager Brad Mills and Brocail into accepting a six-man rotation. And so far, the competition has only bred success.

For example, Dallas Keuchel (pronounced Kykle) has hit the ground running since emerging from Triple-A OKC three weeks ago. The southpaw, who has an uncanny ability to make behind-the-back catches shagging balls in the outfield during BP, has allowed just two earned runs in his first two starts and is sporting a 1.07 WHIP spread over 14 innings. Meanwhile, RHP Jordan Lyles has pitched two straight quality starts and has allowed more than four runs in only one of his nine starts this year, and RHP Harrell, highlighted by a complete-game 1-0 shutout against the Padres last night, has allowed just one earned run over his last 16 frames.

Age wise, Lyles is 21, Keuchel is 24 and Harrell is 27 just like Norris. J.A. Happ, who’s won his last two starts to lower his ERA below 5, is also under 30 at 29, leaving Way-Rod as the old man of the group. Of course, he and his 12-6 curveball and mid-3 ERA will most likely be leveraged soon for a couple of prospects from a contender, which should only bolster a pretty good nucleus of arms for a program that understands pitching wins pennants and playoff series.

Just look to the Astros’ heyday in the mid-2000s. In 2004, Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, Roy Oswalt and Wade Miller all sported sub-4 ERAs for the Astros, who rode the talented rotation to their first playoff series win and a trip to the NLCS. A year later, Clemens, Pettitte and Oswalt each shined with sub-3 ERAs en route to leading the Astros to the program’s first NLCS crown and a World Series birth.

So is it possible to recreate that type of nucleus? Looking at a couple of promising arms in the minors, of course it is.

Let’s start with Jarred Cosart, the 22-year-old RHP acquired in the Pence trade. Regarded as the 51st-best prospect by MLB.com, the 6-foot-3 Texas native has already been promoted to OKC after posting a 3.65 ERA in Double-A Corpus Christi. And Mike Foltynewicz, a 20-year old, 6-4 RHP who’s amassed a 9-1 record and a 2.18 ERA in Single-A Lancaster, is another future top-end-of-the-rotation candidate.

Added up, with the Astros adding to an offensive core of current stars in Jose Altuve, Jed Lowrie and J.D. Martinez and future franchise players in Jonathan Singleton and George Springer with a strong draft by Jeff Luhnow and crew, the future of the rotation is shaping up nicely.

In fact, the future is so bright Astros fans may have to invest in some quality shades (Yep, I went there).

In Enemy's territory

Posted by Seth Stringer on June 9, 2012 at 11:05 AM Comments comments (1)

News flash: Opposing fans suck.

It's that infinite wisdom I drew from the a couple of weeks back when my buddy John Hansen, a co-worker, sports fan and talented writer who runs the well-penned website, Johnvhansen.com., sent to me the following text as he sat in a first-row seat in left field at the vastly underrated Kauffman Stadium.

"Twins winning. Beautiful Night. Only thing missing is to not be surrounded by assholes."

I, just traveled nearly 1,000 miles to see my Astros get swept in a four-game set by the Rockies at Coors Field, replied, "I'll take winning and having to deal w/asshole fans over losing and hospitable fans."

Of course in a perfect world, all fans could coexist. In this make-believe land, a friendly back-and-forth would not only be the norm, but mandatory. Playful jabs would evoke the best in fans, who would cheer more for their team than against the other. Fans would be passionate, not obnoxious. Objective, not defensive. Level-headed, not drunk and hostile.

On a night when the stars aligned, this ideal scenario nearly played out to a tee one night under the Denver skyline. But that was more because I threw caution to the wind and embraced the Astros' off-night -- a 13-5 loss -- among a light-hearted group that seemed to be both laughing with and at me at the same time. (To paint a picture, by the end of the night I was approaching Rockies fans to keep their heads up and keep fighting the good fight … yep, all after they won.)

What about the other three games? Well ... let's just say Rockies fans and I weren't on the same wavelength.

My wavelength: devoted fan who cheers his team on until the final out no matter the score. Their wavelength: Spew hate, be unaware of the standings or stats and ignore all baseball etiquette. Yep, those unwritten rules fans agree to when they purchase a ticket? They’ve sadly been lost in Denver. Call me old school, but baseball's too fun a game to treat it with such disregard.

I'm talking about Rockies fans getting up in the middle of at-bats to the point where the views of fans are being obstructed. I'm talking about Rockies fans holding up two-foot long foam fingers not after a successful play, but for whole innings to shield eyes from sun. Then when you ask them to move said finger nicely, they proceed to make the rest of the game awkward as hell for you by giving it to kids nearby to use.

I'm talking about a guy named Banner Jack, a toothless 80-something year-old waving banners two pitches into an at-bat and not sitting down for minutes upon end. I'm talking about fair-weather Rockies fans asking for high fives from Astros fans after every successful play on their end. You know the fans that show up late, talk the whole game and then suddenly take such joy in your team sucking? Yep, that in a nutshell described the majority of fans Dad and I had to deal with.

It's the kind of attitude you'd expect from a young, brazen franchise with little to no history. In comparison, trips to Busch stadium and Tuner Field did not elicit such issues. Were there problem fans? Of course, just like there are at Minute Maid Park. But this treatment is the type that remains with you and eventually makes you despise everything associated with the program.

Yep, the Rockies – a team I once rooted for casually as a high school student in Colorado-- are dead to me.

And two makes it a win streak

Posted by Seth Stringer on March 4, 2012 at 5:45 PM Comments comments (0)

Today's ESPN headline recapping Houston's 10-2 win over the National on Sunday read, "Strasburg strikes out 3 in spring debut for Nats." A day earlier after the 'Stros pulled off a season-opening 3-1 victory, Sports Illustrated posted, "Harper singles in Nationals' Grapefruit opener."

Welcome to spring training, where the appearance of high-profile prospects overshadow wins and losses. Of course, those weren't the only two budding talents on the field for the Houston/Washington two-game set -- George Springer, the first pick of the 'Stros last year, Jonathan Singleton, acquired in the Pence trade alongside Jarred Cosart, and 2010 first round pick Delino DeShields, Jr. got some at-bats today.

So what were the results? On a day when when a jet stream of wind was filtering out to left-center field, their collective stat line read: Five ABs, five strikeouts. But that's why they call them prospects, right?  I'm sure they'll attone for the swing-and-miss ABs sooner rather than later.

Their teammates, meanwhile, made short work of Strasburg (2.2 IP, 3H, 2 ER) and feasted on Gorzelanny, who surrendered seven runs on three hits and four walks before departing in the fourth after just an inning of work. So who was swinging the hot bat?

Let's start with the stars of the four-run third frame, Chris Snyder and J.D. Martinez. Snyder made Strasburg pay on a 3-1 belt-high fastball with a moon shot over the left field fence to knot the score at 1. Moments later after Strasburg departed with two outs and Schaffer on third, Gorzelanny hit Bogusevic to set the stage for Martinez, who muscled a three-run homer to left.

An inning later, Martinez showed some patience and pushed his RBI tally to four with a bases-loaded walk on an outside 3-2 pitch, which then set the stage for his namesake, Fernando Martinez. After a wild pitch allowed Marwin Gonzalez to cross home plate, Fernando, making his team debut, launched an oppo taco well over the wall in left-center field to stake the 'Stros to a 9-1 lead. Justin Ruggiano later added a sacrifice fly, ending an eight-hit, seven-walk effort for the 'Stros.

The Nats, meanwhile, got to Houston's six pitchers for 11 hits, but they all were singles. Adding to the frustrations of a day when crooked numbers on the scoreboard should have been the norm, they Nats hit just 3 for 11 with RISP.

At the forefront of Houston's success on the mound, J.A. Happ didn't have his best stuff but battled, yielding a double play to Zimmerman in the first and stranding two runners in the second to finish with a win and the stat line: 1 ER, 3 H, 1 BB over two innings. Meanwhile, relievers Henrey Sosa, Paul Clemens and Fernando Rogriguez commanded the zone, combining for five scoreless frames. Lucas Harrell was the lone reliever to allow a run, but he escaped with just one run yielded over two frames.

The arms certainly had help from their defense, which for the second straight day didn't garner a single error.

All in all, it was a great day to be a 'Stros fan.

Opening day thoughts

Posted by Seth Stringer on March 4, 2012 at 2:20 PM Comments comments (3)

Opening day -- a baseball term typically resigned for and put on the shelf until early April when you know, results actually matter -- is certainly misleading when it comes to describing Saturday's tilt between the Astros and Nationals. But ever since the Cardinals wrapped up one of the most thrilling World Series ever seen on Oct. 28, an agonizingly series to watch for this Redbird hater, the national sports scene has been marred by months of labor agreement talks, a down year on the gridiron (both college and NFL), a messload of meaningless college basketball games (can hardly wait for the conference tournaments and March Madness to start) and ongoing talk about Tiger's winless streak. So you know what? I'm going to allow myself to take liberties with the term.

With that said, how about those Astros, who pulled down a 3-1, opening-day win over the Nationals? As Larry David would say, "prettay, prettay, prettay, pretty good."

Now of course I realize it's only one game, and a meaningless one at that in the grand scheme of the looming 162-game schedule. But, and it's a big but, ever since sporting an 18-11 preseason mark in 2007, the Astros have gone a collective 49-77 over the last four spring trainings. During that same span, highlighted by last year's 106-loss regular-season campaign, the Astros have sported a paltry 292-355 record. Of course, 2008's 86-75 mark, the Astros' last winning season, was a nice surprise. But it proved to be an anomaly in this current state of futility. So that 1-0 start, which is about to expand to a winning streak with Astros leading 9-1 in the sixth inning, leaves room for optimism.

So looking at the highlights and box score, what went right?

Pitching: With Brett Myers' move to the closer role further depleting a starting rotation that was already considered one of the worst, if not the worst, in MLB, Houston's mix of arms coming into spring training was a question mark.

But from Kyle Weiland and Livan Hernandez making their team debuts with a combined four scoreless innings and three strikeouts with nary a walk to Lyon leading a bullpen effort that allowed just four hits and one run over five innings, the pitching passed the eye test on Saturday against a loaded Washington lineup. And how about that stat line of no walks! What's not to like?

Offense: As with the case of any game that produces just four runs, a pitcher's duel was the story. But the young Houston lineup still had its offensive standouts. Chris Johnson showed signs of 2010 with a two-run bomb; the Astros avoided a single double play; Jed Lowrie made his team debut with a three-bagger; and Jason Bourgeios, who added a stolen base, J.B. Shuck and Jose Altuve (my current favorite Astro) each stroked a hit. Hey, and albeit a short start, Jason Castro survived without a scratch.

Defense: No errors. 'Nuff said.

Welcome back, baseball!

Posted by Seth Stringer on February 19, 2012 at 4:25 PM Comments comments (2)

Today, the six-week, Spring Training journey of position battles, rookie auditions and veteran posturing officially begins for the Houston Astros, who have recently drawn a lot of attention for their moves off the field.

So what's new? Jeff Lunhow replaced genereal manager Ed Wade, Jim Crane replaced owner Drayton McLane, George Postolos replaced longtime team president Tal Smith, and 84-year-old Milo Hamilton, who had the memorable call on Henry Aaron's 715th home run and will enter into his 28th year of a 59-year radio career as the voice of the Astros, announced he's stepping down after the 2012 season.

There's more. Along with agreeing to move the team to the AL West in 2013, Crane attempted to reinvigorate the team's brand by announcing that he was exploring options of a new nickname. The initiative was immediately protested by fans, who know the current team's uniforms are on a collision course for a 2013 makeover (no objections here).

But away from the front office, little has been reported on the Astros. And I can't say I'm surprised. The Astros are, of course, in full-fledged rebuilding mode after last year's 106-loss campaign, but that doesn't mean there aren't plenty of Spring Training plot lines to track.

Like what, you may ask? (side note: I'll avoid the prospects -- highlighted by Singleton, Cosart and Springer -- for now.)

Will Jason Castro live up to the hype, or at least showcase his first-round talents starting in Kissimmee? Ever since Brad Ausmus left for the Dodgers at the begininng of 2009, the Astros have been searching for some consistency behind the plate. J.R. Towles emerged in 2007, hittering a blistering .375 and driving in 12 runs in 14 games (the most notable when he drove in a single-game, team record of 8 against the Redbirds) to steal the job from Ausmus going into the '08 campaign. But as we would soon discover, the hot start proved to be fool's gold as Ausmus reassumed the starting role that year. That same season, the Astros plucked Stanford catcher Jason Castro with the 10th pick. But to date, Castro's most memorable at-bat came not as an Astro, but when he belted a three-run homer for the American team in the '09 futures game. Since then, even perennial backup Humberto Quintero has played a bigger role that Castro, who struggled in The Show in 2010. To make matters worse,  last year he tore his right ACL before fans and scouts could gauge the progress he'd made. He also had surgery on his left foot in January, but he appears to be fully healed now. But the question remains, can the 24-year-old put it together and live up to his first-round price tag? I hope so, and I hope we see his talent sooner rather than later.

Who will see the bulk of time at the hot corner: Jimmy Paredes or Chris Johnson, or dare I say Brett Wallace?
Like Towles, Johnson debuted with success. But instead of a 14-game sampling, Johnson used 94 games to show he had the potential to be a .300 hitter with 20-plus HR pop. But last year he struggled. was sent down to Double A and Paredes came up and batted .284 to go along with a decent glove. Throw into the mix Wallace, whose power tools and hitting-to-all-fields talents haven't materialized for four separate clubs, and the race is wide open.

So how do they stack up? Obviously Wallace and Johnson are defensive liabilities. Wallace is a natural first baseman, but El Cabello has more than earned that role. Meanwhile, Johnson's .908 fielding percentage in 2010 was terrible, but to his credit got better in 2011. Paredes is also no sure-handed glove, but he's consistent, doesn't whiff too much like Johnson, and has Brad Mills' endorsement early on. Hopefully competition will breed better results. Or as we Astros fans have become accustomed to lately, all three could falter and leave the door open for backup Matt Downs, a capable but unsexy option.

Who will win the outfield starting roles?
Excluding third base, which I assume Paredes will eventually win, every other starting position is wrapped up -- the aformentioned Castro at catcher and Lee at first, the loveable Jose Altuve (my curent favorite Astro) at second, and recent signee Jed Lowrie at shortstop. That leaves the outfield, which is not so cut and dried. 

Over the past four years, we've grown accustomed to seeing Bourn, Pence and Lee patrolling the spacious gaps at Minute Maid Park. But two of the three moved on to bigger and better pastures, leaving a host of options to attempt to fill their shoes. Left field looks to be a lock with four-tool J.D. Martinez trying to build on last year's mild success, but center field and right field could be in line for platoons with Jordan Schafer, Peter Bourgeois, pitcher-turned outfielder Brian Bogusevic and J.B. Shuck competing for playing time. In center, it's going to come down to Schafer and Bourgeois, with the winner assured of a leadoff spot. Schafer, who was acquired in the Bourn trade, is being labeled the Astros' center fielder of the future, and helping out his case is the versatility Bourgeois brings as a fourth-outfielder option. In right field, I think it's Bogusevic's to lose. If not, Bourgeois could slot in. Personally, I love Bourgeios because he's a grinder and his speed on the basepaths would be invaluable, so I wouldn't be surprised to see him win an everyday role.

Is Brandon Lyon ready to begin the journey of putting 2011 behind him? Putting it mildly, the dude was -- as Charles Barkley would say -- turrible  last season with an 11.48 ERA. And the blame can't solely be chalked up to a torn right beceps tendon, which shut him down in May before he could blow another save. Stepping in was Mark Melancon, who filled in admirably but was dealt in the offseason to the Red Sox for Lowrie and Kyle Weiland, who will compete with Jordan Lyles for that fifth spot in the rotation.

That leaves Lyon as the frontrunner, even though his stuff is clearly not closer-worthy (What? High 80s stuff paired with an erratic offspead arsenal is bad?). To wit: He struck out only six batters in 13.1 innings of work last year, blowing four saves and allowing 17 earned runs in that span. He also gave up 32 baserunners, so it could have been EVEN worse. Because of that, he'll have to earn his closer role back. Workhorse Wilton Lopez, who ate up 71 innings in 73 appearances last year, sported a Rivera-esque 2.79 ERA last year, so the Astros know the Dominican can handle the closer role WHEN he's eventually given it.

As far as other plot lines, I think the the top three spots for the starting rotation are set in stone. Wandy's the ace, followed by Bud Norris and Brett Myers. Which leaves  J.A. Happ, Jordan Lyles and a host full of pitchers including Livan Hernandez, Weiland and Zach Duke competing for the remaining slots. Am I thrilled about that? No. But if Norris continues his ascent and Myers recaptures his 2010 form, the Astros could have a really respectable top three in the rotation. And not to jinx it, but Cosart, acquired alongside Singleton in the Pence trade to Philly, has may have a shot to get to The Show to further bolster the rotation.

What I've learned before the season even kicks off is that the roster is what it is. With rebuilding, the purse strings are tighter. But in the same breath. a lack of big signings means increased competition ... which in turn means young players getting their chances. Yep, so it's not so bad to be an Astros fan. 

Now let's play ball.


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