Ranking the NASCAR cup series’s active drivers based on merit

The NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series has lost multiple superstars and consistent contributors over the last two seasons to retirement (Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle, soon to be Dale Earnhardt Jr.). This has led to a necessity for fans to re-evaluate the sport’s top talent.

Cup racing is a revolving door. Drivers are constantly switching teams, taking breaks from the sport or retiring, while new talent waves enter in every year.

I created a system to evaluate and rank the 2017 full-time cup series drivers based on overall career merit through a points system. Points were award as follows:

Each driver received 10 points for each Championship won.

5 points for each race won.

3 points for each top-ten finish.

1 point for every Pole award won.

Points were tallied and then ranked, as the following list details.

 

Notable Exclusions: Kasey Kahne, Jamie McMurray, Martin Truex Jr., Clint Bowyer, Kyle Larson.

10. Joey Logano- 546 pts. 
No. 22 Team Penske Ford | 0 Championships, 18 wins, 146 top ten’s, 18 poles.

Logano has impressed since his inaugural run in the cup series as a mere 20 year-old. He’s established himself as a consistent threat to win, and at just 27 years old, is an integral piece of NASCAR’s cup racing future.

9. Brad Keslowski- 565 pts.
No. 2 Team Penske Ford| 1 championship, 138 top ten’s, 13 poles

Aside Logano, Keselowski has turned Team Penske into one of NASCAR’s most consistent teams. Keselowski started his career off with a bang, winning his first race at Talladega in memorable fashion in 2009, and winning a championship three seasons later. He consitently runs at the front of the pack and figures to win even more down the stretch.

8. Denny Hamlin- 789 pts.
No. 11 Joe Gibbs Toyota|0 championships, 30 wins, 205 top ten’s, 24 poles

Hamlin has been a revolution in NASCAR for the past decade, starting with his Rookie of the Year award in 2006. He has been a consistent force for Joe Gibbs Racing, and I wouldn’t bet against him winning a championship in the near future.

7. Ryan Newman- 831 pts.
No. 31 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet | 0 championships, 18 wins, 230 top ten’s, 51 poles

Today, Newman is often the subject of criticism because of ‘average performance,’ but after evaluating his stats, personally I believe he’s pretty underrated. ‘Rocket man’ is the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup series active leaders in pole awards with 51, which is fourteen more than any other competitor. At age 39, it’s unlikely that he’ll ever win a championship, but he does have a win this season to add on to an impressive career resumé.

6. Kyle Busch- 909 pts.
No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota| 1 championship, 38 wins, 229 top ten’s, 21 poles

Given his dominance from 2013-16, I found it hard to believe that Kyle Busch was even this low on the list. They 32-year-old Busch has already racked up an impressive 38 wins, tied for second-most among active drivers, and has been the most dominant driver on the track at times. Despite zero race wins in 2017, Busch’s career culminated with his 2015 title, and by the looks of it, that might not be the last one.

5. Dale Earnhardt Jr.- 912 pts.
No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet| 0 championships, 26 wins, 256 top ten’s, 14 poles

NASCAR’s most popular driver gets a bad rap for what some state as ‘undeserved fame,’ but his career resumé refutes that claim. Despite never winning a championship, Junior has been a successful driver overall and a great ambassador for the sport. In March, Earnhardt Jr. announced the 2017 season would be his last. It would be poetic to see him go out with a championship, but if that doesn’t happen, Junior can undoubtedly be content with his cup career.

4. Kurt Busch- 922 pts.
No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet| 1 championship, 29 wins, 252 top ten’s, 21 poles

Kurt’s career has been a series of extremes, marked by a championship early in his career with Roush Racing, a pitfall of mediocrity and a personal battle with anger that led to unemployment in the middle of his career, and flourishing while driving for Tony Stewart in the later stages of his career. A Daytona 500 victory this season showed that he’s still got what it takes to contribute, and is certainly in contention for a championship this season.

3. Kevin Harvick- 1095 pts.
No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet| 1 championship, 36 wins, 295 top ten’s, 20 poles

‘The Closer’ has been one of NASCAR’s premier winners since joining the series full time in 2001. Harvick is known for his consistency, and after several successful years at Richard Chldress Racing, won a championship in his first season driving for Tony Stewart in 2014. He’s a guy who always figures into the championship picture one way or another, and this year is no different.

2. Matt Kenseth- 1167 pts.
No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota| 1 championship, 38 wins, 316 top ten’s, 19 poles

Despite a weak 2017 season, Kenseth has had one of the most impressive overall careers in NASCAR cup series racing ever. He has consistently found himself contending, no matter who he’s driving for. With the announcement that prodigy Erik Jones will be behind the wheel of the 20 car next season, Kenseth’s future is uncertain, but he can without a doubt hang his hat on an elite racing career.

1. Jimmie Johnson- 1531 pts.
No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet| 7 championships, 83 wins, 337 top ten’s, 35 poles

Was there even a doubt? Jimmie Johnson has been the picture of dominance since entering the cup series full-time in 2003. He leads all active drivers in championships with seven (tied with Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt for most all time), wins with 83 (sixth all-time), and top ten’s with 337. Johnson’s performance hasn’t just been transcendent for NASCAR, but for sports in general. His dominance has been opposed by some, but true NASCAR fans can appreciate how special what we’re seeing is.

Already recording three wins in 2017, he continues to establish himself as a championship force, and will more than likely win another championship. I wouldn’t bet against him passing Richard Petty’s 100 win mark, either.

junior and jimmie

(Detailed Table with Driver stats

Driver              Championships x10       Wins x5           Top 10’s x3      Poles x1           TOTAL

48 Johnson      7 (70)                                      83 (415)          337 (1,011)     35                    1531

20 Kenseth      1 (10)                                      38 (190)          316 (948)        19                    1167

4 Harvick         1 (10)                                     36 (180)          295 (885)        20                    1095

41 Ku. Busch   1 (10)                                     29 (145)          252 (756)        21                    922

88 Dale Jr.       0                                              26 (130)          256 (768)        14                    912

18Ky. Busch     1 (10)                                     38 (190)          229 (687)        22                    909

31 Newman    0                                              18 (90)            230 (690)        51                    831

11 Hamlin       0                                              30 (150)          205 (615)        24                    789

2 Keselowski   1 (10)                                     23 (115)          138 (414)        13                    565

22 Logano       0                                              18 (90)            146 (438)        18                    546

Rangers Rundown: It might be time to sell.

Date: July 20, 2017
Next Game: 94/162, at Baltimore Orioles

Team Record: 45-49, 4th AL West
Personal Power Ranking: 20th

Since my last publication three weeks ago, the Rangers have played at a 6-10 pace. They’d been playing even ball until their four-game losing streak. In their current series against the Baltimore Orioles, they have been outscored 25-4.

It might just be a rough series, but with the trade deadline eleven days away, it’s looking less likely that the Rangers will be in a position to buy at the deadline. So, if things are as they stand now, GM Jon Daniels and the Rangers staff will more than likely more inclined to offer their assets to contenders.

It’s tough as a fanbase to see your team raise the white flag, especially a team that just a year ago won a Division pennant in a 95-win campaign. But for the Rangers, selling might not be the worst thing.

Last year’s ‘all-in’ acquisitions Carlos Beltran and Jonathan Lucroy have left what was once considered a strong Texas farm system rather barren. It remains to be seen how New York’s Dillon Tate and Milwaukee’s Lewis Brinson turn out, but nonetheless, those trades have put the Rangers in a worse position for the future than they would be without the trade.

Beltran has moved on to the American League favorite Houston Astros, while Lucroy seems like he might be on his was out the door. A free agent at the end of the season, the Rangers could possibly receive calls on Lucroy from contenders in need of catching. The return might not be spectacular, with Lucroy’s value very low given his .254/.298/.658 slash line, low total of 4 home runs, and 0.2 batter WAR.

The two definitive assets for the Rangers are starting pitchers Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish. Darvish, a free agent at the end of the season, was selected to the American League All-Star team, and despite recent struggles, boasts a 3.45 ERA that ranks 9th in the American League. A trade for him would yield a very impressive prospect package.

As for Hamels, his trade value has never been higher. Despite missing time due to injury this season, he currently holds a 20 1/3 scoreless inning streak and looks like he could certainly contribute to an American League contender. Under team control in 2018 with a $23.5 million salary, a contender with cap space might be willing to take on his contract for a run at a championship.

It’s hard to say whether the Rangers will even sell; the 2015 AL West Champion Rangers sat at 43-49 on July 20 and went on a 44-26 run to close the season and contend in the playoffs. A turnaround is not impossible, but Tampa Bay has picked up its play, taking a tighter grip on the second Wild Card spot.

It would certainly be tough to see these two fan-favorites go, but it might be necessary. Reloading the farm system could leave the Rangers in a prime position to contend, maybe even sooner than later. Jon Daniels will certainly have a tough decision to make July 31.

 

 

Predictions for the second half of the MLB season

Aaron Judge levels out

This is not a knock on Aaron Judge. It’s simply an acknowledgement of the effect that a 162 game season has on a young player. MLB.com Fantasy Projections foresee Judge hitting .259 with 14 home runs and 40 RBI down the stretch. I think that’s fairly accurate. If it were to come true, Judge would end up batting .299 with 44 homers and 106 RBIs, which is definitely an AL Rookie of the Year campaign, and leave him in serious contention for AL MVP.

The Red Sox pull away

The Sox entered the All-Star break having won 10 of 15 games. Aside from multiple matchups against New York and Cleveland, Boston has a fairly favorable schedule, and almost surely will add pitching depth at the trade deadline to secure their spot atop the AL East.

The Cubs come around

The defending champions currently trail Milwaukee by 4.5 games in the National League Central. Given their experience, leadership, return to health, and a very favorable schedule Chicago will more than likely bridge the gap. There are only two matchups between now and the end of the regular season that pit Chicago against playoff teams (August home and road series against Arizona, home series against Washington).

The Brewers snag an NL Wild Card spot

Though the Cubs will likely take the NL central, a nice consolation for the Brewers would be an previously unexpected berth in the NL Wild Card Game, where they’d more than likely face whoever emerges from the Rockies-Diamondbacks dogfight for second in the NL West. It’d be huge for player development in Milwaukee, and is a testament to true parity in the MLB.

Predicted Final Standings

AL West                         Central                             East

1 Houston 105-57         1 Cleveland 93-69      1 Boston 92-70
2 Texas 83-79                2 Kansas City 82-80     2 NY Yankees 90-72
3 Seattle 76-86               3 Minnesota 81-81       3 Tampa Bay 82-80
4 LA Angels 74-87         4 Detroit 73-89             4 Baltimore 76-86
5 Oakland 63-99            5 Chicago Sox 72-90    5 Toronto 75-87

NL West                                Central                                     East

1 LA Dodgers 109-53         1 Chicago Cubs 86-76          1 Washington 94-68
2 Colorado 86-76                2. Milwaukee 84-78             2 Miami 77-85
3 Arizona 83-79                   3. St. Louis 81-81                   3 Atlanta 76-86
4 San Diego 70-92               4. Pittsburgh 76-86                4 New York 73-89
5 San Francisco 68-94        5. Cinicinnati 67-95              5 Philadelphia 59-103

 

 

 

 

The MLB All-Star game is a facade; but a fascinating marketing strategy at that

The passion, novelty and history of the MLB All-Star Game has opened up many avenues for MLB to make huge profits from corporate sponsorships, TV deals, and ticket/event revenue.

Garrett Jones

MIAMI, FL– The MLB All-Star Game has long been one of my personal favorite sporting events of the year. Its star power and pomp marks the middle of the summer; and perfect timing at that- school’s out, everyone’s traveling, the weather’s great, and Major League Baseball’s biggest and boldest stars shine brighter than the blazing sun.

The game is chalked full of storylines. Comeback stories, rising stars, reclamation projects, top prospects- you name it. Combine this with a even playing field of high talent, and the games make great entertainment.

Nonetheless, in 2017, the All-Star Game has changed significantly. It fees different for a couple of reasons. First off, the MLB hierarchy ruled that the result of the game would no longer determine the recipient of home-field advantage in the World Series; instead, the team with the best record headed into the Fall Classic will host four games.

Playing for Home-field advantage made the games exciting and competitive. It offered insight into what we could expect of October baseball, and nourished the appeal of the league as whole and out-of-market players to many fans.

Now, the leagues will compete for cash. Not only does each victor on the winning team receive $20,000, but contract incentives could also play a huge part. Often, agents will work to include performance incentives, notably including as All-Star Game selection bonuses, into players deals.

The result is less enthusiasm from the players and fans as well as less diversity in roster selection. 32 players were selected from both leagues, but many teams, including the defending champion Chicago Cubs, received only a single representatives

The first MLB All-Star Game was played at Chicago’s Comiskey Park in 1933, an idea birthed of Chicago Tribune sports editor Arch Ward to boost morale of Chicagoans during the Great Depression. No home field advantage or player incentives were contingent on the event; it was simply born as an act of novelty.

Flash forward 88 years, and the All-Star game has turned into a streamlined, monetized publicity machine that stimulates the MLB’s revenue stream in the middle of its calendar.

Almost every event has a title sponsor. ‘T-Mobile Home Run Derby,’ ‘Chevrolet Red Carpet and All-Star Game MVP,’ ‘Esurance MLB All-Star Game Ballot.’

The real genius is in that balloting. Fans can vote up to 35 times on one account, through a sponsored website that generates millions of hits for companies interested in advertising. And when that’s over, Esurance also sponsors the Final Vote ballot, which appoints one more All-Star, keeping the fans interested, which garners more hits for sponsorship metrics.

This sends a shockwave reaction throughout the fanbase that leaves many upset when their favorite players aren’t elected. ‘Robbed,’ their guy was. ‘Preposterous,’ they exclaim over Twitter reacting to their favorite players not receiving the distinction.

I was one of these people. One of my favorite players, Elvis Andrus, was denied his third All-Star appearance despite a .302/.350/.825 slash line, career-best 11 HR, 49 RBI (second among MLB shortstops), and 2.6 WAR. The media darling and younger, more popular Francisco Lindor (.248 average, 1.4 WAR) was selected instead.

I had to take a step back and realize that, despite the league not having a direct say (the player vote determines All-Star reserves), Lindor is simply a more marketable star for the All-Star game- one of the MLB’s biggest revenue sources.

I was exactly where the MLB wanted me in their spectrum. Polarization is a good thing for the league; neutrality doesn’t turn the TV on and in turn make the MLB money. My interest and passion played right into the MLB’s hand and fufilled their main goal- making money. I made the league money by logging on and turning my passion into 35 votes for Elvis Andrus.

This sense of passion over a game that’s now largely irrelevant reveals the genius of the MLB All-Star game.

Fans have been lured through this facade and their passion for their favorite players and teams has been tapped into by this clever marketing technique. The passion, novelty and history of the MLB All-Star Game has opened up many avenues for MLB to make huge profits from corporate sponsorships, TV deals, and ticket/event revenue.

Don’t get me wrong, i’m not knocking the MLB at all. It’s a wildly popular league that’s making money and stakes claim to the term ‘America’s national pastime.’ Rather, I admire the MLB for their marketing tactics and am fascinated as to why it took me so long to notice.

Ranger Rundown: June 30, 2017

Date: June 30, 2017
Next game: 78/162, Cleveland Indians

Team Record: 39-39, 3rd AL West
Personal Power Ranking: 15

Since the last publication almost four weeks ago, the Rangers have played at 13-8 pace to find themselves hovering around .500. It’s was hard to imagine Texas returning to this form a that time, but here they are.

LAST WEEK

The Rangers haven’t lost a series since being blasted by Houston at home in the first week of the season. Series victories over Washington, Houston, Seattle, NY Yankees, and splits with NY Mets and Toronto have the Rangers on the right track during the month of June.

Last time I wrote, the big question was- ‘Can this team return to playing .500 baseball?’ Texas answered in a big way, with huge series at Washington and Houston. Since then, things have leveled out.

THE BULLPEN

The bullpen has been questionable all season, and de facto Closer Matt Bush’s decline (0-3, 7.00 ERA, 2 BS) is a testament to that. However, relievers Alex Claudio, Jose Leclerc, Keon Kela and Dario Alvarez have an impressive combined 2.73 ERA have established them as integral bullpen pieces moving forward.

When Jake Deikman and Jeremy Jeffress return, it might be time to move on from RHP Tony Barnette. His 7.23 ERA is tough to look at, and Diekman’s left-handed arm will warrant much more value for Texas as the team looks to contend.

Sam Dyson’s departure has left the bullpen in better shape, and once completely healthy, could see the Rangers bullpen emerge as one of the best in baseball.

THIS WEEK

The Rangers finish the series with Cleveland on Thursday. A win insures a series split, which would mean only the Houston series was a loss on the Month. The team then heads to Chicago for a weekend tilt with the White Sox, and hosts Boston for a three-game set starting on Independence Day.

MOVING FORWARD

As the all star break approaches, one big question emerges- who will represent the Rangers in Miami? Each team is guaranteed at least one representative. With no Ranger anywhere near contention for the starting lineup, I predict that two Rangers will represent the American League as reserves- Elvis Andrus and Yu Darvish, Andrus has developed into one of the best All-around shortstops in the American League, recording a .301/.348/.471 and a career-best 10 home runs already. Darvish’s record of 6-6 is unimpressive, but a 3.11 ERA is among the best in the American League. Run support has been Darvish’s main issue, but his unempircal ‘stuff’ has been sharp as ever, Adrian Beltre has played like an All-Star since his return, but likely will not have a large enough work sample to garner an All-Star nod.

The Rangers are finally getting healthy. When Martin Perez returns next year, the Rangers will finally feature the rotation they envisioned in the offseason- Hamels, Darvish, Ross, Cashner, and Perez. AJ Griffin will likely move to the bullpen, with Nick Martinez and Austin Bibens-Dirkx likely heading down to AAA to make room. Reliever Jake Diekman also will return following the All-Star break, a move that could buouy the bullpen.

Completely healthy, the Rangers staff will be a force to be reckoned with moving down the stretch. The offense is certainly not concerning; the team is averaging 4.2 runs per game down the stretch in June.

With the calendar turning to July, trade talks are heating up. If the Rangers find themselves at or above .500, they should certainly look to buy at the deadline. A big bat who could buoy the lineup would be nice, but a reliable reliever is much more necessary.

Ranger Rundown: June 5, 2017

I’m going to start a weekly (or maybe bi-weekly) column assessing the play of the Texas Rangers for (hopefully) the rest of the 2017. In it, i’ll offer insight and analysis over the team’s play with fan perspective along with journalistic objectivity.

Date: June 5, 2017
Next Game: 58/162, Tue. Jun 6 vs. New York Mets

Team Record: 26-31, 4th AL West
Personal Power Ranking: 20

It kind of stinks that we’re starting this off on a pretty gloomy note. The Rangers are at their low point of the season, sliding to 2-8 including a pair of four-game losing streaks after being eaten up and spat out by a stretch of schedule that pitted them against some of the league’s hottest teams.

LAST WEEK

The Rangers opened up a homestand with a matchup with the Tampa Bay Rays last Monday, a balanced squad that made for a pretty even pairing. That series saw team captain Adrian Beltre’s return to the lineup from a hamstring injury, and Elvis Andrus emerge an elite offensive threat.

Texas would go onto drop two of three to Tampa Bay in that series, both losses thanks to a serious implosion in the back end of the bullpen.

Texas held a 5-2 lead in game one of the series, only to eventually see a pitching meltdown outweigh a strong offensive outing in a 10-8 loss. After a win Tuesday, a similar trend emerged Wednesday- Texas led 4-3 late until Matt Bush allowed his first home run of the season in a game that newly-shaven Sam Dyson would completely squander and Texas would lose in extras, 7-4.

Andrus was by far the most outstanding player through the week, racking up an impressive 10 RBIs total, aided by a career-best 5 RBI performance on Tuesday. He has emerged as one of the top offensive threats at shortstop in the American League and one MLB’s elite when considering his rock-solid defense.

MLB.com projects Andrus’ to record homers and 72 RBIs, both which would be career bests. As of now, he is the most likely Ranger to be featured in July’s MLB All-Star Game.

As for the weekend series, it was one of the ugliest in recent memory. Houston came to town and completely manhandled the Rangers, dropping them to 1-5 on the homestand. After hanging a whopping 40 runs in three games on Minnesota in their midweek series, the Ranger staff was no match for the Astro bats, slightly cooling them off to half that total, but nonetheless conceding all three games as Houston won their eighth, ninth and tenth straight contests.

This series really opened a lot of eyes in the Ranger/AL West community that the proverbial torch of AL West power has been passed. We’ve seen Ranger teams go on late season pushes for the pennant (exhibit A: 2015, a team that sat 48-52 at the deadline and won their division).

If the Rangers make the playoffs this season, it appears it’s going to be through one of the two AL Wild Card spots, as it seems increasingly less likely that they’ll catch Houston and their current 15 game lead.

THE BULLPEN, OH, THE BULLPEN.

The bullpen struggles are the most pressing issue of this team to date.Texas ranks 26th in the MLB in bullpen ERA at a 4.76.

Moving on from Sam Dyson will significantly buoy the staff. In his nearly two full years in Texas, Dyson slid up and down the performance spectrum. Emerging as a key back-end arm down the stretch after he was acquired at the 2015 trade deadline, Dyson would go onto save 38 games in 2016 after Shawn Tolleson was phased out as the Ranger closer after a disastrous start of his own.

In 2017, Dyson was aligned with a Similar fate to Tolleson. His stat line was horrendous this season- a 1-6 record with an appalling 10.80 ERA out of the bullpen. He failed to convert a single save in four opportunities and saw Matt Bush assume his post.

Dyson was reportedly very upset and his teammates were very sympathetic when they learned of his departure. He was supposedly a good clubhouse guy and is a solid professional. Of course, we all feel for the guy, but it was simply time to move on.

After wowing at the 2017 World Baseball Classic for the first-time champion United States, Dyson simply couldn’t effectively locate any pitches to effectively record outs against major league hitters. He leans heavily on his sinker, which had little to no effectiveness this season, ultimately leading to his Ranger demise.

Jose Leclerc was activated off the DL as his replacement. A solid young left-handed arm, Leclerc could be a nice replacement for Dyson, paired with fellow young lefty Alex Claudio, who has posted a 2.83 career ERA in four campaigns for Texas.

dyson1280_pq89hker_m7sr5vhqTHIS WEEK

Texas welcomes in the underachieving New York Mets (24-30) to Globe Life Park this week for a quick two-game interleague set. Two wins would be a huge step in the right direction for a team that recently sat in wild card contention.

It doesn’t get much easier in the later half of the week, as the Rangers will head to the nation’s capital for another interleague tilt with the Washington Nationals- a top team in the National League.

If the Rangers could take care of business at home against New York and steal a pair of games at Washington, their record would sit at 30-33, which would go a long way on the road to .500. Realistically, if the team looks to contend, they need to be back at the .500 mark by the end of June.

MOVING FORWARD

Given a pretty tough schedule, it’s going to be interesting to see if Texas can rally back to contention. This is where it gets tough as both a fan and journalist; of course I want and believe this team can contend, but if things don’t turn around quickly, the harsh reality of a rebuilding season and selling at the trade deadline will loom quickly on Arlington.

Injuries haven’t helped, but the starting rotation and bullpen that this team has featured makes me queasy. Credit where credit is due, Austin Bibens-Dirx and Dillon Gee are professional athletes, but they’re borderline Major League players who aren’t easy for a fanbase to get excited about and aren’t going to help a team’s immediate playoff push.

Hope is on the horizon nonetheless. Cole Hamels, AJ Griffin and Tyson Ross are all on the brink of returning, and when paired with the solid top three of Yu Darvish, Andrew Cashner and Martin Perez, a healthy rotation puts Texas’ among the league’s elite. If those guys were to get going, the Rangers could more than likely see wins start to come.

Carlos Gomez is sure to help matters as well. Earning a reputation as a high energy, boom-or-bust guy, he is surely to add a boost to the lineup when he returns from his May 15 hamstring injury.

There’s a lot of what-if’s in this evaluation, but right now, the overarching feeling from this team is different from years past. In 2014, the completely battered team still was clinging to a .500 record, but the writing was on the wall that they were out of contention.

In 2015, the June edition of the team featured so few impact players that would affect the playoff run that it almost seemed like a completely different squad. Last year, the Rangers were firmly atop the AL West, and were the first team to reach the 50-win plateau.

Here in 2017, we find an enigma of a team still looking for its identity. Unfortunately for baseball fans, impatient as they come, we’re just going to have to wait and see if this team can contend, and whether the injury bug can be rallied past.

Questions and Observations from a Pirates of the Caribbean fan after watching ‘Dead Man Tell No Tales’

*SPOILERS*

I offer insight and analysis into the next hit of Disney’s swashbuckling saga Pirates of the Caribbean, Dead Men Tell No Tales.

  1. It generally moved quicker than most of the past films– The official run time for Dead Men was 2 hours and 33 minutes, which is actually the second-longest film of the franchise behind At World’s End (my least favorite film of the franchise and which seemed like it’d never end). Still, the action was engaging and easy to follow, captivating the audience’s attention which, for me, made it seem to go by fast. In the past, lengthy shots of ocean scenery and irrelevant background images have made the film drag on, but that was kept to a minimum in this film.
  2. The movie followed the plot line of past films- If you’re a fan of Jack Sparrow’s (Johnny Depp) random appearance on any Caribbean island (this time it’s St. Martin) narrow escapes, swindling of the powers that be, tolerable violence, overcoming the odds and acquiring a crew, following with conflict resolution with old friends and ultimately sticking to the bad guy, you’ll be happy with this installment of Pirates. It pretty much holds to form with all the other films.
  3. Jack’s banter is more witty and sexual that ever. It seems like the writers most definitely adjusted Jack’s dialogue to reach a more modern audience. From more sexual innuendos to a marijuana reference, Jack’s character usually doesn’t engage in this much banter. Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times summed it up pretty well  in his review:  “Dead Men works well enough as a stand-alone, swashbuckling comedic spectacle, thanks to the terrific performances, some ingenious practical effects, impressive CGI and a steady diet of PG-13 dialogue peppered with not particularly sophisticated but (I have to admit) fairly funny sexual innuendo.”
  4. Don’t go expecting to see a lot of Kiera Knightley and/or Orlando Bloom- When I first heard that Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swan (Kiera Knightley) were returning to the films, I expected them to be a big part of Jack’s adventure. Upon reading up before watching, I realized that their roles would be rather isingnifcant, and they were. Bloom shows up in the first and last scenes, but maybe has a minute and a half of dialogue. Kiera Knightley has literally none. That being said, it was good to see the Turner family reunited. It tugged on the sentimental heart strings of any Pirates fan who holds films 1-3 near and dear to their hearts.
  5. Bardem plays a good villain– Javier Bardem was excellent as Armando Salazar. Having seen his work in thrillers like No Country for Old Men, Sicario and Skyfall, I knew what to expect from his villainy. His mannerisms in these films are very believable and the audience definitely buys into the fact that he’s a dude to be feared. I also thought it made for an interesting dynamic in the Bardem residence given how Javier was casted for this film right after his spouse, Penelope Cruz, was cast as the main antagonist and Jack’s first legitimate love interest in the last film (Angelica in On Stranger Tides).
  6. I really find it hard to believe that’s the last that we’ll see of Barbossa–  Spoiler- Barbossa dies. However, we’ve already seen that in the first installment of the franchise, Curse of the Black Pearl, only for him to be brought back to life by Calypso in Dead Man’s Chest. Given the fact that Hector (Geoffrey Rush) has appeared in every single film, I thoroughly believe that he will make some kind of return for the rumored Pirates 6. Barbossa has proven to be a valuable asset to the story, no matter what side of Jack’s interests he finds himself on.
  7. The movie does a really good job filling in holes and tying everything together before what we can presume will be the last film of the franchise- The film offers more insight into Jack’s past than ever. First, it introduces the audience to Jack’s uncle for the first time, who was largely insignificant and didn’t do much for the storyline. More importantly, the film distinguished Jack’s initial defeat of Salazar as what established his legacy. Salazar states that Jack’s heckling from the Crow’s nest of his ship reminded him of a bird chirping, so seamen began to call him ‘Jack the Sparrow.’ Next, It depicts Jack’s quick-wit and outmaneuvering of Salazar as what won the favor of his crew. It also showed that he received the compass that doesn’t point North in this battle win Salazar, and after the defeat, his crew presents him with his hat, sword, beads, and many other intricacies that make Jack Sparrow. For the first time, the audience is offered insight into the life of Barbossa as well, revealing his daughter, Carina Smith/Barbossa (Kaya Scodelario) as a main character, and establishing more of his on-land past. All this did a good job of tying  up loose ends and answering Pirates fans questions about their favorite characters before what we can presume is the no-holds-barred final adventure in the sixth film.
  8. Why would Jack give away his compass so easily?– I touched on it earlier, but this was my main question. In a drunken, muddy stupor, Jack gives his valued compass that his been a fixture in almost every past film away for a handle of rum in St. Martin. I realize he’s drunk, but that has to be Jack’s most valuable possession. He was told in the aforementioned battle by a crew member’s last breaths to never give the compass up. This causes a chain of events that ultimately leads to Salazar and crew’s freeing from The Devils Triangle, the purgatory where Jack staved off certain death and trapped Salazar’s crew. In my opinion, Jack shouldn’t have just given away the compass, more development should’ve gone into it, perhaps a tangential story on Jack losing the compass.
  9. From an entertainment aspect, Disney hit the nail on the head again.- I always say about Pirates films that you can’t really watch for accuracy or believability. It’s a fantasy movie, and you’ll often find that those who watch the movie critically enjoy it much less than those who open their minds to fantasy. That’s what makes it so great, it’s such a fun story to follow and the action gets you on the edge of your seat like you’re a kid again. Storyline and feasibility aside, the movie was thoroughly entertaining. I strongly believe that the casual moviegoing audience will especially enjoy Dead Men tell no Tales.

Quick column: Soon, we will know Devin Booker by one name

We know the biggest NBA superstars in the past by their abbreviated names. Kobe.. MJ. Shaq. This has stayed consistent through today’s NBA. LeBron. Curry. Russ.

Soon, their will be another name to add to that list. Devin.

Devin Booker, that is.  A quintessential rising star in today’s NBA, the 20 year-old Booker has torched NBA defenses and has established himself as a stud young player for the Phoenix Suns of the NBA’s Western Conference.

Drafted 14th overall out of Kentucky in the 2015 NBA Draft, he entered the NBA as a somewhat overlooked prospect. Since then, he’s proved all the doubters and teams that passed on him in that same draft wrong- improving his scoring average from 13.3 PPG (which was good enough to land him a spot on the NBA All-Rookie First Team) to an astonishing 21.1 PPG as a second year player. At just age 19, Booker became the fourth youngest player to reach 1000 career points.

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Booker seems to be the whole package so far during his time in the association.  Standing at 6’6″ and weighing 206 lbs., he has a competitive frame that allows him to manipulate defenses and stay in front of opposing players on defense. He can shoot three pointers at an impressive 37% clip, while also proving to be an above-average free throw shooter (83% between his first two seasons). Primarily playing the shooting guard position, Booker has proven to be a competent passer as well, averaging 3.2 assists this season.

It’s not just the stats that work well in Booker’s case, however. He possesses many intangibles that wow the fans when he takes the floor. For one, he moves away from the basketball very well. He can also score in a variety of athletic ways, and is effective under contest from defenders. Furthermore, he seems to possess the ‘clutch gene,’ nailing two buzzer-beaters this season, directly influencing victory for his team.

Booker is a rare athletic specimen that the NBA has never seen before. Given his young age, he is a player sure to wreak havoc on opposing defenses and compete for scoring titles.

Many will continue to speculate the potential of his career, but for now, we can be assured of one thing- Devin- or maybe Dev- is a rising star to keep an eye on.

Stats courtesy of ESPN. Image courtesy: https://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.thehoopscolumn.com%2Fwp-content%2Fuploads%2F2016%2F10%2FDevin-Booker.jpg&imgrefurl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.thehoopscolumn.com%2F2016%2F10%2F01%2Fdevin-booker-doesnt-miss-from-downtown%2F&docid=k5feW4Ic2DoW6M&tbnid=gX9wKw4qjF9yIM%3A&vet=1&w=1310&h=873&bih=583&biw=1202&q=devin%20booker&ved=0ahUKEwimv9yixtTSAhUT9WMKHbdzC_YQMwg0KAMwAw&iact=mrc&uact=8

The Genesis of a season of solitude

Since I’ve come to school, I’ve had a four-month relationship begin and end. That was the longest relationship I had been in to this point. I enjoyed the times that I shared with her, but ultimately, our relationship wasn’t really what a Christ-Centered relationship looks like.

To clarify, I hold no personal resentment towards her. She is a nice girl, and I wish her the best moving forward. However, looking back on things now, I’m pretty glad that she broke up with me, because ultimately, I had on blinders that were restricting me from getting to where God wants me to be, as far as relationships go. This was a result of a multitude of reasons.

To start, I was too forthcoming. I have a self-destructive tendency to look too much into relationships early on in the past, and it ultimately complicates things. Furthermore, I was looking for fulfillment in quick ‘hook-up’ type relationships instead of God- something that ultimately is just never a good idea. I loved the intimacy, the time shared, and the attention that a girlfriend provided. I was in it for the wrong reasons.

On Valentine’s Day, I attended the weekly Mizzou Chi Alpha worship service, where our ministry’s lead pastor, Tom Trask, and his wife Missy, were speaking. The two have been married 14 years and gave extremely solid advice on what a Godly relationship.

These were my biggest takeaways, that have totally redirected my dating pursuit:

-Marry someone who loves you, but sees who God wants you to be, and wants to help you get there.

-Ask questions. Are they active in their faith and pursuing Jesus? Will they challenge me to grow closer in my walk with the LORD? (Non-negotiable) Do they love Jesus more than you? If not, this is not a relationship I need to pursue.

-Ultimately, waiting is key. Ditch the ‘hookup-instant gratification’ mindset a gear yourself more towards waiting for the woman God wants me to be with.

-Focus on BEING ‘the one’ instead of LOOKING for ‘the one.’

Really, once I heard that message, I made a big change in my thinking. Instead of looking for a girl to be with for a quick flame, I should be in the mindset of looking for my wife.

This is difficult to do. Girls in college are SERIOUSLY attractive, especially at Mizzou. But the promise of a devoted wife and a fulfilling marriage is far more beneficial than any hookup could be in my eyes. And with God on my side, seeking his will and kingdom, nothing can oppose me.

So now, I move into a season of singleness, with a positive and humble attitude. God wants for a very few of his servants a life of solitude, but he often calls his followers to a season of singleness. I now enter into one of those, excited for the prospect of what God could bring one day. His will is great and ultimately worth trusting.

How the College Football Playoff would shape up if conference championship chaos happens

A lot of chaos could take place in the coming week. Many competitors take a gamble on playoff chances when they take the field for their respective conference championship games. I took an in-depth look at one possibility if Conference Championship apocalypse takes place:

Here’s how I project Tuesday’s release of the College Football Playoff Rankings to shape out:

  1. Alabama 12-0
  2. Ohio State 11-1
  3. Clemson 11-1
  4. Washington 11-1
  5. Michigan 10-2
  6. Wisconsin 10-2
  7. Penn State 10-2
  8. Oklahoma 10-2
  9. Oklahoma State 10-2
  10. Colorado 10-2
  11. USC 9-3
  12. Western Michigan 12-0

Here’s what each team needs to do to find themselves in the playoff:

#1 Alabama– As the nation’s only undefeated Power 5 team, all Alabama needs to do to is  knock off an inferior Florida team.

#2 Ohio State– Even if they don’t have a shot to play in the Big Ten Championship, we’ll say a one-loss Ohio State team is a lock no matter what chaos ensues.

#3 Clemson– Clemson needs a home win over a 6-5 South Carolina team, followed simply by a win over Virginia Tech in the ACC Championship game.

#4 Washington– If Washington wins the Pac-12 championship game to (Colorado/Utah), you’d have to think they’re overall body of work warrants a CFP berth.

# 6 Wisconsin– Wisconsin needs to defeat either Penn State in the Big Ten Championship game, and either Clemson or Washington to lose their respective conference championship games.

#7 Penn State– Penn State needs to defeat Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship, and

#8 Oklahoma– Oklahoma needs to convincingly win the De facto Big 12 Championship game/ Bedlam rivalry game vs. in-state rival Oklahoma State. Having no conference championship game is a double-edged sword; They don’t have to deal with the potential for upset like Alabama, Clemson, Washington, and Wisconsin do. However, a convincing win in the Big 12 Championship could help their case if chaos ensues.

#10 Colorado- Colorado needs to upset Washington in the Pac-12 Championship game, and needs Alabama, Clemson, and Wisconsin to lose as well. Even that may not be enough for the Buffaloes.

Outside Contenders-

#5 Michigan- It’s hard to imagine a scenario where Michigan, having lost a clunker at Iowa and head-to-head at Ohio Sate, could find themselves in the playoff over Ohio State or the winner of the Big Ten Championship game. It’s even harder to imagine the committee selecting the Wolverines over a Pac-12 championship game winner, as well.

#9 Oklahoma State: The Central Michigan and Baylor losses (even though the NCAA admitted Oklahoma State shouldn’t have lost to Central Michigan) holds Oklahoma State back a lot. They need Alabama, Clemson, Washington, and Wisconsin to all lose.

#11 USC: Though it’s been a great run for the Trojans, 3 losses will likely keep the Trojans out of the playoffs.

#12 Western Michigan: Good for the Broncos. Their 12-0 regular season is something to be proud of. However, they play in the MAC, whose talent level simply just doesn’t stack up compared to the schools ahead of them.

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Chaotic Scenario:

ACC Championship: #20 Virginia Tech defeats #3 Clemson

Pac-12 Championship: #10 Colorado defeats #4 Washington

Big Ten Championship: #7 Penn State defeats #6 Wisconsin

Bedlam/De facto Big 12 Championship: #8 Oklahoma defeats #9 Oklahoma State

MAC Championship: #12 Western Michigan defeats Ohio

*The SEC Championship was not included, because when Alabama’s level of play is compared to the lackluster recent play of Florida, it’s hard to envision a scenario where the Gators knock off the tide. Even if they do, A one-loss Alabama team is a lock for the CFP

Post Chaos CFP Rankings:

  1. Alabama 13-0
  2. Ohio State 11-1
  3. Penn State 11-2

Looking at the top three…

Ohio State has been designated as a CFP lock from the beginning of the article, so they’d likely slot in at #1. The Big Ten champion, Penn State, would slide in at #2. Despite the one loss to Florida in the SEC Championship Game, Alabama’s lone loss would be enough to keep them in the playoff (we’ve seen this trend in earlier rankings, i.e, Michigan and Clemson remaining in the Week 11 rankings despite losing to unranked teams). 

So now comes the extremely difficult decision. The race is so close, it will require the College Football Playoff committee to examine each eligible team’s regular season schedule.

Who takes the final playoff spot? Will it be…

Pac 12 Champion, 11-2 Colorado?

OR

de facto Big 12 Champion, 10-2 Oklahoma?

Here’s an in-depth look at each contender after the hypothetical chaos, listed by alphabetical order.

Colorado Buffaloes Resumé
Potential record: 11-2
Pac-12 Champions

Notable wins: Washington (11-2), Washington State (9-3), at Stanford (9-3)
Losses: at Michigan (10-2), at USC (9-3)

Oklahoma Sooners Resumé
Potential Record: 10-2
Big 12 Champions (by record, no official championship game)

Notable wins: West Virginia (10-2), Oklahoma State (9-3)
Losses: Ohio State (11-1), Houston (9-3)

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So, if these two teams are so close in this chaotic scenario, what sets them apart?

The committee, through past rankings and media statements, has made it clear that the four best teams will make the playoff. However, certain metrics give their selections empirical backing, such as conference championships, FPI, and strength of schedule.

One glaring difference could be the value of a Conference Championship game victory. The Big 12, confusingly only having 10 teams, doesn’t have a championship game. However, the Pac 12 does. If the committee goes ‘old school,’ and picks a team based off a conference championship winner, the edge would go to Colorado.

The Football Power Index (FPI), a measure of team strength that is meant to be the best predictor of a team’s performance going forward for the rest of the season. FPI represents how many points above or below average a team is. Projected results are based on 10,000 simulations of the rest of the season using FPI, results to date, and the remaining schedule.

Oklahoma is ranked 8th with a 21.5 rating on ESPN’s power index, a tool that the committee has used in forming prior rankings. Colorado is ranked 13th with a 17.5 score.

Colorado, at this point having won the Pac-12 Championship game, has also defeated Washington State and Stanford, both 9 game winners. They’ve also lost to a 10 win Michigan team on the road, in addition to a 9 win USC team on the road.

OU is a total wild card. The competition they faced playing in conference play in the Big 12 wasn’t as tough as Colorado or Florida faced in the Pac-12 and SEC respectively. However, Oklahoma has the clear advantage when it comes to the losses they took, losing to a lock for the CFP, Ohio State at home, as well as a 9-win Houston team at a neutral site.

The committee showed two years ago, when the Big 12 possessed two 11-1 playoff contenders in Baylor and TCU, that it didn’t like the fact that neither team played in a conference championship game. All that being said, here’s how I predict the standings would shake out following this chaos…

Week 15 (post Conference Championship)

  1. Alabama 13-0
  2. Ohio State 11-1
  3. Penn State 11-2
  4. Oklahoma 10-2
  5. Colorado 11-2
  6. Michigan 11-2
  7. Clemson 11-2
  8. Washington 10-2
  9. USC 9-3
  10. Western Michigan 13-0
  11. Wisconsin 10-3
  12. Oklahoma State 9-3

Colorado’s victory in the Pac-12 Championship won’t be enough to clinch them a spot in the College Football Playoff, pitted against Ohio State. In the end, Colorado’s losses at Michigan and at USC, in addition to the victory in a conference championship game, might not be enough compared to Oklahoma’s season turnaround and stampede through the Big 12.

Oklahoma- for the second straight year, with a convincing win over their in-state rivals, could find themselves in the playoff.

This is just one possible scenario out of many. It’s unlikely that any one of Alabama, Clemson, Washington, Wisconsin, and Oklahoma State lose their conference championship games, let alone all lose. But it’s interesting to imagine.