The Buffa Blast(unfiltered opinion)

Here we go,

After a calm relaxing weekend, the time has come to unleash the rage at the keyboard once again.   Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is a rant from this head.   Notes, opinions, and little details are formulated over a 2-4 day period and put down in a complex cocktail of unfiltered digestable opinion and data analysis.   As spectators in this tricky game of breathing for a living, we look, digest and analyze everything that comes into our specs.  So follow me here as I take you through the course of my mad mind.  Starting with the relentless St. Louis Cardinals(all Chicago Cubs fans, please skip over or get our a needle).

The Cards Blood Shop

This team continues to drive me insane.   Every game carries feelings of anticipation followed by nerve rattling introspection.  It’s like watching a 6 month thriller that has as many twists and turns as it does revelations.  When does the pain stop in following a sports team? The day they decide to stop playing for good.  While the football diehards come out and declare baseball dead, this die hard Cards fan refuses to get involved with PRESEASON activity and instead stays grounded in a playoff race.  What is going with this team?  I’ll start things off with a good, bad and ugly section.

The Good-Since our last gathering here, the Cards are 3-1 and seem to be back on track.  The driver is back in the seat and pushing this team forward.   After losing two crucial games to Milwaukee, the Cards got a hold of themselves and took the finale and won the series with the Rockies over the weekend.   Albert Pujols and Chris Carpenter came up huge in the Brewers finale, with AP delivering 4 timely hits and Carp pitching 8 strong innings to get his 8th win to even his record.   This team’s offensive capabilities sprung to life over the weekend, taking down the Rockies by scores of 6-1 and 6-2 while losing 6-1 in between.  Rafael Furcal continues to shore up this infield defense, which hasn’t committed more than 1 error in a ballgame or 3 in a series since his arrival.   Ryan Theriot and Skip Schumaher form a solid platoon at second base and the outfield is doing fine if not great.  The bullpen isn’t losing games anymore, instead becoming a deep well rounded force for manager Tony La Russa to play with.   Octavio Dotel and Mark Rzepcynski have pitched very well in their short time with the team.  Dotel struck out 4 in a crucial moment in Sunday’s game and Rzep pitched 3 scoreless frames on Saturday.  The only question lying in vain on this team is the starting pitching.  Which leads me to my…

The Bad-The Rotation, with the exception of Carpenter, looks weak in August.   Jaime Garcia hasn’t pitched well in his past 4 starts, winning only one game while his team has lost his past two starts.   The Rockies roughed him up on Saturday and ruined what looked like a potential sweep.   Kyle Lohse pitched 6.1 innings of  solid ball on Friday and Edwin Jackson pitched solid on Sunday after a shaky start but what I am not seeing is deep starts by this group.   After Carpenter grinds out 8 on Thursday, Garcia and the rest can’t reach 7 in their starts.   In the past week, starting with the Brewers series, the rotation pitched decent for the entire home stand.  However, leaks are popping up and alarms are flashing.  This group is getting weaker and not stronger.   Lets run down the list.

Carpenter-A  Manny Pacquiao like tenacity on the pitching mound during the second half.  After 100 pitches, hitters only getting Carp for .155 BA and .391 OPS in 66 plate appearances.  Stronger as the innings pile up.   Also, in 2011, stronger as the season rolls along.  He is 6-1 in his past 7 decisions.  His performance on Thursday showed you why he is the Ace.  With the backs against the wall, Carp proved to be a Stopper.  Carpenter has 1 win as he walked into June and now he has 8 wins to match 8 losses.  Carpenter has turned into an Ace once again.

Garcia-A perplexing talent with 10 wins and deserving of 3 more at least but a pitcher who continues to struggle away from Busch Stadium and beginning to look vulnerable at Busch.  Garcia allowed 5 runs on Saturday night, the second coming on a two out two run single.   Two out hits are hurting this staff, and Garcia gives up a ton of them.  His young mind on the mound can’t seem to bounce back from a bad call from the umpire and unravels.  A top of the rotation talent that is struggling to stay consistent and pitch into the 7th-8th innings.

Lohse-A hot start that went away fast in June and July but is beginning to level back out.   Lohse rebounded from a rough outing in Florida to pitch 6.1 innings on Friday night and get his 9th win.  Lohse is 10-7 with a 3.44 ERA.  In his last 10 starts, he is 3-4 with a 4.50 ERA.   During those 10 starts, Lohse has only reached 8 innings once and the rest have been 6.1 innings or less.  Lohse isn’t pitching deep into games at all.  His last 4 starts have seen a total of 19.1 innings, an average of less than 5 starts per start.  Pitiful for August.  A 10 game winner with holes in his performance.  The main problem with Lohse is that he doesn’t have an out pitch and struggles to put away hitters.

Westbrook-Jake the Snake is a literal puzzle.   What do you get from this guy from start to start?  No one knows.  Westbrook’s numbers are better than Lohse in his past 10 starts(3-2, 4.23 ERA, four starts of 7 IP or more), but you wouldn’t know it if you watched the man pitch.   He is tough to watch, walks too many and can fall apart in one inning.  However, he is 9-6, has pitched well in the second half and seems to come up big in huge contests.  Still, a man that will make you grind your teeth.

Edwin Jackson-A straight up mixed bag of a talent.  He has 2-1 as a Cardinal but his ERA has risen from 3.92 to 4.04 since a move to the NL.  That’s an unhealthy concept.  However, take out the rough start in Milwaukee and his numbers as a Card look shiny.  Jackson’s main problem is the long ball and getting ahead of hitters.   His K-BB ratio is good but he often falls behind hitters and needs to throw a ton of pitches to recover.  He doesn’t start too hot and gives the opposition many chances to hurt him.  A 27 year old arm with a high octane heater(95-96mph) who induces tons of contact from hitters.  He doesn’t strike out a ton of hitters, pitches for contact and gives way to big innings.  He also exited tonight’s game with a suspected hamstring issue in the 6th inning.  There’s another problem.  This man eats up innings only if he allows the hits and runs to make you nervous.  If he gets past 7 innings, damage will be done. A mixed bag.  Genuine talent but take how far?  Will he ever rise into a top 3 starter or continue to change teams and sit in the lower half of a rotation.  He is effective but lucky at times.  He is a power arm who tips his bullpen after most games and that’s not a good thing.

All in all, a talented if unpredictable bunch of arms.   We know this team will score runs.  The Cardinals rank near the top of the league in runs scored, batting average and power stats.   However, we also rank near the top in double plays.  Read it all and this team produces baserunners and runs.  A never say die lineup that has came back in 2011 and won games after they were losing.   The bullpen is improved and pitching well.   Each arm has an assigned role down there and knows their role.   However, the rotation is the crutch of this team.   They will determine if we reach the playoffs or not.   After Carp and Garcia, the rotation is a true mixed bag of potential outcome.   Asking me to hand the ball to Jake Westbrook or Action Jackson for series win is like telling me a live hand grenade is on the mound.  The rotation will decide if we do or die, crack or prosper, win or lose in 2011.

The Ugly-The Brewers aren’t slowing down.   While the Cardinals won the series over the weekend, The Brew Crew swept the hapless Pirates and gained a game on the home team here.   The Cards are 5 games out of the first place because they wasted a game Saturday and the Pirates wasted every opportunity to take a single game in Milwaukee.   In a scoreless game on Saturday, the Pirates had chances in the 9th and 10th inning to get a run in and failed.  On Sunday, a passed ball gave Milwaukee a chance to tie the game and opened a chance for a walkoff win in the 10th.   The Cards dropped a game Saturday and lost a game in the standings.  The Brewers are 16-2 in the past three weeks.   Deadly effective and waiting for no one to tell them to slow down.  The Brewers took 2 CRUCIAL games against the Cards at Busch and beat up the Bucs.   Their next four series are against teams with bad records, including Chicago, Los Angeles, The Mets and Pittsburgh.  The Cards face Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Chicago and Pittsburgh at home.   The Brewers are playing so well that the Cardinals can’t afford to lose a game.  You start falling 6-7 games out of first place in mid to late August and the shovels come out.  Quite honestly, the Cards are in must win territory every night.

An example-If the Cards walk into Pittsburgh tomorrow night and lose, the season is slipping out of their hands one finger at a time.  Here’s the issue.  If they lose a game and the Brewers lose as well, ground isn’t lost but at the same time an opportunity to gain ground is also lost.   If we win and they win, the standings stay the same.  If we lose and they win, a crucial game is falls to the floor.  Must win mode.  The Pirates are 3-15 since the controversial call at home plate against Atlanta.  The young bunch have fallen apart and are requiring beating hours.  I am not saying the Cardinals will win.  I am telling you they HAVE TO WIN.   Throw their 5 starting pitchers into a interrogation room and tell them its time to put up or shut up.   Pitch well, earn your cash or go the fuck home and suffer the priceless reward and fate of a hack millionaire athlete.   This is where I wish athletes had to truly earn their cash.   What am I talking about?  If Albert Pujols goes 0-4 at the plate, he doesn’t collect his 550,000 per game salary.   If Kyle Lohse doesn’t pitch well enough, he doesn’t get his 333,000 dollars.  If Yadi Molina doesn’t reach second base on a double off the wall, don’t feed him after the game.  If Skip lets a grounder roll through his 5 hole at second, tell him he can’t restrap his batting gloves between each pitch or he gets tased.  If Albert rolls over on a grounder and doesn’t hustle, tell him GOD just jerked off the devil.   Leave the religion out of it and put the gloves and bats to work men.   The St. Louis Cardinals are going to have to fight, claw, and slug their way to a division title this season.   When Adam Wainwright went down, the deck was stacked against us.  Anyone with a suit and cash in Vegas tossed this team in a 6 foot hole in the desert.  This team wasn’t picked to finish dead last but it seemed that way in April.  Every fucking game counts and I am not even talking about a midsummer classic.  Here’s what I want to see happen.

A Round of Advice and Future Need

1.)Albert Pujols to completely destroy pitching in August and September.  In his 11 year career, AP loves to swing in the last two months.  He is a clutch hitter.  Since his sobering two game performance against Milwaukee on Tuesday and Wednesday, Pujols has broke back out of the cage.  He is 9-15 in his past four games and risen his average to .288, the highest it has been all season long.   Slowly, AP is coming around.  After cranking a 465 foot blast on Sunday night(longest in Busch III history), Pujols leads the NL in home runs and is in the top 6 in RBI.   Pujols is hitting game changing home runs.  Each of his past 4 home runs have either tied the game or given the Cards the lead with his one swing.  The only mind boggling issue with Pujols are his walks and strikeouts.   Pujols has more strikeouts(43) than walks(41) in 2011 and that is unheard of for the Mang.   The past 6 seasons, Albert has accumulated close to or over 100 walks and less than 80 strikeouts.  While his K’s are normal, his walk rate is horrible.  He is swinging at pitches out of the zone more times than not in 2011 and that is his main problem.  He also leads the league in double plays at 24.   A fan can only hope Pujols is slowly snapping out of his funk and locking in for the home stretch.   Tonight, Albert is hitting in his favorite ballpark.  At PNC Park in Pittsburgh in 83 games, AP has put together power stats good for an entire.  .386 BA, 27 HR, 80 RBI, 80 R with a .462 on base percentage.  In Pittsburgh for his career, he is a machine.  In 162 games(equivalent of an entire season) Albert has put together 46 HR, 139 RBI, and a .454 OBP.  If there was a case for Albert Pujols going anywhere outside of St. Louis, it would be Pittsburgh to let it rip 82 games a season in PNC Park.  Pujols dials in and destroys pitching like no other hitter in that park.  Get ready this week for some fireworks.  If the Pirates were smart, they would have Pujols arrested on sight the minute he steps off the plane.   Go hunting Albert and let that fucking bat eat!

2.)Fernando Salas keeps his quiet effective streak going.  In his last 10 appearances, Salas is 6-7 in saves, only allowing 1 run in 11.2 innings pitched and zero runs in his past 8 outings.   He has a 13-3 K to BB ratio and has finally notched a few 1-2-3 saves.  Against the Brewers, he struck out the side on Thursday after allowing a hit.  Salas is recapturing the midseason form and fooling hitters again with a deadly concoction of moving fastballs, diving sliders and effective breaking pitches.  A good closer means a winning team.

3.)Stay Healthy.  Now that the team is staying out of the trainers room and in the lineup, good things can happen.  Matt Holliday, stop lifting heavy weight.  Do some reps, tone the muscle and be nice to the back muscles.  You play baseball every day and travel constantly.  The body already hates you so compromise.  Lance Berkman, drink herbal tea, stretch and ice the knees big guy.  Age isn’t your friend so be kind to the body.   Arthur Rhodes, cash in the AARP checks and throw strikes.  Sunday night wasn’t a good debut for the newest Cardinal.   Edwin Jackson, listen to everything Dave Duncan tells you.   Write it down.  Jaime Garcia, carry a pen and pad, and ask Chris Carpenter about staying strong in the middle of a hellish inning.

4.)Jon Jay, relax and play baseball.  Center field is yours to lose and while your bat has slipped, the level of fundamentally sound play has stayed strong.   Good defense in center, a worthy bat in the #2 hole and a big future.  Jay’s batting average is still .293, but his on base percentage is slipping and his strikeouts are going up.  However, he still deserves to start over Corey Patterson, who swings at fastballs above his head.  Jay is a good player and smart bat.  Keep him in there.

5.)Rotation.   Pitch deep into games.   Listen to your coach and catcher.  Make smart pitches.  Don’t give up so many two out hits.  They kill a baseball game.   You wear the birds on the bat and pitch at a major league level and get paid millions to do it, so back up the money with a solid performance.

6.)Jason Motte’s extraodinary run of success in 2011 is flying under the radar.   Since July 24th, Motte has only allowed 1 hit  in 16.1 innings, with hitters only going 1-26 against him.  He hasn’t allowed an earned since June 23rd.   Motte has redefined the strikeout pitcher for hire in the bullpen.   When trouble rises, Motte comes in and shuts the door.  This is a pitcher that has a defined role and holds value on this team.   Quietly, through changes and up and down streaks, Motte is putting together a hell of a season.

This team is in need but playing well.   They simply have to keep it up.  Stay consistent.  This team hasn’t been consistent with their play all season.  Right now, the Cardinals need to play consistent tough competitive and smart baseball to hold ground and possibly gain on the Milwaukee Brewers, who need a sledge hammer to be knocked out of a streak.  What happens the next 39 games is something I can’t bet on, predict or call.   All we can do is watch and wait.  There is one thing I do know.  This Cardinals team is going to drive you fucking nuts but always show the effort, will, and relentless attitude to win baseball games.  They either watched too much Blues action from the last two years or need to realize they are healthy and fully equipped to overtake the Brewers.

RAMS NEWS

The preseason started off bright on Saturday night with a 33-10 Rams win over the Colts.  Look fans, I won’t bullshit you here.  The Rams were playing a Peyton Manning less team in the first game of the preseason.  That’s like facing an unloaded gun.  Peyton was spending more time at Busch than on a playing field this weekend.  Taking away Peyton from the Colts is like cutting the head off a snake.  However, Sam Bradford and company looked very good, capable and fresh on Saturday night.

Highlights-

-Sam Bradford and AJ Feeley moved the ball all night.   Every time I flipped back to the Rams game, the offense were in the opposing territory and driving into the red zone.   Ball movement is key and the Rams had it on Saturday.  Josh McDaniels is calling plays that pound the other team and hit them at different spots on each play.   Last preseason, fans needed a good book and helpful cell phone to get them through a game because Pat Shurmur’s offense was a snoozefest.  McDaniels, bad head coach or not, is a wizard with a playbook who wants to punch holes in a defense.  Bradford was the electrician and McDaniels was the navigator.

-Feeley played very well after a rough training camp.   Backups carry a clipboard and headset for 16 games if everything goes right, but they have to be ready just in case and Feeley looked sharp, accurate and moved the offense.  Good for 3.5 million dollars.

-The running backs look like a trio of bruisers.   Jackson, Norwood and Williams are going to put a hurt on teams and fit perfectly into McDaniels’ multi back schemes.  Steven Jackson’s knees and body just got legitimate(no offense to Kenneth Darby) help.

-The Defense looked sharp.   The defensive line is once again going to collect sacks and pressure the quarterback.   Fred Robbins, Chris Long, James Hall and newcomer Robert Quinn are going to give an offensive line a hard night’s work each ballgame.   Quinn looked especially impressive for a man who missed part of training camp and hasn’t played in an organized game in 2 years.  Quinn was doubled teamed in the second half and got faster and stronger as the game went on.  Quinn will emulate Long in his ability to wear down a guard over 4 quarters of play.  He has the burst and willpower to succeed here.  A Spagnuolo brand of player.

-Speaking of offensive line work, the Rams O-Line looked good if not great.   Bradford, Feeley and Thaddeus Lewis saw pressure but never got sacked.   Many football fans forget that the hardest working players on the field are the offensive and defensive lines.   Every single play, two lines of men get thrusted into each other for a tug of war and full body workout/contest.   While we watch the quarterback roll back and set up, the offensive line forms a line in front of him in an attempt to protect and produce seconds worth of time to throw while the defensive struggles(and I mean fights) to break through.  It’s a long forgotten concept because there are no fantasy points to be seen in an offensive lineman.  However, the wide receivers, running backs and quarterbacks wouldn’t score anything if it weren’t for the offensive lines work.  The Rams O-Line has really improved over the past 2 years and will keep Bradford on his feet.

-This team faces a tough opening stretch of play that includes games with the Eagles, Giants, and Cowboys, but if they can make it through the first six games with 3 wins, the middle part of the schedule contains divisional play that will make or break this team.   Sam Bradford carries a yearful of knowledge into round 2 but also a heavier set of expectations.  The Rams went from 3 wins to 7 wins in one season after his arrival.  The bar is being set high.  One friend of mine has this team winning 10 games, including wins over the Eagles at home(a stretch) and the Giants in NYC.   Whether you agree with that assessment or not, one thing is for certain.   The Rams aren’t a bad team any longer.   A certain level of play is expected from them in 2011.  What happens is anyone’s guess.  I’m glad football is back and our team looks ready to roll.

The Adventures of Sam the Ram and his enforcers continues this fall and winter.  When the weather cools down and the cold air starts to move in, football has arrived.  Dust off the wings and chili recipes.  Wipe down the flat screen.   Stretch out the legs and break out the grill my friends.  NFL action is back.  Is it more important than baseball at this point?  No, but its slowly coming alive.  The first game of the season is less than a month away.

Blues News-The team isn’t sold, preseason games are a couple weeks away, but hockey is around the corner as well so listen up.

-Jonathon Cheecho gains a little life for a roster spot with David Perron’s health failing to give way to serious action.   Cheecho is a long shot to make the roster and stay, but the thought of this former gunslinger finding Scottrade is exciting.  Why not?  Brad Boyes got two years to try and become a sniper.  Give Chee a second(or third) shot at glory here in the city of blinding optimism.

-Once again, make David Backes captain of this team.   It’s time for a true leader to take over this locker room.

-Tell Barrett Jackman we love his team player attitude, ability to block shots and get his nose dirty, but remind him that he plays for the Blues and not the other team.   Lessen the puck giveaways which lead to goals, asshole.

-Inform Ryan Reaves that it’s okay to walk over and bash the other team’s enforcer in the lip.  A young kid getting a shot at becoming the enforcer on a team is like a young man going to prison.   The first thing they must do is build up their rep as a badass and challenge anyone and everyone to a fight.  Reaves won’t be taking it up the ass anytime soon but he will be seen as weak and soft if he doesn’t get on the ice and bash skulls.  He isn’t out there to score goals(that and defense would be nice), but he skates to send messages that arrive in blood soaked fists.  As a father told his son on a recent FX boxing show, let your fists be the judges.  Let people know you don’t mind throwing a punch and taking one as well.   Fear builds and notoriety begins.  I like this kid, love his style play and want to see him come into his own here in St. Louis.  The enforcer job is his to lose and he will command a look with Perron out.

-Tell the Slovakian midget to put his game face on.   His first season as a Blue carried all the potential of prom night.   Promise, potential reward and breakdown in clutch moments.  Jaroslav Halak started out well, broke down after a few injuries to his team, started letting in soft goals, got hurt himself, came back and played decent when the games didn’t matter.  Halak is making big money in a big contract to be The Man.  His play determines if he stays there or starts to look brittle.  He is a smart goaltender and can take over games when he is right, but drown games when he is wrong.   With an old hand and a young pup standing behind him in the backup section, this is Halak’s team and they go where he takes them.

-Defense, give Halak a chance to see half the shots coming towards the net.   What marks a Blues game?  A 5 minute period towards the end of the game where the opposing team fires shot after shot at Halak and the defense in a close game.   This must end.

All in all, a season marked with higher expectations.   The acquisitions of Marty Langenbrunner, Jason Arnott, Cheechoo, and the return of the young talent and Halak make this team a threat.   However, the Central Division is stronger than ever and will force the Blues to make every game count in January and February, an area where they usually start to tail off.   How consistent can this Blues team be?

The Random Sports Bits

-Tiger Woods is never coming back folks.  Call his career done.  He will continue to participate but how many more times can we see Tiger fail to make a cut and still think of him as a threat.   People think Pujols is declining.  Point your lens at Woods, who never recovered after the reality of his personal life and true nature of his health.   His knees are shot, his swing is flawed and with or without head speaker Stevie Williams at his side, Tiger is finished.  Call it.  Time of Death.

-The NFL season looks up for grabs once again.   The NFC and AFC look wide open and I could name 2-3 teams in each conference with Super Bowl chances.   Last season, I correctly named the Green Bay Packers as a team to keep an eye on.   They won the Super Bowl without 2-3 of their top players.   Right now, I would put Green Bay, Philidephia and The Saints into a pool with Pittsburgh, New England and either Indianapolis or The Jets.   Also, don’t count out Minnesota, Dallas or Baltimore.  While we could see The Packers and Steelers in a second straight Super Bowl, the matchup could easily feature two different teams.  There are no clear cut dynasties in football these days, which makes for great theater and emotion.  16 weeks of energized emotion and inches earned or lost.  Will there be a different winner for the 4th season or a returning titan to the throne?  You never know.

-Stepping between the lines in a baseball game is dangerous.  Before Sunday night’s Rockies-Cards game, Rockies third base coach Rick Durer took a ball to the face that sent him to the hospital for a broken nose and CAT scan.   Durer was standing near first base when Chris Nelson was completing a double play drill and slung a hard throw towards first base with no target.  Durer wasn’t paying attention and took a smash to the face.   On Sunday, Jason Marquis took a line drive off his lower leg, pitched through, and ended up collapsing in pain a couple innings later to a broken leg.  A few days ago, a Rockies pitcher took a line drive to the face.   Baseball is dangerous in its own way.  Stepping between the lines requires a lightning quick awareness that few have.

-Dan Uggla carried a 33 game hitting streak into Sunday’s game that was snapped after an 0-4 outing.  Listen up folks.  NO ONE will ever break Joe DiMaggio’s 56 game hitting streak record.  The pitching is too good, the schedule is longer and the grind is harder today.  DiMaggio’s streak will remain intact.  I don’t see a hitter reaching the 40s anytime soon.  It is too hard.   Uggla used the streak to break out of a season long dreadful slump, raising his batting average 35 points and carrying his team into the wild card race.  However, hitting in 56 straight games in this day and age is something that will never be reached.  71 home runs is one thing.  71 home runs in 162 games.  Hitting in 56 straight is far harder.

-Osi Umenyiora wants a promise to be fulfilled.   Two years ago, Giants General Manager Jerry Reese told Osi that if he kept up his level of play in 2009 and 2010 that he would give him a raise and a new contract.  Osi kept up his play and now wants to get paid.  This is the same reason I agree that Chris Johnson deserves to get paid by Tennessee.   Certain players reach a higher level of play than their salary pays, and a raise is expected.  In Osi’s case, a raise was promised and needs to be fulfilled.  Every player must fulfill a contract but an owner has to stand by his word.  He had a team high 11.5 sacks and also forced a league high 10 fumbles in 2010.  Pay the man his money.   Umenyiora is practicing on Monday without a new contract.

-Chad Ochocinco wants to live with a New England Patriots fan for the first part of the 2011 season.  That’s nice, but does he understand what he is getting into here?   Does he understand how much seriousness is invested into the games in Boston?  Does he know?  He wants to live with a fan to get better acquainted with the territory but what happens when Chad comes home after a loss where he drops 4 potential game changing passes from Tom Brady and the fan wants to grill him.   Where will he hide?  Is there a clause in the living arrangement contract that calls for a timeout from questioning?  If he fucks up, Tom Brady and Bill Belechick will let him know how bad it was.  Imagine going home to hear a fan tell you the same thing.  Good luck.

-The Los Angeles football scene wants a football team again and really want the Rams to return home.  I say get your own fucking team and leave ours alone.  LA once owned the Rams, but lost that right in 1995.   16 years later, they want them back.  Sorry, but that isn’t an option, especially right now, where the Rams have a leasing agreement until 2014.

-Tom Hoberstroh at ESPN.com Insider writes that a trade between Orlando and Miami involving Dwight Howard and Lebron James would work.   While it will never happen and especially never come up in the middle of a labor dispute, the trade does work on certain merit.  Howard is exactly what the Heat are missing, a big inside presence that can support Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh on the inside.  James takes his talents to Orlando and officially gets his own team again.  While Orlando has supporting pieces in place, James wouldn’t deal with the overwhelming expectations in Miami and once again gun for his championship on his own terms.  Howard helps Miami and James helps Orlando.  Florida gains power with a mega blockbuster trade which will never happen. A good idea.

-Alex Smith will never be a good NFL quarterback and isn’t the answer in San Francisco.  Now, head coach Jim Harbaugh can play him all he wants and Rams fans can rejoice.   Or he can call Troy Smith or Daunte Culpepper and bring in a quality arm.   The 49ers looked horrible on Thursday night and mostly due to the fact of their QB play.

-Kobe Bryant says he will play overseas.  Who gives a shit?  Is this really news on a daily basis?  This falls between Casey Anthony’s release and the Jersey Shore group having issues.   Wow, this is our culture in 2011?  No wonder opposing countries see us as a joke drowning in debt and carrying very few clues.

-All hail ESPN writing mastermind Bill Simmons, who on his most recent mailbag session, compared his love for a TV series(Curb Your Enthusiasm) to a pitcher’s record for a season.  He went from Season 1 to the latest season and gave each a pitcher’s record and stats.   Brilliant.  This is my hero.

MOVIES-While I didn’t catch any movies in the theater over the weekend, I did take in two on DVD at home.  Here is a quick take.

Kill The Irishman-An indie film about the legendary life of Danny Greene, a Cleveland based irish gangster who created a business on his own, grew to be the Mob’s worst enemy, survived countless assassination attempts and eventually took down the Cleveland Mob.   Ray Stevenson(Pullo on HBO’s Rome) plays Greene as a renegade young tough guy who used his intellect and deep knowledge to rise up against the most powerful men in town.   Here is an underdog story.  Greene started out as a longshoreman, but eventually took over that union, started his own gang and went head to head with the biggest criminals in the city.   Stevenson invests wit and a charming cold streak into the role, the pace is quick, and the tale is deliberate enough to hold interest.  Here is a mob story few know but most will believe upon conclusion.  Val Kilmer, Vincent D’Onofrio and Vinnie Jones also star in this fine crime drama.

I Love You Phillip Morris-A true story here as well, about famous con man Steven Russell(Jim Carrey), who escaped prison four times, eluded the authorities many other times, all in the name of changing identity and living happily ever after with the love of his life, Phillip Morris.  Russell was a closeted homosexual until he left Virgina Beach, where he was a police officer and started a life of theivery that didn’t slow down until many years later, when George W. Bush made an example out of him.   Jim Carrey is a thrill to watch here, once again showing us his man on a wire ability to go back and forth between drama and comedy.   While we laugh and soak up his con man efforts, we see the true sadness in Russell failing to craft a life for Morris and himself.  Ewan McGregor plays Morris straight and does a decent job, but the movie belongs to Carrey, who is brilliant as a man who constantly is on the move from honest identity.  The role of Russell is a tough assignment, but Carrey nails it by bringing every element of his reportoire to work here.   Physical comedy, dramatic tendencies and a confidence.  Russell once walked out of a jail dressed as a cross dresser and also left in plain clothes at times.  Escaping prison became an artform.  When he wasn’t in jail, Russell was bankrupting a law firm while robbing the retirement funds and masquerading as a lawyer.  A con film is always fun to watch and Carrey makes this true story stand tall with an engaging charmful performance.

Television

Rescue Me does it again.  Another power packed unsentimental hour of television last week.  Instead of manipulating viewers with 9/11 sensitivity, Leary and Peter Tolan sneak up and punch you in the cheek with an episode about family loyalty and using secrets to manuveur around a bad call in judgement.  When Tommy Gavin is suspended for going off on a reporter during a 9/11 interview that went south, his family step up to the plate in order to clear the slate of their renegade firefighter.  As one chief calls it, you fight fire with fire in order to get things done.   What keeps coming up huge for this series is an ability to not wring the audience dry for sentimental value.  Tolan and Leary aren’t creating melodramatic sappy memorials.  They are telling a story that is beginning to close the door on a tough subject.   Instead of dwelling on the tragic day, they use it as a story framing device for tales about people and emotions.  Leary never lets you forget that 344 firefighters lost their lives on 9/11, but he sneaks in the bitterness of the aftermath in small doses.   The main issue at the center of this show is Tommy Gavin learning to live with himself after 9/11.   Can Tommy Gavin really survive 9/11 or will he eventually succumb to its effects on the soul?  What if you made it out alive and 64 fellow co-workers you knew well didn’t?  A compelling question dived into each week here.   Leary’s narrative is so strong because he calls on the tales from real life sources.  Leary is friends with real firefighters in Boston and New York, and they keep this show grounded in reality.  This week, the crew visits Ground Zero and more hell breaks loose.

Also check out a column on Leary and the show in The New York Times right here, where he dishes on getting to use a new 27 million dollar boat that is meant to aide a future attack, using real firehouse humor in the script, crafting Tommy Gavin from two real men, and centering the theme around real heroes and 9/11.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/02/arts/television/02rescue.html?adxnnl=1&ref=denisleary&adxnnlx=1313393231-6Wu4awHTzr1rwXfi4OiFlg

Look, I really like Denis Leary because he is an underrated actor, writer and a quiet crusader.  When nobody wanted to touch a firefighting series after 9/11, Leary and Tolan jumped at the chance to spread the word on this profession.  Leary donates millions of dollars to firehouses and police departments yearly.  He is a blunt force of honesty who tweets daily on any subject.  Many will say his comedy career started with him stealing jokes, to which I will call another accusation and point out the man created most of his comedy from his upbringing and life in a big family.   I like the guy because he is good at what he does and has class and chops to back it up.  He recently wrote a wonderfully comic column in Entertainment Weekly about never winning an Emmy award while being nominated several times.  His quick takes.

On Being Irish and Lucky-From the Huffington Post

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/denis-leary/i-feel-good_b_570297.html

On Gay Marriage-“(Best Comedy)The gay marriage debate. Because there isn’t one. We have couples who want to legally declare their devotion to each other, raise children in loving households, AND willing to fight for their country? How much more American do you want them to be? Do they need to gain 40 pounds of belly fat and wear black socks with sandals and buy tickets to see Jimmy Buffett? One day soon you will have a gay family living next door. And their kids will be better dressed, better behaved, and WAAAY better dancers than your kids.”

On The Killing of Osama Bin Laden-From the Hollywood Reporter

The Hollywood Reporter: How do you feel about bin Laden being killed?

Denis Leary: I admire the Navy SEALs who pulled the thing off. But having worked with so many firefighters on the show, it was weird. I think there’s a lot of closure for certain people and not for others. When I drive by Ground Zero, which I do almost every day, none of it makes you feel better. There’s celebration in the idea that this big, evil guy got caught, but I would much rather have the guys back.”

All in all, watch Rescue Me, look for Leary’s work elsewhere and keep a lookout for his new series, Sirens, an adaptation of a British series about paramedics, coming the USA network in the coming year.

Alright, my Rescue Me and Leary love section is finished.  Now we can move on.

Other TV to Look Out For-

-Entourage is wrapping things up in slow motion.  The episodes have ended with a fire, a break up and a cocaine induced suicide, which gets high marks for creativity yet is failing to ground the series in its comedic Hollywood roots. I’m waiting for Creator/Head writer Doug Ellin to give us a wow episode and unleash Jeremy Piven on one more Ari Gold rant.  The final season is good yet needs to get better.

-True Blood is starting to pick up speed in its witch infested season that sets up the Witches against the Vamps with the werewolves in between.   A show grounded in sex spiked violence and romantic crossed action needs faceoffs to bolster the intrigue and after a false start, this 4th season is off and running.

-Hard hitting entertainment bringing heat around the corner.   The 4th season of Sons of Anarchy on FX, HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, and Showtime’s Dexter return in September.   When one season of summer power ends, the fall season always produces the most epic fireworks.   That is what’s on tap.

-After a season of recovery and love, Dexter Morgan goes killing once again.  That’s good to know.   Every Dexter fan knows that this series is at its best when its anti-hero is doing what he does best and that is killing bad people.  We have had enough feelings and love stories.  We want blood, Dexter.  Michael C. Hall promises more kills this season.

-If you need genuine laughs, catch Archer’s second season on DVD.  An animated spy comedy series that mixes James Bond with Anchorman and Dirty Harry.

Music Recommendation of the Week-

Bruce Springsteen-Devils and Dust

I’ve always said that I liked Bruno more when he sticks to his acoustic roots, meaning standing in an empty street with a harmonica and a guitar singing about the blues.   Devils and Dust marked a collection of hard to the bone gritty acoustic wonders, with this title track bringing the most juice.  Save me the E Street noise and give me Bruce all wound up and only needing a couple instruments to explain his torment.  Look for the brilliant use of the harmonica here, which covers more ground than a electric guitar or drum solo ever could.  This song is built with a story walking behind it.

http://youtu.be/cG8ZQkeZvzc

The Final Bits

Starting with a Daddy Blog entry.  A quick one tonight.   Counting the number of times where my wife tells me, “I wish men could experience this pain”, to which I respond with, “Sorry, it will never happen.   It’s science.”  During a pregnancy, your wife or girlfriend will tell you the most wonderful of things.  The idea of having two small legs crash into your ribs at zero notice.  Having a small monster push on your sciatic nerve.  Great feelings that can only be told to a man who started the madness.   All men can do is sit there in amazement at the wonderful ability of women at their most unflattering hour.  Believe me, you can tell them they are beautiful, aren’t in any way bitchy or fat, and they will hate you nonetheless a fair amount of the time.  Its just the way it is.  The creation of a human being begins with wonder, continues in complexity and hardship and never stops creating emotions.  We have a little over a month left before Vincent arrives and the amount of times I hear about the female birth experience will never cease to amaze.

-Barack Obama’s approval rating drops below 40 percent.  So what?  Presidents weren’t built to be liked or approved.  They were built to take the blame for massive overspending, bad decisions, coverups, lies, cheating, and bad management.   Obama was hated the minute he stepped into the office.  It won’t change with a different person, white or black.

-Anders Behring Breivik returned to the scene of the crime Sunday, the site where he killed 91 vacationing innocent souls in Norway.   Breivik was taken there by police to walk them through the events that led to him killing nearly a 100 people in a span of a couple hours.   That must of been intense and unsettling.  Walking a confessed cold blooded killer through a crime scene as he takes you through step by step his way of killing.  How many times did the police officers involved think…”What would happen if I put a bullet through his brain right now?”?   Many times.   That would be like taking Osama Bin Laden to ground zero and asking him to completely explain his motives.  It wouldn’t go over well.

-The cool weather opens up several possibilties.   The Outdoors become a option for hangouts when you have company over.  Instead of dying in the heat, a group of friends can have a good time outside the house.  Late night and early morning runs are a great option for runners, like myself.  During the past week, I have engaged in three late night/early morning runs and felt better than ever.  Running in cool weather allows the body to naturally perspirate and not go into dehydration survival mode.  Good times all around come from weather that ranges from 65-80 degrees.

-Fall/Winter films are going to change for me as fatherhood approaches.   Over the past 2-3 years, I have started to cut back the films I see in theaters from the ones that can wait until DVD or cable.  Looking at my EW Fall Preview for films, the choices will be hard to make because there is so much to see.   Clooney’s latest directing-starring effort about a political campaign, Ides of March.   The Statham-Owen-DeNiro Action fest, The Killer Elite.   Sherlock Holmes 2, which is promises rollicking fun and Downey Jr.-Law-Ritchie genius.   Steven Soderberg directing Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Laurence Fishburne, Law and others in the virus drama Contagion.  The crowd pleasing Real Steel with Hugh Jackman.  Clint Eastwood directing Leonardo DiCaprio as J.Edgar Hoover.   Those are only a few of the upcoming pleasures.   More are coming with it.  I’ll lay out the ones to look forward to and the ones to avoid in an upcoming rant.  For now, that’s good enough.  Choices will have to be made ahead.

Well, folks, that’s all I got for now.  This session has gone on for long enough and the time has come, once again, to pull the curtain and exit the stage.  My hopes are that this was informative and enjoyable to read.  A good read is all I hope for here.  I am not trying to curve your opinion but only ease my own mind by giving a perspective.  For now, I am done.

Until next time, take care and thanks for reading.

-Dan L. Buffa

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Author: D. Buffa

A regular guy who feels a journalistic hunger to tell the news. I blog because its wired into my brain to write what I think in print. I offer an opinion. A solo tour here. Take regular stories and offer my spin on them. Sports, film, television, music, fatherhood, culture, food, and so on. Commentary on everything. A St. Louis native and Little Rock resident who wants to write just to keep the hands fresh and ready.

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