Moneyball Review/Cards Glimpse/More

Ladies and gents,

Start your engines and allow me to dish a few ideas around the room here.  One of the challenging things about this new role of being a dad is finding time to do the things that were routine before you had a kid.  For me, it’s writing, movies and sports.  Working out and running falls around the work schedule, but those three things are what keep me moving and sane.  Something to chase after.  Many around me are surprised I have kept up the writing since his arrival, and all I can say is I do it because it’s a theraputic experience and serves as a way I can get passionate about something but also move past it the next instant.   Let’s get moving here.  Postcards from Buffa, the Rogue Edition, begins now.  Kicking things off with a movie review.

Moneyball Review

One of the scariest things in the world is change.  Risk and reward circle change and cause people to redefine their goals in life.  Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane went to his owner after the 2001 playoffs saw his team get kicked out in the first round of the playoffs after carrying a 2-0 lead in the series.  Beane asked his owner for more money.  The owner said no.  After that season, Johnny Damon, Jason Isringhausen and Jason Giambi left for free agency.  Beane then discovered a new way to build a baseball team, with the help of Peter Brand, an assistant to the GM in Cleveland, whom Beane meets when Brand shoots down when of Billy’s trade proposals.   Soon after, Beane and Brand are working together on fixing the A’s , who carried a payroll around 39 million dollars.   Moneyball focuses on one idea, a strategy from Bill James, who wrote a book that mixed economics with baseball and changed the blue print for building a roster.  Beane’s wild idea was hated by his scouts, fans and any baseball historian who thinks relying on stats and computers instead of advanced scouting is ridiculous power playing.   Billy Beane is played by Brad Pitt, who slips easily into the skin of this renegade and gives one of his best performances in years.  An important reminder that before Pitt became a face, he was a good actor and live wire who could blow people away.   If you know baseball history from the past 10 years, you know what happens with the 2002 Athletics team.

Part of Brand’s advice and strategy given to Beane is building a roster of players who provide you wins and don’t cost you millions.   In one great sequence, Brand explains the true reason the Boston Red Sox threw 8 million at Damon.   Damon was a potential star and decent leadoff guy, but he wasn’t worth 8 million based on the wins he gave his team.   If any theory proves the overpaid scheme of baseball, James is the front runner.  Brand’s idea is to build a roster of players who bring you wins, which means you need runs, and players who can get on base.  Big sluggers like Giambi and A-Rod are great, but they cost too much money if you’re payroll is 40 million.  Beane tells one of his oldest scouts in a great sequence that in order to survive,  you have to “adapt or die”.  It’s here where the movie takes off.   Beane and Brand visiting Scott Hatteberg, and telling him they want to turn him into a first basemen because he gets on base.  Hatteberg never played first base before 2002.  Beane recruits older players like David Justice and Jeremy Giambi, cheap players who are old and broken or young and stupid but get on base.  On base percentage is Beane’s key idea here and it sticks because it’s an often overlooked stat in the game.  Every hitter’s goal is to get on base, via hit, walk, hit by pitch and hustling through an error.  Beane and Brand’s idea is finding those types of hitters.

Does it all work out?  Do the A’s reach the promise land with their new found ideal?  I’m not telling, but it’s no secret what is on Director Bennett Miller’s mind.   One man trying to change the way the game is played.  Played off the field.  The front office tiny dancers who work the magic behind the players on the field.  Billy Beane turned down a 12.5 million dollar offer to become GM of the Red Sox in 2003, and we are never told why he did it.   Here is what I think.  Beane was a former MLB player who got drafted out of high school by scouts who told him his time was now to make it to the show.  Beane wasn’t ready, but carried all five tools and joined the Mets.  He flopped and soon found himself out of the game.   Beane made a decision based on money, and he swore he’d never do it again.  He didn’t take the job in Boston because that offer was everything he had built himself up against.  Once he couldn’t get a bigger payroll, he changed the entire way he viewed collecting wins.  He couldn’t go back to star chasing.  The Red Sox could win a World Series and that would have been nice for him to be at the helm of it.  Beane’s goal was to change the game.  He wanted to win the World Series with the 39 million dollar A’s team that no one thought could win with a particular strategy.   He wanted to upset a perceived idea.   It wasn’t about wins, rings and glory.  He wanted to prove people wrong and find a different way for a team to win a championship than possessing the biggest bank account.  From 1996 to 2001, the Yankees won the World Series 4 times with a payroll exceeding 150 million.  A year after Beane’s moneyball team made from an “island of misfit toys” won 20 games in a row yet failed to reach the World Series, the Marlins upset the Yankees with a payroll of 53 million.  A small sample size, but Beane started something.  He didn’t have 12 million reasons to stay in Oakland, but he had a few solid ones.

Brad Pitt is the heart and soul of the film, installing Beane with a crafty rebel with a cause attitude that spread throughout the entire franchise.   Pitt is one of those underrated actors who gets lost in movie star land and much of his talent is shaded by his box office pictures.   He is the perfect guy to play Beane because of his live wire ability to get into character and entertain at the same time.  Jonah Hill plays Brand with a capable geek smart whip and does his job of playing off Pitt.   Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Art Howe, the biggest opposition Beane faced in his new ways.  Smaller roles with Chris Pratt as Scott Hatteberg and Robin Wright Penn as Beane’s ex are fine but the keys to the puzzle are Pitt and Hill.

Moneyball works because it is a 5 tool player in it’s own right.  The moral of the story is strong, the acting is versatile, Miller’s direction doesn’t get in the way, the timeliness of the story is worth it, and the cool and cocky script takes the biggest piece of the pie here.   Aaron Sorkin(Social Network, West Wing) and Steve Zaillian contributed to the script and it’s an intelligient mix of baseball jargon and integrity that creates a brand of sports symphony.  It is true some of the facts are stretched and there is a missing element in certain scenes and players are mixed around, but the best part about Moneyball is that the heart of the story stays true in Beane’s vision.  He wanted to change the game and while he didn’t quite reach his goal, the journey he took is worth watching.

Moving on…

Things to Consider in Philly this afternoon-

*Kyle Lohse faces the biggest test of his career.   Taking on The Phillies lineup in Game 1.   A rematch for the Phils against a pitcher who has shut them down twice in the second half and most notably, beat Roy Halladay two weeks ago in a pivotal series for the Cards.  Lohse finished 14-8 with a 3.39 ERA and is trying to make up time here in St. Louis.  After two years of being invisible in value due to bad pitching and injury, Lohse is starting to mean something here.  His start today is huge in order to secure momentum.

*The loss of Adam Wainwright hurts the most in the postseason.   Without him, the Cards lack a potent 1-2 punch in their rotation.   With him, The Cards win this series.  The absence of a 20 game winner pits the Cards as underdogs because that’s where the Phillies have the biggest advantage.   Cliff Lee, Halladay, Cole Hamels are threats.  Chris Carpenter is our only true weapon in the rotation.

*Something to consider.  The pressure factor.  Who faces more pressure to win in this series?  A clue.  They reside in the city of brotherly love.  Also, the place of massive expectations.   After the World Series in 2008, the Phillies faced similiar expectations the past few years but this year after acquiring Cliff Lee to complete the ultimate power rotation, the expectations are even higher.  They won 103 games in the season, and see only one result.  A World Series.  The Cardinals are the underdogs here and that helps them.  They weren’t expected to win anything this season and now reached the playoffs on an amazing streak that many baseball pundits don’t know what to make of them.  If the Cards win this series, the world will be shocked.  If the Phillies lose, they will be called chokers.  Hence the expression called the Upset.   The one thing the Cards dont face is pressure here.

*Roster moves thoughts.   Leaving Kyle McClellan off the roster is smart because he has nothing right now in the shape or form of a threat to a hitter.  He has a dead arm.  Don’t risk the chance of him blowing a game with a hanger.  If Jake Westbrook doesn’t start a game, there is a need to leave him on the roster to serve as a long arm in the bullpen.  Motte, Boggs, Salas and Sanchez are required roster spots and they all made it.  Sanchez for McClellan is key.

*Rotation moves.   Lohse is the right person to start Game 1, with his rest and history against the Phillies.  La Russa decided to start Chris Carpenter in Game 2 on 3 days rest, and while it’s dangerous I understand and approve the move.  Carpenter has never started on 3 days rest, but the Cardinals must take 1 game in Philly and if Lohse doesn’t get it done, you must throw the best at Philly and Carp is it.   Jaime Garcia starts Game 3 at Busch and La Russa declined to name the Game 4 starter.  This isn’t a complex question.  Edwin Jackson needs to start Game 4.   The Cards traded for him to fill a key rotation spot, and he delivered one of the most consistent arms on the team.  Jackson is a young force and can deliver 6-7 innings and keep the team in the game.  He deserves it more than Garcia at this point and unlike Jaime, Edwin doesn’t fall apart so easily.  You don’t need two starters in the pen.  Another unreal La Russa mind game.

*What else is there to say?  Go Cards.  Albert Pujols and Lance Berkman need to continue to dominate and carry the offense.  Rafael Furcal and Matt Holliday will be on the roster, so that’s good news.  Allen Craig needs to find his way into this lineup.  Craig is too hot of a hitter at the moment to keep on the bench.  Bench players like DD and Punto will also play key roles in our depth.

Rams Notes for Sunday

*The Red Zone factor.  Who wins between the Rams and Redskins comes down to which team scores touchdowns once they enter the red zone.  A matchup perceived as a field goal battle can be changed if Sam Bradford and the Rams find their way into the end zone and execute.  Same for Rex Grossman and the Redskins.  Two teams built up in similiar fashion come down to which team gets 7 points instead of 3.

*The Rams have to run the ball all day against the Skins.  Steven Jackson’s durability will be tested here because if the Rams establish the run and push the Redskins back, Sam Bradford can unleash an assault on their secondary.  The Redskins carry London Fletcher at linebacker and Oshimigo Atogwe at safety, but Bradford can find holes if Jackson and Cadillac poke holes up front.  The Rams can’t be one dimensional but they must establish the run.

*My biggest worry in this game.  The big turnover by the Rams.   Sam Bradford has only allowed 3 turnovers, but all of them have been returned for touchdowns and switched the momentum of the game.

*Get the ball in Rex Grossman’s hands and make plays.  The Rams defense must keep Tim Hightower container so Grossman goes to the air and makes mistakes.  If the old Rex shows up(the one that lost the Super Bowl for the Bears in 2006), the Skins will have no chance.  The Rams secondary is the weakest link on this team, but Sunday it will be the biggest x-factor.

*This is a must win game in Rams Park.  Lose this one and we are 0-4 heading into a bye week and following that with Dallas, Green Bay and New Orleans.   Does that scare you?  If Ravens QB Joe Flacco can throw for 338 yards against our secondary, how many will be put up by Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and even Tony Romo?  The Redskins game is the one game where we carry a sliver of a chance to win and we must take advantage of it.  We saw how fast the Rams fans came back to the Ed Dome, but do you want to see how fast they can go away.  I’ll always watch, but I’m talking about the blackout attack on television if sellouts don’t happen.   Lose fans and you put the team in jeopardy and Steve Spagnuolo on the hot seat for the rest of the season.  Makes for an uneasy environment.  It would be truly ugly to see the Rams take a step back after last year’s near playoff spot.  Win tomorrow or carry a poisonous 0-4 record.

My prediction-A field goal game takes over in the second half and the Rams inch forward with a minute to go and take the contest, 20-17.

Blues Notes-

*In a tough decision, I have to take Brian Elliot over Ben Bishop unless Bishop plays unbelievable hockey in the preseason.  Elliot is a veteran and Bishop is the kid who could never put it together.  Bishop didn’t impress last year and may of lost it when him and Conklin changed places during games 2 times in March.

*Evgeni Grachev has been a goal scoring machine in the preseason but if a spot doesn’t exist, the kid is only 21 years and can start the season in Peoria.  He just puts pressure on the players to produce.

*Jason Arnott’s surgery on his eye is standard procedure and won’t deter him from taking over the third line. Arnott is important and embues the team with the veteran leadership they lacked last season.

*The Blues feature three strong lines for the first time in years and all three can produce goals and not just effort.  They will be more versatile in 2011-2012.

*Why is B.J. Crombeen on this team?  Grachev will challenge for his spot first and foremost.  Here’s to hoping Ryan Reaves makes the game lineup and gets his chance to solidify himself as the enforcer of this team.  An important spot on a team.

Random Thoughts-

*Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close trailer is going to be an emotional journey but one worth taking.  Mixing together 9/11, a son’s pursuit of his father’s legacy, Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock and director Stephen Daltry.   Get ready for an emotional and original journey.   Different elements playing together on film is hard to pull off, but take a look here.   We need one of these intensely passionate stories every once in awhile.  How many son’s lost their fathers that day and wonder what got left behind?  A movie about the collision of good people and tough reality which gives way to a healing process.   The son finds a key left behind by his dad, who died in the 9/11 attacks, that unlocks all kinds of memories and sends him on a journey.  Sounds interesting to me.

*Terry Francona’s departure from the Red Sox is an expected move after the monsterous collapse of the team this year in the face of enormous expectations.  I don’t agree that Francona is to blame for the Red Sox rotation suffering injuries and simply not being good enough, the loss of Kevin Youklis in August, the loss of Papelbon during the season and the underperformance of Carl Crawford.  Francona brought two World Series here in his 8 seasons in Boston after they spent decades without one.   That’s what I’ll remember.  We also can’t forget that Francona wanted this as well.

*Upon second viewing, X-Men: First Class is one of the best superhero tales in the past 10 years becauser it is perfectly casted, lays down an origin story thick and also mixes in the Cold War with its plot.  Director Matthew Vaughn and producer Bryan Singer combine here to make a smart comic book film with a real story.  How would mutants fit in and would they take sides if we didn’t accept them into society?  A poignant question.

*Late Update on Cards Roster-Kyle McClellan is left off the roster as expected.   Eduardo Sanchez is also left off the roster due to the choice of keeping only 11 pitchers on the roster, leaving Jake Westbrook on the roster.  Carpenter, Lohse, Garcia, Jackson, Westbrook, Motte, Salas, Boggs, Rzep, Rhodes, Dotel are the pitchers.   I’d like to have Sanchez on there and not Rhodes but Tony’s group doesn’t surprise me.

*Music of the Day-“Who Made Who” by AC/DC, an easy going rock tune perfect for the opening day of the playoffs.

That’s all for now.  It’s time to pull this latest train of Buffa Thought into the station and stop pinching off prose here on this beautiful Saturday afternoon.  Daddy duty is kicking in and so is the pregame festivities for Cardinal Red October action here at the Buffa Household.  There is more to say, but I have run out of time.

One more thing.  Many around the league and some around the city are saying the Cardinals didn’t earn their playoff spot and the Braves handed it to them.   That’s not accurate.  The Cardinals had to win the games they played and hope the Braves failed on the other end.  The Cards are deserving because they saved their best baseball for last.  If they don’t capitalize on the errors of others, there is no playoffs.  Same case as 2006.  If we don’t take advantage of the Tigers misplays, we don’t win the World Series so easily.  If you do nothing, there is no happy ending.  There it is.  Cut and dry folks.

Thanks for reading and goodnight,



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