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Lost, Season 1, Episode 13: Hearts and Minds

Welcome to the Lost Re-Re-Rewatch Project. In case you’re wondering, the answer is yes. This is my fourth round-trip to the Island, but my first time attempting to chronicle my thoughts on the show on an episode-by-episode basis. The mission: A post per episode. Nothing so epic and theory-heavy as Doc Jensen’s great stuff at EW.com, which I highly suggest you read (the theory game is a bit moot at this point anyway), but hopefully it will help scratch both my writing itch and my Lost itch at the same time.

Episode 13: “Hearts and Minds”

Overall Episode Grade: C+

Let’s get this out of the way: Shannon and Boone are not Nikki and Paulo. They mattered. It’s not the characters’ or the writers’ fault that (SPOILER ALERT) Ian Somerhalder had prospects that would eventually include a little show called The Vampire Diaries, or that Maggie Grace wanted to go make The Mist, or whatever else we might have accidentally seen Maggie Grace in since 2004. Boone and Shannon had an arc, dammit… and this episode makes up about 75 percent of it, and 95 percent of their back story.

The Island’s lone surviving bother-sister duo are (shocker!) not actually brother and sister, but step-brother and sister, with all of the Cruel Intentions-style sexual tension but none of the X-rated dialogue. Pity. Boone is obsessed with Shannon, who has over the years been playing him for every cent she can get from him. Why? Unfortunately you have to wait until Season 2 (more on that in a second).

But she’s begun hanging around with Sayid, and Boone doesn’t like that. He grouses to Locke as only a future-CW star can grouse. So Locke, like the awesome-psychopath that he is, knocks Boone over the head and rubs some peyote-paste in his wound.

I won’t ruin what happens next, other than to say it’s trippy and a little gimmicky. It involves the Monster and some of the more grotesque wound-makeup work the show has to offer during its run. Does it serve to shake Boone from his pointless obsession? It seems so, but at what cost to Boone’s soul and psyche?

In flashbacks we see just how effed-up the duo’s dynamic is. Shannon calls Boone from Australia; she makes it pretty clear she’s being beaten by her boyfriend. Boone flies Down Under immediately, and we get the feeling this isn’t the first time he’s done so. Once there he offers to buy off the boyfriend for $50,000. But when he comes to pick up Shannon he finds out he’s been duped–and not for the first time–and gets pounded by the Aussie meathead. Fast forward to that night. A bloodied Boone is in his hotel room and a drunk Shannon comes to his room. She says the meathead split with the cash. Do we believe her? Not really. She seduces Boone. They engage in some PG groping and fall to the bed as the screen fades to black. After, she says nothing will change going forward.

Here’s my problem with the whole Boone-Shannon (and particularly Shannon) storyline: There’s a reason to feel bad for her, but the show doesn’t bother to share that reason with the viewers until halfway through Season 2, and by then she’s made the acquaintance of Ana Lucia and it’s a bit too late to invest in the character. (Spoiler-filled link to the episode “Abandoned” here.) “Hearts and Minds” comes across as perfunctory; the producers know they have to introduce us to Boone and Shannon, but don’t do a good job of telling us who they are, instead opting to titillate us with the taboo. Giving us this story, worked into TWO Season 1 episodes about Boone (more psychoanalysis of this do-gooder, please) and Shannon (move the Season 2 flashback to Season 1 to create empathy for the girl) would have been a good idea. Of course, at this point in Season 1 they probably didn’t know if there would be a Season 2. Still, they couldn’t have dropped one of the three Kate episodes this season?

But I digress. In the end these are minor characters whose usefulness diminished once the show’s viewership hit critical mass. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t deserve better.

The rest of the show in a nutshell:

–Sayid’s compass isn’t working. Magnetism doesn’t work on the island like it does elsewhere. File that shiz away for Season 2.

–Boone and Locke are still unearthing what will eventually be The Hatch. The rest of the group is noticing that they’re not catching anything on their hunting trips. Hurley is kind of a dick to Boone about it. Hurley: “This isn’t a game, dude.” Boone “It’s not like they’re domesticated animals.”

–Sun is tending a garden and it’s starting to bear fruit. She smiles during a conversation, and Kate realizes she understands English. Rut-roh.

–In one of Boone’s flashbacks we see Sawyer being led through a Sydney police station. FUN FACT TO KNOW AND TELL: Lostpedia notes this is the first time two characters cross paths in a flashback scene.

"Yeah, Bernie? I just read the next seven scripts for 'Lost.'" I wouldn't toss out that 'Vampire Diaries' pilot script just yet."

Episode: “Hearts and Minds”

Director: Rod Holcomb

Best Scene: Boone’s post-Peyote salve happenings are pretty interesting, if you like jungle chases and viscera. And if you like stepbrother-on-stepsister fiction, I suppose you’ll enjoy that particular part. But for my money it’s the scene where Jack confronts Locke about the lack of boar. Locke says they’re migrating away.  Away from what?, Jack asks. “The most dangerous predator of all,” answers Locke, with a creepy look full of meaning. These two are always good.

Best Line: Jack asks Charlie what he thinks of Locke. “If I had to put my trust in one person on this island, it’s John Locke.” This hypothesis will be tested ad nauseam.

Best Throwaway Moment: Hungry Hurley asks Jin to help him learn to fish. the language barrier is a pain. In a moment of exasperation Hurley teases Jin: “Your wife’s hot.” The whole Hurley-Jin dynamic is pretty funny, really

Revelations: Boone and Shannon’s relationship is more tawdry and damaging than we could have possibly expect; there’s weird magnetic issues on the island;

Next Episode: “Special”

(All images and ep-title links are courtesy Lostpedia.com)

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Categories: Lost, Reviews, TV

Lost, Season 1, Episode 12: Whatever the Case May Be

Welcome to the Lost Re-Re-Rewatch Project. In case you’re wondering, the answer is yes. This is my fourth round-trip to the Island, but my first time attempting to chronicle my thoughts on the show on an episode-by-episode basis. The mission: A post per episode. Nothing so epic and theory-heavy as Doc Jensen’s great stuff at EW.com, which I highly suggest you read (the theory game is a bit moot at this point anyway), but hopefully it will help scratch both my writing itch and my Lost itch at the same time.

Episode 12: “Whatever the Case May Be”

Overall Episode Grade: D+

I’m way behind on blogging–or rather, I’m moving way too slowly on the writing part of this to keep watching as fast as I’d like–so I’m going to bust through these next two recaps, which pertain to episodes that truthfully don’t make or break Season 1, this episode in particular.

“Whatever the Case May Be” is, literally, the story of what’s inside a case that Sawyer and Kate find while swimming in their skivvies in a beautiful Island lagoon. The case, we find, was being carried by the Marshal (now dead). It contains guns and… something else that we can tell Kate badly wants.

Naturally her vagueness prompts Sawyer and Jack to re-engage their season-long manhood-measuring contest, and it’s all really annoying. Eventually Kate and Jack DIG UP THE MARSHAL to get his key. They open the case to find some automatic handguns… and a toy plane. Yup. Kate’s explanation? “IT BELONGED TO THE MAN I LOVED!” Jack’s not buying it: “Tell me the truth!” Kate: “YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH!”

Okay, not really: “It belonged to the man I killed!” Well, now she’s a murderer? Oh. Okay.

The flashback is a little redundant, showing us how Kate coerced another foolish, foolish man into helping her steal the plane from a safety deposit box (box number 815, nonetheless) in New Mexico. Seriously. Kate must be a complete wildcat in the sack because I can’t think of a woman, fictional or real, who has ever made more men do more stupid things on her behalf. I’m sure Doc Jensen spent 1,000 words comparing Kate to Helen of Troy at some point, but I’m not gonna.

The rest of the castaways duck their heads in periodically. Charlie has PTSD from getting hung by Ethan. Rose doesn’t feel bad for him, but prays with him anyway. Sayid and Shannon have their meet cute (and, truthfully, their chemistry is more believable than Jack and Kate’s). Boone and Locke are still out in the wood trying to dig up Tommyknockers.

Welp. There you go.

Episode: “Whatever the Case May Be”

Director: Jack Bender

Best Scene: Kate sells the reveal of the toy plane. With only a few sentences and some tears we know that she killed the man she loved, and we feel sorry for her. Still, between the last two episodes I’ve had enough of Kate bawling for one season.

Best Line: Rose to Charlie as she’s hauling laundry: “Oh, you’re not talking much these days. Doesn’t mean you get to be rude … You think you’re the only person on this island with something to be sad about?”

Best Throwaway Moment: Let’s hear it for Sayid and Shannon! Everyone’s favorite contrived couple!

Moment 1: Shannon translates the French words on Rousseau’s map: They’re the words to “La Mer,” which Americans know as “Beyond the Sea.” “Across the Sea,” die hards will remember, was the name of the third to last episode of the entire series. These two facts are, unfortunately, in no way related. On a side note, you can totally sell Maggie Grace used to do some musical theater in high school.

Moment 2: Sayid expresses concern for Shannon getting to much sun. Shannon: “I have a pretty good base.” Sayid’s smirk says it all. Shannon has nothing if not a nice base.

Revelations: Kate is suicidally bent on retaining possession of a certain toy plane; Rousseau was writing gibberish song lyrics on her maps.

Next Episode: “Hearts and Minds”

(All images and ep-title links are courtesy Lostpedia.com)

Categories: Lost, Reviews, TV

Lost, Season 1, Episode 11: All the Best Cowboys Have Daddy Issues

Welcome to the Lost Re-Re-Rewatch Project. In case you’re wondering, the answer is yes. This is my fourth round-trip to the Island, but my first time attempting to chronicle my thoughts on the show on an episode-by-episode basis. The mission: A post per episode. Nothing so epic and theory-heavy as Doc Jensen’s great stuff at EW.com, which I highly suggest you read (the theory game is a bit moot at this point anyway), but hopefully it will help scratch both my writing itch and my Lost itch at the same time.

Episode 11: “All the Best Cowboys Have Daddy Issues”

Overall Episode Grade: B+

It’s well documented among Lostologists that the series, to a degree, bookends itself. Season 1 and Season 6 have common refrains, the herky-jerky Season 5 and bizarro Season 2 have common themes, etc. Whether or not this is a wide-scale match I’ll leave to those with more free time, but one thing is for certain: Neither Season 1 or Season 6 clicks unless Jack is at the center of the action.

This episode–which hands down wins “Best Episode Title” for Season 1–begins Lost down a path of narrative action that won’t really end until Season 2 nears its midway point. And Jack, the focal character for the third time in 11 episodes, is the only protagonist the producers really have an idea for.

The situation: Claire and Charlie have just been captured, and Jack is hurtling off into the jungle to find them. Boone, Locke and Kate join him, but it become very clear very quickly that Ethan (the stone-jawed Other who took the pair) has eluded them. But Jack stubbornly presses on.

WHOOSH! Flashback time, and for the first time we have back story building on back story, which is a most welcome turn of events. Jack and his father were estranged, this we knew, but now we get an idea of just how deep their discord was. Dear old Christian Shepherd (played by John Terry with a loathsome, bonafide god complex) has a drinking problem, and one day he brings it into the OR (“How many drinks did you have at lunch, Dad?”). A woman dies.

Much of the flashback is spent listening to Christian attempt to justify to Jack why he should say nothing. He goes so far as to attempt to explain away his pathos as a father: “That’s why you are the most gifted neurosurgeon in this city. I’ve had to sacrifice certain aspects of my relationship with you so that thousands and thousands of patients will live… because of your extraordinary skills.” He ends with the oh-so-endearing line: “This is not just my career, Jack. It’s my life.” Thanks, Pops!

Jack is swayed, until he finds out the woman was pregnant. Then Jack spills the beans, and Christian loses his license. I truly can’t remember if this was the incident that drove Christian to Australia or not–I rather think now, though I’m sure Christian and Jack‘s Lostpedia pages can tell you for certain.

All of this is a backdrop for Jack’s dogged pursuit of Ethan, back in Island-ville. He splits off with Kate (Boone and Locke, fatefully, go the other way). One group is following a decoy trail, and it’s not Jack and Kate. They catch up to Ethan, who attacks Jack. And in the first of many Lost fights staged in the rain (I’m sure there’s a photographic reason why this is done so often), Ethan kicks the living crap of of Dr. Shepherd the Younger. “Quit following me, or I will kill one of them.”

Jack, of course, doesn’t quit (by now he’s seeing his father… again) and he and Kate find Charlie hanging by a noose from a tree. They cut him down, and in one of Season 1’s most emotional scenes, Jack attempts to resuscitate Charlie. Giacchino’s “Life and Death” theme plays, Kate cries… very well done. Charlie lives. Did I mention it’s a powerful scene WITH Evangeline Lilly? I KNOW!

Jack is a hero, but the episode does little to quell his own growing god complex. The apple ne’er falls far from the tree.

(Fantasy geek aside: Charlie’s near death by hanging reminds me of the story of Mat Cauthon in the Wheel of Time series of books by Robert Jordan. Too bad Charlie didn’t come back with a bad-ass weapon and a load of other men’s memories.)

Quick summation of the rest of the charaters’ story lines, one important, most not.

Locke: The early part of this episode features some nice back and forth between Jack and Locke, foreshadowing the animosity that will boil over late this season.

Sawyer: He confronts Sayid; they seem to be back to mere hatred rather than attempted murder.

Michael and Walt: Still don’t understand each other.

The final major moment: At the end of the episode, as Boone decides to call it a night and Locke tosses him a flashlight. It falls to the ground and “ka-thunk!” hits something that sounds like metal. Hmm? Part of the plane? No. An ancient, buried space ship in homage to Stephen King? Nuh-uh. What is it?!

It’s a cliffhanger!

Episode: “All the Best Cowboys Have Daddy Issues”
Director: Stephan Williams
Best Scene: The one where Jack tries (and tries, and tries) to resuscitate Charlie. The music, the acting, the timing of the whole scene are just superb. Kudos, also, to the endearing conversation between Locke and Boone when Boone points out the irony of using a torn-up red shirt as a trail marker. Only in retrospect do we see the irony in Boone bringing up the idea of a “redshirt,” so called because of all the Star Trek flunkies who inevitably die whenever they go on a mission with Captain Kirk. (Locke’s uncanny response: “Sounds like a piss-poor captain.”)
Best Line: There’s a wonderful exchange between Sawyer and Walt when Walt fills him in on the happenings.

SAWYER: Who got taken by what?

WALT: Charlie and Claire, they think Ethan took them.

SAWYER: Ethan took them, huh?

WALT: Yeah.

SAWYER: Took them why? And who the hell is Ethan?

WALT: I don’t know. He wasn’t on the list thing, the manifest.

SAWYER: Ever think he might have lied about his name?

WALT: It’s stupid to lie about your name.

SAWYER: Alrighty, Tattoo, where do you think Ethan came from?

WALT: Maybe he was already on the Island, before we were.

SAWYER: You got yourself one hell of an imagination, kid.

WALT: There could be lots of other people on the Island.

SAWYER: So a tribe of evil natives planted a ringer in the camp to kidnap a pregnant girl and a reject from VH-1 has-beens? Yeah, fiendishly clever. And why am I getting the evening news from a 6 year old?

WALT: I’m 10.

SAWYER: Okay, then it must be true.

Worst Line: Couldn’t come up with a bad line, so I’ll give a nod to Boone who–after Locke predicts the start of a rainstorm–shouts “Did they teach you how to predict the weather at the box company?”
Best Throwaway Moment: Hurley is charged with watching Walt, who insists to his dad that Locke is a “warrior,” Hurley deadpans: “Back home I’m known as something of a warrior myself.”
Revelations:
Ethan is deadly violent; Charlie is rescued and taken back to camp, hurt but alive (and despondent); there’s something buried in the jungle, and Locke and Boone are going to dig to figure out what it is.

Next Episode: “Whatever the Case May Be”

(All images and ep-title links are courtesy Lostpedia.com)

Categories: Lost, Reviews, TV

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

April 1, 2012 2 comments

I suppose it’s appropriate that the St. Louis Cardinals had one of the most insane off-seasons any World Series champion has ever had. Because without the intrigue of what a revamped lineup, a new regime in the dugout, and a new man on first base means for the Birds on the Bat, I’m not sure I could have gotten myself psyched for the 2012 season after the miracle that was October (and late September) of 2011.

But you know that story. That was a different year, and largely a different team. The Cardinals will be good this year, but a different kind of good: a different ace; a different manager; a different aging veteran in right field. Some interesting pieces remain, including an All-Star catcher, postseason-hero third baseman, and Matt Holliday.

But the Cardinals aren’t the only team in the NL Central, much less baseball, and as my access to satellite TV has increased, so has my appetite to see what other teams are about. So, for the first time, I’m sharing my thoughts on the entire league and making predictions. I’ve done this exercise since I was a kid on paper, but never online. But if you can’t write about the crap you like on a blog, why else do you have one?

Agree? Disagree? I’d love to know.

American League

East

1st Place: Tampa Bay Rays
It is possible for pitching to be overrated. I mean, the Atlanta Braves only won one World Series with the of the unarguably greatest pitchers of their generation. But they DID win 4 billion consecutive division titles, and I think that their rotation will be enough to take the Tampa Bay Rays to the top this year. The lineup is good with the potential for excellence, which should be enough.

2nd Place: New York Yankees*
This is, by and large, most people’s pick for the division, but I don’t see it. Perhaps it’s the curved lens of weighty expectations, but shouldn’t the great players the Yankees pay so much for be… well, greater? Robinson Cano is a stud and C.C. Sabathia is a future Hall of Famer, but Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Russell Martin? They don’t get me excited, though their numbers are fine. The test is the young pitching: If Ivan Nova, Michael Pineida and Phil Hughes come through, it’s a division title and (if injuries don’t decimate a deceptively old lineup) possibly a World Series. Here’s saying they won’t.

3rd Place: Boston Red Sox
It’s easy to be a hater, because where the Yankees inspire apathy in me the Red Sox inspire disdain. This is a team with potential but a lot of problems, and I’m not sure bringing Bobby Valentine into a clubhouse will ever constitute a soothing presence. Again, with health and performance, this is a World Series caliber club. But my guess is they’re going to be real glad Bud Selig added the second Wild Card come September, and even that may not be enough.

4th Place: Toronto Blue Jays
The Jays are the vogue pick to sneak into the playoffs, and with the expanded Wild Card it is not out of the realm of possibility. But you know what usually happens to the vogue pick? They finish .500 and the manager gets fired. I would LOVE to see Toronto crack the top three in this division; the team is interesting, were a juggernaut in my formative baseball years, and I LOVE that they went back to the ’80s-esque (different, but similar) unis. Love, love, love it. But your unis don’t get you into the playoffs, your lineup does, and the Jays are still a year away. Which in Canada is like a year and three quarters.

5th Place: Baltimore Orioles
Gawd, what a hot mess. No team has a prouder history but a bleaker future as long as Peter Angelos is the owner. A few players worth writing about, but why?

Central

1st Place: Detroit Tigers
It’s easy to get excited about the Tigers this year. They signed Prince Fielder, still have Miggy Cabrera, still run Justin Verlander out there every fifth day. That said, I don’t think the Tigers would win a single other division in baseball, not this year. Verlander is due to give up a few more homers this season and I predict Fielder will have more trouble adjusting to the AL than may believe (though he’ll probably prove me wrong). Most everyone else on the team is a wild card. The fact that they play in the AL Central saves the Motor City Kitties, but I don’t expect the waltz to the playoffs everyone else does.

2nd Place: Kansas City Royals
Someone has to finish second, right? Why not KC? They probably won’t have a winning record… but they might. The young batting talent is just to outstanding to ignore, and surely one of these years some semblance of a pitching staff will come together, right? There is energy in KC for the first time in a long time, and it might be enough to get these guys to second place. But as we all know, the pitching better get good enough to take advantage of Hosmer, Moustakas, et al in the next few years, or they’re going to bolt and it’s back to the blues for the Royals.

3rd Place: Chicago White Sox
Honestly, 2-5 in this division might as well be a grab bag; I go with the Royals truly only because I would really like to see it (and because of my man crush on Eric Hosmer). But oh yeah… the Sox. I think they’ll be better now that Robin Ventura has replaced Ozzie Guillen, but only marginally unless huge production comes from some absolutely unexpected places.

4th Place: Cleveland Indians
Tough team to peg. So I’m not going to try.

5th Place: Minnesota Twins
Tough to remember all the excitement from a few years go, what with the new ballpark and Joe Mauer and that other guy… oh yeah, Justin Morneau. If those two don’t bounce back soon I’m not sure they ever will, and if the Twins don’t make a showing this season it could be the end for longtime manager Ron Gardenhire, which would be sad.

West

1st Place: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
I hate to make this pick. Hate hate hate hate hate to make this pick. But look at that roster. Too deep, too much pitching, too much power. It’s the signing of C.J. Wilson to go with Jared Weaver, a ready-to-bounce-back Dan Haren and Ervin Santana, who might be the best of the bunch. And it’s manager Mike Scioscia. And yes, dammit, it’s the signing of Albert Pujols, who at least for a couple more years will be as good in the AL as he was in the NL, if not as happy (yes, I expect Surly Albert more frequently, if that’s possible). I’m over the loss, but that’s not to say I won’t relish his patented strained oblique sometime in mid-June.

2nd Place: Texas Rangers *
Best top-two of any division in baseball. I expect the Rangers to earn one of the AL’s Wild Cards if not take the division outright from the Angels. This is an excellent team that has learned how to win, and expects to. Still: Just a few too many pitching questions to pass the Angels. Plus, how could you NOT have a World Series hangover after that choke job.

3rd Place: Seattle Mariners
In a few years Seattle will be the new Tampa Bay, improving rapidly but unable to bypass the big dogs in its division. Patience, Mariners fans. Go climb a mountain or something.

4th Place: Oakland Athletics
Only two positive things to say about Oakland. 1.) They might move to San Jose some day. 2.) In 2013 Houston will be in their division. Until then, a risky contract to a defected Cuban will have to pass as excitement on the poor side of the Bay.

National League

East

1st Place: Philadelphia Phillies
Like the Tigers in the AL Central, the Phillies feel like a default pick despite not inspiring a lot of confidence. Ryan Howard is out for a while, Chase Utley is his usual dented self, Jimmy Rollins is getting his AARP card soon, and Placido Polanco died (okay, not really). But they do have Hunter Pence and a still-filthy starting pitching staff, and that ought to be enough to keep them on top of an improving division for another year. But if a pitcher gets injured… watch out.

2nd Place: Atlanta Braves *
Quietly, the Braves are building the most solid team in Atlanta since the late ’90s, which is saying something. The lineup is good enough to win the East, particularly if Jason Heyward bounces back from a down sophomore season. The pitching is good with the potential to be super, though you have to wonder how much their September collapse will eat at them–particularly a young bullpen–out of the gate. Wouldn’t be surprised to see them finish anywhere in the top three here.

3rd Place: Miami Marlins
Another up-and-coming team, Miami seems to be built of cheaper stuff–at least in the figurative since. In the literal sense they went on an off-season spending spree, signing Heath Bell, Mark Buehrle and Jose Reyes to big contracts to help appease the taxpayers of Dade County who footed the bill for their new retractable-roof stadium. We’ll see whether those were wise signing (I’ll guess “yes” “no” and “sort of” respectively), but there is undeniable excitement in Miami for the first time since the last time they bought a World Series. If things go south, though, it could be uglier than those hideous new uniforms, especially with Ozzie Guillen as their new manager.

4th Place: Washington Nationals
Stephen Strasburg is the game changer here. Unfortunately it’s just as easy to see him making fewer than 20 starts as it is to see him winning 20 games. The lineup is deceptively good (imagine if they’d signed Fielder) and getting better. And Bryce Harper waits in the wings. This is the NL East’s team of the future, but they’re a year away from making an upper-division jump. Maybe.

5th Place: New York Mets
I never thought I’d say this, but much like the New York Knicks, baseball is a more interesting place when the Mets are good. Or hell, at least decent. This team won’t be, but getting some stars back healthy, like Ike Davis and Johan Santana, or effective, like David Wright and Jason Bay, could put .500 within reach.

Central

1st Place: St. Louis Cardinals
As mentioned above, no World Series champion has ever had quite the offseason the Cards had. With a new manager and quite a bit of aging talent in the lineup, the potential is there for a significant dip. But the St. Louis bullpen is young and coming off a magical postseason run, and trading a newly healthy Adam Wainwright for a rapidly aging Chris Carpenter (out for at least a month with nerve problems) is still a net gain. Matt Holliday is Matt Holliday, so the key will be keeping Carlos Beltran, Lance Berkman and Rafael Furcal healthy enough to bridge the gap to 2014, when a host of young talent should be ready to step in.

2nd Place: Cincinnati Reds
Expect more heated series this year between Cincy and St. Louis. The Reds have a powerful lineup; if the pitching comes through they’ll be St. Louis’s main competition. Joey Votto in a contract year should scare every pitcher in the league, and a major acquisition at the deadline  is a real possibility.

3rd Place: Milwaukee Brewers
Their offseason was almost as rough as the Cardinals’ and they don’t have pretty new rings to wear to soothe the hurt. Prince Fielder is gone and Ryan Bruan is a suspected (if acquitted) doper. But the pitching is still nasty and the team still expects to win.

4th Place: Chicago Cubs
I’ll pencil in the Cubbies above the Pirates just because of new Cubs manager Dale Sveum and GM Theo Epstein. And because the Pirates are the Pirates. Things will get better, and quickly, in Chicago, but it probably won’t be this year. I wouldn’t be surprised if this was one of baseball’s best teams in the second half, though.

5th Place: Pittsburgh Pirates
At last year’s trade deadline, the Pirates were the darlings of baseball, within spitting distance of first place. By the end of the season they had lost nearly 90 games. There are some exciting young players here, but unfortunately almost none of them can pitch. Expect this season to look more like the August-September Buccos, and less like the June-July Buccos.

6th Place: Houston Astros
Appropriate that, in their last season in the National League (they move to the AL West in 2013), the Astros will probably be the last team in Major League history to finish in sixth place. This team is that bad. It’s a sorry condition for a once extremely proud franchise. Here’s hoping the future brightens in a new league.

West

1st Place: Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers take the bronze medal for tumultuous offseasons, but fortunately theirs was almost all good. With new ownership should come a good dose of security and a loosening of the purse strings. With Albert Pujols in the AL now, Matt Kemp might be the best player in the league, and Clayton Kershaw could repeat as Cy Young winner. In short, watch out for the Dodgers. If their fans start to notice, you’ll know something is up.

2nd Place: San Francisco Giants *
Too much pitching here to not finish near the top of the division, and if Buster Posey and Brandon Belt come back strong they could win it. A few good offseason pickups will help, but this team isn’t so different from the World Series winners of 2010.

3rd Place: Arizona Diamondbacks
Kind of hard to fathom that they were the division champs last year, but they were. A step backward seems in order, though it’s certainly no given. But they’ll need a few more surprises (and no nasty ones) in order to keep the rest of the NL West at bay this year.

4th Place: Colorado Rockies
Those baseball humidors must work: Gone are the days when it’s impossible to get excited about young pitching in Colorado. Fortunately, there’s still plenty of hitting, too. The Rocks might be a year or two away but they’re getting younger, which should eventually mean better.

5th Place: San Diego Padres
They shipped out most of their solid bullpen, and right at the moment I can’t name a single position player. Not a good sign. Still, this is definitely the best last-place team in baseball. Congrats!

Postseason Predictions:

AL Wild Card Game: Rangers over Yankees

AL Divisional Round: Rangers over Rays
AL Division Round: Angels over Tigers

AL Championship: Angels over Rangers

NL Wild Card Game: Giants over Braves

NL Divisional Round: Phillies over Giants
NL Divisional Round: Dodgers over Cardinals

NL Championship: Dodgers over Phillies

World Series: Dodgers over Angels

Categories: Baseball