Posted by mike in Predictions,Sports at 1:39 am on October 6, 2010

I’ve got one thing to hang my hat on with my 2010 baseball predictions: I said that it’d be a year defined by pitching, and I think that held true. Mark Buehrle started the season off with an amazing play on opening day, and things only got better from there. We saw 2 perfect games this year, one in each league: Dallas Braden in the American and Roy Halladay in the National League. These were 2 of the 5 no-hitters thrown this year, the most in a single season since 1991. Interestingly, only two of these pitchers don’t have tee times right now (Halladay of the Phillies, and Matt Garza of the Rays).

And then, of course, there’s the perfect game that never was, thrown by Detroit’s Armando Galarraga. I think that kid gained a lot of fans, though, including myself; I was shocked and impressed by how classy he was in shrugging off an incident that would’ve sent countless other professional athletes into a childish foot-stomping fit. So really, there were 6 no-hitters thrown this year, though only 5 of them will count in the record books.

This is the kind of stuff you start to pay closer attention to when your team is clearly out of playoff contention nearly from the start of the season. You also look to find other gems—seeing #1 prospect Jason Heyworth’s debut with the Braves, for instance. Or you take an unreasonable amount of pride in the fact that Marlon Byrd won the All-Star Game (single-handedly, as I recall it) for the National League. Or you gain an interest in your team’s farm system, hoping to have something to look forward to in the future. After their annual trip to San Francisco in early August, though, I had little to keep me interested in the Cubs, and gradually stopped paying attention altogether as their roster looked more and more like their triple-A affiliate, the Iowa Cubs, than it did a big league team.

So maybe you start to follow another team. Living where I do, I go to a dozen or so Giants games a year as it is, only cheering against them when the Cubs are in town. (One of my favorite things to do is to go when the Giants are playing other NL Central teams, which I’m quite used to rooting against anyway.) As it happened this year, right around the time I was giving up on following the Cubs, the Giants began to make their playoff push. And as luck would have it, they went ahead and traded for a likable Cubs player in Mike Fontenot to make me feel like I had more of a connection. (Megan already felt the same way, since her former favorite Cub, Mark DeRosa, had been traded to the Giants last year—even though he missed this entire season with a wrist injury, we can still enjoy seeing him in the dugout.) It’s still not the same, mind you—3 years ago at this time I had tickets to watch post-season baseball at Wrigley, and while I’m really excited to attend some playoff games at AT&T Park, I know it won’t equal that experience. I’ll do my best to hold down my spot on the Giants bandwagon, though.

Fan Stats
For the reasons mentioned above and a few others, I didn’t follow the Cubs nearly as closely as I did last year. The good news is that the Fox Saturday blackout rules seem to have been relaxed, so I could watch day games on WGN even though my local Fox channel was carrying a nationally-televised game. The bad news is I didn’t take advantage of this as much as I would have in other seasons. The whole breakdown goes like this:

  • I went to 2 games of the 4-game series the Cubs played in San Francisco
  • I watched 84 games on TV
    • Of these, 70 were thanks to the Extra Innings package
      • Of those, I was able to watch the Cubs feed for 54 games
      • That means I only had to watch the opposing team’s feed for 16 games
    • There were 14 games I would’ve seen anyway, even if I didn’t spring for Extra Innings:
      • 4 games I watched at a bar
      • 4 games were televised on ESPN
      • 6 games I got on my local channels
  • I listened to 25 games on the radio
    • Of these, 2 were on a local radio station
    • I listened to only 4 games on XM in the car
    • I followed 10 games at work via the At-Bat program
    • For 9 games, I went half-and-half between XM and At-Bat
  • Of the 51 games I missed entirely, they break down like this:
    • 4 were due to the Fox Saturday blackout
    • 1 was due to being at a Blackhawks game
    • 15 were due to traveling, being on vacation, or having friends in town
    • 3 were the fault of work getting in the way of a day game I would’ve otherwise followed
    • And of course, particularly towards the end of the season, I missed 28 games out of complete indifference

So my “fan rate” this year was only a measly 68.5% (I followed, one way or another, 111 out of the 162 games). But then again, it’s not like the Cubs did a lot to earn my support this season. Their best month of the year was September, when they went 17-9, and I only paid attention to 6 of those games. So it goes.

Regular Season Reflections
My predictions were actually pretty good in the National League, as far as playoff teams go, at least: I had the Giants and Phillies winning their respective divisions, and pegged the Braves as the Wild Card team. I had the top two teams in the Central reversed, thinking the Reds would make a big jump this year but underestimating just how big it’d be.

In the American League, I didn’t fair nearly as well. The only playoff team I got correct was the Yankees, but I had them winning the East instead of the Wild Card. Their division went to the Rays, who I greatly undervalued. I had the Central jumbled up, picking the Twins to finish 3rd. I did the same thing with the Rangers in the West, a division I had almost completely upside-down.

So 4 out of 8 overall, which I suppose isn’t too bad. I’m pleased to find that for once, the league I follow more closely (the NL) was the one for which my predictions seemed to be more accurate. Maybe I’m learning.

Playoff Predictions
Having a fairly strong case of Giants Fever means it’s tough for me to objectively predict this year’s playoffs, but I’m going to give it a shot.

  • ALDS: Texas Rangers vs. Tampa Bay Rays
    I think the Rangers fall into the “just happy to have made it” category, though with their lineup they’re always dangerous. The Rays were the best team in the AL this year, so I don’t think they’ll have much trouble winning it in 4.
  • ALDS: New York Yankees vs. Minnesota Twins
    The Yankees seemed happy to settle for the Wild Card and a matchup with Minnesota, a team they’ve handled well in recent years, but I think home field advantage will prove to be the deciding factor in this series, and the Twins will take it in 5 games.
  • NLDS: Cincinnati Reds vs. Philadelphia Phillies
    Like the Rangers, I think the Reds are a team that blew its load just to win their division. Also like the Rangers, they have a powerful lineup but a pitching staff that I can’t see carrying them through a Division Series. The Phillies are just too strong, and I think they’ll sweep it in 3.
  • NLDS: Atlanta Braves vs. San Francisco Giants
    While I’m glad that Derrek Lee gets to play in the post-season, I think that’s as far as he’ll get. The Giants won their division on the final day of the regular season against the one team they’ve really struggled against this year, so I think they’ll handle the Braves in 4 games.
  • ALCS: Minnesota Twins vs. Tampa Bay Rays
    The Rays are strong, and they’ve been here before, but I think it’s the Twins‘ time to make it to a World Series. I’m giving them the edge in a tough 6-game series.
  • NLCS: San Francisco Giants vs. Philadelphia Phillies
    If this series comes to be, it’ll be the highlight of this post-season. While I think the Phillies can never be counted out, I think it’ll be the Giants‘ pitching staff—particularly their bullpen—that can give them the pennant in a classic 7-game series. I said it’d be a year defined by pitching, and this series should end up being the pitching showcase of the year—though both teams have plenty of power at the plate, too.
  • World Series World Series 2010
    Minnesota Twins vs. San Francisco Giants

    I said at the start of the season that I’d much rather see a Giants-Tigers matchup than a repeat of last year’s Phillies-Yankees, and while I was wrong about the Tigers this year, a series between the Giants and the Twins would come pretty close (but of course Yankees-Phillies remains a possibility, too). I’m going to stop myself short of predicting the outcome; if this series happened, I’d likely be spending thousands of dollars to attend a couple of games, and thus would literally have too much invested in it. I’d actually give the Twins the edge on paper, but the emotional side of me says the Giants can put 4 games together out of 6 or 7.

Maybe some of this is wishful thinking, but it’s nice to at least have a vested interest this year. I don’t mind riding the bandwagon, especially if it means I get to see the World Series played in person.

The Cubs are totally positioned for next year, anyway.

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Posted by mike in Predictions,Sports at 10:25 pm on September 8, 2010

Another NFL season is upon us, so it’s time to get my predictions out. This has become sort of my “psyching-up routine” (along with my annual “big league” fantasy draft). My picks from last year weren’t too far off for the regular season, although once again I was better on picking the AFC than I was with the NFC, which is weird because I watch far more NFC games. (This could, of course, be taken as yet another example of the theory that the more one thinks one knows about sports, the less one actually knows.)

For playoff teams, in the AFC I got 3 out of 4 of the division winners correct (New England, Indianapolis, and San Diego), and 1 out of the 2 Wild Card teams (Baltimore). 4-for-6 isn’t too shabby.

In the NFC, however, I only picked one division winner correctly (New Orleans), although I had the two NFC East playoff teams (Dallas and Philadelphia) picked, I just had their finishing order reversed. So only 3-for-6 in the NFC.

And of course, both of my Super Bowl teams—Philadelphia and San Diego—lost their first playoff game last year.

Time to see if I can do better. Here are my predictions for final standings and records, with playoff teams and winners in bold as usual.

North South
Cincinnati 11-5 Tennessee 11-5
Baltimore 10-6 Indianapolis 10-6
Pittsburgh 9-7 Houston 9-7
Cleveland 5-11 Jacksonville 4-12
West East
San Diego 10-6 Miami 11-5
Denver 9-7 New England 9-7
Kansas City 7-9 New York 8-8
Oakland 4-12 Buffalo 2-14
AFC Championship
North South
Green Bay 12-4 New Orleans 13-3
Minnesota 9-7 Atlanta 10-6
Chicago 6-10 Tampa Bay 9-7
Detroit 4-12 Carolina 4-12
West East
San Francisco 10-6 Dallas 14-2
Seattle 7-9 New York 9-7
Arizona 4-12 Philadelphia 7-9
Saint Louis 3-13 Washington 6-10
NFC Championship
New Orleans
Super Bowl XLV
Super Bowl XLV

Also as usual, I have a few thoughts to add to the above:

  • I think Indianapolis will have a hard time overcoming the Super Bowl losers’ hangover, but they’re one team that should be able to do it.
  • While Seattle really has none of the requisite pieces to win more than about 2 games in a season, don’t underestimate the New Coach Factor. They’ll surprise, but only a little.
  • The NFC West is really San Francisco’s to lose. This team reminds me a lot of the 2006 Bears: great defense, solid running game, good enough offensive line and receivers to overcome a nobody quarterback. And no other team in the division has any business sporting a winning record by season’s end.
  • I think it’s time for Brett Favre to go out with a whimper, and I’m looking forward to seeing it. I’ll give him enough credit to believe that he can will the Vikings into the playoffs, but no further.
  • It won’t surprise me if Dallas becomes the first Super Bowl host team to win the Lombardi trophy at home. But it won’t surprise me if they find a way to squander all of their talent, either. Again.
  • Coaches potentially on their farewell tours this year: Lovie Smith (Bears), Tom Cable (Raiders), Jack Del Rio (Jaguars), John Fox (Panthers), and maybe Josh McDaniels (Broncos).
  • I know it’s blasphemous to pick the Patriots to miss the playoffs, but they are just old at this point, so I figure something’ll happen to ruin their perennial hopes.
  • While I think the Saints and Cowboys will dominate the NFC, the AFC seems much more wide-open this year than it has been in recent seasons. Of course, I’m probably wrong on both accounts… as usual.

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Posted by mike in Predictions,Sports at 10:44 am on April 5, 2010

I’ve heard it said that at the start of every baseball season, each team knows they’ll win 60 games and lose 60 games—it’s what happens with those other 42 that determines how the season will be remembered. I find this to be somewhat of a comforting thought, and one of the things that separates baseball from the other professional sports leagues. They play almost every day for nearly 6 months; there’s always a chance to turn things around, to go on a winning streak, to catch your rival in the standings.

2010, I think, will be a year defined by pitching. I don’t see a lot of really strong offensive teams, other than in the AL East, but I do see a lot of freshly-bolstered pitching staffs and teams betting that that’ll be enough to carry them to a division title. I’m inclined to agree, and my picks below reflect this.

NL West NL Central NL East
Giants Cardinals Phillies
Dodgers Reds Braves
Rockies Cubs Nationals
Diamondbacks Brewers Mets
Padres Astros Marlins
AL West AL Central AL East
Mariners Tigers Yankees
Angels White Sox Red Sox
Rangers Twins Rays
A’s Indians Orioles
  Royals Blue Jays

Of course, if it’s a season defined by pitching, that also means it’s one that’ll likely be defined by injuries, so I’m not all that confident that my predictions here will be any better than they were last year. As always, though, I’m excited to find out.

I think this’ll be a season with quite a few surprises, so while I’m inclined to say that the front-runners for the World Series would be the Phillies and the Yankees (a rematch of last year’s Series), I don’t actually think that’ll be the case. Looking at my playoff teams above, though, those are the only choices that I don’t think would be a stretch at this point. I think a Giants-Tigers Series would be much more fun to watch, personally. It’ll be interesting to see if things can shake out that way.

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Posted by mike in Film,Predictions at 12:40 pm on March 7, 2010

Due to, among other things (laziness, of course, chief among them), a tumultuous work life over the past few months, I’m doing my now-annual “best of” lists at what I consider to be the last minute: the day of the Oscars. I’m not too terribly upset with myself about this, though; last year, I thought my personal best lists and my Oscar predictions had a lot of overlap and redundancy anyway. So here are my summarizing thoughts on the year of film that was 2009, with some Oscar predictions thrown in for good measure.

As usual, I didn’t get to see everything in 2009. There were a couple of films that people are talking about that I just don’t have any interest in—Precious, The Blind Side—and a few that I wanted to see but have yet to get around to: The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, The Informant!, and The White Ribbon, most notably.

The most defining aspect of this year is the bitter coincidence that the Academy decided to expand its Best Picture field to 10 nominees (from 5) in a year when it’s hard to find enough films that even qualify as “good” to fill out the category. Here, though, are my personal top 10 best films of 2009, with links to my reviews of each:

  1. Inglourious Basterds (****)
  2. The Hurt Locker (****)
  3. Up in the Air (****)
  4. Where the Wild Things Are (***.5)
  5. Watchmen (***.5)
  6. A Single Man (***.5)
  7. Moon (****)
  8. Adventureland (***.5)
  9. Tyson (***)
  10. Funny People (***.5)

Oscar Prediction: Although I think there’s a real chance for The Hurt Locker, and I’d really like to see Inglourious Basterds recognized, I think the voting will go for the biggest box office success of the year (and the biggest technological achievement, too) and award Avatar with Best Picture.

Best animated films of the year:

  1. Coraline (***)
  2. Up (***)
  3. Fantastic Mr. Fox (**.5)

Oscar Prediction: I find it a bit ridiculous that a movie (Up) can be nominated for both Best Picture and Best Animated Feature, and I think that tells the whole story—by virtue of being the only film that “qualifies” as a best-overall movie, doesn’t that automatically make Up the best animated movie? I think so.

The best performances by an actor this year, in my opinion, were:

  1. Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds)
  2. Sam Rockwell (Moon)
  3. Colin Firth (A Single Man)
  4. George Clooney (Up in the Air)
  5. Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart)

And a couple of honorable mentions:

  • James Gandolfini (Where the Wild Things Are)
  • Chris Pine (Star Trek)

Oscar Predictions: Christoph Waltz is a shoe-in for Best Supporting Actor, and deservedly so (though I think he should be in the Leading category). Jeff Bridges is almost just as certain to take Best Leading Actor.

The best performances by an actress were:

  1. Carrie Mulligan (An Education)
  2. Amy Adams (Sunshine Cleaning)
  3. Mélanie Laurent (Inglourious Basterds)
  4. Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air)
  5. Rachel Weisz (The Brothers Bloom)

A couple of honorable mentions here, as well:

Oscar Predictions: These categories are much more open. While I’d really like to see Carrie Mulligan win Best Actress, I think the voting will go to Sandra Bullock for The Blind Side. Likewise, while I think Vera Farmiga should be winning the Best Supporting Actress category, the smart money is on Mo’Nique for Precious. I suppose I can’t comment too much on these, since the two front-runners are from movies I haven’t seen and likely never will, but there you have it.

The remaining major categories, I think, will go like this:

  • Best Director: Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker) deserves this, and I think she’ll get it.
  • Best Original Screenplay: I’d be shocked if Quentin Tarantino (Inglourious Basterds) didn’t win this one.
  • Best Adapted Screenplay: Jason Reitman (Up in the Air) should, and most likely will, win here.
  • Every Technical Category will go to Avatar, including the somewhat-controversial award for Best Cinematography (how much does the cinematographer do when the whole movie is rendered by computers?).

I think 2009 was a pretty weak year in film overall, but there were some diamonds in the rough to be found. Hopefully some of my lists above can be taken as useful recommendations for which of those to seek out.

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Posted by mike in Predictions,Sports at 8:20 pm on October 6, 2009

Fan Stats
Last year, I claimed that I watch about 130 Cubs games a year, and listen to another 25 or so. After writing that, I got curious as to what the actual numbers were, so this past season, I kept track. I present here, then, my personal “fan stats” for the 2009 season. Of the 161 games my team played, I followed 143 of them (for a “fan rate” of 89%, a bit less than the 95% I’d estimated last year—though, I think somewhat understandably, I was more interested in the team last year than I was this year). The breakdown of the games I followed goes like this:

  • I watched 116 games on TV, most thanks to the MLB Extra Innings package
  • I listened to 20 games on XM radio, either at work, at home, or in the car
  • For 2 games, I watched half on TV and listened to the other half in the car on XM
  • I listened to 2 games on AM radio while driving between Chicago and Champaign
  • I attended 3 games: one in Chicago, and two in San Francisco

And the games I missed can be summed up like so:

  • I missed 8 games due to the Fox Saturday monopoly on baseball and the resultant blackouts (this number would’ve been higher, but I sometimes listen on XM on Saturdays while working on something around the house)
  • I missed 5 games due to being on vacation, traveling, etc (including one on my wedding day—although I was able to catch a couple of innings backstage before the big event got underway)
  • I missed 2 games because my DirecTV DVR randomly screwed up recording them, for no apparent reason
  • I missed 3 games towards the end of the season, when the Cubs were eliminated from playoff contention, out of sheer indifference

I don’t know if anybody besides me finds this interesting or not, but I’d love to hear similar “stats” from other fans. If you’re a baseball fan, consider keeping track of how you follow your team for the 2010 season—I’d love for you to share the results with me here at the end of next season. (I just kept a text file in my home directory, and added a line for each game; the summaries above are then easily obtained by using grep.)

Regular Season Reflections
My pre-season predictions were quite a ways off the mark this year. I went out on a limb where I shouldn’t have, and didn’t stick with what I should’ve known in too many cases. I only picked 2 correct playoff teams in the AL, and 1 in the NL. Here’s a brief division-by-division summary of how the season went:

  • NL West: I had the Dodgers picked to win the division, and they did. I also correctly picked the NL Wild Card to come out of this division, and the Giants almost proved that you can do that with pitching alone, but not quite. Instead it was the Rockies who took the last NL playoff spot (and they actually contended for the division title, but finished 3 games behind LA).
  • NL Central: My “third time’s a charm” mentality for the Cubs didn’t pan out, as their off-season moves proved to be as damaging as they could’ve been. The Cardinals led the division for most of the year, with the Cubs only briefly sniffing at first place before trailing off quietly.
  • NL East: I was probably more wrong about the Mets than any other team, who were mostly out of it right from the start. The Phillies rode the momentum of their World Series win from last year for another strong season. I also underestimated the Marlins, who ended up being somewhat involved in the Wild Card race.
  • AL West: I couldn’t have been more wrong about the Angels, who cruised to another division title. The Rangers did, as predicted, make a push, but it wasn’t nearly enough.
  • AL Central: The White Sox were never truly in the race, instead giving way to the Twins and Tigers to play a 163rd game to decide the division (the second year in a row for the Twins, this time with better results).
  • AL East: While I had the Yankees taking the Wild Card, I completely underestimated their ability to rebound from a thoroughly disappointing season last year. Instead they were the best team in baseball, winning 103 games and walking away with the division. The Red Sox did take the Wild Card.

I suppose the one thing to hang my hat on was picking the two divisions that the Wild Cards came out of, meaning my judgment of the 6 MLB divisions as a whole wasn’t very far off, even if my appraisal of the individual teams proved to be less than accurate.

Playoff Predictions
I said before the season started that I thought it’d be the Dodgers over the Red Sox in the World Series, and while that still remains a possibility, I’m not so sure how likely it is. Here are my picks for the round-by-round playoff matchups:

  • NLDS: Colorado Rockies vs. Philadelphia Phillies
    The Rockies finished the season strong, but the Phillies are more experienced and have the home-field advantage. I think it’ll be a close series, but the Phillies will take it in 5.
  • NLDS: St. Louis Cardinals vs. Los Angeles Dodgers
    The Dodgers really seem to have backed their way into the playoffs, while the Cardinals have only been looking stronger and stronger the second half of the season. I think they’ll win it in 4.
  • ALDS: Minnesota Twins vs. New York Yankees
    The Twins are likely happy just to have snuck into the postseason, but I think they’ll have enough momentum to win a game and avoid the sweep. The Yankees are just too strong all around, though, and they’ll win it in 4.
  • ALDS: Boston Red Sox vs. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
    Is this the year the Angels finally get past the Red Sox in the playoffs? Don’t count on it. I think it’ll be yet another sweep.
  • NLCS: Philadelphia Phillies vs. St. Louis Cardinals
    The Phillies had a great run last postseason, but the Cardinals are a team you can never count out in October—I’m just not sure if it’s because of, or despite Tony La Russa. Either way, I think they take the series in 6.
  • ALCS: Boston Red Sox vs. New York Yankees
    In this familiar match-up, I think the age of the Red Sox will give way to the new-look mix of youthful talent and proven veterans that the Yankees field. It wouldn’t be baseball if a Sox-Yankees series didn’t go the distance, though, so I’m predicting it to take all 7.
  • World Series: St. Louis Cardinals vs. New York Yankees
    The Yankees have been the dominant team in baseball all season, and with their pitching staff, well-rounded lineup, and home-field advantage, I think they’ll ride it all the way to a championship. The Cardinals will put up a bit of a fight, but not enough to get past game 5.

If the above predictions hold true, I won’t be watching very closely. That’s pretty much a summary of how I’ve felt about the whole 2009 season, though, so it’d only be appropriate.

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Posted by mike in Predictions,Sports at 11:40 pm on September 9, 2009

Last year I was 3-for-6 in picking AFC playoff teams, and only 2-for-6 with the NFC, but I did get two of the four participants in the conference championship games correct (although I was off on the Super Bowl matchup). I think this year might hold just as many surprises as 2008 did.

Once again, I’m not picking every single game, so the wins and losses might not add up quite right, but they’re more meant to give my general feel for each team (e.g., the Bears “feel about like” an 11-5 team to me this year). My total number of wins and losses league-wide (256-256) do add up, though.

So here are my picks for the impending 2009 NFL season, with playoff teams and winners in bold.

North South
Pittsburgh 12-4 Indianapolis 11-5
Baltimore 10-6 Tennessee 10-6
Cincinnati 8-8 Houston 6-10
Cleveland 4-12 Jacksonville 5-11
West East
San Diego 13-3 New England 12-4
Denver 8-8 Buffalo 10-6
Kansas City 4-12 Miami 5-11
Oakland 3-13 New York 4-12
AFC Championship
San Diego
North South
Chicago 11-5 New Orleans 10-6
Minnesota 8-8 Tampa Bay 8-8
Green Bay 7-9 Atlanta 7-9
Detroit 2-14 Carolina 6-10
West East
Seattle 11-5 Philadelphia 13-3
San Francisco 9-7 Dallas 10-6
Arizona 9-7 New York 9-7
Saint Louis 4-12 Washington 7-9
NFC Championship
Super Bowl XLIV
Super Bowl XLIV
San Diego

A few notes, tidbits, and further thoughts on the above:

  • I’m taking the Chargers again this year—they just seem like they’ve been poised for a big breakthrough season for a few years now, plus they’re the most stable team, both in terms of their roster and their coaching staff.
  • It probably goes without saying, but never count out the Patriots, Steelers, or Colts. They’ve been the most consistently dominant teams of this decade.
  • Remember how the Dolphins won the AFC East last year? Neither do I.
  • Ditto for the Panthers in the NFC South—although that division is wide open again this year, so none of the four teams winning it would surprise me.
  • I could see both NFC Wild Cards coming out of the same division: either the East or the West. I split the difference in my picks, though, and went with one from each.
  • It wouldn’t surprise me if I’m wrong about the Vikings—while my disdain for Brett Favre might be clouding my judgment, the Vikings do have more tools surrounding him than the Jets did last year, but I’m still fairly confident that he’ll find a way to disappoint yet another fan base.
  • Speaking of Minnesota, am I the only one who was surprised they didn’t make a play for Michael Vick after Favre initially told them he was going to stay retired? It seemed to me like he would fit into their offense well, taking the lead in place of Tarvaris Jackson, but as far as I know they made no effort to sign him. Instead he’s now yet another weapon on the Eagles’ already high-powered offense, which I think will be the class of the NFC.
  • Jay Cutler gives the Bears the same kind of spark they had in 2006 with Rex Grossman when he was on his game, if he can play up to his potential. Here’s hoping.

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Posted by mike in Predictions,Sports at 11:37 am on April 10, 2009

In a way, going 100 years without winning the World Series is almost as memory-erasing as actually ending the streak of futility would’ve been for the Cubs. At least, that’s the way I’m trying to look at it. No more looming, self-imposed deadlines; instead I think it should just be considered a clean start. That said, it’ll be a steep road to climb for the North Siders this year, as the National League has only gotten stronger and the American looks to be showing no signs of fading. Last year I went 3-for-4 with NL playoff team picks, but blanked in the AL. We’ll see if I can do better this year. Here are my division-by-division predictions for the 2009 baseball season. Teams are listed in the order in which I think they’ll finish in the standings, with playoff teams in bold.

NL West NL Central NL East
Dodgers Cubs Mets
Giants Cardinals Phillies
Diamondbacks Reds Braves
Rockies Brewers Marlins
Padres Astros Nationals
AL West AL Central AL East
Rangers White Sox Red Sox
A’s Indians Yankees
Angels Twins Blue Jays
Mariners Tigers Rays
  Royals Orioles

I suppose there are a few highlights that might deserve a bit more explanation:

  • I think the Giants are ready to turn it around, and the Rangers are ready to take a very big next step. (These probably qualify as my biggest “surprise picks.”)
  • Conversely, I think we’ll see the Rays and Angels fall right back off after their division-winning runs last year. (The Phillies, however, will contend for the Wild Card.)
  • The Yankees have done everything they can to buy their way back into the playoffs this year, but they are still only the second-best team in New York.
  • After the Brewers’ WC run last year, I think the NL Central will now go back to being the weakest division in baseball, meaning it shouldn’t be too tough for the Cubs to make it three division titles in a row. The Cardinals worry me, as always, though—and I wouldn’t be shocked if the Reds made a huge leap up from last year.
  • The Indians wouldn’t surprise me if they made a big comeback and contended for the AL Central.

I’m going to forgo the complete playoff projections for now (those are more fun to do in October), but my early World Series prediction is the Dodgers over the Red Sox. I think if that happened, the Manny-focused coverage alone might be enough to cause the Fox broadcasters’ heads to explode (and that could only be a good thing).

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Posted by mike in Entertainment,Film,Predictions at 3:43 pm on February 21, 2009

Despite my sometimes less-than-stellar track record, I continue to find it fun to make predictions in public. I think this year is pretty easy to call (hint: Slumdog is going to win a shitload of awards, and deservedly so), but that remains to be seen, of course. Below are my predictions for who will win, as well as my personal choices if it were up to me to decide the winners (the “should wins,” if you will). We’ll see if I do better than I did last year (and at the very least, hopefully the format of this post is more clear than last year’s). I realize that a lot of this is redundant with my previous 2008-in-summation post, but this one is specifically geared towards the Academy Awards.

Category: Best Picture
Prediction: Slumdog Millionaire
My Pick: Slumdog Millionaire
I can’t really see this category going to any other nominee, although if I had to name a dark horse, I think Milk might have a chance in always liberal, always happy to make a political statement Hollywood. Don’t count on it, though.

Category: Director
Prediction: Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire
My Pick: Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire
Though I’ve not seen it, I would not be surprised if this went to David Fincher for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. My money’s still on Boyle, though.

Category: Actor
Prediction: Sean Penn, Milk
My Pick: Frank Langella, Frost/Nixon
There are three really outstanding performances in this category (the two listed above, plus Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler), one that was as much special effects as it was acting (Brad Pitt in Benjamin Button), and one that’s the indie darling that probably not enough voters have even seen for it to have a shot (Richard Jenkins in The Visitor). I think it’s nearly a toss-up between the “big three,” with my personal preference being for Langella’s heartfelt portrayal of Nixon, because I think it was the most difficult to pull off, but again I think that the Academy might prefer the more topical and politically-charged Penn role (and he’s certainly deserving).

Category: Actress
Prediction: Meryl Streep, Doubt
My Pick: I have to abstain, due to not having seen 4 of the 5 films
I think this is basically a two-horse race between Streep and Kate Winslet, and it could go either way.

Category: Supporting Actor
Prediction: Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight
My Pick: Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight
I think this is as much of an Oscar lock as there’s been in a long time. I do love RDJ’s performance in Tropic Thunder, though.

Category: Supporting Actress
Prediction: Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona
My Pick: Marisa Tomei, The Wrestler
The dark horse potential surprise pick here is Viola Davis for her incredible single-scene performance in Doubt, but I think I’d rather see one of the two I’ve listed here take it. They’re neck-and-neck in my book, too, but the buzz has seemed to be centering more on Cruz, so I think that’s what the Academy will go with.

Category: Cinematography
Prediction: Slumdog Millionaire
My Pick: The Dark Knight
Benjamin Button might have a real chance in this category as well, if for no other reason than the fact that it might be the most visually ambitious film of the year. While I don’t think that Anthony Dod Mantle (Slumdog) would be undeserving, I really thought that Wally Pfister (TDK) broke some new and impressive ground.

Category: Original Screenplay
Prediction: Dustin Lance Black, Milk
My Pick: Martin McDonagh, In Bruges
Though I really think that In Bruges deserves at least some recognition, I could see this category going a few different ways. Mike Leigh wouldn’t surprise me too much with a win here for Happy-Go-Lucky (though, from the accounts I’ve heard, he wouldn’t be too happy to accept it, believing his film to be more of a collaborative, improvisational writing effort). We shouldn’t overlook the originality and biting social commentary of WALL-E, either, which I could see being rewarded here as well as in the Best Animated Feature category. I think this is another chance for the Academy to recognize Milk, though, and they’ll likely embrace it.

Category: Adapted Screenplay
Prediction: Simon Beaufoy, Slumdog Millionaire
My Pick: Simon Beaufoy, Slumdog Millionaire
I’m having a really hard time imagining any of the other nominees winning this category, but I think if I had to pick a dark horse it’d be Doubt because of the tight, dialogue-heavy script. I wouldn’t be betting against Slumdog here, though.

Editing: Editing
Prediction: Chris Dickens, Slumdog Millionaire
My Pick: Chris Dickens, Slumdog Millionaire
Lee Smith (The Dark Knight) might have a slight chance here, but really what this comes down to is the fact that this is Slumdog‘s year, and rightfully so. It was the most visually interesting, the most polished production, and the most effective storytelling of the year, and I think (along with pretty much everybody else) that it’ll be rewarded handily.

While I don’t think this was nearly as strong of a year as 2007 was, I do think that this should be a good Oscars ceremony, not only because it sounds like it’ll be a bit unique, but also because I look forward to seeing a celebration of Danny Boyle, one of my favorite filmmakers of recent times who is long overdue for some recognition and looks to be primed to finally receive some in spades.

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Posted by mike in Predictions,Sports at 12:54 am on October 1, 2008

As is presumably understandable for those who know me, this is the most excited I’ve been about the MLB postseason in probably my entire life. That of course leaves a lot of room for disappointment, something that’s definitely not unfamiliar to me (as I’ve written before). Nonetheless, I’m sticking with my original pick of the Cubs making it an even century between World Series wins this year. But before the playoffs begin, I’d like to reflect upon my predictions briefly as they relate to the actual standings at season’s end before making some new predictions for the playoffs.

I was pretty close on the Senior Circuit, picking 3 of the 4 playoff teams correctly. I thought Joe Torre would give the Dodgers enough of a bump to make the playoffs in a weak division, and he did—although Manny Ramirez certainly helped as well. In the Central, I had it going down to the Cubs and Brew Crew, giving the nod to the latter (probably as an attempt to overcompensate for my inherent bias). I didn’t think it possible for the Mets to blow their division for the second year in a row (and for the Phillies to be the benefactors twice in a row, too), but sure enough, that’s where we’re at.

My Junior Circuit picks were much further off. I certainly wasn’t alone in thinking that Seattle would dominate the AL West, but that just means I have plenty of company in being as far off as possible. The Angels, instead, dominated the West and ended up with the best record in all of baseball, although it’s quite inflated due to the other three horrible teams in their division (look at the large discrepancy between actual W-L record and expected W-L record). My Central division choices were almost completely upside-down, but I must say I’m really happy for my friends who are White Sox fans that their team got in—not to mention how cool it is that this is the first time since 1906 that both Chicago teams will play in the postseason, giving us the chance for an El Train Series (although I don’t think that will happen). In the East, I gave too much credit to the arrival of a new skipper in the Bronx, discredited the Red Sox with thoughts of a World Series hangover, and wrote off the Rays along with everybody else.

So I ended up with only 3 of the 8 playoff teams picked correctly, which is no better than I did in 2007. Hopefully I can repeat my redemption from last year by calling the playoffs correctly again now that we know who the participants will be. (Allow me to preemptively apologize to my two regular readers who are named Mark and root for a team called the Sox…)

NL Playoffs

  • NLDS: Cubs logo vs. Dodgers logo
    I honestly think that the Cubs will continue to be the cream of the crop in the National League. Despite their hot bats, the Dodgers will be facing three consecutive ace pitchers, any of whom could be the #1 starter. I don’t think the Dodgers’ bats are hot enough to handle the Cubs’ rotation (not to mention their bullpen). Conversely, I think the Cubs can out-hit the best ERA in the NL. (Cubs in 3)
  • NLDS: Phillies logo vs. Brewers logo
    I think the Phillies are looking to bounce back from last year’s disappointment (as are the Cubs), and the Brewers are happy enough to have broken their 26-year postseason drought. The Brewers will win at least one game, just because they get to put C.C. Sabathia on the mound at least once more this season, but I think that’ll be about it. (Phillies in 4)
  • NLCS: Cubs logo vs. Phillies logo
    This will be a matchup of the two best records in the National League, and the games should reflect it. It’ll be a back-and-forth, hard-fought series, but with no curses or flukes or jinxes or any other bullshit involved, the Cubs will win their first pennant since 1945. (Cubs in 6)

AL Playoffs

  • ALDS: Rays logo vs. White Sox logo
    Will just making their first postseason in franchise history be enough to content Tampa Bay? I think so, but I don’t think the White Sox have enough talent to spoil it for them, although they’ll put up a good fight. (Rays in 5)
  • ALDS: Angels logo vs. Red Sox logo
    All streaks come to an end, and it’s probably time for Boston’s postseason dominance of the Angels to dry up. I don’t think they’ll be able to overcome injuries to Mike Lowell and Josh Beckett enough to be able to stop the best record in the American League (although, as I mentioned, I believe the Angels’ record to be artificially inflated). Just as in 2005, the Sox will bow out early in their bid to repeat as champs. (Angels in 4)
  • ALCS: Angels logo vs. Rays logo
    This may be the least-watched LCS ever, but it might be a pretty good one. I think the average game will be about 17-14, as there’s a lot of power in these two lineups (although there’s a lot of good pitching represented by these two teams, as well—particularly Tampa—so I could be wrong on that). Experience will win out, though, and the Rays can still consider the season a resounding success even without a title, so they’ll go quietly. (Angels in 5)

World Series
Cubs logo vs. Angels logo

WS2008 logo
In a matchup of the two best records in baseball, we should get all you could hope for from a World Series: plenty of good pitching, good fielding, and lots of offensive power. I know it’s lame to pick your own team to win, but I really think that this is going to be their year, so I’m sticking with the Cubs in a hard-fought series. I’ll allow myself to get a bit romantic and say that they’ll be able to win it at Wrigley. (Cubs in 5)

There are some great opportunities for quality matchups this postseason, not to mention some really cool would-be World Series matchups: the aforementioned all-Chicago battle; the potential for the WS to be played at the two oldest ballparks in MLB (Wrigley and Fenway); the chance for a small-market team (Milwaukee or Tampa Bay) to crash the party. Hopefully it lives up to expectations.

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Posted by mike in Predictions,Sports at 1:24 pm on September 6, 2008

The past month has been really busy for me at work, so I’ve gotten quite behind with the movie reviews and everything else 1000 Monkeys-related. With the NFL season finally starting, though, I find myself unable to combat the desire to take the time to lay down some predictions for the upcoming year. Last year I fared pretty poorly, so I’ve only got room to improve this year. So here are my calls for each division (teams in bold make the playoffs). Note that unlike last year, I did not take the time to actually go through and pick every game, so the win/loss totals might not exactly add up in a way that’s consistent with the overall schedule.

North South
Pittsburgh 12-4 Indianapolis 12-4
Cleveland 10-6 Jacksonville 11-5
Baltimore 7-9 Tennessee 7-9
Cincinnati 4-12 Houston 5-11
West East
San Diego 14-2 New England 13-3
Denver 10-6 Miami 7-9
Oakland 9-7 Buffalo 7-9
Kansas City 2-14 New York 3-13
North South
Minnesota 11-5 New Orleans 12-4
Detroit 10-6 Carolina 7-9
Chicago 6-10 Tampa Bay 6-10
Green Bay 4-12 Atlanta 1-15
West East
Seattle 10-6 Philadelphia 13-3
San Francisco 9-7 Dallas 11-5
Arizona 9-7 New York 9-7
Saint Louis 8-8 Washington 2-14

And here are my predictions for the playoffs (winners in bold):

  San Diego
    San Diego
  New England
    Super Bowl XLIII
San Diego
New Orleans
New Orleans
  New Orleans

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