Blink-182 Thrived on Competitive Balance

Photo by Stephen Eckert (

Blink-182 will never replicate what they accomplished on 2003’s Untitled album, and that’s perfectly fine.

With Alkaline Trio’s Matt Skiba in and Tom DeLonge out, Blink was put to the task of having to reassure their existing fan base that the band was still moving forward, while simultaneously trying to reach a new audience without a full-hearted effort in over ten years, and without one of the founding members of the band.

At the height of their powers, Blink-182 rocketed to the top of pop-radio and provided the score for an entire generation of bratty teens from the late ‘90s through the early 2000s (granted, they did so with songs about their ineptitude with women and dick-jokes, but they were influential all the same). Blink dominated airtime on TRL back when MTV was still playing music videos, and were quite possibly the biggest band in not only their genre, but in the entire world. Now, with all three members of the current lineup in their early 40s, and a good decade removed from the pinnacle release of their career, Blink was going to have to pivot.

California is the record Blink-182 had to release to have any chance a of relevancy in 2016: squeaky clean production, detailed vocal layering, and a relentless attack of pop hooks. Although the majority of their more diehard and obsessive fan base prefers the band’s angrier nameless record, it’s that bright and summer-y sound they perfected on Enema of the State and Take Off Your Pants and Jacket that launched their meteoric rise. On California, Blink-182 went out to prove their music is just as synonymous with eternal youth as it was back when nobody like Mark at 23, and for the most part, they succeed. There are a couple songs that fall a bit flat like “Teenage Satellites” or the title track, but overall, Blink came through with another catchy and fun pop punk record that will be highlighted in party playlists all summer long. The only issue with California is that it illuminates just how far past their peak the band truly is; so, while I’ve had the album on a loop since it dropped July 1st, I can’t help but feel just a little bummed about it at the same time.

They may dethroned Drake’s Views at the top of the Billboard 200 List, but Blink seemed to take a step back towards the rest of the pack with California. Rather than setting the standard for the rest of the pop punk scene, I heard other bands in their sound for the first time in their entire career. When I listen to the new record, I hear shades of All Time Low in the gang vocals on “Sober”, Sum 41 in the blistering post-chorus riff of “Kings of the Weekend”, A Day To Remember in the way the hook soars over the half-time beat of “Bored To Death”, and even Fall Out Boy in whatever the hell they were trying to do with the verses of “Los Angeles”. Blink was so far past everyone else on Untitled that listening to California inevitably feels like watching Michael Jordan play for the Wizards; still dropping 20 points a game, but a shell of the legend we once called the GOAT.  

Untitled is Blink-182’s darker, slightly more mature record that came in their absolute prime, and serves as a constant reminder to fans of the portion of the band’s legacy we were robbed of. Smash radio-hits were met with beautifully arranged instrumentation, dark undertones, and a punk ethos that likely spurred New Found Glory’s Catalyst, and the early stages of Fall Out Boy’s career as well. That sound was actually something that Alkaline Trio always did very well, which was why the acquisition of Skiba seemed like such an exciting prospect; unfortunately, we now know Blink didn’t travel back down that path. The reason I don’t think they can ever get back to that level at some point down the line doesn’t have so much to do with the absence of DeLonge himself, but more of fact that the band seemed to thrive on a competitive balance within.

I believe the drastic progression from TOYPAJ to the Untitled era of Blink came from a competitive mindset that manifested from the band’s inner turmoil during that time. DeLonge said in the Angels and Airwaves documentary Start the Machine that he felt he was being asked to chose between his family and the band with their rigorous touring schedule, and the disagreements really seemed to cause a rift between him the Blink’s other chief songwriter in particular, Mark Hoppus. There were instances where the two were visibly annoyed with one another on stage and a suspicious late-night TV performance that looks like it came right after a band brawl, so how is it that Blink released their best record with all of this bullshit going on?

As one of arguably the five best living-drummers, take Travis Barker out of the equation. He generally wasn’t the one who’d conceive the song idea anyway; he’d just add the muscle to its skeleton, and turn Mark or Tom’s little pop punk tune into a juiced-up banger. Barker’s performance is so otherworldly on the Blink records, he’s almost a nonentity in the songwriting process. He’s just there to make every track better. The rivalry, if my assumption is correct, was between Hoppus and DeLonge.

Mark and Tom made comparable incremental improvements as songwriters throughout Blink-182’s first run from 1992 to 2005, but the duo each took a huge leap forward on UntitledSuddenly, they were both crafting their lyrics around nightmare-ish imagery, using unconventional song structures, and weaving in call-and-return vocals so seamlessly it sounded like they were battling each other for your attention on every track. The songs had teeth but were also suitable for the radio. If it was bubble gum then it would bite back. The hot streak lasted a solid five or six years, starting with DeLonge and Barker’s side project, Box Car Racer back in 2002, and bleeding into the the band members’ first releases in life after Blink, +44’s When Your Heart Stops Beating and Angels and Airwaves’ We Don’t Need to Whisper. Mark and Tom really hated each other for a while there. Just listen to “No, It Isn’t” by +44 if you don’t believe me.

The real strength of Blink-182 always came from the stark differences in Mark and Tom’s songwriting process and the way their contrasting styles seemed to elevate the other’s performance. Throw some competitive juices into that dichotomy and you get an once-in-a-career type of anthem like “Feeling This”. Although Hoppus and DeLonge share the vocal workload on this hit-single, they wrote their lyrics in entirely separate rooms. Tom sings of brash action where as Mark takes a thoughtful, more emotional approach, and the result is a beautifully chaotic outro of about five choruses being sung at once as the band rips apart from the inside.

Blink probably won’t write another “Feeling This” this time around. They’ll never write another “Stockholm Syndrome” and they’ll never write another “Easy Target”. The band’s dynamic will never be as it was on Untitled with Skiba in the picture despite the punk veteran’s obvious talents. Blink is in comeback mode now, and they can’t toss a brand new member into the line of fire with another drastic departure from their core sound. Mark and Travis just want to put the whole Tom saga behind them and be Blink-182 again; and, although he’s an incredibly accomplished songwriter in his own right, on some level Matt Skiba’s just happy to be there.

For me, Blink-182 had always been the truest representation of the pop punk genre. They were more committed to the sound than the early bands that played around with it like The Ramones or The Clash, they were less up-their-own-ass than Green Day, and they weren’t manufactured like a majority of bands to come out of the neon-era of the scene. Blink pushed back against the bullshit of conventional top-40 music, but also had a stronger grasp of melody and harmonies than any other band playing a subgenre of modern rock music during their prime.

Pop Punk is simple, everyone. It all boils down to how interesting can you be while still being infectiously catchy? How interesting can you be lyrically? Musically? Emotionally? The good bands always bring something extra to the table, and Blink emphatically checks both boxes on California. A good three quarters of this record makes sense as singles, and of course, having Travis Barker behind the kit doesn’t hurt. California is a great pop punk record; likely the best one that will come out this year. The only reason anyone is disappointed with it is because they’ve finally realized that Blink is past their peak.

Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train

Book Review-The Girl on the Train
This photo provided by Riverhead Books shows the cover of the book, “The Girl on the Train,” by author Paula Hawkins. (AP Photo/Riverhead Books)

Production for the upcoming film, The Girl on the Train, began back in November of 2015, but it’s hard to imagine the perpetual tension of the story will be as palpable on the big-screen as it was in the script’s source material. Often billed as “the next Gone Girl,” The Girl on the Train is the debut mystery/thriller novel by Paula Hawkins that is a gripping read from nearly start to finish. Hawkins tells her story through the first-person perspective of three different narrators, and passes the point-of-view chapters like a baton from one character to the next in order to best broker the suspense of the story. The three POV characters are all loosely connected to one another based on their relative proximity to the train traveling into London, but their lives become far more intertwined as the story progresses.

The book begins with our titular character, Rachel Watson, also known as the girl on the train. Rachel lives just outside of London and takes the train into the city every morning; gazing out the window and letting her imagination wander on her commute. The reader first encounters Rachel having just scraped against rock-bottom after recently losing her job, husband, and home. She relies heavily on alcohol to cope with her current situation, and drowns her reality in cans of gin-and-tonic and made up stories about the people she sees while riding the train. Two of the people Rachel often fantasizes about are Jess and Jason, her proclaimed “perfect, golden couple” she sees nearly everyday in their backyard. Rachel enviously watches this couple (that she’s named for herself) living what seems to be a perfectly happy life just a few houses away from where she had lived with ex-husband, Tom. Rachel is perceived to be a total basket case by the other characters throughout the story; a drunk and desperate mess who often stalks her ex and his new family.

Rachel’s alcoholism is a constant in the book, and makes her the most unreliable narrator of the three. Her drinking problem started around the same time her marriage began to spiral, and this detail about her becomes an integral part of Rachel’s character as she gets mixed up in the investigation surrounding the disappearance of our second narrator, Megan Hipwell.

Megan, otherwise known as “Jess” to Rachel, is the main character whom we the readers spend the least amount of time with; however, her disappearance is what spearheads the whole story. The entirety of Megan’s storyline occurs in the months before she goes missing, and her chapters are paced out through the main narrative until her true fate is revealed towards the end of the novel. Megan can come off a bit pretentious and maybe even a little bit entitled at times, but she is mostly a misunderstood character with a rich, yet tragic backstory. Aside from being one half of Rachel’s fantasy couple, Megan is also connected to the rest of the characters thanks to a brief stint as the nanny for Tom and his new wife, Anna.

Anna is the novel’s third narrator and Tom’s former mistress/now wife who began seeing him while he and Rachel were still married. Anna is an incredibly vain, self-centered character who admittedly got quite a bit of enjoyment from sleeping with another woman’s husband. She has a harsh, if not understandable opinion of Rachel, and can certainly share the blame for a lot of the incidents that occur between Rachel and her family. Anna’s one redeeming quality is her unmistakable love for her daughter despite some feelings of annoyance that pop into her head every so often, and she starts to realize all she has in common with Rachel as the story unfolds.

Along with the three female narrators of The Girl on the Train, there are also three male characters that help drive a great deal of the plot. There is Tom Watson, a pathological liar who was married to both Rachel and Anna; Scott Hipwell, the jealous and suspicious husband of Megan who has some nasty, violent tendencies; and Kamal Abdic, Megan’s therapist whom she shares a few romantic moments with and the suspect #1 in her disappearance.

None of the men in this novel particularly endearing individuals, but the perception of each of them differs greatly based on whose point-of-view we look at. Take Scott for example; a despicable human being based on some of his actions throughout the story, but also a tortured, somewhat sympathetic character when you get a clearer glimpse into his world. The same multifaceted personality goes for Tom as well, whose lies are often masked with a level of charm that makes it increasingly difficult to decipher what parts of him are real and which are not. Not a single one of these characters can be trusted; and in all honesty, not a single one of them are all that likeable either

At times, it’s hard not to absolutely loathe the characters in The Girl on the Train, but there are also quite a few moments that humanize their behavior, making them people that the reader can at least empathize with. Being a character driven story with unlikable characters in an interesting dynamic to say the least, and it leads the novel into becoming an elaborate game of “find the psychopath” in a batch of deeply flawed individuals. Not having one particular storyline or point-of-view to latch onto really keeps the story wide open and shrouded in mystery, which is used to great effect by Hawkins in her novel.

The case doesn’t become solvable until roughly ⅔ of the way through the book, and Hawkin’s does a phenomenal job with the pacing by placing each chapter-break in just the right spot to raise the high-level of drama. The Girl on the Train is a fast-paced novel that leans more on the side of mystery than thriller, but becomes harder and harder to put down all the same.


**Originally published by Punks And Recs

Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book


A full three years removed from the release of his critically acclaimed mixtape, Acid Rap, Chance the Rapper finally delivered the follow-up to that breakthrough project, and a true benediction to his devout fanbase in the form of his third solo release, Coloring Book. Chance did not disappear from the spotlight in that lull between his two most recent tapes; in fact, the young MC from West Chatham, Chicago saw his star sky-rocket to astronomical heights during that time. Chance filled the 37 month void between projects with a couple show-stopping singles, must-see television performances, and over an hour’s worth of guest features that generally stole the listener’s attention away from the other artist on his or her own track.

Chance the Rapper is a bit of an anomaly in the current of landscape hip hop and contemporary music in general. All of this buzz and evident success has come without the backing of any sort of record deal, and Chano continues to blaze his own trail in the music industry by doing things that no one has accomplished before him. Back in December, Chance became the first independent artist to be the musical guest on NBC’s long-running sketch-show, Saturday Night Live, where he performed a new song, “Somewhere in Paradise”, and the track, “Sunday Candy”, which appeared on the free album Surf he recorded with his backing band and frequent collaborators, The Social Experiment. That record likely never happens had Chance elected to sign with a label, as the suits who front the money for such projects would have surely been clamouring for his next solo release and their piece of the cake. As an independent artist, Chance was able to give his full attention to Donnie’s album, and pursue his own endeavors as he saw fit. Over the course of this past year, Chance has collaborated with New Era for a redesign of the Chicago White Sox baseball cap, headlined the Pitchfork Music Festival, put forth his Warmest Winter initiative that provided over 1,000 coats for homeless citizens in Chicago, and even began hosting an Open Mic Night for the high school students of his city. With Coloring Book, Chance is on the verge of accomplishing yet another feat that no other musician has done before him. According to Hits Daily Double’s count, Chance’s third mixtape will likely reach between 30,000 and 40,000 unit’s worth of “sales” in streaming revenue, making it the first project ever to chart in the top-10 of the Billboard 200 without actually being sold. This unheard of gravity towards any one artist is astonishing in its own right, but it shouldn’t come as that much of a surprise considering the overall vision and scope of the project Chance just put forth.

Coloring Book stands up as Chance the Rapper’s most commercial release both in terms of impact and quality. The high-level of production is miles ahead of how his last project Surf sounded, and Chance hopped on some of the catchiest and hard-hitting flows of his career without sacrificing his natural ability for wordplay, or diluting any of his message. He used the auto-tune vocal effect to perfection on tracks like “Smoke Break”, where he raps about needing time to relax but can’t because of his new daughter; “Mixtape”, a song about his love for that titular artform and the strain it puts on the music industry; and “No Problem”, a full-fledged banger that takes shots at every record label that has tried to compromise his art and make money off him. Coloring Book also features the most high-profile guest list of any release in Chano’s catalogue with appearances from Kanye West, Lil’ Wayne, 2 Chainz, Justin Bieber, Young Thug, Future, Jay Electronica, Ty Dolla $ign, Jeremih, and T-Pain; as well as uncredited contributions from Anderson Paak, BJ the Chicago Kid, Raury, Jamila Woods, and Donnie Trumpet of The Social Experiment.

Coloring Book remains incredibly engaging throughout thanks to a wide variety of influences that really show Chance the Rapper’s versatility as a performer. Of course you have the jazz and soul instrumentation that have The Social Experiments’ fingerprints all over it, as well as the aforementioned new-Atlanta tracks like “Smoke Break” and “Mixtape”, but what really sets this project apart from all other rap records that will drop this year is its heavy gospel element.

Chance’s relationship with God was something that always shined through in his music, particularly on tracks like “Sunday Candy” and “Somewhere in Paradise”, but Chano even prophesied these coming inspirations for Chance 3 with his verse on Kanye West’s “Ultralight Beam”. He said “there ain’t one gosh darn part you can’t tweet”, and his rabid fanbase took that to heart and quoted every line of lyrics into the 140 character limit on twitter. Everything from Chance’s biblical references on “All We Got” and “Blessings”, to the church organs the drive “How Great”, to the supporting choirs that are sprinkled throughout the tape and share the stage with him on “Same Drugs”, these songs constantly point back to the holy aura that permeates from Chance in every move he makes. It puts forth this overwhelming sense of optimism and pure bliss that is more and more infectious with each listen, and can really alter a listener’s mood in a positive way. You don’t need to be a particularly pious person to find the beauty of this tape; you don’t even have to believe in God for these moments to be powerful. Coloring Book is how church is supposed to make you feel.

It feels unjust to classify this mixtape as just a feel-good record because Chance is preaching a lot more than “good vibes” on here. Of course there are songs strictly for constructed for having fun, such as the phenomenal groove on “All Night”, but Chance continues to do so much more like put on for his city with tracks like “Summer Friends” and “Angels”, and with key features from the Chicago Children’s Choir, Towkio, and Saba as well. He also consistently addresses his career in music through the lens of his DIY ethics and unique mindset. When you really think about it, Coloring Book is more of a celebration record than anything else. It’s a celebration of family, independence, faith and success. There are all different kinds of songs on this project to scratch all different kinds of itches, and while I won’t pigeonhole this tape as just positive rap, I will say that music has never felt as good as it does on Coloring Book.


**Originally published by Punks and Recs

Drake’s Views


When Drake announced via OVO Sound radio that his fourth proper studio album, Views would be released later that month on April 29th, it was pretty much a forgone conclusion that the LP would go on to be nominated for a Grammy Award and debut at number one on Billboard. According to and analysis from Buzz Angle Music, Drake was already halfway to fulfilling that prophecy in just two days time. The record sold roughly 741,000 units in the U.S. and about 80,000 in Drake’s home country of Canada in the two days following its Friday release, and is already on the precipice of going platinum in record time. The 29 year-old rapper/singer is no stranger to widespread, mainstream success as his last commercial mixtape, If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late made him the first rapper ever to top Billboard‘s Artist 100 chart. At one point last year, Drake occupied 42% of Billboard’s Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Chart with all 17 songs from the tape earning a spot on the list of 50 at one time. To go along with the success of If You’re Reading This, Drake also released a couple smash hits with “Hotline Bling” and the Meek Mill diss-track “Back to Back”, as well as a collaborative mixtape with Atlanta rapper, Future entitled What A Time To Be Alive. Drake’s monstrous 2015 not only put him in the same breathe as some of the biggest stars of the last two decades in hip hop, but also in the pantheon of contemporary music legends.

After a five-year run on the Canadian teen-drama Degrassi and a few well-received mixtapes under his belt, Drake signed to Young Money Cash Money records and began his dominance in the world of music. The artist’s signature sing-song rapping cadence captivated audiences, and eventually turned Drake into the modern-day King of Pop as we know him now. Given Drizzy’s 2015 hot-streak, and the fact that all four of his full-length projects have gone platinum, it appeared as though Views would be the pinnacle release of his already storied career as an MC; however, that is just not the case.

In an exclusive interview with Zane Lowe the night prior to the release of Views, Drake stated that he wanted to make a record that he wanted to listen to while also paying homage to his city of Toronto. He referenced the blistering cold seven months of winter there, and how the city sort of shifts into scorching summers and right back to winter again. Drake definitely accomplished this sonic vision in his beat selection, with the first seven-tracks occupying a dreary and chilling atmospheric space, before moving into more rhythmic island vibes in the instrumentation for the following eight songs. That Caribbean flare is extremely evident on songs like the single “One Dance” and the token duet with Rihanna “Too Good”; however, this is where the 20-song record really starts to drag. Although Drake also said in the interview that he scrapped entire songs during the recording process just to save an idea here or four bars there, he seemed to really struggle to cut the fat and filler on this project. “Grammys” featuring Future clearly sounds like a WATTBA leftover, and a large part of me wishes Drizzy had the stones to tell Kanye having Jay-Z spit only the first two lines of his verse on “Pop Style” was bullshit. Rather than just using that song as a stand-alone single, Drake made the track worse by removing The Throne feature, and haphazardly placing a weak verse of his own in its place. The presence of so many mid-tempo tracks on this 20-song record really makes the pace lumber along despite what could have been really strong sequencing with a great deal of smooth transitions.

Another issue to take with Views is the content on the record. Although Drake often caught flack from hip hop elitists for pouring out so many feelings into his music, he had always been an artist that owned his own insecurities so wholeheartedly that they should’ve been called something else. Drake really reached that perfect level of transparency on 2011’s Grammy Award winning album Take Care on the back of some ethereal, moody beats and instantaneous quotables. At 25 years-old, Drake really hit a sweet spot with the college demographic as every young 20-something could relate to that rock bottom of drunk-dialing an ex, or tweeting out the lyrics to “Marvin’s Room”. I saw “I’m just sayin’ you could do better” on more facebook statuses than I could ever count, and Drake’s fragile arrogance was something very tangible and real at that point in time. On Views, it is as if Drake suddenly developed reservations about divulging too much of himself or putting his clever brash cockiness on display. This record is full of cringe-worthy lines as well such as “I get green like Earth Day” or “you toyin’ with it like Happy Meal”; and also comes through with his most painfully ignorant track, “Child’s Play.” With the amount of singing and R&B focused songs on this project, Drake would have been better served to go almost over the top with his vulnerability, rather than the front he took of not saying much of anything. Drake sounded hungry and out for blood on If You’re Reading This, but that sharp tongue only shows up on a few tracks here like “Hype”, “Weston Road Flows”, and the title track, “Views”.

Though it may seem like I’m totally down on Views, it’s not a bad record in general; just a little disappointing given Drake’s past output. Drake’s long-time producer and OVO Sound partner Noah “40” Shebib really shines on this record, producing a majority of these glossy and cloudy beats. The bass really knocks and drives a great deal of the production on these tracks, and Drake really does deliver some of his best vocal performances to date on the singing front. “Feel No Ways” seems like a hit, and “Keeping the Family” close delivers some real bombast as the album’s opener; it just that with MCs such as Kendrick Lamar and Chance the Rapper continuing to improve and defy expectations with each release, many hardcore fans of Drake (myself included) expected Views to be his Illmatic or Blueprint. Instead of the classic many were anticipating, Drake came through with a very calculated, yet incredibly formulaic record. I suppose it’s all a matter of what you come to Drake for. If you want that slick production and a pleasant listen, there is quite a bit of material on her that will most click with you; however, if you’re more like me, and expected a lot more from Drizzy, let’s just hope he has some more songs left in the chamber to fire off this summer.


**Originally published by Punks and Recs

Fantasy Baseball Final: April 17th, 2016

Steven Matz
New York Mets starting pitcher Steven Matz throws to the plate during the first inning of a baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Sunday, July 5, 2015, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

The National League divisional races are already starting to shake out as anticipated as we wrap up the second week of the MLB season. The Cardinals and Pirates were able to get wins this Sunday to stay within shouting distance of the Cubs, the Mets took the rubber match in Cleveland to take advantage of a rare Washington loss, and the Giants and Dodgers sit atop the NL West as they are set to meet tonight for Sunday Night Baseball.


It took extra innings to decide three of today’s contests, so we got a healthy dose of bonus baseball on this mostly sunny day in April. After the Nationals grabbed a one-run lead from a homer off the bat of Bryce Harper in the top half of the 10th, the Phillies were able to exact revenge on their former closer, Jonathan Papelbon. Shortstop Freddy Galvis proved to be the hero for Philadelphia as he laced an opposite field single off the base of the wall in left to drive in the winning run. Oswaldo Arcia was another walk-off hero today for the Minnesota Twins, which helped the team sweep the Angels at home for their third win of the season. Arcia had not been playing much and was hitless heading into the weekend, but went 5-for-14 in the series taking over for the struggling Byron Buxton. The Atlanta Braves also completed an unlikely sweep in extra inning today by defeating the Miami Marlins by a score of 6-5. The club jumped out to an early lead with four first inning runs, but almost blew the game by letting the Marlins tie the score after trailing 5-0 in the sixth. Prospect Mallex Smith’s go-ahead single in the 10th was the deciding blow for Atlanta, and dropped Miami’s record to just 3-7 on the year.


Juan Nicasio’s re-emergence got back on track today against the Milwaukee Brewers as the 29 year-old got the win with six quality innings. After giving up four earned runs in just three innings of work against Detroit this past week, Nicasio was able to limit his walks, and also strikeout six batters along the way in the club’s 9-3 win. After issuing five free passes in his lone-loss on the season, Nicasio walked just two batters in today’s outing, which seems to be one of the major keys to his success in 2016. Pitching coach Rey Sirige has gotten the reputation for turning talented, yet aging pitchers back into frontline starters such as AJ Burnett and Francisco Liriano in recent years, and Nicasio just seems to be Sirige’s latest reclamation project. Nicasio also has the luxury of working with two phenomenal pitch framers in Russell Martin and Francisco Cervelli on a daily basis, and the righthander appears to be a viable option going forward for both fantasy owners and the Pirates alike. Pittsburgh jumped out to an early and commanding lead in today’s game thanks in part to Andrew McCutchen’s second home run of the season. Though Cutch has now homered in back to back games, he only had three hits in the series and went 1-for-6 with a walk in today’s game. The former MVP’s sizzling spring has not carried over into regular-season play as of yet, but these two longballs this weekend may be the first signs of him catching fire.


The marquee pitching matchup of the day came in Cleveland as Corey Kluber took the mound for the hometown Indians against Steven Matz and the New York Mets. Although Kluber collected eight strikeouts in his six innings of work, the Mets offense got the best of him by tagging the Cleveland ace for six earned runs. The New York bats seemed to wake up this weekend, exploding for 17 extra-base hits in the series after having just 10 going in. Michael Conforto has produced quite well since being moved up into the three-hole, going 5-for-12 with three doubles, a homerun, and three RBIs this series. Asdrubal Cabrera has also impressed as of late, raising his slashline to .333/.385/.389 by going 2-for-5 today with an RBI. Cabrera has also been the consummate professional since joining the squad by playing solid defense at shortstop and showing the ability to lay down a bunt when needed. No doubt Mets fans are happy to see the offense come alive again, but the real story of today’s game was Steven Matz’s performance. The 24 year-old lefty gave last week’s rough season debut his back, and tossed seven innings of three-hit ball with a career-high nine strikeouts.


Luke Gregerson (4)

Alex Colome (3)

Jake McGee (3)

Trevor Rosenthal (3)

Andrew Miller (3)

Matt Wisler (1)


Rangers fans will be happy to see some positive reports in the news regarding their long-lost ace, Yu Darvish. The 29 year-old righty missed all of last season recovering from Tommy John Surgery, but has been taking large steps forward in recent weeks. Darvish threw live batting practice on Sunday, and is scheduled to do the same again this coming Thursday. If all goes according to plan he will be able to begin his rehab assignment with the Double-A club in about a week.


**Originally published by The Fantasy Fix

Fantasy Baseball Final: April 16th, 2016


A stacked slate of 15 ballgames made up this second Saturday of the 2016 Major League Baseball season as action got underway around the one o’clock hour.

After going winless throughout the majority of the first two weeks of the season, both the Minnesota Twins and Atlanta Braves got off the shinde Friday night, and looked to start streaking in the other direction in their respective afternoon contests. The Twins got off to a good start by plating a pair in the bottom half of the first, but found themselves in a 4-4 tie heading into the eighth. Back-to-back home runs from Oswaldo Arcia and Byung Ho Park put the team back out in front 6-4, and newly named closer Kevin Jepsen was able to seal the game with a fairly smooth ninth inning for the team’s second win in a row. After hanging around in the playoff hunt until the final week of the season last year, expectations were high for the 2016 Twins. The club’s promising young offense is off to an abysmal start, however, posting a .206 team batting average heading into the day. Starting position players Trevor Plouffe, Miguel Sano, Byung Ho Park, Byron Buxton, Brian Dozier, and Eddie Rozario are all hitting .200 or worse on the season, with Sano, Park, and Buxton all posting troubling strikeout numbers. All three players are striking out around 40% of their at-bats, and the young Buxton in particular has looked overmatched thus far with a 50% K-rate. The club may have overachieved last season, but surely they are better than they are performing right now.

The Braves also won their second straight game today; however, any form of prolonged success for the ballclub seems like a pipedream. One of a handful of teams that could be viewed as “tanking” the 2016 MLB season, the Braves are trotting out mostly replacement level players on a daily basis. They are currently the worst offensive team in baseball and have a 5.59 team ERA to go with it. The one constant source of production this year was intended to be the team’s 26 year-old first baseman, Freddie Freeman, but even he is off to a slow start this year with a .107/.324/.214 slashline entering play today. The hand and wrist issues that plagued Freeman last season could still be lingering, and the slugger admitted recently to having slower bat speed than normal early on. While it’s not yet time for fantasy owners to panic and drop Freddie Freeman, the re-injury risk is worth monitoring. If the diminished production continues into June, it may be time to start looking for another option at first base and chalk 2016 up to a hurt-year for Freeman.


After living to rue the fact they let the Mets hang around in the NL East race last season, the Washington Nationals are looking to put some distance between themselves and the second place Phillies in an effort to run away with the division. Though the early success can be attributed to a collective team effort, reigning NL-MVP Bryce Harper remains the center of attention for the cruising Nats. Harper nearly won the sabermetric triple crown in his historic 2015 season — leading the league in OBP and slugging, and trailing only the Marlins’ Dee Gordon in batting average — but the 23 year-old superstar is off to an even better start this year than last. Harper hit another emphatic homer today, and has posted a monstrous .781 slugging percentage with a .313 BA despite some bad luck with only a .240 BABIP. Harper is also walking at a 17.9% clip and only striking out in 7.7% of his at-bats. Those numbers are roughly the inverse of the league average rates with the majority of major leaguers posting a 20% K-percentage and 8% BB-percentage.


The Chicago Cubs are the odd-on favorite to win the World Series this year for the first time in recent memory, and the ballclub has been playing as such so far this season. The Cubbies hit three home runs in today’s game against the Rockies, which proved to be more than enough for team-ace, Jake Arrieta. The righthander tossed eight innings of shutout ball to stay unbeaten in 2016 with 8 Ks and just one walk, and improving his early season ERA to 1.23. Arrieta has been virtually unhittable from the second half of 2015 on. That streak of excellence earned him a National League Cy Young award last year and has bled over into the 2016 season as well. Dating back to last year, Arrieta is 14-0 with 116 ⅓  IP, a 0.70 ERA, and 115 SO in his last 16 regular season starts. He responsible for a third of the Cubs wins this season and is eyeing to repeat as the best pitcher in the NL.


Matt Harvey’s 2016 struggles continued today against the Cleveland Indians as the Mets failed to build off last night’s win. Harvey has had a tendency to unravel around the fifth inning in the early stages of this season, and today was no different with the majority of the damage from the Tribe coming in his last inning and ⅔ of work. The Dark Knight fell to 0-3 on the year after giving up five earned runs and raising his ERA to 5.71. Harvey lead-off the game with three perfect innings, but began to struggle with command and started to get knocked around a bit. Ideally, the Mets would like to view the early dominance in today’s game as a positive sign and believe he will improve as he starts to stretch out more, but these struggles date back to late-Spring Training and his somewhat infamous blood clot issue. Granted, the team has not given Harvey a great deal of run support, and they seem susceptible to long streaks of not scoring with all five of today’s runs coming via the longball. Both the offense and the pitching will need to be more consistant if New York hopes to repeat their 2015 pennant.


Travis d’Arnaud also left today’s loss for the Mets early after being hit with a 93-MPH fastball in the top of the seventh inning. Reliever Zach McAllister’s offering struck d’Arnaud in the left elbow, sending the Mets’ backstop to first base in visible pain. Though d’Arnaud stayed in to run the bases, he was lifted for backup catcher Kevin Plawecki in the bottom half of the inning. X-Rays on the elbow came back negative, but the oft-injured catcher will likely be given the day off in tomorrow’s rubber-match against Cleveland. He is currently listed as day to day.


Steve Cishek (1)

Kevin Jepsen (2)

J.J. Hoover (1)

Ryan Madson (3)

Craig Kimbrel (4)

Cody Allen (3)


**Originally published by The Fantasy Fix

New York Mets Pitching Profile: Matt Harvey


It’s a huge honor,” Matt Harvey told reporters shortly after being named the New York Mets Opening Day starter. “Looking around the locker room, looking at this corner, obviously Terry could have announced anybody. So for me getting the nod, it’s a huge honor.” Whether it was the God’s honest truth or just a modest response we’ve grown accustomed to hearing out of ballplayers, there is definitely some truth to what Harvey said on Thursday. Manager Terry Collins did have a healthy array of options for his Opening Day starter in 2016, but choice seemed fairly obvious for this game in particular. Sure, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz debuted just last year, and Jacob deGrom and his wife expecting their first child that first week of the season made Collins’ decision a little easier, but it just seems right to have Harvey take the mound on opening day considering the way last season ended.

The Mets will open the 2016 season on April 3rd at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City against the defending World Champion Royals — funny how that worked out. The ballclub will be out for redemption following last year’s five-game loss in the World Series, and no one player is out for justice more so than Harvey. The Dark Knight earned a no decision in the Mets game-one loss to the Royals in last year’s Series; and with the club’s back against the wall in game-five, Harvey turned in a performance that will live on in New York lore for some time. Harvey tossed an eight-inning gem to put the Mets in a position to extend the series, and demanded the ball in the ninth to finish the job. Though the moment got the best of Harvey and he surrendered a run without recording any outs before being lifted, his performance that night was captivating and solidified him as a gamer and true ace. Harvey’s explosive velocity coupled with his electric personality and warrior’s mentality make him the dominating pitcher he is, and the soon-to-be 27 year-old appears poised to take another step forward in his game for the 2016 season.


Matt Harvey is 6’4” 215 lbs. with strong legs and a powerful right arm. He features some of the most devastating velocity out of a starting pitcher in all of Major League Baseball, and his big-strong frame helps him maintain that velocity deep into ballgames as well. Just one year removed from Tommy John Surgery, Harvey posted a top-five VELO on not just his fastball, but with his slider and curveball as well. His average fastball velocity of 95.2MPH was good for 4th best in all of baseball last year, and he was able to gear that heat up to 99.4MPH when needed it. Harvey’s average curveball velocity stood at an impressive 83.6MPH as well (good for 3th best in the game) and his slider at 89.4MPH him in good company as he trails only reigning NL Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta at 90.3MPH and his teammate deGrom at 89.6MPH in average VELO. It’s pretty astounding to think, but Harvey could actually see an uptick in these numbers this coming season as he is yet another year removed he gets from his 2014 TJ-recovery.


The Angels were actually the first team to pull the trigger on a young Matt Harvey, drafting him in the third round of the in the 2007 MLB draft right out of High School. Harvey declined the club’s offer and elected to hone his skills at the collegiate level for the University of North Carolina Tar Heels. He played three seasons at UNC, posting a 22-7 record with 263 strikeouts in 238 ⅔ innings. Although Harvey’s 3.73 ERA was well over what he’s produced at the professional level, his 22 wins and 263 strikeouts rank 9th and 10th respectively in the school’s history. That performance prompted the Mets to draft Harvey with the seventh overall pick in the first round of the 2010 draft right behind players such as Bryce Harper who was taken first overall, and Manny Machado who was selected third. His time playing Division I NCAA Baseball certainly helped Harvey develop as a pitcher, and he made short work of minor leagues by reaching the show with less than two full years in the Mets’ farm system. He was Baseball America’s #54 prospect after that 2011 minor league season, and debuted the following year against Arizona where he fanned 11 Diamondbacks in just 5 ⅓ innings. The brief debut in 2012 was stellar, and no doubt excited Met fans for the future, but Harvey truly broke out his first full-season in 2013 where his earned the All-Star game starting nod and finished fourth in the National League Cy Young voting. Harvey was on a trajectory to win the award until his season was cut short by Tommy John Surgery, but he worked his way back in spectacular fashion and won NL Comeback player of the year when he returned in 2015 as if the injury had never taken place.


Harvey was downright impressive in his 2013 breakout campaign. He lead the National League with a 2.01 FIP and a 0.04 HR/9, but he also accumulated 191 strikeouts in 178 ⅓ innings with a 2.27 ERA. His overall numbers were a hair higher in most respects when he returned in 2015, posting a 2.71 ERA with 3.05 FIP and 1.76 BB/9 as opposed to his 1.56 mark in ‘13; but Harvey’s command really came on late in the season, and he was virtually unhittable in the month of August. He posted a 2.19 ERA in the second half with a 9.12 K/9 and 0.92 WHIP, and surrendered just one home run in the entire month of August leading to a 0.33 ERA and 100% of stranded base runners in 27 innings that month. Harvey finished 6th in the NL in ERA, 12th in strikeouts with 188, seventh in WHIP at 1.02, and sixth in batting average against with a .222 BAA. This regular season success bled into the Mets first playoff appearance since 2006 where Harvey posted a 2-0 record with 27 Ks and 3.04 ERA in four post-season starts including that memorable game-five outing.

Projections and Prediction

Most projections are a little bearish on Matt Harvey for 2016 considering he just came off Tommy John in 2015. Both Steamer and Depth Charts projections have Harvey’s ERA rising to at least 3.00 with a slightly higher walk-rate and BABIP as well. They do have him improving on his K-rates and innings – Steamer projecting a 9.18 K/9 in 203 IP and Depth Charts projecting a 8.84 K/9 in 209 IP – but it’s hard to believe an improvement in command and possibly additional velocity as well will yield worse results than last season. In fact, the Dark Knight could very well be the Dark Horse in this year’s National League Cy Young race as he continues to stretch out free of an innings limit. His numbers last season were very comparable to teammate Jacob deGrom – like his 9.8 HR/FB ratio finishing just one spot behind deGrom at 9.5 for example – but considering the recent injury and the fierce competitive nature of the player, it seems as though Matt Harvey still has another gear he can kick into this coming season. He’s the type of player that is enamoured by the bright lights of NYC and thrives off being the anchor of one of the most talented starting staffs in all of baseball. With the season Harvey put together in 2015 just one year removed from Tommy John, he has proved to be the exception and not the rule. I truly believe he will continue to shatter expectations this coming year and be the hero the Mets might not deserve but most certainly will need.


**Originally published by Sports Blog New York