september 2013

9.3.13
We had a very nice vacation week, where mostly we sat in the sun, swam in the ocean, slept, and ate. It was pleasantly uneventful most of the time.

It was our first time in Hilton Head, which is one of the closest beaches to Atlanta, and it was pretty nice, although I got the very strong sense that if you were from Savannah looking for a nice beach with public access, you're probably going to look elsewhere—it seemed like every inch of beachfront was owned by gated condos or hotels.

We ate overpriced (but usually pretty good) seafood from local restaurants, cooked up some shrimp for one of our three dinners we made at the condo, went on a morning boat ride a low tide so Will could see some dolphins, and went to see a sixteen year old girl who can play guitar like you wouldn't believe twice, once for a solo acoustic show and another time with her full band (Will heard her singing across the street as we were leaving dinner one night, and we ended up buying her latest CD which he became immediately obsessed with).

This was Will's first real experience with swimming and water, and he did remarkably well. On day one he could barely even stand in ankle-deep water without shrieking and holding onto our legs for dear life, and by the end of the week he was insisting on coming out "deep" with me when I went to swim in water that came up to my chest (when there were no waves). We had a floater thing that combined water wings and a mini-life vest so we could take him out into the waves, and there were a couple of times where he got brave enough to swim a few feet between Julie and I without either of us holding onto him.

Most of the time he clung to one of us pretty tightly when we were in water that was deeper than he was tall, but he certainly got more eager for that experience that farther we got into the week. And by Friday (we were there Saturday to Saturday), he was running into the surf up to his waist with no water wings and having the best time kicking and splashing.

One thing I missed from the beaches I'm used to from North Carolina was a pier, but other than that (and a vanishingly small actual beach when it was high tide), it was a nice place, and we'll likely return.


9.4.13
Car wouldn't start when I needed to go to work yesterday, and I spent the day taking care of that. Today I have five meetings straight through from 10-4, tomorrow I have meetings from 9-4:30 with no breaks (including an hour and a half killer working meeting during lunch), and Friday I have six meetings from 9:30-4. Punishment, I guess, for having the audacity to go on vacation for a week.


9.5.13
The Ravens are going to have a tough time opening on the road in Denver tonight against a team that feels a lot of bitterness towards them for ending their playoff run last season, and while it's entirely possible that the oddsmakers and pundits could be right and the revamped Ravens will have their hats handed to them, it's important to note that all of these people were saying the exact same thing nine months ago, and look how that turned out.

People forget that it wasn't just the miracle catch to tie the game at the end of regulation that saved the Ravens—the offense was locked in, and if it weren't for a kickoff return and a punt return for two touchdowns (special teams failures), their wouldn't have even been any need for the last-minute touchdown and two overtimes for the Ravens to win the game handily.

Denver's offense is as strong as it was last year, but they are much weaker on defense, and even though the Ravens starters, especially the defense, haven't had as much time on the field together, they are improved on paper and there's a real chance that Peyton Manning could be staring down an even more intense pass rush than he did in the playoffs.

This will be another big test for Joe Flacco (you'd think that being Super Bowl MVP would put doubts about him to rest, but people seem to have as little faith in him as ever), and if he plays the way he did in the playoffs last year, it's going to be time for the talking heads to give this team and its quarterback a little more credit for being the defending champions.


9.6.13
There is no other word for it—last night's Ravens game was just plain ugly. A sports site recapping the game called it "historically bad", and they aren't wrong. The first season opener that Harbaugh and Flacco have lost in their six seasons together was just the beginning of the unprecedented badness of the team's play. The 49 points scored by the Broncos were the most scored by a Ravens opponent in the history of the franchise, and opposing quarterback Peyton Manning tied an NFL record with 7 touchdown passes. The running game was at best mediocre in the first half and non-existent in the second after Denver game out guns blazing and scored three touchdowns in the first six minutes of the half, putting Baltimore in a hole they would never dig themselves out of.

And it could have been worse—a showboating Broncos player who intercepted Flacco intentionally dropped the football just before crossing the goal line believing he was already in the end zone, and instead of another touchdown for Denver, the Ravens got the ball back and drove downfield for a touchdown. And one of the Ravens first half touchdowns came after the kick returned dropped a fair catch that was recoverd by Baltimore and easily run in a yard for a touchdown.

Manning has always handled the Ravens well (after last night's win, he is now 8-2 against them), and this time he also had former New England receiver Wes Welker at his disposal, another player who has always had Baltimore's number. But what's really heartbreaking about this loss is that, going into halftime, Baltimore actually had the lead and it looked like, even if they didn't end up winning, they were still going to make a strong showing on the road against a team that everyone expects to be a contender this season.

But the wheels came off in the second half—the defense couldn't stop Manning, and the offense couldn't score nearly enough points to keep up. The loss of #2 wide receiver Jacoby Jones and right tackle Michael Oher to injuries (both inflicted accidentally by their own teammates) certainly didn't help, but I get the feeling that even with these players it still would have been a rout (although it likely would have been a closer game).

It's not time to panic, though—it's a long season, there were a lot of things working against the Ravens in this game, and this is one of the toughest opponents they will face this year. Now they have a mini bye week (they don't play again until the Sunday after next) and they get to play their next game in Baltimore against the Cleveland Browns. If that team, which hasn't beaten the Ravens since 2007, has the same kind of game against Baltimore that the Broncos had, then it's time to get worried.

But the Ravens had similar beatdowns last year and still made it to the playoffs and eventually won the Super Bowl. Their habit, for better or worse, is to win what they need to win when they need to win it, and riding out these highs and lows is part of the stress (and joy) of being a fan.


9.9.13
UGA had a tough loss to Clemson their first game, and then they faced South Carolina in Athens, a team that has beaten them for three years straight, including a serious ass-kicking last year. But the Bulldogs came through, and Aaron Murray, in his senior year, finally got rid of the albatross of never having beaten the Gamecocks in his UGA career.

I'm still growing into the college football thing, but you get a quick education living down here in the heart of SEC country. I'm pretty settled on UGA as my team, mostly because they're really fun to watch—even when they're dominating, they make enough mistakes that you feel like the game is always in jeopardy. I'm still getting familiar with the other teams they play regularly and getting a sense for how these games feel different then NFL games, but given how many Bulldogs fans there are in Atlanta, there are plenty of folks around who can bring me up to speed.


9.10.13
I know there has been a lot of sports talk on here lately, but we're nearing the postseason for baseball and the college and pro football seasons just started. So here's some more:

The only good thing to come out of this first week of play for the Ravens is that all the other AFC North teams also lost their opening games, and they each lost to much weaker opponents than Denver (who may well be the toughest team the Ravens play this year despite the grueling set of matchups traditionally awarded to the Super Bowl winner).

Next week the division plays itself, with Cleveland in Baltimore and Pittsburgh in Cincinnati, which means that two teams will be 1-1 and tied for the division lead and the other two will be 0-2. The Browns did not shine in their season opener at home against Miami, so hopefully playing against a lesser opponent in front of a home crowd, and playing their first real game in Baltimore since winning the Super Bowl, will give the Ravens the spark they need to get back on track and start looking like a playof team again.


9.11.13
...


9.12.13
While on vacation, I finished off a few more books of varying quality. First up was The Violinist's Thumb: And Other Lost Tales of Love, War, and Genius, as Written by Our Genetic Code, written by Sam Kean. I had previously read Kean's The Disappearing Spoon, about the development of the periodic table, and although I was less interested at the outset in the history of genetics (which I'm more familiar with), I liked his writing style well enough that I decided to give it a try.

It turns out that there's a lot I didn't know/understand about genetics, especially developments over the past 20 years or so, and I ended up liking this book better than The Disappearing Spoon. There weren't as many anecdotes/short biographies of the people involved in advancing our understanding of genetics, which is one of the features I really liked about The Disappearing Spoon, but it was overall a much more coherent narrative that also expanded my knowledge in a meaningful way. Both books are great, but if you're looking for somewhere to start with Kean, The Violinist's Thumb is a better choice (and also much more relevant to what's happening in science right now).

Next I tackled Michael Lewis' (of Moneyball and The Blind Side fame) debut book, Liar's Poker, about his time spent among the sharks of Wall Street early in his life. I've been meaning to read this book for a while, but when I saw that I could borrow it for free using the Kindle Lending Library, I downloaded it immediately.

It was as informative and entertainingly written as the later books that he is best known for, and it's especially interesting because of the financial history it lays out: the book is basically about how the junk bond and subprime mortgage markets were created, and when he ends the book with the Black Monday stock market crash on October 19, 1987, you get the sense he's doing so because he assumed that would put an end to all the shenanigans he was chronicling in the book, that this period of excess and roulette-wheel approach to the markets would be corrected once exposed by the crash.

Instead, Wall Street took these practices to even further extremes (although it found new ways to mask them from regulators and from the public), and the book actually ends up being a history of the origins of the practices that led to the housing market crash of 2007. All Wall Street learned was how to play their financial shell games better, to the point where the excesses of the 80s were dwarfed by the excesses of the 2000s. It's a bit depressing when you come to that conclusion, and I'm guessing that it's this realization that will be the subject for Lewis' more recent book on this subject, The Big Short, which I have subsequently downloaded from the Kindle Lending Library but which I haven't started to read yet.


9.13.13
The next book I tackled was Fantasy Life by Matthew Berry, which is about fantasy sports. Actually, it's mostly either a) a history of Matthew Berry's professional (and to a small extent personal) life, which includes his early (and fairly successful) career as a Hollywood writer and his gradual transistion to a writer and analyst of fantasy sports, leading up to his current job at ESPN; or b) anecdotes from random fantasy sports players (presumably solicited through email or ESPN chats) about the weird traditions of their leagues.

I did not really like this book, mostly because the former two topics are pretty boring, and because Berry's tone is so relentlessly optimistic that it starts to great. A large number of the chapters would unfold in the following way:

  1. Tell a paragraph-long story about some tradition/coincidence/event in a the history of a particular fantasy league.
  2. Beginning a new paragraph-long story about another tradition/coincidence/event in a the history of a different fantasy league with something like, "If you thought that last story was crazy, wait til you hear this one!"
  3. Repeat step 2 a couple dozen times.

I guess I was expecting that there would be some sort of attempt to tell the history of fantasy sports mixed in with his personal stories, and that the anecdotes from random fantasy players would be more sidebar kind of information. Instead, that was the bulk of the text, and there was almost nothing about the development of the Strat-O-Matic baseball board game that is the foundation of fantasy baseball (which is itself the foundation of all fantasy sports).

We learn about how Berry became involved creating his own fantasy sports analysis web site, which was eventually bought by ESPN, and how he became an on-air personality for analyzing fantasy sports, but almost nothing about the people who actually created the mechanisms of fantasy sports and how those systems evolved over time. We also don't learn anything about how fantasy has impacted real sports and vice versa, most notably how the numbers-oriented baseball fans who played Strat-O-Matic (people like Bill James) created entirely new metrics on how to evaluate players (the subject of Moneyball by Michael Lewis, one of the authors I wrote about yesterday).

Light and breezy don't begin to adequately describe the absolute lack of real content and the overly-bouyant tone of this book. Matthew Berry seems like a nice guy, and I wish him the best of luck with his life. I may occasionally listen to his fantasy analysis on ESPN, but the odds of me ever reading a book by him again are incredibly low.


9.16.13
The Ravens won their first game of the season, but it wasn't the kind of dominating win that fans had hoped for after the brutal beating at Denver last week. It was their home opener, where they have a fantastic won/loss record during the Harbaugh/Flacco era, against Cleveland, a team they haven't lost to since 2007. No matter how bad they are, wins against Cleveland never come easy, but this particular win was one of the worst for the Ravens, and it doesn't restore the faith in the team's ability to win going into next week's matchup against Houston, a team that, like Denver, beat them badly during the regular season last year.

The first half was an unmitigated disaster from an offensive standpoint. The opening drive was strong, but after a pass that should have been caught for a touchdown was dropped, the usually-reliable Justin Tucker missed a 51 yard field goal. Yes, that's a pretty long field goal, but definitely makable for a player like Tucker. The Ravens didn't get another true scoring opportunity until close to the end of the first half when Tucker was called out to attempt a 44 yard field goal, which he also missed. Meanwhile, the defense played pretty well, holding Cleveland to six points on two field goals, leaving the Ravens down 6-0 heading into the second half.

Even though the Ravens had a couple of strong drives during the second half, scoring two touchdowns, their offense was still pretty anemic, and on their best drive of the half, they seemed more lucky than good. Offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell stuck to some very Cam Cameron-like playcalling, running the ball on the first two downs for several series first downs in a row, leaving Joe Flacco in a third and long situation that he was consistently able to bail himself out of. Again, this felt more lucky than anything, and that strategy doesn't inspire much confidence thinking about next week's game, where Baltimore hosts the Texans and a defense that completely shut down the Ravens last year.

A win is a win, and the Ravens made a habit of winning ugly during their Super Bowl season last year, but it would have been nice to see them really dominate in this game. That didn't happen by a long shot, and even though it's only the second week of the season, you have to start wondering if this team has the talent, the experience, and the fire to make another strong postseason run this year.


9.17.13
I stumbled on two movies on HBO recently that I was pretty pleased with finding. The first was Clear History, a made-for-HBO movie starring Larry David and a small galaxy of mid-level comedy stars: Jon Hamm, Kate Hudson, Michael Keaton, Amy Ryan, Bill Hader, Danny McBride, and a few others.

The plot isn't really that important; suffice it to say, if you like Curb Your Enthusiasm, you'll probably like this movie, and if you don't, you won't. It plays out like a long-form episode of that show with some different players and locations, but with Larry David still essentially being Larry David. I'm a big fan of Curb Your Enthusiasm, so I enjoyed the movie quite a bit. But your enjoyment level will likely correlate pretty directly with your enjoyment level of that show.


9.18.13
The other movie that I came across purely by accident was American Splendor, which is oddly part documentary and part dramatic biography of Cleveland underground cartoonist Harvey Pekar. The movie shares its title with Pekar's autobiographical comic book series, which he has been publishing since 1976. He doesn't actually draw the comics himself, but instead writes the words and sketches out scenes with stick figures while various artists bring te work to life visually. His first collaborator was his friend Robert Crumb, but over the course of his career he has worked with dozens of illustrators.

For the non-documentary parts of the movie, Pekar is played by Paul Giamatti, who I either love or hate depending on the role (loved him as the radio exec in Howard Stern's Private Parts, hated him as the title character in HBO's John Adams miniseries). Typically the roles I like him in are supporting ones, but here he's the star, and I love him. His knack for playing angry/grumpy/gloomy fits perfectly with Pekar's personality, to the point where when they intercut footage of the real Harvey and Giamatti playing Harvey, it's not really all that jarring.

I can honestly say I've never seen a movie like this before where they intercut the dramatic, actor-portrayed scenes with footage from the actual events featuring the actual people and also with documentary-style interviews with the actual people. One of the best moments for me was when the actors were in costume but out of character and sharing snacks at the craft services table with the real people that they were portraying. It kind of summed up the whole endearing weirdness not only of the movie but of Pekar's relationship with the audience of his autobiographical comic book—even though they have great insight into who he is, the visual style of the artists he's worked with is so different that his appearance changes radically depending on who's drawing him, and it's possible to have several images of Pekar and the people in his life planted in your brain simultaneously, the same way that there are slightly different versions of Pekar and his supporting cast sharing the movie set together.

After watching the movie, I read up on Pekar and discovered that he passed away in 2010. I'm not sure I've convinced myself to read his books after seeing the movie, but there's no doubt in my mind that he was a unique talent who had a huge impact on the readers and artistic communities he shared his work with. His stronger appeal for me might be as an outsider artist, a man so consumed with ideas that he found a way to get them out despite lacking the visual artistic talent to draw his works directly. That kind of burning intensity for creation has always attracted me, and the way this was portrayed in the movie was a big part of the reason I liked it so much.


9.19.13
I had lunch with our account rep from a vendor that we work with a couple of weeks ago, and the conversation drifted into sports, beginning with my observation that Georgians are much more focused on college football than the NFL and how pro football was the center of the universe up in Baltimore. This then led to recounting of the devotion of Ravens fans, including the Purple Friday tradition where everyone wears their jersey (or something purple if their workplace is more formal) on the Fridays before Sunday games.

Unbeknownst to me, the account rep was from Massachusetts, so I was then treated to a typical Boston fan's opinions about how not only are their teams the best, but their fans are also the best. The rest of the country knows that New Englanders are wrong on both counts, but it's pointless to argue with them. So finding this article on the web—Why Your Team Sucks 2013: New England Patriots—was a nice tonic from having to hear about the greatness of everything Boston-based.

The best quote (which not coincidentally involves the Ravens) was from the first paragraph: "When Joe Flacco is the best player on the field in your home stadium in the playoffs two years in a row, you are not poised for some magical return to dominance. Also, fuck you." I know that's a bit of a backhanded slap at Flacco, but it's the obvious punch in the face to Pats fans that I'm focused on.


9.20.13
The Ravens play the Texans in Baltimore this Sunday, and they really need to make a statement with this game. The Texans are a very good team who beat the tar out of the Ravens in Houston last season, and I'd be lying if I didn't think there was a chance of that happening again with how anemic our offense has been and how good Houston's defense is.

Even if they don't win, they need to keep it close. But they really need to win. A loss here obviously doesn't put an end to their season, but it would start to give you the sense that it's going to take too long to right the ship and have a record strong enough to get us into the playoffs with all the defections in the offseason and the injuries this season (in addition to Jacoby Jones, who we lost in the season opener for 4-6 weeks, it looks like we'll be without star running back Ray Rice for at least this week and possibly more).

Both the offensive and defensive units need to have time to gel, and I still have confidence that once they do, this will be a pretty tough football team to beat. The pieces are all there, they just have to figure out how they all fit together. But there's a big difference in their chances to make the playoffs if that process takes four weeks versus eight weeks; the former means the team could take a winning record in the second half of the season and just get better from there, while the latter could mean a mediocre season where things don't get on track until it's too late for it to mean anything this year.


9.23.13
Yesterday's game was the kind of game the Ravens needed, especially since they go on the road for two games in a row the next two weeks. There are still definitely things to work on, but the defense was formidable, and that's what's going to keep us in games while we work out the kinks with the offense.

Early on it looked like it might be another blowout for the Texans (who beat Baltimore by 30 points in their regular season meeting last year) as they quickly made their way downfield, but the defense held them to a field goal. Houston ate a ton of time off the clock with that drive, though, and the Ravens' offense was quickly off the field and watching Houston make another methodical march back towards the red zone. The defense held them off again, however, and even though the Texans were dominating all the offensive stat categories heading into the second quarter, they were still only up by 6 points.

The Ravens finally answered with their own solid drive that ended with a field goal, but then the Ravens D and special teams took over, intercepting Matt Schaub and returning it for a touchdown, followed less than two minutes later by a punt return for a touchdown. The Ravens were scoreless with just over four minutes left in the first half, but they headed into the locker room for halftime up 17-9.

In the second half both the offense and the defense kicked in, and they finally looked like a team that had a legitimate chance to defend their Super Bowl title against one of the better teams in the league. They ate up clock with the run game (which still has a lot of problems, especially with Ray Rice out for an indeterminate amount of time), but they did start to break it open a little bit, and overall Baltimore score another 13 points and prevented the Texans from scoring again.

They need to build on this game in their next two games against Buffalo and Miami, and if they can play as well as they did the second half against Houston, they could come back home with a strong 4-1 record to start the season. Their

Also: I'm thoroughly enjoying the utter collapse of the Steelers, who are now 0-3 to start the season, having gotten pretty soundly controlled by Tennesee and Cincinnati and getting curb stomped by Chicago this week. I know a good rivalry is only really good when both teams are playing well, but I hate Pittsburgh so much that I'll sacrifice a year of great games against them to see them have to slog through a season that puts them at the bottom of the NFL and out of playoff contention before we get to November.


9.24.13
I've worked for the same boss, with one brief six month interruption, for over 11 years now. And today (hopefully—it's already been rescheduled three times since the original date in early August) will be my first formal performance review.

I'm not expecting this to be a stressful experience—after all, this is the same person who, after I'd worked for him for a decade and he moved on to a new institution, spent months recruiting me to come with him and continue the work we'd done together in a new venue—but I'm stressed about it nonetheless.

This stress is irrational—it's a leftover once-bitten-twice-shy reaction to one of my first bosses, who would spend the whole year telling you what a good job you were doing and would then take you out to a very public, very crowded place for lunch to do your review, during which he would completely tear you down. I later came to realize that this was a strategy to make it so that you didn't protest whatever your raise was—by the time he was done with you, you just felt fortunate to still have a job no matter how well you knew you'd been doing that job—but at the time this happened, I was still very young and the first time it happened it completely took me by surprise and creating a reptile-brain fear reaction to the whole annual review process.

My rational brain knows that this review will be no big deal, but I'm still anxious about it, especially because, despite our nearly twelve year working relationship, I have no history with my boss around the performance review process since we've never done one before.


9.25.13
My review went fine. No big deal. The main takeaway from my boss was that I was my own harshest critic and that the review that he would hand in to HR would be more appreciative of my performance and less critical than the self-evaluation that I turned into him.

This is mostly what I expected, but it's still nice to have it out of the way. Maybe now I can finally start to get over that old boss who made the performance review process such a negative and unfair one.


9.26.13
Agents of SHIELD (I'm not going to plug Marvel every time I write about this show, nor am I going to put in all those infuriating periods) was not as bad as the critical response had led me to believe, but it's also not as strong as you might have hoped for from a new Joss Whedon show. I mean, we're all comparing every television project he does from now on to Firefly, and on that scale, it's not even close to the debut episode for that show (either "The Train Job", which was actually the first episode aired, or the actual pilot, which didn't show up until later in the cruelly short first (and only) season.

Compared to, say, Dollhouse, it was a better introductory episode, but it's hard to tell if that's because there's less universe explaining to do with a Marvel property than there was with the completely new world of Dollhouse. The cast is going to take some time to gel—they didn't feel like a team yet, and they certainly didn't have the instant chemistry that was established by the Serenity crew.

And Chloe Bennet's Skye, who, as a new recruit and recent civilian, is probably supposed to be the character that viewers most identify with early on, is going to have to find a different tone quickly—right now she feels like she's mocking the somewhat cliched nature of her role rather than inhabiting it. She's so outsider-y that the effect is to take us outside of the world the show is trying to create rather than being a SHIELD outsider from within that world. When a character that is supposed to help introduce you to the unique reality of a fictional universe instead makes you continually question the validity of that universe, you probably need to rethink that character. There are a lot of opportunities for sly, humorous meta commentary in a show like this, but she's too meta for a show that's still trying to figure itself out.

I'm still excited to see where Whedon might take this show, and I'm willing to give him a few episodes to do that. If he can eventually make me care even half as much about this group of characters as I did the crew on Firefly, this could become one of the few broadcast network dramas worth watching.


9.27.13
There are very rarely any real gimme or even easy games in the NFL, but this Sunday's game against the Buffalo Bills is one of the few games on the Ravens schedule this year that on paper looks like one they should win convincingly. But the Ravens always seem to find a way to make even the easy stuff hard, so although I'm optimistic about coming away from this game with a 3-1 record, I'm sure that Baltimore's path to that goal will be more treacherous than it needs to be.


9.30.13
The Ravens played horribly yesterday. The surprising thing is not that they lost—anytime you give up five interceptions you don't deserve to win—it's that they still had a legitimate shot at winning with under two minutes left in the game. The defense actually played pretty well, and kept the team in the game despite the offense, which couldn't get anything going—the run game continued to be non-existent, the receivers dropped way to many throws, and Flacco made a lot of poor decisions. The Ravens seem to do this a lot—lose to an on-paper inferior team the week after an emotional victory over a much tougher opponent—so let's hope this was just one of those bad, embarrassing weeks, that they'll rebound from next week.

And although that uneccesary roughness call that essentially ended the game was total bullshit—after twice pretending to take a knee so he could burn extra seconds off the clock, the Ravens finally tackled the Bills' quarterback the third time he did it, which immediately drew a flag from the referees)—I'm not deluded enough about the way Baltimore was playing that they would have had any legitimate shot to win the game if they had gotten the ball back with less than 10 seconds on the clock. But still, it was a bullshit call, and I hope if Buffalo pulls that crap again, the next defense also hammers the QB (without waiting for him to do it three times before they send him a message).

The good news is that the AFC North has been pretty terrible all around this year, so Baltimore is sitting in a three way tie for first with their 2-2 record. And although I care about the Ravens winning more than I do the Steelers losing, I have to say that it warms my heart to see Pittsburgh off to an 0-4 start, their worst record to open a season in my lifetime.

In other sports news, the Braves waltzed into the NL East division crown after being at the top of the division all season. They were 7 games in the lead by early June and they never looked back, widening the gap to over 15 games by August before settling for a 10 game lead to close out the season. The only slight disappointment is that they didn't finish with the best record in the NL, finishing one game behind St. Louis and losing home field advantage for the duration of the playoffs (although they will have it for the divisional round against the Dodgers).

After their stupid loss in the one game Wild Card showdown last season (Chipper Jones' last game that featured one of the worst calls in the history of baseball) and a long drought of significant progress in the playoffs, it would be nice to see this team make a serious run. It's too much too hope that the two professional teams I root for could both win a championship in the same year after the Ravens won the Super Bowl in January, but this is one of the most balanced teams Atlanta has fielded in a long time, and I don't get the sense that they're going to burn out early facing the best teams in the league like so many other Braves playoff teams have.

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