Here’s the schedule for the Ray Brothers during Handy Week.
As far as the calendar is concerned, today is far less significant than yesterday. Yesterday was Easter. Today is the day after Easter. It doesn’t even have its own name. The best we can describe it is the day after Easter.
People don’t gather with their families today. Churches aren’t opening their doors and welcoming the masses. No, today, everyone woke up, and for the most part, slipped back into their normal routine. The holiday is over, life is back to the grind.
Or is it?
I was reading a passage in Deuteronomy last week and was struck by its implication for us as Christians in light of Holy Week:
“When the LORD your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you - a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant - then when you eat and are satisfied, be careful that you do not forget the LORD, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.”
(Deuteronomy 6:10-12, NIV)
Why do we celebrate Easter? Because Christ died on the cross and was resurrected, which means we too have been delivered out of slavery. And now as we stand in the day after Easter, we must always live as if it is the day after Easter!
Just as the Israelites walked into a paradise which they did not contribute to making in any way, we too have been led by God into the Eternal Paradise, and this is not just the paradise of heaven to come, but the reality of being reconciled to God here and now!
Today is not just the day after Easter. No, today is the day that the reality of the Resurrection takes hold in our lives. Today is the day that we “do not forget,” it is the day that we remember all that God has given us, and live accordingly.
This passage falls in the middle of Moses instructing the Israelites to remember God’s commands and to obey them and to avoid falling into the trap of worshipping the gods of the pagans. Moses was telling the Israelites that they must not accept the gift God had given them only to ungratefully live selfish lives, turning to other gods who had provided nothing for them, or claiming that they themselves had earned their citizenship in the Promised Land.
In the Promised Land, the Israelites were drinking from wells that they did not dig, they were eating of trees that they did not plant, they were living in cities they did not build on land that they could never have conquered were it not for the might of the Lord. Basically, the Israelites were given a penthouse to live in with all of the amenities, when they could not even afford a cardboard box to live in on their own.
We too are enjoying the fruit of work we did not do. Paul reminds us of this in his letter to the church in Ephesus:
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast.”
(Ephesians 2:8-9, NIV)
Christ’s work on the cross and his resurrection from the grave is the only basis for our salvation. We could never earn any part of it, just as the Israelites did not and could not acquire the Promised Land on their own volition.
So on this, the day after Easter, let us heed the advice that Moses offered to the Israelites and “do not forget the LORD”, who has mercifully and miraculously delivered us from the slavery of our sins and established us in the Promised Land, not as mere citizens, but as the sons and daughters of the One and Only King, and may we live everyday in the reality of the day after Easter!
Baseball’s back! And while the Braves’ first game definitely didn’t go as I would have scripted it, it was still great to see them playing in a real stadium, wearing real uniforms, and against all major league players (Jose Constanza excepted, of course). It was also great to see Tyler Pastornicky get that first hit.
Now that the first one is under our belt, here are some bold numerical predictions for the 2012 Braves, although these probably aren’t the numbers you’ll find predicted by more “respectable” writers as the season gets off the ground.
6 - The number of bench clearing brawls the Braves will have since Carlos Zambrano plays on one of their division rivals
3 - The number of times Fredi Gonzalez will be ejected
5,280 - The number of times Fredi Gonzalez will call for a sacrifice bunt
4 - Brian McCann’s stolen base total for the year
4 - Michael Bourn’s stolen base total for the first week
0 - The number of times someone will say they wish Derek Lowe was still on the team
114 - The number of games Chipper will play in
124 - The number of games Jonny Venters will pitch in
2 - The number of bat boys Livan Hernandez will eat
29 - John Smoltz’s number, which better get retired this season
94 - The number of wins I’m predicting for the Braves
And I think that about does it. Happy Opening Day!
Here are 6 reasons I’m optimistic about the Braves in 2012:
What improvements you ask? The real Dan Uggla, healthy editions of Jason Heyward and Martin Prado, and a full season of Michael Bourn. And this is not just me being optimistic. Dan Uggla single-handedly created a shortage of baseballs in Braves spring training. Well, maybe not really, but he was crushing the ball from day one. Imagine the Dan Uggla from the second half of last year for a full year. That’s a big presence in any lineup. Now imagine Prado as what he is: a high average hitter with power from time to time. Do you know what happens when you put Prado and Bourn in front of the real Dan Uggla? He knocks them in. Again and again.
As for Jason Heyward, he looks so much better at the plate this spring than he did last year. Is he all the way back yet? No, but he’s making strides daily. Jason isn’t going to hit 30 home runs this year, but I think he’s going to be moderately productive, and by the season’s end, I think he’ll be ready to move back into the top half of the lineup.
Kris Medlen is back
Last year, the Braves bullpen was extremely good, but they really only had four good pitchers in it (Kimbrel, Venters, O’Flaherty, and Martinez). This year, each of those four will be back, and now they’ll be joined by another pitcher who is just as good as any of them: Kris Medlen. I know a lot of people have been calling for Medlen to be in the rotation, but I love him in the bullpen. Now, he gets to contribute three or four times a week, rather than once every five days. Now, when the game’s on the line and Fredi has pitched Kimbrel, Venters, and O’Flaherty nine(teen) days in a row, there’s another dominant arm down in the ‘pen. Having Medlen in the bullpen will not only save a few games for the team this season, but it might just keep Fredi Gonzalez from using the Big 3 until their arms fall off.
Juan Francisco provides depth at 3B when Chipper is out
The end of Chipper’s Hall of Fame is getting closer everyday, and unfortunately, Chipper will be the first to tell you that one of the ways we know it is that his body keeps him from being able to play everyday. The Braves have been fortunate the last couple of years to have Martin Prado available to spell Chipper at third from time to time, but this year, having Prado at third and someone else in left field significantly diminishes not only the lineup, but the bench. Now the Braves have Juan Francisco to play third competently, and perhaps with power, keeping Prado in left, and Diaz and Hinske on the bench to pinch hit in key situations. I like the depth this move creates, and it could also have implications for Chipper’s replacement next year. But we’ll worry about next year next year.
I mentioned this a little earlier, but these guys are filthy. No other bullpen has this abundance of power arms, and adding Medlen to the mix doesn’t even seem fair. The Braves bullpen means that if teams don’t score on the starting pitcher, they might not score at all. I like the pressure that puts on the other team, and the confidence it should give the Braves. I also like that Kimbrel has a full season under his belt now. The closer’s role, perhaps more than any other role on the team, is one that benefits from experience, and now Kimbrel has been through pretty much anything a major league season will throw at him.
This guy is good, and he just keeps getting better. Everyone keeps saying we should temper our expectations, but I just don’t understand why. All Freddie has done since he got called up in September of 2010 is get better and better, and this spring is no exception. Watching his at bats the last two weeks have made me a believer: Freddie Freeman is the real deal. I don’t mean he’s going to be a solid first basemen for the Braves. That’s a given at this point. I mean he’s a bonafide star. Freddie (who, by the way, tied for the National League lead in HR’s this spring) looks poised for a breakout year. And I can’t wait to watch.
How does Frank Wren make me optimistic about the Braves’ chances in 2012? Because I have complete confidence in his ability to put the best team on the field while keeping his foot on the gas for the future. I have no doubt that Frank Wren knows exactly what he’s doing at all times. So if the Braves are in it at the trade deadline, he’s going to go out and get a player to make the team better, and he’s somehow going to do it without mortgaging the future chances of the team (something I still haven’t forgiven Schuerholz for doing when he acquired Mark Teixeira). So if I’m wrong about Uggla or Freeman having monster years, or if someone significant gets hurt (let’s hope it doesn’t come to that), I know that Wren can, has, and will go out and get someone to address whatever need we have. And a GM that can do that is essential to a competitive team.
There you have it: just a few of the reasons why I think this year is going to be much better than last year for the Braves. Tomorrow, I think I’ll make some numerical predictions, something I’ve never done before.
We’re closer than we’ve ever been to Opening Day 2012. Let’s go Braves!
After yesterday’s American League predictions, we continue our countdown to Opening Day (which should be a national holiday in my opinion) with the corresponding National League predictions. Here they are:
National League East: Philadelphia Phillies
I said yesterday I hate the Red Sox, and that is true. But there are two teams I hate even more than the Red Sox: the Mets and the Phillies. So this pick hurts, but I just can’t pick against that pitching. Having a rotation of Hallady, Lee, Hamels, Worley, and Blanton means you have a chance to win everyday, and since these guys generally pitch 14 innings per start, having a bullpen that is thinner than my hair doesn’t matter. Will their offense be weaker than it has in the past? Yes, but they will still score runs. Is Papelbon one of the five most annoying players in the league? Yes, but he can slam the door on a win with the best of them.
As much as it pains me to say it, the Phillies will win their sixth straight NL East crown. But this will be the last season in their streak. At least I hope it will be.
National League Central: St. Louis Cardinals
I know the trendy thing among writers is to pick against the Cardinals, but I just can’t do it. Sure, they lost Pujols and La Russa, but this is still a very good team, and I don’t see that anyone else in that division is better. Getting Adam Wainwright back is a boost for a rotation that was still pretty good without him, and while Carpenter is starting the year on the DL, he’ll be back, and even if he isn’t, they’ve won without him before. The bullpen could still be problematic, but as I said of the Blue Jays’ bullpen, they’ll be as good as they need to be.
Reds fans will disagree, but I never ever bet on a team managed by Dusty Baker (anyone remember the 2002 World Series?). The Cardinals will be around in October again, but this year, they’ll do it by winning their Division.
National League West: Arizona Diamondbacks
The Diamondbacks can pitch. I didn’t realize this until I watched them in the Postseason, but they really do have some arms. Their offense isn’t the Tigers or anything, but they’re nothing to scoff at. Their bullpen isn’t flashy, but they’ll sit people down with the best of ‘em. Add a very good up-and-coming manager in Kirk Gibson, and the Diamondbacks look to be a very dangerous team not only in the regular season, but on into October.
While everyone was busy declaring the Giants the team of the century after the 2010 World Series, the Diamondbacks calmly unseated the “champs” in the West, and will further distance themselves from them in 2012.
National League Wild Card #1: Atlanta Braves
Two weeks ago, I was afraid I was going to have to pick my Braves to be at home in October, but the last two weeks of Spring Training looked much better for them. I will give you all the reasons I’m cautiously optimistic about this team in a post tomorrow, but for now, let it suffice to say that I think the Braves will be in it come October, and that they will do it by winning the Wild Card play in game.
National League Wild Card #2: Los Angeles Dodgers
This is my surprise pick for the National League. The Dodgers have some great young stars on both the pitching side of things and the offensive side of things (is there any team on the planet that wouldn’t welcome Matt Kemp or Clayton Kershaw into their respective dugouts with open arms? I didn’t think so). They also have Andre Ethier and James Loney, both of whom had off years last year by their standards, a solid manager in Don Mattingly, and the proverbial monkey off of their back now that Magic Johnson and company have vanquished the monster known as Frank McCourt.
It’ll take a couple of small moves before the trade deadline, but I really think the Dodgers will claim the second Wild Card spot in the senior circuit.
Team most likely to wreck my picks: Florida Marlins
If the Marlins are healthy and keep the drama to a minimum, they’ll be there in October. That’s a fact. I just don’t think they’ll do either of those things, and as a result, will have a really nice, empty new stadium in October.
World Series: Detroit Tigers over Atlanta Braves
The Tigers are going to ride Verlander into the promised land, and I’m afraid it’s going to come at the expense of my Braves. It should be noted, however, that once you get into October, anything can happen. And maybe that anything will prove me wrong and send the World Series trophy back to where it belongs: Turner Field.
Well, there you have it, my picks for the 2012 MLB Season. Tomorrow, I’ll tell you a few reasons I’m optimistic about the Braves’ chances in 2012, and then it’ll be time to play ball!
This week marks the beginning of yet another season of Major League Baseball, which means that the time has come to officially declare my picks for the 2012 season. We’ll talk American League today and National League tomorrow. Spoiler alert: here are the results of the 2012 season for the American League:
AL East Winner: New York Yankees
The Yankees won their division last year, and they really only had one respectable, consistent starting pitcher. This offseason, they significantly upgraded their rotation, adding Hiroki Kuroda and subtracting A.J. Burnett (boy, am I glad he picked the Yankees over the Braves before the 2008 season!). Their rotation looked to be even deeper when they traded from Michael Pineda in the offseason, but with his injury and lackluster spring, I’m not so sure that trade is as good as it looked initially.
An upgraded rotation, combined with a potent offense featuring 2011 Home Run Derby Champion (which means nothing, but sounds impressive) Robinson Cano and a bullpen anchored by the inimitable Mariano Rivera will result in another division championship for the Yanks and a chance to play for more in October.
AL Central Winner: Detroit Tigers
This was probably the easiest pick on the list, which probably means it will be a much closer race than I expect. But whatever happens, I am confident the Tigers will win the Central crown. Reigning MVP and Cy Young winner Justin Verlander is, in my opinion, the best pitcher in MLB, and I have him repeating as AL Cy Young winner in 2012. An already murderous offense added slugger Prince Fielder to compliment Miguel Cabrera, and their bullpen is as deep as any with Jose Valverde closing games and Joaquin Benoit setting him up.
The Tigers would be good enough to win the Central pretty much any year, but with weaker than normal competition this year, they should cruise into October.
AL West Winner: Los Angeles Angels
The Angels made the biggest splash this offseason, signing the best player in the game, Albert Pujols, to be their new first baseman. And as if that wasn’t enough, they inked a deal with the best free agent pitcher on the market, C.J. Wilson, to be their fourth starter. No, that isn’t a typo. C.J. Wilson is their fourth starter, behind Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, and Ervin Santana. In other words, the Angels have 4 starters that would start on Opening Day for almost any other team in the league. This wealth of pitching makes it easier to overlook a lack of depth in the bullpen and the question of whether Pujols has enough protection in the lineup.
I am always hesitant to pick against Mike Scioscia or Albert Pujols. Now that they’re in the same dugout, this is a no brainer. It won’t be easy, but the Angels will regain the crown in the West.
AL Wild Card #1: Texas Rangers
While they don’t have the experience of the Angels, the Rangers’ starting rotation is pretty stellar in its own right. With Colby Lewis, last year’s surprise postseason hero Derek Holland, Matt Harrison, and closer-turned-starter Neftali Feliz, along with the extravagantly expensive Japanese import Yu Darvish, the Rangers will be starting a capable pitcher every day of the week. The Ranger offense can score runs in their sleep. The bullpen, however, is suspect. So because of the bullpen uncertainties and the youth of the pitching staff, I took the Angels over the Rangers to win the division.
But the Rangers will be in it come October. And as the Cardinals proved last year, no one cares about missing out on the division title when you bring home the World Series trophy, something the Rangers are more than capable of doing.
AL Wild Card #2: Toronto Blue Jays
I’m not sure I can justify this pick, but I really want it to happen, and I really don’t think it’s that far-fetched. The Blue Jays can score runs, there is no doubt about it, especially if Brett Lawrie has the kind of season I think he will. The question is how good their pitching really is. As evidenced by my choosing them to claim the first ever second Wild Card spot in the AL, I’m taking the over on the Jays’ pitching. I think Ricky Romero is going to be the ace of a surprisingly good rotation, and I think the bullpen will be as good as it has to be.
October baseball will be returning to Canada, for one game at least (I wouldn’t count on them to make it to a Divisional Series).
Team most likely to mess up my picks: Boston Red Sox
Look, I hate the Red Sox, and I think Bobby Valentine is a joke, so I’m probably picking them to miss the playoffs from a most unobjective point of view. Over the course of a 162-game season, however, I just think the Red Sox have too much ego and too many questions to make the playoffs. Unfortunately, along with those egos and questions, they have plenty of talent to overcome each of those problems. So if the Red Sox do make the playoffs, I won’t be surprised, but on April 2nd, 2012, I’m boldly predicting they’ll be watching from home come October.
One of my favorite developments of the last several years is TV on DVD. I absolutely love picking up a season of a show on DVD, be it a familiar show or a show that’s new to me, and sitting down and watching it commercial free and without having to wait a week in between episodes. In fact, the second year I was in college, I started a new Christmas tradition of my own: I would purchase a new season of a TV show that I had never watched before. I found this was a great way to celebrate being done with finals, plus it made sense economically, because Best Buy was always kind enough to mark down Season 1 of a show I wanted to watch, for example, 24 or 30 Rock, to $14.99 the week before Christmas. (Little did I know I was actually falling for a very clever trick, because Best Buy knew I would get hooked on the show and then want to watch season 2, which they were conveniently selling at full price. But I digress…)
In addition to the instant gratification of having the next episode readily available, watching TV shows on DVD has another distinct advantage over watching in “real time”: getting to see the show’s story unfold from the beginning.
One of my favorite shows of all time is Friends, but I was much too young to watch it when it premiered in 1994. As a result, when I started watching it about halfway through the series, there were several jokes I didn’t get because I had not seen previous episodes and there were a number of story lines I didn’t understand the full significance of because I had missed the groundwork that had been laid in previous seasons.
But once I started with season 1 on DVD and watched all the way through to season 10, I became a Friends expert. If you don’t believe me, just ask my wife. She can tell you. I can quote entire scenes and am quite adept at relating occurrences in real life to things that happened to Ross, Rachel, Monica, Chandler, Joey, and Phoebe. It’s quite impressive really (or annoying, depending on who you ask). I went from being a casual fan to a Friends scholar simply by watching the whole thing.
Believe it or not, this principle applies to the Bible as well. You see, for many of us, we’ve picked up on the “significant” Bible stories in Sunday school or Vacation Bible School or from sermons we’ve heard over time, much as we might pick up on certain elements of a television show by catching reruns sporadically. And while we probably understand what happens in those stories factually, we’re missing out by not having the complete Biblical context. Our knowledge of the Bible is like a connect the dots puzzle that hasn’t been filled in yet.
But when we make an effort to read the Bible in its entirety, we start seeing patterns and developments that turn what had previously been a seemingly random grouping of “dots” into a complete picture. Suddenly these stories we thought we understood fully have an even deeper layer of meaning that we’ve completely missed out on because we didn’t know the whole story! And this is no accident. God’s Word is laid out intentionally, and when we study it in its entirety, we begin to develop a full Biblical theology.
As we put the finishing touches on 2011 and start looking to what we hope to accomplish in 2012, I challenge you to put reading the Bible from cover to cover at the top of your list. You can easily find a plan that lays out what you should read each day to accomplish this goal, and if you get behind, don’t stress: just pick up where you left off and keep going. It might take you a year, or a little more, or maybe a little less, but once you read the Bible all the way through, you’ll find that you won’t ever be able to look at the stories you already know the same way again.
(If you would like to look over some Bible reading plans, here are several good ones. I particularly recommend the Daily Reading Bible plan, which has an Old Testament reading, a Psalm, and a New Testament reading each day, which leads you to read through the Old Testament once in a year, and the New Testament and Psalms twice.)