The One Where Luda Tries His Hand at Reviewing Taylor Swift’s Concert

Just when you think you’ve seen Taylor Swift’s best fastball, she dials up another one and blows you away.

That’s exactly what happened on Friday night at Soldier Field during the first night of a two-show swing in Chicago. To be clear, 1989 is Swift’s best work. From top to bottom, it’s the best pop album of its era and among the best I’ve heard from any era. Her 1989 tour stop(s) in Chicago hit all the right notes and her Sunday show was hands down one of the best concerts I’ve ever attended. Following perfection is difficult, but Swift’s reputation tour gave it the ol’ college try and the results were pretty darn good.

Friday night’s offering leaned heavily on her most recent album, which comes as no surprise. When you have a good album, you’re bound to have hit records that can carry your live show. “…Ready For It” serves as an able lead-off hitter at the top, while her renditions of “Gorgeous,” “Delicate,” and “Getaway Car” hit all the right notes. Even “Look What You Made Me Do” sounded great, in part because it sounds better over an outdoor stadium sound system than it did when you first heard it over your car’s radio speakers, computer speakers, headphones, or wherever you heard it.

The song that put the show over (at least for me) was “Dress.” Swift purrs her way through her most seductive track (that’s totally NOT about Ed Sheeran 😉) as if to say, “Yeah, you didn’t think I had it in me did you? Well you were wrong. Surprise, bitch.”

Swift’s throwbacks were great too, as they brought balance and a certain bounce to the show. The “Style”/“Love Story”/“You Belong With Me” medley set some good vibes early. Splicing “Bad Blood” and “Should’ve Said No” had me in my feelings (in a good way) for a moment. And the transition from “Long Live” into “New Years Day” was as good as it gets and probably my second favorite moment of the night. (Bonus: If you’re a Cubs fan, listening to “Long Live” after the 2016 World Series run gives the song a whole new meaning and you can really feel it if you hear it live.)

Like any good Swift show, it closes strong with a sing-along that has everyone leaving on a high note. Good luck not singing “This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” on your walk out of the stadium.

As expected, the tour production was great. The return of the LED-lighted bracelets — a staple from the 1989 tour — was a nice touch. As were the giant snakes, which were chuckle-to-yourself funny. The second stage that extended out into the south end zone at Soldier Field added a different dynamic to the show. It made a show that had 50,000+ in attendance feel inclusive.

Swift puts on a good show from beginning to end. There’s energy throughout and the acoustic playing of some her songs provide necessary breaks in the action. If you like Taylor Swift, you’re probably going to enjoy her show. If you don’t, I’m sure someone else that you like is playing somewhere at some point this summer.

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No predictions, just some investments I made for the 2018 MLB season

Anyone can make a prediction about what is going to happen during the upcoming baseball season. You’ve probably read a million of them by now. In fact, there’s a good chance you’ve read some of mine in previous years.

Baseball’s 162-game trek is a grind, which makes it a great sport to make futures wagers on when you’re in Vegas. Just a little somethin’ somethin’ to keep me interested when I otherwise might drift off. So in lieu of a run-of-the-mill predictions piece, here are some cases where I put my money where my mouth is when it comes to baseball season.

Yu Darvish, Cubs RHP: 30/1 NL Cy Young

Darvish was a 12/1 or 15/1 AL Cy Young candidate last year, so to see this dip suggests there is an immense value in a pitcher who is another year removed from Tommy John Surgery. Maybe the odds are longer because he’s in a league with Kershaw and Scherzer, but that just adds to the value. He has two top-10 AL Cy Young finishes under his belt and is a four-time All-Star. If he rebounds from those poor World Series outings while pitching for a contender in a large market, he’ll generate a ton of Cy Young chatter.

Kyle Hendricks, Cubs RHP: 60/1 NL Cy Young

“Rick Porcello f—-d the game up.” That’s my go-to whenever I tell someone about this little wager. Because if Rick Porcello can win an AL Cy Young, Hendricks – a pitcher with a better arsenal who doesn’t have to pitch in the AL East – can do it on the NL side.

Hendricks is not so subtly rounding into a big-game pitcher for the Cubs. He started the pennant-clincher, the first World Series home game, and WSG7 in 2016, then followed that up by being the NLDS G1 and G5 starter in 2017.

In 13 starts after returning from the DL with a hand injury, Hendricks posted a 3-2 record … but a 2.19 ERA (3.38 FIP), 49.3 GB%, 3.79 K/BB, 8.31 K/9, and 1.18 WHIP while limiting opposing batters to a .248/.294/364 slash line in 317 PA. If Hendricks can post a full season worth of those numbers (ya know, kinda like he did in 2016) he represents a nice NL Cy sleeper.

Luis Severino, Yankees RHP: 10/1 AL Cy Young

He opened up at 15/1 or 12/1 depending on where you looked, but those numbers changed by the time I got to the window. This is why you always ask the latest odds before you place your bets. Clearly, lots of people thinking what I was thinking about Severino’s upside. His talent backed by the Yankees lineup should push him to the top of the “wins” leaderboard. And while that doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things, it still means a lot to some voters.

(Gotta keep the voters in mind when making these kinds of wagers.)

Stephen Strasburg, Nationals RHP: 15/1 NL Cy Young

Strasburg finished second in the NL Cy Young voting last year, when I also had him at 15/1 to win it. Let’s take another spin at the same cost and hope for the best.

gilcraps

There goes #GamblinAssMedina taking another roll of the dice.

Anthony Rizzo, Cubs 1B: 12/1 NL MVP

This number opened at 15/1 and it’s evident some others were thinking what I was when it came to Rizzo’s MVP value. He’s been consistent at the plate averaging 32 homers over the last four years and 106 RBI in the last three. If Rizzo hits the over on homers (I got it at 32 when it was originally set at 31.5) and gets into the 110+ RBI range, he’ll put himself in Joey Votto/Paul Goldschmidt territory. And because voters are humans, I think Rizzo’s off the field contributions might help him get some votes here, too.

MLB Regular Season HRs by Kris Bryant: OVER 32.5

Well, if I was going to take the OVER on Anthony Rizzo’s 32 home runs, I had to take it on Kris Bryant’s 32.5. Five projection modules shared on Fangraphs have Bryant hitting more than 33 homers in 2018. And because projections are conservative by nature, I feel good about this particular wager.

Willson Contreras, Cubs C: 300/1 NL MVP

Contreras has several qualities MVP voters seem to want in an MVP candidate. He is a top-3 bat at a demanding defensive position where leadership is demanded and is playing on a team that is believed to be a contender. At 300/1, it’s a long shot, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility that a top-3 offensive and defensive catcher gets major MVP consideration. Think Buster Posey in 2012.

Will the Rockies make the 2018 Playoffs? Yes +210

Even though #RockiesTwitter has an extreme case of rabbit ears, the team’s official Twitter account is actually #fun. The Rockies have a loaded bullpen, some interesting prospects (hello, Ryan McMahon!), and could be sparked by a late-spring return of Carlos Gonzalez. Oh, and they have the Coors Field factor going for them. This should be easy to root for and the value was too good to pass up.

MLB Regular Season Wins: Cubs OVER 93.5

The Cubs won 92 games in 2017 while nursing a hangover and jerking around for half the season. Jake Arrieta, John Lackey, and Brett Anderson have been replaced by Darvish, Jose Quintana, and Tyler Chatwood. The Cubs lose some certainty in the ‘pen because Wade Davis is in Colorado. But if you trusted the Cubs’ front office to build everything else on a World Series contender, I feel as if they should have earned your trust in building a competitive bullpen. And if not, we already know they’re willing to make the kind of deal that tightens things up on the back end.

Win 2018 World Series: Cubs 10/1

When the weekend before Christmas rolled around and there were still a ton of big-name players on the market, I figured the Cubs would pounce on the opportunity. So when I saw the Cubs sitting at 10/1 to win the World Series on Christmas Eve, I gave myself a present. Depending on where you’re getting the action, the Cubs can be anywhere between 5/1 and 8/1.

Best of luck to all our favorite teams and players.

Luda’s Attempt At An Album Review: Taylor Swift’s “Reputation”

At the 2:50 mark of track six on Taylor Swift’s newest album, a distorted (and seemingly distraught) Swift answers a call, but declares the “old Taylor” is dead.

Nine tracks later, the old Swift resurrects to deliver what I believe is the album’s best track.

And with that, this review — if you want to call it that — of Swift’s “Reputation” album was born.

The album is not bad. It doesn’t have any misguided tracks and doesn’t run long. The singles are worthy of repeat status, but aren’t quite peak Swift.

On the other hand, the album is not great … but that was to be expected after she crafted the perfect pop album in “1989.”

What we have in “Reputation” is a Swift who steps out with an unexpected sound that needs a few listens to totally comprehend, let alone appreciate.

If you’ve listed to Swift for any length of time, it would be understandable if you thought she’d revert to old tropes grieving failed relationships, yearning for old flames to rekindle, and lamenting life in the limelight. Instead, Swift goes after it all head on — for better or worse.

You want to buy Taylor Swift some kind of pseudo-villain as she pours into the album in an unexpected way, but you can’t really do it. You’ll try, fail, and realize the lesson was to have never tried in the first place.

“Reputation” is to Taylor Swift’s album collection what LeBron James joining the Miami Heat and masquerading as the bad guy was to the NBA. Or what Hulk Hogan at Bash at the Beach dropping a leg on a helpless Randy Savage was to sports entertainment.

The kicker here is that “Reputation” pretty much jacked the concepts of her mortal enemy Kanye West’s “Yeezus” and “808s” albums to do it.

It’s as if Vince McMahon himself instructed Swift to use West’s own finishing move on him to end the match.

(Bonus: If you’re a Kanye West fan who also likes Taylor Swift, there are a handful of Kanye-related Easter Eggs. There’s some stuff that’s obvious, while others are deep cuts. I won’t spoil them. Just know they’re there.)

And for the sake of this “review” we won’t dive into how the synths were colder and the content was more emotionally charged than Swift’s attempt at creating her own “Yeezus.” That’s for another blog post to be shared at a later date.

So if you’re looking for something to gripe about in the album, it’s that she doesn’t go all the way there with her intentions. Taylor teases bad-girl Swift by showing just the right amount of ankle. She wants to be your “End Game” … but she also wants to let you know the only reason she’s wearing this “Dress” is because she wants you to take it off and leave it hanging from the ceiling fan or something. She’s basically Sandy at the end of Grease.

And at the end of all this posturing, the old Taylor re-emerges in the album-closing “New Year’s Day” that paints a familiar picture of Swift dreaming on a perfect relationship. Go figure.

The End Part II: For Real This Time

World Series Game 7 ended with an innocent ground ball hit into the teeth of the shift that rolled into the waiting glove of Jose Altuve, who made an easy throw to first to complete a dream season.

The Houston Astros, who were born into Major League Baseball in 1962 as the Houston Colt .45’s, won the franchise’s first World Series by defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-1 on Wednesday, November 1, 2017.

It’s been a journey for the Astros, who lost 100+ games in three straight years from 2011 to 2013, and were bad enough to draw a 0.0 television rating in 2014 – a year in which they lost 92 games. From the ashes of a perennial loser, a champion was built. Like the narrative-slaying champions who preceded them in 2016, the 2017 title-winning Astros reaped the benefits of tanking and built a team of young, cost-controlled, and talented players and mixed it with hungry, grizzled veterans. Houston’s front office was ridiculed by fans desperate for competitiveness, shredded by media decrying their strategy, and hacked by disgruntled former co-workers in a storyline that would have been rejected by any Hollywood writer.

Good for the Astros for pulling through. Job well done in an arena where success comes with a 70 percent failure rate.

But what now?

By virtue of their 2016 World Series title, the Chicago Cubs currently have the shortest championship drought in baseball. But with three titles in 110 years, everyone knows the team has work to do to reach the mountaintop again.

President Theo Epstein’s job to re-open the Cubs’ championship window won’t be easy.

Chicago will likely see Jake Arrieta (free agency) and John Lackey (retirement) walk away. In Arrieta, they’ll lose the franchise’s best big-game pitcher. Lackey’s departure means the team will be without an edgy gamer who teammates loved and fans loved to hate. The two combined to make 121 starts and pitch 724.1 innings over the last two years. Yeah, the task is daunting. But it’s not the only one.

The Cubs need to rebuild a bullpen that faltered in October, and might be doing so without closer Wade Davis – who hits free agency with Arrieta and Lackey. Despite Epstein’s long-time reluctance to pay closers with hefty long-term deals on the open market, Davis is the free agent pitcher most likely to return. To put it in perspective, Epstein hasn’t handed a big-money, multi-year deal to a closer since Keith Foulke in December 2003 when he was the Boston Red Sox’s GM.

Epstein spoke glowingly of the Foulke signing, and also possibly gave us a clue regarding how he feels about the closer position:

“Going without a proven closer (in 2003) … was a result of not having that guy out there,” Epstein said. “We acquired Keith
Foulke because we think he’s one of the best pitchers in baseball. It’s certainly better to have one of those than not to have one of those.”

To be clear, having a good closer doesn’t mean your bullpen is good. Since the Cubs aren’t the only team in search of relief help, patching things together will be challenging. And after a historically awful time at the plate, one could argue the Cubs could use a bat. But I’m rambling, tired, and could use a good night’s sleep.

By the time the Cubs were eliminated from the playoffs in 2015, their holes were glaring. The team signed Ben Zobrist, Jason Heyward, Lackey, and re-signed Dexter Fowler with the idea of adding on-base and contact skills, elite defense, and an innings-eating arm. Each player contributed to a World Series title in 2016, making each worth the small fortune the Cubs paid in acquisition costs.

While I don’t believe they’ll spend wildly this offseason, I think this front office won’t go into 2018 not having addressed their very evident issues. The argument behind somewhat fiscally conservative this offseason lies in the free agency class of 2018-19 that looms. Keeping the kind of financial flexibility to sign a player of Bryce Harper’s magnitude should be a top priority for a franchise that doesn’t have the big-money TV deal they need in order to spend dollar-for-dollar with the Dodgers just yet.

Of course, we this offseason and an entire baseball season to be played before we get there. But how do we get through the offseason?

Seriously. Baseball season is over. For real this time.

Because of the World Baseball Classic, we had meaningful games from March until the start of November. There was more good than bad, as home runs and hard-throwers captivated fans. I guess this is where life gets interesting.

Thanksgiving is around the corner and Christmas will be here before you know it. Is it too soon to start planning out New Year’s Eve? Ha. Asks the guy who already has rough sketches regarding trips to Cleveland, Atlanta, San Francisco, and Las Vegas for baseball-related happenings in 2018. I’m not really looking forward to the holidays for obvious reasons. To be honest, I’m more geeked about the Star Wars trailer that premiered during Game 7:

Seriously. I jumped off my couch and started yelling “Star Wars trailer! Star Wars trailer! Star Wars Trailer!” as I tweeted something similar.

Now that it’s is over, I suppose I can return to normal-ish sleep and life schedules. I’ve been living in a baseball-first world for the better part of a month. I wonder if the people I love still love me after a month-long absence. I guess we’ll find out.

The End

The Chicago Cubs time as defending World Series champions ended in late October, going out with a whimper on a night when Jose Quintana (or anyone else wearing a Cubs uniform that night) didn’t have it as the Los Angeles Dodgers won their first pennant since 1988. However, the Cubs’ reign as World Series lasted a few weeks longer – though it ends tonight.

Sadly, the Cubs’ time as World Series champs will be up at some point tonight … or tomorrow morning, depending on whose bats heat up during the Game 7 showdown between the Dodgers and the Houston Astros. Either team would make a worthy champion, and both will have targets squarely placed on their backs in 2018. To the victors go the spoils, as well as the World Series hangover. Have fun with all that.

I spent much of my day pondering this question:

The easy answer is “all of it.”

It’s hard not to consider that whole week to be the best ever. World Series Game 5 was the greatest game I’ve ever seen, replacing the 2015 NL Wild Card Game in Pittsburgh atop my personal list. I watched World Series Game 6 on a small TV at my cubicle at Tribune Tower while working my shift, hoping it wasn’t the last game I’d watch in 2016. I took in Game 7 with my friends who are pretty much my baseball family.

I celebrated at various points in the night with different people. I had drinks at Toons bar in Wrigleyville/Lakeview with a friend who was an Indians fan. I’ll still never understand why he was so gracious in defeat. I’ll just chalk it up to quality friendships and leave it at that. I attempted to bar-hop late into the night and walked around the neighborhood to get a feel for the moment. I would later catch up with another friend and we’d have breakfast at a greasy spoon diner. I ended my night at home at 4 am, where my mother was still awake watching highlights on MLB Network. We sat, watched highlights, and tried to put into words what we had witnessed the night before.

I went to the Grant Park Rally, because my parents never let me go to any of the six the Bulls hosted in the 1990s.

That week, I spent hundreds of dollars on World Series gear for myself and family. And I’d do it again, too. I watched coverage on the news the morning with my grandmother and gave her a World Series shirt. She was so happy. We did the thing where we wrote on the sidewalk and walls with chalk at Wrigley, which had basically turned into Mecca for Cubs fans who came far and wide just to be there after the title. It was weird, but I totally understood.

I guess this is all a long way of saying the best part of the experience was the numerous little things that made it up along the way.

A year later, I’m in a similar place mentally as I was during the Cubs’ playoff run as I find myself telling myself to enjoy the wins to their fullest, don’t be bogged down by the losses, and enjoy the ride because you never know when it’ll end.

This particular ride is over. We’ll take some time to press the reset button and watch a winter of transaction crawl across our Twitter feeds. Some time in March, the ride resumes. But first, World Series Game 7. Let’s go.

I Knew Charting My Sleep Would Be Wasteful…

… in October.

I started blogging/posting about my sleep patterns, in part, because I feel as if writing about something other than sports gets my brain functioning in a different way and I’m convinced it makes me better at writing sports.

I’m probably going to need something else to write about other than October sleep because playoff baseball wrecks the equation. My sleep efficiency percentage went from the high-80s, low 90s to high 70s since the playoffs started. I don’t believe that’s a coincidence. I’m sure there are things I can do to remedy that and get a better night’s sleep … but I’ll figure it out later.

I made a conscious effort not to drink on Thursday during Game 5 of the NLDS, and yet, I woke up feeling hungover. “I’m never not drinking again.”

Some people make pre-game hype mixes before games. I’ve crafted a playlist of John Mayer songs in the order of his April concert he did in Chicago. It’s one of the best live shows I’ve ever seen, and frankly, started to put me in a good place back in April when I really wasn’t in a good place.

I’m not saying I want summer forever (though, wouldn’t that be great?) but if we can hold off fall until I update my fall wardrobe that would be cool.

I’d continue to ramble if I didn’t have a good chunk of stuff on my plate today. Thanks for reading.

It’s October and I’m an emotional mess

One week into October and I’m already an emotional wreck.

I’ve spent the past week telling myself I’m OK and that things were fine, only for Friday to get here and the butterflies to show up all over again.

“That’s Cub.”

For the first time in my lifetime, the Cubs are in the playoffs for the third straight season. If you’re reading this and you’re thinking “this year feels different” you’re not alone. And that’s because it’s true, 2017 is different.

The 2017 Cubs come into the postseason as the defending World Series champions. People forget that.

And yet, fans/friends/pundits are ask skeptical as ever regarding this team’s chances at a repat. To be fair, the Cubs have quite the challenge ahead of them. The Washington Nationals are a very good baseball team coming off a 97-win season and former Cubs manager Dusty Baker is out for revenge. If the Cubs overcome that monster, odds are they’ll face baseball’s best team – the Los Angeles Dodgers – in the NLCS again. That is if L.A. doesn’t slip up against the upstart Arizona Diamondbacks.

The road to a repeat will be rough, but the Cubs don’t seem to be fazed … so maybe I shouldn’t be either.

Yes, the Dodgers, Nationals, and D’backs all have talented teams. But so do the Cubs. Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant are studs. So is catcher Willson Contreras. The up-the-middle defense of Addison Russell and Javier Baez is as good as it gets – and they both can hit for power, too. Ben Zobrist is a seasoned vet and World Series MVP. Jason Heyward is a $184 million dollar defensive ace. Kyle Schwarber is all of 24 years of age and is already a dadgum postseason legend.

Kyle Hendricks went toe-to-toe with Clayton Kershaw and out-pitched baseball’s best active pitcher in an elimination game to clinch the pennant and tossed an admirable 4-2/3 innings in World Series Game 7 against Corey Kluber. So what’s a matchup against Stephen Strasburg? Jon Lester owns a nifty 2.72 ERA in 49.2 postseason innings since joining the Cubs in 2015. With all due respect to starting Opening Day for the White Sox this year, Jose Quintana is lined up to pitch the biggest game of his career in NLDS Game 3. Jake Arrieta is pitching for a billion dollar (rough estimate) free agent contract in Game 4 (if necessary).

And if the Cubs have the lead in the ninth, Wade Davis – the team’s lone All-Star – isn’t just great, he’s an October legend in his own right having locked down the Kansas City Royals 2015 title. Behind him in the bullpen are Carl Edwards Jr. (who recorded the first two outs in the 10th inning of World Series Game 7), Pedro Strop, Mike Montgomery (who recorded the final out to clinch the World Series win), and a slew of other experienced arms. I guess that includes our good friend #MentholMoose.

I don’t blame you if you cast doubt on the Cubs. And I can’t blame you if you’re not a ball of nerves right now. I’m there with you. But as we did last October, let’s get through this together. As Cubs fans, we’ve been through worse … so, let’s enjoy some postseason baseball.