OOTP 17 - Season 1 - Boston Red Sox - April

Boston opened up the season on the road in Cleveland, superstar offseason signing David Price took the ball for opening day and quickly dug the team into a hole. He settled down over the later innings but the damage had already been done and Boston dropped it's first game of the year. A battling performance in game 2, backing Rick Porcello saw the Red Sox even the series before Julio Teheran lost game 3.

The Red Sox flew on from Cleveland hoping to turn things around in Toronto. The Red Sox lost a tough 6-4 decision in the opener with the bullpen imploding while I tried to identify some reinforcements to an obvious weakness in the team. Having investigated the free agent market I targeted Jason Frasor as a decent addition to our motley crew of relievers but the negotiating saga would run on into May. Thankfully the waiver wire bore some fruit with Drew Pomeranz and Edwin Jackson falling into our laps. It took a few days to execute the waiver claims but both were added to our bullpen by mid-April.

Following on from the tough opening game loss of the Toronto series the Red Sox managed to go on a real tear, winning the last two games of our road trip before returning to Boston for 11 straight games.

First up was Baltimore who had been leading the AL East, two 7-4 victories lead on to a 10-1 thumping and we went into our first rest day of the season on a 5 game win streak. Toronto traveled down to Boston for a 4 game series that would have a lasting impact on both teams.

Expecting an explosive offensive performance from both teams you could be excused for wondering just what happened, especially to Toronto. Unfortunately for them star RF Jose Bautista picked up an injury in the first inning of the opening game that would see him miss a number of months. Boston also picked up their share of injuries with Chris Young and Jackie Bradley Jr picking up injuries in consecutive games that would see them sit out the next 5-6 weeks before even starting a rehab assignment in Pawtucket. With a severely depleted outfield it was up to the rejuvenated Hanley Ramirez and Big Papi to pick up the Red Sox and carry them through the series. another 3 victories followed against Tampa Bay before the Red Sox flew down to play against Rusney Castillo in his new home with the Houston Astros.

Considering the lack of numbers in the outfield trading away Rusney may seem like a bad bit of business, but his offensive output had been severely limited and did not match his rather large contract so I was still happy with that bit of business. Picking up 3 wins in Houston definitely helped.

Then it was time to play against our other big trade partner, the Atlanta Braves. These guys have quickly become my bogey team and a rain delay lead to a double-header where Matt Barnes, who until this point had been a strong starter, gave up 7 runs in less than 2 innings. Accepting that this game was already done and dusted I moved my attention to the second game, and having lead through 8 innings, it was a sickening loss to take when the big Dombrowski signing of Craig Kimbrel gave up 3 runs in the ninth inning to cost us the game and saw us swept aside by the Braves.

To add insult to injury the opening game of the series saw a struggling Clay Buchholz take the mound and shut down our potent offence, ending a 15 game win streak.

Splitting the last two games of the month with the Yankees, the final game of the series fell into May, saw us maintain our position at the top of the AL East but a number of deficiencies have been highlighted in the team. First and foremost the bullpen really struggle to hold on to a lead, even the best relievers we have seem to be struggling this season.

Secondly, we need some consistency from our starters outside of Rick Porcello. I had thought that Matt Barnes and Joe Kelly were offering this but in their final games of the month both gave up a shedload of runs.

Thirdly, our depth in the outfield is being sorely tested. Bryce Brentz is doing a decent job of filling in and Brock Holt is helping out but next on the depth chart is Ryan LaMarre. A decent defensive outfielder but I am not sure we can rely on his bat for anything but double play balls.

Finally, while we were very strong at home there has to be concern about our form on the road. 6-7 on the road is not great and just one result in Atlanta could have swung it the other way but there are problems here and I haven't quite identified how I am going to fix them. In comparison our 11-1 record at home is outstanding and we really have made our home Fortress Fenway for the moment. Hopefully we can carry this momentum into May and beyond with a playoff spot ours for the taking.



OOTP 17 - Return to the Diamond

Baseball is one of those games that I fell in love with as a child and never let go. A rainy evening stuck in a hotel in Boston was all it took for me to decide that America's pastime was the game for me. The Red Sox completed the package.

Having played OOTP (Out Of The Park) for a number of years now I am pretty certain that it has surpassed even Football Manager in terms of the detail it goes into for a sports management simulation. Only great restraint has seen me hold off from buying this years edition until the trade deadline had passed. Rather than a bog standard review for the game I am going to do something a little different this year. Following on from the popularity of my Football Manager series with Charlton I plan on seeing just how far I can take the Boston Red Sox.

Recent years have not been kind to the Red Sox, after a rag tag group of players came together to win it all in 2013 the team has spiraled on a downards trajectory. In real life Dave Dombrowski has been brought in to change their fortunes, but in complete contrast to Dave, who prefers to trade prospects for big league players, I like to develop players from the minor leagues up to their full potential. Of course I may make a big trade or two along the way for that "can't miss" player, but for the majority of the time I will be looking to develop the next stars to grace Fenway Park.

Considering the team's recent fortunes the goals I have been set are suitably dialed down. Kicking it off with "Don't suck completely" would suggest that they don't expect much of a Red Sox team that should be aiming for a lot more. The 4 year goal is to reach the playoffs which is something that I think is very easily achieved with the increased wildcard places, but I am not sure I agree with signing 40 year old Koji to a contract extension... I will wait and see how his season plays out first.

The final goal is to upgrade in left field, currently manned by a couple of utility players who are decent if not spectacular. I think my early, personal, goal will be to offload some of the dead weight contracts and maybe pick up a left fielder at the deadline if one hasn't developed in the minors by that time.

The batting and fielding starting roster for the Red Sox is particularly strong. Castillo and Sandoval will be 2 players that I look to offload as soon as possible and I will probably let Hanigan walk at the end of the year if Swihart and Vazquez are ready to take over the catcher role fulltime.

On the pitching side of the roster things are looking a bit more dire. Price is the star of the rotation, Porcello can hopefully step up and we can only hope that Barnes can transition to a starting role in the majors. Kelly and Buchholz are just an accident waiting to happen and they will need to be replaced as soon as possible. In real life Steven Wright stepped up big time for the Red Sox this year but it seems unlikely that he will do that in the game as his stats seem to set him up as a very below average player, destined only to fill in the gaps on the roster.

In the 'pen Kimbrel, Uehara and Tazawa are the only reliable options and I will look to make some additions. Carson Smith should come off the DL early in the season and provide a boost there and hopefully E-Rod can do the same for the rotation.

I decided that I wanted to offload Rusney Castillo early on, he hadn't lived up to his early promise and his big contract was eating up a lot of room in the budget. Down in the minors was another failed acquisition by the former GM Ben Cherington called Allen Craig and I was surprised when Houston were more than happy to take both off my hands. What was even more surprising was the wealth of prospects they were willing to give me for the two players. It is possible that none of these prospects will pan out but considering that the two players I was giving up had no future in Boston it only made sense to roll the dice and hope that one player proves to be worthwhile on the other side of the trade, even if only as a piece in another trade.

Pablo "Kung-fu Panda" Sandoval was next on my list to move on. Weight issues had dogged his solitary season in Boston and a poor return on his large contract meant he just had to go. Atlanta were interested in taking him on but they were not offering anywhere near as much value as Houston were. I had to throw in Buchholz, who himself has been dogged by injuries and inconsistency during his time in Boston, which wasn't a great loss but it did mean that the addition of Teheran was cancelled out and that my rotation had not really moved forward. Lin was blocked by the wonderful Xander Bogaerts in Boston and didn't project to hit any where near his level and was a prospect that it didn't hurt to give up. In return we received Atlanta's starting pitcher prospect Aaron Blair who would be ready to ply his trade at Triple A and if he impressed step up to the Boston rotation this season. Tyler Flowers ended up being a throw in that I had to take so that they would take on the combined contracts of Sandoval and Buchholz.

Over in the world of international amateurs there appeared to be a wealth of talent waiting to be picked up. Any amateur is a massive gamble to pick up and they are just as likely to be a bust as a success. I targeted a few players with some decent tools, according to my head of scouting, and reasonable signing demands. It will be interesting to see how they develop over the years and if even one or two of them make it eventually it will be money well spent.

Finally I adjusted my scouting and player development budgets to make sure that I was getting the most out of my minor league system. over 15m invested in each this season should put me in the upper echelons of the league and hopefully it will help my prospects reach their potential.

With everything done my rosters looked like this for opening day. There were a couple of free agents that I had been targeting but we managed to get neither across the line before the season began.

With David Price taking the mound on Opening Day and a strong starting lineup I had hoped that we would win our opening game of the season...

But it was not to be.

A shaky start from Price was enough to undermine the team who, although they out hit their opponent, could not string enough hits together to score any runs. Price did recover after the first two innings but the damage was already done. In the 8th inning Noe Ramirez came in and proceeded to fall apart. Hopefully he can find some form of consistency as I will need a few relievers to push on this season as I cannot be overly reliant on Taz, Koji and Kimbrel.

Next time we will see how the month of April develops and whether or not any further additions make it to the team.

All the best.


Book Review: The Watchmaker of Filigree Street

I should start of by saying that I went into reading this book with very high expectations. I had become aware of this book many months ago, before all the promotional campaigning kicked off, and could not wait to start reading it once I had my hands on a copy. Quasi-fantasy, fantasy stories set in the real or historical world, novels seem to be the order of the day currently and the synopsis of this one in particular seemed to fall into the genre.

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street is the debut novel of Natasha Pulley, an English Literature graduate from Oxford University who has spent a number of months living in Tokyo, and these influences clearly have a major impact on the story as a whole. The female lead is a student at Oxford herself and her best friend is the son of a Japanese aristocrat. In addition to this the eponymous watchmaker is Japanese and the main protagonist, Thaniel, of the story is seconded from the telegraphy department of the Home Office to the Japanese desk of the Foreign Office for which the reasoning can only be described as flimsy at best.

In addition to the author's experiences influencing the novel you cannot help but to notice the impact of her Oxford education on the quality of her writing as well. There is a magical element to her writing that helps to keep the pages turning early on. One particular theme that she describes beautifully throughout the novel is how Thaniel can see sounds as colour, and her prose is so wonderful that at times I almost could see the sounds in the book as colours as well. I can only hope that one day I will be able to write with this degree of beauty.

Of course the secret to any good story is the characters and it only makes sense to take a look at our protagonist first. Thaniel is a classically trained pianist who gives up dreams of playing in an orchestra to provide for his widowed sister and her sons up in Edinburgh. It is important to keep this in mind as this is described on a number of occasions as one of, if not the, key motivations for this character. To provide for them he takes up a job working for the Home Office and lives in a small flat in Pimlico. His life seems to be somewhat monotonous as he travels too and from work each day and you are happy to see an intricate pocket watch arrive in his life to drive the story forwards after a beautifully described, if slow, start.

Next we are introduced to Grace, studying physics at Oxford, and where you would describe Thaniel as monotonous you can only describe Grace as boisterous. Strong female leads are becoming increasingly popular in fiction, whether written or onscreen, and Grace ticks all of the required boxes. In the late nineteenth century Britain we are introduced to women must be chaperoned everywhere and they are expected to settle down and marry at the first opportunity. In complete contrast to this Grace sneaks off to the university library disguised as a man, works on experiments which are the antipathy of the womanly endeavours of society and marriage is the furthest thing from her mind. For me Grace should have been one of the stars of this story, she sees the machinations of other characters clearly and offers a strong voice against them. Unfortunately, the author always appeared to have one solitary goal in mind for her endgame and this results in the majority of Grace's storyline being rendered redundant. In fact you could go as far as to say that you could remove all reference to Grace in the story and the end result would still be the same, which is a travesty.

I also want to take a look at is the watchmaker, Keita Mori. A kind, or at least the author wishes to try and portray him this way, and quiet man with dyed hair and a mechanical octopus but there always appears to be more to him than meets the eye. Through Mr Mori we are able to take a look at nineteenth century Japan through his experiences, and I expect those of our author, and see what leads him to come to London. Another descendant of Japanese aristocracy, Mori betrays his family and ends up working for the Japanese government. There is an argument that by betraying them he was saving them from greater humiliation but there seems to be a callousness to the character who can coldly let others die if it suits his needs. He has some sort of magical or psychic powers and a good chunk of the book is spent trying to identify what these are.

I could not warm to Mr Mori and the most human aspect of his character was his mechanical octopus Katsu. If we have learned anything from Star Wars and the like it is that little robots have a way of winning over our hearts, and Katsu is no different. While Katsu is described as not having a mind of his own his "random gears" give him the appearance of being a living creature and this is reinforced by his need to steal socks. He may only play a small part in the story but he is easily one of the stars.

And so we move onto the story itself, it starts in London and you wouldn't be wrong to think that not much has changed in 130 odd years. Thaniel spends the early part of the book living the humdrum life of all of us. Travel to work, sit at a desk, go home. Rinse and repeat. The only injection of any interest is the threat of Clan na Gael bombing the Home Office. I fear that there may be some level of historical inaccuracy here as I believe that Clan na Gael were based in the United States and financing The Fenians who were carrying out bombings in London during this period and the Home Office were not mentioned as a target.

Regardless of the historical accuracy the story continues. Thaniel receives a pocket watch from an unknown benefactor. With the threat of being blown up he decides to try and sell the watch so that his sister will have more money but no one will take it. At this point the story seemed to be dragging to some degree and so it is with great relief that the day of the bombing finally arrives. As the day ticks on everyone is apprehensive but the deadline passes and they all go out to the pub, a very British thing to do, by Scotland Yard to celebrate their new lease on life. At this point the pocket watch has some sort of internal alarm that goes off and he leaves the pub so as not to upset the other patrons. As soon as the alarm stops the bomb explodes in Scotland Yard across the street and we discover that this alarm has saved Thaniel's life.

In a state of shock Thaniel decides to make his way to the watchmaker to see if he can track down who bought the watch and saved his life. Immediately we are aware that something is off with the watchmaker as he appears to be waiting for Thaniel to turn up and offers him a place to stay. The next day Thaniel returns to work and goes to see his friend, the police officer investigating the bombing. Despite the suspicious alarm and the fact that he had disappeared for a prolonged period after the bombing Thaniel is cleared as a suspect before he has returned. A somewhat strenuous leap of faith from the police. To make matters even less plausible the police decide that he is the perfect person to spy on the watchmaker who must have something to do with the bombing because of the alarm in the watch. Rather than just arrest the man, Thaniel is now undercover with the Japanese version of Professor X.

Running parallel to this is Grace's story. At Oxford University she is investigating something called ether, through which light moves. I was overly hopeful that this would end up being something similar to dust from the His Dark Materials trilogy, alas I was left disappointed. Her rebellious nature has left her at odds with her parents who would much prefer that she marries and settles into her natural role in society. In an effort to appease them we find out that she has struck a deal with them to marry after university in the hope that she will prove her hypothesis and be offered a teaching role that would leave her free of the burden of their expectations.

We are introduced to Matsumoto, a charming young Japanese man and her only real friend. They work together to get through university life achieving their own separate goals, he provides Grace with a chaperone where required and she is his ticket into the local suffragette movement, where the "put-upon husbands" hold poker games in the anteroom. The two of them work well together although it is made clear that there is nothing more than friendship there, Matsumoto appearing almost brotherly at times. On the walk back from one of the women's suffrage meetings Grace shows Matsumoto her own pocket watch that we discover is also made by Mr Mori and he eyes it suspiciously, alluding to something from back in Japan although Grace reassures him that the watchmaker must be Italian with a name like Mori.

Back in London some times has passed and Thaniel is seconded to the Foreign Office, as predicted by Mori, to work on the Japanese desk. The less said about the reasoning the better and further to this he is invited to the Foreign Office ball. We learn more about the burgeoning friendship between Mori and Thaniel, but while Thaniel appears to be warming to him Mori only gives him just enough friendship to keep leading him on. Katsu adds some levity to the situation by sneaking into Thaniel's furniture and stealing his clothing but all in all the whole environment feels forced.

The night of the Foreign Office ball arrives and Grace has returned from Oxford where her experiment failed. Now she is set to attend the ball as requested by her parents in the hope that she will marry none other than Thaniel's boss. At the ball Grace runs into Matsumoto who is once again gambling, after a quick conversation Matsumoto appears consumed by the gambling and Grace, sticking out like a sore thumb, backs away from the table and conveniently straight into Thaniel. The two oddballs hit it off and I can't help but think that initially the author may have planned for the story to go in a different direction.

So as not to ruin the plot for anyone who wishes to read this book in future I will be suitably vague with the rest of the story from this point onwards.

The relationship between Grace and Thaniel flourishes and they team up to test Mori's abilities. While Mori may be suitably friendly with Thaniel he can only be described as distant with Grace and you can't help but feel that he is trying to drive a wedge in there. The two hatch a plan for a wedding allowing Grace to continue her experiments and Thaniel to provide for his sister and nephews.

We learn more about Mori and his manipulative ways back in Japan and how he came to be in London, along with the trail of destruction he left in his wake. Alongside this he twists Thaniel's feelings when the police eventually do decide to act on their hunches from almost half a book ago. Thaniel intervenes but once again the police do nothing about it apart from make a vague threat of charging him as an accessory when they prove their theory about Mori. All I can say is that I am glad the police take these things more seriously today than in Ms Pulley's nineteenth century London.

The Japanese community in London is expanded upon and we meet a variety of characters, some who wish to assimilate into the British population and some who are very nationalistic, namely a young boy named Yuki. Somehow Clan na Gael have transposed themselves from the United States into London, see early comment on historical accuracy, and they are inviting in people from outside the Irish fraternity. You even have the stereotypical English upper class creating their racist opera based on Japan, that would appear to be fully endorsed by the Japanese population of London. It is at this point that Thaniel is given the opportunity to return to the life he chose to give up many years ago and sits down at the piano again.

And that is where I felt everything well and truly fell apart in the novel. One of the key rules of fiction is that it must make sense. In real life strange things can happen that come out of nowhere but a story is like a puzzle and all of the pieces must fit together so that it works. I get the feeling that by the end of her story Ms Pulley decided that she did not want to follow this convention and instead tried something else, unfortunately for me it just didn't work.

The wedding arrives but Mori doesn't, once again playing his games. Rather than be annoyed about this Thaniel goes after him and illogical leap after illogical leap follows. There is an assassination attempt, another bombing and a wild goose chase through London that seems to bend time to it's own will. As if she remembered that there was the smoking gun of the original bombing still to answer Ms Pulley hastily throws together a couple of lines of dialogue with Mori providing the name of the bombmaker and the police accepting it no questions asked. The bombmaker then breaks in police interrogation when they ask the terrifying question "did you make the bomb?"

I would say that the last 30 pages have more action in them than the first 300 odd put together and yet you are left feeling completely unfulfilled. In particular, going back to an earlier point, Thaniel's main motivation is caring for his sister and nephews. The author goes to great length to keep reinforcing this point a number of times throughout the story, and then he just throws away all those cares to fit the ending that the author wants. More than anything else this is what bothered me, you spend hours investing in these characters and then they do something completely out of character to close out the book.

On top of this, all of Grace's character development is for nothing as her storyline has no impact on the ultimate outcome. I honestly believe that you could take out her entire involvement and still reach the same ending and this is because the ending we are provided with is completely at odds with the rest of the story the author tells us.

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street is one of the more disappointing novels that I have read this year, I did persevere with it all the way to it's unsatisfying conclusion but I do not expect to go back and read it again. What I will say is that Natasha Pulley does have a magical way with words and I do hope that she continues to use this talent. The way she writes is an art-form through which she creates the most vivid pictures, I just hope that the next canvas is a little more focused from end to end.

What's on my table: Wildwood Rangers

It's been a quiet few days on the site this week but we will be making up for that over the next few days with three articles! Starting with today's look at some Wildwood Rangers that I have decided to pick up and paint again. 

Back when wood elves the last wood elves codex came out I picked up a number of models because they looked really cool, but using them on the tabletop was a challenge for a new WFB player. I switched back to vampire counts and the models have been collecting dust ever since. 

Whilst browsing through an old white dwarf I came across a paint splatter tutorial and I decided to give it a go. 

The green, earthy look of the Rangers guy more with the theme of the rest of my army than the orange and brown used on the GW packaging. I also thought that it would fit nicely with the new Sylvaneth forces in Age of Sigmar. 

I really like these step by step painting guides that GW offer as I do find it a challenge to get the paint schemes right for a number of models. Although skeletons are quite easy thankfully. 

These guys may be no where near finished yet but I am really enjoying picking up the paint brush again. I will post another article once they are completed so that you can see the finished product and hopefully they will live up to the GW scheme I have followed. 

All the best,