Axel Boada

Is the End Near for the Wii U?

BY AXEL BOADA

It is no secret that Nintendo is struggling to compete with Sony and Microsoft. While the Wii U has sold 6.68 million console units since its initial 2012 release, the Playstation 4 and Xbox One have moved 9 million and 5 million units, respectively, since their late 2013 launches.

Financially, Nintendo has been hit hard this past fiscal quarter, losing ¥9.92 billion ($97 million) between April and June. This is despite selling 2.82 million copies of Mario Kart 8.

So is it time for the company to accept the Wii U’s fate and pull the plug? Not just yet. Though it is unreasonable to expect the console to catch up with the Sony and Microsoft juggernauts, there is good reason to believe that the Wii U will make a competitive push this next year.

A big reason for that is Mario Kart 8, a game that has received universal critical acclaim. The game led to an increase in hardware sales, helping move 510,000 consoles between April and June. Additionally, the new Kart has accounted for 64 percent of software sales during that same time, despite being released toward the end of May. Obviously, the almost-three million copies sold did not turn a profit for Nintendo, but that is understandable considering how deep of a financial hole the company is in.

Mario Kart 8 succeeds at more than just moving Wii U consoles. It is also a prime example of Nintendo delivering a game that consumers actually want. While introducing new ideas that keep its gameplay fun and exciting, it does not stray too far from the tried-and-true formula that has allowed the series to sell over 100 million copies worldwide. In an oversaturated market of games promising innovation and falling well flat of expectations (think of Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs), the honesty behind Kart’s if-it-ain’t-broke philosophy is ironically refreshing.

Similarly, the eventual release of Super Smash Bros. for Wii U in quarter 4 is expected to even further console sales. Few games are as hyped as Smash Bros. currently is, but unlike many of those games, there actually has been a lot of gameplay footage released. Simply, it looks like a lot of fun.

But none of this changes the fact that the console’s titles list is pretty slim. After all, the point of owning a console is to play a library games, and up to this point Nintendo has failed with the Wii U.

However, things may soon be changing dramatically. Hyrule Warriors, Bayonetta 1 and 2, and Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker are being released within the next couple months. Splatoon, Legend of Zelda, Kirby, Yoshi, and two more Mario titles are looking at 2015 releases. Mario Maker  is even trying to appeal to the young-adult demographic of gamers who spend hours playing and watching videos of Unfair Mario and other rage-inducing side-scrolling platformers on YouTube.

But the Wii U may never end up being the gaming system Nintendo had hoped it would be. The forward-thinking console made by a company historically resistant to change continues to struggle finding an audience. However, the next year of the Wii U’s life will prove crucial to, well, how long the console lives.

If the upcoming list of games succeed in delivering the types of qualities installments expected from Nintendo, the Wii U should keep moving more units, and more importantly, live to fight another day.

The Rock’s Shazam Isn’t White, and Doesn’t Need To Be

BY AXEL BOADA

 

Since his days as a WWE superstar, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has let it be known that he is the most electrifying man in sports entertainment — maybe even all of entertainment due to his Hollywood success.

But after a few days of hinting at playing a DC Comics character, it seems Johnson will literally become the most electrifying man and portray Captain Marvel, a.k.a. Shazam, in an upcoming film.

Yes, Johnson is bringing the red tights and golden lightning bolt to the big screen for mainstream audiences. Shazam, a criminally underrated character who once rivaled Superman in popularity during the Golden Age of Comic Books, is making his return to the forefront of the genre.

Naturally, superhero fans were filled with joy by the news. Right? Wrong.

So what’s the problem, then? It’s simple. Shazam likely will not be played by a white male, which goes against his portrayal in the comic books.

People voiced their displeasure across the Internet, citing that the character has always been white. After all, how logical could it be for little Billy Batson to transform into a big black Samoan?

Some have even said that it is a trick to hide the real reveal, and Johnson will actually be playing the villainous Black Adam, an ancient Egyptian who shares similar powers to Shazam’s.

Yeah, apparently the similarity in skin tone between Johnson and Black Adam makes it okay to lump them both together but not Shazam, even though Johnson is just as “white” as he is Middle Eastern.
Such is the problem with comic book fans, a group constantly accused of sexism and racism for its combative resistance to change. Any tweak to a character’s appearance, gender or backstory is met with such grief that often times writers and publishers refuse to take creative risks.

Wonder Woman artist David Finch recently said he wants the character to be “beautiful, but strong,” but not a feminist. It’s likely that Finch isn’t against Wonder Woman being a feminist, but rather tried to shield himself from the ire of fans that would reject such a notion, albeit doing it very clumsily.

But some are brave enough to make changes. Marvel Comics recently announced that a yet-to-be-revealed woman will soon take over the Thor moniker, and The Falcon — played by black actor Anthony Mackie in Captain America: The Winter Soldier — is the new Captain America. Both moves were heavily criticized as publicity stunts aimed at selling more copies.

While those examples are changes in books and not movies, the similarities in reactions are very similar. The superhero genre continues to grow in popularity, giving bigger and more diverse audiences a laundry list of characters to identify with. However, many still see just the colors of these characters’ skins, not the qualities they embody.

Hopefully Johnson is in fact Shazam and not Black Adam. He has portrayed a wide variety of characters in his career, from a hockey-playing tooth fairy to a Greek demigod-turned-mercenary.  Only an actor as versatile as Johnson can accurately represent the essence of the man-child Billy Batson.

And if he doesn’t look like him? So what. He certainly acts like him.

30 Days for 30 Teams: Oakland Athletics

BY AXEL BOADA

2013 Record: 96-66 (1st Place AL West, – GB)

The Oakland Athletics are out here Moneyballin’ on these fools.

Okay, so I really just wanted to throw in the phrase “Moneyballin,’” but the A’s are still one of the MLB’s top-tier teams. Two straight seasons winning at least 94 games and back-to-back division titles does that for an organization.

Pitcher Jarrod Parker will miss the entire season because of Tommy John surgery, which is a huge loss for Oakland. Actually, the injury bug in general has bitten the team. However, the team is surprisingly loaded and made solid offseason moves.

Key Acquisitions

SP Scott Kazmir  (2 yrs/ $22M)

RP Jim Johnson  (1 yr/ $10M)

CF Craig Gentry  (1 yr/ $1.15M)

After pitching 1 2/3 innings in the pros 2011 and not pitching at all 2012, Kazmir’s solid performance with the Cleveland Indians last season surprised many. He pitched 158 innings, the most since he pitched over 206 innings with the Tampa Bay (then-) Devil Rays in 2007. In addition to being durable, the lefty struck out 162 batters, his highest mark since 2008. Even though this season will be Kazmir’s 10th in the majors, he is just 30 years old.

Johnson recorded two straight 50-save seasons with the Baltimore Orioles the last couple seasons. He also had a sub-3.00 ERA during this stretch. However, the closer blew a league-high nine saves last season. Despite this, he tied the Atlanta Braves’ Craig Kimbrel for most saves. Even when Johnson is bad, he is really good. Oakland’s former closer Grant Balfour was a significant part of the team’s bullpen but Johnson—blown saves and all—is still quite an upgrade.

Gentry is one of many Athletics who will start the season on the DL. He should be back in mid-April, and could make contributions right away despite being the fourth outfielder. Gentry proved to be reliable for the Texas Rangers the last two seasons, appearing in 122 and 106 games, respectively. He has a career .280 batting average and a .355 OBP. Gentry can also steal some bases and is a very-capable glove at all three positions in the outfield. He could start for a lot of teams in the league, so having him on the bench is a huge positive for Oakland.

Key Losses

SP Bartolo Colon: It feels weird writing Colon is a key loss but it is absolutely true. The 40-year-old(!!!) had his best season since 2005. He went 18-6 with a 2.65 ERA, his best ERA since 2002 and second lowest of his career overall. His performance last season was a total anomaly, especially from a player whose best days were literally in the late-90s to early-00s. Don’t expect him to continue this resurgence during his time with the New York Mets.

RP Grant Balfour: At one point during his tenure in Oakland, the Sydney, Australia-native reeled off 44 consecutive saves, breaking the club record set by Dennis Eckersley back in 1992. He is a passionate player who is not afraid to get in a player’s face. While he will be missed in Oakland, Johnson is as good of a replacement as anyone.

PLAYER TO WATCH

Not many people knew who Josh Donaldson was prior to last season. So what did the third baseman do? Assert himself as a legitimate AL MVP candidate, coming in fourth in voting. Donaldson hit .301/.384/.499 with 24 home runs and 93 RBI yet somehow did not make the all-star team. No matter, since many figure he will join the ranks of elite third basemen this season. Do not be surprised if Donaldson makes the all-star team, fights for a gold glove, and even be named one of three AL MVP finalists.

Projected Opening Day Lineup

athletics opening day

All the Oakland Athletics do is win,win,win, no matter what, and even a plethora of injuries shouldn’t stop them. Sonny Gray will be the opening day starter despite starting just 10 games in his very young career. The A’s will catch a break during the early parts of the season, seeing as the Texas Rangers are also dealing with some injuries. However, the loss of future-ace Parker will prove to be the difference between a third straight division title and a second place finish. Expect Oakland to win 92 to 94 games and get a wild card spot.

30 Days for 30 Teams: Los Angeles Dodgers

BY AXEL BOADA

2013 Record: 92-70 (1st Place NL West, – GB)

As of March 23, the Dodgers are first in the majors in categories such as batting average, batting average against, runs scored and ERA.

Sure, that is because they played an early series against Arizona down in Australia, but many are projecting Los Angeles to be among the league’s best all season long.

With a $220 million team salary, the expectation should be nothing less. In fact, anything short of a World Series championship would be considered a bust for the Dodgers.

Key Acquisitions

SP Dan Haren  (1 yr/ $10M)

RP Chris Perez  (1 yr/ $2.3M)

Haren is a solid starter who can get a team 12 to 14 wins a season. However, he greatly disappointed last season with the Washington Nationals. He went 10-14 with an absurd 4.67 ERA, the highest since his rookie year. The Dodgers still think Haren has some good baseball left in him, evident by the $10-million option for 2015 if he pitches at least 180 innings.

Apparently, Perez’s dog likes to smoke that green, green grass. Despite being a bad pet-parent, Perez holds some upside for Los Angeles. He has 132 career saves and even made a pair of all-star games in 2011-12. Now moved to the set-up role, Perez joins former San Francisco Giants closer—and equally weird dude —Brian Wilson in, arguably, the league’s deepest late-inning bullpen. If Kenley Jansen goes down with injury or is in a slump, either pitcher could certainly fill in for him.

Key Losses

SP Ricky Nolasco: In just 16 appearances with the Dodgers, the righty went 8-3 with a 3.52 ERA. That was significantly better than the 5-8 line he put up with the Miami Marlins in 18 starts with the team last season. Los Angeles currently has three starting pitchers on the DL, so the team could have really used Nolasco at the tail end of their rotation.

RP Carlos Marmol: After 7 1/2 seasons terrorizing the Chicago Cubs by blowing save after save, Marmol became the Dodgers’ problem after acquiring him in a trade. He didn’t pitch terribly for Los Angeles, mostly because the team did not give him much of an opportunity to do so. He appeared in just 21 games, pitching 21.1 innings total.

PLAYER TO WATCH

Everyone knows Yasiel Puig is a stud. However, the right fielder’s spring training performance raised a few red flags, especially since he showed up 26 pounds heavier than he was the end of last season. This is not a huge deal. But his .122 batting average during the spring? That is more of a cause for concern. Puig is so physically gifted and talented, there is little reason to believe he will not build on last season and continue to show improvement. However, manager Don Mattingly is not a big fan of the exuberant player. Keep an eye on their relationship this season.

Projected Opening Day Lineup

dodgers opening day

Shoulder surgery will keep Matt Kemp out of the outfield until early-to-mid May. The Dodgers should fare well even without his presence.  Many believe the World Series is this team’s to lose. While it is too early to see how the team performs on the field, as opposed to on paper, it is reasonable to expect Los Angeles to be a top-5 team in all of baseball. A 95 to 98-win season and NL West title are in order for the Dodgers.

30 Days for 30 Teams: Texas Rangers

BY AXEL BOADA

2013 Record: 91-72 (2nd Place AL West, 5.5 GB)

Winning 90-plus games just isn’t enough to outright get your team into the playoffs in the American League these days.

Just ask the Texas Rangers. They’ve learned the hard way.

After two consecutive trips to the World Series (and a Buckner-esque moment from Nelson Cruz that cost them the title in 2011) the Rangers have struggled to get into the postseason the past two seasons. They were eliminated in 2012 in the first-ever ALWC. In 2013, they lost to Tampa Bay in an AL wild-card tiebreaker.

The Rangers received quite the makeover this season by adding some big names and parting with one long-time stalwart in the infield. But change is necessary, especially for a team who wishes to return to being one of Major League Baseball’s best franchises.

Key Acquisitions

1B Prince Fielder  (9 yrs/ $214M)

LF Shin-Soo Choo  (7 yrs/ $130M)

Fielder had an October to forget last year, slugging just .227 in the ALCS. Just two years into a nine-year deal, the Detroit Tigers shipped the first baseman to Texas—not that they’re complaining. The Rangers are getting a huge bat from the left side, and Fielder figures to thrive in Arlington, where right field is a short wall. Despite coming off a mediocre season, Fielder is the youngest active player with at least 285 career home runs. His presence will also greatly benefit the No. 4 and 5 hitters, Adrian Beltre and Alex Rios.

Choo simply knows how to get on base. The right-fielder had a career-best .423 OBP and his 112 walks trailed just former teammate Joey Votto for most in the MLB. His 107 runs were also third in the league. Choo will be hitting leadoff for the Rangers this season, and based off the .266/.336/.386 line the team’s leadoff hitters posted last season, Choo will make this already-potent offense that much more lethal.

Key Losses

2B Ian Kinsler: It’s sad to see Kinsler be traded from the only team he’s ever played for, but I guess he doesn’t feel the same way. The three-time all-star burned bridges in the front office but there is no denying the impact he had during the team’s most successful run ever. He averaged 24 home runs and 82 RBIs a season during his eight-year tenure with the Rangers. Though he hit just 13 home runs in 2013, two years after hitting 32 out of the park, Kinsler had a season on par with his averages. Pretty impressive for a player who grudgingly bared the title of team leader after his two best friends were traded and he was asked to move to first base. Despite the war-of-words with Texas’ front office, Detroit gained a true team player.

RP Joe Nathan: It’s a shame the closer wasn’t on the Rangers in 2011 when all that separated them from a championship was one more strike—twice. Nathan pitched incredibly for Texas during his two-year stint with the team, compiling 80 saves and a combined ERA of 2.10. Despite missing the entire 2010 season because of Tommy John surgery, the 39-year-old remains one of the league’s best closers. Nathan joins Kinsler in Detroit, and one can assume Nathan will continue defying his age by racking up save after save.

PLAYER TO WATCH

There are many interesting storylines coming out of Arlington but none bigger than Jurickson Profar. The Rangers essentially pushed Kinsler out of the way for this guy. Though Profar has a lot of potential, this will be his first season as an every-day player. He struggled finding his rhythm last year, splitting time at five different positions, he should settle in at second base. Time will tell if Profar can develop the same chemistry Kinsler shared with shortstop Elvis Andrus. The two started 578 games together. Profar and Andrus have just started 31.

Projected Opening Day Lineup

rangers opening day

This isn’t the boldest prediction ever, but expect the Rangers to win the AL West. That is no knock against the Oakland Athletics. Texas’ offense this year strongly resembles that of 2011’s, which should mean great things for the team. There are plenty of questions in regards to pitching, especially since Derek Holland was recently played on the 60-day DL. But Yu Darvish returns to terrorize opposing batters yet again, which should ease at least some concerns. A 94-97-win season is not out of the question for the Rangers.

30 Days for 30 Teams: Los Angeles Angels

BY AXEL BOADA

2013 Record: 78-84 (3rd Place AL West, 18 GB)

On paper, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim should have been dominating the MLB. But the games aren’t played on paper.

The team went 78-84 and missed the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year.

So far, the signings of 1B Albert Pujols and LF Josh Hamilton have been huge busts. After two hype-filled offseasons, not much is expected from the team this season. Los Angeles is hoping to find some angels in the outfield this season. But are they still stuck in Anaheim?

Key Acquisitions

DH Raúl Ibañez  (1 yr/ $2.75M)

3B David Freese  (1 yr/ $5.05M)

Ibañez a.k.a. Lord Voldemort is currently experiencing a career resurgence 18 years into his tenure. Over the last five years, Ibañez has averaged about 24 home runs and 77 RBIs a season. The 41-year old doesn’t seem to be slowing down, which is great news for the Angels.

Freese is my mortal enemy (I’ll explain in a later article). The third basemen had a down season last year, hitting just .262 and a career-low nine home runs. However, he made the all-star team only two years ago and has a lifetime .356 OBP. And considering how bad Angels third basemen were last year — they hit eight home runs total last season — he figures to be a big improvement in that department. After all, Freese was the 2011 World Series MVP.

Key Losses

1B/OF Mark Trumbo: Los Angeles loses huge power in their lineup now that Trumbo is in Arizona. Not counting Trumbo’s eight game appearances in 2010, he has averaged 31.7 home runs and 94 RBIs per season. He arguably had the best season of his short career last year, belting 34 out of the park and driving in 100 runs.

CF Peter Bourjos: Though he struggled with injury during his time in Los Angeles, Bourjos has plenty of potential. Bourjos is projected to start over CF Jon Jay in St. Louis and if the 26-year-old can stay healthy, the Cardinals may get 30 to 40 stolen bases out of him. The Angels may regret trading the speedster for Freese if the latter doesn’t pan out in Los Angeles.

PLAYER TO WATCH

Mike Trout: This one is easy. The centerfielder is one of the best players in the MLB at just age 22. In 2012, Trout became the first rookie to ever hit 30 home runs and steal 49 bases. He followed up an incredible year with another right on par. Trout batted 97 runs in, which 14 more than he had in 2012. He also had an unreal .432 OBP.  Oh, and he is a two-time AL MVP runner-up. Basically, Trout is really good.

Projected Opening Day Lineup

angels opening day

Having a player of Mike Trout’s caliber is great for any team. Unfortunately, there is not much reason to be excited about the team’s chances beyond that. The Angels do have big power in the bats of Hamilton and Pujols, but it appears they are past their primes. The AL West is a very competitive conference and it is hard to think Los Angeles has a chance of dethroning the Oakland Athletics. Expect the Angels to win around 85 wins and finish third in the division.

30 Days for 30 Teams: San Francisco Giants

BY AXEL BOADA

2013 Record: 76-86 (t-3rd Place NL West, 16 GB)

Recent history shows that the San Francisco Giants like to follow up World Series titles by missing the playoffs the next season. Fortunately for the team, this season is one of those alternating years.

So does this mean that Los Gigantes are championship-bound? Well, there is definitely a good chance. Do not be surprised if they do find their way into the Fall Classic once again.

It is quite a bold statement about a team that was two losses away from finishing last in the NL West—the same division the Los Angeles Dodgers currently have a tight grip on—but San Francisco’s rotation remains one of the best in the game, and their young core is still intact.

Key Acquisitions

LF Michael Morse  (1 yr/ $6M)

SP Tim Hudson  (2 yr/ $23M)

Morse is looking to regain his inner “Beast Mode” after an injury-plagued 2013 campaign that saw him split time between the Seattle Mariners and Baltimore Orioles. With the Washington Nationals in 2011, Morse batted .303 with 31 home runs and 95 RBIs. Morse played in just 102 games with the Nats in 2012 but managed to match his career averages, for the most part. But in just 88 games last season, he hit .215 with only 13 home runs and 27 RBIs. Now, 100 percent back from a wrist injury, Morse gives San Francisco an offensive boost they have been lacking the last few years.

Last year, Hudson broke his right ankle in one of the most sick-nasty ways ever.  However, he is on pace to be ready for the regular season and will bring consistency to a normally tremendous starting rotation that disappointed in 2013. There is no denying that the 15-year veteran is not the player he once was, but playing in cavernous AT&T Park should help him maintain his 3.44 career ERA, as well as keep his winning percentage above 60 percent, a mark he has missed only twice in his career.

Key Losses

Barry Zito: This is more “good riddance” than “key loss” for the Giants. The lefty pitcher went 63-80 in seven seasons with San Francisco. Pair that with his bloated contract, and Zito made about $1.89 million per win. But in his defense, he earned at least some of it during the 2012 postseason. He kept the Giants’ postseason alive by improbably defeating the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 5 of the NLCS. He followed up that elimination-saving performance by outdueling Justin Verlander game 1 of the World Series. Strange stuff indeed. Zito’s 2013 season was more run-of-the-mill, though, going 5-11 with an ERA of 5.74.

Chad Gaudin: When Gaudin is a team’s key loss, the team did not lose much. But the soon-to-be 31-year-old was more than serviceable for San Francisco last season while stepping in for an injured Ryan Vogelsong. He went 5-2 with an ERA of 3.06 in 30 game appearances for the Giants. It was a pretty small sample size, but a solid season nonetheless.

PLAYER TO WATCH

Brandon Belt: The first baseman showed some of his all-star potential last season. Belt hit .289 with an .841 OPS, along with 17 home runs and 67 RBIs. At just 25 years old, Belt may establish himself as a team stalwart for many years to come. However, his power is hindered by the Giants’ ballpark—only six of his home runs were at home last season. If Belt is to elevate himself to the upper-tier of first baseman, he is going to have to it around 25-30 home runs a season. Even if he is unable to achieve this level, his career trajectory is very exciting for Giants fans.

Projected Opening Day Lineup

giants opening day

The Giants have a really good thing going for them right now. After a down year, they should return to form. And the subtle additions of Hudson and Morse address two of San Francisco’s biggest concerns the last couple years—consistency and power. Unfortunately for them, the Dodgers are loaded and are early picks to win the World Series. Expect the Giants to win about 88 games this season and contend for an NL Wildcard.