Archive for May, 2012

by: Mauricio Rubio Jr.
email: mr@99sportsproblems.com
twitter: @MRubio52

“…I do think it’s fair to say we have to spend some time rebuilding the pitching staff. I look at what happened last year from the outside with them losing two starters the first week of the season. It’s very difficult for any team to survive that, but the Cubs didn’t have the depth to do that. Even though we have confidence in some of the starters, we have a need to add more …. Injuries can never be an excuse for a bad season. You have to make sure that you have depth to avoid the inevitable and survive.”

-Jed Hoyer

Heading into the season I doubt many people would be surprised if the Chicago Cubs ended up trading Matt Garza for prospects at the deadline. The overwhelming feeling at the outset was that the Cubs were too far away to build a competing team while Garza was still effective. Garza is 28 which puts his window of being a good major league pitcher at 5 years, give or take. It’s fair to say that the Cubs felt they would be in competition outside of that window.

What is the reality, and what comes as a bit of a surprise, is that the Cubs are looking to extend Garza this year as it would appear they intend on keeping him. As the story indicates, Garza’s people wouldn’t be shocked if a trade happened, but the feeling is that he stays with the Cubs for quite a while.

The question this leaves me with is; Do the Cubs think they are closer than everyone else thinks they are? Do they believe they can build a contender within five years? Or is this just a ploy to drive up his trade value and the Cubs still feel that they are too far away to keep Garza. I can see both sides of it. Garza is eligible for free agency in 2013, it would be prudent of the Cubs to drive up his value for prospects by threatening to tie him up long term. However, the feeling I’m left with when I consider what it all means is that the Cubs think they aren’t too far away from competing.

Shark

I’ve been impressed with Samardzija since the spring. Since I wrote that article Shark had the expected uptick in BB/9, but he’s increased his K/9 rate and kept the other gains he made over the past few seasons.

What you’ll see there is a continued ability to suppress hits. Some of this may or may not be attributed to the defensive shifting the Cubs are employing, that’s another article for another time. Shark, it would seem, has turned himself into a solid #2-3 starter, depending on your definition of those labels. He’s done a remarkable job of keeping the ball on the ground and suppressing fly-balls. Some of these gains are unsustainable, but still bear watching over the long term:

The main knock on Samardzija have been his ability to miss bats, which looks like it was fixed last year, and his ability to command his pitches, which looks like it’s in the process of being adjusted this year. Remember when it was a surprise that Shark made the rotation this year? I don’t think that TheoCo was anticipating Samardzija’s progress this year.

Bryan LaHair

This is a major surprise. Bradley Woodrum over at Fangraphs (great site, go check them  out) posited that LaHair’s success might be sustainable. What’s important to keep in mind with LaHair is that while his BABIP has been crazy this year, it’s not insane to say that he can be an above average 1B or corner OF. If that seems like a massive step down from his current production, that’s because it is.

However, what it should be looked at is a massive step up for any projected production from a career minor leaguer who failed spectacularly in his previous auditions. He managed to keep improving past the age when such improvement is expected. He’s an anomaly and he’ll have a fairly long career crushing balls, but he’s not a 1.000+ OPS guy. I can see LaHair being the 25-30 HR guy with a decent average. He’s still striking out a lot, but his walk rate has also increased. It looks like LaHair got legitimately better, and when the Cubs can get rid of Soriano, they have the next LF on their squad. Rizzo will move LaHair off first. Speaking of which.

The Kids

Seriously, that’s stupid good. The BB-SO ratio is a little concerning, but the man is destroying AAA pitching. When he comes up there will be a lot of expectations placed on him. His swing looks different by all accounts, it’s shorter and more capable of handling MLB pitching, but there’s really only one way to test that out.

The rest of the known kids, Brett Jackson, Josh Vitters, Junior Lake, Javy Baez, etc etc, are a mixed bag. We know that the Cubs lack any type of pitching at the minor league level, which is why the Cubs were entertaining the possibility of trading Garza in the first place. Josh Vitters started hot, but has cooled considerably. Brett Jackson’s defense is ready, but his bat is dragging a bit. Junior Lake is killing it, but his upside is limited and he’s still pretty far away. McNutt is having a good rebound year, but he’s the only pitcher of note in the minors that is doing anything.

Synopsis

The biggest factor in what the Cubs do with Garza will be the farm system. This year’s draft is important for the Cubs as they try to infuse a thin minor league system with some talent. There are some good pieces on the major league squad, the starting pitching has been a good surprise, but the Cubs biggest need is offense. I know the bullpen has been awful, but ‘pens are a funny thing to put together. You don’t build a good bullpen as much as you just fall into one. What’s more common is what the White Sox did in 2005, find live arms to stick in the pen and hope for the best. In that case, the best happened, despite running through 3 closers. The Cubs need a real CF, a better 2B, a 3B who can hit, and a younger catcher.

The fact that they are considering pulling Garza off the table suggests that they think they can acquire the pieces via other options. They can trade Dempster for a decent haul, and they will be looking at Latin America for a boost in player production. I think certain surprises this year have the Cubs front office moving up their timetables a bit, and that’s a good thing. The current squad is competitive, but not good enough to be a serious player. With shrewd management and smart maneuvering, they can be the real deal quicker than we all expected.

[youtube http://youtu.be/D0s3VTgrZKg]

I have to say, I agree with this man on everything I would sacrifice to see the Cubs win the World Series.

What would you guys give up?

Email us 99sportsproblems@gmail.com
Find us on iTunes

  • 0:48 Andy is dead this episode
  • 1:15 Propers
  • 2:10 Tony thinks Twitter is exuberantly happy
  • 2:46 Ted Lyons Sunday Starter
  • 9:30 Top Ten MLB HOFers that need to be kicked out
  • 19:38 Breakage
  • 20:15 Beer brewed with maple syrup
  • 22:00 Andy’s story time
  • 23:00 Waite Hoyt sucks too
  • 25:00 @SaintLouisSport
  • 25:30 White Sox talk
  • 37:02 Chicago Cubs talk
  • 43:54 Breakage
  • 44:30 A buncha gutless dogs that folded like lawn chairs
  • 48:43 House Cleaning
  • 51:58 Where Are They Now: Bo Jackson
  • 57:50 The show never really ends
  • 59:27 Bye-bye

Since We Last Spoke: Brian LaHair has become The Babe reincarnated in Cubbie Blue, Josh Hamilton went on a binge (the home run hitting kind, not the other kind), NATO has begun its takeover of our fine city, President Obama endorsed gay marriage, and we’ve achieved peace in the Middle East. Well, maybe not the last one, but while we’re fantasizing about things that never happened but should…

…The Bulls just swept the listless, overmatched, lazy defending, inconsistent, bite-off-more-than-they-can-chew-by-saying-they’d-rather-see-The-Bulls-in-The-Playoffs Philadelphia 76ers, and they’re up 2-0 against the obviously aging Boston Celtics. Doug Collins has pulled out the last of his receding Silver Fox coiffure trying to figure out how to stop reigning MVP Derrick Rose from shredding his entire team en route to averaging a triple double for the series. The few Sixer fans who’ve bothered to show up for the two games at Wachovia Center chanted, “MVP, MVP!” every time Chicago’s finest stepped to the free throw line to put the nail in the coffin of this clearly inferior team. Luol Deng fed off of D-Rose’s championship tone setting play, and he showed why he was an All-Star earlier this year. Joakim Noah tore up the court the way only he can. He embarrassed the hell out of Spencer Hawes at every opportunity. 

I know this was a shortened season with more likelihood for injury and setbacks, but damn! This was simply ridiculous. There will forever be an asterisk linked to whoever claims Larry O’Brien this year, but this really felt like Da Bulls’ year. For real. Legitimately. The same feeling is probably being felt by Oklahoma City or Miami or (yet again) San Antonio natives this year, too. Well, go ahead and marinate on this: take Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden off of the Thunder. Remove LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh from the Heat roster. Timmy goes down along with Manu and Tony? Hell, take the top three players from any contender, and they instantly become candidates for the lottery. 

Fuck the 2012 NBA season. Derrick Rose may never be the same again. A torn ACL takes away a leaper’s leap and a cutter’s cut, especially a 6’3″ point guard’s ability to explode to the cup the way Derrick does (did?). No one wants to hear this, and I guarantee he feels worse than anybody about the whole situation, but it bears mentioning that without Derrick the Bulls might not ever get back to their championship level with Thibs’ current core. 

Anybody remember Penny Hardaway by any chance? Exactly.

But it has been a depressing season this year for Chicago sports. Not the traditional “our teams suck” brand of depression. It’s the brand of depression that involves high expectations, championship-caliber ball being played and then injuries and unforeseen circumstances taking over the fate of a season. The window in professional sports gets smaller and smaller for franchises, and the Bulls’ window might have just slammed shut with one snap of a kneecap. The same happened with the Bears this year. And the Blackhawks. 

Which brings me to a very important existential question: is it better to have loved and lost or never to have loved at all? The sports version of that conundrum boils down to this: is it better to have a great team and have it injure itself before potential gets realized or just to have sucked all along. Maybe we should round up a gang of Cleveland Browns or Charlotte Bobcats (sorry, Mike) fans to gain some perspective into the world of sucking. Or we can just take a cue from one of our baseball teams, and just, oh my gosh, I can’t believe I’m saying this…
…wait till next year.

 

by: Tony Leva
email: tonytrucker1969@gmail.com

Ruining a Dynamic Young Arm, by the White Sox

In the 2010 draft, the White Sox selected Chris Sale with the 13th overall pick, even though he came from someplace called Florida Gulf Coast University, not exactly a noted baseball factory. He was thought of so highly that the Sox are thought to have stolen him there at 13. When you draft a pitcher that highly, it’s obvious you consider that pitcher to be HIGHLY valuable and a big part of your future. Accordingly, you take every precaution with an arm that prized. You do everything in your power to make sure he’s taken care of to the maximum of your organization’s abilities. So why the hell are the White Sox doing their best to piss away such a dynamic young asset?

After drafting him, the Sox rushed Sale to the majors 2 months later in August. Yeah, they were fighting for the divisional title, something they ultimately fell short of. They used him exclusively in relief 21 times, not too tough a workload even for a kid fresh to the bigs. He excelled in the bullpen. In 2011, he was also used exclusively as a reliever and excelled once again. The Sox had always pictured him as a starting pitcher like he was at FGCU. They were commended for taking their time with him and slowly breaking him in. They let fan favorite Mark Buerhle leave via free agency so a rotation spot could open up for Sale. Buerhle is a God to Sox fans for some reason. The fact the team viewed Sale as his immediate successor spoke volumes about their opinion of what Sale meant to their future.

Flash forward to a week ago. Chris Sale had made 5 starts for the Sox to start the season and again was excellent. All systems seemed to be a go. Then, his elbow started to ache. Not just any elbow, but the elbow of the guy who the Sox had hoped would become a legitimate Ace. Now, when such a young and promising pitcher has any sort of distress or pain in his pitching wing, the generally accepted way of handling this is to shut the guy down for a period of time until the pain either stops or it doesn’t, which necessitates medical attention. I coached both baseball and softball for about 14 years and ANY time a kid who pitched complained of any type of soreness, we stopped them from pitching. Immediately. Even if the parents bitched about it (which none of ours ever did, but I’ve seen it happen) the decision was made as it was our responsibility to that child to keep his best interests in mind. Since a kid of 10 or 11 is obviously not as baseball valuable as Chris Sale is, it stands to reason that he also would be shut down, right?

Wrong. The Sox, for some reason, decided that instead of being shut down, a move to the bullpen was the right course of action. No immediate MRI, no ceasing of any and all pitching, no restriction on self-pleasuring himself. Nope, they decided not only to keep pitching him, they decided to take him off a regular, set schedule of pitching every five days to a far more erratic schedule of pitching. He might have been called upon to pitch two or three days in a row. Is that any way to take care of such a valuable and precious young asset? Of course it wasn’t. To make matters worse, they denied anything was wrong with him….he was just “a little sore”. Yeah, my ballsack was just “a little sore” after my vasectomy. They told me to stay off it while I healed, too. I did.

So on Thursday, it was revealed that the team was sending Sale for an MRI after one relief appearance where he was ineffective and obviously not right. What changed? His elbow didn’t suddenly take on a new degree of soreness after the shift to the bullpen, did it? If it didn’t the team is negligent in caring for Sale’s arm. If it did, the team is just as negligent in caring for Sale’s arm. Either way, the second they decided NOT to shut him down and IMMEDIATELY send him to the doctor for the MRI, they committed a grossly negligent act towards Sale, his future and the team’s fan base. I hope Sale is okay, but the Sox really dropped the ball on this one.

Kerry Wood, Official Cubs Mascot

This past off-season, the Cubs gloriously hired Theo Epstein as President of Baseball Operations and gave him the keys to the franchise in hopes of reaching baseball glory. Tom Ricketts told Theo to do things his way and promised to stay out of the operations side of the team, which he has done so far with one glaring exception….the re-signing of team mascot Kerry Wood. While Theo has promised to run the team like a big league franchise free from drippy sentiment, he catered to Rickett’s wish and brought back the guy who has been dead to me since game 7, 2003 NLCS. Not only did the team bring back a rapidly declining relief pitcher, they did it at the Cubs Convention. You know, they place that’s so filled with cloying sheep that the “BAAAAAHHHHH BAAAAAAAHHHHH” sound can be heard from a mile away. Don’t get me wrong, the place has some serious and critically thinking Cubs fans in attendance, but they’re the minority. I’ve been there and have seen it for myself.

Anyway, they rolled Wood out at the end of player intros on opening night to the delight of the meatheads who screamed shit like, “WE LOVE YOU KERRY!!! YAAAAAAAAAYYYYYY!!! WELCOME BACK!!!!”. I saw clowns post on message boards that they were moved to tears by this blatant publicity grab by a team that needed a feel-good story in the middle of January. Seriously? Moved to tears by a guy that choked away a chance to go to the World Series in glorious and spectacular fashion? A guy that has never reached his vast potential? True, it’s not totally his fault on that last point as he was abused in high school, memorably pitching both ends of a playoff doubleheader days after the Cubs drafted him. He never became more than a thrower…he never became a pitcher. But I’ll never forgive him for game 7. Anyway…..

Wood’s signing was the high point of his current contract as he’s really not a part of our future. His presence on this team was supposed to be about feel-goodery and not about being a competent major league pitcher. Apparently, the feel-goodery is lagging as well. Tuesday night, Wood came into a tie game against Atlanta at Wrigley Field and promptly sucked as hard as a Hoover set on “$100 Whore” and blew the game with a symphony of suck. He gave up 2 walks, 2 hits and whatever shred of dignity he had left when he launched his glove and hat into the stands after the inning was over. At least he hit his mark with his glove, which is a far cry from what he did with a fucking baseball that inning. With an ERA approaching 15 and a surly attitude (after the game, he copped a shitty attitude to a scribe, calling his question about the glove toss “irrelevant” and mixing in a nice cuss word to boot) what the hell is this guy still doing here and why the Christ does he still get cheers from the lemmings?

He gave the ownership what they wanted…a big reaction at the Cubs Convention. It would be nice if Wood could go out like something more than the petulant asswipe he played on TV Tuesday night and retire immediately. Hey Kerry, do the noble thing and give a young kid with a chance to help us win in the future a shot at refining his game at the major league level. Bow out of a failure of a last dance season. Tell the ones who still profess their love for you that the feeling will always be mutual and you’ll always be a Cub and blah blah blah. Take whatever gig the Ricketts family has promised you in your retirement and start building that 401k fund. Go on a world cruise. Impregnate your wife a few more times. Pretend you’re an NBA player and knock up a bunch of ho’s looking for a baby daddy. Do whatever you wish.

Bottom line….just go away. For all our sakes.

NFLer Jacob Bell Call it Quits

Eight year NFL veteran offensive lineman Jacob Bell retired this week in the wake of the Junior Seau suicide last week. Bell cited numerous reasons for this abrupt decision, his health and long-term future the chief concerns. To quote Bell himself…

“One of my biggest concerns when it comes to the game in general is my personal health. One thing that’s obviously on the minds of a lot of people lately is brain research and all the stuff that’s going on with that. One of the big things that I thought about when I was considering this is how much do I love the game? How much can they pay me to take away my health and my future and being able to be with my family and just have a healthy lifestyle?”

Bell signed a one-year deal with the Cincinnati Bengals last month that was worth nearly $1 million, which is what he walked away from. I applaud Mr. Bell for taking a step back from his life in the present and seeing his life in the future, weighing it against the money he was due this season along with likely future earnings, then making a decision that at least 95% of the rest of the NFL players out there wouldn’t dare make. He may not have been a star player, but his family thinks he is and will be blessed with a happy and healthy Jacob for years to come. Good for him.

Shit, I hate being all sensitive and semi-mushy. Since I can’t close like that, here’s a quick funny for you…

Q: Why can’t Jesus play hockey? A: He keeps getting nailed to the boards.

[youtube http://youtu.be/CuWQfMGjZF4]
How I feel about the Chicago Cubs

by: Mauricio Rubio Jr.
email: mr@99sportsproblems.com
twitter: @MRubio52

Son, this isn’t the land of the living. It’s the land of the dying. Get over it. Ask not for whom the bell tolls….

-Craig Branch

I’m watching what could be Chipper Jones’ final season in baseball. There’s something about the passage of a baseball career that gets me. The old guys are going away, as they always will over the course of time. Finally the generation of baseball players that I grew up with, the brightest stars of my baseball card collection, is going away. Some are still going strong, Jeter is hitting .400 for some reason, some are fading away, Giambi and Thome are finding different roles as part time players, and some may have passed into the history books abruptly, Mo Rivera might have pitched his last Major League inning. They leave the game in fine hands as the younger crop of budding stars took over. It’s turning back into a young man’s game with an emphasis on speed and defense, and that’s what baseball should be. Home Runs are only cool to a degree, but for my money a 450 ft. moon shot, while certainly valuable, will not be as entertaining as that moment when the runner tags up from third on Bryce Harper. Baseball is at it’s best when Jemile Weeks tests the arm of Ichiro, when Starlin Castro is stretching a double into a triple, when Josh Reddick absolutely guns some poor soul down at third. It hearkens back to a different time, a different brand of baseball.

Baseball is about history. It’s true that nothing will ever happen the same exact way twice, but what happens on the diamond always has roots in the past. Baseball goes through cycles, and sometimes those cycles will repeat. I think that as it stands now this iteration of baseball has the chance to look a lot like the game as it was played in the 1970’s, when you could see all sorts of things on the diamond. Starters went for 250+ innings, closers saved 30+ games, SB artists swiped 60+ bags, sluggers hit 30+ HR’s, great hitters had averages in the .330’s. It was an athletic competition that pitted outfielders against daring baserunners, great pitchers against great hitters, and it was probably the best representation of what baseball could be. Given the dearth of young talent that is already here and the talent that has yet to reach the Major League level, we could be looking at that again.

History

The last time the Cubs went 27 up, 27 down was on September 9, 1965. Sandy Koufax struck out 14 and let none reach base against the 8th place Cubs at Dodger Stadium. The Cubs have always managed to get a hit since then. It’s the longest streak of its kind in the Majors. The Yankees have the second longest official streak at 44 years, 263 days.

That fact came to me as I was watching Tommy Hanson throw a few no-hit innings at Wrigley. It got me thinking about all the history Wrigley must have seen over the years. I bring all of this up because there is a slow realization that is coming to me as I am witnessing what I think are the final years of Wrigley Field. At least the Wrigley Field as we know it. There are numerous plans to renovate Wrigley Field, most of them revolve around a Jumbotron in center field, and some even have the Cubs scrapping the old stadium all together and building up a brand new stadium. I know a lot of fans are heavily resistant to the idea of tearing Wrigley down. Over time, I’ve grown to accept that it can happen, and for the long-term success of the team, it probably should happen. The more importantly I’ve grown to accept that it’s ok.

Wrigley is currently the second oldest stadium in the Majors. Fenway is older by 2 years. Weeghman Park opened in 1914, Fenway opened in 1912. Weeghman park was the home of the Federal League Chicago Whales for 2 years before the Cubs took over the park in 1916. Since then it’s seen a lot of history, some of it good, most of it bad. Wrigley saw Babe Ruth call his shot. Gabby launch one into the gloamin’ there. It’s where Charlie Hustle equaled a legend. Whether you like it or not, Sammy made history there, creating a legend that is now a taint in Cubs history.

That’s the underlying theme with Wrigley, we’ve been a witness to heartbreak more than anything. I think the Wrigley moment that sticks out in my mind more than anything is Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS, and we don’t need to rehash that moment. Wrigley has never celebrated a World Series winner. She’s never seen the Cubs seal the deal.

Ivy

Wrigley will always have a soft spot in my baseball heart. It’s canned as a dump by its detractors, and yeah, a lot of the park could use improvement. What’s lost in the troughs is what that place really means to Cubs fans. It’s the embodiment of history for most of us, and it shouldn’t be that way. Wrigley is bricks, ivy, mortar, and steel. Wrigley is not Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, Fergie Jenkins, nor Greg Maddux. It was the home of some legends, but at the end of the day, that only matters so much. What matters more are the memories of what they did. It’s cool to have an active museum like Wrigley, but I think it’s more important to remember that memories don’t die if the stadium does.

I was always closer to my mother’s side of the family. My grandfather (her father) and grandmother settled into a house on the lower west side of Chicago in 1968. My family essentially lived in that house until 2000. My grandfather put so much time into that place, he became that place in a sense. My youth has strong roots in that house, we were that house. The memories of my childhood center around there, as our family grew and scattered to all corners of the country, we would always gather there for Christmases, birthdays, and eventually a funeral. When my grandfather died the decision came to sell the house and have my grandmother move in with us. That was an extremely painful and sad day for the entire family as 3 generations of family gathered again to say goodbye.

My grandfather was that place, but his memory lives on. The house was important, but more important were the memories shared there. They didn’t go away, they didn’t become dull in the wake of the sale. They remain, as the memories always will. Our family is more than brick and mortar, and we Cub fans need to understand that the Cubs are more than Wrigley Field.

A large part of me will be sad to see it go, it will be torn down in my lifetime, of that I am certain. There is a great deal of charm to the ballpark, but at the end of the day what matters more to me is that the Cubs put themselves in the best possible position to succeed. If that means a Jumbotron, fine. If that means tearing down a relic and building a new park, fine. Yankee Stadium was Ruth’s house, Yankee fans don’t mind the new Yankee Stadium much. There’s an understanding that the legends in pinstripes will always be the legends in pinstripes, regardless of where the current Yankees play.

A baseball sage once said that heroes get remembered, but legends never die. Wrigley Field is a legendary stadium, in my opinion. It’ll never really die, the ivy will always live on in Cub fan hearts and memories. It’s time to grow up in a sense, we’re in the baseball business now. Nobody is more romantic about baseball and history than I am, but part of history is progress, and I’m perfectly fine with the Cubs progressing.

Cherish the memories, they are important. Think about the long-term success of the team, that is more important.

This is what happens when you cartoon while hungry.

Further comfort food available on Facebook, light snacks on Twitter, and the main course on Tiamat’s Garden.

Marvel’s The Avengers Review

I went to see this highly anticipated summer blockbuster movie on opening weekend with incredibly high expectations. I’m no comic book geek, but I’ve always favored the cast of Marvel characters (Captain America, Iron Man, Spiderman, The Fantastic Four, the Hulk) over the DC brand (Batman, Aquaman and Superman). To prequel this movie, Marvel made numerous others as a lead-in over a period of a few years. They all led into The Avengers and usually, when something is this hyped and anticipated, disappointment is inevitable. Believe me, this movie actually exceeded expectations and was in no way, shape or form a let-down.

The movie opens with Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), head of S.H.I.E.L.D. arriving at a secret facility that houses the Tesseract, the mysterious energy source last seen being lost at sea in “Captain America, the First Avenger”. The facility is in full evacuation mode as the Tesseract has somehow activated itself and is causing some serious concerns on-site. As it happens, demigod Loki (Tom Hiddelston in an amazing performance) opens a space portal and enters the facility, kills a shitload of people, steals the Tesseract and uses his awesomely badass scepter to put Agent Clint Barton a.k.a Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and top scientist Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) under a mind-control spell. They make a dramatic escape and leave the facility in ruins, with Fury desperate to recover the Tesseract and righteously uber-pissed.

The super-secret and defunct Avengers Initiative is dusted off and re-instated. Black Widow (the deliciously black leather-clad Scarlett Johansson) is contacted first and extracts herself from a situation that is right out of a James Bond scenario. It’s badass as all hell and very intense. It’s also a preview of the next two hours’ worth of intensity. She is sent to Calcutta to enlist the in-hiding Dr. Bruce Banner a.k.a. The Incredible Hulk (played with incredibly under-stated sarcasm and intelligence by Mark Ruffalo). Banner has not had a Hulking-out incident in over a year and seems to be able to control himself. Don’t get used to the un-Hulked Banner because he’s got some serious face time coming.

Genius billionaire playboy Tony Stark a.k.a Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr in a tour-de-force performance) and his lady squeeze Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) are in Stark Tower, located in lovely downtown Manhattan, quibbling good-naturedly like a couple of kids and are interrupted by Agent Phil Coulson who fills them in on the situation and gives Stark Selvig’s research in hopes of getting him to join up. Stark rebuffs the advance as he was initially rejected for the Avengers Initiative as his psychological profile doesn’t fit the mold. Stark realizes the seriousness of the situation and quickly agrees to help out with a push from Potts. What kind of Avengers initiative would it be without Iron Man anyway?

Fury himself recruits Captain America (Chris Evans) for the team. Cap is at loose ends after being thawed out after 70 years of being frozen in the Arctic or wherever it was. Bottom line on that….it was fucking cold. Anyway, Cap is still adjusting to life in the present and is an outsider for the most part, looking for his niche in today’s world. He quickly agrees to join The Avengers as he’s a true patriot. Captain America has always been my favorite superhero and Evans plays him exactly like I envisioned. He’s who I want to be when I grow up.

Loki has a plan to rule the Earth and needs the Tesseract to aid his cause. The Other, a super badguy from another race in outer space (hey, that rhymes!!) promises Loki an army of space assholes called the Chitauri to help him conquer the human race in exchange for the Tesseract. Talk about a dick move. Can’t do his own dirty work so he enlists a batshit crazy demigod to do it for him.

Loki is located by some sweet facial recognition software in Stuttgart, Germany by S.H.I.E.L.D. He’s simply there to cause a distraction so Barton can steal iridium, which is needed to stabilize the Tesseract’s powers. Quickly captured by Cap, Iron Man and Black Widow, Loki is abducted by his half-brother Thor (the side of beef named Chris Hemsworth). Thor attempts to figure out Loki’s plan and is quickly engaged in battle by both Cap and Iron Man. As they beat the ever-loving shit out of each other and lay waste to what was probably a protected forest area, they settle down after the testosterone levels go down and take Loki to S.H.I.E.L.D.’s awesome flying aircraft carrier and imprison him in a cage-thing made to hold the Hulk.

As The Avengers bicker and talk shit to each other for a while (the interplay amongst The Avengers is often hilarious), they realize the Tesseract was being used as the basis for some superweapons by S.H.I.E.L.D. (I’m getting sick of typing that) and they disagree about what to do about their situation. As this is going on, the still-controlled Hawkeye and others controlled by Loki invade the carrier and blow up a big part of it, and manage to piss Banner off enough that he Hulks out and rips apart even more of the ship. Then a bunch of fun shit happens….Loki escapes but tricks Thor into the prison cell and ejects it from the ship in hopes of killing him, Hulk falls out of the ship and crashes to Earth, Black Widow knocks Hawkeye out and breaks the mind-control mastery, and Iron Man and Cap realize that Loki has a grander plan in mind.

Loki’s plan is to use the Tesseract in a device that Selvig has built on top of Stark Tower to open a giant portal in the sky (protected by the energy from the Tesseract) and unleash that army of space assholes to begin the conquering of Earth. As the Chitauri flow in, (some foot soldiers, some riding alien sleds with sweet laser weapons and these bigass monster-things that fly/glide like nothing you can believe encased in armor) the Avengers reassemble in Manhattan to engage in an epic battle for supremacy of both Earth and who can make the biggest swath of destruction while battling the invasion. I gotta think Hulk won that honor. For the record, this is where the Hulk absolutely STEALS the movie with two laugh-out-loud scenes. The Hulk subdues Loki in one of them. If I had a DVR button at the movie, I would have rewound that scene 5 or 6 times. It was that great.

As the battle rages, the jerkoffs who run S.H.I.E.L.D. ignore Fury’s confidence in The Avengers to win the battle (they have figured out a way to close the portal using Loki’s phallic scepter) and unleash a fighter jet who blasts a nuke at Manhattan to end the battle their way. This was even a bigger dick move than when The Other got Loki to grab the Tesseract for him. At least The Other is just a space alien asshole….these are humans who have to live on Earth. Iron Man leaves the battle to intercept the nuke and using the last bit of his suit’s energy, guides it through the portal where it explodes all over the alien mothership and renders the invading aliens as useless as mint-flavored suppositories. The depleted Iron Man falls back through the portal, plummeting to a certain future as scrap metal, but is saved by the Hulk. Finally, all is well. Well, except for Manhattan, what with all the dead aliens of various sizes littering the streets and the damage to all the buildings that are going to keep building contractors in NYC busy for decades. Thor takes Loki and the Tesseract back to Asgard for Loki to be held accountable for his actions. Sucks for him.

The Avengers go their separate ways. Opinion is divided amongst the people of Earth as to the good The Avengers have done. The clueless jerkoff faction whine and bitch about the damage done in saving their worthless asses from being ruled by an Asgardian demigod who has a real attitude problem. Some gratitude. The other faction revel in the success of The Avengers and feel safe that they are protected by them from the inevitable problems on the horizon. These people have a damned clue about what happened.

There are two post-credit scenes to stick around for as well. These are a staple of Marvel movies these days and are worth the wait. Besides, the lines for the bathrooms thin out a bit if you wait for the lights to come up. At around 2 hours and 20 minutes, you’ll need to take a whiz when it’s done, believe me, especially if you down a 32 oz Dt. Mt. Dew on the way to see it.

Four stars aren’t enough for this flick. I give it eleventy billion stars and a cherry on top. I’m going to see it again and quite possibly will squeeze in a 3-D viewing as well. I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed a movie this much. Even if you’re not a huge fan of the superhero genre, the performances and computer-generated stuff (THE HULK!!) are worth the price of admission. Do yourself a favor and check it out.