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Saturday’s 21-17 Preseason loss might not eliminate the Redskins from an NFC East Preseason banner…but a lot would need to happen for coach Jay Gruden to capture their first August trophy since 2013.  What is obviously more important is how the team is coming together.  The preseason is such an easy time to write off…or see what one wants to see as a team gets ready for the regular season.  But despite the fact that the Skins went 3-1 in each of coach Gruden’s first three preseasons, his team stumbled out of the gates at 1-2 each fall.  So maybe an 0-2 start in August is a good omen.  Just don’t look at the 2006 team the sleepwalked through the preseason before finishing 5-11 (not too good).

Captain Kirk- now that is what we wanted to see!  More than two possessions!  The franchise tagged one competed 14 of 23 passes for 140 yards and a touchdown while playing the whole first half.  It did take Cousins and the first team a while to find themselves, gaining just 8 net yards over their first 10 plays from scrimmage.  But Cousins finished with the bang of a 10-play, 78-yard march that resulted in a 4-yard TD toss to Jamison Crowder.

Back Up Bingo- the other QB’s mirrored Cousins’ performance, combining to hit 14 of 22 passes for 134 yards and a score.  Colt McCoy directed the Skins to 115 yards on 19 plays  (6.1 yards per play) over three third quarter possessions, while Nate Sudfeld led the team to 81 yards on 15 plays (5.4) over 3 drives.

Running on Empty- the ground game garnered just 64 yards on 22 carries.  Samaje Perine (45 yards on 8 carries plus a 29-yard reception) impressed again after leading the team in rushing against the Ravens (albeit with just 15 yards).  The rest of the running backs?  A less than productive 14 yards on 13 carries.  In coach Jay Gruden’s three previous seasons the team ranked 19th, 20th and then 21st on the ground.  Who’s ready for finishing #22 this fall?

Thompson Time- even though he gained just 1 yard on 2 tries, Chris Thompson made his presence known in the passing game with 5 catches for 52 yards.  In a week without Jordan Reed, the air attack saw some contributions from rookie Robert Davis (4 grabs for 36 yards) and Josh Doctson’s first-ever preseason reception (a 12 yard catch!).  One remains bummed that Ryan Grant (2 catches for 7 yards on 4 targets) has yet to reach his customary August awesomeness.

Third Down and Downer- moving the chains on 6 of 17 attempts is technically better than the 2-for-13 shown last week.  Thank goodness it’s only August.  Cousins converted on 3 of his 9 chances, while Colt McCoy moved the marker on 3 of 5 opportunities.  Nate Sudfeld?  A “he’s just a second-year player 0-for-3”.  The Skins ran 14 pass plays (4-14 conversions) and 3 running plays (2-3).  Yardage breakdown: 4 for 5 when under 4 yards were needed, 1 for 6 when 4 to 6 yards were necessary and 1 for 6 on third and 7+.

Case for the Defense- Chris Carter led the sack pack with 1.5 of the team’s 5 against the Packers…while Zach Virgil and Nico Marley each notched 4 tackles with 3 solo stops to pace the D.  No turnovers for the defense though–and they did allow Green Bay to move the chains on 7 of 15 attempts.  Will Junior Galette ever suit up for this team and will be be the silver bullet they desperately need…especially with Trent Murphy done for 2017?

Special Situations- Niles Paul recovered a fumbled punt…and that resulted in the Skins’ first points of the night.  The return game may have averaged less than 20 yards on kickoffs and less than 5 yards on punts, but the coverage team wasn’t embarrassed either.  Dustin Hopkins connected on a 43-yard attempt and Tress Way averaged over 43 yards per punt.

With the Moody Blues touring and playing their 1967 landmark album “Days of Future Passed”, I’m returning to the archives for the first four parts of a summer-long series from 2013.  Eventually I’ll add pieces and bring us to the present…whether you like it or not.

 

1966 was an incredible year in music. The Beatles released their highly regarded Revolver while the Rolling Stones were spinning out singles like “19th Nervous Breakdown” and groups like Cream and the Jefferson Airplane were beginning to take flight.  Meanwhile, the Moody Blues were on their way to becoming insignificant one-hit wonders (GO NOW!, #1, 1965)–about to be devoured by the law of diminishing returns.  To add to their drifting into oblivion…the Moodies lost their rudder and sail as lead singer Denny Laine and bassist Clint Warwick fled the sinking ship.  As a last gasp the remaining trio reached into their past and future.

John Lodge had originally left the Moodies to attend technical college…but rejoined at this time as fill-in Rodney Clarke didn’t last long enough to merit a Wikipedia entry.  Lodge’s voice and songwriting would be an unexpected bonus to his bass playing:  he’d create and deliver band-defining songs from “Ride My See-Saw” to “Isn’t Live Strange”.  For a new lead guitarist, the band picked up a hand me down from the Animals:  Eric Burdon handed Mike Pinder a letter and demo from 20-year old Justin Hayward.  The sandy blonde songwriter had previously been a part of the “Wilde Three” and had done some solo work…and would go on to become the face and voice of the Moodies during their peak era of 1967-72.

Armed with two singer/songwriters, the band refined its sound.  R&B knockoffs wouldn’t work any more in a changing musical landscape.  The quintet grew together playing in Belgium–now focused on their own material.  The first fruit of their cross-pollination would be one step forward with “Fly Me High”…a Justin Hayward song that drives though the verses steadily before relying on John Lodge’s falsetto harmony in the bridges.  The kind of song where you enjoy the entire ride and are bummed when it’s over… thinking for sure you had one more verse to enjoy.  The B side would be a leftover from the Laine/Warwick days, “I Really Haven’t Got the Time”.  A song that feels like a Gerry and the Pacemakers derivative…only not as good. Thankfully, Mike Pinder’s next effort wouldn’t only be much better, but also feature a new instrument that would define the band.

“Love and Beauty” was the band’s next single…and in addition to featuring interwoven harmonies Mike Pinder swapped out his piano for the Mellotron. He discovered the instrument while an employee of Streetly Electronics. This keyboard instrument plays tape loops and gave bands the feel of an orchestra at times. It provided the perfect vessel for the band to take their listeners on seven remarkable journeys.


Coming up Next: One Incredible Day.

This year the Moody Blues are touring to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their landmark album “Days of Future Passed”.  I’m reposting a series from 2013 and continuing extensive coverage of the Moody Blues that nobody has asked for throughout this month.  Something to do before football season kicks off…at least.

 

 

It all began in May, 1964 like many groups of the day that succeeded and failed: one band splinters and then dissolves. Mike Pinder (keyboards), John Lodge (bass) and Ray Thomas (tambourine, flute, bad dancing) left “El Riot and the Rebels” only to disband when Lodge attended school and Pinder entered the Army (one has the feel of “Summer of ’69”: “Jimmy quit, Jody got married…”). Pinder and Thomas eventually reunited to form the “Krew Cats”. I don’t know which name is less irritating, but before long they were joined by Denny Laine (guitar) and Clint Warwick (bass) as well as a former band manager turned drummer Graeme Edge (sort of like the Rolling Stones Ian Stewart in reverse). Would they keep “Krew Cats”? Or maybe become the “Crew Kats”? The answer lay in the bottom of a pint of beer.

Mitchells & Butlers plc owns and operates over 1,500 restaurants and pubs across the United Kingdom…and is headquartered in Birmingham. No doubt the lads were well ahead of the curve in attempting to get M&B to sponsor the band–when you need an amp or a set of maracas you’ll likely do anything. While the proposed name “M&B Five” never gained traction with the brewery, M&B stayed as initials. Much like the kismet that delivered the Avengers character “Emma Peel” (casting directors were looking for and actress who appealed to men, aka “man appeal”/”M-appeal”), the blues-based group formed their name off the initials of the beer of the day= “The Moody Blues”.

Much like the multitude of struggling groups on the fringe of success the lads played clubs of all sorts honing their craft, hoping for the opportunity to trickle into London for an audition with a label. They signed with a management company that would release their recordings through Decca. Their first single, “Steal Your Heart Away” failed to chart…and sounds like much of what came out at the time. It was almost a demo reel for each band member to prove they could play guitar, bass, piano and drums and interweave harmony and lead vocals. While their debut would sound like a band playing a song, their followup would feel like a song being played by a band.

From Denny Laine’s naked vocal to the descending piano to the presence of full harmonies and band in the first 15 seconds, “Go Now!” has you hooked, avidly awaiting the next line. The Larry Banks-Milton Bennett penned tune is fairly straightforward…and the harmony chorus often feels like the solo verse and vice versa. Laine brings an over-the-top energy that remains restrained–instead of being too hot or too cold, his voice is just right here. The harmony vocals provides him the perfect sound to bounce off of…and Mike Pinder’s clean piano drives the song without taking away from the singing.

Go Now!” skyrocketed to #10 in the US charts and would claim the top spot from Georgie Fame’s “Yeh Yeh” in the UK before being nudged aside by the Righteous Brothers “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” (no truth to the rumor that Tom Cruise sings “Go Now!” in a scene that didn’t make the final cut of “Top Gun”). TV appearances followed where today’s youtube viewers think Ray Thomas is John Cleese from Monty Python. Naturally, a slapped together album of covers, filler and miscellaneous followed with the hit single as its centerpiece. The album failed to chart…as their #1 song was becoming a millstone instead of a milestone.

Instead of being a springboard, “Go Now!” turned out to be the gold standard that each successive single paled against. “I Don’t Want to Go on Without You” stalled at #33. “From the Bottom of My Heart” peaked at #22. “Everyday” (solid stop and go harmonies) crested at #44. “Stop!” (too herky-jerky) stopped at #88…in Canada. And “This Is My House (but Nobody Calls)” finally replied at #119 in the US. In a singles-dominated medium where yesterday’s news becomes lining for bird cages, the Moodies were becoming old hat overnight. “Life’s Not Life” was a fitting final attempt as Laine (who would eventually join Paul McCartney’s Wings and perform “Go Now” in concert with Paul & Linda) and Warwick went their own ways…leaving Pinder, Thomas and Edge looking to revamp the band’s lineup and perhaps reinvent their sound. And that’s when two Blue Jays flew in from out of nowhere.

 

Coming up Next– Finding harmonies…and meeting the Mellotron.

The Dog Days of Summer begins with a flashback to a post written in 2013…

 

This is a project I’ve long talked and joked about. Every time I’ve made a career transition I’ve mentioned putting the free time towards writing the highly anticipated book about the Moody Blues. This will hopefully be the summer of highly ignored blogs about the Moody Blues-who they were and why one should care?  Were they trying to be funny during the spoken word poems or were they just that high?  What made their albums incredible journeys and why do they deserve long-delayed recognition like being in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?

Yes–one might be able to fathom the Moody Blues exclusion of the R&R HOF. It’s a subjective game. Until you realize that two inferior contemporaries, the Hollies and the Dave Clark 5 are enshrined. Really? I can break down the Moodies rightful inclusion on multiple fronts.

 

Versatility and Longevity– DC5 was hot for 3-5 years churning out derivative hit singles and fizzled as the 60’s came to a close. The Hollies hung in there through the mid-70’s. MB scored a #1 as an R&B band with “Go Now”… turned into a progressive rock band and enjoyed extended success with songs like “Nights in White Satin” (peaking at #2 in 1972)…and enjoyed a resurgence in the 80’s (Your Wildest Dreams reaching #10 on the charts–and #1 on the Adult Contemporary listings). That’s 20+ years of being relevant and dominating three musical regions.

 

Lyrics– DC5’s biggest hit? Arguably “Catch us if You Can”. They say “Catch us if You Can” 14 times in 1:56…and the song would have been even better if they just repeated catch us if you can throughout. The Hollies did write some of their songs but depended on a stable of writers to turn out some of their most memorable hits (“Bus Stop”, “Hey Aint Heavy, He’s my Brother”).  With the exception of “Go Now”, all of the Moody Blues major tunes were self-written. And wouldn’t you rather hear “Nights in White Satin” than “Catch us if You Can”? Don’t answer until you say the title 14 times in succession.

 

Matchups– the beauty is there are five members in each band. So we’ll break down the matchups- basketball style…giving 5 points for first, 3 for second and 1 for third…:

DRUMS– Although the Dave Clark 5 is named after drummer Dave Clark, I’m going with the Hollies Bobby Elliot for making his kit seem like it was the solo instrument more often than not (check out the bridge to “I Can’t Let Go”). MB’s Grahame Edge loses out although he was a presence in “Higher and Higher” and wrote most of their goofy poems.

BASS– MB’s John Lodge dominates not just because he locks in with Edge, but his value as a singer/songwriter creates matchup problems with the late Rick Huxley of DC5 and the Hollies Eric Haydock/Bernie Calvert platoon.

LEAD GUITAR– MB’s Justin Hawyard wrote and sang on most of the MB’s hits… and has DC5’s Lenny Davidson for lunch. Tony Hicks represents the Hollies (his middle verse in “Carrie Anne” plays off Nash and Clarke too well) but comes up short.

FLUTE/SAXOPHONE/HARMONICA– One can’t think of a DC5 song without the late Denis Peyton’s saxophone and his awkwardness playing the instrument on youtube. MB’s Ray Thomas helps “Nights in White Satin” reach that next level with his flute…has one heck of a voice and a killer mustache that would make Magnum jealous. Allen Clarke delivers the harmonica riff on “He’s Not Heavy, He’s My Brother” and sings the bulk of the Hollies hits. He dances awkwardly (check out concert footage) but not nearly as bad as Thomas did during “Ride My See Saw” on Colour Me Pop (MANDATORY YOUTUBE). The two are exhibit A and B why you give every band member an instrument so they DON’T dance.

KEYBOARDS/RHYTHM GUITAR– Classic matchup between DC5 lead vocalist Mike Smith’s east-west sashaying and effortless smile, MB’s thoughtful and pensive Mike Pinder trying to create art while pioneering an instrument never used before (Mellotron) and Graham Nash’s filling in the gaps vocally with Clarke and Hicks. If Nash actually played the guitar he’d get the call–but we’re going to go three way tie.

So after doing the math, the Hollies win by a close margin over the Moody Blues 18-17 with the Dave Clark Five a distant third at 10.

 

Coming up in this unwelcome journey…roots in R&B…hits and many more misses…and the best re-cast ever.

July 31st is the non-waiver trading deadline in Major League Baseball.  While swaps can still go through, this is the big day when deals are made between contenders and pretenders.  For the sixth straight year the Nats are contenders…and the last three seasons have provided a Christmas in July for DC baseball fans.  What might be under their tree this year?

Needs- Relief, relief, relief.  The Nats lead the majors with 66 quality starts but boast the second-worst bullpen ERA in the big leagues.  Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson have been solid additions, but one can never have too many proven arms available in the late innings.  They could also use another table-setter type in the lineup:  Brian Goodwin and Wilmer Difo are hitting just over .250 with 34 walks against 104 strikeouts.  Howie Kendrick was a start…but there’s no guarantee Trea Turner will return to his June-level when he gets back and there’s no guarantee Jayson Werth will even return.  Add to the wish list a #3 or #4 starter…the longer that Stephen Strasburg is in the land of limbo.

Previous Sprees- the last three years General Manager Mike Rizzo has pulled the late-July trigger, with mixed results:

2014-– infielder Asdrubal Cabrera (more like a stocking stuffer than a gift wrapped under the tree) was brought to DC for reserve Zach Walters.  Cabrera didn’t set the world on fire, but was a decided upgrade over Danny Espinosa at second base (just one error and 20 runs + 21 RBI over 49 games; Espy had 31 runs + 27 RBI over 114 games played).

2015– closer Jonathan Papelbon was brought to South Capitol Street to shore up the bullpen.  The price tag?  Nick Pivetta (3-6 with an ERA of 5.73 this year for the Phillies).  And the team’s mental well-being. Instead, the veteran was ineffective, Drew Storen went on a downward spiral that ended when he broke his hand punching a locker, and Papelbon put his hand on the throat of NL MVP Bryce Harper in a dugout dustup.  Decidedly a bad move.

2016– new year, new closer.  This time it was Pittsburgh’s Marc Melancon…and the price tag was pitchers Felipe Rivero (5-5 with an ERA under 2 out of the pen for the Pirates over the last year) and Taylor Hearn (currently in high Class A).  Melancon delivered 17 saves in 18 chances with an ERA of 1.82 in 30 appearances and almost as important allowed the team to jettison Papelbon.  A definite win for the team.

Hall of Blame- congratulations to former Expo Tim Raines and ex-National Pudge Rodriguez on their Hall of Fame inductions.  Shame that Cooperstown’s big day occured while there were 14 MLB games in progress.  Perhaps they can make this part of All Star Week?

Dissecting the Division- the hard-charging Miami Marlins have won seven of ten,  moving within 13 games of the Nats.  For those scoring at home, the magic number is now 47.

O’s Woes- okay, so the Birds took two of three from Texas. And they put 10 runs on the board Sunday against the Rangers.  But the Orioles are 6-1 against Texas this month…and 5-13 against everyone else in July.  At 50-54 they’re on the fringe, five and a half games out of the wildcard.  But the starting pitching remains a nightmare and the dreaded west coast trip is a few weeks away.

Last Week’s Heroes- Ryan Zimmerman hit .350 with 4 HR and 9 RBI…replacing Frank Howard atop DC’s career HR list.  Wilmer Difo batted .364 with 2 homers.  Edwin Jackson pitched a gem Sunday night (striking out 6 while allowing 4 hits over 7 innings).  Max Scherzer struck out 9 while improving to 12-5 on the season.

Last Week’s Humbled- Daniel Murphy and Matt Wieters each hit .167.  Tanner Roark allowed 4 runs over 5 innings in his lone start.  The Washington Kastles lost 5 straight matches to slip out of World Team Tennis title contention.

Game to Watch- Monday Gio Gonzalez pitches against Jose Urena in Miami.  So you’ve got Gio’s return to his hometown…facing a nine-game winner.  While Gonzalez has lost four of his last five decisions, the lefthander continues to keep his ERA under three.  Have we mentioned the Marlins are within 13 games of the NL East lead?

Game to Miss- Wednesday the Nats wrap up their series against the Marlins with Stephen Strasburg–nope, he’s on the DL.  Instead, TBA takes to the mound against an 0-2 Vance Worley…proving that the dog days are officially upon us.

Everybody gets hurt in baseball.  But not all injuries are created equally.  If the Nats were 5-15 when Adam Eaton went down with the knee injury or if the offseason acquisition were hitting .143 at the time, there’d be no continual jab to the ribs every time one saw Brian Goodwin leading off.  If Jayson Werth hadn’t shown signs of life last year when moved to the #2 spot in the order, his absence over the last month would just de liver shrugs.  If Trea Turner hadn’t been setting the basepaths on fire the month he got hurt (22 of his 35 stolen bases came in June) it would be just another second-year player missing time.  If this were the first time we’ve seen concern over Stephen Strasburg, we’d treat his shortened start with the “isolated incident” mindset.  Instead, this is a team with October dreams where every bump and bruise has an impact not necessarily now but in an NLDS this team has never won.  You think these injuries hurt now?

Digesting the Division- so despite all of the issues, injuries and ineffectiveness the Nats have won 8 of 10 to extend their lead over Atlanta to a dozen games.  Do we dare start the magic number count?  It’s 53 for those scoring at home.

Last Week’s Heroes- Bryce Harper hit .476 while scoring 7 runs and driving in 6…even with plans B and C hitting ahead of him in the lineup.  Adam Lind made the most of his limited time, notching 5 hits in 9 at-bats.  Edwin Jackson turned back the clock to 2012 by scattering 3 hits over 7 innings in his 2017 debut with the team. Tanner Roark bounced back from a rough patch by striking out 11 over 7 innings in a win.  Relievers Matt Albers and Ryan Madson combined to toss 5 and a third scoreless innings over 5 games.

Last Week’s Humbled- reserves Chris Heisey, Ryan Raburn and Stephen Drew combined to tally 4 hits in 35 at-bats.  Max Scherzer allowed 3 homers in the first inning against the very team that drafted him in 2006 (Arizona) while Gio Gonzalez had a rough outing as well.  Joe Blanton’s 11.57 ERA for the week over four outings has the strange sense of deja vu.

Game to Watch- Wildcard leading Colorado comes to DC this week…giving fans three chances to see the Rockies.  Antonio Senzatela (10-3 but with an ERA over 4) starts the series finale Sunday.  Will we get the good Gio, the bad Gonzalez or simply the snakebitten one?

Game to Miss- originally the series with Milwaukee was going to be a “duel of division leaders”. Now it’s a matchup against a team that trails the Cubs by percentage points in the NL Central.  The Thursday finale sends Tanner Roark to the hill at 12:05 PM.  I’m all for getaway days…but 12:05 in July is more like a sweat-away day.

The storyline of the first half of the Nationals season was three-fold:  explosive offense, solid starting pitching and a flammable bullpen.  One weekend after the All Star Break, little has changed.  The offense pounded out 29 runs (even though Joe Ross is on the DL and headed for Tommy John Surgery instead of on the mound), the starting pitchers tossed 20 and a third scoreless innings while the bullpen notched an ERA of 9.95.  Will the trade for Oakland relievers Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle do something to patch up what’s been a leaky hull (5.31 ERA, worst in the Majors) all season?  If nothing else, it removes Blake Treinen from the equation:  the 6-foot-5 right-hander began the year as the team’s closer but wound up sporting a pre-All Star Break ERA of 5.73.  He’d been more “Blaze” than Blake over the last month. 

Dissecting the Division- pesky Atlanta (nine and a half games back) keeps pace by sweeping their weekend as well, and with Freddie Freeman back in the lineup the Braves could make a run at the postseason.  At least their pitching is consistent–meaning the starter’s ERA ranks 19th in the big leagues and their reliever’s ERA is 20th.  The Nats have six more games against Atlanta this season–all in September.

O’s Woes- the only thing worse than a leaky bullpen is a razed rotation.  After entering the All Star Break on a two-game winning streak, the Orioles proceeded to get swept at home by the defending champion Chicago Cubs.  Pitching was porous:  the starters allowed 21 runs over 11 and a third innings (16.68 ERA).  Some storylines never change. The New York Yankees currently own the final playoff spot in the American League at 47-43…a pace of 85 wins over the full season.  In order to catch them, the O’s would have to finish 43-28.  The team may say they’re buyers as the trading deadline looms…but you have to think they’re going to auction off some pieces for prospects.

Last Week’s Heroes- Anthony Rendon hit .636 with 3 homers and 9 RBI.  Granted, three games is a small sample size but WOW.  Daniel Murphy hit .625 with 7 RBI…while Murph and Bryce Harper both homered twice over the weekend.  Gio Gonzalez tossed 8 and a third scoreless innings while Max Scherzer struck out ten in his start and Tanner Roark had a solid outing for his first win since June 4th.

Last Week’s Humbled- Brian Goodwin went 2-for-13 over the weekend (.077) with 2 walks and 5 strikeouts…not what you want to see from your leadoff hitter but repeat after me, “it’s a small sample size”.  Relievers Trevor Gott (5 earned runs in one inning) and Austin Adams (2 runs allowed without recording an out) may have small sample sizes, but anytime you’re a pitcher who wears a number in the 60’s or 70’s it can’t be good.

Game to Watch- Sunday Stephen Strasburg (9-3, 3.43 ERA) pitches in Arizona against Robbie Ray.  Despite having two first names, the Diamondbacks pitcher is 8-4 with an ERA of 2.97.  He’s also a former Nats farmhand…having been sent to Detroit in the Doug Fister deal.

Game to Miss- Wednesday night the Nats wrap up their series with the Los Angeles Angels as Gio Gonzalez pitches against Ricky Nolasco (4-10, 4.82 ERA).  It’s a 10pm start… meaning you’re likely going to bed after golf’s British Open (or as they insist, “The Open Championship”) tees off.  Golf’s oldest major wins the tiebreaker here.