I enjoyed my vacation. You know I'm a company man, so it should come as no surprise to you that I took the wife and kids on a Disney cruise. Here's why I bring this up: On the cruise, they offer everything to do. Classes, sports, constant food, entertainment, shows, shopping, family activities, adult activities They have three movie theaters/screens playing, you guessed it, Disney movies. Lots of first-run stuff -- I saw "Brave," for instance -- and the classics, such as all three "Toy Story" movies and the "Citizen Kane" of robot boxing movies, "Real Steel."
They show the movies day and night, even late at night, when there is less to do. That's how I came to watch "The Avengers" three times over an eight-day span. I had already seen it, but the rest of the family had not, so we went one night. But the 7-year-old couldn't stay awake and wanted his mom to leave with him, so the Current Mrs. Roto took him back to the room while I stayed with the other two boys. Of course, the CMR wanted to see how the second half of the movie ended, so I later went with her to see it. And then, on another night when there was some bad weather, the 7-year-old and I went to see it so he could watch it awake this time.
Watching "The Avengers" three times in a week (and four times in a month), well, I've studied it a lot closer than one probably should. And I have questions. A lot of questions.
Before we begin, you should know that I love the movie. Love the movie. I'm a big superhero movie fan to begin with, and I'd argue this is as good as any superhero movie ever made. At least top five all-time, no doubt. I'll also tell you that while I'm a big superhero movie guy, I never was a huge comic book guy, so the answers to a lot of these questions might very well be found in the comics. I have no idea. And if I bothered to look it up, well, I wouldn't have a lead to my column now would I? Exactly.
Plus, a movie should be able to stand on its own without the help of extra reading or knowledge of the source material. That sounds a lot like hustling, and we all know this: Nothing good comes from hustling.
So I turn to you, gentle reader. I have 10 questions about "The Avengers" after repeated viewings. Obviously, if you haven't seen the movie, scroll down to the baseball part, because there are lots of spoilers ahead. But if you've seen it, can you please explain to me why
1. Black Widow is in "The Avengers"? Make no mistake, more Scarlett Johansson -- She's Jewish, by the way! I'm guessing she's on dorm room walls at a lot of yeshivas -- is always a good thing, but as far as I can tell she's not actually a superhero. Rather she's just a very good spy/secret agent. So why not other very good spies? Why just her? I'm all for Title IX rights and everything, but shouldn't the first requirement of "The Avengers" be that, you know, you are indeed a superhero?
2. An addendum to No. 1: If she's gonna be in there, couldn't they give her a better weapon than a pistol? Why wouldn't you give her that laser "Phase 2" thing that Phil Coulson shoots at Loki? They're all there, on the exploding streets of New York, fighting this supernatural alien race, which has air cycles and huge mechanical sloths. All the other Avengers are kicking butt with their amazing superpowers, and she's on the ground shooting this small gun like a kid at the county fair. "Ping. Ping. Ping." Why don't they let her throw tin cans at them? It would be just as effective. I felt bad for her.
3. How the hell does Thor get back to Earth? At the end of the "Thor" movie (spoiler alert!), Thor destroys the gateway to Earth while fighting with Loki. It's a huge sacrifice on his part, as it means he'll never see Jane Foster again on Earth. But it shows he's ready to rule, because he's willing to make personal sacrifices for the greater good. Loki is either already on Earth (as the scene after the "Thor" credits suggests) or he secretly accessed the Tesseract because he's working with bad guys. Once on Earth, Loki gains control of the Tesseract and, in theory, he can control who can (and can't) use it to travel.
4. As long as we're talking about Jane Foster, why wouldn't Loki go after her? Thor says the choosing of Dr. Erik Selvig is intentional, so you would assume Loki would also have gone after Foster, knowing what she means to Thor. S.H.I.E.L.D. didn't "hide" her until well after Loki showed up, and inflicting pain on Thor is Loki's primary motivation. Hmm, did someone in legal forget to put a sequel clause in Natalie Portman's contract? What's the deal there?
5. I've mentioned this before, but after repeated viewings I still don't understand how Bruce Banner can't control the Hulk on the ship but then suddenly can control him at the end. Nothing changes. He admits at the end that his secret is he's "always angry." OK, that explains his immediate transformation right then, but it doesn't explain the ship. Many have pointed out that Banner accidentally holds Loki's staff but puts it down and says, "I guess you don't get to see my party trick after all." Banner seems back in control at that point, and if he's always angry, there's nothing to trigger him.
6. And why would Loki's stick work on Hulk, anyway? At one point, Banner says he "ate a bullet, and the 'other guy' spit it out." Hulk seems impervious to anything outside affecting him. Plus, what about at the end, when Loki tries to change Tony Stark, but Stark's "iron heart" stops it? Loki's stick doesn't work on everything, clearly.
7. If it did, why isn't Black Widow affected at the very end, when she picks up Loki's staff to close the hole? She's clearly the most human of The Avengers, so she, of all people, should be susceptible to the powers of the staff. She isn't, and neither is Stark, so why did it work on Hawkeye and, supposedly, Banner (since that's the only thing that makes sense for the Hulk's first fight)?
8. Please, someone make sense of the streets of New York for me in the last scene. For much of the scene, people are running all over the place -- trapped in buses and buildings. And aliens are swarming everywhere. But in the scene in which Banner drives up on a motorcycle to join the fight, no one is around. No civilians, no aliens -- just our guys as he drives up. The way he rides up on that puttering little bike is funny, but seriously, where is everyone? It's the middle of chaos, and these guys are just hanging out alone? And then, suddenly, we're right back to panic in the streets, and a sloth descends on them quickly.
9. Why did Hawkeye need to be in heavy sedation and detox for a good while to "get Loki out of his system"? Yet Selvig appears to be back to normal once Black Widow reaches him (and before Stark delivers the bomb).
10. Other than the whole Hulk thing, here's the question that puzzles me the most: Why did Captain America say "close the hole" when he did? Stark has flown up in it and delivered the bomb, it has worked, everyone's happy so why close it right then? Why not wait to see if Stark can make it back? I get the dramatic nature of wanting him to just barely slip through, but could you give a reason for Steve Rodgers (the most selfless and upstanding of The Avengers) to give the order right then? Seems like he would be the last guy to call it, ya know, with "no soldier left behind" and all that from his military days. Makes no sense.
Bonus question and answer: Is that angry senator at the very end James "The Eck" Eckhouse? As in, Jim Walsh on "Beverly Hills, 90210." You're damned right, it is.
Clearly I have questions, and I would like some answers. I am not alone in that regard. When I turned in my top 250 rankings Monday night -- Wait, I can hear you ask, weren't you on vacation until Wednesday? Why, yes, yes I was. And you still ranked 250 players Monday? Why, yes, yes I did. No rest here at the Worldwide Leader -- I immediately got a number of questions on a handful of rankings in which I was clearly different from the rest of my ranking brethren. So since I asked you for answers, it's only right I give you some in return.
Here are the players I got the most questions about on Twitter (www.twitter.com/matthewberrytmr), Facebook (www.facebook.com/matthewjberry) and in my mailbag.
Guys I like more than the consensus ranks
Josh Hamilton, OF, Rangers (my rank: 1; consensus rank: 6). The question with Hamilton is health, not talent. We know that. So far, so healthy. I expect it to continue. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: At the end of the season, we will look back and call this a magical season for Hamilton. He was my No. 1 player the last time we did these ranks (in mid-May), and he has slumped (by his standards, at least) since then. I'm not worried about it, though, because that's what he does. He's a streaky guy. Look at his two best seasons. In 2010, he had three months in which he posted an OPS over 1.077, and he also had three months with an OPS of .845 or below. In 2008, a similar story: Three months of .960 or better OPS and two months of .813 or below. And this year? Well, two months of OPS over 1.180 and two under .757. He has big months coming, so why would I bail out of that rank now?
James McDonald, SP, Pirates (my rank: 72; consensus: 113). I get it, he plays for the Pirates. He has a boring name. His old man had a farm. Trust me, I understand the skepticism, but his consensus rank still strikes me as very low for a guy who is currently sixth among starting pitchers on the ESPN Player Rater (ahead of Gio Gonzalez and Stephen Strasburg!). It's not luck; there's a reason for his surge this year: his slider. He didn't throw it much before, but this year he's throwing it every five pitches (and every four pitches on two-strike counts). Of course, that wouldn't mean anything if it wasn't really effective. It is. Opponents are hitting just .130 off his slider this season, which is tied for third best in the majors among qualified starters.
Allen Craig, 1B/OF, Cardinals (me: 73; consensus: 106). I guess it really comes down to playing time, but clearly with a rank like this, I'm betting he'll get plenty of it. Considering he's on a team with injury risks such as Lance Berkman and Carlos Beltran, and that his numbers over a 162-game season would be .314 BA and 33 home runs, I like my chances. In fact, over the past two years, there are seven players in the major leagues (with a minimum of 120 games played) who have posted a higher OPS than Craig's .952 mark.
Adam Dunn, 1B, White Sox (me: 79; consensus: 99). We have two sets of data from which we can determine who the real Adam Dunn is: (1) last year, when he was terrible, and (2) his entire career prior to last year, plus the first half of this year. I think I'm gonna go with the larger data set, if that's cool. Is he getting a little lucky with his home run-to-fly ball rate? Sure. But he's also getting a little unlucky with the batting average (2012 batting average on balls in play: .265; career mark: .291). So maybe the homer rate slows a bit and the average comes up a bit. Either way, power is scarce, and we know this guy has it.
Colby Rasmus, OF, Blue Jays (me: 83; consensus: 110). Here's a fun fact you can impress your friends with at the bar (if they're the type that would be impressed with things like nerdy baseball stats and not, say, shotgunning a beer or talking to women). Do you know who leads the majors in well-hit average this season, with a .309 mark? None other than Colby Xavier Rasmus, whose middle name isn't Xavier, but it should be. The well-hit stat tells me his recent surge isn't a fluke, but rather a pickup of what we saw in 2010, when he hit 23 home runs as a 23-year-old. The Jays have a good lineup for him to hit in, and his home ballpark helps, too. I'm a believer.
Evan Longoria, 3B, Rays (me: 104; consensus: 144). More a gut call than anything else, really, but he was crushing the ball before injury, and it all boils down to when he comes back. If it's soon, this ranking is too low. If it's not until late August, it's too high. Simple as that. But I was thinking of these ranks as a draft, and if I was in the 11th round of a midseason redraft league (which is where pick No. 104 would put him), would I take a flier on Longoria? Why, yes, yes I would.
Kevin Youkilis, 3B, White Sox (me: 90; consensus: 119). What's the old saying? Hell hath no fury like an All-Star third baseman who helped his team win two World Series titles unceremoniously getting shoved out the door? Something like that. Youkilis has just one fewer home run and the same number of RBIs in his first 13 games with Chicago as he did in 42 games with Boston. Healthy and with something to prove, Youk is gonna have a big second half.
Madison Bumgarner, SP, Giants (me: 34; consensus: 43). Only colleague Tristan H. Cockcroft is higher on my preseason boyfriend Madison Bumgarner than me in these ranks, but truthfully the consensus isn't very far behind me. I included him just because I wanted an excuse to show you this table:
Pitchers with 30-plus wins and an ERA under 3.50 through age-22 season (since 1969)
Dwight Gooden: 2.46 ERA
Vida Blue: 2.48 ERA
Frank Tanana: 2.73 ERA
Bert Blyleven: 2.76 ERA
Fernando Valenzuela: 3.00 ERA
Madison Bumgarner: 3.14 ERA
Pretty amazing list to be on, eh? Dude already has pitched in 69 major league games, and he has a career ERA of 3.14. And again, he's only 22. I'll give you Mike Trout and Bryce Harper, sure, but how many starting pitchers would you rather have in a dynasty league?
Guys I'm lower on than the consensus ranks
Craig Kimbrel, RP, Braves (me: 69; consensus: 46). So I asked the SWAN of ESPN Stats & Info, Zach Jones, for some research help with this article, and as always he came through with some great stuff, including the Bumgarner table above. But when it came to Kimbrel, he wrote me, very simply, "I'm sorry, but I can't find anything bad to say about him."
Which made me laugh. Zach's right, of course. But there is one flaw in Kimbrel's game: He's a closer. You want something bad to say about Kimbrel? How about several: Fernando Rodney, Kenley Jansen, Rafael Soriano, Alfredo Aceves, Addison Reed, Tyler Clippard, Aroldis Chapman, Brett Myers, Casey Janssen, Jim Johnson, Chris Perez, Jonathan Broxton, Matt Capps, Tom Wilhelmsen, Ryan Cook and Santiago Casilla.
All of the above closers were either drafted very late or picked up off waivers this year. How many times do we have to say it? Never pay for saves. At least not in an ESPN standard 10-team league. Do Kimbrel's ERA, WHIP and high strikeouts make him more valuable than many of those guys? Of course, they do (though with just a half-season left, the ERA and WHIP help isn't that significant given the number of innings he's likely to throw). And that's why he's ranked as high (for me) as he is. I didn't even rank a lot of closers. Again, saves come into the league. Always and forever. The second half will be no different.
Roy Halladay, SP, Phillies (me: 100; consensus: 67). Now here's where you can use the Dunn argument against me. There are two sets of data on Halladay, and the much larger set suggests he'll be a stud again. But I'm not so sure. I took the risk of re-injury into account, and we haven't even seen him pitch in the majors since going on the DL. Here's the thing: He wasn't Roy Halladay-like before the injury. He was the 42nd-ranked pitcher on our Player Rater prior to the injury. His average and max fastball velocity are both down significantly from 2010 and lower than 2011 (which was also down from 2010). So it's a bit of a trend. Maybe it was because of the injury, and he was hurt right out of spring training. Or maybe we have another Tim Lincecum on our hands (though not as extreme). My rank tells you which way I'm leaning.
Yovani Gallardo, SP, Brewers (me: 108; consensus: 78)> He's walking more than four batters per nine innings and has a FIP of 4.08. I just think there are better pitchers out there who can help in strikeouts without hurting the ERA and WHIP as much.
Desmond Jennings, OF, Rays (me: 166; consensus: 125). Jennings was on my preseason "Hate" list, just so you know this isn't a recent development. Remember, his best full season at Triple-A was in 2011, when he hit .275 with 12 homers in 89 games. That's fine, but it's not exactly amazing. He's hitting just .183 against non-fastballs (Could the league be figuring out how to get him out with secondary stuff?), and he's striking out way too much (over 21 percent of his plate appearances). I'm not a believer in anything but his speed this year.
Felix Hernandez, SP, Mariners (me: 41; consensus: 31). It's a velocity concern (see chart below), plain and simple. He has been better recently, but he still hasn't been King Felix this year, and obviously, wins will be tough to come by in Seattle.
Felix Hernandez fastball, past three seasons
2010: 93.9 average velocity; 97.7 max velocity
2011: 93.2 average velocity; 96.3 max velocity
2012: 91.6 average velocity; 94.9 max velocity.
Jonathan Broxton, RP, Royals (me: didn't rank him; consensus: 205). See "Kimbrel, Craig." Plus, the Royals have a lot of other options in their bullpen, and Broxton is rumored to be on the block. He's the highest consensus-ranked guy I didn't rank, but I don't see him still closing after July 31.
Matthew Berry -- The Talented Mr. Roto -- also wants to know what a shawarma sandwich is. Berry is the creator of RotoPass.com, a website that combines a bunch of well-known fantasy sites, including ESPN Insider, for one low price. Use promo code ESPN for 10 percent off.