Monday, March 31, 2008

Play Ball! (real) Opening Day is upon us

Not a pre-dawn kickoff in Japan or a made-for-ESPN prime time tilt but real live Opening Day

Good thing baseball is such a tradition-obsessed sport, huh? Not only have we already had two opening days, but one was at night and the other was in a foreign country 7,000 miles away from American soil.

Ah, Bad Hair Bud, what are we ever gonna do without you when you finally get busted with an underage male prostitute?

Following those two faux starts the 2008 baseball season officially gets underway with 14 contests on tap today. The former traditional Opening Day opening act, the Cincinnati Reds, will play but not the first game of the day, much to the chagrin of my Queen City relations, and the Red Sox and As, who played the first two games of the season in Japan last week, don't resume Part II of their 4-game series until tomorrow night in Oakland.

Another scheduling "quirk" finds the Braves and Nats, the clubs that played in last night's ESPN opener, both in action today but not against each other.

Idiotic scheduling aside, the beginning of the baseball season ias always a cause for celebration, especially when you don't have to get up at 5:00 am to do so, and like every other year this season will bring many questions that fans want answered and bloggers are obligated to try and answer for them, such as:

  • will the Red Sox repeat?

  • will the Rays finally reach .500 now that they've exorcised the Devil?

  • will Barry Bonds remain an unemployed pariah all season?

  • can the Tigers score 1000 runs with their modern day version of Murderer's Row?

  • how long before the Brewers regret giving Eric Gagme $10 million bucks (over/under is about 3 games)?

So without further adieu I'm going to dip my toe into the prediction pool. As with all my other picks, these are 100% guaranteed to come true...3-4 years from now.


AL EAST: Red Sox- they may not have made many changes from last year, but when you're the best team in baseball, why should you? Plus they learned about tinkering with the team following the championship in '04. If veteran starters hold up and kids Buchholz & Lester can step in, they should have enough firepower to repeat as division champs for the first time in the modern era.

AL CENTRAL: Tigers- I realize the Tigers are this year's chic pick to go all the way, and normally I don't like to jump on the bandwagon of the media darling du jour, but lat year I stayed away from the Indians and picked the White Sox, and look where that got me. Too much offense and enough quality pitching not to take the Central this year

AL WEST: Angels- see above, but substitute Rangers for White Sox. I realize their two aces are hurt right now, but Oakland is rebuilding, Seattle isn't ready yet, and Texas is, well, Texas. It's LA of A's divison for the taking

AL WILD CARD: Indians- like the Bosox the Tribe didn't make many changes this offseason. But also like the Sox, when you win 96 games, why mess with success?

BIGGEST SURPRISE: Rays- another fashionable pick to finally break through, but there is definitely a different attitude down here in the Bay area, and like I tell my Little Leaguer son, you can't do well without confidence, and this young team is a confident bunch. Could finish 3rd in the East because...

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: Blue Jays- a rash of preseason injuries (Rolen, Ryan, Stairs) is a precursor of what's to come for the star-crossed Jays. As always they will have the talent to make the postseason and the salaries to make the talent happy, but the injury bug will keep this team from finishing above the Rays this year

MVP: Manny Ramirez, Bos- two words sums up why the mercurial ManRam will win his 1st regular season MVP award: Contract. Year.

CY YOUNG: Josh Beckett, Bos- he was robbed of the award last season, which should be all the motivation he will need to lay waste to the rest of the league again. IF his back injury flares up again however, look for transplanted Oriole Eric Bedard to notch his first Cy in Seattle

ROY: Evan Longoria, Rays- he didn't even make the roster to start the season, but that was purely a (typical D-Rays) business decision; when the 22-year-old third baseman is called up, he will dazzle voters with his sweet stroke and slick fielding


NL EAST: Mets- the team added the perfect cure for what ailed them last season: a multiple Cy Young winner whose shoulder isn't falling off. Johan Santana will help the Metropolitan fans forget last season's epic collapse and the disastrous signing of Petey Martinez as he plows through NL lineups like The Bride with a long blade.

NL CENTRAL: Cubs- every year I pick em to break the curse. One of these years it will finally happen. But with a nice blend of speed, power and pitching this could finally the the year. Right? Okay, stop laughing.

NL WEST: Dodgers- they may not have the offense of Colorado or the arms of San Diego, but they've got one thing those other teams don't have: a Hall of Fame manager with 5 championship rings. Somehow Joe Torre, freed from the shackles of the Bronx hellhole, will find a way to get this team to the postseason

NL WILD CARD: Padres- still not a great offense, although the additions of Tony Clark and Jim Edmonds will help, but when you've got a couple of guys on the staff with a combined 5 Cy Youngs plus a deep bullpen, it's tough to pick against 'em

BIGGEST SURPRISE: Nats- I'm not saying they're gonna win a playoff game or anything, but combine a young & talented club that doesn't know it should suck with the thrill of a new ballpark and all the signs are there for Washington to be the next crappy team to turn things around in a hurry

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: Phillies- got all the makings of "one year wonder" written all over them. Biggest question is who will implode first, Brad Lidge or Brett Myers?

MVP: Jose Reyes, Mets- I picked him to win it last year and he was in contention until a late-season swoon brought him back to earth. This year he is poised to do what Jimmy Rollins did for Philly in '07: be an MVP sparkplug for a playoff team from the leadoff position

CY YOUNG: Johan Santana- the rumor is he's on the downside and that's why the Twins let him walk. I say give him a chance to face the pitcher three times a game in the DH-free NL and he'll add Cy #3 to his mantle place

ROY: Kosuke Fukodome, Cubs- another rookie who's not really a rookie thanks to his many years in the Japanese League, Fuko will be the '08 equivalent of Ichiro and Iwamura- an MLB-ready rookie without the actual service time



WORLD SERIES: Red Sox over Cubs in 7 games

One of these years it's gonna happen!

Check back in July for my excuse-riddled post as to why these predictions are so far off course.


Sunday, March 30, 2008

Final First: Four #1 seeds advance to Final 4

North Carolina will face Kansas and Memphis will take on UCLA in an historic Final 4 in San Antonio

I know they call it March madness, but no one realized this year the term would apply because the tournament actually went according to plan. For the first time ever all four number one seeds have advanced to the Final 4, setting up what could be one of the best Saturdays in college basketball history.

One the one side you've got the top seeded North Carolina Tarheels, led by former Kansas coach Roy Williams, going up against those very Jayhawks that Williams abandoned for his beloved Tarheels five years ago, a storyline in itself that will be beaten to death by ESPN in the next week. Factor in the Player of the Year Tyler Hansbrough, who basically single-handedly led the Heels to the win in the Sweet 16 contest against the pesky Louisville Cardinals with his clutch 2nd half shooting, and a deep, talented and athletic group of kids from Kansas and you've got the making of an instant classic.

In the other game we will see the mighty Memphis Tigers, who play a dominating style of basketball on both ends of the court, battle the team many have picked to win it all outside of UNC, the UCLA Bruins. An interesting aspect of this contest will be the fact that both coaches, Memphis' John Calipari and the Bruins' Ben Howland, just became exclusive members of the fraternity of coaches who have led their clubs to 3 consecutive 30-win seasons. With multi-talented athletes all over the court and two capable courtside directors calling the shots, this game, too, has the makings of a classic.

Which most likely means both games will suck.

Like most of the games in the Sweet 16.

In a season where upsets occurred weekly and everyone thought there was a chance that any of 10 teams could cut down the nest, its ironic that the final 4 comes down to the four teams that have been at or near the top of the rankings all year.

The only upset this March was that there were no upsets.

Okay, sure, Davidson knocking off #2 seed Georgetown in the second round was THE upset of the tourney, but looking at the two teams now and realizing how good the little school that could really was and how mediocre Georgetown actually is, that upset seems less monumental and more "I shoulda seen it coming."

Unfortunately for Davidson they couldn't keep the streak going and knock off Goliath (Kansas) in the Elite Eight yesterday. Though they battled the Jayhawks right to the very end before a desperation three at the buzzer went wide, the hundreds of fans from the tiny college north of Charlotte home who got a free trip to Detroit courtesy of rich boosters weren't able to crash the party and become the first 10 seed to advance to the Final 4.

Instead it will be another first- the first time all four #1s make it to the last round- something that is really amazing when you think of it considering these seeds are supposed to make it there every year.

Just goes to show you what the selection committee knows.

And speaking of selections, although my bracket crashed and burned when the Volunteers schoolyard style of ball was bested by Louisville's version of the And 1Mix Tape, my 11-year-old son now resides at the top of the bracket heap, needing Carolina and Memphis to advance to the championship in order for him to claim the grand prize.

Now that's what I call madness, baby!