Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Baseball Hits The 1/4 Pole

Before I get to the baseball review/predictions, I wanted to note the retirement of Mike Piazza. It took me a little while to warm up to Piazza when he came to the Mets because he was a damned Dodger for years, but when it was all said and done, he was one of the great Mets of all time. If it was not for the most steroid-enhanced teams in history, he would have won the World Series in 2000 and is one of the great stories in sports history. The guy was drafted as a personal favor to his brother's godfather (Tommy Lasorda) in the 62nd round, pick number 1390. He went on to be the greatest hitting catcher of all time, the 1993 Rookie of the Year, a 12-time All-Star, a sure-fire first-ballot Hall of Famer and his game-winning home run against the Braves at Shea Stadium days after 9/11 will go down as one of the great sports moment of all time. Thanks Mike!

In March, in the last days before the Major League Baseball season began, I made my predictions for the winners of each division and then the playoffs. You can find my National League picks here, and my American League picks here. Now about 1/4 of the way through the season, I will take a look at those picks and perhaps make a few changes (thanks a lot Mariners).

Beginning in the AL West, I knew that when I picked the Mariners it was for stupid reasons. I said then that the Angels' pitching was banged up at the start of the year and while they may have had time to heal over the next six months, I thought that the Mariners' young pitching may get them a jump-start. Then Adrian Beltre hit .246, Kenji Johjima hit .222 and Richie Sexson hit .203 and they jumped out to the worst record in the League. I hereby switch my pick to the Angels because, of the two L.A. teams, they signed the right Torii.

In the AL Central, I chose not to drink the Tigers' Kool-Aid and picked the Indians because they had the best record in baseball last year and returned the entire team. The Tigers tripped and fell at the starting line and are only saved from the worst record in the League because they've played one fewer than Seattle. The Indians are in 3rd, 2.5 back and I am sticking with them. Grady Sizemore's OPS is .821, and while I haven't the foggiest idea what that means, it sounds awesome. MVP baby.

At the time, I said I did not care about the AL East and didn't make a pick. With the emergence of the Rays, it changes absolutely nothing. I still don't like the Sox or Yankees and the Rays simply cannot last for 120 more games. But it is fun watching the Yankees sit in last place. Of course, I heard a stat the other day that over the last three years, the Yanks are something like 20 games under .500 through May, and then something like 80 games over .500 from June through October. However, this year they have no pitchers.

As for the AL Wild Card, the Yankees' start opens the door up to the White Sox, Twins and A's. I will pick the A's since they are in an easier division and will mop up on the Rangers and Mariners.

I still don't care about the AL playoffs.

The National League West has retaken its rightful title as the NL Worst. My predictions in the West were dead on. The DBacks will run away with it (though I underestimated their win total). The Dodgers stink and no manager, not even the great Joe Torre, can win them an extra 15 games this year. The Padres are woefully under-performing and with Jake Peavy on the DL and then in recovery for who knows how long, they are not coming back anytime soon. The magic ran out in Colorado. The Giants play in a nice stadium and seem like nice people. How bad is the division? The DBacks are 20-5 against West opponents.

The NL Central is an enigma still. I picked the Cubs and they are in front with the pitching staff, Soriano and Fukudome leading the way as I predicted (I went out on a limb, eh?). But they are still the Cubs. And Houston and St. Louis are much stronger than I expected. If they can keep it together, this race could be brutal. I think at this point, I still have to stick with the Cubbies, but the Central will be a fun race in September.

The NL East is a train wreck. All five teams stink. Washington is truly terrible and is already out of it. The other four are all neck-and-neck and none is showing any signs of pulling away. I don't see the Marlins hanging around but isn't this what the Marlins do every five years? When was their last World Series? It will come down to the Mets, Braves and Phillies as usual. Among them, none is playing remotely close to how they should, although the Phillies and Mets have suffered far more injuries. I think if the Mets are still within a few games when Pedro Martinez and Orlando Hernandez come back, it's over. They are not the Greats they once were, but the lift that will give the team and the depth it will put in the bullpen will go a long way. Also, they are playing the worst baseball of the bunch and are still in it. If they make any steps towards waking up, they will start to pull away.

The NL Wild Card is pretty wide open. Initially I picked the Braves because they're good again. But the West is far worse than I expected and if the Dodgers can clean up against the Rockies, Giants and Padres, they could amass a lot of wins. Plus, with the East and Central likely being three-horse races, the Dodgers will have an easier time gaining separation from the pack in second place in their division.

NLDS: It wouldn't be the postseason without the Dodgers getting swept. The Dbacks will have the best record, but they cannot play a Wild Card team in their own division, so the Cubs will have the honor of sweeping the Dodgers this year.

NLDS: Mets over DBacks in a sweep also. I called in March and I am sticking to it. Screw Dan Haren and Brandon Webb.

NLCS: See my prediction on this from March. From here on in, my picks hold.

In other news, the NBA had the Lottery and the Clippers got #7. They'll take Indiana's Eric Gordon. The Celtics arrived in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals, but they are in Boston so it's no biggee. If the Pistons win Game 2, it's over. If the Celtics do, they'll win in 7 and then beat the Lakers in the NBA Finals.

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