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Last-Minute Thoughts on the Baseball Playoffs

As readers of this blog know, I don't bet on sports except once in a blue moon I might make a friendly bet with someone from a rival alma mater.  

 

Don't think I'll be doing even that this season with Wisconsin football off to a horrific start and basketball not likely to be a real contender.  

 

But this year's baseball playoffs are certainly intriguing. What I want to see is a pairing in the World Series of the Braves or Giants with any of the AL teams except the Yankees.  

 

Even before Mick Jagger sang about it, I know that you can't always get what you want. 

So here is what I think may happen but don't necessarily want to happen.  

 

The Red Sox in the wild card game against Yankees will be missing J. D. Martinez who suffered the second most absurd injury on the eve of the playoffs. He tripped over second base and sprained his ankle running into the outfield in the last game of regular season.   

 

So that's advantage Yankees in Wild Card game at Fenway just six hours away as I finish this blog.  They will miss D. J. LeMahieu out with a sports hernia but they may have enough offense with Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton.

 

Anything can happen in a short series let alone one game, but the Yankees do have a better defense and bullpen than their longtime rivals.   

 

If I have forceast correctly, the Yankees will then take on the Tampa Bay Rays in a best of five series.

 

The Rays amaze everyone in baseball, succeeding with a low payroll invested in winning players throughout the roster.  They are adventurous, experimental, and fun to watch (if you can tolerate all the strikeouts and the endless shifts).  

 

They don't have a traditional starting rotation or one real closer.  The Yankees or Red Sox don't have overwhelming starters either but the Yankees do have a rejuvenated Aroldis Chapman at the back end which could be a deciding factor.  I hope not.

 

In the other division series, two septuagenarians lead the White Sox and Astros into the fray.  As nearly an octogenarian myself. I can't miss in this series.  These guys are living proof that older folks have much to offer.  

 

I'd like to see Dusty Baker go deep into the playoffs despite the stain of chicanery indelibly upon the Astros. The scandal, of course, happened before Baker arrived on the scene. 

 

The White Sox coasted in the second half with no AL Central team mounting any real challenge.  We'll see if Tony LaRussa's lads led by the most consistent of all the Cubans in MLB, dh/1b Jose Abreu, can turn it on when it matters most.

 

In the NL wild card, it would be great if Adam Wainwright, 40, can outpitch the very talented and enormously high-paid Max Scherzer, no youngster himself at 36 or 37.  I am not sure St. Louis has the bullpen to stifle LA once the game goes into late innings.

 

The loss of Max Muncy to an elbow injury in a collision at first base will hurt the Dodgers. But they have another oldster and former Cardinal, Albert Pujols, to replace him. Or perhaps the slumping former MVP Cody Bellinger who could relish a chance to redeem himself in October.  

 

The Dodgers are favored in the wild card game and to go all the way to their second straight World Series championship.  But if they beat the Cardinals, they'll have to go through the Giants who won 107 games this year.

 

No one expected the Giants to soar, including me.  But they have a wonderful mixutre of vets from the world champs last decade, including Buster Posey, Johnny Cueto, and Brandon Belt.  Plus some good youngsters like Lamont Wade Jr. and pitcher Logan Webb, only 26 but he already possesses the visage of a gritty savvy veteran.

 

Belt got hit by a pitch and his broken finger may keep him out of the entire post-season.  But the Giants have always found a way in 2021 and I hope they do so again.

 

Winner of the first NLDS will face either the Braves or the Brewers, both teams with

Milwaukee in their history. Unfortunately, a key Brewers reliever, Devin Williams, suffered the most absurd and stupid injury shortly before the playoffs.  

 

After the NL Central-winning celebration, Williams had too much to drink. He went home and in undisclosed circumstances, he punched a wall in his house and broke his hand.  

 

He is out until at least the World Series if the Brewers get that far.  Since manager Craig Counsell micro-manages his bullpen seemingly more than any other manager, the loss of Williams to set up for closer Josh Hader might be too much to overcome. 

 

The Braves finished strong and I think have an edge over Milwaukee. They have two MVP candidates in the heart of their lineup, Freddie Freeman and Austin Riley.  (They might split the vote which could allow a poseur to win it like Bryce Harper - he always electioneers for the award but usually plays golf in October.)  

 

I am sure the Braves would like to meet the Dodgers in the NLCS and avenge last year's wrenching loss. Their one Achilles heel is closer Will Smith who is shaky far too often.  

 

Well, there you have my analysis for what it is worth.  And the old adage still applies.

"Opinions are like assholes - everyone has them."  

 

Always remember:  Take it easy but take it! 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

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Tough Times for My Life As A Fan + Tribute to the Retired Nick Markakis & RIP Marvelous Marvin Hagler (updated)

The Ides of March 15th find me dealing with three aching disappointments in my life as a fan.

 

**Wisconsin's late-season collapse, early exit from Big Ten basketball tournament, and slippage to a #9 seed in "March Madness" tourney. 

 

**The second straight season with no Columbia or any Ivy League baseball because of the pandemic. 

 

**The plummeting of the Orioles into baseball's netherworld.

 

As the Badgers' slide became evident in the last few weeks, I thought often of a great quote by former coach Bo Ryan:  "We judge our players by what it takes to disappoint them."  Sadly, on a heavily-senior team, the Badgers' loss of confidence in themselves and each other was painful to watch.  

 

Supposedly coach Greg Gard, Ryan's former assistant who lobbied hard for him to get the job, has a good recruiting class coming. It will have to be because the Big Ten is the toughest league in college basketball. 

 

Anyone who saw Illinois win the post-season tourney yesterday in overtime over a very resilient Ohio State will attest to that. Kudos to Illini point guard Andre Kurbelo, the Big Ten Freshman of the Year, who played high school ball in Bay Shore, Long Island.  So did the valuable Buckeye reserve Zed Key.  

 

Perhaps the most appropriate name for today's world is Buckeyes' talented forward 6' 7" Justice Sueing, a transfer from Cal-Berkeley who comes from Honolulu.  It prompted CBS sportscaster former coach Bill Raftery to bring up the name of Red Rocha, who starred for and later coached the University of Hawaii. I remember him playing in front court with Dolph Schayes on the Syracuse Nationals. 

 

Illinois is a number one seed in the Midwest regional that includes Rutgers, making its first NCAA appearance in 30 years, as a #10 seed against #7 Clemson. They will play games starting this Fri March 19.

 

Michigan will be #1 seed in East regional that includes #10 Maryland against #7 UConn. The likely loss of senior starter Isaiah Livers is a big blow to the Wolverines. Mike Smith, the talented Columbia graduate transfer/point guard, took on more of the offensive load in the tourney loss to Ohio State and it didn't work out. 

 

In the same regional as Michigan, #2 Alabama plays #15 Iona coached by Rick Pitino who after bellyaching about Covid delays all season did lead his team to the tourney.  These games start Sat March 20 and the round is concluded Su Mar 22.

 

A twist in this regional is that perennial powers Michigan State and UCLA will have a play-in game on Th Mar 18 with winner facing Brigham Young on Sat. This will be the first tourney without Duke and Kentucky and their ballyhooed coaches Mike Kryzewski and John Calipari - unless Covid causes another team in their leagues to drop out. Then they could be possible replacements.

 

Ohio State is a #2 seed in a South regional that starts F Mar 19.  #9 Wisconsin plays against #8 North Carolina

with the winner having the unenviable task of playing #1 seed Baylor on Su Mar 21. I presume that Baylor beats one of this year's Cinderella entrants, Hartford. #4 Purdue is in the same bracket playing Winthrop. 

 

The West bracket is headed by #1 overall seed Gonzaga, trying to be first undefeated team to go all the way since 1976.  They impressed me last week by quickly making up a 12-point halftime deficit against a good Brigham Young team, then winning going away.

 

#2 Iowa might possibly stand in Gonzaga's way though the Zags beat Hawkeyes in regular season. I think Gonzaga gets a break by having less in-person press coverage and fewer fans because of the pandemic.  They won't hear as much of the 24/7 litany, "You've never won the Big One."

 

The Big Ten teams may have somewhat of an advantage having played their tourney in the same huge arena where the concluding games will be played.  In a single elimination tourney, though, the unpredictable often happens so there is no sure bet this year.

 

Because there was no tournament in 2020, every senior can return for an extra year of eligibility. No word yet on how many veterans will take care of that opportunity. 

 

I don't think it's likely, but I'd like to see Micah Potter come back to the Badgers.  They desperately need big men who can tangle with the Big Ten behemoths, and Potter deserves another year because the NCAA kept him ineligible longer than most players who transferred - in Potter's case from Ohio State.

 

I think I've gotten so into college basketball this year because my baseball rooting interests have taken a big hit.

Ivy League baseball has been canceled for the second year in a row. I dearly miss going to root on always-competitive Columbia baseball.  PSAL high school baseball is slated to return to NYC in May and that hopefully will be pulled off.    

 

As for the Orioles, the pundits have already determined that they have zero chance of the post-season. So far the Birds' lack of offense and pitching woes in exhibition games are living down to these expectations.  

 

I've been around long enough not to treat early results too seriously. Former Oriole pitching coach (and later Brewers manager) Staten Island-bred George Bamberger once said that a 14-12 record in spring training was acceptable:  An above-.500 record and just enough losses to test one's ability to bounce back the next day. 

 

But the way Orioles look so far - 3-10 record averaging barely a run a game -  they will be lucky to enjoy a two-game winning streak this year.  So let's turn to the memories. Even here they are bittersweet.

 

Nick Markakis, 37, just retired after a 15-year-career marked by remarkable consistency. He played his first eight seasons with the Orioles, compiling a .288 BA, .358 on-base average, .435 slugging average.

In seven seasons with the Braves, the numbers were quite similar:  .288/.358/.403.  

 

A rare new-fangled statistic that caught my attention is that Markakis retired with 2388 career hits and only 1969 swings and misses.  His career BB-K ratio was 891-1230, quite good in the free-swinging age he played in. 

 

In Baltimore, he won three Gold Gloves as a right fielder. He was blessed with an impressive arm and knew how to use it - some scouts even envisioned him as a pitcher (two decades earlier, some scouts had similar thoughts about Cal Ripken Jr.) 

 

Markakis as an Oriole averaged almost 150 games a season. The number would have been higher if he hadn't been hit by an errant CC Sabathia pitch that broke his hand in September 2012 - he missed the Orioles' return to the playoffs after a 15-year absence.

 

In 2019 he finally made the All-Star game.  In 2020 he elected not to play during the shortened season. But when teammate Freddie Freeman came down with a serious Covid case, Markakis un-retired.  He contributed to the 2020 playoff team but looked overmatched in his ABs during the Braves' NLCS loss in seven games to the eventual World Series-winning Dodgers.

 

Markakis was one of those players who was far more than the numbers on his baseball card.    He was a complete player and a quiet team leader.  His professionalism will be missed.  

 

Owner Peter Angelos's decision not to re-sign Nick after the 2014 season certainly was a factor in the slide of the team to its current state of embarrassment. Angelos was hesitant to give him a fourth year because of a neck injury that was ultimately healed by surgery when he was a Brave. 

 

One final note - RIP - Marvelous Marvin Hagler, former middleweight champion of the world, died in New Hampshire on Saturday March 13 at the age of 66.  Born in Newark, NJ, he was raised in Brockton, Mass. when his mother decided to flee the urban riots in the 1960s.

  

I was at the theatre-TV showing of his classic 1985 bout with Detroit's Thomas Hearns.  It remains one of the most amazing bouts in history even if it ended in less than three rounds with a bleeding Hagler knocking Hearns out.

 

After losing a disputed decision to Sugar Ray Leonard for only his third loss in the ring, Hagler moved to Italy to make movies.  

 

That's all for now.  Always remember:  Take it easy but take it!

 

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