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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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Behold, It Is The Springtide of the Year! Thoughts on Baseball's Opening Day & Basketball's Sweet Sixteen

I've always loved the song in the Reform Jewish Haggadah that begins:  "Behold it is the springtide of the year/Over and past is winter's gloomy reign."  Well, it could snow in April as Andy Pettitte found out pitching through snowflakes on Yankee Stadium Opening Day over twenty years ago - I think it was 1999.

 

This still remains an amazingly hopeful time of year. Birds are chirping, buds are blooming, and Passover starts on Sat night March 27 along with the NCAA Division I men's basketball Sweet Sixteen earlier that day.  Then Opening Day for MLB on April's Fool Day.  

 

It's a fitting way to start a season for teams without a prayer of competing for a pennant. Let's start with my Orioles whose lack of veteran pitching, a left-side infield defense "anchored" by retreads Maikel Franco and Freddy Galvis, inconsistent offense, and no closer don't exactly inspire confidence.  

 

I will certainly root for individuals like Trey Mancini, back at his best position first base after a year missed to colon cancer; RHP Dean Kremer MLB's first dual Israeli-American citizen; outfielder Austin Hays who had a great spring training but alas always seems to get hurt; and switch-hitting outfielder Anthony Santander (accent on the last syllable please - "san-tan-DERE!").

 

Since Orioles need feel-good stories, young Venezuelan Santander has found a fan club in the United Kingdom. 

Joe Trezza posted a lovely piece Mar 24 on mlb.com about how a few thousand United Kingdom youths on a trip to the States two years ago adopted Santander while sitting in Camden Yards left field seats. 

 

I just hope the rumors that he could be traded at the late July deadline are false. No one is safe from the analytic-drenched Oriole brain trust.

 

There is hardly pennant hope in Anaheim (Angels), Cincinnati, Denver (Rockies), Detroit, Dallas (Texas Rangers), Kansas City, Phoenix (Diamondbacks), Pittsburgh, Seattle, and Toronto.  With the inability to pay Francisco Lindor, now a Met, Cleveland might also become a non-contender.  

 

The Cubs could also be slipping. I see the Brewers and Cardinals as co-favorites in NL Central.

 

On paper, the White Sox look like the stronger Chicago team. They still have to do it on the field with Tony LaRussa as the first manager ever enshrined in the Hall of Fame to return to the field.

 

LaRussa's rehiring occurred just after he was hit with a DUI charge for the second time in recent years. There is little doubt that his return is owner Jerry Reinsdorf making amends for dismissing him 35 years earlier.

 

Mel Brooks had it right - "it's good to be the King."

 

The Twins could challenge the White Sox in AL Central and Kansas City could stick around.

Royals second baseman Whit Merrifield is one of the unheralded players in the game.

 

The Royals may be developing some good pitching to throw to All-Star catcher Salvador Perez, who the other day signed up for another four years in Kansas City.  

 

In AL West, Houston lost free agent outfielder George Springer to Toronto and ace Justin Verlander is recovering from Tommy John surgery and may not be back until late in the season. But I think with Dusty Baker managing, the Astros will find a way to contend. 

 

Oakland under manager Bob Melvin might be a slight favorite in AL West because the Angels need pitching and Mike Trout to have an even better year than usual. Shohei Ohtani, the Japanese pitcher-first baseman, is healthy and will certainly be fun to watch on both the mound and at bat.

 

The Mariners as always talk a good game at the cutting edge of analytics. So far it hasn't translated into wins.

In their new billion dollar stadium, Rangers will still look upward.  Dallas is also planning on a capacity crowd for Opening Day which might lead to Covid nightmares.   

 

In AL East, Tampa Bay always manages to compete against the behemoth Yankees and the enigmatic Red Sox whose co-owner John Henry seems more involved in his international soccer interests than the Bosox.

 

Toronto has already lost closer Kirby Yates but I like their core for the future: Two sons of Hall of Famers, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Craig Biggio; infielder Bo Bichette; free agent pickup infielder Marcus Semien; and the wonderfully named first baseman Rowdy Tellez.  But who will pitch?!

 

The NL East could be very interesting.  The Braves, who fell one game short of the 2020 World Series, have to be favored.  They've added reliable starter Charlie Morton and have returning MVP Freddie Freeman. 

 

I'm not impressed by the Mets pitching after Jacob DeGrom or their defense.  Lindor must be signed for a good chunk of the future and Pete Alonso must bounce back from a miserable sophomore season.

 

I do hope that a full season is played. Unlike the powers that be who crave the TV-watching eyeballs in LA and NY,

I don't want to see a Dodgers-Yankees World Series. But since October is such a long way off, I'll try to enjoy the daily drama.

 

There is always a surprise in any season because MLB is such a marathon and the nature of the game is capricious.  So is life. And that is my biggest gripe with the analytics crowd. They are hell-bent at forcing certainty on a game that blessedly has defied simple categorization in its long and fascinating history. 

 

On the local scene, Manhattan College has resumed its home schedule at its new field at Van Cortlandt Park.  

They host Rider College from Trenton NJ for two doubleheaders before Easter Sunday - FSa Apr 2-3 starting at noon.  Only the famllies of players are invited to attend, but the games are free and in a public park so no stopping anyone from looking on.

 

The Jaspers play another twinbill against Iona on W Apr 7, first game 12N   Iona returns on Wed Apr 14.

The field is located not far from the northern terminus of the #1 train at 242 St and Broadway.

 

PSAL high school baseball is slated to resume on May 1 for a 10-game season with no playoffs. It will be only intra-borough competition and end in mid-June.  

 

To use a term from the days of Watergate, NYC Mayor Bill DeBlasio's pronouncement that all high school sports will be played through August is now "inoperative."  

 

Now on to hoops, Loyola of Chicago has become perhaps the sentimental favorite after dismantling #1 seed Illinois to everyone's surprise including me.

  

One pithy phrase summed up Loyola's convincing win: NUN-AND-DONE - it paid homage to Sister Jean Dolores-Schmidt, 101, who has been rooting the Ramblers on and really knows the game. She is the team's long-serving chaplain.

 

The Sweet Sixteens this Sat and Mon & Sun and Tues should be exciting. The three #1 seeds left will be favored -  Michigan v. Gonzaga for one semi-final on Apr 3 and Baylor v perhaps #2 Houston for second semi.

 

I wouldn't count out anyone yet.  Michigan must beat Florida State (Su at 5p CBS) and then the winner of a matchup between explosive Alabama and red-hot UCLA (Su 715p TBS). 

 

After years of disappointment, Gonzaga may finally get its title but must beat Creighton (Sun 240p CBS) and then the winner of USC-Oregon (Su 945p TBS).  

 

Baylor, who dispatched my Wisconsin Badgers fairly easily, has to go through Villanova (Sa 515p CBS) and the winner of Arkansas-Oral Roberts (Sa 725p TBS).  ORU is the #15 seed that knocked out Ohio State and Florida.

 

Houston will have to beat Syracuse (Sa 955p TBS) before it can face the winner of Loyola-Oregon State (Sa 240p CBS) 

 

Columbia alums continue to BIRG (Bask In Reflected Glory) about Mike Smith whose point guard play for Michigan has been outstanding.  The Wolverines are the only Big Ten team left in the tourney.  

 

Nine got in but Iowa was blown out by Oregon; Ohio State, Purdue and Rutgers lost winnable games; Michigan State lost an overtime play-in game to UCLA (now in the Sweet Sixteen); Maryland couldn't match Alabama's offensive fire power. 

 

The Big Ten was probably overrated because lack of intersectional play in regular season masked their weaknesses in dealing with quicker teams. The intensity and defensive prowess in the Big Ten this year was still wonderful to watch.   

 

That's all for now.  In this age of the not-yet-conquered pandemic, please stay positve and test negative.  And always remember:  Take it easy but take it!    

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