Even when baseball’s regular season starts in March, it can’t get here fast enough. Only two days remain until we finally enter the 2011 edition of The Show, so let’s throw out some basic predictions, starting with each division. Feel free to attach your own win-loss total.
American League East
1. Boston Red Sox:
The only way I don’t see them claiming the best record in the AL is if they can’t get anything out of the vets in their rotation — Josh Beckett, John Lackey, Daisuke Matsuzaka. If those guys don’t improve on their sub-par 2010 numbers, then this might be more of a struggle than I expect. Their offensive lineup is just too lethal to bet against.
2. New York Yankees:
There’s no doubt they will be mixing and matching with their starting rotation all season. But the Yankees led baseball in runs scored last season despite some down years. If the likes of Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira and Jorge Posada can just come back to their career averages — and I don’t see why not — this team will win the wild card. Also, the Yankees should have the most effective bullpen in the division.
3. Tampa Bay Rays:
The Rays still have enough to be competitive without Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena and basically a brand-new cast in the bullpen. The starting rotation should be formidable, especially if Jeremy Hellickson continues what he started last season. But this team is going to lose a lot of games late and there will be an inevitable drop in offensive production.
4. Toronto Blue Jays:
Toronto can make a push for third place if Brett Cecil and Jesse Litsch can hold it together in the rotation behind Ricky Romero and the currently injured Brandon Morrow. They’ll hit, but I don’t think the Blue Jays have enough quality depth with their starters or relievers.
5. Baltimore Orioles:
The Orioles are going lose a lot of ballgames, but with Brian Roberts, Nick Markakis, Mark Reynolds, Vladimir Guerrero Adam Jones, post-hype sleeper Matt Wieters and others, they’ll make sure to lose a lot of wildly entertaining 12-10 ballgames.
American League Central
The Cavs outworked and beat the Heat, 102-90. LeBron finished with a triple-double — 27 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists — but that won’t be remembered. He actually did nothing memorable in this game. The Cavs never trailed and led by as many as 23 points in the third quarter. The Heat made a couple of runs, cutting the lead to two in the middle of fourth quarter, but could never get over the hump.
I’m sure some pundits will credit this loss to LeBron’s absence during the player introductions. It must have ruined the team’s flow or something. It caused Chris Bosh to shrink in the face of Ryan Hollins’ defense. Yeah, that’s the ticket.
I want that to be fully sarcastic, but I know someone will say that in all seriousness just to get some cheap reads.
For what it’s worth, LeBron said after the game that he missed the introductions because he was using the restroom.
LeBron James and the Miami Heat are in Cleveland tonight, so you know something weird is going to happen.
We didn’t have to wait long.
As LeBron’s name was announced during pregame lineup introductions, one thing was missing: LeBron James. He waited for the team’s starting five to be announced before making his way out of the tunnel and into the huddle, avoiding the inevitable chorus of boos that came with mention of his name.
I’ve never seen that before. I’m sure someone such as Skip Bayless will point to that as a sort of default in LeBron’s maturity (“Derrick Rose wouldn’t have skipped the pregame intros!”). I don’t think it means anything at all. It was just … unique.
In related news, the NBA needs to reach its playoff stage badly.
As always, just a few random things I’ve wanted to post on here for a while. I’ll do it now because I am bored. This edition is pretty quick and all about baseball. Such is life.
- Livan Hernandez knows all about strikes and balls. Livan Hernandez knows all about striking balls. Jeff Motuzas reminds me of one of those kids from middle school who would do anything — anything! — to gain the approval of the cool kids.
- I know it’s T.J. Simers’ shtick to be a wise-cracking smartass. But there’s huge disparity between being that and being an outright ass.
And it didn’t stop there. Seriously abhorrent “journalism.”
- Nice to see that the Cubs’ advertising heads are really behind the team this year.
Starlin Castro is a nice player. But that’s an ad for single-game tickets this season, not for just one series. Matt Garza? Carlos Marmol? Carlos Pena? Geovany Soto? Kerry Wood is back! I mean, any of those guys, you would think, should be a more attractive personality to put up on a Cubs billboard in Chicago than a player who plays in New York.
- Former teammates and two of the most prominent non-Yankees whom I have vivid memories of from my childhood, Garret Anderson and Jim Edmonds, retired recently. Edmonds first and then Anderson about two weeks later as we broke into March. I thought their close retirement dates were kind of a strange coincidence since you couldn’t find two teammates in their prime whose defensive effort in the outfield resided on completely opposite sides of the spectrum.
A couple of days ago, I did a thin recap of the many late-game errors that were committed by players last weekend during the NCAA Tournament.
College players make stupid plays all the time — Florida’s guards made one each in the form of horribly rushed shots at the end of regulation and overtime today — but it was the heavy concentration of stupidity over those two consecutive days that caught my attention.
Yet, Florida State head coach Leonard Hamilton showed Friday night that coaches aren’t immune from brain freezes during pressure-filled moments either.
His Seminoles could have defeated VCU, could have survived and advanced to the Elite Eight. But in his team’s final possession of regulation and overtime, Hamilton thought he would be better off letting his anemic offense create on its own instead of taking a much-needed timeout.
His first questionable decision came after a huge block gave the Seminoles possession with about 17 seconds to play in the second half and the score tied at 65. With two timeouts left, you’d think Hamilton would be wise to use one, slow the game down and set up a play. Florida State ranked in the lower half of the Atlantic Coast Conference in points per game and field goal percentage during the season. Its star player, Chris Singleton, had missed 10-of-15 shots on the night thus far. The team averaged just 64 points in its past seven games. And again, Hamilton had TWO timeouts in his pocket. Why leave both of them to waste?
I guess Hamilton really wanted to save them for the impending overtime period.
There is one change to Major League Baseball’s Opening Day schedule I support. For the first time since 1998, that day will not arrive on a Monday. Instead, MLB Opening Day is seven days from now, March 31. Thus, the most anticipated day of baseball’s regular season won’t intersect with college basketball’s championship game.
But there is one change to the schedule I hate. Specifically, it’s the schedule. Rather, the lack thereof.
Six games? That’s it, that’s all? That’s not Opening Day; that’s a Monday in June.
Opening day is an unofficial holiday. I always got the day off from school when I was growing up, and my dad took a modified day at work. Not every team plays, but most of them should. It should be a day of wall-to-wall baseball. Yet, only one game will be starting after 1:30 p.m. on the West Coast this year. I just don’t get it.
I just don’t understand why there are so few games on the slate. From 2005-2010, at least 10 games were played on opening day — and no, those Sunday night primers don’t count. A double-digit number of games have been played on opening day in 13 of the past 14 seasons. The last time six or fewer games were on the day’s schedule, it was 1985. Five games were played on MLB Opening Day ’85, but that slim total is partially due to the fact that there were four fewer teams in the league.
I still can’t wait for the regular season and I’ll watch every game next Thursday full of glee, just glad that baseball is back in town. But opening day should be a baseball feast. The meal is much, much too scrawny this season.
Pressure busts pipes. And last weekend, pressure busted brackets.
The impact of pressure is one of the more overlooked aspects as to why the NCAA Tournament is so compelling. You have some fantastic basketball players who are long and strong. They can hit from the outside and post up against anyone. They are McDonald’s All-Americans, Naismith Award candidates and no-brainer lottery picks in a future NBA draft.
But we sometimes forget that beneath all of their accolades and physical tools, the best college basketball players are still a bunch of kids, ages 18 through 21. And no matter who you are, you’re going to do dumb stuff at that age.
I bring this up because last weekend represented the dumbest stretch of pressure-packed college basketball I have ever seen. The examples:
Butler’s Shelvin Mack would have been Saturday’s ultimate goat if it wasn’t for Pittsburgh’s Nasir Robinson. He really wanted to be the sympathetic character in a Panther edition of “Where Are They Now” in about 20 years.