Friday, April 1, 2011

Super Happy Baseball Fun Time Hour 2011

Surely some of you have seen some advertisement in your years for a Japanese imported TV show with a title that doesn't quite translate to the U.S. One episode of Seinfeld made particular light of this because a brief clip of Jerry on a Japanese TV show meant he was going to receive countless royalty checks for a whopping 12 cents, which led him to have a serious case of writer's cramp. I title this post this way because, in case you hadn't noticed, the 2011 Major League Baseball season started today and like I do in most years, I probably need to write some sort of preview detailing how I think these things will go. And really, considering the team that I follow and put my irrational faith in, well, I'd rather not talk about how things will go. That's because I'm unlikely to see a baseball season that goes how I want it to unless I start following a team from Japan, where baseball might actually be a super happy fun time this year.

And really, if I wanted to do just that, I do already have the appropriate merchandise for a team to support.

However, while I do follow two sports teams in foreign countries fairly closely, adding a third that is in a country that doesn't speak English is probably too much work. So .... I'm stuck with the Mets. And this year that doesn't look like it's going to be too good a situation. And what would give me that idea beyond the whole "bloated-roster-with-aging-expensive-ineffective-players-coupled-with-a-painfully-thin-farm-system-and-an-ownership-group-that-is-currently-being-sued-for-a-billion-dollars-because-of-its-connection-with-a-ponzi-scheme" thing?

Well, if you read the Sports Illustrated baseball preview this week and its scouting report on New York, it included really positive nuggets like, "Their system is really thin and there's not a lot there. I don't see an impact player coming from within and they have to change the climate. If they're smart, they'll blow the club up and start over," and "God help them." Not making that last one up, either. Fortunately, Terry Collins sent me a letter this morning letting me know that everything's cool, which I can only assume is some sort of misguided April Fool's joke. So basically the Mets are widely expected to be terrible this season, which I suppose isn't surprising, but I can at least take solace in the fact that the Phillies won't be winning the World Series.

And how do I know this?

Well, I could go into detail about how their historically impressive pitching staff is currently just masking an offense that will be nowhere near what it was three years ago when they won the World Series, but really I'm simply relying on the fact that the Phils were the cover subject of this year's Major League Baseball preview issue. And we know how I feel about Sports Illustrated and its supposedly nonsensical cover curse. But also, let's take a look at SI Cover subjects for their baseball previews over the years. If you do your research, you'll see that with the bizarre exception of an impressive three of four stretch that included the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals, 2007 Boston Red Sox and 2009 New York Yankees, Sports Illustrated hasn't featured the eventual champ on its baseball preview cover in my lifetime. Though it did curiously predict the 1998 home run chase. That's a going rate of 3 for 25 right now, an average which is, to say the least, not good enough for Cooperstown.

So, uh, yeah, I'm not worried based on that entirely irrelevant statistic. Some of you may say that the picks I'm about to make are somewhat biased because the season already started today, but, uh, for the 12 teams that did open their season, there's still 99.4% of the season to go. I'm pretty sure it will matter about as much as it would have if I wrote this yesterday.

Let's make some awful predictions.

NL EAST
1. Philadelphia
2. Atlanta
3. Florida
4. NY Mets
5. Washington

The upsetting thing here is that putting the Mets ahead of the Nationals, who are actually building quite well, might be optimistic of me. God, I hope that's not the case, but I couldn't swear to it at this point. Either way, I will maintain hope that New York does something, anything well. In the meantime, I'll just get bitter about seeing the Phillies win another division title despite an aging offensive with several holes now that Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley are older and Jayson Werth has taken his act to D.C.

NL Central
1. Milwaukee
2. Cincinnati
3. Chicago
4. St. Louis
5. Pittsburgh
6. Houston

I've been waiting quite some time for the Brewers to finally break through and take a division title, and with Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder still in the lineup and Zach Greinke now joining the rotation, if it isn't happening this year, it isn't happening any year. Plus, my favorite beer is from Wisconsin and they're generally nice people so sure, let's give 'em this one. I'll put my chips on the Crew this time, why not?

NL West
1. San Francisco
2. Colorado (WC)
3. Los Angeles
4. San Diego
5. Arizona

The smart money says that a lot of people don't really think the Giants have a chance at repeating their unlikely run as World Series champions from last year, but I actually think they've got a decent shot for the obvious reason that their pitching is absurdly stacked -- and for many years at that. Lincecum, Cain and the newcomer Bumgarner will all be a part of the equation for years, and while the Phillies' rotation may boast more names, Philadelphia's pitchers will ply their trade in a park built for offense. AT&T Park in San Francisco is the best pitchers' park in the NL west of Queens.

AL East
1. Boston
2. Tampa Bay (WC)
3. NY Yankees
4. Baltimore
5. Toronto

I have a lot of friends who are Yankees fans. A lot of them will not be pleased that I don't have the Yankees making the playoffs. And that prediction is, I'm sure, probably the most obviously wrong one about this whole thing. But I have a hunch that New York's offensive studs -- Cano, Teixeira, et al -- are going to be offset by the declining offensive skills and defensive black hole that happens to sit on the left side of the infield. But it's cool because he got a totally necessary, rational and reasonably priced contract this winter for a 36-year-old who hit .270 last season. I know, I know. It's payback for all he's given you. Good thing, too since he didn't get paid very well on his last contract. Oh, and their pitching rotation has one bona fide ace and four question marks, one of whom has started all of seven games in the Majors. Oh yeah, and the Rays are totally loaded with cheap young talent. So there's that.

AL Central
1. Minnesota
2. Detroit
3. Chicago
4. Kansas City
5. Cleveland

I don't think your eventual champ is coming from this division, I sort of like the relatively well-rounded make up of the Twins, and I don't like a whole lot else. But as every magazine seems to be noting, the Royals just might be primed for a run at the World Series.... in 2015. Seriously, that team is going to kick some serious ass when I'm 30 with the prospects they've got coming up. And the real amusing thing? They could go to that World Series to face another team that has put a large amount of money in its farm system lately... Pittsburgh. Yeah, a Royals-Pirates World Series. Of course this year that would be, you know, nonsense.

AL West
1. Texas
2. Oakland
3. Anaheim
4. Seattle

A lot of people think the Rangers made the World Series last year for the first time in franchise history because they caught a lot of lucky breaks, which is right about the fact that they, well, caught some lucky breaks. But they were also, you know, really good. And that offense is downright scary. And the rest of the this division isn't. So, lucky or not, why isn't this team an obvious choice to repeat exactly? I guess we'll find out in October when I look back and see that I'm wrong on this.

Ok, so now we've basically got something like this, right?

NLDS
(4) Colorado over (1) Philadelphia
(2) San Francisco over (3) Milwaukee

ALDS
(1) Boston over (3) Minnesota
(4) Tampa Bay over (2) Texas

NLCS
(2) San Francisco over (4) Colorado

ALCS
(1) Boston over (4) Tampa Bay

2011 World Series
(1) Boston over (2) San Francisco

So yeah. The Red Sox are going to win the World Series for the third time in eight seasons. That's my prediction, and it's highly uninspired and boring -- and it seems like something that would be completely unbelievable if I were still in my childhood -- but, well, it's probably right. Unless the Mets pull a 1969, but I don't see that coming. And neither do the experts.

Barring a miracle, I'm looking at next year. But hey, maybe it'll shock me. I guess I'll find out at 7 p.m. tonight.

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