Monday, April 6, 2015

2015 MLB Preview: I'm actually excited and I don't need to hide it

They just don't make sports days like today, anymore. Granted, to truly understand why today is so wonderful, you have to crawl deep inside the deranged psyche of a man who would contemplate staying awake until 4:30 a.m. on a school night to watch Australian Rules Football. Still, the fact remains that from the wee hours of this morning to the final hours of tonight, my brain is being treated to a smorgasbord of sports that literally spans the entire globe.

The day starts at 1:20 a.m. ET when Geelong and Hawthorn bounce for each team's opener of the 2015 Australian Football League home and away season. Yes, I know none of you really care about this sport at all, but trust me when I tell you that it is totally awesome. Of course, staying up until 4:30 a.m. when you have work the next morning isn't particularly advisable, so I only watched the first quarter before watching the conclusion of Geelong's, ugh, loss this morning as I got ready for work.

The hours after work bring more excitement still, as I get to see if at least one Big Ten family member will witness a national championship in his or her lifetime when Wisconsin takes on Duke for the NCAA Men's Basketball title, Bucky's first chance at a hoops championship since 1941. My Badger sister was following the score of her alma mater's massive update victory over previously-undefeated Kentucky as best she could from the Atlas Mountains in Morocco last night, which generally just meant waking up to a text message update from me.

Everyone experiences sports fandom in their own way.

Still the start of footy down under and the conclusion of an NCAA Tournament that was turbulent and predictable all at the same time merely serve as bookends for the most exciting part of the day. That comes at 7:05 p.m. when Max Scherzer of the Washington Nationals throws the first pitch of the New York Mets 2015 season. Typically, as a Mets fan, the start of a new campaign is something I've grown to dread in my adult years, as the Amazins haven't put together a winning record since they played in Shea Stadium, and have largely spent the last six seasons tripping over their own feet on the way out of the dugout.

To drive the point home, this is a team that has been so inept in recent seasons I once had a dream in which the Mets won the World Series and my unconscious brain found the vision so outlandish that for the only time I can remember, I actually rewound the dream and watched it again to make sure it was actually the Mets winning the World Series.

But this could be different. And since this season's opener falls during Passover and thus will be enjoyed without beer, one must ask "Why is this season different from all other seasons?"

Well, for the first time in a long time, I am legitimately excited about the Mets' prospects for the course of a full Major League season and it isn't even that ridiculous to be so. I wouldn't go so far as to say the Mets will win the World Series this season -- or at least not seriously -- but after years of building up the farm system, the pitching and prospects have matured to the point where a winning season should be expected and a postseason berth should be an attainable goal.

I'm not the only one who thinks it either! ESPN.com's Pedro Gomez has the Mets taking the National League's second wild card while the Sporting News thinks the Mets will have a winning record even if they'll come up short in the postseason chase. The New York Daily News has them inexplicably winning the division title. The cautious optimism is a step in the right direction for such a star-crossed franchise, which, as Andy Martino lays out pretty clearly, makes a lot of us nervous despite what the numbers say.

Of course predictions are not hard truths and are generally meaningless, but they do, to a certain extent, matter here. The Mets are not guaranteed a berth in the 2015 postseason. In fact, they may not even be a better than 40% chance to earn one. But for the first time in a long time, we can talk about the prospect without sounding foolish. If you follow this team, that, in and of itself, is meaningful. That is a change.

That is a sign that the future we were told was coming, might finally be about to arrive. I don't expect a pennant run this season, particularly with Zack Wheeler the victim of Tommy John surgery. But in a perfect world, this team challenges for the postseason and learns how to win this year. The pitching develops, and maybe even dominates as expected, and the offensive prospects start to get their cups of coffee. Next spring with a season of close but no cigar in the review mirror and Wheeler's arm back behind Harvey and deGrom in the rotation the Mets might finally look like a championship contender again.

Or maybe I'm just dreaming. But for the first time in a long time, the dream is pretty good.

My meaningless 2015 MLB Predictions
NL East
1. Washington Nationals - 97-65
2. New York Mets* - 88-74
3. Miami Marlins - 82-80
4. Atlanta Braves - 70-92
5. Philadelphia Phillies - 63-99

NL Central
1. Pittsburgh Pirates - 93-69
2. St. Louis Cardinals - 85-77
3. Milwaukee Brewers - 80-82
4. Chicago Cubs - 75-87
5. Cincinnati Reds - 74-88

NL West
1. Los Angeles Dodgers - 91-71
2. San Francisco Giants* - 87-75
3. San Diego Padres - 81-81
4. Arizona Diamondbacks - 74-88
5. Colorado Rockies - 70-92

AL East
1. Boston Red Sox - 90-66
2. Baltimore Orioles - 86-76
3. Toronto Blue Jays - 84-78
4. New York Yankees - 80-82
5. Tampa Bay Rays - 73-89


AL Central
1. Cleveland Indians - 95-72
2. Kansas City Royals* - 89-73
3. Detroit Tigers - 83-79
4. Chicago White Sox - 77-85
5. Minnesota Twins - 69-93

AL West
1. Seattle Mariners - 93-69
2. Oakland Athletics* - 87-75
3. Los Angeles Angels - 80-82
4. Texas Rangers - 76-86
5. Houston Astros - 68-94

National League Playoffs
NL Wild Card
(4) New York Mets over (5) San Francisco Giants


NLDS
(1) Washington Nationals over (3) Los Angeles Dodgers
(2) Pittsburgh Pirates over (4) New York Mets

NLCS
(1) Washington Nationals over (2) Pittsburgh Pirates

American League Playoffs
AL Wild Card
(5) Oakland A's over (4) Kansas City Royals


ALDS
(5) Oakland A's over (1) Cleveland Indians
(2) Seattle Mariners over (3) Boston Red Sox

ALCS
(2) Seattle Mariners over (5) Oakland A's


2015 World Series
(1) Washington Nationals over (2) Seattle Mariners


There are two franchises in all of Major League Baseball that have never played in the World Series and if my hallucinations are accurate, both of them will end that drought this October. That doesn't mean I'm anywhere close to right, in fact, I'm probably not, particularly since I've been down this road before, but I'm giving the Nats one more chance to get our country nuts about them before their current roster gets broken apart in free agency.

I don't really care if they pull it off, obviously. I really only care that baseball is finally back. And for the first time in half a decade, I'm actually happy about it.

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