The grass is Eden-like green. The first pitches have been tossed across the country. Bats smack, gloves pop, organs trill and life is good again.
Nothing like Opening Day to turn writers of prose into flawed fumbles of poetry. It’s just a lyrical game, far too often poorly described, much like romantic love that never quite reads like it feels. You just have to live it.
The two best words in my lexicon: play ball. Two other fun ones:
I’ll leave the mashup that is the American League this year for a minute and get into the Senior Circuit, where truly great teams still exist and dominate the hopes of those trying to knock them off the pedestal. But the greatest of those teams likely won’t be among the playoff finishers this year. The Giants won’t repeat.
But the Nationals, Dodgers, Cardinals and maybe even the Pirates will. History tells us one of these teams will endure a bad rash of injuries and head-scratching slumps and maybe not live up to its potential. History tells us the Dodgers are the least likely to weather these types of turmoil. The stopgap solutions of Howie Kendrick and Jimmy Rollins are not as great as people think, especially Rollins who at 36 may be the worst leadoff hitter in the National League.
The Dodgers are on their way to building a similar perennial power, while temporarily playing the awful Yankee-like overspender to bridge the gap. They have spent gazillions to offer some competitive teams while rebuilding from the inside out to make franchise, which took a ton of money, but also a lot of baseball smarts. But I’m still not sure they are going to put it all together this year. I want to believe they won’t. They’ve been good, but they’re going to soon be great. I hate ’em (though the All-time Giants still kick the All-Time Dodgers arses). But I love Vin Scully and for him alone (and the sheer joy of listening to him call a ballgame, I’m predicting they win the division).
The Nationals and Cardinals may be two of the best run organizations in sports. They have built powerhouses. The Nationals have so far mostly underachieved while the Cards have proven they can overachieve when it counts the most, much like the Giants who seem to be the only team that has their number in recent years.
The Cubs are coming. Joe Maddon was a brilliant hire, perhaps the one guy Theo Epstein wanted more than Jon Lester and he ended up getting both. Maddon alone makes the Cubs a contender in my book. The downside is all that young talent will take some time to sort itself out. They will strike out … A LOT… and as much as during the steroid era strikeouts didn’t matter much, they are absolutely killing teams again (rightly so… not that real baseball skills like moving runner and turning over the lineup are back). I wonder if Maddon is great enough to offset the terrible dead spots the strikeouts will create. I can’t decide.
I can decide on the Padres. Everyone is excited about them much they way they were excited about the Blue Jays last year after its spending spree and the Marlins the year before that in its spending spree and so many other teams that suddenly grow sick of stinking up the joint and decide, EFF THIS, and start spending money like Bernie Madoff before his prison stint.
The problem is it never works. Ever. The only times big spending works is when it’s coupled with deep internal talent. The Yankees overspent for decades but only won four championships when Big Money George was banished and the team was allowed to nurture the likes of Derrick Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettite and Jorge Posada. The Dodgers outspent everyone but didn’t have the chemistry the Giants develop with consistency through its organization.
The Padres didn’t spend as recklessly as its predecessors but it gave away years of accumulated talent. Justin Upton can hit it out of the cavernous Petco Park, but my bet is Matt Kemp looks nothing like his old MVP self and just looks old. The pitchers will be good, but they are always are and the offense can’t be as bad as its been, but it still won’t be great. I see a near miss for this team and then back to the depths where it has been.
The surprise team in the West, if there is one, is the Rockies. The team can mash, thanks in part to its mile-high park. In an era where everyone has pitching, few teams have hitting, so the Rockies could stand out especially because it may, just may, just just may may have enough pitching to make one of its once a decade or so runs. The Marlins are going to be good. They have sooo much talent, but again the Cubs problem of youth and strikeouts could hurt them. I see the Cubs and see the Marlins and see two similar teams, but I see Joe Maddon and the Marlins fade away.
There is little else in the National League that interests me.
So the predictions:
Wild Cards: Rockies, Cardinals (or maybe the Giants and then God forbid the other teams in the playoffs, but I suspect that’s wishful thinking.
Check back tomorrow for the American League, the playoffs and the World Series predictions.