Opening Day beckons again, right on time

If my life was a dot-to-dot, many of the lines that connect the picture would run through a baseball game. America’s Pastime, despite its numerous critics who lament the pace of the game, the lack of violence and general old-school feel, represents connective tissue from my childhood to now and too many points in between to count. I’ve loved this game for more than 40 years. For many of those years, I have arrived at this time of year, breathed deep and welcomed the return of the game on Opening Day.

Many have captured the poetry of baseball and the return of the boys of summer better than. Read Jim Murray, Roger Kahn or Thomas Boswell. Better yet, cue up Vin Scully and any of his more than 60 Opening Day broadcasts to experience the background music of my childhood. Maybe Vin, more than anyone else, is responsible for my love of the game.Anything that has been written has been written. I’m content to simply note the passage of time, another year, another long, wonderful season ahead. It’s good enough for me.

Anything that has been written has been written. I’m content to simply note the passage of time, another year, another long, wonderful season ahead. It’s good enough for me.

But as I write every year on Opening Day, it doesn’t count if you don’t call your shot. Who will win in 2016? Come the chilly days of October, who will still be playing on national TV with a the right to be crowned champion on the line? I’ve had a decent run of success in recent years. Here are my predictions:

American League:

Most every team looks decent this year. Few look dominant, which is exactly opposite the National League, where a few imposing teams could dominate all.

AL East- For so long this division was about two teams, the greatest rivalry in sport between the Yankees and Red Sox. Not anymore. Both teams still have inflated budgets, high-priced superstars and serious holes in the roster. The defending division champion Blue Jays look even more dominant this year. The low-payroll Rays still have great pitching, but they haven’t proved the can win since Manager Joe Maddon left for Chicago.  The Orioles never look great in April, but since Manager Buck Showalter arrived, they’ve been very good. In the end, the Blue Jays have one of those great regular season teams that will crush teams often but lack the deadly pitching to win the series. A great defense could be the equalizer and push this vaunted team over the top in 2016. The Red Sox could have a core of young superstars that make them dominant soon, but will the veterans like Dustin Pedroia, Koji Uehara and Hanley Rameriz stay healthy and contribute enough to make David Ortiz final year a historic one?

Prediction: 1- Blue Jays, 2- Red Sox, 3- Orioles, 4- Rays, 5- Yankees.

AL Central- Back in the day this decision was laughable. Again, not anymore. This is a deep, competitive division and home of the defending champion Kansas City Royals. Even after going to the World Series two years in a row, prognositicators are saying the Royals will slump. But the core remains as does the great defense and relentless style of play. The Royals, like the San Francisco Giants, are built for depth and teamwork, not stats and sizzle and both are very deadly, dangerous opponents that nobody wants to run into in the playoffs. The Tigers still have great talent and big holes. The Indians have a great manager in Terry Francona, great pitching and serious questions about the offense. The Twins came out of nowhere to come up one game short of the playoffs last year and look to be even better this year with the most exciting, young outfield in the game. The White Sox made the most noise in the offseason but still have a terrible defense, which never turns out well unless your playing fantasy baseball.

Predictions: 1) Indians, 2) Royals, 3) Twins, 4) Tigers, 5) White Sox.

AL West- I still can’t get my head around the Houston Astros in the American League, but there is no doubt this team of thumpers and pitchers can play. Texas is strong enough to defend its division title. The Mariners tossed up their whole team like a salad. It could be a nice spring mix if the bats finally meet baseballs. The Angels? Who knows. The team looks average, but manager Mike Scoscia has the magic wondoo of turning average teams into contenders. The A’s may be the one team that shouldn’t compete for a title after imploding their team last year, but the bullpen is stocked with veterans and they have the ever-moving parts that worked for them in years gone by. Don’t sleep on Oakland. I think every team in this league ends up around 85 wins.

Predictions 1) Angels, 2) Texas, 3) Mariners 4) Astros, 5) Oakland

Wild Cards: Red Sox and Royals, which will be an amazingly tense wild card team won only by the mastery of David Price.

American League Champ: Red Sox. (This is my heart talking, but their youngsters come together by mid-season and Big Papi pushes back the sun for one more final taste of post-season heroics on a career that ranks among the best ever for clutch hitting and big-game greatness.

National League:

Much, much easier than the American League where the cream of the Senior Circuit is so much better than the crop.

NL East- Two teams, Washington Nationals and New York Mets. The Mets have ridiculous starters, which despite very little offense made a World Series run last year. The Nationals have been the best team on paper for three years. On the field, they have figured many ways not to lose. The one big change: Manager Dusty Baker who is a base (and life) sage. He’s the difference maker. The Marlins young talent will be tough at times and have big problems and time and end up out of the race.

Predictions 1) Nats, 2) Mets, 3) Miami, 4) Phils, 5) Braves

NL Central- The three-headed monster of Cubs, Cards and Pirates waged an epic battle all the way into the playoffs last year. They are likely to do the same again, but the Cubs look a bit like the Midway Monsters in 2016. A great manager, great talent, veterans who know how to win and a front office that knows all about busting curses from their Red Sox days, all add up to 100 wins.  The Brewers and Reds are in trouble.

Predictions 1) Cubs, 2) Pirates, 3) Cards, 4) Reds, 5) Brewers.

NL West- The second best rivalry in sports, The Dodgers and Giants just keeps getting better. The Dodgers have young phenoms all throughout its farm system and sprinkling through its roster with high-priced all-stars. Injuries have already run roughshod through the roster and the season hasn’t started yet. The Dodgers are going to be a beast when the rest of their young talent arrives and the old guys move on, but this year isn’t it. The Giants, like the Royals, remain underrated but have to be the most feared team in the division. The team knows how to win, has great leaders and a hall of fame manager in Bruce Bochey. The Diamondbacks made all the noise in the offseason, but ask the Padres last year, the Blue Jays before the them, the Marlins before them and on and on of teams trying to buy a championship. It’s a quality roster but with little depth and the stunning loss of A.J. Pollock will test that depth from day one. The Padres haven’t recovered from last year’s debacle and the if the Rockies couldn’t win with last year’s offense, they aren’t going to this year.

Predictions: 1) Giants, 2) Dodgers, 3) Diamonbacks, 4) Padres, 5) Rockies.

Wild Card: Mets v. Pirates. The Pirates finally win a wild card game.

National League Championship: The Pirates, Nationals, Cubs and Giants is a murders row of playoff teams. But the Cubs strikeouts will hurt in the playoffs, the Nationals have failed me twice and karma should keep Bryce Harper out of the World Series forever. The Pirates are due, but the Giants are a complete team unlike their previous even-year championships. What to do? I think the Cubs beat anyone except the Giants, who will exploit their weaknesses. The Pirates have the experience to finally get over the top. But in the end, Dusty gets a bit of revenge over the Giants and finished the job for the Nationals.

Nationals vs Red Sox, and the Nationals win it all.

Only 162 games to go!




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