About last night…

I haven’t much excuse for not posting anything of considerable substance these past few weeks. I can only say that the well of writing inspiration has been bone dry as of late. It’s September… I’m a Cubs fan. (I’m sure the world understands.) In any case, if the events of last night weren’t enough to electroshock me back into a baseball state of mind, I cannot imagine what would be.

Baseball fans witnessed not one, but TWO of the most improbable comebacks/collapses in the history of the game. Pity the Braves and Red Sox nations. I have seen my fellow Cub fans rejoicing all over the place that some of the heat may at last be lifted from our 1969 squad; no longer shall they and they alone be looked upon as the pinnacle of baseball failures! Welcome back to the club, Boston!

The Cardinals comeback/Braves collapse, of course, is the least enthusing of the two. I don’t look on Atlanta with an unfriendly eye, and the Cards are, well, the Cards. There is one circumstance from this that I do look on with utter and jubilant satisfaction. Around a month ago (perhaps a bit more than that) my brother and I made a bet regarding a certain St. Louis first baseman. I thought he would finish out the year hitting below .300 for the first time in his celebrated career. The bro insisted he would finish on top of the mark, as he always has. Initially, my brother suggested we bet a penny on our little disagreement. Feeling confident, I insisted we up it to a nickel. We did not forget our friendly little bet, and would update each other on where it stood several times a week. Going into last night, Mr. Pujols’ average was sitting at exactly .300, or .301 (I don’t recollect.) I am happy to report, he went just 1-for-5 against Astros pitching and has finished 2011 with a batting average of .299. How’s that for drama? How’s that for sibling rivalry? Time to cough up that nickel, brother.

The Tampa Bay Rays comeback, and the Boston Red Sox ultimate demise is, in my opinion, the most exciting thing. Of this year. And… of a lot of additional years. A few weeks ago, the lowly Rays were nine games behind in the wildcard standings. Everyone was talking about how dumb and unfair it is how the Yankees and Red Sox have a stranglehold on the AL East and wildcard. Something must be done, people said. Well, something was done. And the Rays did it.

Last night around 10:00, it looked like it was just going to be one of those disappointing almost-great-stories after all. With Boston up on Baltimore late in their game, and Tampa trailing by 7 to the Yankees in the 8th, I supposed the whole thing had come to nothing. I don’t know about anyone else, but I was thinking things like, “Oh well, they made it interesting” and “They should be proud of themselves, they put up a great fight” and all that. And then, all of a sudden, BOOM! 7-run deficit… gone! I was still listening to the Cubs (who, appropriately, fell 9-2 at the hands of the Padres) at that point and it was amusing to hear the updates and reactions from Pat, Keith, and Judd. I think everyone was more interested in what was going on in Florida than in San Diego. Who could help it?

As the Rays and Yanks headed into extra innings, I switched over to watch them on MLB.tv, keeping tabs of the O’s and Sox on the side. Moments after Jonathan Papelbon imploded, allowing the Orioles to score 2 runs and snatch the win, my Twitter feed exploded. And then Evan Longoria sealed the deal with a walk-off homer for the Rays and it exploded some more.

I think everyone had the same reaction: “Did that just happen?” The chances, according to this article on Yahoo? One in 278,000,000. One in two hundred and seventy eight million. Think about that for a second.

If anything outnumbered the outcries of, “Can you believe it?!?!”, it was “This is why I love baseball.” This is, indeed, why we love baseball. If I may quote from the one and only Dirk Hayhurst (who Twittered much last night, to the delight of all), “What’s great is, this is what you play for all season: a moment to decide something, to feel destiny in you hands and touch its consequences”, “Tonight is baseball magic, the tangible, palpable kind that reminds you why you love the game—for feelings like this, perfect and timely.” Truth.

I hope you all enjoyed it as much as I did. Who’s ready for some postseason baseball???

I like looking at this picture and thinking about it out of context. The Orioles celebrate their last place finish after the final game of 2011, Etc.,

Tee hee.

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Predictorama! 2011: Something stirs in the East

With the beginning of the regular season just a few weeks off, it is once again time to dive into that fun, murky chasm that is MLB prognosticating. Folks from here to Chula Vista are consulting crystal balls and asking the questions they (apparently) can’t wait to know the answers to… who will arise victorious in the AL East? How bad will the NL Central actually be? Who will surprise us all? Who will fail miserably?

I am here, of course, to share with you the divination of my own crystal ball… it may have a huge crack in it, but I’m pretty sure it still works.

Today we will kick things off with a look at the American and National League East divisions. BEHOLD:

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AL EAST:

Brett Gardner will steal 70 bases this year. Baltimore will officially change its name to “The City of Misfit Cubs”. With the additions of Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez, Boston will will 231 games. Toronto will finish in 4th place, winning 15 more games than any NL Central team.

First place: Boston Red Sox

Last place: Baltimore Orioles

AL Wildcard winner: New York Yankees

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NL East:

Raul Ibanez will take up playing the ukulele. The Phillies geriatric offense will be their Achilles heel… you heard it here first, folks. The Washington Nationals will regret signing Jayson Werth to that obscene contract by the end of the first week of April.

First Place: Philadelphia Phillies

Last Place: New York Mets

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Postseason Roundup, Round One

2010 has certainly lived up to its billing as “Year of the Pitcher” in the first round of the playoffs. Roy Halladay did his thing. Cole Hamels: complete game shutout. Tim Lincecum: complete game shutout. Jonathan Sanchez: 7.1 innings, 1 run. Tim Hudson: 7 shutout innings. Phil Hughes: 7 runless innings. Cliff Lee: 16 total innings, 2 runs. CJ Wilson: 6.1 scoreless frames. Strikeouts are comin’ out the wazoo, and bases on balls are an endangered species. You know guys must be doing pretty well when you can make fun of Matt Garza’s 1 run in 6 innings. The only stinky pitching came from the quarters of Minnesota and Cincinnati. Even that wasn’t all stinky. Bronson Arroyo did alright. Seriously though, if this continues I expect the remainder of the postseason to be all kinds of delicious. (A Barry Zito-CJ Wilson World Series pitching match-up is still my ultimate dream.)

But how did my predictions hold up through round one? Behold:

Philly over Cincy in the battle of red-colored NL teams I can’t stand? Check. Kooky, quirky San Francisco over Bobby Cox’s Bravos? Check. Yankees over the Twins? Obviously. And the nail-biting down to the wire Rays-Rangers series? RANGERS TAKE IT!!! * Fist Pump * On a side note, if you are interested, tomorrow’s winning lottery numbers are: 10 14 23 26 31 and 42.

Here are some photographic highlights from the opening round series (one for each team):

Texas celebrates its series win with ginger ale so as to include Josh Hamilton in the festivities. A commendable decision, to say in the least.

You can cut your hair now, Mr. Longoria.

The San Francisco Giants offer a salute to Atlanta’s Bobby Cox after their series win. Classy.

Bobby says goodbye

……

No October smiles for Brandon Phillips.

Is it cold, CC?

See you next year, Mr. Mauer.

Post Season’s Greetings!

Well, my friends, the post season is upon us. What twists and turns lie in store for the eight best teams in baseball? I hope everyone will be watching to find out, even if the none of the eight teams in question hold a special place in your heart. There are still plenty of teams worth rooting for… and against.

I have collected a thought or two to share for each team, and list them here in order of least-to-most likable.

8. Philadelphia Phillies

I am ready for the Phillies time of greatness to be over. The team is so old that I have to think it soon will be. If their glorified pitching staff and punchy offense do end up carring them as far as is generally expected, it will be to my chagrin.

7. Cincinnati Reds

Call me a bitter Cubs fan, but I simply cannot wish the Red any success. The only thing I like about this team is Brandon Phillips’ smile, and I am sure that if they went all the way, it would break his face.

6. New York Yankees

I am not a rabid anti-Yankee person, I just think they should let someone else have a turn this year. If they were to repeat, I would be truly happy for one solitary reason (Kerry Wood, of course.)

5. Atlanta Braves

Sure, it’d make a great story for the Bravos to win it all in Bobby Cox’s final season, but… meh. It’s a good enough story that they made the playoffs, in my book.

4. San Francisco Giants

I am willing to let go of the Cubs-Giants grudgery of ages past (I can be a forgiving fan, see?) We did humiliate them in 1908, after all. Besides, they’ve got Little Babe Ruth now. And Buster Posey is fun to watch. And Tim Lincecum, Barry Zito, and Brian Wilson are fun to laugh at.

3. Tampa Bay Rays

The [Devil] Rays spent just long enough being the laughing stock of the major leagues as to give me pleasure in seeing them experience some success. I also like Carlos Pena and Ben Zobrist.

2. Minnesota Twins

Jim Thome has played in the post season eight times without ever having won a World Series. I like Jim Thome and this fact makes me sad.

1. Texas Rangers

I do not, in fact, like the Rangers any more than the Twins. But Minnesota won a championship in 1991. In Cubs years, that’s like yesterday.

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And here are a few bonus thoughts/opinions!

Match-up that would disgust me:

Yankees vs. Phillies

Match-ups that would bore me:

Yankees vs. Braves (The ’90’s are over.)

Rays vs. Phillies (So is 2008.)

Match-ups that I would watch with interest and pleasure:

Rangers vs. Giants (Think of the pitching match-ups! Cy Young winners Tim Lincecum and Cliff Lee! Mimbos Barry Zito and CJ Wilson!)

Twins vs. Braves (Think of the catching match-up! Joe Mauer and Brian McCann! Actually, a Twins-Giants [Mauer-Posey] contest would be almost as agreeable.)

Actual Predictions:

If I get this right, everyone owes me a jar of Nutella. To form these guesses, I used equal parts common sense and wishful thinking.

NLDS- I think that Philadelphia will dispatch Cincinnati. San Francisco will edge out Atlanta.

ALCS- I think that the Yankees will beat the Twins, and the Rangers will upset the Rays.

NLCS- The Phillies will come out on top of the Giants.

NCIS- I don’t know, I don’t watch that show.

ALCS- The Rangers will triumph over the Yankees.

World Series- I predict the Rangers will somehow defeat the Phillies. They already beat the Rays and Yankees, so why not? Like I said, wishful thinking.

Saying Goodbye: Derrek Lee

The Cubs franchise lost another face on Thursday. The team has lost a lot of heart (and stomach) wrenching games this season, but none have been as regrettable to me as the loss of this lone man, Derrek Lee. (He joins Dustin Byfuglien, Ben Eager, Brent Sopel and Andrew Ladd as Chicago athletes cast off to Atlanta this year.)

I feel like I ought to be writing psalms and sonnets  in commemoration of D-Lee’s seven years in Chicago. His glove alone is worth an ode or two. I’ll never forget the Oakland A’s broadcasters sighing and admiring our 1st baseman during spring training in 2008. They compared him to a ballerina. I imagine that Cubs fans will be holding (unfairly) all succeeding first baseman to the Derrek Lee standard.

His bat was nothing to sniff at, either. The same broadcasting duo mentioned above fawned over D-Lee just as much when he was at the plate. The comment I particularly remember was, “He makes striking out look good.” Can’t argue with that.

What makes this man really valuable, of course, is his quiet leadership and honorable conduct on and off the playing field. Hitting home runs and winning gold gloves will win you plenty of fans, but it takes something more than that to hold on to them.

These few paragraphs hardly seem a worthy sendoff for a man who was as important to my team for as great a period of time as Derrek Lee was. Simply know that I offer this puny farewell with all the respect and admiration that my heart can muster. Were I in attendance at today’s Cubs-Braves match-up, I’d be the first fan on my feet to offer Mr. Lee the ovation that he deserves.

Predictorama 2010: Wagons East!

This is the continuance of my 2010 divisional projections… Last week I covered the West, now it’s time to tackle the big East! So let’s giddyup!

National League East – Will the Phillies keep up a stranglehold on the division? Will the Mets hit rock bottom? Will this be one of those strange random years when the Marlins win the World Series? If you’re looking for real answers to these questions, I’m sorry… you have come to the wrong place.

Philadelphia Phillies: Paparazzi will photograph Ryan Howard eating a sub at Quiznos and scandal will ensue. During a game in July, a stray kitty cat will find it’s way onto the field at Citizens Bank Park and Chase Utley will adopt it on the spot. I predict that the Phillies will not be the best team in the NL. Not because I believe it, but because I just really want to.

Florida Marlins: I’ll finally uncover the truth of Taylor Tankersley’s mysterious origins. Hanley Ramirez will learn to wink with both eyes.

Atlanta Braves: Though Tom Glavine has retired from baseball, expect him to soon announce a new deal with the National Hockey League’s Atlanta Thrashers. Jo-Jo Reyes will still be the only major leaguer with that first name.

New York Mets: Troubled mascot Mr. Met will run away from home. The health of the Mets’ key players will continue to crumble like a stale cookie. Someone will invent a memory erasing machine (like in “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”) so everyone will finally be able to forget 1969.

Washington Nationals: The Nats will make the postseason (YES THEY WILL) due entirely to the acquisition of Jason Marquis. Adam Kennedy will pitch. Nyjer Morgan will be my fantasy steal of the year.

American League East – The most frightening league in the Majors. In so many ways…

New York Yankees: Derek Jeter will introduce some exciting new products in his Avon line! Nick Swisher won’t change a bit. I will go on loving Brett Gardner no matter what he does.

Boston Red Sox: Jonathan Papelbon’s face won’t get any prettier. The green monster will eat Jeremy Hermida. Tim Wakefield will throw some more knuckle-balls.

Tampa Bay Rays: B.J. Upton will melt your heart. Carlos Pena will sign your taco.

Toronto Blue Jays: Bench coach Brian Butterfield will go on the Brian Butterfield diet plan and gain 23 pounds in the first two weeks. Edwin Encarnacion will be eaten by a garfoose.

Baltimore Orioles: The O’s will sign a member of their grounds crew to a major league contract and he’ll become the ace of their pitching staff.