Sunday, July 3, 2022 |
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I’d say that baseball was probably my first love. Starting at about age 4, I became pretty obsessed with watching, playing and studying everything about the game. For my birthday each year, my parents would get me that season’s full set of Topps baseball cards. I’d put them into sleeves and binders and pore over the stats for all 792 cards until knowing that Tony Gwynn hit a then career-high 14 home runs in 1986 was as, if not more, instinctive than remembering to brush my teeth.
The start of each baseball season usually reminds me of that affection. While football and basketball typically hoard my focus during the winter, there’s something annually comforting about knowing there will be baseball each and every day for the next six months. Opening Day is a sigh of relief, a return to a welcome status quo.
I’m lucky to have been to many Major League games, though a 2003 tilt between the Mets and Cubs at Shea Stadium was the only Opening Day. It was Tom Glavine’s first start for my Mets after 16 years with the hated Atlanta Braves. I drove home from Penn State, missed some classes and sat in the upper deck with some buddies on a 39-degree day, only to see Glavine give up four runs in the top of the first en route to a 15-2 loss. Admittedly, I stood up and booed him after he walked the first hitter of the season.
It doesn’t take long for opinions to form in New York, which is true again this year as Yankee fans are already in panic mode. While they are almost always irrational, Yankee fans aren’t necessarily out of line in their concern. This aging Bronx team has injury issues and a lack of offensive firepower that will put pressure on its strong starting pitching staff in a very competitive American League East.
The Blue Jays made the headlines for their offseason acquisitions (Jose Reyes, RA Dickey, Melky Cabrera, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle), but I think it will be the Tampa Bay Rays who end up taking the division crown. Manager Joe Maddon is worth a few wins and with Tampa’s constant barrage of pitching and young bats, it’s the team to beat. Predicted finish: 1. Rays; 2. Yankees; 3. Blue Jays; 4. Red Sox; 5. Orioles
In the AL Central, the Tigers won’t see much resistance. They could claim to have the game’s best pitcher (Justin Verlander) and its best hitter (Miguel Cabrera). Max Scherzer and Doug Fister add rotation depth and Prince Fielder is good for 40 homers. The Indians are the most likely early rabbit, who could get off to a quick start after some smart offseason acquisitions (Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher), but depth in the rotation is a concern. Unless Ubaldo Jimenez replicates his Colorado success, they won’t have much staying power. Predicted finish: 1. Tigers; 2. Indians; 3. Royals; 4. White Sox; 5. Twins
The AL West comes down to the Angels and the Rangers, with Josh Hamilton having left Texas to head to Anaheim this winter. The Angels have no more excuses and field a lineup featuring Hamilton, Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Mark Trumbo. They really should win the division, but I have a feeling Texas will again find a way. I like the back end of their rotation more than what the Angels are offering and Yu Darvish could be turning into one of the game’s elite starters. The A’s will be scrappy and watch out for Yoenis Cespedes to have an MVP-caliber season. Predicted finish: 1. Rangers; 2. Angels; 3. Athletics; 4. Mariners; 5. Astros
Moving to the National League, the Nationals made an impressive, if not shocking, leap in 2012. Phenom Bryce Harper is only getting better and the starting rotation is as good as anyone’s. Added speed in Denard Span and a healthy Jayson Werth make them that much more complete. The Braves are the only threat to Washington’s hopes, but I think the loss of Martin Prado will be felt more than they expect. They’ll pitch well, but not well enough. Predicted finish: 1. Nationals; 2. Braves; 3. Phillies; 4. Mets; 5. Marlins
One of baseball’s best races will certainly occur in the NL Central, where the Reds, Cardinals, Pirates and maybe even Brewers will all be in the mix. While it seems silly to ever count out the Cards, this could be the year they regress. Age is not on their side and expecting a 2012 repeat from Carlos Beltran seems unlikely. The Reds were no fluke, winning 97 games in 2012, and added Shin-Soo Choo to a potent lineup. Predicted finish: 1. Reds; 2. Brewers; 3. Pirates; 4. Cardinals; 5. Cubs
Just as tight should be the NL West, where the Dodgers, Giants and Diamondbacks all have postseason aspirations. L.A.’s Clayton Kershaw could be the Cy Young frontrunner and a healthy Matt Kemp is as good as anyone in baseball. The wild card is starter Zack Greinke. If he overcomes his mental troubles on the mound, he pushes the Dodgers to another level. But I like the Giants’ pitching and overall makeup slightly more than L.A. Predicted finish: 1. Giants; 2. Dodgers; 3. Diamondbacks; 4. Rockies; 5. Padres.
• ‘My Thoughts Exactly’ appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays in The Garden Island. Email David Simon your comments or questions to email@example.com. Follow David on Twitter @SimonTGI
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