We made it, gang. A weird offseason where it took what seemed like ages for many free agents to end up with a job - not to mention all the hand-wringing over pace-of-play rules - is finally over. Opening Day is today. Here are my picks. Grab a cold one and enjoy.
AL EAST- It’s a two dog fight here, but the Yankees, if their starting pitching holds up, is the clear choice. The Red Sox countered the Stanton acquisition with J.D. Martinez, whose .690 slugging percentage last season was the highest in the majors. If David Price is the old David Price, they will chase the Yankees all season.
AL CENTRAL- The Indians have had playoff heartbreak in the last few years, but they are still an extremely good team. Led by Corey Kluber, their rotation is strong and when healthy, Andrew Miller and Cody Allen turn games into seven innings. The Twins had a good off season and that will keep them in the Wild Card mix.
AL WEST- As scary as it sounds, the Astros seem like a better team than the one that won the World Series a year ago. The acquisition of Gerrit Cole in the offseason boosted an already talented rotation. The Mike Trout led Angels made splash after splash in the winter months with the signings of of Shohei Ohtani, Justin Upton, and Zack Cozart. They also traded for Ian Kinsler. Possibly a Wild Card contender.
NL EAST- The 97 win Nationals are the favorites again in Bryce Harpers final year before Free Agency. The Phillies fast-tracked their rebuild with signings of Carlos Santana and Jake Arrieta. Top infield prospect Scott Kingery is the real deal.
NL CENTRAL- Who could stop the Cubs? I think the Brewers have a very good chance in the division. They got better in the offseason, notably adding Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain. This will be a battle right into September.
NL WEST- The Dodgers are loaded with too much talent and experience to come up short, but the Diamondbacks on the strength of their rotation will stick around all season.
AMERICAN LEAGUE Red Sox over Twins
NATIONAL LEAGUE Diamondbacks over Brewers
Yankees over Red Sox
Astros over Indians
Dodgers over Diamondbacks
Nationals over Cubs
Yankees over Red Sox
Dodgers over Nationals
Yankees over Dodgers
There it is - my bold predictions.
The 2018 baseball season in upon us. Spring training is over, it’s time for the long awaited real deal. That means prediction time. Lets start with the locals and I’ll do the divisions tomorrow.
Yankees 96-97 wins
Yeah I know, everyone is predicting 98-100 wins. It's sometimes easy for forget the Yankees didn't win the AL East last season, as they actually finished two games behind the rival Red Sox who WILL challenge them this season.
After adding slugger Giancarlo Stanton to an already potent lineup and with a full season of Sonny Gray alongside Luis Severino and Masahiro Tanaka atop the rotation, this year's squad looks even better than the one that advanced to the American League Championship Series a year ago. But they are not invulnerable.
It’s hard to realistically think Stanton and Judge can both again hit over 50 round trippers again. We all saw what happened to Judge the 2nd half. Can Stanton repeat what he did in Marlins Park? Can the good, - but not perfect by any mean- starting starting staff stay healthy and get to the 5th or 6th consistently and hand it over to their rock-star bullpen?
No doubt the Yanks have an All-Star lineup with Didi, Sanchez, Stanton and Judge. .Drury and Walker are good pickups. Gardner and Hicks are above average and the bench is good. Now if only Gregg Bird could ever stay healthy. He is the Wild Card here and will be missed the first 6-8 weeks.
For me it’s an effect Severino, a healthy Gregg Bird –once he returns- and a better defensive Gary Sanchez that help them to 96 or 97 wins and the division championship.
Mets 85-86 wins
I don’t think the Mets will be as bad as everyone thinks they will be.
A new manager is in place in Mickey Callaway, and the Mets added veterans such as Jay Bruce, Todd Frazier and Jason Vargas in the offseason.
For all the great arms the Mets possess, none of their young hurlers have won 20 games. Jacob deGrom has won the most with 15 wins this past season, while Noah Syndergaard has maxed at 14 and Matt Harvey tallied 13 wins in 2013. Look out for Harvey to make a comeback, and Syndergaard getting 18-20 if the Mets get him some runs and a miracle occurs, they stay healthy.
Vargas and Frazier make them better. Michael Conforto once he returns could give them 20-25 homers. Yoenis Cespedes or Jay Bruce can easily hit 30-plus homers. The Mets will score runs, again…if they stay healthy.
Adrian Gonzalez will man 1st base till Smith returns, but I don’t see much from that position along with catcher. Although his name has been mentioned plenty of times in trade rumors, the Mets seem to be intrigued by the idea of giving Lagares a starting role in centerfield because of his elite defensive skills, but can he hit?
Yoenis Cespedes is the key piece to the Mets' lineup. “If” he stays healthy their better, if not it’s no better than 3rd in the division.
Phillies 87-88 wins
In a National League East dominated by the Washington the improving Phillies might just challenge for a Wild Card spot.
Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta will lead the pitching staff. while Rhys Hoskins will prove last year was no fluke. Carlos Santana was a great addition. This team is going to be better.
Scott Kingery, Aaron Altherr, Jorge Alfaro and J.P. Crawford are other young, intriguing talents possibly ready to make big leaps. Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez both have upside. The Phillies also have a fascinating new manager and an underrated bullpen, so with the second NL Wild Card seemingly up for grabs, and baseball being such a crapshoot once the postseason starts, the Phillies are my favorite long shot bet of the season.
Unfortunately, I haven’t gotten to watch as many March Madness games as I usually do, but last night I saw a terrific back and forth game between Nevada and Loyola-Chicago. The result : Sister Jean is beaming and still on a mission and her Ramblers (31-5) are going to the Elite Eight.
They won 69-68 Thursday, an 11 seed over a 7 seed in a South Region gone haywire. And they did it by going peak Loyola when they needed to most, outscoring the Wolf Pack 20-4 to end the first half and then — incredibly — making their first 13 shots of the second half in building a double-digit lead that wasn’t enough. The maroon and gold eventually went cold for a brief spell and the Pack roared back, tying the game 59-59 on a Cody Martin laying with 4:06 to go. That’s what good teams do in March. That’s what Sweet 16 classics look like, and this one was a classic.
With Loyola clinging to a one-point lead and only 6.3 seconds remaining, Marques Townes sank clutch a 3-pointer from in front of the Ramblers' bench to continue their improbable NCAA Tournament run. The win leaves the Cinderella Ramblers one victory (69-68) from a Final Four appearance. Not bad for a program that hadn't been in the Sweet 16 in 33 years.
In my opinion, last night’s game was the best game of the tournament so far thanks to the cardiac Ramblers who did it again. Sister Jean is smiling and I’m rooting for the Maroon and Gold!
Borrowing from the Grateful Dead; “What a strange trip it’s been” (so far).
Where does one start? Well, let’s start at the top.
Virginia’s 74-54 defeat at the hands of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, wasn’t that close. The Cavaliers were unequivocally the best team in Division I this past season. It was the first time a No. 16 seed had beaten a No. 1 seed since the Division I men’s tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985 — that is 33 years and 136 matchups of 16 versus 1. It doesn’t end there.
Sunday was a feeding frenzy for the underdogs in this epic tournament as five top seeds went down one after the next. Xavier, in the West region, became the second No. 1 seed to lose before the Round of 16 this year — the first time that’s happened since 2004. You can thank Florida State for that.
No. 2 seeds Cincinnati and North Carolina were eliminated, as were Michigan State, the No. 3 in the Midwest Region, and Auburn, the No. 4 in the Midwest. Yikes!
No. 11 Syracuse, the last team chosen by the tournament selection committee to enter the field of 68 crushed the dreams of No. 3 Michigan with a stunning 55-53 upset over State, the Orange officially crashed the Big Dance, as did No. 7 Nevada who trailed at halftime only to see a shot by Caleb Martin tie the game with 57 seconds remaining, as part of a 10-2 run. They beat No. 2 Cincinnati by two . Then there was No. 2 North Carolina, who saw Texas A& M go on a 25-8 run to close the first half. The Tar Heels never recovered in the second half.
Oh and let’s not forget No. 5 Clemson, which closed the first half with a 25-4 run that helped it beat No. 4 Auburn by a score of 84-53 on Sunday. And then Loyola advanced to the dance of sixteen.
They weren’t kidding when the “experts” said there was parity in college hoops this year. I had no horse in this race but it was certainly an historical and entertaining weekend in NCAA land. Brackets busted, point spreads destroyed and some unfamiliar faces in the Sweet Sixteen. Yep, what a strange trip it’s been.
Here we go again. Just when you think Odell Beckham Jr. has had a quiet offseason … a video pops up on social media featuring one of the best receivers in the NFL. In the video, which was first tweeted by the Fameolous, Beckham is in bed with a woman, pizza, a credit card, and a white substance. Beckham is holding some type of brown cigarette. A Dobie perhaps? One word..STUPID.
As it turns out, the Yankees were not comfortable going into the 2018 season with two rookie infielders. Or even one rookie infielder, for that matter. So, Brian Cashmen made what appears to be another good move. He signed free agent infielder Neil Walker. Let me repeat-Good Move.
It is worth mentioning once again that not only have the Knicks only won one playoff series in the past 17 years, and lost more games than anybody else in the league in the past 17 years, but they are now about to lose 50 games three times in a row for the first time since the 1960s. Nice going Mr. Dolan
YES Network announcer Ken Singleton said he is stepping away from broadcasting after the season to spend more time with his family. He’s been calling Yankees games since 1997, back when they were on the MSG Network, and he joined YES full-time when the network launched in 2002. He will be missed, class guy.
NHL rinks right now are serving as proving grounds for four of the Rangers' young defensemen, all of whom have spent at least half the season in the AHL. Neal Pionk and John Gilmour have led the way. I’m impressed.
The Met’s injury-plagued right-hander Zack Wheeler is trying to make the starting staff. He looked good against the Yankees last week. Oh wait, isn’t the entire staff injury-plagued?
Virginia is the best team in college basketball. Virginia holds the top spot in both the AP Top 25 and coaches poll. Through their 28 games, the Cavaliers have proven they are more than deserving of the top spot.
This group possesses as much fight and discipline as any team in the country. Tony Bennett’s teams are known for their defensive prowess. This year, Virginia has taken it to an entirely new level. The Cavaliers are the unquestioned best defensive crew in college basketball -- and it isn’t all that close. Through 28 games, Virginia is allowing a Division 1-leading 52.9 points per game. The gap between Virginia and second place Michigan State is over 10 points. At 26-2 (15–1 ACC) the Cavaliers prove once again that defense usually wins.
While their offense can be slow and plodding at times, a national ranking isn’t based upon the flashiness of an offense or the perceived NBA draft stock on a roster. Schools should be ranked on the team’s success alone, and no team -- including Michigan State or Villanova -- can compete with Virginia’s resume.
The Cavaliers are the best team in the ACC right now, and look poised to grab a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Villanova lost to Creighton on Saturday and dropped to number 4.
Virginia has already locked up the top seed for next month's conference tournament in Brooklyn. Duke as always looms big in a potential tournament match-up. Don’t be surprised if the Cavaliers come out on top. They might be the only surefire 1-seed come Selection Sunday.
Selection Sunday is no longer the only major thing looming over college hoops, as Duke, North Carolina, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan State, Texas, USC, Auburn and of course, Arizona have been among the teams drawn into the fast-evolving specter of the FBI’s investigation into the corruption sewn across the sport.
Arizona’s Sean Miller and former Louisville coach Rick Pitino might not be the only big name coaches (Auburn’s Bruce Pearl?) exposed by the FBI as it continues its investigation into college basketball recruiting. Multiple reports last week indicated that the scandal could yet mushroom, implicating every major conference, several Hall of Fame coaches, a score of current top players and some of the nation’s most distinguished and respected programs.
The stunning revelations about one of my favorite sport’s open secret, unearthed in reports by Yahoo Sports and ESPN, have finally arrived for the NCAA and its absurd model of amateurism. This March, the madness likely means top programs worrying as much about FBI findings as RPI rankings, with their focus diverted from one shining moment by nearly 3,000 hours of potentially compromising phone conversations. Think of how nervous that number makes so many coaches.
Predictably, NCAA President Mark Emmert responded with a statement, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Referencing his appointed Commission on College Basketball, whatever that is, Emmert dropped committee member Condoleezza Rice’s (why is she even on this committee?) name in the third sentence to establish credibility and vowed what the NCAA seldom delivers. Yea, ok.
We didn’t need an FBI investigation to discover the current system lines the pockets of everyone but those who actually make the money, the players.
Now let’s talk the obvious: The time has come to adopt an Olympic-style compensation structure that permits so-called student-athletes in all sports to be paid what the market bears. This would eliminate the corruption that runs so rampant nowadays in big time college sports. A high school kid and his family can’t be on the take if there are no rules to break. The AAU coaches or middlemen like sneaker companies brokering seedy deals between schools, agents and recruits can’t wield such power in college basketball’s underworld if everything is done above board.
More leaks are expected. More programs will face accusations. More players will be forced to deny receiving goodies from agents. And it doesn’t sound like the NCAA is planning to make any of these schools ineligible for postseason play. Maybe it should. Then, just maybe we can eliminate college basketball’s worst kept secret…making millions from those so called student athletes.
The American hockey gold medal drought is finally over. They needed the first shootout in an Olympic women’s final to do it, too. Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson scored a dazzling, triple-deke goal in the sixth round of a shootout to claim the hard fought victory. They piled over the boards, throwing gloves in the air before huddling and hugging on the ice — 20 years after the women’s last gold medal in women’s hockey and 38 years to the day after the men’s famous “Miracle on Ice” victory over the Russians in group play at Lake Placid. Thank goodness, because the men’s team were a no show. Bring back the NHL.
The Met’s Zach Wheeler went 3-7 with a 5.21 ERA in 17 starts for the Mets last season before he was shut down in August with a stress injury to his right arm. Wheeler missed the previous two seasons rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. Then after hearing of the Vargas deal Wheeler told the press he wasn’t happy. He feels he is one of this years starters. Zach... when you can stay healthy and pitcher better than a 5.21 ERA then you complain to the press, not before.
Looks like Brain Cashman has stolen another one from the Dimondbacks. Brandon Drury isn’t exactly the Next Big Thing but the natural 3rd basemen who can play all over the place is insurance for the Yankee infield. My guess is he’s the starting hot corner guy on opening day. Drury, who turns 26 in August, has had a couple of solid seasons in Arizona, hitting .267 with 37 doubles and 13 home runs last year. Is Drury the latest notch on the GM’s belt? Would you bet against it?
The rebuilding Rangers on Tuesday traded defenseman Nick Holden to the Bruins for defenseman Rob O’Gara and Boston’s third-round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft in the first of what should be at least a few deals GM Jeff Gorton makes before Monday afternoon’s trade deadline. The first domino has fallen.
With the NCAA forcing Louisville to vacate its 2013 national championship, the title is now up for grabs and a group of Michigan fans are claiming it as their own. The fan blog site Maize n Brew announced they will be selling T-shirts commemorating Michigan's newfound de-facto 2013 national championship starting Tuesday. Louisville defeated the Wolverines in the championship game. In sure current Knick guards Tim Hardaway Jr. and Trey Burke will take some.
It’s no secret that the Jets absolutely would love to sign Kirk Cousins in the coming weeks, according to actual team sources. He’s a win-now AND win-later quarterback entering the prime of his career. There’s a large enough window (at least five seasons) to win with the soon-to-be 30-year-old signal caller to make it more than worthwhile to make a strong investment in him, but let’s be clear: The Jets are not going to try to bring him aboard by any means necessary. But suppose we renamed Met life The Cousins Colisuem?
Pitchers and catchers report. They’re four great words, no doubt. Spring Training is now underway and it couldn’t come sooner for this die hard baseball fan. Not much to root for in New York area this past fall and winter, unless maybe you’re a Devils fan.
Pitchers and catchers reported last week and position players are trickled in to Tampa early like Stanton, Wade, Frazier and Austin. Even the non-rostered players were arriving early. Each hoping to impress the new manager Aaron Boone and his staff. The Yankees' first full-squad workout is scheduled for today.
I am weirdly interested in hearing how Spring Training runs this year. Rob Thomson had been in charge of Spring Training since 1998, even when he wasn’t on the coaching staff, third base coach Phil Nevin and infielder coordinator Carlos Mendoza will run the show this year.
It’s a time-honored tradition to see what uniforms the non-roster invites will don. The Yankees always run out a few zany ones considering their increasingly large list of retired numbers. As for the veterans… Austin Romine will have number 28, previously worn by Girardi. Romine surrendered number 27 to Giancarlo, who is somehow on the Yankees. Let that sink in for a minute. It’s going to be a fun spring, isn’t it?
Spring training games kick off on Friday, which means that baseball season is right around the corner. I’m loving it.
To get more days off during the season, baseball will start one week earlier than in the past. The Yankees were told to pack their passports for Spring Training, as they are scheduled to open the 2018 regular season north of the border with a four-game series against the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre, beginning with Opening Day on March 29.
The 115th home opener in Yankees history is scheduled to be played against the Rays on April 2 at Yankee Stadium, beginning a six-game homestand that also welcomes the Orioles to town. April 10-12 marks their first visit to Fenway Park. Boston is scheduled to visit the Bronx on May 8-10, June 29-July 1 and Sept. 18-20. The Yanks-BoSox rivalry should be intense this year as the “Evil Empire” is favored to win the AL East.
The Yankees are loaded. Of course we know how close they came last October. They might get 100 home runs or more out of Stanton and Judge, and who knows how many Sanchez hits if he stays healthy? They have that kind of power in the batting order and we know how much power they have out of the bullpen. Only question is, can the starters stay healthy and the rookies make an impact?
The Astros may have the target on their backs, but the Yankees have the ammo to slay them.
So hurry up, lets get thru Spring Training and get the season going.
In an important game within the Metropolitan Division, the New Jersey Devils prevailed over the Carolina Hurricanes, 5-2. For anyone waiting for the shoe to drop, the resurgent Devils are for real. After pulling out a shootout victory to end a losing streak in Philly, the Devils won in regulation last night. What’s more, it was against another team right by the Devils in the Metropolitan Division standings, Carolina. This regulation wins matters.
New Jersey has 66 points; this puts them in a tie with Philadelphia for third place, as both teams have the same number of games.
As for the other locals, the Islanders remain on the bubble with a 3-0 shut-out of the Rangers. Again we saw shaky goal tending from the fading once spectacular Henrik Lundqvist and continued inability to score. If the Islanders played the Rangers more often, Garth Snow just might become GM for life.
Even though the Blueshirts had 50 shots on goal, nothing got by Halak. Since the All-Star break they have only scored 13 goals in eight games. Both the Devils and Islanders have scored 26 in their last eight.
The Islanders (28-25-6, 62 points) are 3-0-0 against the Rangers (27-26-5, 59 points) this season and are 10-1-0 in the last 11 matchups. Halak is 13-1-0 in his last 14 head-to-head battles with Lundqvist. The Islanders moved within a point of the fore mentioned Hurricanes for the last playoff spot.
It wasn’t that long ago we were talking about for the first time in a long time, all three area teams qualifying for the playoffs. Not so much anymore.
Yeah, there are plenty of games left, and anything is possible, but at this stage, only the Devils look like the sure thing.
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