The Yankees and Astros, with their combined 210 regular season wins, have been on a collision course to square off in this American League Championship Series since Opening Day. It was one of the few correct predictions I made before the season began, and that doesn’t exactly make me a prophet. It makes me part of the majority who thought this would happen. Through two games, you can’t necessarily say that the details of how we got here have played out predictably. But a series deadlocked at one game apiece with the venue shifting to the Bronx for Games 3 through 5 is certainly befitting of this clash of baseball titans.
The Yanks caught some good fortune in the ALDS round, simply by virtue of Houston having to throw Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole in Games 4 and 5 just to dispatch the pesky Tampa Bay Rays. The Bombers did what they had to do in Game 1. They combined a virtuoso pitching performance from Masahiro Tanaka, some great defense, and 5 RBI’s from wunderkind Gleyber Torres in a game they won 7-0. There really wasn’t much to dissect afterwords. The Yanks played a damn near perfect game. The Astros didn’t have an answer on that night. And that was that.
Game 2 was predictably tight from start to finish. Justin Verlander was dominant, save for a lead-off walk to DJ LeMahieu that was promptly followed by a two-run laser beam homer off the bat of Aaron Judge. James Paxton only lasted 2 1/3 innings for New York in which he allowed six men to reach base. Aaron Boone wisely didn’t let Paxton give it away early, and instead turned to Chad Green. He retired six in a row, before being removed with one out in the 5th in favor of Adam Ottavino. But his first-pitch slider to George Springer was hit roughly 800 feet to tie the game. It stayed that way until Carlos Correa’s walk-off homer off J.A. Happ in the 11th to give the Astros a much-needed 3-2 victory.
So now that the series is tied and the venue shifts to the Bronx, a few observations about how this has all played out so far.
The Game 2 loss was on the offense, NOT Aaron Boone
I’ll admit, I wasn’t crazy about the move to take Green out of the game for Ottavino in that spot. But even after Springer’s moon shot, the game was still tied. The fact that the Yankees got Verlander out of the game with the score still even should have been considered an advantage. But as the Yanks were burning through the best of their bullpen to put up zeroes, the offense went dormant. Consider this. Brett Gardner hit a single off the glove of Jose Altuve in the 6th that was alertly barehanded by Correa, who fired home to nail LeMahieu at the plate for the final out of the inning. The Yankees only got one more hit the rest of the ballgame, and it would seem to be that any reasonable person would place the brunt of the blame for the loss right there.
There really is no dispute as to which team has the better pen in this series. It’s the Yankees. But at the plate, they came up empty against Houston relievers Will Harris, Roberto Osuna, Joe Smith, Ryan Pressly and Josh James. That’s not to say that all of the guys I just mentioned are what you would call scrubs, but if the Yankees managed to scratch out a run against any one of them, then Jonathan Loaisiga and J.A. Happ wouldn’t have had to play major roles in such big spots in the extra frames.
The decision to send LeMahieu home was the right call, it just didn’t work out
As it played out live, I was livid that third-base coach Phil Nevin allowed the third out of the inning to be made at home plate, depriving the Yankees of a bases-loaded opportunity. However, after watching the wide angle replay, I can’t say I would have done it any differently. As the ball bounced away from Altuve, it sure did look like it was going to get far enough away to allow the play at the plate to at least be a lot closer than it ended up being. But give credit to Correa, who made a perfect heads-up play to cut LeMahieu down at home.
Two things about this. One, Gary Sanchez has had a really tough time at the plate lately and was anything but a guarantee to produce in the next at bat against Verlander. And two, I’m a firm believer that aggressive baserunning has a tendency to work out in big spots in the playoffs. You always want to put pressure on the defense to execute to perfection when possible, and in this case, the Astros did. A tip of the cap to them for that. But I can’t fault Nevin for sending LeMahieu there.
The middle of the Yankees lineup HAS to be better
With no Giancarlo Stanton last night, the Yankees needed someone to produce in the middle of their batting order, and it just didn’t happen. Even though Gardner did collect a pair of hits out of the 5-hole, Edwin Encarnacion and Sanchez combined to go 0-for-9 with six strikeouts, and Gardner also struck out twice. Adding Game 1 into the equation, Sanchez and Encarncacion are collectively 1-for-17 in the series so far with 10 K’s, and I don’t think I’m overreacting to say that just isn’t gonna cut it. I’ve seen a lot of tweets today clamoring for Sanchez to be benched in favor of Austin Romine, but I just can’t get on board with that…at least not yet. Here’s hoping that a day off and three home games will be the elixir for what ails those bats.
FOX’s in-game Charmin sponsorship was sublime
Ok, this is really all I wanted to write about today, so now that I’ve gotten all the bullshit about baseball out of the way I can talk about this Charmin graphic FOX used on the broadcast last night. I don’t remember what inning it was. Frankly, I don’t even remember what the premise of the graphic was. Apparently it was a comparison of the two second basemen. All I remember for sure was that at one point, Joe Buck (somehow keeping a straight face) introduced a graphic brought to us by Charmin toilet paper that was called “Charmin #2’s,” and by the time I stopped laughing, several innings had gone by.
To get a sponsorship like that approved and then presented on an ALCS telecast makes me, like, unreasonably happy. What can I say? I’m a sucker for a good poop joke. What I really want now is to just drop the subtlety completely and have Charmin sponsor a scoring summary graphic called “Who Has the Runs?” Depends could have sponsored that crazy Sanchez at-bat in the 11th inning as the “Pants-Shitting Moment of the Game.” Now that the door for poop puns on baseball broadcasts has been cracked ajar, let’s just kick that motherfucker down and really let it all hang out. Make it happen, FOX.
Anyway, Game 3 is Tuesday in the Bronx and should be another tight pitching matchup between Luis Severino and Gerrit Cole. The term “pivotal” really gets played out in these situations, but this game is literally the definition of the word. All I know is this series figures to go at least six and nothing is certain from here on out. Are we having fun yet? Well, my blood pressure has never been higher, so…yes?
The MLB Trade Deadline has come and gone, and the first-place New York Yankees have decided that what they have is enough to win a World Series this year. Well, at least what they’ve decided is that they weren’t willing to part with any top-tier prospects to bolster a pitching staff that has scuffled its way through the last few weeks since the All Star break.
In a vacuum, it’s hard to have an enormous problem with the decision not to thin out a promising prospect pool for the kinds of pitchers that were available at the deadline this year. Once it became clear that the thought of Noah Syndergaard in pinstripes was nothing more than a talk radio caller’s pipe dream, it honestly didn’t make a ton of sense to part with a player the likes of Clint Frazier or even Deivi Garcia to land someone like Robbie Ray. That’s true even if Frazier seems to have fallen out of favor with the front office and doesn’t appear to have a spot on this team in any capacity, at least for this particular season.
But it certainly isn’t a good look for Brian Cashman and Co. when you consider the Houston Astros managed to snag Zack Greinke from the Diamondbacks on the same day he pitched against the Yankees in the Bronx. The Astros’ rotation was already a cut above that of the Yanks, and now the argument could be made that Houston’s worst starter is at least as good as New York’s best.
I’m not at all what you would call a slave to statistics – especially a stat like ERA – but when you consider that there isn’t a single Yankees’ starter with an earned run average below 4.00, it’s impossible to argue that starting pitching wasn’t and isn’t a glaring need on this team. What the Yankees’ hierarchy is essentially telling its fan base is that they plan on winning playoff games by scoring a ton of runs. That isn’t necessarily an empty threat considering the depth of their lineup, but I think we’ve all seen enough postseason baseball to know that generally isn’t how things work.
Sure, there’s a possibility that Luis Severino could return in September and re-assert himself as the ace of the staff. Yes, Dellin Betances could come back and add another dynamic arm out of the bullpen so that the starters won’t be required to go six or seven innings deep come October. But count me among the Yankee fans who just doesn’t see how the Bombers can win a seven-game series against a team like Houston as things are currently constructed.
Make no mistake, this Yankee team is one of just a handful in the league that can be considered championship quality. But watching the pitching staff labor to get outs against the high-powered offenses of the Twins and Red Sox last week was enough to instill more than just a little bit of doubt that they are up to the task. Should they fail to win it all this year, the vitriol that much of the fan base will hurl at the front office will be expected, and frankly, deserved.
It goes back to the offseason when they decided they didn’t need someone like Patrick Corbin enough to pay top dollar for him over six years. Even as Dallas Kuechel remained unsigned through the first two months of the season, the Yanks allowed themselves to be outbid by Atlanta, even though he only ended up signing a one-year deal for $13M. To snooze their way through the trade deadline while Greinke, Marcus Stroman and Trevor Bauer all changed uniforms doesn’t really make much sense to me when you consider how quickly championship windows can close.
There are arguments to be made about whether or not those three guys in particular would be a good fit for New York, but barring a spectacular turnaround, it certainly doesn’t seem like the investments the Yankees did make in J.A. Happ and C.C. Sabathia were the answer. Domingo German has been a revelation, but the more his innings pile up, the less likely it is that he is a factor come playoff time. I still believe in Masahiro Tanaka as a reliable postseason stalwart, but his performance of late has left a lot to be desired. And as far as James Paxton goes, it’s hard to look at his first year in pinstripes as anything other than a disappointment at this point.
When you get right down to it, the Yankees had a need to address and they chose not to do it. That doesn’t mean they’re punting on the season or anything like that. After all, as I write this they hold an 8-game lead in the American League East and there is no reason at all to fear that they will let that slip. The concern obviously lies in what will happen when they find themselves having to find a way to get 27 outs against Houston, Boston or Minnesota without being outscored four games out of seven.
It’s hard to write a piece like this without sounding like a typical spoiled Yankee fan, but the fact remains that it has been a decade since this team won a ring. I know, I can already hear the fans of championship-starved franchises playing tiny violins for me, but I just think it would be a damn shame for the Yanks to waste another year with this marvelous lineup only to come up empty-handed.
This attitude of “Well, we can just sign Gerrit Cole in the offseason and everything will be fine!” just doesn’t cut it for me. For one, I want to win THIS year. And second, what indication has this team given you in the way they’ve conducted their business over the last several seasons that they would actually pull the trigger on a multi-year megadeal for a pitcher that will be turning 29 in September? If they end up talking themselves out of doing such a thing, I can’t say I’d find myself surprised.
Before I end this piece on such a critical note, I want to make sure I point out that Cashman does deserve a ton of credit for the diamonds in the rough he has found when it comes to position players. Luke Voit, Gio Urshela and Cameron Maybin have all played excellent baseball since putting on the pinstripes. Mike Tauchman has been a pleasant surprise even if he’s played a more regular role than was designed for him at the start of the season.
But the reason why they say pitching and defense wins championships is because that has borne itself out to be true more often than not. It’s hard to make the case right now that the Yankees have enough pitching to pick them to win in October. It would be wonderful if I get proven wrong. Here’s hoping that August and September sees the Yankees’ staff piece it all together. But Andy Pettitte isn’t walking through that door.
I was asked a deep question this past week that was clearly supposed to be difficult to answer. The question was simple: If you could only have one thing in this life, what would it be? Don’t ask me what prompted this person to ask me this question. I have no earthly idea. But after a brief pause to let the premise of the question wash over me, I realized I already knew what my answer was. It’s something I’ve thought about many times before, even if it wasn’t necessarily in that exact context. All I really want…is to create a legacy.
The thing that was particularly apropos about the timing of when this question was posed to me is that it came within 24 hours of a significant anniversary of one of those days in my life that will stick with me forever. May 28, 2014 was the day my father died. And when we’re talking about the concept of a legacy, there is no question that my dad undeniably left one. It is as complicated and imperfect as a legacy could be, but it’s one that impacts me now and will continue to impact me for the rest of my life.
That may sound as though I carry it like a weight on my shoulders, and if I’m being honest, in some ways I do. Lord knows that the events surrounding the last year of his life have brought untold amounts of pain to me and my family. But the totality of the impact he made on the person I’ve become is impossible to ignore, and it’s something I will always be grateful for.
My dad was as close to a rock star as a person could be without being an actual rock star. He rose through the ranks of FM radio until he made it onto WNEW in New York City. In his heyday, he was the host of the Dave Herman Rock & Roll Morning Show, and he was so good at what he did. What I remain most impressed by is how he was able to be on the forefront of so many ideas that moved the industry forward. He created an on-air persona for himself that seemed larger than life. I’m talking about a guy who was rubbing elbows with everyone from The Beatles to Bruce Springsteen to Paul Simon. In fact, if you listen to the live album 11.17.70, the voice that introduces Elton freakin’ John to the audience is my father. That’s pretty damn cool if I do say so myself.
But I wasn’t even born yet during the prime of his career. Even towards the end of his run on the air, I was just a child. I didn’t comprehend at the time the magnitude of what he was doing for a living. I couldn’t. To me, he was always just Dad. All of the perks that came with being this radio star’s son just seemed normal to me. It was all I knew.
My dad was always there for me. When I made the varsity baseball team in high school, he was a fixture at all of my games. He’s the guy who made me a Yankee fan, which also served as my initial introduction into the world of sports, even if he wasn’t the kind of fanatic that I turned out to be. If you know my previous work at all, you know how important the impact that combining a love of sports with a passion for broadcasting has made on my life. Would I have ever entered into the world of sports radio if it weren’t for him? The answer to that question is an easy no.
But of course, it was much more than that. Some of the best advice I’ve ever received when it comes to life, love and everything else came out of his mouth. I’ll never forget how he would constantly remind me to do my best to only focus on the things that I have control over, and to worry less about the things that I can’t. That’s the kind of advice that may seem obvious, but to have it framed in those terms was so important to my development as a goal-oriented human being. It’s something that I remind myself of on a weekly basis.
What I’m getting at with all of this is that when it came to simply being a father, Dave knocked it out of the park. At least he did with me. What bothers me is that he didn’t do it for all of his kids. I don’t want to speak to the experience of my siblings, simply because I don’t want to pretend I know their stories better than they do. But I can say for sure that my younger brother did not get the same parent that I did. I was already seven years old by the time Sam was born, and there’s a sense that after raising three other kids over the range of most of his adult life, he just wasn’t ready or willing to do it again at that point.
But without question, if we’re narrowing down the conversation about my dad to only include the context of the job he did raising me, there’s not much negative I could possibly say. Man, if only it were that simple…
Now is the part where things get a lot more difficult for me to talk about. But I’m gonna try. My parents began the process of getting divorced when I was in my early teens. I say process, because it dragged on for years. That time was a dark period marred by legal proceedings, lawyers, custody hearings and therapy sessions that sent my family’s life into calamity. And with all of the good will my father had built with me over the course of my childhood, he would use that to play me like a pawn in the chess match he waged against my mom.
The gaslighting job he did on my mother was executed with such precision, it makes me nauseuous to think about knowing what I know now. He would create situations to make her seem as though she was crazy, and it was so effective, there was a time I actually believed she was. If he was the puppeteer, I was his unwitting marionette.
From my perspective at the time, it seemed like my mom was constantly manic for no reason. What I didn’t realize was that the things that were setting her off coincided with all of these audacious legal maneuvers my dad was attempting behind the scenes. But I didn’t have any grasp of what was going on in that arena. So when I would arrogantly defend my dad, she would understandably lash out at me. When it was happening, my thought process was, “There goes Mom, acting crazy again.” But now I get it. There’s no need for me to get into specifics, but some of the things he did through the courts were absolutely preposterous. And yet somehow, he managed to get everything he wanted.
The result of all of this was that my mom finally realized she needed to get as far away from this place as possible. It was in 2002 that she moved to Vancouver, and that left me and my brother in New Jersey with our dad maintaining full custody. My relationship with my mother was strained so badly that we didn’t even talk for long stretches of time. She and I would reconcile in the following years, and I couldn’t be happier to say that at this point in my life, my relationship with her has never been better. I love her with every piece of my soul, and I’m so blessed to have her influence back in my life. But the thing that devastates me is the realization that for a large chunk of my growth from teenager to young adult, she wasn’t there. There’s no telling how much of a difference her presence would have made in my life during those years, but there’s no doubt she would have made a huge one. Instead, I had to learn how to grow up without my mom. And she had to live with the sting of having her children ripped away from her. Frankly, the blame for that rests squarely on my father’s shoulders.
The family separation would only continue in the following years. In 2005, my dad had designs on living out the rest of his retirement in the Virgin Islands. So despite all of the talk about how crazy my mom was, he wasn’t going to let that ruse mess up his plans on building his dream home in the Caribbean. With me already out of the nest and off at college, and with him having no desire to be a single parent to my now 11-year-old brother, he shipped Sam off to live with my mom in Vancouver. That was a devastating blow to me. My brother and I have always been attached at the hip. In the moment, I kicked and screamed in opposition to the idea that he would be moving to the opposite end of the continent. Of course, that move would be instrumental in my brother blossoming into the brilliant young man he has become. So it’s hard for me to be upset about it now. Also, he and I now share an apartment and are as close as we’ve ever been before. That, my friends, is a beautiful thing.
I fondly remember the trips I made to St. Croix to visit my dad. With him living there, it was an easy excuse to take a Caribbean vacation every year, and his house was a beautiful place with an incredible view overlooking the water.
We had such great times enjoying the beaches and joining him at a local watering hole called Off The Wall for Bingo night, an event that he would host every month as only he could. Right until the end, my dad was an entertainer, even when his audience was 30 drunk people just trying to win a beer koozie. I can’t stress enough how funny this man was. Sometimes it was unintentional, and we would be laughing at his expense. But the guy always oozed personality.
But I can’t say that I ever felt like this was the right place for him to be. I mean, here was this 70-year-old dude from the Bronx trying to adjust to “island time” and spending his days mostly in isolation. There was always something off about it. It just didn’t really fit. And clearly, something changed in him during his time there.
It’s not like there was ever an interaction I had with him where I was like, “Whoa, what’s going on with dad?” It was more just this sense that he didn’t belong there. My dad was a people person, and he didn’t really have a lot of people around him while he was there. Sure, he got along great with his neighbors, and the Bingo nights gave him an opportunity to schmooze with the locals. It just didn’t seem like it was really his kind of scene.
Even in the time that I spent there, he would spend an inordinate amount of time every day on his computer. There was nothing particularly alarming about that at the time, but let me ask you: If you were living in a tropical paradise, would you be logging hours upon hours online with a plethora of incredible outdoor activities to choose from a short drive away? I don’t know. It just felt like it was defeating the purpose of why someone would choose to live in a place like St. Croix.
And then it happened. It was in October of 2013 that my life changed forever…
I had just taken my seat aboard a train headed back to New Jersey after a lovely visit with my friends in Philadelphia. My brother’s birthday was the following day, and since he was attending NYU at the time, I was excited to get back so I could spend some quality time with him. But as I sat down, I answered my ringing cell phone to find my sister, Jenny, on the other end. I immediately could tell based on her tone that something was horribly wrong. When I asked her what was up, she ominously responded, “Did you hear about Dad?”
Naturally, I thought for sure she was about to tell me that he had passed away somehow. After all, he was not a young man and he had undergone open-heart surgery less than a decade prior. Instead, I learned that my dad had been arrested that day. By Homeland Security. In a sting operation. For sex crimes.
I was numb. I rode that train for an hour and a half in dead silence. I can’t for the life of me remember what was going through my head. I don’t know if anything was. I completely disassociated from my surroundings. Could it possibly be true? Was this some kind of sick joke?
I finally got home and laid my head down on my pillow. And then every single repercussion of what this news meant hit me all at once. I would say I cried myself to sleep, but I didn’t sleep a wink that night. I was heartbroken for my family. I was heartbroken for me. But then came the aftershocks. I realized this was going to be in the newspapers. I knew I was supposed to go into work at my New York City radio job the next day. Obviously, my bosses excused me from work and told me to take as much time as I needed before coming back. But the headlines reached me nonetheless.
It may sound strange for me to say, but in my mind, my father died twice. The day he was arrested was the day the man who raised me somehow ceased to exist. I only spoke to him over the phone one more time. He called me from jail on my birthday the following April, and even though he poured his heart out to me, I wasn’t really interested in hearing what he had to say at the time. I was still too angry, even if I was holding out hope that he was innocent as he claimed to be. I couldn’t bring myself to visit him in prison, despite the fact that he had been extradited to Newark – which in a unique twist of fate just so happened to be the same city I was living in at the time.
The last and only time I saw him after his arrest was the night before he died. Jenny had called me that day to tell me that he was having medical complications and that this would likely be my last chance. Seeing him laying in that hospital bed was incredibly uncomfortable, but I’m so happy I was there. His face lit up when he saw me. For a man who was literally on death’s door, he squeezed me so tightly in an embrace that I was ready for him to jump out of the bed and pull the IV out of his arm.
Even though he was pretty heavily medicated, he couldn’t have been more coherent when he started telling me how proud he was of me. Just as I had always been his biggest fan, he made it clear that he too was mine. He told me how he was able to get a radio in his cell and that he would listen to me every night I was on the air. He joked that one day I should take over for John Sterling as the play-by-play voice of the Yankees.
It was in that moment that a lot of the bitterness I felt started to melt away. I didn’t want to be angry. I just wanted to love my dad and be there for him just as he had been there for me so many times before. So that’s what I did.
For a while, he couldn’t seem to grasp the gravity of what was happening, that he was nearing the end. My sisters and I tried our best to communicate with him what the situation was. Finally, I did my best to cut through the noise and give it to him straight. I told him that either the doctors could plug him into a machine, and they could keep him alive…or…
And he stopped me right there with an emphatic, “NO.” So all that was left for me to say through my tears was, “Then it’s time to say goodbye.”
For all of the things that tear me up inside about this story, the thing I’m most grateful for is that the last words I said to my father were, “I love you.” Because I do. I always have, and I always will.
My dad was my hero. And even though he did some unforgivable things that crossed into the realm of sociopathy, it would be foolish of me to ignore all of the good in my life that he is directly responsible for. He’s the reason I’m a broadcaster. He’s the reason I’m a sports fan. But most importantly, in so many ways, he’s the reason I’m me.
When I’m gone, I want to be remembered for my legacy, not just the mistakes I’ve made. And even though some mistakes are far worse than others, my dad’s legacy remains in tact. That’s because even if his reputation is in tatters, the legacy of broadcasting will live on through me. The legacy of music will live on through my brother. The legacy of being revolutionary in our field will live on through both of us. You might not know that yet, but you’re damn sure going to before long.
So as we approach Father’s Day, I’d like to raise a glass to Dave Herman. A ground-breaker. A brilliant mind. A star. And yes, a deeply flawed human being. There’s so much about the events of his life I’ll never understand. But the best job he ever did was as my father. He did so much right. I refuse to only remember him for his wrongs, even if I can’t ever forget them. I love you, Dad. Rest in peace. Shine on you crazy diamond.
The Boston Bruins are just sitting back right now, feet up on the coffee table, waiting in the wings for the winner of the Sharks-Blues Western Conference Final to be determined. The Carolina Hurricanes were the most fun story the Stanley Cup Playoffs had going, and the Bruins just smothered them in the East Final like a deflating bouncy house at a children’s birthday party. They swept the Canes, who had swept the Islanders, who had swept the Penguins. So I guess on the plus side, haha Pittsburgh. But what that leaves us with is a Boston team that is going into the Cup Final as rested as could be, and awaiting an opponent that will be some combination of tired, shorthanded, or just worse (at least on paper) than the B’s.
So what it comes down to is this: The Boston Bruins are going to win the Stanley Cup. Right now, I can’t be convinced otherwise. And that bums me right the fuck out.
Before I continue, I feel it necessary to point out that when it comes to spoiled sports fans, I am one of the worst. In my lifetime, my New York Yankees have won five World Series. My New York Giants have four Super Bowl rings (although I’m really only old enough to have appreciated two of them). Even my rarely talked-about hockey team – the New Jersey Devils – have hoisted three Stanley Cups. What I’m saying is that if you hate me for that, you’re allowed. I couldn’t possibly blame you.
The chokehold that the city of Boston has applied to the sports world in the first two decades of this century is nothing short of enraging. That’s doubly true for me as a New Yorker. The curse of the Bambino has been dead for almost 15 years now, somehow. And oh what I would give to go back and live in those days when the Red Sox were a team that was just good enough to get themselves into an LCS match-up against the Yanks, only to have their hopes and dreams dashed in the most heartbreaking of ways. If that sounds sinister to you, well, it kinda is. But that’s just part of what it means to hate a rival team. Sports are one of the few realms in life where experiencing schadenfraude isn’t something that should be accompanied with instant shame. It’s part of the fan experience.
Since the Patriots beat the Rams in 2002’s Super Bowl XXXVI, that football team has won five more rings. The Red Sox have won four World Series. The Celtics have an NBA title to their credit. The Bruins have won one Stanley Cup, and seem poised to add another. Should that happen, it will be 13 championships in 18 years for one city. But perhaps worst of all, the last three will have come in the span of nine months. Bless the Bucks for knocking the Celtics out of this year’s NBA Playoffs so we at least don’t have to worry about the potential of a clean sweep.
All of this serves to underline the point that Boston has become the modern-day Titletown, and there is no close second. That this has occurred while the New York sports scene has largely devolved into a three-ring circus only adds fuel to my personal dread that would coincide with four more Bruins wins this spring. And the sad truth is, I’m not counting on either St. Louis or San Jose to save us.
Of course, a major part of my disdain for this team is merely because of the location where they play their home games. It’s true that there are some genuinely likable characters on the Bruins’ roster. Zdeno Chara is easy to root for. Tuukka Rask is a great story, and is undeniably one of those guys that seems to shine when the spotlight burns the brightest. There’s a lot to be said for that. In a vacuum, would I love to see David Backes finally win a championship after 13 years of being a very good player who was never on the best team? Sure. And of course I have a soft spot in my heart for former Devil, Marcus Johansson, who has really had a stellar showing this postseason. But as long as they all wear that B on the front of their jerseys, I can’t help but hope they go down in flames.
Honestly, any good will I can build up towards this Boston team as a whole is undone entirely by the way I feel about Brad Marchand. Taking nothing away from his skill, of which he obviously has plenty, the goonery that he puts on display on a regular basis leaves me no choice but to want to see him get his comeuppance. That doesn’t mean I want to see him get injured. I never wish that upon anyone, even if he has a penchant for inflcting injury on others. I just hope that he gets put on his ass every time he hits the ice. More frequently though, he’ll make a dazzling play in the offensive zone that makes me shake my fist at the sky. To Marchand’s credit, it’s rare that you see a guy with the ability to throw a seasoned veteran like Justin Williams so far off of his game that he seemed to forget that he was playing hockey. There is certainly a spot on any team’s roster for a guy with the ability to do that, but Marchand is way too extra for me to actually get to a place in my mind where I can celebrate him.
I’m getting slightly off topic here though. So let me end on this note. It certainly looks like we’re headed towards a Boston-St. Louis Stanley Cup Final. And you can bet your ass I’ll be rooting like crazy for the Blues. But I just can’t see them winning four out of seven against these goddamn Bruins.
Boston sports dominance doesn’t appear like it’s going to go away any time soon. The Red Sox are getting their act together after a putrid start to this baseball season. The Patriots are still the Patriots until proven otherwise. The Celtics will continue to be good, even if they’re not elite. And there’s no sign of the Bruins falling out of the category of perennial Cup contender in the near future. All of it together just leaves me with an everlasting sour taste in my mouth. I mean seriously. Enough already, Boston. We get it.
After a bitter and cold offseason featuring one of the most frigid free agency periods in memory, we have almost arrived at the proper Opening Day of the Major League Baseball season. I always get giddy this time of year, for one, because it means my birthday is right around the corner. But truly, the start of the baseball calendar has always felt like the beginning of the new year to me more than January 1st ever did.
Even though it’s one of the laziest things a writer can do to put words onto a screen, it is undeniably a fun exercise to try to predict what will happen before the season starts. If nothing else, it gives you something to look back on in October and make fun of me for when 75 percent of these predictions inevitably go to shit. With that in mind, let’s get it…
AL EAST CHAMPION: New York Yankees
Let’s get my homer stuff out of the way nice and early. Yes, I am a die-hard Yankee fan. And yes, this is a prediction that is partly being made because it’s what I want to see happen. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a logical argument to be made to back this up.
Obviously, the Red Sox are the defending champions not just of the AL East, but all of baseball. And as Ric Flair put it best, “To be the man, you gotta beat the man.” That’s never been more true than in MLB’s current divisional scheduling format when the teams play each other head-to-head 19 times a year.
The Yanks are dealing with some pretty major injury concerns to begin the season, particularly with their pitching. Luis Severino, Dellin Betances and C.C. Sabathia will all be on the mend instead of on the mound to start the year.
But an offense that set an MLB record for home runs a year ago actually has a lot of room to improve. The improvement would rely upon getting a bounce-back year from Gary Sanchez, a healthier one from Aaron Judge, and a less schizophrenic one from Giancarlo Stanton. The Yankee bullpen is still the best in the game, whereas the Sox’ pen minus Craig Kimbrel and Joe Kelly is almost certainly going to cost them a few games this season.
AL CENTRAL CHAMPION: Cleveland Indians
I’m going with the chalk pick, as tempting as it is to pick the Twins to unseat Cleveland here. This really all comes down to starting pitching for me. The starting five of Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco, Mike Clevinger and Shane Bieber is one of a few rotations that can lay claim to the title of best in the bigs.
The question is going to be whether this team can score enough runs to support them. With Edwin Encarnacion, Michael Brantley, Yonder Alonso and Yan Gomes all gone from the lineup, it puts a lot on Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez and Jason Kipnis to do the heavy lifting.
The bullpen is a bit suspect too without Andrew Miller and Cody Allen, but the Central has been, and still is one of the weaker divisions in the sport. Like I said, the Twins are a tempting pick, but I’m gonna take the team with the better pitching to finish the 162-game grind with a slightly better record. But I would not be surprised if this was one of the tighter races down the stretch.
AL WEST CHAMPION: Houston Astros
This one feels like the most “well, duh” pick of the division champs. The Oakland A’s are coming off a 97-win year and will likely be a tough team to play once again this season. But the Astros are just too damn good. It’s hard to find a definitive weak spot on this squad. Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and George Springer all have room to improve from their 2018 numbers, and I’d be willing to bet that all three will.
Sure, they lost three extremely capable starters in Dallas Kuechel, Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers. But Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole are still very much there. Collin McHugh, Wade Miley and Brad Peacock may not be the kind of names that make opposing lineups shudder, but Houston’s coaching staff has done a remarkable job in recent years of getting the best out of seemingly every arm they have. All that said, this team is my pick to finish the year with the best record in the sport.
AL WILD CARDS: Boston Red Sox and Minnesota Twins
Whichever team between the Yankees and Red Sox doesn’t win the AL East is a slam dunk pick to take one of the wild cards in the American League in my mind. As for the other WC spot, I’m predicting it will go to a team that (as I mentioned) I toyed with choosing to be a division winner in the Twins.
This is a team that captured a wild card spot two seasons ago, and has made some key additions to their offense this offseason. Nelson Cruz, Jonathan Schoop and Marwin Gonzalez are all guys that will provide Minnesota with the kind of bats that make them capable of putting up runs in bunches. Jose Berrios and Kyle Gibson give them a solid 1-2 punch at the top of their starting rotation.
The Twins are bound to get a strong push from the A’s and perhaps even the Tampa Bay Rays for this playoff spot, but give me Minnesota as the team that will likely get the bricks blown off of them in a Wild Card Game match-up against the Sawx.
NL EAST CHAMPION: Washington Nationals
I’ve made a point of not looking at any other prediction pieces before doing my own, and I wonder how many pundits have written off the Nats after not only losing Bryce Harper, but losing him to another team in what currently stands as the most wide-open division in baseball. But despite being branded with the reputation of playoff chokers, Washington often finds a way to at least get there, last season notwithstanding.
Make no mistake, this team still has a lineup that packs a punch, and a lot of those punches will come from guys who are going to be mainstays for years to come. Trea Turner, Juan Soto, Victor Robles and Anthony Rendon are top of mind in that category. And oh yeah, their pitching rotation is money with Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and the newly acquired Patrick Corbin leading the way.
The Braves, Phillies, and even the Mets could all finish within shouting distance of the top spot, but I still like the Nationals to take the prize.
NL CENTRAL CHAMPION: Chicago Cubs
This is a spot where I feel like I may be relying more on my gut than my logic. The Brewers might actually be a more “complete” team than the Cubs on paper, and the Brew Crew hold the distinction of defending champs in this division. But you’ll remember that came down to a Game 163 last season, so to say it was a close race is very much an understatement. The Cardinals will also pose a threat to Chicago, as they have absolutely made strides in improving their club.
This seems like a cop-out explanation, but to me it just feels like the Cubbies are bound to get back to the top spot in the Central this year. Joe Maddon may be my favorite manager in the sport, and the roster he’s working with feels like a nearly ideal blend of youth and experience. Their starting infield in particular is as good as most teams in the game. And I have to make at least one pick here that is based almost solely on gut feeling. Having said all of that, look for Milwaukee to pop up again a little further down in this column.
NL WEST CHAMPION: Colorado Rockies
This is pretty clearly going to be a two-horse race, as the Rockies and Dodgers are really the only teams in the NL West that are worth a damn. LA may have won the previous six division titles, but I believe Colorado is finally going to put a stop to that streak this season.
This was the other division that needed a 163rd game to decide a winner last year. And while there is no denying the two-time defending NL Champs are still a quality team with loads of depth, the Rockies are returning a very similar looking roster to last season’s while Los Angeles actually changed a lot this winter.
Gone from the Dodgers’ roster are Manny Machado, Yasiel Puig, Yasmani Grandal, Matt Kemp and Alex Wood. That’s a lot to lose. Yes, they did add A.J. Pollock, and a consistently healthy Corey Seager would go a long way toward keeping this team on top. But the Rockies are essentially the same group that took LA down to the wire last season, except with the addition of Daniel Murphy. If Kyle Freeland, German Marquez and Jon Gray can pitch to their potential all year, I think Colorado has enough to finish in first.
NL WILD CARDS: Los Angeles Dodgers and Milwaukee Brewers
This would set up a rematch of last year’s NLCS in the Wild Card Game. It would be a damn shame to have to lose one of these teams in a one-game playoff scenario, but I think that’s exactly what’s going to happen. And truth be told, it’s in this scenario that I think the Dodgers’ bid at making it to three straight World Series will come to an end.
The one thing the Brewers are lacking is a definitive ace of the pitching staff, and that is something the Dodgers undoubtedly have in Clayton Kershaw. So maybe you can chalk this up as a prediction of heart over head. That Milwaukee lineup is just so damn good, though. The guy who would likely relish this opportunity the most would be Yasmani Grandal, who left Los Angeles to sign with the Beer Makers this offseason. Imagine if he were to play a big role in sending the Dodgers packing come October. We can dream, can’t we?
ALCS Prediction: Astros defeat Yankees
Ugh. It pains my pinstriped heart to say this, but the Astros are simply the better and more complete team, plus they have had the Yankees’ number in recent history. This is the series I want though. A chance to exorcise the demons of the 2017 ALCS in which the underdog Yanks nearly knocked off the eventual World Champion Stros is surely an appetizing situation. I just don’t think the Yankees really want that smoke. Houston is too good.
NLCS Prediction: Brewers defeat Rockies
This presumes the Cubs finish with the National League’s best record, which is far from a lock, but play along with me. The Brewers beat the Dodgers in the Wild Card Game. The NLDS would then see the Rockies beat the Nationals (because the Nats don’t win playoff series, just as a general rule) and the Brewers upset the Cubs. Brewers-Rockies would be a fascinating NLCS, and honestly, predicting a wild card team to make the World Series just makes for a fun little wrinkle in this here prediction column.
World Series Prediction: Astros defeat Brewers
Of all the truly plausible World Series scenarios, this is certainly one that MLB commissioner Rob Manfred would desire the least. Houston and Milwaukee aren’t exactly what you would define as large media markets. But if the Yankees can’t be there, sign me up for seven games of this series.
I’m not so sure it would happen that way, because frankly I think the Astros are simply better than the Brewers in almost every conceivable category. But there ya have it. My official World Series pick. So when the Brewers now inevitably miss the playoffs altogether or something dumb like that, you can point back at this and laugh at me.
Predictions aren’t exactly the most profound thing in the world of sports punditry, but they sure are fun to make. By all means, please sound off in the comments and let me know how wrong and stupid I am. And most importantly, HAPPY BASEBALL SEASON TO ALL!