WEDNESDAY NIGHT BASEBALL-WHY CHANGE WHAT WORKS?

For over 160, or so, years baseball had a fairly uniform set of rules.  The game’s popularity steadily rose from the infant days when Abner Doubleday invented America’s Pastime.  The rules hadn’t changed much until recent years and everyone was fine with that set of rules.

The latest controversy took place this past Saturday in St. Louis.  Late in the contest between the Cardinals and Cubs, with Ian Happ on first, Anthony Rizzo hit a ground ball to the infield.  With a shot at a double play the St. Louis infield looked to force Happ at second.  Happ over-slid second with no intent to take out the Cardinals infielder.  The result appeared at first to be a fielder’s choice with Rizzo safe at first.

Let’s flash back for a moment to Game 2 of the 2015 NLDS between the Mets and Dodgers.  Los Angeles’ base-runner Chase Utley was in a similar position that Happ was on Saturday.  Also playing hard-nosed baseball Utley ran into Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada.  The play resulted in Tejada leaving the field on a stretcher with a broken leg.

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Dodgers’ Chase Utley over-slides second base to break up a double play in Game 2 of the 2015 National League Division Series.

 

In Little League and other levels of baseball, kids are taught to play hard and play classy. It is the responsibility of the base-runner to try to keep the infield from turning a double play in this situation.  That was how everyone was taught, that was the way the game was played. Until Ruben Tejada was an unfortunate casualty of hard-nose baseball on a national post-season stage.

Fast forward to this past Saturday.  If Happ, who was safe at second before the slide is allowed to play the way he was taught, the Cubs would have had runners on first and second.  The Cardinals lead at the time 5-3.  But alas, we are in a baseball world today where you cannot bump anyone and we need to play a handshake version of the game. Both Happ and Rizzo were called out on the play due to the new rule set in place as a result of the collision between Utley and Tejada.  St. Louis would hold on to the two run lead and win the game.

Cubs manager Joe Maddon and starting pitcher Jon Lester were very critical of the call after the game.  ” I’m over it. I mean there was nothing malicious about that slide. He slid three inches past the bag, and we got a double play. But I’m over the rule” said Lester.  “The rule was meant for guys doing dirty slides, sliding late, taking guys out. There was nothing wrong with that slide, whatsoever. We got a double play for it, cost us a run. … I’m over it. This game was meant to be played a certain way. There’s nothing wrong with that slide that Happ did. I told him in the dugout, Next time you do the exact same thing.” Lester continued.

Maddon commented,”when you’re sliding on dirt, and you have momentum, you just keep going. You keep going,” Maddon said. “The rule does not belong in the game. … I could not disagree more with the spirit of this rule. … They (the umpires) know that the game was not intended to be manipulated in a sense where you lose based on a fabrication.”

In 2011 a controversy along the same lines happened when Florida Marlins’ Scott Cousins ran into San Francisco Giants’ Buster Posey while Posey was blocking home plate.  Posey was doing what he was taught to do, so was Cousins.  Posey also suffered a broken leg as a result of the play.

Why is baseball at such a juncture where the rules are changed due to unfortunate injuries?  Injuries are part of the game!  Collisions are part of the game!  Lets leave what has worked for over 160 years alone!

GREAT TIME OF YEAR TO BE A SPORTS FAN

This past Thursday night my wife and I joined a bunch of friends at a local sports bar to watch the first round of the NFL draft.  Amid the anticipation of what the Cleveland Browns would do with the first overall pick, there were other sports to concentrate on.

As I sat down and looked at the many television screens I felt like I was at a sports buffet.  The bigger screens were tuned to ESPN and their pre-draft coverage,while other screens were tuned into so much more. There were the two Stanley Cup Eastern Conference Semi-Final match-ups (Game 1 between the Rangers and Senators, Game 1 between the Capitals and Penguins).  There was Game 6 of the NBA first round series between the Raptors and Bucks on another one. Finally the latest meeting between the Yankees and Red Sox aired around the bar.

I thought to myself, what a great time of year!  It’s one of two times a year when all four major professional sports come together.  As Roger Goodell approached the podium in Philadelphia to the usual draft night chorus of boos, there was a tight hockey game going on in Canada’s nation’s capital.  At Fenway Park in Boston, Masahiro Tanaka and Chris Sale were locked up in a pitcher’s duel.  The Milwaukee Bucks were playing for survival on their home court against the Toronto Raptors.

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NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announces Cleveland’s selection of DE Myles Garrett in Philadelphia on Thursday night.

 

My two favorite NFL teams, the Dolphins and Giants wouldn’t pick until 22 and 23 respectively.  The Fins would pick DE Charles Harris, and Big Blue would shake things up with the questionable selection of TE Evan Engram.

In between the beginning of the draft and where my teams picked, so much else was going on.  Tanaka would pitch a complete game in front of the dreaded Fenway faithful, as the Yankees defeated the Sox 3-0.    Erik Karlsson would score from a fluke goal from an odd angle with 4:11 left in regulation to give Ottawa a 1-0 lead over the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals.  The two teams followed that game up with a double overtime thriller yesterday afternoon in which the Senators took a 2-0 series lead.

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Penguins Marc-Andre Fleury closes the door on the Washington Capitals.

In our nation’s capital, there was a back and forth tilt between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals.  Sidney Crosby scored twice in 52 seconds for the Pens, and the game ended with the Capitals buzzing around the Pittsburgh net.  Penguins netminder Marc-Andre Fleury was amazing in preserving the victory.

The Toronto Raptors eliminated the Milwaukee Bucks from the NBA playoffs on Thursday.  The San Antonio Spurs also advanced by dispatching the Memphis Grizzlies.

What a night it was!  It happens in late October and late April.  In the fall, baseball has the World Series coming to a climax, the NFL and NHL are in full swing and the NBA opens its season.  In April the NHL and NBA are in playoff mode, baseball is in full swing, and the NFL has its annual choose-up fest.  So great when all four major sports are grabbing headlines at the same time!

Time for a program note.  Both my Sunday blog and Wednesday Night Baseball blog will be on hiatus until Wednesday May 17.  The Sunday blog will resume on May 21.  This will allow me some family time.  I can’t wait to see my daughter, son-in-law, and meet my brand new granddaughter!

WEDNESDAY NIGHT BASEBALL-THE NIGHT OF THE CYCLE AND THE LEAP

The game of baseball is unique compared to other professional sports given the fact that there aren’t many breaks in the schedule.  This would mean that on any given day anyone can beat anyone despite their record or place in the standings.  It also means that on any given night something historic or unusual can happen.  Last night we had a piece of history in the lore of the Washington Nationals, and something unusual courtesy of the Toronto Blue Jays.

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Nationals’ Trea Turner slides into third for a triple to complete the third cycle in team history.

Last night was an interesting evening at baseball’s version of the Frozen Tundra.  Gametime temperatures were in the low 40’s at Coors Field in Denver, with wind gusts making it feel much colder.  There was a threat of snow and a frozen rain delay during the game between the home standing Colorado Rockies and the Washington Nationals.

The frigid air made for some interesting baseball.  “Coors Field at it’s finest” Nats manager Dusty Baker told the Washington Post.  Washington would score the first seven runs of the game, the Rockies would score the last seven.  The result was a Nationals 15-12 victory.

But the score and the conditions weren’t what made last night historic.  Nationals shortstop Trea Turner drove in seven runs, Daniel Murphy knocked in five.  Turner’s RBI total placed him in a second place tie  for the most in a single game in Washington’s history.  That still isn’t the historic significance of this night.  In addition to his RBI explosion, Turner hit for the cycle.  He becomes the third player in the team’s history to accomplish the feat, Cristian Guzman and Brad Wilkerson are the other two.  Bench coach Chris Speier also hit for the cycle as a member of the Montreal Expos who are the current day Nats.

Now let’s move on to the unusual.

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Blue Jays Chris Coghlan leaps over Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina to give Toronto a 3-2 lead.

In a 2-2 ballgame at Busch Stadium in St. Louis last night, Toronto Blue Jays center-fielder Kevin Pillar hit a screaming fly ball into right field.  Chris Coghlan, who entered the game as a pinch hitter was on first.  Coghlan came all the way around on the play and was heading for a collision with Cards catcher Yadier Molina.  What happened next was absolutely amazing!  Rather than try to jar the ball loose from Molina, Coghlin went airborne!  He leaped over the St. Louis catcher and flipped his way onto home plate to give the Jays a 3-2 lead.

The game would go eleven innings, resulting in a 6-5 Toronto victory.  Without a doubt, Chris Coghlan gets this week’s play of the week, and could be a finalist for play of the year!

Finally, I need to be old school for a moment.  On the heels of Trea Turner’s cycle last night I have to turn my attention to another exciting rarity, the no-hitter.  To me there is nothing more exciting in baseball than watching a pitcher go deep in a game without either allowing a baserunner or giving up a hit.

With the focus on pitch counts in today’s game I’m really concerned that a complete no hit ballgame may be on its way to extinction.  Locally I have seen this happen twice. Marlins pitchers Dan Straily and Wei Yin Chen both had no-no’s in progress when they were taken out because they had reached their pitching limit.  C’mon, really??? What would have happened if Turner was pulled because he had too many at-bats last night?  If a pitcher has something special going, let him try to finish it!

Time for a program note.  After tonight’s blog, Wednesday Night Baseball will be on hiatus and will return on Wednesday night May 17.  This will allow me some time to spend with my new granddaughter as well as my daughter and son-in-law.  The Sunday blog will publish as usual this weekend.

 

WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO PROFESSIONAL SPORTS?

On Friday night, during Game 5 of the opening round Stanley Cup Playoff series between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Washington Capitals there was a scary moment.  Late in the first period a hard submarine check by Toronto’s Nazem Kadri left Capitals star Alexander Ovechkin motionless on the ice for a brief moment.  Ovechkin would be helped off the ice and would return to the game at the start of the second period.

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Washington Capitals star Alexander Ovechkin being helped off the ice following a hit by Toronto’s Nazem Kadri.

 

Kadri was given a two-minute minor penalty for what was deemed “tripping” as a result of the play.  As the call was made, I thought to myself, what was illegal about it? Ovechkin had recent possession  of the puck, and Kadri hit him low and hard.  It was textbook, hard nosed hockey in my old school mind.  It was unfortunate, and scary, that one of hockey’s brightest stars laid motionless on the Verizon Center ice as a result, but it is part of a very physical sport.  The panel of experts on NBCSN tended to agree with me during their intermission show following the first period.  Everyone in the hockey world was relieved and happy to see Ovechkin return to the ice and continue to play.  He’s fine and ready to go in tonight’s Game 6.

This incident made me think of where sports has gone in general.  I grew up in an era where hockey and football were hard-hitting, bone jarring sports.  I grew up in an era where starting pitchers in baseball finished what they started, the bullpen only got involved if the starter was having trouble, or was lifted for a pinch-hitter.  The one on one play at home plate between runner and catcher was also part of the game.  I also come from an era where professional basketball players weren’t rested because of the “grueling” 82 game schedule.

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The new baseball in between innings clock.

 

Baseball was always the game that surpassed time.  When did a day at the ballpark where you can have a hot dog, sip on a beverage, and pass the time with your friends and family turn into a race against time?  Last year MLB in its infinite wisdom, rolled out the “in between innings timer.”  I cringe every time I see this ridiculous clock pop out of the scoreboard.

To continue to speed up the pace of a ballgame they added a new rule this year, the automatic walk!  Automatic walk??? For over a hundred years, four balls equaled a walk, intentional or not.  Anything from a wild pitch or the batter actually making contact with the purposely thrown ball can still happen.  Many of us who were around in the early 1970’s can even remember the Oakland A’s faking an intentional walk during the 1972 World Series.  The fakeout resulted in a strikeout of Reds star Johnny Bench.

If you want to speed things up in baseball, tone down the pitching changes!  Starting pitchers are on such strict pitch counts these days that they are being pulled regardless of how they are performing.  Meanwhile Tommy John surgeries have skyrocketed.  For generations baseball was played without counting pitches.  For generations from Walter Johnson to Nolan Ryan starting pitchers were on the mound until either they were in trouble or were removed because the team was behind and pinch hit for him in order to generate some offense.

Most of us hard-core football fans have seen the sport decline too.  Over the years the quarterback has been a little over protected.  Last I checked, wasn’t it the offensive line’s job to protect the quarterback?  The modification of the intentional grounding rule has also softened things in this writer’s opinion.  Why does it matter if a quarterback is in the pocket or not if he throws the ball to nobody to avoid a sack?

Finally let’s look at basketball.  Multiple times this year the Cleveland Cavaliers rested Lebron James and fellow stars Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.  Excuse my ignorance, but when did an 82 game NBA season become so grueling that players needed to be rested?  In baseball I can understand resting players, whether or not they are stars.  You are playing day in and day out, sometimes twice a day.  Your team plays at 1:00 after ending a game at 11:00 the night before.  In basketball you play an occasional back to back in successive nights.  I have never seen this before.  I seriously don’t get it.

Maybe I’m too old school.

 

WEDNESDAY NIGHT BASEBALL-ON THURSDAY!

I would like to begin tonight’s blog with an explanation of why Wednesday Night Baseball is being published on Thursday this week.

At 4:57 Eastern Time yesterday afternoon my daughter gave birth to a 7 pound 8 ounce baby girl!  I am pleased, and thrilled, to announce the arrival of Madeline Grace Beauchamp into this world!  She is the first-born to my daughter and son and law.  She is also our first grandchild!  Mom, dad, grandparents, great grandparents and baby are all doing fine!

Now on to some baseball.

I want to start out by discussing the suspension of Pittsburgh Pirates star Starling Marte.   The Buccos star outfielder was given an 80 game suspension for testing positive for PED use.  The Pirates were planning on holding a Marte jersey giveaway on July 2nd, but have canceled it due to the suspension.  The jerseys were supposed to be given to kids.

Pirates outfielder Starling Marte is the latest player to be suspended for half the year over PED use.

 

First off, when will players learn that they will eventually be caught?  Look at the long line of stars that have been  caught over the years.  We all know that Barry Bonds, despite hitting more home runs than any other player in MLB history has been essentially black-balled from the Hall of Fame because of his steroid use.  Same is true for Roger Clemens and Mark McGwire.  It remains to be seen what will happen when Alex Rodriguez is eligible in 2021.  Is it really worth losing half a season and have that black mark on your career?

Secondly, if you are a Pirates fan, and you have a son that idolizes Marte, how do you break the news to him?  How do you tell your son, who might be playing Little League ball that your star idol was caught cheating?  We went through this here in South Florida with Dee Gordon’s 80 game suspension last year.  I honestly don’t know the answer, but it puts the game in such a bad light.

Besides the Marte suspension, the story of the week has to be the New York Yankees.  After beginning the season on a road trip that took them to Tampa Bay and Baltimore the Bombers were 2-4.  The Yankees won the finale in Baltimore, and opened up for business in the Bronx on Monday afternoon.  The Yankees won their first six home games by sweeping three game series’ against the Rays and the Cardinals.  They also won the opener of a weekend series with the White Sox on Friday, before losing on Saturday.  With the road win in Baltimore, the Yanks won eight straight, seven of them at home and finished the homestand 9-1.

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The New York Yankees go 9-1 on their opening homestand.

 

Following the dramatic turnaround, the boys from the Bronx  are in second place in the American League East.  They trail the first place Orioles by 25 percentage points.

Here’s hoping for an eventful upcoming week in the Majors.  Barring any more births, this proud Grandpa will see you Wednesday!

 

THE EPIC THAT IS STANLEY CUP OVERTIME

On this holiest of Sundays I would like to extend my wishes for a happy and healthy Easter and Passover (which is still in progress) to all who are celebrating.  This time of year conjures up thoughts of colored eggs and bunnies.  The smell of matzoh ball soup and brisket fills Jewish kitchens, matzoh and kosher wine are on display at the local supermarket along side the spiral ham.

To the hockey fan, holiday week in April coincides with the battle for hockey’s holy grail! The fight for the Stanley Cup began this week.

What is unique about the sport of hockey is the slight change in the rules once the post-season begins.  During the regular season tie games are decided by a five-minute overtime period in which each team is only allowed to field three skaters and a goaltender.  The first team to score wins the game.  If the game is still tied after the five minute session the game is settled via a tie breaking shootout.  Each team takes turns having a skater go one on one with the opposing goaltender for a minimum of 3 rounds with the winner scroring one more time than the other team.

So here is the slight but powerful change in the rules.  In the Stanley Cup Playoffs there is no 3 on 3 for five minutes, and shootouts go out the window too.  What the system is replaced with is one simple rule, next goal wins.  Teams continue the game the way it was meant to be played, the overtime rules are the same as regulation.  Five skaters an a goaltender for each team just like the first three periods.

Unique to the rules in the Stanley Cup Playoffs is the fact that the game can end in ten seconds or half the night!

During game 2 of the 1986 Stanley Cup Finals, Brian Skrudland scored nine seconds into overtime as the Montreal Canadiens defeated the Calgary Flames 3-2.  To date this is the shortest playoff overtime in NHL history.

There have been many long overtime games in NHL history.  Two Cup winners that come to mind took place in 1996 and 1999.

Game 4 of the 1996 Finals, in my opinion, was the greatest display of goaltending I have ever seen.   Patrick Roy of the Colorado Avalanche and John Vanbiesbrouck of the Florida Panthers went toe to toe.  At the end of regulation the game was in a scoreless tie.  At 4:31 of the third overtime, Vanbiesbrouck would flinch.  Uwe Krupp beat the Florida goaltender to clinch a four game sweep and win the Stanley Cup.

Game 6 of the 1999 Finals was tied at one at the end of regulation.  The Dallas Stars had a 3-2 series lead over the Buffalo Sabres.  Dominik Hasek (Buffalo) and Ed Belfour (Dallas) put on a similar clinic as Roy and Vanbiesbrouck did in 1996.  The Sabres tied the game with 1:31 remaining in the second period.  The game winning (and Cup winning) goal remains one of the most controversial goals in Stanley Cup Finals history.

Stars’ Brett Hull scored the winning goal at 14:51 of the third overtime period.  What was questionable about the goal was the fact that Hull had a skate in the goal crease when he shot the puck past a sprawling Hasek.  It was ruled that Hull had control of the puck, but not posession of the puck, when he entered the crease.  Following the 1999 Finals the league sent out a memo clarifying the rule.

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Brett Hull scores the game winning goal in Game 6 of the 1999 Stanley Cup Finals.

With today being Easter Sunday, I have to talk about the game known as the Easter Epic.   This coming Tuesday and Wednesday marks its 30th anniversary.

The New York Islanders and Washington Capitals were paired in the first round of the 1987 Stanley Cup Playoffs.  The series went to a seventh game, and what a seventh game it was!

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Pat LaFontaine is mobbed by his Islander teammates after ending the longest Game 7 in playoff history.

 

Game 7 was played at the old Capital Centre in Landover Md.  The game began on Saturday April 18, 1987 and concluded just before 2:00 am on Easter Sunday.

After two periods of play the Capitals held a 2-1 lead.  As an Islanders fan I wasn’t feeling too good about things at that point.  The score remained the same well into the third period and it appeared Washington was headed to the next round.  That all changed with just over five minutes left in regulation!  Bryan Trottier’s backhand shot beat Capitals goaltender Bob Mason to tie the score.  What happened after that was legendary!

Islanders goaltender Kelly Hrudy made 73 saves, Mason made 54.  Pat LaFontaine’s slapshot at 8:47 of the fourth overtime beat the Capital’s goaltender to win the game and the series for New York.  Mason was screened and never saw the shot.  The puck hit the post and caromed into the Washington net.

There have been so many dramatic moments over the years during these extra sessions.  The mystique of not knowing when the game will end is clearly one of the biggest drama in all of sports.

 

 

 

WEDNESDAY NIGHT BASEBALL-GREAT TIMES AT WRIGLEY FIELD

All but one of Major League Baseball’s thirty clubs have now staged their home openers. Sun Trust Park in suburban Atlanta awaits to be christened on Friday night.  Julio Teheran will open the Braves new home against the visiting Padres.

Out of the twenty-nine season premiers that have been staged so far there was one that was over a century in the making.  Before Monday night’s home opener at Wrigley Field, the Cubs held a ceremony for the first time in 108 years!  They raised the World Series Championship flag and paraded the World Series Trophy!

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Chicago Cubs take turns raising the 2016 World Series Flag at Wrigley Field Monday night.

 

So how do you put the finishing touches on a championship 108 years in the making? Well, the Cubs literally did it themselves!  Members of the squad went into the bleachers and took turns raising the championship banner up the flagpole.  Let it be known for all time that the curse is over, the drought has ended.  The 2016 World Series Championship banner now hangs amid the iconic scoreboard and team flags.  The W’s and L’s for years to come will hang in the shadow of the biggest Cubs flag of them all.

Oh and by the way, the Cubs hosted the Los Angeles Dodgers on Monday night.  Yes, the same Dodgers that were on the wrong end of history last October, when the Cubs headed back to the Series for the first time since 1945.

How did things end on this magical night on the Near North Side of Chicago?  It ended with a walk-off single, courtesy of Anthony Rizzo!  It ended with a 3-2 Cubs win!  It ended with the “W” flag hanging next to what is now its big brother!

The Cubs will receive their championship rings tonight.

Besides the heroics at the Friendly Confines, there were other highlights during the first week and a half of the 2017 season.  New York Mets left-fielder Yoenis Cespedes launched three home runs last night in Philadelphia.  The Mets tallied 20 total hits in a 14-4 route of the Phillies.

The Phillies had an explosion of their own on Saturday night against Washington.  Philadelphia erupted for twelve runs in the bottom of the first inning on their way to a 17-3 victory.

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This week’s defensive gem belongs to Miami’s center-fielder Christian Yelich.

 

On Saturday night at Citi Field in New York, Marlins outfielder Christian Yelich robbed Cespedes of what would’ve been either a home run or a double.  This is my defensive gem of the week.  Miami defeated the home standing Mets 8-1.

That’s it for this week.  I’ll be back next Wednesday for more!

IN THE AIR THERE’S A FEELING OF PLAYOFFS

Ahh! The fresh air of spring!  The days are getting longer, the weather is getting warmer, baseball has gone into day in and day out mode!  This can only mean one (or actually two) things…..Arena sports playoff season is almost upon us!  With the regular season in both the NHL and NBA coming to a close this week there is so much to be settled.

The National Hockey League will close its regular season today.  The National Basketball Association closes for regular business on Wednesday.  The Stanley Cup Playoff schedule will be announced late tonight, same for the NBA when all is done on Wednesday.

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Toronto Maple Leafs clinch the final playoff spot in the NHL Eastern Conference last night.

 

Last night, as my wife Robin and I cheered on our Florida Panthers in their home finale, there was so much scoreboard (or should I say smart-phone watching) going on.  Coming in to last night there was one final spot to be decided in the Eastern Conference.  The Toronto Maple Leafs needed a win to secure the final spot, the New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning were right behind them.  Oh and by the way there was a basketball game going on down the road in Miami with playoff implications that we were keeping an eye on.  More on that later.

As we were leaving the BB&T Center I got a text from a friend of mine saying simply “Leafs in.”  When we left the building following the Panthers 3-0 victory over Buffalo the game between the Leafs and Penguins was in a 2-2 tie.  The Islanders had already beaten the New Jersey Devils and the Lightning were off.

Although the field is set in the NHL’s Western Conference the first round pairings are still up in the air.  The top seed already belongs to the Chicago Blackhawks.   The Hawks will be taking on the number 2 Wild Card winning Nashville Predators in the first round. Nashville finished their season last night with a 2-1 loss in Winnipeg, while the Calgary Flames (#1 Wild Card) lost their season finale in San Jose by the score of 4-1.  Calgary and Nashville finish the season tied at 94 points, Calgary won the Wild Card battle by a tiebreaker.

The last piece of business in the NHL is the top spot in the Pacific Division.  Coming into play today, the Anaheim Ducks have a two point lead over the second place Edmonton Oilers.  Edmonton holds the tiebreaker between the teams.  Both teams finish at home tonight.  Anaheim will host its Southern California rivals, the Los Angeles Kings in their season, and home finale.  The Oilers will finish against the Vancouver Canucks (also on home ice).  The Kings will be gunning for the Ducks and would love to play spoilers in a very heated crosstown rivalry.

Not to be outdone by the NHL, there is so much going on in the NBA as their season heads for a close.

The defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers currently hold a half game lead over the Boston Celtics for top seed in the Eastern Conference.  The Cavs have three games remaining, the Celtics have two left.  The last two playoff spots in the East are still up for grabs.  As of this morning the Indiana Pacers have a one game lead over the Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat.  Chicago and Miami have identical records, the Bulls hold the tiebreaker.

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The Celtics are giving Lebron and Company a run for their money.

 

The last playoff spot in the Western Conference is still up for grabs.  The Portland Trail Blazers are currently in the driver’s seat, with a game and a half lead over the Denver Nuggets.  Portland has two games left, Denver has three remaining.

This week should be interesting in both sports.  The Stanley Cup playoffs will open, the NBA regular season comes to a close, and then the real fun starts!

IT’S BASEBALL SEASON! PART II

Since I last left you, all thirty Major League teams have opened their season.  Yes, the rite of every April has come to pass for half the league.  Over the next week and a half those who began play on the road will celebrate their home openers.  Then we will have the grand old game every day until October, and then most nights until early November.

Sunday was the American League’s preview, tonight it’s the Senior Circuit’s turn.

Pitching is going to be the theme in the National League East.  The Washington Nationals boast arguably two of the best individual arms in the game with Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg.  The Mets might have the best starting rotation in Majors.  Noah Syndergaard leads the rotation, followed by fellow long-haired stud Jacob deGrom.  Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler follow behind the long blonde tandem.  The big question mark in Flushing is the elbow injury to Steven Matz.  For now, Robert Gsellman will take Matz’s spot in the rotation.

The Mets biggest off-season moves are the players they kept.  Yoenis Cespedes and Neil Walker were both re-signed.  As for the Nats, Adam Eaton was the big addition, Wilson Ramos, the most notable loss.

In Miami the biggest and most stinging loss has to be Jose Fernandez.  Not only the devastating loss of a player, but the loss of an energetic leader and the face of the franchise.  The big question in Little Havana is will this team, and franchise for that matter, rebound after the tragedy at the end of last year?

The Marlins decided to fill the void left by Fernandez’ death by building a communal pitching staff.  Edinson Volquez, who was acquired as a free agent was the Opening Day starter.

The sleeper in this division could very well be the Philadelphia Phillies.  The Phils are stocked with a lot of young talent that might not know they’re supposed to lose.  The only attraction in Atlanta this year will be its new billion dollar ballpark.

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After 108 long years the ultimate “W” flag will fly over Wrigley Field!

In the Central Division, the big question is can the Cubs, fresh off their first championship in 108 years, repeat as champs?  Two main pieces of the championship puzzle have gone elsewhere.  Closer Aldoris Chapman decided to return to the Bronx, and centerfielder (and leadoff man) Dexter Fowler went to the dark side in St. Louis.  Former Royal Wade Davis joins the pitching staff, and former rival John Jay looks to replace Fowler in center.

The Cardinals’ pickup of Dexter Fowler and the loss of Matt Holliday were their two most significant changes.  There weren’t any major moves in Pittsburgh or Milwaukee. In Cincinnati, The Reds continue to be in full-out rebuilding mode.

Out west last year the Dodgers and Giants battled into the final days of the season.  The Dodgers really didn’t make any major moves.  The Giants added closer Mark Melancon, and parted ways with Angel Pagan.

The rest of the division, is just that.  The rest.  It’s going to be a two-horse race in the National League West.  The Padres, Rockies, and Diamondbacks are all in rebuilding mode.

So now it’s prediction time!

Eastern Division:

New York Mets

Washington

Miami

Philadelphia

Atlanta

 

Central Division:

Chicago Cubs

St. Louis

Pittsburgh

Milwaukee

Cincinnati

 

Western Division:

Los Angeles Dodgers

San Francisco

San Diego

Colorado

Arizona

 

Wild Cards will go to Washington and San Francisco.

National League Champions:  Los Angeles Dodgers

World Series Champions:  Cleveland Indians!

Yes, folks I’m putting it on the line.  Another drought will end!

See you next Wednesday for a wrap up of the opening week of Major League Baseball!

 

 

 

IT’S BASEBALL SEASON!

As a sports fan there is no opening of a season that is more of an event than in baseball.  It’s upon us folks!  At 1:00 this afternoon when the Yankees and Rays take the field in St. Petersburg, Florida it will signal newness not seen since New Year’s.

Today, and Wednesday I will preview the upcoming season.  Today I start with the American League.

Let me begin with the American League East and the aforementioned Yankees and Rays.  In 2016, the Boston Red Sox won this division after a last place finish the year before.  Was 2015 an aberration?  Did the real Sox show up last year?  The big hole to fill in Fenway Park this year will be the absence of David Ortiz.

The Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles followed the Red Sox into the post-season, taking home both American League Wild Cards.  The Blue Jays lost Edwin Encarnacion and R.A Dickey, while the Orioles picked up Seth Smith.

The New York Yankees could be playing second fiddle once again in the Big Apple this year.  Off-season pickups were Aldoris Chapman (who was only gone long enough to win a World Series in Chicago), Matt Holliday, and former Met Ruben Tejada.  The Yankees biggest subtraction had to be the retirement of Mark Texiera.  Rising star Gary Sanchez seems to be taking over as the leader in the Bronx.

Image result for Cleveland Indians win ALCS

Cleveland Indians win the 2016 American League championship.

 

The Cleveland Indians seemingly came out of nowhere last year to win the American League Central.  Little did we know how far the Tribe could go.  If anything this team got even stronger in the off-season.  Can the team who now holds baseball’s longest championship drought (68 years) get the monkey off of their backs?.

Toronto’s loss was Cleveland’s gain.  Edwin Encarnacion signed with the Indians in the off-season.  He will replace Mike Napoli at first base.  Also gone was “almost World Series hero” Rajai Davis (who’s home run sent Game 7 into extras).

As for the 2015 champs, the Kansas City Royals lost pitcher Edinson Volquez while picking up Brandon Moss.  The Tigers, White Sox, and Twins are all long shots in making the post-season.

Out west it seems that the Mariners, Astros, and Rangers all played “can you top this?”  The Rangers re-signed Carlos Gomez, brought in Dillon Gee and James Loney.  Yovano Gallardo headlined a bunch of new players in Seattle.  A pair of former Yankees head to Houston as Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran join the Astros.

As for the two teams in California it could be a long season.  The Angels continue to get older and the Athletics are still in rebuilding mode.

So, now I give you my predictions.  Baseball is a long season, with many twists and turns.  Everyone has a shot beginning this week!

Eastern Division

Boston

Baltimore

Toronto

NY Yankees

Tampa Bay

 

Central Division

Cleveland

Kansas City

Detroit

Chicago White Sox

Minnesota

 

Western Division

Houston

Seattle

Texas

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Oakland

 

I am picking the Royals and Orioles to win the Wild Cards.  My pick for the American League championship…..The Cleveland Indians!  Can this be the year to end another drought????  Stay tuned.

Wednesday night I tackle the National League and my pick for the 2017 World Series champion.

Pull up a chair and enjoy the openers!