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Hail Mary, full of grace; four balls, take your base

April 5, 2010

Published in The Tartan, 4/5/2010:

Ah, baseball season. Hope springs eternal. The crack of the bat, the pop of the mitt, the uninhibited stream of profanity coming from everyone in my family’s mouth toward the TV…

I believe baseball was the main reason we stopped trying to “keep it clean” in front of my baby brother.

Today marks the true beginning of the 2010 baseball season. Twenty-eight of 30 Major League teams play their season openers, many while we’re still in class, but with technology these days it’s impossible not to follow the game even without a TV or a ticket. If you like baseball, you’ll find a way.

True, the “official” beginning of the season was Sunday night, when major league baseball’s overzealous schedulers pitted the New York Yankees against the Boston Red Sox in the first game of 2010. Putting such a fierce rivalry front and center may be great for ESPN’s ratings, but season-opening series aren’t meant for that kind of intense history. Save those matchups and pile them on as much as possible later in the season, when both teams are playing must-win games, and there’s your rivalry. That’s what it came down to last year, as the Red Sox won all eight of their meetings against the Yankees from April to June before the Yanks won nine of the 10 remaining games in August and September en route to clinching the American League East title and, eventually, winning the World Series.

When my team, the New York Mets, open their season at 1:10 p.m. against the Florida Marlins, it’ll begin their 162-game chance to prove that their dismal
2009 season was a fluke, that they can stay healthy (they had 17 players on the disabled list last year), and that they can go back to being a serious contender. The Marlins will not be out to prove much; rather, like every year, they’ll hope to surprise. The Marlins, much like the Pittsburgh Pirates, Kansas City Royals, Washington Nationals, and Baltimore Orioles, tend not to have much in the expectation department each year; however, unlike the others, the Marlins have winning seasons every now and again. That’s where the surprise comes in.

Some Pirates were quoted in the off-season as considering the playoffs a pretty reasonable goal for the club. Others claim finally having any winning percentage at or over .500 is reasonable. After a professional sports record of 17 straight losing seasons and a relatively quiet off-season — acquiring infielder Akinori Iwamura was their one really big move — it’s hard to believe anything good at all will come from this season. But the season has yet to begin, and optimism is always the best option.

After all, stranger things have happened; the aforementioned low-to-no-expectations group of teams used to be larger. The 2003 Detroit Tigers lost an American League record of 119 games and were the laughingstock of the league until they came out of nowhere in 2006 to make it all the way to the World Series. The Tampa Bay Rays played losing baseball from their inception into the Majors in 1998 through 2007 before similarly making the World Series in 2008.

Even the Nationals, when they moved to Washington in 2005, were in first place for the first half of the season before they remembered that they were the former Montreal Expos and fell completely off the map in the second half.

Then there are teams like the Cincinnati Reds, who played shoddy baseball last year but made significant enough improvements in the off-season to put them on most people’s comeback list. The Seattle Mariners, who played laughably in 2008, went back into the win column last year and made a plethora of significant acquisitions over the winter. They are now the favorites to unseat the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim as the AL West champions.

Unfortunately, the ball can roll the other way, as perhaps the new favorite to have the worst season in baseball is the Toronto Blue Jays. Formerly a sure choice for third place in the AL East behind Boston and New York, they fell behind the Rays in 2008 and 2009. Over the off-season, though, they traded their ace Roy Halladay and, combined with the Orioles’ minor improvements, enter this
season with the unofficial motto of “The Rebuilding Has Begun.” Joining them as newer members in the written-off club are the Oakland A’s, the Cleveland Indians, and the San Diego Padres; the only bets people are placing on the Padres involve if and when they trade star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez to the Red Sox.

But again, hope springs eternal. No club, not even Toronto, goes into the season thinking they’ve made their team worse. Who will be this year’s Tampa Bay? Who will be this year’s A’s? Who will be this year’s Pirates? At least that one’s easy. Here are my predictions for this year’s division champs and chumps:

AL East: Champs — Yankees, Chumps — Blue Jays

AL Central: Champs — Twins, Chumps — Indians

AL West: Champs — Mariners, Chumps — A’s

NL East: Champs — Phillies, Chumps — Marlins

NL Central: Champs — Cubs, Chumps — Pirates

NL West: Champs — Giants, Chumps — Padres

Happy baseball, everybody!

As always, if you like what you read, please keep coming back and follow the blog daily (there’s a
link in the sidebar), and please pass the JOB on to friends to help me get one!

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