Friday, April 20, 2007

Yo, Meathead!

It’s barely three weeks into the baseball season, and I know that means it’s still REALLY early—but some things just seem all topsy-turvy from the way you might have expected them. Some of the standings right now sure are weird—especially in the NL Central.

Yep, things look downright backward here. The Brewers are in first place. No, no, it’s not a misprint. Meanwhile, last place goes to the current World Series champs, the Cardinals. I wonder how long this will last. Is it possible that Tony LaRussa’s arrest for drunk driving this spring has given St. Louis a bit of a post-championship hangover? The Reds are hovering around .500, and surprise, surprise, the Pirates are hanging close by. Two things do look pretty normal in this division—the Astros are in second place, and the Cubbies are tied with St. Louis for last.

In other madness, did anyone expect the Diamondbacks to be good this year? Yet they seem to be steamrolling along so far, vying with the Dodgers for first place in the NL West. I see Arizona has faltered just a bit after coming out of the gate red-hot, but that’s to be expected. Can the team recover, or was the terrific start just a fluke?

I have to be a bit tickled by all those who thought the Giants were going to have a great year. They may still shake their funk, but I don’t think their early struggles have really been a surprise. I expect that the only drama around San Francisco will be whether or not Barry “Steroid Boy” Bonds ever breaks Hank Aaron’s home run record—though the apathy from around the rest of the league demonstrates that the city of San Francisco is the only place that cares. If and when the record is broken, Giants fans will realize they have no postseason hopes to cheer about.

However, the most amusing record to me right now has to belong to the Phillies. When Jimmy Rollins had the chutzpah during the winter to say that the Phils were the team to beat in the NL East, you could just see the radar sensors go up for both Willie Randolph and Bobby Cox. Now at 4–10, Philadelphia has the worst record in the NL, and rumors are already flying that manager Charlie Manuel’s head is getting closer to the chopping block—for goodness’ sake, it’s not even May! But the Mets and Braves continue to pile up wins—after winning their last three by outscoring their opponents 28–6, New York has retaken first place—and meet in yet another emotional series this weekend to establish the early-season pecking order.

In the AL, I never would have thought that the A’s would be the only team in the West with a winning record. They deserve credit for staving off the hot Yankees to win the past weekend series in dramatic fashion on Marco Scutaro’s ninth-inning, two-out, three-run homer. And what has happened to the Angels? Tied for last with Texas, the Angels are slumping—I guess the fact that the A’s won 4 of 6 from them in the first three weeks of the season has something to do with it.

No real surprises in the Central, though I thought the White Sox would be a little better than .500. In the East, give strokes to Toronto and Baltimore for staying within a game and a half of the Yanks and Red Sox. Do you think this is finally the year that the Blue Jays can make some noise after the All-Star break, or will Boston and New York dominate as usual? I am no Red Sox fan, but I am always happier when they are on top of the Yankees—it keeps those New York fans humble. (Not that Boston fans can’t use a little humbling sometimes, too….)

So goes April, and there are enough storylines to keep almost everyone happy—except for Kansas City fans. The summer hasn’t even started yet…!

SEASONINGS: I guess I should at least mention something about the approaching NBA playoffs, even though they hold little interest for me. I’d like to give congrats to a few teams in the Western Conference that stepped up and had good seasons when either no one expected it or they had been bad for a long time. Utah, Houston, Denver, and Golden State all deserve a round of applause—especially the Warriors, who haven’t made the playoffs since the last time Don Nelson was the coach, 13 years ago! In the East, hats off to Toronto, Washington, and Orlando. Grant Hill will finally make the playoffs with the Magic, but as the eighth seed, I don’t give them much hope against Hill’s former team, the Pistons.

Lastly, even though it seems as if hockey has been pushed under the rug this year, I want to send a special congratulations to the New York Rangers for sweeping the higher-seeded Atlanta Thrashers out of the first round of the playoffs. It was the Rangers’ first playoff series victory in 10 years—heck, the Thrashers weren’t even part of the NHL back then!

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