Make or Break Year for the Baseball Hall of Fame

Standards for Hall of Fame induction have been eroding over the past several years, and this being 2020 and all, with the world getting more painful to endure by the day, there really couldn’t be a worse time for the Class of 2021 HOF ballots to be mailed out.

It was bad enough that Derek Jeter’s near-unanimous enshrinement had to be sullied by the inclusion of great-not-legendary Larry Walker a year ago. This year’s ballot offers a veritable chamber of horrors for those of us who are pained by the watering down process that seems to worsen annually, aided and abetted by new voters with little respect for the sanctity of Cooperstown.

There are 25 candidates this year for voters to ponder, and a few do warrant strong consideration. However, several candidates were just good enough during their playing days to tempt the new wave of participation-trophy voters to add their names to their ballots.

This new breed of voter suffers from a mindless desire to submit the maximum-allowed ten names every year. And that’s where the watering down effect is captured, as many good, but nowhere near Hall-worthy, players benefit from such stark ignorance of the intent of the rules and standards the voters have been charged with safeguarding.

To put this year’s ballot conundrum in it’s proper perspective, SportsAttic will break down the 2021 candidates utilizing the following four categories:

Steroid Cheats (6 of them this year)

True Contenders (3)

Good-not-Great Pretenders (7)

How The Hell Did They Get On The Ballots? (9)

*Steroid Cheats — The poster children just keep creeping along, don’t they? Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds may actually pull it off this year. Both of the lying cheats crossed over 60% in voting a year ago, leaving the distinct possibility that as the forgiving nature of our populace continues to work in their favor, coupled with the largesse of those bound and determined to write down ten names, 2021 will be their year. Let’s hope not. Because then it opens the door to the rest of them — Sammy Sosa, Gary Sheffield, Andy Pettitte and Manny Ramirez — none of whom should ever be allowed into The Hall without buying a ticket. As a side note, we’d like to take a minute here on Pettitte. Just because he’s a seemingly good guy, particularly when compared to two of the game’s all-time dickheads in Bonds and Clemens, doesn’t mean he is any less a steroid cheat. In fact, he’s one of the few who actually admits his wrongdoing. Points for being a decent human being, for sure, but he still shouldn’t get on a Hall of Fame ballot. And oh by the way, if we are protecting all-time standards here (and that is the charge put to all HOF voters), Pettitte’s career numbers would leave him short anyway! As an additional aside, it was tempting to throw Jeff Kent into this grouping (you know the old line about if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck…), but we will refrain from presuming Kent’s steroids guilt simply due to locale and association (plus we like that he overtly despised Bonds for most of the time that they were teammates).

*True Contenders — Curt Schilling was the high vote getter not earning induction a year ago, so he enters in the pole position this year. Unlike his steroid-enhanced brethren, Schilling’s candidacy suffers as time moves on (this is his ninth year on the ballot — they only get a decade to earn the necessary votes), because each passing year gives him more time to alienate voters by making absurd statements and engaging in bizarre behavior. He’s joined in the serious consideration camp by Omar Vizquel, the best defensive shortstop of the modern era this side of Ozzie Smith, who is bidding to be the first inductee since The Wizard himself to enter The Hall holding a glove and not a bat. We reluctantly add Kent to the “strong consideration” group, too, despite our bias and resentment toward him for not realizing his potential during his time in a Mets uniform (remember the David Cone trade, folks?). Kent’s monster power numbers at the second base spot compare favorably with several HOF legends (Hornsby, Morgan, Sandberg — that’s good company), but his blacksmith’s touch with the leather, prickly personality and world class pornstache have kept him on the outside looking in up until now.

*Good-not-Great Pretenders — This is where things get dicey, because those voters desperate to get to ten names have a multitude of options to choose from that will hasten the slide toward a Hall of Very Good if we aren’t careful. Consider, if you will, Todd Helton, Billy Wagner, Scott Rolen, Andruw Jones, Mark Buehrle, Barry Zito and Bobby Abreu. Since the ballots were released, I’ve read articles making the argument for each of these candidates to be voted in this year. It makes my head hurt. To any advocate out there who believes these are the types of players that have earned their way into the Hall of Fame, I need only respond with the following names — Dale Murphy, Dave Parker, Gil Hodges, Jim Kaat, Dick Allen, Luis Tiant, Vada Pinson. Baseball history is littered with outstanding players whose careers were fantastic in their own right, but just missed legendary status. And as a result they also missed out on the Hall of Fame. Here’s a quick around the horn on this year’s pretenders, beginning with Rolen — just because The Hall is light on third baseman doesn’t mean we should lower standards! Rolen was really, really good. Rolen isn’t Hall of Fame-worthy. Period. Wagner was a terrific reliever, but he doesn’t belong in the same sentence as a Mariano Rivera, let alone Bruce Sutter or Rollie Fingers. Next? Jones had a world class glove, played on championship-caliber Braves teams, and put up several years of impressive power numbers. Worth a thought and quick consideration, sure, but in the end Andruw Jones is not a Hall of Famer. Beurhle and Zito? Really? Very good pitchers. That’s that. And here’s the one that seems to be trending right now for this year’s water-down apologists — Bobby Abreu. Yes, Abreu has a lot of advanced metrics that seem to warrant serious consideration for a vote. Is he a stronger candidate than Harold Baines was? Yes, but two wrongs do not a Hall of Famer make. And Abreu is an epic fail when it comes to the baseball eyeball test. Hustle, taking the extra base, running into a wall trying to save a run/game, swinging at a ball out of the strike zone when your teammates need a base hit over a walk and are relying on you to be “the man.” Abreu came up small in all of these categories over the course of his career. He is the anti-Dave Parker, a star who compiled awesome stats, but whose numbers actually paled in comparison to his fire and intangibles between the lines. Go home, Bobby Abreu. If the Phillies (I think that’s the team we are supposed to think of when we think of Abreu, right?) have a franchise Hall, let them put you in there. Not Cooperstown. Not this year. Not ever.

*How The Hell Did They Get On The Ballot? — Okay, really now, LaTroy Hawkins? Is there a handbook or manual somewhere that can help explain how they arrive at the nine place holders that round out this year’s Hall of Fame ballot? A.J. Burnett, Dan Haren, Michael Cuddyer, Tim Hudson, Torii Hunter, Aramis Ramirez, Steve Swisher, Shane Victorino? Serviceable major leaguers all, you could even argue that Hudson, Burnett and Hunter border on the pretender category, but come on already! And here we arrive at the heart of the dilution problem. If you remove these nine names from consideration, it leaves a voter with only sixteen players to choose from, and a ballot with ten slots to fill, if you believe 1. they are truly legendary, or 2. you fear receiving an incomplete grade if you haven’t filled in all ten blanks. And for those opting for Door Number Two, this isn’t the SAT’s, where you might get lucky with a guess and it pays to fill in every available space.

So in case you missed it, the SportsAttic ballot that will bring you the most deserving Class of 2021 Major League Baseball Hall of Famers will include…drum roll please…

A blank ballot.

Schilling falls just short, despite his postseason glory and above-average career stat line (El Tiante, anyone?).

Vizquel misses out, barely, but will get this vote a year from now (Jeter should be the only inductee when they do the 2020 makeup ceremony next summer, but that was already blown up by Larry Walker’s inclusion, so the last thing we want to do is add a second shortstop to next year’s festivities).

And Jeff Kent? Sorry, but Kent remains at the tippy top of the Hall of Very Good. A great player, with tremendous offensive credentials compiled during the Steroid Era, a glove constructed from stainless steel, and an absolutely abominable mustache.

It’s the Hall of Fame, folks. Only the legends should be awarded the bronze bust.

Playing Catch Up with the NFL

One of the late NFL games here in Southern California today has Las Vegas taking on Los Angeles.

Okay, now that takes some getting used to, doesn’t it? Los Angeles football has existed off and on for most of my life, so that part of the equation I can almost come to terms with. That is, until we note that the L.A. half of today’s matchup isn’t the Rams (or even the Raiders), it’s the Chargers.

And that I’ll never get used to, since the only thing cool the Chargers ever had going for them was that they played in San Diego! Even the awesome, lightning bolt logos on their helmets have lost a little luster in their move 120 miles to the north.

To further complicate things, the Raiders are part of today’s late game, fresh off a move of their own, from Oakland (where regardless of how many times they relocate, the Raiders will always belong) to Las Vegas.

If we all agree that change is the only constant in life, I suppose I should quit complaining and just get with the program. It doesn’t matter if the league will always be imprinted in my head the way it was configured back when I first figured out how to read the league standings when I was a kid.

In that world, it’s the Oilers who will always play in Houston, the Cardinals in St. Louis, the Colts in Baltimore, and the Jets on actual New York soil, not in some New Jersey swamp.

Today the Cleveland Browns are resting at home during their bye week, but we all know these aren’t the real Browns. They are sort of like that second Darrin in Bewitched that just appeared one year, sort of resembled the original Darrin, but was never quite as entertaining. There’s no Jim Brown in this zombie version of the Browns history, or even Leroy Kelly. No Brian Sipe or Bernie Kosar. Hell, we can’t even give them the unsuccessful, Cleveland version of Bill Belichick (you know, the one that showed up out of nowhere back in New England this year).

Raiders-Chargers is today’s late game on Fox, which I’m choosing to watch because if I sit through another minute of the Dallas Cowboys this season I may turn to stone. Dallas is playing Pittsburgh on CBS right now, that network’s national game that immediately followed the Ravens victory over the Colts.

Yeah, we need to take a second on Ravens-Colts, don’t we.

So the Ravens play their home games in Baltimore, right? Even won a couple of Super Bowls there. Great fans, those Baltimore die-hards. Problem is, the Colts won Super Bowl V for that same group of fans back in the early-’70’s, when they played their home games in Baltimore.

Greatest Game Ever Played? Alan Ameche? Artie Donovan? Gino Marchetti? John Mackey? You could make a case that right up until Bob Irsay snuck them off into the Baltimore night, the Colts were the most storied NFL franchise east of Green Bay.

We’ve experienced an entire era of Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts (those Colts delivered a second Super Bowl title to the Indy fans, too), but when we think Colts, we’ll never stop envisioning Johnny Unitas and his high-topped cleats, jogging back onto a muddy field while pulling that badass helmet with the white horseshoe emblem over his crewcut. Nope, like the Chargers’ bolt, the Colts’ horseshoe has never been quite as cool when worn in Indiana.

At least the Ravens and Colts have established some winning traditions and identities in their new homes. Not so when we turn our attention to the abomination that is Houston/Tennessee.

The Houston football team isn’t supposed to have some knockoff Patriots emblem on their helmet, it should be an oil rig about to spew black gold and Texas Tea (oops, sorry for the Beverly Hillbillies reference), while Dan Pastorini throws another interception killing a drive. It’s Earl Campbell running over some cringing free safety. Give me Bum Phillips, Curly Culp and Warren Moon, not whatever Houston football is known for today (okay, we must admit, today’s Houston edition has put together quite a reputation for spitting the bit when the playoffs roll around, especially when playing in front of their home fans).

But for those of us paying attention, we know that the Oilers aren’t dead, they just play their home games in Tennessee now (where, perhaps coincidentally, perhaps not, the Beverly Hillbillies set sail from after Ole Jed became a millionaire). There, as the Titans, they’ve put together an unremarkable run of title-free football that might warrant more derision if we weren’t currently comparing them to the Houston Texans.

At least Tennessee did make it to one Super Bowl, where they lost to…

Enjoying their own bye week today is the “true” Los Angeles gridiron entry — the Rams. The Rams have one Super Bowl trophy to their credit, a title won over the Titans-nee-Oilers while playing their home games in St. Louis.

St. Louis? So the Rams really played there, did they? For twenty years, you say? Huh. Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk, a teary Dick Vermiel, Greatest Show on Turf, and yet, if push comes to shove, I barely remember the St. Louis Rams.

In fact, the only St. Louis football I do remember with clarity, came during the misbegotten run of the St. Louis Cardinals. Jim Hart launching bombs to Mel Gray just often enough to keep things close before losing week after week to the Cowboys, Redskins, Giants and Eagles as the prototype fifth wheel of the NFC East. Yeah, that’s the St. Louis football I remember, and if it were up to me (alas, it’s not) they would only play Super Bowls and college football in the desert today.

Expansion teams? In my book, there will only ever be two — the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, featuring the Selmon Brothers, Lee Roy and Dewey, and the AFC West Seattle Seahawks, with that crazy lefty, Jim Zorn slinging it all over the field to Steve Largent. Until Jacksonville, Carolina, the imposter Cleveland Browns or the Houston Whatever-their-names-are win a Super Bowl, they don’t exist in my NFL.

Given all that, I’ve just talked myself into changing the channel back to the Steelers-Cowboys game. It promises to be a lopsided contest, but at least these are two franchises that offer me historic consistency. Besides, the real upside to Pittsburgh-Dallas today is that it never gets old seeing somebody whip up on the Dallas Cowboys.

Because the more things change in the NFL, the more they stay the same (just ask the winless New York Jets).

It’s Almost Next Year — Welcome to the Mets, Steve Cohen

I first became a fan of the New York Mets in 1970, too late to be a part of their Miracle run of 1969, but easily swept up by its magical aftermath that placed the Mets at the heart of the New York baseball scene.

Almost from the start, I was well aware of who the Mets owner was. Joan Payson was always visible to us Mets fans, be it riding around in a golf cart with Casey Stengel every Old Timers Day, or on the page dedicated to her every year in the Mets Yearbook. She oozed class, wealth and sophistication, even if I’m hard pressed to remember her ever saying a single word. It never occurred to five-year-old me that our owner had anything to do with the games being played on the field. She was simply our number one fan.

Fast forward fifty years and I have to admit I don’t recall ever hearing new Mets owner Steve Cohen utter a single word either. But the similarities to Mrs. Payson end there. We’ve got ourselves a new owner, folks, and this one brings with him instant credibility and enthusiasm.

Hope always springs eternal, but also now anew for Mets fans, as we welcome Mr. Cohen to the fold as our new owner. He’s already tweeting us asking for input, subtly suggesting he will be a player signing free agents, and generally allowing Mets fans to feel like big hitters (pun intended) for the first time since the days of Darryl, Doc and Davey back in the mid-’80’s.

Now there are a few realities still to be overcome for us Mets fans, most significantly that we are still the Mets. Add to that the fact that a big checkbook doesn’t guarantee results (last I checked James Dolan has plenty of money, yet take a look at the Knicks — check that, don’t look). But as the old saying goes, “money can’t buy you happiness, but it sure will pay the mortgage.”

For the past several off-seasons, like all also-ran fans, we would experience optimism, but it was the type where we had to hope absolutely everything went right in the coming season, and then pray for a healthy dose of luck on top of that. Put all that together, and the Mets might contend.

Such an unlikely formula even managed to play out for the Mets back in 2015. But now? Now we have real hope, in the form of an above-average Mets nucleus returning to Queens in 2021, and deep ownership pockets ready to add some real star power, filling out our roster at a time when the rest of the league is sucking financial wind courtesy of COVID-19.

In other words, it’s finally ours to lose, Mets fans. Welcome Steve Cohen, and Let’s Go Mets!

Other random thoughts for a Sunday afternoon around the world of sports:

*For the second year in a row I’m offering a public “my bad” to the winning World Series manager. Not that Dave Roberts distinguished himself as any kind of master tactician in leading his incredibly talented Dodgers to the championship, but he was smart enough to stay out of the way. And try as Roberts did to keep the Rays in it, Kevin Cash was bound and determined to be the manager most remembered for blowing a World Series in 2020. Congrats, Dave Roberts and the Dodgers. One and done? You betcha.

*I’m overjoyed that Yankees GM Brian Cashman finally enters an offseason with a bunch of shitty decisions to preside over. Keep catcher Gary Sanchez and let his decline continue with the bat in his hand, while butchering his duties behind the plate? Or move him and run the risk of seeing Sanchez hitting 50 dingers for some team like the Reds in 2021? Overpay D.J. Lemahieu following two career years and keep him in the Bronx on a multi-year deal? Or let him move across town and be part of the Mets renaissance? Roll the dice and trade Luke Voigt, selling high and assuming he can’t repeat his career 2020 (accomplished during a 60-game season)? Or keep him and watch him hit .230 with 18 dingers and 53 RBI in 2021? Masahiro Tanaka? How many contracts will Cashman get away with giving this guy before the hurler’s partially torn elbow explodes and ends his career? And these are just the tip of the Yankees iceberg, when it comes to sticky offseason calls. Cashman is among the game’s very best, but he’s painted himself into a corner with a high payroll, brittle, feast or famine sluggers locked into the middle of the lineup, and a dearth of starting pitchers behind Gerrit Cole.

*Over to the gridiron, the NFL season feels real now, with baseball, hoops and the NHL behind us while the weather turns cold back east. Are the Steelers really as good as their 7-0 record says they are? Can we finally write off the Patriots, or is Belichick rope-a-doping us once again? Should we just hand the Lombardi Trophy to Patrick Mahomes and pencil in the Chiefs as the AFC’s Super Bowl participant into the 2030’s? Will the Seahawks be this year’s NFC West Super Bowl loser? Will 6-10 actually win the NFC East? The Packers look really good. Was lighting a fire under Aaron Rogers the real reason Green Bay drafted a QB in the first round back in April? Anyone know how the expanded playoff format works? Me either, but I know more teams get into an expanded tournament this year. Here’s hoping the season can continue uninterrupted.

*In case you missed it, they played the French Open last month. I barely woke up in time to see Rafa Nadal absolutely obliterate Novak Djokovic in the men’s final. Awww, poor Novak. Everyone picking on him, when all he ever did was ignore coronavirus protocols and party in one of the virus’s first “super-spreaders,” back in the spring, then be unapologetic about it, antagonizing many of his fellow tour pros. Then he bitches loud and long about the inconvenience of having to play the U.S. Open in New York City without the luxury of being able to dine and party and enjoy the city’s nightlife, thanks again to those party-poopers from the USTA putting protocols in place to constrain his fun while keeping players safe. Then he makes an early exit from the tournament, DQ’d after pegging a linesman with a wayward line drive struck in anger. Like I said, awwww…

*Who won the Stanley Cup? Tampa? Oh, that’s right. Wait, Tampa has a hockey team? Boy, have I been away from the ice for too long. Next thing you’ll tell me there’s NHL teams in Tennessee and the Carolinas. Wait, what?

*I’d really like to root for the Lakers as my “west coast team” again before I die. I could have loved the ’70’s version with Wilt, Baylor, Goodrich and West, if not for the fact that they were my Knicks’ arch-rivals in three separate NBA Finals that decade. I did get on board the Showtime Lakers bandwagon in the ’80’s, and took great joy in seeing Magic, Kareem and Jammin’ James get the better of the hated Celtics more often than not. But then the Lakers figured out how to steal Kobe in the draft and next thing you know Big Chief Triangle moved his front-running act to Tinsel Town. It soon became an unfair fight, with Shaq at his most dominant, and they became even more unbearable when Kobe snagged a couple of titles of his own toward the end of the decade. And now LeBron makes it impossible to conjure any affection for the purple and gold. Wouldn’t it be nice if one day LeBron clues us in on who he actually is? The guy is so busy trying to create this really cool, superstar persona, that in the end he just ends up appearing tragically lame. He was only the second-best player on this year’s Lakers title team (a fact acknowledged by nearly everyone but LBJ himself), and his insecurity over his inability to secure his place as the NBA’s GOAT was on full display during the Lakers title celebration. One second we see LeBron trying to be MJ, collapsed on the ground, overcome with emotion. We can’t help but wonder how many times he’s replayed the tape of MJ doing just that back in the ’90’s. Then we see LBJ proudly puffing on a big old cigar, Michael Jordan-style. Hell, how did he not think to stick out his tongue on a soaring dunk and then smile and shrug his shoulders at the TV cameras on his way back up the court? And just when the MJ impersonation was running out of juice, there he was invoking Kobe as his spiritual blood brother and partner in the Lakers championship legacy. He practically pleaded for us to understand that as beloved as Kobe was throughout the NBA, we must recognize that LeBron was always Kobe’s one and only BFF. As sad as all those public insecurities on display come across, they pale in comparison to his lame attempts at positioning himself as the NBA’s champion of social justice. Unless by “champion” he’s referring to hiding in the shadows, silent and non-committal, until a lesser known player is lauded for courageous and thoughtful commentary on an important issue in the news. Only then does LeBron emerge, deftly paraphrasing the comments as his own, on his way to grabbing the baton at the front of the day’s protest parade. Enough already. Your legacy as a Top 10 All Time NBA-er is secure, King James, stop trying so damn hard to be something you’re not.

*Isn’t Mike Tyson fighting Roy Jones, Jr. this month? Now that I can get excited about. Conjures up memories of Big George Foreman taking on Gerry Cooney years back, in the bout affectionately billed as The Geezers at Caesars. And yes, I bought the Pay-Per-View for that one, and I’ll be watching Iron Mike climb into the ring again later this month, too.

*Tough year for MLB Hall of Famers — Bob Gibson, Tom Seaver, Lou Brock, Whitey Ford, Al Kaline, Joe Morgan. I’m sure I’ve missed a few more, but what a list. Morgan spent the final years of his life in the same town as I, and I’m sorry to say we never crossed paths. Any baseball fan my age emulated that left-handed elbow pump of his back in the ’70’s. You had no choice, because Joe Morgan was bad ass. With two months to go in this God-forsaken year, I sure hope Hammerin’ Hank and the Say Hey Kid stay healthy and safe.

Why the Dodgers Won’t Win the 2020 World Series

History is vast and expansive, which is convenient when one is trying to find precedent to support a hypothesis based on hope.

Heading into the 2020 World Series, it’s difficult to build a logical case as to why the heavily favored Los Angeles Dodgers won’t end their three-decade-plus title drought with a win over the solid-as-a-rock Tampa Bay Rays.

This is where history helps. Because the reality is that when a seven-game series is contested between two good teams, it is typically the more talented group that comes out the winner.

Over 100 years of baseball history supports that premise — think about any of the various Yankees dynasties, from Ruth to Jeter; or those star-studded Oakland A’s squads of the mid-’70’s; or even the Big Red Machine, when they swept the pre-Reggie Yankees in 1976. Talent usually prevails.

However, “typically” and “usually” don’t mean “always,” and that’s where history comes in handy. With over one hundred Fall Classics in the books, we don’t have to look too hard to find examples of teams that came together at the right time and overcame significant talent differentials to win a championship nobody thought possible.

In fact, if we return to Los Angeles’ last World Series title back in 1988, we see a terrific historical marker. The Dodgers were far from a dominant club in ’88, but rode a wave of momentum and good luck, not to mention a dominant (near unhittable) Orel Hershiser, to earn their way into The Series.

The Dodgers had beaten an overconfident Mets team in the NLCS to advance, and waiting for them was an absolutely loaded Oakland A’s roster (think young Mark McGwire, Jose Canseco, Dave Stewart, Dennis Eckersley). The A’s showcased power, speed, great starting pitching and a lockdown closer. No one gave the Dodgers a chance, and when they entered the ninth inning of Game 1 down a run with Eckersley on the mound, all seemed to be going according to expectations.

Then the one-legged Kirk Gibson’s homer for the ages changed everything and the next thing you know Gibson’s sub, Mickey Hatcher (Mickey Hatcher??) was getting a hit every time he stuck his head out of the dugout. World Series MVP Hershiser did the rest, and the Dodgers won in five.

That unexpected Dodgers title was such a clear and obvious gift from the Baseball Gods, that Dodgers fans have been forced to pay the price with zero championships ever since. Has that tax from 1988 now finally been paid in full? Playing in their third World Series over the past four years, will the Dodgers finally close the deal?

Well that’s why they play the games, but before we clue you in on the upcoming outcome, we can’t resist one more historical example.

The year was 1969. A former expansion team known mostly for losing had shocked the world and advanced to the World Series, sweeping Hank Aaron’s Atlanta Braves in the first-ever NLCS to get there.

Waiting for the upstart New York Mets were the Baltimore Orioles. The O’s had no weaknesses and had won 109 regular season games. They had Frank Robinson and Brooks Robinson. Boog Powell and Don Buford. They played good defense, had a respected manager in Earl Weaver, and only three years earlier had shocked the world by sweeping Sandy Koufax and the favored Dodgers to win the first World Series in franchise history.

The Mets had pitching, of course, led by wonder boy Tom Seaver, who would soon collect his first Cy Young Award, but were otherwise a collection of spare parts that had somehow caught lightning in a bottle over the summer of ’69.

The problem for the Mets, was that while pitching was clearly their greatest strength, the Orioles had arms, too. Mike Cuellar (who would outduel Seaver in Game 1 and lead everyone to believe the Mets’ bubble was about to burst), Jim Palmer, Dave McNally and a deep bullpen appeared every bit the equal of the Mets staff.

Despite no discernible advantages, the Mets rode kismet, the “different hero every night” approach (hello, Al Weis), and the left arm of Jerry Koosman to a World Series Championship in five games. “Miracle” Mets was a most appropriate moniker when we look back at the magnitude of that upset, and the Amazin’s are another example of why we should never rule out the underdog.

Which brings us to 2020.

Despite a dearth of superstars, the Rays are a most deserving American League champion. They played .667 ball during the shortened regular season, swept the Wild Card round against a “nothing to lose” Toronto team, and then outlasted the big market Goliaths from New York and Houston to get here.

One of the most fundamentally sound clubs in MLB, Tampa can hit, hit for power, take the extra base, pitch and then close you out with a deep, hard throwing pen. Manager Kevin Cash has shown he knows how to get the most out of his roster, and uses his players’ ability to play multiple positions to his advantage, making it difficult for the opposition to gameplan on any given night.

The problem for Cash and the Rays, is that every accolade we note above can also be attributed to his opponents in the Fall Classic. And then some.

The Dodgers had an even more dominant regular season than the Rays, and showed mettle in surviving a strong Padres club in the NLDS before coming back from down 3-1 in the NLCS against the Braves. There are no easy outs in the L.A. lineup, they play better defense (statistically anyway) than the Rays, and can go arm-for-arm against Tampa when stacking up both their rotation and their pen.

The Los Angeles roster is as deep as Tampa’s, and like the Rays, they have multiple players with the ability to move around the diamond effectively. Such flexibility gives Dodgers skipper Dave Roberts the potential to adapt easily to different situations as the game progresses.

While Roberts will never be confused with Gil Hodges when it comes to strategic acumen, the Dodgers gain another advantage thanks to the DH being in use every game during the 2020 series. Not having the pitcher bat negates Roberts’ penchant for poor decision-making whenever the pitcher’s spot in the batting order approaches.

We still see Roberts giving at least one game away when he mismanages his substitutions and loses the DH slot with a late double-switch, but will that be enough to swing the series in Tampa’s favor?

In a seven-game sampling, a manager throwing one game away can certainly be the difference-maker, but despite the Roberts Factor, it says here the Dodgers will rise to the occasion and bludgeon their past any managerial miscues to a couple of high scoring wins.

While L.A. has the vastly superior offense, we give the rotation edge to the Rays — Tyler Glasnow, Blake Snell and Charlie Morton for two games apiece is awfully strong, even if Cash does have too quick a hook at times. Normally the team with the pitching edge gets the nod in a playoff series, but once again the Dodgers are also darn deep on the hill.

Countering with some combination of Walker Buehler, Clayton Kershaw, Jose Urias, Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin, even Roberts can look good cobbling together a starting rotation. That being said, the most interesting matchup to watch may be in the bullpens.

Both clubs have deep and effective pens, but the X-factor will be who has the more resilient collection of arms in reserve. These teams have been playing damn close to every night for almost a month now, and the wear and tear on relievers who aren’t used to this type of pounding is significant. This should prove to be another edge for Cash and the Rays, since we absolutely expect Roberts to go to the well one too many times with his running-on-fumes closer, Kenley Jansen.

The Rays appear to be the team of destiny here, and are the far more likable franchise, winning big despite the third-lowest payroll in all of baseball. But the Dodgers don’t just spend money, they spend it well.

Here’s hoping we get one more Game 7 before the 2020 MLB season comes to its successful conclusion, but the Rays will fall one game short of realizing their dream season when the last out is in the books.

Dodgers in 7.

A Cheater Label Doesn’t Negate Talent — MLB ALCS/NLCS Preview

If I had a Hall of Fame ballot (and I desperately want one), I would never cast a vote for Barry Bonds. Hank Aaron remains the All-Time Home Run King in my mind, and Roger Maris (asterisk and all) is the single-season champ.

Bonds and his steroids-enhanced brethren desecrated the holy land of Major League Baseball when they tainted long-standing, statistical records that color the historic tapestry of our National Pastime. And as grandiose and self-important as that last sentence may sound, I stand by it.

I’ve heard all the arguments pertaining to “greenies” (amphetamines), pre-integration stats and the like, but I still single out the Steroid Era as the one that permanently tarnished the game. With Barry Bonds as its poster child, he would never get this HOF vote.

However, that doesn’t keep me from wondering what Bonds’ career numbers would have looked like if he hadn’t gone on the juice, increased several hat sizes and packed on a hundred pounds or so of muscle. Where would Bonds sit today, when we consider the GOATs of the game, if his career had concluded with a stat line that looked something like the following:

*.319 career batting average

*.471 on base percentage

*3814 hits

*507 home runs

*812 doubles

*226 triples

*515 stolen bases

*13 gold gloves

*8 MVP’s

Of course we’ll never know, but the numbers listed above aren’t beyond imagination when you consider the trajectory of Bonds’ stats back in the early-’90’s. The guy was already a terror while clean, and when such talent was given the artificial advantage of steroids, he became other-worldly. And, with apologies to Roger Clemens, Bonds also became the most infamous cheater in the history of Major League Baseball.

Which brings us to the 2020 Houston Astros.

Trash cans in 2017. Buzzers in 2019. A universally despised franchise (at least outside of the greater-Houston city limits). Yet here they are again, folks, back in the ALCS, after backing their way into this year’s participation-trophy playoff tournament with a sub-.500 record. But a funny thing happened when the games returned to their more traditional rules and started to matter again.

We got reminded of how much talent these Astros possess, and now we get a view into just how good they really are, with no worries gnawing away at us about how they may be cheating the game in one way shape or form. And don’t think the 2019 World Series runner-ups aren’t enjoying sticking it up all of our collective asses as they march toward a date with dastardly destiny, 2020-style.

I mean, could there be a more fitting 2020 MLB champion than the team we all began the year looking forward to seeing get abused and humiliated on a nightly basis? Deserving targets of scorn and derision by fans across the country, every time they took their cheating show on the road?

In irony only imaginable through the lens that is the year 2020, the Astros have not seen a single hostile crowd yet this season. And now, to add insult to injury, they have a playoff path laid out in front of them that allows for each of their most hated critics to be lined up like ducks on the pond to be vanquished, shit on, and sneered at, as they waltz their way to another date in the World Series.

On that note, here is the SportsAttic preview of the two League Championship Series, letting you in on who to expect to show up when the 2020 World Series begins week after next, down in Arlington, Texas.

American League Championship Series

Astros versus Rays — Yeah, the cheating SOB’s are winning this one, too. It’s a real shame, too, since the Rays proved a lot to us in sending the Yankees home for the winter in such thrilling fashion. Tampa Bay is fundamentally sound, well-managed, with a deep roster and strong bullpen. Randy Arozarena looks like a star we can look forward to watching for years to come, and Tyler Glasnow is downright filthy. And as much as we offer heartfelt thank you’s to the Rays for sending the Evil Empire packing in the ALDS, the reality is that this series got a whole lot less interesting when the Yankees Aroldis Chapman served up that gopher ball last night. Sure, Rays fans will point to their league-best record during the truncated regular season, and how they extended the tech-enhanced Astros to a full five games in the ALDS a year ago — with both Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander still throwing for the ‘Stros. Surely with the Rays a better club in 2020, and the Astros no longer having the advantage of knowing what pitch to expect in advance of taking their swings (not to mention missing the aforementioned Cole and Verlander), this should be all Rays, right? Not so fast. Springer, Altuve, Correa, Bregman, Gurriel… it’s a lot like Barry Bonds before the juice and the enormous head. Looking back we tend to forget just how good the talent was before the illegal advantages kicked in. And courtesy of the neutral site in San Diego, the Astros will still avoid any venom coming their way from angry fans, at least until the World Series begins. The Rays showed enough in taking out the Yanks to make us think this will be a hard fought series, but ready or not, Houston will be returning to their third Fall Classic in four years. Astros in six.

National League Championship Series

Dodgers versus Braves — Oh, that’s right, there’s another LCS this week. While temptation is practically begging us to assume Dave Roberts will manage the boys in blue out of the playoffs one round short of the World Series for what feels like the millionth time, the Braves just don’t have enough. Atlanta, featuring MVP-candidate Freddy Freeman, boasts a lineup that can flat-out mash, but so do the Dodgers. And the Dodgers are deeper and more versatile than the Braves. Yes, the L.A. bullpen looked a bit wobbly in taking down the one-year-away Padres in the NLDS, but not so much as to equalize what is their significant advantage on the mound. Will Roberts keep giving the ball in save situations to Kenley Jansen, who appears a couple seasons past his shelf life as a dominant closer? Or will he go to Joe Kelly, setting us up for some delicious revenge storylines when they move on to a 2017 rematch against the Astros in a week’s time? Figure Roberts to give at least one game away trying to ride a spent Jansen, and we should anticipate Clayton Kershaw’s annual pummeling in a big spot, but even with those two likelihoods coming their way, the Braves won’t win this series. That’s not to say that if it goes the full seven, the advantage wouldn’t swing hard in the direction of Atlanta, as the Dodgers would be forced to face the possibility of losing to an inferior foe yet again while extending their championship drought another year. But don’t worry Los Angeles fans, it won’t go seven, and the dream of following LeBron James’ parade with one of their own will remain alive for the Dodgers just a bit longer. Dodgers in six.

There you have it, baseball fans. The 2020 World Series will be contested on a neutral site between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Houston Astros.

Play ball!

MLB Division Series Round — The More Things Change…

What did we learn from the first-ever MLB Wild Card Round?

Well, we learned that whatever has cursed the Minnesota Twins over the last couple of decades is still going strong. Yeesh, I hope I never see this misbegotten franchise in the playoffs again (that is, unless somehow the Mets can draw them in the first round). The Twinkies have been getting swept in the postseason since baseball first went to divisions back in 1969, when Earl Weaver and the Robinson Boys started the postseason ritual of taking the Minnesota lunch money. Enough already!

And we learned that the tax that Cubs fans will pay in return for their long-awaited World Series win back in 2016 is a steep one, and will likely extract extreme payments, in the form of emotional pain, from their fans for generations to come.

And, as impossible as this may seem, we learned that the Cincinnati Reds may have actually been a worse hitting team than their .212 regular season average indicated heading into the playoffs.

Now baseball fans can shift focus back to a playoff format we recognize, the best-of-five Division Series showdowns. Baseball will continue to pare down this postseason field of 16 teams into a more manageable number of combatants, as the four series move to neutral sites.

The problem is, it’s not just the format that’s more recognizable. We also have some familiar franchise names emerging as the prohibitive favorites, and from the lens through which SportsAttic views hardball, that is not good news.

Like a beaten and bloodied serial killer in some straight-to-cable horror movie, the Houston Astros have advanced, and the convicted cheaters may actually be gaining strength as the playoffs hit their stride. Looking equally formidable, the Evil Empire from the Bronx is now mostly healthy and head into their showdown with Tampa with a rested Gerrit Cole ready to give them two starts.

In the Senior Circuit, the Dodgers made the Brewers look like a bye-week vacation in advancing to the NLDS, and it is hard to imagine any club taking them down before what appears to be a predestined date in the 2020 World Series.

Could we really be subjected to these same, hated franchises (and their entitled, obnoxious fans) making up MLB’s Final Four? Well, that is why they play the games, but it sure does feel like the pre-Corona favorites from the first spring training, way back in February, are primed to make the League Championship Series a rerun of seasons past, devoid of fresh faces or new storylines.

Can anything get in the way of such inevitability? SportsAttic is here, fresh off our prescient call of the Marlins taking a broom to the Cubs (you didn’t think we’d miss the chance to blow our own horn over that call, did you?), to handicap the ALDS and NLDS and preview who you should expect to see advance deeper into October baseball. Here we go!

AMERICAN LEAGUE DIVISION SERIES

Yankees over Rays — Shit. No matter how I try to cut this, I just don’t see the Rays advancing. Everything clicked at the plate for the Yankees in their series against the Indians, and when the Bombers bats heat up, things get ugly for their opposition. And Cleveland has better pitching than Tampa! No team benefits more from the extra travel days than the Bombers, who now can come back with Cole in the opener, and have him available a second time, should the series advance the full five games. It won’t, because the Yankees will take the scrappy Rays out in four (we will give Tampa a meaningless win in Game 3 to avoid the sweep). The only way we can envision the Rays avoiding such a fate would be if they follow through on all their tough talk and engage Cole in a beanball war early in Game 1. Maybe the Yankee ace gets tossed and suspended, and Aaron Judge and a few other Yankees starters get injured in the scrum? Otherwise the Rays have no discernible advantages. This will be so one-sided that even Gary Sanchez will participate in what will become a nonstop Home Run Derby loop for the Evil Empire. Yanks in four.

Astros over A’s — Double-shit. This series will be closer, but ultimately the A’s will fall victim to the same storyline as the Rays, with the favored, more talented (and despised) franchise, who was only so-so during the truncated regular season, sending home the no-name division winners. Look for two wins from Zack Greinke, including one in the decisive Game 5, as all the usual suspects — Altuve, Springer, Bregman (do we need to go on?) — remind us that while they may have known what pitches were coming during their playoff runs of the last few years, they still have a shitload of talent up and down their batting order. Not having Matt Chapman will really hurt the A’s, who will miss both his defense and offense, not to mention his leadership. And while they possess the superior pen, Oakland won’t be able to utilize it enough while falling behind Greinke each time he takes the mound. And don’t think the Astros and their fans won’t appreciate the irony of celebrating another series win on the Dodgers’ home field. Astros in five.

NATIONAL LEAGUE DIVISION SERIES

Padres over Dodgers — This one should be a lot of fun. There has to be one unexpected guest in the Championship Series, doesn’t there? And as much as I’d like to ride the Miami bandwagon one more round, it says here it will be the other team from Southern California moving on in Texas this week. A baseball manager can cost his team a game or two over the course of a 162-game season (or even a 60-game season) and get away with it, especially if you have the talent the Dodgers do. But in a short series, where the talent differential is less extreme, and the games more pressure-filled, the misdeeds of a manager can prove to be the tie-breaker. Ladies and gentlemen, say hello once more to Los Angeles manager Dave Roberts. Can the Dodgers skipper really go home empty-handed again this year, despite having the most talented team, by far, in the National League? The Padres play loose, boast their own stable of talented players, and possess the superior manager in first-year leader Jayce Tingler. Prepare to watch the Dodgers tighten up as this one stays close through the first four games, only to have the wheels fall off the L.A. wagon in the finale as Fernando Tatis, Jr. announces he is ready for postseason primetime. Does anyone really feel confident putting their money on Clayton Kershaw to maintain the dominance he displayed against the Brewers a couple of days ago? Didn’t think so. San Diego moves on and exorcises over fifty years of demons in sending their neighbors to the north home for the winter. At least the Dodgers early exit will allow them to get a jump on their offseason manager search. Padres in five.

Braves over Marlins — This is the hardest series of the bunch to handicap. Are the Marlins really as good as they looked in taking out the Cubs? Were we all wrong in believing that the Braves didn’t have the pitching to advance in the postseason? Which team will benefit the most from the familiarity of meeting so often during the regular season? The Marlins won’t be able to sneak up on the Braves the way they did the Cubs, and you can be sure that the Braves won’t be caught by surprise by the young and talented Miami roster. Maybe if the Marlins steal Game One the way they did in Chicago, the demons of past playoff failures will tighten up the Braves enough that Miami never looks back? Yeah, maybe, but more likely the Braves offense, with no easy outs one to nine, proves too much for the Marlins and their young guns. Atlanta moves on in a competitive and entertaining series. Braves in four.

And there you have it, courtesy of the SportsAttic crystal ball.

American League Championship Series:

Yankees versus Astros in a rematch of last year’s ALCS.

National League Championship Series:

Braves versus Padres in a replay of the ’98 NLCS (spoiler alert — it will have the same outcome).

Play ball!

Go With The Young Guns — MLB Wild Card Round Preview

Okay baseball fans, here it is! What we’ve all been waiting for since July. Real baseball is about to begin.

No more seven-inning double-headers. Forget that ghost runner that shows up on second base once extra innings commence. Yeah, they’re still putting DH’s in the National League lineups, but you can’t have everything, can you?

We’re back to hardball, and with eight playoff series beginning tomorrow with a full Junior Circuit slate, we can really start paying attention again to our National Pastime.

SportsAttic has learned a lesson from our NBA prognostications (Utah Jazz as champs??? Ohmigosh…) and will only be selecting the winners one round at a time during the 2020 MLB Playoffs. And what better place to begin than with the round that defies all logic kicking things off during a year that continues to defy all logic — the first ever MLB Wild Card Round. Eight teams per league, best of three, ALL games contested in the home park of the higher seed.

While there will be no fans in attendance (only exception being family members of the home team), let’s not mistake that for the absence of a home field advantage. And we’re not just talking about cardboard cutouts or piped in crowd noise, either. Anyone who’s ever traveled for business knows the difference in how it feels to wake up in an unfamiliar hotel, sometimes in a different time zone, compared to the comforts of waking up in one’s own bed. There’s an edge for the team that doesn’t have to travel.

However, will that be enough? Nobody knows, since this format has never been done before. But it is safe to say that there will be more than a couple surprises coming our way as the playoffs get under way, and SportsAttic is here to give you a glimpse into how things are likely to unfold.

NATIONAL LEAGUE

  1. Dodgers vs 8. Brewers— Somebody had to be given the eighth seed in the N.L., and with a late assist from the Phillies and Giants, who both completely spit the bit in the season’s final week, we give you the sub-.500 Milwaukee Brewers traveling to L.A. for the Wild Card round. The Dodgers were heavy favorites to reach the World Series back in February, remained so at the restart in July, and did nothing to make us think otherwise over the last 60 games. They can pitch, hit, and are deep across the diamond with plenty of talented arms. Even Dave Roberts can’t mess this series up. It ends in two. DODGERS
  2. Braves vs 7. Reds — The Braves were never really challenged in what most expected to be a strong NL East. Their lineup is loaded with menacing bats, and they are clearly the stronger squad here. But this is a series where the Wild Card format casts question marks over the outcome. If Trevor Bauer steals Game 1 for Cincy, how tight do the Braves get as they remember their playoff implosion from a year ago. The upset call is tempting here, but the Braves are too strong. Look for Atlanta to pull it out in three behind the broad shoulders and hot bat of MVP candidate Freddie Freeman. BRAVES
  3. Cubs vs 6. Marlins — On paper this should be an easy call, right? Quick, name just one of the three starting pitchers Miami skipper Don Mattingly plans to throw out there in the Windy City this week (answer below, and for the record not one of them is older than 25). Didn’t think you could, and would it have been any easier if we asked you to name more than one Marlin position player? Despite the dearth of household names, the Marlins were the absolute worst matchup for the Cubs to draw in round one. Athletic, fearless, and playing with the house’s money, Miami heads to Chicago with nothing to lose, because nobody expected to see them in the postseason to begin with. The Cubs, on the other hand, have nothing but downside. A complete roster teardown looms should they fail to dismiss the upstart Marlins. This is the series where the home team will most suffer not having its fans in the seats, as the Wrigley faithful may have been able to rattle the upstart Marlins. Chicago’s rookie manager, David Ross, is finding out that managing a club is a whole lot harder than it looked from ESPN’s booth. Go with the young guns — and the sweep. MARLINS
  4. Padres vs 5. Cards — Let the record note that SportsAttic had the Padres advancing to the NLCS in our July MLB preview (never mind that we had them losing to the Mets to end their season). San Diego boasts loads of young talent, now surrounded by some smart, veteran acquisitions, and if not for the Dodgers, would appear to be the class of the NL. But lest we forget, they are the Padres. With the Mets watching from home, is there a more snakebit franchise still alive in the Wild Card round? And not only that, but they get the Cardinals to kick things off? You remember St. Louis, right? That team that always seems to end up beating a better club when the playoffs roll around? Well throw history out the window here, and go with San Diego behind the All-World Fernando Tatis, Jr., in a nail biter that won’t be decided until the final out is registered in Game Three. PADRES

AMERICAN LEAGUE

  1. Rays vs 8. Blue Jays — Time to eat a little crow here. Won’t be the first time, and certainly won’t be the last, but the Rays are actually very good. If SportsAttic’s disastrous selection of Utah as NBA champs wasn’t so fresh in our minds, picking Tampa for last in the AL East might just claim Worst SportsAttic Prediction of 2020 honors. In fact, if the Rays weren’t such a solid club, top to bottom including an outstanding manager in Kevin Cash, it would be tempting to go with more young guns — this time from Toronto via Buffalo. The Blue Jays are another organization loaded with young talent (anyone see a theme emerging?) and have nothing to lose (Miami North, you might say). But unlike the Cubs, the Rays are hitting on all cylinders as the calendar turns to October, and will prove too much for the “just happy to be here” Blue Jays. Two and out. RAYS
  2. Athletics vs 7. White Sox — Wait a minute, weren’t the Chisox about to win the AL Central last time we checked? What happened and how the heck did they fall to the seven-seed? Whatever transpired, the biggest loser here will be the unable-to-ever-catch-a-playoff-break Oakland A’s. Poor Oakland, first they lose the Warriors and the Raiders, and now their fans will watch the A’s come up short in the postseason once again. The White Sox possess (you guessed it) young talent, and send a stud in Lucas Giolito to the hill in the opener. Oakland is an eminently admirable, division-winning squad. They are also a franchise that’s never accomplished anything when the games matter, at least not since the Bash Brothers left town. Yet they are expected to win this series easily. Perfect recipe for an upset, folks. The A’s are a terrific regular season club that suffers from the lack of a true ace or an elite superstar in the postseason. And they will go home a Wild Card loser for what feels like the twentieth year in a row. Oakland will get a game, but the “other” Chicago ball club advances in three. WHITE SOX
  3. Twins vs 6. Astros — How happy must they be in Minnesota to have finally missed the Yankees in the first round of the playoffs? The Twins are strong top to bottom and have at last assembled enough pitching to back the big bats. The Astros have the worst regular season road record for a playoff team in the history of major league baseball, and now get set to play every postseason game on the road. You can’t help but get the feeling the ‘Stros simply want this nightmare of a season to end. Too much talent remains on the Houston roster for the Twins to sweep, but the Astros are on fumes and the Twins will advance. And if that isn’t enough good news for the Twin Cities, wait til they realize there will be no re-seeding following the first round this year, so they won’t have the Yankees waiting for them in the ALDS either. TWINS
  4. Indians vs 5. Yankees — Based on the Bombers regular season, the safe bet is to predict a sweep here. The problem is knowing which way to go with that call. The feast or famine Yanks were another terrible road club, not to the extent Houston was, but they will miss the friendly confines of Yankee Stadium big time. However, the Indians let SportsAttic Nation down a year ago, when they were our upset selection to win the World Series, and we still aren’t over Cleveland’s dismal 2019 showing. So what’s a Yankees-hater to do when forced to rely on a team we have no faith in to rid us of the Evil Empire? We try our reverse psychology approach, of course, and call for the Yankees in a sweep. Gerrit Cole wins a classic pitcher’s duel over Shane Bieber in Game One, and figure the Yankees bats to bludgeon their way to another “W” in Game Two. Here’s hoping a little SportsAttic negative juju sends the Yankees home as Wild Card losers. So… call it a sweep for the Bombers! YANKEES

And there you have it. In a short series, on the heels of a truncated regular season, take the momentum play and go with the young athletes over the postseason vets. Innocence is bliss when it comes to pressure baseball in an empty stadium.

And should things proceed as we suggest, it will leave us with the following matchups in the Division Series:

NL

Dodgers vs Padres and Braves vs Marlins

AL

Rays vs Indians and White Sox vs Twins

Let the real baseball begin. And in case you didn’t know, the names attached to those young Miami Marlins arms are — Sandy Alcantara (age 25), Pablo Lopez (24) and Sixto Sanchez (22) — go with the young guns!

Wait ’til Next Year — A 2020 Mets Post Mortem

It seems only appropriate to steal today’s headline from Fred Wilpon’s favorite ball club, the Brooklyn Dodgers. And I suppose such a statement really sums things up when it comes to us parting ways with Fred and Jeff Wilpon this winter. Our owner, the soon to be former owner of the New York Mets, is a Dodgers fan.

I can somewhat relate to Fred, at least today I can, on the last day of this drive-thru version of a baseball season. Once again I’m left to consider what team to root for during the month of October. I check the Mets score, disinterested, as the lowly Nationals put the finishing touches on a shellacking of my Mets that will earn us a share of the NL East basement for 2020.

It’s become an annual exercise, me telling myself that the Mets being out of the postseason tournament actually makes it easier to just watch playoff baseball. You know, enjoy the beauty of our National Pastime without the constant worry that my favorite team is preparing to rip my guts out when the games matter most.

So what’s the big deal, right?

The Mets will miss the playoffs again this year, making it four years in a row (five if you want to dismiss the one-and-done wild card loss to the Giants in 2016). But somehow this one hurts just a little bit more than one of our usual eliminations.

Why is that, some fan of a team that’s not the New York Mets might ask?

Well, for starters they were letting eight teams into the NL playoffs this year. Yeah, more than half of the entire population of National League clubs will play on. A Senior Circuit that included hapless names like Pirates and Giants and Marlins and Diamondbacks. And Mets, apparently, since we didn’t survive.

No, we didn’t make it. Not even with seemingly every team on the bubble for the final wild card slots doing all they could to keep our faint hopes alive these last few days. Let’s take a minute and let the magnitude of this failure sink in:

*We had arguably the top starting pitcher in the game on the mound every fifth day for pretty much the entire, abbreviated season.

*Robinson Cano, who many considered washed up, remained reasonably healthy and hit .315, with power.

*Pete Alonso hit 16 dingers to lead the team, which equates to 42 if applied over a 162-game season.

*Dom Smith, Jeff McNeil and Michael Conforto all hit over .300.

*Closer Edwin Diaz had an E.R.A. under 2.00.

And yet we couldn’t find our way into the most watered-down playoff field in the history of Major League Baseball.

What do we make of our unsuccessful 2020 moving forward?

Honestly I’m not sure, other than to say this was a very Mets kind of season.

Our fans know exactly what I mean by that statement. They did just enough for us to never tune them out completely. There were enough flashes of promise to raise our hopes on occasion. But yet we never really felt like we were going to make the playoffs, because, well, you know, we’re the Mets.

Think about this — Mets fans’ biggest reason to celebrate this season came when it was announced our team was being sold.

SportsAttic Note: The second largest cheer was due to the fact that the team would NOT be sold to Alex Rodriguez.

And that’s a perfect place to begin — with our deep-pocketed new owner, Mr. Steve Cohen. Mets Nation has already labeled Mr. Cohen a franchise savior, expecting big spending right out of the gate, immediate positive results, and in short order, world championships. Nothing like high expectations, huh Steve?

I feel good about Cohen’s decision to bring back Sandy Alderson, giving the cancer-surviving Marine another crack at things without the tight-fisted, dysfunctional Wilpons in his shorts on a daily basis. My guess is Sandy brings along one of his boys as the new GM, thus mercifully ending the Brodie Van Wagenen era.

And the new GM will hire a new manager.

Now I realize it is hard for a rookie manager to succeed in MLB under any circumstances. Especially a rookie Mets manager. Add in the broken timeline that was the 2020 baseball season, a funky dual spring training approach, and the loss of his number two and three starting pitchers before either would toe the rubber even once, and Luis Rojas was dealt a hand from a deck stacked for failure.

I’d still let Rojas go. A fresh start is what’s called for. The Mets have win-now pieces on this roster, and an experienced manager who can come in and fix the fundamentals — starting with putting position players in place that can actually field their position –restore self-respect in the clubhouse, and hold players accountable, is a must. Experience handling a big league bullpen would be a plus, too.

So goodbye Luis Rojas, we hardly knew ye. I’m sure there’s a spot in the organization for the guy that had his big shot sabotaged by a global pandemic, but not at the helm of our big league club in 2021.

And what of the roster? I know position flexibility is one of the buzzwords making the MLB rounds these days, but it seems to me a little stability might go a long way with the blue and orange. The only position we appear loaded at may not even exist next season, depending on whether MLB caves to the abomination known as the universal Designated Hitter.

It’s ironic (and so very, very Mets), that the only position where we possess strength and depth heading into the offseason is at DH, and we may not even field one in 2021. But think about it — Cano is best suited to DH at this stage of his career. And DH is really Pete Alonso’s best position, if we are being honest. And J.D. Davis’, too. You could argue that McNeil might also be best suited to DH, rather than manning a position that requires a glove every day.

The Mets most glaring needs seem to be the same every year. A catcher with defensive skills who isn’t also an automatic out heads up our shopping list. And a center fielder who actually is a starting center fielder, not a defensive replacement or a right fielder in disguise. Of course, if we can’t play one of our extra right fielders in center, that begs the question what to do about our glut of corner outfielders.

Let’s think about this one, too — Michael Conforto, J.D. Davis, Jeff McNeil, Brando Nimmo, Dom Smith. Of the bunch, Conforto and Nimmo are the only real outfielders, but of course they both belong in right. Assume Conforto plays every day (he’s our best player, after all), and a numbers problem in left begins to become apparent.

We simply can’t have Jake deGrom take the mound next opening day with Brandon Nimmo as his center fielder, so that leaves four imperfect options for left.

Yes, we can stash one of the others at DH (but then what about Cano and Alonso), if we have a DH. But if not, we now have to deal with a line forming at both first and third for playing time. Davis and McNeil both play third as though they are thinking about their next at bat. Smith is an excellent first baseman (which in another very Mets way must explain why we’ve tried to turn him into an outfielder), but with no DH, what about Alonso?

McNeil seems most comfortable playing second, but if the DH goes away (as the Baseball Gods intended), what do you do with Cano? Move him to first or third? Yeah, we’ve got some problems.

At least we have a promising young shortstop.

Well, actually we have two of them now, don’t we? Can we trust Andres Gimenez to pick up in 2021 where he left off as our most exciting player? Was it really only a year ago that articles were being written about how Amed Rosario had finally turned the corner and would soon take his anticipated place alongside Francisco Lindor as one of the game’s top, young shortstops? Do we give up on Rosario now? Or leave him at short and move Giminez to second.

Hmmm, Gimenez at second? Again, it’s very Mets to play our best shortstop at second (anyone remember when we did that to Jose Reyes so we could put Kaz Matsui at short?). But then what about Cano? And McNeil? Well, maybe try Cano at third? Then where do we put Davis and McNeil (again)?

And the every day lineup ended 2020 as our supposed strength, remember?

At least we have pitching. Check that. Had pitching.

Can we start deGrom every day? Yeah, probably not. Noah Syndergaard will be back sometime, ready to resume teasing us with amazing stuff, while pitching 5 2/3 innings of three-run ball. Steven Matz? We can stop with all those Jon Matlack comparisons now, can’t we?

The bullpen? There’s promise there, isn’t there? We’ll have the resurrected Diaz back to close, right? I guess, but is anybody really ready to trust Diaz in important moments yet? And don’t forget Dellin Betances and Jeurys Familia. Nice to see we’ve cornered the market on enormous right-handers who’ve lost their electric stuff to set up Diaz. Betances is a free agent, but we’ve got Familia for two more years. Good grief, Brodie.

Since it seems safe to assume that Seth Lugo and his six-plus E.R.A. as a starting pitcher will return to the pen next year, at least we can feel good about him. I guess so.

Enough already, there’s gotta be some positives, right?

Yes, there are. We’ve already referenced what certainly appears to be the maturation of Conforto and Smith into above-average major leaguers, if not downright All Stars. And we will have deGrom back.

Gimenez appears to be the real deal, flashing leather like Harrelson and Ordonez used to, but maybe with a capable bat, too.

Thor will return at some point, and maybe he does realize his potential following Tommy John surgery.

And perhaps Cano isn’t done? Maybe he’ll figure out how to be a multiple-position weapon, wielding a dangerous bat in spot starts at first, second and third, not to mention DH’ing when we travel to AL parks?

Sure, Alonso suffered a big-time sophomore jinx, but the kid still appears to be a stand up guy and future team leader. If we can get 30 and 90 from him every year, we’ll put up with a .240 average.

There are also multiple assets to deal, assuming such responsibility is placed in the hands of a capable GM. Sandy and whoever he identifies as the new General Manager will be far more trustworthy to turn some combination of Nimmo, Davis, McNeil, Matz, Rosario or Smith into front line starting pitching and an elite center fielder.

And then there’s the savior — Steve Cohen can’t get his approval from MLB owners fast enough. And then start spending that Monopoly money of his like any of the rest of us fans would, if we were put in place as Mets owner with more cash than we could spend over five or six lifetimes.

Cohen can start by paying J.T. Realmuto whatever his number is and put him behind the dish for the next five years. Then get a stud number two starter to slot in behind Jake, so Noah can slide in as the best number three starter in the league when he gets back on the hill.

As much of a mess as the team appears to be today, ending their season on the wrong end of a 15-5 beatdown, we may not be that far away from contention.

It’s been hard, Steve Cohen. Real hard. But you know that, because you’ve lived it alongside the rest of us. It’s good to have one of us — someone who bleeds Mets blue and orange — at the helm. Let’s start the restoration of Mets pride and change this sorry dialogue before too many of us long-time fans run out of summers.

Remember when the Mets slogan was “Baseball Like It Oughta Be?” I’m ready to sign up for that right now.

Wait ’til next year, indeed.

Monday Recap — Hail to the [???]? Hoops Title in Denver? Fear the Marlins?

With the NFL back front and center, and painful memories still lingering from SportsAttic’s ill-fated attempts at prognostication the last time NFL teams were suited up on the gridiron, we’ve decided to introduce the…

SportsAttic Monday Recap!

It’s based on the simple premise that it’s always easier looking into the rearview mirror than a crystal ball.

So each Monday we’ll take a look at a dozen or so stories from the prior weekend. Sometimes for excellence in action, more frequently for the absurdity associated with that action — be it NFL, MLB, NBA or really any important sporting event contested over the prior couple of days.

Welcome aboard and here we go!

*The unnamed Washington Football Team seemed appropriately irrelevant while falling behind the Iggles early yesterday. But not so fast! Despite the hapless franchise’s inability to even rename itself in a timely manner, they looked damn good storming back to an unexpected victory. And don’t think there weren’t more than a few choruses of “Hail to the Redskins” breaking out across The District, Virginia and Maryland yesterday afternoon. Too soon to declare the curse lifted? You betcha — Danny Snyder still owns this team.

*It’s easy to feel sorry for yourself if you are a fan of the New York Football Jets. Never even showing a sign of being competitive against the Buffalo Bills is painful, but is it worse than how Lions fans must feel today? I believe losing a game you should have won is far more painful than raising the white flag in the first quarter of the first game of the season. Yes, it’s a little like debating the worst possible ways to die, but then again, the Lions at least have some hope based on what we saw yesterday. The Jets? Not so much.

*It’s rare I feel sorry for an athlete who’s about to cash a check for millions of dollars, especially after blatantly choking a clear shot at the U.S. Open title, but poor Alexander Zverev. The guy flushed a two-set lead, and still had the match sitting there on a platter for him, his opponent barely able to walk as the fifth set tie-breaker began. But as painful as it was to witness one of the most god-awful choke moments in tennis history, his going to pieces during his runner-up speech actually moved me. Poor guy. Lucky for him there were only a couple of dozen people in attendance at Arthur Ashe Stadium. And probably even fewer watching on TV. But still…

*Speaking of the Open. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a more poised 22-year-old than Naomi Osaka. After coming back from a set down to beat Victoria Azarenka in the finals Saturday, Osaka refused to bite as the announcer practically begged her to say something inflammatory regarding racial justice. Leading her down his desired road by referencing the social justice masks she’d rotated throughout the tournament, the classless MC asked Osaka what the masks made her think about. Osaka didn’t blink, instead redirecting and asking the oaf what it made him think about. And wasn’t that the point? Perfect and perfect. I’m a fan.

*Why did the Rams choose to sully the unveiling of what appears to be an awesome new stadium by rolling out the worst uniforms in the NFL? Redesigning their iconic helmet is a travesty, but then to compound that error with such plain and unimaginative jerseys? We just don’t get it?

*Gotta admit I loved Tom Brady on the keeper to punch in a TD on his first possession leading the Tampa Bay offense. However, I really loved the pick-six he tossed that helped bury the Bucs. And coach Bruce Arians laying him out for poor decision-making in the postgame presser? Nice.

*Can’t the Mets just forfeit the rest of their games? The pain is becoming too much to bear. The idea that we will miss the expanded playoffs and end up watching the Marlins play on is just so… so… well… so Mets.

*With the exception of the little matter of picking the Jazz to go all the way in our SportsAttic NBA Preview piece, we’ve really delivered the goods this postseason. If SportsAttic Nation can allow for a little revisionist history — say, sub in Denver Nuggets for Utah Jazz, as an example? — we’d be looking like goddamn Nostradamus right about now. Will the Clippers take the second half off for the third elimination game in a row tomorrow night, paving the way for a Denver title? I can’t imagine they will, but then again, I had the Nuggets dead in the water two weeks ago. That’s why they play the games!

*Has a team ever come up smaller than the Rockets did in their series against the Lakers? Who can blame poor Mike D’Antoni for taking his ball and calling it a career? How many more times will we be suckered by James Harden into thinking one of his teams has a chance to do some damage before affixing the “L” on his forehead and moving on? Name one time he’s come up big in a tight postseason spot. I’m waiting…

*Remind me never to pick the Vikings to win anything ever again. Is Kirk Cousins really that horrible a leader? Sure starting to feel that way, isn’t it? The difference between Cousins and Aaron Rodgers was so stark yesterday, it’s scary. If the two teams had switched QB’s at halftime, the Vikings would have come back and won big. No doubt about it.

*Still not used to the initials “LV” in front of the name “Raiders” (then again, they were in LA for 13 years and I never got used to that either). AtticBride asked me what will happen to all those diehard, demented Raiders fans in NorCal now that their team plays in Vegas. “Just travel, baby. Just travel.” I would recommend that law-abiding humans avoid the Vegas strip at all cost during Raiders’ home weekends once fans are allowed back in attendance. This will truly test the slogan “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.”

*Is Odell Beckham, Jr. still on the Browns? Who?

*I guess Joe Burrow just found out a little bit about being a Cincinnati Bengal. Ouch.

*Anyone else think the Astros are hearing footsteps? Seattle? Yeah, the M’s are the only team left that could still send the ‘Stros home with no postseason in the top-heavy American League. Go Mariners — send those trashcan banging, buzzer-boys home!

*At least the Jets will get to pick themselves up at home next weekend against another winless squad. Oh, it’s the Niners? Never mind.

*If we set a precedent and let the Mets forfeit their remaining games in 2020, can we immediately apply the same policy to the Jets? And then the Knicks? Pretty please?

*Too bad there won’t be fans at tonight’s MNF “early” game. A real shame that the Steelers will lose the advantage of playing in front of 60,000 screaming, Terrible Towel waving, fanatics. Oh, it’s a road game for the Steelers? Yeah, I know. After watching the Jets debacle yesterday, it’s hard to believe that the Giants may be the worst team playing home games at MetLife Stadium this year, isn’t it? Get those season tickets on StubHub quick, Big Blue fans.

*I see Pete Wheeler injured himself pulling on his pants the other day. Lesson to the Philadelphia Phillies organization and their fans — you can take the pitcher out of the Mets, but you can’t take the Mets out of the pitcher.

*Not only would the Miami Marlins be in the playoffs if the season ended today, but they would be the five-seed in the National League, preparing to play the San Diego Padres in the first round. Maybe Derek Jeter isn’t the Michael Jordan of MLB owners?

*So the Big 10 is thinking they can start playing games as early as October? Hmmm… Would that have anything to do with the fact that the rest of college football didn’t melt after the Big 10 decided to cancel their schedule? And it certainly has nothing to do with missing out on their share of the still sizable amounts of riches available for those programs who do compete in 2020? Nah, this is all about the kids, right? Right??

There you have it — the first edition of SportsAttic’s Monday Recap. See you in a week.

Twenty Thoughts Across the World of Sports

A jam-packed night for sports fans! Our viewing options include MLB, the NBA Playoffs, the NFL’s opening night, NHL semi-finals, and the women’s semis of the U.S. Open.

Heading into the prime time hours, another lame showing by the Houston Rockets is making passing on The Association an easy call. And let’s face it, the MLB goings on won’t get interesting until the playoffs begin (besides, the Mets have the night off). So that narrows down our crowded field of options. The choices narrow further if you refuse, as I do, to watch the NHL on television.

That leaves me burning a hole in the “previous channel” button as I toggle between Chiefs-Texans in Kansas City, and Naomi Osaka versus Jennifer Brady in Flushing.

To appropriately honor the fact that our sports viewing choices have finally expanded beyond just the NBA and major league baseball, SportsAttic has decided it’s time to take a broader look at the current goings on in our (mostly) fan-less sports universe.

Here is the SportsAttic Top Twenty of thoughts and reactions regarding the current state of of affairs in our beloved world of sports.

  1. Mike Tyson is getting back into the ring, folks. And, exhibition or no, I will be pulling for him to land at least one solid right during his bout this weekend against Roy Jones, Jr. It’s funny how rooting interests can change over time. I don’t recall ever pulling for Tyson back when he was “the baddest man on the planet,” but I’m firmly on the Tyson bandwagon for this one. Call it an old guy thing. Knock Jones and his washed up ass out, Iron Mike — and score one for the over-50 set!
  2. Even when I followed hockey, I never rooted for the New York Islanders. But for some reason I find myself following their progress during this year’s NHL Playoffs. I’m a Lou Lamoriello fan from his days guiding the Devils, so I like that, plus I root for the Isles coach who got the shaft down in D.C. after only delivering their first-ever Stanley Cup to Caps fans. And then there’s the whole Long Island thing, and how Brooklyn is trying to steal away their civic pride and joy. If the Isles can come back from two down in the semis and advance, I may even tune in to a hockey game for the first time in about a decade.
  3. Why haven’t I heard of Jennifer Brady? She’s about to go down in three sets to Naomi Osaka in the semis of The Open, but taking Osaka to three tough sets makes this a statement match for the former UCLA star. Her serve comes in regularly over 110 MPH (and seem faster), and her forehand reminds me of Ivan Lendl back in the day. Another American woman to watch as we decide who will succeed Serena as the next great women’s champ.
  4. Patrick Mahomes (whose Dad was a Met for awhile, don’t forget) and Deshaun Watson are both newly minted $40 million dollar men (okay, Watson’s technically at $39MM, but let’s not quibble). It feels absurd even to type such a preposterous figure, but it always feels that way when a new compensation barrier gets blown through in a sport. Given the revenue and merchandising associated with these two young QB’s, in a couple of years we will look at these deals as wise investments by the Chiefs and Texans. I just hope they stay healthy. Amazing athletes and both a hell of a lot of fun to watch.
  5. I’ve heard more people defending Novak Djokovic than condemning him since he got DQ’d from this year’s U.S. Open. One of the worst arguments in his defense has got to be the one stating that he didn’t hit the ball that struck the line judge that hard. Really? If you’ve ever taken a surprise shot to the Adam’s Apple, you know that woman wasn’t overreacting. And if you’ve ever played against a hothead who likes to randomly swat balls in anger, you know it’s unnerving. The rule exists for a reason, and Djokovic has been a dick throughout the entire pandemic anyway. Good riddance, if you ask me.
  6. How awesome would it be if the Orioles eke out the final AL playoff spot right from under the Yankees nose?
  7. And even better, how about if the Orioles and the Tigers take the seven and eight seeds, and the Yanks and Astros both get sent home before the expanded playoffs even begin?
  8. And for the real MLB trifecta? You know it…here come the Mets! We wrap the regular season with a little run earning the final chair at the NL playoff table. Then the real games begin. Yes, we’ll sign up for that right now.
  9. It wasn’t enough that I had to eat crow and give Carmelo Anthony credit for swallowing his ego and fitting into the Blazers system while helping them make the playoffs? Now I’ve got to tip the cap to Chris Paul, too? What he did in OKC this year, and especially in the bubble, was nothing short of Herculean. I guess he’s not done after all.
  10. Speaking of OKC, what in the world had to happen for Billy Donovan and the Thunder to part ways? I was hoping we’d see Mo Cheeks take over in Philly, but can the Sixers really pass on Donovan?
  11. The Braves scored 29 runs the other night against the Marlins. Yes, they won. Amazing that isn’t even the most scored by one team this century. The Texas Rangers put a 30-spot on the Orioles back in ’07.
  12. When did Notre Dame join the ACC? C’mon guys, how are we supposed to take the college football season and Top 25 rankings seriously when we are missing power conferences?
  13. The New York Post previewed the Jets and Giants today and had both projected to finish at 7-9. Really? REALLY?? I think it is more likely they combine for seven wins. Taking all the action I can get that come the end of the season the combined win total for New York football (not counting the Bills) is closer to my call than The Post’s.
  14. Anyone else worried about Willie Mays? Bad things tend to happen in threes, and its been tough enough losing Tom Seaver and Lou Brock in one week. Stay out of all that smoke in the Bay Area, Say Hey Kid, we need ya!
  15. Great to see the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum getting some well deserved props during MLB’s Jackie Robinson celebrations. If you are ever in Kansas City, it is worth the investment of a few hours. And if NLBM President Bob Kendrick is in the house, chat him up on some of the baseball history associated with the fascinating and poignant exhibits — you will leave a better person.
  16. I’m beginning to worry that Aaron Judge may be this generation’s Pete Reiser (look him up, kids). That would be a real shame, even for us Yankees-haters.
  17. I like NBA superstars picking their own coach even less than I do them banding together to form super teams. That being said, I think Steve Nash will end up being an excellent choice in Brooklyn. And keeping the well-respected Jacques Vaughn as Nash’s lead assistant was the most significant takeaway from the entire press release.
  18. Who won the Kentucky Derby? They ran it, right? Worried I may have the exact same, hollow reaction when the Masters wraps up mid-November. Yikes…
  19. In case you wondered about how prescient SportsAttic prognostications can be — take a cautionary look at what happened to the Utah Jazz just minutes after we anointed them the likely NBA champs. They’d looked invincible after taking their commanding 3-1 series lead against the Nuggets, but we sure took care of that. With Sports Illustrated headed for the glue factory any day now, there may be a new sheriff suiting up in the sports jinx world.
  20. I’m getting a Cleveland Browns-preseason-2019 kind of vibe from the 2020 Buccaneers. Yeah, I know they have the GOAT and his jackass tight end, too. And there were already some pieces in place down in Tampa. And yeah, I like the Fournette signing, and they’ve got a pretty good coach. But still, they are the Bucs. Sign me up for 9-7 and a near-miss on a playoff bid.

There you have it — and now we can return to rooting on Serena Williams in her quest to finally tie Margaret Court’s record for most career Grand Slams. Serena is a wonder, and it would be great to have that kind of positive sports news to celebrate.

A Williams-Osaka U.S. Open final will be must-watch television.

(SportsAttic Note: See #19 above — as we prepare to hit the “publish” button I am stunned to see Serena has bowed out in three sets to Victoria Azarenka. You hearing our footsteps, Sports Illustrated?)