NFL Week 2 Musings — Phil or Boomer, The Teddy Bridgewater Era and How ‘Bout Them…

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Even with a few games still going on I’ve seen enough of the NFL’s Week 2 offerings to authoritatively make some bold declarations.

But before I get to that, who else is worn out by these crowded pre-game studio shows? I was glad to see ESPN’s announcement this week that Chris “Boomer” Berman and Tommy Jackson are bringing back  their gold-standard NFL Primetime (even if I will decline to pay the fee to something called ESPN-Plus to watch it), but this good news also got me to thinking (always a dangerous thing).

First of all, it seems to me that there’s really only room for one Boomer when it comes to pregame and postgame NFL shows. And amidst this rogue’s gallery of NFL talking heads, we already have Boomer Esiason on CBS’ pre-game yuck-it-up-fest.

To further complicate matters, CBS’ NFL Today show also includes a second blond, former-New York quarterback in Phil Simms. This was good fun back in the ’90’s, when both QB’s were leading the Giants and Jets on the field every Sunday and regular guests on the Monday talk radio broadcasts. Today it really just adds redundancy to the chaotic noise and saturation of information we all are forced to wade through in attempting to gear up for our Sunday NFL schedule.

Now the easy solution would be to simply jettison Esiason. After all, Simms is the blond, former-QB with the Super Bowl MVP pedigree and the superior insights, and now with ESPN’s Boomer about to make his triumphant return, you could argue that we are well covered in the Boomer-department. But that would be taking the easy way out.

So what if CBS, in a nod to the old, wildly popular, Superstars Competitions of the 1970’s, were to stage a mano-a-mano, survival of the fittest kind of battle between the two retired stars? I’m envisioning ten minutes or so of each Sunday’s pre-game telecast dedicated to a series of skills competitions. You know, week one could be a race — let’s say a 100-yard dash. Imagine the huffing and puffing as Phil and Boomer waddled the distance! Then the following week they arm wrestle. Or maybe attack an obstacle course?

Week three could be hoops-themed — a three-point shooting competition, or a game of horse, or maybe some make-it-take-it, one-on-one game to 11? To add to the fun, CBS could set it up so that the viewers vote for what the following week’s competition would be by texting the network (or better yet, via the CBS NFL Today app — they must have one, no?), selecting between, for example, ping pong, Home Run Derby or Rock ’em, Sock ’em Robots on Week Four’s show.

Their fellow broadcasters would select who they believe would win that week’s contest (heck, even Bill Cowher might be able to show a little personality under this format), much as they do with that afternoon’s games, and ultimately the overall winner would be invited back for the 2020 NFL season, with the loser banished forever.

I, for one, would absolutely tune in every week. Give it some thought, CBS. Just sayin’…

Other takeaways, game by game, from Week 2:

*I know “that’s why they play the games,” but can anyone of sound mind and body really envision the Jets staying competitive with the Browns tomorrow night? How is this line only 6.5, even if the Jets are at home? If the line was Cleveland by 35, I’d still be hard pressed to go with the Jets. Get well soon, Sam Darnold.

*I’m looking forward to the battle of the birds tonight. No longer under the haze of a Super Bowl hangover this season, the Eagles appear to me to be legitimate championship contenders. I’d like to think the Falcons are better than what we saw last week, and they still have some of the talent that got them within a hair of their own Super Bowl victory only a couple of years ago, but we’ll know more about that after tonight. Eagles giving a point on the road seems like a sucker bet, but I’m taking it. Eagles by a field goal.

*Well, the Bills are undefeated (I’m amazed my Mac didn’t try to auto-correct that sentence). How psyched were they up in Buffalo when the schedules came out and they saw both New York football teams lined up for them in weeks 1 and 2? The only team to actually play their home games in the state of New York now has Big Apple bragging rights. Hope that helps when the Bills go on to lose 11 of their next 14. And just as an aside, am I the only fan that gets the feeling that Saquon Barkley could line up at any position for the Giants — offense, defense or special teams — and be better than whoever is currently in that role for Big Blue? Yes, even kicker.

*I found myself highly entertained by this week’s Thursday night game. Yup, a sign of early season enthusiasm, for sure, but Christian McCaffrey is a lot of fun to watch. I think I’d actually be able to root for the Panthers if Cam Newton didn’t insist on wearing those ludicrous outfits to the postgame pressers. And nice to see Todd Bowles on the Bucs sideline working with Bruce Arians again, even if the former Jets coach does look like he spent his offseason stress-eating while breaking down film.

*The 49ers are also unbeaten, so I guess those tech-rich bandwagon riders will start to bid up the ticket prices in Silicon Valley again. Are the Niners better than last year? Sure they are. Are they the class of the NFC West? Not so fast, it was only the Bengals. Speaking of Cincy, could Andy Dalton win big on a better team? No, I don’t think so either.

*The two games offered on network television this morning in Southern California were Cowboys-Redskins on Fox and Chargers-Lions on CBS. I started with the Dallas game, as I still can’t help getting into the hype when I see the two NFC East titans facing off. Turns out Chargers-Lions was the much better game. However, that doesn’t mean lots couldn’t be learned from both contests:

-The Washington Football Club is truly bad. Again. Couldn’t happen to a more despicable owner. Hi there, Dan Snyder.

-The Cowboys may be really, really strong, but we won’t know for sure until they play a real team. The Dolphins come to Big D next week. Guess we keep waiting.

-Philip Rivers seems to have adopted a shot-put kind of throwing motion. Uh oh.

-The Lions are once again terrible, but are also unbeaten tonight courtesy of the Chargers’ lack of a kicking game.

*Do the Packers have a defense this year? Sure looks like it. Or maybe Kirk Cousins just sucks. Starting to feel that way, right?

*The AFC South is setting up as a rugby scrum once again this year. That being said, I’ll be rooting for Jacoby Brissett and Indy every week. And I’m really glad Adam Vinatieri’s sudden deterioration didn’t cost the Colts the game. Afraid the legendary kicker’s end is near, though. And the Titans? I guess they forgot they had to play another game this week while they were so busy admonishing us all for overlooking them after the Cleveland blowout last Sunday.

*The Patriots only won 43-0 in Miami this week? Imagine how close it would have been if they hadn’t signed Antonio Brown…is it too early to start up the whole “could the Dolphins beat Clemson” dialogue?

*The Seahawks are another team that’s sitting undefeated, yet we don’t have a clue as to whether they are any good. Yes, they went into Pittsburgh and won a close one. Most years that would be a terrific barometer. Most years. Anybody else feeling double-digit losses steamrolling toward western PA?

*The Ravens? With wins over the Dolphins and now the Cardinals, this undefeated record has a definite Buffalo Bills feel to it. Wake up call heading their way when they head to K.C. next Sunday. And the Cards? Arizona fans should be thanking their lucky stars for last week’s gift-wrapped tie courtesy of the hapless Lions. Maybe the only thing that saves them from 0-16.

*Houston needed help from the officials to avoid falling to 0-2 at home against the Jags. The Texans remain my pick to come out of the NFC South, but man that was close. I love J’ville going for the win at the end, and I wish Leonard Fournette could have punched it in. Guessing that rookie sixth-rounder with the bad porn-stache will lose some of his popularity down south as these losses keep piling up. I can’t imagine what shade of red Tom Coughlin’s face morphed to when that two-pointer came up short.

*We were ready to declare today’s Bears-Broncos matchup as the most snooze-worthy of the weekend. Then they played the final minute of the game and everything changed. Bears kicker plays the hero? Really? Good for him, but Mitch Trubisky, Bears fans? Bring back Bob Avellini, quick. And on the topic of QB’s, did Joe Flacco really win a Super Bowl once? He did? Huh…

*I was super excited when the Raiders jumped out 10-0 on the Chiefs in Oakland this afternoon. Too bad there’s no “four-corners” stall for the NFL. Still, progress and hope for the Silver and Black is good for the NFL. However, I can’t help wondering if Pat Mahomes’ joining Aaron Rodgers on that State Farm commercial somehow diminishes his superpowers.

*Sure, injuries are part of the game, but what a letdown for those of us looking forward to a competitive Rams-Saints game this afternoon. When New Orleans signed Teddy Bridgewater as their backup QB last year I thought it was a brilliant move. Not feeling so brilliant right about now. Maybe the Rams are really good again?

Still so many questions to get answered. Week 3 can’t get here soon enough.

Is Good Health the Only Thing That Can Derail the 2019 Yankees?

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Yup, it’s come to this.

Us Yankees-haters are running out of hope as the calendar turns to September. In April and May there was so much for us to be optimistic about. The injuries were coming fast and furious up in the Bronx, plus they still had Aaron Boone at the helm. Surely such a combination would blow up any chance of a 28th title for the Bombers in 2019.

After all, when we’d last seen Boone, he was mismanaging his pitching staff as though he anticipated receiving a Red Sox World Series share, and with one high-priced Yankees star after another taking their turn on the IL this spring, surely Boone would be exposed by the Yanks lack of organizational depth, not to mention their suspect starting pitching.

Not so fast.

We have to give credit where it’s due here, folks. And Boone, in his second year as Yankees skipper, has proven himself to be far more than just a media-savvy (read, self promoting big mouth, who loves seeing himself on camera), players-manager.

In fact, at the risk of throwing too many compliments his way, Boone has shown an impressive ability to balance the competing demands of being the face of his iconic franchise to the ravenous New York media, with rallying his banged up troops around the “next man up” mentality, never allowing excuses to creep into the clubhouse dialogue, even after losing damn near his entire projected Opening Day lineup at one time or another.

I believe I speak on behalf of many a Mets and Red Sox fan, when I say that having to cope with Luke Voigt morphing from an afterthought on a deadline deal no one even noticed last summer, to Johnny Freaking Mize by October was hard enough, but for an encore, we now have to watch this new, bargain basement Murder’s Row emerge. One made up of names like Mike Tauchman, Gio Urshela and the inimitable Mike Ford. Yup, sit down Core Four, and step aside Ruth/Gehrig/Lazzeri — the “MGM Grand” is here (thank God John Sterling hasn’t thought of that one yet). It feels like a bunch of quadruple-A spare parts are now leading the Yankees to what appears to be about 108 regular season wins and home field throughout October. Oy vey…

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Let’s face it fellow Yankees-haters, those vaunted pinstripes have the potential to breathe life into even the most mundane of marginal major leaguers. Gio Urshela? Put him in a Mets uniform tomorrow and he’s Luis Guillorme. Mike Tauchman? He’s a Juan Lagares knock off. Ford? He’s 2018 Dom Smith. But put these guys in pinstripes in 2019, and they rake; they hit walkoffs; they work deep counts; and they provide all the intangibles championship clubs have to have. In other words, they piss all of us Mets fans the hell off.

And I believe that underdog, “next man up” spirit is one of the reasons Yankee fans are so ecstatic about this year’s crew. This team is bludgeoning the rest of the American League, and doing so with little help from stars like Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Voit and Didi Gregorius. And it’s not just the no-names getting it done. Arguably their MVP through August has been D.J. LeMahieu, who signed this spring to be a utility infielder, while perhaps the best shortstop in baseball today, Gleyber Torres, is their starting second baseman.

Don’t even get me started on the fact that all this pinstriped magic is occurring  without either their ace, or their perennial All Star setup man, throwing so much as an inning this year. GM Brian Cashman strikes out on finding a starter at the trade deadline? No problem, because in case you hadn’t noticed, Domingo German (Domingo German?) is leading the league in wins. And Masahiro Tanaka, J.A. Happ and James Paxton have all shown signs of getting their acts together just as the summer doldrums give way to fall baseball. Give me an effin’ break already, would ya?

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What’s a Yankee-hater to do?

Well, how about we root for a return to full health up in the Bronx? We’ve all heard the old expression “that’s a good problem to have.” Well, the only chance us haters may have is if we saddle Boonie with a roster full of problems in the form of too many talented riches to sort through, as he begins to turn his attention to potential October lineups.

And that means we begin with Giancarlo Stanton.

Let’s go, baseball gods, get Stanton back on the field, pronto! And while you’re at it, throw Aaron Hicks back out there, too. And let’s keep Voit and Brett Gardner healthy, and…

You get the idea. We need Aaron Boone to make some bad choices that rob the Yanks of their underdog mojo just as the level of competition moves up a weight class during the month of October.

Because if Stanton and Hicks are in there, then Tauchman isn’t. And probably not Gardner, either, because Judge isn’t budging from his place in right field. Yup, I know, we are arguing for a team on pace to lead the AL in wins to add a former MVP to the mix, along with their leadoff man from a year ago. And hoping that by doing so, thus removing the legendary Mike Tauchman from the Yanks lineup, disaster may strike.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and the only sliver of hope out there for a pinstripe collapse seems to be a couple of drops of poison falling into this steaming cauldron of positive team chemistry that Boone has concocted over the season’s first five months. A healthy return from Stanton and Hicks could prove to be that poison.

Here’s hoping Stanton’s rust is exposed as he rushes himself back into the lineup. The big guy’s as human as anyone, and it’s got to eat at him that he’s missing out on the feel-good party going on up in the Bronx, especially since he was treated so shabbily by the fans last fall when the Yanks bowed out to Boston.

So Stanton rushes back, over-swinging at a steady diet of breaking balls in an effort to justify his value and secure his spot in the postseason batting order at the expense of one of the heroic nobodies that have captured the affection of the fans. Those very guys that have provided clutch hit after clutch hit, moved along runners, hit the cutoff man, and demonstrated what winning baseball looks like. Yeah, those glue guys will be the ones sitting while Stanton starts out 2 for 37 trying to get his timing back. And then we sit back and we wait. Wait for those impatient Bronx boo-birds to begin to let their opinions be heard.

Meanwhile, returning Hicks to center puts fan fave and elder statesman Gardie (and his tiresome dugout ceiling rat-a-tat-tat routine) in mothballs at the end of the Yankees bench. You think Hicks may be feeling a little heat from that big contract he signed only minutes before wrenching his back during spring training?

If Hicks becomes an easy out at the top of the order and Stanton a K-machine in the middle, the heavy lifting (and accompanying pressure) will fall to Judge and Sanchez, who have been only so-so contributors to this 2019 juggernaut, at least in comparison to their career bests, not to mention fan expectations. That could spell even more K’s in the middle of the Bombers’ order, with the Indians or A’s heading to town for the beginning of the ALDS.

(Okay, I’m starting to get excited now.)

Then the onus is back on Boonie’s shoulders to sort it all out. Will he have the courage to sit the big paycheck guys if their performance lags, and go with the no-names that have seized the imagination of Yankees fans with their team-first play this year? And figuring out who plays will only be part of Boone’s October dilemma. He’s still going to need to up his game in the strategic decision department, when he no longer has the luxury of fattening up against the Orioles, Blue Jays, Tigers and Royals once the postseason commences.

Do Yankees fans really trust Boone’s in-game management prowess to make the right moves when every at-bat matters against the Indians/A’s and then the Astros?

Yes, fellow haters,  we need to embrace this contrarian approach and root for a complete return to health by the Yankees roster. Everyone off the IL. A desperate strategy without question, but right now this Bronx Bombers train appears Canyon of Heroes bound, so no stone can be left unturned.

We must band together in the hope that Boone’s penchant for over-managing, coupled with a short-sighted choice of “big name” over “character guy” will come back to haunt him. Because if not, momentum seems to be building for title number 28, and with the overall youth of this club, 2019 could be the beginning of a Yankees run much like the one that tortured me the entire decade of my 30’s — those dark years between 1995 and 2004.

C’mon Boonie — get your boys back and then blow this all sky high for the rest of us. We are counting on you!

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Yes, I’m Ready For Some Football and Other NFL Musings

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Yes, I’m ready.

I found myself watching the Florida-Miami game last week, rooting for the Canes for no particular reason other than I think they were the underdog, when it occurred to me —

I’m ready for some football.

But I want the pros. Nothing against college football, but I’ve always enjoyed the pro game more. And the fact that I was watching an August college matchup between two teams I’m not particularly fond of tells me we are on the brink. Enough of these farcical exhibition games NFL, bring on the real stuff!

So here’s a quick Top 10 appetizer as SportsAttic takes a zip around the NFL as the season’s first set of games descends upon us:

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  1. Yup, it’s gotta start with a quick acknowledgment of Andrew Luck’s decision to call it a career. In this day of social media and “fake news,” the rumor mill and conspiracy theorists were bound to turn Luck’s retirement announcement into more than it needed to be. Can’t we just applaud Luck’s maturity and guts? There can never be “good” timing for such an announcement, so stop with the whining all you haters. Vontae Davis did the same thing at halftime of a game in progress last year, and was vilified for his decision. Barry Sanders? Jim Brown? If you were a Lions or Browns fan, you were understandably crushed when your star walked away earlier than you were ready for to happen. But this is clearly the player’s decision to make. Give Luck a break for gosh sakes, and wish him well. Andrew Luck is somebody’s kid, and preserving a young man’s long-term well being should be something we can all relate to. Colts fans booing? Both understandable and inexcusable. Move on Indy, and here’s hoping Jacoby Brissett has a big year and the Colts make the playoffs.

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2. I’m seeing 10 wins (including one over the Patriots) and a playoff berth for the 2019 New York Jets. But here’s saying that the most important change to the Airplanes this year won’t prove to be adding Le’Veon Bell, or the year-two maturation and improvement of Sam Darnold, but rather the signing of veteran center Ryan Kalil off the retired list. This guy will make the entire offense better and is worth at least two wins just by showing up.

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3. Could I ever be more of sick of a player than I am of Antonio Brown right now? There’s been a lot of horse’s asses we’ve seen pass through the NFL over the years, but this guy is an all-time, Mount Rushmore-worthy malcontent. I also must admit it makes me happy to know Jon Gruden will have to deal with this creep all season while planning his money-driven exodus from Oakland to Vegas next year.

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4. Who’s our biggest short for the 2019 NFL season? Look no further than last year’s Super Bowl runner ups. Sean McVay may not look like quite the genius he was a year ago when the dust settles on this year’s Los Angeles Rams. I’m seeing 9-7, regression on both sides of the ball, and a second place finish.

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5. Can Patrick Mahomes actually improve on his superhuman performance of a year ago? And if he does, can Andy Reid still find a way to have his Chiefs come up small in the playoffs? Yes. And yes.

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6. Is it mean spirited to hope that both Jerry Jones and Ezekiel Elliott end up losing big in their ridiculous contract stalemate? Here’s hoping the holdout lasts until a few games in, when Jones is forced to cave while looking at a 1-4 Cowboys start. He then overpays the petulant running back to return and save the Cowboys’ season, only to see Elliott tear a hamstring his first game back. Hey, a boy can dream, can’t he?

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7. Somehow I anticipate quite a different negotiation process to take place when it comes time for the Giants to pay Saquon Barkley. In the meantime, we’ll be forced to dream about what this beast will one day accomplish once he’s finally rewarded with a good offensive line to open holes for him.

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8. Can anyone hazard a guess as to what Jimmy Garoppolo shows us this year in San Francisco? Can he be as good as what we saw before the injury in 2017? Or as bad as what we’ve seen during the preseason this year? Yeah, somewhere in between lies the answer, but that is a vast divide.

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9. I sure hope the Falcons make the playoffs this year, or at least continue to take a patient approach in allowing Dan Quinn to hold onto his job as head coach down in Atlanta. The work Quinn does with veterans groups is an example for all, and the type of individual the NFL needs more of.

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10. Yeah, the Browns are going to be scary good, and fun to watch for a long time, aren’t they?

Fire it up, NFL — I’m ready.

 

 

NBA Hierarchy — The Super Teams and The Teams That Picked the Wrong Year to Be Really Good

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SportsAttic is going to save you NBA fans some time today.

There’s an old saying that all you ever need to watch in a basketball game is the final two minutes. While I don’t necessarily subscribe to that theory, when we look ahead to the 2019-20 NBA season, you really won’t need to begin watching until the month of April at the earliest.

The day of tanking for draft picks is colliding with the era of the Super Team, and the big loser is the average NBA fan who enjoys some suspense served over the course of his or her regular season. We’ve got over two months before the first tipoff that matters in the new NBA season, and we can write down with confidence seven of the eight likely Western Conference playoff teams right now.

The Eastern Conference will be more wide open in terms of playoff entrants (my gosh, even the Knicks could sniff a seven or eight seed), but we already know who the four squads most likely to advance to Round 2 are, so let’s just fast forward to April already.

Thus, as a mid-August gift to our loyal NBA-fan followers, we are giving you some time back. Enjoy the pennant races and conclusion of baseball season, and take that leisurely stroll from the diamond right onto the gridiron. Wallow in your Saturdays and Sundays, toggling back and forth between college and the pros all the way through bowl season, the NFL playoffs and this year’s Super Bowl (set for February 2 in Miami, in case you want to mark your calendars and begin planning travel).

You may continue to take your time from there, as pitchers and catchers report for Spring Training and March Madness heats up, because there will be little of interest to pay attention to in the NBA.

Oh sure, you’ll get the made-for-TV Christmas slate to flip to when the third rerun of Christmas Story begins to get monotonous (“Daddy’s gonna kill Ralphie!”), and there will be some intrigue for sure around how the ball sharing is going down in Houston, and over who has the edge in the Battle of the Staples Center, but this regular season figures to be nothing but a formality.

There are eleven NBA teams that will matter this year (twelve if you want to add in Dallas, with Luka and Kristaps hopefully teaming up for a European-themed ride to the west’s eight seed), and basically everybody else will be jockeying for draft positions from October through April.

So with that in mind, we’ll now leap forward to who will be worth paying attention to sometime after MLB’s Opening Day next April, with odds affixed to their chances to take home the NBA title when the dust settles in June.

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THE SUPER TEAMS

  1. Los Angeles Lakers: As much as it pains me to say it, I’m afraid a rested-for-the-first-time-in-a-decade LeBron, plus a walk-year Anthony Davis adds up to too much talent for the rest of the league to derail. Full stop. Despite protestations about how impossible it would be to add useful supporting pieces around their two stars, the Lakers dysfunctional front office pulled it off, and Kyle Kuzma (they didn’t move him for a reason, folks), Rajon Rondo, and maybe still an Andre Iguodala waiting in the wings, will be enough for the two superstars with something to prove to ride to another Lakers banner. Odds: 1-2
  2. Los Angeles Clippers: They are really pick 1-A here. Can Kawhi Leonard possibly pick up where he left off last June? His postseason efforts bringing Toronto its first title were nothing short of heroic, earning him MJ comparisons (the most rarefied of NBA air, and gasp, may I add that such comparisons were justified???), and anointing him the title of Best Player In The League Right Now. Well, Kawhi joins a Clippers team with at least as good a coach in Doc Rivers as the one he leaves behind in Toronto, and a supporting cast that put a scare into the Warriors last spring and takes the floor with a defense-first focus every night. And to that they add Paul George? Hmmm. And why aren’t they the pick over their co-tenant Lakers? Well, the problem is George. He just committed to forming a Super Team in Oklahoma, didn’t he? And then he skips town after the Thunder came up small last spring? Yeah, we can blame Russ and his ball dominant ways all we want, but is George a winner? Will it matter since he’s now paired with Kawhi? We’re going to find out, and ultimately that tale will be told in the Western Conference Finals, when the ultimate battle for Los Angeles basketball supremacy (and de facto NBA title) is waged. Odds: 3-2
  3. Houston Rockets: Poor Mike D’Antoni. He thought last year was going to be his year, and then got the soul-crushing Carmelo Anthony Whammy dumped upon him. Even though he cleaned out that stink in short order, the pall was cast, and ultimately cemented when Chris Paul demonstrated, yet again, why he’ll one day retire with zero rings and the disdain of an entire league as his going away present. So what do the Rockets do? They mortgage the future again and create another Super Team, this time teaming up James Harden with Russell Westbrook. Again, hmmm. Didn’t these two guys make a run at a ring once before? And didn’t that run also include a young Kevin Durant? Okay, we can argue that both Russ and James have evolved into alpha dog superstars since their youthful OKC days, but there’s still only going to be one basketball in play. Look for lots of regular season wins and incredible SportsCenter highlights and statistical references. But then expect a tough first-round playoff matchup versus a squad in our next grouping that shakes Houston’s confidence, followed by a second consecutive round two exit. Odds: 6-1

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GREAT TEAMS THAT PICKED THE WRONG YEAR TO BE REALLY GOOD

4. Philadelphia 76ers: I thought about making the Sixers the fourth Super Team in this listing, but they simply aren’t there yet (and maybe never will be). Tons of talent for sure, but something still smells bad to us here, despite the fact that without a last second, miracle heave from Kawhi Leonard, this team could very well be our league champions today. Yeah, the Embiid/Simmons pairing is young, immature and needs to show us all the championship mettle that was so lacking a year ago. Adding Al Horford was a terrific step in the character direction (and taking the rival Celts down a peg was an added bonus to the Horford signing), but you can’t tell me Josh Richardson is an uptick over Jimmy Butler, and losing J.J. Redick’s leadership and three-point marksmanship will be a tough hole to fill. The fact that no Super Teams live in the Eastern Conference leaves a gaping path to the conference finals for Philly, and with that the opportunity to lose in five to the survivor of the Battle for Los Angeles come June. Odds: 5-1

5. Milwaukee Bucks: The lack of Super Teams in the east is a plus for the Bucks, too, but last year was their moment. And when given the chance to step on the neck of the Raptors and seize the east, Giannis and Milwaukee instead pulled their punch and now see their window closing. Bringing back Khris Middleton was the right move, and they are still a tough contender with a respected coach in Mike Budenholzer, Eric Gordon lighting it up in anonymity from the backcourt, as well as some decent depth, but this team isn’t going to win it all. And probably won’t even emerge from the east. Odds: 10-1

6. Golden State Warriors: How excited are the Dubs to play a season with no title expectations?  I’m guessing pretty damn excited. They’ll still roll out Steph, Draymond and Klay (at some point after the All Star break), and by the time the playoffs roll around, this will be the club the Super Teams don’t want to face. Adding Willie Cauley-Stein at center will prove to be much more important than the D’Angelo Russell acquisition, and in a league with no Super Teams, they could actually be a dark horse to ride Steve Kerr’s ball movement system to an unexpected title. But alas, this is just not that year. They’ll still be more fun to watch in a different, team-basketball kind of way then the KD Super Team Warriors of the past few years, as they christen their new, sold out downtown arena, but it is the wrong year for a sixth consecutive title run to come together in the Bay Area. Odds: 15-1

7. Boston Celtics: We are about to find out just how good a coach Brad Stephens is this year in Boston. And we’ll also get to answer the question of whether Kyrie Irving was truly the problem that derailed the 2018-19 Celtics from what had appeared last summer to be a pre-ordained date with the Dubs in the 2019 Finals. Picking up Kemba Walker was a meh/yawn/whatever signing, but one that had to happen in light of the departures of Kyrie and Terry Rozier, but it’s hard to see that making the Celtics much better than the 2018-19 model. Then pile on the surprise Horford departure, and even with Enes Kantor bringing some much needed toughness in the middle, it’s hard to imagine this club taking out the Bucks or Sixers and making it out of the east, despite their considerable depth and talent. Odds: 20-1

8. Portland Trailblazers: How hard must it be to run the Blazers organization? You’re already boxed in, knowing you have two wildly popular superstars that will never be able to get you over the top to a title, because both reside in your backcourt. You thought you had a center who could be the missing link to take you to the next level, but every time you start to feel a bit giddy over that plan coming together, the talented big man ends up in an awkward heap on your hardwood. So you trade for another center, however he’s grossly overpaid and has already proven incapable of elevating good but not great teams. So you head into the season knowing you have improved an already strong team, but that it really doesn’t matter. Because you’ll probably run into Golden State in the playoffs for what feels like the thousandth year in a row, and you will lose and maybe even get swept. Again. It’s enough to make you drown your sorrows at some cool Rose City vineyard while binging on a couple dozen Voodoo Donuts. Odds: 25-1

9. Denver Nuggets: Sorry Nuggets fans, but we are sensing a regression heading our way from this young, athletic squad in 2019-20. Denver thrived under the Western Conference radar and posted a tremendous regular season a year ago. However, they were exposed by Portland in the playoffs, and still have to be a bit shaken as they regroup for the new campaign with essentially the same club returning. Normally that would bode well for a young squad building title momentum, but with everyone else in the west seemingly improving, look for the Nuggets to be a playoff club that is quickly dismissed by one of the Big Three in round one out west. Odds: 30-1

10. Utah Jazz:  Same for you, Jazz fans. This is another Portland story in the making. Yeah, we all loved the Mike Conley pickup until the real stars started to play musical chairs. Donovan Mitchell isn’t a Level 1 superstar either, and though the supporting cast is strong, it’s no match for the rest of the loaded west. They’ll have to be satisfied with 45 wins, a seven seed, and maybe one win in the first round against the Lakers or Clippers before heading home for summer vacation. Odds: 50-1

11. Brooklyn Nets: To borrow from their Brooklyn Dodgers ancestry, “wait til next year.” This team was a feel-good story a year ago, riding a patient organizational plan and true team effort from solid, veteran role players to earn a playoff berth nobody expected. Now there’s expectations, and with KD on the shelf until 2020-21, those fans anticipating immediate contention are likely to be disappointed. Yup, there’s talent here, and if we are all wrong about Kyrie being a me-first, coach-killing, locker room poison, maybe they’ll climb to 50 wins and make a run at the east. But I just don’t see it. Look for improvement by a few games over 2018-19’s 42-win total, and then a first round, upset defeat at the hands of an inferior squad that plays a lot like last year’s Nets. Odds: 35-1

There you have it. In our present-day world of stress-provoking multi-tasking, with never enough hours in the day to even think about being present and woke, you now have been granted some time back to savor over the next eight months of your NBA Fan lives.

Use it wisely, and we’ll see you in April!

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Topps Time Machine — November, 1970 NFL — What’s in a Name, Anyway?

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Willie Richardson of the Colts was my first card. Well, maybe not the first card, but somehow I remember that he was part of that first tantalizing pack of Topps football cards I opened back in the fall of 1970.

And with that pack (I don’t remember the gum, but I’m guessing it broke in my mouth and a shard of the razor-sharp, pink rectangle cut the hell out of the inside of my cheek), a whole new world to explore opened up to five-year-old me.

I was hooked.

As an impulse buy, I recently went online and purchased the 263-card set from back in 1970, curious as to how many I’d remember, and what those distant memories might stir in me today. Roughly half of the set brought back vivid recollections of moments, people and discoveries long forgotten. I flashed back to the little kid who’d just moved with his family to Convent Station, New Jersey. A kid who couldn’t read yet, but could identify letters, numbers and colors, and who instantly became obsessed, first with the cool team names, and then the heroes who went to battle for them every Sunday.

Lions, Bengals and Bears covered the familiar and always entertaining animal kingdom. Eagles and Falcons (and yes, Jets) came at me by air. There were even Dolphins from the sea (although I hated Aquaman, easily my least favorite cartoon). Cowboys, Vikings and Giants brought a new dimension to the adventures I watched on television. I asked my parents what a Packer was. And a Steeler. And a Raider.

Looking back, it seems strange at first glance why I identify so closely with the 1970 series, when at that time statistics (a staple to most sports card fanatics) meant nothing to me, and my New York Jets fandom had yet to overcome the fact that I preferred the color blue to green. I collected cards every year that followed, but the 1970 shoebox far outnumbered what I added in ’71 or ’72. Why was that, I wonder?

Well, it had everything to do with my sister.

AtticSis was born on November 1st of 1970. And in what I’m sure started as a way to make sure that older bro didn’t feel ignored, or like so much of yesterday’s news, a pack or two of Topps would be thrown my way whenever my parents came into the house and made a beeline for the new arrival. The folks quickly recognized my newfound passion for the cardboard treasures, and in their desire for peace and quiet while getting my sister acclimated, they used the football cards as a sort of five-year-old boy catnip to keep me the heck out of the baby fray.

To give my mom some rest, a nice lady would come by the house a few days a week that November and December, helping out with my sister a couple of hours at a clip (time has erased her name from my memory, so let’s go with “Mabel” as a place holder). Sports karma being what it is, Mabel happened to like and understand football. She noticed my fascination with my football cards, and while AtticSis would sleep, Mabel would explain to me critically important concepts, such as how to organize my cards by teams, using the colors of the players’ jerseys and the identifying letters and colors that surrounded the team names at the bottom of the cards (I knew the alphabet and could count, but hadn’t yet mastered that first-grade construct of putting them all together into the words and stats that would occupy much of the next 50 years of my life).

Mabel supplied me with rubber bands to separate my cards by individual team, and would patiently read me the factoids on the back of the cards — cleverly set up by the evil geniuses at Topps to be revealed by rubbing off a light film with the side of a coin to show a cartoon of the player in question — as I fired away a constant stream of questions.

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Thus it was that after my cards arrived in the mail this week, and I began to flip through my new/old 1970 Topps set, that I immediately recognized Don Herrmann. Herrmann was an otherwise forgettable wide receiver on bad Giants teams of the early-’70’s. But he was unforgettable to me for how his cartoon doppleganger clicked his heels on the back of his football card as he hauled in a 62-yard TD back in 1969 (for years I tried in vain to mimic the Herrmann grab, both heels off the ground in a “clicking” motion while flailing at a spiraling TD pass from the sky).

Next there was the Colts’ Mike Curtis, a damn good linebacker on those Baltimore teams back in the day. I remembered Curtis not for the years of stellar play in the middle of the Colts defense, but for the cartoon hit he was putting on a skeleton, in his sketch on the back of his card (like many five-year-olds of the time, I was a sucker for skeletons).

But my most lasting, back-of-the-card cartoon impression was of the great Jim Marshall, who accomplished so much in his career as a dominant defensive end for the “Purple People Eater” Vikings defenses of the ’70’s. But as I looked at Marshall’s card, the only memory that mattered was his ill-fated, “wrong way” moment, when cartoon-Jim recovered that fumble and took it to the house — only to the wrong house, securing a safety for the other team.

It is plain scary what the memory records from decades ago, when I’m hard pressed to remember what I had for breakfast this morning.

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Of course those gloriously staged Topps pictures on the front of every card lodged deep into my early-in-its-development cerebral cortex back then also.

I look at Carroll Dale, a veteran wideout on those legendary Packers teams of the ’60’s, and today I see a handsome, 32-year-old athlete. But what I remember, is that for some reason I decided as a five-year-old that Carroll Dale was the ugliest human being I’d ever laid eyes on. I couldn’t bear to look at his card without immediately hiding it in my Packers pile, buried under Bart Starr and Gale Gillingham, not to be stared at too long, lest I turned to stone.

Jim Otto, the Hall of Fame Raiders center, locked into my head for different reasons. For one, he was the only player in my entire collection who wore double-zero, which five-year-old me simply didn’t get. What a horrible number choice! Plus, he wore this cool, pointy, horseshoe-looking thingamajig around his neck that, to this day, I’ve never gotten a satisfactory explanation as to the purpose it served.

And to show how our minds play tricks on us over time, I think back to taking my turn at QB in our front yard pickup games with the other kids on my street. Fading back to pass, I’d always extend my left (non-throwing) arm forward, hand clenched in a fist. Why? Because that’s how the Giants’ QB, Fran Tarkenton, did it on his football card. I’ve held onto that memory of the Tarkenton card as fact for damn near 50 years, until last night. When I pulled out the card and took a present-day look, I realized in horror that the scrambling signal-caller’s hand is not in an actual fist, but more of a curl. Huh, you don’t say…

Oh well. The fist still made me feel cool when I was looking downfield for Pete from across the street on a crossing pattern.

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Mostly, though, the NFL names of the day captured my imagination.

The fact that Gale Sayers played for the Bears and that rhymed, made me laugh out loud every time I said it. The Lions’ Lem Barney was a terrific cornerback, but all that mattered to me was that his last name happened to be the same as Fred Flintstone’s next door neighbor.

That Len Hauss spelled his name differently than the “house” I lived in didn’t matter either, because when Mabel read that one to me, spelling was a mere detail that wouldn’t matter for at least another year, and I found the Hauss/house coincidence delightful. Woody Peoples? Even at the age of five, I knew that “peoples” wasn’t a word. Hah!

I recall regaling the three kindergartners who had the misfortune of sharing our four-chair table with me in Mrs. Krimmel’s morning class at Normandy Park School, over how the Lions had a running back who’s name was “far.” Mel Farr to be exact, but it wasn’t close. Get it? That was a real knee-slapper back then.

But the two grandaddy’s of them all, when it came to a kindergartner’s doubled-over, gasp-for-air-hilarious, football player names, belonged to the Redskins’ Chris Hanburger, and Dick Butkus of the Bears. No explanation necessary.

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However, maybe my favorite discovery came the day Mabel explained to me that due to some mysterious confluence of events, the NFL currently boasted two Gene Washingtons! How could that be, I wondered? At this stage of my cognitive development, it didn’t compute that there could be people in the world who shared the exact same name. I could barely contain myself as I explained this phenomenon to my kindergarten seat mates the next morning, hoarsely whispering “and they both play wide receiver, too,” needing to get that last tidbit out despite the shushing coming from Mrs. Krimmel at the front of the room.

Yeah, it was a cool way to spend a Friday night as I sifted through the 263 pieces of cardboard that connected me to a time of innocence and wonder. A few hours spent revisiting how lasting memories form and latch onto us over time. Emerson Boozer, Spider Lockhart, Bubba Smith, Ben Davidson, and the rest. All of them in their prime, glory years, captured in colorful cardboard and planted in the impressionable mind of a soon-to-be NFL lifer.

And would you believe me if I told you there was even one card in that 1970 series of a young wide receiver who also happened to be the “World’s Fastest Human?” There he was, in his Cowboys home whites, smiling for the camera and proudly showing off that familiar, blue number 22. Talk about capturing the imagination of a kid who lived for this sort of thing!

Well, thanks to Topps 1970 football cards, we also know that the “World’s Fastest Human,” Bob Hayes of the Dallas Cowboys, was a partner in a printing firm.

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MLB — Ten Thoughts for the Dog Days of August

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The trade deadline was a bust, and with no August waivers/trade deadline to back it up, we are dancing with the ones that brung us from here on in.

I don’t understand the rationale behind the decision to clip the August trade deadline, but let’s applaud MLB for doing something. Yeah, something meaningless. How about doing something about the damn baseballs before every still-standing hitting record gets blown away, boys? But I digress…

There’s roughly a third of the MLB season remaining, and the Dog Days of August are in full bloom, so what better time to take a long look around both leagues and see what’s what? Here’s ten things to think about as we wait for the pennant and wild card races to sort themselves out after Labor Day:

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  1. The Angels, Rangers and Giants are pretenders. They are all hovering around .500, but this is as good as it will get for these three clubs. And it’s a shame, especially in the Angels case, as they are one of the more entertaining clubs to watch, with All-World Mike Trout heading for another MVP; Japanese marvel Shei Ohtani (he pitches, too?); an on-his-last-legs Albert Pujols; and the defensive wizardry of Andrelton Simmons. Who cares about pitching if you can watch these guys (but yeah, pitching’s why they are a pretender)? And wouldn’t it be fun to see MadBum take the bump in a wild card showdown against Max Scherzer and the Nats? Not only did the Giants front office prohibit Bumgarner from sniffing the playoffs with another club by holding pat at the trade deadline, they will suck the life out of arguably the best postseason pitcher of our time with another meaningless stretch run where the big lefty will put up meh stats in boring games before sparse crowds. Could have been so much better. And the Rangers? Plain and simple, they should have been sellers. New ballpark or no new ballpark, this team had no shot and should have gotten something for Mike Minor while they had the chance. Oh well.
  2. The Red Sox are done. Yes, I’m only slightly trying to buck the inevitable here with a little SportsAttic reverse psychology, and the more teams that pose a threat to the Bombers making the playoffs the better, as far as I’m concerned. But they are toast. For those of you familiar with the unpleasantness of a two-day hangover, how about Boston’s four-month monster still raging in their collective heads here in early-August? All that’s left to wonder at this point is which member of the Bosox pitching staff will punch Dennis Eckersley in the face between now and October (dibs on Chris Sale).
  3. The Phillies will miss the playoffs. Way to make it happen, Bryce Harper! Yeah, yeah, let’s hear about all the injuries. Problem is, every club gets their share of IL trips (has anyone been paying attention to the M*A*S*H unit inhabiting the Bronx this season?). And despite that, there’s enough talent in Philly to contend for the division against the overrated Braves, not slog around with the six other flawed contenders hoping for the one-game, play-in window. Back to the protein shake infomercials, Gabe Kapler.
  4. The Nationals will not just make the playoffs, but make a run in October. Whah?? It’s the Curse of Harper working its contrarian magic in our nation’s capital. All those loaded Washington teams that underperformed during Harper’s postseason tenure in D.C.? Forget about them. The superstar moves up I-95 to Philadelphia and what do the Nats do? Rally from that miserable start all the way to hosting a wild card game. They will win that one (one more time, I really wish Scherzer would face MadBum in that one), and even throw a scare into the mighty Dodgers in the ALDS (you really think Dave Roberts and his boys in blue relish the idea of seeing Scherzer, Strasburg and Corbin in a short series?).
  5. The Mets will play meaningful baseball in September. Can they sneak in? Of course they can, but will they? It will take a lot, and if a miracle does occur, it will be on the back of their best-in-class starting rotation. Plus, they’ll need Robinson Cano to play as though they no longer test for steroids, Jeurys Familia to revert to a legit setup man, Pete Alonzo to shake the post-HR derby malaise, and Jeff McNeil to win the batting title. Would that still be enough? For interesting games in September, yes. To sneak into the wild card? Nope. For that, they’d also need Todd Frazier and Wilson Ramos to hit like it was five years ago, Amed Rosario to play like the next Francisco Lindor (weren’t Mets fans sold that bill of goods a few years back?), and Michael Conforto to finally harness all that potential we see in that sweet lefty swing of his into a .350, 15 and 45 stretch run. Too much to ask? Yeah, probably. But they’ll hang around awhile.
  6. Zach Greinke will look like the best investment of 2019 when the Astros sweep their ALDS opponent without breaking a sweat. And then we’ll be reminded in spades why he had the Yankees on his no-trade list at the deadline, when he spits the bit and costs the ‘Stros the ALCS with a couple of clunkers against the Evil Empire.
  7. Minnesota will fall out of their lead in the AL Central and all the way to the second wild card slot with an epic free fall of a finish. Then they’ll go to Oakland and wallop the A’s in the play in game, delighting the waiting Bronx Bombers and their fans (and infuriating AtticBro in the process), who will not notice their lack of quality, front-line starting pitching as they put up double-digits nightly in another postseason Minnesota beatdown.
  8. Aaron Boone will get both Luis Severino and Dellin Betances back for the Yankees stretch run. And the New York skipper will go into October with strict instructions from GM Brian Cashman to do his best Sparky Anderson imitation and channel a modern-day Captain Hook. Remember “reliever ball” from a year ago? Boone’s suspect in-game management and poor decisions around when to yank his starters severely handicapped the Yanks efforts to oust the Red Sox last October. His poor in-game management will still be on display in the 2019 postseason, but with a heavy reliance on Severino as his long-man and the addition of Betances to their loaded pen, look for New York to send Houston home once again.
  9. It’s the Dodgers’ year. Los Angeles fans get a break when the Yankees come calling with perhaps the only manager more inept at in-game decision-making than Dave Roberts. Ultimately the Yanks suspect starting rotation will be exposed, and their gassed pen that powered them by Houston in the ALCS finally caves. Simply too much talent on the L.A. side of the diamond, and Boone won’t be able to expose Roberts foibles despite ample opportunities.
  10. Playoff matchups, anyone? AL Wild Card — A’s vs. Twins. NL Wild Card — Nationals vs. Cubs (bye bye Joe Maddon, two consecutive play-in game losses will conclude his tenure in the Windy City). ALDS — Yankees vs. Twins and Astros vs. Indians. NLDS — Dodgers vs. Nationals and Braves vs. Cardinals. ALCS — Yankees vs. Astros. NLCS — Dodgers vs. Cardinals. World Series — Yankees vs. Dodgers. 2019 Champions — Los Angeles Dodgers.

Sorry to take all the suspense away, baseball fans. With the final third of the 2019 MLB season still to be played and beginning the annual slog through the Dog Days, let’s see just how accurate SportsAttic’s prognostications are.

Play ball!

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MLB Midseason Stats: Fact or Fiction

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Today wraps up Major League Baseball’s first half, and even though statistically we are beyond the actual 81-game midpoint (games played by teams thus far range from a low of 86 by the White Sox to a high of 93 for the Mariners), there are some interesting questions bubbling up within the statistics that drive the game for hardball nerds like us.

Such as, was it really necessary for the Mets to absolutely bombard social media today when Pete Alonso hit his 30th home run this afternoon? Yes, it is an absurd and unexpected total for the big rookie, and even cooler is the fact that it tied a record set by Dave Kingman (Kong!) 43 years ago. But c’mon — Alonso’s two-run shot made it 6-2 Phils, in a game Philly would win by a score of 8-3. In other words, it was a meaningless homer. This is a glimpse into what Mets fans can likely expect out of the season’s second half.

But for about 27 other MLB teams (sorry Royals, Orioles and Marlins), there remains a lot to play for, and with all due respect to Polar Pete, he’s not getting to 50 round trippers this year folks. I call that a “FACT.” 

And as I pored over the statistical tables this afternoon, I wondered about the likelihood of other stars sustaining their first half numbers with the dog days of August beginning to cast their ominous shadow in the distance. So, here’s a few quick hits for consideration over the next several days while we wait for real baseball to resume:

*Christian Yelich is now a combination of Barry Bonds (without the steroid-inflated head) and Roger Maris circa 1961, and will rewrite the MLB record books over the balance of his career. “FICTION”  Yeah, Yelich is on pace to challenge the 60 homer mark as a nice encore to his torrid 2018 second half that won him an MVP out of nowhere, but let’s not put him in Cooperstown just yet. I can see 50 dingers easy out of that sweet swing of his this year, and here’s hoping the Brew Crew make the playoffs, because this guy is so much fun to watch, but he’s actually not even the best player in the NL right now.

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*Cody Bellinger will continue on his tear and become “the lefty Mike Trout,” soon rivaling the Angels superstar for “best in game” status. FACT  The kid’s plain scary right now, and while I don’t envision Bellinger challenging the 60 dinger level this year either, I do see him maintaining a level of excellence that will earn him his first MVP come the awards season. And let’s not forget this guy plays defense, too — at multiple positions, no less — and possesses one of the best arms in baseball. A beast.

*The Dodgers will keep up their .660 pace, win 105 games, make their third straight World Series and win this one. FICTION  Yes, they are darn good. Like they were two years ago, when manager Dave Roberts gift wrapped the 2017 World Series for the Astros. If they can stay healthy, the Los Angelenos should definitely cross 100 wins and be heavy favorites to make their third consecutive Fall Classic. But get the Buffalo Bills jokes ready — they will be on the wrong side of the championship outcome yet again.

*The Braves will be the only NL team not named the Dodgers to win 100 games this year. FICTION  Everybody loves the Bravos right now, but it is a long season, and even with the benefit of facing so much bleh in their NL East-heavy schedule, they won’t get to the century mark. Pencil them in as division champs (again), but this one won’t be a layup for the young Atlanta squad.

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*Jeff McNeil will keep up his scorched earth pace and lead the majors in hitting this year. FICTION  You get the feeling when watching McNeil that if he wasn’t batting leadoff for the Mets he’d be in an alley somewhere tossing tin cans in the air and smacking them with a broom handle. He’s the ultimate “see the ball, hit the ball” savant, but when you are named an All Star in your first full season in the bigs and go into the Midsummer Classic leading both leagues in Batting Average, your days of sneaking up on folks are numbered. If Alonso remains hot hitting behind him that would be a huge boost, but both these kids are subject to the ups and downs all young ballplayers go through.

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*Josh Bell will finish the year with over 50 home runs and 50 doubles. FACT  I’m sorry, but where did this guy come from? I know, he went for 26 and 90 two years ago, but when he slid to 12 and 62 last year I stopped paying attention. Now I look up and the guy is taking 30 HR’s and doubles into the All Star break? In 1995 Albert Belle reached 50 in both doubles and HR’s, and since then? Nobody. Before Albert Belle? Nobody.  This is effin noteworthy, gang! Here’s saying Josh Bell will join Albert Belle in this historically exclusive MLB club. What will make it even more fascinating, is to watch Josh’s pursuit of 50/50 continue should the Pirates manage to buck the odds and remain in contention. Albert Belle’s Indians were a powerhouse in ’95, and his stats benefitted from that loaded lineup. Josh Bell equalling that feat while playing Pirates games in a pennant race with little lineup protection? Yes, that would be incredible.

*The AL division leaders heading into the break will all still own the top spot when the regular season concludes. FICTION  I haven’t been a Twins buyer all year, and I’m not jumping on the bandwagon just yet. For those still paying attention to the AL Central, the Indians are beginning to play good ball, while Minnesota has leveled off just a bit. A 100-win pace and chance at home field in the ALDS seems like way too much too soon for the Twinkies, so here’s predicting that they end up in a division dogfight down to the season’s last weekend. And finish second to the more experienced Indians. As for the Yanks in the East and the Astros out West? Yup — you can write down that ALCS matchup right now.

*The Red Sox will not defend their World Series title in this year’s postseason. FACT  Outside of Boston, is anyone really sad about this one? Enough winning in Boston already, right? Everything went right last year for the Sawx, and in keeping with the Bosox pattern of taking a year off after winning the World Series, this club hasn’t smelled right since they chose to begin the season with no established closer. There’s still a ton of talent in Beantown, but they also face the toughest division competition, something the Indians/Twins and the A’s don’t have to concern themselves with. See ya next year Red Sox. This year’s AL Wild Card will feature the A’s versus the Twins (and please, please, please send the Twins home and spare us the pain of watching them roll over once again in a playoff series against the Yankees).

*Gabe Kapler will be the Phillies manager for Spring Training 2020. FICTION  Yes, the rock headed Philly field general has outlasted my preseason predictions of an early shit-canning, but that’s simply because he’s gotten to play the Mets so frequently. Talk about underperforming expectations? Somehow I’m guessing that when Phillies owner John Middletown talked about spending so much money this past offseason that it could even be “a little bit stupid,” he didn’t envision Kapler sitting around .500 at midseason. Kapler may make it through the regular season, but he’ll be back doing vitamin supplement videos on YouTube TV by November.

*The Mets are hopelessly out of the Wild Card race heading into the All Star break. FICTION  They are only seven games back in the race for the second wild card. And that is seven back of the Phils! My buddy Palmer texted during yesterday’s game saying that if the Mets were to pull out a win, it would be the catalyst for a historic run to the playoffs (the Mets won, 6-5). Now Palmer’s texting history is littered with preposterous claims, but there are 70 games still to play, and no one is distinguishing themselves in the NL outside of Los Angeles and Atlanta. The Mets have had just about everything go wrong that could, yet the league hasn’t run away from them. If (and yes, this is a BIG IF) BVW’s key offseason pickups (Cano and Diaz) revert to their historic norms and the young bats keep producing? Well, stranger things have happened (and besides, look at this paragraph’s heading — we’re merely stating that the Mets aren’t “hopelessly out of it”), and I can’t get excited about any other mediocre NL club. So let’s sign up for the Dodgers and Braves remaining 1 and 2 in the NL seedings, with Milwaukee thrown in at 3 (Yelich vote). The play-in Wild Card game? Let’s go Cubs-Mets, with deGrom coming up big to advance the Mets and seal the fate of Joe Maddon getting dismissed the day after the postseason concludes.

Ya Gotta Believe!

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