I actually dressed up like this to write this post. I predict the itching of this beard will soon drive me to madness.
Just a bare handful of hours, now, until the Cardinals' 2011 season gets underway. Plenty of ink and bytes have been spilled talking about what the season may bring, lots of it right here at the RFT. All of that's over now, though. No more dissecting and discussing. The game is just around the corner.
So what is a scribe such as myself to do? Well, if he's clever and original, he might pen some sort of beautiful ode to the game of baseball itself, or a heartfelt story about what the game means to him, or a paean to great memories of Opening Days past.
However, it he just happens to not be so clever or original, said scribe might do what everybody else seems to do on Opening Day and write up a bunch of predictions he pulled from the depths of his colon. It would be sad to see someone stoop to that sort of predictable pandering, wouldn't it?
Predictions right after the jump.
To be honest, I love making predictions. I'm terrible at them (witness the horror that is my annual NCAA Tournament bracket), but they're still fun to make. Self-deprecation aside, if I could figure out some way to make a living doing nothing but predictions all day every day, a la the Year 2000 sketches from the old Conan O' Brien show, I would sign up for that job in a heartbeat.
So, without further ado, I present to you my official Opening Day Big-Ass List of Predictions Sure to Be Completely Wrong. Beginning with the division winners:
National League Division Winners
East -- Philadelphia Phillies -- Easiest pick of the day. Sure, Chase Utley is starting to look a little beat up on an annual basis, but the Phillies can still score in bunches, and Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee are the most terrifying one-two pitching punch in the game. I won't even bother mentioning the rest of their rotation. The Phils are the team to beat in the National League. Period.
Central -- Milwaukee Brewers -- I know, most pundits are picking the Reds. To that I say bunk. The Reds played well over their heads last year and will come back to Earth. Milwaukee, on the other hand, still has a fantastic lineup, and the spectre of Zack Greinke and Yovani Gallardo together in one rotation is enough to make me reconsider that thing I said just above about the Phillies' pitching combo.
West -- San Francisco Giants -- This is a tough one, because I think the Giants and Rockies are really neck-and-neck here. I'll give the edge to San Fran, though, because I like their starting pitching better.
Wildcard -- Colorado Rockies -- And the Rockies get their due anyway. I think the WC this season will be a two-team race between the Braves and Colorado, with the Rockies just edging it out at the end. Both teams have excellent pitching staffs, but I'll give the edge to Colorado's lineup combination of Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki.
East -- Boston Red Sox -- Second easiest pick of the day. Boston is better than any other team in baseball, as much as it hurts me to say it, and the only reason this is a tougher choice than the NL East is because the division as a whole is much better.
Central -- Minnesota Twins -- This division could be a real barn-burner, with the Twins, White Sox, and Tigers all vying for supremacy. In the end, though, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau are too formidable a tandem to pick against, and Minnesota has a track record of winning in this division the other teams just can't match.
West -- Oakland Athletics -- I'm going off the script here; the Texas Rangers are supposed to be the team to beat in the AL West. And if they had retained Cliff Lee, I probably would have picked them. As it stands, though, the Rangers' pitching staff is pretty good but not great, and I lovelovelove Oakland's pitching. The A's are a team that will have to win lots of games 2-1 or 3-2, but I think that will suit them just fine.
Wildcard -- New York Yankees -- How tired am I of seeing the Red Sox and Yankees both in the postseason every year? Um, really tired. Sorry. I couldn't think of anything funny to say. The Rays, humanity's last best hope for non-Boston, non-Bronx baseball, have taken a step back and will finish third.
World Series Champion -- Boston over Milwaukee in 5 games
NL Cy Young -- Josh Johnson, Florida Marlins -- It seems like Johnson's name is right there every season when Cy Young talk comes up, but it also seems like every year he's trying to overcome missing time with some injury. I think he finally stays healthy this season and takes home the award.
NL Most Valuable Player -- Albert Pujols, Cardinals -- We've never actually seen Albert Pujols play in a walk year. I'm a little scared, to be honest. Plus, something tells me he's been stewing for most of the offseason about not winning the MVP last year. Albert is going to have a monster year, even by his standards.
AL Cy Young -- Clay Buccholz, Boston Red Sox -- You're going to hear a bunch of Jon Lester predictions for the AL Cy Young this year, and that's a really good pick. I'll go with Buccholz, though. For my money, he may be the most talented pitcher in the American League right now (tie for first with Felix Hernandez, probably), and I think he goes all Super Saiyan on the league this year.
AL MVP -- Adrian Gonzalez, Boston Red Sox -- This was actually a really tough choice, because I think there are a ton of different directions you could go, and a plenty compelling argument to be made for each and every one. In the end, though, I think Gonzalez has a huge season playing in Fenway Park. Take all those flyball outs to deep left field in Petco and turn them into doubles or home runs. It's going to be something to watch.
I won't hazard a guess for the Rookie of the Year awards, because playing time for young players is always a crapshoot. Keep an eye on the Giants' Brandon Belt, though.
Best Decision of 2011 -- Trading for Adrian Gonzalez -- It isn't tough to be smart when you have a billion dollar payroll, but the Red Sox are still really, really smart. Gonzalez is going to be a monster for Boston this year and in the future.
Worst Decision of 2011 -- Neftali Feliz, Closer -- Last year's AL Rookie of the Year presents one of the most intriguing decisions going into this season, and I think the Rangers made the wrong choice. Texas is going to keep Feliz in the bullpen and use him as a closer, which is understandable but still a poor use of resources. He'll be a fine closer for the Rangers, I'm sure, but the value of a starter is just so much greater. Just think if the Cards had kept Adam Wainwright in the bullpen following the 2006 season. Sure, we wouldn't have to watch Ryan Franklin pitch the ninth inning, but think what the rotation would have looked like the last couple years.
And as for the Cardinals...
I think the Cards are in for a long, frustrating year. Not that they'll be bad, but the NL Central is going to be a much, much better division this season, and losing Adam Wainwright was a huge blow. The bullpen is a little shaky, the middle infield is set to be just as big a disaster as the 2010 version was, and I just don't know that I believe in Lance Berkman's bat anymore. Ryan Theriot will prove to be the Cards' worst acquisition since Kip Wells. He will, however, give me a chance to link to the Kaiser Chiefs' "I Predict A Riot" video several times this season, for which I will be moderately grateful. Grateful because it's a built-in joke, moderately because I kind of hate that song.
The Cards will finish 85-77, third place in the NL Central, behind Milwaukee and Cincinnati. Milwaukee will take the division with 90 wins even, the Reds will win 87. The Cubs come in fourth with 84 wins, and the other two teams aren't worth talking about.
So there you go, sports fans. Go place your wagers now, and thank me when the dough starts rolling in. Or, if you prefer, just leave a nasty comment or two questioning my intelligence, parentage, and sexuality. Personally, I'm predicting lots of the latter.
Like I said, I love predictions.
Also, I apologise for the following, but I just can't resist getting a head start on the season.