Sunday, March 29, 2015

Baseball is in the air

Sniff. Sniff.

What's that I smell? Glove oil? Horsehide? Newly mown grass? Popcorn? Spilled beer?

Smells like … baseball!

The major league baseball season opens next Monday, and my first instinct is to say that I can't wait.

But according to my newly arrived Sports Illustrated, packed to the brim with its MLB Preview '15, I can already start waiting for next year before this year even begins.

That's because my favorite team, the Philadelphia Phillies, appear to be abysmal. Abysmal, by the way, is worse than bad. It's worse than awful. It's worse than hopeless (meaning I'm a baseball fan without any hope at all, which is a condition worse than abysmal). Abysmal might just as well be the definition of dreadful.

A year ago, my SI predicted that the Phillies would finish 29 games out of first place, the 13th worst team out of the 15 teams in the National League, only ahead of the Chicago Cubs and the Miami Marlins. Well, the good news was that the Phillies (who won the World Series as recently as 2008) finished just 23 games out of first place in the NL East Division. The bad news is that with a 73-89 record, they were worse than the Marlins and tied with the Cubs as the league's worst team.

I don't know why I'm a Phillies fan, but I have been one ever since 1964. That was the year they had a six-and-a-half game lead in the standings, only to lose 10 of the last 12 games of the season to finish second in one of the most remarkable chokes in professional sports history. I was 13 years old back then and probably didn't know any better. I think I just liked the uniforms.

Anyway, this year's Sports Illustrated predicts the Phillies will finish last with a 63-99 record, a full 36 games out of first place. I believe it. The Phillies lost one of their early spring training games this year to the University of Tampa, a college team, for crying out loud, by a 6-2 score. Yikes. That's never a good sign.

Here is SI's line on the Phillies, as written by a rival scout: "People stopped going to the ballpark in Philly last year, but if they thought last year was ugly, they're in for something this year. It's an absolute mess. The front office is in denial. There are no quick fixes here, because they've traded away a lot of their prospects — and they actually had some good prospects."

Sigh. Even waiting for next year looks bleak.

In times like this, it's usually best to have an alternate team. As a native-born Pennsylvanian, that means I'll be keeping an eye on the Pittsburgh Pirates. That's good, because the Bucs are a rising franchise that could win the NL Central Division.

And, of course, there's always the American League, where traditionally I've followed the Boston Red Sox and the Detroit Tigers over the years. Fortunately, SI has both of those teams doing well, too.

Sports Illustrated, by the way, is picking the Cleveland Indians to beat the Washington Nationals in the World Series.

But the Nationals appear to be loaded with one of the best pitching staffs in recent history. My pick is the Nationals over the Red Sox in six games.

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