The first-round playoffs have been great entertainment but haven't materially altered the outlook.
As I write, there are two teams poised on the edge of major upsets, leading 3-2 with a home game coming up: Utah and Milwaukee, each of which I considered to be seriously overmatched, largely due to the expectation I had that they could not overcome major late-season injuries. Although I have to give them credit for their overcoming, even if they can't complete their upsets, neither should pose a problem to their opponent in the next round (nor their current opponents, Denver or Atlanta, if they should somehow get through. I've had to give up my dreams of Denver's chances: they really haven't come together, and it's getting too late.)
There's one other first-round series still going, as Oklahoma City has performed up to my highest expectations in their longshot bid for what would be probably the greatest NBA playoff upset (in terms of huge surprise, and massive impact) ever, against the Lakers. Down 3-2 but with the next game at home, they couldn't have better than a 10% chance, but the Thunder--which resembles an expansion franchise, though of course they are the ex-Supersonics--have marked themselves as a major contender for future years.
My conference semifinal predictions: Cleveland 4-2 over Boston; Orlando 4-2 over either Milwaukee or Atlanta; San Antonio 4-3 over Phoenix; Lakers (or Thunder) 4-3 over Utah (or Denver)--the Lakers winning in typical Hollywood, fake-drama-tease fashion.
We're about one-seventh of the way through the regular season, and I would categorize two divisions as having already resolved themselves (NL and AL Central), two as being still in early-season upheaval mode (AL East, NL West), and two as having shown no trend whatsoever (NL East, AL West).
The big story that has emerged is coming from the Tampa Bay Rays, who I was perfectly happy to see outperform my preseason expectations, and who are doing that in a big way. I am a bit surprised at how bad the BoTox' pitching has been, not too surprised at the Dodgers' woes, slightly surprised at the Mets' recent resurgence, not at all surprised by the Twins' or Cardinals' quality, not at all convinced by the Padres, and still expecting more from the Giants.
I am extremely worried for my team Chelsea going into this Sunday's Premier League game. They are playing away at our perennial nemesis, Liverpool. Now, Liverpool has had its worst season in my memory--they're in seventh place, eliminated from all cup competition (the last failure was yesterday, in the semifinals of the Europa--formerly UEFA--second-tier European competition). Their roster is looking very thin, their top scorer (Fernando Torres) is out, their coach is dissatisfied with the owners (and no doubt, vice versa), their fans near to rebellion, and they have no incentive, nothing to gain by winning (or almost as bad, gaining a draw).
Chelsea played a near-flawless game last weekend at home against a good team from Stoke, winning 7-0 (yes, I meant good--Stoke's defense has been very good all season). The Blues are almost completely healthy (Essian and Carvalho are the only significant injuries, I believe), with Ashley Cole, Joe Cole, Petr Cech, Didier Drogba all healthy, and Michael Ballack and Florent Malouda in very good form.
No matter. Chelsea always has trouble scoring in Liverpool. I'll be happy if they get any kind of win; then they'll only need one more, at home vs. Wigan, to win the title--probably by one standings point. Manchester United is very unlikely to make things any easier for Chelsea by failing to win either of its last two games, thus the pressure.
After that, the FA Cup final vs. Portsmouth will be fairly relaxed. I won't even mind if they lose to their financially-harassed, relegated opponents, as long as they can pull out the League championship. That's despite the fact--I've read-- that victory in the Premier League and the FA Cup would get Chelsea its first-ever cup double (is that possible? I seem to remember them winning the old Cup Winners' Cup, though their qualification for that related to a cup won the previous year).
Speaking of relaxed (in contrast with this week's nail-biter), I'll be very comfortable watching the Champions' League final, Bayern Munich vs. Inter Milan. Former Chelsea goal-scorer Arjen Robben stars for Bayern, and of course Chelsea's former coach Mourinho is at the center of Inter's successful run. Either way, I'm OK.
Next month: My World Cup preview. I can't wait (even if you can).