Friday, May 27, 2011

Sports Update

During this past holiday weekend, the major leagues reached the 1/3 mark for the regular season--it would have been a bit sooner except for the persistently bad weather this spring in many parts of the country.

One-third of the season is a good place to look at the emerging races for the divisional leads, the wild card, and to project some of the full-season stat levels.

The single player who deserves most comment is Toronto's Jose Bautista, who is on a pace to hit 60 or so homeruns this year. That's nowhere near the asterisk-tainted 73 of Barry Bonds, of course, but close to the old standard of a superlative slugging year before steroids.

One would think it impossible in today's era of frequent drug-testing that Bautista's performance would be enhanced artificially, but last year he did follow the pattern of many past juiced-up batters who emerged from ordinary pro levels with monster seasons. He has failed to regress; instead he is hitting them out at even a faster pace, so one must somewhat grudgingly admit his credibility as a legit big-time slugger.

I would also note the Yanks' centerfielder Curtis Granderson, one of my favorite active players even if he did go over to the Dark Side, the Cardinals' Matt Holiday (similar comments apply) and the surprising re-emergence of his teammate Lance Berkman, and the Reds' lefty-hitting combo of Joey Votto and Jay Bruce (manager Dusty Baker usually tries to sandwich in a righty hitter like Scott Rolen between them).

In terms of pitching, there are few standouts to note, even though the pitching in general has had the upper hand so far this season. Some young bucks are emerging as top starting pitchers, such as Tim Lincecum, but also Jair Jurrjens in Atlanta and Jared Weaver of the Angels.

In terms of the races, there are a couple of major surprises whose success this year remains less than assured--the Indians in the AL Central and Arizona in the NL West--but the teams that looked the best, the Phillies and Red Sox, are emerging as leaders despite injuries, in the first case, and a horrific start in the second. A lot of teams are bunched around .500, so the opportunity will be there for a team to break out of the pack if they've hung around close and then can get it together. My Reds are a feared opponent because of their hitting and defense, but they can't keep five good starters in a rotation, so I'm not overly optimistic.

....Get Out of the Kitchen
That's my advice, if you can't stand the (Miami) Heat. I've overcome my resistance to players' engineering their own core squad, as the Heat did and the Celtics more or less did a few years ago. They faced down a tough Bulls team in the Eastern Conference, and I would make them slight favorites in the Championship series.

First, though, I have to express my gratitude to the Mavericks for putting the Lakers down so decisively, and to salute Dirk Nowitzki for some of the finest late-game heroics (in the Mavericks' series with the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference finals) since Dwayne Wade's in the Miami-Dallas finals of five years ago.

Some Shorts
I should have posted my predictions for the Preakness; better yet, I should've bet them. Shackleford had looked like a good front-runner in the Derby, staying close until the final 1/16th of a mile, so I thought it would have a good shot of winning the Preakness, which it did. I might've even wheeled the four top horses and gotten that $6000+ Perfecta, even though it had the two horses with the shortest odds in it.

Now, as for the Belmont, Shackleford would definitely be a horse to avoid; Animal Kingdom should have a great shot, and (if it runs) Dialed In, which runs way to the back and charges late--too late to contend in the Derby and the Preakness, but that Belmont stretch goes on...forever.

Chelsea wasted no time in booting its coach, Carlo Ancelotti, after a campaign in which the squad got no trophies and finished second in the Premier League. He got no residual credit for having won two trophies (the F.A. Cup and the Premier League) the previous year. His greatest sin seems to have been to push for the signing of yet another high-priced forward who couldn't fit in (Fernando Torres this year), and his second was losing to Manchester United, repeatedly, in Manchester (particularly in the Champions League quarterfinals). At least Man U. lost in the finals to Barcelona.

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