Let's start with baseball. (I write in the middle of the NL Wild Card game, Pittsburgh leading 3-1 in the 4th).
Last night's victory by the Tampa Bay Rays completes the official postseason roster. My preseason picks missed four of the ten teams that made it--three of them a surprise to all, really (Pirates, Red Sox, and Indians), and one of them I really should have known better than to overlook (the Cardinals). St. Louis, in particular, earned my grudging respect, overcoming major injuries and putting up the best record in the National League, tied for the best in the majors with the Red Sox. Boston, along with Cleveland, made colossal gains, improving their regular season records by over twenty games vs. 2012. Then, of course, there are the Pirates, which made the postseason for the first time in over twenty years.
I feel that, despite the recurrence of drug scandal and the failure of the Hall of Fame voters to find anyone living that was worthy of honor, this was one of baseball's best seasons in decades. The fact that overpriced Yankee and Angels teams came up short was a contributing factor, along with the turnabouts for longtime underdogs, and I personally like the realigned divisions and the expanded postseason.
Recent history suggests that it is the teams that come into the postseason the hottest, rather than the best regular season teams, that survive the brutal short-series elimination program and make it to the World Series. This year, that would be the Cardinals in the NL, and #1 Wild Card Cleveland--which has a 10-game winning streak--in the AL. If, and it's a big 'if", the Indians can get past the one-game Wild Card showdown with Tampa Bay, I do like their chances to take out #1 AL seed Boston. Detroit comes into the playoffs with only a mediocre regular season record (given their talent), and not playing particularly well at the end, but one thing I did notice was that their once-and-future-ace Justin Verlander, in the final game of the regular season, had an outstanding performance. (Few noticed it, as the attention all went to the opposing starter, Henderson Alvarez of the Marlins, who pitched a no-hitter!) I would pick the Tigers over the winner of the Red Sox-Indians/Rays bracket (as usual, I overlook the A's, who were quietly, almost starlessly, brilliant once again this year).
My Reds have the cards stacked against them this year: a one-game elim at Pittsburgh, with our presumed starter, Matt Latos, unable to go. I would say it was a longshot, but that it is Johnny Cueto instead: Cueto has magic stuff and could pull off a big win (note: didn't happen). Last year, Cueto went down in the first inning of the first game of the playoffs; this year he could turn the tables. Still, the winner of that one-gamer has to face the Cards, who take a lot of beating in the postseason. Braves-Dodgers winner deserves respect but will not be favored in my book.
World Series Bottom line: I'm looking for a rematch of the classic '68 Tigers-Cardinals series. That one pitted 31-game winner Denny McLain against Hall of Famer Bob Gibson, but it was #2 Tigers starter Mickey Lolich, and long reliever Gary Waslewski, who ended up the heroes.
I am very interested in the first month of the English Premier League in football, as Manchester United is suffering predictably due to the absence of its godlike longtime manager (just ask him!) Alex Ferguson, and the dissatisfaction of their (now) second-best player, Wayne Rooney. Once-again Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho did a great job messing with MU's minds; a little less great getting his team ready for a grueling season. I still think they can do it, but they have to deal with resurgent squads from Arsenal and Liverpool enjoying early season success, along with deep, talented Manchester City, and still-competitive Tottenham and Everton. I am not encouraged by Chelsea's early form in European competition, though, so I might have to settle for Premier title and yet another F.A. Cup. Easily done, for me, but what will Roman the Conquering Russian think?
NBA Basketball is still a month or so away, but the outlines of the upcoming season seem pretty clear: Lebron James will try to three-peat in the last year he's committed to the Miami Heat, and everyone else will be targeting the Heat. The team I am most interested in is the hometown Chicago Bulls, with Derrick Rose on the spot to show he has Jamesian leadership ability. He has a supporting cast at least as good as Lebron's, even if they did foolishly give away center Omer Asik to the Rockets before last year. The Brooklyn Nets should get an outsized share of press coverage; whether they can gell into a championship-caliber team remains to be seen. Indiana is the team under the radar that can beat any of the others, and in particular I expect their rivalry with the Bulls to be intense. In the West, Oklahoma City is due to show they can win their conference, or fold their tent and move on, while San Antonio, as always, lurks, with a mixture of veterans and youth that is a proven winner.
In the "one and done" league, a/k/a NCAA basketball, I have no idea what to expect, really--I barely know what teams are in what conferences. Not that it really matters; one of the best things about NCAA basketball is that the tournament that really counts does not depend much on who belongs to what conference. There is a good tension between the teams that ride on outstanding freshmen (of which there are plenty this year) and those that depend on team chemistry, with their star players staying around long enough to learn to understand the concept. I have personally been overjoyed with the last two seasons, with Kentucky and Louisville winning (yes, I defy the odds and root firmly for both), the first with the 1&Done concept and Louisville with the team approach. Both seem stacked with top talent again this year. I think there will be an exciting ACC season with strong teams from North Carolina and Duke (as always) being challenged by newcomer Syracuse. I would add Michigan State and VCU as teams that know how to use their talent in the team concept. Finally, I'm rooting for New Mexico to make Steve Alford wish he'd never left Albuquerque for UCLA.
I contrast the "flawed but coping" status of NCAA basketball with the "horribly broken and going downhill" description I would give to Football's AAA league (the BCS). I like the High-A and AA versions of college football, but the top second-rate level of the sport is pathetic and ugly. I missed the best game of the year (Alabama over Texas A&M, 49-42), so I think there is very little more to say or see. I like Johnny Manziel, agree with his subdued challenge to NCAA's hypocritical rules, and I think he could be another Joe Willie Namath, if he doesn't get hurt too badly (it never stopped Namath).
The NFL promises a good season; some of the old familiars (Giants, Cowboys, the "Washington Natives", Steelers, Packers) are off to bad starts, and that's good. The Seahawks (I have to remind myself they are in the NFC) and the Broncos are the hot teams, while the Saints and Patriots would be the logical postseason choices. I think the Super Bowl will be made up of two of those four, but I hesitate to predict at this point--depends on injuries, and breaks in the postseason. The Bears will be either just short of the playoffs or just barely making it, which almost amounts to the same thing, as they will not be good enough to go too far. At least that's the way I see them.
The NHL is playing, and the BlackHawks are defending, which is good for local hockey fans (of which I am not one).