Sunday, April 13, 2014

Spring Sports P(Re)-View, Pt. 2

General Apology/Aggiornamento*

I apologize to you, loyal reader, if I have been remiss:  no postings in some three weeks; however, I look at the last postings and current status and find very little to report that had not already been discussed before:

o)  The Ukrainians still are reacting to Russian facts on the ground, while the US has not been able to keep its mitts off the confrontation, and Europe still hesitates to take on the Bear. (Today's move by the Ukrainians to round up and arrest some of the provocateurs in its Eastern area may be a welcome change:  rule #1 of governing is to have undisputed control of one's territory.  If they can arrest and get a few of the Russians to admit their ID's and mission, it could leave the Russians behind events, though they will surely try to make up for it with brute force.)

o)  The NBA is almost ready for the playoffs, and we still don't know the last team out in the West, the #3, #4, and #5 teams in the East, or for that matter the #1 and #2 teams--maybe the last two items are connected.  I would not accuse the Heat of tanking games, but I would accuse them of dogging it; in the game after they dominated the Pacers to take control of the #1 spot, they gave it up with a lackluster performance against a motivated #8 team.  I will attach some playoff-previewing comments later this week when the seeds are finalized.

As for those teams that were tanking to try to have the worst record, they deserve to waste a top lottery pick on somebody who breaks down, which is quite possible for some of the highest-touted one-and-dones. I see Jabari Parker as probably the greatest prize of this year's draft--he'll probably go around third, and to who-knows-whom at this point.  That's one good thing about the NBA draft, one that they'll probably get rid of:  the uncertainty of the relationship between standings position and draft order (there's a probability, but not a certainty).

o)  The NCAA was about what I thought, except moreso.  The regular season is about getting ready for the tourney and having the right frame of mind to compete, even with the inevitable injuries. Kentucky--who I touted, but had decried their exceedingly difficult path and low seeding--exceeded even my expectations with their come-from-behind win over Louisville, which vaulted them all the way to the final.  Connecticut, battle-hardened with nonconference tests and playing in the underrated cast-off conference (the new A.A.S.) after being deserted by the departures and reconfiguration of the old Big East, exceeded my wildest expectations when they defeated Michigan State, then Florida, then Kentucky.  Hats off to them Huskies!

o) The minimum wage is still stuck where it was:  the progressives holding with the arbitrary $10.10 amount, without ever explaining it (except to say "it should be $15"); giving the Republicans a good reason to duck the issue rather than getting engaged and negotiating the right level of increase (which is what Obama wanted to spur, but was unsuccessful in doing).

o) Not much new to report on the election front, either:  some ups, some downs, lots of money spent uselessly, even more appeals for money based on whatever is the day's storyline.

Still, I promised a baseball preview and some commentary on the soccer season coming to its climax.

Official Somewhat Belated Baseball Preview

Baseball, of course, started already; a couple weeks ago, if you don't count the publicity stunt games in Australia (I don't, MLB does).  It's too late for a proper season preview, but the text below was put out on what I consider a timely basis in my chat group ("bballgroup2" on Yahoo!, send me a note if you want in):

Officially, no one is late until the Reds-Cardinals game gets started tomorrow.  I do resent the Dodgers' three-game head start.
I cannot pick the Reds, much as I would like to:  their preparation for the season was revealed to be fatally weak when the line drive hit AChapman the other day.  Meanwhile, the Cards are better than last year, and I have no belief in the Pirates' rotation.  Finally, I surrender to the A's; I'm tired of being let down year after year by the Angels and Rangers.
Injuries seem to dominate the news this spring.
NLEast - (someone has to win): Washington, Philadelphia, Atlanta, New York, Miami
NL Central -   St.Louis, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, Chicago
NL West - LA Dogs, San Diego, San Francisco, Arizona, Colorado
AL East (someone has to finish last) - Tampa Bay, New York, Baltimore, Boston, Toronto
AL Central - Detroit, Kansas City, Cleveland, Chicago, Minnesota
AL West - Oakland, Los Angeles de Anaheim, Texas, Seattle, Houston
Wild Cards:  San diego, San Francisco; New York, Kansas City.
World SeriesDodgers defeat YankeesMoney rules!
With teams having played 9-12 games of the regular season (5-7%), I see no reason to modify anything (yes, there are more injuries, mostly reinforcing the weaknesses already seen with some of the teams).  Only a couple of teams have broken from the pack, in one direction or other, and I don't really think those trends (like Milwaukee Brewer dominance) are likely to continue.

(Just plain-) Football News
In European club soccer, England's Premier League is enjoying its most exciting season in memory, thanks to the absence of a truly dominating team, and helped mightily by the decline of Manchester United.  My team, Chelsea, has kept itself in the running of what is shaping up as a down-to-the-wire three-way race (with Liverpool, Manchester City).  Today's game with Man City at Liverpool will establish a front-runner (Man City, unless Liverpool wins), then Liverpool's game with Chelsea in two weeks will be our last chance to stay in it.

In the Champions League, Chelsea has made a run to the final four reminiscent of what they did two years ago:  never dominant, scrappy, refusing to say die.  They are viewed as the weakest team of the four remaining, but I like their chance to come up with something to frustrate the hot team of the moment, Atletico Madrid, which has shocked everyone this year by taking control of the Spanish Liga standings, but doesn't have the high-profile European pedigree of the other teams.  If Chelsea should get by them, they will either face Bayern Munich (as with 2012) or Real Madrid (which may be without Cristiano Ronaldo); they would be major underdogs in either case, which is just the way we (and I mean Mourinho) like it.

I'm hoping to catch a couple games here in Italy before the season ends, ones that should matter (in terms of the league, Juventus has it all but wrapped up and is concentrating on trying to win the Europa Cup, of all things)--Inter-Napoli in the San Siro late this month, Fiorentina-Napoli in the TIM Cup final in Rome in early May.  Yeah, I know, but it's been over ten years and I need my decade-ly fix of Italian live soccer.

Don't have too much to say about the World Cup that I didn't say before, except that it's coming up fast: Hope you're ready, Brasil--No pressure, but...The whole world's watching!

So, the other post that I owe everyone is the European Parliamentary election preview, but don't hold your breath--the voting isn't until late May, and the campaign's really just starting.

*Aggiornamento-"update", in Italian.  Literally, would mean "bringing to today".  Had to throw in a little italiano.


Chin Shih Tang said...

Update on the Sports update: Liverpool beat Man City, so it is down to the Liverpool-Chelsea game (away, for us) on 4/27, practically speaking. We need a win--Liverpool has a large lead in the goal-difference tiebreaker--or some fluke result in one of the other three games the teams have against lesser teams.

As for the NBA playoffs, the seedings for which are now set: upsets in series are rare, but I have identified two likely ones. The clever Nets managed to get themselves down to #6 seed, which gives their experienced squad a good chance against the unproven #3 seed, Toronto (#3 in the East doesn't mean much), and even against their likely next-round opponent, Indiana, though I don't give them much chance if they get to the Eastern finals against Miami. (Chicago might have some chance, though, in the conference semifinals, if the Heat don't rise to the challenge the scrappy Bulls will present.)

Meanwhile, in the West there is a lot of parity and many possible upsets. The one I'm seeing as possibly very significant, though, might be an upset of #1 seed San Antonio in the conference semifinals if they face #4 Houston. The Rockets have the guns, and they have a resurgent and determined Dwight Howard, who might be able to nullify the Spurs'inside game.

Ultimately, though, I would predict a finals matchup of the Heat and Thunder, and a slight upset by Oklahoma City and their MVP Kevin Durant over the Heat and their best-in-world star, LBJ.

Chin Shih Tang said...

April 28: The higher-seeded teams are having an unusually hard time in the first round: #1 Indiana is on the verge of a surprise elimination by #8 Atlanta (we knew the Pacers were coming in weak, but not THAT weak!), and in the West, both #1 and #2 seeds (S.A. and OKC) are having a hard time. One team that took care of business quite successfully is #2 in the East (and two-time defending champs) LBJ and the Heat. Clearly, they look at this point to be the only team capable of dominating this year's playoffs.