On March 30, an ESPN panel, selected to pick Major League Baseball's 2013 Playoff teams, Pennant winners and World Champion, included the following:
* Aaron Boone, former major league infielder, 3rd-generation major league player, Yankee postseason hero 2003.
* Mark Mulder, former All-Star pitcher for the Oakland Athletics, member of the 2006 World Champion St. Louis Cardinals.
* Manny Acta, former manager of the Washington Nationals and Cleveland Indians.
* Jim Bowden, former general manager of the Nationals and Cincinnati Reds.
* Jayson Stark, ESPN baseball expert and former Philadelphia Inquirer columnist.
* Tim Kurkjian, ESPN baseball expert and former Sports Illustrated writer.
* Jim Caple, ESPN.com columnist, author of The Devil Wears Pinstripes, although, to be fair, he also seems to hate the Red Sox, saying last June that the Sox being in last place may be the best thing he saw for the season. He's from the Seattle area and a Mariners fan.
* Dan Shulman, who, to be fair, is from Toronto.
* Michael Knisley, ESPN.com columnist, not to be confused with political columnist Michael Kinsley.
* Jerry Crasnick, ESPN.com writer.
* Marty Bernoski, ESPN.com writer.
* Matt Szefc, ESPN.com writer.
* Dan Szymborski, ESPN Insider.
* Molly Knight, ESPN The Magazine.
* Stephania Bell, ESPN Fantasy. (In this case, she really fantasized, just like these others.)
* Andrew Marchand, ESPNNewYork.com
* Richard Durrett, ESPNDallas.com, who did not have the guts to say his hometown Texas Rangers would make it at least to a Game 163 for the 4th straight season.
* Carolina Guillen, ESPN Deportes.
* Pedro Zayas, ESPN Deportes.
* Dave Cameron, FanGraphs.
All of these people picked the Toronto Blue Jays to win the American League Eastern Division.
Ms. Bell actually picked the Jays to win the World Series, defeating the Washington Nationals. Cameron picked the reverse of that, meaning he picked the Jays to win the AL Pennant. Marchand also picked the Jays to win the Pennant, although he said they would lose the Series to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Not all of the ESPN panel picked the Jays to win the AL East. Former Red Sox superstar shortstop Nomar Garciaparra picked the Tampa Bay Rays. So did Alex Cora, who played 14 seasons in the majors, including winning a tainted ring with the 2007 Red Sox and paying for that by spending 2 years in purgatory, a.k.a. playing for the Mets, picked the Tampa Bay Rays. Picking the Rays wasn't a result of bias for either Garciaparra or Cora, since neither ever played for them.
Karl Ravech and Pedro Gomez of ESPN's SportsCenter, Gordon Edes of ESPNBoston.com (and formerly a great writer for the Boston Globe), Peter Pascarelli of ESPN Radio, also picked the Rays. So did David Schoenfield of ESPN.com. So did Joe McDonald and Matt Meyers of ESPNBoston.com, and Tristan Cockcroft and A.J. Mass of ESPN Fantasy. So did Christina Kahrl of ESPN.com, but she predicted the Jays would win the Wild Card and use that as a springboard for the Pennant, before losing the Series to the Nats.
Pitching legend Curt Schilling, Jon Sciambi of ESPN, Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com and formerly of the New York Daily News, Doug Padilla of ESPNChicago.com, Mark Saxon of ESPNLosAngeles.com, and Doug Mittler of Rumor Central also predicted the Rays for the Division and the Jays for the Wild Card.
Buster Olney, a longtime ESPN baseball guy, picked the Baltimore Orioles. So did Rick Sutcliffe, a Cy Young Award winner with the Cubs, who pitched for the Orioles and threw a shutout in the first game at Camden Yards in 1992.
And, as long as we're trying to be fair, most of the people who picked the Jays to win the AL East picked the Detroit Tigers to win the Pennant.
Of all the 43 "experts" they polled, only ONE, Mark Simon, of ESPN Stats & Information, picked the Yankees to win the AL East -- although he, too, picked the Tigers to win the Pennant.
They weren't the only ones picked those pesky Blue Jays to win the AL East:
"The offseason additions have sent a message to the players that the Blue Jays are serious about contending. Their lineup, with newcomers Jose Reyes and Emilio Bonifacio at the top, has table-setters who can help manufacture runs, as well as big boppers like Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. And the rotation has gotten a major boost from the acquisition of Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle. This is a team ready to return to the postseason for the first time since 1993... A balanced lineup and strong rotation should end Toronto's two-decade-long wait for a playoff spot. In a balanced division where it's impossible to forecast the last-place team with any certainty, the Blue Jays should still rise above the rest." -- Jorge L. Ortiz, USA Today, March 25
"If their lineup can remain healthy for the season and Bautista regains his form, the Toronto Blue Jays could look to ride the bats of superstars and the arms of young talent and veteran leadership to their first AL East crown since 1993." -- Zachary Krueger, Bleacher Report, who at least qualified it with an "If," and also said that R.A. Dickey would win less than 15 games for the Jays.
"It's going to be a Blue Jays autumn... First-rate rotation. Powerful lineup. Popular manager back in the saddle. About the only question is the bullpen, but the Blue Jays are so good in every other area that the pieces seem likely to fit together." -- Richard Justice, MLB.com, former Houston Chronicle columnist, March 26
"With the determination of the players on the roster, and the fact that the team has a no-nonsense manager in John Gibbons, the Blue Jays should have no issues taking the AL East crown in 2013." -- Michael Straw, Yahoo Sports, March 29
"I'll tell you how good the Jays are going to be: They'll be so good, the President will stay for all 9 innings. No sneaking out after 6 or 7." -- Gary Matthews Sr., former All-Star outfielder for the Atlanta Braves, Philadelphia Phillies and Chicago Cubs, father of a major leaguer, now a Phillies broadcaster, quoted in the Toronto Sun, March 31
"I realize that I am no doubt biased on this topic, but I attempted to look at this as subjectively as possible, and am still adamant that the Toronto Blue Jays will once again be at the top of the American League East pecking order... Bet on it, bank on it and believe it: The Toronto Blue Jays will once again be playing meaningful baseball in October." -- Clayton Richer, RantSports.com, April 1
Look, I'm not picking on ALL the morons who refused to admit that the Yankees, in spite of all their injuries and upheaval, were still capable of contending for the Playoffs, winning the AL East, or even going all the way.
I'm just picking on the morons who said it was going to be the Blue Jays who would win the Division.
And, of course, that list has the names of some pretty bright guys on it. We Yankee Fans said Nomar was overrated, selfish, weird, and had a big nose, but we never said he was stupid. Sarge Matthews was a very smart player and he's become a pretty good broadcaster. So has Sutcliffe, who was a real thinking fan's pitcher. So was Mulder. And Stark, Kurkjian, Edes and Justice are 4 of the best baseball writers of the last quarter-century. These guys know their stuff.
They were fooled. All of them. And the rest? They don't have the reputations that can lead me to say, "Maybe they're only morons for a moment."
But I want them to remember the moment that they were morons. The moment that they made themselves look like the people who said to buy stock in Goldman Sachs and Lehman Brothers in 2007.
Thursday night, the Yankees came from 3-0 behind and beat the Jays at The Stadium, 5-3. Friday night, they came from 1-0 and 2-1 behind to beat the Jays, 6-4. Brett Gardner hit his 3rd home run of the season to make the difference. WP: David Phelps (1-1) in relief of Ivan Nova. SV: Mariano Rivera (8). LP: Brad Lincoln (0-1).
That's the good news. The bad news is, Nova had to leave the game with an injury, but was relieved very well by Phelps. Catcher Francisco Cervelli took a foul tip and broke his hand. He'll be out at least 6 weeks, at a position at which the Yankees are already thin. Nova is eligible to come off the Disabled List on May 11.
Saturday afternoon, the Yankees came from behind again: They were 3-0 down going into the bottom of the 4th, but leadoff walks by Vernon Wells (tormenting his former team yet again) and Kevin Youkilis were followed by Travis Hafner tying the game with his 6th homer of the season. That's 3 of Brian Cashman's overage destroyers getting the job done, again.
The Jays took the lead back in the top of the 6th, but in the bottom of the 7th, the Yankees did what the Yankees do. With one out, the smoking-hot bat of Robinson Cano produced a double, and, yeah, him again, Wells singled him home to tie it up. After a Youkilis groundout moved Wells over to 2nd, a pitching change was of no help to the Jays, as Hafner tripled off Brett Cecil, to produce the final score.
Yankees 5, Blue Jays 4. WP: CC Sabathia (4-2). No save. LP: Esmil Rogers (1-2).
Yesterday afternoon, the Yankees took the first lead of the game, on a 2nd-inning home run by another of Cashman's emergency pickups, Brennan Boesch (his 2nd of the year). But the Jays tied it in the 4th and took the lead in the 6th, so, again, the Yankees needed to come from behind.
They did. With ex-Met knuckleball hero R.A. Dickey still pitching in the bottom of the 7th, Hafner led off with a single. Boesch and Jayson Nix flew out. But another of Cashman's elderly emergency pickups, another ex-Blue Jay, Lyle Overbay, hit one out to center field. That produced the final score.
Yankees 3, Blue Jays 2. WP: Logan (1-1). SV: Rivera (9). LP: Dickey (2-4 -- ERA 4.50. Pitching in the American League is hard).
Phil Hughes -- one of the prospects the Yankees refused to give up in a trade to the Minnesota Twins for The Great Johan Santana, not only pitched better than Santana would have (since Santana is hurt -- again), but he essentially outpitched Dickey. Roll that in your joint and smoke it, Flushing Heathen!
In this series, the Yankees outscored the Jays 19-13 -- an average of 5-3.
Jose Reyes is batting .395, and the Jays are hitting home runs at the expected rate. But as the cliche goes, "Pitching is 75 percent of baseball." The Jays understood that, they just screwed it up:
* J.A. Happ: 5 starts, 2-1, ERA 3.86, WHIP 1.25. That's only a fair job, and that's the best of their starters' performances. On most contenders, that would be a 3rd or 4th starter.
* R.A. Dickey: 6 starts, 2-4, 4.50, 1.31.
* Brandon Morrow: 5 starts, 0-2, 5.27, 1.54. Ouch.
* Mark Buehrle: 5 starts, 1-1, 6.35, 1.52. Yikes.
* Josh Johnson: 4 starts, 0-1, 6.86, 1.88. The other start was made by Aaron Laffey this past Friday night when Johnson got scratched due to injury, so if you combine their stats, it's 5 starts, 0-1, 6.85, 1.97.
Here are the American League Eastern Division standings, going into tonight's games, with 4 of the regular season's 26 weeks gone:
New York 15-9, 2 1/2 games behind, 2 in the loss column.
Baltimore, 15-10, 3 back.
Tampa Bay, 12-13, 6 back.
Toronto, 9-17, 9 1/2 back, 10 in the loss column.
The Blue Jays are 10 games behind in the loss column after one month. Does that mean that, at the end of the 6-month season, they will be 60 games behind the Division winner?
Their "winning percentage" is .346. Over 162 games, that comes out to 56-106. A team 60 games ahead of that would be 116-46. So that's unlikely.
But the AL East winner will, almost certainly win at least 95 games. To achieve that total, the Jays would have to win 86 of their last 136, or a 102-win pace.
It's not looking good for them.
The only teams in the major leagues with worse records are the Houston Astros (7-18, .280) and the Miami Marlins (6-19, .240).
Meanwhile, although neither the Detroit Tigers, the Cleveland Indians nor the Milwaukee Brewers are in the AL East anymore, and the Tampa Bay Rays are, the Division appears to be a 3-way race between the Yankees, the Boston Red Sox and the Baltimore Orioles.
I take comfort in the familiar, especially from the good things that happened when I was a boy. Seeing New York, Boston, Baltimore at the top is refreshing.
The Yankees now begin a 3-game home series with the woeful Astros, now an American League team after 52 seasons in the National League. Tonight at 7, Andy Pettitte takes on the only other team he's ever pitched for, opposed by Lucas Harrell. Tomorrow night, Hiroki Kuroda vs. Philip Humber -- the ex-Met turned perfect game pitcher now 0-5 on the season. Wednesday night, David Phelps against former Baltimore All-Star Erik Bedard, who may have lost it.
Maybe the Blue Jays should have traded for Humber and/or Bedard. They wouldn't have been a whole lot worse.
Maybe the Jays can pick up Scott Proctor. My former bullpen headache-inducer was released by the Orioles after a bad start in Triple-A. At this point, he can be the Jays' long reliever.