With less than 2 weeks to go before Opening Day, here are my predictions for the 2015 Major League Baseball season:
First, the home team. The New York Yankees.
If everybody stays healthy, or mostly healthy, throughout the season, the Yankees have as much talent as anyone in baseball, and are a serious title contender.
If everybody stays healthy. And if my grandmother had wheels, she'd have been a wagon.
A healthy Masahiro Tanaka means the Yankees are a Playoff-caliber team. A healthy and effective CC Sabathia means the Yankees are a World Series-caliber team. If neither of those guys can deliver, the Yankees are in deep trouble.
The X Factor -- or, should I say the A-Factor -- is Alex Rodriguez. If he can be what he was even in 2013 before he was suspended, it will help. But he is a question mark with injuries, and even if he stays healthy, he turns 40 in July.
One thing the Yankees don't have to worry about is Dellin Betances. He should have no problem succeeding Mariano Rivera as the closer (with last year's interregnum with ol' What's His Name, now with the Chicago White Sox).
It usually takes 93 or more wins to win the American League Eastern Division. And no team in the Division looks like an obvious pick: The Boston Red Sox have shaky starting pitching, the Baltimore Orioles don't have staying power, the Tampa Bay Rays were already falling apart before their rat of a manager Joe Maddon jumped off the sinking ship, and the Toronto Blue Jays are a joke.
So, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that...
THE NEW YORK YANKEES WILL WIN THE AMERICAN LEAGUE EASTERN DIVISION IN 2015.
Maybe, in my case, it's not guts, but no one else has the guts to say it.
Yankees: 93-69, 1st in the AL East.
Now, on to The Other Team. The New York Mets.
Met fans -- and even some Yankee Fans -- are saying the Mets will have a better record than the Yankees this season, and will challenge for the Playoffs.
In the words of the great New York sportscaster Warner Wolf, "Come on, give me a break!" The Mets are the Mets. They never have enough pitching. Matt Harvey is back? That's nice, can he win all the games he should win this year and all the games that Zach Wheeler would have won this year, too? Can he pitch a complete game every 5th day? Because the Mets' bullpen, as it usually does, stinks.
The Mets don't have good defense. They don't have much of an attack. You can say that David Wright, in the wake of Derek Jeter's retirement, is now the face of New York baseball. Well, then, that face needs a lot of makeup, because, while A-Rod disappears in October, Wright disappears in September. Usually, it hasn't mattered; in 2007 and 2008, it sure did -- and it's not as though he has a winner's experience. That may be all that Mark Teixeira and CC Sabathia have left (or maybe not), but they do have it; Wright does not. And it's not like they have the money to buy a big name at the trading deadline.
And then there's the National League Eastern Division. It might be the most competitive in baseball. The Washington Nationals are loaded. The Atlanta Braves have young talent with postseason experience. The Miami Marlins are good enough for a Playoff run. True, the once-dominant Philadelphia Phillies are now in rebuilding mode -- but so are the Mets.
In 2013, the Mets were 74-88. Last year, they improved to 79-83. Another 5-game improvement would be 84-78. But how are they going to improve without Wheeler?
Mets: 79-83, 4th in the NL East.
American League Wild-Card Play-In: Kansas City Royals over Baltimore Orioles.
National League Wild-Card Play-In: San Francisco Giants over Atlanta Braves.
American League Division Series: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim over New York Yankees in 4; Detroit Tigers over Kansas City Royals in 4. The Royals may not be a flash in the pan, but neither were they the best team in the AL last season. As for the Yankees, 2009 proved that the Angels no longer have their number; but the Angels just look too talented for them, or for any team in the East.
National League Division Series: Washington Nationals over San Francisco Giants in 4; St. Louis Cardinals over Los Angeles Dodgers in 3. The Curse of Donnie Baseball strikes again.
American League Championship Series: Detroit over Anaheim in 5.
National League Championship Series: St. Louis over Washington in 7. The Nats still have the air of a team that will find a way to lose a postseason series; the Cards of a team that will find a way to win.
World Series: Detroit over St. Louis in 6. The Tigers haven't won the World Series in 31 years, having lost the Series in 2006 and 2012 with a combined total of 1 win. They have the all-around talent to put an end to that.
It's been a while since I did a countdown, so here goes:
Days until the U.S. national soccer team plays again: 1, tomorrow afternoon, 3:00 our time (8:00 local) away to Denmark in Copenhagen. We will also be playing Panama and arch-rival Mexico at home and Switzerland and World Cup holders Germany away, in preparation for the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup, which we will host.
Days until the Devils play again: 2, on Thursday night, away to the Washington Capitals. After last night's loss at home to the Los Angeles Kings, the chance at the Playoffs is all but gone.
Days until the Red Bulls play again: 4, this Saturday night, away to the Columbus Crew. This past Sunday, the Red Bulls played their home opener, defeating arch-rival D.C. United. Or, as the club's Twitter feed put it, following the retirement of Thierry Henry and the completion of the contract of Tim Cahill, "No Thierry, no Tim, no problem."
Days until Opening Day, when the Yankees play again, and Alex Rodriguez is eligible to play for the Yankees again: 6, on Monday afternoon, April 6.
Days until Arsenal play again: 11, a week from this Saturday, 7:45 in the morning our time, home to Liverpool. Arsenal are now out of the Champions League, but have advanced to the Semifinal of the FA Cup. They are in 2nd place in the Premier League, and have an outside shot at 1st.
Days until the Devils play another local rival: 11, a week from this Saturday night, away to the Rangers at Madison Square Garden. There will be no more games against the New York Islanders or the Philadelphia Flyers until the next season starts in October.
Days until the next Yankees-Red Sox series begins: 17, on Friday, April 10, at 7:00 PM, at the new Yankee Stadium.
Days until the Red Bulls next play a "derby": 18, on Saturday night, April 11, against D.C. United at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium in Washington. The next game against the Philadelphia Union will be on Sunday afternoon, May 24, at PPL Park in Chester. As for the first derby against New York City FC, see the next answer.
Days until the New York Islanders' last regular-season game at the Nassau Coliseum: 121, on Saturday night, April 11, at 7:00 PM, against the Columbus Blue Jackets. They will make the Playoffs.
Days until the 1st-ever meeting between the Red Bulls and New York City FC: 47, on Sunday night, May 10, at Red Bull Arena. Under 7 weeks.
Days until the 1st-ever meeting between the Red Bulls and New York City FC at Yankee Stadium: 96, on Sunday night, June 28. A little over 3 months.
Days until the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup begins on U.S. soil: 105, on Tuesday night, July 7.
Days until Rutgers plays football again: 161, on Saturday afternoon, September 5, home to Norfolk State. A little over 5 months.
Days until East Brunswick High School plays football again: Unknown, as the schedule has not been released yet. Probably, it will be on the 2nd Friday in September, which, in 2015, will be on the foreboding date of September 11. That's 171 days. Under 6 months.
Days until the Islanders' first home game at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn: Unknown, but an NHL regular season usually begins on the 1st Friday in October, which would be October 2, 2015. That's 192 days. That's a little over 6 months. Or, to put it another way, "192 Sleeps Till Brooklyn." Until then, even with their 4 straight long-ago Stanley Cups, they're just a Small Club In Hempstead.
Days until the next East Brunswick vs. Old Bridge Thanksgiving game: 248, on Thursday morning, November 26, at 10:00 AM, at EB. A little over 8 months.
Days until the Copa América Centenario begins on U.S. soil: 438, on June 3, 2016. A little under a year and a half. The tournament will be between teams from the North American, Central American and Caribbean region (CONCACAF) and South America (CONMEBOL, which is celebrating its 100th Anniversary). Although it's a member of CONCACAF rather than CONMEBOL, the U.S. is the host nation, and thus qualifies automatically, as it does for the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup.
Days until Euro 2016 begins in France: 445, on Friday, June 10.
Days until the next Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: 501, on Friday, August 5, 2016. A little over 16 months.
Days until Alex Rodriguez's Yankee contract runs out: Officially, at the end of the 2017 season. Game 7 of that year's World Series could turn out to be on Halloween, so, for the sake of this entry, let's say October 31, 2017, which would be 1,317 -- about 2 1/2 years. Of course, the Yankees could release him before then, but I don't think the House of Steinbrenner wants to take the financial hit from buying him out.
Days until the next World Cup begins in Russia: 1,537, on Friday June 8, 2018. A little over 3 years.