Hope springs eternal on MLB 2008 Opening Day

 

After a long winter’s hibernation, hope once again begins to spring eternal. Today is Opening Day for most teams in Major League Baseball, including my own defending National League East Division champion Philadelphia Phillies.

When last we left the Big Leagues, the Boston Red Sox were dancing off the field having swept out the Colorado Rockies for their 2nd World Series title in four years. Terry Francona was proving to everyone that he indeed was a good manager, as most everyone in baseball outside of Philadelphia could have already told anyone willing to listen.

In a true winter of discontent, baseball was slapped around by the Mitchell Report in December, and suffered through more talk about players testing hot for performance-enhancing drugs than fans discussing the Hot Stove League.

But we weathered the storms, and the cold world is once again beginning to thaw. The past month has seen the return of Spring Training in Florida and Arizona, and now it’s time once again for the real thing. Play Ball!

This also means it’s time to go public with something that I do most every year in private – my own predictions for teams and players in the upcoming season in what I personally consider the Greatest Game that God Himself Ever Invented.

First, I am going to go through each division and predict the order of finish. Then I will give my predictions for the playoffs. Finally, I will give my call on the major post-season awards such as the MVP, Cy Young, Rookie of the Year, and the Manager of the Year.

Let’s start in the most interesting place for local fans, including myself. The National League East. This is a real difficult call, because I honestly see reasons to pick any from among the Phils, New York Mets, and Atlanta Braves.

I just believe that the Phillies have too much offense, and that the other two teams have as many problems throughout their team as a whole. Call it in this order: Phillies, Mets, Braves, Nationals, Marlins.

In the NL Central, the Chicago Cubs are the consensus favorites, and a sentimental choice since it has been a full 100 years since they last won the World Series. And you thought Phillies fans had it tough! Here is the way I see it: Cubs, Reds, Brewers, Astros, Pirates, Cardinals.

In the NL West, there are four teams with legitimate claims to being the favorite. I just happen to like the young players of the Arizona Diamondbacks, as well as their 1-2 ace punch of Brandon Webb and Dan Haren. Call it: DBacks, Rockies, Dodgers, Padres, Giants.

Over in the AL, the East will see the Bosox outdo the Yankees once again in another tough race. I see it as: Red Sox, Yankees, Rays, Blue Jays, Orioles. Look in this division for the Rays, with some of the best young talent in the big leagues, to begin to make the perennial big boys sweat.

In the AL Central we have two of the best lineups in the game in Cleveland and Detroit. The turnaround by the Tigers franchise in the past three years has been astounding, and they have a true Murderer’s Row offense, but the Tribe simply have more pitching. I think it goes: Indians, Tigers, White Sox, Twins, Royals.

The AL West has the rising star of the Seattle Mariners, and I think that this time around the slide past the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in a tough race. Call this one: Mariners, Angels, Rangers, Athletics.

The Wildcard races in both leagues should be similar to last season, with many NL teams battling and just a couple of AL clubs in the hunt. In the NL, I think the Mets will end up with enough to outlast the others this time. In the AL, the Yankees should be able to hold off the Tigers and Angels.

So we are down to my final important playoff predictions. Anyone who looks at this season and tried to predict here, over six months before the Series, who is going to win it is just speculating. No educated opinion is much better than any other. So this educated baseball fan’s view is this: the Cleveland Indians will take the next step, win the AL pennant, and move on to defeat the Arizona Diamondbacks in the World Series.

In the Awards department, give the NL MVP to Chase Utley of the Phils, and the AL MVP to Tribe centerfielder Grady Sizemore. The Cy Young Award will go to Dan Haren in the NL, and in the AL the award will go to Justin Verlander of Detroit.

There are so many variable in the Rookie race, but I will go with pitcher Johnny Cueto of Cincy in the NL and Clay Buchholz of the Bosox in the AL. Cincy’s Dusty Baker keeps his team in surprise contention and takes NL top manager, while the AL vote goes to the Tribe’s Eric Wedge.

It’s going to be a year for the Cleveland Indians and their fans to remember if I get things right: a World Series crown, the AL MVP, the league’s top manager. Though many are sentimentally rooting for the Cubs to end their century-old jinx, it will actually be the team with the 2nd-longest wait, the Tribe, who have not won since 1948.

But hey, my Phils do have a puncher’s chance. With their trio of MVP candidates and a great 1-2 starting punch, they really can go all the way. Heck, at least that’s what I believe, even sitting here watching the bullpen melt down in yet another Opening Day loss. After all, baseball is finally back, and hope springs eternal.

John McCain for President

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It has now been over a month since Mitt Romney ended his quest for the Republican Presidential nomination, and in the ensuing month leading candidate John McCain has dominated the only remaining contender, Mike Huckabee.

The nomination is McCain’s. He has earned it fair and square, by coming out as the last man standing in a field of tough, determined, experienced, qualified candidates.

During this month we have also seen and heard cries from the conservative wing of the Party, led by its most visible pundits, people such as Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter, that McCain is not conservative enough.

In Coulter’s case, she has even stated (I can only hope jokingly, she does have a tremendous sense of humor) that she would support Hillary Clinton over John McCain if it came down to that being our choice.

Well, Ann, it is indeed coming down to that choice. McCain vs. Clinton. Either that, or McCain vs. Obama. So it is getting to be time to let us know whether or not you were kidding.

It is time for the entire Republican Party to come together and begin to support our obvious 2008 Presidential nominee. It is time to say it loud and proud: John McCain for President!

Just as Romney made the announcement that he was ending his campaign, I was preparing an article supporting his candidacy. I was finally ready to get off the fence and declare myself in support of a candidate, and it was going to be Mitt.

I wanted to really get a chance to see what I felt was a great field of candidates take one another on in debates, and listen to their pitch to myself and the rest of America. As that process played itself out, I found myself shuttling back and forth between the impressive group.

Having read Rudy Giuliani’s masterpiece “Leadership”, and having watched his incredible display of that same quality in the wake of 9/11, and knowing the strength and commitment that he would bring to the serious issues of border control and the War on Terror, he was an early favorite in my book. His abortion stance bothered me, but more important to me was trying to size up the voracity of his pledge to nominate originalist SCOTUS judges.

As most Americans, I was extremely impressed with John McCain’s service to America, both in his heroic military sacrifices and his political career. I also found him to be the candidate that most reminded me of Ronald Reagan in style: say what you mean, and mean what you say.

I admit that I did have a concern about McCain’s age. When voting for a President just starting his first term, I would like to think that he can serve out two full terms if need be. Then I remembered how old the Gipper was when he was elected, and this began to alleviate that concern.

I became enamored with Mike Huckabee even before he first began to emerge as a populist “values” conservative to many of those types of voters. Huckabee’s message and style spoke to me in a way that the other leading candidates were not at that early point.

My concern was to the depth of the Arkansas governor’s conservative values from a fiscal and security standpoint. Huckabee had an attractive “underdog” quality going for him. He was the little guy from out of nowhere giving the big boys a run for their money.

There was a varied, yet talented, array of “lesser” candidates who were each making good points, and who each had pieces of the puzzle that I was looking for. Duncan Hunter was chief among them, and I was watching to see if his strong security message would catch on with enough of the Party to make him a truly viable candidate. He never got that traction.

Finally, there was Mitt Romney. Son of a former candidate for the nomination, and the strongest family man in the competition. His Mormon faith was never a problem for me. While that church has some idiosyncrasies that I find a little tough to swallow personally, I know that it is basically a Christian faith. Romney quite obviously did not embrace the worst of the church’s past beliefs such as polygamy. This was the most tried and true family man in the pack. He not only talked the family values talk, he walked the walk.

My belief was that eventually the candidates would battle and battle, and then begin to sort it out early this year, particularly on Super Tuesday. I had no idea that it would all sort itself out so quickly, before I could fully form my own opinion and express it publicly. By the time I was ready, Mitt was leaving.

So we’re down to the last man standing, Senator John McCain. And I would put it to the pundits in our corner who have bashed him in the past that it is time to get over it, and get behind the Party’s nominee.

There are many things that today’s Republican Party stands for that are in direct opposition to those things supported by the Democrats. Smaller government, lower taxes, stronger defense and security, originalist jurists, and many other issues both large and small.

It is very clear that the choice in America in 2008 will be between McCain, who stands with us on many of these issues, and either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama of the Democrats, who stand diametrically opposed to us on every one of them.

You can wish that there were an even more conservative candidate available, but the fact is that our Party voters have spoken in convincing numbers: they want John McCain this time around.

Now, it is the job of pundits to be independent, to not simply tow the line and follow like sheep. If pundits have a problem with a candidate they should voice it, that is their responsibility. However, if they are truly the conservatives that they say they are, then a time comes for choosing.

The choice is now between a man who has a strong rating from the American Conservative Union (McCain), and either a Clinton (do you really want four to eight more years of that) or the “Change” envisioned by Obama to a more intrusive nanny state.

The choice of a running mate will be very important for McCain. He needs to find a choice who will more strongly appeal to those conservatives in the Party who form its vital core. Someone who will help get out the vote, who will get us excited about both the present and the future of the Party. Someone with undeniable conservative street cred.

But in any event, for all Republicans, those in the far right conservative wing to those in the more moderate center, there is only one real choice in 2008. That is not the defeatist choice of staying home in protest, or the whining cry-baby choice of bashing our own candidate because we dislike a few of his past positions and attitudes.

The only choice for conservatives, for all Republicans, and the best choice for all Americans in 2008 is John McCain for President of the United States.