Upstaging a very good National Championship game

Great players can’t always go home and succeed as coaches which St. John’s legend Chris Mullin found out after four years. AP Photo via Getty Images.

We’ve all seen it happen before. Who could forget the absurd publicity stunt by Alex Rodriguez, who revealed that he was opting out of his contract to become a free agent during the World Series?

He got killed for it. Eventually, apologized and then Hank Steinbrenner anted up an even worse contract that everyone knew would blow up in their face. At least A-Rod finally delivered a World Series in 2009 with a memorable postseason. Then came more headaches followed by a nice comeback and retirement.

At least Rodriguez was relevant. He is considered one of the greatest players of this generation. Even if performance enhanced, “It’s an A Bomb from A-Rod,” became one of legendary Yankees radio voice John Sterling’s memorable signature calls. What else could you expect from a very enjoyable and personable broadcaster, who makes listening to any ball game fun.

St. John’s hasn’t been relevant for a long time. That’s why the timing of the news that Chris Mullin would step down as head basketball coach after four largely disappointing years was off. Why would they leak it right before tip off of the National Championship game between Texas Tech and Virginia?

That about sums it up with my former Alma mater who can’t seem to get out of their own way. Shall I run down the list of coaches since Mike Jarvis took Fran Fraschilla’s kids within an eyelash of a Final Four?

Norm Roberts

Steve Lavin

Chris Mullin

???

When does it end? Don’t tell me Bobby Hurley either. You damn well know he’ll use the St. John’s job as a stepping stone to help his candidacy for his dream job at Duke. He and about four other former players under Coach K. Johnny Dawkins is probably the leading candidate whenever Mike Kryzewski gets tired of coaching now that the one and done rule is becoming extinct in two or three years.

I won’t get into all the ugly accusations involving Nike and former Blue Devil Zion Williamson. Adidas has its own scandal involving big name schools and players. That’s the despicable side of college athletics nobody wants to talk about. Especially on CBS and ESPN. But the black eye for a corrupt sport that’s gotten rich off kids is coming. Don’t blink.

I understand why Mullin resigned after four years. Like most coaches, he wanted financial security. So, he asked for an extension with two years left on his contract. Athletic Director Mike Cragg wasn’t gonna bite. Had the recent team led by Shamorie Ponds performed better in March than a ugly loss to Arizona State in The First Four knockout stage, maybe Mullin would still be at the school he made famous while starring for the legendary Lou Carnesecca.

Sadly, 1985 is a lifetime ago. That Final Four will always be fondly remembered by St. John’s fans like me and my father, who also attended the school. I was raised on the Redmen. The chant was, “Let’s Go Redmen, Let’s Go Redmen,” before the PC era dictated a name change. I’ll never get used to Red Storm even if it’s not a bad nickname. These days, students and alumni chant, “Let’s Go Johnnies!” Not a bad replacement. It just doesn’t have the same enthusiasm.

I’ve always been the same on this issue. It’s Sports! Not political crap. I wish those people would go away and lock themselves in a cave. I hope the Redskins never change their team name. It’s coming.

I’ll never change my opinion on how I feel about Mullin. I knew it was a big risk by the University. They hired the legendary former player with the big name as a draw. It worked. Attendance went up. So did notoriety even if they didn’t reach the NCAA Tournament until Year Four. It’s a shame it didn’t work out better for the city’s favorite son.

This doesn’t make Mullin a bad guy. There have been plenty of former star players who failed as coaches or managers. For every Gil Hodges, Lou Piniella, Joe Torre or Steve Kerr, there’s a Ted Williams, Wayne Gretzky, Jason Kidd or Willis Reed.

What it means is that not all former great players make good coaches. Mullin will always hold a special place in St. John’s hearts. That’ll never change. He can take pride knowing they got to see their name revealed on Selection Sunday for the first time since 2015 in Lavin’s final year. He too went out similarly with St. John’s losing to San Diego State in the first round before wanting an extension. He now is back doing excellent work for Fox Sports in studio on Big East games.

With his older brother Roddy passing away after losing a battle with cancer, Mullin had personal reasons for leaving his dream job. Family is very important to him. Maybe his heart wasn’t in it. Judging from the way most St. John’s huddles were with assistant Greg St. Jean handling most of the coaching duties, it’s for the best.

I wonder why they couldn’t wait until a well played championship game won by Virginia in overtime over Texas Tech, was over. Would it have killed them to wait 24 hours for well respected CBS college basketball insider Jon Rothstein to break the story? Timing has been off for a while.

How did St. John’s go from Joe Lapchick, Frank MacGuire, Lapchick II and Carnesecca to this failed Error? I misspelled it intentionally. There are a variety of reasons starting with how poor the facilities are. Nobody wants to stay home anymore. Upgrading the campus life and facilities would really help the recruiting process. Something Mullin left for former top recruiter Matt Abdelmassih, who bolted to rejoin Fred Hoiberg, who was hired by Nebraska. They worked together at Iowa State before Hoiberg made a unsuccessful leap to the NBA.

Recruiting wasn’t something Lavin did well either. He didn’t go after anyone local. It’s so rare that a local kid like a Ponds chooses to stay and play for the hometown school. They lucked out. If only the former Jefferson High School star had made more improvement in his three years under Mullin and Mitch Richmond. They might be Hall of Famers. But they aren’t coaches. I never got what Richmond did during games. He seemed like one of the boys along for the ride.

The irony is I loved Run TMC at Golden State, featuring Tim Hardaway, Richmond and Mullin. I even had a classic gray and navy blue t-shirt with the three great Warriors on it in high school. Oh how I wish I had saved it along with my classic Marlins hoodie and Rockies jersey when both were expansion teams. Good times.

I wish the news on Mullin had come out today or tomorrow without the leaks on Twitter. Social media can have a negative affect. News travels faster. Sometimes, the reports are erroneous due to so-called reporters wanting to be first with the big scoop. Not to be political. There’s a lot of Fake News.

Virginia proved to be a team of destiny after somehow pulling off two miracles to stun Purdue and Auburn. Of course, Tony Bennett’s redemption team would need overtime to beat Texas Tech last night, going from the worst kind of history a year ago by becoming the only 1 seed to lose to a 16 against UMBC, to winning their first ever national title.

Full credit to DeAndre Hunter, Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome for delivering when it counted. Maybe there is hope for Hunter, who at times looked flat for his 6-7 size that will make him a lottery pick in June. He sure came up big in the second half, scoring most of his game high 27 in crunch time. That included the game’s biggest shot off a Jerome pass with a corner trey that forced overtime. A bad miscalculation for a well schooled defensive team like Chris Beard’s Red Raiders.

It’s astonishing to think that Texas Tech had a 29-6 bench edge and lost. Hunter locked up Jarrett Culver, who took too many shots (5-22) for his 15 points. Davide Moretti and Matt Mooney deserved more opportunities late along with Brandone Francis. They still only needed to let Jerome score and make it a one point game. Stay home on the shooters. Something they practiced and executed repeatedly under rising star Beard.

I shouldn’t say that considering Guy’s heroics against Auburn. The Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player scored six points in crazy fashion on a huge three and three free throws to stun Bruce Pearl’s Tigers. Guy had 24 yesterday including four from downtown like the clutch Hunter, who boosted his NBA stock. Jerome filled the stat sheet with 16 points, eight assists and six rebounds. As a team, UVA made 20 of 23 free throws including all 12 in overtime.

None of this would’ve been possible without the whacky desperation play involving Mamadi Diakite and Kihei Clark against Purdue in the Elite Eight. The well executed missed free throw by Jerome off the front rim, allowing Diakite to tip it out to the back court. Then a hustling Clark running down the loose ball in reverse away from the basket before turning around and having the poise to see the clock and make a perfect pass back to Diakite for his 12 foot floater that sent that wild Regional Final to overtime.

There’s never been a more unpredictable play that saved a team than that. They overcame Carsen Edwards’ miraculous 42 points that included a jaw dropping 10 treys to pull that one out in OT. The three wins against Purdue, Auburn and Texas Tech all could’ve been losses. Let’s not leave out the missed double dribble on Jerome leading up to Guy getting fouled on a corner three- sinking all three free throws with one second left to break Auburn hearts along with Charles Barkley.

Sometimes, it’s better to be lucky than good. You have to have luck to win. We’ve seen it so many times. The ’96 Yankees. The ’86 Mets. The ’90 Giants. The last three won by Big Blue all had that unique quality. The ’85 Royals benefitted from a missed final out call to come back and beat the Cardinals in seven. Not every champion needs it. Some dominate like the ’96 Bulls and ’99 Yankees. Most do.

What will happen with St. John’s? As I get ready to do a guest spot on Madison Miller’s podcast, here’s some friendly advice. Offer the job to Tim Cluees. He’s been with Iona for a decade and done an outstanding job. He has ties to our school. Though it ended badly. Make amends and get the local guy who won’t use the school to get another job like Hurley.

At some point, they had better get it right. Or what’s the point of even having basketball at the once proud school?

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Opening Day! Baseball Predictions

It’s Opening Day! On March 28, baseball starts up. It feels strange to say that. It’s a Thursday and we have a full slate of MLB.

The Yankees host the Orioles in the South Bronx. The Mets are in DC to take on the Nationals featuring last year’s Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom versus Max Scherzer. The newly minted deGrom with his extension signed two days ago after Noah Syndergaard spoke out.

At the Stadium, it’s Masahiro Tanaka for the Yankees on the mound while the Orioles counter with Andrew Cashner. The Birds will use the ‘opener’ a lot due to being bad. Something fans should be used to after how much success the Rays had last year. Oakland too even though it backfired last October against the Yankees in the cheesy one game wildcard.

Who’s psyched to see their favorite ballplayers and teams?!?! Everyone starts with the same record. Even the lowly Orioles, Tigers, Royals, Marlins and Giants. Who’ll lose 100 games?

Will anyone win 100 like the world champion Red Sox did with a jaw dropping 108? The Yankees hit the century mark too before bowing out in ugly fashion at home to Boston. But the Red Sox crushed everyone including the Astros and Dodgers, who are aiming for three consecutive World Series appearances. The pressure is on to win. They don’t want to become the Buffalo Bills of baseball.

Which player will have the biggest impact on a new team?

A.Bryce Harper, Phillies

B.Manny Machado, Padres

C.Paul Goldschmidt, Cardinals

D.Patrick Corbin, Nationals

E.Other

It’s truly an exciting time for baseball. Mike Trout is locked up with a record $430 million extension with the Angels. Will the game’s best player see October soon in the City of Angels? They do have Shohei Ohtani due back in May to DH following Tommy John surgery. Justin Upton and Andrelton Simmons too. But the rest of the roster remains sketchy. Matt Harvey is an Angel being counted on in their rotation. Justin Bour was brought in for lefty power.

The AL West remains a battle between the top heavy Astros and the Athletics. Houston boasting stars Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve, George Springer, Carlos Correa, Justin Verlander and trendy Cy Young pick Gerrit Cole. Oakland possessing young talent Matt Olson, Matt Chapman, former Ranger Jurickson Profar, Marcus Semien and big slugger Khris Davis. Sean Manaea is back to anchor the staff.

AL WEST

+1.Astros 97-65

*2.Athletics 92-70

3.Angels 79-83

4.Mariners 67-95

5.Rangers 65-97

The AL Central is the worst in the game. Only the pitching strong Indians should top 85 wins led by Cy candidates Trevor Bauer, Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco. Francisco Lindor will be sidelined with an ankle injury. But Jose Ramirez is ready for another big year. Does Hanley Ramirez have anything left and how much can power hitter Carlos Santana help the lineup? The outfield lost Michael Brantley to Houston. It’s not good. Only the Twins should challenge Cleveland with over 81 victories. We’ll see how much Marwin Gonzalez, Nelson Cruz, Jonathan Schoop and CJ Cron can help a lineup featuring Eddie Rosario, Jorge Polanco, Max Kepler and breakout candidate Byron Buxton. Miguel Sano is due back next month. Ace Jose Berrios could be a dark horse for the Cy Young. It’ll depend on Jake Odorizzi and former Yankee Michael Pineda.

AL CENTRAL

+1.Indians 91-71

2.Twins 84-78

3.White Sox 73-89

4.Tigers 65-97

5.Royals 59-103

The Yankees will battle the Red Sox in the AL East all summer. Can James Paxton be that reliable big lefty with Luis Severino sidelined until May? JA Happ is ack. Tanaka is the ace for now with CC Sabathia entering his final year. He won’t start the season either. It’s all about MVP candidates Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, who headline a lineup that still features Gary Sanchez, Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres. Didi Gregorius won’t return until probably July. It’s Troy Tulowitzki at short for now. With Aaron Hicks on the DL, Brett Gardner shifts to center field. That weakens the outfield. Both Greg Bird (healthy) and Luke Voit are in the lineup. The bullpen also will start without Dellin Betances, who needs to get up to speed. It still has Zack Britton, Chad Green, free agent addition Adam Ottavino and closer Aroldis Chapman. DJ Lemahieu is a good utility player. It’ll be interesting to see how Domingo German and Luis Cessa perform on the staff.

Boston boasts a great lineup that includes AL MVP Mookie Betts. The outfield is the best in baseball with all three Gold Glove caliber including Jackie Bradley, Jr. Andrew Benintendi will only get better. A scary thought for AL pitchers. JD Martinez made a huge difference last year. Even though Betts won MVP, Martinez was the biggest reason for the Red Sox success. He’s a scary hitter who challenged for the Triple Crown in 2018. Expect a bug year out of Rafael Devers. Xander Boegarts could fare better than last year. Second will be Eduardo Nunez and Brock Holt until Boston feels comfortable bringing back Dustin Pedroia. What does he have left? They will go as far as Chris Sale, David Price, Rick Porcello and Nathan Eovaldi take them. Former closer Craig Kimbrel remains unsigned. He’s priced himself out along with Scott Boras client Dallas Keuchel. So, Auston Barnes will close with Ryan Brasier setting up. Eduardo Rodriguez could be a key.

The only other team to keep an eye on is the Rays. Led by AL Cy Young winner Blake Snell, they have a interesting roster that features potential breakout candidate Austin Meadows with talented infielders Willy Adames and Joey Wendle. Charlie Morton is a nice addition to the rotation. Tyler Glasnow is a big arm to watch they stole from the Pirates. Kevin Kiermaier should bounce back. He plays unbelievable defense in center. Tommy Pham is a decent bat. It’s pitchers like Ryan Yarbrough and Ryne Stanek who will be counted on in unconventional fashion under skipper Kevin Cash. Mike Zunino supplies power behind the plate. Jose De Leon could return mid summer. The Rays will challenge the A’s and possibly the Twins for the wild card.

EAST

+1.Yankees 98-64

*2.Red Sox 95-67

3.Rays 90-72

4.Blue Jays 70-92

5.Orioles 56-106

The NL East is the best division. You have four possibilities who can win it. That includes the Mets, who added Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz from the Mariners in a blockbuster deal made by new GM Brodie Van Wagenen. What do you know? Cano took Scherzer deep in his first at bat as a Met. You know what they say about first impressions. The former All-Star second baseman remains a terrific defensive player who should still put up good numbers even though he’s getting up there. He will hit third in a lineup that features outfield tandem Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo. Adding slugging catcher Wilson Ramos was smart. Hopefully, he can stay on the field. Bust Travis d’Arnaud backs up for now with Devin Mesoraco displeased with being designated for Syracuse. He might retire. But he’s de Grom’s preferred catcher. A lot of excitement surrounds rookie first baseman Pete Alonso. He led the team in hitting this Spring. Alonso won the job over Dominic Smith. He’s penciled in batting second versus Scherzer today. Think Aaron Judge impact if he’s ready. Expect Amed Rosario to take the next step at short. Even though their lineup should improve, there are still holes. Juan Lagares in center and the third base situation aren’t great. Jed Lowrie is on the DL. Todd Frazier is a good power bat, but that’s it. They’re really counting on Jeff McNeill to hit at the hot corner. He reminds me of Daniel Murphy.

The top three of de Grom, Syndergaard and Zack Wheeler could be one of the game’s best. As long as Noah’s ark does his talking on the mound and Wheeler carries over his incredible second half in a contract year, that 1-3 is capable of carrying them. But they need more offense. That’s why they went out and got Cano and Lowrie. I still think it hinges on Alonso. Diaz closes with a nice balance that includes Robert Gsellman, Seth Lugo and former closer Jeurys Familia setting up. The back of the rotation is also a question due to Steven Matz, who can be good and bad. Whatever they get from Jason Vargas is a bonus.

So, are the Mets good enough to challenge the Braves, Nationals and Phillies? You be the judge. Atlanta added Josh Donaldson to play the hot corner. He’s a former MVP who if right, can put up huge numbers. I’ll go conservative and project 27 home runs and 80 RBI. Imagine the possibilities with MVP candidate Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies and young left field future star Ronald Acuna, Jr. The rest of the lineup isn’t overwhelming, but contains solid players such as Ender Inciarte, Dansby Swanson and Nick Markakis. I still think Johan Camargo should be a key in a utility role. He had a good 2018. I’m uncertain how much Brian McCann has left, but he’ll platoon with Tyler Flowers behind the plate. As much hype as the Mets Big Three get, Atlanta boasts young arms Mike Foltynewicz, Sean Newcomb and Kevin Gausman, who pitched well after Baltimore gave up on him. Kyle Wright is their big rookie to watch. Julio Teheran is hit or miss. Arodys Vizcaino closes and AJ Minter is a big arm who will miss the first week. Keep an eye on Touki Toussaint. Max Fried and Jesse Biddle are middle relievers with strikeout stuff.

The dynamic between the Nationals and Phillies is a interesting one. Bryce Harper went from Washington to Philadelphia. It took a while for the polarizing right field star to decide. It wasn’t much of a choice. He wasn’t going to sign with the White Sox or Giants. So, he decided for security. Now, he is in pressure packed Philly where the crazies boo Santa. Considering the kind of big personality he is, Harper should fit in. Think Reggie with the Yankees. But there’s a huge difference. Harper has an MVP on his resume and two big seasons. But Reggie Jackson was in a class of his own delivering for the Oakland A’s before becoming Mr. October. Bryce has yet to carry a team in the playoffs. We’ll see if he can in a potential lineup that features Rhys Hoskins, Andrew McCutchen, breakout candidate Maikel Franco, Odubel Herrera and new catcher JT Realmuto. They also traded for shortstop Jean Segura. A guy who can hit and run. This lineup has everything. Nick Williams is overlooked. Aaron Altherr can come off the bench.

For the Phillies, it’s all about the pitching. We know Aaron Nola is one of the game’s best pitchers. He could’ve won the Cy if deGrom wasn’t all worldly. After that, Jake Arrieta needs to be more consistent. Three through five are unproven. Nick Pivetta, Vince Velasquez and Zach Effin are all young. They’ll get swings and misses. Adding former Yankee David Robertson was a good move. He can set up or close if Seranthony Dominguez struggles. Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter are middle relievers. If they can limit the damage, the Phillies could go from 80 wins to 90.

Are the Nats better minus Harper? The talent is still there. Anthony Rendon headlines a balanced lineup that includes Trea Turner, slugging outfielder Juan Soto and Adam Eaton. It’s all about the health of both Turner and Eaton. Turner could be a MVP guy if he stayed on the field. He can hit, run and play defense. Eaton is a good center fielder. He’s had bad luck. They added Yan Gomes to catch and brought in Kurt Suzuki to back up. That’s a very good tandem. Brian Dozier is the second baseman. Does the former Twins 40 hone run man have something left? Ryan Zimmerman remains a good power hitting first baseman when on the field. Matt Adams is back to supply pop from the left side. Keep an eye on rookie Victor Robles. A potential five tool outfielder they expect big things from. Michael Taylor has power and speed. Wilmer Difo plays second too. When you look at a rotation headlined by Million Dollar Max, Stephen DL Strasburg and big free agent addition Corbin, this is a team that could contend. Jeremy Hellickson and Anibal Sanchez aren’t scaring anyone, but will give them innings. Sean Doolittle can close as can Koda Glover. Trevor Rosenthal once was a huge reliever for the Cards. There’s a nice balance here. Maybe they’re better off without the Harper distraction.

NL EAST

+1.Braves 92-70

*2.Nationals 91-71

3.Mets 88-74

4.Phillies 87-75

5.Marlins 54-108

The NL Central was a two horse race last year between the Brewers and Cubs. In the end, an awful September slump did in the Cubs. They didn’t hit or pitch and blew the division to the red hot Brew Crew, who were carried by surprising NL MVP Christian Yelich. It was that former Marlin of the outfield trio that included Stanton and Marcell Ozuna that put together a special season. Can he duplicate it?

The same can be asked for Cubs do everything middle infielder Javy Baez. Yelich has a three-run dinger today. What can Baez do for a Cubs team that needs a big bounce back from former MVP Kris Bryant and catcher Willson Contreras. Kyle Babe Schwarber must improve following a disappointing 2018. He has 35-40 home run potential. But not if he doesn’t make consistent contact. Think the Rangers’ Joey Gallo. The top of the rotation should be better with a full year of Cole Hamels combining with newly extended Kyle Hendricks and veteran southpaw Jon Lester to form a formidable top three. The scary part is that excludes Jose Quintana, who is very capable of going deep. Yu Darvish was okay in Spring Training. How will he do? Brandon Morrow was missed in the second half. He could be ready to close in May. So, who closes? Probably Pedro Strop or Brandon Kintzler. Brad Brach was a good add. He’s more reliable than Carl Edwards, Jr. Don’t forget the Cubbies have Anthony Rizzo at first. He’s usually good for 30 homers and 100 RBI. Ben Zobrist is the second baseman for now. Baez is at short. Albert Almora should continue to improve. Jason Heyward is basically a fourth outfielder despite his contract. Are they really gonna bring back Addison Russell? Considering all the details of his domestic abuse against his former wife, I wouldn’t. I don’t even know why he’s not suspended for the entire year. The Cubs could be very good if the offense hits to form. The pitching should carry them.

The Brewers don’t have that kind of staff. Jhoulys Chacin is the ace. Zach Davies, Jimmy Nelson and Chase Anderson are decent. Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff are power arms with plus stuff. Josh Hader is the best reliever in baseball. He can dominate the end of games. If the writers weren’t so insistent on voting for starters, I would seriously consider picking Hader for the Cy. He’s that good. Milwaukee can rake with the best of them. A balanced lineup that features do everything center fielder Lorenzo Cain with MVP Yelich includes sluggers Jesus Aguilar, Travis Shaw and Mr. Brewer Ryan Braun. Mike Moustakas is also back. Orlando Arcia is hoping to improve at short following a nice October. Yasmani Grandal was signed to boost the catching. Though not for his defense. Corey Knebel and Jeremy Jeffress are still at the back to close even though Hader is way better.

After falling short for a third straight year, the Cardinals beefed up by acquiring arguably the best first baseman in the NL in Goldschmidt. Adding his big bat to a lineup that boasts Ozuna, Matt Carpenter and Paul DeJong. Harrison Bader is someone to watch in the outfield. Yadier Molina is still behind the plate with Matt Wieters as insurance. It’s guys like Jedd Gyorko and Kolten Wong who’ll determine if the order is more than just the big boppers. Andrew Miller got big money to set up or close out of a bullpen that includes Jordan Hicks, John Gant and Dominic Leone. Jose Martinez shifts to the outfield with Goldschmidt on first. Health will be the key for Miller, who might not be the same pitcher. St. Louis is banking on him. Michael Wacha is in a rotation that has ace Miles Mikolas, Jack Flaherty, Dakota Hudson and veteran Adam Wainwright. It’s a interesting mix.

The final two teams are the Reds and Pirates. A doormat for years, Cincinnati traded for former Dodger Yasiel Puig and veteran Matt Kemp. Puig should be highly motivated in a contract year. He doesn’t understand why the Dodgers traded him. They weren’t playing him every day. Puig is a unique talent with a plus arm and the capability of 30 homers. Something he’s never done. In a lineup that includes Scooter Gennett, Eugenio Suarez and Joey Votto, who will bounce back, Puig could finally reach his full potential. Jose Peraza is the speed demon. The Reds traded for Sonny Gray. Hopefully, it’ll be a sunnier disposition for him there than the Bronx where he failed miserably. Luis Castillo is a big arm. Alex Wood is solid and Tanner Roark is a decent add to the rotation. Amir Garrett and Robert Stephenson must fulfill potential. Anthony DeSclafini is okay. Raisel Iglesias closes. On paper, this isn’t a bad roster. It’s no match for the upper echelon.

The Pirates won’t blow you away. They still should be a solid ball club. They took a risk trading away both Meadows and Glasnow to Tampa for Chris Archer. A strikeout guy with a proven arm. He’s never delivered the big season he’s capable of. He better in Pittsburgh. Jameson Taillon is full of potential. He won 14 games last year. He’s the ace. Trevor Williams is a decent third starter. I couldn’t tell you much about the other two starters. I know Felipe Vazquez (Rivero) closes. He’s got superb stuff. Keone Kela sets up and Kyle Crick they stole from the Giants for McCutchen. Nick Burdi once was considered a good prospect for Minnesota. He’s 26. Starling Marte is the best position player they have. He can hit for power and speed. Greg Polanco was a huge disappointment last year. Josh Bell could hit 30 dingers if he returns to form. Corey Dickerson is a solid professional hitter who kills righties. Francisco Cervelli is quietly one of the most underrated catchers in baseball. Adam Frazier is a solid utility guy and Lonnie Chisenhall is a decent fourth outfielder. How well will Colin Moran and Jung Ho Kang do? The offense could have issues scoring runs.

NL CENTRAL

+1.Cubs 97-65

*2.Brewers 93-69

3.Cardinals 87-75

4.Pirates 80-82

5.Reds 75-87

The NL West is basically a two horse race. No. The Padres aren’t quite ready to compete with the Dodgers or Rockies. The Diamondbacks are retooling. So, they eliminated themselves by trading Goldschmidt and losing Corbin as expected. Steven Sousa is also done for the year. The Giants are going to be very bad. They don’t have any superstars that can carry them. It’s just a question of when Madison Bumgarner is moved.

So, if three teams will all be under .500, what’s to get excited for? The Dodgers remain the class of the West. They dealt away Puig and Kemp in a cost cutting move with Alex Wood. They still have great talent. Walker Buehler supplants Clayton Kershaw as the staff ace who could challenge for the Cy Young. He is electric, young and will dominate. Kershaw starts on the DL. He’s expected back in two to three weeks. Last year, Max Muncy came out of nowhere to lead the Dodgers in home runs. He takes pitches and can go to the opposite field. That should bode well. Similar to the Yanks’ Voit, who got off to a quick start with a three-run blast to Monument Park in their win.

Cody Bellinger remains one of my favorite players. A versatile player who can play first or outfield due to his athleticism, expect him to improve at the plate. Justin Turner is the veteran leader at the hot corner who is a professional hitter with pop. What about shortstop Corey Seager? He’s back from Tommy John. If he rounds into form, watch out. Chris Taylor can play second and left field. Joc Pederson supplies plenty of power versus righties. Rather than pay Harper, they added solid outfielder AJ Pollock. A good ball player who can get on base, hit for a little power and run, it’s all about staying healthy for the ex-DBack. A very nice addition. Austin Barnes is catching with fan favorite Russell Martin backing up. Enrique Hernandez is a good right bat who will get starts and pinch hit. Keep an eye on top prospect Alex Verdugo. Either they’ll make room or use him as a trade chip in July.

If Julio Urias can return to form, the Dodgers pitching could be scary. Rich Hill is a five inning lefty with pinpoint control. Hyun-Jin Ryu is a good pitcher with nice stuff. They can use Kenta Maeda and Ross Stripling as starters and relievers. Pedro Baez sets up and former Red Sox flamethrower Joe Kelly should be a good fit in the pen. How does closer Kenley Jansen do following the heart procedure? He was shaky last year.

Colorado got back to the postseason in 2018. They even upset the Cubs in the wildcard to advance to a division series they lost to Milwaukee. The Rockies added Daniel Murphy to a lineup that boasts the game’s best third baseman Nolan Arenado, who got the big extension that should make Manny Machado jealous. Kidding. Arenado is all world at the plate and in the field. He’s surrounded by shortstop Trevor Story and Charlie Blackmon. Ian Desmond supplies pop and speed. David Dahl is a emerging slugger. Mark Reynolds made the roster out of camp. This could be it for the first baseman. Chris Iannetta catches and Tony Wolters backs up.

The Rockies pitching was a reason they made October. Ace Kyle Freeland was one of the Senior Circuit’s best pitchers. German Marquez won 14 games and fanned 230 in 196 innings. Tyler Anderson, Jon Gray and Chad Bettis are 3-5. Wade Davis is the closer. The former World Series hero saved 43 games, but had over a 4.00 ERA. They lost key set up man Ottavino to the Yankees. Bryan Shaw was lousy in 2018. Jake McGee will be a key factor.

The Padres should finish third by default. They gave Machado big money. Now, we’ll see if he can be an impact player on a young rising team. It’ll be interesting to see the moody slugger in that big ballpark. Eric Hosmer and Wil Myers have good power. So, the middle of the order should be solid. Manuel Margot and Hunter Renfroe are key players. Austin Hedges does the catching with former Indians top prospect Francisco Mejia having huge power. He had a big Spring. Most exciting is number two MLB prospect Fernando Tatis, Jr. made the team and will be the starting shortstop. He’s only 20 and considered to be a can’t miss prospect. Let’s see how he handles it. Ian Kinsler is a upgrade at second. The pitching isn’t good enough to compete. Best of luck to Adam Warren.

The Diamondbacks still have ace Zack Greinke and Robbie Ray headlining the rotation that includes Zack Godley and ex-Cardinal Luke Weaver, who came over in the Goldschmidt deal. Taijuan Walker isn’t ready yet. They signed Adam Jones to play right field and hit leadoff. A solid player who was disrespected by the lowly Orioles. He’s a guy you root for. David Peralta hit a career high 30 homers last year. Was it due to Goldschmidt? Jake Lamb returns, but they added Eduardo Escobar to play third. Former Met Wilmer Flores is a utility playing second today. Ketel Marte has shifted to center. Ex-Yankee John Ryan Murphy might be the worst starting catcher. Archie Bradley and Yoshihisa Hirano set up veteran Greg Holland.

The Giants are basically Bumgarner, Buster Posey and Evan Longoria. They’re all in decline. Though Bumgarner isn’t 30 until August 1. If he can find whatever he had before the injuries, then the Giants should get a huge return for the proven winner. His Spring was worrisome. Johnny Cueto is out until September. They added Drew Pomeranz. Dereck Rodriguez had a good rookie season. Chris Stratton is okay. Infielders Joe Panik, Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford are good defensively. All three underachieved last year with bad finishes for Belt and Crawford. Yangervis Solarte is the only newcomer at third with Pablo Sandoval the backup. Mark Melancon makes a ton of money to not save games. I’m a fan of him due to covering the Staten Island Yankees in 2006 when they won a Penn-League Championship. He was on the same team as Cervelli and popular former Giants reliever George Kontos. It’s Bruce Bochy’s last year as manager. He’s going to Cooperstown.

NL WEST

+1.Dodgers 95-67

2.Rockies 89-73

3.Padres 76-86

4.Diamondbacks 75-87

5.Giants 68-94

OCTOBER PREDICTIONS

American League

Wildcard

Red Sox over Athletics

Division Series

Yankees over Red Sox in 5

Astros over Indians in 4

ALCS

Yankees over Astros in 7

National League

Wildcard

Nationals over Brewers

Division Series

Cubs over Nationals in 4

Dodgers over Braves in 5

NLCS

Cubs over Dodgers in 7

WORLD SERIES

Yankees over Cubs in 6

MLB 2019 AWARDS

AL ROY Eloy Jimenez, White Sox

AL Cy Young Trevor Bauer, Indians

AL MVP Aaron Judge, Yankees

NL ROY Victor Robles, Nationals

NL Cy Young Jacob deGrom, Mets

NL MVP Trea Turner, Nationals

Hank Aaron Award Mike Trout, Angels

HR King Giancarlo Stanton (52), Yankees

RBI Leader Nolan Arenado (125), Rockies

Highest Batting Average Jose Altuve (.333), Astros

WS MVP Didi Gregorius, Yankees

Opening Day! Baseball Predictions

It’s Opening Day! On March 28, baseball starts up. It feels strange to say that. It’s a Thursday and we have a full slate of MLB.

The Yankees host the Orioles in the South Bronx. The Mets are in DC to take on the Nationals featuring last year’s Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom versus Max Scherzer. The newly minted deGrom with his extension signed two days ago after Noah Syndergaard spoke out.

At the Stadium, it’s Masahiro Tanaka for the Yankees on the mound while the Orioles counter with Andrew Cashner. The Birds will use the ‘opener’ a lot due to being bad. Something fans should be used to after how much success the Rays had last year. Oakland too even though it backfired last October against the Yankees in the cheesy one game wildcard.

Who’s psyched to see their favorite ballplayers and teams?!?! Everyone starts with the same record. Even the lowly Orioles, Tigers, Royals, Marlins and Giants. Who’ll lose 100 games?

Will anyone win 100 like the world champion Red Sox did with a jaw dropping 108? The Yankees hit the century mark too before bowing out in ugly fashion at home to Boston. But the Red Sox crushed everyone including the Astros and Dodgers, who are aiming for three consecutive World Series appearances. The pressure is on to win. They don’t want to become the Buffalo Bills of baseball.

Which player will have the biggest impact on a new team?

A.Bryce Harper, Phillies

B.Manny Machado, Padres

C.Paul Goldschmidt, Cardinals

D.Patrick Corbin, Nationals

E.Other

It’s truly an exciting time for baseball. Mike Trout is locked up with a record $430 million extension with the Angels. Will the game’s best player see October soon in the City of Angels? They do have Shohei Ohtani due back in May to DH following Tommy John surgery. Justin Upton and Andrelton Simmons too. But the rest of the roster remains sketchy. Matt Harvey is an Angel being counted on in their rotation. Justin Bour was brought in for lefty power.

The AL West remains a battle between the top heavy Astros and the Athletics. Houston boasting stars Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve, George Springer, Carlos Correa, Justin Verlander and trendy Cy Young pick Gerrit Cole. Oakland possessing young talent Matt Olson, Matt Chapman, former Ranger Jurickson Profar, Marcus Semien and big slugger Khris Davis. Sean Manaea is back to anchor the staff.

AL WEST

+1.Astros 97-65

*2.Athletics 92-70

3.Angels 79-83

4.Mariners 67-95

5.Rangers 65-97

The AL Central is the worst in the game. Only the pitching strong Indians should top 85 wins led by Cy candidates Trevor Bauer, Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco. Francisco Lindor will be sidelined with an ankle injury. But Jose Ramirez is ready for another big year. Does Hanley Ramirez have anything left and how much can power hitter Carlos Santana help the lineup? The outfield lost Michael Brantley to Houston. It’s not good. Only the Twins should challenge Cleveland with over 81 victories. We’ll see how much Marwin Gonzalez, Nelson Cruz, Jonathan Schoop and CJ Cron can help a lineup featuring Eddie Rosario, Jorge Polanco, Max Kepler and breakout candidate Byron Buxton. Miguel Sano is due back next month. Ace Jose Berrios could be a dark horse for the Cy Young. It’ll depend on Jake Odorizzi and former Yankee Michael Pineda.

AL CENTRAL

+1.Indians 91-71

2.Twins 84-78

3.White Sox 73-89

4.Tigers 65-97

5.Royals 59-103

The Yankees will battle the Red Sox in the AL East all summer. Can James Paxton be that reliable big lefty with Luis Severino sidelined until May? JA Happ is ack. Tanaka is the ace for now with CC Sabathia entering his final year. He won’t start the season either. It’s all about MVP candidates Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, who headline a lineup that still features Gary Sanchez, Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres. Didi Gregorius won’t return until probably July. It’s Troy Tulowitzki at short for now. With Aaron Hicks on the DL, Brett Gardner shifts to center field. That weakens the outfield. Both Greg Bird (healthy) and Luke Voit are in the lineup. The bullpen also will start without Dellin Betances, who needs to get up to speed. It still has Zack Britton, Chad Green, free agent addition Adam Ottavino and closer Aroldis Chapman. DJ Lemahieu is a good utility player. It’ll be interesting to see how Domingo German and Luis Cessa perform on the staff.

Boston boasts a great lineup that includes AL MVP Mookie Betts. The outfield is the best in baseball with all three Gold Glove caliber including Jackie Bradley, Jr. Andrew Benintendi will only get better. A scary thought for AL pitchers. JD Martinez made a huge difference last year. Even though Betts won MVP, Martinez was the biggest reason for the Red Sox success. He’s a scary hitter who challenged for the Triple Crown in 2018. Expect a bug year out of Rafael Devers. Xander Boegarts could fare better than last year. Second will be Eduardo Nunez and Brock Holt until Boston feels comfortable bringing back Dustin Pedroia. What does he have left? They will go as far as Chris Sale, David Price, Rick Porcello and Nathan Eovaldi take them. Former closer Craig Kimbrel remains unsigned. He’s priced himself out along with Scott Boras client Dallas Keuchel. So, Auston Barnes will close with Ryan Brasier setting up. Eduardo Rodriguez could be a key.

The only other team to keep an eye on is the Rays. Led by AL Cy Young winner Blake Snell, they have a interesting roster that features potential breakout candidate Austin Meadows with talented infielders Willy Adames and Joey Wendle. Charlie Morton is a nice addition to the rotation. Tyler Glasnow is a big arm to watch they stole from the Pirates. Kevin Kiermaier should bounce back. He plays unbelievable defense in center. Tommy Pham is a decent bat. It’s pitchers like Ryan Yarbrough and Ryne Stanek who will be counted on in unconventional fashion under skipper Kevin Cash. Mike Zunino supplies power behind the plate. Jose De Leon could return mid summer. The Rays will challenge the A’s and possibly the Twins for the wild card.

EAST

+1.Yankees 98-64

*2.Red Sox 95-67

3.Rays 90-72

4.Blue Jays 70-92

5.Orioles 56-106

The NL East is the best division. You have four possibilities who can win it. That includes the Mets, who added Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz from the Mariners in a blockbuster deal made by new GM Brodie Van Wagenen. What do you know? Cano took Scherzer deep in his first at bat as a Met. You know what they say about first impressions. The former All-Star second baseman remains a terrific defensive player who should still put up good numbers even though he’s getting up there. He will hit third in a lineup that features outfield tandem Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo. Adding slugging catcher Wilson Ramos was smart. Hopefully, he can stay on the field. Bust Travis d’Arnaud backs up for now with Devin Mesoraco displeased with being designated for Syracuse. He might retire. But he’s de Grom’s preferred catcher. A lot of excitement surrounds rookie first baseman Pete Alonso. He led the team in hitting this Spring. Alonso won the job over Dominic Smith. He’s penciled in batting second versus Scherzer today. Think Aaron Judge impact if he’s ready. Expect Amed Rosario to take the next step at short. Even though their lineup should improve, there are still holes. Juan Lagares in center and the third base situation aren’t great. Jed Lowrie is on the DL. Todd Frazier is a good power bat, but that’s it. They’re really counting on Jeff McNeill to hit at the hot corner. He reminds me of Daniel Murphy.

The top three of de Grom, Syndergaard and Zack Wheeler could be one of the game’s best. As long as Noah’s ark does his talking on the mound and Wheeler carries over his incredible second half in a contract year, that 1-3 is capable of carrying them. But they need more offense. That’s why they went out and got Cano and Lowrie. I still think it hinges on Alonso. Diaz closes with a nice balance that includes Robert Gsellman, Seth Lugo and former closer Jeurys Familia setting up. The back of the rotation is also a question due to Steven Matz, who can be good and bad. Whatever they get from Jason Vargas is a bonus.

So, are the Mets good enough to challenge the Braves, Nationals and Phillies? You be the judge. Atlanta added Josh Donaldson to play the hot corner. He’s a former MVP who if right, can put up huge numbers. I’ll go conservative and project 27 home runs and 80 RBI. Imagine the possibilities with MVP candidate Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies and young left field future star Ronald Acuna, Jr. The rest of the lineup isn’t overwhelming, but contains solid players such as Ender Inciarte, Dansby Swanson and Nick Markakis. I still think Johan Camargo should be a key in a utility role. He had a good 2018. I’m uncertain how much Brian McCann has left, but he’ll platoon with Tyler Flowers behind the plate. As much hype as the Mets Big Three get, Atlanta boasts young arms Mike Foltynewicz, Sean Newcomb and Kevin Gausman, who pitched well after Baltimore gave up on him. Kyle Wright is their big rookie to watch. Julio Teheran is hit or miss. Arodys Vizcaino closes and AJ Minter is a big arm who will miss the first week. Keep an eye on Touki Toussaint. Max Fried and Jesse Biddle are middle relievers with strikeout stuff.

The dynamic between the Nationals and Phillies is a interesting one. Bryce Harper went from Washington to Philadelphia. It took a while for the polarizing right field star to decide. It wasn’t much of a choice. He wasn’t going to sign with the White Sox or Giants. So, he decided for security. Now, he is in pressure packed Philly where the crazies boo Santa. Considering the kind of big personality he is, Harper should fit in. Think Reggie with the Yankees. But there’s a huge difference. Harper has an MVP on his resume and two big seasons. But Reggie Jackson was in a class of his own delivering for the Oakland A’s before becoming Mr. October. Bryce has yet to carry a team in the playoffs. We’ll see if he can in a potential lineup that features Rhys Hoskins, Andrew McCutchen, breakout candidate Maikel Franco, Odubel Herrera and new catcher JT Realmuto. They also traded for shortstop Jean Segura. A guy who can hit and run. This lineup has everything. Nick Williams is overlooked. Aaron Altherr can come off the bench.

For the Phillies, it’s all about the pitching. We know Aaron Nola is one of the game’s best pitchers. He could’ve won the Cy if de Grom wasn’t all worldly. After that, Jake Arrieta needs to be more consistent. Three through five are unproven. Nick Pivetta, Vince Velasquez and Zach Effin are all young. They’ll get swings and misses. Adding former Yankee David Robertson was a good move. He can set up or close if Seranthony Dominguez struggles. Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter are middle relievers. If they can limit the damage, the Phillies could go from 80 wins to 90.

Are the Nats better minus Harper? The talent is still there. Anthony Rendon headlines a balanced lineup that includes Trea Turner, slugging outfielder Juan Soto and Adam Eaton. It’s all about the health of both Turner and Eaton. Turner could be a MVP guy if he stayed on the field. He can hit, run and play defense. Eaton is a good center fielder. He’s had bad luck. They added Yan Gomes to catch and brought in Kurt Suzuki to back up. That’s a very good tandem. Brian Dozier is the second baseman. Does the former Twins 40 hone run man have something left? Ryan Zimmerman remains a good power hitting first baseman when on the field. Matt Adams is back to supply pop from the left side. Keep an eye on rookie Victor Robles. A potential five tool outfielder they expect big things from. Michael Taylor has power and speed. Wilmer Difo plays second too. When you look at a rotation headlined by Million Dollar Max, Stephen DL Strasburg and big free agent addition Corbin, this is a team that could contend. Jeremy Hellickson and Anibal Sanchez aren’t scaring anyone, but will give them innings. Sean Doolittle can close as can Koda Glover. Trevor Rosenthal once was a huge reliever for the Cards. There’s a nice balance here. Maybe they’re better off without the Harper distraction.

NL EAST

+1.Braves 92-70

*2.Nationals 91-71

3.Mets 88-74

4.Phillies 87-75

5.Marlins 54-108

The NL Central was a two horse race last year between the Brewers and Cubs. In the end, an awful September slump did in the Cubs. They didn’t hit or pitch and blew the division to the red hot Brew Crew, who were carried by surprising NL MVP Christian Yelich. It was that former Marlin of the outfield trio that included Stanton and Marcell Ozuna that put together a special season. Can he duplicate it?

The same can be asked for Cubs do everything middle infielder Javy Baez. Yelich has a three-run dinger today. What can Baez do for a Cubs team that needs a big bounce back from former MVP Kris Bryant and catcher Willson Contreras. Kyle Babe Schwarber must improve following a disappointing 2018. He has 35-40 home run potential. But not if he doesn’t make consistent contact. Think the Rangers’ Joey Gallo. The top of the rotation should be better with a full year of Cole Hamels combining with newly extended Kyle Hendricks and veteran southpaw Jon Lester to form a formidable top three. The scary part is that excludes Jose Quintana, who is very capable of going deep. Yu Darvish was okay in Spring Training. How will he do? Brandon Morrow was missed in the second half. He could be ready to close in May. So, who closes? Probably Pedro Strop or Brandon Kintzler. Brad Brach was a good add. He’s more reliable than Carl Edwards, Jr. Don’t forget the Cubbies have Anthony Rizzo at first. He’s usually good for 30 homers and 100 RBI. Ben Zobrist is the second baseman for now. Baez is at short. Albert Almora should continue to improve. Jason Heyward is basically a fourth outfielder despite his contract. Are they really gonna bring back Addison Russell? Considering all the details of his domestic abuse against his former wife, I wouldn’t. I don’t even know why he’s not suspended for the entire year. The Cubs could be very good if the offense hits to form. The pitching should carry them.

The Brewers don’t have that kind of staff. Jhoulys Chacin is the ace. Zach Davies, Jimmy Nelson and Chase Anderson are decent. Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff are power arms with plus stuff. Josh Hader is the best reliever in baseball. He can dominate the end of games. If the writers weren’t so insistent on voting for starters, I would seriously consider picking Hader for the Cy. He’s that good. Milwaukee can take with the best of them. A balanced lineup that features do everything center fielder Lorenzo Cain with MVP Yelich includes sluggers Jesus Aguilar, Travis Shaw and Mr. Brewer Ryan Braun. Mike Moustakas is also back. Orlando Arcia is hoping to improve at short following a nice October. Yasmani Grandal was signed to boost the catching. Though not for his defense. Corey Knebel and Jeremy Jeffress are still at the back to close even though Hader is way better.

After falling short for a third straight year, the Cardinals beefed up by acquiring arguably the best first baseman in the NL in Goldschmidt. Adding his big bat to a lineup that boasts Ozuna, Matt Carpenter and Paul DeJong. Harrison Bader is someone to watch in the outfield. Yadier Molina is still behind the plate with Matt Wieters as insurance. It’s guys like Jedd Gyorko and Kolten Wong who’ll determine if the order is more than just the big boppers. Andrew Miller got big money to set up or close out of a bullpen that includes Jordan Hicks, John Gant and Dominic Leone. Jose Martinez shifts to the outfield with Goldschmidt on first. Health will be the key for Miller, who might not be the same pitcher. St. Louis is banking on him. Michael Wacha is in a rotation that has ace Miles Mikolas, Jack Flaherty, Dakota Hudson and veteran Adam Wainwright. It’s a interesting mix.

The final two teams are the Reds and Pirates. A doormat for years, Cincinnati traded for former Dodger Yasiel Puig and veteran Matt Kemp. Puig should be highly motivated in a contract year. He doesn’t understand why the Dodgers traded him. They weren’t playing him every day. Puig is a unique talent with a plus arm and the capability of 30 homers. Something he’s never done. In a lineup that includes Scooter Gennett, Eugenio Suarez and Joey Votto, who will bounce back, Puig could finally reach his full potential. Jose Peraza is the speed demon. The Reds traded for Sonny Gray. Hopefully, it’ll be a sunnier disposition for him there than the Bronx where he failed miserably. Luis Castillo is a big arm. Alex Wood is solid and Tanner Roark is a decent add to the rotation. Amir Garrett and Robert Stephenson must fulfill potential. Anthony DeSclafini is okay. Raisel Iglesias closes. On paper, this isn’t a bad roster. It’s no match for the upper echelon.

The Pirates won’t blow you away. They still should be a solid ball club. They took a risk trading away both Meadows and Glasnow to Tampa for Chris Archer. A strikeout guy with a proven arm. He’s never delivered the big season he’s capable of. He better in Pittsburgh. Jameson Taillon is full of potential. He won 14 games last year. He’s the ace. Trevor Williams is a decent third starter. I couldn’t tell you much about the other two starters. I know Felipe Vazquez (Rivero) closes. He’s got superb stuff. Keone Kela sets up and Kyle Crick they stole from the Giants for McCutchen. Nick Burdi once was considered a good prospect for Minnesota. He’s 26. Starling Marte is the best position player they have. He can hit for power and speed. Greg Polanco was a huge disappointment last year. Josh Bell could hit 30 dingers if he returns to form. Corey Dickerson is a solid professional hitter who kills righties. Francisco Cervelli is quietly one of the most underrated catchers in baseball. Adam Frazier is a solid utility guy and Lonnie Chisenhall is a decent fourth outfielder. How well will Colin Moran and Jung Ho Kang do? The offense could have issues scoring runs.

NL CENTRAL

+1.Cubs 97-65

*2.Brewers 93-69

3.Cardinals 87-75

4.Pirates 80-82

5.Reds 75-87

The NL West is basically a two horse race. No. The Padres aren’t quite ready to compete with the Dodgers or Rockies. The Diamonbacks are retooling. So, they eliminated themselves by trading Goldschmidt and losing Corbin as expected. Steven Sousa is also done for the year. The Giants are going to be very bad. They don’t have any superstars that can carry them. It’s just a question of when Madison Bumgarner is moved.

So, if three teams will all be under .500, what’s to get excited for? The Dodgers remain the class of the West. They dealt away Puig and Kemp in a cost cutting move with Alex Wood. They still have great talent. Walker Buehler supplants Clayton Kershaw as the staff ace who could challenge for the Cy Young. He is electric, young and will dominate. Kershaw starts on the DL. He’s expected back in two to three weeks. Last year, Max Muncy came out of nowhere to lead the Dodgers in home runs. He takes pitches and can go to the opposite field. That should bode well. Similar to the Yanks’ Voit, who got off to a quick start with a three-run blast to Monument Park in their win.

Cody Bellinger remains one of my favorite players. A versatile player who can play first or outfield due to his athleticism, expect him to improve at the plate. Justin Turner is the veteran leader at the hot corner who is a professional hitter with pop. What about shortstop Corey Seager? He’s back from Tommy John. If he rounds into form, watch out. Chris Taylor can play second and left field. Joc Pederson supplies plenty of power versus righties. Rather than pay Harper, they added solid outfielder AJ Pollock. A good ball player who can get on base, hit for a little power and run, it’s all about staying healthy for the ex-DBack. A very nice addition. Austin Barnes is catching with fan favorite Russell Martin backing up. Enrique Hernandez is a good right bat who will get starts and pinch hit. Keep an eye on top prospect Alex Verdugo. Either they’ll make room or use him as a trade chip in July.

If Julio Urias can return to form, the Dodgers pitching could be scalry. Rich Hill is a five inning lefty with pinpoint control. Hyun-Jin Ryu is a good pitcher with nice stuff. They can use Kenta Maeda and Ross Stripling as starters and relievers. Pedro Baez sets up and former Red Sox flamethrower Joe Kelly should be a good fit in the pen. How does closer Kenley Jansen do following the heart procedure? He was shaky last year.

Colorado got back to the postseason in 2018. They even upset the Cubs in the wildcard to advance to a division series they lost to Milwaukee. The Rockies added Daniel Murphy to a lineup that boasts the game’s best third baseman Nolan Arenado, who got the big extension that should make Manny Machado jealous. Kidding. Arenado is all world at the plate and in the field. He’s surrounded by shortstop Trevor Story and Charlie Blackmon. Ian Desmond supplies pop and speed. David Dahl is a emerging slugger. Mark Reynolds made the roster out of camp. This could be it for the first baseman. Chris Iannetta catches and Tony Wolters backs up.

The Rockies pitching was a reason they made October. Ace Kyle Freeland was one of the Senior Circuit’s best pitchers. German Marquez won 14 games and fanned 230 in 196 innings. Tyler Anderson, Jon Gray and Chad Bettis are 3-5. Wade Davis is the closer. The former World Series hero saved 43 games, but had over a 4.00 ERA. They lost key set up man Ottavino to the Yankees. Bryan Shaw was lousy in 2018. Jake McGee will be a key factor.

The Padres should finish third by default. They gave Machado big money. Now, we’ll see if he can be an impact player on a young rising team. It’ll be interesting to see the moody slugger in that big ballpark. Eric Hosmer and Wil Myers have good power. So, the middle of the order should be solid. Manuel Margot and Hunter Renfroe are key players. Austin Hedges does the catching with former Indians top prospect Francisco Mejia having huge power. He had a big Spring. Most exciting is number two MLB prospect Fernando Tatis, Jr. made the team and will be the starting shortstop. He’s only 20 and considered to be a can’t miss prospect. Let’s see how he handles it. Ian Kinsler is a upgrade at second. The pitching isn’t good enough to compete. Best of luck to Adam Warren.

The Diamondbacks still have ace Zack Greinke and Robbie Ray headlining the rotation that includes Zack Godley and ex-Cardinal Luke Weaver, who came over in the Goldschmidt deal. Taijuan Walker isn’t ready yet. They signed Adam Jones to play right field and hit leadoff. A solid player who was disrespected by the lowly Orioles. He’s a guy you root for. David Peralta hit a career high 30 homers last year. Was it due to Goldschmidt? Jake Lamb returns, but they added Eduardo Escobar to play third. Former Met Wilmer Flores is a utility playing second today. Ketel Marte has shifted to center. Ex-Yankee John Ryan Murphy might be the worst starting catcher. Archie Bradley and Yoshihisa Hirano set up veteran Greg Holland.

The Giants are basically Bumgarner, Buster Posey and Evan Longoria. They’re all in decline. Though Bumgarner isn’t 30 until August 1. If he can find whatever he had before the injuries, then the Giants should get a huge return for the proven winner. His Spring was worrisome. Johnny Cueto is out until September. They added Drew Pomeranz. Dereck Rodriguez had a good rookie season. Chris Stratton is okay. Infielders Joe Panik, Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford are good defensively. All three underachieved last year with bad finishes for Belt and Crawford. Yangervis Solarte is the only newcomer at third with Pablo Sandoval the backup. Mark Melancon makes a ton of money to not save games. I’m a fan of him due to covering the Staten Island Yankees in 2006 when they won a Penn-League Championship. He was on the same team as Cervelli and popular former Giants reliever George Kontos. It’s Bruce Bochy’s last year as manager. He’s going to Cooperstown.

NL WEST

+1.Dodgers 95-67

2.Rockies 89-73

3.Padres 76-86

4.Diamondbacks 75-87

5.Giants 68-94

OCTOBER PREDICTIONS

American League

Wildcard

Red Sox over Athletics

Division Series

Yankees over Red Sox in 5

Astros over Indians in 4

ALCS

Yankees over Astros in 7

National League

Wildcard

Nationals over Brewers

Division Series

Cubs over Nationals in 4

Dodgers over Braves in 5

NLCS

Cubs over Dodgers in 7

WORLD SERIES

Yankees over Cubs in 6

MLB 2019 AWARDS

AL ROY Eloy Jimenez, White Sox

AL Cy Young Trevor Bauer, Indians

AL MVP Aaron Judge, Yankees

NL ROY Victor Robles, Nationals

NL Cy Young Jacob deGrom, Mets

NL MVP Trea Turner, Nationals

Hank Aaron Award Mike Trout, Angels

HR King Giancarlo Stanton (52), Yankees

RBI Leader Nolan Arenado (125), Rockies

Highest Batting Average Jose Altuve (.333), Astros

WS MVP Didi Gregorius, Yankees

Opening Day! Baseball Predictions

It’s Opening Day! On March 28, baseball starts up. It feels strange to say that. It’s a Thursday and we have a full slate of MLB.

The Yankees host the Orioles in the South Bronx. The Mets are in DC to take on the Nationals featuring last year’s Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom versus Max Scherzer. The newly minted deGrom with his extension signed two days ago after Noah Syndergaard spoke out.

At the Stadium, it’s Masahiro Tanaka for the Yankees on the mound while the Orioles counter with Andrew Cashner. The Birds will use the ‘opener’ a lot due to being bad. Something fans should be used to after how much success the Rays had last year. Oakland too even though it backfired last October against the Yankees in the cheesy one game wildcard.

Who’s psyched to see their favorite ballplayers and teams?!?! Everyone starts with the same record. Even the lowly Orioles, Tigers, Royals, Marlins and Giants. Who’ll lose 100 games?

Will anyone win 100 like the world champion Red Sox did with a jaw dropping 108? The Yankees hit the century mark too before bowing out in ugly fashion at home to Boston. But the Red Sox crushed everyone including the Astros and Dodgers, who are aiming for three consecutive World Series appearances. The pressure is on to win. They don’t want to become the Buffalo Bills of baseball.

Which player will have the biggest impact on a new team?

A.Bryce Harper, Phillies

B.Manny Machado, Padres

C.Paul Goldschmidt, Cardinals

D.Patrick Corbin, Nationals

E.Other

It’s truly an exciting time for baseball. Mike Trout is locked up with a record $430 million extension with the Angels. Will the game’s best player see October soon in the City of Angels? They do have Shohei Ohtani due back in May to DH following Tommy John surgery. Justin Upton and Andrelton Simmons too. But the rest of the roster remains sketchy. Matt Harvey is an Angel being counted on in their rotation. Justin Bour was brought in for lefty power.

The AL West remains a battle between the top heavy Astros and the Athletics. Houston boasting stars Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve, George Springer, Carlos Correa, Justin Verlander and trendy Cy Young pick Gerrit Cole. Oakland possessing young talent Matt Olson, Matt Chapman, former Ranger Jurickson Profar, Marcus Semien and big slugger Khris Davis. Sean Manaea is back to anchor the staff.

AL WEST

+1.Astros 97-65

*2.Athletics 92-70

3.Angels 79-83

4.Mariners 67-95

5.Rangers 65-97

The AL Central is the worst in the game. Only the pitching strong Indians should top 85 wins led by Cy candidates Trevor Bauer, Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco. Francisco Lindor will be sidelined with an ankle injury. But Jose Ramirez is ready for another big year. Does Hanley Ramirez have anything left and how much can power hitter Carlos Santana help the lineup? The outfield lost Michael Brantley to Houston. It’s not good. Only the Twins should challenge Cleveland with over 81 victories. We’ll see how much Marwin Gonzalez, Nelson Cruz, Jonathan Schoop and CJ Cron can help a lineup featuring Eddie Rosario, Jorge Polanco, Max Kepler and breakout candidate Byron Buxton. Miguel Sano is due back next month. Ace Jose Berrios could be a dark horse for the Cy Young. It’ll depend on Jake Odorizzi and former Yankee Michael Pineda.

AL CENTRAL

+1.Indians 91-71

2.Twins 84-78

3.White Sox 73-89

4.Tigers 65-97

5.Royals 59-103

The Yankees will battle the Red Sox in the AL East all summer. Can James Paxton be that reliable big lefty with Luis Severino sidelined until May? JA Happ is ack. Tanaka is the ace for now with CC Sabathia entering his final year. He won’t start the season either. It’s all about MVP candidates Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, who headline a lineup that still features Gary Sanchez, Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres. Didi Gregorius won’t return until probably July. It’s Troy Tulowitzki at short for now. With Aaron Hicks on the DL, Brett Gardner shifts to center field. That weakens the outfield. Both Greg Bird (healthy) and Luke Voit are in the lineup. The bullpen also will start without Dellin Betances, who needs to get up to speed. It still has Zack Britton, Chad Green, free agent addition Adam Ottavino and closer Aroldis Chapman. DJ Lemahieu is a good utility player. It’ll be interesting to see how Domingo German and Luis Cessa perform on the staff.

Boston boasts a great lineup that includes AL MVP Mookie Betts. The outfield is the best in baseball with all three Gold Glove caliber including Jackie Bradley, Jr. Andrew Benintendi will only get better. A scary thought for AL pitchers. JD Martinez made a huge difference last year. Even though Betts won MVP, Martinez was the biggest reason for the Red Sox success. He’s a scary hitter who challenged for the Triple Crown in 2018. Expect a bug year out of Rafael Devers. Xander Boegarts could fare better than last year. Second will be Eduardo Nunez and Brock Holt until Boston feels comfortable bringing back Dustin Pedroia. What does he have left? They will go as far as Chris Sale, David Price, Rick Porcello and Nathan Eovaldi take them. Former closer Craig Kimbrel remains unsigned. He’s priced himself out along with Scott Boras client Dallas Keuchel. So, Auston Barnes will close with Ryan Brasier setting up. Eduardo Rodriguez could be a key.

The only other team to keep an eye on is the Rays. Led by AL Cy Young winner Blake Snell, they have a interesting roster that features potential breakout candidate Austin Meadows with talented infielders Willy Adames and Joey Wendle. Charlie Morton is a nice addition to the rotation. Tyler Glasnow is a big arm to watch they stole from the Pirates. Kevin Kiermaier should bounce back. He plays unbelievable defense in center. Tommy Pham is a decent bat. It’s pitchers like Ryan Yarbrough and Ryne Stanek who will be counted on in unconventional fashion under skipper Kevin Cash. Mike Zunino supplies power behind the plate. Jose De Leon could return mid summer. The Rays will challenge the A’s and possibly the Twins for the wild card.

EAST

+1.Yankees 98-64

*2.Red Sox 95-67

3.Rays 90-72

4.Blue Jays 70-92

5.Orioles 56-106

The NL East is the best division. You have four possibilities who can win it. That includes the Mets, who added Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz from the Mariners in a blockbuster deal made by new GM Brodie Van Wagenen. What do you know? Cano took Scherzer deep in his first at bat as a Met. You know what they say about first impressions. The former All-Star second baseman remains a terrific defensive player who should still put up good numbers even though he’s getting up there. He will hit third in a lineup that features outfield tandem Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo. Adding slugging catcher Wilson Ramos was smart. Hopefully, he can stay on the field. Bust Travis d’Arnaud backs up for now with Devin Mesoraco displeased with being designated for Syracuse. He might retire. But he’s de Grom’s preferred catcher. A lot of excitement surrounds rookie first baseman Pete Alonso. He led the team in hitting this Spring. Alonso won the job over Dominic Smith. He’s penciled in batting second versus Scherzer today. Think Aaron Judge impact if he’s ready. Expect Amed Rosario to take the next step at short. Even though their lineup should improve, there are still holes. Juan Lagares in center and the third base situation aren’t great. Jed Lowrie is on the DL. Todd Frazier is a good power bat, but that’s it. They’re really counting on Jeff McNeill to hit at the hot corner. He reminds me of Daniel Murphy.

The top three of de Grom, Syndergaard and Zack Wheeler could be one of the game’s best. As long as Noah’s ark does his talking on the mound and Wheeler carries over his incredible second half in a contract year, that 1-3 is capable of carrying them. But they need more offense. That’s why they went out and got Cano and Lowrie. I still think it hinges on Alonso. Diaz closes with a nice balance that includes Robert Gsellman, Seth Lugo and former closer Jeurys Familia setting up. The back of the rotation is also a question due to Steven Matz, who can be good and bad. Whatever they get from Jason Vargas is a bonus.

So, are the Mets good enough to challenge the Braves, Nationals and Phillies? You be the judge. Atlanta added Josh Donaldson to play the hot corner. He’s a former MVP who if right, can put up huge numbers. I’ll go conservative and project 27 home runs and 80 RBI. Imagine the possibilities with MVP candidate Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies and young left field future star Ronald Acuna, Jr. The rest of the lineup isn’t overwhelming, but contains solid players such as Ender Inciarte, Dansby Swanson and Nick Markakis. I still think Johan Camargo should be a key in a utility role. He had a good 2018. I’m uncertain how much Brian McCann has left, but he’ll platoon with Tyler Flowers behind the plate. As much hype as the Mets Big Three get, Atlanta boasts young arms Mike Foltynewicz, Sean Newcomb and Kevin Gausman, who pitched well after Baltimore gave up on him. Kyle Wright is their big rookie to watch. Julio Teheran is hit or miss. Arodys Vizcaino closes and AJ Minter is a big arm who will miss the first week. Keep an eye on Touki Toussaint. Max Fried and Jesse Biddle are middle relievers with strikeout stuff.

The dynamic between the Nationals and Phillies is a interesting one. Bryce Harper went from Washington to Philadelphia. It took a while for the polarizing right field star to decide. It wasn’t much of a choice. He wasn’t going to sign with the White Sox or Giants. So, he decided for security. Now, he is in pressure packed Philly where the crazies boo Santa. Considering the kind of big personality he is, Harper should fit in. Think Reggie with the Yankees. But there’s a huge difference. Harper has an MVP on his resume and two big seasons. But Reggie Jackson was in a class of his own delivering for the Oakland A’s before becoming Mr. October. Bryce has yet to carry a team in the playoffs. We’ll see if he can in a potential lineup that features Rhys Hoskins, Andrew McCutchen, breakout candidate Maikel Franco, Odubel Herrera and new catcher JT Realmuto. They also traded for shortstop Jean Segura. A guy who can hit and run. This lineup has everything. Nick Williams is overlooked. Aaron Altherr can come off the bench.

For the Phillies, it’s all about the pitching. We know Aaron Nola is one of the game’s best pitchers. He could’ve won the Cy if de Grom wasn’t all worldly. After that, Jake Arrieta needs to be more consistent. Three through five are unproven. Nick Pivetta, Vince Velasquez and Zach Effin are all young. They’ll get swings and misses. Adding former Yankee David Robertson was a good move. He can set up or close if Seranthony Dominguez struggles. Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter are middle relievers. If they can limit the damage, the Phillies could go from 80 wins to 90.

Are the Nats better minus Harper? The talent is still there. Anthony Rendon headlines a balanced lineup that includes Trea Turner, slugging outfielder Juan Soto and Adam Eaton. It’s all about the health of both Turner and Eaton. Turner could be a MVP guy if he stayed on the field. He can hit, run and play defense. Eaton is a good center fielder. He’s had bad luck. They added Yan Gomes to catch and brought in Kurt Suzuki to back up. That’s a very good tandem. Brian Dozier is the second baseman. Does the former Twins 40 hone run man have something left? Ryan Zimmerman remains a good power hitting first baseman when on the field. Matt Adams is back to supply pop from the left side. Keep an eye on rookie Victor Robles. A potential five tool outfielder they expect big things from. Michael Taylor has power and speed. Wilmer Difo plays second too. When you look at a rotation headlined by Million Dollar Max, Stephen DL Strasburg and big free agent addition Corbin, this is a team that could contend. Jeremy Hellickson and Anibal Sanchez aren’t scaring anyone, but will give them innings. Sean Doolittle can close as can Koda Glover. Trevor Rosenthal once was a huge reliever for the Cards. There’s a nice balance here. Maybe they’re better off without the Harper distraction.

NL EAST

+1.Braves 92-70

*2.Nationals 91-71

3.Mets 88-74

4.Phillies 87-75

5.Marlins 54-108

The NL Central was a two horse race last year between the Brewers and Cubs. In the end, an awful September slump did in the Cubs. They didn’t hit or pitch and blew the division to the red hot Brew Crew, who were carried by surprising NL MVP Christian Yelich. It was that former Marlin of the outfield trio that included Stanton and Marcell Ozuna that put together a special season. Can he duplicate it?

The same can be asked for Cubs do everything middle infielder Javy Baez. Yelich has a three-run dinger today. What can Baez do for a Cubs team that needs a big bounce back from former MVP Kris Bryant and catcher Willson Contreras. Kyle Babe Schwarber must improve following a disappointing 2018. He has 35-40 home run potential. But not if he doesn’t make consistent contact. Think the Rangers’ Joey Gallo. The top of the rotation should be better with a full year of Cole Hamels combining with newly extended Kyle Hendricks and veteran southpaw Jon Lester to form a formidable top three. The scary part is that excludes Jose Quintana, who is very capable of going deep. Yu Darvish was okay in Spring Training. How will he do? Brandon Morrow was missed in the second half. He could be ready to close in May. So, who closes? Probably Pedro Strop or Brandon Kintzler. Brad Brach was a good add. He’s more reliable than Carl Edwards, Jr. Don’t forget the Cubbies have Anthony Rizzo at first. He’s usually good for 30 homers and 100 RBI. Ben Zobrist is the second baseman for now. Baez is at short. Albert Almora should continue to improve. Jason Heyward is basically a fourth outfielder despite his contract. Are they really gonna bring back Addison Russell? Considering all the details of his domestic abuse against his former wife, I wouldn’t. I don’t even know why he’s not suspended for the entire year. The Cubs could be very good if the offense hits to form. The pitching should carry them.

The Brewers don’t have that kind of staff. Jhoulys Chacin is the ace. Zach Davies, Jimmy Nelson and Chase Anderson are decent. Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff are power arms with plus stuff. Josh Hader is the best reliever in baseball. He can dominate the end of games. If the writers weren’t so insistent on voting for starters, I would seriously consider picking Hader for the Cy. He’s that good. Milwaukee can take with the best of them. A balanced lineup that features do everything center fielder Lorenzo Cain with MVP Yelich includes sluggers Jesus Aguilar, Travis Shaw and Mr. Brewer Ryan Braun. Mike Moustakas is also back. Orlando Arcia is hoping to improve at short following a nice October. Yasmani Grandal was signed to boost the catching. Though not for his defense. Corey Knebel and Jeremy Jeffress are still at the back to close even though Hader is way better.

After falling short for a third straight year, the Cardinals beefed up by acquiring arguably the best first baseman in the NL in Goldschmidt. Adding his big bat to a lineup that boasts Ozuna, Matt Carpenter and Paul DeJong. Harrison Bader is someone to watch in the outfield. Yadier Molina is still behind the plate with Matt Wieters as insurance. It’s guys like Jedd Gyorko and Kolten Wong who’ll determine if the order is more than just the big boppers. Andrew Miller got big money to set up or close out of a bullpen that includes Jordan Hicks, John Gant and Dominic Leone. Jose Martinez shifts to the outfield with Goldschmidt on first. Health will be the key for Miller, who might not be the same pitcher. St. Louis is banking on him. Michael Wacha is in a rotation that has ace Miles Mikolas, Jack Flaherty, Dakota Hudson and veteran Adam Wainwright. It’s a interesting mix.

The final two teams are the Reds and Pirates. A doormat for years, Cincinnati traded for former Dodger Yasiel Puig and veteran Matt Kemp. Puig should be highly motivated in a contract year. He doesn’t understand why the Dodgers traded him. They weren’t playing him every day. Puig is a unique talent with a plus arm and the capability of 30 homers. Something he’s never done. In a lineup that includes Scooter Gennett, Eugenio Suarez and Joey Votto, who will bounce back, Puig could finally reach his full potential. Jose Peraza is the speed demon. The Reds traded for Sonny Gray. Hopefully, it’ll be a sunnier disposition for him there than the Bronx where he failed miserably. Luis Castillo is a big arm. Alex Wood is solid and Tanner Roark is a decent add to the rotation. Amir Garrett and Robert Stephenson must fulfill potential. Anthony DeSclafini is okay. Raisel Iglesias closes. On paper, this isn’t a bad roster. It’s no match for the upper echelon.

The Pirates won’t blow you away. They still should be a solid ball club. They took a risk trading away both Meadows and Glasnow to Tampa for Chris Archer. A strikeout guy with a proven arm. He’s never delivered the big season he’s capable of. He better in Pittsburgh. Jameson Taillon is full of potential. He won 14 games last year. He’s the ace. Trevor Williams is a decent third starter. I couldn’t tell you much about the other two starters. I know Felipe Vazquez (Rivero) closes. He’s got superb stuff. Keone Kela sets up and Kyle Crick they stole from the Giants for McCutchen. Nick Burdi once was considered a good prospect for Minnesota. He’s 26. Starling Marte is the best position player they have. He can hit for power and speed. Greg Polanco was a huge disappointment last year. Josh Bell could hit 30 dingers if he returns to form. Corey Dickerson is a solid professional hitter who kills righties. Francisco Cervelli is quietly one of the most underrated catchers in baseball. Adam Frazier is a solid utility guy and Lonnie Chisenhall is a decent fourth outfielder. How well will Colin Moran and Jung Ho Kang do? The offense could have issues scoring runs.

NL CENTRAL

+1.Cubs 97-65

*2.Brewers 93-69

3.Cardinals 87-75

4.Pirates 80-82

5.Reds 75-87

The NL West is basically a two horse race. No. The Padres aren’t quite ready to compete with the Dodgers or Rockies. The Diamonbacks are retooling. So, they eliminated themselves by trading Goldschmidt and losing Corbin as expected. Steven Sousa is also done for the year. The Giants are going to be very bad. They don’t have any superstars that can carry them. It’s just a question of when Madison Bumgarner is moved.

So, if three teams will all be under .500, what’s to get excited for? The Dodgers remain the class of the West. They dealt away Puig and Kemp in a cost cutting move with Alex Wood. They still have great talent. Walker Buehler supplants Clayton Kershaw as the staff ace who could challenge for the Cy Young. He is electric, young and will dominate. Kershaw starts on the DL. He’s expected back in two to three weeks. Last year, Max Muncy came out of nowhere to lead the Dodgers in home runs. He takes pitches and can go to the opposite field. That should bode well. Similar to the Yanks’ Voit, who got off to a quick start with a three-run blast to Monument Park in their win.

Cody Bellinger remains one of my favorite players. A versatile player who can play first or outfield due to his athleticism, expect him to improve at the plate. Justin Turner is the veteran leader at the hot corner who is a professional hitter with pop. What about shortstop Corey Seager? He’s back from Tommy John. If he rounds into form, watch out. Chris Taylor can play second and left field. Joc Pederson supplies plenty of power versus righties. Rather than pay Harper, they added solid outfielder AJ Pollock. A good ball player who can get on base, hit for a little power and run, it’s all about staying healthy for the ex-DBack. A very nice addition. Austin Barnes is catching with fan favorite Russell Martin backing up. Enrique Hernandez is a good right bat who will get starts and pinch hit. Keep an eye on top prospect Alex Verdugo. Either they’ll make room or use him as a trade chip in July.

If Julio Urias can return to form, the Dodgers pitching could be scalry. Rich Hill is a five inning lefty with pinpoint control. Hyun-Jin Ryu is a good pitcher with nice stuff. They can use Kenta Maeda and Ross Stripling as starters and relievers. Pedro Baez sets up and former Red Sox flamethrower Joe Kelly should be a good fit in the pen. How does closer Kenley Jansen do following the heart procedure? He was shaky last year.

Colorado got back to the postseason in 2018. They even upset the Cubs in the wildcard to advance to a division series they lost to Milwaukee. The Rockies added Daniel Murphy to a lineup that boasts the game’s best third baseman Nolan Arenado, who got the big extension that should make Manny Machado jealous. Kidding. Arenado is all world at the plate and in the field. He’s surrounded by shortstop Trevor Story and Charlie Blackmon. Ian Desmond supplies pop and speed. David Dahl is a emerging slugger. Mark Reynolds made the roster out of camp. This could be it for the first baseman. Chris Iannetta catches and Tony Wolters backs up.

The Rockies pitching was a reason they made October. Ace Kyle Freeland was one of the Senior Circuit’s best pitchers. German Marquez won 14 games and fanned 230 in 196 innings. Tyler Anderson, Jon Gray and Chad Bettis are 3-5. Wade Davis is the closer. The former World Series hero saved 43 games, but had over a 4.00 ERA. They lost key set up man Ottavino to the Yankees. Bryan Shaw was lousy in 2018. Jake McGee will be a key factor.

The Padres should finish third by default. They gave Machado big money. Now, we’ll see if he can be an impact player on a young rising team. It’ll be interesting to see the moody slugger in that big ballpark. Eric Hosmer and Wil Myers have good power. So, the middle of the order should be solid. Manuel Margot and Hunter Renfroe are key players. Austin Hedges does the catching with former Indians top prospect Francisco Mejia having huge power. He had a big Spring. Most exciting is number two MLB prospect Fernando Tatis, Jr. made the team and will be the starting shortstop. He’s only 20 and considered to be a can’t miss prospect. Let’s see how he handles it. Ian Kinsler is a upgrade at second. The pitching isn’t good enough to compete. Best of luck to Adam Warren.

The Diamondbacks still have ace Zack Greinke and Robbie Ray headlining the rotation that includes Zack Godley and ex-Cardinal Luke Weaver, who came over in the Goldschmidt deal. Taijuan Walker isn’t ready yet. They signed Adam Jones to play right field and hit leadoff. A solid player who was disrespected by the lowly Orioles. He’s a guy you root for. David Peralta hit a career high 30 homers last year. Was it due to Goldschmidt? Jake Lamb returns, but they added Eduardo Escobar to play third. Former Met Wilmer Flores is a utility playing second today. Ketel Marte has shifted to center. Ex-Yankee John Ryan Murphy might be the worst starting catcher. Archie Bradley and Yoshihisa Hirano set up veteran Greg Holland.

The Giants are basically Bumgarner, Buster Posey and Evan Longoria. They’re all in decline. Though Bumgarner isn’t 30 until August 1. If he can find whatever he had before the injuries, then the Giants should get a huge return for the proven winner. His Spring was worrisome. Johnny Cueto is out until September. They added Drew Pomeranz. Dereck Rodriguez had a good rookie season. Chris Stratton is okay. Infielders Joe Panik, Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford are good defensively. All three underachieved last year with bad finishes for Belt and Crawford. Yangervis Solarte is the only newcomer at third with Pablo Sandoval the backup. Mark Melancon makes a ton of money to not save games. I’m a fan of him due to covering the Staten Island Yankees in 2006 when they won a Penn-League Championship. He was on the same team as Cervelli and popular former Giants reliever George Kontos. It’s Bruce Bochy’s last year as manager. He’s going to Cooperstown.

NL WEST

+1.Dodgers 95-67

2.Rockies 89-73

3.Padres 76-86

4.Diamondbacks 75-87

5.Giants 68-94

OCTOBER PREDICTIONS

American League

Wildcard

Red Sox over Athletics

Division Series

Yankees over Red Sox in 5

Astros over Indians in 4

ALCS

Yankees over Astros in 7

National League

Wildcard

Nationals over Brewers

Division Series

Cubs over Nationals in 4

Dodgers over Braves in 5

NLCS

Cubs over Dodgers in 7

WORLD SERIES

Yankees over Cubs in 6

MLB 2019 AWARDS

AL ROY Eloy Jimenez, White Sox

AL Cy Young Trevor Bauer, Indians

AL MVP Aaron Judge, Yankees

NL ROY Victor Robles, Nationals

NL Cy Young Jacob deGrom, Mets

NL MVP Trea Turner, Nationals

Hank Aaron Award Mike Trout, Angels

HR King Giancarlo Stanton (52), Yankees

RBI Leader Nolan Arenado (125), Rockies

Highest Batting Average Jose Altuve (.333), Astros

WS MVP Didi Gregorius, Yankees

March Sadness: It’s Time To Dance

Flyin’ Zion! Zion Williamson is ready to rock and roll along with NCAA tournament favorite Duke. More on the field of 68 that includes St. John’s by the skin of their teeth. AP Photo via Getty Images

March means a madness is coming. Similar to the wild and wacky weather, it’s one of the best times of year for sports fans. Just about everything is in play. The NBA and NHL are wrapping up the regular seasons. The NFL is just over a month away from the big Draft at the end of April. Baseball is getting ready to start up for real.

All those stories pale in comparison to college basketball. March Sadness is a time of jubilation and devastation. It’s a time of excitement and disappointment. The games are exciting for hoop fans. Not just for the gamblers who live and die with risky teasers and parlays based on the plight of a few teams they take based on point spreads.

I don’t gamble. I don’t believe in it. Sure. I’ve wondered a few instances where I knew there were some locks if it would be worth it. But I’m not the betting type. Maybe if I had a bigger bank account, I’d consider it once in a while. Even then, I wouldn’t become a compulsive gambler. There’s far too much risk. My advice to anyone who bets is choose wisely. Don’t live and die by it. I hope someone reads this and understands the important message I’m sending.

As far as why I refer to it as March Sadness rather than March Madness, please use the reasons stated above. For some diehard fans of their favorite schools, it can be heartache and heartbreak rather than exhilaration and celebration. Try telling that to the experts who already broke down the biggest tournament there is. The NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Field of 68 that officially came out yesterday as revealed by CBS.

As an old school college basketball junkie who goes back to that memorable 1985 Final Four that featured three Big East schools including Alma mater St. John’s, and holdovers Georgetown and Villanova, I love this time of year. There’s nothing like it. Take any sport you want. I will stick with the thrill and agony of college athletes playing for something bigger.

I know it’s not all roses. There remain big time issues with how corrupt the NCAA college basketball system is. The investigations of key players and coaches from big programs like Arizona and LSU remain like a dark storm cloud hovering over. How that gets resolved is better off left unsaid. Personally, I think Sean Miller should’ve lost his job with Arizona. Look how poorly they played in losing to Buffalo a year ago with first overall pick DeAndre Ayton. You can’t tell me it wasn’t a huge distraction. They’re not in this year’s tournament while LSU is without coach Will Wade, who’s suspended. How will the Tigers perform?

There is big money being made off these players. No matter what way you slice it, everyone is profiting off them. It remains unfair and explains why there is so much criticism and cynicism when it comes to the NCAA. The age of innocence when I was growing up on Staten Island in the forgotten borough, idolizing Chris Mullin, Walter Berry and Mark Jackson is long gone. Back then, it was easier to root for your team without all the craziness. I’m talking about the brackets that we all participate in. Yes, I’m guilty as charged. However, I don’t do it for money. I do it for fun. It’s literally impossible to come up with the “Perfect Bracket.” Leave that to the nerds who have perplexing systems. No offense.

My true excitement in viewing what they revealed last night were seeing the match-ups. Along with the four number one seeds with an astounding three coming from the ACC in top overall seed Duke, North Carolina and Virginia, with only Gonzaga representing the WCC, it’s always fun to see where they seeded schools you have interest in. For me, Big East champion Villanova only got a six seed despite winning both the regular season and conference tournament in a electrifying game over Seton Hall. The Hall for their trouble received a 10 seed and draw one of those tough mid majors in number seven Wofford. A team some experts like to do damage. At the very least, it sounds like a game I’ll watch. Plus I love and respect Myles Powell. A really good scoring guard who’s improved in his Junior year under coach Kevin Willard.

As they continued to announce each region, time was running out on Alma mater St. John’s. When Belmont vs Temple was revealed early on as a play in for the 11 seed that will draw number six Maryland, I knew it was dicey. Especially when anyone with a pulse realized the other two play in games are 16’s to get 1’s. When CBS came back from commercial, the final region was revealed. The West would be do or die for the Jekyll and Hyde Johnnies, who lost four of their last five including a regrettable Big East Quarterfinal 32-point humiliation to Marquette that put Mullin’s team on the ropes.

As they rolled out No. 1 seed Gonzaga on the first page, suspense built. My reaction was either they’re in or out. Even if I knew it would be as the play in which I actually correctly predicted. Yes. On Sunday morning early in our household, I told my Dad, who’s also a proud St. John’s alum, that I thought they’d draw either Arizona State or Temple. As they went to the top of the screen again, there it was at the top in print:

6 Buffalo

vs

11 St. John’s or Arizona State

The committee definitely has a keen sense of humor. The same committee that pitted Richard Pitino’s Minnesota Golden Gophers against his fired Dad’s former Cardinals of Louisville, thought it would be funny to have former NCAA legends Mullin versus Bobby Hurley coaching against each other to play a very good Buffalo Bulls team that won 31 games. If it’s Arizona State, it would mean Hurley facing his former team. If it’s St. John’s, it puts “New York’s Team” against the more successful Division I program from New York State. Buffalo having upset Arizona last year by humiliating them led by C.J. Massinburg. They lost in the second round to Kentucky.

Personally, I think the luck of the Irish on Saint Patrick’s Day was looking down on fellow lad Mullin, who’s no stranger to the NCAA bubble. He cited his freshman year at St. John’s under legendary coach Lou Carnesecca when the Redmen were 18-11 and didn’t know they would be playing in the tournament. When Mullin knew there was practice, he realized they made it. There also was the crazy story 40 years ago when St. John’s was the last team in out of 40 back then. That team made a run to the Elite Eight before losing by two to Penn. Dad vividly recalls that team. Of course, I can’t. I was not even two.

My reaction when I saw my school in as part of the Field of 68 was relief. I expected it. Overall, I think they did a good job. Maybe I don’t agree with Tennessee as a No. 2 seed while the ACC Big Three of Duke, Carolina and Virginia all are 1’s with Gonzaga. Michigan State was shafted by being given a 2 seed after beating Michigan three times including the Big Ten Championship. Their reward was being placed in the Duke bracket. They’re on a collision course with the Blue Devils in an Elite Eight showdown.

I thought Villanova could’ve gotten a 5 seed instead of a 6. They worked hard to win the Big East Tournament for a third straight year, outlasting the scrappy Pirates 74-72 with a Powell trey rimming out. Now, they’ll draw Saint Mary’s in the dreaded 11/6. St. Mary’s held Gonzaga under 50 points to end their run of dominance in the West Coast Conference. If the Wildcats advance, they would likely have to contend with good No. 3 seed Purdue. For Jay Wright’s defending champs, it’s not only about proven senior leaders Phil Booth and Eric Paschall. For a team that lost four starters last year to the NBA including Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges, Donte DiVincenzo and Omari Spellman, they have had younger players step up. Collin Gillespie, Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree, Saddiq Bey and Jermaine Samuels all played key roles in helping the Wildcats win the Big East. We’ll see if they have the Wright stuff later this week.

Teams whose bubble burst include TCU, NC State, Clemson, Indiana, Alabama and UNC Greensboro. There will always be schools who get left out. RPI was replaced by NET with the committee measuring how many wins bubble teams got in Quadrant I and Quadrant II. Top tier was considered. Even though they played a weak non-conference schedule, St. John’s had a big win over VCU. A fixture in the Big Dance eight of the last nine years, VCU is in a good 8/9 game versus UCF in the East Region. Combined with two victories over Marquette and a big home win over Villanova, plus a split with Seton Hall that included a controversial loss in Newark, it was just enough to get the Red Storm in.

Surprising runs by Oregon, Saint Louis and even St. Mary’s knocking off the Zags hurt the other bubble schools. I wonder if Murray State led by projected top three lottery pick Ja Morant would’ve made it had they not beaten Belmont to win the Ohio Valley. Probably not which would’ve been disappointing for basketball fans that are excited to see how the legitimate big scoring and great passing point guard looks. They’re the No. 12 seed that’ll get No. 5 Marquette in a scintillating guard match-up featuring Big East Player of The Year Markus Howard. It should be a entertaining back and forth frenetic style. Circle that one on Thursday in the West Region.

Everyone knows how electrifying Zion Williamson is. The dominant athletic force for Duke is the difference between being average and competing for another national title under Mike Kryzewski. The 6-7, 285 pound explosive power forward plays the game with such a passion that he reminds me of Charles Barkley. His vertical leaping ability allows him to alter shots and block shots while absolutely controlling the glass. He’s extremely quick getting to the basket and a highlight reel that has invigorated college basketball fans with his enthusiasm at both ends. What I like most is he’s the antithesis of a me first athlete that we see too often these days. He also isn’t reliant on the three ball. He can occasionally step out and shoot it, but his arsenal is all about beating players off the dribble for And-1’s, powerful dunks, offensive rebounds and easy finishes in transition.

It’s astonishing what Flyin’ Zion means to Duke, who also boast projected top three lottery pick R.J. Barrett at combo guard/forward. The freshman class Coach K has that includes sharpshooter Cam Reddish and shutdown guard Tre Jones is remarkable. They’re uniquely talented despite not being a great shooting team from long distance. This isn’t a deep squad. That’s why they went 3-3 without Williamson when he missed six games due to a mild knee sprain. He never considered going back on his word to sit out for the NBA Draft. He loves college and is all about winning championships like Duke did in a great ACC Title Game over North Carolina.

Wouldn’t a Duke vs North Carolina NCAA Final be a ratings bonanza? Wow! Given how well both teams are playing entering the tournament, it’s a strong possibility. Carolina will have a harder road after being placed in a tough Midwest that features No. 2 seed Kentucky, No. 4 Kansas, No. 5 Auburn along with potential bracket busters Iowa State, Wofford and Utah State. That’s no picnic for Roy Williams, whose high scoring team will start with area local Iona, who won the MAAC for a fourth consecutive year to earn their way in as a 16 seed.

Virginia is back as a 1 seed in the South. A year ago, Tony Bennett’s club made the wrong kind of history by becoming the first ever top seed to lose to a 16 when UMBC out played them to easily pull off the huge upset. What I’ll remember most is how well Bennett handled the humbling loss. He really was honest about what happened and didn’t shy away from it, giving full credit to the University of Baltimore Maryland County for how well they played to earn the historic achievement.

The Cavaliers have a lot to prove. Led by the trio of Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome and expected lottery pick De’Andre Hunter, they’re capable of scoring more than last year’s team. In particular, Guy is the key with some good half court sets freeing him up from three. He is the glue of the team. Hunter is an athletic combination guard that can create match-up advantages. Jerome is more distributor than scorer. Virginia remains the nation’s top defensive team allowing 54.6 points on average. They aren’t always in sync offensively. Strong second halfs have helped them pull away in close games.

The biggest threats are No. 2 Tennessee, No. 3 Purdue if both get by potential tough second rounds against Cincinnati and Villanova respectively if form holds. Kansas State is on the same side as Virginia, but get an early test from No. 13 UC Irvine. Keep an eye on the bottom of that section with No. 12 Oregon hot having played their way in by winning the PAC-12 Tournament led by crafty point guard Payton Pritchard. Learn his name. He can ball for a little guy. If the Ducks make a run under good coach Dana Altman, the junior will lead the way. He was on their Final Four team in 2017.

A final thought on St. John’s playing in the tournament for the first time since a disappointing first round exit at the hands of San Diego State in 2015. I know they’ve been consistently inconsistent since Big East play started back on that controversial night at Seton Hall. A game that nearly cost them an at large bid.

They’ve gotten a reprieve. This is a opportunity of a lifetime for a school that hasn’t advanced out of the first round since 2000. I was 23 barely out of St. John’s with a Bachelor’s degree in Sports Management. That’s how long it’s been. The glory days of Ron Artest, Bootsy Thornton, Lavor Postell, Erick Barkley and Tyrone Grant leading the team to within striking distance of its second ever Final Four in 1999 are long gone. Reggie Jessie out of Bishop Loughlin was the key Sixth Man on Mike Jarvis’s team that lost by three to Ohio State and Scoonie Penn. I still hate him all these years later.

I watched it at a local bar with close buddy Timmy Amass. It was agonizing. They played so poorly, but a last ditch effort nearly pulled off an unthinkable comeback. That included a pair of long three’s from Artest, who would go on to a successful NBA career that had a bit of everything, including helping the Lakers win a championship in 2010. Believe it or not, he now coaches in the D League.

For Mullin’s team that prominently features former Jefferson star Shamorie Ponds, who was third in the Big East in scoring and again All Big East First Team, here is a chance to prove they belong. Playing Arizona State won’t be easy this Wednesday night in Dayton, Ohio. ASU is more experienced having lost in the same play in last year. You know they’ll be out for vengeance. Interestingly enough, the schools did face each other in 2017-18 with the Sun Devils coming away with a 12-point win.

None of that matters when they tip off after 9 EST in two days. Mustapha Heron and Marvin Clark have necessary experience. Heron played for Auburn before transferring. Clark with Michigan State for two years under Tom Izzo. When the Johnnies are right, they play strong defense, forcing turnovers and getting out in transition. They spread the floor and involve everyone.

It still would be beneficial for Ponds to look for his shot early. He’s their best player. I know he’s changed his game somewhat by involving more teammates to make himself more marketable to NBA scouts. But Ponds is a streaky scorer in the classic NYC sense. He can get hot and be unstoppable when he’s driving and hitting the floater. That can open up his step back from downtown. He’s also a good passer getting over five assists per game. Ponds can do it at both ends by being a ball hawk. He can get his active hands on balls that lead to steals.

Heron is your classic tweener who can play bigger than his 6-5, 220 frame. He averaged just under 15 points and grabbed 4.7 rebounds. He’s most effective when he’s using his speed to drive and score inside the paint. He can occasionally step out and drain the three if it’s open. Having him on the floor to rebound along with good scoring sophomore L.J. Figueroa are essential. Both will be important keys to a victory. Figueroa is a good long range shooter who also paces St. John’s in rebounds (6.2). He must stay disciplined.

Clark needs to stay out of foul trouble. He’s a good perimeter threat, who also grabs over five rebounds. He’s a senior who’s been here before. This is a chance to make up for a forgettable night against Marquette where he fouled out with no points last Thursday.

It’s so contingent on the starting five because Mullin only uses two off the bench. Bryant Trimble, Jr. is a spot up three-point shooter and Sedee Keita is a shot blocking presence who is used for defense due to his size (6-9, 240). He has little offensive game. It’s too bad Mikey Dixon transferred. They could’ve used him. It reminds me of Malik Ellison, who plays for Pittsburgh. His numbers have decreased on a team that didn’t have a good year.

Justin Simon remains the most under appreciated player on the Red Storm. Selected as the Big East Defensive Player of The Year, the junior guard stepped up his game in the conference tournament. He was instrumental in the must win over DePaul that was barely enough to squeak in. Simon isn’t going to score from the outside. He’s good at attacking the rim and getting out in transition. He does the little things well that help you win at this crucial time of year. The younger son of former NBA pro Miles Simon is a real team leader, who’s the defensive catalyst. In the two wins over Marquette, he held the explosive Howard to a combined 26 points. He’s a good all around player who does a bit of everything for St. John’s.

If they are to get the win versus a good Arizona State team, St. John’s must stay out of foul trouble and rebound. They’re not going to have the size edge. So, they must battle for every loose ball and hustle. Executing on both ends will be important. In the ugly 32-point blowout defeat to the Golden Eagles, they didn’t have their legs. A thin team to begin with, that can’t be the case on Wednesday.

I’m curious to see how they respond. Judging from the excited reaction at around 6:30 yesterday when they saw that they had made it, it means everything to these kids. Now, they must play like it. Mullin doesn’t believe in using his past experience as a motivator. He wants it rather to be about the present St. John’s team. Go out and have fun. Get ready. Win.

It won’t be easy. Nothing ever is for them. Maybe that’s how it has to be. We’ll see if they’re ready. Everyone will be watching. It’s the most excitement I’ve had for a game in years. For old times sake, “Let’s Go Redmen!”

See ya later, Odell

From the moment he signed the five-year contract extension worth $90 million last year with the New York Giants, Odell Beckham was supposed to be thrilled staying in East Rutherford, New Jersey. With the bright lights of New York City as a backdrop across the Lincoln Tunnel from Met Life Stadium, the uniquely talented larger than life star wide receiver had the chance to become an all-time great for one of the NFL’s most successful franchises.

Through it all, even with the former 2014 first round pick grabbed at number 12 overall out of LSU by former Giants general manager Jerry Reese, the charismatic and overly dramatic Beckham was the lightning rod that lit up the gridiron for Big Blue. Fans loved his one-handed touchdown catch that defied logic. They adored the special player he was.

Odell Beckham proposed to the net. AP Photo via Getty Images courtesy NFL

At 22, he took the league by storm with 91 receptions for 1305 yards and a cool baker’s dozen of touchdowns full of electrifying plays and celebrations. Teamed with two-time Super Bowl champion Eli Manning, it looked like a match made in heaven. Eli to Beckham became a Giant staple on highlight reels with the explosive No. 13 taking seamless routes to the house.

There’s no doubting Beckham’s physical gifts. His first three seasons as a Giant at the wide receiver position are unrivaled. Year Two was 96 catches, 1450 yards and 13 touchdowns. Year Three is the only season he played in all 16 games, finishing with a career best 101 receptions for 1367 yards and 10 more touchdowns. In his first 43 games, he had a combined 288 catches, 4117 yards and 35 scores.

Astonishingly, the three-time Pro Bowler only played in one playoff game. A forgettable 38-13 loss to Green Bay in the NFC Wildcard at Lambeau Field following an 11-5 record in 2016. Following an ill timed boat party in Miami a week prior to the game, Beckham only caught four passes for 28 yards. He was targeted 11 times, which included a couple of crucial drops that stalled drives.

It’s hard to fathom three years later, Beckham’s gone. The uncanny receiver went off the tracks after a broken ankle against the Chargers during 2017. That changed everything. It almost became an alternate universe for OBJ and a disorganized Giants organization that following replacing Reese and Ben McAdoo with David Gettleman and Pat Shurmur for 2018, was like a parallel world, basically channeling a odd storyline in the cult classic TV show Dark Shadows.

Not shockingly, the team became bad quickly. They had already sunk to great depths in a disastrous Year Two under McAdoo, whose bizarre press conferences along with his insistence on benching Manning for the mediocre Geno Smith, led to his undoing. He didn’t even survive 2017 by getting unceremoniously dumped by what was a classy organization. Class is something John Mara has held onto from his late Dad, Wellington Mara. But under the younger Mara and Steve Tisch, common sense hasn’t been so common.

Sticking with Eli Manning has proven to be shortsighted. The aging quarterback, who is always accountable by handling losses with a dignity not even older brother Peyton Manning could, remains a Giant by default. This isn’t so much about Eli, who is making too much money on the salary cap. At this point, he’s not worth the $23.2 million he’s set to earn in his final year. That includes a roster bonus of $5 million on Saint Patrick’s Day. That’s only four days away.

It’s really about a stubborn front office that fears releasing Eli in similar fashion to Phil Simms. However, the big difference was when legendary GM George Young did it, Simms had just come off a Pro Bowl year with a wildcard win. That decision turned out pretty bad too due to Supplemental Draft pick Dave Brown never becoming the QB Young envisioned. They went through Kent Graham and Danny Kanell too in a dark era for Giants football in the mid 90’s before Kerry Collins brought back stability.

The return for Beckham last night isn’t bad. Despite what the experts believe, getting the Browns’ first round pick (No. 17), their second third rounder (No. 95-New England) and safety Jabrill Peppers is a solid return. Sure. It’s not a home run like a top five draft pick would’ve been. But they couldn’t have gotten that for Odell coming off the busted ankle last year anyway.

Ironically, the Browns picked first last year taking QB Baker Mayfield. A great selection that set up the franchise for a bright future that now features Beckham, Jarvis Landry, Nick Chubb and former troubled Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt and Duke Johnson. They could be scary good in 2019. With the moody Antonio Brown forcing his way out of Pittsburgh to the Raiders for only third and fifth round picks (#’s 66 & 142), it’s the Browns who are AFC North favorites.

So, what was the moment that made the Giants regret giving Odell the new contract? For me, it isn’t the boat party that ended in a very disappointing wildcard loss to Aaron Rodgers. It isn’t even him pretending to take a piss during a bizarre touchdown celebration that aggravated Mara. The poorly timed interview with media giant ESPN a month into last season had to be the breaking point for everyone involved. He basically threw Eli under the bus and insulted the organization that made him the NFL’s highest paid wideout.

This is who he is. A great talent who can be a distraction with his diva tendencies which continued during the off-season with cryptic tweets. That couldn’t have helped. I think it was his way of saying, ‘I don’t want to be here.’ I can’t prove it. Jay Glazer called it.

Considering how well Saquon Barkley handled a record setting first year that won him AP Rookie Of The Year with 1307 rushing yards, 15 combined touchdowns (11 rushing/4 receiving), and 2028 total yards from scrimmage, the former Penn State star the Giants took second overall over Sam Darnold, was a breath of fresh air. He isn’t over the top when it comes to scoring or antics on and off the field. The 22-year old from the Bronx is the quintessential Giant, who they want to build around.

The issue becomes what do Giants brass decide on the quarterback. Or when. Can they really bring Manning back when they’re gonna stink anyway? Why would they? Even with an improved offensive line, they subtracted Landon Collins (signed with Redskins), Snacks Harrison (Lions), underachiever Olivier Vernon (traded to Browns for guard Kevin Zeitler with no pick swap) and Eli Apple (Saints) from the defense.

So, with the number six pick, are they going defense? They have no pass rush. In a good draft full of talented players with potential, it would make sense to rebuild the defensive line. They desperately need an edge rusher who can pressure quarterbacks and make an impact. Not just whiff like Vernon did most of the time. He still paced Big Blue with seven sacks.

I’m assuming Dwayne Haskins won’t be available at number six. The Ohio State quarterback had a superb season for the Buckeyes. He isn’t going to run much, but he can throw it. Kyler Murray is expected to go number one to Arizona. Don’t forget the Cardinals are shopping Josh Rosen. Might Gettleman have interest by offering one of the third round picks? We’ll see.

What about the number 17 pick they received from Cleveland? Do they go receiver? Only Sterling Shepard remains as a solid target with tight end Evan Engram a potential breakout candidate if he stays healthy in Year Three. Don’t forget Barkley is a true dual threat who caught a team best 91 passes for 721 receiving yards and four TD. In case you’re wondering, OBJ had 77 receptions for 1052 yards and six scores in the Giants’ first 12 games. He missed the final four due to a quad injury.

I’ll say this. Even though he doesn’t turn 27 until November 5th, Beckham’s injury history is a concern moving forward. Any time you’re talking about a very talented receiver who’s had leg injuries including hamstring issues, that’s the first thing you worry about. You can argue that he’s still in his prime with a few peak years left.

It’ll all depend on if he can stay on the field. Perhaps having other weapons around him will help. Honestly, the Browns are a perfect fit for Beckham. We’ll see if he can deliver the goods with the pressure squarely on Cleveland to fulfill lofty expectations at the Dawg Pound.

Don’t you find it fascinating that already, Beckham wants to restructure his current contract? Typical of who he is. How about going out and proving you can stay healthy and be the elite receiver everyone thinks you are. What about leading the Browns back to the playoffs and helping them advance. That’s Cleveland’s problem now.

If the Giants are gonna do this, then go all the way even if it means breaking Eli’s heart. Sometimes, it can be a cruel business. It was never going to be about 2019 anyway. It is clearly about the future of a franchise that’s lost its way. Expect more moves by the Draft in late April.

See ya later, Odell.

Everybody Hurts

When your day is long and the night

The night is yours alone

When you’re sure you’ve had enough

Of this life, well hang on

Don’t let yourself go

Cause everybody cries

And everybody hurts sometimes

We’ve all experienced pain inside. We’ve all hurt at one time or another over something. Whether it’s heartbreak and heartache, or even worse, sometimes our emotions get the best of us.

I’ve been moved to tears throughout my life. I’ve also had that uncomfortably numb pain inside that wouldn’t go away as I lied awake in bed. It’s not always anxiety driven either. Sometimes, it’s something as touching as a great scene in a movie that sticks with you. Or maybe it’s a beautiful video tribute to a favorite player you love, who no longer plays for your team. It could be when you find out sad news on someone close. Even a star athlete you idolized.

Mets fans are going through this tough time after finding out the sad news that legendary Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Seaver is suffering from dementia. In what’s supposed to be a special year where they commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the ’69 Miracle Mets, they find out that the greatest player they ever had won’t be able to physically attend the tribute to that remarkable championship team.

It sucks. I may not be a Mets fan. However, I rooted for them in ’86 as a nine-year old to come back and beat the Red Sox in a memorable World Series. Game Six will always stand out for what happened in that miraculous 10th inning with two outs. Down to their last strike, the Amazin’s wouldn’t die at Shea Stadium. Gary Carter started the epic rally with a line drive single. Kevin Mitchell followed with another base hit. Then, Ray Knight drove in Carter. You know what happened next. The wild pitch allows Mitchell to score the tying run with Mookie Wilson up. Then, a little roller bouncing so slowly towards Boston first baseman Bill Buckner, who puts his glove down to field it, only to have the roller go “BEHIND THE BAG,” as Vin Scully emphatically described before screaming, “Here comes Knight and the Mets win it!”

I can remember it like it was yesterday. I was all excited in my pajamas going crazy like any kid. Back then, I hadn’t chosen my New York team. But Don Mattingly was my favorite player followed by Dave Winfield. It became the Yankees even though I still hold a special place in my heart for Doc and Darryl. We know them as Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry. Their career paths were eerily similar. So much God given talent for each. Done in by alcohol and substance abuse. First, Doc hooked on cocaine. Strawberry was an alcoholic. He didn’t fall until after Gooden when he made the terrible mistake of signing with the Dodgers. It was a nightmare. While he was falling apart, I can still recall my father telling me that Gooden relapsed when he drove me home from college orientation at Fairleigh Dickinson in Madison, New Jersey. I was saddened by the news.

Never did I believe that both Gooden and Strawberry would get second chances with the Yankees, contributing to the ’96 championship team thanks to The Boss. Even crazier, I attended Gooden’s no-hitter with close friend Ivan for free due to us getting two tickets because we braved the elements on a snow Opening Day against the lowly Royals. I also wound up at Strawberry’s three home run game against the White Sox. I guess I was just lucky.

The point of the story is that there are all these tales full of sadness, which shows the human side. Fortunately, both Doc and Darryl have survived and turned around their fragile lives. That’s what we all are. Day to day, anything can happen. It can all be taken away. Appreciate every day you got because nothing is guaranteed. I know this well.

Tom Seaver won 198 of his games with the Mets. A dominant ace, who combined with Jerry Koosman and a young Nolan Ryan to help those Mets win their first World Series in 1969, and make a miracle run in ’73 by upsetting the Big Reds machine before losing to the Athletics, he won a major league best 25 games while pitching to a 2.21 ERA with 208 strikeouts in 273 and a third innings to take his first Cy Young. All three of those Cy Youngs came as a Met with the following two in ’73 and ’75.

Go look at some of the big seasons Seaver put up in Queens. It’s jaw dropping. This is a man who finished with 311 career victories in a brilliant 20 year Hall of Fame career. In fact, after he retired from ironically the Red Sox following that wild ’86 Series that saw him seated next to a young Roger Clemens in the Boston dugout, he received 425 of 430 votes for 98.8 percent on the ballot to get elected to Cooperstown in 1992. That’s how well respected Terrific Tom was.

Of course, I’ve heard all the horror stories of how the Mets foolishly traded the franchise to the Reds in 1977. A regrettable move that set the team back, angering the loyal fans. It’s worth noting that this is the same team who gave up on Ryan, sending him to the Angels where he became a dominant starter right away. We know what the Ryan Express accomplished by winning 324 games, striking out a major league record 5,714 over an incredible 27 seasons. He threw a record seven no-hitters. Something that used to be a running punchline due to no Mets pitcher ever accomplishing the great feat until Johan Santana on a memorable early summer night that left former manager Terry Collins in tears due to how many pitches Santana threw on June 1, 2012. Unfortunately, Collins’ concern was right. His ace was never the same after needing 134 pitches to get the only no-no in Mets history.

Imagine if they’d kept Ryan with Seaver and Koosman. My God. They could’ve been a dynasty. Of course, the same has been echoed about those Mets teams in the 80’s. They certainly had the chance to win a couple of more, and nearly did in ’88. Don’t mention Mike Scioscia to Mets fans. Of course, the Dodgers had no business winning that NLCS. Then again, who had them stunning the powerful A’s in the Series, aided by a hobbled Kirk Gibson hitting perhaps the greatest pinch hit home run in World Series history off Dennis Eckersley.

I can remember Seaver winding up on the White Sox following one year back with the Amazin’s. He won his 300th career game against the Yankees in style by going the distance with seven K’s. I actually remember that because the ballgame was on WPIX called by Phil Rizzuto and Bill White. Those were the glory days where you could turn on your classic black and white TV and get the game on regular channels. Pretty cool.

I may not go as far back on Seaver like my Dad, who admitted to being pretty bummed out when the news came down. Seaver is now retired from public appearances due to the severity of dementia. It’s sickening. Why does he have to be in pain for the rest of his life? It really hurts. I’ve seen loved ones suffer and it left me pretty down. I wish it could be different for him.

At least he’ll be surrounded by his family and loved ones while tending to their vineyard. The thought of wine at least is soothing. Seaver will have plenty of help from those who love him. For Mets fans, it’s a bitter moment because they’ll never get to see him again in the public eye.

Of course, now we get the news that the Mets are planning to unveil a statue dedicated to Seaver this summer. Mike Francesa revealed the news on his show yesterday. For some fans, they can’t understand why they didn’t have it in place already at Citi Field. It’s only been in existence for a decade. Considering that the Wilpons have a nice tribute to baseball pioneer Jackie Robinson, who was a Dodger, I get the frustration.

It’s ashame Seaver won’t be able to attend the special ceremony along with some of his former teammates to honor those ’69 Mets. If only there was a way to include him via satellite. But I doubt it could work even with today’s advanced technology. Nobody knows what Seaver is going through daily.

I want to point out that some people have already talked about him in the past tense. That’s not right. He’s not dead. Let’s still think if him in terms of present. He’s a legend and legends are forever. My heart goes out to him.