NL East Preview

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We’re almost done with these, I swear. Opening Day is only two weeks away. I already smell the hotdogs. I can practically taste the overpriced beer and soft pretzels. It’s a wonderful time of year, and I can’t wait to be done writing these watching baseball again. With only two divisions left, it made sense to tackle the only one I’d consider watching this year, the National League East. Two really good teams at the top and a bunch of crap at the bottom, but the one in the middle could either win the World Series or have the worst record on the league. Not sure if I even need to say it anymore, but all win totals are from Atlantis Casino Resort.

Washington Nationals

500px-washington_nationals_logo-svgLike most Washington, D.C. based pro sports teams, the Nationals spend most of their time building, then failing to meet, expectations, and this year is no different. It’s tough to think a team with 95 wins could significantly improve, but Bryce Harper spent most of last season searching for consistent form. According to him, he figured it out and made the necessary adjustments. Considering that he’s been tearing the cover off the ball in spring training, he may be on to something. With a full season of future megastar Trea Turner, if Harper has another MVP-caliber season the Nats could suddenly have the best position-player duo in the NL, and maybe the majors. The rest of the lineup is pretty solid, too. I’ve always been a fan of new catcher Matt Wieters and Anthony Rendon, too. But I just can’t wrap my mind around this Adam Eaton trade. Is Adam Eaton, he of the mighty .790 OPS and 14 home runs, really worth giving up a future top end starter and more? Last year, he had a WAR of 6.2. Pretty good. But the majority of that value came from his defense is right field, where he was the best in the majors by a considerable margin. But right now, he’s going to play centerfield. What happened in 2015 when he played center? He was one of the five worst in the league defensively at the position. So why are you giving up the future for someone who isn’t going to keep you team from choking in the playoffs again? I don’t get it.

It obviously goes without saying their pitching is top notch. They were second in the league in strikeout percentage and second in ERA+. Just looking at the names, the bullpen might be a bit of a question mark for me, but if all the starters stay healthy (never a given with these guys) it shouldn’t really matter. They’re going to win a ton of games this year, and if the Cubs don’t feel like going all out all year they might finish with the most wins in the NL. It’s just everything after September they’ll have trouble with.

Over/Under 90.5 Wins: Over

Key Offseason Move: Trading every asset they have besides Harper and Turner for Adam Eaton

Burning Question: Will they retire Bryce’s number when he leaves for the Yankees in a couple years?

Bold Prediction: Here’s something you’ve never seen before- a Washington team collapses in the playoffs!

New York Mets

300px-new_york_mets-svgAhh, the Mets. No team gets more extreme reactions from their fans. Win two straight games and they’re the greatest team ever put together, and every fan tries as hard as they possibly can to be the face of the Tortured Mets Fanbase that everyone should feel happy for. Lose two straight and it’s blow up the team, same old Mets, worst team in the league, and every fan tries as hard as they possibly can to be the face of the Tortured Mets Fanbase that everyone should feel bad for. It’s annoying and exhausting from a neutral point of view, so I don’t really know how actual Met fans do it (quick side tangent: ever since I left the club in 2004, I absolutely hate long suffering fan bases. They’re all so pitiful. Every loss is made out to be this huge tragedy and everything just winds up being a woe-is-me pity party. Like, we get it. The Bills always lose. That doesn’t make me care about you, the team, or the city of Buffalo. Just get out of my face, already) (cc: Northwestern).

It’s all about health with this team. I think it’s safe to call their starting rotation the most talented in the league, but Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz, and Matt Harvey all lost time due to injury last year, as did Yoenis Cespedes. With closer Jeurys Familia likely to start the season suspended, availability is truly the best ability for the Mets this season.

They also need to get better on offense. It wasn’t quite the pre-Cespedes 2015 Mets, but being 25th in the league in runs isn’t good enough for a team with championship aspirations and pitchers with injury histories. This lineup isn’t bad. Cespedes, Curtis Granderson, Lucas Duda (who also missed a majority of the season), and Asdrubal Cabrera (a quiet 23 homers last year) have good power. It’s impossible to count on him playing more than 45 games, but David Wright can still swing it. They all need to produce more than they did last year. If everything comes together for them, we’ve already seen the results: the majority of the team that made the World Series two years ago is still here.

Over/Under 89.5 WinsUnder

Key Offseason Move: Resigning Yo

Burning Question: How many “which team owns New York” debates will the American people be subjected to this year?

Bold Prediction: They find some new way to miss the playoffs in excruciating, Metsian fashion.

Miami Marlins

miami_marlins_2017I really don’t even know how to write about this team. I don’t think there’s ever been a situation like this in my lifetime. I don’t know if it’ll last the rest of my life, but I still remember the moment I found out that Jose Fernandez died. I had just woken up when I saw about ten notifications on my phone. I think I stared at Twitter for about an hour, not wanting to believe it. Not totally sure if I said anything the entire day. And I have as little connection to the Miami Marlins as humanly possible. I can’t imagine what the actual team is going through.

Looking at the numbers doesn’t really serve a purpose here. The way I see it, this year can go one of two ways. The first is that the emotion is just too much for them and everything spirals out of control, leading to another lost season. Or, they rally together. They become the tightest team in the league. Put together a good first few months and get the feel good vibes going. Then they keep winning when they shouldn’t. Get every lucky break. Win every close game. Defy all logic and somehow wind up in the playoffs. If that happens, I’m not picking against them. Would you?

Over/Under 77.5 WinsOver

Key Offseason Move: Signing Edinson Volquez

Burning Question: Will Jeff Loria actually sell the team and allow them to be a legitimate organization?

Bold Prediction: Giancarlo Stanton stays healthy and hits 55+ homers

Philadelphia Phillies

302px-philadelphia_phillies-svgI actually kind of want the Phillies to be Back sometime soon. They’ve got great jerseys, a great stadium, and it’s always fun when Philly fans have something to cheer for, because it usually leads to heartbreak of the best kind (someone else’s). The Phillies have been trash for a few years now, and are only showing brief flashes of improvement. They’ve found some good players (Odubel Herrera is really good) and have some more in the minors (shortstop J.P. Crawford should make his debut this year) but for the most part, all of their wave of young guys have been somewhere between okay and good, not great, and I’m not seeing any giant leaps forward in my crystal ball. It’s been a very blah rebuilding process. They should have taken notes from the Sixers.

Over/Under 72.5 Wins: Over

Key Offseason Move: Eagles signing Alshon Jeffrey

Burning Question: If a city’s four major sports teams combine to win under 100 games in a calendar year is there any kind of punishment?

Bold Prediction: They will wear red hats in the majority of their games

Atlanta Braves

250px-atlanta_braves-svgThey’re pretty much a southern version of the Phillies, but I don’t think they know it yet. Do you think they think they might be good this year? How else do you explain signing Bartolo Colon (I guess you don’t need any reasoning for this), signing R.A. Dickey, trading for Brandon Phillips, and, going back to last year, trading for Matt Kemp? Actually, I think they are trying to lose on second thought. I mean, there’s no getting around it, this team is garbage. But they have a bunch of really good prospects, starting with Dansby Swanson, who they stole from the Diamondbacks. And they’ve got a new ballpark (again), so I’m sure the people of Atlanta will come out and fill SunTrust Park just like they fill all their other stadiums! Just kidding, no one will come. Just like no one came to Turner Field. But, whatever, one day they might win 80 games again.

Over/Under 71.5 WinsUnder

Key Offseason Move: Singing living legend Bartolo Colon

Burning Question: Did the Pats Super Bowl Comeback only kill the Falcons or did it kill the entire city of Atlanta?

Bold Prediction: Freddie Freeman will win this year’s National League Mike Trout Memorial Get This Guy On A Good Team Award

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Yesterday Didn’t Go Great for Me

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Traditionally, one of the first two days of the NCAA Tournament is crazy and the other is dull. Yesterday was the dull day. Only two lower seeded teams won, one of which was actually favored and the other was playing perennial choking dog Maryland, so does either even count? There were only like two exciting finishes all day. Overall, it wasn’t the best March Madness day I’ve ever seen. Mostly because absolutely nothing went my way.

Obviously Minnesota lost. I declared them my team before the brackets came out, and they laid down against Middle Tennessee State. They got screwed by their seeding. They weren’t a five seed. They should have been a 7 seed and got a nice matchup with a 10 seed. That’s when you can take teams by surprise and build some momentum. Tough to win when you’re the team everyone is mad at for being seeded too high. It put a huge bullseye on their backs to go with the bullseye that was already there when I picked them. The signs were clearly there for an early exit. If I had less fortitude and commitment, I probably would have changed my pick after the bracket came out. But I didn’t, so now I need to pick up the pieces and move on. I don’t even know who to root for now. My other team UVM lost (I really thought they were gonna do it, but they just died in the second half). My other other team Oregon doesn’t have much of a chance to go deep without Chris Boucher. My other other other team Dunk City is out, too. I guess Gonzaga because they’re playing Northwestern next? Seton Hall since I think they’re the last team with a pirate mascot left? I think I have to wait until someone captures my attention before I commit. I don’t want to be hurt like this again.

The second, and you could argue worse, bad thing that happened was Northwestern winning. Not only winning, but snatching victory from the clenched jaws of defeat because of a brain fart from Vanderbilt’s Matthew Fisher-Davis (who everyone will forget had a good game before inexplicably fouling while up one with 10 seconds left). The following show of excess can only be described as predictable. Hey did you know this was Northwestern’s first tournament appearance and first win? I didn’t! You knew the myriad of media members who just now decided to go over-the-top with their devotion to their alma mater would act like they just won the championship, but the actual players did, too! It was the craziest scene I’ve ever witnessed. You’d think the Wildcats just beat the Cavs in a 7-game series for the NBA title. I mean, look at this:

At some level, I get it. I’m not a total curmudgeon. This is their first tournament after almost 80 years of never making it. And Doug Collins’ son is the coach. But, come on, man. It was a FIRST ROUND GAME. AGAINST VANDERBILT! Not Kentucky, not North Carolina, but famed basketball power Vanderbilt. And he’s bawling. And it’s not like he’s the only one, either. He at least has the excuse that his son is the coach. What about the Mike Wilbons, Mike Greenbergs, and Darren Rovells of the world that already act like attending Northwestern makes them vastly superior to us normals, but now have the trump card of one (1) tournament win (as a higher seed) they can throw out now? It’s sickening. I can only pray that Gonzaga wins tomorrow, but I’m not feeling good about it. Literally all the pressure is on Gonzaga: they’re the number one seed with a history of choking vs an upstart with nothing to lose (it’s Northwestern’s first tournament appearance, if you hadn’t heard). Northwestern making the second weekend and subjecting America to another week of their alumni jerking off to themselves in everyone’s face was already a worst-case scenario. If they beat a number one seed to do it? Now we’re talking about Armageddon. Imagine a group of people with a combination of the arrogance of Patriots fans and the look-at-me-my-team-finally-won-let-me-make-it-all-about-myself euphoria of Cubs fans. Then add in the academic smugness that naturally comes from attending one of America’s most prestigious universities. Then put every single one of those people on TV every day for the next month. Doesn’t that sound great? Doesn’t that sound like a team you can rally behind? Gonzaga has to win. They just have to. And that’s why I’m worried. Obviously the committee rigged it for Northwestern since they all have so many friends in the media and gave them the only one seed they could beat. Gonzaga is so obviously going to lose I might not even watch it. I might not watch the rest of the tournament since I’m sure Northwestern will somehow make the Final Four. Call me a hypocrite if you want since I’m a noted Patriots hype man and have recently written about my own alma mater, but at least my team’s have won something in the last 100 years. All those people have is a diploma from probably the best journalism school in the country and cushy TV jobs. So, the way I look at it, I come out of this the winner, anyway.

The Burning Questions Mailbag

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So we all know that I’ve established the Burning Questions brand. The random questions that pop into my head that need answering. I’ve taken other people’s Burning Questions occasionally, but only a couple times. Well, that doesn’t seem fair, does it? I decided I had to open up the Burning Question Hotline and take #BurningQuestions from the public. I have no idea what to expect. These Questions could be literally anything. I’m not sure if I’m emotionally ready, but let’s get into it.

Brian asks: What’s the point of tax returns?

Alright, I couldn’t resist. I had to start with one of my own. Having just done my taxes (before April, nbd), this is fresh in my mind. I pretty much have the lowest possible return- No kids, I didn’t get married, I didn’t buy a car or house, I don’t have any business expenses, as popular as this site is, it’s not quite a religion yet, no student debt or anything. I’m literally the definition of a bare bones tax return. And I still got half of my taxes back. So what’s the point of it all? If someone like me gets it all back, why even tax me at all? Or just tax me half as much and save me the ten minutes it takes to do my returns. Do they want to make sure everyone gets annoyed at doing something that is practically automated in 2017? Make us all be active members of society? It just makes no sense to me. You should just alert the government when something that effects your taxes happens then they should adjust accordingly. No one should have to do tax returns. So I’m supposed to feel good about getting half the money the government took from me back? Just don’t take it in the first place! Or is that too logical for a bureaucracy?

JoeyGSp0t asks: With so many birds out there, why do you rarely see dead birds?

Without go too deep into the natural life cycle of carbon-based lifeforms, I’d say the fact that the mostly live in places people don’t live is a big reason. Although now that I think about it, I grew up surrounded by trees, and I never saw dead birds either. Never really saw skeletons, either. So where do the dead bodies go? Are they so light they just decompose faster than everything else? Hmmm, you may be on to something here, JoeyGSp0t.

BlacktopLebron asks: If the NBA had a real-life fantasy draft what would the top 5 look like?

Always good to #embracedebate like this. Not only do I know how NBA teams think like the back of my hand, but I’ve played enough NBA 2K to know my way around NBA fantasy drafts, and I can say with confidence this is what the top ten (could’t limit it to five) would look like:

  1. Lebron James
  2. Karl-Anthony Towns
  3. Kevin Durant
  4. Kawhi Leonard
  5. Anthony Davis
  6. Russell Westbrook
  7. Giannis Antetokounmpo (spelled it right the first time, not to brag)
  8. James Harden
  9. John Wall
  10. Steph Curry

Crazy that Westbrook would go so low and that Steph Curry is barely top 10, but NBA teams always have been and always will be obsessed with size, length, and athleticism (what idiots, right?), so freaks like KAT, Kawhi, and Giannis get priority. Something I always think about is every single player who ever played in the NBA was in the draft, but all we knew about them was what teams knew before the draft, what would that top 10 look like? In other words, at the time they were drafted, who did everyone think had the highest potential. People knew Lebron and Shaq would be amazing, where guys like Kawhi Leonard and Steph Curry were unheralded. So in this scenario, guys like Tyrus Thomas and Kwame Brown who were highly touted would go way ahead of Curry and Leonard, even though both those players are future Hall of Famers. Actual draft position doesn’t matter, since many times the player with the highest upside isn’t taken number one overall. Obviously I can’t account for teams’ poor decision making, but I think the top ten would look something like this:

  1. Shaquille O’Neal
  2. Lebron James
  3. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
  4. Patrick Ewing
  5. Hakeem Olajuwon
  6. Kevin Durant
  7. Michael Jordan (people forget MJ was taken #3 overall. Teams don’t know what his career will be)
  8. Magic Johnson
  9. Tim Duncan
  10. Anthony Davis

Anyone complaining about the lack of guys like Oscar and Wilt- it’s impossible to judge the talent of the 50s and 60s to today. Wilt was averaging 50 and 25 against teams with five guys that looked like me. What would he do against a team with David Robinson (who absolutely deserved to be in the top 10 of that draft) and Tim Duncan? I’m not saying he’ll suddenly become Jah Okafor, but he’s not gonna get 50. Same with Oscar. Kareem is pretty much my cutoff, because his skill set translates to the modern game. Wilt was just bigger and stronger than everyone he faced. Would his ceiling be Dwight Howard or something more?

BlacktopLebron also asks: Who are the five best coaches in all of sports?

For this to work, you have to determine which sport coaches have the most impact on. In my mind, that’s football and basketball. Baseball has too many uncontrollable variables, and soccer and hockey are more freeform than the other sports. Due to the smaller number of players and court size, I’d say basketball coaches have the highest potential for micromanaging, the cardinal sin of coaching. Therefore, I’d posit that basketball coaches have the greatest impact on their sport, followed by football, soccer, baseball, and hockey. Then there’s how you judge things like recruiting for college coaches, roster moves, off-the-field player management, how much their players like them, and so on and so forth. I value in-game decision making most, so here’s what I think:

  1. Bill Belichick (who else?)
  2. Gregg Popvich
  3. Brad Stevens
  4. Coach K
  5. Joe Maddon

soaringeagle52 asks: What’s the most underrated fruit?

Hmmm, that’s a decent question. I suppose it all hinges on which fruits you consider overrated and properly rated. And are rare tropical fruits that no one’s ever eaten underrated or just unknown? First, let’s establish the mainstream fruits. Apples, bananas, strawberries, cherries, oranges, lemons, limes, grapes, watermelon, tomatoes and pineapple all have established positions in the fruit hierarchy. Ever since the term superfood was invented to make people feel better about themselves for eating obviously healthy fruit, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, and avocados have gotten plenty of hype. There’s not a ton left. There’s known fruits that are rarely talked about like pears, but I’ve never been a pear guy.  Maybe something like mangos? I love mango flavored things but I wouldn’t write home about actually eating one. Grapefruit maybe?  I don’t really know what else is out there. I don’t eat pomegranates or açai berries. Dragon fruit seems kind of gross. You know what? I think I’m gonna say cantaloupe. Think about it: it’s a key part of every fruit salad ever made. How many times in your life have you eaten cantaloupe? A hundred? A thousand? And how many times have you said “oh, man, I love me some cantaloupe?” Probably never. It’s time we start appreciating cantaloupe, the bread of the fruit world.

WhiteKong asks: Could you get away with murder?

With all due respect to my friend WhiteKong, I’m going to alter this a little bit so I don’t wind up on any FBI watch list. I’m instead going to ask my own question, how did anyone get caught for a crime before like, 1975? No one had any way to prove anything. Like unless someone saw you in the act, who’s to say whether or not I really robbed that 1800s General Store? And don’t get me started on the Dark Ages. I could go back in time and kill at least 1,000 people in the 1300s. If you just kept moving from town to town no one would ever catch you. Ancient police was totally clueless. They burned people for being witches because they didn’t like them, for crying out loud! I think I could outsmart them.

XtothaG asks: In 50 years, with the rise of non-state actors and a global society, will the traditional “states” still matter?

Ummm, maybe?

XtothaG also asks: Why is pepperoni so overrated? I get that it’s iconic in terms of pizza, but c’mon there’s so many better options to put on pizza.

That’s more like it. First of all, let’s ease up on the pepperoni slander. Second, I actually think this in an interesting study in group-think and the power of reputation. I’m sure pepperoni was used as a topping in the early days of pizza. Someone told someone else it was good. Next thing you know, it’s the most popular topping ever. I’m an open pepperoni lover, but what if it really isn’t the ideal topping? What if the ultimate topping is really dried haddock or something? What if we, as humans, are missing out on the best version of pizza simply because our forefathers decided pepperoni was the base topping? That’s why something like Hawaiian pizza is met with such scorn-it’s different than what everyone’s used to (it’s easily the most divisive thing in the world of pizza, so it’s important that I say I love Hawaiian pizza and you’re weak minded if you refuse to try it). Maybe it’s all just a conspiracy by Big Pepperoni to keep the other toppings down. If I had the willpower, I might suggest trying a ton of other toppings to try and spread the love a little, but I know that’s not realistic. Heck, I’ve already mentally committed to getting some pepperoni pizza tonight. Maybe I’m just putty in pepperoni’s hands, but that doesn’t mean you have to be. Stay woke, as they say.

KingRichard1911 asks: Why is the speed at which the Universe expands increasing as opposed to decreasing?

In other words, how can something that’s already infinite keep expanding? Well, if I had the answer to that, I probably wouldn’t be writing this, so consider yourselves lucky. I don’t get how the universe expands at all. They say everything is moving away from the center of the universe. How can something that has no limits have a center? How do we even know if the universe has limits? What if it isn’t infinite, it’s just a little bit bigger than what we’re capable of detecting? What’s at the edge of the universe? What’s outside the universe if it has edges? Why is it getting bigger in the first place? What force is driving entire galaxies to move? How insignificant are humans, really? What’s the meaning of life? Let’s move on before I get too depressed.

WhiteKong also asks: What if there’s other things out there that we can’t detect because we don’t have the organ capable of sensing it?

Oh, nice some more light discussion. Maybe this is why we don’t know why the universe is expanding. We just physically don’t have the capability of sensing it. There might be some Galactus-style being who is just pushing the galaxies outwards. Maybe there’s something like another color spectrum out there. Maybe wind doesn’t even exist, it’s just the wings of some giant bird whose feathers are a color we can’t see. What if water is actually the most flavorful think on Earth and our taste buds can’t comprehend it? Are we even really on top of the food chain? Is Godzilla real and we can’t see him? What if every unexplained death an disappearance was really just some invisible thing killing people? Is it even safe to leave my house anymore? I can’t really be certain.

WhiteKong also asks: What if nothing ever existed?

Damn, man, you trying to make my brain explode? Well, I can say with a certain amount of confidence that if nothing ever existed we wouldn’t be here. I don’t really even know what would happen if nothing ever existed. But what if whatever creation event you believe in (be it God or the Big Bang or whatever) happened like two minutes later? Would anything change? Two minutes is such an insignificant amount of time, but what about two hours? Two years? Did time even exist before it happened? If everything was set back a little, would all the Mass Extinction events have still happened? Would humans have ever evolved if dinosaurs were still around? Would dinosaurs even exist if all the random invertebrates and bacteria were still around? Would life have ever developed? If the creation event was even slightly delayed would it have even happened at all? Would the universe itself even exist? Most importantly, would this website have ever been founded? I’m beginning to think maybe not.

I think I’ll stop here to keep my mind from getting tied into an inescapable knot. Some good questions here, though. My ears are always open to the Burning Questions of my readers. It’s good to get them out of your head before they drive you crazy. Remember, if you have a Burning Question that needs answering, you know where to find me.

The Only Guide You’ll Need for March Madness

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I feel like I may have said this a couple times before, but this really is my favorite time of the year. The four day stretch from Thursday at 12:15 pm to Sunday at like midnight has to be the primary reason why this planet was created. To become one with the couch, to lose track of where you end and the pizza begins, to watch so much basketball it actually deep-fries your brain (Quick Optimum update: I still don’t have CBS. And people wonder why the Knicks fail). It’s what humans were put on Earth to do, and it’s my natural element. I thrive on March Madness. I’m energized by it. The endless loop of the same five commercials becomes my lifeblood. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that I’m my true self during the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament.

Now, March Madness presents a number of new social obligations, as well. Regardless if you’re at school, in the office, or just with your family, it’s required that you discuss the tournament ad nauseam. Mostly, that means listening to everyone you know’s bracket picks. Hey, did you know a 12 seed always beats a 5 seed? No, Scott from Accounts Payable, I didn’t. Thanks for enlightening me! An important part of these discussions is establishing dominance. That can happen one of two ways. The first is by spewing out as many tired facts and arguments (how many brackets are you allowed to have? etc.) as possible and wearing down the casual fans around you. The second is by spitting out cold, hard facts that silence the poseurs and show the world who the real expert is. Any reader of mine surely fits in to the second category, but perhaps you need a little help getting to true savant status. You can go anywhere and find all the numbers and in-depth analysis you want, but I’m going to save you a little time. Here’s every single tournament team in one sentence. You can thank me after you win your bracket pool. I only ask for 10% of the winnings (Venom me @Brian-Curran-4)

East Region

  1. Villanova– Quietest defending champ in a long time, but I’m done picking against them.
  2. Duke– Don’t worry, they’ll lose second or third round.
  3. Baylor– This team sucks and it makes me mad they were so highly ranked all year.
  4. Florida– If Lee Humphrey finds a way to suit up, they’ll go all the way.
  5. Virginia– Most unwatchable team in America.
  6. SMU– They pretty much have five of the exact same guy on the court at all times.
  7. South Carolina– Sindarius Thornwell is the most over-the-top fancy name ever.
  8. Wisconsin– They’re seeded too low, but that’s because they aren’t that good.
  9. Virginia Tech– Randomly beat Duke by double digits.
  10. Marquette– Great shooting but horrible D.
  11. Providence/USC– Pepperidge Farm remembers a better time when there was only one play-in game.
  12. UNC Wilmington– This one group of Seahawks that isn’t addicted to adderall.
  13. East Tennessee State– Why is a team from a land-locked state called the Buccaneers?
  14. New Mexico State– Do they still have Sim Bhullar?
  15. Troy– Went to high school with a kid named Troy and I wasn’t a fan.
  16. Mt. St. Mary’s/New Orleans– Calling it now- New Orleans wins the championship.

Midwest Region (It bothers me to no end that it’s the Midwest Region not the North Region)

  1. Kansas– You’ll never believe this, but Kansas was really good this year.
  2. Louisville– Their ideal offense scores in 15 seconds or less.
  3. Oregon– No team with wacky jerseys has ever really won anything.
  4. Purdue– Just as likely to lose first round as to make the Final Four
  5. Iowa State– Half their players seem like they’ve been in school for 20 years.
  6. Creighton– Won’t really do much of anything without their star point guard.
  7. Michigan– I wish yellow text was easier to read.
  8. Miami– I don’t know why but I was so glad when that good Miami team from a few years ago lost early.
  9. Michigan State– You know what they say, never count out Tom Izzo in March (except when they lose first round).
  10. Oklahoma State– One of my favorite teams to watch.
  11. Rhode Island– If they can get Lamar Odom courtside they may win some games.
  12. Nevada– They’re really ahead of Vermont?
  13. Vermont– If you think maple syrup from anywhere but Vermont is acceptable we need to fight.
  14. Iona– I always randomly like Iona.
  15. Jacksonville State– I’m pretty sure this is in Alabama not Florida and it messes me up big time.
  16. North Carolina Central/UC Davis– It’s not good when I have to Google what your team colors are.

South Region

  1. North Carolina– This team’s ceiling is higher than any one else’s roof.
  2. Kentucky– Weird that they aren’t under-seeded to give them a favorable matchup this year.
  3. UCLA– Honestly wouldn’t mind if they lost first round and sent Lavar Ball into shock.
  4. Butler– Are they still considered a scrappy underdog even though this is their millionth straight tournament.
  5. Minnesota– I’ve made my feelings on this team clear.
  6. Cincinnati– It’s only a matter of time before Mick Kronin’s head literally explodes on the sideline.
  7. Dayton– Feel like they’re perpetually a thorn in bigger team’s sides.
  8. Arkansas– Didn’t hear about them once all year, but all of a sudden they’re a huge lock to make the tournament?
  9. Seton Hall– I’m always on board with Pirate mascots.
  10. Wichita State– This team is really good how are they a 10 seed?
  11. Wake Forest/Kansas State– How long until everything is just a play-in game?
  12. Middle Tennessee State– Honestly nervous for my Gophers in this matchup.
  13. Winthrop– One of those new-fangled 3-point obsessed teams that’s sure to get some hot takes from the older generation.
  14. Kent State– Please beat UCLA, please beat UCLA, please beat UCLA.
  15. Northern Kentucky– Willing to bet at least 70% of the Northern Kentucky alumni are still rooting for Kentucky in this game.
  16. Texas Southern– I know it’ll be tough in the moment, but it’s important to remember that it’s not your fault you were offered up as a sacrifice to UNC.

West Region

  1. Gonzaga– Kinda-sorta-almost lost to the 16 seed the last time they were a 1 seed, just saying.
  2. Arizona– Listen, one of these teams has to make the Final Four at some point.
  3. Florida State– Pretty much just Baylor if they were in Florida.
  4. West Virginia– I was all in on them until they blew a 50-point lead in five minutes to Kansas, now I’m way, way out.
  5. Notre Dame– Somehow a Notre Dame sports team has gone under the radar.
  6. Maryland– Overhyped and overrated.
  7. Saint Mary’s– The whole team better be rocking the Delly Ones.
  8. Northwestern– Northwestern grads are a lot like vegans.
  9. Vanderbilt– If they were playing in their wacky home gym I’d feel good about them.
  10. VCU– They’re still good, huh?
  11. Xavier– Got a friend named Xavier.
  12. Princeton– Man, gotta feel good for this rag-tag group of underdogs from that destitute Ivy League Conference.
  13. Bucknell– Always grateful for Bucknell for being UConn’s first round opponent in 2011.
  14. Florida Gulf Coast– Is Dunk City back for another run?
  15. North Dakota– Not enough green in this bracket.
  16. South Dakota State– Rigged seeding built for an all Dakota Elite Eight.

AL West Preview

1280px-major_league_baseball-svg1

Another one of these? Believe it or not, there’s another two on the way after this one. Anyone else starting to regret the decision to break down each team with minute detail? Not that I am or anything. Anyway, here’s the American League West, because why not? As always, all win totals taken from the Atlantis Casino.

Houston Astros

250px-houston-astros-logo-svgAfter 2015’s stunning turnaround the Astros kind of stalled out last season, in part (in my mind) because of their disappointing decision to abandon the home-run-or-bust strategy that brought them success. After finishing only two dingers behind the league leading Blue Jays in 2015, they were middle of the pack last year. Part of the change, though, was turning the team over to their super-stud young players like Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman. I’ve heard Jose Altuve is good, too. And fellow UConn Husky George Springer could have 30+ homers. I’m not worried about their offense. They’re going to score a lot of runs, and they’re going to prevent a lot of runs with their excellent defense.

The fact that their pitching was still pretty good last year despite a bad year from 2015 Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel tells me their 2016 record may have been more of a product of some bad luck than anything. But even though all the numbers say their pitching was anywhere from decent to well above average last year, I don’t really feel great about it. I mean Keuchel has had at least 16 starts all five years in the league. 3 out of the 5 seasons his ERA has been at least 4.55. Are we sure he didn’t just get crazy hot for a year? At this point, Lance McCullers is probably their best starter. Everyone else is getting older and was never that great to begin with. The bullpen is okay, but their big offseason addition Ken Giles had a really disappointing year. I think he’ll bounce back, but I don’t know if the rest of the pitching is really that good. Felt like a lot of smoke and mirrors last year, and if Keuchel doesn’t rebound it could be a long year for this staff.

Over/Under 87.5 Wins: Under (think they get 87 exactly)

Key Offseason Move: Signing Josh Reddick and my grandpa Carlos Beltran

Burning Question: Why would you get rid of Tal’s Hill, the coolest and most unique ballpark feature in the Majors? Talk about bad karma.

Bold Prediction: There will be a couple of stories about the fact that Jose Altuve is short before the All Star break

Texas Rangers

300px-texas_rangers-svgBaseball’s luckiest team (no one outperformed their adjusted win-loss record by more wins) is back to defend an unexpected division title, only this time Mike Napoli is back! All joking aside, though, this is still a good team, despite the losses of Ian Desmond, Carlos Beltran, and Prince Fielder (was that even really a loss?). They resigned Carlos Gomez, which is never a good idea, but other than that, a lot of low risk moves this offseason could lead to another good campaign in Texas.

It might not be as exaggerated as Coors Field, but whatever they’re calling the Rangers’ stadium these days is always conducive to high octane offense. This team should club a bunch of homers once again this year behind ageless wonder Adrian Beltre, “21-year-old” star Nomar Mazara, Roughned Odor, and Nap. And if they ever give the Paul Bunyan-esque Joey Gallo consistent playing time, forget about it. They were sixth in the majors in slugging last year for a reason.

Also like the Rockies, the Rangers’ pitching needs to be graded on a slight curve, and when you take ballpark effect into consideration, their pitching is about league average, but with high upside at the top. Yu Darvish should be all the way back from Tommy John surgery, and could pair with Cole Hamels to form one of the highest-strikeout duos in the American League. The rest of the starters are pretty eh, but new signee Tyson Ross still has some potential. It’s really crazy how good bullpens are these days. The Rangers’ pen wasn’t even that bad last year and they still ranked in the bottom ten in ERA+. Part of the reason is that they don’t strike anyone out: only the Angels bullpen had a lower combined strikeout percentage. In today’s game, if your bullpen isn’t racking up ks, it’s probably going to end up getting hit around a bit. And they didn’t really do anything to make it better, either. They’re just content to throw Sam Dyson out there so he can get upset when people flip their bats on him. Kind of seems counterintuitive for a team trying to expel their postseason demons.

Over/Under 86.5 Wins: Over

Key Offseason Move: Resigning Josh Hamilton Picking up Jonathan Lucroy’s option

Burning Question: If Roughned Odor’s brother Roughned Odor took him out at second with a hard slide, who would win the fight?

Bold Prediction: Probably lose in the playoffs in the most heartbreaking way possible

Seattle Mariners

300px-seattle_mariners_logo-svgIf I wasn’t already convinced the Red Sox were winning the World Series, I’d say the Mariners were a dark horse contender in the American League. Why? Just kind of a gut feeling I have. And when you’re in the business of divination, gut feelings can be pretty powerful indicators. And this is a good team.

Pretty much no one was more active during the offseason. They made trade after trade after trade, and now they’re left with an interesting roster that could wind up with the best hitting infield and worst hitting outfield in the league. I can certainly understand the reasoning behind trading for a guy like Jarrod Dyson, one of the best defensive players in the league coming to one of last year’s worst defensive outfields, but he does nothing to add to a light-hitting (to put it mildly) unit that could ultimately hold this team back. If young first baseman Dan Vogelbach can tap in to his deep reserve of power, the five-some of him, Nelson Cruz, Kyle Seager, Robinson Cano, and Jean Segura could be a quasi-Murderer’s Row. The infield is good enough (offensively) to contend for a title. But what about the outfield?

I can’t really figure the pitching out. I feel like they should be better. Felix Hernandez, who has seen his velocity go on a steady decline for a while now, has to return to some semblance of his dominant form if this team has any chance. Hisashi Iwakuma was really good when he first came over, but he’s 35 now and showed obvious signs of decline last year. I don’t mind trading Taijuan Walker, who had kind of stalled in his development, and I like getting Yovani Gallardo, who I think still has something left. They added a lot to what was a decent bullpen last year, but the starters are my main concern. That all goes away, though, if Felix becomes the King again.

Over/Under 85.5 Wins: Over

Key Offseason Move: Trading for Jean Segura

Burning Question: Has anyone investigated the fact that Felix Hernandez’s decline coincides with the legalization of marijuana in Washington? Hmmmm…

Bold Prediction: They’ll make it to game 7 of the ALCS against the Sox, be down one in the ninth, have runners on the corners with one out…then bunt into a double play, officially getting Pete Carroll off the hook

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

187px-los_angeles_angels_of_anaheim-svgThe Angels make me so mad. They’re wasting one of the greatest players of all time! They sucked last year and their big offseason move was…trading for Danny Espinosa. Come on, man. Mike Trout is gonna fade into obscurity on this roster. They’re gonna be bad again this year. Their record might not be all that terrible simply because Trout will singlehandedly win about 20 games, but still. For the good of everyone, just trade Mike Trout if you’re not gonna try to win with him. Please.

Over/Under 76.5 Wins: Under out of spite

Key Offseason Move: Not doing anything to help one of the best players in the 150 year history of Major League Baseball

Burning Question: How long until someone organizes a KG-style rescue mission and puts Trout on a good team?

Bold Prediction: Trout hits over 45 home runs but only has 80 RBI because the rest of the team is so bad

Oakland Athletics

300px-oakland_athl_primlogo-svgNow that I think about it, I think the A’s have my second favorite jerseys in sports (behind Wyoming football). The green hat with the yellow brim is one of the greatest designs in the history of millinery. And those all-white shoes with the home white jerseys? Simply to die for. Then adding in a yellow shirt and a green shirt? It gets my heart all aflutter. The team stinks, but they’ll look good while stinking.

Over/Under 66.5 Wins: Over

Key Offseason Move: I honestly don’t even know

Burning Question: Does Brad Pitt ever show up at the team office and start making roster moves?

Bold Prediction: Khris Davis becomes the most random guy to ever have back-to-back 40 home run seasons

The Dream is Dead. So now who do I root for?

It was always a longshot, but UConn is officially dead and buried. They were so bad in the regular season that they won’t even make the NIT. It’s over. But I can’t wallow in self-pity. I need to pick myself up off the mat and find a team to root for in the tournament. With 68 options, how can I pick the right one? I guess I just have to go through some of the stronger contenders and find the true recipient of the Brian’s Den Blessing.

vermont_basketballVermont– Since I was born in and spent the first 23 years of my life living in Vermont, this is always the sentimental pick. UVM in the tournament is always a special treat. Especially when they’re good, which they are this year. Undefeated in conference, as a matter of fact. Won a million straight games. And, as is pivotal for any good random mid major in the tournament, I couldn’t name one player on the team. I assume it’s mostly white guys with one black role player, but maybe they’ve switched up the formula this year. Either way, it’s working this season. But the thing is, I always root for UVM when they make the tournament. I would have rooted for them even if UConn had made it (unless they played each other, of course). So it would feel cheap to pick the Catamounts as my new team, since they always were my team in the first place. So sorry, Burlington, but my search continues.

2000px-ucla_bruins_textlogo-svg_UCLA– With the absence of Washington, the Celtics fan in me sees UCLA as the obvious choice. After all, I might as well get used to rooting for Lonzo Ball, right? Plus, they’re really fun to watch, playing a Warriors style of ball-movement-and-3s based offense. They’ve got at least two future pros and a bunch of good role players, including my man Thomas Welsh, who’s pretty much the white Udonis Haslem with his automatic baseline 12-foot jumpers. But can I, in good conscience, root for Lonzo Ball when that means that, by default, I’m rooting for both Lavar and Lamello Ball? I don’t think I can do it.

beatdookUNC/Duke– I already root for the Patriots and Red Sox. I didn’t see it coming, but I’m kind of tied to Barcelona now, too. Why not just go all the way and commit to North Carolina or Duke? Well, it may not seem like it, but I do still have some semblance of a soul left. Considering some of the teams in this year’s field it may seem foolish to willingly pass on two teams that could easily make the Final Four or win the tournament, I don’t think I can become the true heel.

345px-gu_bulldogs_logo-svgGonzaga– This year’s team is different! They’ve got what it takes now! It’s true, this Gonzaga team is really, really good. But so were the last 20. While I’d love to heroically guide the Zag’s bandwagon to it’s first Final Four, I’m not in the business of rooting for futility. They’ll get knocked out in the Sweet 16 (again) and I’d wind up looking like a fool. No thanks.

 

152px-northwestern_wildcats_logo-svgNorthwestern– Don’t know if you’ve heard, but Northwestern’s never made the tournament before. They’ve also produced roughly 70% of the national media. If you didn’t know, don’t worry. Everyone will gladly tell you all about it next week. With apologies to the actual team, which I’m sure is full of good kids, I can’t support the most aloof, smug, and self-masturbatory group of alumni this side of Cambridge. I guarantee they win at least one game, and the response to it will be vomit-inducing. I can’t stand when like Harvard or someone wins a game and they’re talked about like some group of scrappy underdogs. It’s still Harvard! Those kids are still set for life! Don’t tell me they’re these big underdogs and we should all be happy for them and name our kids after their best players. Now I’m pissed off and they haven’t even technically made it yet. I’m passing on them, if you couldn’t tell.

291px-maryland_terrapins_logo-svgMaryland– Now that I’m fired up, I just wanted throw out that I hate Maryland. Melo Trimble is randomly my least favorite player in the country and I love the fact that he passed up his small chance at the NBA his freshman year and is now a nothing prospect. I can’t wait for them to lose first round. I’m obviously out on them, too.

 

 

182px-fgcu_athletics_seal-svgFlorida Gulf Coast– Dunk City is back, baby! That run they went on a few years ago was so awesome, and they best part is that the university has fully embraced their brand and now only recruits players who specialize in throwing or finishing alley-oops. In addition to making everyone my age regret the fact that  they didn’t know this fake college existed, they add to their tropical mystique by taking advantage of the little used blue-green color scheme for their jerseys. But it’s not like they’re gonna come out of nowhere again. Literally everyone’s gonna be pulling for them. It’s too mainstream for me. Time to move on.

neworleansprivateersNew Orleans– There’s a New Orleans University? And they’re Division 1 in basketball? What the hell? Odds are they’ll have to play a play-in game, but if they escape that, look out. Every year I find a 16 seed that I think can win a game, and this year look no further than the Privateers. If they get to play Gonzaga, they’re winning. I guarantee it. Think we finally have a strong contender, but let’s keep looking just in case.

512px-oregonducks-svgOregon– Another obvious candidate, at least for me. I turned to them for college football long ago, especially once I realized UConn football was singlehandedly trying to set the game back 50 years. Now I see the same qualities in their basketball team: talented athletes, appealing play style, great jerseys (side note: I’ve always loved green jerseys. They’re so underutilized and I have no idea why), and, of course, the full backing of Nike. They’re also good, but not so good that I feel cheap picking them to go all the way. Are they the winner? It sure seems like it. But maybe there’s one team better?

177px-minnesota_golden_gophers_logo-svgMinnesota– Minnesota? Really? You bet your ass, Minnesota. I’m going with the Gophers for a few reasons. They’re scorching hot. Won 9 out of 10. Tearing up the B1G. They have great guards. They lead the country in blocked shots. I don’t know if you’ve heard, but they say defense wins championships. They’ve got outstanding jerseys. Maroon and yellow is the best jersey combination out there. It doesn’t matter anymore, but they have a great home gym, too. Now that I think about it, I haven’t been this sure a team was going to make a deep run since the Lopez brothers were at Stanford (didn’t really work out, but still). Minnesota is my new team, and they’re about to crash the Final Four party.