by Eddie Mayrose

It’s here.  That weekend on the sports calendar better than all the others.  The Final Four, Masters week and, of course, the opening of the baseball season.  No matter what the weather, (and the Yankees are slated to open today in less than stellar conditions), it’s always a little warmer when there are baseball highlights to watch and box scores to follow. The optimism that marks the beginning of each season may fade quickly here in New York, however, as both of our local nines are facing problems that could hinder any run to the top.

While the Yankees are clearly in better position than the Mets to contend within their division, they have somehow managed to compile a $200 million dollar roster that is woefully short on pitching.  C.C. Sabathia and Phil Hughes, All Stars both, will anchor the top of the rotation as will Rafael Soriano and the ageless Mariano Rivera in the bullpen.  The matter of who starts on the other three days and who bridges the gap to the ace relievers is one that will plague GM Brian Cashman through at least July, and possibly all year.
It has been a tried and true Yankee policy to acquire whatever they need for the stretch run at the trading deadline.  A daunting task in 2011, however, as one mid-season pickup may not be enough.  Unless A.J. Burnett has a miraculous turnaround, the Bombers will probably need two pitchers to carry them through September.

 

On the other side of town, the Wilpons’ financial troubles have the Mets firmly behind the eight ball, as the team that starts the season tomorrow night in Florida may bear little resemblance to the team that finishes. In what turns out to be a classic Catch-22 situation, the Mets, in order to contend, need big seasons from Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran and Frankie Rodriguez.  Should they deliver, however, it’s likely that each will be traded by the Mets so as to avoid the windfall contracts due each for 2012.  Look for the Amazins’ to stay in the hunt up to the All Star break and then watch the bottom fall out over the last two months.

As for the rest of MLB, what would any preseason column be worth without ridiculous prognostications that can be ridiculed down the road.  Here’s the 2011 View from the Cheap Seats as to which teams will be wearing crowns come October.

National League
East- Atlanta Braves- Emerging young talent takes advantage of the crippled and disappointing Phillies
Central- Cincinnati Reds- A repeat behind young stars Travis Wood, Jay Bruce and Joey Votto.
West- Colorado Rockies- No late season surge necessary as the Rocks lead from start to finish.
Wild Card- Philadelphia Phillies-Too much pitching to be denied

American League
East- Boston Red Sox- An all star at every position.
Central- Minnesota Twins- Welcome back Joe Nathan and Justin Morneau to defend title.
West- Texas Rangers- Too much talent in a bad division.
Wild Card- Tampa Bay Rays- Joe Maddon’s young hurlers are surprise of the season.

World Series- Twins over Phillies

Enjoy the season.

Down in Front

No matter how many times you hear otherwise this weekend, don’t be swayed.  This is the first Final Four appearance for Kentucky head coach John Calipari, whose other two appearances were vacated due to NCAA violations.  It’s a shame that he’s given a pass on his actions, as he embodies much of what is wrong with college sports…Congrats to Mets’ reliever Pedro Beato, a Brooklyn born Xaverian grad who debuts with the Mets tomorrow night…Who’d a thunk Butler would be wearing their whites in the Final Four?… Was apprehensive about how the NCAA tourney would be covered by the four networks two weeks ago.  Not anymore, as the coordination of events allowed the viewer all the freedom necessary to enjoy all of the games… Memo to CBS Sports: During next week’s Masters coverage, be advised that there are quite a few more golfers in the field than Tiger Woods.  If Tiger is out of contention during any round, I’d rather see the top of the leader board than a string of bad shots by Woods… Itchin’ for some affordable baseball?  Head over to the College of Staten Island where Associate Head Coach and Bay Ridgeite Neil Barbella’s Dolphins, featuring All-American first baseman Pat Gale,  are on a nine game winning streak in their quest to make the NCAA Tournament.  Mention the Bay Ridge Eagle and Neil will buy you dinner after the game… With another baseball season upon us, I’m reminded of Ray Kinsella’s revelation at the end of the greatest movie ever made, Field of Dreams. “Maybe this is Heaven”… Play ball!!!

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