The snow has melted, the NFL is in shambles, and the boys of summer have decided to rescue us from the doldrums of winter by returning from Florida and Arizona, and by starting the 2011 MLB season. Over the course of 162 games, a lot of unexpected twists will impact upon the season’s final outcome. However, there are always certain themes to look for as we pass through the opening weeks of the season. In an effort to help train the untrained eye, I will lay out a few of those themes. Let’s call this column, “Sully’s Keys to the Game.”

○ Key #1 The Salad Days of Yankee Baseball – There is an old maxim in baseball; it is all about the pitching. Another adage generally heard in life; you are what you eat. So, in combining these themes, one is left to conclude that the Yankees pitching staff is all about The Cheesecake Factory. These guys look more like a competitive eating team than a pitching staff. And if it weren’t for A.J.Burnett, C.C. Sabathia’s nickname would be “Slim.” When Bartolo Colon gets the call from the bullpen, the stadium will erupt with “Boom! Boppa! Boom! Boppa!” like the Benevolent Order of Antelopes from Stand By Me. Joba Chamberlain’s favorite vegetable is apparently corn nuts. It is possible that this squad will gel into a serviceable staff, and if they do, the offense should be strong enough to lead this team deep into the playoffs. But if things fall apart,and this group goes in search of comfort food, do you yourself a favor and open a Baskin Robbins franchise in the Yankee Clubhouse.

○ Key #2 Paging Dr. Oz – For a fan, what is more disappointing than a season of promise falling apart due to the injury bug? As a Red Sox fan, I was shocked by the parade of injuries that plagued Pedroia, Youkilis, Ellsbury, Cameron, Lowrie, Beckett, Martinez, a few hot dog vendors, the mascot Wally, etc. etc. Jerry Remy returned to the broadcast booth from a bout with depression, and must be on amazing medications, because he didn’t relapse despite the ridiculous rash of broken bones. How many guys can one team possibly lose as a result of foul balls off the foot? If this team could only stay healthy, they might rule the East. Fortunately, The Olde Towne Team has a boywonder as GM, a truly proactive man. And so we will be happy, once the team has recovered from their initial stumble, to see the unveiling of the new foot protector the team has designed for later this Spring:

○ Key # 3 For Whom The Liberty Bell Tolls – So Philadelphia is making some noise. They have, on paper, a world championship team. Halladay, Lee, Oswalt, Hamels, and Blanton……….perhaps one of the best rotations ever assembled. But this is Philadelphia, and I can’t say exactly what it will be, but something will go wrong. Already, there is talk of Chase Utley being hurt for the season……what an omen. The outcome is inevitable. The bell will toll. And the Philadelphia fans, famous for once having booed Santa Claus, will turn Citizens Bank Park into a very hostile place. Once we hit September, there will be a dearth of Brotherly Love.

○ Key # 4 I Left My Heart…….- Last year, we witnessed an unbelievable run by an underdog with strong pitching and a lot of personality. Lincecum may not be the next cover boy for GQ, but he’s the best pitcher with a bad mullet since Kenny Powers. What will San Francisco bring to the table this year? Hard to say, as they came out of nowhere last year. But, like Bay Area resident Nancy Pelosi taught us this past November, all good things must come to an end. 15-1 odds to repeat are tempting, but don’t bet The House.

○ Key #5 You Don’t Need A Weather Vane – Are the winds of change blowing? Could this be the year the Cubs finally return to the glory they once knew? In 1908? Good news Cubs fans…….Kerry Woods has returned. Bad news, his is “Frah-Gee-Ley!” (should be read using the voice of Darren McGavin in A Christmas Story). This team is just too thin, but since their whole division stinks, you might actually see them in the playoffs.

○ Key #6 Texas Toast? – Can the Rangers return to the World Series without Cliff Lee? Well given the pop their lineup showed in the opening weeks of the season, I’m going with yes. But will they………the AL is tough. I see playoffs for this team again this year, but unless Nolan Ryan takes the mound, and treats the Yankees, Red Sox and then the Phillies like they’re Robin Ventura, I think the Rangers come up short.

 

So who will win, after all is said and done? I’m going with a dark horse, and saying a matchup of the old Boston teams (Braves vs. Sox) will lead to Atlanta grabbing their first title since 1995. And Bobby Cox will quietly grumble, as will I, each of us having hoped for different reasons that the glorious Boston Red Sox might have come out on top.

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