After Opening Day lie the great mysteries
Once the pomp and pageantry subsides, who knows what will come to pass?
I'm excited for Opening Day.
The pomp and the pageantry of gigantic flags, fighter-jet flyovers and ardent anthems. Kids playing hooky and healthy adults burning sick days. Rookies in awe of their surroundings, veterans still getting goosebumps, and all of us attempting, often vainly, to repress the urge to draw grand conclusions from one measly result out of 162.
I'll be in Cincinnati for Opening Day, and there they'll have the annual Findlay Market Parade and a ceremonial first pitch from Joe Torre. They'll even have an honorary captain -- DJ Bob Kevoian from the "Bob & Tom Show." I have no idea what an honorary captain does (oversee home run replay reviews, perhaps?) or why Kevoian, a Los Angeles native and Dodgers fan, was selected to be said captain, but, whatever. It's Opening Day, when all is well and accepted. And whether you're in Cincinnati or D.C., Los Angeles or the Bronx, the atmosphere will be festive and uplifting.
Of course, the caveat with Opening Day is that it's followed by game two, unheralded and uncapitalized. And let's face it: In many markets, in many years, game two and all that comes after simply can't live up to the hype and the hope of the opener.
But that's what makes 2013 so interesting and so entertaining. Even those of us who follow this sport for a living are completely stumped as to what to expect from game two onward. We can't seem to come to any real consensus on who, exactly, is a favorite to win the World Series. (That the consensus generally tends to be incorrect anyway is beside the point.)
My gut says the Nationals, but I wouldn't bet my 401(k) on it. To assume their rotation will be as robust as it was in 2012 is to assume a lot, from Stephen Strasburg withstanding the wear and tear of 200 innings to Dan Haren reclaiming past glories to Gio Gonzalez overcoming the cloud of Biogenesis speculation and putting up Cy Young-worthy numbers again.
I like the Tigers, too. You know ... the club that cut its would-be rookie closer on Thursday, leaving it potentially vulnerable to the whims of a ninth-inning committee (which, admittedly, might be better than being vulnerable to the whims of a rookie closer with control woes).
Love the Reds. Of course, I loved them when they were up 2-0 on the Giants in the National League Division Series last year. So you can see how lasting my love can be.
Normally, I'd consider the Yankees a cinch to make the playoffs. But in the time it took you to read this, two more members of their lineup went on the disabled list.
I like the Angels a lot, though I'm not sure "Game 3 starter Joe Blanton" will have a very nice ring to it come October.
Really, I could go on and on like this, but then I'd just sound like a nattering nabob of negativism, to borrow a phrase from Spiro Agnew (who, come to think of it, wasn't very good at predicting the outcome of things, either).
The negativity, though, doubles as positivity, in a weird way. Because for every argument, there is an equally convincing counterargument, and what's better than a great baseball debate?
As I write this, Baseball Prospectus' statistically savvy Playoff Odds report gives just three teams -- the Tigers (66.5), Reds (63.7) and Dodgers (52.8) -- a better-than-50-percent chance to win their divisions. They give 15 of the 30 teams a 30-percent-or-better shot at making the playoffs (including, interestingly, the Mets and Red Sox and not including the Phillies and Blue Jays, inviting yet another argument). They're giving the Orioles -- a team I picked, with some hesitation, to win the confusing American League East after consultation with some scouts -- just a five-percent chance of reaching the playoffs.
One of us (probably me, if history is any indication) is going to look really dumb when all is said and done.
That's the beauty of it. Revenue sharing, national and regional TV money and the advent of extra Wild Cards have compressed the talent and increased the quirkiness in this sport arguably like never before.
In recent months, we saw the Indians and Pirates plucking free agents from the Yankees. We saw the Blue Jays and Dodgers adding incredibly costly payroll commitments to their rosters and inviting both optimism and scrutiny in the process, because every single one of those guys they added is accompanied by a legitimate question mark. And while we know that payroll can put a team in a better position to contend year over year, the stunning successes of the A's and O's a season ago are a reminder of the quirks that exist within a single season.
This season has the potential to be as random as ever, and I love the chaos of that. I love that I can give you some really strong reasons why the Nats will win the World Series and you can come back with some really strong reasons why I have no idea what the heck I'm talking about.
That, ultimately, is what you want on Opening Day. You want a reason to come back for game two and all that follows.