Friday, February 22, 2008

Bold Prediction!

The general public is well aware that Bobby Thompson hit the “shot heard ‘round the world”, and that Bon Jovi was shot through the heart...both dramatic shots in their own right. But some new drama has erupted in the National League this off season, perpetrated by the shot calling of a twosome of amateur soothsayers. Carlos Beltran and Ryan Dempster have made two very bold claims (one of which is outlandish) this winter regarding their respective teams. This approach worked out well for Babe Ruth, Kirby Puckett and Jimmy Rollins in the past, but I wouldn’t exactly take their words as gospel.

After the Johan Santana signing Beltran, usually soft spoken and averse to media attention, guaranteed that the Mets would win the NL East this year, as did Jimmy Rollins in 2007. A terrifying lineup and much, much improved starting rotation (see: Santana signing) adds a substantial amount of weight to Beltran’s claim. So what’s standing in the Mets’ way? A little thing called the Philadelphia Phillies. The upstart Phils took advantage of New York in the waning hours of the 2007 regular season and will be gunning for the Mets once again… regardless of that new left arm they’ve added.

Cole Hammels, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Rollins and the rest aren’t about to roll over and hand the Mets the division crown. And don’t count out the Atlanta Braves either. A solid mix of youth and experience with master of the ejection, Bobby Cox, at the helm could prove to be a burr in New York’s saddle. Beltran’s Mets are the clear favorites, but the NL East won’t be a cakewalk by any stretch of the imagination.

Former Chicago Cubs’ closer, Ryan Dempster, also predicted his team would excel in 2008, but with a much loftier claim than Beltran’s. To quote the hard throwing ginger kid, “I think we’re going to win the World Series this year. I really do.” Now Ryan, that is very different from saying you “want” to win the World Series this year. Carlos Zambrano made the same declaration last season and we all know how that turned out. (Zambrano also predicted that he would win the Cy Young in 2007. Soooo, Big Z is 0 for 2). Can a century of baseball lacking in WS titles really be reversed that easily?

Let’s think about this. Yes, the Cubs haven’t won in 100 years, and they’re bound to win sometime. And yes, they have a fairly impressive team and are favored to win the NL Central (not a monumental feat). But they too will have another team gunning for them. The Brewers last year ended up leading the NL Central for all but 29 games, only to falter in August and cede first place to the powerhouse 85-win Cubs. And I see the Reds as being the burr in the Cubs' saddle.

This is quite the audacious statement, especially from someone like Dempster. If Lou Pinella or Derrick Lee, or even Aramis Ramirez predicted a World Series title, it wouldn’t seem so off the wall. Still highly irrational, but not quite as ridiculous. Dempster is a failed starter/amateur magician/unsuccessful closer/soon to be middle reliever. Unless he’s relying on an elaborate magical ruse to bring the Cubs back to glory, he doesn’t seem to be the right fit for making such eccentric predictions.

The angry and superstitious Cubs fans have already littered the message boards with chiding remarks towards Dempster, saying that he’s jinxed the team by flapping his gums about a world championship in February. The fact of the matter is that the Cubs are the Cubs, and even if they have a championship caliber regular season they’ll find a way to screw the pooch in October. It’s what they do.

Regardless, talk is cheap. That’s why they play the games people.