Jack’ll Be Back At Augusta.

Start you off with a little video of the 1986 Masters. I’m probably jumping the gun on Augusta, but there is absolutely nothing going on right now. As I said last week most of the interesting stories at this point are just off-season speculation. We’ve got a few days until the Final Four, a few more until opening day, and nothing in the meantime. So, I saw a story Bob Harig had at ESPN about Jack Nicklaus coming back to the Masters to be the honorary starter, and I figured the Masters was as good a thing to talk about as any. By the way, if you can carve out ten minutes, I’d watch the video. Great shots, great announcing catch-phrases, the whole deal. I’m feeling I may have even posted this before, I don’t know. It’s a personal favorite.

Anyway, Harig hinted that he wouldn’t mind seeing Jack and Arnie play the front nine as honorary starters. This was the tradition back in the day until the likes of Sarazen and Snead couldn’t handle the full nine holes, and so they just rifled a tee shot out there. Neither Jack nor Arnie sound too interested in the thought of playing more than a tee shot, but I certainly wouldn’t stop them if they wanted to get out there and play a couple. The crowds would go wild. It might even keep a person or two out of Tiger’s gallery this year. I know it’ll never happen, though. You might be able to talk Arnie into it, but Jack would get out there, make a bogey or two and be furious. Guy can’t handle playing poorly, and it’s hard to blame him. He’ll gut that opening tee shot, though, I’m sure.

It’ll be nice to have Jack back to hit the starter with Arnie. The Masters really does a nice job of maintaining their connection to the past, even though the changes to the course have rendered some of the past champions obsolete a little before they are ready to leave. If this was still a cozy little 6,800 yard golf course you might be able to talk yourself into Tom Watson going Turnberry out there for a couple of days. That situation is unlikely now, but the old guys still give glimpses. Larry Mize opened with 67 last year, and it always seems like some past champion is lurking at least for a while. And, it’s nice that they are always invited back.

Watson will be there, and Fred Couples will as well. Fred, who has won three straight on the Champions Tour, and could contend if you listen to some people, wouldn’t be in the field had he not won the event in 1992. But, because the Masters takes such good care of their past champions, we get to see if Fred can translate his Champions Tour success into Augusta success. Plus, it gives Tiger someone to play a practice round with.

Now, your criticism might be, this is a limited field event as is. There’s only 85-100 players, and 8-12 of those spots are going to old guys and amateurs. Meanwhile, hot young sensations like Rickie Fowler will be nowhere to be seen. It’s a valid point in some ways, but no one ever says the Masters has the deepest field in golf. There are plenty of ways to get in. If you can’t get yourself into the top-50 in the World, maybe the Green Jackets don’t want you hoisting the trophy. They’ll kindly wait for Ben Curtis to win the British Open before they start inviting him to play the Masters, for example. And, I suppose that is their choice. If you like longshots, root for the amateurs.

So, I guess what I am saying is, one of the things I like best about the Masters is the familiarity. There will be more of that this year with Jack and Arnie on the first tee. And, I like to see the occasional good round by one of the old guys, or a quick Ray Floyd cameo. It all works for me, and in this disgusting week of sports lull, it’s something to look forward to.

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2010 MLB Forecast

Weatherman Accuracy > My Accuracy.

We’re less than a week away from Opening Night for baseball.  Easter Sunday, and ESPN and MLB are gracing us with Red Sox/Yankees that night.  As if there was another choice.  I suppose it’s time to make some predictions.  Some blurbs that we’ll be able to look back on in July, and say, what was he thinking.

American League:

MVP:  Miguel Cabrera.  I think as long as Rodriguez and Teixeira both have good seasons, it’ll be hard for one of them to lock up the award.  Joe Mauer probably set the bar too high for himself last season.  If the Tigers are in the hunt in the Central, I like Cabrera.

Cy Young: Josh Beckett.  Beckett’s in a contract year.  He has a good rotation around him.  The Red Sox solidified their defense.  I think it adds up to some hardware for Beckett.  Then a monster pay day.

Playoff Teams:  Angels, Tigers, Yankees and Red Sox.

Odd Team Out:  Rays.  The Rays looked great this Spring, but the division is too good, and I don’t trust their starting rotation quite yet.

Overrated:  Mariners.  Seattle is the trendy pick after adding Cliff Lee, but now he’s not healthy. And play defense all you want, this team is still going to have too much trouble scoring runs.  That’s bad news in the American League.

National League:

MVP:  Hanley Ramirez.  Picking Pujols is too easy, and the persistent concerns about his back give me a little pause.  Ramirez is a trendy pick in his own right, but he’ll need other Marlins to step up to win this award.  If their season tanks he has no shot.  Much like A-Rod and Teixeira, too many Phillies involved.  I don’t think one guy emerges this season.

Cy Young:  Roy Halladay.  I think Halladay is going to flourish in the National League.  He’s going to get plenty of decisions, and on a team this good, he’ll pile up wins.  I think Tim Lincecum takes a half-step back, opening the door for Roy to win 20 and the Cy Young.

Chapman/Heyward or Strasburg:  For this year, I’ll take Chapman.  The Nationals are going to be incredibly cautious with Strasburg.   It could be June before he comes up.  And, when he arrives in the Big Leagues, the Nationals don’t offer a ton of help.  It’s going to be tough for Heyward to come in from day one and be the guy.  If the Reds give Chapman the ball, I think he can have the biggest impact this year.

Playoff Teams:  Colorado, St. Louis, Atlanta and Philadelphia.

Odd Team Out:  Los Angeles. It’s tough to choose.  The NL still feels a little like a garbage league to me.  I think the East is a little better this year, and a team out West gets nosed out.  We’ll see.

World Series Match-Up:  St. Louis vs. New York.

Hometown Hexolas.

Phillies-centric Predictions:

Raul Ibanez:  .264/18/71.  I think Ibanez is going to be a little bit of a disappointment this year.  I think he bottoms out in the seven hole.  Now that I look at it, those numbers might be a tad optimistic.

Jayson Werth: .265/31/95.  I think Werth falls short of his career year last season, but still puts up good enough numbers to price himself out of Philadelphia in the off-season.

Howard or Utley:  Howard.  Utley is a force of nature, but he can’t stop running himself into a wall.  I think Howard leads the league in RBI’s (again) and could even give his average a little bump this year.

Cole Hamels:  14-9, 3.95 ERA.  I think we’re going to bounce up and down with Hamels again.  This year, I’m hoping the lows aren’t quite as low.  These numbers should be good enough for the #2 starter.

Pleasant Surprise:  Shane Victorino.  I think he’ll be an adequate replacement for a slumping Ibanez in the six hole.

Lidge:  I think Brad Lidge comes back at some point and will be a serviceable closer.  He’ll keep the ERA under 7, but it’s never going to be like 2008 again.

Rest of the Bullpen:  I think Durbin comes back with a decent year, and Madson in the eighth inning should be all right.  Jose Contreras may have to step up, and if Romero doesn’t get healthy, there will be a huge hole against left-handers.

Regular Season Wins: 93.

Nets Hit 10 Wins. Shame.

Fred Carter can Keep his Record.

Maybe the Nets were inspired by their future owner making an appearance on 60 Minutes.  Maybe they were finally comfortable with their lead in the ping-pong ball race.  Or more likely, it’s just really hard to go 9-73 (or worse).   Still on pace to unseat the Sixers of 72-73 as the worst team ever a couple of weeks ago, the Nets exploded for three wins, and leave those lowly Sixers in the dust.  Of course, when you are only shooting for 10 wins, winning 3 of 4 is an unnecessarily flashy hot streak.  I’ll be honest, I wasn’t going to be disappointed if the Nets lost 74 games, but it’s nice to know that one of the great records in sport still stands.  And, as for their new owner?  Interesting guy.  I think he’s going to get in the mix.  Should be wild times in Brooklyn.

Has it been a month since I said I wanted a resolution in the Eagles quarterback situation?  It feels like it has been longer than that, and each day drags on with a new set of seemingly unfounded rumors.  The freshest?  The Raiders have the inside track.  Is this code for the Raiders being the only team interested?  Is the 39th pick in the draft coming to Philly?  Do the Eagles still not have a plan?  These are the questions that come to mind.  I guess we can’t say that the situation has been poorly handled until it reaches a resolution, but it feels like it has been poorly handled.

Phillies bullpen update.  Ryan Madson is going to start the season as the closer.  Madson is not having a good spring, and he’s suffering from what Rich Dubee is calling, “dead arm.”  Everyone gets it, he says.  I think this is coach speak for, “I don’t feel like answering questions during Spring Training.”  Madson can be very dynamic, but I’d be a little more comfortable with him in the role if he didn’t give up so many homers.  Brad Lidge might have to hurry back, but even when he does return, nothing is guaranteed.  This is an ugly bullpen, and it’s going to stay ugly for most of the year.  Unfortunately, get used to it.

I took a look at the odds to win the NCAA tournament, and interestingly enough in a four team field, only Michigan State has longer odds than 4/1 and just barely at 9/2.  Duke is the new betting favorite,  sitting in the 3/2 neighborhood.  I wouldn’t touch that Duke number, even if I wouldn’t mind seeing BK in an Eagles hat.  My favorite bet left on the board?  West Virginia beats Butler in the final.  That’s going off at a little better than 5 to 1.  If somehow this thing turns into Michigan State/Duke, like some unwanted flashback to 2001, I think I’ll be sick.  There’s only so much Tom Izzo and Coach K lip service I can take.