Me Against The NL Central, Day Four — Now With Deceptive Standings!

The first full day of the 2008 Major League Baseball season has passed, with 12 of today’s 15 scheduled games having been played to their completion. As it usually does, Opening Day provided us with several wild games, a number of star pitchers getting lit up, and a couple of statistical anomalies.

Two of the more interesting anomalies are directly related to each other. The Washington Nationals are currently the best team in Major League Baseball, having won both of their games. They followed up Sunday night’s Ryan Zimmerman walk-off home run with some more late-game heroics, as the Nats, for lack of a more delicate way of putting it, beat the shit out of interim Phillies closer Tom Gordon. Gordon retired only one batter while being charged with five earned runs, which impressively puts his ERA at 135.00.

Two other closers imploded Monday in what was likely the game of the day between the Milwaukee Brewers and Chicago Cubs. Ben Sheets and Carlos Zambrano were both dominant, with both starters taking shutouts into the seventh inning before turning the games over to their respective bullpens. Until the ninth inning, both ‘pens were similarly magnificent, and the game remained tied.

Then came the guys that are paid to slam the door shut.


First it was Kerry Wood, who started his first regular season inning as the Cubs closer by drilling Rickie Weeks. Weeks was advanced to second base on a sacrifice bunt by Tony Gwynn, after which Wood intentionally walked Prince Fielder to get to Ryan Braun.

The strategy would backfire, as Braun singled to center field, knocking in the first run of the game. After Bill Hall fanned, Wood faced Corey Hart with a chance to minimize the damage. He did not. Hart drilled a double down the right field line, bringing home Fielder and Braun and giving the Brewers a much more comfortable lead.

Once J.J. Hardy grounded out, it was “GAME OVER” time for the Chicago Cubs. Former Cy Young Award winner Eric Gagne lumbered to the middle of the diamond from the nearby Brewers bullpen looking to record three outs before he allowed three runs.

As television commentators Brent Musburger and Orel Hershiser discussed the “closer’s mentality,” Gagne, now back in the role that’s apparently so important to him that he completely forgot how to pitch while playing second fiddle to Jonathan Papelbon in Boston, allowed a single to Derrek Lee. Fair enough.

Then he walked Aramis Ramirez on four pitches, bringing the tying run to the plate in the form of Japanese import Kosuke Fukudome.

Gagne still couldn’t find the plate. Fukudome stood there and looked at ball one. Then ball two. Then ball three. At this point, I began to wonder if Mike Maddux might shuffle out to the mound and remind Gagne that he is, in fact, a major league closer again.

And as I pondered this, he threw a strike. “Perhaps he remembered!” I said to myself, ignoring how fat the alleged breaking ball the Fukudome was taking all the way was. And then this happened:

And I thought, “perhaps not.”

Miraculously, Gagne settled down after blowing the game. He got so relaxed at one point that he decided not to make the jaunt over to first base on a grounder that took Prince Fielder off the bag. As a result, Felix Pie picked up an infield single, and Gagne was subjected to a death stare from Fielder for the remainder of the inning.

Unfortunately for the Cubs, when Gagne got Mike Fontenot to ground out to end the ninth inning, it was the last they’d see of the French-Canadian reliever’s sorry ass for the day. Worse, Bob Howry came in and once again coughed up the lead, with a one-out Gwynn sacrifice fly knocking in Craig Counsell, who had doubled to begin the inning.

David Riske entered for the Brewers in the bottom half of the inning and got the Cubs to go in order, securing the win for Milwaukee.

The win catapulted the Brewers to first place in the NL Central, where they would later be joined by the Pittsburgh Pirates, who also survived a bullpen meltdown to edge the Braves in extra innings, 12-11.

Here are the final scores of all of the games that were played today — Blue Jays-Yankees and Rockies-Cardinals were postponed — in a nifty bulleted list. (Links go to box scores.)

Now, I’m sure some of my readers were interested in how these games turned out. But really, the bigger question in their minds has to be, “How did this clown’s game-by-game predictions turn out?” Well, I’m glad your collective conscience asked! In fact, I was so sure it would ask that I’ve italicized my picks in the above links. How thoughtful of me!

As you can see, I went 9-3 on Monday, which, added to my prior record of 1-2, gives me an overall record of 10-5. If this was the NFL, I’d probably be on my way to wild card weekend. Of course, this is baseball, there are like a million games, and I could go 0-8 tomorrow and look like a real idiot. (As opposed to the individual of high esteem I appear to be now as I try to finish just above .500 while trying to pick the winner of every single regular season Major League game.) In any event, here are the current “standings” in my battle against the cream of the NL Central crop. As will be the case all year long, standings are ordered by winning percentage rather than actual wins.

SUPERSTAR vs. CENTRAL
Milwaukee Brewers (1-0) 1.000
Pittsburgh Pirates (1-0) 1.000
Merrill Park Superstar (10-5) .667

Hey, they’re not going to keep up this pace. Of course, I probably won’t either. And on that note, here are my picks for tomorrow’s scheduled games:

New York Mets over Florida Marlins
Toronto Blue Jays over New York Yankees
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim over Minnesota Twins
St. Louis Cardinals over Colorado Rockies
Boston Red Sox over Oakland Athletics
San Diego Padres over Houston Astros
Los Angeles Dodgers over San Francisco Giants
Seattle Mariners over Texas Rangers

Well, no matter how well I do tomorrow, I still won’t be able to eclipse the NL Central teams for at least one more day. Still, it’d be helpful to get off to a good start now, since, frankly, these early-season games where you don’t have much to go by are really the toughest calls.

Here’s to the weather wreaking havoc on the Yankee Stadium infield! Go get ’em, Roy!

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