For the die hard baseball fan the month of August is the "dog days." I am not sure where this term comes from but it suggests the idea of hot, sticky, hard and challenging. These are the days that set baseball apart from all other sports because it comes down to perseverance and a strong mental attitude that can endure great odds. These guys have been playing and traveling and grinding it out since late February. But on August 1st there are still sixty-plus games to be played. That is almost as many games as an NBA team, or an NHL team, will play in a whole season.
Real fans get into the game during the dog days. Their team will either die this month or stay in the chase and make the final days really fun. Some teams will fade away and some will rise, as the Rockies did a few years ago. This is what makes the dog days of August so much fun for the fan. If your team is fading you have only one consolation: football is almost here. If you are like me then it is college football you anticipate so you have something to hold on to while your baseball hopes fade away in the dog days.
So, I will go out on the baseball limb and make some dog day predictions. First, I am impressed by the Dodgers. This team learned a ton by making the postseason last year. Their young guns have arrived and they are playing as a real team for manager Joe Torre. Torre is clearly one of the truly great managers in the modern era. My respect for his success in New York has only grown since they won those championships. While many said that anyone could win with what Torre had in New York the truth is that no one else could or did. Torre knows how to lead a team and get them to play together, at least in most instances.
My only angst about this particular Dodger team is Manny Ramirez, one of those players I really do not like. Mike Timlin, a former teammate of Manny's, recently told The Sporting News that Manny will always have a positive and negative effect on a team. I quote Timlin: "He will always care to a point, and then when it suits him he will become the person who will not play as hard or will come up with some injury so he can have time off. I really love Manny. He is a great person and loves this game, but sometimes does not go all out like others do." That is not what you want a former teammate saying in the dog days.
The Phillies are coming on and with the acquisition of Cliff Lee from Cleveland they pulled off a coup. But I think the Dodgers are very hungry and talented at almost every position. They both have good closers but I give LA the nod here as well. The NL clearly has two great teams this year. What about the others? As of today I would pick the Colorado Rockies to be the wild card team and the St. Louis Cardinals to win the Central. The Cubs just keep finding ways to do what the Cubs always do: choke! I still love the sign: "Cubs Magic Number: 9-1-1." The Cubs are just not going to get any love from me, ever. They are not even lovable losers anymore, just a team with problems and personalities that do nothing for me. Think: Soriano and Bradley if you get my drift. Kevin Gregg's two blown saves in Florida a few days ago underscore my point.
Second, in the AL I am impressed by no one yet. I thought the Yankees would take it during July but watching them lose 3 of 4 games to the White Sox this weekend showed me a lot of their weaknesses. I just do not think their pitching is good enough to carry them all the way but we shall see. The Red Sox have had their mini-slump and I think they have snapped out of it again. I also think the White Sox, with the acquisition of Jake Peavey, will win the Central. The Sox have the pitching to be dangerous in the post season. The Angels should win the West but Texas could surprise us. The heat in Arlington will be tough in the dog days. The wild card? Likely the Yankees or the Red Sox since they will battle to the finish line for first in the AL East. Who wins the pennant? The Red Sox or the Yankees. I would guess Boston right now.
If I had to pick, and it is way too early, I would guess the National League, which top to bottom is weaker than the American League, would win the World Series again. Both the Dodgers and the Phillies have the mo-jo that I do not see yet in the good AL teams. Having said this there can always be a huge surprise. Remember, the Tampa Bay Rays won the AL last year. Could a wild card sneak in as is so often the case? You bet. This season is a long way from over which makes it another great season for real baseball fans.