because of the electrifying role my favorite hometown team, the Giants, performed in the post-season last year, when they beat the Atlanta Braves, and then somehow beat what looked like the best team in baseball, the Philadelphia Phillies, in six games, before barely breaking a sweat in knocking out the Texas Rangers and Cliff Lee (twice) in five games.
They were the most exciting three weeks I've ever seen, but that's the beauty of post-season baseball. Opening Day (or Night) is also like that where every pitch counts, and the ballpark is electric. But by its very nature (playing 162 games in roughly 180 days), baseball can't keep up that intensity. But what it can and does do is a form of reality television that fans can follow virtually very day and night, providing drama and excitement on a certain low-key level. And yes, when the Boston Red Sox and/or the New York Yankees come to St. Pete, it feels like a playoff game, with the stands filled.
Too bad that isn't usually the case at the Trop, and the case of "where are all the fans" could be a reoccurring story line again in 2011.
And how good will the Rays be? Well, to the credit of the executive team of Stu Sternberg/Matt Silverman/Andrew Friedman, there is no reason to think that team won't be competitive in what is still the toughest division in MLB, the AL East. The big question simply is: What does Manny Ramirez have left in the tank? The reviews out of spring training have been glowing; that the longtime slugger, who has been off his game the past couple of years (just coincidentally after he got popped for steroids?) has a lot to prove in 2011, and the Rays are getting him for a bargain basement price. He's been one of the greats over the past decade, but does he still have it in him? One thing's for sure: at least as the season begins, his presence alone brings some star power to the homegrown talents of Evan Longoria, B.J. Upton and David Price. [For Joe Maddon's thoughts on the upcoming season, see Kevin Tall's interview for CL.]
The Rays will be going up against everybody's favorite to win the American League this year: the Boston Red Sox, fresh off acquiring Rays star left fielder Carl Crawford, and superduper slugging first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, one of the most unsung stars of the game when he was with the San Diego Padres.
The sexy pick in the National League is the Philadelphia Phillies, who were already stocked with stars before they went out and acquired Cliff Lee in the off-season, the best free agent pitcher on the market. Coupled with the fact that the Phils already had two other aces in Roy Halladay (Cy Young winner last year in the NL) and Roy Oswald, and Cole Hamels, and you're looking on paper at potentially the greatest starting staff in MLB history.
Boston and San Francisco are considered to have starting staffs that are just a slight bit less impressive than the Phillies. And not everybody is convinced that this Philly starting five will be that awesome; In the Wall Street Journal earlier this week, famed analyst Bill James said that "it is almost equally likely we will find at the end of the year that they merely have a tremendously expensive starting rotation."
In any event, Sports Illustrated predicts a rematch of the 2010 National League Championship Series, and once again predicts the San Francisco Giants pitching will get them through Philadelphia, and into the Series vs. Boston, who they predict will take home their third crowd in the last eight years.
S.I. is predicting that the Yankees will edge out the Rays for second place in the AL East, and win the Wild Card.
But who knows how any of this plays out? Absolutely nobody had the Giants winning the National League West last year, much less the Series. Likewise the Rays in 2008 making it to the Big Dance.
Oh, sorry, that's all about tomorrow's Final Four, which incidentally, has the worst combined records of the four finalists ever for the championship game since the tourney wax expanded 26 years ago. But that's for a different space. Whomever you support, best of luck in 2011.