Friday, October 05, 2012

10/05 (What a Weekend) Quickie

Most jam-packed sports weekend of the year? Pretty close to it...

Novelty in sports is interesting. Institutional novelty -- like today's first-ever MLB "Wild Card" single-elimination game -- is fascinating. For two teams today, their hard-earned trip to the playoffs is over, more briefly than any team in the history of the league.

I'm not sure we will see any unintended consequences, but watching two managers work with their bullpens and bench players in a win-or-go-home game (even with a tough five-game LDS series starting in 48 hours) is going to be fun to watch.

Nowhere is that more obvious than in Atlanta, where the Braves will start the unbeatable Kris Medlen against the defending World Series champs. Medlen will only be available in the LDS as of Game 3 -- then again, without him winning today, Atlanta doesn't get a Game 3 in the LDS.

The American League Wild Card is no less awesome: It's unclear how anyone outside of Texas could not be rooting for the plucky (possibly lucky) Baltimore Orioles. I grew up going to Orioles games, and I know I'm pulling like crazy for them to pull it off -- their fans deserve it.

We roll from the Wild Cards today right into the LDS series, which by a questionable league decision will feature the team with the better regular-season record having to start with two games on the road. Playing 3 of 5 at home isn't quite as helpful if you are down 0-2 when you get there.

Let's get to the picks:
AL Wild Card: Rangers over Orioles.
NL Wild Card: Braves over Cardinals.
ALDS: Yankees over Rangers in 4; A's over Tigers in 4.
NLDS: Nationals over Braves in 5; Giants over Reds in 5.
ALCS: Yankees over A's in 6.
NLCS: Nationals over Giants in 7.
World Series: Nationals over Yankees in 6.

Huge weekend in college football: Plenty of "separation" storylines.
*West Virginia at Texas: Geno Smith's true Heisman moment.
*LSU at Florida: Put up or shut up for the Tigers; how far has Florida come?
*Georgia at South Carolina: De facto SEC East title game?

And some intriguing others:
*Nebraska at Ohio State: More data Urban's team is B1G's best.
*Miami at Notre Dame (at Soldier Field): What an amazing rivalry.
*Northwestern at Penn State: Arguably THE test for unbeaten Wildcats in '12.

USC survives trip to Utah: Still, Trojans are such an afterthought right now.

NFL Week 5: This week's SI cover notwithstanding, it's nice to no longer have the refs be the central storyline of the season. My five favorite storylines for Sunday:

*Peyton vs. Brady: Won't be any closer than Tebow vs. Brady was.
*Winless Saints: Sean Payton watching, San Diego ready to make it 0-5.
*Sneaky-interesting game: Eagles at Steelers. Dare to say "must-win" for Pittsburgh?
*RG3 Mania: Couldn't be a bigger win for DC than beating best-of-NFC Falcons.
*Tebow Time: If the Texans are drilling NY on MNF, it could/should be.

TNF: Rams stifle the Cardinals, and it's a signature win for Jeff Fisher in St. Louis, on national TV against a team that might have been a soft unbeaten, but unbeaten nonetheless.

Kentucky's Calipari wins again: This time landing the top-rated PG and top-rated SG of the 2013 HS class (who just happen to be twin brothers), yoinking them away from Maryland, whose coach has been recruiting them for the past 7 years and whose lead sponsor (Under Armour) has outfitted their AAU team for years.

Let's be clear: John Calipari has executed the most brilliant competitive strategy in all of sports. It is part-Moneyball, part-Yankees, part-celebrity, part-pragmatism -- it is totally unique to college hoops, but more power to him for crafting and executing it. (Want Kentucky to stop winning, college hoops rivals? Convince the NCAA to lobby the NBA to drop its age limit.)

NBA: Royce White. I'm all for the thoughtful way he and the team are dealing with his mental illness and anxiety disorder. I have no problem with him taking a bus to nearby games. But what happens when he HAS to take a plane? Will it be debilitating for him? The team clearly knew all this before they drafted him and kudos to them for working on working around it with him, but I'm skeptical the plan will work out for the long-term.

MLB: Bobby Valentine is out in Boston. Could have called this before he was even hired.

Enjoy what should be an incredible sports weekend: MLB Wild Card games tonight, incredible college football games tomorrow, standard-issue NFL on Sunday and MLB LDS series all weekend long. More updates here over the weekend.

-- D.S.

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