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Hope springs eternal: Bold predictions for a big season

By Stephen Caruso / Contributing Editor

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My fridge is full of hot dogs, and I’m listening to “Centerfield” on repeat, so you know baseball season is here. As the old adage says, you can’t predict baseball, but that doesn’t stop anyone from trying. Let me give it my best attempt and present you with some bold predictions for the coming season.

1) Alex Rodriguez will make the best decision of his career.

As a Yankees fan, I have nothing to look forward to except realizing how bad retired former captain Derek Jeter’s range was after a routine play by Didi Gregorius during the first month of the season. The team has a few intriguing young guys, but every player the Bronx Bombers depend on is old, injury-prone or both, as exemplified by the star of almost 3,000 hits, Alex Rodriguez.

Oh, you didn’t know he was 61 hits away from joining the elusive “3,000 hit club”?

A-Rod is also potentially two months away from another career milestone. With only 31 RBI, Rodriguez will have 2,000, joining Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth and Cap Anson as the only players to reach that figure in baseball history. Of course, it doesn’t guarantee baseball immortality, because the average fan likely doesn’t know who the hell Cap Anson is.

No, the defining moment of A-Rod’s season will come in mid-June. Picture it. A-Rod scuffles at the plate — his critics are out in full force. But then, on a warm summer night, with the Yankees down three and the bases loaded, Rodriguez steps up to bat.

The pitcher deals two quick strikes, and A-Rod looks like the 40-year-old he is. But then he fights back, working a 3-2 count. Gregorius, on second base, steals the catchers sign: fastball. A-Rod smiles. He cocks back and swings hard.

Strike three! His bat only meets air as a slow curve falls into the dirt. Boos fill the stadium. Rodriguez smashes his bat down and vows to retire immediately rather than play again out of sheer embarrassment. In the owner’s box, Hank and Hal Steinbrenner smile.

With his retirement, the Yankees save $60 million, which Yankees’ GM Brian Cashman instead hands over to new team captain Gregorius in the form of an extension. Within the decade, he leads the Yankees to three more World Series wins.

2) The San Diego Padres miss the playoffs.

After adding top-tier major league talent in the form of James Shields, Matt Kemp and Justin Upton, the Padres appear set to make the playoffs. They begin the season looking poised for a postseason run and are one game ahead of the Dodgers at the All-Star break.

Dodgers manager Don Mattingly is close to getting fired when he hatches an ingenious plan: facial hair. As a Yankee, he was never allowed to grow his already prodigious mustache into a full beard because of insanely rigid codes of conduct instituted by the late George Steinbrenner. With his back against the wall, he grows one and encourages his players to do the same. The camaraderie the facial hair provides is irreplaceable. On Aug. 1, the Dodgers trade for feared, facial-haired Mike Napoli and then hire James Harden as a personal beard trainer.

The Dodgers sweep the Padres in their September matchups, as their peach-fuzzed faces are no match for the bearded bums of Los Angeles. The Dodgers then face the Nationals in the NLDS. 

However, in preparation, the hard-throwing Washington rotation takes lessons from a local barbershop. The seasoned barbers schooled the star-studded rotation on how to use their smoking 100-plus-mile-per-hour fastballs to expertly clip and singe the beards off the Dodgers until nothing but baby faces remain.

3) The Astros are this year’s Royals.

Though most so-called “experts” peg the Astros as a few years away from contention, I know better. Using Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver’s formula of “pitching, defense and the three-run homer,” the Astros will make the playoffs.

They will launch 200 home runs as a team — while striking out 1,500 times. Evan Gattis and Chris Carter will quickly become the lovable mascots of the scrappy team, each hitting 50 homers in a league so starved for offense that Ryan Howard is still considered a starter.

For pitching, Nolan Ryan will become the first player-owner since Pittsburgh’s own Mario Lemieux, taking over the role of ace at 68-years-young and still throwing hard enough to guilt you into exercising more. He, with Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh, lead an underrated staff that always gives up one less run then the offense provides.

As for defense, José Altuve will turn out to be the real life Ant-Man, using his size-shifting ability to cover the whole field by himself, giving the rest of a defensively-challenged team a break.

The team will easily make it to the World Series, only to lose to a most unexpected opponent.

4) The Chicago Cubs win the World Series.

The Chicago Cubs finally break their 100-year string of bad luck with — wait, I can’t do it. This is just too over the top.

I’ll have to amend my prediction.

Nationals over the Mariners in six. Let’s play ball!

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Hope springs eternal: Bold predictions for a big season