The best race in baseball has been in the National League's Central Division. The Central has been a three-team carousel between the surprising Pittsburgh Pirates, the perennial favorite St. Louis Cardinals, and the lurking Cincnnati Reds.
All three have sewed up playoff spots-- but there is a little thing of their positioning. As of today, the Cards lead the Pirates and Reds by 2 games. But all three have their own stories to tell.
The Cardinals are trying to hold pole position and avoid the one-game wild card playoff. Conventional wisdom is they will hold on to it. Their magic number is 4, with five games to play. However, the Cardinals play the Washington Nationals-- the just-eliminated Washington Nationals. The Reds play the Mets, while the Buccos play the Cubs. The final weekend, the Cards end with the Cubs, while the Reds and Pirates play each other. The Pirates and Reds are expected to beat up on each other, leaving St. Louis in great position. But don't give the Central to the Cardinals just yet...remember, there is a little rivalry between Chicago and St. Louis...
I am a Reds fan. I fully believe Great American Ball Park will be home to the Reds and Pirates in a wild card playoff a week from today.. The Pirates are tasting the playoffs for the first time since 1992-- when a pre-juiced Barry Bonds was in their outfield. Remember that year? The Atlanta Braves reached the World Series when a very slow, very injured Sid Bream scored to win the NLCS that year. The Reds are rounding into playoff shape now, having won 6 of their last 7, and with two more against the lowly Mets at GABP. A national columnist said we have not seen the best of the Reds yet, and I agree. It may be 2014 before we see it (and, side note... will we see Nevin Ashley at GABP before long?)
Three teams, three stories-- and one conclusion. No matter who you favor, it has been a great year for the NL Central.
If you are a football fan, you got to love weekends like this. As a sample, here is my weekend of gridiron happenings (and it still isn't over...)
Friday: At Indiana State University seeing North Knox look less than their best, but still win 33-0 over Wood Memorial. The coaches admit they had one eye on North Central, and the players in my opinion played like it. North Knox was a bit flat-- especially early-- but still threw the shoutout over the Trojans. By the way, watch for Wood-- they will be good the next couple of years. About 2 1/2 hours south of Terre Haute, Vincennes Lincoln fell to Mount Vernon. That game may be a harbinger of a down season for the Alices- I felt they had to win that game to get traction on the rest of the year. Instead, they were spinning their wheels in that loss to the Wildcats. It gets no easier either -- as they take on Jasper Saturday aternoon in Indianapolis.
Saturday: Had free tickets to the Indiana-Bowling Green game, and saw the Hoosiers dismantle a good Falcons team, 42-10. A friend of mine feels Indiana could be 8-4; I am not quite there yet, but a weaker Big Ten will help. Indiana has a huge matchup against Missouri Saturday night; that game will answer a lot of questions about the Hoosiers.
I also saw some of the Alabama- A&M game on Saturday. Johnny Football (Manziel) was amazing, but Alabama did what champions do... they won when they had to. However, I am not in love with a team that gives up 600 yards and wins a game. I believe someone is going to get Alabama-- I don't know who yet, but someone will...
Sunday: My day of rest-- from football too. My Bengals play tonight, so I didn't watch much football on Sunday. I missed a lot of great finishes-- just as I saw in Week One. This is a great start to the season-- and shows as much about the NFL's evenness as anything else.
Monday: Cincinnati at Pittsburgh. Monday Night Football. I will have two red eyes when I get back in here at 3:50 am Tuesday...
You always hate it when your teams lose. You hate it even more when they all lose on the same weekend.
Professionally, I have had an affinity toward the Cincinnati-based teams. I grew up in southeast Indiana in the city of Connersville, and my wonder years were in the mid-70's, when the "Big Red Machine" was at its peak, and when the Cincinnati Bengals were among the best in the NFL. Those two teams set my sports template southeastward. I did not transfer my loyalty to the Colts when they (dubiously) moved from Baltimore to Indianapols in 1984. Now I am an Indiana Pacer fan, and became a St. Louis Blues hockey fan in the mid-1980's.
I said all that to say this... with the exception of a Reds sweep, this was a lost weekend. Friday night, the North Knox Warriors lose a late lead, and lose to Sullivan. My beloved U-S National soccer team loses to Costa Rica on Friday night. Indiana loses to Navy Saturday night, and to top it all off, the Bengals lose an 11point fourth quarter lead, and lose to Chicago at Soldier Field.
Boy, talk about insecurity!! I look at myself and think "What have I done?" I laugh... but it makes me think... what do you do after a "mostly" lost weekend? You try to avoid sports radio to reopen the wounds, and you hope next weekend is better. At least the Bengals won't lose this weekend...they play Monday night at home against Pittsburgh. So there's something...
Who whould have known that "Tebow Time" would only be 15 minutes long? Andy Warhol famously said everyone can be famous for 15 minutes. Tim Tebow's time started with an unbelievable run for the Denver Broncos in 2011. The Broncos worked an offense around their unorthodox-- but VERY successful-- quarterback that year. Tebow was set to start the next year as the incumbent starter, but then came a certain quarterback named Manning, and as you would expect, Tebow got cut adrift. Then, last year's New York Jets' debacle happened, and then the unsuccessful trial with the New England Patriots.
What's next for the uber-limited, but uber-popular quarterback? Coaching isn't out of the question-- Tebow is a born leader, and knows how to motivate people-- obviously... The one problem is his lack of a grasp of tactics; that may become an issue. Which leads to Plan B-- television. College football studio shows would fall over themselves to get Tebow on their shows-- IF he can be opinionated enough. This is where another outspoken Christian success story-- Tony Dungy-- can help. Dungy showed you can be respectful, Christian-- and opinionated. If Tebow can brush up on Dungy's Football Night in America success, he could be the next great college football commentator... following in the path of former Ohio State quarterback Kirk Herbstreit. Herbstreit is a OSU alum, currently coached by... Tebow's old college coach at Florida, Urban Meyer. Funny how things come around....