Press Box: Opening day optimism

Season starts for steady Cardinals, improving Royals

The World Series doesn’t start for more than six months. But I’m here to tell you who the winner will be.

With Opening Day, one of the best sports days of the year, slated for Monday, it’s officially baseball season.

Whether you’re a St. Louis Cardinals fan, a Kansas City Royals backer or a supporter of any other MLB team, optimism runs rampant. It’s a fresh start for your team, a chance to forget last season’s heartbreak.

We’ve got a fun season ahead of us. But let’s fast-forward 162 games to October. Who will still be fighting for that elusive World Series trophy? Will the Cardinals make it back to the World Series? Can the Royals return to the postseason for the first time since 1985?

I’m here to answer all those questions. Just don’t take my advice to the betting counters. You’ll end up just like Chevy Chase in Vegas Vacation.

Let’s start with the World Series loser, St. Louis. The Cardinals might be the most complete team in the majors. Young, dominant pitching in the rotation and in the bullpen to go along with a stacked lineup. Not to mention a passionate fanbase — although it’s easy to call yourself the best fans in baseball when your team wins more than Charlie Sheen. And yes, I’m lumped into that category as well. We might be the most spoiled baseball fanbase of the last decade.

How about Kansas City? The thing that worries me is the pitching. Yes, Kansas City boasted the best ERA in the American League last season. But Jason Vargas replaced Ervin Santana, bullpen stalwart Luke Hochevar is done for the season and youngster Yordano Venture is unproven. If the Royals can get anything close to the pitching they had last season, they’ll be in the playoffs.

I love the acquisitions of Omar Infante and Norichika Aoki to bolster the lineup, but I still think the Royals might be one starting pitcher away from legitimate contention.

So on to my picks:

NL Division winners: St. Louis, Washington, Los Angeles

NL wildcard winners: Cincinnati over Pittsburgh

AL Division winners: Boston, Detroit, Oakland

AL wildcard winners: Kansas City over Tampa Bay

NLDS: St. Louis over Cincinnati, Los Angeles over Washington

ALDS: Boston over Kansas City, Oakland over Detroit

NLCS: St. Louis over Los Angeles

ALCS: Oakland over Boston

World Series: St. Louis over Oakland

III

Frank Haith will be on the hot seat if Missouri doesn’t make the NCAA Tournament next season.

I was never a big Mike Anderson fan, but he did guide Missouri to four victories in the Big Dance in five seasons, including an Elite Eight appearance in 2009. That was after inheriting a downtrodden program.

Haith is 0-for-2 in the NCAA Tournament and missed the Big Dance this year. The program is trending the wrong way, and that’s a big problem. He took over at Missouri when the program was near the top. It’s been a quick and precipitous fall in two seasons.

It’s tough for the Missouri faithful to really get behind a transfer-laden team, and that trend isn’t stopping anytime soon.

Haith will be in his fourth season next year. I think he should be shown the door if the Tigers don’t go dancing.

But hey, look! A Missouri basketball team won a national championship! Former Tiger Kim Anderson, now the head coach at Central Missouri, guided the Mules to the NCAA Division II title Saturday afternoon. Congrats to them.

III

The season will be considered an abject failure if the St. Louis Blues don’t win the Stanley Cup.

The Blues are past the “we’re young and learning from our past postseason exits” stage. St. Louis owner Tom Stillman — no relation unfortunately — went all-in with the trade deadline acquisition of goaltender Ryan Miller. The Blues are in win-now mode.

St. Louis boasts 11 Olympians on the roster — that includes Miller, who was on the United States’ team while a member of the Buffalo Sabres —and are loaded with talent at every position. This is the best Blues team in franchise history.

Blues fans have endured enough heartbreak over the years. It’s time to bring the Stanley Cup to St. Louis.

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