3/14: A Look Ahead to Opening Day

March 14, 2012 by  
Filed under Featured, Len Berman

With Major League Baseball’s opening day less than a month away, the countdown to the regular season has begun.  What can baseball fans make of the change in the playoff system?  And, who has the best chances of winning this year?  Sports journalist and Marist Poll Contributor Len Berman offered his insight when he spoke with the Marist Poll’s John Sparks.

Len Berman

Len Berman

Listen to the interview or read the transcript below.

Part 1:


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John Sparks
Len, what do you think about Major League Baseball expanding the playoffs for this season?

Len Berman
I think it’s a good move. I think adding a wild card and diminishing the chances for the wild card to advance, I think that’s all positive. I mean it’s going to create some more excitement down the stretch in September, keep some more teams alive, and those two one game play-ins should be very exciting, so I don’t really have a problem. I mean it makes it look more difficult for them to advance. It certainly puts a better premium on winning the division, something the Yankees didn’t really try to do a couple years ago despite what Joe Girardi claims, so I think generally it’s positive.

John Sparks
So then, it puts more value on getting hot at the end rather than persevering over the long haul?

Len Berman
Well, you know, I think that’s always the case in post season, and that’s always the case in playoffs no matter what the team. Look at football, too. I mean, look at what the Giants have done. No, I don’t think that’s a prob…  I mean, yeah, the hot team, my goodness, I mean the St. Louis Cardinals were certainly not picked by anybody last year and certainly didn’t have a wonderful regular season. They got hot at the end, and they carried it through and won the championship, so I don’t think this change in the playoff system alters that philosophy at all.

Part 2:


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John Sparks
Let’s take a look at the upcoming season, what do you think about the Yankees for this year?

Len Berman
Well, they’re always a team to be reckoned with because of their resources. I mean, I think the team they put on the field is strong. Things can fall apart. They’ve never had that problem over the years, but, for example, they lost a good relief pitcher in Dave Robertson because he fell down some stairs. Now he might not be ready opening day. I mean, if that’s the beginning of a series of issues that even great teams can fall in the abyss.  But, with their resources, if something isn’t working, and they do have the injuries, they have the deep pockets to go out and buy replacements midseason, so you never count out the Yankees ever.

John Sparks
I’m curious, A-Rod bounces back this year and what about Derek Jeter at the tail end of the ride?

Len Berman
Well, those are issues. I mean, these guys are older. I mean Mariano Rivera. I mean, I have a feeling this is his last season. What if he doesn’t have it? Hey, there’s always question marks, which is great. I mean I think people are just penciling in the Yankees for one of those playoff spots. What if they don’t make it?  Look at how that opens things up for a lot of other teams. So, yeah, those are valid questions. A-Rod’s age, Jeter’s age, sure, that’s not a real young team. What you find with the teams like the Cardinals, a team that has some young players, all of sudden exceed expectations, and you hope that works out. You like to see that, so maybe there’s a team out there that no one’s considering.

Part 3:


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John Sparks
Let’s go over to Queens and talk about the Mets, what do you see for the Mets this year?

Len Berman
Well, it’s just sad that their mantra is: We’re not as bad as people think we are. I mean, that’s a hell of a sales slogan.  They’ve got problems, and they’ve got financial problems. And until those financial problems get resolved, things are going to continue the way they are. Having said that, these are Major League players. I mean, Ike Davis is a Major League first baseman. David Wright’s a Major League third baseman.  You’ve got some players there. What’s to say that they aren’t this year’s St. Louis Cardinals? It’s not beyond the realm of possibility.

Part 4:


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John Sparks
Let’s go around the League and the divisions real quickly. I’m just wondering, American League West.  Will Pujols bring Los Angeles a division, and what about the Rangers and Yu Darvish?

Len Berman
Yeah, well I think those are both great questions and I think that’s — it used to be the American League East that was spocked[sic]. Then all of a sudden, you’ve got Texas, which has been in two straight WorldSeries, and they had heartbreaking loss in last year’s Fall Classic, and you’ve got the Angels with Pujols. You know, you always lean on the side of pitching, so maybe Texas by getting Darvish is the bigger get. Certainly possible.

John Sparks
Thinking about pitching, let’s move over to American League Central. Justin Verlander and the Tigers, can anybody beat them?

Len Berman
You know, they look awfully solid. They’re certainly the strong favorites going in, and they’ve certainly become a franchise with deep pockets there, so for anyone to pick against the Tigers, that would be a long shot.

John Sparks
Okay. We talked about the Yankees, but let’s talk about the American League East. Can Bobby Valentine bring the Red Sox back, and what about Tampa Bay or maybe even a long shot for Toronto?

Len Berman
Yeah, I mean I love the East. I’m a huge Bobby Valentine fan.  I wish all it took was a manager. I think he’s a great step in the right direction, and he’s going to shake up that clubhouse, and he’s certainly going to make all the games with the Yankees a lot more interesting. He’s just one of the great baseball characters. Do the Red Sox have enough? It doesn’t look like it. Tampa Bay is a solid club. I hope a Toronto or even a Baltimore come out of nowhere. I mean, it’ll be nice, but I think you’re looking at the traditional powers for another year.

Part 5:


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John Sparks
Okay, National League East, Phillies again, they picked up Jonathan Pabelbon. Are they best team in baseball really?

Len Berman
Well, if they are, their fans are going to get a little upset that they don’t win it all. After being to the World Series a couple years, they haven’t for a couple years, so I think they’re a hell of a team so…  are they the best team in baseball? You could make a case, sure.

John Sparks
National League Central, St. Louis without Pujols.  What does that mean for the division?

Len Berman
You know what, I still like St. Louis. I really do. I mean I don’t know where the… Obviously Cincinnati, you always have to look out. Milwaukee, Ryan Braun’s going to have a chip on his shoulder, so that could be a fun — that could be a real fun division. Look for those three teams to mix it up. I don’t… Certainly when you lose Pujols’ bat, it’s going to affect you, but historically teams that have lost a major free agent, it’s for some reason the other players who’ve stepped up, so I’m not going to count them out just yet. But I don’t look for them to repeat, that’s for sure.

John Sparks
You mentioned Braun, what do you think about the steroid thing with him?  Did he or didn’t he?

Len Berman
Well, obviously it’s only he and his urine sample know for sure. I mean the odds are that it’s awfully far-fetched to think that a tester tampered with sample A and sample B, so… In 99.999% of the cases, if it’s in their system, it’s in their system. It’s not some kind of fluke. So, if you put a gun to my head, he dodged that bullet for sure.

John Sparks
Moving out West for the National League, the Giants are pretty tough, but what about Don Mattingly and the Dodgers?  What do you think is going to happen there?

Len Berman
I don’t know. I mean, I’d love to see — I hope that he doesn’t become a… They still have an ownership situation that’s up in the air. I hope he doesn’t become the odd man out because of that. I love… I’m a big personal fan of Don Mattingly. I don’t know if his team has enough, but the Giants still have some of that pitching. I always look at the pitching as being the strength.

John Sparks
Anything else as we look at the 2012 baseball season?

Len Berman
You know, I think the one story you didn’t bring up is the Miami Marlins. New Name, new stadium, they’ve spent a load, and you want to see if the fans come out. I mean, that’s been a market that still you don’t know about that. They’ve won two World Championships, yet that can’t draw fans. If they can’t do it with this new stadium and Ozzie Guillen and Jose Reyes and the rest of the people down there, then they never will. So I think that’s a big story that you got to a — that I think is going to be one of the big baseball stories of 2012, the Miami Marlins.

John Sparks
Appreciate your time, Len. What’s going on in your life these days?

Len Berman
Well, I’ve got a lot of different things going on. I’m still doing The Today Show once a month with Spanning the World. I’ve started this relationship with Channel 5 in New York where once a week I do my Top Five on Channel 5 which is a spinoff of my daily email which people get at thatssports.com, and I’m very excited about my newest book coming out in the fall for kids. It’s going to be Greatest Moments in Sports, Upsets and Underdogs, and it’s more than a sports book. It’s really going to be empowering for young people to see how anyone can succeed no matter where you come from or what your background is, you have a chance to become a champion, and I think it’s going to open a few eyes. As I very modestly say, “Every young people… Every young person needs to read that book.”

John Sparks
Well, I’m looking forward to reading it also. It’s always a pleasure, Len.

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