My history of bold predictions is pretty spotty to say the least: I predicted New Coke would be so successful that it would drive Pepsi out of business, I predicted Cyndi Lauper would outlast Madonna, I predicted The Michael Richards Show would be more successful than Seinfeld, and I predicted that once David Beckman arrived in the United States that soccer would be more popular here than the Big Mac.
Well, you’d think I’d learn to shut up by now, but here I go again. I am now predicting that within the next twelve months, we will have witnessed playoff berths by the three major Wisconsin professional sports teams: The Brewers this season, and the Packers and Bucks in the upcoming seasons.
Let’s start with what would have to be the longest shot — no, not the Bucks, but the Brewers. (Remember that only four teams in the NL will make the playoffs, whereas the NBA’s Eastern Conference will send twice as many teams to postseason play.) The Brewers have been playing the best baseball in the majors over the last six weeks. Assuming Ben Sheets can outhurl Minnesota’s Kevin Slowey on Sunday, the Brewers will avenge their only series loss since that disasterous trip to Fenway Park in mid-May. Should Milwaukee beat Minnesota on Sunday, they will be one of the few National League teams to finish interleague play with a winning record, an impressive feat considering that they started interleague play 0-5.
As of Sunday, the Brewers are only one game out of the NL Wild Card, which stands as their best shot of making it to the postseason. It seems like only a matter of time before the Brewers surpass the Cardinals, who simply don’t have the pitching depth that Milwaukee has proven to have over the last several weeks. Yes, the Brewers have come a long way since early in the season when Sheets was the only pitcher getting wins. Guys like Parra, McClung, and Torres are the best stories coming out of Milwaukee this season, and that’s why they’ll still be playing in October.
Now let’s look at the Bucks. As horrendous as the Milwaukee Bucks were last year, and they were bad, as bad as The Love Guru‘s box-office performance, they were only eleven wins out of a playoff berth in the Eastern Conference, where you don’t need to be good to get to the postseason. Can the Milwaukee Bucks make an eleven-game turnaround next year? I know it’s like expecting solid laughs out of an episode of According to Jim to expect good things from the Bucks, but this actually seems like a pretty safe bet.
Within a few weeks, the Bucks have gotten John Hammond, a proven winner, to replace Larry Harris, a proven loser, as their GM. They received a significant upgrade at head coach with Scott Skiles. But more importantly, they just added two players, Richard Jefferson and lottery pick Joe Alexander, who could make significant contributions next year. Jefferson, should he stay healthy (he missed 27 games in 2006-07 with a knee injury), not only can score — 22.6 points while shooting 47 percent from the floor in 82 games last year — but has playoff experience, a huge plus for a team like Milwaukee which has guys who don’t have much experience playing in games that count. (Indeed, when the Bucks looked like they were going to go on a playoff run in March of last season, they proceeded to then drop 10 of their next 14 games to fall out of contention.) Alexander will need to be brought along a little more slowly, but this a guy who has worked for everything he’s earned in his college career (he received no basketball scholarships coming out of high school). He was huge for West Virginia, and he seems genuinely appreciative of the opportunity to play for Milwaukee, which is refreshing after last year’s experience with the now-traded Yi Jianlian.
For the 2008-09 season, the Bucks will have standout rookie Ramon Sessions, Olympian Michael Redd, still-improving Andrew Bogut, Charlie Villanueva, and Richard Jefferson as their starting five, with Alexander, Mo Williams, and Charlie Bell coming off the bench. In the East, that’s a playoff team.
Now for the slam dunk: The Packers. Aaron Rodgers will be fine, Ryan Grant’s deal will get done (hopefully), and the defensive line will get healthy. Remember, some team from the NFC North has to get in to the postseason. Minnesota should be better, but no team with Tavaris Jackson at quarterback poses any real threat to win the division. The Bears appear to be in free fall, and the Lions are the Lions, bless them. Hey, Jon Kitna . . . I’ve made my bold playoff predictions. Now it’s your turn. Playoffs? 10 wins? .500? Will keep all games within 30 points? Anything?