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20 July, 2015

Brace Yourself

  Brace yourself, Mets fans. We've been here before. Many, many times.
   Where, exactly is "here"? It's that place entering a big series against the team we are battling for the division. It's that place where winning the first game would mean so much, breath some life into the team and provide hope for the fans that good times await on the other end of that series.
   The Mets begin a 3-game series in Washington tonight just 2 games back of the Nats for the lead in the NL East. They have lined up their rotation so that their big guns, Harvey, deGrom and Syndergaard will take the mound AND their anemic offense won't have to see Max Scherzer.
If the Mets fans were to dare and dream about a sweep, they would be dreaming of a 1-game lead in the division when the series ends. Good times!
   But recent history suggests it won't go well tonight. The Mets have an uncanny way of sucking the life out of a big series from the jump, losing game 1 with frequency.

   July 2, 1999: The Mets are 3 back of the Braves as Atlanta comes to Shea. Yes, it's early July but the Mets have built a good team and they have a chance to send a message to their fans and the Braves that they mean business this year. Instead Atlanta gave the Mets the business, winning game one 16-0. They lost the next one too before taking the finale and saving a little face. The Mets hung in there and even overtook the Braves for part of the summer before going to Atlanta in late September for a big series.

September 21, 1999: The Mets entered that series 1 game back and promptly lost the opener when Chipper Jones homered in the bottom of the 8th Dennis Cook. 2-1 Atlanta. The Braves swept the series and the Mets were left to battle for the Wild Card.

July 20, 2000. The Mets are 5 back of the Braves when they go there for a 3-game set. Do some damage and it's a race! Or lose the opener 6-3, drop two of three and leave town 6 back.

September 18, 2000: Not dead yet! 3 back with a 3-game series in Atlanta. Here we go!
He we don't. Braves win 6-3, take two of three and keep the Mets at bay, once again forcing them to battle for the wild card.

September 28, 2001: Post 9/11 the Mets played well and created some buzz. They won 8 of 9, including the "Piazza Game" and two of three vs the Braves at Shea. They went from 7 back to 3 back as they began a 3-gamer in Atlanta. Hopes were high. Everyone was talking about what a great story it would be given the circumstances. But then Steve Trachsel gave up 3 homers and the Braves took the opener 5-3. For good measure Atlanta walked-off the next day when they scored 7 in the bottom of the 9th off Benitez and Franco, capped by a Brian Jordan grand slam. Thanks for coming, drive home safely.

September 15, 2007: It's the flip-side view of things. Mets lead the Phillies by 6.5 games. Take care of business and put the Fightins in your rearview mirror. Or.... lose the opener 3-2 in 10 when Mike Difelice and Aaron Heilman both misplay bunts, leading to a sac fly. Tack on Beltran whiffing with the bases loaded in the bottom of the 8th just for yucks. Philly swept the series and the Mets executed one of the worst collapses in history.

  So here we are. It's not September, but somehow, some way, the Mets have hung around this long and they begin a 3-game series in Washington just two games back. The aces are lined up to pitch. If, by chance, they were to sweep maybe the front office would reward them with a deal for a bat or two to help them in the race. The table is set. The fans are excited for tonight and the two nights after that.
What could possibly go wrong?

04 April, 2015

2015 Mets Predictions with help from Billy Joel

   This is my 4th year predicting the Mets season win totals. In the last 3 seasons I have gone: 74
(exactly right) 72 (off by two) and 78 (off by one.)  That's not exactly the work of Nostradamus, or even Cousin Sal, since those years weren't exactly laced with hope. However, my predictions did show that I am a realist when it comes to my teams and I don't let passion blind my objectivity. With that in mind, this year is a real challenge. Expectations are high at Citi Field with the team spending the winter talking about the playoffs, the return of Matt Harvey and an encouraging spring with the Mets sporting the best record in the Grapefruit League. Vegas has set the Mets over/under at 82 1/2. I think it's realistic to think the Mets can fall anywhere in a ten game range (77-87) of that line. So this year requires some extra work, some extra inspiration. It just so happens that last night I went back to Madison Square Garden for the first time since 1983 and found my muse... Billy Joel. 
   So without further ado, and with the help of the play list from a true New York legend, ladies and gentleman, your 2015 New York Mets. 

Miami 2017 - The Marlins

"They said that Queens could stay, and blew the Bronx away"  

A bit of an omen, this song has become. I imagine the Marlins will be pretty darn good in 2017, assuming they don't trade half the team by then. The Marlins have always been a hemorrhoid to the Mets, a real pain in the ass. Even in the Mets good seasons. These two franchises are both emerging right now, both expected to battle for 2nd place in the division. It should be fun to watch them battle this year and on into 2017. 

My Life - Curtis Grandson  

"I don’t need you to worry for me cause I’m alright." 

For the Mets to be good this year, Curtis Granderson needs to do more than last year's .227/.326/.388, 20 HR, 66 rbi output. In order to help get that done (and to get the boo birds off his back) the Mets moved in the fences in right and hired Grandy's favorite hitting coach, Kevin Long. Even Viola Davis didn't give Emma Stone that much help. So far so good for Curtis as he's hitting .440 with 8 extra base hits this spring. We'll see if it carries over to the regular season. If it doesn't, Curtis may have to close up shop, sell the house and buy a ticket to the west coast. 

The Stranger - Jerry Blevins 

"Don’t be afraid to try again. 
Everyone goes south every now and then. 
You’ve done it. Why can’t someone else.
You should know by now. 
You’ve been there yourself. " 

  Blevins is an actual stranger to Mets fans as he was acquired just last week. They needed lefty relief help like Daryl Dixon needs his bow and arrows. So Blevins will be asked to get out the tough lefties in the division like Harper, Utley, Howard and Freeman. He'll probably go south every now and then, but he will play a big role in the Mets success this season. 

Summer, Highland Falls (not played) - Jenry Mejia 
(***at his concerts Billy Joel does a fan vote for some of the songs to play. the songs I've designated as "not played" were the losers when he did a fans choice." ***)

"For we are always what our situations hand us.
Its either sadness or euphoria" 

   It's hard to sum up the life of a closer better than that. Although Mejia's sadness may come once Bobby Parnell comes off the DL and (presumably) takes back the closer role. There wasn't a lot of domination from Mejia last year. A whip of 1.48, a batting average against of .265 and a 2.39 SO/W. 
Coney Island's roller coaster got off to a shaky start in 2015, let's hope 21 miles away Mejia isn't too much of a thrill-ride for the Mets.  

Vienna - Noah Syndergaard 

"Slow down you’re doing fine
You can’t be everything you want to be before your time" 

Godot, Guffman, Syndergaard. It's an illustrious list of those we have been waiting for. But there's no need for the Mets to rush Noah. In a town where people like to say "Hit me!", Syndergaard did just that a little too much last year in AAA Las Vegas. The big, blonde righty phenom allowed an opponent's batting average of .293. Yes, it's a hitter league, but there was still not enough dominance or maturity seen to warrant a September call-up. So he starts this season back in AAA and his time will come. Noah, you got your passion and you got your pride... Citi Field waits for you.    

Zanzibar - Duda 
"Me, I'm trying just to get to second base
And I'd steal it if she only gave the sign
She's gonna give the go head
The inning isn't over yet for me, for me" 

   Big Lucas only has 5 steals in 5 seasons, so don't expect "she" or Tim Teuful to be sending Duda the steal sign very often. What he will get is a lot of green lights and a lot of chances to do damage. Duda's slash line with RISP last season was an impressive .301/.441/.659 with an OPS of 1.100. The Mets will sign up for a whole lot more of that this year. A scout told ESPN NY's Adam Rubin that Duda should benefit from Long's instruction as well (not to mention the shorter fences). He'll get a chance to prove he can hit lefties (just .180 last season) when the season starts, but it's realistic to think he can hit another 25-30 HRs for the Mets.  

Big Man on Mulberry Street (not played) Sandy Alderson

"What else have I got 
That I'd be trying to hide. 
Maybe a blind spot 
I haven't seem from the sensitive side." 

  As we learned in the book about Alderson, Baseball Maverick, the Mets G.M. has no issue speaking his mind. We've actually known this about the former marine, but sometimes his radio interviews and press conferences are so stale, we forget that he is capable of being extremely blunt and occasionally funny.  He has little to hide and doesn't seem like the sensitive kind. But make no bones about it, Alderson is the big man in the Mets organization and their success this season may be largely predicated on how he handles the roster. The trades for the lefty relievers were smart, tinkering type moves that can make a difference. How long will he keep Gee around? How long until he decides it's time for Matz or Syndergaard to come up? Will he deal d'Arnaud or Plawecki or a pitching prospect at the deadline if the Mets are in the hunt? Alderson strikes me as a guy who gets a little brasher as his teams get better. 

An Innocent Man - Daniel Murphy 
"But I've been there and if I can survive
I can keep you alive
I'm not above going through it again
I'm not above being cool for a while
If you're cruel to me I'll understand" 

   The Mets seem to like, but not love, Daniel Murphy. Kind of like how every girl in high school felt about me. The Mets will go through it again, having him man second base. Murph will be cool about it for a while, hit .290-.310 without a lot of pop. He'll play adequate second base. And in the end, Alderson will probably be cruel to him at some point, dealing him away and asking Muno, Reynolds or Herrera to take over. 

Everybody Loves You Now - Juan Lagares 
"Baby all the lights are turned on you
Now you're in the center of the stage
Everything revolves on what you do
Ah, you are in your prime; you've come of age." 

   Juan burst on to the Citi scene last year playing arguably the best defensive center field Mets fans have ever seen. His non-dropped balls to dropped-jaws ratio was off the charts. He covered more distance in New York than the marathon winner. He robbed more guys than Butch and Sundance. He gunned down more dudes than Capone. He was great. This spring he looks thicker and extremely patient at the plate. The Mets have seen enough to give him a new deal. Look for the Lagares jersey/shirt to be among the Mets top sellers this season. It's spring... love is in the air and as we know, if it's in the air, Juan is going to catch it. 

You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling - the fans 
"Bring back that loving’ feeling 
whoa, that loving’ feein’" 

   Billy broke into this in the middle of the show. The crowd loved it. 
This is not a shot at the Mets fans, more of a plea. This season has a chance to have a "Mets in '84" kind of vibe. Citi should be rocking on the nights Harvey and deGrom pitch and if the Mets are winning, most nights as the season progresses. This team is ready to start winning games. Mets fans have been waiting. I'm taking my 12-year old to opening day this year. It'll be the first time he's been at Citi when it's sold out. Hopefully there are a lot of nights this year when Citi rocks the way Shea Stadium used to. 

The Entertainer - Matt Harvey 
"I am the entertainer
The idol of my age
I make all kinds of money
When I go on the stage
Ah, you've seen me in the papers
I've been in the magazines..."

   He's back and damn if he doesn't look fantastic. One of the great mantles in sports is the New York City Studly Athlete Who Owns the Town mantle. Among the notables; Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Frank Gifford, Clyde Frazier, Joe Namath, Ron Dougay, Pat Cummings, Derek Jeter, Henrik Lundqvist... and now Matt Harvey. If there is an awesome oyster somewhere, all the other oysters say "The world is his Matt Harvey." He has looked amazing this spring, almost too good. You know it can't be that easy for him to pick up where he left off after missing all of 2014. But man if it isn't great to have him back, to have a "The Man" on the team. From Seaver to Gooden to Pedro (in 2005) the Mets have had their share of "Alter your plans because this guy is pitching tonight" starters. Harvey has that mantle now too. He is our entertainer and his return has all Mets fans entertaining thoughts of the playoffs. 

New York State of Mind - Michael Cuddyer 
"Been high in the Rockys under the evergreens. 
I know what I'm needin', and I don't want to waste more time. 
I'm in a New York state of mind." 

   This one was a layup. He left the Rockies to come to the Mets. He traded in the evergreens for the blue and orange. Many people thought the contract was a bad one. I liked it because it gave the Mets balance in the lineup, another veteran in the locker room and what the folks like to call a "professional hitter." So far Cuddyer has looked great, hitting .293 with 6 homers in the spring. He can handle the outfield and play first for Duda against tough lefties. Cuddyer has more value for the Mets in the next two seasons than the draft pick they gave up for him. And there's this... Cuddyer is a magician. He does tricks all the time. The Mets slogan in 1980 was "The Magic is Back!" In 1988 there was a sign atop Shea Stadium that read "The Magic is Real - Catch it!" And...AND... in center field they have a big top hat, like the one magicians use. So if that doesn't mean Cuddyer will be a good fit, then I don't know what does. 

Downeaster Alexa - Dan Warthen 
"I've got bills to pay and children who need clothes
I know there's fish out there but where God only knows
They say these waters aren't what they used to be
But I've got people back on land who count on me" 
   We are all counting on you, Dan. Our big fishes from little ponds need to be big fishes in a huge pond. You've done well so far, more success than failures. But with Harvey, deGrom, Wheeler, Syndergaard, Matz, Montero and others, you can be the leader of an amazing pitching staff for years to come. Besides, you look like you could be the Gorton's fisherman, so you get this song. 

Where’s the Orchestra - Danny Muno/Matt Reynolds/Steve Matz 
"I like the scenery 
Even though, I have absolutely no, idea at all,
What is being said, despite the dialogue..." 

  At some point this season of those guys could become significant players for the Mets. They'll get called up and find themselves in the middle of the Big Apple, with it's lights and sounds and distinct dialogues. Their heads will probably spin for a while, but hopefully they'll settle in and make an impact.  

Allentown - Jon Niese 
"For the promises our teachers gave
If we worked hard
If we behaved" 

   Niese is kind of the forgotten pitcher in the Mets rotation. Harvey and deGrom get the headlines, Colon gets the ridicule and Gee gets the "how do you handle the trade talk?" questions. Niese is a hard worker who may or may not have lashed out at Terry Collins last year. He got testy with the media last year during the Warthen/Dice-K controversy. He has a a little piss and vinegar in him, which I like. The Mets need him to be tough like a coal miner and not forgotten like coal mining towns like Allentown. I like Niese. I think he'll have a good season. As we know, it's hard to keep a good man down. 

Running On Ice - Terry Collins 
"There's a lot of tension in this town
I know it's building up inside of me
I've got all the symptoms and the side effects
Of city life anxiety
Sometimes I feel as though I'm running on ice
Paying the price too long
Kind of get the feeling that I'm running on ice"

   Billy claimed last night was the first time they ever performed this song live. Who knows if it's true but it's on my list of favorite unsung Billy Joel songs. 
   By all accounts, this season is put up or shut up time for Collins. Alderson admitted in the book that he was closer to firing Collins than he publicly let on. Collins has admitted if the team doesn't improve significantly this year, he should be replaced. Fan favorite Wally Backman has been waiting in the wings like Kanye at an awards show. 
   Collins has had a run of "he did well considering all the injuries" seasons. You only get to play that card so many times. Collins is running on ice and it' may be pretty thin. 

Movin’ Out - Dillon Gee 
"He's tradin' in his Chevy for a Cadillac"

   Dillon Gee is a Chevy. 40-34, 3.91 era, 103 starts in 5 seasons (is that all you get for your money?) Syndergaard, Matz, Montero. Those guys have potential to be Cadillac-ack-ack-ack-ack-acks. 
At some point this season Gee is will be movin' out. 

She’s Always a Woman - Jacob deGrom 
"She is frequently kind and she's suddenly cruel, 
She can do as she pleases, she's nobody's fool, 
But she can't be convicted, she's earned her degree, 
And the most she will do is throw shadows at you." 

  Part of the reason he gets this song is the long hair, but the rest is about the words. deGrom is an easy natured person, but his sinker is suddenly cruel. There were many times last season the Rookie of the Year did as he pleased and certainly was nobody's fool. He did in fact earn his degree and the most he will do is throw fastballs by you. My biggest concern with deGrom is that as the league sees him more his strikeout rate will drop and he'll induce more grounders, which could be dicey with a Flores/Murphy middle infield.  

Highway to Hell - Wilmer Flores 

"Living easy, lovin' free
Season ticket on a one-way ride
Asking nothing, leave me be
Taking everything in my stride
Don't need reason, don't need rhyme
Ain't nothing I would rather do
Going down, party time" 
  Joel introduced this one as a nice "holiday song for the Easter and Passover weekend" and then brought out a roadie named Chainsaw who absolutely crushed Highway to Hell, much to the delight of everyone. 
  Flores is living easy and lovin' free. He's been anointed the new shortstop with no reason to look over his shoulder. Anyone who has seen him play this spring can see he has improved defensively. He's not Rey Ordonez or Jose Reyes, but he's not Todd Hundley in left field either. The Mets have had defensively adequate guys play short over the years. Kevin Mitchell and Howard Johnson come to mind. Flores needs to be adequate in the field and better than that offensively to have true value for the Mets. 

We Didn’t Start the Fire - Familia, Carlyle, A Torres, Gilmartin, Black, C Torres, Parnell, Montero

"We didn't start the fire 
No we didn't light it 
But we tried to fight it..."

   As the 2014 season progressed, the bullpen became a strength. They moved on from Kyle Farnsworth and Jose Valverde and started giving the ball to Familia, Mejia and Black. The Mets are opening the season with an 8-man pen that will likely get plenty of work. Harvey is on a 90-pitch limit in April, Gee spent part of his spring as a reliever and is still working back up to starting, Bartolo will be a mystery and after their first day off on April 8 (the day after the opener) they only have 1 day off until May 4th. That's 25 games in 26 days. It's likely the bullpen will get a lot of work. Terry Collins will be rattling off names like "Sean Gilmartin, Shake Shack, both Torres, Vic Black, 
Bobby Parnell, J Familia and Montero. We didn't start the fire.... "   
(***by the way, Familia is a red flag to me heading into the season. I try not to get worked up about spring training, but he couldn't get anyone out. Something to watch here in April.***)

The River of Dreams - Ruben Tejada 

"And I've been searching for something
Taken out of my soul
Something I would never lose
Something somebody stole"

   Ruben Tejada is standing on the banks of the River of Dreams and watching his career float on by. We know Alderson doesn't love him. Heck even back in 2012 I said he wasn't much more than a journeyman caliber player and what's worse, he's given no indication that he has a problem with that. As Alderson said in Steve Kettman's Baseball Maverick about Tejada in 2013, "There's been criticism of him that's he's not in good shape, he comes to camp late, he's not working out diligently in the off-season. Does his weight contribute to the injury (a strained quad)? Does the lack of conditioning? Does it contribute to a lack of range at short?... Gradually you come to the conclusion that Tejada is just a placeholder. He's not a long-term guy for us." 
   In the middle of the night... I go walking in my sleep. Through the desert of truth to the river so deep.

Scenes From an Italian Restaurant - Bartolo Colon 

"A bottle of red, a bottle of white
It all depends upon your appetite
I'll meet you any time you want
In our Italian Restaurant." 

   Too easy, I know.  
In Tom Glavine's age 41 season with the Mets he went 13-8, 4.45 era, 219 hits allowed, 64 walks and 89 Ks in 200 IP.  In Colon's age 41 season he went 15-13, 4.09 era, 218 hits, 30 walks and 151 Ks in 202 IP.  Advantage, Bart. Colon is getting the ball on opening day, but he is their 4th most important starter behind Harvey, deGrom and Niese. If Colon can give them 180-200 innings and keep the implosion starts to a minimum (he had 5 last year) he'll be a big hit at the Parkway Diner. 

Piano Man - David Wright 

"Son, can you play me a memory 
I'm not really sure how it goes 
But it's sad and it's sweet and I knew it complete 
When I wore a younger man's clothes." 

   Joel's iconic song for the Mets iconic player. All Mets fans want Wright to play them a memory, turn back the clock to 2012 when he produced a line of .306, 21 HR. 93 rbi. Wright has looked healthy this spring, driving the ball with authority to right field, a long-time indicator that his swing is grooved and he is feeling good. With Duda, Cuddyer and Granderson in the lineup there is the potential for protection around Wright like he hasn't had in quite some time. Wright is the only guy on the team who has experienced the playoffs for the Mets. He knows how exciting the city and Citi can and could be if the team is good. He also knows his clock is ticking. I think that urgency will benefit him and his teammates. If Wright can give the Mets a .280, 20 HR, 90 rbi season then John at the bar, Paul the real estate novelist, Davy in the navy and every other Mets fan will be singing his praises. 

Uptown Girl - whoever Matt Harvey is dating this month. 

   This song was written by Joel about his relationships with Elle McPherson AND Christie Brinkley. If you don't know who those people are, Google them. Interesting how you can't spell Google without  the word Ogle, which is what you'll be doing at the pictures of McPherson and Brinkley and whatever girlfriend(s) of Harvey end up on Page 6 this season. 

It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me - Travis d'Arnaud  

"Don't waste your money on a new set of speakers
You get more mileage from a cheap pair of sneakers"

   That's what Travis is hoping to tell the Mets brass about their choice of him over Plawecki as their catcher. He may not be able to afford a slow start like last year (.217 avg in the first half). If the Mets feel like they can win or that Plawecki can handle the staff better than d'Arnaud, they may be willing to give Plawecki a chance. d'Arnaud was a good get in the R.A. Dickey trade but he has to show that he is capable of being the guy we saw in the second half of last season for a full season. Travis should know if the Mets are doing well but he is struggling, Alderson will likely say "Nowadays you can't be too sentimental."  

You May Be Right - Kirk Niuewenhuis 

"You may be right
I may be crazy
But it just may be a lunatic you're looking for
It's too late to fight
It's too late to change me
You may be wrong for all I know
But you may be right."

   Kirk has always seemed to have a little crazy in him. It's probably the football player in him. His fantastic beard this spring helps too. What about the Mets? Were they a little crazy for keeping Kirk over den Dekker? Maybe. It may have been the Nats didn't want Kirk. Regardless, Nieuwenhuis put up a solid .482 slugging percentage in 130 plate appearances last season. He's their 4th outfielder but will likely get a lot of the important pinch-hit appearances throughout the season and in those spots, it just may be a lunatic the Mets are looking for. 
Only the Good Die Young - Zack Wheeler

"You know that only the good die young
Only the good die young
Only the good
Only the good die young
Only the good
Only the good die young" 

   Figuratively, of course. Wheeler's season died a few weeks ago when it was learned he needed Tommy John surgery. The Mets and their fans will have to wait another year-plus until they can have their dynamic duo of Harvey and Wheeler in the same rotation. So far they have been pitching for the Mets at the same time for a total of 17 starts. So Wheeler will have to wait and watch, just like Harvey did last year. 

   But what will he be watching? Will he be watching his mates play playoff baseball? 
   No more song and dance from me, it's time for the official prediction. 
   I've wrestled with this for weeks and admittedly, my passion may be creeping in here, but I'm going with 85 wins. That probably won't be enough to make the playoffs, but it will make September interesting. And it'll do this. It will help the Mets take a step toward taking back the city from the Yankees. A tall task to be sure, but even Billy Joel says it in a song, 

   "They said that Queens could stay, and blew the Bronx away"  

27 March, 2015

The Wrestlemania 31 Card

   Much has been made about the card for Wrestlemania this year, its poor booking, its misuse of some of their best performers (most notably Daniel Bryan, Dolph Ziggler and Dean Ambrose) and the return of The Undertaker who is now 50 years old and sporting a losing streak at the Showcase of the Immortals.
   Regardless, the card intrigues me. More accurately, the order of the card intrigues me. As a producer of television for 25 years I look at the slate of matches and wonder "what's the best way to put this show together." It's not exactly a Rubix cube, but it is a puzzle that has some interesting parts.
   I'm not the type of fan who devours all the articles and rumors on the internet. I don't second-guess the bookers or the wisdom of Vince McMahon. I just sit back, watch and decide if I'm entertained or not. So my thoughts are based on nothing more than what I think will work, how entertaining it will be and how the flow will maximize the value of the card. I've also enlisted the help of some of my wrestling fan friends, whose names should be familiar to you, and asked for their cards as well.
  Besides all of that, there's this, you can turn this into a pool! Assign X number of points for each match predicited correctly. Give additional points for correctly picking the winners. Deduct points per slot missed, i.e. if your pick for match #2 ends up being match #7, you lose 5 points. You can also award more or less points to certain spots (we all know what the last match will be). You could even do a pool within the pool and do a draw for the Battle Royal.

  Without further ado, the card predcitions.

Gus Ramsey:
  The lead-off match at 'Mania has to be great. It sets the tone for the whole night. It has to be Rickey Henderson, not Luis Polonia. This year's card has 5 matches that can fill that role.

Undertaker vs Bray Wyatt
Intercontinental Championship Ladder Match
Sting vs Triple H
Randy Orton v Seth Rollins
John Cena v Rusev

   The ladder match and Orton v Rollins offer the same element, excitement. These matches should have the crowds on their feet throughout, featuring high-flying manuevers, violence and great athleticism.
   Cena v Rusev will get the crowd lathered up. Cena does that by himself but throw in the Rusev/Russian factor and a possible Russian Solider Entrance with dozens of  "Russian Soldiers" leading the Bulgarian Bear to the ring and Levi Stadium will be bursting at the seams.
   Similar to the ladder match and Rollins/Orton, Sting v HHH and Bray v 'Taker also offer the same element, sentiment. Imagine if the first thing we hear at 'Mania is the Undertaker's music! Even though The Streak is dead, The Dead Man still gets folks fired up. Same can be said for Sting. The  issue with both matches is the same as well; how good will they be? Not sure there's enough there in terms of match quality to put them in the leadoff spot.

  So with that, I'm going with Rollins v Orton. With Orton's recent absence this feud hasn't had too much build up, which is a good thing. It doesn't feel like we've been "doing this" match for months. It's still fresh. These guys are among the best performers the WWE has. There's no reason to think it won't be an A+ match. I'm giving the nod to Rollins.

2) Intercontinental Ladder Match. Speaking of The Undertaker,  Bryan, Ziggler and Ambrose are all buried in this match, but that won't stop them from performing at the highest level. Everyone hopes this match will steal the show and it probably will. Given the talent involved, it's a tough one to call. It seems like Vince and Co, are more inclined to deny Daniel Bryan's fans of the moments they hope for than they are to give in to what the WWE universe wants. Same can be said of Ziggler. With that in mind, I think the frustration continues for those fan bases and Ambrose wins the title.

3) AJ and Paige vs the Bellas. The most intriguing part of this to me is how long the match goes. Will Vince actually #GiveDivasAChance ? The match has potential to be excellent. Let's see if it's given the chance to be. A.J. and Paige get the win with A.J. using a GTS as her finisher.

4) Undertaker vs Wyatt. Bray's promo on the last Raw was outstanding. One of the best of the year. He may have to be that good with his wrestling to make this match memorable. Undertaker turned 50 this week. He hasn't been seen in a year. He might have more rust on him than the '68 Oldsmobile I drove to high school every day in 1985... and 'Taker has more miles on him. That said, he's not coming back to lose. Undertaker gets a W and begins a new streak that he'll take into Wrestlemania 32 at Jerry's House.

5)  Cena v Rusev. Someone said to me on Twitter recently that WWE was hiring a hundred people to come in as Russian soldiers for Rusev's entrance. The scene could be epic. Get Nikolai Volkov to lead the way and you've really got something. I would imagine the expectation is for Cena to get the W here and finally hand Rusev his first loss in front of the largest audience of the year. I think it's "best for business" if Rusev wins and keeps his aura of invincibilty going for a while longer. Rusev gets the duke and then receives a congratulatory phone call from Vladamir Putin in the locker room after the match.

6) Sting v Triple H. The trick to the Match before the Match is that it can't be so great that it steals the thunder and drains the crowd before the main event. No one really knows what Sting has in him. The crowd will be excited to see he him but the match itself likely won't be so over-the-top great that everyone in attendance will be gassed from cheering. It's kind of a sleeper hold match that will allow the crowd to regroup. Part of me thinks HHH will want to do this earlier so he can be backstage for most of the night, but the other part thinks they want to give Sting this slot to warrant his coming to WWE and making him feel special. They'll also accomplish that by giving Sting the W.

7) Reigns v Lesnar. The news that Lesnar has re-signed really makes this an interesting event. Before I would have thought it was 90/10 Reigns wins. Now I think it's 75/25 Brock wins. I know Brock said the money was too good to turn down, but I have to think keeping the belt was part of the deal. There's always the chance they still give it to Reigns and Rollins cashes in sometime in the near future setting up a triple-threat match down the road, but I still think Brock wins. More importantly, the biggest thing I need from this match is violence. This match needs to be a physical, mano y mano showdown where they just beat the living hell out of each other. Win or lose the best thing for Reigns right now is to go toe-to-toe, blow-for-blow with the Beast. He may not be a great talker but if he can prove to be a great fighter, that will do wonders for him going forward. Brock wins the match. Roman wins over (some) of the haters.

Here are my friends predictions:

Todd Grisham (ESPN anchor) @GrishamESPN:

1) Orton v Rollins  - Orton wins
2) Cena v Rusev - Rusev wins
3) Ladder Match - Bryan wins
4) Sting v HHH - Sting wins
5) Undertake v Wyatt - Undertaker wins
6) Divas match - Bella Twins
7) Lesnar v Reigns - Lesnar

Robert Flores (ESPN anchor) @RoFloESPN:

1) Orton v Rollins (Rollins)
2) Cena v Rusev (Cena)
3) Ladder match  (Bryan)
4) Divas match
5) Sting v HHH  (Sting)
6) Undertaker v Wyatt  (Taker)
7) Lesnar v Reigns  (Reigns)

Sean Grande (radio voice of the Celtics) @SeanGrandePBP:

1. Ladder Match
2. Cena-Rusev
3. Taker-Bray
4. Orton-Rollins 
5. Divas
6. Sting-HHH
7. Lesnar-Reigns

Sean offered these thoughts (which I love) on the main event:
"I don't know what they're going to do, but I've held fast on my finish for almost six months now.  Reigns wins, going heel when Heyman turns on Lesnar.  Now you've got a hot Reigns, with the belt and Heyman every week.  Faces lined up (Cena, Bryan, Orton, Ambrose, maybe Sting and eventually after keeping him at bay, Brock at SummerSlam) to feed to him.
It's similar to what they did with Rock in late '98...knowing he'd eventually be the face of the company, they gave hima  run on top as a heel because there were other faces fans would cheer." 

Ashoka Moore (ESPN producer) @AshokaESPN:  

1) Rollins v Orton (Orton)
2) Ladder match  (Bryan)
3) Divas match    (Bellas)
4) Cena v Rusev  (Cena)
5) Sting v HHH   (Sting)
6) Undertaker v Wyatt (Taker)
7) Brock v Reigns  (Brock) 

Sal Iocona (Jimmy Kimmel Live) @TheCousinSal:

1) Divas match  (Bellas)
2) Orton v Rollins (Rollins) 
3) Undertaker v Wyatt (Taker)
4) Sting v HHH (HHH by DQ)
5) Cena v Rusev  (Cena) 
6) Lesnar v Reigns (Lesnar) 
7) Ladder match  (Bryan) 

Michelle Beadle (SportsNation) @MichelleDBeadle: 

(***editors note: Michelle just sent in some thoughts, not the order***)
  "I think no way Lesnar loses. Reigns isn't ready yet. Heyman did allude to wanting Reigns in the podcast. And Reigns isn't great on the mic. Yet. Hmmmmmm. 
   Sting beats Triple H. Only to stick around for a bit. 
    Undertaker can't possible lose or that streak has just been cheapened beyond words. 
    Paige and AJ lose. 
    And I expect that damn Money in the Bank to be cashed in. I also predict I eat many calories and many more sweating during my cheering!!" 

     One last note, though I didn't include the Battle Royal since it was publicly moved to the pre-show, almost everyone is picking MizDow to win that. 
      Enjoy Wrestlemania, everyone!