- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 22, 2008

HE SAID WHAT?

“Actually, I’ve been playing a lot more tennis than golf of late.” — Greg Norman, who led the British Open after 54 holes three weeks after marrying tennis legend Chris Evert

TAKE YOUR PICK: Who will win the NL East?

A: Mets (53-46) — New York finally is playing like the team with the division’s highest payroll behind new skipper Jerry Manuel. The Mets have won 11 of 13 to surge into a tie for first entering this week’s showdown at Shea with the Phillies.

B: Phillies (53-46) — Philadelphia has spent the last six weeks floundering to a 12-18 record as Chase Utley’s bizarre power outage continues.

C. Marlins (52-46) — Offensive duo of Hanley Ramirez (.305, 23 homers) and Dan Uggla (24 homers) might be the most under appreciated in all of baseball.

Our take — It’s a compelling race simply because it is so evenly matched, but the Phillies are the pick for two reasons. First, Philadelphia’s recent acquisition of A’s starter Joe Blanton gives the team an edge over both of its divisional rivals in the pitching department. Blanton eats innings and should ease the pressure on ace Cole Hamels and ageless veteran Jamie Moyer. Closer Brad Lidge (1.10 ERA) is the best in the business.

The second reason: heart and character. Sure, Howard strikes out too much and Utley no longer is knocking down fences, but the desire and attitude of Philadelphia’s star troika (Howard, Utley and Jimmy Rollins) dwarfs the character quotient of the prima donna roster assembled in New York (see Jose Reyes and Pedro Martinez).

TWT FIVE: SPORTS BRIDESMAIDS

Individuals or franchises synonymous with stumbling at the tape:

1. Utah Jazz — From 1984 to 2003, the franchise powered by Karl Malone and John Stockton made 20 consecutive trips to the playoffs without collecting a single ring.

2. Buffalo Bills — Personified by sad-sack coach Marv Levy, the Bills lost four consecutive Super Bowls (1991-94) by an average margin of 16.5 points.

3. Greg Norman — In eight opportunities with at least a share of the 54-hole lead in majors, The Shark has come through to victory only once.

4. Atlanta Braves — How can Bobby Cox hit 1-for-14 in the playoffs and keep his job?

5. Dan Marino — His top-ranked teams at Pittsburgh were blown out at home in consecutive seasons (1981-82) by Penn State and Notre Dame. He fared no better in Miami, where he was a statistical beast but finished with an 8-10 record in the playoffs and never hoisted the Lombardi Trophy.

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