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Raheel Ramzanali: 5 things I’m excited about in April

Villanova should make the Final Four entertaining. Elsa/Getty Images

October always gets the headlines for being the best sports month, but lowkey, April is making a solid push. Here are the 5 events (Spoiler: I feature no NFL related events so if you’re an NFL sheep, please move along and spare me the “NFL is king!” crap) I’m excited about in April and why it makes this month the best in the sports calendar:

1. NCAA Final Four April 1

Technically the Final Four starts in March on the 31st, but the title game will be on April 2 so this is an April event. Don’t let dates interfere with this being the marquee event in April. This will decide the World Champion of College Basketball and put to bed all of our crappy brackets. This year is also special because we get two different types of matchups in the Final Four: The Cinderella story with Loyola Chicago and the heavyweights with Kansas and Villanova. Side note: Is Villanova the Clemson of basketball? To be back in the Final Four two out of the last three years and winning it all in the greatest title game ever is starting to feel a lot like what Clemson is doing in the College Football. To me, Final Four weekend is one of the best sporting events to watch and I’m glad we get it in April.

2. NBA Playoffs April 14

 While a champion will be decided in this tournament, it won’t happen for another two months so the NBA gets second place with the playoffs. The official start of the playoffs means we get plenty of important games every single night and locally, we finally get the start of the journey for the Rockets. This has been an interesting season for Houston because they clearly have the best team, but until they beat the Warriors in the playoffs, it won’t feel like a success of a season.

3. Wrestlemania April 8

Skim down, check out the other two. Welcome back. There is no way I’m putting golf or baseball ahead of the single most important entertainment event of the year, Wrestlemania! Is that Ronda Rousey beating up on the most powerful woman in Sports Entertainment? SURE IS! I’m sorry, is that the Undertaker dominating in April at Mania? SURE IS! Oh look, here is John Cena getting over again. Get your index fingers ready, because that SURE IS a YES chant breaking out.

4. The Masters April 5

Ugh, the only reason I’m including this on my list is so I don’t have to hear it from my SportsMap colleague John Granato. John is the protector of golf and would spike my alkaline water with molly and percs if I didn’t include The Masters. Total minutes of golf I’ll watch from April 5-8? Probably six minutes. However, I will record every day and play it back in the summer for the ultimate nap background noise.

Baseball opening Day March 29-April 2

Again, don’t let the dates trip you up. Baseball Opening Day might be on March 29th, but it really doesn’t start until our World Series champs receive their rings on April 2 in Houston. The only reason I’m pumped for this is because the Astros will sweep the Rangers to start the season in Arlington and that will be the last time we hear from Rangers fans for the season. The fact the MLB is starting the World Champs on the road just shows you why baseball is so off. In fact, I think next week I’ll write about why baseball messed up by not starting the Astros at home on the 29th.


 

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The Astros suffered a heartbreaking loss to the Yankees Thursday. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

After an impressive two-game sweep of the NL-best Mets at home earlier in the week, the Astros took to the road to begin a four-game series with the league-best Yankees on Thursday night. To little surprise, the series started with a bang (no, not a trash can bang) in more ways than one, confirming that this series should be a must-watch this weekend.

New York's comeback proves no lead will be safe

Right from the get-go, the loud Yankee Stadium faithful had their chance to rain boos down on Jose Altuve before showing some pleasure as he led off the series by being hit by a pitch. They were quickly, though only temporarily, quieted as Altuve would come in to score two batters later on a three-run blast by Alex Bregman.

Three-run homers seemed to be a theme, as New York would get one of their own to tie the game off the bat of Giancarlo Stanton to tie the game, then Yordan Alvarez continued his dominant June by pushing the Astros back in front by three with another three-run bomb in the third, making it 6-3. That lead held through to the bottom of the ninth, where instead of holding it, Ryan Pressly issued two walks to set up the fourth homer of the game to tie things again before Aaron Judge would get a walk-off single to complete the impressive comeback.

Not only will we get to sit back and watch the slug-fest between Yordan and Judge this weekend, but it looks like with Alex Bregman swinging well again to round out the top of Houston's order, the Astros may be getting closer to their full power. So far in June, these two teams sit third and fourth in on-base percentage, with the Astros at .351 and the Yankees right behind at .350. That means we should continue to see scoring opportunities on both sides that can tilt momentum one way or the other as these lineups try to battle against the opposing pitcher.

How will the aces fare

Verlander vs. Judge, and Cole vs. Alvarez, need I say more? Although we won't see Justin Verlander go up against Gerrit Cole in the same game in this series (they should go head to head next Thursday, however), they will pitch on back-to-back days, with Houston's ace going Friday night and New York's on Saturday afternoon. Verlander is coming off his worst start of the year, a three and two-thirds inning outing where the White Sox put up seven runs, four earned, against him and knocked him out early to give him his third loss and increased his ERA from 1.94 to 2.30.

The last time he faced the Yankees was in the Bronx in the 2019 playoffs, in ALCS Game 5, where he went seven frames while allowing four runs, all on two homers in the first inning, which is all New York needed to grab the 4-1 victory to make it a 3-2 Houston lead in the series, which the Astros would go on to clinch in Game 6. So, with the double dose of bad taste in his mouth, it will be interesting to see if he can use that as the fuel to get back to the phenomenal form he's had this year or if the Yankees try to jump on him early like they did nearly three years ago.

Cole, meanwhile, is fresh off of two quality starts in a row against the Rays, where he allowed just one run on six hits with nineteen strikeouts over 13.1 innings of work. He's had his share of strife this season, though, including a seven-run shelling by the Twins earlier this month, along with a start in April where he couldn't make it through two innings against the Tigers. He's had success against his former club, most notably a complete-game shutout in Houston last July with twelve K's and holding the Astros to just three hits.

If the series opener was any indication, we are in for the treat of a playoff-caliber matchup, if not a potential ALCS preview that we may see in October. The Yankees showed why they have the best record and are the hottest team in baseball on Thursday night, but the Astros were only a good outing from their closer away from having a relatively lopsided win. The rivalry is real; the competition is close, and we get to enjoy the show.

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