2018 NFL Week 4 Picks & Previews: Which Surprise Teams Come Back Down to Earth?

Welcome to my Week 4 NFL picks and previews.  It was a rough week for me last week, as I finished 6-10.  But luckily, I’m still 27-19-2 (28-19-2 including TNF Week 4) due to my strong week in Week 2.  I’m still ahead of 9 of ESPN’s 10 experts, and half of CBS Sports’ 8 experts. There have been a lot of surprises in the NFL so far this year.  Unexpected contenders have emerged, and what were perceived as some of the NFL’s best teams are struggling to keep up.  I definitely think this week will set some things straight.  Some of the expected contenders will start to surpass the surprise teams.  The question is, which surprise teams come down to earth first?  Keep reading to find out what I think.

Lock of the Week

QB Sam Darnold and the Jets offense looked good in the first couple weeks.  But this offense is still very young and has things to learn. I expect this dominant Jaguars defense to tear apart New York’s offensive game plan.  The pressure of Sacksonville will get to Darnold, which will mess up the entire offensive scheme for the Jets. The Jaguars offense doesn’t have to have a field day to win a game, and they’ve made that very clear.  RB Leonard Fournette will likely return this week.  They had been fine without him, at home against the Patriots!  Given that, this home game against the Jets with Fournette back should be a clinic in Jacksonville’s favor.  

Upset of the Week

QB Sam Bradford had clearly declined, and after two weeks, all Cardinals fans knew Bradford wasn’t the answer.  But Steve Wilks has finally put QB Josh Rosen in as the starter!  Rosen was my favorite QB of this year’s draft, and I expect him to completely turn around the Cardinals offense this week.  I don’t expect this kind of consistency throughout the year in 2018.  But this will give us a glimpse at what the Cardinals invested in down the road, kind of like what the Jets received from QB Sam Darnold in his first game.  I think Rosen can handle the rebuilding Seattle defense on his home turf. Look for Arizona’s tight ends to have an especially strong game as well.  Meanwhile, the Seattle defense will struggle to contain Rosen and RB David Johnson.  Their offense will see slight improvement with WR Doug Baldwin likely to return, but nothing significant as Arizona pulls off the upset at home.

The Other Games

TNF (Posted on Twitter Thursday Night, Actual Score: 38-31 Rams)

Don’t expect an especially strong game from WRs Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs.  This Rams secondary is one of the league’s best.  However, the ground game will lead the way for the Vikes and make this close.  Look for QB Jared Goff and RB Todd Gurley to lead the Rams to victory with the help of strong defense.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

Look for Miami’s receivers to thrive against a New England secondary that lacks a #2 corner.  #1 CB Stephon Gilmore will shut down WR DeVante Parker though.  However, this Dolphins run game is not the greatest, and if the Pats can shut them down, there is hope for the New England D.  I don’t think the Pats suck. Their last two Super Bowl-winning seasons started with 2 wins and 2 losses. Plus, they lost to a coach who knows them really well and their toughest opponent.  I think QB Tom Brady will find open men to lead New England to victory here.  This victory that will begin a long winning streak for the Pats.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

The Packers are a pass-first offense, and I don’t think the Bills will be able to keep them under control without CB Vontae Davis.  I don’t see this as a blowout though.  QB Josh Allen and the Bills offense will make it close.  But Green Bay will win at home by a comfortable margin, led by a dominant passing game.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

Look for QB Matt Ryan and his newfound WR duo to overwhelm the Bengals secondary and score multiple TDs.  I don’t think the Bengals will be as strong on offense here without RB Joe Mixon. They will lose this one thanks to surprisingly strong defense by Atlanta.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

I think the Texans will do alright against the weak Colts defense in an effort for their first win.  But depth has been a problem for this team from the start, and that will hinder their success.  The Colts will give the Texans a scare.  This will be thanks to a pretty good week by QB Andrew Luck and his offense, even against the fierce Houston D.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

WR Rishard Matthews was released by the Titans this week.  Now, the Titans lack a healthy QB and lack WR depth.  That will cause the offense regressive struggles.  The Eagles defense will also do their job in shutting down Tennessee’s RB duo.  QB Carson Wentz and the Eagles offense will cruise to victory, especially if WR Alshon Jeffery plays.  
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

Expect an offensive shootout here. Both these defenses are some of the league’s worst, and I think both these offenses are underrated.  The Cowboys pass defense will struggle excessively against the LIons strong WR corps.  However, I think QB Dak Prescott will finally turn it around against the struggling Detroit D.  This will lead them to a home win.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

 

I think the Bucs will start QB Ryan Fitzpatrick in this game.  Look for the Fitzmagic to continue, but will it be enough for the Bucs in Chicago?  I’m concerned that Tampa’s secondary will blow it for them against QB Mitch Trubisky and the Bears underrated WR corps.  I also feel that the Bucs young run game will struggle against Khalil Mack and the Bears run defense. These two things will lead Chicago to victory at home.
Sunday, 4:05 PM EST

QB Baker Mayfield will lead the Browns to another strong offensive game here against a declining Raiders D.  But you cannot sleep on these Raiders receivers. Against a young Cleveland defense, expect QB Derek Carr and the Raiders deep WR corps to dominate.  I also expect a strong game from Oakland’s running backs that assist Carr in an offensive shootout victory.
Sunday, 4:25 PM EST

The 49ers will miss QB Jimmy Garoppolo here.  QB C.J. Beathard will do alright in LA, but he will be nowhere near Garoppolo’s level.  I don’t see him finishing the job for the Niners. Meanwhile, the Chargers offense will have a strong day against the 49ers young D.  QB Philip Rivers, RB Melvin Gordon, and the strong offense will lead LA to victory.
Sunday, 4:25 PM EST

QB Eli Manning and his receivers should do alright against a Saints defense that has significantly declined since last year.  But they will miss TE Evan Engram. Meanwhile, RB Alvin Kamara and WR Michael Thomas will have dominant games that lead the Saints to victory despite an underwhelming game by QB Drew Brees.
SNF (Sunday, 8:20 PM EST)

The Steelers may be declining without RB Le’Veon Bell, but they are still an average team that can win some games without him.  I think the Steelers defense will be able to shut down the Ravens attack. Plus, QB Ben Roethlisberger will find plenty of weapons to lead Pittsburgh to victory, even without Bell.
MNF (Monday, 8:15 PM EST) (OT)

This will be a very close game.  QB Patrick Mahomes II will lead a strong Chiefs offense to a big game.  But the Chiefs are all offense, no defense, and they will struggle to contain Denver’s receivers.  I could see this going to overtime, but I don’t see the Chiefs winning with their run game struggling against the unstoppable Denver front seven.

That’s all for my Week 4 picks and previews.  Feel free to comment with your thoughts.

 

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2018 NFL Week 3 Picks & Previews: Lots of Upsets as Contenders Rise

Welcome to my NFL Week 3 picks and previews.  I had a great week last week, finishing 12-3-1,  That brings my overall record to 21-9-2, better than any ESPN or CBS Sports expert besides Pete Prisco.  If I told you who the current 2-0 teams were before the season started, most of you would be shocked. The Dolphins? The Bengals? The Chiefs?

According to NFL Network, 2-0 teams make the playoffs 64% of the time.  But those odds go up to 75% if they become 3-0. So as NFL Network put it, this is a big week for those 2-0 teams.  Which of them are contenders, and which are pretenders? We will likely get a glimpse at that this week.

Lock of the Week

I know a lot of you think the Vikings are going to blow out the Bills, but it’s hard to imagine any team blowing out another without their star running back (still see the Vikes winning though).  With RB Dalvin Cook out, this becomes the biggest lock in my eyes. The Chiefs defense isn’t anything special, but I think they’ll keep QB Jimmy Garoppolo’s young receivers covered, leaving Garoppolo scrambling to find an open man.  Meanwhile, I cannot see the 49ers defense stopping QB Patrick Mahomes II. Expect Mahomes to toss a few more touchdowns and lead the Chiefs offense to dominate. RB Kareem Hunt will also have a strong game.

Upset of the Week

The Ravens were topped easily by the Bengals last week, and I see Cincy as a pretender who’s just riding an easy schedule to a winning record.  So, I don’t think the Ravens will be able to do much against this shut down Denver D, even at home.  I think the No-Fly Zone will be back up to full speed this week against QB Joe Flacco’s mediocre receivers.  I think the Ravens defense will have a strong game as well, leaving QB Case Keenum with less open men and less TD opportunities than he had in the last two games. But I do think Keenum and the Broncos will find a way to pull off the upset in Baltimore.

The Other Games

TNF (Posted to Twitter on Thursday Night; Actual Score: 21-17 Browns)

The Browns might be without WR Josh Gordon, but they’ll find creative ways to score as their running backs lead the way. Expect the Jets defense to shut down Cleveland’s receivers for a good portion of the game.  But look for TE David Njoku to shine.  The Jets will make it close with strong offense of their own, but I don’t see it being enough as the Browns young offense finds a way.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

I’m a little worried about the Raider defense in this game, but I think QB Derek Carr will find open men, taking advantage of Miami’s weakness, their defense.  Look for QB Ryan Tannehill to have a strong game as well, but I don’t think the Dolphins are as good as advertised, and Carr will lead the Raiders to pull the upset.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

This Bills offense has not been able to get into a groove yet this year, and you can expect more of the same in Minnesota.  QB Kirk Cousins and his receivers will lead the way for Minnesota with the help of dominant defense.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

The Bengals defense will play a factor here, minimalizing what the Panthers offense can put up.  Carolina’s run game will struggle, and Cam Newton will be held to one TD as his receivers are well covered.  Meanwhile, I expect QB Andy Dalton and his receivers to have a pretty strong game.  But I see the Panthers defense completely shutting down the Joe Mixon-less Bengals run game and leading Carolina to victory.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

Expect a stellar performance by Houston’s receivers against a banged up New York secondary and a dominant game by QB Deshaun Watson against a below average Giants defensive front.  I think the Giants will take the early lead, but the Texans dominant D will shut them down as Houston comes back.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

Look for the Jaguars offense to be limited by a somewhat strong Titans D.  But this is Sacksonville, and QB Blaine Gabbert will be their next victim.  Expect the Jags D to dominate, holding Tennessee under 10.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

QB Carson Wentz is back, but with RB Jay Ajayi and WRs Alshon Jeffery and Mike Wallace hurt, he doesn’t have much left around him.  So I don’t expect an all out domination. Expect the Colts to have a decent offensive day against the young Eagles secondary.  But I think Wentz and the Eagles will be able to squeeze by.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

Look for the Redskins to have a strong offensive day, but I think strong red zone D by Green Bay will hold them up here.  Meanwhile, expect the Packers to hold the lead for most of the game as Aaron Rodgers tosses multiple TDs and looks a little more mobile in recovery from his knee injury.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST (OT)

Look for the Saints to grab an early lead here, led by RB Alvin Kamara and WR Michael Thomas.  But I think they’ll slow down, and strong WR play by Atlanta plus sloppy defense by New Orleans will lead to a Falcons comeback in overtime.
Sunday, 4:05 PM EST

Look for a spot-on game by the Rams entire defense, as they will shut down a high-powered Chargers offense.  I don’t think QB Jared Goff and his offense will look all that great, but they’ll come out victorious thanks to the defense stepping it up.
Sunday, 4:25 PM EST

I think Seattle’s offense will look alright here, but they’ll begin to miss WR Doug Baldwin.  Meanwhile, their declining defense will blow it as QB Dak Prescott and his receivers dominate.
Sunday, 4:25 PM EST (OT)

The hollers for QB Josh Rosen to take over will just get louder this week as QB Sam Bradford blows it in overtime.  I honestly think the Cardinals would be so much better off right now if they had started Rosen.  Chicago’s defense, receivers, and backs will all show promise as Arizona looks better, but can’t pull off a victory at home.  
Sunday, 8:30 PM EST

Check back for a video preview closer to game time!

Expect an offensive shootout here, as both QB Tom Brady and QB Matthew Stafford toss multiple TD.  Meanwhile, the Lions defense will struggle regressively as the Pats score 5 TD. However, New England’s defense will be overwhelmed by Detroit’s offensive depth, and they won’t look much better despite a New England victory.
Monday, 8:30 PM EST

Look for the Bucs to have another strong offensive game and get creative in scoring situations as Pittsburgh’s D tries to limit them.  But I think the Steelers will fall short again without RB Le’Veon Bell, making WR Antonio Brown more fed up with this team.

That’s all for my picks for this week.  Comment with your thoughts, and stay tuned for more posts soon.

Baseball Bits #10: Not many 100 Win Teams win World Series

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As I publish this post, the Sox need only one win to reach 100 for the first time since 1946. Last year, 3 of the 6 division winners were 100-win teams. But what does this mean for the Red Sox hopes for the post season success?

The American League is a league of extremes. 3 teams in the AL are on pace to win 100 games this year and 1 more is on pace to be very close. But there are a lot of teams in the American League who are on pace for close to 100 losses. The Orioles have already lost 103 games and most teams have 15-20 games left! The 3 worst teams by record are in the American League, and 6 AL teams have already been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention. The National League has only 3 teams that have been eliminated so far.

The American League playoff picture is practically locked up, while no National League team has even come close to clinching a playoff berth. It’s likely going to come down to the final week in the NL and tiebreakers may be a factor.

Even though the top AL teams will likely finish with a better record, does this mean they are better teams? I don’t think so. Due to the tough competition, talented National League teams have been challenged to reach win totals of some of the top AL teams. For example, the Washington Nationals aren’t even a .500 team. That being said, I think a National League team could win the World Series this year, giving a wake-up call to the AL because regular season wins won’t mean anything once the playoffs start.

I’ve done some research on every 100-win team in the 162-game era. I wrote down the team, the year they did it, their final record, and how they did in the playoffs. Based on 100-win teams of the past, what are the odds the Red Sox or one of the other 100-win teams to win the World Series? Will these teams choke early in the playoffs? (Note: Considering that there could be 3-4 from the American League, it is unlikely that all of them do). Check out my research below and keep reading to find out what the research says and how I interpreted it.

The Research

Baseball Bits #10_ 100-Win Teams – Sheet1

The “Baseball Bits”

  • There have been 57 100-win teams in the 162-game era
  • Only 15 of the 57 (26.3 %) went on to win the World Series, even though 30 of the 57 (52.6%) made it to the World Series.
  • Since the LDS began, there have only been 26 100-win teams. 12 of them (46.15%) lost in the LDS
  • 13 of the 57 100-win teams (22.8%) lost in the LCS
  • 2 of the 57 (3.5%) 100-win teams missed the playoffs entirely. These two teams both played in the era before any playoffs beyond the World Series
  • The Red Sox reached 100 wins three times before the 162-game era: they won the World Series in two of those years
  • However, the Red Sox have yet to have a 100-win season in the 162-game era
  • The Yankees have had 8 100-win seasons in the 162-game era, winning the World Series in 3 of them
  • The best team in 162-game MLB history (the 2001 Mariners) went 116-46 and went on to lose in the ALCS
  • The 2018 Red Sox are on pace to win 111 games, which would make them the third best team in the 162-game era by record behind the 2001 Mariners and 1998 Yankees (who lost in the ALDS)
  • Each of the last two World Series winners were 100-win teams
  • There have been 15 seasons in the 162-game era with multiple 100-win teams
  • 5 of these seasons had three 100-win teams – in only 2 of those years did one of the 3 100-win teams win the World Series
  • The Red Sox, Yankees (on pace for 101), and Astros (on pace for 102) are all on pace for 100 wins this year, and Athletics (98) are close
  • The best team in the 162-game era to win a World Series went 114-48 (The 1998 Yankees)
  • The best team in the 162-game era to miss out on the LCS went 103-59 (The 2002 Athletics)

The Verdict

The fact that an 100-win team won the World Series in each of the last 2 years is very promising. There were three 100-win teams last year and three on pace to do it this year, so I think one of them will pull off a World Series victory. But will it be the Red Sox? The Astros just outplayed the Red Sox in their most recent series and won the series 2-1, and the Yankees always give Boston a hard time in the playoffs. You also have to consider how easy the competition is in the American League compared to the National League. Who knows, there might have been no 100-win teams this year if the MLB’s leagues were more balanced.

However, I don’t think the Red Sox will choke in the ALDS, even though 12 of the 26 100-game winners in the ALDS era did. They are on pace for 110 wins. The winning-est team that missed the LCS was the 2002 Oakland Athletics, who were 103-59. But I do think there’s a good chance the Yankees come close to topping the Red Sox in the ALDS, and there’s an even better chance the Astros beat them in the ALCS to advance to the World Series. In the end, I think the World Series goes to one of these teams: the Astros, the Red Sox, the Cubs (best NL team), the Dodgers (always a contender), or the Rockies (a young team with a stacked lineup and drastically improving pitching).

I’ll be going to the game tonight against Toronto. Will David Price lead us to our 100th victory? We’ll all find out tonight.

UPDATE: I just witnessed Red Sox history! The Red Sox have reached 100 wins. Hopefully they become the 16th 100-win team in the 162-game era to win the World Series.

Big Night For Boston: Sox, Bruins Win On Big Stage

Boston sports fans needed 2 TVs on Thursday night as the Red Sox battled the Yankees in the series rubber match and the Bruins kicked off their 2018 playoff hockey against a tough Toronto squad.  Most fans likely flipped back and forth and if they were lucky didn’t miss a run or goal and both teams dominated.  The Sox have now won three in a row after more dominance today and the Bruins are on tonight so no flipping is needed.

The Red Sox topped the Yankees 6-3, winning their first series of 2018 against New York.  The Sox looked very good throughout the series.  Although both teams are suffering numerous injuries, I think this is a good sign that the Red Sox may be ready to contend for a World Series title.  Some people believed the opposite before this series, as the Red Sox had faced only rebuilding teams before their series against the Yanks.  If they can do well against the 12-3 Los Angeles Angels and start next week’s west coast road trip off right, that will continue to solidify the Red Sox position as a true contender to win the AL East again and maybe go further.

While the Bruins limped into the playoffs losing 4 of their last 5 to miss a chance to lock down the #1 seed, they returned to midseason form Thursday and dominated in Game 1.  They blew out Toronto 5-1.  The Bruins refused to let injuries hold them back, and the depth of their roster helped them.  If the Bruins can bring the same intensity for the rest of the series, the Maple Leafs may struggle to win a game, let alone the series.  The top line of Marchand, Bergeron, and Pastrnak played extremely well and their play really shined on the power play as the Bruins were 3 for 6, scoring one PP goal in each period.

Please read on for a few more details on the big night for the Sox and B’s.

Porcello Dominant, Red Sox Cruise to Victory 

Image result for rick porcello

The Red Sox came out aggressive fearing a rain-shortened game and put up 6 runs over the first 3 innings on their way to victory over the Yankees, 6-3.  Rick Porcello was dominant on the mound and had a no-hitter through six and finished with seven scoreless innings, giving up just two hits.  Porcello stayed warm waiting out a rain delay after five innings but Rick came back into the game showing no ill effects from the delay.  His no-hitter came to an end in the 7th inning when Yankees star hitter Aaron Judge doubled to break it up.

Image result for eduardo nunez red sox

The Red Sox grabbed hold of a lead early in the game.  Hanley Ramirez, who has been on fire of late, left the game in the 1st after being hit in the hand by Sonny Gray but that did not stop the Red Sox.  Eduardo Nunez led off in the next inning with a base hit.  The cold was giving him knee discomfort as he raced down the first base line but he decided to keep on playing.  JBJ walked to make it 1st and 2nd, and Sandy Leon drove in the run with a single.  Brock Holt got on base with another walk to load the bases, and all three runners advanced one base when Mookie Betts hit a deep sac fly, making it 2-0 Red Sox with men on 2nd and 3rd.  Andrew Benintendi then grounded to second base with the infield in.  The Yankees chose to throw home but the throw bounced in by Sanchez and allowed Leon to score.  Holt advanced to 3rd and Benny had time to advance to 2nd. Mitch Moreland, in off the bench for Hanley, drove in the fourth run with a single despite limited playing time this year.

The Sox scored again the 3rd.  Eduardo Nunez doubled to right, and JBJ hit a ground rule double to knock him in.  Sandy Leon struck out on a pitch in the dirt that got away.  Another bad defensive choice by the Yankees allowed Leon to reach as Gary Sanchez fired to 3rd but JBJ slid in safely.  Mookie Betts knocked him in with a ground ball to the right side, 6-0 Boston.  Betts ended up going 0 for 4 but he had 2 RBI on the night.

The Yankees did not score until the top of the 9th when reliever Marcus Walden gave up a bases-clearing double to Gary Sanchez with the bases loaded.  Craig Kimbrel came in to finish the job, and the Red Sox won 6-3.

Injury Update: Hanley Ramirez did suffer a wrist contusion but avoided a more serious injury.  He was out of the lineup Friday against Baltimore but returned today with a Home Run.

What’s Next: The Red Sox have taken the first 2 games against the Orioles in a 4-game Fenway series as Eduardo Rodriguez dominated again against his former team as he has struck out more batters against the Orioles than any other opponent in his career.  The Sox won easily 7-3.  Velazquez gave up just 2 runs in 5 strong innings as the Sox cruised to a 10-3 victory and weather permitting hope Sale can keep the strong pitching streak for Sox starters going.

Bruins Dominate vs. Leafs, Led By Power Play success

  

The Bruins dominated in Game 1 of the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.  They topped a strong Toronto Maple Leafs squad, 5-1, with David Backes scoring one goal and being robbed of a second.  Rick Nash also made an impact returning after a long absence.  The Bruins dominated in their power plays, scoring a power-play goal in every period.  One PP goal was during a 5-minute major power play due to a gruesome hit Nazem Kadri put on Tommy Wingels, knocking him out of the game.  Kadri is suspended for the next 3 games of the series, and if the Bruins continue to dominate, he may not play another game this season.

Zach Hyman scored the only goal for Toronto when the Leafs tied it up in the 1st period. After that, the Leafs fell out of it due to 4 unanswered Bruins goals.

Injury Update: Wingels is out for Game 2 after being hit by Kadri. Riley Nash is doubtful with an ear laceration.  Donato is playing for Wingels.

What’s Next: The Bruins take on the Leafs at the TD Garden again tonight.  It is being aired on prime time on NBC.  The Bruins have jumped out to a 5-2 lead early in the 2nd period, going 2 for 2 on the power play and scoring another 4 unanswered goals to begin the game.

Stay tuned for more Red Sox and Bruins coverage soon, including my latest Red Sox Report.

Ranking The Teams 24-19: My Version: Teams That Will Struggles

Welcome to Part 2 of my MLB pre-season power rankings.  Last time, I covered the bottom 6 teams.  I talked about what they did in the off-season, what the case for them this season is, and what their bright spot is.  I also discussed best and worst case scenarios for each team and projected their records and division placements. Today I will do the same for the next 6.  Some of these teams at least have a chance to contend, but things do not look great for them.  Read below to find out who these six teams are and where they’re headed.

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Boston Sports Mania MLB Pre-Season Power Rankings

Friday, March 23: Ranking The Teams 30-25, My Version: Who’s In The Basement?

Saturday, March 24: Ranking The Teams 24-19, My Version: Teams That Will Struggle

Sunday, March 25: Ranking The Teams 18-13, My Version: The Middle of the Pack

Monday, March 26: Ranking The Teams 12-7, My Version: Who Will Contend in 2018?

Tuesday, March 27: Ranking The Teams 6-1, My Version: How The Best of the Best Line Up*

*I will also have my latest Baseball Bits coming sometime next week.

 

24. Tampa_Bay_Rays Tampa Bay Rays

Off-Season Review

Image result for mallex smith rays

The Rays are headed in a rebuilding direction.  I would be shocked to see them contend anytime in the next three years.  This off-season, they began their rebuild, trading away SP Jake Odorizzi, star 3B Evan Longoria, DH Corey Dickerson, and OF Steven Souza Jr.  They did acquire Denard Span in the Longoria trade to add outfield depth, which will be needed without Dickerson and Souza.  They also added veteran slugger and RF Carlos Gomez.  They brought in C.J. Cron to replace Corey Dickerson, the one dumb move they made during the off-season.

They could’ve just kept Dickerson or let a prospect take over at DH, but they had to bring in a new DH who was worse than Dickerson.  It shouldn’t even be considered rebuilding; Cron is practically the same age as Dickerson.  These moves will give key roles to younger players though.  3B Matt Duffy, SS Christian Arroyo, SS Willy Adames, OF Mallex Smith, and SP Jacob Faria are all in line to have a significant role this season.

The Case for the Rays

Image result for jacob faria

The Rays have some nice pieces that could’ve led them to contend if they had held on to Odorizzi, Dickerson, and Longoria, but now they’ve made it clear that they’re ready to rebuild.  This year, the Rays will need to find younger guys to lead the rotation with Odorizzi gone.  They will start with a 4 man rotation but should hope to add a prospect in the #5 slot eventually.  Brent Honeywell is out of the picture; he is now recovering from Tommy John Surgery.  They will also need to find new leaders in the lineup with Evan Longoria gone.

The Strong Point

Image result for adeiny hechavarria

Tampa Bay made some interesting moves last season that we now know were preparing them for a rebuild, and some of the guys they acquired have major league experience but are still young, and they could serve as mentors for even younger players this season.  SS Adeiny Hechavarria, OF Mallex Smith, and 3B Matt Duffy are among these guys.  They will help lead a relatively strong Rays lineup.  OF Carlos Gomez will also be a leader in this lineup.  The rotation still needs plenty of work during this rebuild, but the lineup is in a pretty good position, despite a need for a first baseman/DH alongside C.J. Cron that they failed to fulfill.

Best Case Scenario: The Rays find a pitcher to round out the rotation, and he helps another young Rays rotation dominate the league.  The Rays also do well at the plate, leading them just above .500.

Worst Case Scenario: The Rays cannot find a fifth man for their rotation, Nathan Eovaldi and Jacob Faria struggle from the start, and a Rays 4 man rotation lacking depth falls apart by July.  Meanwhile, they cannot get anything better than decent out of the lineup, as guys like Hechavarria, Smith, and Duffy do not break out, and the Rays finish last in the American League.

Projected Finish: 70-92, 5th in AL East

 

23. Baltimore-Orioles-Logo Baltimore Orioles

Off-Season Review

Image result for alex cobb orioles

I was not so high on Baltimore in the making of my MLB predictions.  But they have since finished off their rotation by signing Alex Cobb, who could serve as their ace.  Cobb was the last big name starter left on the market.  They also resigned Chris Tillman and signed Andrew Cashner in order to at least pursue a respectable rotation after losing many starters to free agency.  They were also in talks with teams about Manny Machado, who’s in a contract year, but decided to hold onto him for now.  Their roster is looking better than it did before the late off-season moves they are known for.  But it’s still nothing more than mediocre.

The Case for the Orioles

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The Orioles have to decide what direction they are going in.  They have a nice roster but need a little more to contend.  That will be decided this season.  They will either sell at the deadline after early season disappointment, or they will add a couple key pieces after a decent start and head in an upward direction.  The O’s have a good lineup, and their new look rotation could surprise us, but it’s nothing extra special, and the team is getting old.  Adam Jones and Chris Davis are past their prime, Manny Machado is in a contract year, and the Orioles lack the young talent to take over.  Could it be time to rebuild?

The Strong Point

The Orioles have relied on their lineup over the years, but this year, I think their pitching is their strong point.  Their bullpen could still be great if they can get healthy, and the rotation looks much better with Cobb, Cashner, and Tillman on board.  Dylan Bundy will also be a factor.  Their lineup is getting older and declining, but despite questioning what direction they should be going in, the Orioles have really made some nice upgrades to their pitching staff.  But will they pay off?

Best Case Scenario: The O’s new look rotation takes the league by storm, Chris Davis bounces back to lead Baltimore’s lineup, and the Orioles head in an upward direction and contend for a wild-card slot.

Worst Case Scenario: The bullpen is plagued by injuries, the rotation and lineup are no better than average, and the Orioles are forced to enter rebuild mode.

My Prediction: 73-89, 4th in AL East

 

22. philadelphia.phillies Philadelphia Phillies

Off-Season Review

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The Phillies are another team that has improved since my early March MLB predictions.  They signed Jake Arrieta to serve as the ace to a young, but improving rotation.  They could have added a veteran outfielder to fill in if their younger guys struggle, but the Phillies need to establish their new core post-rebuild.  Relying on veterans is not what they want to be doing too much unless they’re 100% ready to contend and want to add a star player, which is not quite the case yet.  They did sign 1B Carlos Santana though, moving Rhys Hoskins to the outfield and trading Tommy Joseph.

The Case for the Phillies

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The Phillies are getting ready to contend in coming years after a rebuild.  Now that they have filled the roster with young talent, it’s time to find out who will lead them.  That all depends on who breaks out this year.  Rhys Hoskins, Maikel Franco, Odubel Herrera, Cesar Hernandez, and Aaron Nola are potential candidates.  I do think it is good that they have started to add veterans though because they will need to surround their young talent with elite, experienced players in order to reach the playoffs in coming years.

The Strong Point

The Phillies have a pretty consistent lineup that does not have any major holes, and that really helps in an MLB that can be very streaky.  They have a lot of strong players that full out their lineup, but no breakout stars yet, which is what they need.  I personally think that by the end of this season, Odubel Herrera, Cesar Hernandez, or someone else in the Phillies lineup will emerge as a breakout star and carry the team in coming years.

Best Case Scenario: Many of Philly’s young stars breakout, their rotation improves as Jake Arrieta, Jerad Eickhoff, and Aaron Nola make a great trio while Vince Velasquez also makes major contributions, and the Phillies finish 2nd or 3rd in a relatively weak NL East.

Worst Case Scenario: Arrieta and the Phillies rotation bust, the lineup is nothing more than mediocre, and the Phillies don’t get any better, finishing with just below 70 wins.

Projected Finish: 71-91, 4th in NL East

 

21. kansas-city-royals Kansas City Royals

Off-Season Review

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The Royals were planning to rebuild after losing much of their core to free agency.  But they brought back both 3B Mike Moustakas and SS Alcides Escobar in the end.  They also signed CF Jon Jay and 1B Lucas Duda to replace Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain.  They still aren’t the same team they were a couple years back though.  If they were still attempting to contend, they would’ve added another starting pitcher and they would have held on to DH Brandon Moss.

The Case for the Royals

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The Royals were planning to rebuild, but I think their decision to keep their lineup pretty much the same implies that guys like Hunter Dozier and Cheslor Cuthbert might not be MLB ready yet.  The Royals need a couple years before they’ll be able to successfully rebuild. But in the meantime, they’re not making any long-term investments, so you shouldn’t expect more than mediocracy from them.

The Strong Point

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The Royals have no plans to be legitimate contenders, but their lineup is underrated.  I don’t know why people think their lineup is old and washed up.  I could see Alcides Escobar bouncing back for a half decent season.  Mike Moustakas is still elite.  He may be frustrated back in KC, but if he’s not elite, why were other contending teams making such a big push for him?  There were other options.  Yunel Escobar and J.J. Hardy are still free agents.  At this point, they are unlikely to be signed.  Moose was picked over those two, who are decent players.  Lucas Duda and Jon Jay can hit too, although it’s been a while since they were in their prime.

Best Case Scenario: Escobar and Alex Gordon bounce back for strong seasons, Moose, Duda and Jay do well in the lineup as well as young 2B Whit Merrifield, and the Royals finish just above .500 after strong hitting and decent pitching.

Worst Case Scenario: The Royals lineup collapses, Moose, Gordon, and Escobar want out, and the Royals are forced to rush prospects to the majors in order to prevent the Royals from falling due to a bad decision/unwillingness for change.  The prospects then struggle due to needing more time to develop, and the Royals collapse, finishing last in the division, with below 70 wins.

Note: The Royals are one of those teams that will be very hard to predict this season.

Projected Finish: 73-89, 3rd in AL Central

 

20. Toronto_Blue_Jays Toronto Blue Jays

Off-Season Review

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The Blue Jays had a very interesting off-season.  It’s almost like the Jays are rebuilding without overhauling, which is a unique way to do things.  Rather than trading Josh Donaldson or even Troy Tulowitzki, and completely emptying out all the vets on their roster, they just made a few good decisions that will help them get younger.  They let OF Jose Bautista walk, which was good after his 2017 decline, but they brought in OF Randal Grichuk in a trade.  Grichuk is a younger option for them who is also a viable starter, so it works out.

They also brought in Curtis Granderson to platoon with younger outfielders like Dalton Pompey.  But they’re still holding on to Tulo and Donaldson for another year to give prospects Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. more time.  They also acquired young infielder Yangervis Solarte from San Diego to assist in that job.  They signed a couple good relievers as well, just so they could have a full bullpen.

The Case for the Blue Jays

The Blue Jays have managed to hold on to a decent MLB ready roster while still rebuilding, and I think it’s a very good idea that will keep them close to contention throughout their rebuild.  But it’s nearly impossible to rebuild and contend at the same time, so the Blue Jays won’t be anything more than decent until they are fully rebuilt.  This approach will get them there quickly though.  It will be like nobody even noticed their rebuild due to their fast execution.  The future is bright.

The Strong Point

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The lineup in Toronto is nothing more than decent right now, although they have a nice core between Josh Donaldson, Kendrys Morales, and Justin Smoak.  But the rotation is their real strength.  They don’t really have an ace, but many of their pitchers could emerge as an ace and are pretty good despite inconsistency.  Marcus Stroman, Marco Estrada, Aaron Sanchez and J.A. Happ have all had good stretches.  They just need to remain healthy and consistent, which is the difficult part.

Best Case Scenario: The mix of youth and experience in the Jays lineup thrives, the rotation takes the league by storm, and the Blue Jays finish as a close third to the Red Sox and Yankees despite missing the playoffs.

Worst Case Scenario: The rotation is plagued by inconsistency and injuries and the lineup’s older players struggle, forcing prospects up early.  The Blue Jays find themselves in a pickle with both veterans and prospects struggling and finish right around 70 wins.

Projected Finish: 76-86, 3rd in AL East

 

19. texas-rangers Texas Rangers

Off-Season Review

The Rangers need to make up their mind.  Are they rebuilding, or are they contending?  They went out and signed Doug Fister, Bartolo Colon, Matt Moore, Mike Minor, Jon Niese, and Tim Lincecum to compete for rotation slots but ended up releasing Colon and Niese after they only made the roster older.  The rotation will now look something like this, and I still can’t tell you if this will be accurate:

  1. Cole Hamels LHP
  2. Doug Fister LHP
  3. Martin Perez LHP
  4. Matt Moore LHP
  5. Tim Lincecum RHP

I put Lincecum in there over Minor so they could at least have one RHP in the rotation.  Jesse Chavez could also occupy that role.  But they also declined to sign an outfielder or a 1B/DH, implying that they might consider a rebuild.  They did add 3B Trevor Plouffe and 1B Tommy Joseph though.  This is a very confusing team.  They don’t even know for sure where guys are starting for them.  Jurickson Profar, Joey Gallo, and Adrian Beltre could all play third, first or DH.  The Rangers have gotten younger, but if they want to rebuild, why did they sign five veteran starters, and why did they hold on to their veterans like Adrian Beltre?

The Case for the Rangers

The Rangers are one of the hardest MLB teams to predict this year.  They could dominate or be terrible.  They have the tools to contend but also face the risk of holding on to the wrong veterans and collapsing.  This season is all about choosing a direction.  If they do well early, they’ll get what they need at the deadline and make a run.  If not, they’ll likely sell Beltre, Shin-Soo Choo, and other veterans in a rebuilding effort.  They did not make it easy for themselves to choose a direction.  They could very well end up stuck in the middle if they decline to choose.

The Strong Point

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The Rangers still have a lot of power hitters.  Big hitters Adrian Beltre and Elvis Andrus will lead this lineup alongside younger sluggers like Nomar Mazara and Joey Gallo.  If Beltre and Andrus stay elite, you can still expect a lot of dingers and big hits in Texas.  Rougned Odor and Shin-Soo Choo are also strong hitters who are very familiar in Texas.

Best Case Scenario: The new look rotation actually does surprisingly well, the lineup continues to thrive as usual, and the Rangers finish above .500, placing 2nd or 3rd in the AL West.

Worst Case Scenario: The Rangers decline, as the older players on the team struggle, and the Rangers are forced to rebuild.

Projected Finish: 74-88, 4th in AL West

 

That’s all for Part 2.  Stay tuned for Part 3 coming soon.  On a side note, I am proud to announce that we have reached the 4 year anniversary of this blog.  I have come a long way, writing 534 posts in 4 years.  In that time, I have received almost 20000 views and almost 300 followers.  I will be posting more about that later today.

 

 

Red Sox Report: Move Needed at Deadline to Cope Through Madness

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Welcome to this week’s edition of Red Sox Report. With the deadline quickly approaching, the Red Sox may be looking to acquire another pitcher. They are in touch with the White Sox about Chris Sale, who wants a trade. Plus, the White Sox may want him gone after what he did. The Sox could really use another pitcher to work through a brutal 11 game west coast road trip against the Angels, Mariners and Dodgers. However, Craig Kimbrel could be back for that, and we have an injury update on him. We also have Hanley Ramirez in a hot streak despite struggles from Bogaerts and Ortiz since the break. But the Orioles and Blue Jays are also hot, and the Red Sox still aren’t winning the games they need even with Hanley hot. Will they pull ahead or fall behind? It’ll all be mentioned today.

Red Sox Need To Up Their Game Or They’ll Have Problems Coming Up

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You think the Sox have it tough right now? They should be winning these games. In some, the pitching wasn’t there, in others, our typical clutch guys have failed to come through. Today the Red Sox enter an 11-game west coast trek to Anaheim, Seattle and Los Angeles. Sure, the Angels might be easier than the rest of the trip but a) They’ve won against the better teams lately b) They’ve done well against the Red Sox and c) Most of the games are at 10:00 PM! Then you have Seattle, a decent team. They could split with us, but for them, that 10:00 is 7:00. They’re used to it. The Sox aren’t. Then the Dodgers are already a good team. Add on late night games and the fact that they haven’t had a day off in over 2 weeks, and it looks as if the Dodgers will earn the 3 game sweep. The Red Sox needed to nail this home stand, and the fact that they struggled makes this road trip even more crucial and tough if they want to be playoff contenders.

Do The Red Sox Need to Make a Move?

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The Red Sox have had a pretty good season compared to recent years, but still are having a tough time in some games. The lineup is usually strong but lately, pitching has just gotten worse, and the Red Sox lineup has not been great in clutch situations. Take a game like Tuesday night’s for example. Our lineup did some pretty great things that night. We scored 8 runs! But pitching was terrible, especially Steven Wright, who is still on track for an awesome season despite a rough outing. His ERA got bumped up over 3.00 after giving up 8 runs in 4.2 innings. Robbie Ross Jr. gave up a ninth run, and we were in position for Big Papi to hit his second dinger of the game, but instead, he grounded out, leaving it up to Hanley Ramirez, who also failed to stay hot. The clutch guys in the middle of our lineup failed to come through. They lost, 9-8, and now the Sox have lost 4 out of the last 5 games.

That’s when a trade can come in handy. This is a good Red Sox team that will contend, and they already have a wild card spot. But in order to advance in the playoffs, they need something more, they’re going to be buyers. Pomeranz is some help, but clearly not enough as he lost both games he started anyways. Like I said in my midseason report, we have some options. Chris Sale is one, he wants a trade, and the White Sox may not want him anymore, so he may be on discount. But one of two things is bound to happen, a) Sale will do well and lead us to a deep playoff run, but the prospects Chicago acquires turn out to be great or b) Sale will get into trouble with Boston after we get him on discount, and it turns out he ripped up the jerseys because he has behavior problems, not because he wanted to be traded. Hey, we could get lucky, but I doubt it with the way the Red Sox have had it. Sale might struggle and the trade could be a total bust. Who knows? That’s where the options come in.
Someone like Julio Teheran is much less risky, however, he’s not quite ace material. The Braves would also want some big name prospects. They cannot just give away their best pitcher. Jose Fernandez could be another option. It’s likely the least risky and Fernandez is good enough to be considered an ace. They will however want major league players like Travis Shaw and Blake Swihart as they run at the playoffs themselves. Still, I don’t trust Aaron Hill at third, especially in future years when he needs to resign with us to stay. Shaw may never come back if we trade him, and I don’t like the idea of Pablo Sandoval starting at third next year with Farrell desperate for options so Panda can spend time on the bench where he belongs for the rest of his sucky Red Sox stint. The Marlins might even want more from us, like Mookie Betts and JBJ. The Red Sox may have some risk involved with each of their options, but they need to pick one, and just go with it, because they will be desperate for pitching if they don’t make a trade. There’s no good pitchers in 2016-17 free agency either. They will have relentless problems coming up if they don’t change things up a bit.

Kimbrel Working His Way Back For Road Trip
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The Red Sox bullpen is going through some tough times. Although they do have Brad Ziegler and Matt Barnes, the original revamped bullpen from the offseason is down to one healthy pitcher, Junichi Tazawa. Koji Uehara’s timetable for his injury is undetermined and Carson Smith’s season is done. Going into this west coast trip, the Red Sox will need their bullpen in good condition, especially if they don’t step it up with their starting pitching or trade for someone at the deadline. However, one more guy could come back soon, and earlier than we thought. That guy is closer Craig Kimbrel. Kimbrel will throw another bullpen session today and could be in for a rehab assignment this weekend. He may return for the road trip, but personally, I think he should take his time since we have Brad Ziegler to close. Nobody wants a banged up Kimbrel to close for us. So, Kimbrel could be back for the road trip, but should he pitch, especially in these late night, tight games, or should he rest up for the next home stand? The decision will come soon.

Hanley On Hot Streak, Hit 5 Dingers in 7 Games

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The Red Sox may be struggling in clutch situations, but that doesn’t stop Hanley Ramirez from being streaky old Hanley Ramirez. Thankfully, this time it’s a hot streak. Ramirez won AL Player of The Week after hitting .333 and hit 5 home runs and drove in 12 runs in the 7 days the Sox played the Giants and Twins. Hanley has slowed down a bit in this series, but he went from 8 to 13 dingers and bumped up his average to nearly .300. If Ramirez can keep up the act it would further power the Red Sox lineup and make his signing worth it for once. Can Hanley continue to pull it together, even on a tough west-coast road trip? If he can, that would be pretty amazing.

Division Competition: Can The Sox Keep Up With Baltimore, Toronto?

The Red Sox are currently in third place in the AL East despite a strong record, enough for a wild card slot, but they have not been able to keep up with their division rivals, the Orioles and the Blue Jays. The Orioles had won 5 in a row, sweeping the Indians before losing the last two, but the Red Sox also got swept by the Tigers in a rough series, and that didn’t help. The Jays have won 3 of the last 4 games, and had a 3 game winning streak snapped last night. But the Red Sox fell so far behind in struggles from this home stand that the Jays snuck into second. If the Sox can’t do well in this home stand, the upcoming road trip will be a train wreck. They only have so many home games left. Could that be why the Sox have done well so far? Is this whole good record for the Red Sox a fluke? They need to step it up ASAP if they want to stay in contention.

 

The Red Sox have had a good season, but something needs to change if the Red Sox want to stay in contention through the tough late July, August and September schedules. Will they stay in contention after the trade deadline, fresh out of a big trade, or will they flop after doing nothing at the deadline? The decision is in Dave Dombrowski’s hands.

 

Scouting Report: Baltimore Orioles

Sarasota, Fl - Yovani Gallardo takes part in Orioles Spring training.
The Orioles may not have made the biggest splash this off season but they made some quality moves.  Unfortunately for O’s fans, I don’t necessarily think that the Orioles have gotten better since last season.  They may have made some moves to maintain their status from last season but some things have not worked out and they aren’t quite as good as they were last season.
Off Season Review
The Orioles had an effective off season in some ways and an ineffective one in another way.  They started with bringing back Matt Wieters on a qualifying offer.  They really needed their star catcher back as their backup options are limited.  They made some trades later in November, bringing in L.J. Hoes for cash and inviting him to spring training.  In early December they got Mark Trumbo and C.J. Riefenhauser for Steve Clevenger.  I thought the Orioles won the trade but still, nobody great was given out to either team in that trade and it didn’t fit their needs.  Riefenhauser later got claimed off waivers by the Cubs.  That was very recently though.
At the non-tender deadline, they had to get rid of starting right fielder David Lough.  They now had not one, but two open outfield spots unless Mark Trumbo or Nolan Reimold stepped up to start.  They later signed Japanese outfielder Hyun-Soo Kim to at least take his place.  They also lost prospects Junior Lake and Edgar Olmos to waivers. Lake was another outfield option!!!  They were really thin now!!  There went another reliever too!!  However, they resigned star reliever Darren O’ Day for four years.
As January came, They traded for Odrisamer Despaigne and resigned Chris Davis long-term (seven years) in what was known as “A serious game of chicken” by MLB.com.  In late free agency, a lot of rumors were flying around Baltimore, and they still are.  Some of the names included Yovani Gallardo, Dexter Fowler, Tim Lincecum, Austin Jackson even Justin Upton and Yoenis Cespedes at one point.  They signed Gallardo for two years, but Fowler went to the Cubs despite almost signing in Baltimore, Jackson went to the White Sox, Upton went to Detroit and Cespedes resigned in New York.
Lincecum is still being rumored, and the Jackson to the Sox isn’t official yet.  In fact, I think Lincecum will sign with the Orioles enough that I put him on their predicted roster. The Orioles made some impact moves, but they still have some unfilled holes.  They did not fulfill the opportunity they had this off season  to improve.  All those rumors and big name signings for a mediocre to bad team.  Not ideal.
Off Season Grade: D+
Spring Training Storylines
Will the big name signings and re-signings make an impact?
Depends on if these guys have up or down seasons, hopefully for Bostonians like me, a down one.  Chris Davis I still don’t think is satisfied in Baltimore.  Hey, at least Yovani Gallardo and maybe Hyun-Soo Kim are good fits.  They still have Adam Jones better than ever, even without his precious pie celebrations.  They have some pretty good sleepers in the lineup to cover.  But still no matter what this team will have holes.  This might not matter.
How will the O’s fill the holes in the outfield and rotation?
Well, prospects play a big role.  Miguel Gonzalez needs more attention as a strong vet that will fight for a slot in the rotation.  Mike Wright, Dylan Bundy and Odrisamer Despaigne could get some spot starts.  In the outfield, sure, they lost Junior Lake who was developing well but they have Dariel Alvarez, they have Nolan Reimold, Jimmy Paredes may transition to right field and then Hyun-Soo Kim will move to left.
But even with prospects, a late signing would really help, even if its only like Alex Rios, Tim Lincecum or Cliff Lee.  I don’t think prospects plus what they have in the majors is going to be quite enough to fill the holes.
Who are some prospects who will be known this year?
Some of the prospects I mentioned above could be good but further down in the system, I’m liking sleep pitching prospect Andrew Triggs, who has looked alright this spring, veteran outfield spring training invitee L.J. Hoes, who returned to Baltimore this off season, and infielder Christian Walker.
Walker got some good time last year and looked ready to take over for Chris Davis, at least if Davis was still playing like he did in 2014 and Hoes got some good backup time in Houston but between their younger outfield prospects and the everyday starters, there was no room for him to shine last year.  There’s a lot of potential in the O’s system.  Despite a bad current team, they have future hope.

 Baltimore Orioles Projected Roster

Rotation               Bullpen
Chris Tillman        Zach Britton (CL)
Yovani Gallardo    Darren O’ Day
Tim Lincecum**    Brad Brach
Kevin Gausman    Miguel Gonzalez
Ubaldo Jimenez    Brian Matusz
                              Chaz Roe
                          Odrisamer Despaigne
Lineup                       Bench
C: Matt Wieters         Caleb Joseph
1B: Chris Davis          Christian Walker
2B: Jonathan Schoop  Nolan Reimold
SS: J.J. Hardy            Ryan Flaherty
3B: Manny Machado
LF: Hyun-Soo Kim
CF: Adam Jones
RF: Mark Trumbo
DH: Jimmy Paredes
**If Tim Lincecum does not come to the Orioles I have Miguel Gonzalez replacing him in the rotation.
Potential candidates to fill Gonzalez’s relief role would be:
           Dylan Bundy
           Mychal Givens
           Mike Wright
           T.J. McFarland
           Vance Worley
           Tyler Wilson
Projected Record: 74-88
That’s all for today.  Check out my Boston Red Sox report tomorrow!