Ranking the Teams #18-13, My Version: Who Else Misses out on Playoff Contention?

Welcome to Article #3 of my 2019 MLB preseason power rankings.  In this article, I will be covering teams in the middle of the pack, and determine whether or not they will contend.  Click the links below for other articles in the series (I will add them as I post them):

 

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2019 MLB Preseason Power Rankings Series:

Ranking The Teams #30-25, My Version: The Bottom of the Barrel

Ranking The Teams #24-19, My Version: Who will have to Wait till Next Year?

Ranking The Teams #18-13, My Version: Who else Misses out on Playoff Contention?

Ranking The Teams #12-7, My Version: Who has Playoff Chances?

Ranking The Teams #6-1, My Version: Super Six?

I also released my 3rd annual preseason Baseball Bits!

18. cincinnati_reds_logo Cincinnati Reds

The Case for the Reds

The Reds began to gear up for contention this off-season by acquiring OF Yasiel Puig and multiple starting pitchers including Tanner Roark, Alex Wood, and Sonny Gray. This team is still headlined by 1B star Joey Votto as well. The NL Central is a really tough division, so that may hold the Reds back this year unless one of last year’s top three in Milwaukee, Chicago, and St. Louis takes a step back.  When Cincy last made the playoffs in 2013, there were two other teams ahead of them in the NL Central standings, so they may just need a few more pieces and one team to crack in order to contend. However, I can’t see that happening this year.  Expect a sub-.500 season in the meantime.

Contenders or Pretenders?

Pretenders: The Reds are definitely closer to contention after making some big moves this off-season.  But I wasn’t so crazy about some of the moves they made.  The Puig trade was a steal, but they could have done a better job fine-tuning the rotation.  Getting rid of Homer Bailey was not smart, as he is a consistent mid-tier starter when healthy.  Sonny Gray, one of the pitchers who replaced Bailey, is far less consistent.  They made some good moves, but it’s not enough for a playoff run.

Projected Finish: 80-82, 4th in NL Central

 

17. minnesota-twins Minnesota Twins

The Case for the Twins

The Twins didn’t quite live up to expectations in 2018. They were expected to chase the Indians for the AL Central for the 2nd straight year. But they ended up a few games below .500, dragged down by the struggles of Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton.  Those two were expected to lead this team when they first made the majors. This off-season, the Twins did add Nelson Cruz, but at his age, I don’t know how much longer he can produce at an elite level. Michael Pineda’s return will also boost them, but I don’t know how much they can improve with Sano and Buxton both remaining question marks. A Jose Berrios breakout could help, but I still can’t see them being a legitimate 2019 playoff contender.

Contenders or Pretenders?

Pretenders: The Twins made some nice moves to add to a roster that was already intriguing.  They added Cruz, Jonathan Schoop, and others.  But the lingering questions surrounding Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano remain, and the bullpen is also a question mark.

Projected Finish: 80-82, 3rd in AL Central

 

16. chicago-white-sox Chicago White Sox

The Case for the White Sox

The White Sox may have lost out in the Manny Machado sweepstakes despite adding Yonder Alonso and Jon Jay to intrigue Machado. But their off-season is not a full failure. They added some nice pieces in Jay, Alonso, and SP Ervin Santana while still allowing their young core to receive playing time. Yoan Moncada (once he breaks out), Adam Engel, and Eloy Jimenez give me optimism about the future in Chicago. As they start to develop, Chicago will jump into the mix in a weak AL Central. But they may have to add a few more pieces and wait till 2020, or maybe even 2021 for legitimate playoff contention. They could have won the division and done it in 2019 with Machado.

Contenders or Pretenders?

Contenders: I don’t expect the White Sox to win the AL Central this year, but this next wave of talent may begin to make the White Sox appear capable of contending.  Moncada, Engel, Jimenez, Michael Kopech, Dylan Cease, and others should significantly boost the roster and allow this team to show flashes of greatness in a weak division.

Projected Finish: 81-81, 2nd in AL Central

 

15. new-york-mets New York Mets

The Case for the Mets

Brodie Van Wagenen made things very interesting in his first off-season with the Mets. After refusing to trade Jacob deGrom and/or Noah Syndergaard and instead acquiring Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz from Seattle, he made it clear that the Mets were hoping to contend for one more season. He proceeded by continuing to beef up the roster, adding Jed Lowrie, Wilson Ramos, Carlos Gomez, and others. The Mets will at least be competitive this season, but I can’t see them standing out in the league’s best division, the NL East. They will not be able to keep up with the Braves, Phillies, and Nationals. Maybe it’s time to rebuild if this season is indeed another failure.

Contenders or Pretenders?

Pretenders: The Mets added some nice pieces, such as Cano, Diaz, Ramos, and Lowrie.  But they did not address their direct positional needs.  Sure, they added a catcher, and an outfielder.  But until they get the infield situation figured out, this team will have trouble finding an identity and jump-starting back into contention.  Lowrie and Cano are nice pieces, but where do they fit, and will 1B Peter Alonso be on the roster come Opening Day?

Projected Finish: 83-79, 4th in NL East

 

14. sanfran-giants San Francisco Giants

The Case for the Giants

In Bruce Bochy’s last season, I expect the Giants to exceed expectations. Though injuries have held them back the last couple of years, they still have a very strong roster on paper. Madison Bumgarner and Jeff Samardzija lead a rotation that now contains more depth. So long as Buster Posey can bounce back at the plate in 2019, the lineup should be set as well. Who knows, maybe Evan Longoria could be a bounce back candidate as well. Behind Posey and Longoria, they have new additions Yangervis Solarte and Gerardo Parra, SS Brandon Crawford, 1B Brandon Belt, and others. The Giants have not done very well in these last two seasons. But assuming they are healthy, 2019 contention isn’t too farfetched.

Contenders or Pretenders?

Contenders: The Giants will at least be closer to the playoffs this season than most people expect.  It’s injuries that has held them back over the last couple of years.  Neither MadBum nor Posey had been healthy in 2017 and 2018.  With those two feeling alright, the rotation beginning to come together after Dereck Rodriguez’s emergence, and the lineup looking okay despite outfield depth issues, the Giants could come close to the playoffs if they don’t make it.

Projected Finish: 84-78, 3rd in NL West

 

13. los-angeles-dodgers Los Angeles Dodgers

The Case for the Dodgers

The Dodgers have now lost two World Series’ in a row. Expect a hangover this time around. The loss of Brian Dozier to free agency hurts their infield depth significantly, and it was a rough off-season. They traded Yasiel Puig, Alex Wood, and Matt Kemp to the Reds for Homer Bailey, who they ended up releasing. It did clear up crowding in the outfield, and they signed A.J. Pollock to maintain depth out there, but it’s still a waste of a trade. The rotation has plenty of depth, but Clayton Kershaw’s health and Walker Buehler’s ability to replace him remain question marks. Bullpen depth could also be problematic. Expect the Dodgers to try to contend, but fail to make the playoffs in a weak NL West.

Contenders or Pretenders?

Pretenders: The Dodgers should finish with a fairly strong win-loss record as usual.  But I think the team will take a step back after a rough off-season, and despite their strong record, they may have a hard time getting into the mix for the Wild Card.  Even in a weak division, the Dodgers will have trouble relying on repeat performances from two older 2018 breakouts, Max Muncy and Chris Taylor.

Projected Finish: 85-77, 2nd in NL West

 

That’s all for this portion of my MLB preseason power rankings.  Stay tuned for my next set later today.

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Baseball Bits #11: How Much are Harper, Machado, Really Worth?

Welcome to the final article of my initial 2018-19 MLB free agency coverage.  Bryce Harper and Manny Machado may be the Top 2 free agents of the off-season, but how much money are they really worth?  Keep reading to find out my take.  If you haven’t seen them yet, you can also check out my previous MLB free agency articles at the links below.  In February, I may also have some updated predictions on where the final remaining free agents will sign, so stay tuned.

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MLB 2018-19 Free Agency Coverage – Tentative Schedule

Week of November 19: MLB 2018-19 Free Agency Predictions: Pitchers

Week of November 26: MLB 2018-19 Free Agency Predictions: Catchers & Infielders

Week of December 3: MLB 2018-19 Free Agency Predictions: Outfielders & Trade Ideas

Week of January 21: Baseball Bits #11: How Much Money are Harper, Machado Really Worth?

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It’s been a crazy off-season so far.  The Mariners have completely refreshed their roster, and the Dodgers dealt away Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp in one trade.  Winter Meetings were not only full of trades, but also free agent signings.  Many of the top free agents, including Patrick Corbin, J.A. Happ, Nathan Eovaldi, Michael Brantley, Josh Donaldson, Wilson Ramos, Yasmani Grandal, and Andrew McCutchen have been signed.

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But the top two free agents of the off-season, Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, remain unsigned.  Harper and Machado are regarded as a couple of the league’s best offensive players, and among free agent batters, Harper and Machado were the Top 2 in oWAR.  Both Harper and Machado are capable of making a mediocre team a contender, or making a team that’s already a borderline playoff contender a relevant World Series contender.  

Machado met with three teams in December: the White Sox, Yankees, and Phillies.  He is likely going to sign with one of those three teams, but he has not made his decision yet, though he has reportedly narrowed it down to the White Sox and Phillies.  Originally, I had predicted that Machado would go to the Phillies.  But after their acquistion of Jean Segura, I see the White Sox as the best fit.  There could be mystery teams in on Machado though, according to several newer reports.

Harper has not met with any teams yet, but the Dodgers, Cubs, Nationals, and Phillies among others have shown interest.  After trading away two of their outfielders and more to the Reds for next to nothing, it would not be smart for the Dodgers to pass on Harper.  But I think there’s a chance he’ll sign with the White Sox or Phillies as well.

Although they have some different suitors, one thing Harper and Machado have in common is their demand for a big contract.  Harper turned down a 10 year, $300 million contract offered by the Nationals back in September. Machado could also reportedly sign for $250-300 million or more.  But are Harper and Machado, let alone any free agent batter worth that much money?

I did some research on some free agents throughout the last 12 years.  I looked at free agent batters and pitchers who were Top 50 in oWAR or pWAR the season before they hit the open market who ended up signing for at least $12 million/year and at least $45 million total.  I researched their stats the following year. Did their WAR improve or decline? I looked at other stats too, like OPS for batters, and ERA for pitchers. The goal is to gauge how much Harper and Machado are really worth based on how big an impact they could realistically make right off the bat.  Keep reading to see my research and some interesting “Baseball Bits” that I found through my research.

The Research

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The “Baseball Bits”

  • Of the 23 free agent batters since 2006 who were Top 50 in oWAR and signed for at least $12 million/year and $45 million total:
    • Only 2, or 8.7%  (Lorenzo Cain and Nelson Cruz) saw an increase in oWAR AND OPS throughout their contract, and only 1 of the 2 saw an increase in oWAR of 1.0 or more (Cruz, 4.2 → 6.0)
    • Only 4, or 17.4%, saw an increase in oWAR OR OPS throughout their contract:
      • Cain, 2017-2018
      • Justin Upton, 2016-2017
      • Cruz, 2014-2015
      • Victor Martinez, 2010-2011
    • 19 of the 23 (82.6%) saw a decrease in both oWAR AND OPS, and 14 of those 19 (60.9% of all the free agents, 73.7% of the 19), saw an decrease by 2.0 or more in WAR or 0.2 or more in OPS
    • Only 7 of the 23, or 30.4% were under 30 as a free agent
      Of those 7, 6 saw a decrease in OPS AND oWAR
    • Only Justin Upton saw an increase in OPS, while none of the 7 saw an increase in WAR
    • Harper and Machado both had an oWAR between 4.0 and 5.0 in 2018.  12 of these 23 free agents also had an oWAR between 4.0 and 5.0. Of the 12:
      • 2 saw an increase in both oWAR and OPS
      • 1 saw an increase in OPS
      • 9 saw a decrease in both
    • Harper and Machado both apparently want over $250 million.  Only 1 free agent hitter since 2006 (Alex Rodriguez, 10 years, $275 million) received that much, and he saw a significant decrease in both oWAR and OPS the next year.  Robinson Cano (10 years, $240 million) made almost that much and saw a mild to moderate decrease.
  • Of the 17 free agent pitchers since 2006 who were Top 50 in pWAR and signed for at least $12 million/year and $45 million total:
    • Only 1 (Max Scherzer) saw an improvement in pWAR AND ERA the next year
    • Only 2, or 11.8%, saw an improvement in pWAR OR ERA the next year:
      • Scherzer, 2014-2015
      • Jon Lester, 2014-2015
    • 15 of the 17 (88.2%) saw a decline in pWAR AND ERA.  12 of them (80% of the 15, 70.6% of of all the free agents) saw a decrease in ERA or pWAR by 2.0+
    • Only 5 of the 17 were under 30 at the end of their first year of the new contract (Barry Zito, CC Sabathia, Jon Lester, Max Scherzer, Johnny Cueto).  Only 2 of the 5 (Scherzer and Lester) saw an increase in pWAR or ERA
    • None of these free agent pitchers were paid anything close to $250 million.  The largest of their contracts went to:
      • David Price, 2015-2016 (7 years, $217 million)
      • Max Scherzer, 2014-2015 (7 years, $210 million)
      • Zack Greinke, 2015-2016 (6 years, $206.5 million)
      • Of these 3, only Scherzer saw an improvement in pWAR OR ERA

The Verdict

Very few of the free agents since 2006 saw their WAR, OPS, or ERA improve on their new contract.  You have to take into consideration that Harper and Machado are younger than any of these free agents.  However, 3 of the 4 free agent batters who saw an increase in WAR or OPS were actually 30 or older.  This may be due to the fact that it’s easier to judge an older free agent.  But both Harper and Machado entered the league as teenagers and have proven themselves throughout the years.  Finding the right young free agent is hard, as it’s not everyday that two proven 26-year old sluggers hit the open market in one off-season.  I also saw different results among free agent pitchers, as both pitchers who saw either their ERA or WAR improve on their new contract were under 30.  Plus, both of the free agent batters who saw their stats improve had an oWAR between 4.0 and 5.0 the year before signing, just like Harper and Machado did in 2018.  However, it’s not like the teams in the market for Harper and Machado necessarily expect better stats throughout their new contract, especially if they’re looking to sign 8-12 year deals.  Some might not even expect improvement from 2018 to 2019.  But you should expect your $300 million dollar free agent to improve the next year.

The real question is, should anyone (even the Dodgers) pay Harper or Machado $300 million?  Similar contracts that have been signed in the last 10-12 years have not ended up working out so well.  Alex Rodriguez signed a 10-year, $275 million deal with the Yankees in 2008 (the most among the free agents I researched).  He was a star player for the Yankees early on in the contract, but his stats saw a decline in Year 1 of the contract, and by 2015, his stats had declined significantly.  Maybe the steroids had something to do with it (2014 was the year he missed for steroids), but he was no longer the same A-Rod when he returned from his suspension, and he ended up retiring the year before his contract expired.

The only other free agent batter who even came close to receiving that kind of contract was 2B Robinson Cano, who signed for 10 years, $240 million with the Mariners in 2014.  Things have worked out in the first half of his contract, but he didn’t quite play at the level he did with the Yankees.  Who knows, maybe he will improve after being traded to the Mets and returning to New York City, but so far, he has begun to slowly decline during his new contract.  He’s still a key piece in the lineup, but he made even more of an impact with the Yanks.

Harper and Machado are a unique situation, but it would be silly to give them $300 million only for them to decline significantly.  I can’t see any team giving Harper or Machado much more than A-Rod without regretting it later.  They are younger and Harper nearly won the Triple Crown in 2015, so maybe they’re worth a little more, but not $300 million.  I don’t think Machado is worth more than A-Rod, and his attitude has turned some teams off.  I think he goes to the White Sox, but it would be ridiculous to give him much more than $25 million/year.  A 10 year, $260 million deal could work.  As for Harper, he may be worth a little more due to his MVP season, and the Dodgers should be willing to bid a little more after their trade with Cincinnati.  But he’s still not worth $300 million or more.  9 years, $288 million would be more reasonable.  The Dodgers may end up giving him over $300 million, but I don’t think it’s worth it.

That’s all for this edition of Baseball Bits.  Stay tuned for more MLB coverage soon, including my MLB 2019 Season Predictions (which will come after the NFL season ends and Harper and Machado finally sign).

 

 

2018 NFL Week 5 Pick’Em & Previews: Upsets Await in Week Full of Intriguing Match-Ups

Welcome to my Week 5 NFL picks and previews.  Last week I went 10-5, placing my overall record at 37-24-2 (38-24-2 including Week 5 TNF).  I’m ahead of 9 of ESPN’s 10 experts and 3 of CBS Sports’ 8 experts.

There are a lot of intriguing match-ups this week.  The Miami Dolphins and Cincinnati Bengals, two of the league’s biggest surprises thus far take each other on.  The Minnesota Vikings and Philadelphia Eagles meet in an NFC Championship rematch. The Kansas City Chiefs’ powerful offense may have met their match in the Jags defense.  Who will win in these close match-ups?  Whoever wins, I would expect a lot of surprises.  Keep reading to find out who I have winning this week.

Lock of the Week (TNF: Posted to Twitter Thursday Night; Actual Score: 38-24 Patriots)

The Colts will be without RB Marlon Mack, TE Jack Doyle, and most importantly, star WR T.Y. Hilton.  With the offense banged-up, expect QB Andrew Luck to struggle in finding open receivers.  Don’t expect a big game from the Colts running backs either.  Meanwhile, I think the Colts defense (which is also banged-up) will fail to contain QB Tom Brady and his receivers.  I could see the Pats blowing out and possibly even shutting out the injury-riddled Colts.

Upset of the Week

Coming out of the bye, the Panthers will still be without their top receiving target in TE Greg Olsen.  I think they will start to miss him this week as the Giants secondary keeps Carolina’s remaining receivers well covered.  Meanwhile, I don’t expect a huge game out of RB Christian McCaffrey against an above average Giants defensive front. The Giants will pull the upset thanks to a strong passing game and improved defense.

The Other Games

Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

These teams might be the two biggest pleasant surprises of the season so far. This week, we’ll likely see which is here to contend, and which is pretending.  I think the Bengals will look like legitimate contenders in this game.  The defense will see improvement with LB Vontaze Burfict back from his suspension.  Meanwhile, QB Andy Dalton will find plenty of open men, even without TE Tyler Eifert.  However, Miami will make it close as WR Kenny Stills and rookie TE Mike Gesicki step it up.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

Look for QB Josh Allen to lead Buffalo’s offense to a close game against an inconsistent Titans D.  Allen has done well in these last couple games.  However, I think the Titans will run away with the victory as the offense finds a way, led by the duo of QB Marcus Mariota and WR Corey Davis.  
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

The Broncos defense has been among the NFL’s best for a long time, and the Jets young defense is emerging as well.  Look for both defenses to thrive in a low scoring game.  The Denver secondary will do an especially good job at containing QB Sam Darnold and his receivers.  I don’t expect the Broncos to look amazing on offense, but they should edge out a victory in New York.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

I think Pittsburgh will look alright on offense despite missing RB Le’Veon Bell.  But the Falcons WR trio will be too much for the Steelers secondary.  The Steelers have never been more than mediocre on defense, and it will cost them here.  Expect Atlanta’s RB duo to thrive with RB Devonta Freeman back and QB Matt Ryan to find open receivers for TDs.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

Look for Cleveland’s defense to step it up, leading Cleveland to a home victory.  QB Baker Mayfield and the Browns offense shouldn’t do especially well against a strong Ravens secondary.  But, look for the Browns’ underrated, young defense to cause QB Joe Flacco and the Ravens receivers to struggle.  That will be enough for the Browns to pull out a win.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

I understand the Chiefs are undefeated and their offense looks unstoppable.  But they haven’t seen a defense like Jacksonville’s.  I also think the Jaguars will take advantage of the all offense, no defense Chiefs and put together a strong offensive game of their own.  The Chiefs have a very tough schedule ahead, and this could be the start of a stretch that bring the Chiefs from unbeatable to a borderline playoff contender. The Jags seem like the team to finally put an end to Kansas City’s offensive dominance and undefeated season.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

 

A lot of people see this as a lock in Green Bay’s favor, but this will not be easy.  We’ve seen what Detroit’s offense is capable of at its best, and Green Bay will be without WRs Randall Cobb and Geronimo Allison.  QB Aaron Rodgers is not at full health either.  Look for the Lions offense to get out to an early lead. But I think QB Aaron Rodgers will have another clutch game, and Rodgers alonMelg with the rising young talent surrounding him will lead the team to a comeback victory.
Sunday, 4:05 PM EST

Look for RBs Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler to make an impact against the Mack-less Raiders run defense.  I also expect QB Philip Rivers and his receivers to have a successful game.  I think this Chargers offense can be all-around dominant against Oakland’s subpar defense.  QB Derek Carr will make this close when he tosses 3 TD of his own, but it won’t be enough in this offensive shootout.
Sunday, 4:25 PM EST

These teams have two of the best defenses in the NFC, so don’t expect too much scoring.  The Vikings passing game will be somewhat successful in Philly, but you can’t count on the run game with RB Dalvin Cook battling a hamstring injury.  I think QB Carson Wentz will manage to find a way at home, even going up against the lights out Vikes defense.
Sunday, 4:25 PM EST

QB Josh Rosen led the Cardinals to their closest game thus far last week, and I truly think they can win this one over the Jimmy Garoppolo-less 49ers.  But I’m not calling a blowout for an 0-4 team.  I think the 49ers versatile offense will find a way to keep this close.  However, led by RB David Johnson, look for Arizona to edge out a victory.
Sunday, 4:25 PM EST

Expect QB Jared Goff and his offense to dominate in Seattle.  I think they can easily handle this rebuilding Seahawks defense.  Meanwhile, Seattle’s offense will struggle against a Rams D that has emerged as one of the NFC’s best.  I think QB Russell WIlson and the Seahawks run game will be especially overwhelmed by the Rams powerful front seven, and the shut down defense will secure an LA victory.
Sunday, 8:20 PM EST

I think QB Dak Prescott and the Cowboys offense will continue to struggle here, especially since they are facing one of the league’s top defenses.  Even star RB Ezekiel Elliott could struggle going up against J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, and the dominant Texans defensive front. Houston will secure the victory after a decent offensive performance.  
Monday, 8:15 PM EST

I think the Saints will get it done in primetime, boosted by the return of RB Mark Ingram from his four game suspension.  Look for the Redskins to make it close against a mediocre Saints D, but I don’t think Washington will be able to finish the job in New Orleans.

That’s all for today’s picks and previews.  Feel free to comment with your thoughts on any of the games.  

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.

Ranking The Teams 18-13: My Version: The Middle of the Pack

Welcome to Part 3 of my MLB pre-season power rankings.  Last time, I covered the teams that will struggle, but haven’t quite hit rock bottom.  I talked about what they did in the off-season, what the case for them this season is, and what their strong point 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 mediocre teams, but rather than talking about their bright spots, today I will be discussing what direction these teams are headed in.  Some of these teams don’t know which way to go, rebuild mode or contention mode.  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.

 

18. atlanta-braves Atlanta Braves

Off-Season Review

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After a rebuild, the Braves are getting ready for contention, but their off-season was relatively quiet.  They did just add OF Peter Bourjos to help fill in until Ronald Acuna is MLB ready.  Acuna looks like he is pretty darn close after a strong Spring Training.  They could’ve also added someone at third, but decided not to due to the lack of options.  They weren’t able to get their hands on Moose, so they were not in the market for a 3B after that.  They could be an interesting destination at the deadline for Josh Donaldson, Manny Machado, or even Adrian Beltre.  They already have made one trade this off-season, acquiring Brandon McCarthy, Scott Kazmir, and Adrian Gonzalez from the Dodgers for Matt Kemp.  Only McCarthy is still in Atlanta, and he will help lead a young rotation alongside Julio Teheran.

The Case for the Braves

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The future is bright for Atlanta baseball.  But the Braves will take another year or two to become an elite playoff contender.  Ronald Acuna, Dansby Swanson, and Ozzie Albies will need more time to develop among others.  This young team is led by star 1B Freddie Freeman, who I am expecting another strong season out of.  They already do have some other veterans who will help make this team better, but younger players on the verge of a breakout make up most of their core.  That will help them in coming years, but they won’t be absolutely amazing in 2018.

Where They’re Headed

The Braves won’t be contending in 2018, but expect a playoff run in the next three years for Atlanta.  As soon as their young talent breaks through, they will add the finishing touches they need and run for the playoffs.  Personally, I see Ronald Acuna as a potential All-Star, so as soon as he comes up, you can expect big things from the Braves.

Best Case Scenario: Acuna, Swanson, and Albies all break out to help lead the team, the rotation filled with a mix of young talent and experience thrives, and the Braves contend for the playoffs right away.

Worst Case Scenario: Acuna turns out to be a bust, as well as some of their other young players.  McCarthy, Teheran, and Freeman also begin to decline, and the Braves finish with just over 70 wins.

Projected Finish: 78-84, 3rd in NL East

17. Image result for reds logo red Cincinnati Reds

Off-Season Review

The Reds stayed put for the most part this off-season, as they have a pretty good roster as is.  They have a strong lineup that is better than you might think, and their young rotation is bound to improve in coming years.  The Reds didn’t even need to resign SS Zack Cozart.  Jose Peraza, Eugenio Suarez, and top prospect Nick Senzel will keep the left side of the infield covered.  Scooter Gennett can be trusted as a full-time second baseman after his strong 2017 season, and Joey Votto should have another top-notch season.  The Reds are all set.  Sure, they could’ve added a veteran starter, but they don’t want to rush contention when their younger players aren’t at that level yet.

The Case for the Reds

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After a rough patch over the last few seasons, the Reds will begin heading uphill again.  After their rebuild, their future is bright, and they will begin to improve in 2018.  Their young rotation should begin to improve.  It will be led by Homer Bailey, Brandon Finnegan, and Anthony DeSclafani while Tyler Mahle, Luis Castillo, and Robert Stephenson will also contribute.  They can improve further when Hunter Greene is ready.  The lineup is all set, and if Jesse Winker, Nick Senzel, and Jose Peraza live up to their expectations and Votto, Adam Duvall, and Billy Hamilton keep up the good work, the Reds could have one of the strongest lineups in the league soon enough.

Where They’re Headed

The Reds are going nowhere but up.  They hit rock bottom over the last couple years, and they are looking good post-rebuild, so now there’s no other direction they could go in.  Expect big things in the coming years, but in the meantime, they will be about as good as the Braves are right now.

Best Case Scenario: Votto dominates in 2018, leading a surprisingly strong lineup, the rotation improves fast (and Raisel Iglesias becomes an elite closer) as the Reds finish above .500 and get ready for contention.

Worst Case Scenario: The rotation is plagued by injuries and their young talent is rushed to the majors and struggles.  The lineup also cannot quite live up to its expectations as Cincinnati lingers just above 70 wins.

Projected Finish: 79-83, 4th in NL Central

 

16. seattle-mariners-logo Seattle Mariners

Off-Season Review

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As they have been since Jerry Dipoto took over as GM, the Mariners were very active again this off-season.  They acquired Marlins 2B Dee Gordon, who will move to center field so Robinson Cano and Gordon can both start.  The Mariners needed a veteran influence in the outfield, and brought back Ichiro to do the same.  They also signed SP Mike Leake to add to a strong rotation that includes Felix Hernandez and James Paxton.  They aren’t clear contenders yet though; they still need to give their younger outfielders more time to develop as well as their pitching staff and a couple other younger players on the team.

The Case for the Mariners

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The Mariners aren’t quite playoff material yet, but they have a shot.  In the meantime, they will have a decent season as their younger players develop.  They need the younger players to step up their game and help carry the load.  Mitch Haniger, Guillermo Heredia, and Ryon Healy are good, but they haven’t reached their full potential.  The Mariners need to keep their team young if they want to avoid a full rebuild, but if they also want to contend in that process, they’ll need reliable young players.

Where They’re Headed

The hope is that the Mariners can contend, but it all depends on the performance of Seattle’s prospects and the general performance of the Mariners.  If Seattle struggles, or their younger players cannot emerge as stars, the Mariners may need to take the rebuild route.

Best Case Scenario: The Mariners’ younger players break out and help lead the team to the playoffs along with the veteran leaders.

Worst Case Scenario: The Mariners struggle, as their older players decline (including King Felix) and their younger players cannot emerge as leaders.  Seattle is forced to rebuild.

Projected Finish: 83-79, 3rd in AL West

 

15. sanfran-giants San Francisco Giants

Off-Season Review

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The Giants had a terrible season in 2017, but they made up for it with a strong off-season.  They acquired outfielder Andrew McCutchen and 3B Evan Longoria to boost the lineup.  They signed Austin Jackson to upgrade the outfield too.  However, they failed to add too many good starters, which will hold them back despite a great lineup.  They did add Derek Holland on a minor league deal though, so he could crack the rotation, especially with Madison Bumgarner injured again.

The Case for the Giants

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The Giants will improve in 2018, but in a difficult NL West, it will be tough to be much more than decent.  They are lacking rotation depth after the retirement of Matt Cain and the departure of Matt Moore so they will have to find younger pitching talent.  That means it will take time for contention.  Their lineup is looking better, but they do not have the same talent of some contenders.  They have a nice core four in Buster Posey, Hunter Pence, Evan Longoria, and Andrew McCutchen, but beyond that, they are no more than decent.

Where They’re Headed

The Giants are headed in an upward direction.  Expect vast improvement from their 64-98 season in 2017, worst in the National League.  Then they can work towards contention once they find the young pitching talent they need behind their core three of their rotation.  They have a nice lineup now that they added Cutch and Longo, but their rotation still has holes, and the lineup could still use work.

Best Case Scenario: The young guns in the rotation are successful early, the lineup returns to dominance after their recent upgrades, and the Giants surprise many by making the playoffs in another successful even year.

Worst Case Scenario: The rotation implodes after lacking depth, the lineup also struggles to perform any better than decent, and the Giants cannot get above .500.

Projected Finish: 85-77, 4th in NL West

 

14. new-york-mets New York Mets

Off-Season Review

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The Mets restored their strong, playoff level roster from a couple years back after a rough 2017.  They brought OF Jay Bruce back, signed 3B Todd Frazier to take over third in case David Wright cannot rebound from his injury.  1B Adrian Gonzalez was also added to improve the lineup.  Lastly, they boosted the rotation depth by adding Jason Vargas to aid an injury prone rotation.  Vargas was with the Mets for a year about 10 years ago.  The Mets are in much better shape after a strong off-season.

The Case for the Mets

The Mets face tough competition and may not be able to make the playoffs this year.  But they are back in contention with Bruce back and Frazier on board.  They have set themselves up for long-term success, as David Wright is unlikely to rebound, and it will be tough to depend on Michael Conforto with his health in question.  Maybe they can contend for the NL East if the Nationals fail to add back Bryce Harper for 2019.  But this year, they will have to compete for a wild-card spot.

Where They’re Headed

The Mets should be able to make the playoffs in the coming years if they cannot make the playoffs in 2018.  They have a nice roster full of young talent and veterans who are still elite and can lead this team down the stretch.  Will they be able to make the playoffs this year, or will the competition be too much for them?

Best Case Scenario: Frazier, Bruce, and Yoenis Cespedes help lead the Mets back to the playoffs along with a strong rotation that stays healthy.

Worst Case Scenario: The rotation is plagued by injuries, the lineup is no better than average, and the Mets fail to get above .500.

Projected Finish: 86-76, 2nd in NL East

 

13. arizona-dbacks Arizona Diamondbacks

Off-Season Review

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The Diamondbacks needed a new closer with Fernando Rodney gone.  They did add Brad Boxberger, but is he capable of the closing job?  They also added Japanese reliever, Yoshihisa Hirano.  They also upgraded their outfield by acquiring Steven Souza Jr. in a 3-way trade and signing Jarrod Dyson.  Other than that, their roster is in good shape for contention in 2018.  But in a tough division, will they make it?

The Case for the Diamondbacks

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The Diamondbacks finally cracked the playoffs in 2017, but can they repeat in a very tough division?  They have a strong lineup led by Paul Goldschmidt, A.J. Pollock, and David Peralta.  I also think Jake Lamb could break out.  They also have maintained a strong pitching staff, led by starting pitchers Zack Greinke and Robbie Ray.  With an underrated roster, they should at least be able to keep up with their division.

Where They’re Headed

The D-Backs are right on the verge of contention.  They have a good future full of playoff runs ahead of them.  However, I do not think they will make it this year.  The Brewers, Rockies, and Cardinals will beat them out in the wild-card race.

Best Case Scenario: Arizona’s young roster thrives, leading the Diamondbacks back to the playoffs with a 2nd place finish in the NL West.

Worst Case Scenario: The lineup struggles to live up to its expectations after off-season upgrades, the rotation begins to decline due to lack of young talent, and the Diamondbacks end up finishing around .500.

Projected Finish: 87-75, 3rd in NL West

 

That’s all for this article.  Stay tuned for Part 4 along with my latest Baseball Bits coming soon.

 

 

 

 

 

NFL Playoff Picks: Wild Card Weekend

4 non division winners will challenge the teams the edged a division win.  First, which teams are more of super bowl threats?  Second, who will win?  Let’s start with a look at my straight up playoff bracket.

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I have the Seahawks knocking out the top 3 NFC seeds and losing in the Super Bowl, and the Steelers upsetting Cincy in the wild card round but losing to Denver.

Here are my picks:

Texans, 23, Chiefs, 20: Saturday, 4:35 PM EST

Both of these teams are on fire.  Kansas City has clearly shown themselves by winning 10 straight.  Houston struggled for a longer period of time, but have bounced back with 3 wins in a row.  This will come down to every last second.  The Texans have DeAndre Hopkins at his prime, who has broken out this year, and the Chiefs have Travis Kelce and Jeremy Maclin who will make an impact.  But one thing that will surely impact this game is defense.  In my opinion, both teams have a top 10 defense in the league.  They both have extremely powerful pass rush and good to decent secondaries.

I don’t think this will be very high scoring, and I think it will come down to a field goal.  Neither of these kickers, Nick Novak and Cairo Santos, are that good, but Santos has been streaky in good and bad ways.  Novak once was very solid.  I think Novak still has some of that consistency in him and that he can save the Texans’ butts in this game.

Steelers, 34, Bengals, 26: Saturday, 8:15 PM EST

I think that Pittsburgh’s run game will really miss DeAngelo Williams, not to mention Le’ Veon Bell.  But the powerful pass and a solid QB in Big Ben should make up for it as he throws four TDs in this 8 point upset win.  Ben Roethlisberger will go to his favorite trusty receivers, Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, Markus Wheaton and Heath Miller, maybe Darrius Heyward-Bey, Matt Spaeth and Jacoby Jones for a bit.  But the point is, Ben Roethlisberger and the pass will make a huge impact.

The Bengals on the other hand, have just mediocre receiver depth with a QB that’s a novice to the playoffs.  Their run game trumps Pittsburgh as it’s at full health, but passing and QBs, along with experience are very important in the playoffs.  Despite a much better defense than Pittsburgh, the Steelers’ offense will pay off.

 

Seahawks, 30, Vikings, 24: Sunday, 1:05 PM EST

Despite missing Marshawn Lynch this week, Seattle still has a shot to take down the Vikes on Sunday.  The Seahawks are starting to discover a decent pass game, and the defense has been awesome.  The pass rush should be good enough to limit AP, especially if he’s still a little banged up.  The secondary should help limit Teddy B’s new receivers as well.

The Vikings defense is still young and developing, and should be able to limit the Seahawks, but not as much as they limit Minnesota.  Seattle has edge in that way, and they should win, despite a weaker, more injured offense.  They have great sleepers that haven’t come out of their shell yet this season.

Packers, 34, Redskins, 27: Sunday, 4:40 PM EST

I think this is a game that will be surprisingly high scoring due to bad defense.  Aaron Rodgers is finally starting to throw the ball around a bit, and Eddie Lacy has begun to return to full form. James Starks has done well too.  This team has gone a little bit young, but is growing power once again, power that may be strong enough to take out a top seed team after this.  But Kirk Cousins will provide a challenge.

He has found his guys that he needs to win games and the Skins’ offense works very well together as a team.  They’re good too.  They’re o-line is much better, they have some reliable young receivers and the whole team is beginning to re-develop.  But in the end, the Washington secondary is just too empty to stop the Packers in their reign and they will win by a touchdown or so.

So those are my picks for the week.  Comment what you think will happen in the games.