2018 NFL Week 15 Picks & Previews: Locking Up a Playoff Spot

Welcome to my Week 15 NFL Picks and Previews.  Last week was a rough week, as I went 6-10, putting my overall record at 115-92-2 (117-93-2 including TNF and Saturday).  I am still only ahead of 1 expert (Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports). This week, many teams have a chance to lock up playoff spots, but will all of the current contenders keep rolling this week, or will some fall behind as other teams rise?  The Patriots take on the Steelers, and the Saints play the Panthers in Carolina, so there’s bound to be a couple teams knocked out of contention.  Pittsburgh, who’s already just 7-5-1, faces not only New England but also the Saints on their remaining schedule.  This could open the door for the Ravens and Browns in the AFC North.  Keep reading to find out what I think, and feel free to comment with your thoughts.

Lock of the Week

The Redskins won’t be able to do much offensively with Mark Sanchez and Josh Johnson as their QBs.  The Jags may have struggled this season, but their defense is still easily top 10 in the NFL. This will open the door for young QB Cody Kessler and the Jaguars to put up a strong offensive game in a blowout win.  The Redskins defense will lack motivation considering how badly the offense is doing, allowing Kessler to toss multiple TD and the Jacksonville run game to dominate.

Upset of the Week

Seattle has been strong at home this season with a 5-2 record.  But on the road, they are a measly 3-3. We’ve seen what Niners QB Nick Mullens is capable of.  Against an inexperienced Seahawks defense, I could see Mullens having a big game and leading San Francisco to pull off an upset.  The Niners run game will struggle though, since RB Matt Breida is not 100%.  Seattle should have a decent game offensively, but they won’t be able to compete with Mullens’ dominance, and QB Russell Wilson will struggle to connect with any WR who isn’t named Tyler Lockett.  Mullens will prove that although he’s not the future of the Niners, he is a capable QB who can handle the weaker defenses in the league with ease.

The Other Games

TNF (Posted to Twitter Thursday Night; Actual Score: 29-28 Chargers)

Look for QB Philip Rivers and his receivers to lead the Chargers past the weak Kansas City defense in a close, overtime game.  The Chiefs should also look very strong on offense, but they won’t be up to full speed without RB Kareem Hunt and WR Sammy Watkins.  This and the defensive struggles will cost the Chiefs late in the game.
Saturday, 4:30 PM EST (Posted to Twitter Saturday; Actual Score: 29-22 Texans)

Expect QB Sam Darnold and the Jets to put up a relatively strong game, even against the tough Houston defense.  But QB Deshaun Watson and the Texans will get by as the Jets are still held under 20. The return of RB Dont’a Foreman will boost the Texans’ offensive performance in the road victory.
Saturday, 8:20 PM EST (Posted to Twitter Saturday; Actual Score: 17-16 Browns)

Look for the Broncos to win at home in a low scoring game.  The Browns will struggle against a tough Broncos defense in Denver despite a stronger offensive season.  The strong defense as well as a big game from the Broncos RBs will lead the Broncos in their victory.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

Led by the WR duo of Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, expect the Vikings to secure a victory at home after losing 2 in a row.  The Vikes defense will help their case as well, but the Dolphins will make this closer than you think.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

Look for QB Josh Allen to lead the Bills to a home victory, taking advantage of his running abilities with RB LeSean McCoy out and RB Chris Ivory banged-up.  The Lions will look better offensively than they have been lately, but the Bills defense will prevent Detroit from providing a serious challenge.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

QB Lamar Jackson will prove himself as Baltimore’s starting QB here, leading the Ravens to victory at home.  The Ravens D will also have a strong game, holding Tampa under 15. The Bucs offense will lack the energy it usually has in the loss, making the Ravens D’s job easier.  
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

Look for QB Jeff Driskel and his offense to outperform their expectations against the young Oakland defense.  Cincy’s run game will help, as Joe Mixon has 100+ yards rushing. But Driskel will still throw multiple TDs in the victory.  Meanwhile, Oakland will be held to just 1 TD, as QB Derek Carr has a hard time relying on his WRs, instead relying on TE Jared Cook.  
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

QB Marcus Mariota should be able to find his receivers despite lacking WR depth, as the Giants defense struggles to contain Mariota’s receivers without S Landon Collins (injured) and CB Eli Apple (traded).  The Giants will fall short as the defense struggles and QB Eli Manning throws throws more picks than he throws TDs.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

The Colts offense should be alright against the young Dallas D.  However, QB Dak Prescott and the Cowboys will continue to dominate against the weak Colts defense.  Strong games by WR Amari Cooper and RB Ezekiel Elliott will lead them to victory.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

Look for DE Khalil Mack and the Bears defense to dominate against a Packers team that lacks talent outside of QB Aaron Rodgers.  This will allow QB Mitch Trubisky and the Bears to thrive, winning easily with the help of a strong game by their RB duo.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

Look for QB Matt Ryan and his receivers to dominate against the struggling Arizona defense.  The Cardinals will also put up an underwhelming performance on offense, as QB Josh Rosen struggles to find his receivers without WR Christian Kirk, even against the weak Falcons D.  The Cardinals will fall short after Atlanta’s much better offensive game.
Sunday, 4:25 PM EST

Check back closer to kickoff for a video preview!

The Pats will get by in Pittsburgh, but QB Tom Brady will still struggle to connect with his receivers on the road.  The Steelers offense will struggle as well and their run game won’t be able to do much of anything without RB James Conner.  
Sunday, 8:20 PM EST

QB Jared Goff and the Rams will look good against the depleted Eagles defense, even if they aren’t at their best.  But it’s LA’s defense that will lead the Rams to victory. The Rams defense will shut down a Philly offense that can be explosive at times.
Monday, 8:15 PM EST

The Saints should be able to get by on the road, even against Carolina.  New Orleans will not be at full strength in their third straight road game, especially after losing their momentum in an all out embarrassing loss to Dallas.  The Panthers defense will hold them back, but QB Drew Brees and WR Michael Thomas will lead the Saints to victory. QB Cam Newton and his offense will make it close in primetime, but it will not be enough.

That’s all for this week.  Stay tuned for more posts soon.

 

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2018 NFL Week 6 Picks & Previews: Expect Lots of High Scoring Games

Welcome to my Week 6 NFL pick’em and previews.  Last week I went 8-7, placing my overall record at 45-31-2, ahead of 7 of ESPN’s 10 experts, and 3 of CBS Sports’ 8 experts.  Some of the offense-heavy teams in the league take each other on this week. The Chiefs face off with the Patriots. The Raiders take on the Seahawks in London.  The Chargers will head to Cleveland to play the Browns. The Bucs and Falcons will play each other in an intriguing divisional match-up. Who will win in these likely shootouts?  Read below to find out what I think.

Lock of the Week (MNF)

With WR Randall Cobb likely back, expect this Packers passing offense to perform a lot better than they did in Detroit, especially since they are home this week.  But it’s the run game that I see leading the Pack. These running backs haven’t really had the chance to truly shine in Green Bay’s pass-first offense, but I could see it happening against an inexperienced 49ers run defense.  Without QB Jimmy Garoppolo, it will be extremely difficult for the Niners to match Green Bay’s offensive performance. I see the Packers winning easily.

Upset of the Week

This Broncos defense will make it difficult for the Rams to score as much as they usually do, but I think they manage to score 20+ points on Denver, led by RB Todd Gurley.  However, I expect Denver’s receivers to have a strong day as well, despite the fact that they are facing a stacked Rams secondary.  They have two dependable veterans in Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, and a promising rookie, Courtland Sutton.  I think they can handle the Rams secondary, especially with ex-Bronco Aqib Talib on IR. Look for Denver to pull the upset in a game that’s surprisingly high scoring.

The Other Games

TNF (Posted on Twitter Thursday Night; Actual Score: 34-13 Eagles)

Expect the Eagles run game to struggle with RB Jay Ajayi on IR.  But I think QB Carson Wentz and his receivers will find a way to win it in New York.  The Giants offense will struggle once again without TE Evan Engram, but I think WRs Odell Beckham Jr. and Sterling Shepard will have strong games to make this close.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

Expect Houston’s elite defense to shut down QB Josh Allen and his receivers.  I think they will hold the Bills to 1 TD or less in this game. Meanwhile, QB Deshaun Watson and the Texans offense will have a decent enough despite the banged-up run game and lack of WR depth.  I see the trio of Watson, RB Lamar Miller and WR DeAndre Hopkins leading them to victory.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

The Colts offense should look better than they did in New England.  Expect RB Nyheim Hines to step it up with the receivers banged up. However, I see the Colts D, which has struggled all season falling apart against a promising Jets passing game.  Look for both QB Sam Darnold and RB Isaiah Crowell to have big games as the Jets score at least 4 TDs. New York should win easily with the Colts defense regressively struggling.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

UPDATE: Ryan Tannehill is OUT, Brock Osweiler will start

Look for the Dolphins young D to have success against QB Mitch Trubisky and his offense.  Their promising group of receivers will not be enough here as the run game struggles. I also think that with the home-field advantage, the Dolphins will manage to score 30+ points despite facing Khalil Mack and the Bears D.  With QB Ryan Tannehill out, QB Brock Osweiler will rely on his receivers as Mack and the Bears front seven shuts down the Dolphins run game.  In the end, I have the Dolphins pulling a surprising upset at home, thanks to an all-around elite performance.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

Look for Cincy’s receivers to step it up against a struggling Steelers secondary. But the Steelers will make this a close shootout. QB Ben Roethlisberger and his receivers will thrive as well against a rebuilding Bengals secondary.  But without RB Le’Veon Bell, the Steelers run game will be easily shut down. The Bengals will manage to win thanks to the strong run defense and strong game by their receivers.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

Look for QB Baker Mayfield and the Browns to make this close in Cleveland.  But this Chargers offense has dominated and led the team to victory against every below average defense they’ve played.  Look for QB Philip Rivers, RB Melvin Gordon, WR Keenan Allen and company to do the same in Cleveland as they take on an inexperienced Browns D.  This stellar offensive performance will lead LA to victory for the fourth time this season.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

Expect a shootout in this London game.  Both these defenses have struggled regressively all season.  Look for Oakland’s offense to dominate against the young Seattle D, and expect QB Russell Wilson and his receivers to have a field day against the Khalil Mack-less Raiders defense.  I think the Raiders, who will have more success running the ball, will outscore the Seahawks to win it.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

Expect the Panthers offense to be back at full speed with TE Greg Olsen back.  They will be able to take advantage of a below average Redskins secondary with QB Cam Newton’s favorite target healthy.  QB Alex Smith and his receivers will put up a fight with a 3 TD game of their own.  But look for the Panthers strong front seven to be successful in pressuring Smith and shutting down Washington’s RBs, allowing Carolina to hold on for a victory.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

I think Arizona’s D will step it up this weekend, allowing them to come close in Minnesota.  But the Vikings WR duo of Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs is just too much for this Cardinals secondary to handle, and their success will lead to an overtime Vikings win, despite the run game’s continuing struggles.  The Vikings defense will also have a nice game, holding the Cardinals to just 1 TD and overwhelming rookie QB Josh Rosen.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

With RB Devonta Freeman out, both defenses struggling, and both offenses dominating, expect a lot of passing in this game.  QB Matt Ryan and his receivers should have a field day against the weakening Bucs secondary, while Tampa’s underrated front seven shuts down RB Tevin Coleman.  Meanwhile, QB Jameis Winston and his receivers will prove that the Bucs can succeed on offense without QB Ryan Fitzpatrick. Expect them to pull the upset in a shootout, as Atlanta begins to lose hope after another embarrassingly bad defensive game.
Sunday, 4:25 PM EST

This Titans roster is filled with young talent on both sides of the ball.  Look for their younger players to step it up and lead Tennessee to victory at home.  The Ravens should continue their strong season by getting out to an early lead thanks to shut down defense.  But Tennessee’s young core will lead to a comeback as they outplay Baltimore.  After two straight losses, the Ravens will begin to regress. 
Sunday, 4:25 PM EST

Expect QB Dak Prescott and his receivers to be shut down by a top notch Jags defense.  Prescott looked pretty bad against the Texans D. I can’t see him doing any better against Sacksonville.  Meanwhile, the Jaguars will manage to get by on offense, bouncing back from last week’s putrid offensive performance.  The combination of these two things will lead to a Jaguars victory, despite run game struggles without RB Leonard Fournette.
Sunday, 8:20 PM EST

Check back closer to gametime for a video preview!

Look for QB Tom Brady and his receivers to thrive, overwhelming the Chiefs secondary without S Eric Berry.  Kansas City’s offense should make this close, but expect the Chiefs defense to blow it despite a 30-point, multi-TD game for QB Patrick Mahomes II and his offense.  

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

 

My 2018 MLB Playoff Bracket/Predictions

The MLB Playoff Bracket is set after yesterday’s tiebreaker games, and the MLB playoffs begin tonight at 8:00 PM.  Above is my complete bracket for the MLB Playoff Challenge.  Below is a brief look at each match-up.  Feel free to comment with your thoughts.

American League

AL Wild Card Game

new-york-yankees (4) New York Yankees over Oakland Athletics (5) oakland-a's

Oakland’s pitching staff has been better this year, but I do not see their rotation as an elite playoff rotation.  The Yankees lineup will tear this pitching staff apart, led by the home run hitting duo of Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton.

ALDS

boston-red-sox (1) Boston Red Sox over New York Yankees (4) new-york-yankees, 3-2

The Yankees have given Boston a hard time, so I think this series will be close.  The Yankees have been able to dominate against certain Red Sox starters such as David Price.  But the Red Sox have the home-field advantage, and they have two MVP-caliber players in their lineup, Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez.  The Sox lineup has the depth and talent to outdo the Yankees pitching staff.

houston-astros (2) Houston Astros over Cleveland Indians (3) cleveland-indians, 3-0

The Astros have most of what they had in last year’s World Series: a stacked lineup filled with youth, power, and speed and a dominant playoff rotation.  They come in to this series with a weaker bullpen though.  Both of these lineups are playoff-caliber, but I see this series as a battle of two of the league’s top rotations, the Astros led by Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, and the Indians led by Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, and Carlos Carrasco.  These games will be low scoring, but I see the Astros sweeping as their lineup is able to manage the tough opposing pitching more easily.

ALCS

boston-red-sox (1) Boston Red Sox over Houston Astros (2) houston-astros, 4-3

The Astros have one of the best rotations in the league plus an amazing lineup.  But the Red Sox have one thing Houston doesn’t.  A strong closer in Craig Kimbrel.  If their rotation can hold up for a good portion of the series and their offense gets going like it has for a lot of the season, I think they can do something they haven’t done much of this year: beating the other elite teams.  The Red Sox have taken advantage of their easy match-ups, but it’s time for them to step it up when it matters.

National League

NL Wild Card Game

Chicago_Cubs (4) Chicago Cubs over Colorado Rockies (5) colorado-rockies 

The Rockies lineup is very talented, but despite improvement in 2018 that got them here, I don’t see their pitching holding up on the road against a well-rounded Cubs team.  Chicago will take advantage of the Rockies’ weak pitching staff, get out to an early lead, and their pitching staff will be able to help the Cubs hold it easily.

NLDS

Chicago_Cubs (4) Chicago Cubs over Milwaukee Brewers (1) milwaukee-brewers, 3-1

The Brewers rode their momentum to a division title.  They have a young, talented lineup that’s mostly a product of the 2017-18 off-season and a huge MLB Trade Deadline.  But I think this Brewers lineup is containable, and if there’s any pitching staff in the National League that can contain them, it’s the Cubs.  The Cubs should also thrive offensively against a young Brewers rotation that’s still developing.

los-angeles-dodgers (2) Los Angeles Dodgers over Atlanta Braves (3) atlanta-braves, 3-1

Led by young talent, the Braves pulled out an NL East victory.  However, I think they rode easy division competition to this victory.  Their rotation is okay, but I don’t see their lineup as playoff caliber. The Nationals would likely be here if they weren’t so hampered by injuries this season.  They may have won it all.  But the Dodgers can contain a young, developing team like the Braves.  Led by Trade Deadline acquisition Manny Machado, Their lineup has the power and talent to give this Atlanta rotation trouble, and their deep pitching staff will benefit them significantly.  I see this series as an easy win for the Dodgers.

NLCS

Chicago_Cubs (4) Chicago Cubs over Los Angeles Dodgers (2) los-angeles-dodgers, 4-3

This will be a very interesting series.  The 2016 World Series champion against the 2017 World Series runner-up.  The Dodgers still have a World Series-caliber roster.  Their rotation is more than capable, and they come in with a stronger offensive attack this year.  But the Cubs have a deep, young lineup, and although they might struggle against this solid Dodgers rotation, I could see them taking advantage of a weak Dodger bullpen.  The Dodgers will put up a serious fight, but I think the Cubs pitching staff can contain them for a good portion of the series.

World Series

boston-red-sox (1) Boston Red Sox over Chicago Cubs (4) Chicago_Cubs, 4-3

I think this is the year for the Red Sox.  Two of Boston’s last three World Series titles were partially due to momentum.  The Cubs have a World Series caliber roster.  They haven’t seen the Red Sox yet, and they may very well be a better team.  The NL was a very competitive league, while the AL was a league of extremes.  Chicago’s record may very well be an NL equivalent of the Red Sox’s record.  

But I think the Red Sox will ride the momentum they gather in the ALDS and ALCS to win the World Series. Their pitching will need to finally hold it together, but I think they are capable, as long as they can rely on the momentum this talented lineup gathers.  It won’t be easy against a strong, well-rounded Cubs team, but I don’t think Red Sox Nation should give up hope.

That’s all for my MLB Playoff Predictions.  Stay tuned for more baseball articles.

 

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.

Red Sox @ Yankees May 8-10 2018: Series Preview

Image result for red sox-yankees

The Red Sox have had it easy in terms of their schedule over the last week and a half.  They played the Rays, Rangers, and Royals, taking 7 of 10 during that stretch.  But now they face the Yankees, who have won 15 of 16 against some of the AL’s best.  They swept the Twins, Indians, and Angels, and nearly swept Houston.  They have been boosted by the emergence of Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres, and are doing fine without 1B Greg Bird.  How will they fare against Boston, the only AL team that still has a better record than the Yankees?  They will fight for not just the AL East crown, but the American League crown in this series.  They are arguably the two best teams in baseball right now, which makes this intense rivalry even better.

Previous 2018 Results

The Red Sox have already played the Yankees once this season at Fenway Park.  The Yankees had even more injury problems and did not have Gleyber in the majors back in mid-April when this series occurred.  Despite losing Xander Bogaerts to the DL shortly before the series, the Red Sox, who had started 8-1 due to spotless pitching and an easy schedule, took advantage.  They took 2 of 3 in the series.  The Red Sox lineup had dominated in Game 1 to bring the Sox a 14-1 win.  David Price had a rough Game 2 and left early with an injury.  But the Red Sox attempted to come back, and after Tyler Austin spiked the infielder sliding into 2nd, Joe Kelly got revenge when he hit Austin.  It ended in a bench-clearing brawl that got Kelly and Austin suspended.  Porcello continued a strong start in the 3rd game as the Red Sox won, 6-3.  I did a recap of that game when the Sox and Bruins won important games on the same night.

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

 

How They Line-Up Now

Both teams have powerful, home-run hitting lineups.  But both of these lineups have a weak spot.  The Yankees have seen several hitters who are usually pretty good slump.  Brett Gardner, Giancarlo Stanton, and Gary Sanchez all have a batting average under .230.  Sanchez is batting .198.  It is balanced out by strong seasons from Didi Gregorius and Aaron Judge, as well as early success out of Andujar and Torres.  I was never too high on Gregorius, but he has really proven himself this year.   The Red Sox do not have reliable hitters at the end of the lineup.  Both regular catchers and JBJ are batting under .200, and Eduardo Nunez has also struggled.  But J.D. Martinez, Mookie Betts, Hanley Ramirez, and Xander Bogaerts have all thrived and led this team.

The Red Sox have the starting pitching advantage, but not all of the pitching match-ups in this series are favorable for the Red Sox.  The Red Sox don’t have too much of a bullpen to rely on, either.  Craig Kimbrel has been flawless, but the rest of the bullpen has not always stepped it up when the starter struggles.  The Red Sox have to rely on either an offensive explosion or a spotless, long-lasting starter to win quality games.

Pitching Match-Ups

Game 1 (5/8): BOS: Image result for drew pomeranzDrew Pomeranz (1-1, 6.14 ERA)

vs. NYY: Image result for luis severinoLuis Severino (5-1, 2.11)

By no means is Severino going to be easy to face but I could see Pomeranz stepping it up on the big stage here.  Once Severino leaves, it will be the offense’s turn to make an impact.

Note: Price has been scratched from his Wednesday start due to hand numbness.  I’m beginning to agree with that 98.5 caller who talked about the stress disorder with David Price.  Can he handle the pressure of a Red Sox-Yankees game?

Game 2 (5/9): BOS: Image result for rick porcello Rick Porcello (5-0, 2.14 ERA)

NYY: Image result for MASAHIRO TANAKAMasahiro Tanaka (4-2, 4.39 ERA)

Tanaka has been pretty good this year, but Porcello has been flawless this year.  Moving him a day up brings this pitching match-up into our favor.

Game 3 (5/10): BOS: Image result for Eduardo Rodriguez Eduardo Rodriguez (3-0, 5.29 ERA)

NYY: Image result for C.C. Sabathia C.C. Sabathia (2-0, 1.39 ERA)

I like Eduardo Rodriguez.  He has very high potential, but C.C. Sabathia has been great when healthy, and I’m wondering how E-Rod will perform under the pressure of Yankee Stadium.

My Prediction: Red Sox Take 2 of 3

 

 

Red Sox Report: Sox Slowing Down, But It’s Understandable

When the Red Sox began the season 17-2, I knew they would not be able to finish the season going at that pace.  So it is understandable that the Red Sox have gone 8-7 in their last 15 games.  It does not mean the Red Sox are a fluke.  They have still shown signs in the last 14 games that they are capable contenders.  But they cannot win every game, and 8 to 10-game winning streaks interrupted by just a loss or two is not realistic for any team to maintain.

Image result for mookie betts 3 hr games

But Mookie Betts is still on fire, and Hanley Ramirez has still put up much better numbers to start 2018.  J.D. Martinez has also begun to heat up.  Betts has gotten to the point in his hot streak where he’s breaking HR records.  We will look at Betts’ records, the cooling off of the Red Sox, and much more in this edition of the Red Sox Report.

Red Sox Beginning to Cool Off, But It’s Not a Major Concern

As I said above, although the Sox have cooled off, the Red Sox have still shown qualities of an elite playoff contender.  I still think they have the potential to make a deep run this year.  What concerns me a little bit is who they have been losing to.  They lost a series to the Rays to start their most recent homestand.  Tampa barely has a starting rotation.  But even a blind squirrel eventually finds an acorn.  They also struggled and got no-hit against the Athletics.  The A’s are not terrible, they have a powerful young lineup and an improving rotation.  But after a 17-2 start, I did not expect A’s SP Sean Manaea to no-hit the Red Sox.  It shows that our lineup is very streaky, feast or famine.

Struggles against the mediocre teams is a problem, but the Red Sox have been pretty good against tough opponents like the Angels and Blue Jays.  What the Red Sox need right now is to be competitive against playoff contenders.  If they continue to prove that they are capable of that, I will be much more confident in their World Series chances.  But if they cannot show up against subpar teams, how will they be able to continue to thrive against contenders?

Sox Lineup Has Been Streaky But Has High Ceiling

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The Red Sox lineup has really struggled at times. They have scored 3 or fewer runs in 4 of their 9 losses so far. But when the lineup is on a good streak, it can carry the team. At its best, this lineup could probably carry the Red Sox all the way to the World Series.  But several guys have failed to come through in recent weeks. Christian Vazquez, Sandy Leon, and Jackie Bradley Jr. are all batting under .200, and Eduardo Nunez hasn’t looked like the same guy that boosted the Red Sox lineup on the brink of contention.  Everyone in this lineup has struggled at some point this season.

But when on a hot streak, this lineup can take the league by storm.  There were several hot hitters that led us to our amazing start, and a few of our hitters are still on fire.  J.D. Martinez is 21 for his last 47 (.447) and has hit 3 dingers in that span.  Mookie Betts has been on fire all season.  Read more about Betts’ hot streak in the next section.

Mookie Betts Still On Fire, Now He’s Making History

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Betts is batting .352 (5th in the league) with 13 home runs (leading the league) and a 1.257 OPS (leading the league) on the season.  In addition, he’s 12 for his last 23 (.522).   He has hit 11 of the homers in his last 15 games and has had two 3 HR games this season (one soon after Marathon Monday in Anaheim, and another at Fenway this week against the Royals).  It’s only the start of May, and he had these 3 HR games within two weeks of each other.  He also had a pair of 3 HR games back in 2016.  He and Johnny Mize are the only players to ever have a pair of 3 HR games two times in their career.

Betts also passed Ted Williams for the most 3-HR games in team history.  Betts is only 25.  He has plenty of time in his career for more multi-HR games.  Could he become the first person to have two 3-HR games in three different seasons?  Could he eventually break the MLB 3 HR game record?  It is currently held by Mize and Sammy Sosa (6).  Betts is in the Top 10 with 4.  Betts is tied for 2nd with Manny Machado for multi-HR games since 2016 (11).  Betts and Machado are behind just Giancarlo Stanton (14).  Betts is more than just our leadoff hitter.  He is one of baseball’s biggest stars.  But there is an argument for why he should remain our leadoff hitter, and I look at that in my next Baseball Bits.

Injury Report: Thornburg Begins Rehab, Several Activated Over Last Two Weeks

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The Red Sox have continued to be hit by the injury bug.  Brock Holt went on the DL in late April with a hamstring strain.  Mookie Betts was also hurt for a few days in late April with hamstring issues but has since returned and continued to dominate.  He also left today’s game with a wrist injury.  But several of our previously injured players have returned over the last couple of weeks.  Xander Bogaerts was activated last weekend, and he lost his hot streak on the DL, but he went 3-4 in his first game back and has continued to hit well, batting .303 since his return.  Bobby Poyner has also returned from his injury but did not return to the big league roster until May 4th after a stint with the Paw Sox.

Steven Wright has returned from the DL too, but he is currently serving a 15-game domestic violence suspension.  Joe Kelly recently returned from his 6-game suspension after the Sox-Yankees brawl in April.  Eduardo Rodriguez was also out for a few days on a family medical leave but was activated on the 5th to start against the Rangers.  He did not miss a start during his absence.  Tyler Thornburg, Austin Maddox, Marco Hernandez, Brock Holt, and Dustin Pedroia are the players that remain on the DL.  Thornburg has begun his rehab assignment, and Pedroia has been rehabbing at extended spring training.  Pedey is targeting a May 25 big league return.  Brock Holt is expected to return next week.

Sox Have Caught a Break vs. Royals, Rangers, But Round 2 With Flaming Hot Yankees Ahead

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After a tough road trip, the Red Sox have enjoyed a relatively easy schedule over the last week and a half.  They have played the Rays, Royals, and Rangers.  Despite having a tough time against the Rays (who have won 11 of their last 14 on a hot streak), the Red Sox have caught a break against the Royals and Rangers, who they won 5 of 7 against.  But after that, the Red Sox could have another difficult stretch ahead, starting with a 3 game series at Yankee Stadium.  The Yankees have won 14 of their last 15, and this was against playoff contenders.

The Yanks have swept the Twins, Indians, and Angels, and took 3 of 4 in Houston.  If the Yankees continue to thrive against Boston, they will be proven as serious contenders.  But Boston had an impressive 17-2 stretch of their own.  Although it may not have been against as difficult opponents, the Sox did take 2 out of 3 when they hosted the Yankees.  However, the Yankees were without C.C. Sabathia and Aaron Hicks in that series.  They have also called up Gleyber Torres, who has done very well since that series.  They have lost Jordan Montgomery and a couple relievers to the DL since the series though.

That’s all for this edition of the Red Sox Report.  Stay tuned for more Red Sox posts coming soon.

Ranking The Teams 12-7: My Version: Who Will Contend in 2018

Welcome to Part 4 of my MLB pre-season power rankings.  Although the season has started, I am still finishing this series.  I will also have my first Red Sox Report article of 2018 coming soon, as well as coverage on NFL free agency and the upcoming Red Sox, Celtics, and Bruins games.

Last time, I covered the teams that are in the middle of the pack, and haven’t really decided what direction they want to head in.  I looked at how they did this off-season, how they’ll do this season, and where they are headed.  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 contending teams, but rather than talking about where they are headed (which is somewhat obvious to me), today I will be discussing what is holding them back from dominance.  Read below to find out who these six teams are and what to expect for them this year.

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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?

Sunday, March 25: Ranking The Teams 24-19, My Version: Teams That Will Struggle

Monday, March 26: Ranking The Teams 18-13, My Version: The Middle of the Pack

Monday, April 2: Ranking The Teams 12-7, My Version: Who Will Contend in 2018?

Wednesday, April 4: Ranking The Teams 6-1, My Version: How The Best of the Best Line Up*

*My pre-season Baseball Bits are also up.

12. minnesota-twins Minnesota Twins

Off-Season Review

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The Twins quietly put together a strong off-season after acquiring Jake Odorizzi and signing Logan Morrison at the last minute.  They also signed Lance Lynn to add to a rotation that will be without Ervin Santana and new signing Michael Pineda to start the season.  With Odorizzi and Lynn on board, it will be a respectable rotation throughout the season and could take the League by storm when Pineda and Santana return.  Morrison is here to upgrade at the DH position over Kennys Vargas, who only got his job back because Byung-Ho Park was a bust in 2016. They also added Fernando Rodney and Addison Reed in the bullpen to replace Glen Perkins, who retired.

The Case for the Twins

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The Twins will be able to contend.  Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano are primed for breakouts, Brian Dozier has emerged as a veteran leader, and Logan Morrison, Jake Odorizzi, and Lance Lynn are nice additions that put this roster in position to continue to contend after surprisingly cracking the playoff field in 2017.  But the competition for the AL Wild Card will be tougher this year after the moves that have been made by the Angels and Red Sox to make their own Wild Card cases.  The Red Sox could even challenge the Yankees in the AL East, but the Yankees are likely to make the playoffs either way.

What’s Holding Them Back

A month ago I would have said rotation depth problems, but now I think they have a bigger problem at shortstop.  With Jorge Polanco suspended for 80 games, they will have to start Eduardo Escobar, who has struggled in recent years and is not 100% proven as a starter.  I honestly don’t think they were ever doing great at shortstop.  I thought the combination of Polanco and Escobar was okay, but I’m not even so high on Polanco anyways.  They also have problems in the bullpen.  Signing Fernando Rodney and Addison Reed help, but they lack depth, and will Rodney and Reed succeed with their new team?
Best Case Scenario: Buxton and Sano breakthrough, Minnesota’s late off-season moves pay off, and the Twins quietly sneak to the top of the AL Central.
Worst Case Scenario: The injury-riddled rotation lacks depth and gets tired, the new bullpen additions do not help all that much, and the lineup fails to have much more than another decent year as the Twins finish in a distant second to the Indians, just above .500.

Projected Finish: 87-75, 2nd in AL Central

11. milwaukee-brewers Milwaukee Brewers

Off-Season Review

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After coming inches away from a playoff berth in 2017, the Brewers made some upgrades in hopes of a playoff run.  They did not add the ace they desperately needed, but they did sign Yovani Gallardo, Wade Miley, and Jhoulys Chacin (Gallardo has since been released).  Chase Anderson and Zach Davies could also step it up in the rotation until the injured Jimmy Nelson returns.  They could re-assess at the trade deadline if needed.  They did add to the bullpen by signing Boone Logan and Matt Albers though.  They could still use a closer.  They also added to their outfield by signing Lorenzo Cain and trading for Christian Yelich.  As a result, Ryan Braun will be able to help out at first in addition to playing outfield.  Eric Thames is no longer an everyday starter, but Braun is, and he will see a lot of starts at first and in the outfield.  They could’ve also added Neil Walker back, but should be fine at second between Jonathan Villar and Eric Sogard as Walker joins the Yankees.

The Case for the Brewers

Milwaukee could make a serious run in 2018, or they could bust.  It’s hard to predict, but I have them somewhere in the middle.  Cain and Yelich will prove to be nice additions among others.  But if the Brewers were really hoping to contend, they would’ve considered adding an ace, a closer, and a second baseman.  They have various holes in the roster that will hold them back.  This is a good team with a nice roster that includes a lot of great pieces.  But they could still use some fine-tuning before they make a run.

What’s Holding Them Back

Milwaukee has a nice rotation, but the rotation lacks a #1 starter.  Signing someone like Alex Cobb would have worked out, but instead, they stayed put.  The Brewers would be in a much better position right now if they were able to sign an ace.  The Cubs added Yu Darvish.  How did the Brewers respond?  By sitting tight and calling Chase Anderson their #1 starter.  Anderson may be a good #2, but that will not work out well.  Even Jimmy Nelson is not quite a viable #1 starter, and he’s out until at least May.
Best Case Scenario: The rotation is able to survive on its own, the lineup dominates, and the bullpen surprises the league after using their new additions to their advantage.  The Brewers make a nice playoff run after clinching a Wild Card spot.
Worst Case Scenario: The rotation is nothing more than mediocre without a known ace, the lineup thrives, but struggle to figure out what to do as Eric Thames struggles and Ryan Braun cannot adjust to the infield, and the Brewers disappoint, winning less than 85 games.

Projected Finish: 88-74, 3rd in NL Central

10. colorado-rockies Colorado Rockies

Off-Season Review

The Rockies seemed pretty confident with what they have this off-season, as they did not add a first baseman or a starting pitcher.  They could have used a veteran mentor at either position.  They did bring back Carlos Gonzalez for depth though.  This off-season, CarGo’s market has been limited due to regressive struggles in 2017, but the Rockies brought him back anyway, hoping he would rebound.  In the meantime, Ian Desmond and prospect Ryan McMahon will both get time at first and the young rotation will have to survive without a veteran influence.

The Case for the Rockies

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The Rockies are coming off a strong 2017 season, where they finally cracked the playoff field.  But they haven’t secured themselves as regular contenders yet.  To contend again in 2018, the young rotation will have to at least have a decent year, and they need Charlie Blackmon and Nolan Arenado to pick up from where they left off last season.  DJ LeMahieu, CarGo, and Trevor Story have also helped provide their lineup with the power they need to contend. Will the Rockies make the playoffs?  Tell me what you think in the comments.

What’s Holding Them Back

The Rockies play in a severely hitter-friendly ballpark, so it’s understandable if the Rockies lineup is significantly better than the rotation.  But the Rockies will have to perform well on the road to become a true playoff contender, and in most ballparks, that requires a better rotation than what Colorado has.  I think this team can make the playoffs, but they could be eliminated early once again if the pitching struggles, especially in the 1 game wild-card round.
Best Case Scenario: The young Rockies rotation exceeds their expectations, the powerful lineup dominates, and the Rockies win the NL West and get ready to make a run in the playoffs.
Worst Case Scenario: Charlie Blackmon cannot repeat his success, CarGo, and other hitters begin to decline, and the Rockies struggle, finishing 4th in the NL West just below .500.

Projected Finish: 88-74, 2nd in NL West

9. St_Louis_Cardinals St. Louis Cardinals

Off-Season Review

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Much like the Blue Jays are doing now, the Cardinals have quietly rebuilt without regressing majorly.  They are already hoping to contend after beginning to rebuild in the 2015-16 off-season.  This off-season, they acquired Marcell Ozuna from the Marlins, and were hoping to land Mike Moustakas, but lost out on him. Ozuna is an upgrade over Stephen Piscotty and Randal Grichuk, both of whom the Cardinals traded away this off-season.  However, they have been fine in their first few games as Jose Martinez continues to dominate.  Matt Carpenter can now help at third base with Martinez playing first on some days.  They also upgraded their pitching staff, signing Miles Mikolas in his return to the MLB.  They also added Luke Gregerson and Greg Holland in a remodeling of the bullpen.

The Case for the Cardinals

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The Cardinals are ready to work towards a return to the playoffs.  With a roster that is flooded with young talent as well as veterans, who they will need to win now.  They were lucky with how fast their rebuild went.  Tommy Pham, Jose Martinez, and other top prospects broke through quickly.  The Cardinals went into rebuild mode because they had such a strong farm system, and those players will help lead this team along with veterans like Dexter Fowler, Marcell Ozuna, Matt Carpenter, and Michael Wacha who St. Louis either held on to from 2015 or has acquired since then.

What’s Holding Them Back

I like the Cardinals young rotation, but I feel that Jack Flaherty and Luke Weaver could have used more time to develop, and Alex Reyes will need it after his elbow injury.  Reyes has even considered switching to become a late-inning reliever.  If they had signed a veteran mentor like John Lackey, Ubaldo Jimenez, or Scott Kazmir, who are all still available, to a 1-year deal, then they might be in better shape.  Signing Moose also would have helped.

Best Case Scenario: The young Cardinals leaders dominate, including the rotation, and help lead the Cardinals to an NL Central win and a playoff run.

Worst Case Scenario: The young rotation cannot handle the pressure, Tommy Pham cannot repeat his 2017 success as well as some of their other recent breakout players, and the Cardinals finish around .500, third or fourth in the division.

Projected Finish: 90-72, 2nd in NL Central

8. la-angels-of-anaheim Los Angeles Angels

Off-Season Review

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The Angels were one of the most active teams in the league this off-season, especially early on, when very few moves were made across the league.  They brought back Justin Upton and acquired another player from the Tigers in 2B Ian Kinsler (Upton was acquired from Detroit in a trade last season).  They added Zack Cozart too.  The combination of those three will really boost their lineup.  They had enough depth and power in the lineup for 2018 that they were able to trade away mediocre 1B C.J. Cron.  Their biggest move came early on when they signed Japanese two-way player Shohei Ohtani, who has already done great at the big league level as a hitter and a pitcher.

The Case for the Angels

The Angels are ready to return to contention after struggling over the last two years.  Their struggles were caused by the injury-riddled rotation and the lack of a strong lineup.  But now, all has changed after the Halos added some rotation depth and boosted their lineup.  The Angels will fight for a Wild Card spot, but they may be a division contender if they did not play in the same division as the defending World Series champions, the Houston Astros.

What’s Holding Them Back

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The Angels do not have much on their own roster that can hold them back.  But there are two problems: a) they do not have the same kind of talent that the dominant teams of the league have and b) they compete in a tough division that is led by the defending World Series champion, who has only gotten better this off-season.  They have Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani, but what other All Star players do they have?  They will face a tough schedule and that will hold them back as they struggle to compete with the best.

Best Case Scenario: Shohei Ohtani and the Angels rotation avoid injuries and dominate, the lineup returns to dominance after adding Upton, Kinsler, and Cozart, and the Angels compete for the AL West title and make a playoff run.

Worst Case Scenario: The rotation’s injury problems continue, Ohtani cannot handle the pressure of MLB level pitching, and the lineup ends up underperforming, leading the Angels to another mediocre season.

Projected Finish: 88-74, 2nd in AL West

7. cleveland-indians Cleveland Indians

Off-Season Review

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The Indians were able to replace 1B Carlos Santana (lost in free agency) by upgrading with a signing of Yonder Alonso, who had a very strong season with the A’s and Mariners in 2017.  They also brought back familiar faces in Mike Napoli and Rajai Davis.  The Indians have been able to maintain a strong roster without spending too much money, as they did not lose too many people to free agency.  All they needed was one more outfielder, a little bullpen help, and a replacement for Santana.

The Case for the Indians

Cleveland is one of what is known as the MLB’s Super Seven, a group of teams that are bound for long term success after dominance in 2017.  However, I see Cleveland as the bottom team of these seven, as although they have maintained a strong roster, they have not made many upgrades after losing to the Yankees in the 2017 ALDS and losing to the Cubs in the 2016 World Series.  They will still be significant contenders and clear division favorites (despite a weak division), but do not expect a run beyond the ALDS this year.  I see an AL pennant as their ceiling.

What’s Holding Them Back

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Like I said, they could use a couple more upgrades over what they have.  Michael Brantley is getting older and is very injury prone, Jason Kipnis is declining, and the bullpen could use a little more depth to aid a strong rotation.  There are other teams that I see as much more likely World Series winners than them.

Best Case Scenario: The lineup keeps up the good work, the rotation looks dominant as it is led by two star pitchers in Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco, and the Indians make a deep playoff run.

Worst Case Scenario: Injuries and old age hold back the Indians as they lose the division to the Minnesota Twins and just barely snag a Wild Card.

Projected Finish: 92-70, 1st in AL Central

That’s all for this article.  Stay tuned for more Red Sox and other baseball articles coming soon.