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.

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2018 NFL Week 2 Picks & Previews: QB Carousel Leads to Surprise Winners

Welcome to my Week 2 NFL picks.  Last week, I went 9-6-1, putting me ahead of 4 of ESPN’s 10 pick’em experts, and 2 of CBS Sports’ 8 pick’em experts.  This off-season, many quarterbacks changed teams as usual. Patrick Mahomes II was named Kansas City’s starter as Alex Smith was traded from the Chiefs to the Redskins.  Kirk Cousins, formerly of the Redskins signed with the Vikings. Case Keenum, Minnesota’s 2017 starter, is now starting in Denver.

I thought that Keenum and Cousins would thrive with their new teams, while Smith struggles without his offensive weapons and the Chiefs offense struggles without Smith.  But all four of those teams succeeded thanks to strong offense in Week 1. Mahomes just made the Chiefs offense look better, and the Redskins just might be better off with Smith than they were with Cousins. Does this have to do with the QB carousel, or is it what surrounds these quarterbacks that leads them to thrive?  Either way, the Chiefs and Redskins could be two surprise teams to watch out for, and the Vikes and Broncos look to stay elite. Will all four win again this week? Read my picks below to find out what I think.

Lock of the Week (MNF)

I thought the Seahawks offense would struggle last week, but things actually turned out alright for them despite a loss.  However, they will be without WR Doug Baldwin this week, so don’t be surprised by a dud out of Seattle’s offense. Plus, the Bears defense looks much better with everyone healthy and Khalil Mack on board.  Expect a strong week by QB Mitch Trubisky as well as the Bears running backs. However, it will be Mack and the Bears D that holds Seattle under 10 and leads the Bears to victory.

Upset of the Week

I learned one major lesson about the Chiefs in Week 1: QB Patrick Mahomes is not a bust, and he is capable of becoming an elite NFL starter this year.  Expect him to lead a talented Chiefs offense to victory despite some iffy defense by Kansas City.  The Steelers offense will begin to miss RB Le’Veon Bell, and their mediocre defense won’t be enough to stop the Chiefs.

The Other Games

TNF (Posted on Twitter on Thursday Night; Actual Score: 34-23 Bengals)

I don’t expect more than 30 total points in this game.  Both these defenses are arguably Top 10 in the league.  They should be successful in pressuring each other’s quarterbacks and shutting down each other’s running backs.  But the Bengals will edge out the victory at home thanks to a strong game by WR A.J. Green.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

The Jets strong defense and a good day by rookie QB Sam Darnold led the Jets to victory in Detroit.  Expect more of the same in Miami, and watch for an especially strong game out of New York’s secondary.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

I think QB Josh Allen will lead the Bills to a closer game than they had last week.  But I see the Chargers having a better offensive day and winning this one.  They will rebound from their struggles against Kansas City last week.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

Look for Saints QB Drew Brees to excel against a young Browns defense.  But you should expect the Browns to make this a close offensive shootout, even without WR Josh Gordon.  
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

With TE Delanie Walker on IR, I don’t expect a very strong game by the Titans offense, especially against the elite Houston D.  I think the Texans will be able to squeeze by despite a banged up wide receiver group.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

I do expect QB Andrew Luck to look good in his second game back.  However, expect the Colts weak defense to give up 30+ points again in a loss.  They will especially struggle at containing the Redskins receivers.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

This is a battle of two capable backup QBs and two strong defensive fronts.  With QB Carson Wentz and WR Alshon Jeffery hurt, I don’t think the Philly offense will be able to handle this strong Bucs D.  The strong defense will lead Tampa to victory.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST (OT)

Expect the Packers to pull off another last minute comeback here, this one extending into overtime.  It just shows how clutch QB Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay offense are.  I do expect strong games by the Vikings receivers that keep this close and give the Vikings an early lead.  
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

Look for a strong game out of WR Julio Jones and the rest of Atlanta’s receivers against a young Carolina secondary.  This will help lead Atlanta to victory as the Panthers receivers struggle.  However, Carolina’s strong run game will lead the way and make this close.
Sunday, 4:05 PM EST (OT)

Expect both teams to rebound from offensive struggles last week.  The Lions have a veteran QB and strong receiver group that may very well be the highlight of this team.  But I think QB Jimmy Garoppolo and the young 49ers offense will look dominant against a below average Lions D.  The 49ers will edge out an overtime victory at home.
Sunday, 4:05 PM EST

I don’t expect the Rams to have a field day here.  The Cardinals defense is much improved from last season.  But the Rams will edge out a victory as their own defense holds QB Sam Bradford and his receivers below 20 points.  
Sunday, 4:25 PM EST

Stay tuned for a game preview before the game begins!

 

Expect a lot of passing, as this will be a close game and running backs on both sides are injured.  I think the Jaguars will struggle to find ways to score without RB Leonard Fournette, but the Jags defense will lead them to victory.  As a fan, I really want to see TE Rob Gronkowski prove CB Jalen Ramsey wrong and lead the Pats to victory, and I think he will prove Ramsey wrong.  But as an unbiased reporter, I see this as one of the toughest games on New England’s schedule, and I can’t see them winning with WR Julian Edelman suspended and multiple RBs banged up.
Sunday, 4:25 PM EST

Expect the Raiders to struggle at scoring against the stellar Broncos defense.  Strong offensive line play by Oakland will be key to protect QB Derek Carr, and I expect to see that at the very least.  But I think Denver’s offense will repeat what they had going last week to pull off another home victory.
Sunday, 8:30 PM EST

I think this is going to be an offensive shootout.  Cowboys QB Dak Prescott will find creative ways to score at home and RB Ezekiel Elliott will have a strong game. Meanwhile, I think the Giants will take an early lead against a young Cowboys D. But I see Dallas pulling away with a victory in the end thanks to a choke by the New York defense.

That’s all for this week’s NFL picks and previews.  Stay tuned for more NFL articles coming soon.

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

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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

Image result for jd martinez redsox

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

Image result for mookie betts 2018

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

Image result for tyler thornburg

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

Image result for red sox-royals 2018

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 24-19: My Version: Teams That Will Struggles

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

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Boston Sports Mania MLB Pre-Season Power Rankings

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

24. Tampa_Bay_Rays Tampa Bay Rays

Off-Season Review

Image result for mallex smith rays

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

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

The Case for the Rays

Image result for jacob faria

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

The Strong Point

Image result for adeiny hechavarria

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

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

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

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

 

23. Baltimore-Orioles-Logo Baltimore Orioles

Off-Season Review

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

The Case for the Orioles

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

The Strong Point

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

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

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

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

 

22. philadelphia.phillies Philadelphia Phillies

Off-Season Review

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

The Case for the Phillies

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

The Strong Point

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

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

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

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

 

21. kansas-city-royals Kansas City Royals

Off-Season Review

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

The Case for the Royals

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

The Strong Point

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

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

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

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

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

 

20. Toronto_Blue_Jays Toronto Blue Jays

Off-Season Review

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

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

The Case for the Blue Jays

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

The Strong Point

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

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

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

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

 

19. texas-rangers Texas Rangers

Off-Season Review

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

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

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

The Case for the Rangers

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

The Strong Point

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

The Day I Learned The True Meaning Of Boston Strong

Recently, I entered the 2018 Will McDonough Writing Contest through the Boston Globe and the Sports Museum at TD Garden.  On Monday, I found out that I received an honorable mention at the 8th grade level for my 500-word essay.  Over 1000 kids participated in this contest.  As a prize, I will be receiving a certificate and four free museum passes.  I have been to the TD Garden for Celtics games, Bruins games, and many other events, but I have never gotten the opportunity to visit this museum, and I am really looking forward to it.

You can see the other winners and honorable mentions for the contest and more information about the contest here.

My essay was about the attending the first Red Sox game at Fenway after the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombings.  I have also added pictures below that were taken on the day of the game.

Below is my official essay.

The Day I Learned The True Meaning of Boston Strong

It was the middle of the 8th inning at Fenway Park on April 20, 2013.  As usual, Sweet Caroline was playing.  But this time Neil Diamond surprised everyone by showing up to sing it live.  It was the first Fenway game since the Boston Marathon bombings.  The game was against the Royals and I was there for my cousin’s 10th birthday.

 Although the bombings were on Marathon Monday, I didn’t hear about it until Wednesday because I was only nine and my parents didn’t want me to know about the awful news.  While in line at Dunkin Donuts I saw coverage of the bomber manhunt on TV so they had to tell me what was going on.

As the weekend approached, the Red Sox canceled the Friday night game.  The city was on lockdown until the second bomber was caught.  That night I couldn’t fall asleep until I knew the bomber was captured.  Fortunately, he was and Saturday morning we headed to the first game since the bombing.

When we arrived on Lansdowne Street, the entertainment outside Fenway combined with thousands of people singing “Hallelujah” inside the park helped lift the sadness in the city.  We had to wait on a long security line but nobody seemed to mind.  We were just happy that the game was on and the city was safe.

The energy inside Fenway that day was indescribable.  The pregame ceremonies began honoring the Marathon bombing victims, the police that hunted down the bombers, and the paramedics who helped many wounded victims.  The Red Sox were wearing special Boston Strong jerseys and there was a “B Strong” symbol on the Green Monster.  As part of the ceremony, David Ortiz firmly stated, “This is Our F***ing City!” I had been to several games before but this was different.

The game itself started off slow but the crowd was loud after the inspiring pregame ceremony, chanting “USA” and “Boston Strong” rather than “Let’s go Red Sox.”  The Royals jumped out to a 2-1 lead.  But after Neil Diamond’s surprise appearance, Daniel Nava crushed a go-ahead 3-run homer to give the Red Sox a 4-2 lead.  Although Lorenzo Cain hit a solo homer in the top of the 9th, closer Andrew Bailey finished the job for Boston, who won 4-3.

After the game we were ecstatic, but we had no idea how much the Red Sox would turn things around for the remainder of the season.  Following a dismal last place 2012 season, I believe this game propelled the Red Sox to a 2013 World Series victory.

As we approach the five year anniversary of this historic game, what I remember most is how unified the city, as well as the country, seemed to be after such a violent event struck our city.  I wish our country didn’t feel so divided and helpless right now especially after numerous mass shootings.  We need the feeling of unity and resilience that everyone felt that day at Fenway Park.

References

“Kansas City Royals at Boston Red Sox Box Score, April 20, 2013.” Baseball Reference, 20 Apr. 2013, www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/BOS/BOS201304200.shtml

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My brother and I enjoying the entertainment outside Fenway Park during the long security lines.
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Keeping score at the game.

I hope you enjoyed reading my essay.  If you would like to enter the contest yourself, sign-ups for 2019 will be open next January.  It is open to students between grades 4 and 12.

 

 

 

NFL Playoffs: Bracket and Wild Card Weekend Picks

Welcome to my NFL playoff predictions and Wild Card picks. I finished the regular season with a 150-108 record. Below are my wild card weekend picks. How will I do this week? Keep reading and comment with your thoughts.

Before we begin, I’m going to reveal my playoff bracket:

I have the Patriots topping the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII. A lot of people have said the Vikings will make the Super Bowl in their home stadium. If they did that, they would be practically invincible. But I think RB Todd Gurley will lead the Rams past them in Minnesota, and the Rams will fall short in Philly, allowing Philly to advance to Super Bowl LII, losing to New England.

Now here are my picks for this week:

(5) Tennessee Titans @ Kansas City Chiefs (4)

Saturday: 4:35 PM EST on ESPN

Titans, 30, Chiefs, 27

Titans QB Marcus Mariota and his group of versatile receivers will be dominant against the Chiefs secondary, who is still without S Eric Berry. But the Chiefs will make it close. They will shut down Titans running backs DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry, and they will be competitive offensively. WR Tyreek Hill will outsmart the young Titans secondary, as well as star TE Travis Kelce. But in the end, Mariota will lead the Titans to victory, as the Chiefs fall just short.

(6) Atlanta Falcons @ Los Angeles Rams (3)

Saturday: 8:15 PM EST on NBC

Rams, 31, Falcons, 23

Atlanta will fall short in LA. RB Todd Gurley will overtire the Falcons front seven in a dominant game. QB Jared Goff will also do well, tossing a trio of touchdowns. The Rams defense will also help, shutting down Atlanta’s running back duo of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. WR Julio Jones will have a good game, but it will not be enough in Los Angeles.

(6) Buffalo Bills @ Jacksonville Jaguars (3)

Sunday: 1:05 PM EST on CBS

Jaguars, 31, Bills, 26

The Jaguars defense will dominate here, slowing down a strong group of Bills receivers with their young, elite secondary. They will also slow down star running back LeSean “Shady” McCoy. The Jaguars will also contribute offensively although QB Blake Bortles will be under a lot of pressure. RB Leonard Fournette will do well against the Bills defensive front though, and Jacksonville’s young receivers will outdo the Bills stingy secondary.

(5) Carolina Panthers @ New Orleans Saints (4)

Sunday: 4:40 PM EST on FOX

Saints, 30, Panthers, 19

QB Drew Brees and his versatile receivers will lead the Saints to victory here. They will dominate against the young, inexperienced Carolina secondary although the tough Panthers front seven will shut down the Saints RB duo. But the New Orleans defense will also do well, overwhelming QB Cam Newton, shutting down the strong Carolina run game, and holding Carolina to just one TD. The Saints defense has significantly improved since last season. They support the dominant offense, and that will bring New Orleans a successful playoff run as they win here at home.

That’s all for my playoff Predictions and wild card picks. Check back next week for my updated divisional round picks. In addition, stay tuned for my predictions on where the top free agents and players on the trade block will land. I will also be releasing more recaps on the Patriots and my middle school’s basketball teams, so check back soon.