My Godfather Mark Goldfinger is a Six Star Finisher

Today, I watched my godfather Mark Goldfinger run the 2019 Boston Marathon, his sixth of the six Abbott World Major Marathons.  Mark, along with 5000+ others is a “Six Star Finisher”.  According to their website, “The Abbott World Marathon Majors is a series consisting of six of the largest and most renowned marathons in the world. The races take place in Tokyo, Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago, and New York City.” 

Mark and his mom stayed a night with us Friday night, and I got the chance to ask him a few questions about his marathon running career.

Mark’s dad Norman passed away last year in San Diego after a battle with prostate cancer.  Until then, both his parents went to cheer him on at every marathon he ran, and his mom Dorene has continued to do so.  She even followed him around in Tokyo where it was below freezing and hailing on race day.  In honor of his dad, Mark has run all six marathons for cancer charities.

“I think what’s motivated me is being able to do something that not everyone can, but people want to do.  There’s a lot of people I run my marathons for; I’ve run all six of them for a cancer charity, the last three have been in honor of my father, and I like running and raising awareness for people who can’t necessarily run or raise awareness for themselves,” Goldfinger said.

Mark ran in his hometown marathon, New York in 2013.

“So far, the New York City marathon in 2013 has been my favorite.  It was my first marathon; the crowds were nonstop the entire 26.2 miles; my dad, my mom, my friends, and my family were all there, and it was really the marathon that gave me the inspiration to continue running,” Goldfinger said.

Boston was his 5th of the Abbott World Major Marathons in 2 years.  After New York, he continued his running career, running the London Marathon and the Berlin Marathon, which were just 5 months apart in 2017.  In London, ESPN featured him in a documentary.  He set his personal best in Berlin.

Mark running the London Marathon (top) and the Berlin Marathon (bottom) in 2017

After his dad’s passing in 2018, he ran in Chicago, Tokyo, and lastly Boston to complete his six stars.

“I was born and raised in New York, so I always knew that had to be my first race,” Goldfinger said.  “About 2-3 months after running New York City, I learned that Abbott World Majors had six major marathons.  Knowing that I had already completed one of them, and that I wanted to do Boston, I thought it would be really cool if I could figure out how to do the next four as well and then finish in Boston.”  “I knew I couldn’t end on any other race except for Boston.”

Mark told me later on that the reason he wanted to finish in Boston was because of its history as one of the world’s most prestigious marathons.

On Saturday, we went with Mark and Dorene to the Boston Marathon Expo where runners could pick up their bibs prior to the race.  Mark told me that things start to feel real for him when he picks up his number for the race.

But before he was able to receive his bib, we had to pass through an airport-like security checkpoint with a metal detector.  This reminded me of the reason this security was added: the Boston Marathon Bombings of 2013.  Last year, I wrote an experiential essay about how I learned the true meaning of Boston Strong.

I had never been to this expo before, so this was a unique experience for me.  I was able to see where runners picked up their numbers and explore the various marathon-related booths and displays.

I learned a little more about the Abbott World Marathon Majors, bought a Dunkin Donuts Boston Marathon t-shirt, and took pictures with Mark and the rest of the family at a press photo station.

As per Mark’s request, we cheered him on from the midway point in Wellesley.  Mark is the first Six Star Finisher that I know, and he is very important to me.  Not only is he my godfather, but his dad Norman was my mom’s godfather.

This is the sign we made for Mark and held up when he ran by us in Wellesley.

We were able to track Mark on the official Boston Marathon app.  We had plans to give him high fives when he passed by, so we tried to figure out exactly when he would arrive.  We held up our sign when the tracker said he was close so he could find us.

Mark was running with his friend Danny Elphinston, who has run all six of the Abbott World Marathon Majors with Mark and received his Six Star medal with Mark.

Though Mark and Danny passed by quickly and we barely had time to say hello, it was pretty cool to watch my godfather run the Boston Marathon live.  We watched him right in between Miles 14 and 15.  Soon after seeing us, he would go on to face Heartbreak Hill, the hardest part of the Boston Marathon. For most of the marathon, Mark was running 8-minute miles.  On Heartbreak Hill, Mark was forced to slow down to about a 10-minute mile.

In the meantime, the elite runners finished the race.  Kenyan Lawrence Cherono led the males, just 1 second ahead of 2nd place in the closest finish since 1988.  Ethiopian Worknesh Degefa led the females.  Though we did not see Mark cross the finish line live, we did catch him on a livestream and I got the chance to talk to him after he finished.

“Today was a tough day,” Goldfinger said about his Marathon Monday.  “I was hoping for a much better time, but the legs just didn’t want to turn.  That being said, I’m excited to be part of the World Major Marathon Club and needless to say, I’ll be back to make up for my time today.”

Check out Mark and Danny’s six star medals:

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

I understand, this a little late, as Opening Day was Thursday, and the Red Sox didn’t look so great Thursday even though they are a part of this Top 6.  But I figured I’d finish this series since there’s only one article left.

Welcome to the final article of my 2019 MLB preseason power rankings.  This season, you could argue the Super Seven that was discussed a few years back still exists, except with different teams.  The Red Sox, Cubs, Astros, and Yankees have remained elite, and despite declines by the Nationals, Indians, and Dodgers (probably) , new powerhouses in this league have arised.  The Braves should be regular contenders now, the Cardinals could make a run with 1B Paul Goldschmidt here for the long run, and the Phillies should be competitive with Bryce Harper.  But Philadelphia isn’t quite on the level of these other teams.  So unless the Dodgers do stay elite after all, I think the Super Seven will become a Super Six.  I will be discussing those six today and pointing out the Achilles Heel of each team. Click the links below for other articles in the series (I will add them as I post them):

 

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2019 MLB Preseason Power Rankings Series:

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

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

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

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

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

I also released my 3rd annual preseason Baseball Bits!

 

6. St_Louis_Cardinals St. Louis Cardinals

The Case for the Cardinals

The Cardinals haven’t made the playoffs in a few years, sure. But the veterans they kept around from their last playoff run, like Matt Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, and Yadier Molina, are still reliable contributors. They have also boosted the team with younger talent, including SP Jack Flaherty, OFs Harrison Bader and UT Jose Martinez, and SS Paul DeJong. After adding star in Goldy, the Cardinals have the tools they need for contention. But how far can they go in such a tough division? They will have to get past their division rivals that are also contending, the Cubs and Brewers.

The Achilles Heel

The Cards’ rotation looks alright and its young core will keep the rotation elite for a long time.  But right now they lack an ace.  I don’t believe they can be a World Series contender without one.  Whether they need a trade to find an ace or someone steps up as time passes, this could hold them back from serious contention and should be priority #1 for GM Steve Keim.  Maybe Martinez could be a good trade piece now that 1B Paul Goldschmidt is on board.

Projected Finish: 93-69, 2nd in NL Central

5. boston-red-sox Boston Red Sox

The Case for the Red Sox

The defending World Series champions had a relatively quiet off-season. They did retain most of the team from 2018 that won 108 games. But the bullpen has been their biggest issue, even with Craig Kimbrel. Without Craig Kimbrel, there is even more pressure on the rotation to succeed. This is especially true regarding Chris Sale and David Price. After Sale’s extension, both will be expected to to shine every start in order to be worth the money. Each start costs about $1 million dollars. Regardless of this pressure, the Red Sox should at least secure a Wild Card spot if they can’t beat out the Yankees in the AL East. They are still one of several powerhouses in the league.

The Achilles Heel

With Craig Kimbrel on the way out, the closer role is up for grabs.  But if you look at the active pitchers on the roster, it’s hard to imagine any of them as a consistent closer.  If the Red Sox wanted to repeat, they would’ve invested more in this bullpen rather than focusing so much on the rotation.  They need to add a closer unless Matt Barnes, Ryan Brasier, or someone else steps up soon.

Projected Finish: 93-69, 2nd in AL East

 

4. atlanta-braves Atlanta Braves

The Case for the Braves

The Braves’ rebuild began to pay off last season as their younger players broke through. This off-season seemed quiet, but they filled a gaping hole at third by adding Josh Donaldson. They also brought back OF Nick Markakis, and they have reportedly been targeting a reunion with CL Craig Kimbrel. This small series of moves could make a big difference in Atlanta. These moves, alongside development of OF Ronald Acuna Jr. and 2B Ozzie Albies among other should transform the Braves from solely a division contender into a World Series contender. The Braves are my World Series winner this year. I expect 1B Freddie Freeman, Albies, Donaldson, and others to combine to make for one of the best lineups in the league.

The Achilles Heel

Health is definitely a concern, especially considering the fact that Atlanta will start the 2019 season with two starting pitchers on the IL.  Donaldson is also injury prone, and if he goes down, Johan Camargo is the next best option at third base.  I don’t trust Camargo as a starter.  If the team stays healthy in the long run, they could be serious contenders.  Otherwise, they could be in a bit of trouble.

Projected Finish: 93-69, 1st in NL East

 

3. Chicago_Cubs Chicago Cubs

The Case for the Cubs

The Cubs may have been quiet this off-season, but a healthy Yu Darvish will boost the rotation, the bullpen has plenty of depth despite questions at closer, and the lineup is looking pretty solid. Their decision to move Javier Baez to shortstop full time and put Ben Zobrist at second is very smart, as SS Addison Russell was inconsistent and had some character issues. The Cubs have dominated in the National League ever since their World Series winning year in 2016, but with a health a concern and the division getting tougher, will the Cubs be able to keep up the good work?

The Achilles Heel

The Cubs were unable to do much this off-season, and they could have used another outfielder.  LF Kyle Schwarber and RF Jason Heyward are viable starters, but they are very streaky and inconsistent.  Albert Almora Jr. is the best option in center field.  Chicago should have added another center fielder to start over Almora some days and fill in for Heyward and Schwarber during slumps.

Projected Finish: 94-68, 1st in NL Central

 

2. new-york-yankees New York Yankees

The Case for the Yankees

After pairing new slugger Aaron Judge with Giancarlo Stanton, the Yankees underperformed in 2018. Yes, they made the playoffs and won 100 games. But they were overshadowed and eliminated by their bitter rival, the Boston Red Sox. This year, the Red Sox will be without their star closer, while the Yankees fixed up a problematic rotation and built one of the most stacked bullpens in history. This will allow the Yankees to propel past the Red Sox and win the AL East. But in Boston and New York, it’s all about championships, and the Yankees aren’t will have to work for a World Series victory, even with the stacked roster.

The Achilles Heel

The Yanks have some nice pieces in their infield.  But if Troy Tulowitzki and Greg Bird fail to stay healthy, they are left with D.J. LeMahieu as their best infielder.  Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar have not reached their prime yet, and Luke Voit must still prove that 2018 was not a fluke.  So I’m a bit concerned in terms of infield depth for the Yankees.

Projected Finish: 94-68, 1st in AL East

 

1. houston-astros Houston Astros

The Case for the Astros

The Astros are two years removed from their World Series victory, a result of a 5-year rebuild that made the Astros one of the MLB’s worst for a good 2-3 year span. Now, the Astros are still one of the league’s elite teams, but they lost some of their starting rotation depth this off-season, forcing two starter-turned-relievers back into the rotation. They did bring in OF Michael Brantley and UT Aledmys Diaz, filling the hole UT Marwin Gonzalez left. Though Houston took a slight step back this off-season, I still have them as my AL West winners and the team with the best regular season record. Considering the young core they have put together in the last several years, they should be elite for a long, long, time now.

The Achilles Heel

Evan Gattis is no longer on the team, which means Tyler White must be trusted as Houston’s regular DH.  This could be a prove-it situation for White, but if White struggles, what then?  They could bring Gattis back, or they could just put Diaz back there.  They could even call up Kyle Tucker to play DH.  This one’s an easy fix, just something to keep an eye on.

Projected Finish: 96-66, 1st in AL West

That’s all for this year’s preseason MLB power rankings.  Come back at the end of April  for my first 2019 set of monthly power rankings.

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

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

 

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2019 MLB Preseason Power Rankings Series:

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

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

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

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

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

I also released my 3rd annual preseason Baseball Bits!

18. cincinnati_reds_logo Cincinnati Reds

The Case for the Reds

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

Contenders or Pretenders?

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

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

 

17. minnesota-twins Minnesota Twins

The Case for the Twins

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

Contenders or Pretenders?

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

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

 

16. chicago-white-sox Chicago White Sox

The Case for the White Sox

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

Contenders or Pretenders?

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

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

 

15. new-york-mets New York Mets

The Case for the Mets

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

Contenders or Pretenders?

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

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

 

14. sanfran-giants San Francisco Giants

The Case for the Giants

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

Contenders or Pretenders?

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

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

 

13. los-angeles-dodgers Los Angeles Dodgers

The Case for the Dodgers

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

Contenders or Pretenders?

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

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

 

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

Baseball Bits #12: Can Sox Repeat like Few Teams have?

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Welcome to my annual preseason Baseball Bits article!

If you were unaware, today marks 5 years since I started my Boston Sports Mania blog!  The Red Sox were just about to begin their regular season when I started, and just like this year, they were coming off a World Series victory.  On my first day, I posted an article titled “MLB 2014 Preview”, which included my predictions for the 2014 MLB season. I still write these prediction articles every year, including this year

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I call March 25th my “blog-a-versary”, and this year is a big milestone.  All of my opportunities are a result of this blog.  Most recently, I delivered a motivational keynote speech about my story so far at the Visions of Community Conference hosted by the Federation for Children with Special Needs at the Boston Seaport World Trade Center (see below):

I started this blog to write about my favorite sports like baseball, which is what today’s post is about.

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Top: After the Red Sox’s 100th win                     Bottom: After the Red Sox’s World Series win

In 2018 the Red Sox became the 16th team in the 162-game era to win over 100 regular season games and then go on to win the World Series.  They were led by new manager Alex Cora and a new star in J.D. Martinez.  But what most Boston sports fans are wondering about now is how the Red Sox will do in 2019 and whether they will repeat.  I did some research on 100+ win World Series winners in the 162-game era and how they did in their next season below.  

The Research

Baseball Bits #12_ 100-Win World Series Winners – Sheet1

The “Baseball Bits”

Note: In the context of this article, a team who repeats for 2 years in a row is counted for 1 repeat, 3 years in a row is counted for 2 repeats, 4 years in a row is counted for 3 repeats, etc

  • Only 23 of 115 (20%) World Series winners have repeated
  • In the 162-game era, only 16 of 57 (28%) 100-win teams have won the World Series, including the 2018 Red Sox
  • In the 162-game era, only 9 of 56 (16%) World Series winners excluding the 2018 Red Sox have repeated, with 4 of the teams repeating after 100-win seasons
  • Of the 15 100 win World Series winners excluding the 2018 Red Sox:9 teams (60%) made the playoffs4 teams (26.67% of the 15) repeated2 of those teams reached 100 wins when they repeated:1976 Cincinnati Reds
    • 1978 New York Yankees
  • 2 of those teams failed to reach 100 wins again when they repeated:1962 New York Yankees
    • 1999 New York Yankees (repeated again in 2000
  • The Red Sox did not win the World Series in an 100 win season in the 162-game era until 2018
  • Another 2 of the 15 (13.33%) lost the World Series:1968 St. Louis Cardinals
    • 1978 Baltimore Orioles
  • 3 of the 15 (20%) lost in the LCS2010 New York Yankees
    • 2017 Chicago Cubs
    • 2018 Houston Astros
  • 6 of the 15 (40%) missed the playoffs entirely1969 Detroit Tigers
    • 1970 New York Mets
    • 1977 Cincinnati Reds
    • 1979 New York Yankees
    • 1985 Detroit Tigers
    • 1987 New York Mets
  • Each of the last 3 100-win World Series winners lost in the LCS the next year

The Verdict

Based on the research, I believe the Red Sox have a 20 to 25% chance to repeat.  I believe that there is still a select group of elite teams that could win the World Series this year.  World Series repeats are less common during the 162-game era as just 9 of 56 (16%) World Series winners repeated.  However, 4 of those teams were 100-win teams. World Series winners who did not reach 100 wins in this time frame only repeated 12.1% of the time since 1961.  That’s more like a 1 in 8 chance.  100-win World Series winners have repeated 26.67% of the time during the same time frame.  I think the significance of being a 100-win team helps improve the Sox chances to repeat. 

However, as much as I hate to admit it as a huge Boston fan, I am sticking with my prediction that the Sox will fail to reverse the trend of World Series winners.  I think they will lose in the ALCS to either the New York Yankees or Houston Astros.  The odds are stacked against the Sox reaching 100 wins as well since only 4 of the 15 100-win World Series winners even reached 100 wins again the next year.  I don’t think the Red Sox will reach the century mark but will come close at somewhere between 92 and 96 games. A bullpen with no proven closer to start the season helps support my prediction  A World Series repeat is unlikely to happen, though you shouldn’t rule it out yet.

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Alex Cora did wonders for this team last year, so maybe he’ll be able to recreate the magic of 2018.  If he can, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be 2019 AL Manager of the Year.

That’s all for today’s Baseball Bits.  After all I have accomplished in the last 5 years, I look forward to creating even better content over the next 5 years.  Stay tuned for more soon, including the next portion of my MLB Preseason Power Rankings.

Super Bowl LIII: How They Got Here

Welcome to my 1st of several Super Bowl LIII Preview articles.  The match-up is set, the teams are in Atlanta for Opening Night, and today I will be looking at how the Patriots and Rams got here and taking a first look at the match-up.  What can we expect from this year’s big game?  Keep reading to find out what I think.  You can also check out my entire Super Bowl LIII preview schedule below.  I will be posting preview articles throughout the week as festivities in Atlanta take place.

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Super Bowl LIII: Official Boston Sports Mania Preview Schedule

January 27 or 28: Super Bowl LIII: How They Got Here

January 28 or 29: The Case for the Patriots: How They Can Win, Keys to the Game

January 29 or 30: The Case for the Rams: How They Can Win, Keys to the Game

January 30 or 31: Super Bowl LIII Fast Facts and Their Significance

January 31 or February 1: Super Bowl LIII: Final Prediction, Projected Stats & MVP

February 1 or 2: Super Bowl LIII Video Preview

February 2 or 3: The Final Countdown: Final Injury Report, Outlook Before the Game (Including iMovie Trailer)

February 3: Enjoy the game and stay tuned for my recap after the game!

How They Got Here

Patriots

The Patriots were off to a rough start this season, going 1-2 in their first three games without WR Julian Edelman.  However, they brought in WR Josh Gordon to add back WR depth they’d lost in the off-season.  Gordon thrived in his first game with the Pats, and when Edelman returned, they made for a dynamic duo that led the offense to dominate.

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Though they started 7-2, they lost their third game in Tennessee before the bye as TE Rob Gronkowski sat out an extra game after an injury.  After the bye, they did win a couple games, playing the Jets and Vikings.  But after that their road struggles continued as they lost in Miami and in Pittsburgh.  After 14 games, the Pats were 9-5, and they were at risk of missing out on a first round bye.  They had the tiebreaker over the Texans, but the Texans were 10-4 at this point.  The Pats needed to win one more game than Houston.

It wasn’t a good sign when WR Josh Gordon was suspended indefinitely once again for marijuana, but the Pats took care of the Bills and Jets easily in New England.  They nearly shut out the Jets in Week 17!  They did grab hold of the first round bye, but the question was, were these blowouts against the league’s worst a fluke, or were the Pats legitimate Super Bowl contenders?

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The fans’ doubts were silenced when the Patriots dominated their Divisional Round match-up, hosting the Chargers.  They would head to Kansas City to take on the Chiefs in the AFC title game.  This was bound to be a close one, especially because the Patriots lost the last time they had played on the road.  They were off to a strong start, but they began to fall behind late in the game.

With two minutes to go, it was 28-24 Chiefs.  The Pats had the ball in what was still a one possession game.  They marched down the field and Burkhead scored the TD, but they scored a little too fast.  They left enough time for the Chiefs to add a field goal to tie it up  at 31-31 and force overtime.

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After that the Patriots won the toss, and though it was a nail biter with many close calls and 3rd downs, the Pats made their way down the field for the TD, winning the game 37-31!  This was Brady’s third OT victory in a postseason game, making him the first player to do so.  This was also the first time two playoff games had gone into overtime in one day.

You can read more about the AFC Championship at the link below:

Back to their Roots: Pats Dynasty Continues after OT Thriller

The Patriots are now headed to their 4th Super Bowl in 5 years, as Brady looks to ‘Blitz for Six’ and Gronk looks to potentially end his career with a bang.  The best part is, as intriguing as a Brady vs. Drew Brees match-up would be, they’re playing the Los Angeles Rams, taking the Brady-Belichick dynasty back to their roots.  Back in 2001, Brady led the Patriots to their first Super Bowl victory over the QB Kurt Warner-led St. Louis (now Los Angeles) Rams.  You could also compare that victory to this year’s AFC Championship when Brady and co. took down QB Patrick Mahomes II and an explosive Chiefs offense after coming in as 3 point underdogs.

Rams

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The last time the Rams won the NFC was back in 2001, when QB Kurt Warner led an offense known as ‘The Greatest Show on Turf’ to their second Super Bowl in three years.  They would face QB Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.  Though they had won in 1999, they could not get past Brady and Belichick, who won their first championship together and started a legendary dynasty.  17 years later, the Rams will seek revenge.

After Warner left St. Louis, things were ugly for the Rams for much of the 2000s.  But in 2015, they began rebuilding, drafting star RB Todd Gurley in 2015, trading up in 2016 to draft the QB of their future: Jared Goff, firing head coach Jeff Fisher, and hiring the young Sean McVay to replace Fisher.  To top off their rebuild, they moved back to Los Angeles as they seeked a culture change heading in to the second half of the 2010s.

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In 2017, Goff, Gurley, and McVay led the team back to the playoffs with help from a star-studded defense led by DT Aaron Donald.  However, as the #3 seed, they lost on Wild Card Weekend.  The 2017-18 off-season was a busy one for the Rams.  The Rams made it clear they wanted to win now, exchanging WR Sammy Watkins, TE Lance Kendricks, DE Robert Quinn, OLB Alec Ogletree, and CB Trumaine Johnson for WR Brandin Cooks, DT Ndamukong Suh, CB Marcus Peters, CB Aqib Talib, and CB Sam Shields.  Later in the season, they added RB C.J. Anderson and pass rusher Dante Fowler Jr. as well.  They now had one of the best secondaries in the league, Gurley and Anderson made for a dominant RB duo, and WRs Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods broke out, giving Goff a WR trio for most of the season.  Kupp has since torn his ACL and ended his season, but the Rams dominated in all aspects for most of the season.

After starting 8-0, the Rams headed to New Orleans, where they lost their first game in a shootout.  The Rams lost WR Cooper Kupp the next game despite a win.  Without Kupp, they weren’t as dominant, going 4-2.  But they took care of business against the Cowboys, winning 30-22.  They would travel to New Orleans once again for the NFC Championship.

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They were trailing for most of the game as expected, but they came back to tie it up at 20.  The Saints were going for one last drive.  When QB Drew Brees threw it to WR Tommylee Lewis, he was hoping for a first down.  However, the pass was broken up on a hard hit by CB Nickell Robey-Coleman.  I am not alone in my belief that the play by Robey-Coleman was blatant pass interference.  But the refs didn’t call it.  The Saints made the field goal.  But the Rams had time to respond with a field goal of their own.

The game went to overtime, and New Orleans won the toss.  But after S John Johnson picked off QB Drew Brees, the Rams drove down the field, kicked another field goal, and won the game, 26-23.  Saints fans were heartbroken.  But the Rams were ecstatic – they had won the NFC for the first time in 17 years.  This was only their third Super Bowl appearance, the other two coming during the ‘Greatest Show on Turf’ era.

Championship weekend and the weeks leading up to it were very exciting.  But moving on to the Super Bowl, the Rams will take on the Patriots in just 6 days.  Who will come out on top?  Keep reading to hear my initial take on the match-up.

First Look: Patriots vs. Rams

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This is definitely going to be close.  The Pats aren’t coming off a great season by Brady-Belichick standards.  They went 11-5 for the first time since 2009, and the first time since their run of seven straight AFC Championships (now eight) began.  But the Pats have dominated offensively in each of their last 4 games, and they have motivation going on as QB Tom Brady looks to win his sixth ring and TE Rob Gronkowski looks to potentially end his career with one more.  Until this year, Gronk had been spoiled year after year with records of 12-4 or higher.  Despite a rough regular season, the Pats will look to make up for it with another Super Bowl victory (which would be Gronk’s third).  To get past a difficult Rams defense, they’ll have to use a large variety of plays to try and fake them out.  If they are as strong offensively as they have been in the last 4 games, they should be capable of winning this.  But the Rams’ D might be the toughest New England has faced since their latest win streak.

Coming off a first round playoff exit and a busy off-season that got fans excited, the Rams went 13-3 and earned the #2 seed in the NFC behind only the New Orleans Saints (who they lost to).  After being ‘overthrown’ by Brady-Belichick dynasty in 2001, they will look to dethrone the Pats in their return to the Super Bowl.  In order to do so, not only will they need QB Jared Goff and the RB duo of Gurley and Anderson to step it up, they’ll need the entire offense around Goff and Gurley to thrive against a mediocre New England defense.

Who will win Super Bowl LIII?  What is the game plan for each team?  What Super Bowl and season-long stats will burden, encourage and/or influence each team?  Find out this week as I release more articles each day.

 

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

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

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MLB 2018-19 Free Agency Coverage – Tentative Schedule

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Research

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The “Baseball Bits”

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

The Verdict

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

2018 NFL Week 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.