Sunday, March 31, 2013

Hail To The Victors!

We interrupt this normally bias-free space for this.

The Maize and Blue are headed to the Final Four.

Go Blue. Beat the Orangemen.

2013 MLB Preview: Standings, Awards, & Playoffs

Greetings! After going through the gauntlet of all 30 teams (whew), it's time to take a look at the standings, awards, and playoff predictions. Let's go!


AL East
  1. Toronto (91-71)
  2. Tampa Bay (89-73)
  3. Boston (85-77)
  4. New York Yankees (84-78)
  5. Baltimore (76-86)
AL Central
  1. Detroit (95-67)
  2. Chicago White Sox (81-81)
  3. Cleveland (79-83)
  4. Kansas City (74-88)
  5. Minnesota (65-97)
AL West
  1. LA Angels (96-66)
  2. Texas (92-70)
  3. Seattle (81-81)
  4. Oakland (80-82)
  5. Houston (48-114)
NL East
  1. Washington (99-63)
  2. Atlanta (96-66)
  3. Philadelphia (82-80)
  4. New York Mets (79-83)
  5. Miami (63-99)
NL Central
  1. Cincinnati (92-70)
  2. St. Louis (87-75)
  3. Milwaukee (80-82)
  4. Pittsburgh (74-88)
  5. Chicago Cubs (71-91)
NL West
  1. LA Dodgers (90-72)
  2. San Francisco (84-78)
  3. Arizona (82-80)
  4. San Diego (69-93)
  5. Colorado (66-96)
  • NL Rookie of the Year - Jedd Gyorko (2B), San Diego - He's got the job and I think he'll hit for a high-average in 500+ AB's. In a weak class, that gets it done. 
  • AL Rookie of the Year - Aaron Hicks (OF), Minnesota - He'll still 30 bases and he's got the job from day one. Voters love counting stats!
  • NL Cy Young - Stephen Strasburg, Washington - 200 innings of 10+ K/9 and an ERA around 2.50 on the best team in baseball (so he'll get "wins") give him the nod. 
  • AL Cy Young - Yu Darvish, Texas - He's going to strike out 240-250 guys. Mark that down.
  • NL MVP - Joey Votto, Cincinnati (2nd year in a row!) - Votto stays healthy, hits .340-.360, and hits 35 homers for good measure. 
  • AL MVP - Mike Trout, LA Angels - I'm betting on a lack of regression for Trout coupled with a more informed votership that accounts for defense and base-running this year. 8-9 WAR, 45 steals, 20 homers and a high OBP. 
  • NL Fantasy Pick (High-end) - Adrian Gonzalez - I think the power comes back (30-35 HR) and the average stays above .300. 
  • AL Fantasy Pick (High-end) - Austin Jackson - I think he goes 15 HR/25 steals with a .300-ish average and about 115 runs. 
  • NL Fantasy Pick (Deep Sleeper) - Paul Maholm - I'm in love with Maholm. This is a very deep sleeper, but his ERA is going to be in the low-to-mid 3.00's over 190 innings on a team with good offense.
  • AL Fantasy Pick (Deep Sleeper) - Jesus Montero - 25 homers from the catcher spot. 
  • AL Wild-Card Play-in Game - Texas over Tampa Bay
  • NL Wild-Card Play-in Game - Atlanta (deep breaths, everyone) over St. Louis
  • AL Divisional Round - LA Angels over Toronto, Detroit over Texas
  • NL Divisional Round - Washington over LA Dodgers, Atlanta over Cincinnati
  • ALCS - Detroit over LA Angels in 7
  • NLCS - Washington over Atlanta in 6
  • World Series - Washington over Detroit in 6
Enjoy it, everyone!

3/31: Madness, Baseball!, etc.

Greetings! First of all, we've wrapped up the 30-team baseball preview (check the right scroll bar for all of them) as baseball approaches, and I'd invite you to take a look. There's just one more day of hoops before the Final Four (in my hometown of Atlanta) is set. We will take a look at what went down on Saturday, as well as glance ahead to Sunday's slate.
  • #9-seed Wichita State is headed to the Final Four. The Shockers stunned Ohio State with a 70-66 victory led by swarming defense for the entire game, and ultra-balanced scoring. WSU held the Buckeyes to just 31% shooting on the night (including 20% from 3-point land), shutting down Deshaun Thomas (8-20 FG) and Aaron Craft (2-12 FG) for the duration, and generally locking them up. They simply just made more plays throughout, and nothing was more indicative than when the Buckeyes climbed all the way back into the game before falling short by failing to grab a defensive rebound on a huge late possession. It's on to Atlanta for Wichita, where they'll be a big-time underdog against either Duke or Louisville. 
  • In the early game, Syracuse absolutely dominated Marquette. The 'Cuse held Marquette to the lowest Elite 8 point total in the shot clock era, allowing only 39 points and holding the Golden Eagles to 12-53 from the field (22.6%) and 3-24 from three (12.5%). The Orangemen used that vaunted 2-3 zone to stifle Marquette, who simply didn't have the explosion to get into the teeth of the defense or the shooters to spread them out in a sufficient way. Syracuse actually wasn't particularly good offensively (38% FG), but it almost doesn't matter when you defend like that. 
In non-tourney news...
  • MLB Contract Madness! Justin Verlander is reportedly going to ink the largest pitcher deal in baseball history, signing for 7 years and $180 million with the Tigers. It's really tough to gauge the market these days, but I wouldn't give any pitcher $180 million over that sort of length. That said, Verlander has been basically the best pitcher in baseball for a half-decade, and if there was ever a guy, it's him. In the National League, Buster Posey will be a San Francisco Giant for quite a long time, as he signed a 9-year, $167 million contract yesterday. Posey is the best catcher in the league without question at this stage, but this contract is insane to me. Considering that a) he already has an injury history, b) catchers age very, very quickly, and c) they didn't need to lock him up yet, this one is one they'll probably regret. If he can replicate his 2012 numbers? It's a steal, but good luck with that. 
  • UCLA has hired Steve Alford to replace Ben Howland as their head coach. Alford was stolen away from New Mexico, where he turned that program into a year-in-year-out power, and he is also famous for his player exploits at Indiana under Bobby Knight. I like this move a lot because he's a high-profile name who will run a high-tempo system and be able to recruit California. In addition, he'll bring his top-prospect son with him, and will take over a talented roster. Thumbs up. 
  • Kevin Kolb is a Buffalo Bill. The former Eagles and Cardinals QB inked a 2-year, $13 million deal with the Bills to theoretically compete for the starting job. I personally think the job has to be his for this type of money, but Tarvaris Jackson is still around. I'm not a big fan of Kolb, but they gave him another receiver to go along with Spiller and Stevie Johnson, it could be okay. 
  • Johan Santana, of New York Mets fame, will miss the season with yet another shoulder issue. This move devastates me as a Santana owner in the NFBC (lol), but it's a big issue for the Mets as well, as they turn to Jon Niese, Dillon Gee, and the oft-injured Shaun Marcum to form the top-3 of their rotation along with young flame-thrower Matt Harvey. Good luck. 
What to watch for on Sunday...
  • 2:20 - NCAAB - #4 Michigan vs. #3 Florida (CBS) - With a trip to the Final Four on the line, I'm torn. I'm obviously rooting for Michigan, but me and Ken Pomeroy are out on the limb with Florida this year (lol). This should be a good one, and no result would surprise me. 
  • 5:05 - NCAAB - #1 Louisville vs. #2 Duke (CBS) - This is easily the highest-profile game of th entire NCAA tournament so far. The Cardinals are the overall #1 seed and they're facing the #1 "public" team in Duke. I picked Duke and I'm standing by it. 
  • 7:00 - NBA - Heat @ Spurs (NBATV) - This would've been a much bigger deal if Miami had the streak going, but that doesn't mean it's not an awesome NBA game. 
  • 8:00 - MLB - Rangers @ Astros (ESPN) - Real, live baseball that counts! Yu Darvish takes the mound for Texas, and since he's my AL Cy Young pick, I'd say that I'm excited to see what he looks like. Houston is abysmal, but it's real baseball and I'm in. 
Happy Easter! And stay tuned for my final "wrap-up" MLB Preview post. Enjoy!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Madness! Friday Wrap/Saturday Preview

Greetings! Still on the road, so this will be via iPhone once again. Bear with me. Let's go!

- Trey Burke and Mitch McGary took things over for Michigan, and the Wolverines came from behind by double-digits to force overtime, and subsequently got a ticket to the Elite 8. McGary was the best player on the court, scoring 25 points and grabbing 14 rebounds (against the best defensive center in the country, no less) to add even more people to his bandwagon. He kept them alive late in the second half... until the bomb happened. Trey Burke hit a 30-foot (not exaggerating) three to tie the game with 4 seconds left, and in the overtime, opened the period with back-to-back long jumpers to key the game-ending run. What a game. What a win.

- Louisville only beat Oregon by 8 points, but that game was never in doubt and it felt more like a 15-20 point blowout. Russ Smith went for 31 points and the Cards shot 54% as a team on the night. Another dominant win from the overall #1 seed.

- Duke and Michigan State was the most focused-on game of the day coming in, but Duke pushed away late and got a 10-point (71-61) victory. Seth Curry went crazy with 29 points (including 6-9 from three) and Rasheed Sulaimon added 16 for the Blue Devils. This sets the stage for an epic Duke/Louisville regional final on Sunday, and the world will be watching.

- In the late game, Florida dispatched of the FGCU story with a comfortable 62-50 win. The Eagles from the Gulf Coast did push to a 9-point lead in the 1st half, but for the final 30 minutes or so, Florida dominated, and sent them home in a heap. The scary thing for the Gators? They shot only 39% from the field on this night, but they forced 20 turnovers, and used that to key their big runs.

What to watch for on Saturday...

4:30 - #4 Syracuse vs. #3 Marquette (CBS) - An all-Big East Regional Final as these two rivals square off. Marquette won their first meeting by 3 points, but Syracuse has the more talented roster by a decent margin. It'll probably come down to how Buzz Williams solves that incredibly long Syracuse zone, and Marquette needs to make shots to win. With a gun to my head, I'd take Syracuse because they're more talented, but this is going to be tight.

7:05 - #9 Wichita State vs. #2 Ohio State (CBS) - The Shockers are in the Elite 8. Ohio State is certainly the better team led by Craft and Thomas, but WSU isn't going to roll over, and this will be competitive. I think the Buckeyes win the game, but not without some more late-game heroics. Enjoy!

2013 MLB Preview #1: Washington Nationals

Greetings! Somebody has to take pole position....

Projected Starters - Wilson Ramos (C), Adam LaRoche (1B), Danny Espinosa (2B), Ian Desmond (SS), Ryan Zimmerman (3B), Jayson Werth (LF), Denard Span (CF), Bryce Harper (RF)

For a 99-win team, this lineup doesn't scream awesome, but it is pretty darn good. Bryce Harper arrived in a big way in 2012, and the 20-year-old (who played last year at 19, btw) had an OPS of .817 with 22 homers, 18 steals, and 98 runs in just 597 plate appearances. Thanks frankly ridiculous, and if Mike Trout didn't exist, Harper would've gotten even more pub. I won't make the leap to say that he'll be a top-10/elite player this year, but it's reasonable to expect a small bump, and he's a 5-6-win player for me in year two. If I asked the general baseball public who led the Nats in WAR last year, Harper would've been the default answer, but the actual answer is Ian Desmond. The shortstop hit .292/.335/.511 with 25 homers and 21 steals, which is absolutely ridiculous from an above-average defensive guy at that position, and he's a legit star if he can replicate that. All indications are that the batting average was a bit lucky (career high .332 BABIP), but if he hits .275 with 18 and 18, that's pretty awesome from shortstop. Zimmerman and LaRoche have some injury concerns, but both guys are 25-30 home run locks at the corners if they get the at-bats, and there's safety in that. In the rest of the outfield, Denard Span was brought in from Minnesota, and I've always loved him. He's an awesome defender with a good OBP (career .357), good speed, and enough doubles power to be useful. Jayson Werth is easily the highest paid player on the team (lol), but for all of the negative publicity around that contract (and it was awful), Werth is still a good baseball player. He's a bad defensive center-fielder (which killed his WAR last year), but he's moving to a corner where he's fine-or-better and I think he's good for 20-ish homers and a .350 OBP. If he's your biggest concern, you're loaded. Espinosa provides some nice pop and positional flexibility from 2nd-base, and Ramos (or backup Kurt Suzuki) should be average behind the plate with some upside.

Projected - Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmerman, Gio Gonzalez, Dan Haren, Ross Detwiler

This is kind of a crazy top-four. Strasburg is the best young pitcher in all of baseball, and if he simply maintains his 2012 level (3.16 ERA, 2.82 FIP, 11.13 K/9) over 190-200 innings instead of 160, he's a top-5 pitcher in 2013 who could lead the NL in strikeouts. I could throw superlatives as Strasburg all day, but he's elite. After that, Zimmerman and Gonzalez were tremendous in 2012 and there's no reason to think that won't continue. Zimmerman isn't a high-strikeout guy (7.04 K/9) but he's got elite control, and posted a 2.94 ERA over 195 innings in 2012. Gonzalez won 20 games (which doesn't matter), but more importantly, he struck out 200+ guys and had a sub-3.00 ERA and FIP over 199 innings. There's some concern over a potential PED suspension for Gonzalez after the Miami scandal, but if he's there, he's a great pitcher. Dan Haren arrives from LA with little pressure and if he's your 4th starter, it's an embarrassment of riches. Haren had the worst year of his career in 2012, but he was unquestionably hurt and still managed to throw 176 innings of league-average baseball. I think he returns to an ERA in the 3.50-3.60 range over 200 innings, and that's awesome for a 4th guy. Detwiler rounds things out in the 5th spot, and he's the prototypical 5th guy. Zero strikeout potential (less than 6 per 9), but he did finish 2012 with a 3.40 ERA, and they'd take anything below a 4.00. It's a monster rotation.

Projected - Rafael Soriano (closer), Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard, Craig Stammen, Henry Rodriguez, Zach Duke, Ryan Mattheus

This is a monster late-inning combination. Soriano was brought in from NY to take the closer spot, and he's always good when healthy. He saved 42 games with a 2.26 ERA and 9.18 K/9 last season for the Yankees, and he's got a career ERA of 2.78 over 502 innings. They hung on to Drew Storen (the former "closer" of the future") and Tyler Clippard to set Soriano up, and while Clippard is more of a multi-inning guy, both pitchers are top-notch in that role and should produce sub-3.00 ERA's with good stuff. Stammen and Duke are both very good middle guys, and this is a deep, talented bullpen.


Because of the pitching depth (and I'm all-in on Dan Haren) and a deep, talented, high-upside lineup combined with a good bullpen, I think Washington is the best team in the league on paper. There isn't a weak spot in their game, and while the other contenders have "weaker"/unsettled areas (Braves' starting pitching, Detroit's defense, LA's starting pitching), Washington is rock solid. Throw in the upside of Strasburg throwing 200 innings or a full-on breakout from Harper, and things get crazy. They could go 100+ wins if everything goes well, but I'll stop just short and project 99-63. What a team.


99-63, 1st in NL East

2013 MLB Preview #2: Los Angeles Angels

Greetings! Trout, Pujols, Hamilton... and what else do you need?

Projected Starters - Chris Iannetta (C), Albert Pujols (1B), Howard Kendrick (2B), Erick Aybar (SS), Alberto Callaspo (3B), Mike Trout (LF), Peter Bourjos (CF), Josh Hamilton (RF), Mark Trumbo (DH)

This offense is going to be tremendous if everything goes right. Mike Trout was the best player in baseball last year (yes, he should've been the AL MVP), sporting a crazy 10.0 WAR, a .326/.399/.564 slash line, 30 homers, and 49 steals in 639 plate appearances. Read that line again. Did I mention that he's an absolutely elite defender, too? There will probably be some power/batting average regression, but even if he hits .295 with 20 homers, he's a top-5 player in baseball because of his legs and defense. Albert Pujols is the best right-handed hitter that I've ever seen, and while he's aging a bit, he still responded with a .285/.343/.516 season with 30 homes last year despite a terrible April/Early May. He is no longer the best player in baseball, but I think he's "safe" for 30-35 homers with a high OBP and above-average defense at 1st base. Josh Hamilton was violently overpaid (IMO), but the guy can flat-out play and if he's your 3rd-best hitter, it's almost comical. In 2012, he hit 43 homers, reached 100+ runs, he upped his walk-rate to over 9%, and he's moving to an outfield corner, which helps his defensive output. There's certainly some risk with Hamilton, but in the early stages of the contract (i.e. 2013), I think I'd project 35-40 homers with a .280-.290 average and .340-.350 OBP, and that's obviously valuable. After the big three, there's a drop-off, but there are still quality guys in the majority of spots. Kendrick and Aybar form a wildly underrate middle-infield tandem, and while neither guy is a star, they're both well-rounded and valuable. Kendrick is a lock for .280-.295 average with decent power (10-12 homers) and quality defense, while Aybar can really run and play defense at short with a non-zero bat. Trumbo is the wild-card for me, as he hit 32 homers last year and ended with an OBP (.317) that won't kill you. The issue with that is that the OBP/batting average peripherals indicate that it may not be repeatable, and while the power is certainly legit, it's tough to play it out if he can't reach a .300 OBP (like he failed to do in 2011). Peter Bourjos is one of the best defensive outfielders in all of baseball, and he's back with a chance to play every day in CF. For reference, he was 7th in the entire MLB in UZR last season... and he did so in under 200 plate appearances! The guy is ridiculous on defense, and if he can even approach his 2011 numbers at the plate (.327 OBP, 12 homers, 22 steals), he's a 3-4 win player. Callaspo is a glove guy at 3rd base, but he does have back-to-back 2.5+ WAR seasons and he posted a .366 OBP in 2011. Catcher is the big "weakness", as Iannetta is the default starter, but even with his issues, they could do worse. There is some pop there, but it'll come with a low batting average and there are questions about his defense. On the bright side, he's got a career 13.6% walk rate (which is excellent) and he'll get on-base at a decent clip.

Projected - Jered Weaver, CJ Wilson, Tommy Hanson, Jason Vargas, Joe Blanton

Weaver has been one of the top-10 pitchers for about three years, and he's a monster. With that said, his strikeout rate (K/9) plummeted to 6.77 last season, and as a result, his peripherals suggest that his 2.81 ERA was pretty lucky. Even on the downside, though, Weaver is a big-time pitcher and a #1 starter you feel good about. CJ Wilson was a different pitcher in each half of the year last year. Before the All-Star break, he posted a 2.43 ERA in 111 innings, but after the break, he was reportedly injured and finished with 91 innings and a 5.54 ERA. I think Wilson is more like the first-half guy, and if I had to predict a stat line, I'd say 200 innings of an ERA between 3.35 and 3.55 and 180 strikeouts. He's solid. The rest of the rotation is kind of "meh", but the key is unquestionably Tommy Hanson. The former Brave was an uber-prospect (top-5 in baseball) and he arrived with 2 great seasons in Atlanta (both with a sub-3.40 ERA) before the wheels came off a bit. He's got a history of shoulder issues that saw his velocity slip and, as a result, this led to a performance drop. I think he's an asset for LA, but it's unclear whether he's the 4.50-ish ERA guy he was last year or whether he can regain the form prior to that. That's something to watch. Vargas is an innings eater (back to back 200 IP seasons) who won't impress (ERA around 4), but he's absolutely fine as a back-end guy. Blanton has been pretty unlucky in recent years by the peripherals, but he's certainly not any better than a 4.00+ ERA guy, and LA acquired him simply to give them some innings of league-average production.

Projected - Ryan Madson/Ernesto Frieri (closer), Sean Burnett, Scott Downs, Kevin Jepsen, Jerome Williams, Garrett Richards

There is a closer battle going on for the Angels, but they really can't lose. Ernesto Frieri was electric last season, striking out over thirteen guys per 9 in 54 innings and posting a 2.32 ERA. He wasn't given the job, however, as LA inked Ryan Madson coming off of elbow surgery. As of the moment, Frieri is the guy simply because Madson hasn't returned fully yet, but if they hand him the job (and he's healthy), Madson will be good. He was last seen as a 32-save guy for Philly in 2012, but the more impressive thing is that he has 5 straight years with an ERA of 3.26 or below, and he's good for about a strikeout per inning as a reliever. Either way, they'll be fine as long as one of them is healthy. After that, Jepsen and Downs were both very good last year, and Burnett arrives from Washington after being an awesome set-up man for the Nats last season. Williams and Richards will be used as long men (as both are really starting pitchers), and this is a deep 'pen.


As you can by the fact that they are #2 in my rankings, I'm all-in on Los Angeles. I think they have the best offense in the American League (even better than Detroit), and I'm really high on the bullpen once everything comes together. If Hamilton gets injured and Trout regresses significantly, this projection will obviously look high, but I don't think that both of those will happen, and this my favorite American League roster for 2013. In a playoff series, I'd probably take Detroit for their better starting pitching, but over the long haul, I like the offense and bullpen of LA, and they get the nod.


96-66, 1st in AL West

Friday, March 29, 2013

Sweet 16: Thursday Wrap/Friday Preview

Greetings! I'm still on the road so forgive the shorter post as I'm operating via iPhone. Lets go!

- Down goes Indiana! The #1 seed Hoosiers went down in a heap to #4 seed Syracuse last night by a 61-50 margin. Michael Carter-Williams had his "breakout" game, scoring 24 points and grabbing 6 rebounds but it was the Syracuse zone defense that smothered Indiana. Tyler Zeller was woefully bad for the Hoosiers (3-10 FG) and they had no answers. Really impressive performance by the Cuse.

- The other upset of the night was #3 Marquette knocking off #2 Miami. The Golden Eagles got 30 bench points and led throughout the game in denying Miami their elite 8 appearance. I wasn't shocked by the result (I picked Marquette) but they ease of victory was pretty jarring and the fighting Buzz Williams' were impressive.

- In the other two games, Ohio State knocked down a game-winning three to break a tie with 2 seconds remaining to advance. The Buckeyes led by a significant margin in the 2nd half before letting go a bit but LaQuinton Ross had a huge half including the game winner and they escaped. Later, Wichita State took La Salle to the woodshed, winning by 14 but looking like they were 20 points better than their offensively-challenged opponent.

What to watch for on Friday...

7:15 - #12 Oregon vs. #1 Louisville (CBS) - Louisville is explosive but I think Oregon can hang. They've been really impressive in the tournament and their guards won't be spooked by the endless Louisville pressure. I'd certainly pick the Cards but it'll be closer than you'd think.

7:37 - #4 Michigan vs #1 Kansas (TBS) - I'm not even being a homer when I say that I believe Michigan is the better team here. It'll come down to making shots (namely threes) and whether Burke and company can do anything in the paint with Withey looming. I don't trust Bill Self's guards at all, and because of that, I'm taking Michigan.

9:45 - #2 Duke vs #3 Michigan State (CBS) - Game of the day. Tom Izzo and Coach K. Two experienced teams, and this is gonna be fun. I have no conviction either way, but ill take Duke with a gun to my head because of Ryan Kelly. Awesome game.

9:57 - #15 FGCU vs #3 Florida (TBS) - I think the dream ends here in a big way for FGCU. Florida is very, very good and they have 4 days to prep for the fury from FGCU. Florida by 17.


Thursday, March 28, 2013

Sweet 16 Thursday Preview!

Greetings everyone! Due to some unexpected travel, I'm writing this via my trusty iPhone from the road so bare with me. Lets take a look at tonight's March Madness action (in chronological order).

7:15 - #3 Marquette vs. #2 Miami (CBS) - This is certainly not a flashy game, but it's quality. Miami lost their leading rebounder due to a knee injury, but are still the favorite here. I kinda like Marquette and they'll grind all day to make this game close.

7:45 - #6 Arizona vs. #2 Ohio State (TBS) - Arizona is one of the most underrated teams in the tourney and I expect a close game here. With that said, I can't go against Aaron Craft and company, and they have the clearest path of any team to the Final Four.

9:45 - #4 Syracuse vs. #1 Indiana (CBS) - This is probably the best game of the day. Indiana is certainly the better team, but Syracuse doesn't have a massive talent disadvantage. The 2-3 zone should keep the Hoosiers to a half court game and that would favor the Orange. If Syracuse makes threes, I think they win the game.

10:15 - #13 La Salle vs. #9 Wichita State (TBS) - Obviously this is the least discussed game of the four, but that doesn't mean it won't be entertaining. I thought Wichita State was violently underseeded as a #9 and they would've been a team I picked to make a run if they have the Gonzaga matchup in round 2 (where they made 7 straight threes to finish the game, not that I'm bitter). I like the Shockers to knock off a worn out La Salle team.

Enjoy the slate!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

2013 MLB Preview #3: Atlanta Braves

Greetings! This is kinda high, eh?

Projected Starters - Brian McCann (injured)/Gerald Laird/Evan Gattis (C), Freddie Freeman (1B), Dan Uggla (2B), Andrelton Simmons (SS), Juan Francisco/Chris Johnson (3B), Justin Upton (LF), BJ Upton (CF), Jason Heyward (RF)

This is going to get long (as I'm going in straight positional order), so I'll warn you now.

The catcher situation is up in the air a bit with the injury to Brian McCann. He's expected back sometime in late April/Early May, but McCann is coming off the worst season of his career, where he failed to reach a .700 OPS and hit .230. I firmly believe he bounces back to the .260-.280 range with a .350 OBP and 20 homers (pro-rated to probably 16 with the missed time) and I'm not worried about him. Behind him, Gerald Laird was inked to be a consistent veteran, but he has a career .662 OPS in 2400+ AB's and he's certainly a pure back-up with no upside. Evan Gattis garnered all kinds of buzz in spring with a big-time power breakout, and he'll make the team as the back-up until McCann returns. He's got 70 power (on the 80 scale), but it's unclear whether a) he can field, or b) he can Major-league pitching right now.

At first base, Freddie Freeman will play most of the 2013 season at just 23 years old, and that is kind of crazy. With two full seasons as the Atlanta starter, he has a career slash line of .269/.340/.449 and an average of 22 homers per season. There is a significant debate about his glove, but it's not up for discussion that he can't move (lol), but that he does possess nice skills around the bag at 1st. If we assign him average defense, and his bat falls in line with most projections (.280 average, 25-ish homers), that's a 3-4 win player, and for the money he's making, you can't beat it. I'm not sure there is 30+ homer upside, but with the exception of his eyesight issues last year, he made strides with the bat, and I like him.

Dan Uggla returns at 2nd base, and the contract is still looming. He managed to be worth 3.5 WAR last season (thanks to a bump in fielding metrics that absolutely no one can justify), but Uggla's power was sapped to just 19 homers and he hit just .220 on the year. On the bright side, Uggla walked at an absurdly high 14.9% rate, which lifted his OBP to a very acceptable .348. He's one of the worst defensive second basemen in the league, and that's not changing, but if he can return to hitting 30 homers, he's still a valuable player. Projections vary wildly for Uggla, but with a gun to my head, I think I would go .240/.340/.450 with 27 homers and a WAR around 3.0.

Andrelton Simmons is considered to be either the best or 2nd-best (behind Brendan Ryan) defensive shortstop in baseball (also see this article proclaiming as the best defender at any position). He's 23 years old. This fact combined with a great contact rate make his floor pretty high, and I'm very excited about having him in the lineup to cover up the multiple defensive sins from 2nd base and 3rd base. Whether his bat will play at a high level is up for debate, but he a career K-rate of under 10% in the minors, and that rose to just 11.5% in a small sample size in the majors last season. It looks like he may lead-off (which I disagree with) and I would project a .270-.280 average with 6-8 homers and somewhere around 20 steals from him offensively. With the lineup behind him, that probably equals 80-90 runs and when you add in his defense, we could be looking at a guy in his first full season posting a 4.0 WAR.

Third base is a bit of an enigma for 2013 in Atlanta. Chipper Jones has been penciled in for nearly 2 decades, and for the first time, he's nowhere near the picture. Juan Francisco and Chris Johnson are expected to start the season in some sort of platoon, and if you think Juan Francisco was bad at 3rd base, you haven't seen anything like the work of Chris Johnson. I'm actually pretty high on Francisco, as his power is incredibly legit, and his defense, while below-average, isn't a disaster thanks to a big arm. In 298 MLB at-bats against right-handers, he has an OPS over .800, and with that being the more prolific side of the platoon in baseball, that's a good sign. With 400+ at-bats, I think Francisco could easily hit 20 homers, and if he's deployed correctly (not always a given), I like him. On the Johnson side, he is probably the worst fielder at 3rd base in all of baseball, posting a -33.8 UZR in the last 3+ seasons, and he's an unmitigated disaster over there. If you don't believe me, give it a couple of weeks and you'll see it. With the bat, however, he could be an asset. He's got a career OPS over .750 with some decent pop, and along with Reed Johnson, they will be the strongest right-handed pinch-hitting options. The weird thing about Johnson is a reverse platoon split that messes things up a bit. Johnson's career OPS is over .100 points lower against lefties than righties, but even with that, there should be no scenario where he starts against a right-handed pitcher given Francisco's better defense. Eventually, I think "fat Juan" could steal the full-time job on more of an 80/20 basis than a straight platoon, but if Johnson hits lefties, he'll stay involved.

In the outfield, the Braves are elite at all three positions, and in my opinion, possess the best outfield in all of baseball (challenged only by the Angels, and only if Trout and Hamilton both repeat last season). Justin Upton was acquired from Arizona in the Martin Prado trade, and he's a big-time prize. He showed his tremendous upside with a 6.4 WAR season in 2011 where he hit 31 homers, scored 105 runs, stole 21 bases, and posted an OPS of .898 for Arizona. Then, in 2012, his stock dropped a little bit with a rocky season headlined by some managerial confrontations (rumored), but the skills remain, and even in a "down" year, Upton posted a 2.5 WAR. I firmly believe that his baseline for this season is in the neighborhood of his career numbers (.278/.357/.475) and if he can produce that (or better, obviously) with above-average defense, it's like stealing. In center, Justin's brother BJ Upton was inked to a 5-year, $75 million contract to replace Michael Bourn. BJ is a fascinating player, who basically has been two completely different guys at times during his career. In his first two full seasons in the big leagues, BJ Upton put up OBP's of .386 and .383 respectively with 33 combined home runs (an average of 16.5 per season). Then, in the next four seasons in Tampa Bay, his OBP's were .313, .322, .331, and .298 while his power shifted upward. Which Upton are we getting? I really have no idea, but the good thing is that it almost doesn't matter. Even with the dreadful .298 OBP last season, Upton managed to generate 3.3 WAR thanks to good defense in center field, 28 home runs, and 31 steals, and with the move to a more "neutral" ballpark in Atlanta coupled with a better lineup around him, it's a good bet that his across-the-board numbers will uptick a bit. I would project a .255/.345/.440 slash line with 24 homers and 30 steals, and that is tremendously valuable. Finally, the team's franchise player, Jason Heyward, resides in right field for his fourth full season. Defensively, Heyward is probably the best right fielder in the entire league and one of the best defenders in all of baseball. In 2012, he was 2nd in all of baseball at every position in UZR (+21.5) and he won the NL gold glove in right field. In addition to his tremendous glove, Heyward slugged .479 to go along with a .335 OBP and hit 27 homers while stealing 21 bases in his "breakout" campaign, and when you put it all together, he was worth 6.6 WAR last season at age 22/23. He's an absolute monster, and if anything, I would expect a small bump in his slash line across the board. The steals may be a little high, but there is more power and OBP potential there, and Heyward is a star already.

On the rest of the bench (outside of Gattis/Laird and the Francisco/Johnson duo who we already covered), the Braves are going with Reed Johnson, Ramiro Pena, and Jordan Schafer. Johnson is a normal 4th outfielder type, but he does mash lefties (career .828 OPS vs. LHP) and can defend as well. He was the only "lock" of this group, and I like him as an option that the Braves hopefully won't need unless to pinch hit. Pena beat out Tyler Pastornicky for the infield utility job, and he's a complete glove-only guy. Need evidence? He has a .552 career OPS (!) over 338 big-league plate appearances, and he barely even hit in the minors with zero power. I would've liked to have seen Pastornicky win the job because of his bat upside (although limited, still a big upgrade on Pena), but he'll get full-time AB's in Gwinnett until Paul Janish returns. When Janish returns, he's the best defender of the three, and I think Fredi/Wren will have him up pretty quickly. The final spot belongs to Jordan Schafer, who the Braves brought back as a minor-league contract, as the 5th-outfielder. I don't know that I would've gone this route, but he is out of options and if the Braves think he has any future, the move was to keep him up. Schafer has a lifetime .301 slugging percentage (less than his .305 OBP somehow) has flashed exactly no power in the majors. He was an elite prospect at one point, so I guess I can see the urgency to hang on to him, but unless he's significantly better, he's the worst position player on the roster by a pretty wide margin.

Projected - Tim Hudson, Kris Medlen, Mike Minor, Paul Maholm, Julio Teheran/Brandon Beachy (injured)

I think I'm higher on the Braves' rotation than most people, but the biggest question mark is the lack of a dominant #1 starter.

Tim Hudson is the "opening day starter" (which means nothing), and the most trusted guy of the five-man group. Huddy's ERA has gone the wrong way over the past 3 seasons (from 2.83 to 3.22 to 3.62), but the more alarming trend there is a decrease in his ground-ball rate. With that said, he's still getting enough ground balls to offset his pedestrian K-rate (5.13 per 9), and I think he's safe for an ERA in the mid-3.00's with a WHIP around 1.20. Kris Medlen had one of the most insane stretches of pitching that I can ever remember in the second half of 2012, as he threw 95.1 innings after the All-Star break and they resulted in an ERA of 0.94 with a walk rate of just 1.32 per 9 and a K-Rate of 8.97 per 9 innings. Those stats are obviously unsustainable, but I do think that Medlen has the tools to be an upper-echelon starting pitcher. His FIP and xFIP were both under 3.00 over last year, and I think it's reasonable to project 180-190 innings with an ERA in the high-2.00's/low-3.00's with some built-in regression downside. With Mike Minor, it was a tale of two halves in 2012, as he was largely dreadful in the first half, finishing 92 innings with a 5.97 ERA, but he was utterly fantastic after the break, throwing 87 innings of 2.16 ERA baseball. The truth is somewhere in the middle (obviously), but if Minor can keep his walk rate and home run rate down (as he did in the second half), he's a very, very good pitcher. In the fourth spot, Paul Maholm is a guy no one ever talks about, but he's so solid. Maholm has back to back seasons with a sub-3.70 ERA and all he did in 2012 was up his K-rate to a much better 6.67 per 9 and lower his walk-rate to a career-low 2.52. At worst, he's a guy who will post an ERA in the low-4.00's with 190 innings, but at best, it could be an ERA between 3.50 and 3.70 and that's very good for a 4th spot. The fifth spot is very, very interesting. It looks as if Julio Teheran has parlayed an incredible spring (sub-1.00 ERA and an MLB leading # of strikeouts) into the 5th spot, and there's no surprise there. The issue for Teheran is just how bad he was in 2012, when he sported an ERA north of 5.00 in AAA, and struggled to a 6.66 K/9 rate. His skills are much, much better than that, but it's tough to rely on spring as a pure indicator of success, and there's significant downside to Teheran. At the same token, there's significant upside with his really good pedigree, and his good minor-league numbers prior to 2012. Anyone making a prediction on Teheran is throwing darts, but if you made me, I would say 160 innings of an ERA around 4.20 and a K/9 between 7.00 and 7.50. As a wild card, Brandon Beachy is set to return to action (scheduled, at least) mid-summer, and people seem to have forgotten just how good he was pre-injury. Beachy's ERA was 2.00 in 13 starts in 2012 (3.49 FIP, but still), and he's got a career K/9 of 9.54 in the major leagues. You never want to assume health/command/stuff after TJ surgery, but he's certainly a factor down the line.

Projected - Craig Kimbrel (closer), Jonny Venters, Eric O'Flaherty, Jordan Walden, Cristhian Martinez, Luis Avilan, Cory Gearrin/Anthony Varvaro

Craig Kimbrel just completed the greatest season by a closer in baseball history. Don't believe me? Check out these final 2012 numbers. 1.01 ERA, 0.78 FIP, 0.88 xFIP, 116 strikeouts in 62.2 innings (for a K/9 of 16.66!!!), 42 saves in 45 chances, and a 3.6 WAR from a closer. That's insanity. There's probably a slight regression coming because, well, there just has to be, but he's never had a FIP higher than 1.53 in 3 seasons, so there's reason to assume that the video game numbers will continue. The primary set-up role will be filled in some fashion by Venters, O'Flaherty, and newcomer Jordan Walden. O'Flaherty actually outperformed Venters last year, but his stuff isn't quite as electric, and I'd project Venters for the best overall season of the three (something like a 11.00 K/9 with an ERA in the low-2.00's). Walden is a wild card of sorts, and he came over from the Angels in the trade for Tommy Hanson. He sports a career K-rate of nearly 11 per 9, a career ERA of 3.10 and a career FIP of 2.80 so he's an uber-talented guy, but he fell out of favor in LA after blowing 10 saves in 2011. I don't care (at all) about that, and if he's healthy, he's a dominant right-handed arm. After that, I absolutely love Cristhian Martinez, and he's the long reliever of record. As a multi-inning reliever, he's got a career ERA in the mid-3.00's, and he bumped his K/9 up to 7.94 last year. Not many teams have a valuable guy like that in a swing role, and he is extremely valuable. Fredi Gonzalez and company round out the bullpen with a LOOGY in Luis Avilan and a ROOGY in Cory Gearrin, and each guy should do his job effectively. One thing to watch is Fredi's insistence on using Gearrin against lefties at times,  and he's an absolute grease fire (opposing LH have a 1.077 OPS against him in his career. Yes, over a thousand) against them.


This is the most talented Atlanta Braves roster in years, and I'm obviously high on the Braves as my #3 team in Major League Baseball. There are certainly some spots to be skeptical of (top-end starting pitching, 3rd base), but Atlanta possesses the best outfield and the best bullpen in all of baseball, and when you combine that with an above-average rotation, things are very, very interesting. Unfortunately for Braves fans (myself included), the Nationals are a bit of a juggernaut, and with this projection, I have Atlanta participating in the Wild Card play-in game for the second straight season. We'll deal with that when it comes, but for now, this could be a special Braves team.


96-66, 2nd in NL East

3/27: Quick Hits!

Greetings! Today will be short, as I'm posting a 2,500+ word Braves preview mid-day. Let's go!

  • I normally would never lead with US Soccer, but it seems to be a massive story that they tied with Mexico at Azteca last night. I have no analysis (whatsoever), but it's good for all involved if the national team is good, and I'm not anti-soccer. U-S-A.
  • NBA Roundup - The Knicks got 32 bench points from JR Smith (on 24 shots lol) to key a 100-85 road win over the KG-less Celtics. Boston turned the ball over 19 times in the game (to just 8 for NY) and that was the key in the game. Also, NYK won despite 10-30 shooting from Carmelo, and that's impressive in itself. And in the late game, Dallas squeaked out a 109-102 OT win over the Clippers to pull even with Utah for 9th in the West, just one game behind LA for the 8th spot. Dirk had a "Dirk" game with 33 points and 9 rebounds, while the Mavs had five additional guys in double-figures. CP3 was awesome for LA (33 points on 12-15 FG), but Blake Griffin disappeared and they stalled late. 
  • We have our first major NCAA tournament injury. Miami's Reggie Johnson had knee surgery and will miss this weekend, starting with the Marquette game in the Sweet 16. The 6'10 Johnson was Miami's leading rebounder, and it weakens their depth inside. Great for my bracket as I had Marquette already...
What to watch for on Wednesday...
  • 1:00 - MLB - Phillies @ Tigers (ESPN) - The days are numbered in Spring Training, and that's a good thing. 
  • 7:00 - NBA - Hawks @ Raptors (SportSouth) - Toronto is awful, but the Hawks completely no-showed for 3 quarters in Indy, so anything is possible. 
  • 8:00 - NBA - Heat @ Bulls (ESPN) - One of the tougher tests during the Heat's ridiculous winning streak, and if the Bulls can score (at all), they'll compete. 
  • 10:30 - NBA - Nets @ Blazers (ESPN) - Portland is the favorite here because it's at home, and the Williams/Lillard match-up is a good one. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

2013 MLB Preview #4: Detroit Tigers

Greetings! It's Miggy time...

Projected Starters - Alex Avila (C), Prince Fielder (1B), Omar Infante (2B), Jhonny Peralta (SS), Miguel Cabrera (3B), Andy Dirks/Brennan Boesch (LF), Austin Jackson (CF), Torii Hunter (RF), Victor Martinez (DH)

There are very few (if any) safer bets than Miguel Cabrera and Price Fielder. Cabrera is the best hitter on the planet, winning the AL Triple Crown last season (even if RBI's are meaningless) with a .330/.393/.606 slash line with 205 hits, 44 home runs, and 109 runs scored. He's 35-40 homers with a .320-.340 average in the bank, and his career lows in batting average (.292) and home runs (26) would represent big-time production. The only question with Miggy is his defense, but he wasn't quite as bad as I thought he'd be at 3rd base (still bad) last year. Fielder has played in 157+ games in 7 straight seasons (which is insane, btw) and has two separate 45+ homer seasons on his resume. He's given a bit of his power back in favor of batting average (and walks) in recent years, but last year he finished with 30 homers and a .412 OBP, which makes him elite. The "big two" are flanked by three more solid, second-tier guys in Austin Jackson, Torii Hunter, and Victor Martinez. Jackson is one of my favorites, as a big-time defensive player with 20-homer power and 20-steal upside, plus a good OBP (.377 last year). They also added Hunter in the off-season, and while he probably won't replicate his 2012 (.313/.365/.451), he'll play great defense in right and provide a solid, mid-order bat. Martinez is the big question mark because of health, but he's not playing catcher anymore (at least not regularly at all), and he has a career .303 average with 25-homer potential from the DH spot. The rest of the lineup isn't terribly impressive, but there are no gaping holes, either. Avila had a down year in 2012, but was tremendous in 2011 and if he can split the difference, he's got value, while Peralta and Infante range from average to slightly-below-average, which is fine given what is around them. The Tigers offense has a very high floor, as Cabrera and Fielder are almost sure-things, and there's great safety in that.

Projected - Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez, Doug Fister, Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello

This is where Detroit made the leap last year, and they added even more help for 2013. Verlander is one of the top-5 pitchers in the league, and he's a 6-7 win player nearly every season. He's thrown 225+ innings in 4 straight years, never finishing with an ERA over 3.50 (with sub-3.00 each of the last 2 seasons) and he'll challenge for the league lead in K's. I greatly enjoy the work of Doug Fister, who has a sub-3.50 ERA in the AL each of the last 2 seasons, and while he doesn't strike anyone out (6.08 K/9 career), he's incredibly solid, and that ballpark plays well for him. Scherzer is the enigma in the rotation, but he also possesses the upside of a Cy Young candidate. With a ridiculously great 2nd half to last year (2.69 ERA, 1.15 WHIP), Scherzer vaulted into a different level, and he struck out over 11 batters per 9 innings as a starter last year, which is truly insane. He's never been the most consistent guy, but if he's right, he's a top-20 type of pitcher. Anibal Sanchez was brought in mid-season, and he's a very solid pitcher as well. I expect an ERA between 3.50 and 3.80 with a K-rate around 8 per 9, and 190 innings. That's a great 3rd/4th starter in the AL. Porcello is a former uber-prospect who has reportedly been outstanding in Spring, but he's never done it with any real success (career 4.55 ERA) at the MLB level. However, he did produce a 3.91 FIP last season, and if he can match that up with an ERA around 4.00, that's above-average for the 5th spot.

Projected - Bruce Rondon (closer), Phil Coke, Joaquin Benoit, Octavio Dotel, Al Alburquerque, Brayan Villareal

Here's the big issue! Bruce Rondon was anointed the closer before throwing a single MLB pitch, and he's struggled a bit in spring. He's a guy with huge strikeout potential (and a 100-MPH fastball), but he has no idea where the ball is going, and that's an issue. Behind him, they have a bunch of solid set-up men, but none of them has succeeded in the 9th inning and Jim Leyland is an old-school guy. Phil Coke is a big-time LOOGY, Benoit is a huge K/9 per guy, and Alburquerque has a career 1.59 ERA but he can't stay on the mound. The closer spot is the focus, but if Rondon is decent-ish, they'll be fine.


If the Tigers had a settled bullpen situation, I'd have them as the best team in the American League. With their big bats and a deep, talented rotation, they are set up for a 100-win season, and if Rondon emerges as even a solid closer, they'll win more than 95 games in that terrible division. You have to build in some skepticism at the back-end, and because of that, they land here with a comfortable division-winning record.


95-67, 1st in AL Central

2013 MLB Preview #5: Texas Rangers

Greetings! This one's for you, Nicholas...

Projected Starters - AJ Pierzynski (C), Mitch Moreland (1B), Ian Kinsler (2B), Elvis Andrus (SS), Adrian Beltre (3B), David Murphy/Craig Gentry (LF), Leonys Martin/Craig Gentry (CF), Nelson Cruz (RF), Lance Berkman (DH)

Even without Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli, the Texas offense is very, very good. They have legitimate stars at 2nd base and 3rd base with Kinsler and Beltre, above-average players at catcher, shortstop, and right field, and some quality outfield options, as well as Berkman and Moreland. For my money, Adrian Beltre has been the best 3B in the majors over the past three seasons, posting a WAR between 5.5 and 7.0 each year with great defense, high batting average, and 30-35 homer power. Kinsler had a "down" season in 2012, but that sort of year still ended up with 19 homers and 21 steals from the offense-deprived 2nd-base position, and he's very capable of the 7.5-WAR season he posted in 2011 (32 homers, 30 steals, .832 OPS). Andrus, the former Braves' prospect, is one of the best defensive shortstops in baseball, and while he has no power (at all), he's got a career .342 OBP with 30-40 steals in the bank. Nelson Cruz is one of the bigger question marks for the 2013 season for Texas, and while he is a near-lock for 20-30 homers from right field, his defense has suffered in a big way the last couple of years, and his .319 OBP last year isn't stellar. I think he's league-average at worst, but they could really use the 30-homer power from him. Berkman was a sneaky pick-up that I really liked, and he's the full-time DH as long as he's healthy. Berkman hit 30+ homers in 2011, but simply can't play the field effectively anymore (maybe some 1B if needed, but blah) and he's cast well here. Pierzynski was brought in behind the plate coming off of his best season ever (at 36 years old!) when he hit 27 homers for the White Sox in 520 AB's. That type of production would be an ultra-luxury, but he's really durable (500 PA's for 7 straight years) and provides a quality option. Murphy, Gentry, and Martin will combine to fill the other two outfield spots, and Murphy is a favorite of mine. He's got a career OPS of over .900 against righties, and if they platoon him well, good luck to the opposition. One wild card to note is the presence of uber-prospect Jurickson Profar. Profar is the best position player prospect in all of baseball, but he's a shortstop blocked by Andrus (and Kinsler at 2nd), and it'll be interesting to see if they can get him any at-bats.

Projected - Yu Darvish, Derek Holland, Matt Harrison, Alexi Ogando, Nick Tepesch/Robbie Ross/Colby Lewis (injured)

I'm all-in on Yu Darvish. All. In. He hit the ground running in his "rookie" season last year, striking out over 200 hitters in 191 innings (10.4 K/9 as a starter!) and posting a FIP of 3.29. He had some big-time control issues, but in the second-half of the season, he lowered his BB/9 rate to 3.65, and all indications in the Spring are showing improved control. I think he's a top-10 pitcher in all of baseball, and he's poised to challenge for the MLB lead in K's while throwing 200+ quality innings. Matt Harrison led the team in ERA last season with a 3.29 ERA, and while that's probably a bit lucky (4.09 FIP), he's a really, really consistent option. He doesn't possess any strikeout potential (5.69 K/9 in 2012), but he strands runners and doesn't walk anyone. I like him. Holland has made a name for himself as a clown, doing impressions (that are hilarious) and generally acting crazy, but he's also a good pitcher. His numbers took a step back in innings (down to 175) and ERA (4.67 up from 3.95 in 2011), but most projection systems have him throwing around 190 innings with an ERA around 4.00 and that's valuable in the AL. Ogando is where the rotation really swings. He came out of the bullpen full-time in 2012 and had a great season, finishing with a 3.27 ERA and a K/9 of exactly 9.00, but in 2011, he threw 169 innings (29 starts) and faired very well. It's unknown how many innings he can pitch, but if his stuff can play in a long-inning role, he's a real asset. The 5th spot is wide open after the broken forearm of Martin Perez, and it looks to be a competition between Ross and Tepesch until Colby Lewis returns. I'm on the Ross bandwagon after he was awesome last season (2.22 ERA), and he has the inside track.

Projected - Joe Nathan (closer), Neftali Feliz* (injured), Joakim Soria, Jason Frasor, Tanner Scheppers, Josh Lindblom, Michael Kirkman, Wilmer Font, Cory Burns

No one seems to be high on Joe Nathan, but I don't understand why other than his age (38). He has 35+ saves in 7 of the last 8 seasons, and since his return from injury, he's been lights-out again with a K/9 of 10.91 last season and a 2.80 ERA. I think he's ultra-safe and an elite closer. Behind him, Texas brought in Joakim Soria (the former KC closer) as a set-up option, but he's going to be out for a while after rehabbing a TJ surgery. Frasor has closer experience in Toronto, but he's nothing more than average, and the rest of the guys are question marks. Keep an eye on Neftali Feliz as well, as the former top prospect and elite closer should return from injury some time during the year, and most leanings are toward him ending up in the 'pen, at least in the short term.


I'm always a sucker for Texas, but that offense impresses me. The loss of Hamilton will be felt, but with the platoons they can put together coupled with me being high on both Moreland and Berkman, I still feel that they'll score enough runs to compete in a big way. The rotation needs to be league-average, and I believe that they will be with the help of a breakout year from Darvish. I think 90+ wins isn't a stretch at all, and they'll be on LA's heels all season.


92-70, 2nd in AL West

2013 MLB Preview #6: Cincinnati Reds

Greetings! Paging Aroldis...

Projected Starters - Ryan Hanigan/Devin Mesoraco/Miguel Olivo (C), Joey Votto (1B), Brandon Phillips (2B), Zack Cozart (SS), Todd Frazier (3B), Ryan Ludwick/Chris Heisey (LF), Shin-soo Choo (CF), Jay Bruce (RF)

Joey Votto is one of the best players in baseball, and for my money, one of the top-two "pure" hitters (along with Miggy Cabrera) in the game. Last year, he walked at a higher percentage (19.8%) than he struck out at (17.9%), and with a career .316/.415/.553 slash line, it's pretty comical. The only "question" with Votto is his true power ceiling, but he did hit 37 homers in a season recently, and I think he's good for 30 this year. Jay Bruce and Brandon Phillips return to support Votto in the lineup, and both guys are solid-to-great. Bruce  had a down year in the batting average department last year (.252), but he's hit 30 homers in two straight seasons, and his power is legit. Phillips, now in his 30's, doesn't have the same "wow" upside that he used to have, but he's safe for .280/15 HR/15 SB and that's great at second base, especially when considering that he's a big-time defender at the position. The biggest question (for me) about the Reds is going to be outfield defense. Shin-Soo Choo is a guy that I've always loved in Cleveland (career .289/.381/.465 hitter with speed), but he was brought in to play center field exclusively, and it's widely considered to be a disastrous experiment. Choo was an awful defender by the metrics last season in a corner spot, so putting him in Center is bold. He's going to hit, but that may end badly. In left field, they locked up Ryan Ludwick over the winter, and he's coming off of a 26-homer season in 2012. The issue with Ludwick is whether he'll be able to get on base, but if he maintains that level, he's above-average in LF. I frankly have no idea what Cincy is doing at catcher, as Devin Mesoraco is the top prospect (but they seem to not trust him), they brought in Miguel Olivo (for reasons unknown), and Ryan Hanigan is a great defender, but has no power in his bat. Seem easy enough? Oh, we haven't mentioned Todd Frazier, who came in 3rd in the Rookie of the Year voting last year when he slugged nearly .500, and he gets the full-time reins at 3rd with Scott Rolen gone. A really nice lineup.

Projected - Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Homer Bailey, Bronson Arroyo, Mike Leake

The headlines at the moment are centering around the fact that they've moved Aroldis Chapman back to closer. They went and spent money on Jonathan Broxton (we'll get to him) in the off-season and announced that Chapman was a starter, but in the past few days, they've moved him back. As a starter? He's probably capped to 160-170 innings, and while he'll strikeout a million guys, his stuff won't play in exactly the same fashion. As a closer? He's a top-2 guy along with Kimbrel, and he'll strikeout 14 guys per 9 innings. If he can start effectively, they should do it because of shear value, but if there are concerns, they can leave him in the 'pen and they've chosen to. At the top of the rotation, Johnny Cueto is coming off of a tremendous year. He threw 217 innings of 2.78 ERA (4.8 WAR) and he's now been electric for two solid years to lead that rotation. Latos came over from San Diego last year and pitched very well in his first season, posting a 3.48 over 200+ innings. He's a very nice #2 guy and they're safe in the top spots. Homer Bailey, Bronson Arroyo and Mike Leake form the rest of the rotation, and each has warts. Bailey is the best of the three and he looked to turn the corner a bit last year with a sub-4.00 ERA. Arroyo is safe to eat a ton of innings (190 or more in 8 straight seasons), but his ERA could be 3.70 or 5.70. Leake is interesting, and as a former first-round pick, the stuff is nice, but there is debate about where his ceiling is. He doesn't strike anyone out, which limits upside, but he's safely in the rotation now that Chapman has been moved.

Projected - Aroldis Chapman (closer), Jonathan Broxton, Sean Marshall, Jose Arredondo, Nick Masset, Logan Ondrusek, Sam LeCure, Alfredo Simon

As I mentioned above, the closer situation could have looked a lot different with Chapman unavailable, but for now, let's operate as if he's the closer. He's a no-doubt top-2 guy with Kimbrel and pencil him in for 100 strikeouts and 40 saves. Broxton had the job previously, and while everyone remembers the big, hard-throwing, high-strikout guy from LA, he's kind of reinvented himself. He's still big (lol), but the K-Rate has gone from double-digits in LA to just 6.98 last season. He's still fully capable of getting saves if Chapman gets moved back, but he's not the dominant-type guy that you may think. Marshall is one of the best set-up men in the game, with three straight seasons of a 9.40 K/9 or higher and a sub-3.00 ERA. Frankly, he's a much better pitcher than Broxton, and it's inexplicable why they wouldn't have considered him for the closer spot pre-Aroldis. The rest of the 'pen is solid, and I really like both Masset and Ondrusek.


Coming off of a 95-win season, I think the Reds could be even better. Votto should get more than the 475 PA's he got last season, Choo is an upgrade from Drew Stubbs and company, and the rotation should be about the same as last year. I really, really like this team, and there isn't a defined weakness outside of defense in CF. They are the favorite in the Central.


92-70, 1st in NL Central

3/26: Tiger, Heat, etc.


  • Tiger Woods is the #1 golfer in the world... again. Tiger held on to win a weather-lengthened Bay Hill Invitational on Monday (by 2 shots), and with the win, he vaulted back to the top of the World Golf Rankings. I believe it's clear that he's "back", as long as you're willing to remember that the year 2000 Tiger is never coming back, because that guy was a mutant. Anyway, I'm an unabashed Tiger fan, and it's nice to see him back and going, especially with the putter.
  • The Miami Heat have won 27 straight NBA games. That is obviously insane, although the most recent win (a 108-94 road win in Orlando) wasn't terribly impressive since Orlando is a bad basketball team. Even with that, however, Lebron cruised to a 24-9-11 and the Heat shot a combined 15-28 from 3-point land to pretty much blow Orlando off of the map in the second half. Ho-hum. 
  • Tubby Smith is out at the head coach at Minnesota. I really don't understand this one, and it's back-to-back days with coaches I like being fired. This one hurts more because I honestly feel like he did a pretty solid job at Minnesota, getting them to round 2 of the tournament, and parlaying a mid-tier Big 10 job into some decent success. It seems like he always gets the short end. 
  • Elsewhere in the NBA, Denver's 15-game winning streak came to a screeching halt with a 110-86 blowout loss to the Hornets on Monday night. The Nuggets shot just 38% from the field, and got uncharacteristically killed (45-32) on the glass. Anybody can beat anybody on one night in the NBA.
What to watch for on Tuesday...
  • 1:00 - MLB - Cardinals @ Mets (ESPN) - Less than a week until the season starts...
  • 7:00 - NBA - Knicks @ Celtics (TNT) - No KG in this one for Boston, so that gives the Knicks a much better chance at a road win. 
  • 7:30 - NCAAB (NIT) - Alabama vs. Maryland (ESPN) - NIT Quarterfinals! On the bright side, both of these teams are tourney-level, so it'll be watchable.
  • 9:30 - NBA - Clippers @ Mavericks (TNT) - Did you know that Dallas is only one game in the loss column behind the Lakers for the 8th spot?

Monday, March 25, 2013

2013 MLB Preview #7: Toronto Blue Jays

Greetings! This is me buying in big-time...

Projected Starters - JP Arencibia (C), Edwin Encarnacion (1B), Emilio Bonafacio/Maicer Izturis (2B), Jose Reyes (SS), Brett Lawrie (3B), Melky Cabrera (LF), Colby Rasmus (CF), Jose Bautista (RF), Adam Lind (DH)

Honestly, I don't see a real weakness in this lineup. They could get 80 home runs combined from Encarnacion and Bautista, as each guy has gone for 40+ homers recently (2012 for E-5, and 2010/2011 for Bautista) and they provide the central power in the lineup. There's admittedly some concern over the track record for Encarnacion and the health of Bautista, but I think it's safe to project 65-70 total homers from them, and that's big-time. Jose Reyes is my pick for best shortstop in the league (because Tulo can't stay on the field), and he comes over from Miami after a great 2012 season. Reyes played 160 games to shed his "injury" tag, and he stole 40 bases while providing a little pop (11 HR) and good defense at shortstop. If he stays healthy, he's a 4-5 win player and that's incredibly valuable. Brett Lawrie and Melky Cabrera combine to give this team a huge upside. Lawrie is a former elite prospect who arrived like gangbusters in 2011, but had an injury-plagued, disappointing 2012 season (.273/.324/.405 with 11 homers and 13 steals). It's a great sign, however, that his "bad" year still provided 2.9 WAR, and if he hits to his capability, he could be an elite 3rd baseman as early as this season. Melky is Melky, and while I hate him forever (signed, Braves fan), he's hit the cover off of the ball for two solid seasons. Before his PED suspension last year, he was hitting .342 with an OPS over .900, and if he can replicate anywhere near that level, he's a huge luxury. Lind and Arencibia provide big-time power with batting average risk, but neither is a negative contributor as long as the batting average stays above .230. Finally, keep an eye on the 2nd base situation, as Bonifacio arrives from Miami coming off of a season where he stole 30 bases in only 274 PA's, but Izturis is the better defender at second base. If Bonifacio gets 450-500 AB's, he could still 50 bases, and with him and Reyes running wild, that could be entertaining.

Projected - RA Dickey, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Brandon Morrow, Ricky Romero

Remember when the Blue Jays couldn't even find starters last season? They were killed by injuries in the rotation all year, and they responded by acquiring three big-time pitchers during the winter. RA Dickey was acquired coming off of the best season of his career, where he threw 233 innings with a 2.72 ERA. Frankly, he was an absolute stud last season, and while there are some inherent concerns with a late-maturing knuckleballer, if he's even the guy he was in 2011 (3.28 ERA over 208 innings), they would take that and run. Josh Johnson has some of the best stuff in the majors but he seems to be injured all the time. That said, he did throw 191 innings (31 starts) last year in Miami, and all reports are that he's 100% healthy in Toronto. Buehrle will eat innings in a big way, and he has thrown 200+ innings in an amazing twelve consecutive seasons. His other numbers won't wow anyone (career 3.82 ERA and 5.11 K/9), but that's a marked upgrade from last season's instability. Brandon Morrow led the team in WAR last year (2.4) despite injury causing him to throw only 124 innings. He's one of the biggest strikeout starting pitchers in all of baseball, and if he puts it together, he could be a top-25 starter in the league. He's far from safe, but as a #3-4 starter, there's big-time upside. Finally, Ricky Romero bottomed out last season (5.77 ERA in 181 innings), but he's back as the 5th starter (instead of the #1 guy last year) and there's no pressure. Prior to last season, he had back-to-back years with a 3.75 ERA or below, and there's a track record of success. I like him, and I think he returns to that level.

Projected - Casey Janssen (closer), Sergio Santos, Darren Oliver, Esmil Rogers, Brett Cecil, Steve Delabar

The closer situation in Toronto is theoretically up in the air. Casey Janssen is the reported incumbent (and the better pitcher), but he's trying to get healthy before opening day. He posted a 1.2 WAR last season (very good for a reliever) and if he stays healthy, I think he saves 35 games. Sergio Santos is his challenger, and he's got a great arm, but he's still raw after not pitching until later in his career, and he's hurt as well. Darren Oliver was awesome last season, but he's 42 years old and that's a question. The rest of the pen is "fine", but nothing more.


After their semi-dismal 73-89 record last season, it seems like a drastic jump to give them 91 wins and the AL East title, but there are a few things at work. First, I firmly believe that both New York and Baltimore are taking a step back (see their previews for the details), and secondly, this team was decimated by injuries and got a massive overhaul/upgrade in talent with the acquisitions of Dickey, Johnson, Buehrle, Reyes, and Cabrera. They are far from a "lock", but on paper, I think they're the best team in the AL East.


91-71, 1st in AL East

2013 MLB Preview #8: Los Angeles Dodgers

Greetings! Sometimes, throwing money at the problem actually works...

Projected Starters - AJ Ellis (C), Adrian Gonzalez (1B), Mark Ellis (2B), Hanley Ramirez* (injured) (SS), Luis Cruz (3B), Carl Crawford (LF), Matt Kemp (CF), Andre Ethier (RF)

Before we get to the massive lineup that this could be, I have a trivia question. Who led the Dodgers in Fangraphs WAR in 2012?... Waiting... Waiting... AJ Ellis! We'll come back to him, but I thought that was fantastic. Los Angeles made many, many waves after their ownership change, and the resulting lineup includes four guys who have been (or still are) legitimate superstars, and a 5th (Andre Ethier) who has put up solid production for a significant amount of time. The lineup is led by the one "incumbent" in the form of former MVP Matt Kemp. Kemp only got 449 PA's last season (due to injury), but still managed a .905 OPS and 23 homers. Those are exceptional numbers, but we can't forget that, in 2011, Kemp went insane with a line of 40 homers, 39(!) steals, 115 runs, and a .324/.399/.586 slash line that was good for a WAR of 8.8. He's that kind of signature talent, and while he'll probably never duplicate that, he's an exceptional player. After Kemp comes the Gonzalez/Ramirez/Crawford combination of imports. Adrian Gonzalez is easily the best player of the three (for me), and in a "down" year in 2012, he hit .299 with 18 homers and plus-defense at 1st base. The power outage is concerning, but I don't think it'll remain, and if he hits between 25-30 this season, they'll be happy with that. Hanley Ramirez hasn't been the same player in recent years, and he hasn't hit even .260 (batting average) in the last two seasons. Even with that, however, he had a better year in 2012, as he hit 24 homers and stole 21 bases between Miami and LA. The big question for Hanley is now health, as he'll miss about 8 weeks with a thumb injury, and there isn't a whole lot behind him. Carl Crawford is the great unknown, as he's virtually disappeared with injury/performance concerns since signing the massive FA deal in Boston, and he's already hurt this year. I haven't given up hope, but does he still run when he comes back? Andre Ethier is the second returning player (with Kemp), and one of the most interesting case studies in the league. He's an awful defender and an abject disaster against left-handed pitching, but he kills righties (lifetime OPS of .915) and since that is the "better" half of the platoon, his numbers end up looking good. Behind the plate, the aforementioned Ellis took walks at an absurd 12.9% rate last year, resulting in a very good OBP of .373 with 13 homers. He's a nice player and probably an above-average option at catcher.

Projected - Clayton Kershaw, Zach Greinke, Josh Beckett, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Chad Billingsley/Aaron Harang/Ted Lilly/Chris Capuano

Yes, you read that right. They have eight major-league-ready starters. Kershaw is one of the best 5 pitchers in the world, and has four straight seasons of sub-3.00 ERA on his resume with a career K/9 of 9.29. Frankly, those numbers are insane, and at age 25, he's in his prime. Greinke was the big-ticket acquisition who was a violent overpay, but he's still a very good pitcher. He has four straight seasons with 4.0+ WAR, and he's capable of the 9.3 WAR (229 innings, 2.16 ERA) season he put up in 2009 with Kansas City. He's got an elbow twinge in the Spring, so that's concerning, but as the #2, there aren't many better. Beckett has been good for a very long time (over 40 career WAR), but had a terrible 2012. He finished the year with a 4.65 ERA overall, but, on the bright side, he pitched much better in LA with a 2.93 ERA over a small sample size of 7 starts. I think Dodger Stadium (and the NL West) will be kind to him, but he's not particularly "safe" anymore. The last two spots are wide open, and there is an embarrassment of depth here. We know nothing about Ryu, but the scouting reports are very positive, and he looks to be virtually assured of a spot. As far as the other four, Billingsley probably has the inside track with his strikeout upside, but Harang is ultra-safe, Lilly has pitched at a high-level for years, and Capuano was fantastic in 2012 (3.72 ERA in 198 innings). It's really, really strong.

Projected - Brandon League (closer), Kenley Jansen, Ronald Belisario, Javy Guerra, Matt Guerrier, JP Howell

I can't fathom why they a) signed Brandon League to a huge contract, and b) have placed him in the almighty closer role ahead of Jansen. That said, League isn't a terrible pitcher (3.50 ERA or less in each of the last 3 years) and I think Don Mattingly will make the right choice... eventually. Jansen's numbers are cartoon-ish and his career K/9 is 14.58. That's not a misprint. Throw in the career 2.22 ERA and 2.05 FIP, and why isn't he the closer? At any rate, I like the rest of the 'pen as well, with former closer Guerra joining Belisario (2.54 ERA in 68 innings last year) and company.


There seems to be a lot of skepticism around LA, but not from me. The mistake that everyone is making revolves around the lineup's uncertainty, and while I don't question it, the worst case scenario leaves them with a mediocre offense, while the best case (A-Gon bounces back, Hanley goes 25/25, Kemp goes 30/30, Crawford plays and is effective) makes them elite. If you find the mid-point and then remember that the rotation is going to be outstanding, they are winning the division unless disaster strikes. It is a huge advantage to have two #1 starters, and if you add incredible depth to that, it's tremendous.


90-72, 1st in NL West

2013 MLB Preview #9: Tampa Bay Rays

Greetings! Speaking of fantastic organizations...

Projected Starters - Jose Molina/Jose Lobaton (C), James Loney (1B), Kelly Johnson (2B), Yunel Escobar (SS), Evan Longoria (3B), Matt Joyce/Wil Myers* (LF), Desmond Jennings (CF), Ben Zobrist (RF), Luke Scott/Shelley Duncan (DH)

Somehow, someway, the Rays always get it done in the lineup. "Projected" starters is never more real than with Joe Maddon, and I have no clue who is playing from day to day and where they're playing (I'm looking at you, Ben Zobrist) every day. The lineup is anchored by two "stars", and they are Evan Longoria and Ben Zobrist. Longoria is one of the best third basemen in baseball, and he's a 5-6 win player over a full season. I reference the full season because he's been unable to play one over the last two years. If he's healthy and plays 150 games, I expect 30+ homers with great defense and an OPS around .900, but if he misses half the season (as he did in 2012), all bets are off. Zobrist isn't a guy that most people consider a star, but he is one. He has a season with a ridiculous 8.7 WAR on his resume, and in the past four seasons, that metric has never been lower than 3.9. He's good for 20-25 homers, 15 steals, and plus-defense at several different positions. I love that guy. After that, the most important player in the lineup is clearly Desmond Jennings. We've been hearing about him for years, and now he has the CF job all to himself for the first time. Jennings is a five-tool guy who managed to be a 3.5 WAR player last year even while hitting .246 with a sub-.700 OPS. He's a plus-defender and he'll still 30 bases, but they need him to hit and hit in a big way this year. The rest of the lineup is a giant platoon. James Loney and Matt Joyce will mash against righties, Luke Scott and Shelley Duncan will mash against lefties, and the Kelly Johnson/Yunel Escobar middle-infield duo is uber-interesting. One interesting story to follow is the pending call-up of Wil Myers. Myers was the key prize in the James Shields trade, and if he's called up early in the year, he could be one of their best power hitters from day one.

Projected - David Price, Matt Moore, Jeremy Hellickson, Alex Cobb, Jeff Niemann/Chris Archer/Fausto Carmona (Roberto Hernandez)

Here's the strength of the Rays. David Price is an elite #1 starter. He's got three straight years with 200 innings, he's a high strikeout guy (career 8.30 K/9), and a career ERA of 3.18 with a bump to 2.56 in last year's stellar campaign. You don't have to get very far down the list of starting pitchers before you get to Price, and he's a monster. Matt Moore is (another) Rays uber-prospect entering his 2nd full season. In 2012, he pitched at 22/23 years old and finished the year throwing 177 innings with a 3.81 ERA and a ton of K's. Somehow, this was considered a "disappointment", but I think Moore makes the leap this year. Throw in a 3.01 ERA after the All-Star break, and he's one of my top sleepers. Hellickson and Cobb are both solid, mid-rotation guys, and while Cobb has the higher ceilling, Hellickson is much safer. He's defying all logic in being outrageously effective with a low K-rate, but I think he can maintain at nearly that level. The final spot is a battle between Jeff Niemann (safe), Chris Archer (huge upside but young), and the artist formerly known as Fausto Carmona (I have no idea). I bet Joe Maddon makes the right choice.

Projected - Fernando Rodney (closer), Joel Peralta, Jake McGee, Roberto Hernandez/Chris Archer, Kyle Farnsworth, Cesar Ramos

Ha. Fernando Rodney finished with a 0.60 ERA last season in 74 innings. FERNANDO RODNEY!!! Finished with a 0.60 ERA over a full season! I have no idea what happened (other than a reported mechanical change), but that is absolutely amazing. If he matches anywhere near that level, he's an elite closer, and there's no doubt. After that, I really like both Peralta and McGee as high-strikeout options (both with K/9 over 11), and each could be a viable closer option if Rodney falters. It's always a mix-and-match bullpen, but they have talent.


I'm high on the Rays, and I trust their organization over just about anyone's. With the level of pitching talent/depth, it gives them a certain level of safety, and they could easily win more than this projection if the bats come together with health (Longoria) and the late-season emergence of Wil Myers. At any rate, they'll be directly in the thick of things in the AL East, and I like them a lot.


89-73, 2nd in AL East

3/25: Madness De-Brief, etc.

Greetings! It was an absolutely wild weekend of games, and while the content in this space was limited, I was a busy man.
  • Rather than fully recap every game from Saturday and Sunday, I will simply direct you here(!) to read (if you wish) my extended thoughts on all 16 games from the weekend, as I reviewed them in full for Yes, I'm this lazy.
  • The biggest story? As always, it's the Cinderellas, as #15 Florida Gulf Coast and #13 La Salle advance to the second weekend. FGCU knocked off Georgetown (with ease, somehow) and San Diego State in rout to the Sweet 16, and they looked incredibly legit doing it. If you removed the front of their jersey, they would look a lot like a "major" team with big-time athleticism and a full-time swagger. La Salle's wins were more grinding, but they had to win 3 to get there (including a play-in win over Boise State), and that's all the more impressive. 
  • The runner-up? Gonzaga going down in a heap on Saturday. I still don't want to talk about it (as they were my champion pick), but the 'Zags were the victim of some incredible shooting by Wichita State. In short, WSU made their final 7 threes in a row (most of which were contested), and they did so as a 33% 3-point shooting team for the year. I will now light myself on fire. 
  • UCLA fired head coach Ben Howland yesterday after 10 seasons at the university. After the Reeves Nelson story in Sports Illustrated, I felt like the writing was on the wall for Howland, so a first-round exit at the hands of a lower-seed likely just shoved him over the edge he was already teetering on. I've always liked Howland, but the fit wasn't right as UCLA is a fast-paced, high-visibility program and Howland succeeded at Pitt as a grinding, defensive-minded coach. He'll land on his feet, but it won't be at a job this big. 
  • The Baltimore Ravens have signed Elvis Dumervil away from Denver. Dumervil was the victim of a weird contract situation that forced him out of Denver, and Baltimore came calling with 5 years and $35 million for the pash rusher. He'll help to mitigate the loss of Paul Kruger, as the Ravens re-tool their defense on the fly. 
  • Tiger Woods leads the Bay Hill by 3 shots with 16 holes to play. Play was stopped due to weather, but Tiger is in the driver's seat, and that's always noteworthy to me. Stay tuned to see how that one plays out. 
  • Vernon Wells... is going to the Yankees! The Angels finally rid themselves of Wells after acquiring him in the one of the worst trades of all-time (where they gave up a cheap Mike Napoli who was a better player than Wells, who was making $120 million). New York needed a right-handed bat, and they'll take a gamble on Wells by paying him about $15 million total over the final two years, while LA picks up the rest.
  • NBA Round-up - Miami won their 26th consecutive game, and they did so without Dwyane Wade. Lebron James finished with a "ho-hum" 31/10/8 triple-double, and the Heat destroyed Charlotte 109-77. Another day, another win. The Hawks stole a 104-99 road win in Milwaukee on the strength of a 12-2 run to end the game. Al Horford (24 points) and Josh Smith (23 points) teamed up to beat up on Milwaukee's frontcourt, and the Hawks overcame a big-time rebounding disadvantage in the win. Finally, Houston eeked past San Antonio 96-95, thanks to 29/9/6 from James Harden and some uncharacteristically poor offense from San Antonio. 
What to watch for on Monday...
  • 1:00 - MLB - Red Sox @ Orioles (ESPN) - Day baseball as we count down the days until Opening Day!
  • 7:00 - NBA - Heat @ Magic (ESPN) - Miami goes for 27 in a row against the hapless Magic.
  • 7:00 - NBA - Hawks @ Pacers (SportSouth) - This is a much better game than the Miami one, only there's no story line around it. Indiana is very good, and Atlanta is in for a challenge on a back-to-back. 

Saturday, March 23, 2013

3/23: Friday Wrap/Saturday Preview, etc.

Greetings! Before we get going, I'm going to do some shameless self-promotion and let you know that I wrapped up the late games over at Fansided, and I am on duty with the Fansided front-page on Saturday covering the tourney. Let's go!
  • The big story of Friday night was the work of #15 seed Florida Gulf Coast in blasting through #2 Georgetown. Anyone who reads me consistently knows of my hatred for John Thompson III, but not even I saw this one coming. FGCU scored 54 second-half points to extend their half-time lead, and finish with a 10-point upset win. This was the most lopsided 15/2 upset I can ever remember, and they were flat-out the better team. I've always thought that it was inexplicable to run the Princeton offense with upper-echelon talent, and that was proven out here. 
  • There were more "mid-tier" upsets on Friday as well. #5-seed Wisconsin fell in a heap at the hands of Ole Miss by a 57-46 score. The Badgers simply couldn't score, as they finished the game shooting just 25% from the field, and Marshall Henderson took the game over late (after a dreadful start) to put it away for the Rebels. #4-seed Kansas State also lost, as they allowed play-in game winner La Salle to grab an 18-point half-time lead, and while the Wildcats made a big late push, it wasn't enough. 
  • There was a huge non-upset later in the night, as #1 Kansas narrowly avoided a history-making loss to #16 Western Kentucky. The Jayhawks trailed at the half, and led by a tiny margin into the final minutes of the game, before finishing with a 64-57 victory. I can't fathom some of the decision-making that I saw late in the game (cough, Elijah Johnson) from Kansas, and if they don't get it corrected, they're going home in short order. 
  • Minnesota and Iowa State scored convincing victories as lower seeds. The Gophers blitzed UCLA 83-63 behind some stellar defense, and a 28-point game from Andre Hollins. Technically, Minnesota was the Vegas favorite, but a 20-point margin was unexpected. Iowa State took care of business in a big way as well. The Cyclones caused 17 turnovers, and generally lambasted Notre Dame for their own mild upset. 
  • San Diego State avenged the entire Mountain West with a 70-55 win over Oklahoma. I'll say this (again), but I have no earthly idea how Oklahoma was in the field. With that said, SDSU looked really good and that league needed a win. 
Non-tourney stuff... 
  • The Miami Heat ran their win streak to 25 games with a 103-89 win over Detroit. Lebron led the way with 29 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists for Miami, but they had to overcome a mild 1st-half deficit in the win. 25 wins in a row is pure insanity, and with every win, it becomes crazier. 
  • NBA Round-up - Atlanta dropped an inexplicable home game to Portland by a 104-93 margin. Portland entered the game 10-25 away from the Rose Garden, but they got 28 points from Wes Matthews and a 20/13 from LaMarcus Aldridge to beat Atlanta. For the Hawks, it was an ugly shooting night for Josh Smith (9-21) and Al Horford (7-18), but it was the defense allowing 55% shooting that did them in. New York clinched a playoff spot with a 99-94 road win in Toronto. Carmelo Anthony scored 37 points in the win for the Knicks. Houston absolutely destroyed Cleveland 116-78, led by James Harden's 20 points. Tony Parker returned to action for San Antonio, and subsequently led the Spurs in scoring with 22 points in their 104-97 win over Utah. And finally, the Lakers suffered a bad home loss with a 103-100 defeat at the hands of the Wizards. John Wall was insanely good with 24 points and 16 assists, but LA did themselves no favors with 17 turnovers in the loss. 
  • The Arizona Diamondbacks lost their opening day CF Adam Eaton for up to 2 months with an elbow injury. Eaton had become a major fantasy sleeper this season as a 30-steal candidate, but he leaves a bit of a hole in center for Arizona. I would assume that Gerardo Parra gets the nod in CF, but he's never done it over a full season and there's some cause for concern there. 
What to watch for on Saturday...
  • 12:15 - #5 VCU vs. #4 Michigan (CBS) - This is going to be a casual fan's dream. Two uptempo teams, two exciting offenses, and a lot of points. I think Michigan wins the game because of their guard play, but if VCU can get some turnovers and combine that with another subpar effort from Trey Burke, they can win. 
  • 2:45 - #6 Memphis vs. #3 Michigan State (CBS) - A lot of stuff from the state of Michigan in the early going! I think Sparty will cruise here, as I don't value Memphis very highly, and their best trait (athleticism) is mitigated by the size/toughness of the Izzo-led Spartans. 
  • 5:15 - #8 Colorado State vs. #1 Louisville (CBS) - This is the best bet for a blow-out on Saturday. CSU can play, but they don't have the talent level across the board that Louisville does. 
  • 6:10 - #14 Harvard vs. #6 Arizona (TNT) - Harvard can absolutely win this game. Arizona is a quality team, but they aren't any better than New Mexico, and if Harvard can shoot like they did on Thursday, they'll be in this one 'til the end. I'd pick 'Zona, but it'll be tight. 
  • 7:10 - #12 Oregon vs. #4 St. Louis (TBS) - Oregon is not your typical #12, so go ahead and ignore that. St. Louis is a favorite of mine, and I'm picking them because they do all of the little things, they rebound, and they're physical.
  • 7:45 - #6 Butler vs. #3 Marquette (CBS) - Butler is around (again), and they're squaring off against Marquette, who escaped by the skin of their teeth on Thursday. With that said, Marquette is still the better team for me, and Butler's magic runs out here. 
  • 8:40 - #9 Wichita State vs. #1 Gonzaga (TNT) - Don't worry, folks, I'm still on the Zags. Their bracket has really opened up with the upsets of Wisconsin and K-State, and they're still better than Wichita. 
  • 9:40 - #12 California vs. #4 Syracuse (TBS) - For as good as Syracuse looked in destroying Montana, they've looked really, really bad at times this year (think 2nd half of Big East title game), and Cal is capable of winning this game outright. 

Friday, March 22, 2013

3/22: Thursday Wrap/Friday Preview, etc.

Greetings! Obviously, we have a lot to get to on the Friday morning of madness, so let's go...
  • There was one "major" upset in the tournament yesterday, and it didn't come until late night on the East Coast. #14-seed Harvard knocked off #3-seed New Mexico by a score of 68-62 to advance to Saturday. The Crimson shot 53% from the field on the night including 8-18 from three-point land, and overcame their size disadvantage (and subsequent rebounding issues) by holding the Lobos to 38% shooting. This wasn't a "shocking" loss on the level of most 3/14 upsets for me, because I thought Harvard was under-seeded a bit, but it's a big-time, double-digit underdog win and that's impressive. 
  • While we talk upsets, there were two near upsets that also doubled as the only "buzzer-beater" moments from Thursday. Marquette escaped a loss to Davidson with the help of three consecutive three-pointers in the last 90 seconds, overcoming a 7-point deficit, and clinching the win with a lay-up by Vander Blue with 1 second remaining. I thought Davidson was the better team, but they couldn't get a stop late, and it was inexplicable to allow that easy of a lay-up for the win. Also in the afternoon, St. Mary's mounted a massive late comeback to create a buzzer-beater opportunity at the end, but Matthew Dellavedova's 3-point heave went begging at the gun, and the Gaels fell to Memphis 54-52. 
  • The Pac-12 shined on Thursday, surging to a 3-0 record behind some 12-seed "upsets". Oregon cruised to a 13-point victory over #5-seeded Oklahoma State, pulsed by a massive 44-30 rebounding edge, and the fact that they held Marcus Smart to just 14 points. I thought Oregon was the worst seeding decision that the committee made (and said so post-selection), so it was nice to see them take care of business. Cal fought through a tough game with #5-seed UNLV, but came out with a 64-61 win. I thought UNLV was the much, much more talented team, but their guard play was atrocious, and they didn't execute in the slightest, especially in the second half. Finally, Arizona got an underrated win on the "impressive" scale by disposing of Belmont 81-64. Belmont was a legitimate opponent, but 'Zona shot the lights out (57% FG, 53% from three), and won the rebounding battle by an astounding 42-15 margin. 
  • #1-seed Gonzaga beat Southern yesterday. No story here, right? Well, the Zags nearly became the first 1-seed to lose in the first round ever as they allowed the Jaguars to get within 2 points with under 3 minutes to play before settling for a 6-point win. I'm not overly concerned about their performance, as they dominated the glass, and just didn't shoot the ball well, but it's not encouraging to see your champion pick on the brink of a historical first-round exit. 
  • The final note on Thursday's action comes in the form of two historic blow-outs. VCU took undermanned Akron to the woodshed with an 88-42 drubbing that set the record for most lopsided win in a 5/12 match-up. The Zips turned the ball over 21 times (to just 5 by VCU), and shot 35% from the field on the night, while VCU made 54% of their field goals and 50% of their threes. It was never competitive. Then later in the night, Syracuse set their own record by utterly destroying Montana 81-34. It was the most lopsided 4/13 match-up ever and Montana shot 20.4% from the field and 12.9% from three. For the game! Insanity. 
In non-tourney news...
  • The Denver Nuggets stretched their under-covered winning streak to 14 games with a 101-100 win over Philly. Corey Brewer went for 29 points in 33 minutes off of the bench, and the Nuggets created 22 turnovers to somehow win despite allowing Philly to shoot 55% from the field. Denver is now 31-3 at home on the season, and nobody wants to see them (and really, the Pepsi Center) in the playoffs. 
  • Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant are reportedly both going to play against the Washington Wizards on Friday. That qualifies as news, I think?
  • Dodgers 3rd-baseman Hanley Ramirez will have surgery on his thumb and miss about 8 weeks. This is an updated timetable from a previous report, but LA's depth isn't great, and this one hurts them in the early going. 
What to watch for on a gauntlet of a Friday...
  • 12:15 - #15 Albany vs. #2 Duke (CBS) - Duke lost to a 15-seed in Lehigh last year. Something tells me that the 3-headed Senior trio of Kelly, Plumlee, and Curry aren't losing to another one. 
  • 12:40 - #12 Mississippi vs. #5 Wisconsin (TRU) - I'm in the tank for Bo Ryan and Wisconsin (again), and they'll have a plan for Marshall Henderson. 
  • 1:40 - #9 Temple vs. #8 NC State (TBS) - The Wolfpack are one of the most talented teams in the country, and they should win here. With that said, they are pretty enigmatic, so it wouldn't be shocking to see the Owls rise up and compete. 
  • 2:10 - #15 Pacific vs. #2 Miami (TNT) - We live in a world where the Miami Hurricanes are a 2-seed in the tournament. Anyway, they are head-and-shoulders better here and should cruise. 
  • 2:45 - #10 Cincinnati vs. #7 Creighton (CBS) - I love Doug McDermott. If you're not a college hoops diehard, you may not have seen him, and here's your chance. I like the Blue Jays. 
  • 3:10 - #13 La Salle vs. #4 Kansas State (TRU) - I think KSU is over-seeded, but I don't like La Salle enough to pick them, especially on two days rest. They do have the unique advantage of having been in Dayton for 4 days though. 
  • 4:10 - #16 James Madison vs. #1 Indiana (TBS) - And the dream is.... over for James Madison.
  • 4:40 - #10 Colorado vs. #7 Illinois (TNT) - It seems like everyone is on Colorado here, but I like Illinois. They are an enigma, but they survived the best league in the country, and Brandon Paul is legit. 
  • 6:50 - #15 Florida Gulf Coast vs. #2 Georgetown (TBS) - My hatred for Georgetown (and really, John Thompson III) is well-documented, and I wanted to pick FGCU. I just couldn't pull the trigger.
  • 7:15 - #15 Iona vs. #2 Ohio State (CBS) - I hate the Buckeyes, but Aaron Craft isn't letting them lose to a 15-seed. Not happening.
  • 7:20 - #9 Villanova vs. #8 North Carolina (TNT) - This is probably the game of the day. I'm really on 'Nova, but I thought UNC should've been a 5/6 seed, and they have been very, very good since Roy Williams decided to go small. 
  • 7:27 - #14 Northwestern State vs. #3 Florida (TRU) - I'm all-in on the Gators. All. In. 
  • 9:20 - #10 Oklahoma vs. #7 San Diego State (TBS) - I don't even know why OU is in the field, so that should tell you what I think about their chances here.
  • 9:45 - #10 Iowa State vs. #7 Notre Dame (CBS) - I have zero read on this game whatsoever. I'm taking ND because Iowa State is a hit-or-miss team (especially away from Hilton Coliseum), but I have no conviction in it. 
  • 9:50 - #16 Western Kentucky vs. #1 Kansas (TNT) - Yawn. 
  • 9:57 - #11 Minnesota vs. #6 UCLA (TRU) - The world (including me) is on Minnesota. UCLA lost one of their best players in Jordan Adams and, as a result, they're over-seeded as a 6. Minnesota is really inconsistent, but they are an elite rebounding team, and there's safety in that.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

3/21: March Madness Thursday! (And more)

Greetings! Before we get going on the March Madness schedule (in "what to watch for"), let's take a look at the top stories from Wednesday...
  • The Miami Heat won their 24th consecutive game last night in Cleveland. Seems like a great story, right? Well, consider that they were trailing by twenty-seven points in the 3rd quarter. 27! That's insane, and the Heat went on a massive 37-10 run over about an 8-minute stretch to take the lead and steal the game. Lebron finished with a triple-double (25 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists) and even on a night where he shot 8-22 from the field, he was the best player on the planet. The fact that they were trailing by 27 to the Kyrie-less Cavs is an issue, but when the Heat have it going, they have it going. 
  • Two NFL legends will be playing in different places next year. Ed Reed reportedly told the Houston Texans that he would sign a deal to move to the AFC South champs. Reed is the best safety that I've ever seen (not exaggerating) and while he certainly isn't the same guy as he used to be, it'll be very weird to see him in a non-Ravens uniform. Brian Urlacher will also not be returning to Chicago this season. He was reportedly seeking a 2-year, guaranteed contract and the Bears balked, which caused the two sides to part ways. Urlacher basically can't run anymore, but he can still stop the run on the interior, so he'll get a job somewhere.
  • In the "First Four" match-ups on Wednesday night, James Madison moved on to the real 1st round with a 68-55 win. It's utterly meaningless because they're going to go down in a heap in 2 days, but that's a great win for that program. La Salle knocked off Boise State 80-71 to move on to face K-State on Friday. This one matters a bit more as the Explorers have a legitimate chance to compete in the game, and they've already beaten Butler this year. La Salle shot a blistering 63% from the field on the night including 11-21 from three, and that pace was kind to them.
  • Los Angeles Dodgers 3B/SS Hanley Ramirez will be sidelined indefinitely with a broken thumb. Reports are conflicting between a 2-week timetable and a 2-month timetable, and that is bad news for LA, who needs the old Hanley back to realize their expectations. Stay tuned for a better diagnosis. 
  • And finally... a note that no one outside of myself will care about. Michigan's leading tackler from last season, rising Junior LB Jake Ryan, tore his ACL yesterday in practice and will likely miss the season. This is a dagger because he's the best returning defensive player on the roster for a national title contender. Bah. 
What to watch for on a very busy Thursday in College Hoops...
  • 12:15 - #14 Valparaiso vs. #3 Michigan State (CBS) - It's Izzo's time of year, and I think Sparty coasts to an easy win. Valpo does have history (think Bryce Drew) but I don't see it. 
  • 12:40 - #11 Bucknell vs. #6 Butler (TRU) - I went with Bucknell in my bracket, but this is going to be a tight game. These teams are mirror images of each other, and it'll be a pleasing brand of ball.
  • 1:40 - #9 Wichita St. vs. #8 Pittsburgh (TBS) - Pitt is criminally under-seeded, but I like Wichita a lot as well. This is one of the best games of the day. 
  • 2:10 - #13 New Mexico St. vs. #4 St. Louis (TNT) - Casual fans probably see St. Louis as a 4-seed and immediately think "upset alert" but they are a legit, physical team, and they'll win comfortably. 
  • 2:45 - #11 St. Mary's vs. #6 Memphis (CBS) - St. Mary's won the "First Four" game easily, and I'm really Anti-Memphis. Matthew Dellavedova is one of my favorite players in the country, and I think he takes them to an upset win. 
  • 3:10 - #14 Davidson vs. #3 Marquette (TRU) - This is a big-time "Upset Alert" game, and I've seen many people pick Davidson outright. They are certainly better than a 14-seed, but I think Marquette escapes with a close win. 
  • 4:10 - #16 Southern vs. #1 Gonzaga (TBS) - My national title pick starts the journey.... Go Zags!
  • 4:40 - #12 Oregon vs. #5 Oklahoma State (TNT) - This is my pick for "best game" of the day. Oregon as a 12-seed is an absolute joke, and I think they are the better team outright. With that said, OK State is a nice squad and Marcus Smart is a lottery pick. This is a fun one. 
  • 6:50 - #16 North Carolina A&T vs. #1 Louisville (TBS) - The overall #1 team facing the play-in game winner. Always a classic (lol).
  • 7:15 - #13 South Dakota St. vs. #4 Michigan (CBS) - Strike up the band playing "The Victors", and let Trey Burke go to work. Nate Wolters is a heckuva player for SDSU, but they won't beat Michigan. 
  • 7:20 - #11 Belmont vs. #6 Arizona (TNT) - This is an interesting game. Belmont is one of the darlings of the Mid-Majors this year, but Arizona is a quality team. I like 'Zona in the game, but it'll be tight. 
  • 7:30 - #12 California vs. #5 UNLV (TRU) - Another 5/12 coinflip. UNLV has high-major talent, but they've struggled at times and are semi-weak in the backcourt. Cal is better than a 12-seed IMO, and I'm taking them in a tight one. Nothing would surprise me. 
  • 9:20 - #9 Missouri vs. #8 Colorado State (TBS) - I love Pressey for Mizzou, but CSU is going to give them all they can handle here. 
  • 9:45 - #12 Akron vs. #5 VCU (CBS) - If Akron had their starting point guard, this would be a legitimate upset spot.... but they don't. The Zips will have trouble beating that VCU press.
  • 9:50 - #14 Harvard vs. #3 New Mexico (TNT) - New Mexico is incredibly legit, and they should cruise past the Ivy League champs. 
  • 10:00 - #13 Montana vs. #4 Syracuse (TRU) - Montana will be seeing nightmares of that 2-3 Zone when they close their eyes on Thursday night. Cuse by 20. 
Enjoy the slate!