Thursday, October 28, 2010

NFL -- Week 8 Picks

Man, the look on Cliff Lee's face last night as he struggled through inning after inning, laboring hard for the first time in what seems like weeks in one of his starts, that was just priceless. Nonetheless, he'll still be a Yankee next year, and he'll still probably sign for I would guess around 6 years / $160 million or so, but seeing a guy with a robotic arm like that pitch like a mere mortal for a few innings is nice to keep me grounded and remind us all that everybody is human, we can't always do perfect in everything we do, and nobody is above variance.

Other than the World Series which is only just starting, we are now entering that period of time where for a sports fan like me, it's basically all football, all the time. It would be hard for me to imagine the circumstances that would lead to me getting really in to the NHL or NBA seasons, as those sports have flat-out lost me in recent years (and this despite the Flyers' surprising run to the Stanley Cup Finals last year while I was out in Vegas). But the NFL is the great stalwart, and it continues to grow on a weekly basis as the people in charge of the league have really done an amazing job over the past decade or so while those at the head of the other major U.S. sports have generally watched their sports go in the opposite direction. During a time when television ratings are splintering more and more every day with the proliferation of cable television, movie channels, DVRs, etc., I heard this morning on Mike and Mike that just five years ago, not one of the top 15 most-watched programs of the year was a football game in 2005, or any sporting event for that matter. Whereas, after last week's Vikings - Packers matchup on Sunday night became the most-watched regular season football game of all time, garnering the attention of more people in this country than even the final episode of Mash back in nineteen-diggity-ought, it was reported that of the top 15 most-watched television programs so far in 2010, the top 12 are all NFL football games, and 13 of the top 15. That's all you need to know right there about the state of football and its relative place compared to the other major sports in this country today.

Anyways, as I turn my focus to football I note that I have some picks still to get up for Week 8. And seeing how well my picks worked out last week -- 3-0 for my first undefeated day picking games of the 2010 season -- why not return to make the picks on a Thursday again and see if I can't capture some of that same magic for the second straight week. It's funny because I can always tell when I've had a good week in my football predictions, because the losers out on the interwebs always notice and typically become infuriated at my public outperformance of them, so invariably there is always a spike in Hoy Haterism on blogs, in blog comments, etc. whenever I've done a good job, almost like clockwork. I had no idea I had gone 3-0 last week until I saw a negative comment on a couple of other blogs out there about my picks, and then I knew I had killed it without even needing to look. Those were three awesome picks that you couldn't find basically anywhere else last week, what can I say.

So let's see if we can throw a wrench into things this week with...wait for it...not one, not two, but three road dogs for you to chew on this week! I had another big week with picks on road dogs back in Week 4, and I know this goes against conventional wisdom, but the conventional wisdom people have gotten utterly obliterated so far this year in NFL picks so I say what the hell, I gotta do what feels right, and this week that is a bunch of road dogs. So, in no particular order:

1. Jacksonville Jaguars +7 at Dallas Cowboys. I have no idea how Dallas is favored by 7 points over anybody right now, but with Tony Romo out and Jon Kitna in, I think 7 points is too much to give even to a mediocre-at-best team like the Jags. The Cowboys' season is over, and the team is ripe for the picking at this moment, and even a team like the Jags ought to be able to stay within a touchdown of the 1-5 'Boys on Sunday.

2. Washington Redskins +3 at Detroit Lions. The Redskins have shown that they have some mettle so far in this young season, and even though I secretly don't think they're a very good team, I just can't resist getting a field goal with any team against the Lions. Detroit might be a bit better this year, and the quarterback is coming back one of these days as well, but I just can't turn down the better team plus the points on this one. McNabb's going to ruin one of these games soon enough with his inaccuracies, but Albert Haynesworth is coming off his first good game of the season, and I just like the value of the Skins plus the points too much to pass up here.

3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers +3 at Arizona Cardinals. I lost once already picking against the Cardinals at home, but they're still starting this undrafted buttdink at quarterback, he's getting his ass bounced all over the football field on a weekly basis, and this week the fewest-losses-in-the-NFC Buccaneers are coming to town, who I am finally starting to warm up to. Without the 3 points I would not take the Bucs here, but with the Cardinals laying a field goal this seems like more good value to me as a road underdog for the Bucs.

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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

End of the Road

So, the baseball season has come to an end for my beloved Philadelphia Phillies. What can I say really....The 2010 NLCS was a case study in the old adage that great pitching prevails over great hitting in the playoffs. Without really dominating in any of the games, the Giants quietly went out and took two of three in Philadelphia, and two of three in San Francisco to return to their first world series since Barry Bonds led them there back in 2002. The pitching was pretty much stellar, with only Jonathan Sanchez getting slammed up hard by the team, and Bruce Bochy's coaching is highly underrated in my view as he managed to find a way to take a team that does not run the bases well, does not steal bases at all, and really has very little offense to speak of, and eke out three out of four wins in one-run games against the team that led the entire major leagues this year in record in one-run games. In a lot of ways, the Giants did to the Phillies this year what the Phillies have done to the Dodgers in the past two NLCS's. Where in the recent past it was Jimmy Rollins leading the time to the amazing 9th-inning walkoff rally, this year in the key Game 4 it was the Giants finding a way to hammer out a run off of Phillies' starting pitcher Roy Oswalt in a rare bullpen appearance.

While the above made the NLCS painful for me to watch in a lot of ways, nonetheless I will confess that I am left with the feeling that the Phillies are still the class of the National League. The Giants' lineup is a joke for a World Series team, and it is quite obvious that they live and die by their pitching staff alone. I mean, if not for Cody Ross -- he of the three regular season home runs and 18 rbis all year -- going absolutely bananas out of nowhere in this series, the Giants would not have scored more than 8 or 9 runs in the 6 game series, and they would not have had a chance even with the Phillies' bats slumping as they did in the series. Ryan Howard struck out 12 times in the NLCS, and had a mind-boggling zero home runs and zero RBIs in the entire series after recording 17 rbis in the 2009 NLCS. Chase Utley, another of the most clutch bats in the postseason over the past four years, was pretty much worthless at the plate in this series. Several times in the series, Carlos Ruiz and Shane Victorino came to the plate with runners in scoring position or even with the bases loaded, and they failed to come through in the clutch as they have so many times in the recent past. Now to be sure, a lot of this is directly related to the incredible, historic strength of the Giants' starting rotation as I wrote about before this series began. But the Phillies deserve a whole lot of the credit for sucking up the joint in this series, be it at bat, or in the field where they made several uncharacteristic errors from guys like Rollins, Howard, Utley and Victorino -- all basically gold glove-worthy fielders in their own right -- including single-handedly committing three errors in the field in the third inning of the decisive Game 6 to let in both of the runs given up by Roy Oswalt on the day The official records say Oswalt's strong performance was one ER in six innings, but it was clearly zero if you know your ass from first base about scoring a baseball hit.

Anyways, try as I might -- and I freely recognize that this may just be the Philly boy in me shining through -- I just can't shake the feeling that while we might very well be looking at the best pitching staff in the last few generations, we're just not looking at the best team in the NL here in the upcoming World Series. Unlike the ALCS, where I would say it was painfully obvious that the Rangers are in fact the superior team over the overmatched Yankees. I mean, for all the talk of how Cliff Lee has the Yankees' number, and how much of an advantage that gives Texas in a four-game series, the guy pitched exactly one time in the ALCS. Yes, he won his start and utterly shut down the Yanks in Game 3, but the guy barely had a hand in any of the actual games. And those games for the most part were not close. The Rangers thrashed the Yankees in this series. As I heard a caller say on sports radio sometime today, this was a 6-game series that felt an awful lot like a sweep. The Rangers are superior, they were far superior at both hitting and pitching than the Yankees, they made the Yanks look old, and ultimately the Bronx Bombers never had a chance in this series, an outcome which in the end just didn't surprise me much at all.

One thing I will say about the 2010 World Series -- this is yet another victory for the little guy, for the small market team that is not the Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies or Mets. Despite all the talk heading into the LCS series, in the end it was not the top-5 payroll Phils or the sick-spending Yankees prevailing to face off in the sport's biggest stage. Instead, we're looking at Texas and San Francisco, not exactly small market teams, but not close to the big spenders on the top end of the spectrum in the major leagues. The Giants' opening day 2010 payroll stood at $97.8 million, good for 10th out of 30 teams in the majors, while the Rangers' team payroll was a paltry $55.2 mil, placing them in 27th out of 30 teams in terms of money spent on their players. So while the Yankees and the Phillies continue to show that money can generally buy some modicum of success over a 162-game regular season, once again baseball has two relatively new and rare participants in the Fall Classic, including the first-ever franchise appearance for a Rangers team that looks to be on a major roll heading into the final series of the season.

Before I go, I would be remiss if I did not mention that fuckass referee in the Packers - Vikings game on Sunday night in NBC, as that dickwad stood right there on national, prime time weekend television and just plain decided to give Brett Favre another come from behind victory by calling Percy Harvin in-bounds on the field with just 48 seconds left in what was at the time a 4-point Packer lead. I mean, this muthafucker is paid to be an NFL referee -- getting these calls right is his whole job -- and this jackfuck stood right there, not two feet away from where the catch occurred, in perfect position, looking right at the play right down on the ground, and called Harvin in bounds. This despite Harvin not being touched or pushed on his way up, and even though Harvin actually got not two, not one, but zero feet in-bounds. Go watch the play if you care to, but I mean this guy's first foot landed mostly in-bounds but on review his heel was clearly touching the out-of-bounds line at the back of the end zone. Then the second foot landed, with the entire foot well onto the white line, so much so that you could even see the white outline in front of the foot because literally the entire foot was that far out of bounds. And then the body landed, also hopelessly on the white well past the back of the end zone. And yet that fucksniffing referee still just up and decided to make the call on the field a touchdown, making it that much harder for replay to overturn the call and keep Favre from another stunning comeback victory at Lambeau Field. As I've written about several times here on the blog, this trend of sports officials interjecting themselves into the game and making sure that they actually affect the outcome instead of just shutting up, sitting back and calling the game correctly. The bottom line is, that referee in Green Bay cannot possibly miss that call from as close as he was and in the perfect position he was in, unless he is predisposed towards taking over the game. That's just the way it is. That referee is an asshole and he should be removed from the game immediately.

OK, /end rant.

Cowboys over the Giants tonight. Tom Coughlin always has a way of surprising you on the downside after a couple of big wins. Bank it.

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Friday, October 22, 2010

Not Dead Yet

Kudos out to Roy Halladay who gutted his way through a first-inning groin injury -- that he told no one but his manager about and then insisted on going back out to the mound for six tough innings of 2-run baseball -- to nab his first win of the NLCS and an absolutely crucial victory for the Phillies on the brink of elimination in Game 5. To the rabid Phillies fans watching the game, it was very obvious just from the look on Halladay's face while he was out there and even in the dugout in between innings early in the game -- where Halladay was barely able to sit down without significant pain -- that something was wrong, and in a way it was a relief to hear about the groin injury in manager Charlie Manuel's end of game presser, indicating that this is not the new status quo for the Phillies' ace but rather just (hopefully) a temporary physical ailment. But for him to go out there and give the team six quality innings and to pitch through the pain like he did, this is the stuff that Philadelphia is made of, and the fans will not forget.

As big as Halladay was in the Phillies nabbing the win and sending the series back home to Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, the real story in Game 5 wasn't Halladay, nor Giants ace Tim Lincecum who took the tough loss after another solid pitching performance himself, but rather the Phillies' bullpen, easily thought to be the one glaring weakness on this team. After a scoreless 7th inning from Jose Contreras and J.C. Romero, Ryan Madson came in needing to hold on to a slim 1-run lead while facing the Giants' tough 4-5-6 hitters of Buster Posey, Pat Burrell and Cody Ross in the 8th inning -- the three guys responsible for mostly all of San Francisco's offense in this entire LCS series -- and Madson responded to the pressure by promptly setting down the side in order, throwing fastball after fastball by the heart of the Giants' lineup as he mowed down the most menacing players on the opposition like they were children with pitches that registered around 90-92 on the radar gun but looked more like 150 or 200 to this experienced eye. Honestly I do not recall the last time Ryan Madson (or any Phillies reliever, for that matter) came into a game late and struck out the side like this, but it provided a huge lift to the team and to their fans who I can personally tell you were not ready to pack it in for the season just yet. By the time Jayson Werth added his NL record 11th postseason home run with the Phillies in the top of the 9th inning, the team's spirits were high, and my nemesis Brad Lidge was perfect to close it out in the 9th.

So, the anatomy of each of the 12 historic comebacks from 3-1 down in 7-game series in MLB history begins exactly the same way -- with a win by the down team in Game 5 -- and that's what we're looking at here in the NLCS. And unlike the Yankees, who (1) have to win the last two games of their ALCS series on the road at Texas, and (2) who still have to face their opponent's #1 starter and known Yankee killer in Game 7, the Phillies have a somewhat easier rode ahead of them. No more road games, no more silly west coast time zone, and most of all, no more Tim Lincecum in any meaningful way in this series. Right now it's just about winning Game 6, which will feature Phillies pitcher Roy Oswalt's shot at redemption after taking the loss in giving up a 9th inning run in Game 4, going against Sanchez who the Phillies already touched up but good in Game 2 of this series, the only game where the Phils' lineup was really able to come together and do their thing. Here's hoping we get not just one but two Game 7s this weekend in what could shape up to be an incredible weekend on both the baseball and the football fronts.

team to rally from a 3-1 deficit in a best-of-seven series. The Red Sox were the last to do it, in the 2007 ALCS against Cleveland.

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NFL -- Week 8 Picks

Well, since there is nothing going on out there in the world of baseball to focus on right now, I thought I would turn my thoughts to a little bit about football, and in particular what is shaping up to be a fabulous NFL schedule for Week 7 this coming weekend. Last week -- actually, two weeks ago I guess -- I suffered my worst week of the season picking games, going 1-4 and dropping my overall season record on the games I have picked to a dismal 8-11-1. Assuming you're paying the standard 10% vig on all losses, that is an overall loss so far of just over 4 units over 20 units bet, which is not going to hack it by a long shot. Then last week I guess I flat-out forgot to pick the games for Week 6, which may or may not be a good thing, but I can tell you right now which games I would have picked last week from the short amount of time I did spend looking at the games in advance of last weekend: I would have taken the Raiders +6.5 against the 49ers (and lost, as the Raiders lost by 8 points), the Falcons +2.5 against the Eagles (and lost since the Eagles blew out), the Vikings -2.5 vs the Cowboys (and won), and the easiest game by far of the weekend, the Titans -3 against the horribad Jaguars (and won). So it would likely have been another .500 or so weekend for me even if I had gotten the picks up in time, but I am ok skipping last week just like I did with Week 1 and just moving it on from here with the season record starting at 8-11-1.

So, for Week 7, here are my picks in no particular order as always, which I am going to try to start focusing on only picking the games I feel most comfortable with, as opposed to forcing myself to pick exactly five games on a weekly basis, which clearly is not working for me so far or showing any improvement over two years of posting my picks for all to see:

1. Kansas City Chiefs (pick'em) over Jacksonville Jaguars. I think KC is far better than people thought heading into this season, they are coming off a tough loss on the road at Houston last week and will be hungry to get back into the win column, and they are at home at their new stadium against a team that I think it not nearly as good as its 3-3 record would indicate. And I don't even have to give any points to pick the clearly superior team in a heads-up match at home. Easy pick right there.

2. Miami Dolphins +3 vs. Pittsburgh Steelers. Here is another underrated team in the Dolphins playing a very good Steelers team, but facing them at home in Miami, a place where the Dolphins have yet to record a win in this season. I'm not sure the Fins are going to win this game outright, but this team has a way of quietly but effectively befuddling their opponents, and something tells me the 3 point spread here will cover the difference if the Steelers manage to squeak this one out.

3. Carolina Panthers +3 vs. San Francisco 49ers. I tried to pick the Panthers to win their first home game of the season against the Bears a couple of weeks back but my timing was not quite right with that one. Nonetheless, I'm back at it again today picking Carolina in another home game, this time against an even worse team in the 49ers. With the three extra points coming Carolina's way, I just can't pass up the value here, especially since I've thrown in the towel officially on 49ers coach Mike Singletary after I watched him pull Alex Smith aside in the team's Week 5 game and bitch his quarterback out for making a risky throw in a game that he pointed directly to the scoreboard to show Smith was, in Singletary's clear words from reading his lips, scored at "20-14". The only problem was, the real score was 24-10 at the time. When your head coach doesn't even know basic two-digit numerals, it's time for me to start picking against you, end of story.

4. Green Bay Packers -3 vs. Minnesota Vikings. This is a bit of a gamble in that the Vikings will have had another full week to better integrate Randy Moss into their passing game, and given how much Brett Favre got up for the games against his former team back in 2009, but with all the focus on Favre and his transgressions this week, his meeting with the commissioner and the endless media questions about why he is not denying this story with the Jen Sterger business if it isn't true, something tells me that the Pack will bounce back this week at home in a huge game to get their season turned around right. I would rather this be a pickem than give three points to the Vikes, but I still think this is a good pick for a team that has not looked as good as they should over the past couple of games in Green Bay.

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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Barely a Pulse

The Yankees left AJ Burnett in just one pitch too long, that pitch a big three-run home run off the bat of Bengie Molina in the 7th inning that gave the Rangers back the lead over the Yankees on Tuesday night. Which, unsurprising given the way this series has played out so far, quickly turned in the later innings into yet another bitter, ugly blowout for the Texas Rangers who now hold a commanding 3 games to 1 lead in the 2010 ALCS. Knowing they have ripped the cover off the ball on offense in this series, knowing they have caused the Yankees and their vaunted starting rotation and bullpen to pitch to an ERA in the series of around 8 runs per game, and most of all knowing that they need just one more win and that they have a mister Clifford Lee pitching one more game, this one only if needed in Game 7 in Texas, the Rangers are suddenly looking awfully good to win this series. I 100% support the decision to pitch Burnett last night if I am the Yankees, but in the end this loss with Cliff Lee looming on the horizon seems as close to the death knell as you're gonna get without seeing Jete and A-Rod grabbing their bats with their heads hung low and heading into the dressing room after one more Rangers win here. The bottom line is this: the Yankees have not lost this series so much as the Rangers have won it. Texas has outplayed the Yankees in every facet of every single game so far, far outhitting the Yankees while at the same time clearly outpitching the Bombers as well, among both the starters and the bullpens. Give a ton of credit to manager Ron Washington, who I told you all just before this series started was saying all the right things as far as how to beat a team with the payroll and the individual accumulated skill of the players on the Yankees this year. He has his team not just thinking but knowing they are superior on both sides of the field than their big-money New York counterparts, and it shows. I haven't believed the Rangers were going to lose any of the games so far in this series, and with the exception of the 8th inning in Game 1 when the Yankees busted out with five unanswered runs, I've been totally right. The Rangers are the better team, they have better personnel and are far better coached, and the proof is in the pudding. One more win out of one more game in New York and then two in Texas -- including Cliff Lee in Game 7 if needed, did I mention him already? -- and the Rangers will advance to their first World Series appearance in franchise history. Exciting times to be from Texas these days. Except if you like the Cowboys!

Interesting, we could be just one day away from a similar 3-1 hole for the Phillies in the NLCS, as Joe Blanton of the Phils will face off tonight against 21-year-old Madison Bumgarner of the Giants in what is now a very big game for Philly after Matt Cain pitched a shutout against the Phillies in Game 3 on Tuesday afternoon. Joe Blanton is clearly not one of Philly's "big three" pitchers, but I like his chances against a very young kid in easily his biggest game as a major leaguer, and a guy with a WHIP of 1.30 who also is the clear #4 starter in the Giants' rotation. If the Phils can find a way to win this game on the road on Wednesday, we even things back up at 2-2 in the series and then we just need to win 2 of the last 3 games of the series, with Halladay, Oswalt and Hamels starting, and with two of those three games at home in Philadelphia. That should be doable for the Phils, if they can get their heads out of their asses when there are runners in scoring position. But if Bumgarner wins tonight over Blanton, then we're looking at another 3-1 series advantage for the underdog. And, while I think it is clear that the Phillies have more of an ability to still come back and win a series with homefield advantage and down 3 games to 1 than the Yankees would given the Phils' incredible 3-man combination in the rotation, at the end of the day it is very hard to like anyone to win three straight games against a team that features the level of historically incredible starting pitching that the Giants bring to bear.

Both series continue on Wednesday, this time with the Yankees having the afternoon game to fight to extend their season for one more day, and then the Phils needing to step up big time in the nightcap or risk putting themselves into a very, very deep hole.

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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Zombie Alert

I hate to stir up mass hysteria or anything, but I am pretty sure Cliff Lee is undead. I mean, the stony look on his face while he just goes out there and throws strikes by people is unlike anyone I can ever recall. He must be undead, it's the most sensible explanation for how someone could not just get the results Lee gets on the mound but more particularly do it how he does it. I don't ever recall someone with such ice in their veins in a huge spot over and over again -- I know I posted that video of the ridiculously blase basket catch in last year's World Series against the Yankees -- but Monday night's Game 3 of the ALCS in New York was a perfect example of the country's most famous zombie in action.

Do you realize the Yankees had just three baserunners in 8 innings against Cliff Lee last night? That Lee struck out 13 batters out of the 24 guys he mowed down on the night? You do realize this is the all-time all-star Yankees lineup we're talking about here, they of the Derek Jeter / A-Rod / Mark Teixeira / Robinson Cano / Jorge Posada and I could go on and on? Cliff Lee, even with all the spotlight in the world on him and the highest expectations one could have, he still performed.

And the thing that gets me most of all with him is he doesn't make you chase bad pitches. He doesn't set you up with three lowballs and then fire one in way high out of the strike zone to make you swing and miss. He doesn't even necessarily "paint the corners" like a Greg Maddux did so impeccably back in his heyday. Cliff Lee just throws effing strikes. You know he's going to do it. You can't just take the first pitch like so many other pitchers allow a good contact hitter to do. If you do, you'll just be behind in the count every time you get up there, which is not where you want to be against Lee. In two-hitting and shutting out the Yankees on Monday, Lee threw 122 pitches, 82 of them for strikes. I used to point this out all the time here on the blog last year when Lee was pitching for the Phillies, but this guy throws at least 2/3 strikes every time he goes out there. He just challenges every hitter with his perfectly-placed fastball, and he moves on to the cutters and the sliders once he gets ahead in the count, and the guy is deadly accurate. Forget pitching around certain guys, or being sure to avoid the top part of the strike zone against the cleanup hitter, forget all that stuff. Cliff Lee the Undead just goes out there with that same stoic look on his face and the same stoic approach to every hitter he faces: just throw it by them. Cliff Lee gives new meaning to the phrase "mowing 'em down", he really does.

I watched my own team's #1 pitcher throw a frigging no-hitter earlier in these playoffs, and I also watched Tim Lincecum throw a masterful 14-strikeout 3-hit complete game shutout of the Braves in Game 1 of this year's NLDS. But Cliff Lee's performance on Monday night at the Yankees is quite simply the most sensational pitching performance I have witnessed in the last few weeks.

With AJ Burnett slated to pitch tonight for the Yankees in Game 4, there is a very real chance that the Yankees are down 3 games to 1 in the ALCS with two more games still to play in Arlington to end the series. That is a horrible situation for the Yankees, not so much because they have to win three straight games, but because it means that under the best case scenario, they will have to beat Cliff Lee again to go back to the World Series. And this time it will be in Texas.

Nobody has really given this Rangers team a real chance to win the AL pennant (myself included) all season long, until perhaps today. For the first time this morning on the way into work, I found myself speculating about the possibilities. It's actually a pretty amazing story, albeit one I haven't even considered for one second until just today: Cliff Lee pitching against the Phillies in the World Series, the team that traded him after he dominated for us in 2009 and went and got Roy Halladay instead. Halladay vs Lee in Game 1 of the World Series....that one's gonna be even better than Halladay vs. Lincecum twice in the NLDS here.

Speaking of which, Game 3 of the NLCS kicks off at 4pm ET today, and as I mentioned yesterday this is a much bigger game for the Phillies than Game 1 was. Although winning today is certainly not crucial to either team, with Cole Hamels pitching today and Joe Blanton slated for tomorrow, clearly the Phils' best chance is to win with Hamels today and then take the pressure off for Game 4 on Wednesday.

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Monday, October 18, 2010

Bring on the Baseball

Contrary to the worst fears of a significant number of Philadelphia Phillies fans, the Phils' 4-3 loss to the Giants in Game 1 of the NLCS did not have me worried. I believe I wrote about this last Friday, but I actually thought coming in (and still do think today) that both the NLCS and the ALCS this year for specific reasons did not feature a Game 1 that it actually mattered all that much to either team involved in either game to win. I mean sure, we've all seen the stats as far as what percentage of Game 1 winners have gone on to win the series, but #1 the numbers are not all that high, and #2 and more importantly, the reason those numbers are not all that meaningful is that the team with homefield advantage is already the better team over a 162-game season in most cases, so they should win Game 1 at home, and they should win the whole series in most cases due to superior skill and talent. In any event, usually I will concede that Game 1 proves to be very important the later into these series you get in the postseason, but I just don't think that's the case this year.

On the Yankees side, the big reason that Game 1 just doesn't matter all that much -- even to the underdog Rangers playing at home -- is Cliff Lee. It's that simple. If Cliff Lee had been pitching in Game 1 in Texas, then the Rangers losing that game would have been in my mind devastating to their chances of winning this series. Because not only did they just lose with their ace, but they have no more Cliff Lee to pitch for the next four games of the series. That's the big loss right there. But here, not only does Texas have homefield advantage in the series, and thus gets four games at home if necessary including the decisive Game 7 if it gets that far, but they've got what everyone in the world is viewing as a gimme win with Cliff Lee going tonight in Game 3. Knowing that Game 3 is theirs regardless of where the game is being played is a huge factor for the Rangers in this series, and it quite simply made winning Game 1 not a huge priority as long as the team was able to secure a split in Texas. Now if all goes as planned tonight and Lee pitches another gem after beating the Yankees twice during the regular season already this year and also twice during the World Series in 2009, the Rangers will be guaranteed at worst to return to Texas with a chance to beat the Yankees as they have flogged them in the first two games of the series at home and to move on to the first World Series appearance (and the first World Series loss) in franchise history.

In the NLCS, it's basically the same story but for a more generalized reason. With the Rangers, it is the specter of Cliff Lee alone that made Game 1 not crucial for them to win the series. With the Phillies, it's the entire starting rotation. I mean, when you've got Halladay, Oswalt and Hamels taking the ball to start 6 of the potentially 7 games of this series, winning Game 1 with Halladay throwing against another of the top two or three pitchers in the league is quite simply not that significant. The Phils are still the far superior team, the Giants' lineup is proving itself to be even more of a joke than I thought minus the ridicky Cody Ross situation, and Game 7 is still in Philly if needed. Halladay pitched ok -- the three home runs and four total runs over 7 innings he gave up were not necessarily all that different from many of Halladay's performances over the second half of the season -- but losing that game is just not something to get all worked up about in my mind given all of the above factors.

And Game 2 in both series proved out exactly what I am talking about here. The Rangers -- who shelled the Yankees Game 1 starter and AL Cy Young winner CC Sabathia for 5 runs in under 5 innings, and then followed that up by equally badly shelling Yankees' Game 2 starter Phil Hughes for another 5 runs in I think 6 innings -- came back and pounded the Yankees once again in Game 2 at home, and like I said, as long as Cliff Lee outduels the tiring Andy Pettite tonight in New York, the Rangers are in as good a shape as they could have reasonably hoped for after three games with a 2-1 lead. And the Phillies did in Game 2 to the Giants what they have done to mostly every team since acquiring Roy Oswalt at the end of July this year, chipping away at the Giants' starter, scoring early and getting the pitch count up, eventually chasing him and then smiting the Giants' bullpen in the middle innings to bust open the game entirely and basically blow out to also get back to 1-1 in the series.

I should also mention that, as predicted, Roy Oswalt did in fact snack on the Giants' silly offensive lineup. He is an awesome pitcher, and anyone who sits and watches him work in and out of a lineup, in and out of counts and pitches, cannot leave with any other conclusion. He is a wonder to watch, for somebody with such seemingly thin arms to whip it in there that hard and with that great of placement. Watching Aubrey Huff in the 8th try to keep up with Roy Oswalt's 104th, 105th and 106th pitches of the night was something truly to behold. Oswalt showed in scattering just four hits over eight full innings that he is in fact a cut (or two) above the quality of the Giants' lineup, and again absent the hot streak that Cody Ross is on right now, the Giants are not doing a damn thing against either of Philly's starting pitchers in the first two games of this series. Now on Tuesday it will be Cole Hamels going against Matt Cain in San Francisco in a game that is probaly kind of up in the air, and which is more important to Philadelphia than Game 1 but which is also not crucial given who the Phils will be putting forth as their starter in games 5, 6 and 7 even if the Phils head into Game 5 down 3-1 in the series.

As I watched the Phillies hitters tee off on three different Giants' pitchers late in Game 2, I once again found myself thinking of something I thought of over the weekend about why I just don't see the Giants winning this series. Of course this is baseball, and you only have to look back basically every two or three years to find a team that won out despite not having the most raw talent in the league in an objective sense, so you certainly can't say that the Giants could not possibly win this series. They could, they can, and they might. But in terms of predicting it, I just can't realistically make that prediction, and in a nutshell here's why: If the Giants' starting rotation of Lincecum, Cain, Sanchez and Bumgartner had to face just the Phillies every day over a 162-game season, can you imagine how much worse off the Giants' starting rotation's season numbers would have been as compared to how they ended up this year after instead playing everyone in the NL, a couple of AL teams and with a focus on the NL West? I am guessing things like individual ERAs would literally probably have been twice as high for the Giants' pitchers, and the win totals, plus things like strikeouts, WHIP, etc. would all have been markedly lower as well. Meanwhile, think about the reverse situation for the Phillies' pitchers. If Halladay, Oswalt, Hamels and Blanton did nothing but face this silly little Giants' lineup for 162 games over and over again for a whole season, can you just imagine those numbers? Obviously we would have four 20-game winners -- probably two 30-gamers and maybe even a 35 thrown in there for good measure -- and I'm thinking Blanton would have what, four no-hitters, Hamels maybe 6, and Halladay and Oswalt would clearly both be in double-figures for no-nos with maybe 3 or 4 perfect games sprinkled in to boot.

Game 3 tonight, the Cliff Lees at the Yankees, and then on Tuesday it's 4pm ET afternoon baseball for the Phillies in San Fran.

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Friday, October 15, 2010

More on the LCS

So this will be my last day writing here before the AL and NL League Championship Series kick off, the AL on Friday night in Arlington, Texas and the NL on Saturday night in Philadelphia. I've spent a good deal more time thinking about the likely outcome of both series, and I thought I would put down some more of my thoughts on those here.

First, in the AL I am thinking more and more that the Rangers have a real chance to do something amazing here. I hate to be that guy who picked against the Yankees in the first series, they swept, and who then picked against them again in the second series against a team I never thought was better than them, and watch them kill it a second time contrary to my predictions. But at the same time, one playoff series against perennial postseason pussies like the Twins does not change the feeling I expressed around the end of the regular season and again as the playoffs began that this year's Yankees team just seems to be not quite a strong of offense, not quite as clutch with the hitting, and definitely not as strong in the pitching either as last year's squad that had basically no doubt all season long they were going to win it all. Try as I might, I have had a lot of trouble late this week envisioning what the Yankees winning this series will actually look like. I can't quite go to the point of picking the Rangers to win the series, but you know what? I would pick them to win, if Cliff Lee was starting Game 1, and potentially 1-2 more games for his team in the series as a result. I mean, the Rangers had what, a few wins less than the Yankees this season, they ran away and hid with their division basically two months ago and as a team had nothing to play for for as long as anybody in major league baseball this year, they have homefield advantage in this series, and their big slugger Josh Hamilton is only just back from an injury that should see him continue to increase his contribution to the Rangers' push for the World Series more as the playoffs going on. This Yankees team has still got to be the favorite in this series, but damn if Cliff Lee were only available for Games 1 and 4 and maybe 7, it would be much easier to see the Rangers making it happen. Still, I bet we are looking at at least a 6-game series between two very good teams. Despite the coke habit, that Ron Washington has got some real chutzpah and he seems to say all the right things to his team. He is clearly one of the unknown great managers in the game today.

On the NL side, the buzz continues to grow about one of the best matchups of starting rotations that anybody can remember for League Championship Series. Chris Russo on Mad Dog Radio -- admittedly a huge lifelong San Francisco Giants fan -- has multiple times stated that he believes the Halladay - Lincecum matchup in Game 1 on Saturday night in Philly is the most-anticipated Game 1 LCS matchup in a couple of generations. At first I thought he was exaggerating, but then I tried to think of a time in recent memory when there was more buzz about the matchup of two starting pitchers to start an LCS series (or any playoff series, for that matter). It's just that, after Halladay's no-hitter against the league's most productive offense in his last outing, and after Lincecum mowed down 14 in absolutely wiping up the Braves in his last playoff appearance, the expectations heading into Game 1 for the pitching are truly lofty, and with good reason.

Russo loves loves loves his Giants in this series, but try as I might I just don't see how anyone who isn't a blind fan of San Francisco can look at this series objectively and determine that the Giants are going to win. The Giants' starting rotation is truly superb, and given how incredibly well the entire staff has pitched over the last 8 weeks or so, I am not even going to try to claim that the Phillies' staff is superior. But just look at the starter matchups side by side. It's Halladay vs. Lincecum in Game 1. I'm willing to call that a wash, more or less. It's Oswalt vs. Sanchez in Game 2. That's also around a wash, given how great Sanchez threw the ball in two wins in his two appearances against the Phillies this season. Kane vs. Cole Hamels in Game 3 is also very close if you look at season stats. I probably give the slight edge to Hamels given how lights-out he has pitched in the second half of the season, but with Game 3 in San Fran that is also basically a wash in my book. And then Bumgartner vs. Joe Blanton in Game 4, I probably give the edge there to the Giants, in particular in their building.

So, other than the #4 starter -- where even there I do not think the edge is huge -- these two teams are both utterly stacked at starting pitching, and I just do not see a meaningful difference between the starting pitching of the two teams. But it's the hitting of the two teams that I just simply cannot get over. Let's take a look at the two lineups here and I will show you what I mean:

Leadoff: Victornio (.276, 12 HR, 45 RBIs) vs. Torres (.260, 15 HR, 52 RBIs). These two look close, but Victorino is clearly the better hitter, and he is a much better baserunner once he gets on base from the leadoff spot as well.

#2: Polanco (.303, 5 HR, 43 RBIs) vs. Sanchez (.277, 6 HR, 41 RBIs). Again, this one is clearly in favor of the Phils, who saw Polanco hitting over .300 through most of the season and doing exactly what this stacked Phillies lineup needs from him in this spot.

#3: Chase Utley (.282, 16 HR, 61 RBIs) vs. Huff (.286, 18 HR, 57 RBIs). Yet again, another clear advantage for the Phillies. Not only has Utley proven himself to be perhaps the single most clutch hitter in the major leagues today over the past couple of seasons, but he missed a ton of games this year and would have destroyed Huff's numbers if given his normal amount of playing time.

#4: Howard (.275, 31 HR, 108 RBIs) vs. Poser (a rookie) (.274, 10 HR, 33 RBIs). Once again, this one is not close.

#5: Werth (.312, 27 HR, 82 RBIs) vs. Burrell (.313, 14 HR, 37 RBIs). What a joke.

#6: Ibanez (.270, 9 HR, 54 RBIs) vs. Uribe (.219, 4 HR, 14 RBIs). Even in positions where the Phillies are relatively weak -- and the real Phillies fans know that Ibanez has had a pretty clutch year at the plate -- the Giants' lineup is even weaker. Another advantage to the Phillies.

#7: Ruiz (.337, 6 HR, 31 RBIs) vs. Uribe (.233, 7 HR, 26 RBIs). Another spot that isn't even close, as Ruiz has quietly distinguished himself as another of the most clutch hitters in the game today and easily blows away his counterpart on the Giants in terms of offense.

#8: Valdez (.244, 4 HR, 23 RBIs) vs. Whiteside (.247, 4 HRs, 9 RBIs). Valdez isn't even an everyday player for this team, and yet his numbers in less than half a season are even better than the Giants' #8 hitter.

Our pitchers are even probably better hitters than the Giants' pitchers on average. The Giants have zero basestealers on their team, and "manufacturing runs" by speed on the basepaths is simply not a weapon in this Giants' squad's arsenal.

So yes, Lincecum is awesome. Sanchez has killed the Phillies so far this year. Kane and Bumgartner are both quality starters for sure who are pitching great at this point in the season. The Giants' bullpen is surely far superior to the Phillies' relievers. But that same pitching staff just gave up 9 runs in 4 games to the Braves, one of the worst-hitting teams in the National League over the final month to six weeks of the regular season. Now they are facing a lineup that is undebatably far superior to their own, at every single position. And I'm supposed to be afraid the Phillies won't be able to score on them?

And think about this -- meanwhile, the Phillies just gave up exactly 3 earned runs in 3 games against the Reds, a team with a far, far, laughably better lineup than the Giants, the team in fact that scored easily the most runs in the National League. And they scored 3 earned runs in 3 games against us, and now we're trotting out those same three pitchers for 6 of the potentially 7 games of this series. Roy Halladay is coming off of no-hitting the best-hitting team in the league, and now facing this historically horrible Giants lineup. Roy Oswalt got "shelled" in Game 2 against the Reds for four runs over 5 innings. But just like his first start in Philly was bad -- call it nerves, unease, whatever -- but then he bounced back with several incredible starts since then, if I were the Giants I would not want any part of Roy Oswalt and his 1.02 season WHIP in Game 2 on Sunday. In fact, I would go so far as to say that after that outing against the hard-hitting Reds, I expect Roy Oswalt to come out on Sunday and motherfucking snack on this Giants' minor league lineup. And Hamels, I'm not worried about this team smacking him around too hard at all with the way he's pitched for the last several months.

So yeah, the runs are going to be hard to come by in this series and certainly every time you can get a runner across the plate is going to have a real impact in these games. But, despite being the only team in all of MLB who could credibly claim to have the same general quality of staff in a short series as the Phillies, the disparity in the lineups between these two teams is like majors-vs-minors level stuff. And the Phils have homefield advantage. The Phils should take this series without too much trouble in my view even with the specter of Tim Lincecum hanging over our heads most likely twice in the series.

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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

MLB -- Championship Series Update

How unfortunate is it that baseball has apparently hired the same money-grubbing monkeys to schedule their postseason who already schedule the NBA playoffs these days? I mean, here we are, all done with the divisional rounds of the playoffs, and we have to wait until Friday night to start up the ALCS, which just ended on Tuesday night, and until Saturday night for the start of the NLCS, which ended on Monday night? I mean, in the end, sure this helps my Phillies this year in that we will have more than enough time to line up our pitching staff just the way we want to for the NLCS, but is it the way the games should be played? Personally, I prefer a system that favors the teams with the incredible 2- or 3-man starting rotation less, by having fewer off days in between series and even during the series themselves, but as I said, there's no doubt that this helps mostly every team still alive by this point in the playoffs and I imagine that is 90% of the reason behind the move (the other 10% being media money, in some form or another), but it totally takes away from the excitement and the momentum of the games to us fans, and I am not specifically a fan of this move one bit.

All that said, it was an entertaining divisional series round of games, with some surprises in the AL but nothing but chalk in the NL. First, in the American League, the Rays and Rangers played a very unusual series in which -- for the first time in divisional round history -- the road team amazingly won all five games in the series, including the Rangers clinching on Tuesday night on the back of yet another stellar postseason performance out of Cliff Lee. I think the owner of the Rays made a major, major screwup by coming out right as the regular season was coming to a close and announcing his intentions to essentially slash the payroll and break up the team after this postseason run was over. His team played tight as hell in the playoffs right from the getgo, they couldn't score runs when they needed them against a very scoreable-against team (other than when Cliff Lee is out there), and in the end their best pitcher (and the Rays' only great pitcher at this point in the season) lost two starts in the series, both at home, and that's your season right there in a nutshell.

On the other side in the AL, I picked the Twins to take down the Yankees finally after years and years of ineptitude against the Bronx Bombers, but instead we were all treated to one of the biggest step-downs I've in the postseason in years, in any sport. I mean, even for the Twins, and even against the Yankees, this was a huge puss-out for the Twins. They did not come to play, they allowed themselves to get rolled over by a pitching staff that has been very assailable by many teams throughout this season, and they continued with their total inability to hold on to any kind of a lead whatsoever, even late in games. The Twins led in two of the three games of the series, one of them late, and they had homefield in both games where they led. The fact that they got bounced this badly by a team with noticeable weaknesses compared to last year's world championship team is a huge black mark on that team and on Rod Gardenhire, who I now can only label as the game's best regular season coach, not best overall coach given his total postseason ineptitude.

Looking forward, the Rays would have been a much, much better matchup with the Yankees I think, other than the one big, fat, huge scary part about the Rangers to every Yankee fan in the world -- Cliff Lee. Recall that as a Phillie in 2009, Lee won both of his starts against the Yankees, including in Game 1 when he came out and absolutely moved down the best lineup in the AL by far. And the sick thing about watching Lee pitch is how incredibly calm and stone-faced he seems out there, even in the biggest spots of his life. Who could forget this catch by Lee in Game 1 of the World Series last year, when it was almost like he was too busy thinking of something else to be bothered really paying attention while making this catch. It is a small, insignificant play but I think speaks volumes about Lee and his ability to shine against the best lineup in the game while under the biggest spotlight in his sport. Unfortunately, even though I never believed the Yankees would make the World Series this year after around the halfway point in this regular season, I just don't see the Rangers as having quite enough on either the offense or the pitching staff to take down this juggernaut Yankees squad. Especially with the way that Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes pitched against the pussies Twins, the Yankees have got to be a significant favorite in this series, despite the fact that every Yankee fan out there is quaking in their boots about facing Cliff Lee. Not having to face Lee until Game 3 was the Yankees' biggest win of the entire postseason so far, and is a major factor in my thinking the Rangers will not have enough to find their way to their second-ever postseason series win as a franchise.

The National League divisional series had much less excitement and interest, and they went right along with the chalk. The Phillies took the best-hitting, most prolific run-scoring team in the National League in the Reds, and no-hit them in the first game, gave up 3 earned runs in the second, and then 2-hit complete game shut them out again in the third game to nab the easy sweep for the far and away the league's greatest team. Meanwhile, equally prdictably on the other side, the incredible pitching staff of the Giants was as expected far too much for a very ordinary Braves lineup, and they easily disposed of Atlanta in four games with no big offensive outputs throughout out of the overmatched Braves batters.

People are having fun predicting the Giants to take out the Phillies or at least to make a serious run at the best team the National League has seen in some 90 years, but to be perfectly honest I am just not seeing it. I mean, there is no doubt that the Giants are the team I would have wanted the Phillies to face the least, because between Lincecum and Sanchez they have two starters who have previously and I am sure will again shut down the Phils' lineup, and we could easily face those two starters as many as five times in a 7-game series. Plus the Giants' bullpen is excellent, which is the only weakness this Phillies team has here in the 2010 postseason. But in the end, even though I respect the Giants' picthers quite a bit, I am just not seeing this as anything but an awful matchup for them. The Phils have homefield advantage, and even though I could surely see Lincecum outlasting Roy Halladay in a pitchers duel in one of his two starts in Games 1 and 4, the bottom line is that the matchups of Halladay vs. Lincecum -- both in Philadelphia -- and Oswalt vs. Sanchez -- one in Philly and one in San Fran -- plus Cole Hamels pitching Games 3 and 7 against the Giants' #3 starter, and again with the extra game at home in Philly, this one just seems like a mismatch to me for the defending NL champs. This Phillies lineup is the total opposite of the Braves' light-hitting squad, and those games that were 1-0 and 3-2 wins for the Giants in the NLDS are more likely in my mind to be 5-3 and 6-1 losses for the Giants here in the NLCS.

In any event, Friday cannot get here quickly enough for those of us big baseball fans out there. It's been quite a ride so far and it should only get better from here as we march towards the 2010 World Series.

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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Woe to the Elderly

My lord, how many times is Brett Favre going to lose a game by throwing an ill-adivsed interception in the final minutes while attempting to lead his team on a game-winning drive to come from behind and win? The first several times it happened, I'm not sure I even realized it as those instances were spread over a couple of years, they weren't all in nationally televised games, etc. By the time Favre was already getting kinda over the hill, he started doing this in big games. Major games. Playoff games. I remember he lost a playoff game at home in overtime for the Packers with a pick-6 to soem dude with long dreadlocks. I know about the hair because that's all you could see of him sticking out of the back of his helmet as he ran away from the camera towards the Packers' end zone after jumping right in front of Favre's telegraphed pass and taking it home.

Then there were the last few years, where this has seemed much more the norm for Favre than the aberration. Shit, even after Favre's incredible performance in the 2009 regular season of 33 touchdowns to just 7 picks, he still managed to find a way to end his season and dash the hopes of millions of Green Bay fans around the world with a horrible interception in the NFC Championship that cost his team a game that they were down three points in with just seconds to go in the game. And they were already in field goal range! And now last night, after getting embarrassed in the first half by the Jets' defense, Favre comes out, finds Randy Moss on a picture-perfect run and catch play, finds Percy Harvin on a nice crossing route, and before you know it, his team is down just 2 points and with the ball in their hands in the final two minutes, needing maybe 30, 35 yards from scrimmage to secure the game-winning field goal.

And then boom, another interception. Another pick-6. Another loss for Favre who just cannot control himself when it comes to thinking that he can thread any needle, pass into any kind of coverage, find any seam imaginable.

Brett Favre sucks. Between his injured ankle, the throwing elbow that is clearly plaguing him more than he is letting on based on how tenderly he treated it all through the second half last night, the ongoing issues with his idiot coach Brad Childress, the injuries to his wide receiver corps, how horrible his team is this year, the incredible disappointment of failing to even come close to the fans' expectations for the Vikings this season, and now on top of all that, the allegations that he made unwanted sexual advances to a female New York Jets employee including sending her unwanted pictures of his package, how much is that guy desperately wishing that he never came back to football at this point?

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Friday, October 08, 2010

MLB, and NFL Week 4 Picks

Wow. The story so far in the early part of the Divisional Series in baseball is twofold. First, can the Twins hold on to a fucking lead one time? Just one time? Christ, as of this writing that is now 8 consecutive losses for the Twins -- who are perennially in the postseason -- in which they have held the lead at some point in the game. Go win a whole game already. Unreal.

But the real biggest story of the playoffs so far has been the two unbelievable performances from big-time pitchers stepping up in the very first appearance in the MLB postseason. First it was Phildelphia Phillies Roy Halladay throwing a no-hitter against the National League's highest-scoring team in the Reds the other day in his first time ever in a playoff game, a feat only equalled one other time in well over a century of baseball history, and making Halladay the first man to ever pitch a regular season and a postseason no-hitter in the same year. And then on Thursday night, those of you who stayed up late to watch were treated to a gem of a game that saw young Tim Lincecum hurl a complete game, two-hit dominating shutout that included 14 strikeouts and some of the most tensely exciting, stressful pitching around as his team held on for a 1-0 victory in Game 1 of that series. How unfortunate that the one run scored in the game was actually the result of a single to knock in a runner from second who had clearly clearly clearly been thrown out stealing second a few pitches earlier. It wasn't close, and the replay makes it just so painfully obvious. The guy stole second, was out by a mile, got called safe, and two pitches later came in on a single that should never have been, and there's your game, 1-0.

Is it me, or is the refereeing in sports -- all sports -- just getting worse and worse and worse every year? I used to think it was just that our technology with respect to replays was getting better and better every year, and thus able to catch more and more mistakes, but really these guys are just missing so many calls, making themselves the story and the deciding factor in these games instead of the people we ultimately are paying millions of dollars a year to see play. It's one of the worst trends in sports, and is it me or is this as bad as it's ever been right now at this exact moment after the last few days of the playoffs and what's gone down in the NFL already this year?

And while I'm asking questions, is it me, or is Tim Lincecum the spitting image of that kid from "Dazed and Confused" who played the main character who was about to go to high school? I'm pretty sure if I go back and check that, that kid's name is gonna be Timmy Lincecum in the credits. No reason to even check really, it's obviously that kid.

Anyways, the baseball is making waves already but that's not really what I'm here to talk about today. Today is Friday and that means I am in here with five more NFL picks, as I seek some direction after a 2-3 week -- in which I straight-up blew a couple of the games in my worst actual weak of the season so far -- that has left me now right back at .500 for the year at 7-7-1, which equals not a break-even but a loss of 7/10 of a unit assuming a 10% vig on each bet. No big whoop but I am here to do better than that. Last week was putrid, let us try to get back on the winning bandwagon with some trends I have noticed that I do not think have adequately been priced in to the lines quite yet.

1. St. Louis Rams +3 at Detroit Lions. Here's one of the trends I am talking about: The Rams are for real. Some people may be starting to realize this, but to be docking a team as bad as the Lions an extra field goal against what I believe is a clearly superior team right now is I think still a mistake. I say better than 50% chance that Sam Bradford -- who is definitely for real -- and Steve Spagnuolo -- who is also definitely for real -- will combine with the stingy Rams' defense -- who by the way is also for real having given up just 13 points per game so far through four games against admittedly bad teams, to put up a good fight and I have decent confidence they will keep this one real close as the Rams continue to get better each and every week.

2. Carolina Panthers +3 vs. Chicago Bears. Something tells me that Jay Cutler is mostly faking these concussion-like symptoms he has been complaining about this week, after taking nine sacks last week in the first half last week at the Giants, and that the linesmakers have not quite taken into account yet the cancerous effect that a guy like Cutler can have in a locker room when his vag starts to cry like it always does. The Panthers still have a great coach, and they're not going to 0-8 at home this season, and the Bears are coming in with Cutler on the bench and Todd Collins starting at quarterback.

Yes, that's right. I just said Todd Collins. I'll take the home team and the points. That one seems like another pretty easy win.

3. Tennessee Titans +7 at Dallas Cowboys. Here I think the line is reacting a bit too much to the Titans' surprising loss last week at the hands of Denver, but a team like this in my mind is going to bounce back much more strongly this week at the Cowboys. No way Jeff Fisher's team is coming out flat again and getting pushed around on the line like the Titans did last week by the Broncos. I'm not sure they will win this game, but I'm looking for the Titans to play sufficiently not like they did last week, and the Cowboys are really a crapshoot anyways right now in terms of how they'll play in any given week, to make this a nice value with the full touchdown on top. This should also be a win.

4. San Francisco 49ers -4 vs. Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles are beatable right now, and there's no way the Niners are going to go 0-8 at home this year so they too are going to win one of these games sooner or later. This seems like the right matchup for that to happen, especially with the Eagles flying all the way across the country for this game and double-especially with the absolute joke of a game plan the team had in place last week against a hapless Redskin squad. Something tells me the 49ers cover late in this one.

5. I'm going to be an idiot and once again pick the Saints as a hefty favorite, and even worse this time on the road. It's New Orleans Saints -7 at Arizona Cardinals. I mean, only an idiot would actually fall for this pick, but I read yesterday that the Cardinals are amazingly benching Derek Anderson now in favor of starting their undrafted rookie no-name from Okeefenokee U. What that team has done with the qb situation in Arizona this year is just comical. Anyways, of course the Saints haven't played well enough to cover a line like this in any of their games this year, let alone on the road across the country like this, but I'm an idiot, have my picks not made that clear enough already? This one is a loss.

Best of luck to me and to all of you who are playing the games. May your fantasy teams experience more luck than your opponents' teams experience.

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Wednesday, October 06, 2010

2010 MLB Playoff Predictions

Well, once again I'm not going to be posting these until after some of the Game 1s have already begun in this year's postseason baseball season, but as with my preseason NFL picks, most of this post was written prior to Wednesday's kickoff to the 2010 postseason games.

1. Rays vs Rangers. I'm going with the Rays in this one. They've got home field advantage, they had the most wins in the American League this season, and unlike when they had their unlikely postseason run back in 2008, now this is a team with plenty of experienced players with postseason and even World Series games under their belt. Cliff Lee did not surprise me much in winning Game 1 today or really any time he steps on the mound, but I still have a feeling that the Rays will quickly turn this back into a series again and will likely prevail in the end over what is a very good Texas Rangers team.

2. Yankees vs. Twins. I have turned this one over and over and over in my head, and try as I might I just cannot shake this nagging feeling that the Twins are finally going to break through this year. Secretly I have thought the Twins have been the best team in the AL for the past several months, and all this with star Justin Morneau -- who hit .345 with 18 home runs this year in 82 total games -- missing fully half the season to injury, and with the closer Joe Nathan missing the entire season with Tommy John surgery earlier this year. And the main thing I just can't get past is that the Yankees' rotation is simply not close to what it used to be. Yeah AJ Burnett has kinda sucked balls late this year, but at least with him last year you knew he might bust out with a great start, every once in a while. Now this year, the Yankees are looking at CC Sabathia, who of course is a horse, but after that it's an injured Andy Pettite who has posted an ERA of nearly 7 since returning from something like 6 weeks on the disabled list, and then it's Phil Hughes who didn't really pitch well for the past two months of the season in his own right. And that's it, that's the whole rotation, just those three pitchers for Joe Girardi in the postseason. And I worry that, after losing the division to the Rays on the final day of the regular season and thus having to go on the road to play Minnesota in their brand new stadium in Games 1 and 2, if CC can't get it done early then this could be a quick series for the defending World Champions.

Giants vs. Braves. I'm going to go with the chalk here and take the Giants, whose pitching staff I just see dominating the Braves' faltering lineup, especially with homefield advantage also leaning their way. The Braves really cooled off in the final month or two of the season, and meanwhile the Giants did nothing short of posting the best team ERA in September in the last 40 years since the days when Tom Seaver graced the mound. I was a big Braves guy earlier in the season, but this Giants rotation is going to be very difficult for them to beat in a 5-game series without homefield advantage.

Phillies vs. Reds. Of course this one is very close to home for me, but this Phillies team is going to be a huge task for anyone in the National League. Not only were the Fightin Phils 2010's best team, but they had 54 wins at home and will have homefield advantage all throughout the entire postseason. And when it comes to a starting rotation, this is the best staff that comes to mind since those steroid-fueled Yankees teams of the early 2000s at least. You've got Roy Halladay, the lock NL Cy Young winner, and you've got Roy Oswalt, who led the NL in WHIP with a stunning 1.02, and then there's Cole Hamels, who might have been the NL's best pitcher in the final two months of the season. In a short series like this, this Reds team -- whose whole "World Series" was just returning to the postseason this year after a long absence -- should be no match for the best team in the sport in 2010.

Oh, and Roy Halladay just pitched a mutha fuckin no hitter against them too. What a fucking stallion.

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Tuesday, October 05, 2010

NFL 2010: The Quarter-Point Mark

Whoa! Just like that we are already a full quarter of the way through the NFL season, with most teams now having played 4 of their 16 regular season games other than four teams with bye weeks this past weekend. And if there's one thing the NFL teaches you year in and year out -- far more than any other major professional sport out there in the U.S. -- it is to expect the unexpected. It's been a great season so far, with several major storylines and surprises leading the way -- on both the positive and negative end of the spectrum.

First, what do we know that we did not know heading into the 2010 NFL regular season?

1. Steve Spagnuolo, Sam Bradford and the Rams are for real. After blowing out Washington in Week 3 and following that up with another blowout of Pete Carroll's hapless-on-the-road Seattle squad, the Rams are looking up. Week 3 is the first time this team won a road game in nearly a season and a half, and now this is the first two-game win streak for the team in who know how long. This is the first time since very late in the Curt Warner era / very early in the Marc Bulger era that the Rams can actually go into their games with a reasonable expectation to win. Bradford is getting the job done without much other talent around him other than a hobbled Steven Jackson, and Spagnuolo is showing why the Rams hired him away from the Giants a few seasons ago and have stuck with him since then. Although it's hard to expect much from the Rams after the debacle of the past few seasons, this team's upside in a very poor NFC West is basically unlimited. Go ahead -- tell me the Rams couldn't possibly win that division this year. I dare you.

2. The Jets are for real. I could not believe this heading into the 2010 regular season, and after that first game against the Ravens' defense, I was ready to pronounce Mark Sanchez dead on arrival and start looking for a replacement who could actually throw an NFL ball. But what Sanchise and the Jets have done since Week 1 is nothing short of spectacular, going 3-0 against division rivals the Cheatriots, the Dolphins and the Bills (the last two on the road, no less) and scoring over 32 points per game over that stretch to take over the top spot in the very tough AFC East, the real best division in football this year. Sanchise has followed suit, throwing 8 touchdowns against 0 interceptions so far on the year, easily his best stretch of patience and smart decisions of his short career. With the Pats looking beatable and the Dolphins off to an 0-2 start at home with losses to the Jets and the Pats, the Jets look to be the team to beat in their division as they bid to reach the Superbowl after last year's deep post-season run.

3. The Colts and Vikings may be in some trouble. The Colts didn't lose a single game they tried to win in all of the 2009 regular season, but now they have lost two of their first four games here in 2010, with essentially the same team returning and none of the players really getting old in the traditional sense. Meanwhile, Brett Favre has struggled mightily so far this season for Minnesota, with his team scoring just over 14 points per game after leading the entire NFL in scoring in 2009. While the Colts are mired in unfamiliar territory at 2-2 this early in the season, the Vikings sit at 1-2 after a bye this past weekend, but now head into very hostile territory against the Jets next Monday night in New York Jersey.

4. Donovan McNabb kinda sucks. Don't get me wrong, he got the win in Philly this past weekend thanks to horrible game planning by Andy Reid who got embarrassed by Mike Shanahan in D-Mac's first return to Lincoln Financial Field since leaving the Eagles in the offseason, and I can assure you that McNabb has had enough bad games in his career that the only thing he cares about is that mark in the victory column for his team. But that said, McNabb's performance overall in this young season has been spotty at best, totalling just three touchdowns in four full games along with two picks, and a general inability to make the big throws when he has been most needed so far in the first four games of 2010. All I know is, it felt really good to hear the crowd sarcastically cheering when McNabb missed a wide open Chris Cooley for a sure touchdown in the first quarter on Sunday, because as a longtime Eagles fan who watched the past ten years of D-Mac closely, I knew we were all feeling the exact same relief.

5. The 49ers are awful, and the NFC West may be the worst overall division in NFL history. It turns out Alex Smith is actually not the second coming of Bart Starr despite his heroic performance in Week 2 this season -- in fact, Alex Smith is worthless, Frank Gore is of limited usefulness, and in general the 49ers are not at all displaying the patience and control expected of a Mike Singletary team. The latest embarrassment was the team intercepting a pass late from the Falcons' Matt Ryan last Sunday that essentially sealed the 14-13 victory for the 49ers, but then the player insisted on returning the interception and scoring a meaningless touchdown rather than just sitting down and getting tagged, thereby allowing his team to run out the clock. The result of course was another modern-day Leon Lett situation where the interceptor was caught from behind and lost the ball back to the Falcons, setting up a last-minute drive for the winning field goal. As I mentioned above, this division is basically totally up for grabs at this point, with the Cardinals, Seahawks and Rams all tied at 2-2, and the Niners in the cellar at 0-4 and heading home to face the Eagles this coming weekend in Week 5.

6. Don't let the 2-2 record fool you: the Miami Dolphins are a very solid team. I wasn't sure if they would be quite good enough to make the postseason when I made my 2010 NFL predictions just over a month ago, but I knew then that Tony Sparano and the Dolphins still have a buzz around them this year that hasn't been there since sometime before Dan Marino retired. Although Chad Henne was impatient and made a number of poor decisions of extremely telegraphed throws on Monday night against the Cheatriots, in general Henne has a gun for an arm and I believe can be taught to play more within himself and not cost his team a chance at winning. Brandon Marshall looks like a superstar again at wideout in his new digs in South Florida, and damn if I had this kid Bess running for my team I would be in seventh heaven. Watching Bess run with the ball is like watching John Wall last year in the NCAA tournament -- the guy is just flat-out faster than everyone else out there on the field with him. Bess is likely to be a touchdown machine over the next few years in this system, and I would keep my eyes on the Dolphins to make some noise before all is said and done in the AFC East in 2010.

7. Kansas City could really be a force in the AFC West this season. Yes, this team's 3-0 record is largely a result of the team playing the Chargers -- who play markedly worse on the road than they do at home -- and then the Browns and the 49ers so far this season. But you know what? Take a look at the Chiefs' schedule this entire season through, and you will notice that there are just not a lot of tough games to speak of. After a difficult matchup with Indy in Week 5, the team will play Houston - Jacksonville - Buffalo - Oakland - Denver - Arizona - Seattle - Denver - San Diego - St. Louis - Tennessee - Oakland to finish up the season. With a defense giving up under 13 points per game so far this year, it's not hard at all to imagine KC picking up another 5 or 6 wins on that schedule, in a division where 8-8 is likely to win out for the second consecutive season.

Second, what is proving to be more or less just what we expected?

The Cheatriots are a good team. Their defense can be porous and like last year will likely be their ultimate downfall, but the offense is great. Tom Brady is back and looks like his old self from a few years ago instead of the timid, injury-shy player I saw through much of the 2009 season. Even with Randy Moss flagging week to week and pissed off about it at that, this team has got enough moxie on offense to take on all comers in the NFL this year.

The Lions are a hapless bunch. I was excited for this team heading into 2010, but when Matthew Stafford went down early in Game 1, and then the Lions had that game stolen away from them by the hideotic call on the no-touchdown-catch on the final play, I just knew it did not bode well. Where the Sam Bradford and the St. Louis Rams seem to be succeeding -- scoring points, managing games, getting lucky when they need to -- the Lions continue to fail, and are looking at yet another 0-4 start to a season as a result.

The Browns and Panthers have no quarterback, and no chance to make a good run this year. The Giants are inconsistent once again, losing games you think they should win, and then just when you're ready to count them out, they bust out with the big win, a cycle that has come to be the hallmark of the Tom Coughlin era in New York. The Redskins, even with a new head coach and totally revamped scheme, seem to play down to the level of their opponents and as always just never look ready to just come out and steamroll a team. Cincinnati is typically inexplicable so far this year, winning two low-scoring games against Carolina and Baltimore, but losing two higher-scoring affairs against the Cheatriots and now the lowly Browns this past weekend as Marvin Lewis continues to bumble along until someone finally wises up to his lack of managerial talents. Atlanta is solid, focusing on offense, and probably primed to make another playoff run in 2010. The Steelers' defense has been as strong as anyone's in the NFL so far this year in Big Ben's absence, with a healthy Troy Polamalu up to his old tricks and making life hell for the AFC's quarterback corps. The Titans and Ravens are good combinations of passing and running with excellent team defense and special teams that should also take them to the postseason in 2010. Houston is off to a 3-1 start and has an early full-game lead over favored rivals Tennessee and Indianapolis here through a quarter of the regular season.

Last, what are the big stories I am looking at for the second quarter of the 2010 NFL regular season?

1. Far and away the biggest issue to me is the Mike Vick / Kevin Kolb drama as it continues to unfold. As much interest as there already was in this storyline with Vick playing MVP-caliber quarterback for the Eagles the past two weeks, now that Vick is down with a rib cartilage injury, he is likely to miss 2-3 weeks at least, which means the qb job in Philly is now once again Kevin Kolb's to win. Because, let's not forget, Kolb was the "quarterback of the future" for this team as recently as three weeks ago, and he only lost his starting job to Vick because of Kolb's injury in Week 1. So anybody who doesn't realize that the Eagle quarterback job is now Kolb's for the taking is just not paying attention. I mean, can you imagine if Kolb goes 3-0 at San Francisco, at home vs Atlanta and then at Tennessee over the next three weeks, with three decent games? The quarterback of the future in Philadelphia will become the quarterback of the present again faster than you can say "ThankGodDonovonIsGone". Take it from me, something tells me we haven't seen close to the end of the quarterback drama in Philly yet so far in 2010.

2. Can Brett Favre come back from his early-season swoon? Or will the Vikings simply roll over and die and cede the NFC North to the Packers / Bears winner? Favre, who is 60 of 97 for just 2 touchdowns and six interceptions through three games in 2010 so far and a qb rating of just a hair over 60, is going to need to improve significantly if his team is to go anywhere in 2010, and the smart money says that the old man is clearly still feeling the effects of his ankle surgery from early this year. But whereas in the past few seasons Favre has generally improved as the season wore on and he got into better shape and got to know his offense better after going through his annual ritual of skipping out on training camp, I worry this year that Favre could be getting worse and not better with his ankle injury that as recently as 6 weeks ago or so had Favre claiming he was not going to be able to play football this season.

3. Will Dallas step up and win a weaker-than-expected NFC East? Can the Chargers pull it together enough and play well enough on the road to win the super-weak AFC West? Both of these teams were overwhelming favorites to win their divisions heading into the 2010 NFL regular season, and both teams thus far have looked kinda chumpy over too much of their seasons so far. But both have the luxury of playing in divisions that seem eminently winnable, and ultimately both teams find themselves just a win out of first here a quarter of the way into the season. Something tells me that both the 'Boys and the Chargers will find their way to the top of their respective divisions by the time the snow is falling in New York.

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Monday, October 04, 2010

2010 MLB Predictions -- Revisited

On Tuesday, April 6, I posted my over-under predictions for all 30 major league baseball teams for 2010. Today, with the MLB regular season having come to an end over the weekend in typically exciting and down-to-the-wire fashion, I am here to analyze the results of my 2010 predictions, as I know there were a number of second-half streaks from teams like the Mets, the Phillies, the Angels, the Dodgers, the Rays and a few others that will put into jeopardy my ability to have picked their season correct back before it all began, when it was still snowing out in Colorado earlier this year. So following are my original predictions for each major league baseball team this year, and how my prediction held up in the end:

Arizona Diamondbacks 82.5. I am going to go under on this one. Although the Padres are bad, and Dodgers and the Giants should be just strong enough I think to keep the D-Backs under .500 on the season. Actual 2010 wins: 65. Easy win for me.

Atlanta Braves 85.5. Wow is everybody hot on the Braves this season. They have a good quality staff of young pitchers, and the lineup is as strong as it's been in years. I think 85.5 is a tough number to hit in an NL East where basically every team improved compared to last season, but I am going to go out on a limb and go just barely over on this one. Actual 2010 wins: 91. Another win to start off the alphabet right.

Baltimore Orioles 74.5. Same as it ever was with this team, which seemingly hasn't been good in a decade. The AL East is once again stacked, and even with the Blue Jays being worse, I am going to pick slightly under this number for the O's. Actual 2010 wins: 66. That's another win, but give new O's manager Buck Showalter another month or 6 weeks at the helm earlier this season and I probably drop this one.

Boston Red Sox 94.5. Now this is a huge number for a team that plays in the same division as the Yankees and the Rays. The Red Sox should clearly be an improved team in 2010, with one of the (if not the) best starting rotations in the sport today, and they are going to pile on teams like the Orioles and Blue Jays all season long. As high as that number is, I guess I'm going to join the crowd and take the over on the Sox for 2010. Actual 2010 wins: 89. That's a loss.

Chicago Cubs 83.5. Wow has this team fallen since being predicted to win the division as recently as a year ago. When manager Lou Piniella loses his players and they stop listening to his message, though, things are not likely to turn around quick in my book. I'll take the under here despite the Cubs playing in a very lackluster division once again this year. Actual 2010 wins: 75. Another solid win for the predictions.

Chicago White Sox 82.5. This number seems low to me for a White Sox team that I expect to compete for the AL Central crown after the Twins' Joe Nathan's season-ending Tommy John surgery last week. It is likely that the winner of this division takes the title with fewer than 90 wins, but still the Sox should be able to get over this number by season's end. Actual 2010 wins: 88. Win!

Cincinnati Reds 79.5. The Reds are another team that everybody is talking about being on the upswing in 2010, but in this case I am not really seeing what makes them stand out in the NL Central. They might improve on last year's win total of 78, though, in what again is likely to be a division featuring a battle of several mediocre teams, so I will take the over here although I do not expect the Reds to get much above the .500 mark by September. Actual 2010 wins: 91. And it's another easy win.

Cleveland Indians 74.5. The Indians are an easy pick for a perennial under, and this year is no exception in my book, in particular with how much younger the team got thanks to some trades made last year and during the offseason. Actual 2010 wins: 69. Bag another win!

Colorado Rockies 84.5. Now here is another team that everybody loves in 2010 but whose train I am jumping right on to as well. The NL West is open for the taking in my opinion, and nobody played better in the last two-thirds of the season in 2009 than the Rockies. I'll take the over as I expect this team to get to the upper 80s if they can continue last season's momentum. Actual 2010 wins: 83. There's a loss for one of the most disappointing teams in baseball in 2010 after the way they ended the 2009 season.

Detroit Tigers 80.5. I like the Tigers ok this year, and think they should get over this number. Detroit has a very good, proven manager in Jimmy Leyland, their starting pitching is young and hard-throwing, and the addition of Johnny Damon so far by all counts is going as smoothly as could be hoped. I look for this team to clear .500 and be in the race in what I think is a wide-open AL Central in 2010. Actual 2010 wins: 81. Now there's a squeaker win if I ever saw one.

Florida Marlins 80.5. I don't really know what to do with the Marlins, who have some great talent on both offense and defense, but who seem to be the only team in the NL East who did not appreciably improve their squad since 2009. Just under .500 is probably more or less spot-on so this is a tough line to pick for me, but I'll go against the grain and take the under for Florida this year after correctly picking them as an easy "over" pick in 2009. Actual 2010 wins: 80. There's another squeaker for ya, but I'll take it.

Houston Astros 74.5. Houston is going to be terrible again in 2010 as they have little going for them on either side of the ball these days. It's a low number but I'll still take the under and hope for the worst as the season rolls on. Actual 2010 wins: 76. Here's one that got away from me in the second half of the season as the Astros went on a bit of a roll.

Kansas City Royals 71. Here is another really tough team to pick. The Royals are within a game or so of the lowest over-under total for the 2010 season, and they're going to end up one of the worst-record teams in the league by the time all is said and done. 71 is such a tough number to go "under", but other than Zack Grienke there is really nothing else much to speak of on this team either in the lineup or in the rotation. I will take the under here but I can't be the least bit surprised if they end up "surging" to 73 or 74 wins on the year. Actual 2010 wins: 67. Another win.

Los Angeles Angels 84.5. This is without a doubt the lowest number the Angels have had heading into the season in about a decade, and they have rarely disappointed, finishing with at least 89 wins in every year since the team won the World Series back in 2002. Despite losing their #1 starter to the Red Sox in the offseason, I am going to go with Mike Scoscia, clearly one of the top two or three managers in the game today, to find a way to steer his team to over 84 wins once again in 2010. Actual 2010 wins: 80. There is another disappointing loss that was well on its way to a victory at the midway point this season.

Los Angeles Dodgers 84.5. This is also the lowest number the Dodgers have had in a few years, and represents 12 wins fewer than the team's 96 wins in 2009. My guess is that this reflects some expected resurgence in the Colorado Rockies and perhaps some expected further dilution in the talents of one Manny Ramirez after last year's post-season slump and now a full year off of his female fertility hormone pills. I buy into that, but I have tremendous faith in Joe Torre as a manager, and while I am not positive the Dodgers will win the division for a third straight season, I think they can get over 84 wins by September. Actual 2010 wins: 80. Another loss that was a win two months ago.

Milwaukee Brewers 80.5. Milwaukee is a team that a lot of people like heading into the 2010 baseball season, and that line at 80.5 simply means if they finish .500, the "over" wins the bet. I'll take the over and expect to clear this one in the final week of the regular season. Actual 2010 wins: 77. Another loss from another team that was on pace to cover the number at the All-Star break.

Minnesota Twins 84.5. This would have been the easiest "over" in the world before closer Joe Nathan injured his elbow and was announced recently to be missing the entire 2010 regular season. That's a big blow to a team that has perhaps the best manager in the AL today along with Angels' head man Mike Scoscia. Without Nathan I think the Twins will come in very close to this 84/85 wins, but once again I will put my money with the head coach and go with a very close over here. Actual 2010 wins: 94. It seems no matter how high the number gets, picking Minnesota to go over has become just about the best bet in baseball these past several years.

New York Mets 81.5. This is actually I think a very good number for the Mets' 2010 season, as they should be significantly improved from last season's 67 win total. Fewer injuries should combine with the addition of Jason Bay on offense to get this team back near the .500 mark by the end of the year in my expectation. That said, this Mets squad under abject losers Jerry Manuel and Omar Minaya has so much no-heart that I would be remiss if I did not go with the under and take my chances that we're looking at another stupendous Mets collapse in 2010. Actual 2010 wins: 79. Here a midpoint loss that turned into a win for me thanks to yet another dismal second half out of the Mets.

New York Yankees 95.5. The highest over-under number of 2010 clearly belongs to the World Champion Yankees, and even though the loss of Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon will clearly impact this team, as will the improvement of the Red Sox just up Route 95, they should still have little trouble making it over the mid-90s in wins. As we saw last season, $250 million a year just buys you way too much talent to do otherwise. Actual 2010 wins: 95. Here's a shocking loss for me from a team that was way, way ahead of pace at the All-Star break.

Oakland Athletics 79.5. I'm not impressed with almost anyone on the A's staff or in the A's lineup these days, and for the second straight year I think the team is giving too much respect to the A's front office with their over-under line. I'll go under and expect more of a mid-70s performance out of Oakland this season. Actual 2010 wins: 81. There's a loss from the AL West runner up in 2010.

Philadelphia Phillies 92.5. The Phillies are clearly the team to beat in the National League heading into 2010, and this line requires the team to equal or better 2009's season win total of 93. Although the Phils themselves look to have improved with the addition of Placido Polanco at 3rd base and swapping out Cliff Lee for the consistent domination of Roy Halladay, the Mets, Braves and even the Nationals all look stronger heading into this season, and I think that could leave the Phillies just under this number for 2010 in their bid to become the first NL team to appear in three consecutive World Series since the Cardinals in the 1940's. Actual 2010 wins: 97. Happiest loss I've ever taken in an over-under bet.

Pittsburgh Pirates 69.5. Once again the Pirates are looking at the lowest number in the majors, but this once is just a tad too low to me. I'll take the over for the Pirates and look for them to post a number in the low 70s by the time September has come and gone. Actual 2010 wins: 57. That's a horrible loss for me.

San Diego Padres 71.5. The Padres will be one of the worst teams in baseball for the second straight season, and this year I'm expecting them to win under even the pathetic 71.5 games they are predicted to take. Actual 2010 wins: 90. My biggest embarrassment of all the picks this season.

San Francisco Giants 82.5. The Giants' starting rotation remains one of the best in baseball, and this alone ought to keep the team around the .500 mark despite having some major troubles on offense once again in 2010. With the Dodgers and Rockies both looking to start out strong and stay strong during this season, however, I am going to pick the Giants to finish ever so slightly under 82.5 wins on the year. Actual 2010 wins: 92. Another embarrassment for me, as I got the NL West basically all backwards on the year and it shows in my over-under predictions for these teams.

Seattle Mariners 83.5. The Mariners are another team where I do think the crowd is spot-on in betting the over. Things have not started out as great as hoped for this team after making a number of major moves over the past several months, with Cliff Lee already beginning the season on the DL, but in the end I expect solid hitting and a very strong starting rotation to help the Mariners to eke out just over 83.5 wins in the 2010 regular season. Actual 2010 wins: 61. My other most embarrassing pick of the 2010 baseball season.

St. Louis Cardinals 88.5. The Cardinals continue to have probably the best one-two punch among starting pitchers in the league with Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright, and they also have probably the best one-two hitting combination in Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday. I see this team winning over 88.5 games as the one great team in an otherwise generally mediocre division once again. Actual 2010 wins: 86. Yet another win at the halfway point that turned to a loss as the team swooned harcore in August and September.

Tampa Bay Rays 89.5. People are hot on the Rays this year as this appears to be this particular nucleus of players' last chance to capitalize before this group's window is closed. They've got great hitting and very solid pitching as we've seen the last two seasons, but with the Yankees and Red Sox running as hot as I'm sure they will this season, I simply cannot expect 90 wins from a third team in the division as well. I'll go under here and look for a number more in the mid to upper 80s for the 2010 Rays. Actual 2010 wins: 96. And again, yet another miss for me.

Texas Rangers 84.5. Once again I will take the over with the Rangers, who I think have a good little team on both sides of the ball and should be able to win mid-80s for a second consecutive season. Even if their manager is a cokehead. Actual 2010 wins: 90. Winnah!

Toronto Blue Jays 70.5. Under. I suspect the Blue Jays will make a concerted run as the majors' worst team in 2010 as former GM Larry Ricciardi really left the organization in a shambles upon his firing after last season and the team also got younger thanks to some key moves during this past off-season. Actual 2010 wins: 85. This is another team I was completely wrong about right from the get-go. I guess even I did not realize just how bad J.P. Ricciardi was for this team before he was mercifully let go last season.

Washington Nationals 70.5. Lastly, last year's NL-worst Nationals are expected to do a little better this season, and I suppose that could happen since the team won just 59 games in their 2009 campaign. But I just can't pick them to improve by 12 games in a division where the Phillies got better, the Braves got better and the Mets will have far more talent on the field with regularity than they did last year. This one has got to be an under for me. Actual 2010 wins: 69. Another squeaker win.

So, good results in the first part of the alphabet with my 2010 predictions, but then equally hideous results in the latter part, and several teams which went on major heaters or coolers in the final two months of play to really wreak havoc on my results. The overall numbers for my predictions for this year are 14 correct, and 16 incorrect. Considering that I was running about 3 teams over .500 on these two months ago, there is just no way to view my baseball predictions this year as anything but a disappointment.

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