Archive for March, 2013

Kobe Bryant Moves into 4th Place on All-Time Scoring List

Posted: 03/31/2013 by phillyisforphanatics215 in Basketball

On Saturday, Kobe Bryant moved into 4th place on the all-time scoring list of the NBA. With 7:55 left in the second quarter, Kobe hit a pull-up jumper to reach 31,421 career points which surpassed Wilt Chamberlain’s mark of 31,419 career points.

After the game, Bryant said of the accomplishment,”What a journey, it’s been a very, very long journey. I’m certainly extremely appreciative of all the support and the Laker faithful, the ‘Laker Nation,’ from being a 17-year-old kid to a 34-year-old man and all the support they’ve given me throughout my career.”

After moving up on the list, the only players still ahead of him on the list are Michael Jordan (32,292 points), Karl Malone (36,928 points), and the all-time leader Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387 points).

Bryant and Chamberlain have been compared many times in the past. Kobe passed Wilt’s record for most points scored by a Philadelphia area high school basketball player. Also, Kobe’s 81 point performance is the second most, only behind Wilt’s legendary 100 point performance.

Previewing Friday’s Sweet 16 Games

Posted: 03/29/2013 by levcohen in NCAA

Yesterday’s games were pretty disappointing as only one of the four (Ohio State and Arizona) ended as a single digit game. Anyway, half of the elite eight is set. On Saturday, Wichita State will face Ohio State and Syracuse will face Marquette. The other half of the elite eight will be set after tonight’s action, with the South and Midwest regional semifinals.

The first game of the night is between #1 overall Louisville and #12 seeded Oregon. Louisville has been terrific all season, and the tournament has been no different. Unlike their fellow #1 seeds, they left no doubt in their first two wins, blowing out NC A&T by 31 and Colorado State by 26. The Cardinals have a very skilled big three in Russ Smith, Gorgui Dieng, and Peyton Siva. Not only is Smith scoring 18 points per game, but he is also a key part of the Louisville press, adding 2.2 steals per game. Smith is tough to defend and will generally “get his.” Dieng is the leading interior presence for Louisville, as he is nearly averaging a double-double to go along with 1.3 steals and 2.4 blocks per game. Peyton Siva is by far the most inconsistent player on the Cardinals. Siva has scored four points or fewer in seven games, and three of those games were Cardinal losses (Louisville has five losses overall). Siva will always be a tenacious defender and a good passer, but it’s not difficult to take him out of his offensive rhythm and that’s a key to beating Louisville. As for Oregon, it’s going to be very tough for them to beat Louisville, but it’s possible. For them to win, they need to take care of the basketball (not easy, the Cardinals force 19 turnovers per game). The Ducks are led by a pair of freshman starters at guard: Dominic Artis and Damian Dotson. I think it’s going to be really tough for them to keep their calm. If they can keep shooting the way they did against St. Louis (8 of 11 threes), they could keep it close. They are a better rebounding team than the Cardinals, if only slightly, and if they can somehow slow the game down a little (the problem is, Oregon likes playing fast too) they could have an advantage. Louisville is favored in this game by 10 and a half, and that isn’t an indictment of Oregon. Louisville has just been by far the best team in basketball this year.

My prediction: Louisville- 68, Oregon- 54
Louisville covers

The second game of the night is between the other remaining #1 seed- Kansas- and #4 Michigan. Kansas is favored in this game, but by only two points, so Vegas expects this to be a close game. I do too. Kansas had three below average halves to start the tournament, barely winning their second round matchup by seven before falling behind by nine to UNC in the third round at the half. They did look a lot better in the second half against Carolina, blowing them out to the tune of 49-28 in the second half. I think that for Kansas to win this game, star Ben McLemore will have to bounce back from two sub-par games. In the second round (really the first) against Western Kentucky he scored just 11 points (he averages close to 16). Then he put up a stinker against North Carolina, going 0-9 from the field and scoring just two points. Not only is this awful for Kansas, it’s bad for McLemore’s draft stock as well. McLemore will probably jump to the NBA after this year, and he has been rumored to be in the running for the #1 overall pick. He won’t be if Kansas loses thanks to another bad outing. As for other key Jayhawks players, Jeff Withey might be their X factor. Against a smaller Michigan team, the seven foot Withey could have a great game offensively if the 58% shooter gets it going early on. As for Michigan, the Wolverines start three freshman, a sophomore, and a junior. This is a very young team, but not an inexperienced one, as they’ve played many of the best teams in college basketball this year. Their top player, guard Trey Burke, is the favorite for player of the year. He averages 19 points per game, but adds seven assists, proof that he is a great floor general. As mentioned above, Michigan is smaller than Kansas, and they’ll be going against the best interior defender in college basketball (Withey). They’ll need Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Nik Stauskas to hit threes at their normal rate (those three average a combined six threes per game) so they can open up a little space down low for big men Glenn Robinson, Mitch McGary, and Jordan Morgan.

My prediction: Michigan- 73, Kansas- 67
Michigan covers

The third game is a #2 seed vs #3 game between possibly the two best coaches in college basketball. Duke is still led by the iconic Mike “I can’t spell his last name” Krzyzewski and that guy Tom Izzo for Michigan State is pretty good as well. As for actual players, both teams are stacked. Duke has big men Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly (although Kelly has struggled since returning from injury) to go along with leading scorer Seth Curry. Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaiman can also take games over. Duke never turns the ball over, and are just overall a great offensive team, although Plumlee struggles against bigger defenders like MSU’s Derrick Nix. As for their problems, the Blue Devils don’t have any major issues other than their rebounding. Against the larger Michigan State, Duke is going to have a tough time on the boards, and could give up multiple second chance buckets. As for the Spartans, their strengths are Duke’s weaknesses and vice-verca. Michigan State is big (with huge Derrick Nix and skilled Aderian Payne) and tremendous defensively (held offensive minded Valparaiso and Memphis to a combined 102 points). But they do have troubles with ball security, as they turned it over more than any other contending big 10 team. In a contrast of styles, this is an intriguing game, but I see Michigan State winning and thus covering the spread, as Duke is the 2.5 point favorite.

My prediction: Michigan State- 67, Duke- 62

Michigan State covers

Last but not least is by far the most lopsided sweet 16 game. On paper, at least. Florida does everything well. They have off the charts shooters and also tremendous defense. Really the only question people have about the Gators is whether they can close games, as they are 0-6 in games decided by single digits. Luckily for Florida, I don’t see this game ending in single digits. On the other side is “Dunk City” Florida Gulf Coast. There aren’t many stats that say that FGCU is better than Florida- in fact, I haven’t found any- but perhaps they can put pressure on the Gators and cool UF’s hot shooters. If they can do that, this might be a much closer game than I anticipate. I just don’t think it is going to happen. I think Florida’s defense will rattle Brett Comer and Florida Gulf Coast, and Florida will easily cover the 13.5 point spread. Who knows, maybe FGCU is a team of destiny. I’m not buying it.

My prediction: Florida- 80, Florida Gulf Coast- 62
Florida covers

Previewing Thursday’s Sweet 16 Games

Posted: 03/28/2013 by levcohen in NCAA

Tonight the sweet 16 starts, and by tomorrow there will be just 12 teams left. The sweet 16 has four games tonight and another four tomorrow. The games tomorrow might have more marquee names (Florida, Louisville, Duke, Michigan State, Kansas, Michigan, Oregon, and yes, Florida Gulf Coast), but it looks as if these four games are going to be very close.

At 7:15 the East Region starts us off with Miami and Marquette, a matchup between #2 and #3 seeds. These two teams won by a combined six points in the round of 32, with Miami controversially defeating Illinois 63-59  and Marquette beating Butler 74-72 after Butler had a chance to win it at the end. Neither team has looked invincible this season, and that has been backed up in the tournament. This might be a matchup between the weakest #2 seed left against the weakest #3 seed still in. Miami is favored in this game by five and a half points, and I think that’s about the right number. The key matchup might be Shane Larkin of Miami versus Vander Blue of Marquette. Both can either facilitate or score, and I think the guy who plays better will be on the winning team. While the rosters of these teams are pretty even, the X factor could be Miami’s Kenny Kadji. Kadji is a big man (6 foot 11, 240 pounds), but he has great athleticism for a big man. He averages 13 points and seven rebounds, but has struggled since the ACC tournament started. In the five games since, he has shot 15 for 43. That’s less than 35%, an awful number, especially for a big man. Miami needs Kadji to play well if they want to advance.

Pick: Miami wins 72-68
Spread pick: Marquette covers the spread.

At 7:47 the West Region kicks off with Ohio State (#2) and Arizona (#6). This is an intriguing matchup, because, after struggling for much of the regular season, Arizona has looked invincible thus far in the tourney (yes, they played Belmont and Harvard. But still). For the Wildcats, Mark Lyons has scored 50 points in two games. They beat Belmont by 17 and Harvard by 23. Ohio State barely beat a very good Iowa State team by a score of 78-75. This was yet another game with a controversial call, and if the call had gone the other way, Iowa State would likely have won. The Buckeyes have just one player averaging more than 10 points per game: Deshaun Thomas. Thomas is averaging 20 points per game, but make no mistake- this is no one man team. Aaron Craft is a lock down defender, averaging more than two steals per game, and knocked down the game winning three point shot against Iowa State, even though he is just a 30% three point shooter. Craft has eight steals in the two tournament games. The Buckeyes also have two guys who can bring instant offense in Sam Thompson (40% three point shooter, not to mention thunderous dunker) and LaQuinton Ross (eight points per game in 17 minutes per game). The Buckeyes are favored by three points in this game. Again, the key matchup might be between the point guards. Lyons is the best scorer Arizona has, and he’ll be pitted against Craft, the best defender in college basketball. If Lyons can exploit Craft, Arizona will win this game. If Craft can keep Lyons in check, the Buckeyes will win. The Buckeyes are favored by three in this game, and I’ll keep rolling with the team I favored to make the final four.

Pick: Ohio State wins 68-62Spread pick: Ohio State covers the spread

The 9:45 game (an East Region match-up between Syracuse and Indiana) might be the best of the night. Indiana is favored by five and a half, but they barely got by Temple (58-52) in a game that was even closer than the final score indicated. Similarly, Syracuse won by just six against a lesser team in California, although they won in different fashion. The Cuse let Cal back into the game at the end, and didn’t look dominant in their win. Indiana is led by the best 1-2 combo in college basketball in Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo. Both players are a handful to guard, both were among the best players in basketball this year, and both should be lottery picks. Syracuse doesn’t have the star power that the Hoosiers have, but they do have four scorers in double figures. The key match-up in this one isn’t between two players. It’s the Hoosiers dynamic offense against Syracuse’s vaunted zone. The Orange hasn’t faced an offense like Indiana’s, but Indiana also doesn’t have experience against the zone. The X factor is probably Orange forward C.J. Fair. Fair, the leading scorer, needs to score a lot if Syracuse is going to have a chance to win. Syracuse has played seven games against teams that are seeded #3 or better in the tournament. In those games, they are 1-6 and have averaged 56 points per game in those games. That’s why I’m going with Indiana.

Pick: Indiana wins 70-61
Spread pick: Indiana covers the spread

The last game of the night is back to the West, with Wichita State facing off against La Salle. This is a match-up between potential cinderella stories, and we are now assured of a #9 seed or worse in the Elite 8. The Shockers are favored in this game by four and a half points, and that seems just about right. Even with La Salle’s big man Steve Zack cleared to play, Wichita State has a huge size upgrade. Their top two scorers are both big men, Cleanthony Early and Carl Hall. They are also a terrific three point shooting team. La Salle is also a good shooting team, and they are one of the quickest teams in college basketball. Sam Mills, Tyrone Garland, Tyreke Duren, and Ramon Galloway are all very fast and can get out on the break. The key match-up is Jerrell Wright and Zack against Early and Hall. If the Explorers can somehow shut down even one of the two dynamic big men, they should have a chance. If Early and Hall go wild, it could be a long game. This looks to be a pretty close game.

Pick: La Salle wins 76-74
Spread pick: La Salle covers the spread

MLB Season Preview- AL

Posted: 03/26/2013 by levcohen in Baseball

Time for the AL record predictions:

AL East:

1. Tampa Bay Rays (90-72): The Rays will continue to have the worst fan base in the MLB among teams that consistently win. In a division with baseball crazed markets and fan bases like New York, Boston, and most recently Toronto, the Rays have not been getting a lot of press. But they should be getting more. They are led by a terrific rotation, even without James Shields. Their ace, David Price, won the AL Cy Young award last season. Jeremy Hellickson is still very young but already has multiple productive seasons under his belt. Third starter Matt Moore has massive potential after being the #1 overall prospect going into last season. Alex Cobb has had a great spring training and looks ready to become an above average pitcher. This is the best rotation in the division with the possible exception of the Blue Jays. Their closer is Fernando Rodney, who had one of the best seasons among pitchers in baseball history. Led by Evan Longoria, Desmond Jennings and Ben Zobrist, the Rays hitting is not terrific, especially after losing BJ Upton to the Braves. But as long as Longoria stays healthy, it should be good enough to win them games. This team doesn’t have the most talented roster, but they always seem to make something out of nothing, due in no small part to the manager, Joe Maddon.

2. Baltimore Orioles (87-75): The Orioles have looked great in spring training. I know spring training stats should be taken with a grain of salt, but this team looks like they are going to win and have a lot of fun doing it. Their record in one run games was historically good, as was their bullpen. I think both will regress, hence the five win drop from last year, but I also think their lineup and rotation will be better. J.J. Hardy will have a bounce back season, and Nolan Reimold will come back strong from an injury. Plus, Manny Machado is a year older and will be markedly better this year. As for the rotation, they have no stars, but they have an amazing amount of depth. Hammel, Chen, Tillman, Gonzalez, Arrieta, Britton, Bundy.. The list goes on and on. Their roster talent is without a doubt ranked a distant fourth in the AL East (ahead of just the Yankees), but they just have the feel of a winning team.

3. Toronto Blue Jays (86-76): The Blue Jays talent is jaw dropping. Based on talent alone, this team is a lock for 100 wins. I just think it could all too easily fall apart. Of their top five hitters, three- Jose Bautista, Jose Reyes, Brett Lawrie- are injury prone. A fourth- Melky Cabrera- had his stats inflated by steroids. The fifth- Edwin Encarnacion- was a league average hitter until he broke out last season. There are a lot of question marks. Still, with that type of star power, their run scoring output should be in the upper echelon. The starting pitching should also be good, but there are age and injury concerns. R.A. Dickey won the NL Cy Young last season, but he is 38 years old. Brandon Morrow and Josh Johnson are talented, but both have had lots of injury problems. Mark Buehrle is solid but unspectacular. The fifth starter is another big concern. J.A. Happ is a journeyman, while Ricky Romero was great two seasons ago but the worst starter in baseball last year (and has been trending down in spring training). The bullpen should also be below average. The back of the bullpen is filled by household names like Casey Janssen, Steve Delabar, and Aaron Loup. This could easily be a first place team, but they could also finish below .500. I’ll take the middle ground.

4. Boston Red Sox (83-79): The Red Sox are much improved this season, if only because they seem to be having fun playing baseball, whereas last year was just a drag. They also added some productive free agents, although most are over the hill and short term fixes. Mike Napoli, their new primary first basemen, is a great hitter. Shane Victorino, who will be their right fielder, will hit in the two hole and provide good speed and power. Ryan Dempster will slot in as their #3 starter. This team also has a lot of talent returning, led by Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Will Middlebrooks, and Jon Lester. Still, they have a lot of holes, namely in their rotation. The top two of Lester and Clay Buchholtz looks very solid, but after that things go downhill. Dempster pitched poorly after being traded to the Rangers, and will remain in a hitter friendly division. Felix Doubront and John Lackey are no better than average, and could be worse. The bullpen was bolstered by the signings of Koji Uehara and Joel Hanrahan, and Andrew Bailey should come back strong from injury. This is a good team, one that will probably finish between second and fourth in the AL East. I just don’t know which of the teams I have ahead of them will finish with a worse record than the Red Sox.

5. New York Yankees (80-82): I can’t believe I’m saying this, but the Yankees are going to finish last in the AL East. There just isn’t much uninjured talent. Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira are all going to start the season on the DL. That is four of their five best hitters. It’s not even close. They will now open the season with a lineup likely including Chris Stewart, Vernon Wells, Eduardo Nunez and Juan Rivera. For Yankee fans, that is unacceptable. Yankee fans think the rotation will be well above average, but I don’t see it. Phil Hughes is unlikely to start the season healthy, and they are relying on upper 30 and lower 40 somethings Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte to be the #2 and #3 starters. The bullpen is headed by Mariano Rivera, a 43 year old coming off a season ending injury. This team just isn’t very appealing.

AL Central:

1. Detroit Tigers (91-71): I don’t love the Tigers, but they play in the weakest division in baseball, which is why I have them winning the division comfortably. Everyone knows Prince Fielder, Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander, but they actually have quite a bit of depth beneath them. This team seems like a pretty safe bet to win the AL Central, even though they have a huge question mark at closer (Bruce Rondon, anyone?)

2. Cleveland Indians (81-81): The Indians made some big upgrades this winter, namely adding Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher, Drew Stubbs and prospect Trevor Bauer. This should be one of the better lineups in the AL. They look to trot out a lineup looking like this:

1 CF Michael Bourn
2 SS Asdrubal Cabrera
3 2B Jason Kipnis
4 1B Nick Swisher
5 C Carlos Santana
6 DH Mark Reynolds
7 LF Michael Brantley
8 3B Lonnie Chisenhall
9 RF Drew Stubbs

That is a deep, powerful, and fast lineup that rivals the Tigers’ and Blue Jays’. The rotation is more worrisome. Justin Masterson is their ace, and he isn’t much better than league average. The rest of their rotation includes guys like Ubaldo Jimenez, Brett Myers, Zach McAllister, and Scott Kazmir. That is just not playoff quality. Their bullpen, with enigmatic Chris Perez closing, is also below average. I think the hitting will carry them to a .500 record, but their sub par pitching will hold them back from more.

3. Kansas City Royals (79-83): People are under the impression that the additions of James Shields and Wade Davis will vault the Royals into playoff contention, but I don’t see it. Make no mistake, this team will be better this year (I see them gaining seven wins from last season’s 72). But I think Shields will disappoint, and none of the other pitchers jump out at me. Wade Davis, Ervin Santana, Jeremy Guthrie, Luis Mendoza.. None of them are intriguing. The hitting looks better, with Alex Gordon and Eric Hosmer primed for bounce back seasons. Still, I don’t see how they get much above .500. They are just too mediocre.

4. Chicago White Sox (76-86): The White Sox look to be another mediocre AL Central team. Their lineup is slightly below average, headed by an aging Paul Konerko and an up and down Alex Rios. The rotation could also disappoint, especially if Chris Sale doesn’t preform up to expectations a year after his great season, which is possible given his funky delivery (many people believe Sale is bound to get injured). Jake Peavy also is very injury prone, and the back of the rotation is decidedly unexciting (Jose Quintana, Dylan Axelrod). The bullpen, led by a young Addison Reed, is also below average. I don’t know how much upside they have, and I think they could easily lose 90 games.

5. Minnesota Twins (60-102): This team is a mess. From top to bottom, there are very few above average players- in fact, I can only name four that are definitively above average: Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Josh Willingham, and Glen Perkins. When your ace is Vance Worley, you know you aren’t going very far. Also, look for Morneau and Willingham to be mid-season trade bait.

AL West:

1. Los Angeles Angels (93-69): The Angels are absolutely stacked. They have the best lineup in baseball, boasting three top 10 hitters in Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, and Josh Hamilton. They also have one of the best pitchers in baseball, Jered Weaver. Only a bad back of the rotation keeps them from the best record in baseball.

2. Texas Rangers (88-74): People in Texas are freaking out, but I think the Rangers are going to be ok. Lance Berkman was a very underrated signing. If he stays healthy, Berkman should provide great stats while hitting in the three hole. They lost Josh Hamilton, but they still boast Ian Kinsler and Elvis Andrus at the top of the lineup, and Adrian Beltre hitting fourth. The rotation also looks very solid. I think Yu Darvish will jump into the upper echelon of pitchers, and Matt Harrison will continue to be a good starting pitcher. I think Derek Holland has too many tools to continue to pitch poorly, so he should turn it around and at least be an average #3 starter. It remains to be seen whether or not Alexi Ogando can hold a spot in the rotation, but not because of a lack of skills. The bullpen is average at worst. I just think the Rangers are still too talented to miss the playoffs.

3. Oakland Athletics (88-74): I really like this Athletics team. I don’t think they are going to win 94 games like they did last year, but I think they will contend for a playoff spot all year. Josh Reddick and Yoenis Cespedes are both great power hitters, as is Brandon Moss. The pitching is also solid. Brett Anderson, Jarrod Parker, Tommy Milone, and A.J. Griffin are all good pitchers. The Athletics are surprisingly turning into dark-horses to make the playoffs, but I think they are as likely as teams like the Red Sox, Blue Jays, and Rangers to make the playoffs.

4. Seattle Mariners (74-88): The Mariners are getting closer to relevance, but they are still a few years away from a serious playoff run. Guys like Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen, and Mike Zunino are all going to be above average major league players, with the former two as the likely future #2 and #3 starters behind ace Felix Hernandez. Zunino is a future middle of the lineup hitter and catcher, with Jesus Montero moving to DH. For the next few years, though, they will still have a below average lineup, and thus will finish no higher than fourth in the AL West.

5. Houston Astros (54-108): Just check out this website to see the Astros likely lineup and rotation to start the season. To sum it up, their best hitters are Carlos Pena, Jose Altuve, and Chris Carter. Their best pitchers are Bud Norris, Lucas Harrell, and Phillip Humber. There is not yet light at the end of the tunnel.

MLB Season Preview- Part 1

Posted: 03/24/2013 by levcohen in Baseball
Tags:

Everyone is focused on the NCAA Tournament right now, as they should be, but baseball is starting up again next week, so it’s time for a preview. Today, I’ll be predicting wins numbers for each NL team. Next will be the same for the AL, followed by projected awards winners, and then will be playoff picks.

NL East:
1. Washington Nationals (96-66): This Nationals team has no flaws. They have lots of starting pitching, with three pitchers who could be aces on other teams in Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, and Gio Gonzalez. They have a very good fourth starter in Dan Haren, who in four of the last six seasons has under a 3.40 ERA. The bullpen is also going to be very good. Their top three relief pitchers are Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard and Rafael Soriano. Each of those guys could be the best reliever on most MLB rosters, and in this bullpen they’ll be manning the 7th, 8th, and 9th innings. As for the hitting, they have a very deep lineup headed by megastar Bryce Harper and almost megastar Ryan Zimmerman. With those guys in the middle of the lineup, they are going to score a lot of runs, especially since they have emerging Ian Desmond (.290 and 25 HR with 21 SB) and Danny Espinosa (.247, 17 HR, 20 SB). This team has a very high floor to go along with a high ceiling, and that’s a deadly combination. This might just be the best team in baseball.

2. Atlanta Braves (93-69): If the Nationals have a high ceiling, the Braves have a historically high one. This team is led by its outfield, which is the best in the league both offensively and defensively. In the outfield they have both Upton brothers to go along with rising star Jason Heyward. Over the last two seasons, the three have put up a combined 140 home runs and 136 steals. The scary thing is that Justin Upton and Heyward  both have immense upside and have had one underachieving season in the last two. The three outfielders are also three of the best defensive OF in the majors. This team also has a bullpen at least as good as the Nationals, led by the best closer in the MLB in Craig Kimbrel. They also bring back Jonny Venters, Eric O’Flaherty and Luis Avilan from last season’s terrific bullpen, and they added possible set up man Jordan Walden. This ‘pen is scary. The starting pitching might not be as strong as it has been in the past, but that’s only because Brandon Beachy will be out for the first few months. Even without Beachy, it’s an above average rotation, with Kris Medlen heading it and #1 prospect Julio Teheran as the high upside #5 starter. This team is stacked, and we haven’t even mentioned their likely cleanup hitter, first basemen Freddie Freeman, or their leadoff hitter, shortstop Andrelton Simmons. This is a great offensive team and an even better defensive team.

3. Philadelphia Phillies (84-78): The Phillies dominance of the NL East is clearly over, and they’re clearly the third best this year. But it’s possible they can snag the second wild card if everything goes as planned. For that to happen, Roy Halladay has to turn back into his elite self, Ben Revere has to build upon last season, and Ryan Howard has to hit 40 homers and drive in 130 runs. The Phillies have had some good things happen to them during spring training. Domonic Brown has finally broken out, and looks to be the future cornerstone. Howard has raked, and he should be much improved. The bullpen looks pretty solid and very deep. The rotation is headed by two aces in Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee, and rounded out by Kyle Kendrick and John Lannan, who would be good #3’s but are being asked to be #4 and #5 for the Phils. This is an above average team, but it is definitely not a great one.

4. New York Mets (72-90): The Mets won 74 games last season, and I see them as the same type of team this season. They suffered a huge blow when David Wright was hurt in the World Baseball Classic, and their opening day lineup is going to be awful. Look no further than Jordany Valdespin, Colin Cowgill and Marlon Byrd, their projected 1-2-3 hitters to start the year. Still, the arrow is pointing up for the rotation and Ike Davis. Davis can hit 30 homers this season, and Wright will not miss too much time. Daniel Murphy, also hurt, is a good hitter who can lead off or hit #2 when healthy.  The rotation is headed by Matt Harvey, a dynamic young fireballer who has a bright future. Jonathan Niese and Shaun Marcum are very good #2 and #3 starters. Zach Wheeler, still in the minors, is a future ace. And that doesn’t even include the wildcard, former Cy Young winner Johan Santana. There are a lot of good things going for this team, but it’s hard to look past their outfield of Lucas Duda, Colin Cowgill and Marlon Byrd.

5. Miami Marlins (64-98): This Marlins team is not good. We all know about their salary dump, and they really have only one good player left- Giancarlo Stanton, who is clearly not happy in Miami. This team is just a mess.

NL Central:

1. Cincinnati Reds (94-68): The Reds are such a good all around team. They have their stud (Joey Votto). They have a great supporting cast on offense (Jay Bruce, Brandon Phillips, Shin-Soo Choo, Todd Frazier, Ryan Ludwick, Chris Heisey). They have a great rotation (Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Bronson Arroyo, Homer Bailey). With Arolids Chapman expected to remain the closer this season, the bullpen is also terrific, with Chapman anchoring the ‘pen. I don’t see a way the Reds will lose fewer than 90 games, and I can see them winning as many as 97.

2. St. Louis Cardinals (92-70): The Cardinals are a safe bet to make the playoffs, and have very low downside. Even with Chris Carpenter basically announcing his retirement, their hitting will surely pick them up. Of their projected starters, only one- Carlos Beltran- hit less than .290 last year, and Beltran hit .300 in two of the three seasons prior to last year. Their rotation was hurt by the loss of Carpenter, but they still have plenty of depth. Three of their top four prospects are pitchers, and that doesn’t even include Joe Kelly, who had a 3.53 ERA last season in 107 innings. They also have an ace, Adam Wainwright, and some key middle of the rotation cogs (Jaime Garcia, Jake Westbrook, Lance Lynn). With Jason Motte hurt, the bullpen might be a little shaky, but it won’t kill the team.

3. Pittsburgh Pirates (83-79): This is the year that the Pirates will break through and have a winning record. They have a good but not great team, led by good but not great hitters (they do have one great one in Andrew McCutchen) and good but not great pitchers (A.J. Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez lead a not so intriguing rotation). The Pirates have a great future, but I don’t think it’s all going to come together this year. I think 85 wins is their ceiling. But they have a terrific farm system, led by future aces Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon. The arrow is pointing up.

4. Milwaukee Brewers (77-85): I don’t like the Brewers as much as other people do. This is a predictable team. The heart of the lineup, Ryan Braun and Aramis Ramirez, are great hitters. The rotation is average. The bullpen is horrible. With two great teams in their division, they will sink below .500 unless their ‘pen gets significantly better.

5. Chicago Cubs (68-94): The Cubs will be significantly better this year, as they’ve advanced a step in their long rebuilding stage. They have a strong stable of young stars (Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo, Jorge Soler, Javier Baez, Albert Almora). But they just aren’t ready yet.

NL West:

1. Arizona Diamondbacks (91-71): The Diamondbacks made some bad moves this winter, but I still feel like they are in a good position. One good thing they did this offseason was raise their floor. They also lowered their ceiling, but this looks like a team bound for 88-93 wins. They don’t have a premier hitter, but they have a lot of good ones. There is no weak spot in that lineup, and the same can be said for the rotation featuring Ian Kennedy, Trevor Cahill, Wade Miley, Brandon McCarthy, and Tyler Skaggs, the #1 prospect. The bullpen is also not flashy, but it will get the job done. J.J. Putz is a great closer when healthy, and David Hernandez is a terrific set up man. Again, I don’t think this team is going to win 100 games any time soon. But with flashy teams such as the Dodgers and Giants in the division, I think the D-Backs are going to win it.

2. Los Angeles Dodgers (86-76): The Dodgers have a lot of big names, but they also have a lot of holes. Matt Kemp, Adrian Gonzalez, Clayton Kershaw, and Zack Greinke are all big names, but Greinke is already injured, Kemp has injury history, and Gonzalez had an off year last season. Hanley Ramirez is out for the first two months of the season, which could be the beginning of a lot of problems for LA. The rotation is not deep. If Chad Billingsley and Josh Beckett continue to have problems, there isn’t really a place for the Dodgers to turn. With HanRam out, there are questions at four places in the lineup, and as I mentioned there are huge question marks in the rotation. This could absolutely be a World Series team, but I’m skeptical.

3. San Francisco Giants (86-76): The Giants are a good team but I don’t think they will win the World Series again. There is going to be some regression with Buster Posey and Marco Scutaro. Hunter Pence isn’t as good as people make him out to be. Pablo Sandoval has injury and weight problems. Tim Lincecum hasn’t shown enough signs of being his former self. The top of the rotation, with Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner, is great. The Giants could very well win more than 86 games and make the playoffs, but I think there will be some regression.

4. San Diego Padres (74-88): The Padres suffered a huge blow when Chase Headley got hurt in Spring Training. Headley, their best hitter, is a huge loss, and he’ll be out at least a month. If the Padres aren’t doing well, I could see them being huge sellers at the trade deadline, which is why I shaved two wins off of last year’s total. But make no mistake, this team is not worse than last season’s on paper.

5. Colorado Rockies (60-102): This rotation is just awful. I can’t even name one guy in the rotation. Chacin? Francis? Nicasio? It is so important to have good pitching when you play in Coors Field (aka Homer Haven) and the Rockies don’t seem to understand that. Last year they had a 5.22 team ERA, and they experimented with a lot of different rotations, eventually slapping a 75 pitch limit on their pitchers. None of it worked, and yet they’re doing all of it again this year. They’ll be lucky to avoid 100 losses.

NCAA Tournament Preview: South

Posted: 03/21/2013 by levcohen in NCAA

Only one region left now, and that is the South region, which is headed by Kansas. Kansas is a good team, but I feel that they are a somewhat weak #1 seed, one that could lose early (maybe 3rd round to UNC?) Georgetown is the two seed in the region, and deservedly so. They had a terrific season, and are looking to reverse their current trend of good regular seasons and bad NCAA tournament play. I like the three seed, Florida, who have not won a game by less than 10 points. Plus, all of the Gators losses have been by single digits. This is one of the best offensive and defensive teams in the nation, and I think they are better than both Kansas and Georgetown, at least on paper. The #4 seed, Michigan, is led by the possible national player of the year in Trey Burke. They have a lot of star power and would probably be a good bet to beat Kansas in the sweet 16. But before that they’d have to face #5 VCU, which plays a “havoc” style, with elite steal and turnover rates. They also would be a good matchup for Kansas, who has had trouble with pressing defenses. The 6-11 matchup might be the weirdest second round game this year. #11 Minnesota is favored by three points over #6 UCLA, because they play in the Big 10, but also because they have been good this year, even if they haven’t of late. Minnesota looks like the better team in this one. On to the matchups.

#1 Kansas vs. #16 Western Kentucky: This should be an easy win for Kansas. As I mentioned, they do have flaws, but none big enough for Western Kentucky to keep this close.

#2 Georgetown vs. #15 Florida Gulf Coast: Don’t sleep on FGCU, a team that is not a normal #15 seed, as they beat Miami earlier in the season. Georgetown is superior, as they have one of the best players in the country (Otto Porter Jr.), but FGCU could keep it close.

#3 Florida vs. #14 Northwestern State: Florida looks to be the best of the #3 seeds, and this should be a walk in the park.

#4 Michigan vs. #13 South Dakota State: South Dakota State has one of the best players in the country, guard Nate Wolters, who has put up 20+ points per game in three straight seasons. But Michigan counters Wolters with Trey Burke, and have a huge talent advantage down the line. I don’t see a way that South Dakota State wins this game.

#5 VCU vs. #12 Akron: Losing your point guard is never ideal, but it could also never be worse than it is for Akron, as they have to play without their PG against VCU’s defense. Before Alex Abreu went down, Akron would have had a good chance to win this game, but I don’t see it happening now.

#6 UCLA vs. #11 Minnesota: The rebounding advantage for Minnesota should propel them to victory, but the only reason that the Gophers were ever an 11 seed is their inconsistency. That inconsistency could cost them this game.

#7 San Diego State vs. #10 Oklahoma: San Diego State and Oklahoma are both good teams, and I have no idea who will win. I do think the winner has a fighter’s chance at beating Georgetown in the next round, so this game could be more important than the average 7-10 game.

#8 North Carolina vs. #9 Villanova: UNC has a lot more talent, and have a possible game against Kansas if they beat Villanova. Remember, coach Roy Williams used to coach Kansas, so it would be intriguing if they won.

 

NCAA Tournament Preview: East

Posted: 03/21/2013 by levcohen in NCAA

The tournament has started, but I’m not done previewing. Luckily, just two East games have started to go along with zero South games.

East: The East region is headed by the team that was considered the best team in basketball for most of the regular season: the Indiana Hoosiers. Indiana ended up with the #3 overall seed, but I think they are as likely as anyone one seed to make the tournament, if only because of the opposition they might face. I’ve gotten the sense that #2 seed Miami is overrated, as 73% of people think that they will advance to the elite eight. I think they might, but, again, it’s more a function of the weak teams in the bracket. I’m confident that Miami will not beat Indiana. The three seed, Marquette, is the weakest three seed. Syracuse isn’t as strong as they have been in the past. The list goes on.

#1 Indiana vs. #16 James Madison: At least JMU won a play-in game over the Long Island Blackbirds. Indiana will put up a ton of points in this game.

#2 Miami vs. #15 Pacific: I do think this game will be fairly close, but I don’t hate Miami that much.

#3 Marquette vs. #14 Davidson: These teams are actually very evenly matched, despite the seed difference. This is one of the games that has started, and is 25-23 at halftime. Let’s go all in and take Davidson to pull it out.

#4 Syracuse vs. #13 Montana: Syracuse seems susceptible to an early upset, but I don’t think Montana can deliver that upset. Never know though.

#5 UNLV vs. #12 California: I think this is going to be a blowout between an up tempo team (UNLV) and a team without many weapons (Cal). UNLV plays great defense, so the only way Cal will win is if they can force turnovers. They are outside the top 300 in terms of forcing turnovers.

#6 Butler vs. #11 Bucknell: In a completed game, Butler won. I think Butler could have been upset by a better shooting team, but Bucknell is sort of an all around solid team, and those types of teams rarely upset better teams like Butler. The ones that have success are the extremely good shooting teams or bad offensive teams that are great at forcing turnovers.

#7 Illinois vs. #10 Colorado: I honestly have no idea who will win this game, so I’ll go with the Big 10 team, although I do know that Illinois is much better at home then they are away from home. Still, I’m hoping one of these teams can beat Miami. I’m skeptical.

#8 NC State vs. #9 Temple: The public is picking this as if NC State was much better, with NC State favored by a 65-35 margin. I do think State is better, but I think Temple is being underrated here, so I’ll pick them just because of that.

For straight up picks, I like all the better seeds in this one besides Marquette. As for value picks, I like Colorado (it’s a toss-up and they are seeded worse), Temple and Davidson.