Archive for February, 2014

MLB Breakout Candidates- AL East

Posted: 02/28/2014 by levcohen in Baseball

The next part of the MLB preview is picking a few MLB breakout and regression candidates for each division. Today is the breakout candidates from the AL East. First, some rules about players I can pick:
1. It can’t be a player with rookie eligibility (you can’t call something a breakout when nothing happened before it. What if it’s not the breakout but the norm?)

2. It can’t be a player who has already broken out. So say someone had a great 2011 and was bad in 2012 and 2013. I wouldn’t be able to pick them to have a breakout season because they had done it before.

3. It’s about performance, and not necessarily about counting numbers like RBIs and saves, because stats like that can just be based on where you hit in the lineup or whether you are the “closer”. For example, if David Robertson has 40 saves for the Yankees this year, he still wouldn’t be a breakout player unless his season was super good, because he has already had a lot of good seasons.

Now on to the players:

Manny Machado, Baltimore Orioles: By now, Manny Machado is basically a household name. He was a top prospect coming up, drawing comparisons to Alex Rodriguez at the same stage in his career (before the steroids). While he was overshadowed by Mike Trout and Bryce Harper, both of whom came up in the same 2012 season, Machado made a name for himself with his tremendous defense at third base. In fact, last season he had a 6.2 WAR according to Fangraphs, so he might even have already broken out. So you could say that I’m breaking my rule with my first player. But I don’t think I am. Yes, Machado had a 6.2 WAR last season, but almost all of that value came on defense. He had just .5 Offensive WAR and was generally an average player, with a 101 wRC+ (100 is average). The only part of Machado’s .283/.314/.432 line with 14 homers and six steals that was not average were his abnormal amount of doubles. At one point midway last season, he was on pace to break the all time record for single season doubles. I am willing to bet that, assuming Machado’s knee is healed by about mid-April (and all the reports have been very positive), some of those doubles will become homers this year, in his age-21 season. I think this was a fluke injury, and I think Machado will be fine. He had a 6.2 WAR in a season when he was average on the base paths and at the plate. Also, I wouldn’t be surprised if Machado plays more shortstop this year, as J.J. Hardy is now on the wrong side of 30 and has some injury history. If Machado can play his natural position, short, his value will go up even higher.
Line: .290/.345/.485 with 25 homers and 10 steals.

Will Middlebrooks, Boston Red Sox: The potential is there. The Red Sox know it, too. Or at least I think they do. To this point, they have not re-signed Stephen Drew. That’s important because, if Drew re-signed, he would likely push rookie standout Xander Bogaerts over to third base, taking Middlebrooks out of the starting lineup. But Drew didn’t re-sign, or hasn’t yet. Middlebrooks was pretty bad last year overall, but he had some scorching patches, and I think it was just an off-year for the 25 year old. Coming into last year, Middlebrooks was coming off of a great MLB debut, with a .834 OPS in a little under half a season. Last year, he started the season in the lineup, and ended up getting injured, losing his job, getting it back, and losing it again. His WAR was .3. But again, Middlebrooks showed flashes, even last season. He had 17 homers in 374 at bats, so he clearly has power. The problem with Middlebrooks is his low walk rate and high strikeout rate, and I don’t expect that to change this season. But that power over a full season with fine defense? I think that would constitute a breakout.
Line: .283/.327/.507 with 30 homers and 6 steals

Ivan Nova, New York Yankees: Ivan Nova might just be the ace of the Yankee staff. With high-profile pitchers C.C. Sabathia and Masahiro Tanaka to go along with the reliable Hiroki Kuroda on the staff, Nova has been getting almost no press, almost impossible for a Yankee player. Nova has always been a ground ball pitcher, and last year posted a career high GB rate of 53.5% that would have been 5th among qualified starters had he qualified. But that’s another issue. Last season, Nova got injured and started only 20 games. The year before, his ERA was 5.02. Nova clearly hasn’t broken out yet, and is now 27 and in the midst of his prime. Basically, what I see Nova doing this season is about what he did last year but over a full, 33 start season. I think that would constitute a breakout season, because it would be nearly twice the value.
Line: 3.20 ERA, 200 IP, 1.24 WHIP, 160 K, 4.6 WAR

Also Considered: Desmond Jennings

Note: It seems weird that I don’t have any Rays on my list (with Jennings on the also considered list). But the two most obvious guys are Wil Myers and Matt Moore, and I didn’t pick them for different reasons. I didn’t pick Myers because I think he already broke out last season, and I didn’t pick Moore because I’m not confident that he will get better this season. I actually think he’ll get worse, because he got very lucky last season and hasn’t shown that he can keep his walk rate down. It might just be that Moore will never reach his potential. I also considered Alex Cobb, but decided to leave him off the list because he has already broken out. Actually, he is very similar to Nova in that he kind of broke out last season but had a season shortened by injury, but Cobb was even better than Nova last season, with a 2.76 ERA and 22 starts. The extra eight or so starts that he will get this year won’t be enough to see him improve his value enough to become a full “superstar”.

Bayern Munich’s Utter Dominance

Posted: 02/24/2014 by levcohen in Soccer

Over in Germany, something extraordinary is happening. Bayern Munich, over the past two years, have been so good that it’s frighting. Sure, Munich has has always been the class of the German league. But after a two year stretch (2010/11 and 11/12 seasons) in which the German team didn’t win the Champions League, Bundesliga, or German Cup, it was hard to expect this. Since the beginning of the 2012/13, when Munich defeated Borussia Dortmund in the annual DFL-Supercup between the first and second place finishers of the season before by a score of 2-1 (that was a sign of things to come), they have been on an absolute tear. They have lost FIVE games in the last season and two thirds, which has come over 90 games. Here are those five losses:
They lost to BATE Borisov in last season’s Champions League group stage (didn’t end up mattering at all)
They lost to Bayer Leverkusen in last year’s Bundesliga (their only German league loss in the last two years)
They lost to Arsenal in last year’s Champions League round of 16 (didn’t matter, because they had already beaten Arsenal)
They lost to rival Dortmund in this year’s preseason SuperCup, which was coach Pep Guardiola’s first game managing
They lost to Manchester City in this year’s Champions League group stage when they had already qualified for the final 16.

On top of becoming the first German team to win the “treble”- the Bundesliga, German Cup, and Champions League (they beat Dortmund in an all-German Champions League final, again by that score: 2-1), Bayern Munich broke a ton of Bundesliga records last season, when they went 29-4-1.  They set a record for:

  • Most points in a season (91)
  • Highest league winning points margin (25 ahead of second place Dortmund)
  • Most wins in a season (29)
  • Fewest goals allowed (18)

Basically, they set records in everything. They even beat the vaunted Barcelona in the semifinals by an aggregate score of 7-0. Barcelona doesn’t ever lose 4-0 or 3-0, and Munich embarrassed them twice. You know what the scary thing is? They are even better this season. They are unbeaten in the Bundesliga, at 20-2-0. All those records last season? Yeah, they are going to shatter them. Here are their on pace numbers:

  • 96 points
  • 30 point margin of victory
  • 31 wins
  • 14 goals allowed
  • Zero losses (they tied the record of one last season)

That, my friends, is amazing, and Munich also looks primed to complete an unprecedented back-to-back in the Champions League (it switched to its current format in 1992). After being drawn to Arsenal again, they handled the English team in London by two goals, and just need to avoid a heavy home defeat to go through to the quarterfinals. Yes, they lost by two to Arsenal last season at home, but that is as much of a reason as any that it won’t happen again. In the quarterfinals, they’ll have a harder matchup, but should be favored to win. That should be true for the rest of the tournament. They are also in the semifinals of the German Cup, and will be heavily favored to win that again. The Bundesliga is already won.

Bayern Munich are definitely the New York Yankees of German soccer. They hold the record for most Bundesliga titles (23), German Cup titles (16), and have the most Champions League / European Cup championships of any German team (five). They are successful, and they are also rich and buy all the best players. They have far more fans than any other German team, and Munich is a large city. They also buy the most expensive players. Even recently, they have bought players from even their arch rivals. Imagine the Yankees outbidding the Red Sox for Babe Ruth or Jacoby Ellsbury… oh wait. Munich bought Mario Gotze, then the most expensive German player ever, from Dortmund and now have followed that up with the purchase of Robert Lewandowski. So not only do they have success, but they also have money, and have bought the two best players on their rival team.

As for “dynasty”, it’s been two years, so it’s hard to call it a dynasty, but it’s hard to see this stopping any time soon, and I could see this eventually comparing to the famous runs by UCLA college basketball and the Boston Celtics. It might be too early to say that, but I think it could happen. There’s nobody in Germany who can stop the powerhouse that is Bayern Munich, unless the league makes up some random rules to slow them down. I think that Munich will go on some crazy run with nine Bundesliga titles in 10 years or something, and while they won’t win every single Champions League title, they’ll be up there year after year. The best comparison for the Bayern Munich team has got to be the Alex Ferguson Manchester United teams, and that lasted for a long time. Luckily for everyone else, though, Man United has proven this season that all good things come to an end. Munich’s run will, too, but I think this is just the beginning of a long run.

NBA Trade Deadline Again Disappoints

Posted: 02/23/2014 by levcohen in Basketball

Kevin Love, Rajon Rondo, Arron Afflalo, Pau Gasol, Omer Asik, Luol Deng, Josh Smith… Those were just some of the names that were rumored to be on the trade block leading to Thursday’s 3:00 trade deadline. Guess how many of those guys got traded? That’s right: 0. In fact, if not for the tanktastic Philadelphia 76ers, there might not have been a single trade at the deadline! Instead of the guys mentioned above, the biggest names traded were Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes, Danny Granger, Andre Miller, Marcus Thornton, and Steve Blake. So yeah, it was a disappointing deadline, just like last year’s, when J.J. Redick was the best player traded. So the lack of recent big trades begs the question: Has the trade deadline been reduced to just swaps of bench players? It definitely hasn’t lived up to the hype, mainly for this reason..

Teams Have Gotten Smarter: Gone are the days of the trade fleecing, at least the major trade fleecing. Wilt Chamberlain was traded for next to nothing. So was Kareem Abdul-Jabaar. On draft day in 1998, Dirk Nowitzki was traded for Tractor Traylor. Those days are for the most part over. Carmelo Anthony was traded a few years ago, but the Nuggets got a lot back from him. Pau Gasol was traded from Memphis to Los Angeles, but Memphis didn’t do too badly, getting back Gasol’s brother Marc. The point is that, by and large, teams have gotten smarter. They won’t trade their superstars for pennies. They have also gotten a lot stingier with first round draft picks. Larry Bird was joined by Kevin McHale and Robert Parish thanks to one great draft pick trade by Red Auerbach. That might still happen occasionally (Philadelphia got two first round picks for Jrue Holiday, but we don’t know what will come of that), but it doesn’t happen often. Instead, the draft pick obsessed GM of the Philadelphia 76ers, Sam Hinkie, was forced to trade Hawes for two second round picks, rather than a first rounder. Maybe Kevin Love would have been traded had Minnesota been able to get a bunch of future first round picks. Ditto for Rajon Rondo and the Boston Celtics. But teams outside of New York (poor New York fans) are less willing to give four or five future first round picks now.

2011 CBA: Remember the 2011 lockout? I do, and it was terrible. Greedy owners fought with defiant players over large amounts of money. At least that’s my take. Anyway, a new CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement) was finally agreed upon, and it’s another reason that there are fewer trades at the deadline. The new CBA introduced a harsh luxury tax, so owners are less likely to trade for a high salary superstar and more likely to hold onto cheap draft picks. Big expiring contracts, which used to be valuable pieces of big trades, are no longer valuable. Not one big expiring was traded, with Spencer Hawes as the closest example (ugh). The Los Angeles Lakers couldn’t even get a 2nd round pick for Jordan Hill, an expiring contract and actually a pretty solid player! Yes, even second rounders are coveted now. Mitch Kupchak, the Lakers owner, showed his frustration by saying,

It used to be you could get a second-round pick pretty easy. Now they’re almost as hard to get as a first-round pick.

Owners and GMs have now decided to hold onto draft picks and avoid going over the luxury tax, with a few notable exceptions. Even the Clippers, who have a shot at the title this season, chose going under the tax instead of improving their team. The Nets didn’t pay for Jordan Hill because, on top of his $3 million contract, he would have cost them an extra $17 million in taxes (!), due to the weird luxury tax, which forces you to pay $1.50 for every $1 over the tax and has a strict “repeater’s tax” for teams who have gone over the tax for consecutive seasons. Even the Knicks, one of the dumbest teams in the league in terms of recent decision making history, refused to trade any more first round picks, and thus were not able to upgrade their underachieving team.

Free Agent Class: Even some of the teams with a lot of cap space were unwilling to take any long term contracts because of the upcoming free agent classes. In 2014, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony lead a deep crop. In 2015, Rajon Rondo, Al Jefferson, Roy Hibbert, Marc Gasol, Kevin Love, Goran Dragic, and LaMarcus Aldridge are all set to be unrestricted free agents, although some of those guys will likely sign extensions before hitting free agency. Oh, and in 2016 some guy named Kevin Durant could hit the market. So even teams with cap space want to keep their options open in free agency.

Bottom Line: The luxury tax has led to a reluctance to take on big contracts, even if they belong to star players, and teams are getting more and more stingy with their draft picks as they get smarter. Add that to strong upcoming free agent classes, and most teams want to stay put or can’t find a good trade.

Most Underrated Teams In Baseball

Posted: 02/22/2014 by levcohen in Baseball

I’ve done the overrated teams, so now I’ll do the underrated ones be the over/under win totals.

Oakland Athletics: Over/under: 86.5

Yet again, Vegas is sleeping on this team. I didn’t even have to inspect and dissect their roster to place them on this list. Billy Beane, the GM, is a genius. Everyone knows about Moneyball, and incredibly, the fact that Beane revealed a lot of secrets in that book and subsequent movie hasn’t stopped him. The Athletics have undoubtedly spotted another competitive advantage or three. This same Athletics team won 94 games two years ago and 96 last season. I don’t see any reason that they will lose 10 more games this season than they did last. And even though I don’t have to, I’ll look at their roster anyway. The first thing I noticed is that they platoon a lot, and they are going to bash righties. Brandon Moss might be the most underrated righty-basher in the league. Last season, Moss hit 26 homers in 366 at bats against right handed pitchers. He had a .905 OPS, and due to the fact that he had just 80 at bats against lefties (there is that platoon strength), he was an above average overall player. This wasn’t a fluke, either; in 2012, Moss hit 19 homers in 207 at bats against righties and had a 1.006 OPS. What also struck me about this team is that their two best offensive players coming into last season were Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Reddick. Both were young, and both were good in 2012. Both of them had disappointing seasons, and I fully expect them to rebound to at least their 2012 levels. They are surrounded by productive players; Josh Donaldson, Coco Crisp, Jed Lowrie, Craig Gentry, etc. It’s a very good offense, and one that is nearly identical to last season’s, which is a rarity given that the Athletics rarely re-sign expensive free agents (none of their best offensive players were expensive free agents, which explains the return of all of their players). Pitching wise, there was some change. Brett Anderson was shipped to Colorado, and is replaced by Scott Kazmir, the prototypical Athletics signing. Kazmir used to be good, got bad, was average last season, and is now an Athletic. Yet another strength is the bullpen, which is one of the deepest in baseball. Jim Johnson will likely replace Grant Balfour as the closer, and the Athletics also traded for Luke Gregerson (2.88 career ERA) and Fernando Abad. The quartet of Johnson, Gregerson, Ryan Cook, and Sean Doolittle has the best stuff of any quartet of relievers on any team in baseball.

Bottom Line: I have no reason to believe that the Athletics will regress this season, and I’m confident that they won’t lose 10 more games than they did last year. While they don’t have a star (Donaldson is the closest thing to a star, but he needs to prove it for more than one year), they have depth that rivals any team’s. And they do it with a very limited budget, so kudos to that front office.

Miami Marlins: Over/under: 66.5

This is a young team, and I think they’ll show enough improvement to win more than 66 games. Last year, they won just 62, but they have totally made over their league worst offense (last season: 30th in runs, 30th in average, 30th in OBP, 30th in slugging). The Marlins signed or traded for six guys who could feature prominently in the lineup: Rafael Furcal could be the leadoff hitter, Garrett Jones and Jarred Saltalamacchia will likely hit in the middle of the lineup, Casey McGahee could start at third, and Jeff Baker and Brian Bogusevic will provide valuable depth. I know, I know. These guys aren’t the best thing since sliced bread. But they are definitely better than Placido Polanco, Ed Lucas, Chris Coghlan, Donovan Solano, Juan Pierre, Greg Dobbs, Justin Ruggiano, Derrick Dietrich, Jeff Mathis and Rob Brantly. Those 10 players each had at least 200 plate appearances for the Marlins last season, and the highest OPS of the 10 belonged to Ruggiano. At .694. In fact, only three Marlin hitters had an OPS above .700. That’s pretty bad.

Now to the positives that will get them over 66 wins. The lineup definitely won’t be as bad as it was last season, thanks in part to the removal of the glut of awful hitters, but also because Christian Yelich will likely play a full season. Last year, Yelich was the Marlins’ top prospect, and after being promoted to the MLB he quickly became the second best hitter on the team. Giancarlo Stanton, the hands-down best offensive player on the team, also missed a third of last season to injury and we could see a full season from him.

The pitching last season was actually pretty darn good. It’s just that nobody noticed, because the offense was so good. They have a young rotation that should just keep getting better. Jose Fernandez, the 2013 NL Rookie of the Year, is one of the best pitchers in baseball. In his rookie year, he had a 2.19 ERA, a .98 WHIP, and 187 strikeouts in 172.2 innings. The fact that he finished third in the Cy Young award voting even though he was shut down after 28 starts is amazing. The 21 year old Fernandez is followed in the rotation by the 22 year old Jacob Turner, 24 year old Nathan Eovaldi, and 23 year old Henderson Alvarez. On a team without much stability, the four of them all started at least 17 games and all had an ERA below 4. As for the #5 spot in the rotation, that might go to 23 year old Brian Flynn or 23 year old Brad Hand. Including the bullpen, the Marlins will almost surely have only one pitcher over 30 years old: the 31-year-old Carlos Marmol (and I doubt he will last long, given his history. Ask Cubs fans). The bullpen should be ok, and I see this team winning 70 games.

Bottom Line: In a weak division where the Marlins will be able to win some games against the Mets and Phillies, I wouldn’t be shocked if the Marlins finished third in the NL East. Even if they don’t, I think they can win 67 wins thanks to an improved offense (it can’t be worse) and a youthful rotation led by Jose Fernandez.

Texas Rangers: Over/under: 86.5

Let’s just say that I’m high on the AL West this season. I love the Athletics. The Angels have the best player of the century to this point (Albert Pujols), surely the best of this decade (Mike Trout), and the most infuriating power hitter ever (Josh Hamilton). Even the Mariners are trying their best to make the playoffs this year, with their shocking signing of Robinson Cano and smaller additions of Corey Hart, Logan Morrison, and Fernando Rodney. And then there are the Texas Rangers. This team looks absolutely stacked. It is much better than the team that won 91 games last season. Ian Kinsler is gone, as is Nelson Cruz. Those two guys have been staples of the Rangers success in the last five years. But they have been replaced by players who are, frankly, better. Kinsler was traded for Prince Fielder. Shin Soo-Choo will replace Cruz in the outfield. Fielder is a much better hitter than Kinsler is at this point while filling the Rangers’ largest (no pun intended) hole (first base), and Choo will be a terrific leadoff hitter (see overrated teams post). The Rangers also acquired Michael Choice, who could start in the outfield or platoon with Mitch Moreland at DH. The departure of Kinsler also opens up an everyday spot for Jurickson Profar, baseball’s #1 prospect last season. Profar wasn’t great in his debut last season, but that might just be because he wasn’t starting every day, and he certainly didn’t have a full time position. So the Rangers filled in their biggest hole with a good hitting first baseman while not losing much, if anything, at second base. Adrian Beltre is also a beast offensively, and Alex Rios has posted consecutive good seasons, with 43 homers and 65 steals these last two seasons.

Yu Darvish is one of the three or four best pitchers in baseball, and beyond that there are a bunch of solid starters who won’t need to do much to win games with this offense. The bullpen is also solid and experienced.

Bottom Line: This actually looks a lot like the Rangers of the 2010-2011 seasons, who scored a lot of runs and made the World Series both years. Last year’s team was down to 730 runs while in those two seasons they scored more than 800, and I fully expect them to be back in the 800 range. I’m on board the Rangers train.

USA and Canada Will be Epic

Posted: 02/20/2014 by everythingishistory1066 in Hockey, Uncategorized

If today’s Women’s gold medal game is any indication, the men’s version of the War for North American Hockey will be awesome. Here’s hoping the American’s get a better result on the men’s side. The last time the States and Canada hooked up in the Olympics, Canada swiped the gold medal in Vancouver on their home ice. While Canada was the better team on that night, the Americans are the better team in this tournament.

It seemed coming into this Olympics that Canada was going to walk away with the gold medal. However as it has played out, the United States has been the most dominant. They have outscored their opponents 19-5. Jonathan Quick and Ryan Miller have combined to put up some stellar performances in goal. Much like the NHL Playoffs a team can ride a hot goaltender all the way to the Finals. The United States are not only getting great goaltending but they are getting great scoring and outstanding team hockey. In the short time the Americans have been together they have certainly gelled better than any other team in the tournament. They have played every type of hockey in this tournament. They have been able to get the ugly goals as well as the finesse goals. The Americans have been the most physical team in the tournament thanks in large part to David Backes. On the penalty kill they have been magnificent, in the Russia game they killed off 4 of 5 Russia’s power plays. They are also getting scoring out of their defensemen as well. Cam Fowler has been scoring and Daryl Suter chipped in 3 assists in the quarterfinal game against the Czech Republic.

The Canadians on paper still have the best lineup on paper. You could take the palyers that were left off the Canadian roster and still have a great team. Despite this I feel the American’s are playing with a purpose in this tounrment. The sting of 2010 still lingers. When all is said and done I believe the USA will prevail 4-2.

Pitchers and catchers on some teams have reported to Spring Training now, which means baseball is coming back soon. I’ll start sprinkling in some baseball posts now, which is refreshing given that most of my recent posts have been football and basketball related. Let’s start with the most overrated teams in baseball right now based on their preseason over/unders (Vegas released MLB over/under win totals recently)

Cincinnati Reds. Over/under: 87.5

The Reds have the sixth most gaudy over/under, behind Los Angeles, Detroit, Washington, St. Louis, and Tampa Bay, and tied with Boston. That just doesn’t look right. Each of those teams just look so much better than the Reds. On the surface, the over/under makes sense. The Reds won 90 games last year, and had the third best run differential in the National League. But I think that the loss of Shin Soo-Choo will really hurt the Reds. Although Choo got a huge deal in free agency, I still think he hasn’t gotten enough credit from fans. Last year, he was, quite simply, the second best hitter on the Reds behind Joey Votto. The offense really ran on those two guys, because the two of them got on base and nobody else on the team did. Now half of that on base prowess is gone, and the Reds didn’t really replace Choo’s productivity in the lineup via free agency. Instead, they will place a heavy burden on Billy Hamilton, a 23 year old who has gained a lot of fans because of his amazing speed. Hamilton will likely hit leadoff, which is a big ask for the rookie. Yes, Hamilton is fast. He stole 103 bases in 2011, 155 in 2012, and 88 in 2013, including 13 stolen bases in 13 magical MLB games. But Hamilton hasn’t come close to proving himself in the Major Leagues; he hit .368 last year in the MLB, but that was in just 19 at bats and three starts. His AAA stats in 2013 tell a different story; he had just a .651 OPS in 547 plate appearances, and just a .308 OBP. Yes, Reds fans, you are putting a guy who was below average offensively in AAA in the leadoff spot. Being a good leadoff hitter is more about getting on base than it is about speed, and while Hamilton should easily lead the MLB in steals, he won’t get on base at nearly the clip that Choo did last season at the top of the lineup. Let’s look at the OBP of the whole projected lineup, because I think this in essence is why this team is overrated:
1. Hamilton. Last season OBP (MLB+AAA combined): .310
2. Zack Cozart. OBP: .284
3. Joey Votto. OBP: .435
4. Brandon Phillips. OBP: .310
5. Jay Bruce. OBP: .329
6. Ryan Ludwick. OBP: .293
7. Todd Frazier. OBP: .314
8. Devin Mesoraco. OBP: .287

Votto is one of the best players in baseball, but I have a feeling he is going to be left on base a ton. Not one player besides Joey Votto has an above average on base percentage, and six of them had bad on base numbers last year. That’s pretty bad. Last year, the Reds allowed the fourth fewest runs in the NL, and I think their pitching will need to be even better this year. The starting pitching is definitely the strength, but staff ace Jhonny Cueto barely pitched last year due to injury, and Mat Latos is rehabbing and might not be ready to start the season.

Bottom Line: The Reds can definitely make the playoffs again this season, but they’ll need to rely heavily on their pitching and I don’t think they should be rated evenly to the Red Sox at this point. Maybe Hamilton will break out this season. I sure hope so, because if he can get on base at even a respectable clip, he can steal 100 bases, and will undoubtedly add some juice to a league that always can use extra excitement. But the guys surrounding Votto might not be good enough to drive in Joey, and I would bet on the Reds wasting a lot of Votto hits and walks. The Cincinnati Reds have made the playoffs in three of the past four seasons, but I think that streak is in danger of ending this season in the NL Central.

Washington Nationals. Over/under: 90.5

This has less to do with the actual over/under and more to do with how they compare to other teams, namely the Atlanta Braves, according to Vegas. By these over/under numbers, the Nationals are the third best team in baseball and better than their division rival by four games. I actually think the Nats will likely win 91 games because three teams in their division are so bad. But I don’t think that the Nationals are the third best team in baseball, and I think they are about level with the Braves. Keep in mind that this team won 86 games last year and failed to make the playoffs. Six of the seven teams with the highest projected wins made the playoffs last season, so it’s curious that the Nationals are this high up on the list. On the other hand, in terms of talent this over/under is reasonable. This team is arguably better than the one that won 98 games in 2912. It’s still young, and the key cogs are still there. I think this could and should be Bryce Harper’s breakout season, and the rotation got deeper with the acquisition of Doug Fister, who is one of the more reliable starters in baseball. The rotation now looks like this:
SP- Stephen Strasburg
SP- Jordan Zimmermann
SP- Doug Fister
SP- Gio Gonzalez
SP- Ross Detwiler/Tanner Roark

That is probably the best and deepest rotation in baseball. Gonzalez has to be the best #4 in all of baseball, and it’s telling that Tanner Roark, who was tremendous last year in limited time, might not be in the rotation at the start of the year. The lineup isn’t as good as the rotation, but if they can avoid injuries they should score some runs.

Bottom Line: Talent wise, the Nationals are among the elites. But they weren’t great last year, with the 14th best run differential in baseball, and it’s hard to believe that they will be better than teams like St. Louis, Boston, and Tampa Bay. Again, my complaint isn’t with the number, but with the fact that their number is higher than that of teams that, frankly, should be ranked higher than they are until they prove that they are the team they were in 2012 and not the one that underperformed last season.

Philadelphia Phillies. Over/under: 78

This team is tough to write about, and will be even tougher to watch. The glory run was from 2007-2011, and it’s long done now. Yes, the same players are on the team now, but they have been declining and are aging. The players can’t be blamed for the mess that is sure to ensue. It’s Ruben Amaro Jr., the GM, who is living in the past, and it’s RAJ who has put the Phillies in this situation. And by this situation, I mean an old team with a bad offense, bad defense, and inevitable injury problems that have already begun. At the height of the mini-dynasty, the Phillies were the best offense in baseball. They have gotten worse each year since their height, and are now one of the worst offensive teams in baseball. What’s worse is that they don’t even have that much offensive upside. Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard aren’t going to automatically turn back into superstars. The only above average offensive players Philadelphia has are Chase Utley, Dominic Brown, and MAYBE the 36 year old Marlon Byrd. The only players under 34, which is ancient in baseball terms, who will start are Ben Revere (25), Dominic Brown (26), and Cody Asche (23). The rotation, meanwhile, was improved by the signing of A.J. Burnett, but now Cole Hamels is out until at least mid-April, and the Phillies are no longer going to be a dominant pitching team.

Bottom Line:
This is going to get ugly. These Phillies are a year older than the team that was lucky to win 73 games last season. Their run differential of -139 should have won them 65 games, not 73, according to the pythagorean win-loss theorem that is a better indicator of team performance. They aren’t going to improve on last year’s record, and I think they’ll be closer to 60 wins than 80. Of course, Ryan Howard could hit 50 homers and Jimmy Rollins could win another MVP, so I could be wrong. But I highly doubt it.

Oshie the Hero for the States

Posted: 02/15/2014 by everythingishistory1066 in Hockey, Uncategorized

The United States and Russia match up exceeded everyone’s expectations. The game went into the eighth round of shootouts. Tj Oshie took 6 of the 8 shots for the Americans and scored four of them. An impressive performance such as this lives on in lore. As for the game itself, it took on a playoff type intensity. The United States was the more physical team out of the gates as Ryan Callahan lit up Alexander Ovechkin causing a scrum in front of the American goal. It would remain chippy for quite a bit as both squads battled. Towards the middle of the first, however the Russians had firmly taken over the game. Russia held the States to just 1 shot over an 8 minute stretch in the first period. They also effectively shut down Patrick Kane several times as Kane tried to break out. Despite being out shot the United States remained the more physical team. Jonathan Quick made his mark in net keeping the Americans afloat during their offensive dry spell. Towards the end of the first period the United States offense came alive and closed the gap in shots considerably finishing with 10 to the Russians 13 after one period of play.

The Americans started the second period on a carry over power play fromt the first. They started out the period the definite aggressors on offense and kept up their strong physical play, especially against the Ovechkin, Malkin and Semin line of Russia. However as happened in the first period the Russians came alive mid way through the second and began to get more shots and scoring chances. They definitely controlled the tempo througout this stretch. They capitilized on the momentum they generated by scoring the first goal of the game. A nice shot by Captain Pavol Datsyuk found its way to the back of the net. A scary moment happened in the second when Ryan Kesler took a blistering shot by Ilya Kovalchuk off his hand and left the game temporarily but returned with two of his fingers taped. The Americans were able to stop the Russian offense with solid defense and the willingness to block a ton of shots. Dustin Brown was able to draw a penalty against Russia when Aleaxander Rudulov hit Brown on the other side of the ice. Cam Fowler tied the game with a power play goal, the score would remain 1-1 going into the final period.

In the 3rd the United States took the lead. Another Rudulov penalty led to a sick goal by Joe Pavelski. A big faceoff win by Kesler got the puck to Kevin Shattenkirk who set up Patrick Kane who fed a one timer to wide open Pavelski for the goal. Another penalty on the United States, their fifth at this point, gave the Russians a power play and they would take advantage as Datsyuk scored his second goal of the game. Shortly after, some controversy occured. Fedor Tyutin fired a beautiful shot from the point and buried it in the back of the net. However the goal was disallowed. The replay showed a potential high stick which deflected the puck in but the video showed the stick never touched the puck. Then it was discovered the goal had been removed from its mooring. While this would have counted as a goal in the NHL, in international play the net must be secured at all times. At the end of three the score remained tied 2-2. Overtime was on the horizon.

The overtime started shorthanded for Russia as they had a penalty carry over from the end of the 3rd. A breakaway attempt by Patrick Kane could have sealed the game but a great save by Sergei Bobrovsky kept the game tied. After an eventful five minutes the shootout was in order. Jonathan Quick was superb for the Americans as he turned away shots by Datsyuk, Kovalchuk and Evegeni Malkin. Sergie Bobrovsky however could not solve TJ Oshie. On his 6 shot attempts he scored 4 goals including the game winner. The next test for the Americans comes against Olympic newcomers Slovania led by the dynamic Anze Kopitar. If the Americans win they move on to the elimintion round of the tournament in their quest for gold.

Three Stars:

#1 TJ Oshie United State: Was aggresive all game with his line that included Paul Stastny and Max Pacioretty. Was the hero in the shootout notching goals in 6 shots.

#2 Pavol Datsyuk Russia: Scored the two goals for Russia and a shootout goal as well

#3 Ryan Kesler USA: Won a ton of faceoffs for the Americans. Helped generate a lot of the offensive chanes for the United States. Left in the second period with a hand injury and came back later to help te United States win.