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Stadium Series: Crossing an item off my sports bucket list — My experience at Lambeau Field

I like going to Major League Baseball stadiums that I’ve never visited before because baseball stadiums, while each adhering to the field dimensions regulated by MLB, have their own distinct features and quirks that separate them from the others, whether it’s the now-gone hill and pole in center field of Houston’s Minute Maid Park, the Green Monster at Fenway Park in Boston, or the famed ivy on the outfield walls at Wrigley Field.

I don’t have the same feelings about NFL stadiums because, for the most part, there is nothing notable that distinguishes one from another.They are pretty much cookie-cutter facilities without unique features. There is one exception to that rule, in my opinion: Lambeau Field in Green Bay. That is the one NFL building that I feel is a classic that all football fans should visit in their lifetime. For me, that journey took place this past weekend.

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I am a fan of the Texans, who only played at Lambeau Field one time previously — a 24-21 Houston victory on Dec. 7, 2008. With the NFL’s scheduling formula, the Texans only play in Green Bay once every eight years because the teams play in different conferences. Knowing that, I knew if I didn’t go to the Week 13 game this year, I didn’t know if I would ever make it to Lambeau. Seeing a game at Lambeau Field has been on my sports bucket list for a while, so I made the trip from New York to experience a Packers weekend in Green Bay.

Stadium Tour

My Lambeau Field experience began on Saturday morning, with a tour of the stadium. I had never gone on a stadium tour before, but that was one of the things I wanted to do on this trip. It did not disappoint. It was informative, with tour guide Mike sharing a lot of information about the history of the team and facility, and took us to places throughout the stadium, most notably through the tunnel Packers players run through to take the field every home game and onto the outer edge of the field. It was a pretty cool experience to be standing there looking out at the nearly 80,000 empty seats — or, more accurately, bleachers — that just over 24 hours later would be filled with rowdy fans cheering on their team.

While being on the field was the highlight of the tour, there was more to the 90-minute-long experience. Other highlights of the tour included getting a panoramic view from a deck high above the south end zone, which is the highest point in Green Bay. Other stops included areas of the stadium that are accessible to people who buy suites and the Champions Club, which Mike described as similar to a country club, that has indoor seating in an area filled with Packers memorabilia, including Super Bowl rings, and access to the aforementioned viewing deck near the south scoreboard.

Packers Hall of Fame

After the tour, my next stop was to visit the Packers Hall of Fame which, as you’d expect, is filled with memorabilia and information about the history of the team and its best players. Highlights of the Hall of Fame include a room that houses the Packers’ four Lombardi trophies, of course named for the team’s famous head coach Vince Lombardi, and a replica setup of Lombardi’s office including the actual desk, chairs and telephone he used while serving as the team’s coach. There were video exhibits showcasing such events as highlights of 1967’s Ice Bowl — which was reportedly the impetus for Lambeau getting the nickname the Frozen Tundra — and the original Lambeau Leap, which was first performed by S LeRoy Butler on Dec. 26, 1993. Among the more unique memorabilia included in the Hall of Fame’s collection is pieces of goalposts from key games throughout Packers history and the trade agreement 1992 deal that sent young QB Brett Favre from the Falcons to the Packers for a first-round draft pick that would ultimately become RB Tony Smith, who totaled 329 rushing yards and 2 rushing touchdowns in his NFL career.

The Game: Texans at Packers

Then came Sunday and the game between the Texans and the Packers. The weather provided what I was hoping for — snow, which I feel is the part of the true Green Bay football experience. There was light snow for most of the morning and throughout the game. With a noon kickoff, there were already people in the parking lot tailgating by the time I got to Lambeau shortly before 9am. The weather didn’t deter fans from getting to the stadium hours early to partake in the usual drinking, eating and game-playing that is associated with tailgating. But it’s not just in the stadium parking lot, it extends beyond the grounds of Lambeau. The owners of nearby homes surrounding the stadium allow people to park in their yards and set up mini-tailgates for a fee — generally ranging from $10-40, depending on the home’s distance from the stadium. Nearby restaurants and bars also run their own pregame tailgate parties, offering unlimited food and drinks for a fee. I opted to go with the tailgate at Brett Favre’s Steakhouse, which had Super Bowl champion and Packers Hall of Fame WR Antonio Freeman in attendance signing autographs.

At noon, it was time for the main attraction of the weekend, with a kickoff temperature of 31 degrees and snow falling throughout the duration of the game. As mentioned earlier, the majority of the stadium — the original bowl plus some of the earliest additions — is made up of aluminum bleachers, which can get uncomfortable on cold days so many people either bring their own seat cushions or rent one upon entering the stadium. The newest additions in the upper levels of the stadium offer more traditional stadium seats.

As for the game itself, both offenses got off to slow starts — each team lost a fumble on their first offensive drives of the game — with no points on the scoreboard until Packers QB Aaron Rodgers threw a touchdown pass to WR Randall Cobb nearly halfway through the second quarter for a 7-0 lead that stood until Texans QB Brock Osweiler tied to the game with a touchdown pass to TE Ryan Griffin midway through the third quarter. The Packers then took a 14-point lead with two touchdowns in the fourth quarter — a pass to a wide-open WR Jordy Nelson early in the period and a three-yard run into the endzone by RB Aaron Ripkowski with 4:18 remaining in the game, putting Green Bay up 21-7. The Texans responded around the two-minute mark with a 44-yard catch-and-run by WR DeAndre Hopkins, but a missed PAT by K Nick Novak kept the score at 21-13. After a failed onside kick, the Texans were able to keep the Packers from earning a game-clinching first down, but with only one timeout remaining on the drive, the Texans got the ball back with just four seconds remaining. With the ball at their own 12-yard line, the Texans tried a short pass followed by several laterals as a last-ditch effort to score, but that failed as the Packers handed the Texans their third straight loss in front of a crowd of 77,867.

Both teams now sit at 6-6 on the season, with the Packers in third place in the NFC North and the Texans falling into a first-place tie with the idle Titans and, following Monday Night Football, the Colts in the AFC South.

Overall, even though the team I was rooting for lost, it was a good weekend as I finally got a chance to experience Lambeau Field for the first time. It is a trip that I would recommend any NFL fan should take at some point — including the tour — because of all of the tradition and history associated with the team and the stadium.

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Why I Don’t Agree With New York Banning DraftKings and FanDuel

On Tuesday, New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman ordered daily fantasy sports (DFS) operators DraftKings and FanDuel to stop accepting bets by state residents, arguing that the companies’ games are considered illegal gambling, according to state law. I disagree with the decision, which affects me as a New York resident who has been playing in NFL contests on DraftKings this season. The companies plan to appeal the decision.

For some background, DFS companies are legal under federal law; a 2006 federal law exempted fantasy sports from a prohibition that was instituted on online gaming, under the guidance that it is a game of skill as opposed to luck. Schneiderman apparently doesn’t agree that DFS is legal under that law, saying “it is clear that DraftKings and FanDuel are the leaders of a massive, multibillion-dollar scheme intended to evade the law and fleece sports fans across the country.”

In his letter to DraftKings, Scheiderman stressed some of the differences between DFS and traditional, seasonlong fantasy sports that makes DFS illegal while the seasonlong variety is legal, including that the “instant gratification” makes it easy to play DFS, which has “no long-term strategy.” He also argues that DFS is closer to poker — in that a small number of pros profit at the expense of more-casual players — than a lottery. According to Schneiderman’s investigation of the site’s data, the top one percent of winners get the majority of the winnings.

Let me address the points made by Schneiderman. First, I think comparing DFS to poker hurts his argument because I have long argued that poker is a game of skill that, like DFS, should be exempt from that 2006 ban on online gambling. Schneiderman seems to think that because the outcome of the contests relies on outside forces that the DFS players cannot control — namely the athletes — there’s no skill involved in winning at DFS. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Yes, DFS participants have no control over the performance of the players they select, but there is skill involved in choosing which players you want on your team. The people who do it right study stats of previous games and the players’ matchups in the coming games to determine who to select — you’re not randomly selecting players with no basis for your choices.

This also goes into my counterargument to Schneiderman’s point that the top one percent of DraftKings players win the most money. Many of them are DFS professionals who do it full-time. They spend hours, and even days, to select their lineups each week. Conversely, a casual player like me often spends some time on Sunday morning choosing players before the kickoff the 1:00 games. Naturally, you would expect the people who are able to put more time and research into it to win more often — and that would kind of indicate there’s some skill involved in DFS, not that it’s a “multibillion-dollar scheme,” which was the conclusion that Schneiderman jumped to.

Further, those DFS pros are wagering a lot of money, with the possibility of a large payout. So, of course, they’re going to get the majority of the winnings when most DFS players are probably closer to me; I play in one $3 contest a week, and sometimes add a second, similarly priced contest. I don’t expect to win thousands of dollars when I’m wagering so little. I’ve won $10 each of the past two weeks, which is a decent return on my small investment.

Going back to Schneiderman’s letter, he charges that DraftKings promotes its games as “a path to easy riches that anyone can win,” enticing player with claims of becoming a millionaire. That scenario sounds familiar. Where have I previously heard claims of easy riches and becoming a millionaire? Oh yeah, that’s right, I’m thinking of New York Lottery commercials. Of course, that’s it.

So how do DraftKings’ and FanDuel’s claims of winning big differ from the New York Lottery’s? Simple. New York runs its lottery and profits from the people who gamble on it, hoping to win millions in contests in which they have no control over the outcome. Which is pretty much the argument Schneiderman makes for banning DFS — which, I should point out, New York doesn’t make any money off of. And that, in my opinion, is why Schneiderman is going after the DFS companies — he wants his share of the pie from the more than 500,000 New Yorkers who play DFS, according to DraftKings spokeswoman Sabrina Macias.

The fact that Schneiderman only banned DraftKings and FanDuel — by far the two largest and most successful DFS operations — and not the other, smaller sites that run DFS games seems to confirm my suspicion that it’s about money. He is going after the two sites that make the most money off of DFS becasue the state stands to gain the most by going after those two sites.

So the solution is simple. Rather than banning DFS, New York should regulate and tax it. By regulating it, the state can control how DraftKIngs and FanDuel run their games, to make sure it’s not the “scheme” that Schneiderman thinks the sites are running. By taxing it, New York gets its share of the millions of dollars that the sites take in from New York residents. New York is obviously not opposed to gambling; in addition to the lottery, the state regulates the New York Racing Association, which runs several horse racing tracks across the state, and a couple years ago legalized casino gaming other than the Indian casinos that have long operated on Indian reservations in the state.

Thoughts?

My 3rd annual way-too-early MLB All-Star Game ballot

Over the last couple of years, I’ve written about some things I don’t like about the balloting for the MLB All-Star Game, and the league has made some changes this year that improve the process, in my opinion. First, the ballot was released on Friday, nearly a month later than voting has started in the past, and there are fewer votes allowed per email address. My big beef the last two years was the league allowing people to vote up to 35 times per day per email address. This year, they’ve changed the voting to allow for five ballots per day per email address, with a total of 35 ballots cast per email address throughout the voting period. This change will hopefully allow for less ballot-box stuffing and increase the likelihood of deserving players getting voted into the starting slots.

Despite the later start to the voting, I’m continuing with the tradition of calling my first ballot “way-too-early” with additional updates during the voting period, which ends on July 5, which is 10 days before the game is set to be played in Washington, D.C., on July 17.

American League

1B Mitch Moreland, Red Sox: Moreland is getting a chance at regular playing time and is doing well enough that the Red Sox were willing to release DH Hanley Ramirez, who had been platooning with Moreland. With an average around .300 and nine home runs, I’m giving Moreland the nod over a guy like Jose Abreu, of the White Sox, who is putting up comparable numbers.
2B Jose Altuve, Astros: Altuve’s power numbers are down compared to last season, but he’s still near the top of the American League with a .332 batting average. The only other AL second baseman who’s hitting better than .300 is Yankees rookie Gleyber Torres. An argument can be made for either player, but the reigning MVP — who leads the AL in hits — gets my vote.
SS Manny Machado, Orioles: Machado and the Indians’ Francisco Lindor are both having great seasons, but Machado is hitting about 20 points better, with more homers and RBI on the season so he’s the choice to make here. Lindor would still make the team as a backup, but Machado is having the better season and gets my vote.
3B Jose Ramirez, Indians: A Cleveland infielder is getting my vote here as Ramirez is the only player at the hot corner in the AL who’s hitting both for average and power. He’s hitting around .300 and is leading the position in home runs and RBI, making him an easy choice for my ballot.
C Wilson Ramos, Rays: The veteran catcher is hovering around a career-high with a .301 batting average entering Sunday with seven homers. There are other catchers — including the Royals’ Salvador Perez and the Yankees’ Gary Sanchez, who have more home runs but aren’t close to Ramos in average, making him the AL’s best overall catcher in terms of offensive stats.
DH J.D. Martinez, Red Sox: The biggest offensive hole the Red Sox had last season was hitting the fewest home runs in the AL. Martinez, who signed with the Red Sox as a free agent in the offseason, is helping to change that with a MLB-best 19 home runs to go along with 50 RBI, which also leads the majors. He’s easily the best choice to make at DH.
OF Mookie Betts, Red Sox; Aaron Judge, Yankees; Mike Trout, Angels: Betts just went on the DL this weekend, but he is having one of the best seasons of all hitters in the American League, leading the league with a .359 average, in addition to 17 home runs and 37 RBI. I expect him to be back in action in time for the All-Star Game, but even if he’s not he gets my vote. There’s no sophomore slump for Judge, who is putting up similar numbers to what he did last year, when he finished as the runner-up to Altuve in AL MVP voting. And Trout is having a typical Mike Trout season, hitting .313 with 19 home runs — tied with Martinez for the major league lead — here in early June.

My first AL all-star ballot of 2018

National League

1B Freddie Freeman, Braves: Some rookies have helped the Braves get out to a surprisingly strong start in the NL East this season, but the veteran Freeman is doing his part as well, hitting .335 with nine home runs and 40 RBI.
2B Scooter Gennett, Reds: Gennett is one of the few bright spots for a Reds team that has the second-worst record in the National League. His .340 average and 11 home runs gets my vote over the Braves’ Ozzie Albies and Cubs’ Javier Baez, who are also having good seasons thus far.
SS Brandon Crawford, Giants: There’s not a standout candidate among NL shortstops, so I’ll give it to Crawford, who is hitting over .300 with six home runs.
3B Nolan Arenado, Rockies: Arenado is always in contention to get a start in the All-Star Game, and this year is no different with a .325 average and 12 homers entering Sunday. He edges out the Cubs’ Kris Bryant to get my vote at the position.
C J.T. Realmuto, Marlins: Realmuto began the season on the DL, but he has put up good numbers since taking the field, hitting over .300 with six home runs at a position where offense isn’t easy to come by. The Giants’ Buster Posey is having a bit of a disappointing season, by his standards, giving Realmuto a chance to get a vote on my ballot.
DH With no DH in the National League, fans don’t get to vote for one.
OF Charlie Blackmon, Rockies; A.J. Pollock, Diamondbacks; Matt Kemp, Dodgers: Two of the three choices here are the same as on my way-too-early ballot last season, with the Nationals’ Bryce Harper the one who didn’t get the repeat vote. He has 18 home runs, but is hitting just .233 — a far cry from his .319 average in 2017 — which kept him off my ballot. Pollock, who is hitting .293 with 11 homers, gets my third outfield vote instead. Kemp currently has the highest average of this threesome, at .347, and Blackmon is hitting .285 with 12 home runs.

My first NL all-star ballot of 2018

Starting pitchers are not on the ballot and are chosen by the all-star managers, but I like to choose them, too. In the American League, the only choice is the Astros’ Justin Verlander, who has an impressive 1.24 ERA and 104 strikeouts through 13 starts, with the Nationals’ Max Scherzer getting my vote in the National League. Scherzer is 9-1 with a 1.92 ERA and 120 strikeouts in 12 starts.

I’ll be updating the ballot as the All-Star Game approaches, so keep checking back in for updates.

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MLB Weekly-ish: Pujols and the Dodgers make history, Harvey DFAed

Looking Back

Milestone games for Angels DH Albert Pujols and Dodgers pitchers, and the Mets designating a former ace for assignment highlight this week’s MLB Weekly.

Pujols began this season with 2,968 career hits and on Friday, in his 31st game of 2018, he recorded his 32nd hit of the season, making him the 32nd player in major league history to reach the 3,000-hit milestone. The 40-year-old singled to right field off Mariners SP Mike Leake in the fifth inning of an Angels victory for hit No. 3,000. With 620 home runs on his ledger, he joins Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Alex Rodriguez as the only four members of the 3,000/600 club.

Pujols put up monster numbers in his 11 seasons with the Cardinals, totaling 2,073 hits and 445 home runs with a .328 average. But since signing with the Angels prior to the 2012 season, Pujols’ offensive output has slowed and he has transitioned from a two-time National League Gold Glove-winning first baseman to a designated hitter as age and injuries have caught up to him. Entering Sunday, his batting average with the Angels is .262, more than 60 points below what he hit with St. Louis. Despite the offensive downturn, Pujols still has some power, having hit 60 homers since the start of the 2016 season. The three-time NL MVP is signed with the Angels through the 2021 season.

Pujols is one of the longest-tenured active players in the majors, but it was a rookie Dodgers pitcher who had the spotlight on him Friday when the defending NL champs began a three-game series with the Padres in Monterrey, Mexico. SP Walker Buehler — making his third career MLB start — pitched the first six innings of what would be a six-pitcher combined no-hitter in a 4-0 Dodgers victory. Buehler struck out eight batters and issued three walks in his six innings of work before manager Dave Roberts took him out of the game after throwing 93 pitches. RPs Tony Cingrani, Yimi Garcia and Adam Liberatore followed up Buehler’s performance by each throwing an inning, combining for five strikeouts and two walks in the final three innings of the game. Buehler has been impressive in the first three starts of his big-league career, recording a 1.13 ERA with 19 strikeouts in 16 innings, making him one of the few positives in what has been a disappointing start to the season for the Dodgers, who are 15-17 after finishing 2017 with a MLB-best 104 wins and falling a game short of winning the World Series.

It was the 23rd no-hitter in Dodgers history — 13th since moving to Los Angeles — but the first combined no-hitter for the team. It was the 12th combined no-hitter in MLB history and the first since six Mariners pitchers no-hit the Dodgers in June 2012. And it’s the second no-hitter of 2018 after A’s SP Sean Manaea threw a no-no against the Red Sox on April 22.

The news wasn’t so good for Matt Harvey on Friday. The Mets asked him to accept a demotion to the minors, which he refused. That led the team to designate him for assignment, giving the Mets 10 days to trade the pitcher, who was recently moved from the starting rotation to the bullpen, or release him. That ends Harvey’s time with the Mets after a tenure that began promising but had taken a downward turn in recent years, with injuries limiting his time on the field — including missing the entire 2014 season — and inconsistent performances when he did play.

Harvey’s ERA has steadily risen over the last three years, going from 2.71 in 2015 to 4.86 in 2016 and 6.70 last year. In eight appearances this season, including four starts, Harvey is 0-2 with a 7.00 ERA in 27 innings. That compares to ERAs of 2.73 and 2.27 in 2012 and 2013, respectively.

The big injury news this week was Dodgers SS Corey Seager suffering a season-ending UCL strain that will require him to undergo Tommy John surgery. Other notable players hitting the DL in the past week include: Padres OF Wil Myers (oblique), Dodgers OF Yasiel Puig (hip) and SP Hyun-Jin Ryu (groin), Phillies SS J.P. Crawford (forearm), Blue Jays OFs Randal Grichuk (knee) and Steve Pearce (oblique), Diamondbacks SP Robbie Ray (oblique), Rockies 2B DJ LeMahieu (hamstring), Twins 3B Miguel Sano (hamstring) and C Jason Castro (knee), Angels RP Keynan Middleton (elbow) and SP Nick Tropeano (shoulder), Giants SP Johnny Cueto (elbow), Yankees SP Jordan Montgomery (elbow), Brewers SP Zach Davies (rotator cuff), Tigers 1B Miguel Cabrera (hamstring), Braves SS Dansby Swanson (wrist) and White Sox 2B Yoan Moncada (hamstring).

The Week Ahead

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The featured series this week is the return of the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry. They’re meeting for three games in the Bronx starting Tuesday, at a time when they have the two best records in the American League. The Indians visit the Brewers for two games starting Tuesday, and the Rockies and Angels have a two-game set in Denver in a couple of series involving playoff hopefuls. Later in the week, the White Sox head to Wrigley Field to take on the Cubs starting Friday for this season’s first installment of the annual Windy City Series. The NL West-leading Diamondbacks host the disappointing Nationals for four games starting Thursday, and the Rockies host the Brewers for a four-game start beginning Thursday.

Some pitching performances to look for this week include Twins SP Fernando Romero looking to follow up his MLB debut with another good start Monday when he takes on the Cardinals and SP John Gant. The next day, SP Carlos Martinez takes the ball for St. Louis as he looks to improve upon his 3-1 start with a strong 1.40 ERA when he opposes Twins SP Jake Odorizzi. Mariners SP James Paxton recorded a career-high 16 strikeouts last time out, and he’s hoping for a repeat performance Tuesday against the Blue Jays and SP Marcus Stroman. Indians ace Corey Kluber also starts Tuesday, against Brewers SP Wade Miley, while Cubs SP Yu Darvish continues to look for his first win as a Cub; his next shot comes Tuesday against the Marlins, led by SP Jose Urena. Like Paxton, Astros SP Gerrit Cole is coming off a 16-strikeout performance; he’s set to get the ball again on Wednesday at the A’s. Buehler is scheduled to make his next start for the Dodgers at home Thursday, taking on the Reds.

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MLB Weekly-ish: Surprising teams, injuries mark the start of the season

Looking Back

We’re a couple weeks into the 2018 MLB season with most teams having played about 15 games thus far and there are a number of teams that are surprising people by their performances — both good and bad — and some star players are dealing with injuries in this season’s first edition of MLB Weekly.

Taking a look at the standings entering Sunday, the Mets — who are coming off a 70-92 season — are coming out of the gate strong with the best record in the National League and leading the NL East at 11-2. The Nationals, who were the favorites to win the division, sit in fourth place with a 7-8 mark. The Mets’ struggles last season were caused by injuries, with the starting rotation hit particularly hard, so they were expected to have a better season this year assuming health. Through two weeks, their pitchers haven’t dealt with injuries, but C Travis d’Arnaud will undergo Tommy John surgery, which will end his season, and backup C Kevin Plawecki is also on the DL with a broken hand that is expected to keep him out of action for a few weeks. Apart from SP Zack Wheeler, who has a 1.29 ERA in his only start, none of the Mets’ starters have a sub-3.00 ERA but only SP Matt Harvey, who has the worst injury history of the group, has posted an ERA above 4.00 with a 3.60 ERA in his first two starts, but that should get better if he can stay healthy for the first time since 2015.

There’s also an unexpected team at the top of the standings in the NL Central, with the 10-4 Pirates 2.5 games ahead of the second-place Cardinals and the improved Brewers. The Cubs — who have won the division each of the last two seasons — are in fourth place at 7-7. After trading their best pitcher (SP Gerrit Cole) and hitter (OF Andrew McCutchen), the Pirates were thought to be in rebuilding mode and not expected to be competitive in the division in 2018. They are getting production, though, from two of the hitters they added this winter: OF Corey Dickerson, who they acquired in a trade with the Rays, is hitting .347 with 10 RBI and a couple of steals while 3B Colin Moran, who came over from the Astros in the Cole trade, is hitting .316 with 8 RBI in his first 11 games with the team. A couple of young pitchers have had terrific starts to their seasons, with SP Jameson Taillon posting a 0.890ERA with 18 strikeouts in his first three starts and SP Trevor Williams with a 1.56 ERA and 10 strikeouts in three starts.

In the American League, the Angels and Red Sox were both expected to be in the playoff picture this season but not many people expected them to get off to the kinds of starts they they have. The 12-2 Red Sox have been getting it done on the mound, with the second-lowest ERA in the American League. They’ve also been getting offensive production out of SS Xander Bogaerts — who is currently on the DL — and OFs Mookie Betts and Hanley Ramirez, who are all hitting .353 or better. For the Angels, the much-hyped Shohei Ohtani has shown his subpar spring training performance was a fluke and has gotten off to a hot start both at the plate and on the mound. He’s hitting .367 with 3 home runs and 11 games in eight games as a DH and has posted a 2.08 ERA with 18 strikeouts over 13 innings in his first two starts of the season. OF Mike Trout, a perennial MVP candidate, is having the type of season people have come to expect from him with 6 home runs in his first 16 games.

It’s not good news for every team, though. The Cubs are one of the bigger disappointments early in the season at .500. That is due in large part to their pitching. Of their five starters, only SP Kyle Hendricks has a sub-4.00 ERA, and it’s not overly impressive at 3.71. SP Yu Darvish, who the Cubs signed to a big contract this winter despite his struggles in the postseason, has a 6.00 ERA in three starts. The Yankees, who were a game away from making the World Series in 2017, are also 7-7 as they sit in third place in the AL East, but the biggest disappointment early in 2018 is the Dodgers. Coming off their first World Series appearance since 1988, the Dodgers are just 4-9 and 6.5 games out of first in the NL West. Part of that is because 3B Justin Turner started the season on the DL and has yet to play in a game, but they’re not getting much out of SS Corey Seager, who hit .293 last season but is at .196 entering Sunday. The starting pitching is a mixed bag, with Clayton Kershaw sitting at a 1.89 ERA but SP Alex Wood posting a 5.09 ERA and SP Rich Hill at a 6.00 ERA. Closer Kenley Jansen is 0-1 with a 6.35 ERA and a couple of saves in his first six appearances of the season.

The first couple weeks of the season haven’t been kind to teams in terms of injuries, with the list of players currently on the DL including: Angels SP Matt Shoemaker; Rangers OF Delino Deshields, SS Elvis Andrus and 2B Rougned Odor; Phillies SP Jerad Eickhoff; Blue Jays SS Troy Tulowitzki and 3B Josh Donaldson; Giants SPs Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija and RP Mark Melancon; Indians SP Danny Salazar; Royals C Salvador Perez; Red Sox 2B Dustin Pedroia; Marlins C J.T. Realmuto; Yankees 1B Greg Bird, SP CC Sabathia and 3B Brandon Drury; White Sox SP Carlos Rodon; Nationals 2B Daniel Murphy and OF Adam Eaton; Pirates SP Joe Musgrove; Mariners DH Nelson Cruz; Diamondbacks 3B Jake Lamb; Padres OFs Wil Myers and Manuel Margot; Brewers SP Jimmy Nelson, RP Corey Knebel and OF Christian Yelich; and Cubs 1B Anthony Rizzo.

The Week Ahead

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The Angels and Red Sox are the best teams in the American League right now, and they begin a three-game series in Anaheim on Tuesday after the Red Sox host the Orioles Monday in their traditional 11am start on Patriots’ Day. The Astros begin a weeklong road trip on Monday with the first of four at the division-rival Mariners in Seattle. The classic Cubs-Cardinals rivalry gets going for three games at Wrigley starting Monday, and longtime Yankee SS Derek Jeter brings the team he now co-owns, the Marlins, to Yankee Stadium for a two-game interleague series Monday and Tuesday. Over in Queens, the Mets look to keep their hot start going with a three-game series against the Nationals starting Monday. Later in the week, the Cubs visit the Rockies starting Friday in a series between two teams that made the playoffs last season but haven’t begun 2018 the way they would have liked. And the Dodgers look to get things going when they host the Nationals over the weekend.

In some pitching performances to look out for this week, Astros SP Dallas Keuchel looks to lock down his first win of the season Monday when he faces SP James Paxton and the Mariners. Sabathia is scheduled to come off the DL to get the start Tuesday in the Yankees’ second game against the Marlins. Wednesday sees Cole take the mound for his fourth start for the Astros as he looks to continue his streak of double-digit strikeout performances against Mariners SP Mike Leake. And there are aces scheduled to be dueling in Southern California Saturday night with Ohtani scheduled to start for the Angels and a pitching matchup of Stephen Strasburg and Kershaw on the docket for the Nationals-Dodgers game Saturday.

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4th Annual 30 in 30ish MLB Previews: Over/under and playoff picks

Now that we’ve previewed the 2018 season for all 30 MLB teams, let’s take a look at how the season is going to play out. In this post, I’ll be analyzing Vegas over/under totals for each team and make my playoff picks.

NL East

Atlanta Braves: 74.5
The Braves have some young prospects with potential — including OF Ronald Acuna, who is starting the season in the minors. If they can play well this season, the Braves should be able to get to 75 wins, which is only three more than last season. I’ll go Over.

Miami Marlins: 64.5
The Marlins had a fire sale this winter, getting rid of all of their stars save for C J.T. Realmuto, and I think he’ll be dealt at the trade deadline. They should be the worst team in the majors this season. Under.

New York Mets: 81
Last year, I said the health of the starting pitchers is key to how successful the Mets will be this season. The same applies for this year. They have to be healthier than they were last season, so I think the Mets can barely go Over the 81.

Philadelphia Phillies: 75.5
The Phillies won 66 games last season and I think they’ll be better this year after adding guys like 1B Carlos Santana and SP Jake Arrieta to a roster with young guys like 2B Scott Kingery and SS J.P. Crawford, but I don’t think they’ll see 10 games worth of improvement. It’ll be close, but I’ll go Under.

Washington Nationals: 92.5
The Nationals are the best team in the division with SPs Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg on the mound and OF Bryce Harper providing power in the middle of the lineup. They won 97 games last season so I think they could be around 95 this season. Over.

AL East

Baltimore Orioles: 73
It won’t be an easy road for the Orioles, who have to face the Yankees and Red Sox nearly 40 times this season. I expect them to win around 70 games, so I’ll go Under.

Boston Red Sox: 91.5
Adding J.D. Martinez this weekend will provide the Red Sox with much-needed power, which should help them stay above 90 wins this season after winning 93 in 2017. I’ll go Over.

New York Yankees: 94.5
Adding OF Giancarlo Stanton to a team that already includes OF Aaron Judge gives the Yankees a duo that could hit 100 home runs between them. Stanton’s health is a concern, though, as last season was us the second time in his career he’s played at least 150 games. I don’t think he’ll get there this year, so I’m going to go slightly Under.

Tampa Bay Rays: 77.5
The Rays won 80 games last year and I think they’ll do worse than that this season. I think who they trade — or don’t — at the deadline could be key to how well they do this season, but I think SP Chris Archer will be dealt. If he is, I think they end up Under 77.5 wins.

Toronto Blue Jays: 81
The Blue Jays aren’t the worst team in the division, but I also don’t think they’re a .500 team. They won 76 games in 2017 and I don’t think they’re five games better this season, so this is a relatively easy Under for me.

NL Central

Chicago Cubs: 94.5
NInety-five wins is a lot for a Cubs team that lost Arrieta and replaced him with SP Yu Darvish, who I think is past his prime and will ultimately be a disappointment with his new team. Overall, I think the starting rotation is worse than last year, so I don’t think the Cubs get to 95 wins. They could get to 90, but that would still be Under.

Cincinnati Reds: 73.5
I think the Reds will be hard-pressed to get to 70 wins after winning 68 a year ago. Other than 1B Joey Votto, they don’t have many stars on the team. It’s going to be Under for them.

Milwaukee Brewers: 84.5
The Brewers were one of the most-improved teams this offseason, trading for or signing OFs Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain. They won 86 games last season and I don’t think they’ll win fewer than that this year, so this is Over.

Pittsburgh Pirates: 73
The Pirates traded SP Gerrit Cole and OF Andrew McCutchen this winter and got mainly prospects back in return, which doesn’t bode well for their results this season. I’m not sure they get to 70 wins this season, let alone 73 so I’m going Under.

St. Louis Cardinals: 85.5
Like the Brewers, the Cardinals improved their team this offseason, adding OF Marcell Ozuna, who should hit more than 30 home runs again this season to provide more pop for an offense that already includes SS Paul DeJong, who had 25 home runs last year. I’m going Over for the Cardinals.

AL Central

Chicago White Sox: 68
The White Sox don’t have much upside this season. I don’t think they’ll lose 100 games, but I think their loss total will be in the 90s, so their win total could be close to 68 but I’m going to go with what I think is the safer pick and go Under.

Cleveland Indians: 94.5
The Indians won 102 games last season, but I don’t think they break 100 again in 2018., They won more than 20 straight games last year, which I think helped inflate their win total. But they’re in a division with four teams that aren’t very good, so I think they can get up to 95 victories. Over.

Detroit Tigers: 68.5
The Tigers won 64 games last year, when they had SP Justin Verlander for most of the season. Without him on the roster in 2018, I don’t see how they beat that total. They could lose 100 games this year, so it’s Under.

Kansas City Royals: 71.5
The Royals lost 1B Eric Hosmer and OF Lorenzo Cain in free agency this winter, which will hurt them at the plate and cause them to fall from their 80-win total a year ago, but 71 wins may be dropping them a little too far. I think they’ll finish with about 75 or so wins, so I’m going Over 71.5.

Minnesota Twins: 82.5
I think the Twins won more games last year than they should have given their talent. They’ll be starting this season with SP Ervin Santana on the DL and SS Jorge Polanco serving an 80-game PED suspension, so they won’t match last year’s 85 wins. But I think they can get 83 or 84 so it doesn’t give me much margin for error, but I’m taking the Over.

NL West

Arizona Diamondbacks: 85.5
The Diamondbacks have a good offense led by 1B Paul Goldschmidt and their pitching can be good if SP Zack Greinke and Robbie Ray continue to pitch well, like they did in 2017. I think the Diamondbacks go Over 85.5.

Colorado Rockies: 82
The Rockies won 87 games last season, but I think they’ll be worse than that this year. They’ll still be better than .500 and I think they could win 84 or 85 games, so I’ll go Over.

Los Angeles Dodgers: 96.5
The Dodgers will be without injured 3B Justin Turner to start the season, which will hurt them early on. They did trade for OF Matt Kemp, who could make up for some of Turner’s lost production. Other teams in the division got better this winter, so the Dodgers probably won’t lead the majors in wins like they did last season, with 104. They should stay above 90, though, and it’ll be close but I’m going Over 96.5. They could hit the 97-win mark.

San Diego Padres: 69.5
For the second straight winter, the Padres spent money to sign a free-agent bat, this time with Hosmer. He’ll help the offense put runs on the board, along with OF Wil Myers, who moves off of first base to make room for Hosmer defensively. The Padres had 71 wins last season, and I think they’ll have at least that many this year so I’m going Over 69.5.

San Francisco Giants: 81.5
The Giants improved their offense this season, trading for McCutchen and 3B Evan Longoria. Their starting rotation took a hit in spring training, though, with SPs Jeff Samardzija and Madison Bumgarner both suffering injuries that will keep them sidelined for a significant length of time. Those injuries will tamper expectations, but I still think they can surpass .500 this year, so I’ll go Over.

AL West

Houston Astros: 96.5
The Astros won 101 games last season and this year have Verlander or the entire season, in addition to Cole, who they acquired from the Pirates. With the offense they have — headlined by 2B Jose Altuve, SS Carlos Correa, 3B Alex Bregman and OF George Springer — and their pitching, the Astros should surpass 100 wins again this season. I’m going Over.

Los Angeles Angels: 84.5
The Angels made one of the biggest signings of the offseason with SP/DH Shohei Ohtani, but he has struggled this spring so he may not do as well as the Angels had hoped he would. I still think they can get to 85 wins behind the bat of OF Mike Trout,so I’ll go Over.

Oakland Athletics: 74.5
The A’s won 75 games last year and I think they may be a little better this season after acquiring OF Stephen PIscotty. I think they can barely get Over 74.5 wins.

Seattle Mariners: 81.5
I think the Mariners are around a .500 team. They won 78 games last year and I think they’ll end up within a couple games of that total this season, so I’m going to go Under 81.5, but it could be close.

Texas Rangers: 77.5
The Rangers are clearly the worst team in the division and I don’t think they’ll come close to the 78 wins they earned last season. I think this is an easy Under pick.

World Series - Houston Astros v Los Angeles Dodgers - Game Seven

Playoff Picks

National League

NL East Champs: Washington Nationals
NL Central Champs: Chicago Cubs
NL West Champs: Los Angeles Dodgers
NL Wild Cards: Milwaukee Brewers, St. Louis Cardinals

American League

AL East Champs: Boston Red Sox
AL Central Champs: Cleveland Indians
AL West Champs: Houston Astros
AL Wild Cards: New York Yankees, Los Angeles Angels

World Series: Astros over Brewers in 6 games

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4th Annual 30 in 30ish MLB Previews: Texas Rangers

We finish previewing all 30 MLB teams leading up to the start of the 2018 season with the Texas Rangers, who finished in fourth place in the AL West; the monthlong series concludes tomorrow with over/under picks and playoff predictions

The Rangers’ 78-64 record last season was 17 games worse than in 2016. They didn’t make any major moves this winter, signing SPs Doug Fister and Mike Minor and trading for SP Matt Moore. They also signed RP Tim Lincecum, but he is going to start the season on the disabled list. SP Cole Hamels remains at the top of the rotation, with 1B Joey Gallo and 2B Rougned Odor leading the charge offensively.

The Rangers had a feast-or-famine offense last season, with their .244 average tied for the fourth-lowest in Major League Baseball, but their 237 home runs were the third most in the league. They had a .750 OPS, which equaled the MLB average. Gallo’s batting average was just .209, but he hit 41 home runs with an .869 OPS. Odor put up similar numbers, with a .204 average and 30 home runs. SS Elvis Andrus hit .297 with 20 homers and 25 steals, and OF Nomar Mazara added 20 home runs and a team-high 101 RBI with a .253 average. Veteran 3B Adrian Beltre hit .312 with 17 home runs in 94 games. DH Shin-Soo Choo hit 22 homers and OF Delino DeShields stole 29 bases.

The pitchers posted a 4.66 ERA, which was in the bottom half of the majors, and they struck out 1,107 batters, which was the fewest among the 30 pitching staffs. The team recorded 29 saves, which was the second-worst in the league, behind only the White Sox. Hamels posted a 4.20 ERA in 24 starts with 105 strikeouts in 148 innings. SP Martin Perez posted a 4.82 ERA with 115 strikeouts in 185 innings over 32 starts. Fister posted a 4.88 ERA with 83 strikeouts in 90.1 innings for the Red Sox. Minor pitched out of the bullpen for the Royals last season, making 65 appearances with 88 strikeouts in 77.2 innings, and Moore put up a career-worst 5.52 ERA in 32 games — 31 starts — with the Giants; he struck out 148 in 174.1 innings. In the bullpen, RP Alex Claudio recorded 11 saves late in the season. He appeared in 70 games, posting a 2.50 ERA with just 56 strikeouts in 82.2 innings.

The Rangers’ power isn’t in question, but their ability to hit for contact is. They had one of the worst batting averages in the majors last season, and it doesn’t look to be much improved this season with the team not signing any major hitters. Guys like Odor and Gallo need to get their averages up to try to increase the chances of their teammates driving them in if they want to be competitive this season. The starting rotation is full of guys who are on the downsides of their careers, including SP Bartolo Colon, who is starting the season at Triple-A Round Rock. The closer’s role is in flux. Claudio ended 2017 with in that role, but the team is hinting he could be used in high-leverage situations earlier in games. That would leave the closer position up for grabs with LIncecum — who didn’t pitch in the majors last season and doesn’t have a timetable for his return from the DL — and RP Keone Kela among the candidates who could earn the ninth-inning job.

After finishing in fourth place in the division last season, that’s probably the best the Rangers can hope for in 2018. The A’s may have a better team this year, leaving open the possibility that the Rangers could finish the season in last place. They need to get better starting pitchers if they want to be competitive again, especially being in the same division as the Astros, who are coming off their World Series title, and the Angels, who improved their team this offseason.

That’ll do it for all 30 of our team previews — you can see them all here — but there’s one final post in this year’s 30 in 30ish series coming tomorrow; follow me on Twitter or subscribe to the blog to know when it’s posted.

Source: http://www.texasrangers.comhttp://www.baseball-reference.com

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4th Annual 30 in 30ish MLB Previews: Seattle Mariners

Our previews of the AL West continue, with the next team in our continuing series previewing all 30 MLB teams leading up to the start of the 2018 season, the Seattle Mariners, who finished in third place in the division last season

After the Buffalo Bills made the NFL playoffs this season, the Mariners now hold the longest active streak in the four major U.S. pro sports leagues without making the postseason. They last made it to the playoffs in 2001, and they’ll have to improve upon their 78-84 from last season if they want 2018 to be the year they again play deep into October. They traded for a couple of hitters this winter, with 1B Ryon Healy and OF Dee Gordon joining the team. They also signed RP Juan Nicasio and OF Ichiro Suzuki, who last played for the team in 2012 when he was a teammate of SP Felix Hernandez, who has had trouble staying healthy over the last couple of seasons.

The Mariners’ .259 average last season put them in the top half of Major League Baseball, but their 200 home runs and .749 OPS were both below the league average. DH Nelson Cruz hit .288 with a team-high 39 home runs and 119 RBI to go along with a .924 OPS. 3B Kyle Seager hit .249 with 27 home runs, and 2B Robinson Cano added 23 homers and 97 RBI with a .280 average. SS Jean Segura hit .300 with 11 home runs and 22 steals in 125 games. OF Mitch Haniger hit .282 with 16 home runs in 96 games. With the Marlins, Gordon hit .308 with 60 steals and Ichiro hit .255. Healy hit .271 with 25 homers for the A’s.

The pitchers’ 4.46 ERA placed them in the bottom half of the majors, and their 1,244 strikeouts were the 10th-fewest in the league. The bullpen recorded 39 saves, which matched the league average. SP James Paton put up the best numbers among the starters, with a 2.98 ERA and 158 strikeouts in 136 innings over 24 starts. Hernandez posted a 4.36 ERA with 78 strikeouts in 86.2 innings over 16 starts. SP Mike Leake made five starts for the team last season, putting up a 2.53 ERA with 27 strikeouts in 32 innings, and P Marco Gonzales made 10 appearances — seven starts — with the Mariners after being traded from the Cardinals, striking out 30 with a 5.40 ERA in 36.2 innings. RP Edwin Diaz recorded 34 saves in 66 appearances, posting a 3.27 ERA with 89 strikeouts in 66 innings.

Adding Gordon to the lineup gives the team a speedy player who can get on base, but he doesn’t give them much power. Ichiro doesn’t have much left at this point at the age of 44 and he will serve as a backup in his return to the team. So they’re going to rely on the likes of Cruz, Cano and Seager for their power output. Hernandez is the key to the pitching. He used to be the team’s ace, but Paxton seems to have claimed that title now, even though Hernandez will be starting on Opening Day. He hasn’t made more than 25 starts in either of the last two seasons, though, and his ERA has been on a steady climb over the last three years. He’ll have to right the ship and get his ERA back down closer to his 3.20 career ERA to give the team a second ace behind Paxton, whose ERA has steadily improved in recent seasons. This is Gonzales’ first full season in the majors but he hasn’t had much success in his brief stints in the big leagues to date. If he can live up to his potential, that would help the Mariners stay in teams by keeping opponents from scoring too many runs.

The Mariners finished in third place in the division last season and they’re probably still the third-best team in the AL West. The Astros are clearly the best team in the division and the Angels are likely ahead of the Mariners as well, especially with moves they made this offseason like signing Zack Cozart and Shohei Ohtani. If their young players keep improving, they could compete for a playoff spot in the coming years, but I think the American League has too many good teams for this to be the year the Mariners end their playoff drought.

Be sure to check back tomorrow around 12pm Eastern for the final team preview, see them all here, and follow me on Twitter for a link to each new post when it’s posted.

Source: http://www.mariners.comhttp://www.baseball-reference.com

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4th Annual 30 in 30ish MLB Previews: Oakland Athletics

Our previews of the AL West continue, with the next team in our continuing series previewing all 30 MLB teams leading up to the start of the 2018 season is the Oakland Athletics, who finished in last place in the division last season

The A’s won 75 games last season, but that was a six-win improvement over 2016 so things appear to be looking up for the young team. Their biggest acquisition this offseason was acquiring OF Stephen Piscotty from the Cardinals. They also signed C Jonathan Lucroy and P Yusmeiro Petit. Back to lead the offense again in 2018 is DH Khris Davis while the team hopes a true No. 1 starter emerges from a rotation that currently lacks such a player.

The hitters hit .246 last season, which put them in the bottom 10 in Major League Baseball, but they were fourth with 234 home runs. They were in the top half of the league with a .755 OPS. Davis hit 43 home runs, which was the fourth-most in the majors, but hit just .247 with an .864 OPS. OF Matthew Joyce hit .243 with 25 home runs, and OF Matt Olson hit .259 with 24 home runs in just 59 games. SS Marcus Semien hit .249 with 10 home runs in 85 games, and 3B Matt Chapman added 14 homers in 84 games. Piscotty hit .235 with 9 home runs in 107 games with St. Louis. Lucroy had one of the worst seasons of his career with the Rangers and Rockies, hitting .265 with 6 home runs.

The pitchers’ 4.67 ERA was in the bottom half of the league, as were their 1,202 strikeouts and 35 saves. SP Kendall Graveman posted the best ERA in the rotation at 4.19. He had 70 strikeouts in 105.1 innings over 19 starts. SP Sean Manaea made 29 starts, posting a 4.37 ERA and striking out 140 batters in 158.2 innings. SP Daniel Mengden showed some promising signs in seven starts, posting a 3.14 ERA with 29 strikeouts in 43 innings. In 35 games after being acquired from the Nationals at the trade deadline, RP Blake Treinen recorded 13 saves with a 2.13 ERA with 42 strikeouts in 38 innings. With the Angels, Petit put up a 2.76 ERA with 101 strikeouts in 91.1 innings over 60 appearances.

The A’s have a young team, which could be good if they are able to take the next step in their careers and get the team to where it needs to be in order to be a legit playoff contender. Olson, in particular, showed promising signs, with 24 home runs in 59 games. He probably won’t be able to keep that pace up for a full season, but 35-40 home runs isn’t out of the question based on what he did with his limited playing time last season. Davis has proven he is a 40-homer hitter, so they could provide some nice power output in the middle of the lineup. There isn’t is much of an obvious leader in the starting rotation. Lucroy has to bounce back from his disappointing season and get back to the double-digit home-run totals he usually has if he wants to help the team. Graveman has been named the Opening Day starter, but he has not yet proven himself to be an ace in the first three seasons of his career. SP Jharel Cotton will miss the entire season after recently undergoing Tommy John surgery.

The A’s may have improved this offseason, but if they did it wasn’t by much, and they’re still behind division foes like the Astros, Angels and Mariners. They may be able to pass the Rangers to avoid another last place finish this season, but the A’s can’t expect much more than that because they’re still at least a couple years away from competing, especially with the rotation they have.

Be sure to check back every day around 12pm Eastern for another team preview, see them all here, and follow me on Twitter for a link to each new post when it’s posted.

Source: http://www.oaklandas.comhttp://www.baseball-reference.com

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