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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?

MLB Weekly: Marte suspension, more injuries

Looking Back

The big story of the week in Major League Baseball was the surprising 80-game PED suspension to a Pirates star and an ace pitcher hitting the disabled list for the first time in his career.

The Pirates announced on Tuesday that OF Starling Marte received an 80-game suspension for violating MLB’s performance-enhancing drugs policy. Marte, who was named to the National League All-Star team in 2016, reportedly failed the drug test for the use of anabolic steroid nandrolone. He is currently eligible to return to the team on July 18, although that date could be pushed back if the Pirates have any postponed games before then.

Although Marte should be back sometime in July, the suspension could hurt the Pirates in October if they make it to the postseason because players who are suspended during the season for a PED violation are ineligible to play in that year’s postseason. That means one of the Pirates’ best offensive players — Marte hit .311 and stole 47 bases last season — would have to sit on the bench if the team makes it to the playoffs.

Losing Marte for half the year will make Pittsburgh’s path to the postseason even tougher. Joining OFs Andrew McCutchen and Gregory Polanco in the outfield during Marte’s absence are expected to be the likes of OFs John Jaso, Adam Frazier and Josh Harrison — who can’t match the offensive production of Marte. The team already sits in last place in the NL Central, giving them a big hill to climb to make it to the playoffs.

Under MLB’s PED policy, a second positive test would result in a 162-game suspension while a third violation leads to a lifetime ban.

Marte tweeted on Wednesday this statement regarding his suspension

Elsewhere in MLB, the injuries keep piling up for teams around the majors. We told you during the week about SP Madison Bumgarner’s dirt-bike accident that could keep him out of action for a couple of months, though more recent news reports say he is not expected to need shoulder surgery, which is good news for the Giants, who currently sit in last place in the NL West.

The hits keep on coming for the Blue Jays, who hold the worst record in the majors. With 3B Josh Donaldson and SPs J.A. Happ and Aaron Sanchez already on the DL, the team can add SS Troy Tulowitzki to the list of injured starters. The five-time all-star went on the 10-day DL on Saturday, a day after leaving Friday’s game early with a right hamstring strain. He shouldn’t miss much more than the minimum time, given that Blue Jays manager John Gibbons acknowledged that the new 10-day DL was “definitely a factor” in making the move.

Also hitting the DL this week were Angels closer Cam Bedrosian (right groin strain), Tigers 1B Miguel Cabrera (right groin strain), Mets 1B Lucas Duda (hyperextended left elbow) and IF Wilmer Flores (right knee infection), Red Sox OF Brock Holt (vertigo) and Dodgers 2B Logan Forsythe (fractured toe).

Taking a look at the standings, the Twins’ hot start didn’t last long, as they’re already below .500 with a 8-10 record and just 3-7 in their last 10 games. The Diamondbacks, on the other hand, are continuing their quick start to the season, competing with the Rockies for the top spot in the NL West. After struggling somewhat out of the gate, the Cubs have risen to first place in the NL Central with a 10-8 record. Will they hold that spot for the rest of the season? The Nationals remain in first place in the NL East. Division leaders in the American League include the Orioles in the AL East, Indians and Tigers tied for first in the AL Central, and the Astros in the AL West — the first team in the majors to 13 wins this season.

The Week Ahead

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In series to look for, the Yankees and Red Sox face each other for the first time in 2017 this week, when the teams start a three-game series Tuesday at Fenway Park. American League playoff contenders have a three-game set when the Astros visit the Indians starting Tuesday. It’ll be a battle of division leaders in Denver when the Rockies host the Nationals Monday through Thursday. And a West Coast rivalry gets underway Monday with the Dodgers and Giants playing four games in San Francisco. The Red Sox get a highly anticipated interleague series starting Friday when the defending World Series champion Cubs come to town for three. The two teams that currently sit atop the NL West begin a series on Friday when the Diamondbacks host the Rockies, while NL East rivals do battle in the nation’s capital when the Mets take on the Nationals.

How about pitching performances of note coming up in the coming week? Reds SP Amir Garrett tries to continue his surprisingly strong start to the season on Monday when he opposes the Brewers and veteran SP Matt Garza. Nationals SP Joe Ross gets his second start of the year Monday in the high elevation of Denver against Rockies SP Tyler Anderson. Astros SP Dallas Keuchel takes the mound in Cleveland Tuesday when he hopes to continue his bounceback season, as he is 3-0 with a 0.96 ERA entering the game. Dodgers SP Clayton Kershaw gets the ball in San Francisco Tuesday night, opposing Giants SP Ty Blach, who takes Bumgarner’s spot in the rotation. White Sox SP Jose Quintana, who was expected to take over as the team’s ace following the offseason trade of Chris Sale, looks for a good performance against the Royals on Wednesday as he tries to get on track after starting the season 0-4 with a 6.17 ERA; SP Nathan Karns goes for Kansas City. Cubs SP Jon Lester looks to nail down his first win of the season Wednesday against Pirates SP Tyler Glasnow, while Orioles SP Dylan Bundy goes for his fourth win of the 2017 campaign at home against Rays SP Alex Cobb. Coming off his best start of the year, Yankees SP Masahiro Tanaka duels with Sale on Wednesday as well. Braves SP Bartolo Colon is slated to face his former team on Thursday when he goes against the Mets and SP Matt Harvey.

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Giants place Bumgarner on DL, could miss 6-8 weeks

The Giants are off to a disappointing start in 2017, with a 6-10 record that puts them four games out of first place in the NL West entering Friday’s action. A roster move the team made on Friday may put the Giants in an even bigger hole over the next couple of months.

The team placed SP Madison Bumgarner on the disabled list. While there is currently no timetable for his return and he will be re-evaluated next week, initial reports say Bumgarner is expected to be out for six to eight weeks. It is the first time since Bumgarner entered the league in 2009 that he has been placed on the DL. The 2014 NLCS and World Series MVP suffered bruised ribs and a sprain of his throwing shoulder on the team’s off-day Thursday when he had an accident while riding his dirt bike.

Bumgarner is 0-3 in his four starts this season, but he has only received 4 runs of support from the Giants’ offense. He has put up good numbers other than the record, which is out of his control and relies on help from his teammates to get wins. Bumgarner has a 3.00 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP with 28 strikeouts over 27 innings.

SP Ty Blach, who made two starts for the Giants in 2016, will take Bumgarner’s spot in the rotation, getting his first start of the season on Tuesday at home against the Dodgers. In six appearances out of the bullpen this year, Blach has posted a 5.79 ERA and 1.28 WHIP with just 1 strikeout in 4.2 innings.

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MLB Weekly: Struggling Blue Jays lose Donaldson to the DL

Looking Back

As the second week of the 2017 Major League Baseball season wraps up, this edition of our MLB Weekly column takes a look at a former MVP hitting the DL and teams that continue to surprise — positively or negatively.

The Blue Jays, who are coming off of two straight ALCS appearances, are already struggling this season with a 2-10 record after losing to the Orioles 11-4 on Sunday. Things got worse for the team this week when 3B Josh Donaldson, who won the 2015 American League MVP, was placed on the 10-day disabled list with a sore right calf. There is no timetable for his return, but the team is hoping he won’t miss much more than the minimum time. While he’s out, light-hitting infielders Darwin Barney and Ryan Goins are expected to get the bulk of the time at third base, and OF Chris Coghlan was brought up from Triple-A Buffalo to take Donaldson’s roster spot.

In other injury news north of the border, the team placed SP Aaron Sanchez, who led the AL in ERA last season, on the 10-day DL with a blister, and SP J.A. Happ left Sunday’s start with left elbow soreness. Anytime a pitcher’s injury involves an elbow, you can be sure it’s likely to result in a DL stint.

Other notable players who were placed on the DL across the majors this week include Orioles closer Zach Britton, A’s SS Marcus Semien, Reds SP Brandon Finnegan, Rockies SP Jon Gray, Nationals SS Trea Turner (who could return to the team this week), Mariners SS Jean Segura and Red Sox OF Jackie Bradley Jr.

Taking a look at how teams are doing early in the season, the Rockies lead the majors with nine wins on the season. Four teams currently have eight wins, including the Reds, who finished in last place in the NL Central last season with a 68-94 record. The Astros and Tigers both lead their divisions with 8-4 records, while the Orioles are atop the AL East at 8-3. There’s a tight race going on in the NL East early in the season, with the Marlins and Nationals tied at 7-5 and the Mets right behind them at 7-6.

The Cubs are among the teams who are so far not doing as well as people expected them to do; they are 6-6 and tied with the Pirates for third place in the NL Central. The team they beat in the World Series last year, the Indians, currently sit in the basement of the AL Central with a 5-7 record. The Rangers and Mariners — who finished first and second, respectively, in the AL West last season — each have just four wins so far and sit in fourth and fifth place, respectively. And the Blue Jays’ aforementioned 2-10 record is the worst in the majors, putting them in an early hole as they try to make the playoffs for a third straight season.

The Week Ahead

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The week gets off to an early start on Monday when the Red Sox host the Rays in the final game of their series for Boston’s annual 11am start on Patriots Day. The Indians look to get into the thick of the AL Central race when they start a four-game series at the Twins on Monday. The second-place Brewers get a chance to increase their lead on the Cubs when they start a three-game set at Wrigley that same day. The Dodgers host the Rockies for a quick two-game series Tuesday and Wednesday that could decide the early leader in the NL West. The Rangers visit the Royals for four games starting Thursday in a series involving teams struggling to meet the expectations people had for them in the preseason. The Indians have another divisional battle on the schedule next weekend when they visit the White Sox, while the Tigers and Twins start a series at Target Field on Friday. In other series involving divisional rivals that get underway Friday, the Reds host the Cubs, the Rockies host the Giants, the Diamondbacks host the Dodgers, and the Mets host the Nationals.

Looking ahead to some scheduled pitching performances of note, Blue Jays SP Marcus Stroman looks to continue his strong start to the season when he opposes Red Sox SP Eduardo Rodriguez on Tuesday. Also that day, Mets SP Zack Wheeler looks to right the ship of what hasn’t been a good season so far when he takes on the Phillies for the second straight start, this time at Citi Field. Nationals SP Max Scherzer heads to Atlanta Tuesday to take on the Braves and SP Mike Foltynewicz. On Wednesday, Cubs SP Kyle Hendricks, who had a 2.13 ERA in 2016, gets a chance to improve upon his 5.73 ERA from his first two starts when he takes on the Brewers at Wrigley. Two struggling starters do battle in Toronto on Wednesday with Red Sox SP Rick Porcello, coming off his AL Cy Young-winning season, and Blue Jays SP Francisco Liriano taking the mound. Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw is scheduled to get his next start Wednesday, opposing Rockies SP Tyler Anderson, while Red Sox SP Chris Sale and Blue Jays SP Marco Estrada, who are both coming off strong starts, are slated to face each other on Thursday.

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MLB Weekly: Twins strong start, injuries highlight first week of season

Looking Back

This is the start of the second season of our MLB Weekly column, taking a look at Major League Baseball, recapping what went on in the previous week and previewing the week ahead. As we are just one week into the six-month season, a lot of what has happened so far this season in terms of surprising teams and players could easily change in the coming weeks and months.

Probably the most surprising team so far is the Twins, who are off to a 5-1 record out of the gate after winning a MLB-worst 59 games last season. That puts them in first place in the AL Central. In the AL East, the Rays are a better-than-expected 5-1 when many people, including me, thought they would finish in last place in the division again this season. They’re not leading the division, though, as the Orioles hold that position with a 4-1 mark; the Orioles were the last undefeated team in the majors before losing to the Yankees on Sunday. The biggest surprises are out west in the National League, with the Diamondbacks leading the NL West with a MLB-best 6-1 record and the Rockies right behind them at 5-2. I noted in my season previews for the teams that they were on the verge of competing in the division, but I didn’t think it would be this year. We’ll see if they can stick around throughout the long season.

On the negative side of things, the Giants have gotten out of the gate slowly and are in last place in the NL West. The Cardinals are in fourth place in the NL Central with a 2-4 record after losing in a 8-0 shutout to the Reds on Sunday. In the American League, the top two teams in the AL West from last season — the Rangers and Mariners — are currently occupying the final two spots in the division. In the AL East, the Yankees are in fourth place in the division after picking up just their second win of the season on Sunday and the defending division champion Red Sox are in the middle of the division with a 3-2 mark after a week of action. The Blue Jays are at the bottom of the division with a 1-5 record that is among the worst in the majors. Again, it’s still early and these teams have plenty of time to get back into the thick of things if they can get past their early-season struggles and perform at the level people expected of them heading into the season.

As far as player performances in the first week, Astros OF George Springer has had a good week — the lone bright spot on offense for the team. The Astros have played in seven games so far, and Springer has hit leadoff home runs in three of them — the first player in MLB history to accomplish the feat. He also hit a 13th-inning, three-run walk-off homer to beat the Mariners on Wednesday.

On the pitching side, Springer’s Astros teammate SP Dallas Keuchel has made two strong starts, posting a 0.64 ERA in 14 innings. It looks like he may be back to how he pitched in 2015, when he won the AL Cy Young Award, and is having a strong comeback season after last year’s disappointing season in which he had a 4.55 ERA.

Speaking of comebacks, Rockies RP Greg Holland is a perfect 4-for-4 in save opportunities after missing all of the 2016 season while recovering from Tommy John surgery. He has yet to allow a run and has 6 strikeouts while allowing 1 walk and no hits through four innings of work over four appearances. It appears as though he is now fully recovered from the surgery and should be a leading candidate for the NL’s Comeback Player of the Year Award if he can stay healthy and perform well all season.

The first week of the season has also had its share of injuries to big-name players, with the most recent example being young Yankees C Gary Sanchez, who strained his right biceps in Saturday’s game against the Orioles and was subsequently placed on the 10-day disabled list. A timetable for his return won’t be known until after he meets with team doctors on Monday upon returning to New York after the weekend series in Baltimore. Angels SP Garrett Richards is also dealing with a biceps strain, but he is hopeful he will be able to return to action once he is eligible to come off the DL on Easter Sunday.

Other notable players placed on the disabled list this week include Blue Jays RP Roberto Osuna and Dodgers SP Rich Hill. Both are expected to miss minimal time.

The Week Ahead

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There are more home openers happening in the coming week. The most notable will come on Monday when the Cubs host the Dodgers in the season’s first game at Wrigley Field, which will include a pregame ceremony honoring the first World Series title the team won in 108 years. The other noteworthy home opener comes at the end of the week, when the Braves open up their new stadium, SunTrust Park, with the facility’s first regular-season game following an exhibition game that was played there on March 31, a 8-5 win over the Yankees.

Pitching matchups to look forward to include the second game of the week, a day game on Monday when Red Sox SP Chris Sale faces off against Tigers SP Justin Verlander in Detroit. There aren’t many other matchups of aces scheduled in the first half of the week, but some performances to watch for include Mets SP Zack Wheeler looking to bounce back from a rough first outing when he takes on the Phillies and SP Vince Velasquez, who struck out 10 in four innings in his first start of the season.

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3rd Annual 30 in 30ish MLB Previews: Over/under and playoff picks

Now that we’ve previewed the 2017 season of 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 pick the teams that will make the playoffs.

NL East

Atlanta Braves: 71.5
The Braves are coming off a 68-win season and should be improved this year, particularly with SS Dansby Swanson finally making it to the majors. I think they can go Over.

Miami Marlins: 77.5
The Marlins may have won 79 games last season, but I don’t think they’re that good. Other than OF Giancarlo Stanton, the Marlins don’t have much going for them. Their pitching isn’t good and I have to go Under for them.

New York Mets: 89.5
The health of the starting pitchers is key to how successful the Mets will be this season. It’ll be tough to win 90 games, which they would have to do to beat this number. I think it’ll be close, but I’m going Under.

Philadelphia Phillies: 72.5
In my preview, I said the Phillies are probably about a 70-win team — at best — and I don’t see them winning many more games than that so I’m going Under.

Washington Nationals: 90.5
The Nationals are still the best team in the division. I expect OF Bryce Harper to bounce back from a subpar season last year and put up good numbers in 2017. They won 95 games last year and I don’t think they’re significantly worse heading into this season so even if they finish a few games worse than last year, they have a bit of a cushion to get to 91 wins so I’ll take the Over.

AL East

Baltimore Orioles: 84.5
I expect a regression for the Orioles after winning 89 games a year ago. I think they’re about a .500 team, which leads me to go Under.

Boston Red Sox: 90.5
We’re I was more confident in the Red Sox having a big season before the injury to SP David Price that I fear could linger well into the season. Combine that with the absence of DH David Ortiz and an expected improvement from the Yankees and now I have to go Under 90.5. I think it might be a bit of a struggle for the Red Sox to reach 90 wins.

New York Yankees: 83.5
The Yankees are going to be an improved team this year if their young players — such as C Gary Sanchez and 1B Greg Bird — can do well at the plate. Their biggest questions lie with their starting rotation, which may not be very good save for SP Masahiro Tanaka. Regardless, they won 84 games last year and since I think they’ll be better this year, so I think they’ll win at least that many again, so it’ll be Over.

Tampa Bay Rays: 75.5
SP This number is 7.5 more wins than the Rays had last season and I don’t know where that’s coming from. The Rays are clearly the worst team in the AL East and could be one of the worst in Major League Baseball. This is an easy Under for me.

Toronto Blue Jays: 86.5
The Blue Jays should have a fine offense this season, but the pitching may not be so good. I think they’ll be competitive in the AL playoff race, though, and should be able to go Over the 86.5.

NL Central

Chicago Cubs: 95.5
The Cubs have the majority of their players coming back from last year’s 103-game winner, including NL MVP Kris Bryant. Barring any major injuries to their stars, they should easily go Over this number.

Cincinnati Reds: 73.5
The Reds are coming off a last-place finish, and that’s probably what they’re looking at again for this season. I think that’s a high number, so I’m going Under.

Milwaukee Brewers: 72.5
OF Ryan Braun had a good season last year, but not having C Jonathan Lucroy hurts the offense. Without any good pitchers on the roster, they’re not going to be good this year. It could be close, but I’m going Under.

Pittsburgh Pirates: 85.5
I said in the Pirates preview that they’re probably about a .500 team, which is slightly better than they did last season. Based on that prediction, I’m going Under.

St. Louis Cardinals: 87.5
This is a tough one. The Cardinals won 86 games last season and playing the Cubs 19 times doesn’t help their cause, but the Cardinals are a good team. I think SP Carlos Martinez could become an ace this season. If he does, I think they can go Over.

AL Central

Chicago White Sox: 73.5
The White Sox are in rebuilding mode. I expect them to be worse than the 78-win team from 2016. I think it’ll be close, but I’m going to take the Under for them.

Cleveland Indians: 92.5
The Indians should reach 90 wins for the second straight season and because they’re in a division with a couple of bad teams in the White Sox and Twins, I think they can make it to 93 so I’m going Over.

Detroit Tigers: 85.5
The Tigers won 86 games last year, which is basically right on the number. If SP Justin Verlander can repeat the performance he had last year, I think he can help the team at least match their win total from a year ago, so I’ll go Over, but just barely.

Kansas City Royals: 80.5
This is another number that I think is right on. The Royals won 81 games last season, and I think they’ll be right there again this year. It’ll be close, but I’m going to take the Under. I think they’ll be around 79 or 80 wins.

Minnesota Twins: 70.5
The Twins could be the worst team in baseball again this year. They won 59 games last year and I don’t see any way that they’ve improved enough to get up to 71 wins, so this is an easy Under for me.

NL West

Arizona Diamondbacks: 78.5
SP Zack Greinke could be a key to how well the Diamondbacks do this year, as well as the health of OFs A.J. Pollock and David Peralta. They’re better than the 69-win team from last year, but probably just improved enough to get up to the 75-win range, so I’ll go Under 78.5.

Colorado Rockies: 79.5
The Rockies could easily go over this number if they get some decent performances out of their pitchers. Otherwise, I think they’ll be right around the 75 wins they tallied last year. So I’ll go Under, but it’s another close one.

Los Angeles Dodgers: 91.5
I expect the Dodgers to be the best team in the division, but they won 91 games last season which will be tough to beat. SP Clayton Kershaw missed time with an injury in 2016 so having him healthy for the full season could get them an extra win over last year, so I’ll take the Over — but just barely.

San Diego Padres: 64.5
The Padres are going to be a bad team this year, but I don’t think they’ll be 64-wins bad. I think they can come close to matching last year’s record of 68 wins, so I’ll take the Over for them.

San Francisco Giants: 87.5
The Giants are right behind the Dodgers in talent, in my opinion. They’re coming off an 87-win season and I don’t think they got much worse this winter, so I’ll take the Over. They could get close to 90 wins.

AL West

Houston Astros: 87.5
With the offense the Astros have, I think they can reach 90 wins if their starting pitching holds up, particularly with better numbers out of SP Dallas Keuchel and if SP Lance McCullers can stay healthy. They’re a good team, I’ll take the Over.

Los Angeles Angels: 76.5
CI don’t think OF Mike Trout is enough for the Angels to be competitive this year. He won the MVP last year, but the team only won 74 games. I don’t think they’re much improved this year, so I’ll take the Under.

Oakland Athletics: 66.5
The A’s are one of the worst teams in baseball, but this is a low number. I’m going to go Over just because they won 69 last year and could finish right around there again in 2017.

Seattle Mariners: 85.5
The Mariners are going to be competitive in the division, especially if SP Felix Hernandez improves upon his disappointing season from a year ago. I think they can get around 86-88 wins, so I’ll take the Over.

Texas Rangers: 86.5
The Rangers are coming off a 95-win season, so I have a hard time thinking they’ll be nine games worse this year so I’ll go Over, but I think they’ll be closer to 90 wins than 95 this year.

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Playoff Picks

National League

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

American League

AL East Champs: Boston Red Sox
AL Central Champs: Cleveland Indians
AL West Champs: Houston Astros
AL Wild Cards: Texas Rangers, Toronto Blue Jays

World Series: Indians over Nationals in 6 games

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3rd Annual 30 in 30ish MLB Previews: Texas Rangers

We finish previewing all 30 MLB teams leading up to the start of the 2017 season with the two-time defending AL West champion Texas Rangers; the monthlong series concludes tomorrow with over/under picks and playoff predictions

The Rangers are coming off of two straight AL West titles, including a 95-win season a year ago. Given that recent success, the team apparently didn’t feel the need to add many players of significance this offseason. The most notable signing was a reunion, with 1B Mike Napoli signing a one-year contract to return to the team with which he played in 2011-12 and 2015. The team also signed SP Tyson Ross and re-signed OF Carlos Gomez, who they originally picked up in August after the Astros released him. Returning players include SS Elvis Andrus and 3B Adrian Beltre on offense and SPs Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish in the rotation. The team did lose a couple of key members of its offense as OFs Carlos Beltran and Ian Desmond left in free agency.

The Rangers’ .262 average was tied for the fifth-best in MLB, and their 215 home runs were the seventh-most in the majors. They finished in the top half of the league with a .755 OPS. 2B Rougned Odor hit .271 last season with a team-high 33 home runs — more than double the 16 he hit in 2015 — and a .798 OPS. Beltre was the team’s best overall hitter, hitting .300 with 32 home runs and a .879 OPS; he had a 4.2 WAR. Andrus hit .302 with 8 home runs and 24 steals, tied for seventh-most in the American League. Splitting time between the Brewers and Rangers last season, C Jonathan Lucroy hit .292 with 24 home runs and a .855 OPS. OF Nomar Mazara added another 20 home runs, with a .266 batting average. Napolit hit .239 with 34 home runs for the Indians in 2016.

The pitching wasn’t great, as the team finished in the bottom 10 of the majors with a 4.37 ERA and the staff struck out just 1,154 batters, which was the second-fewest in MLB. The bullpen had a good season, though, as the Rangers led the majors with 56 saves. Hamels led the rotation with a 3.32 ERA and 200 strikeouts — seventh-most in the AL — in 200.2 innings. Darvish made 17 starts in an injury-shortened season and put up a 3.41 ERA with 132 strikeouts in 100.1 innings. SP Martin Perez posted a 4.39 ERA with 103 strikeouts in 198.2 innings. RP Sam Dyson led the team with 38 saves in 43 opportunities. He put up a 2.43 ERA and struck out 55 guys in 70.1 innings.

The Rangers had one of the better offenses in the league last season but losing Desmond and his 22 home runs will hurt them. Napoli may be able to make up for a lot of that lost power, but he likely won’t come close to the .285 that Desmond hit last year. Gomez played well after joining the Rangers last season — .284 with 8 home runs in 33 games — but he hit just .210 with 5 home runs in 85 games with Houston after hitting just 12 home runs total in 2015. He is past his prime and the numbers he put up with the Astros are likely closer to what the Rangers will get out of him this year than the performance he put up in the second half after joining the team.

The Rangers need a pitcher to step up and perform well  as a No. 3 behind Hamels and Darvish. Perez could be that guy, if he can increase his strikeout totals to keep more guys off of the bases. P Mike Hauschild is expected to break camp as the fifth starter, targeting him to make his major league debut early in the season. He has put up decent numbers this spring and has a career 3.50 ERA in five minor league seasons. No one knows what the team will get out of Ross, who made just one start last season and will start 2017 on the DL while recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. He is not expected to be ready to join the major league roster until around June. Assuming he comes back then, there’s no telling how he’ll performed since he essentially hasn’t pitched since 2015.

The Rangers are looking to win their third-straight division title, but I’m not convinced they’ll get it. They should regress a little this season and the Astros should be a better team with the moves they made this offseason. And the Mariners are still in the mix in the division after finishing in second place last year. The Rangers, Astros and Mariners should all be competitive for most of the season, but I don’t think the Rangers will be the team of the three that ends the 2017 campaign atop the division.

That’ll do it for all 30 of our team previews — you can see them all here — but there’s one final post in our season preview coming up tomorrow featuring over/unders and playoff predictions.

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

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3rd 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 2017 season is the Seattle Mariners, who finished in second place in the division last season

The Mariners had a bit of a surprising season in 2016, winning 10 more games than in 2015 to finish in second place in the division, but that still wasn’t enough to make the playoffs. They were looking to change the lack of a playoff run this winter by making several trades, some more impactful than others. Among the big moves the Mariners made were trading SS Ketel Marte and SP Taijuan Walker to the Diamondbacks for a package that included SS Jean Segura and OF Mitch Haniger. They also acquired SP Yovani Gallardo from the Orioles in exchange for OF Seth Smith and traded SP Nathan Karns to the Royals for OF Jarrod Dyson. And they acquired SP Drew Smyly from the Rays for some prospects, including OF Mallex Smith, and made a trade with the A’s for 1B Danny Valencia. Those newly acquired players will join the likes of 2B Robinson Cano and SP Felix Hernandez in Seattle.

The Mariners ranked 10th in Major League Baseball with a .259 average, but their 223 home runs were the third-most in the majors. Their .756 OPS was also in the top 10 in the league. Cano hit .298 with 39 home runs — tied for ninth in MLB — with a .882 OPS and a 7.3 WAR, which ranked sixth in the majors. DH Nelson Cruz hit the second-most home runs in the majors, with 43 to go along with a .287 average and .915 OPS, which was the sixth-highest in the American League; his WAR was 4.7. 3B Kyle Seager added another 30 home runs, a career high, with a .278 average and a 6.9 WAR. With the A’s, Valencia hit .287 with 17 home runs, and Dyson hit .278 and stole 30 bases with Kansas City.

The pitching staff finished in the top 10 with a 4.00 ERA and just missed the top 10 with 1,318 strikeouts. The bullpen recorded 49 saves, sixth-most in the majors. None of the starting pitchers was particularly good last season. Hernandez posted a 3.82 ERA with 122 strikeouts in 153.1 innings. SP James Paxton finished with a slightly better 3.79 ERA with 117 strikeouts in 121 innings, and SP Hisashi Iwakuma was the only starter to surpass 30 starts, making 33 starts with a 4.12 ERA and 147 strikeouts in 199 innings. With the Rays, Smyly put up a 4.88 ERA with 167 strikeouts in 175.1 innings, and Gallardo posted a 5.42 ERA with 85 strikeouts in 118 innings with Baltimore. RP Steve Cishek led the team with 25 saves, but RP Edwin Diaz took over as closer in the second half of the season and recorded 18 saves with a 2.79 ERA and 88 strikeouts in 51.2 innings in his rookie season.

The Mariners shouldn’t have a hard time hitting the ball out of the park with Cano and Cruz in the lineup, but they need better pitching if they want to take the next step and pass the Rangers in the AL West. Hernandez is trending in the wrong direction, with two straight years of regression in his numbers. He needs to turn it around and get closer to the numbers he was putting up in the prime of his career to return to being the true ace of the team that the Mariners currently lack. Smyly also had a disappointing year in Tampa, and if he doesn’t improve upon his numbers from 2016 that trade doesn’t look like it’ll work out the way the Mariners want it to. Paxton could be poised to have a breakout season if he can stay healthy, which he has struggled to do in his career so far. In the bullpen, Diaz will be the closer to start the season as Cishek is starting the season on the DL as he recovers from hip surgery.

I think the Mariners are going to take a step back this year, and with some of the moves the Astros made this offseason to improve their team I think the Mariners will return to being the third best team in the division after finishing in second place last year. After winning 86 games last year, I think the Mariners will be closer to a .500 team this season.

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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