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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?

Three years ago…

…today was when I made my first post on this blog. Over the last three years, the number of posts has gone from one to 360 (counting this one). Posts about the NFL (including the fourth installment of my 32 in 32ish series coming this summer) and Major League Baseball are my most common during that time, but there’s also an occasion tech-related post when there’s a flagship phone announced from the likes of Samsung or Apple.

The (somewhat-surprising) list of the five most-read posts is:

The Week in Android Wear: iPhone compatibility, Huawei Watch, Moto 360 (2nd gen), ASUS ZenWatch 2
[Updated: Will Smith injury] 2nd Annual 30 in 30ish MLB Previews: Milwaukee Brewers 3rd Annual 30 in 30ish MLB Previews: San Diego Padres
3rd Annual 30 in 30ish MLB Previews: Milwaukee Brewers My way-too-early MLB All-Star Game ballot

Some of my favorite posts include:

Follow me on Twitter or subscribe to get notified whenever there’s a new post on the blog as we head toward No. 400 and beyond.

MLB Weekly: Keuchel goes to the DL, Taillon ready to return

Looking Back

The best team in Major League Baseball will be without its best pitcher for at least a week and a young pitcher is getting ready to come back from a serious situation in this week’s MLB Weekly.

The Astros are the best team in the majors, with a record of 44-19 entering Sunday. A major reason for the team’s success is the performance of ace Dallas Keuchel, who is 9-0 with a 1.67 ERA in 11 starts. But he won’t be taking the mound in a game for at least a week after the Astros placed him on the 10-day disabled list Thursday.

He was scratched from his scheduled start Wednesday for what the team termed an illness, but the next day it was revealed that team doctors were examining him for neck discomfort. This is the second time this season he’s gone on the DL for neck issues. After his first DL stint ended in late May, Keuchel made two starts before landing on the DL again. He is not expected to throw for at least a week and will miss at least two starts.

The Astros are expected to get a pitcher back from the DL on Monday when SP Joe Musgrove is slated to make his next start. He went on the DL May 30 with shoulder inflammation and has missed two starts since then. For the season, Musgrove is 4-4 with a 4.89 ERA in 10 starts.

Pirates SP Jameson Taillon is also expected to get the start on Monday after being out for about a month, but he hasn’t been dealing with an injury. He was diagnosed with testicular cancer and underwent surgery on May 8 to treat it. He has since made three minor-league rehab starts and is ready to return to the big club. He says he’s 100 percent both physically and mentally, and “probably in a better spot now than [he] was before.” He has made six starts this season, going 2-1 with a 3.31 ERA.

In off-the-field news, two players this week were accused of domestic violence against women. On Wednesday, the former fiancee of Rays C Derek Norris alleged that he “physically and emotionally abused her” during an October 2015 incident that included putting her in a choke hold. The next day, Cubs SS Addison Russell faced similar allegations, with a friend of his wife accusing him of “mentally and physically abusing” his spouse. Both players have denied the allegations leveled against them. MLB is investigating both cases, and the players could face lengthy suspensions if the league determines that either or both violated the league’s domestic violence policy.

This week’s injury report also includes the following players hitting the DL: Nationals OF Jayson Werth (foot), Blue Jays RP J.P. Howell (shoulder) and 2B Devon Travis (knee), Braves P Bartolo Colon (oblique), Diamondbacks OF Yasmany Tomas (groin), Indians SP Danny Salazar (shoulder), Marlins 1B Justin Bour (ankle), Rangers 1B Mike Napoli (back), Padres SP Jarred Cosart (foot), Rockies OF Gerardo Parra (quad), Brewers SP Matt Garza (chest) and 2B Jonathan Villar (back), Rays 2B Brad Miller (groin) and OF Kevin Kiermaier (hip), Pirates C Francisco Cervelli (concussion), Twins SP Hector Santiago (shoulder), Giants OF Michael Morse (concussion), Cubs SP Kyle Hendricks (hand), Orioles RP Darren O’Day (shoulder), Dodgers RP Sergio Romo (ankle), and A’s SP Andrew Triggs (hip).

The Week Ahead

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The Astros look to continue their dominance of their in-state rivals when they host the Rangers — against whom they are 6-1 this season — for three games starting Monday. The AL Central-leading Twins host the Marlins Monday through Thursday in a four-game set. Tuesday sees the Dodgers traveling to Cleveland to take on the Indians in an interleague series featuring second-place teams. The Nationals-Mets NL East rivalry continues Thursday with the first of four games in Queens. On Friday, the Red Sox head to Houston to start a series with the Astros and the Twins host the Indians for four games — including a Saturday doubleheader — that could determine first place in the division. The Cardinals also head to Baltimore next weekend for an interleague battle between teams looking to stay afloat in the playoff races in their leagues.

Some pitching performances of note this week include Taillon getting the start at home Monday against the Rockies and SP Kyle Freeland. Red Sox SP Rick Porcello looks to right the ship that day when he faces a Phillies team with the worst record in the majors. Cubs SP Jon Lester tries for his 150th career win on Tuesday, facing Mets SP Zack Wheeler. Dodgers SP Clayton Kershaw gets a break from hitting Tuesday when he takes the mound in Cleveland against the Indians and SP Trevor Bauer. Mets SP Matt Harvey hopes for a second straight strong performance Wednesday when he takes on the Cubs. Astros SP Mike Fiers is coming off a strong start Saturday, but he faces a tough test on Friday taking on the Red Sox, who send SP Drew Pomeranz out to oppose him.

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MLB Weekly: Trout to the DL, Pujols gets 600, Volquez gets a no-no

Looking Back

A former MVP goes on the DL for the first time while another hits 600 and a former World Series winner throws a no-no.

The Angels are trying to stay afloat for a potential playoff spot — they’re a game under .500 entering Sunday — but they were dealt a major blow over Memorial Day weekend when two-time American League MVP Mike Trout tore the UCL in his left thumb while sliding into second base in a game against the Marlins. He underwent surgery later in the week and is expected to miss six to eight weeks, which means he could be out until August.

This is the first time in Trout’s seven-year career that he has landed on the disabled list. He is not only the Angels’ best player but also in the conversation as the best player in Major League Baseball. At the time of his injury, he was hitting .337 with 16 home runs and 36 RBI in 47 games, putting him on pace to set career highs in those categories if he wasn’t facing an extended DL stint. With a full season under his belt, on that pace, he would certainly be in the conversation for an AL MVP again this season — he’s finished second in MVP voting three times, in addition to the two times he’s won it.

In Trout’s absence, OFs Eric Young Jr., Ben Revere and Shane Robinson are expected to see increased playing time, none of whom can come anywhere close to matching the production output the team is used to getting from Trout.

In better news for the Angels, veteran DH Albert Pujols hit his 600th career home run on Saturday in a home game against the Twins. Pujols becomes the ninth player in major-league history to join the 600-homer club. The milestone shot — a grand slam — came off of Twins SP Ervin Santana in the bottom of the fourth inning of a game the Angels went on to win, 7-2. It traveled an estimated 363 feet and was the three-time MVP’s only hit in four at-bats on the night.

Pujols hit No. 600 a few days after hitting his 599th home run on Tuesday. He is the first player to join the exclusive club since former DH Jim Thome launched his 600th on Aug. 15, 2011 — as a member of the Twins. The 37-year-old Pujols is the fourth-youngest player to hit 600 home runs and the first whose 600th was a grand slam. The closest active players behind Pujols on the all-time home run list are Tigers 1B Miguel Cabrera and Rangers 3B Adrian Beltre, who have 451 and 446, respectively, entering Sunday.

Nobody on the Diamondbacks hit a home run on Saturday — or a single, double or triple. Marlins SP Edinson Volquez no-hit the D-backs at home en route to a 3-0 win. Volquez walked two batters but faced the minimum 27 hitters in the game. He compiled 10 strikeouts and needed just 98 pitches to complete the sixth no-hitter in Marlins history and first of his career. He completed the game in style, striking out the side — SS Nick Ahmed and pinch hitters Daniel Descalso and Chris Owings — in the ninth inning.

There was some question about whether Volquez would even make it past the first hitter he faced in the game. He hurt his ankle covering first base on the game’s opening play when Diamondbacks CF Reymond Fuentes collided with him. He joked after the game that he “thought he broke [his] ankle.”

Volquez dedicated the no-hitter to friend and former Royals teammate Yordano Ventura, who passed away in a car crash in January, on what would have been Ventura’s 26th birthday.

In addition to Trout, other players who went on the DL this week include: A’s SP Kendall Graveman (shoulder), Royals SP Danny Duffy (oblique), Red Sox 2B Dustin Pedroia (wrist) and SP Eduardo Rodriguez (knee), Rockies RP Adam Ottavino (shoulder), Rays OF Peter Bourjos (elbow) and SP Matt Andriese (groin), Astros SP Joe Musgrove (shoulder), Phillies SP Vince Velasquez (elbow) and RP Joaquin Benoit (knee), Orioles C Welington Castillo (groin), Marlins SP Justin Nicolino (finger), Angels OF Cameron Maybin (oblique), Dodgers OF Joc Pederson (concussion) and SP Alex Wood (shoulder), Mariners SS Jean Segura (ankle), and White Sox RP Michael Ynoa (hip).

The Week Ahead

MLB: Boston Red Sox at New York Yankees

Some of the series to look for this week include a cross-country battle of division leaders when the NL West-leading Dodgers host the Nationals, who sit atop the NL East, for three games starting Monday. The Red Sox visit the Yankees for three starting Tuesday as the top two teams in the AL East continue their famed rivalry. The Cubs host the Rockies for a four-game start getting underway Thursday. The Yankees host the Orioles in another divisional battle starting Friday. In a series featuring teams exceeding expectations, the NL Central-leading Brewers head to Arizona to meet the Diamondbacks beginning Friday.

Some pitching performances of note this week include Dodgers SP Hyun-Jin Ryu filling in for Wood on Monday against the Nationals. Two struggling pitchers meet Tuesday at Yankee Stadium when Red Sox SP Drew Pomeranz takes the mound against Yankees SP Masahiro Tanaka. White Sox SP Jose Quintana hopes to right the ship Tuesday against the Rays and SP Chris Archer. Marlins SP Jeff Locke looks to follow-up a strong first start of the season as he opposes Cubs SP Jake Arrieta. Diamondbacks SP Robbie Ray hopes for a fourth-straight strong start Tuesday at home against the Padres, who throw SP Dinelson Lamet out there for his third start of the season. Wednesday sees Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw make his next start, taking on the Nationals. Red Sox SP David Price gets his third start of the season Thursday, against Yankees SP Michael Pineda. That’s also the day Volquez is slated to go for the “Johnny Vander Meer,” two straight no-hitters. He’ll face the Pirates in Pittsburgh. Mets SP Matt Harvey looks to improve upon his 5.43 ERA Friday when he takes on the Braves in Atlanta.

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My updated MLB All-Star Game ballot at the end of May

We’ve reached the end of May, which is sometimes considered the first checkpoint of the Major League Baseball season, as it is now about a third over. It has also been nearly a month since the league opened up balloting for this year’s All-Star Game. When the ballot was released, I posted my way-too-early selections for the all-star teams, but as we now have another few weeks of stats to look at, it’s time to take a second look at who should play in Miami on July 11.

Some of my selections have changed since last time, and for those positions I have noted in parentheses who I originally picked at those positions. Now, here are my picks for the American League and National League all-star teams. All stats are through Tuesday and don’t include Wednesday’s games.

American League

1B Yonder Alonso, A’s (Miguel Cabrera): I switched from the Tigers’ Cabrera, who’s not having a typical season that we have come to expect from him, to Alonso because the 30-year-old is having a career year. He is hitting nearly .300 and has already surpassed his career home-run total, crossing over into double-digits for the first time.
2B Jose Altuve, Astros (Jonathan Schoop): I gave the Orioles’ Schoop the nod early on because Altuve got off to a relatively slow start, but he has since put some distance between the two of them in batting average, hitting more than 40 points better than Schoop. It was a close call between Altuve and the Yankees’ Starlin Castro, but Altuve gets the nod because I think he’s more likely to keep it up as the season goes on.
SS Carlos Correa, Astros (Francisco Lindor): Yet another switch here. You can’t go wrong with either Correa or the Indians’ Lindor, but again it’s the batting average difference that gives Correa the edge to me. He’s well above .300, compared to Lindor being around .275. Lindor has a slight edge in home runs, but it’s not enough to make up the difference in average.
3B Miguel Sano, Twins: I’m sticking with Sano here. He is having, by far, the best season at the position, hitting close to .300 with 12 home runs for a team that is outperforming most people’s expectations.
C Salvador Perez, Royals: Offensive expectations are lower at catcher than other positions, and Perez is having a good season at the plate, with one of the higher batting averages at the positions and leading the group in home runs.
DH Corey Dickerson, Rays (Nelson Cruz): The Mariners’ Cruz is having a good season, but Dickerson’s average is significantly higher in more at-bats than Cruz has had this season. Dickerson’s average is bound to come down closer to his .288 career number, but he’s hitting now so I’ll give him the credit for what he’s done.
OF Aaron Judge, Yankees; George Springer, Astros; Mike Trout, Angels (Khris Davis): Springer replaces Davis, of the A’s, because Davis’ batting average is too low to continue getting my vote. He has 16 home runs but is hitting just .226. I’ll take Springer’s .265 with 13 home runs over that. Judge is continuing the torrid pace of his rookie season, hitting well over .300 with 17 home runs. Trout was having another good season until he broke his thumb sliding into second base over the weekend. He’s on the DL for the first time in his career and will be out six to eight weeks, which means he won’t be able to play in the game. I’ll keep him on my ballot anyway since he deserves it — to this point — but that’ll likely change next time I make my picks.

al-allstars2

My second ballot for the American League all-star team.

National League

1B Ryan Zimmerman, Nationals: Zimmerman is continuing to rake while the Brewers’ Eric Thames‘ power production has tailed off. Zimmerman is having a great season, and he is definitely deserving of the vote here.
2B Daniel Murphy, Nationals: I’m sticking with Zimmerman’s teammate here because he’s hitting .326 and leading the league in home runs among second basemen. He’s the top choice here.
SS Zack Cozart, Reds (Corey Seager): There’s no standout here, but I switched away from the Dodgers’ Seager because Cozart is having the better overall season at the plate. They have the same number of home runs, but Cozart’s average is much higher than Seager’s.
3B Jake Lamb, Diamondbacks: Lamb continues to have the best season among NL third basemen, leading the group with 14 home runs and batting .283, which is among the best averages at the position.
C Buster Posey, Giants (Jett Bandy): I went away from the unexpected candidate in the Brewers’ Bandy to the perennial all-star contender in Posey because the latter is having a better season. Its close in home runs, but Posey has the definite edge in batting average.
DH With no DH in the National League, fans don’t get to vote for one.
OF Charlie Blackmon, Rockies; Bryce Harper, Nationals; Marcell Ozuna, Marlins (Matt Kemp): Ozuna slots into the spot where I had the Braves’ Kemp on my original ballot. While Kemp is keeping his numbers up better than I expected, Ozuna’s extra power gives him the edge in my opinion. Harper is an obvious choice, hitting .328 with 15 home runs, and Blackmon is having one of the best offensive seasons in the NL, regardless of position.

nl-allstars2

My second ballot for the National League all-star team.

Starting pitchers are not on the ballot and are chosen by the all-star managers, but I’m sticking with the Astros’ Dallas Keuchel in the AL and switching from Gio Gonzalez to Nationals teammate Max Scherzer in the NL.

Stay tuned for more ballot updates as the season progresses.

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MLB Weekly: Rangers on a roll, Freeman on the DL

Looking Back

The Rangers are making up ground in the AL West and an NL East team has lost its best player for at least two months in this week’s MLB Weekly.

Prior to Saturday’s loss to the Tigers, the Rangers had won a MLB-best 10 straight games, catapulting them from last place in the AL West into second place. Entering Sunday, though, they still find themselves 6.5 games behind the division-leading Astros, whose 29-14 record in the best in the majors.

During the 10-game winning streak, which was the Rangers’ longest since winning 12 in a row in 2011, the offense has picked up significantly. In April, the team’s .220 batting average was the third-lowest in the majors. In May through Saturday, which includes prior to the start of the winning streak, the team is closer to the middle of the pack at .251. Their 27 home runs are the seventh-most in MLB, and the team’s slugging percentage has risen from .392 to .427 since the calendar turned to May. The numbers over the last seven days are even more impressive, with the team hitting .300, third best in the majors, with a .449 slugging percentage. The pitching staff’s ERA has also improved, going from 3.89 in April to 3.75 so far this month.

One criticism people can point out about the team’s winning streak is that the bulk of it came against bad teams in the Padres, A’s and Phillies. They’ve split the first two games of this weekend’s series with the Tigers, and things won’t be as easy this week when the Rangers head to Fenway Park to take on the Red Sox. They then head to Toronto for a series with the struggling Blue Jays, with whom they’ve had bad blood in recent years.

The latest injury news involves two of the best hitters in the majors, with the more serious of the two being Braves 1B Freddie Freeman. He’s expected to miss eight to 10 weeks with a fractured wrist after being hit in the wrist by an Aaron Loup fastball during Wednesday’s game against the Blue Jays. At the time of the injury, his 14 home runs led the National League, and he was hitting .341 with a 1.209 OPS and a 2.5 WAR. The Braves traded for Cardinals 1B Matt Adams on Saturday, and he is expected to get the majority of the starts at the position while Freeman is out. While Freeman’s injury is a loss for the Braves, they likely be competitive for a playoff spot even without the injury, with an 18-22 record heading into Sunday.

Dodgers 3B Justin Turner was placed on the disabled list Saturday with a strained right hamstring. His .379 batting average is the best in the majors, putting a hole in the Dodgers’ lineup. Utilityman Chris Taylor should be the primary starter in Turner’s absence. Taylor is hitting .338, but he has been lucky in many of his 80 at-bats, as evidenced by his .423 BABIP. His career batting average is .256, and he should be expected to regress back toward that number as he gets more at-bats. The Dodgers are hopeful Turner won’t be out for long, though, with manager Dave Roberts putting out the possibility of him returning “in a couple of weeks.”

Other big names placed on the DL this week include Astros SP Dallas Keuchel, whose 1.84 ERA leads the majors. His injury doesn’t seem to be serious, and the team expects he will miss just one start with a pinched nerve in his neck. The DL move was retroactive to May 17, meaning he would be eligible to return to the team late in the week. The Mariners placed 2B Robinson Cano on the DL Tuesday with a right quad strain, with the move retroactive to the 13th. He is expected to come off the DL when eligible on Tuesday, missing the minimum amount of time.

Also on this week’s injury report: Giants OF Hunter Pence (hamstring), Blue Jays OFs Steve Pearce (calf) and Darrell Ceciliani (shoulder) and SP Aaron Sanchez (finger blister), Diamondbacks OF A.J. Pollock (groin), Indians OF Abraham Almonte (biceps), Mets SS Asdrubal Cabrera (thumb), Rangers OF Carlos Gomez (hamstring), Marlins RP Junichi Tazawa (ribs) and SP Tom Koehler (shoulder), Pirates OF Gregory Polanco (hamstring), Nationals RP Joe Blanton (shoulder), Padres SPs Trevor Cahill (shoulder) and Jered Weaver (hip), Rays 2B Brad Miller (abdominal strain) and Astros C Brian McCann (concussion).

The Week Ahead

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Taking a look at the schedule for the week, the Orioles host the Twins for a three-game series starting Monday, which is the same day the Tigers head to Houston for four with the Astros. The Reds and Indians have their annual intrastate series, with two games in Cincinnati Monday and Tuesday followed by a couple in Cleveland on Wednesday and Thursday. The Red Sox start a three-game series with the Rangers at home on Tuesday, with a Cardinals-Dodgers series also getting underway that day in Los Angeles. In the second half of the week, the Orioles visit the Astros starting Friday, with the Cubs heading to Los Angeles to battle the Dodgers that weekend in a rematch of last year’s National League Championship Series. In a matchup of National League contenders, the Rockies host the Cardinals starting Friday.

Taking a look at some of this week’s notable pitching performances and matchups, Astros P Brad Peacock gets the start Monday, filling in for Keuchel, as he opposes Tigers SP Michael Fulmer. Tuesday’s game in Baltimore sees a matchup of pitchers with sub-3.00 ERAs when Twins SP Ervin Santana duels with Orioles SP Dylan Bundy. Giants SP Johnny Cuero goes on Tuesday against Cubs SP Kyle Hendricks. Blue Jays SP Marcus Stroman takes the mound Wednesday against Brewers SP Matt Garza, who has pitched surprisingly well so far this season, with a 2.43 ERA. That same day, Red Sox SP Chris Sale tries to become the first pitcher since 1913 to record at least 10 strikeouts in nine straight games; he’ll be opposed by Rangers SP Martin Perez. Pirates SP Ivan Nova looks to continue his streak of lasting at least six innings — he’s done it in all nine starts this season — Thursday as he takes on the Braves and ageless SP Bartolo Colon. Yankees SP Masahiro Tanaka also returns to the mound Thursday, against the Royals, as he looks to bounce back from two poor starts in a row.

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MLB Weekly: Sale racks up the Ks, Harper racks up the $$$

Looking Back

A pitcher is approaching strikeout history — again — and a former MVP is getting paid in this week’s MLB Weekly.

The Red Sox traded for SP Chris Sale in December hoping he could be the team’s ace, and he has not only lived up to but exceeded any expectations the team had for him. Pitching against the Rays on Saturday, he struck out 12 batters, the seventh-straight game in which he has racked up at least 10 strikeouts. That puts him one shy of the record of eight-straight games of 10-plus strikeouts, set by SP Pedro Martinez in 1999 — and matched by Sale in 2015 when he was with the White Sox. Other than Martinez and Sale, only two other pitchers in Major League Baseball history have had seven games in a row of at least 10 strikeouts, SPs Randy Johnson and Nolan Ryan.

Overall for the season, Sale has a MLB-best 85 strikeouts in 58.2 innings over eight starts. His ERA stands at 2.15 and a 0.77 WHIP. Opponents are hitting just .177 against him. With those numbers, the Red Sox seem to be getting a good return on their investment, which sent four players to the White Sox, highlighted by 3B Yoan Moncada. Sale is next scheduled to pitch on Thursday at the A’s as he tries to tie the record currently held by Martinez and himself.

Nationals OF Bryce Harper, the 2015 National League MVP, is eligible to hit free agency after the 2018 season, at which time he is likely to get the biggest contract in MLB history. He had one year of arbitration left before then, following this season, but the Nationals apparently didn’t want to have to go through the arbitration process so the team locked Harper up for 2018 this week, inking him to a one-year deal worth $21.65 million, which will probably look like a bargain compared to what he gets on his free-agent contract. That contract is the largest one-year contract signed by an arbitration-eligible player in MLB history. And he can get another $1 million on top of that if he is named NL MVP next season.

After a down season last year in which he hit .243 with 24 home runs, Harper is hitting .368 this season with a 1.220 OPS and 11 home runs entering Sunday, putting him on pace to potentially set a new career high in home runs, which currently stands at 42 in 2015.

As has been the case pretty much every week so far this season, several more name players were placed on the disabled list this week. Perhaps the most significant of the group is Mets RP Jeurys Familia, who underwent surgery to remove an anterior blood clot in his right shoulder. While he’ll be out for a while, the timeline isn’t as bad as the team expected. The Mets were initially concerned that Familia would be out for the season, but the surgery wasn’t as extensive as originally expected and he could be able to throw in about six weeks. That means he may miss three to four months, which means — even though that’s a significant portion of the season — he could be back in August or September if the recovery process goes as expected.

Familia, who recorded 51 saves last season. was suspended for the team’s first 15 games this season for a domestic-violence issue and hasn’t pitched particularly well since being reinstated. He has a 3.86 ERA in 11 appearances in which he is 1-1 with 3 saves in 4 chances. He has 10 strikeouts and 8 walks in 9.1 innings. RP Addison Reed is expected to get the bulk of the save opportunities in Familia’s absence.

The injury report for the Mariners’ starting rotation got worse this week. With SPs James Paxton and Felix Hernandez already on the DL, SP Hisashi Iwakuma was also placed on the DL as he deals with inflammation in his right shoulder. He is expected to miss four to six weeks. And the news on Hernandez got worse this week as he suffered a setback in his rehab. He has been sidelined since April 25 with bursitis in his right shoulder and now is not expected to rejoin the Mariners after he felt just “so-so” after a throwing session on Friday. And SP Ryan Weber, who was called up from Triple-A to start Saturday’s game, had to leave the game after four innings with tightness in his right shoulder.

Other notable players hitting the DL this week include Blue Jays C Russell Martin (shoulder) and SP Francisco Liriano (shoulder), Dodgers SP Kenta Maeda (hamstring) and OF Andrew Toles (ACL), Giants RP Mark Melancon (elbow), Phillies RP Jeanmar Gomez (elbow), White Sox C Geovany Soto (elbow), Marlins SS Adeiny Hechavarria (oblique), Rockies SS Trevor Story (shoulder), Brewers OF Ryan Braun (calf) and Yankees RP Aroldis Chapman (shoulder).

The Week Ahead

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Some series to look forward to this week include the Dodgers and Giants starting a three-game series in San Francisco on Monday. A day later, the Orioles head to Detroit for three games with the Tigers and the Cardinals host the Red Sox for the first of two games. Division leaders battle with the AL Central-leading Twins hosting the NL West-topping Rockies Tuesday through Thursday. The Indians head to Houston for a series with the Astros starting Friday, and the Brewers-Cubs series gets underway at Wrigley Field that day. Friday also sees the Reds start a series at home against the Rockies.

The week opens with a matchup of aces in Cleveland on Monday with SP Chris Archer going for the Rays and SP Carlos Carrasco taking the mound for the Indians. Dodgers SP Brandon McCarthy is scheduled for his first start since April 29 on Monday when he opposes Giants SP Matt Cain in a battle of veterans. Red Sox SP Eduardo Rodriguez and Cardinals SP Lance Lynn, who are both pitching well with sub-3.00 ERAs this season, face off in St. Louis on Tuesday. Dodgers SP Clayton Kershaw takes the mound in San Francisco on Wednesday against Giants SP Johnny Cueto, and Twins SP Jose Berrios — one of the team’s top prospects — gets his second start of 2017 on Thursday at home against the Rockies and SP Tyler Chatwood. Sale gets a shot to tie the aforementioned record on Thursday, when he is scheduled to face the A’s in Oakland.

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Astros head to the Bronx for a battle of two of the AL’s best

After a short two-game homestand against the Braves, which they swept, the Astros head back on the road Thursday to begin a four-game series with the Yankees. The teams are two of the best in the American League, each having surpassed the 20-win mark so far this season — the Astros got their 23rd win on Wednesday, becoming the first team in the majors to reach that mark. Sunday will be a memorable one, with a pregame ceremony to retire former Yankee SS Derek Jeter’s No. 2 jersey leading into the final game of the series.

Both teams find themselves in the top five of the majors in batting average and OPS while the Yankees lead the American League in home runs and RBI. Both squads are finding success on the mound, as well, as they rank in the top five in ERA. Astros pitchers have racked up the second-most strikeouts in the majors (and most in the AL). With both teams doing well with pitching and offense, the individual pitching matchups could be a key to figuring out which side has the advantage in the series.

Thursday looks like the game that is most likely to be a pitcher’s duel. SP Dallas Keuchel, who took home AL Pitcher of the Month honors for April, is slated to take the hill against SP Michael Pineda, who has been the ace of the Yankees’ rotation for the first few weeks of 2017. After a disappointing 2016 following his Cy Young-winning season of 2015, Keuchel looks like he has returned to his 2015 performance. In his first seven starts of the season, Keuchel is 5-0 with a 1.88 ERA and 41 strikeouts in 52.2 innings. He has walked 13 batters and has a complete game on his stat line. Opponents are hitting a scant .179 against the 29-year-old. While Pineda is having one of the best seasons of his career, his numbers don’t look as good when comparing them to Keuchel’s. Pineda is 3-1 in 6 starts with a 3.12 ERA and 43 strikeouts in 34.2 innings. He’s allowed fewer free passes, with 5 walks issued, and has a .221 opponents’  average. Again, if you’re looking for a pitcher’s duel, this is probably the game for you. But I have to give the edge to Keuchel here. He’s been one of the best pitchers in the majors in 2017, and if his performance continues like that on Thursday, the Yankees will likely have a hard time scoring runs.

A couple of young pitchers are scheduled to get the start on Friday, with SP Lance McCullers Jr. going for the Astros and SP Jordan Montgomery opposing him. McCullers is performing well coming off of an injury-shortened 2016. He’s gone 42.1 innings in his seven starts, posting a 2-1 record with a 3.40 ERA, 50 strikeouts and 13 walks. Opponents are hitting at a .239 clip against him. The rookie Montgomery has made five starts, going 2-1 with a 3.81 ERA. He’s struck out 26 batters in 28.1 innings with 14 walks and a .240 opponents’ average. That’s a higher walk rate than you’d like to see, but overall his numbers aren’t too much worse than McCullers’. While McCullers is younger than Montgomery, he has more major-league experience than the Yankee pitcher, with 43 career starts compared to just the five for Montgomery. The Yankees hitters may be able to get to McCullers, but given his relative experience compared to Montgomery, I think McCullers has a better chance of getting the win in this game.

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The third game of the series is where the Yankees appear to have a clear advantage in the pitching matchup, with SP Luis Severino going for the Yankees against SP Mike Fiers, the Astros’ expected starter. He has struggled through his first six starts, going 1-1 with a 5.64 ERA in 30.1 innings. He has 26 strikeouts and 13 walks, and a .288 BAA. Severino, on the other hand, is 2-2 with a 3.40 ERA in six starts. He’s thrown 39.2 innings, striking out 45 batters with just 7 walks, and opponents are hitting .200 against him. Even if both players have their best stuff on Saturday, Severino has the edge over Fiers. Give the Yankees the advantage here — if the game is played. With rain in the forecast all day Saturday, don’t be surprised to see this game get postponed, possibly with a doubleheader on Sunday

The finale on Sunday will have Astros SP Charlie Morton opposing Yankees SP Masahiro Tanaka, both of whom have been serviceable this season. Morton is 4-2 with a 3.63 ERA in seven starts. He’s gone 39.2 innings, striking out 44 and walking 14. Opponents are hitting .258 against him. Tanaka’s ERA is a little high at 4.36, but that is partially because he gave up 7 earned runs in his season opener. He’s 5-1 overall in seven starts, with a complete game shutout on his ledger. He has 32 strikeouts and 11 walks in 43.1 innings, and his BAA is .271. Tanaka has pitched well since that poor performance in his first start of 2017 and I give him the edge in this matchup.

Taking a look at some other players to watch in this series, Astros RP Chris Devenski could be an X-factor coming out of the bullpen. He can give the team multiple innings if needed in a long-relief role, or he can come into the game in a high-leverage situation to get key outs. He has struck out 35 batters in 19.2 innings, and he has just 3 walks on the year. For the Yankees, it’s rookie OF Aaron Judge. He is among the MLB leaders with 13 home runs and is hitting .317 on the season, providing a combination of hitting for contact and power. If the Astros pitchers can keep him in the park this weekend, that could be a key to victory for the visitors.

These two teams are pretty evenly matched so don’t be surprised to see this four-game series get split, with each team winning two games. If I had to give one team the edge, it would be the Astros. I feel their starting pitching is more reliable and the Yankees’ pitchers are pitching above what you would expect from them, which won’t happen every game. The Astros also have a deeper lineup — utilityman Marwin Gonzalez, who is largely a bench player who doesn’t always start already has 9 home runs on the season.