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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?

Samsung announces Galaxy S8, S8+: Here are the details

This could be a critical year for Samsung after last year’s launch of the Galaxy Note 7, which had to be recalled because of a number of instances of the phones’ batteries catching fire. The Korean company needs a big launch of its latest flagship devices to try to make up for some of the losses that came about from the Note 7 situation. The first Samsung flagships to hit the market in 2017 are the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+, which the company officially unveiled earlier today.

The phones share similar specs, with the main differences being screen size and the batteries. The S8 features a 5.8″ Super AMOLED Quad HD+ screen with 2960×1440 resolution (571ppi) while the S8+ is bigger, with a 6.2″ Super AMOLED Quad HD+ display at with the same resolution (529ppi). With the bigger screen, the S8+ naturally has a bigger battery, clocking in at 3500mAh, compared to 3000mAh for its smaller counterpart.

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Both feature a Snapdragon 835 processor (in the US) with 4GB RAM and 64GB of internal storage (with support for microSD cards up to 256GB capacity). The devices feature 8MP cameras on the front and 12MP rear cameras. They’ll ship with Android 7.0 Nougat with the typical connectivity with WiFi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, 4G LTE and GPS, One thing that sets the S8 series apart is they are the first mobile phones to support Bluetooth 5.0. They each have a USB-C port and 3.5mm headphone jack, bucking the trend of companies leaving that out of phones. They also feature IP68 water resistance.

These are also the first devices to include Samsung’s new digital assistant Bixby. They are compatible with accessories, including Samsung’s latest Gear VR headset and the newly introduced Samsung DeX, a dock that allows you to use the phone as a computer with a desktop experience.

The phones come in a variety of colors (which may not be available through all carriers and retailers), including midnight black, orchid gray, arctic silver, maple gold and coral blue.

The phones will be available to pre-order — with various pre-order bonuses — tomorrow, with an expected release date of April 21. They’ll be available for all major carriers — including AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint and US Cellular — and at retailers including Best Buy and Amazon. Pricing varies, but generally ranges from $720-750 for the S8 and $820-850 for the S8+ if you pay full price up front or monthly payments of roughly $30-35 if you go with an installment plan through your carrier.

Full details can be found here. Below, you will find the specs followed by Samsung’s official press release detailing the p

CATEGORY GALAXY S8 GALAXY S8+
Operating System Android 7.0 Nougat Android 7.0 Nougat
Display 5.8-inch AMOLED
2960×1440 (570 ppi)
6.2-inch AMOLED
2960×1440 (529 ppi)
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 835
or Samsung Exynos 8895
Qualcomm Snapdragon 835
or Samsung Exynos 8895
Storage 64GB (UFS 2.1) 64GB (UFS 2.1)
Expandable microSD up to 256GB microSD up to 256GB
RAM 4GB 4GB
Rear Camera 12MP Dual Pixel, f/1.7
1.4-micron pixels
OIS
12MP Dual Pixel, f/1.7
1.4-micron pixels
OIS
Front Camera 8MP, f/1.7
auto focus
8MP, f/1.7
auto focus
Connectivity Wi-Fi 802.11ac MIMO
Bluetooth 5.0
NFC, GPS, Glonass, Galileo, BeiDou
LTE Cat.16
Wi-Fi 802.11ac MIMO
Bluetooth 5.0
NFC, GPS, Glonass, Galileo BeiDou
LTE Cat.16
Charging USB-C
Fast charging
Qi wireless
Powermat wireless
USB-C
Fast charging
Qi wireless
Powermat wireless
Battery 3000mAh 3500mAh
Water resistance IP68 rating IP68 rating
Security One-touch fingerprint sensor
Iris scanner
Samsung KNOX
One-touch fingerprint sensor
Iris scanner
Samsung KNOX
Dimensions 148.9 x 68.1 x 8 mm 159.5 x 73.4 x 8.1 mm
Weight 155 g 173 g

PRESS RELEASE:

Discover New Possibilities with the Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+: Smartphones Without Limits

Samsung Electronics introduces the Galaxy S8 and S8+ to the world, a smartphone that pushes the boundaries of traditional smartphones with its seamless hardware design and a variety of new service offerings. With the launch of multiple services and apps, as well as a stunning Infinity Display for immersive viewing experiences, the Galaxy S8 and S8+ bring a new level of functionality and convenience, opening up a galaxy of possibilities.

“The Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+ usher in a new era of smartphone design and fantastic new services, opening up new ways to experience the world,” said DJ Koh, President of Mobile Communications Business, Samsung Electronics. “The Galaxy S8 and S8+ are our testament to regaining your trust by redefining what’s possible in safety and marks a new milestone in Samsung’s smartphone legacy.”

See and Experience More
The Galaxy S8 builds on Samsung’s heritage of creating stunning designs and functional devices. Available in 5.8-inch Galaxy S8 and 6.2-inch Galaxy S8+, the Infinity Display and bezel-less design form a smooth, continuous surface with no buttons or harsh angles. The result is a truly immersive viewing experience without distractions and makes multi-tasking more convenient. The Galaxy S8’s compact design enables comfortable one-handed operation and Corning® Gorilla® Glass 5 on both the front and back for durability and a high-quality finish.

The Galaxy Foundation
In addition to the new design innovations, Samsung continues to deliver cutting-edge technology including an advanced camera, enhanced performance and more to the devices that users love, including:

Premium Camera: The Galaxy S8 and S8+ are equipped with an advanced 8MP F1.7 Smart autofocus front camera and 12MP F1.7 Dual Pixel rear camera for the best low-light, zoom and anti-blur photos with enhanced image processing.

Powerful Performance: Packing powerful performance and connectivity, the Galaxy S8 and S8+ feature the industry’s first 10nm processor, enabling heightened speed and efficiency. It is also gigabit LTE and gigabit Wi-Fi ready with support for up to 1 Gbps so users can quickly download files, regardless of the file size.

Robust Entertainment: As the world’s first mobile device certified by the UHD Alliance as MOBILE HDR PREMIUMTM, Galaxy S8 and S8+ let you see the same vibrant colors and contrasts that the filmmakers intended while watching your favorite shows. In addition, the Galaxy S8 and S8+ offer next-level gaming experiences with vivid and superior graphic technology, as well as Game Pack, featuring top game titles, including select titles supported by the Vulkan API.

Global Standard in Mobile Security: The Galaxy S8 and S8+ are built on Samsung Knox, a defense-grade security platform. In addition, the Galaxy S8 and S8+ will offer a wide selection of biometric technologies including a fingerprint scanner, iris scanner and facial recognition so users can select a secure biometric authentication method that works best for them.

The Galaxy S8 and S8+ will also come with the foundational Galaxy features that our customers have come to love, including:

IP68 water and dust resistance
MicroSD support up to 256GB
Always-on display
Fast and wireless charging capabilities

New Way to Interact with Your Phone
Bixby is an intelligent interface that will help users get more out of their phone. With the new Bixby button, you will be able to conveniently access Bixby and navigate through services and apps with simple voice, touch, vision and text commands. At launch, Bixby’s Voice function will integrate with several Samsung native apps and features including Camera, Contacts, Gallery, Messages and Settings, with the plan to expand its capabilities to include more Samsung and third-party apps in the near future. Contextual awareness capabilities enable Bixby to offer personalized help based on what it continues to learn about the user’s interests, situation and location.

Users can also shop, search for images and get details about nearby places with Bixby’s image recognition technology. As the Bixby ecosystem grows, it will connect across devices, apps and services as a ubiquitous interface, and open up new experiences and scenarios to simplify life.

Beyond the Phone Experiences
The Galaxy S8 and S8+ offers robust portfolio of products and services, elevating the both devices experience for premiere mobile productivity and connectivity.

The Galaxy S8 and S8+ unlock the new Gear VR with Controller, powered by Oculus. Enabling convenient one-handed control and navigation, the controller provides better motion interaction when accessing interactive VR content. The Galaxy S8 and S8+ will also connect to the new Gear 360 to create 4K 360-degree videos and 15MP photos.

Leveraging the processing power of the Galaxy S8 and S8+ for enhanced productivity, Samsung DeX is a unique solution that transforms your smartphone into a desktop by providing a secure desktop-like experience. With Samsung DeX, users can easily display and edit data from their phone, making working from a smartphone faster and smarter.

In addition, as more IoT devices enter the market and the connected network becomes more complex, Samsung Connect simplifies smart device management. With Samsung Connect, users can easily activate IoT-enabled devices through a quick three-step configuration process and manage all connected devices through one integrated app.

The Galaxy S8 and S8+ also come with the enhanced Samsung Health service, expanding one of Samsung’s most widely used services with 60 million monthly active users and 11 million daily active users worldwide. Samsung Health includes tele-health (U.S.-only), personal coaching, social capabilities that redefine traditional health and fitness.

Users can leave their physical wallet behind with Samsung Pay, turning their Galaxy S8 and S8+ into a digital wallet they can use almost anywhere they’d use a credit or debit card. With more than 870 worldwide banking partnerships, Samsung Pay has processed more than 240 million transactions to date.

New high-performance earphones tuned by AKG by Harman, offering uncompromised audio for unbeatable sound quality, will come as an in-box accessory. These earphones will have a comfortable hybrid canal fit for better noise cancellation and will be made from anti-tangle metal-fabric material.

The Galaxy S8 and S8+ will be available starting on April 21, and will be offered in a rich color palette including Midnight Black, Orchid Gray, Arctic Silver, Coral Blue and Maple Gold.

galaxy-s8-spec_main_1

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3rd Annual 30 in 30ish MLB Previews: Los Angeles Angels

The next AL West team in our continuing previews all 30 MLB teams leading up to the start of the 2017 season, is the Los Angeles Angels, who finished in fourth place in the division last season

Coming off a 74-88 season, the Angels made some trades intended to upgrade their offense, namely getting 2B Danny Espinosa from the Nationals and Cameron Maybin from the Tigers. They also made a swap of catchers, sending C Jett Bandy to the Brewers in exchange for C Martin Maldonado and a pitcher. In free agency, they signed 1B Luis Valbuena to a two-year contract, but a strained hamstring will cause him to miss four to six weeks, which opens the door for Jefry Marte and/or C.J. Cron to get more time at the position in the early part of the season. Other than that, the team remains largely intact from last season, including 2016 American League Cy Young winner Mike Trout manning center field. The starting rotation includes SPs Garrett Richards and Matt Shoemaker.

The Angels hit .260 last season, which ranked ninth in Major League Baseball, with 156 home runs, which were the sixth-fewest. They ranked in the bottom 10 with a .726 OPS. Trout hit .315 — 10th-best in the majors — with 29 home runs and a .991 OPS that was second-best in the majors. His 10.6 WAR was tops among all major leaguers. DH Albert Pujols led the team with 31 home runs and hit .268, which was 24 points higher than a season before. Cron hit .278 with 16 home runs, and OF Kole Calhoun hit .271 with 18 home runs. With the Astros last season, Valbuena hit .260 with 13 home runs. Espinosa hit 24 home runs but hit just .209 with Washington last season, and Maybin hit .315 with 4 home runs in 94 games with Detroit.

The pitching staff finished in the bottom half of the league with a 4.28 ERA and was last in the majors with 1,136 strikeouts. The bullpen wasn’t much better, saving 29 games, which was the third-fewest in MLB. Richards only made six starts, but he pitched well with a 2.34 ERA with 34 strikeouts in 34.2 innings over that limited sample size. Shoemaker posted a 3.88 ERA with 143 strikeouts in 160 innings. Veteran SP Ricky Nolasco, who was acquired midseason in a trade with the Twins, put up decent numbers in his 11 starts with the Angels, posting a 3.21 ERA, with 51 strikeouts in 73 innings. SP Tyler Skaggs, who spent much of the year on the disabled list, had a 4.17 ERA with 50 strikeouts in 49.2 innings over 10 starts. No reliever saved more than 10 games, with RP Huston Street leading the team with 9 saves while RPs Fernando Salas and Joe Smith each recorded 6. RP Cam Bedrosian, pitched in 45 games, striking out 51 batters in 40.1 innings as he put up a 1.12 ERA and recorded 1 save.

The offense should be improved this season with the acquisitions of Maybin, Espinosa and — when he returns — Valbuena, but the pitching is where the team will again suffer this season. There is no true ace in the rotation,though I suspect Showmaker could have a breakout season this year. And if Nolasco can continue the strong performance he had in the second half after coming to the team, it would help the team win more games. There’s no clear closer in the bullpen. Going by numbers, Bedrosian is probably the best option, but Street and RP Andrew Bailey both have experience in the position, which could sway old-school manager Mike Scioscia to use them in the role.

The division should be a three-team race again this season with the Rangers, Astros and Mariners competing for the top spot, leaving the Angels and A’s on the outside of the race. As was the case last year, the Angels are probably a better team than Oakland, which should help them avoid a last-place finish, but the Angels aren’t looking like they’ll be able to avoid another fourth-place finish in 2017.

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

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

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3rd Annual 30 in 30ish MLB Previews: Houston Astros

The AL West is the final division left in our previews all 30 MLB teams leading up to the start of the 2017 season, beginning with the Houston Astros, who finished in third place in the division last season

The Astros were one of the busiest teams in free agency and the trade market this winter after finishing third in the division and winning two fewer games than in 2015. The focus was on adding hitters to the lineup, including sending a couple minor-leaguers to the Yankees in exchange for C Brian McCann. They also signed veteran OF — and former Astro — Carlos Beltran to a one-year deal, while OF Josh Reddick inked a four-year contract with the team. The Astros also signed OF Norichika Aoki. They join an offense that already had a good, young core with 2B Jose Altuve, SS Carlos Correa and OF George Springer. As far as pitchers, the Astros signed SP Charlie Morton and traded RP Pat Neshek to the Phillies.

The Astros’ .247 batting average was the seventh-lowest in Major League Baseball, but they finished in the top half of the majors with 198 home runs. Their .735 OPS put them in the middle of the pack. Altuve led the way with an American League-best .338 and a career-high 24 home runs — nine more than he hit in 2015 — and a .928 OPS that ranked fifth in the AL. Even though Altuve’s power output increased, his speed didn’t go away as he stole 30 bases, which was tied for the second-most in the AL. His 7.7 WAR was tied for the third-highest in the majors and the best of his career. DH Evan Gattis‘ career-high 32 home runs were the most on the team — and he hit them in 132 games — and he hit .251 with a .826 OPS. Springer hit a career-high 29 home runs, to go along with his .261 average and a .815 OPS. Correa hit .274 with 20 home runs in his first full season in the league. With the Yankees last year, Beltran had one of his best seasons in a while, hitting .295 with 29 home runs, and McCann hit .242 with 20 home runs.

The team’s 4.06 ERA was in the top half of the majors and the pitching staff’s 1,396 strikeouts were tied for the fifth-most in MLB. The bullpen recorded 44 saves, which was one more than the MLB average. After winning the AL Cy Young in 2015, SP Dallas Keuchel posted a disappointing 4.55 ERA last season, with 144 strikeouts in 168 innings. SP Collin McHugh put up a 4.34 ERA with 177 strikeouts in 184.2 innings. SP Lance McCullers did better, with a 3.22 ERA and 106 strikeouts in 81 innings, but he started just 14 games in a season plagued by injuries. There was no set closer in the bullpen, with three relievers each earning between 12 and 15 saves on the season. RP Will Harris put up the best ERA of the three, with a 2.25 ERA and 69 strikeouts in 64 innings. Harris saved 12 games while RPs Ken Giles and Luke Gregerson each recorded 15 saves. Giles struck out 102 in 65.2 innings with a 4.11 ERA, and Gregerson posted a 3.28 ERA with 67 strikeouts in 57.2 innings.

The Astros should have an improved offense this season with some of the hitters they acquired this winter. In addition to their trade and free-agent acquisitions, the Astros should have 1B Yulieski Gurriel and 3B Alex Bregman in the majors for the whole season after they got limited playing time late in the 2016 campaign. If they can perform to the lofty expectations that have been set for them, the offense will be significantly improved. Having McCann behind the plate allows Gattis to spend less time at catcher, which should improve the defense at the position, and play more at designated hitter and in the outfield. With McCann being a veteran catcher, he could also help a rotation with a couple of young pitchers in key roles.

It appears as though McHugh will start the season on the disabled list with a dead arm, which should allow young SP Joe Musgrove to get in the rotation to start the season, which was questionable when spring training began. Musgrove made 10 starts and one relief appearance in the majors last season, posting a 4.06 ERA but as he gains experience he should improve upon that. If he pitches well, he should be able to stick in the rotation when McHugh comes off the DL. The key for the rotation will obviously be Keuchel having a much better season. The team was counting on him to be the ace of the staff last year, which wasn’t the case. He needs to return to his Cy Young form of 2015, that would be a big help to a rotation that struggled in 2016. If McCullers can stay healthy, he can also help the performance of the rotation, as he was the best starter on the team last year but missed much of the season because of injury. Giles should get the first shot at being the closer this year, but if doesn’t perform to expectations, manager A.J. Hinch probably won’t hesitate to put someone else in the role, as he did last season. RP Chris Devenski is someone to watch for who could make some spot starts if needed, as he did last year when he put up good numbers — including a 2.16 ERA — mainly pitching out of the bullpen.

After surprising people with a strong 2015 the Astros failed to live up to high expectations that were set for them last year, but with the additions they’ve made over the last few months I think the Astros are ready to take the next step. After a disappointing third-place finish last year, I think they’ll pass the Rangers to win the AL West this year. The key for them to do that will be to beat the Rangers in their head-to-head matchups because the Astros went 4-15 against their in-state rivals last year, which won’t help them win the division if they have another record like that in 2017.

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

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

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3rd Annual 30 in 30ish MLB Previews: San Francisco Giants

Finishing up the NL West, the next team in our continuing series previewing all 30 MLB teams leading up to the start of the 2017 season is the San Francisco Giants, who finished in second place in the division last season

The Giants will look to pass the Dodgers and win the division this year after a quiet offseason in which their most significant move was signing RP Mark Melancon to a four-year deal, taking over the closer’s role from RP Santiago Casilla, who is now with the A’s. SP Madison Bumgarner, who is one of the best starting pitchers in the majors, continues to lead the pitching staff as he throws to C Buster Posey, himself one of the best in the game. OF Hunter Pence and 1B Brandon Belt also lead the offense as the team hopes to return to the playoffs to avenge last season’s LDS loss to the Cubs.

The Giants hit .258 last season, which put them near the middle of the pack among the 30 Major League Baseball teams. Their hitters didn’t show much power, as their 130 home runs were the third-fewest in the majors, and their .728 OPS ranked in the bottom half of the league. Pence led the team with a .289 average to go along with his 13 home runs and a .858 OPS. Posey finished the year with a .288 average, 13 home runs and a .796 OPS. Belt led the team with home runs, but he hit just 17; his average was .275 and his OPS was a team-high .868. SS Brandon Crawford set a career high with a .275 average, but his 12 home runs were nine fewer than he hit in 2015. He also hit a career-best 11 triples, which put him in a tie for the most in the majors.

The pitching staff ranked fourth in the majors with a 3.65 ERA, but the Giants’ pitchers were in the middle of the pack with 1,309 strikeouts. The bullpen recorded 43 saves, which matched the MLB average. Bumgarner, of course, led the staff with a 2.74 ERA and 251 strikeouts in 226.2 innings, putting him in the top 10 in the majors in all of those categories. His 34 starts tied him for the National League lead and was one behind the major-league leader. Bumgarner’s 5.0 WAR was the best of his career and was tied for the eighth-best among NL pitchers. SP Johnny Cueto’s numbers were right up there with Bumgarner’s. Cueto posted a 2.79 ERA with 198 strikeouts in 219.2 innings over 32 starts, and he put up an impressive 18-5 record. He posted a 5.6 WAR, which placed him in a tie for the second-best among pitchers in the NL and fourth among all pitchers. SP Matt Moore, who the Giants acquired in a midseason trade with the Rays, posted a 4.08 ERA for the season with 178 strikeouts in 198.1 innings. But perhaps most importantly, his 33 starts was the most of his career and it was the first season he stayed healthy since he made 27 starts in 2013. With the Pirates and Nationals last season, Melancon posted a 1.64 ERA with 65 strikeouts in 71.1 innings, and he saved 47 games in 51 chances.

The offense was a bit of a disappointment last season, and it likely won’t get much better this year since the team didn’t add any notable hitters this winter. One guy to watch to perhaps step up his game this season is 3B Eduardo Nunez, who hit 16 home runs in 141 games last season — just his second season of 100-plus games in his career — if he can get up to the 20 range in home runs, it would help the offense a bit. Otherwise, it seems like the team will again be relying on Cueto and the rest of the pitching staff to lead it through the season. The Giants have one of the best 1-2 punches at the top of the rotation of any team in baseball and Melancon gives them an upgraded option at closer. If the middle-of-the-rotation guys like Moore and Jeff Samardzija can give the team more than they’re expecting to get out of those guys, their pitching would be even more formidable.

The Giants won 87 games last season, which wasn’t enough to win the West as the Dodgers won 91. It’ll likely take another 90-win season to take the division this year, and I’m not sure the Giants quite have what it takes to get there. While the Giants have a good team — particularly pitching — I think the Dodgers are better overall and will again finish a few games ahead of the Giants, who should get another second-place finish in the division and have a good shot at landing a wild card.

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

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

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3rd Annual 30 in 30ish MLB Previews: San Diego Padres

Continuing with the NL West, the next team in our continuing series previewing all 30 MLB teams leading up to the start of the 2017 season is the San Diego Padres, who finished in last place in the division last season

The Padres went 68-94 last season — their worst record since 2008 — and are entering this season with a team made up of mostly inexperienced hitters and veteran pitchers who don’t have a great track record in the majors. The team traded away C Derek Norris — who was subsequently released by the Nationals and then signed by the Rays — this winter, which means Austin Hedges, who has played 64 games in Major League Baseball, will begin the season as the starting catcher. The rest of the offense includes 1B Wil Myers — who signed a six-year contract extension with the team in January — and 3B Yangervis Solarte, who are the team’s best hitters, and 2B Ryan Schimpf, who showed some power in about half-a-season in the majors last year. The rotation is led by veteran SPs Clayton Richard and Jered Weaver, who comes to the Padres after spending the first 11 years of his career with the Angels.

Last season saw the Padres hit a MLB-worst .235 while finishing in the bottom half of the majors with 177 home runs. Their .689 OPS was tied for the second-worst in the majors. Solarte hit .286 with 15 home runs and a .808 OPS. Myers hit .259 with a team-high 28 home runs and a .797 OPS. Myers also stole 28 bases, which was the 10th-most in the National League. In 89 major-league games, Schimpf only hit .217, but he smacked 20 home runs in 330 at-bats and led the team with a .869 OPS. OF Alex Dickerson showed some promising signs in 84 games, hitting .257 with 10 home runs in 253 at-bats.

The pitching staff also wasn’t very good last season, finishing the year with a 4.43 ERA that was the eighth-worst in the majors. The pitchers recorded 1,222 strikeouts, which ranked in the bottom six, and the bullpen totaled 35 saves, which was fifth-worst. In 36 appearances last season, but only nine starts, with the Cubs and Padres, Richard posted a respectable 3.33 ERA but had just 41 strikeouts in 67.2 innings. Weaver started 31 games for the Angels last season and posted a career-worst 5.06 ERA with 103 strikeouts in 178 innings. SP Christian Friedrich, who is fighting for a spot in the rotation, put up a 4.80 ERA with 100 strikeouts in 129.1 innings. RP Fernando Rodney, who is now with the Diamondbacks, led the team in saves last season, but RP Brandon Maurer wasn’t far behind him with 13 saves. Maurer’s 4.52 ERA wasn’t great, but he did get 72 strikeouts in 69.2 innings.

Again, apart from Myers and Solarte there’s not a lot to get excited about with the Padres’ offense. Hedges could show the team something as he gets to be he everyday starter behind the plate, but the most promising prospect on the team is OF Hunter Renfroe, who hit .371 with 4 home runs in 11 games last season. Obviously a miniscule sample size, but if he can even be around the .275 mark with about 20 home runs for a full season, it would provide a significant boost to an offense that desperately needs it. Look for Renfroe as a potential NL Rookie of the Year candidate as the season progresses. There’s not a lot to talk about with the starting rotation, unless SP Luis Perdomo can put together a strong season, but that’s not likely after he put up a 5.71 ERA in his rookie season last year. There’s not a clear-cut closer in the bullpen, though Maurer will probably get the first shot at closing out games. RP Carter Capps could get some saves during the season, but he’s dealing with an elbow injury that could prevent him from being ready for Opening Day.

Barring a miracle, don’t expect the Padres to even come close to a .500 record this season. Not only are they the worst team in the division, but they’re probably one of the worst teams in the National League with a rotation made up of guys who would be at the backend of most teams’ rotations, if they even made the starting lineups on other teams.

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

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

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3rd Annual 30 in 30ish MLB Previews: Los Angeles Dodgers

Continuing with the NL West, the next team in our continuing series previewing all 30 MLB teams leading up to the start of the 2017 season is the Los Angeles Dodgers, who won the division last season

The Dodgers have been the class of the NL West in recent years and are looking for a fifth straight season of 90-plus wins. They’ll be looking to achieve that with a new second baseman, having acquired 2B Logan Forsythe from the Rays in exchange for P Jose De Leon. They also re-signed SP Rich Hill, who they traded for in the middle of last season and sits in the middle of a rotation led by SP Clayton Kershaw. The Dodgers re-signed RP Kenley Jansen to a new five-year deal that will keep him as the team’s closer for the foreseeable future. Forsythe joins an infield that includes SS Corey Seager, who is coming off a strong rookie season, and veteran 1B Adrian Gonzalez. OF Joc Pederson leads the offensive attack in the outfield, which also includes Yasiel Puig, who has not lived up to the hype when he first entered the league in 2013.

The Dodgers’ .249 average ranked as the ninth-lowest in Major League Baseball, but their 189 home runs put them near the middle of the pack. The team had a .728 OPS, which was in the bottom half of the majors. Seager’s .308 batting average was tops among the team’s starters, and his 26 home runs ranked second on the team. His OPS sat at .877 last season, and he posted an impressive 6.1 WAR — fifth-best in the National League — in his first full season in the majors. Seager ranked seventh in the NL in batting average and his 193 hits were second-most in the NL and sixth in MLB. 3B Justin Turner hit 27 home runs — tied with C Yasmani Grandal for the team lead — with a .275 average and .832 OPS. Pederson hit .246 with 25 home runs in 137 games, and Puig played in 104 games, due to injury and being sent down to the minors in August, with a .263 average and 11 home runs. Gonzalez hit .285, but had 18 home runs, which was a drop-off of 10 from 2015.

Pitching was what led the Dodgers last season, with a 3.70 ERA that ranked fifth in the majors. The pitching staff led all of baseball with 1,510 strikeouts, and the bullpen’s 47 saves were tied for eighth in the majors. Kershaw spent some time on the DL so only started 21 games, but posted an impressive 1.69 ERA in those games with 172 strikeouts in 149 innings. He also tied his career high with 3 shutouts, which was tied for the fifth-most in the majors. In his first season in the majors after coming over from Japan, SP Kenta Maeda put up a 3.48 ERA in 32 starts, with 179 strikeouts in 175.2 innings. He posted a 16-11 record, which tied him with several pitchers for the sixth-most wins in the majors. With the A’s and Dodgers last season, Hill posted a 2.12 ERA in an injury-shortened season — which has been a problem throughout his career — in which he made 20 starts. Jansen continued his streak as one of the game’s best closers, recording all 47 of the team’s saves (in 53 opportunities) while posting a 1.83 ERA and striking out 104 batters in 68.2 innings over 71 appearances.

The offense has a couple of young guys in Pederson and Seager who had breakout years in 2016, but there are also veterans like Gonzalez and OF Andre Ethier who are on the backsides of their careers and have declining production. Then there’s Puig, who has never hit more than 19 home runs in any of his four seasons in the majors and got on the team’s bad side last year, which led to his demotion, and he could see his playing time diminished this season if he doesn’t start to put up better numbers at the plate.

If Kershaw can stay healthy this season, he should be able to have a typically outstanding season, but there are question marks behind him in the rotation. Maeda pitched well last season and will be a viable No. 2 starter if he can repeat that performance this year, but then there are veterans like Hill and SPs Brandon McCarthy and Scott Kazmir who have all spent a lot of time on the disabled list throughout their careers. An X-factor on the pitching staff could be Julio Urias, who posted a 3.39 ERA in limited time in the majors last season. The Dodgers took things very cautiously with him last year and will likely do the same this year with the 20-year-old, who is expected to pitch mainly out of the bullpen but fill-in as a starter as needed, and he likely will be needed with the injury history of some of the starters. When the team gets a lead to Jansen late in the game, he should be able to secure the victory most of the time while racking up the strikeouts.

The Rockies are probably going to be improved this season, but it’s still likely to be the Dodgers and Giants fighting it out for the top spot in the West. I think the Dodgers have the edge, especially if they can get a third starter to put up good numbers behind Kershaw and Maeda. I expect to see the Dodgers playing in the postseason again this year, even if it’s as a wild card if the Giants manage to pass them to win the division.

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

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

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3rd Annual 30 in 30ish MLB Previews: Colorado Rockies

The next NL West team up in our continuing series previewing all 30 MLB teams leading up to the start of the 2017 season is the Colorado Rockies, who came in third place in the division last season

The Rockies are on a positive trajectory in recent years, having gone from 66 wins in 2014 to 68 in 2015 and 75 in 2016. They hope to continue that trend in 2017, but that might be complicated by a rash of injuries that will leave the team short-handed to begin the season. 1B Ian Desmond, the team’s big offseason acquisition, underwent surgery to repair his broken left hand earlier this month and will start the season on the DL, but with a four-to-six-week timetable, he could be back before the end of April. It’s expected to be a similar timetable for C Tony Wolters, who has a hairline fracture in his right forearm. And OF David Dahl suffered a rib injury early in spring training, but he has optimistically said that he thinks he could miss as little as one to two weeks of the regular season. Although none of those injuries appears to be serious enough to require an extended absence for the player, having all the players out at the same time could put the team in a hole early in the season. In a more serious situation, SP Chad Bettis is out indefinitely after announcing that his testicular cancer, with which he was diagnosed in November, has spread and he will be starting chemotherapy treatment.

The Rockies had the best batting average in the National League — and second best in Major League Baseball — last season with a .275 mark. They hit 204 home runs, which ranked 10th in the majors, and their .794 OPS was also tops in the NL and second in the majors. Among the offensive leaders was 3B Nolan Arenado, who hit .294 with 41 home runs — which was tied for the most in the NL and sixth in MLB — and a .932 OPS, which was 10th-best in the majors. His 6.5 WAR ranked 10th among all position players in the majors. OF Charlie Blackmon had a career year, hitting .324 with 29 home runs and a .933 OPS, which was ninth in the majors, and he posted a WAR of 4.4. The offense continued with OF Carlos Gonzalez, who hit .298 with 25 home runs and a .855 OPS. SS Trevor Story came out strong in his rookie season, hitting .272 with 27 home runs in 97 games before being shut down after undergoing thumb surgery. 2B DJ LeMahieu led the majors with a career-high .348 average and a 5.2 WAR, which ranked eighth among position players in the NL.

The pitching wasn’t as successful as the offense last season, with the staff’s 4.91 ERA tied for third-worst in the majors. The pitchers compiled 1,223 strikeouts, which was seventh-worst, and the bullpen racked up only 37 saves, tied for sixth-fewest in MLB. SP Tyler Chatwood was one of the better starters with a 3.87 ERA, but he only struck out 117 batters in 158 innings. SP Jon Gray led the team with 185 strikeouts in 168 innings, but he had a 4.61 ERA. SP Tyler Anderson only made 19 starts, but he led the rotation with a 3.54 ERA and had 99 strikeouts in 114.1 innings. In limited time in the majors — eight games, including six starts — prospect Jeff Hoffman posted a 4.88 ERA with 22 strikeouts in 31.1 innings. RP Jake McGee got most of the save opportunities, going 15-for-19, but posted a 4.73 ERA with 38 strikeouts in 45.2 innings. RP Adam Ottavino pitched most of the second half of the season after returning from Tommy John surgery and recorded 7 saves in 12 opportunities to go along with a 2.67 ERA and 35 strikeouts in 27 innings.

Offense isn’t an issue for the Rockies, it’s the pitching that is questionable. The starting rotation, in particular, needs help and since the team didn’t acquire any starters this winter, it’ll be up to young pitchers like Hoffman and German Marquez, who is expected to make the rotation out of camp, to pick up some of the slack of the veterans who aren’t exactly aces. RP Greg Holland, who the team signed in January, is expected to get the first shot at closing out games. The former Royals closer hasn’t pitched in about 18 months while recovering from Tommy John surgery, but the last three seasons he pitched, he recorded 47, 46 and 32 saves in 2013, 2014 and 2015, respectively. It might be unreasonable to think he can return to that type of performance, but if he can save about 30 games with decent peripheral numbers, it would improve the bullpen. If he isn’t able to pitch at the start of the season, Ottavino should get another shot at the closer’s role.

The Rockies are on the verge of competing in the NL West, if they can just get some better pitching. Unless they trade for a starter during the season, I don’t think they’re there yet. I think they’ll win more than the 75 games they won last year, but I think they’ll be a .500 team at best so they’ll still trail the Dodgers and Giants in the division.

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

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

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