NFL: Week 4 Picks

5 undefeated teams remain as we head into week 4 of the NFL season.  I went 9-7 a week ago, bringing my season total to 26-22.

Bye Week: Philadelphia and Green Bay

Thursday Night Football

  • Dolphins @ Bengals: Miami barely squeaked by the Browns last week, while the Bengals were beat down by the defending champs at home.  The Dolphins got a big day from Jarvis Landry, but inconsistency continues to plague Ryan Tannehill, who threw a pick six in the win. Cincinnati got their running game going, but still lost to 1-2 for the first time in five years.  After two very good weeks, Andy Dalton couldn’t do much against the Broncos defense. I like the Bengals at home with another good rushing game to get their second win of the season. CINCINNATI WINS

Sunday Morning Football 

  • Colts @ Jaguars: London here they come! Indianapolis got their first win of the season last week, while Jacksonville is still looking for theirs.  Andrew Luck has the uncanny ability to turn a bad day into a big day passing the ball, but the Jaguars defense isn’t the problem so far, so he’ll need help.  Blake Bortles on the other hand, has been pretty awful for Jacksonville in his third year under center. So what happens this weekend across the pond? Give me a cleaner day from Luck to lift the Colts. INDIANAPOLIS WINS

Sunday 1PM Games

  • Bills @ Patriots: Three different quarterbacks have started for New England, but that hasn’t stopped the winning.  And as for the Bills, they got their first win over a team many think, myself included, are a playoff team destined for a deep run.  Both teams got big two-touchdown games out of their number 1 running backs, so look for another day of running the clock. The Patriots have to get through one more week without Tom Brady, and while they’ve done a great job doing so, and are very, very good at home, I’m taking the road team in this one. BUFFALO WINS
  • Titans @ Texans: It was a very bad week for Houston, who not only lost their Thursday game versus New England 27-0, they learned that JJ Watt re-injured his back and will be out the rest of the year.  Tennessee’s week wasn’t much better, as they scored just 10 points in their loss to Oakland. Both teams enter action having scored the same amount of points through 3 games, but of course that’s skewed with the Texans O-fer last weekend. Marcus Mariota and Brock Osweiler have both thrown 4 interceptions so far this season, so whoever can limit mistakes has the edge. A Titans win puts them in a tie for the division early.  But I don’t think they get it, because I like the Texans skill position players better. HOUSTON WINS
  • Lions @ Bears: The Lions are 1-2, but haven’t struggled in the passing game, as Matthew Stafford has found a new weapon in Marvin Jones after Calvin Johnson called it a career in the off-season.   The silver lining there for the 0-3 Bears is that their defense has actually done okay against the pass so far this season.  Chicago got a pretty good game out of Brandon Hoyer, who finished 30-49 for 317 yards, though most of that came with the game out of hand already. Both teams have the ability to get the points in the air, and with two middling defenses, that shouldn’t be a problem.  So this game will be won in the trenches, and the edge there lies with the Lions. DETROIT WINS
  • Panthers @ Falcons: Carolina is another team I thought would have a great season, but has disappointed so far.  Thanks to the struggles of the Panthers and the rest of the NFC South, Atlanta finds themself atop the division early on in the season.  This dispite allowing 31, 28 and 32 points in their first three games.  The Falcons may not be getting sustained success in their ground game early, they are getting it when it counts.  Tevin Coleman has just 110 yards on the ground, but has 4 rushing touchdowns, including 3 on Sunday in New Orleans. Carolina entered action red-hot at home dating back to 2014, but we shut down by a red-hot Vikings defense a week ago.  I still believe in the Panthers defense, and as hot as Atlanta has been, I think Carolina gets the win on the road. CAROLINA WINS
  • Seahawks @ Jets: The good news for Jets fans? Ryan Fitzpatrick can only be better than he was a week ago. The bad news? He has to be a lot better against the top defense in the league. After scoring just 3 points against L.A. in week 2, the Seahawks exercised some demons putting up 37 against the Niners.  Russell Wilson was hobbled in the game, but still managed to leave with a nice lead.  Big games from Christine Michael and Doug Baldwin helped get the offense back on track.  New York can solace in the fact that they have had a pretty good run game all season, and while some of it came in garbage time, Seattle did allow the Niners to get over 130 yards on the ground, finding pay dirt twice.  This shouldnt be as ugly for the Jets as it was last week, but it will still be a loss. SEATTLE WINS
  • Raiders @ Ravens: Baltimore finds itself among the undefeated teams heading into week 4, in large part thanks to their defense and a good day from kicker Justin Tucker.  The Ravens are second in total defense through 3 weeks of play.  Their opponents won their 2nd game by  forcing three turnovers, with a sack after entering week 3 having allowed the Saints and Falcons to walk all over them.  So based on defenses, Baltimore should have an easy win.  But I actually like Oakland’s offense a lot more, and as someone who thinks this is a playoff team, I’ll take the Raiders in the upset. OAKLAND WINS
  • Browns @ Redskins: Cleveland should’ve gotten their first win of the season in Miami a week ago, but an inability to stop the air attack, and three missed field goals left them at 0-3. They gave themselves a shot, but couldn’t take it.  Cody Kessler’s first career start wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t very good for Cleveland, though at this point, coming out healthy is huge for the Browns. Washington did get their first win, taking down the Giants on the road. After a couple lackluster offensive weeks, Kirk Cousins let it loose and got a number of big plays in the passing game to help get that first win and move back in the right direction to defend their NFC East title.  So can the Browns get their first win this week? Yes. Will they? I don’t think so. They stayed in last week thanks to mistakes by Tannehill, but Cousins won’t make those same mistakes. WASHINGTON WINS

Sunday 4/425PM Games

  • Broncos @ Buccaneers: The Superbowl Champs are showing no signs of slowing down as they look to start the season 4-0.  Denver got off to a slow start last week against the Bengals, but came on strong late thanks to a big day from rookie quarterback Trevor Siemian.  Siemian threw four touchdown passes, including two in the fourth quarter for the win.  Not to be outdone, the Broncos are a top flight defense that held down Andy Dalton and their rushing attack.  They’ve got another tough test when they take on Jameis Winston this weekend.  The Bucs 2nd year quarterback is tied for the league lead in touchdown passes so far with 8, though he has thrown six picks to.  It won’t be a blowout, none of Denver’s games really have been, but it will be another win for the Broncos. DENVER WINS
  • Rams @ Cardinals: I’m shocked at the start the Cardinals are having at just 1-2. Carson Palmer has had a bad TD-turnover ratio through 3 weeks.   Arizona isn’t getting quite out of David Johnson on the ground, while their defense is allowing the 5th most rushing yards per game.  This is as good a week as any to get back to what they want to do in all phases as they take on their division rival Rams, who find themselves tied atop the division at 2-1.  Los Angeles has rebounded nicely from a shutout on opening day, winning their last two games.  The Rams tend to play up or down to their opponents, evident by a 9-3 home win over Seattle and a 37-32 shootout on the road in Tampa Bay.  Going off those results,  I’ll take the Cardinals at home in what should be a close game throughout between these two West foes. ARIZONA WINS
  • Cowboys @ Niners: Dallas couldn’t have asked for more from rookies Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliot through three weeks.  The Tony Romo-less Cowboys were a game-winning field-goal away from being 3-0 right now. Dez Bryant has a hairline fracture in his knee but is still expected to play this weekend.  San Francisco was manhandled in week 3, and still isn’t making a change back to Colin Kaepernick.  The biggest thing the Niners have going for them is Carlos Hyde has looked pretty good.  I like what the Caowboys have done this season, but I have a feeling about San Fran this week. It might be a bad feeling, but I’m rolling with it. SAN FRANCISCO WINS
  • Saints @ Chargers: It’s still early, but the Saints need to start picking up some wins quickly if they want to make the playoffs as I predicted they would as a wildcard team in the NFC.  The offense hasn’t been the problem.  Drew Brees is already over a 1,000 yards passing, with an 8-1 touchdown to interception ratio, though that one interception last week was a fourth quarter pick six for Brees.  New Orleans defense hasn’t been been able to stop anyone, as they’ve allowed the 2nd most total yards.  Worst at stopping the run, that’s where the Chargers will need to take advantage this week.  But without Danny Woodhead, San Diego needs Melvin Gordon to get going, so this is the perfect opportunity for that.  I like Philip Rivers, but I like Drew Brees more.  Give me the road team to get win number 1 this week. NEW ORLEANS WINS

Sunday Night Football

  • Chiefs @ Steelers: What a defensive performance put on by the Chiefs this past week! Two defensive touchdowns and six interceptions helped Kansas City get the easy win over the Jets.  The offense wasn’t great, but they didn’t need to be with that showing on defense.  Alex Smith continued to show his game management skills, and why Travis Kelce is one of the better tight ends in the league right now. They’ve got a desperate Steelers team thsi week, who didn’t score a touchdown in a week 3 beatdown by the Eagles.  After two very good weeks, DeAngelo Williams was stymied on the ground, so the rushing attack will gladly welcome back Le’Veon Bell from suspension this week. The biggest test for the Kansas City defense will be stopping Antonio Brown, but I don’t think it will matter much even if he does have a big day. KANSAS CITY WINS

Monday Night Football

  • Giants @ Vikings: This should be a battle of two unbeatens, but a late game collapse left the Giants at 2-1 heading into today.  Too many penalties, a couple late turnovers and allowing Washington to open up the field multiple times led to the home loss for New York.  They lost Shane Vereen to a triceps injury as well.  Eli Manning and company need to do more in the passing game, and they have the capability with three wide receivers.  The bad news for New York is that the Vikings are running on all cylinders right now.  Their defense has been relentless through three weeks, and despite losing starting QB Teddy Bridgewater before the season started, the offense has been very good.  Sam Bradford has come in and fit in better in two weeks then he’s done in the first few seasons of his career.  It’s going to be tough for the Giants on the road, but I like New York will figure things out and get back in the win column.  NEW YORK WINS
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NFL: Week 3 Picks

We’ve reached week 3 of the season, and still have 8 undefeated and 8 winless teams. There have also been a lot of big injuries early that will have a big impact on week 3 and beyond.  As for my picks, I’m 18-14 through 2 weeks. Here’s what I’m thinking going into week 3.

Thursday Night Football

  • Texans @ Patriots: Jimmy Garoppolo left with a shoulder injury for New England, who still managed to move to 2-0.  This was thanks in large part to Garoppolo’s 3 touchdown passes before his injury as well as a big performance from LeGarrett Blount in the run game. The Texans took down the Chiefs on the strength of their defense to move to 1-1, a stark difference from their 33-0 loss to Kansas City in the playoffs.  Without Garoppolo, I think the Texans will do enough to get another win to start off the week 3 action. HOUSTON WINS

Sunday 1pm Games

  • Ravens @ Jaguars: Baltimore got very lucky in week 2, as they overcame a 20-0 1st quarter deficit to improve to 2-0.  Cleveland never scored again, while Joe Flacco brought his team back with a 25-45, 302 yard performance.  Their opponents have been disappointing to me so far.  While I didn’t think the Jaguars were going to make the playoffs this season, I thought they’d be better than they’ve shown, starting 0-2 again after They crossed midfield only six times and committed three turnovers. BALTIMORE WINS
  • Lions @ Packers: Both teams enter 1-1 after losing in week 2, and are looking to keep pace with the 2-0 Vikings.  The Packers lost their game in the 4th quarter, turning the ball over twice, while allowing Rodgers to be sacked 5 times. Detroit also lost their game in the 4th quarter when they were outscored 13-0 by the Titans, including a 93-yard game winning drive.  The Lions didn’t have a go to back in week 2, losing Ameer Abdullah to an injury.   So who gets back in the win column this week? I’ll take the Packers at home with a much-needed big day from Eddie Lacy. GREEN BAY WINS
  • Redskins @ Giants: Washington won the NFC East a year ago, but have opened up this season 0-2.  Struggles in the red zone and an inability to force turnovers meant a loss in a back-and-forth affair with Dallas last week. New York’s offense moved up and down the field pretty easily on Sunday, but also struggled in the redzone, and had too many turnovers in the 1st half.  But the defense and special teams stepped up and they moved to 2-0. So who takes this division matchup?  Give me the home team to get over their redzone struggles and take advantage of Eli Manning’s league leading completion percentage, which should be even better as the Giants receiving core dropped at least 5 balls in week 2. NEW YORK WINS
  • Browns @ Dolphins: For the 5th week in a row (dating back to last season), Cleveland will be starting a different QB.  Someone should tell them this isn’t baseball, there’s no starting rotation in football.  Even with the QB carousel, the Browns almost, and should have, pulled out their first win in week 2.  They were up 20-2 on the Ravens, thanks in big part to their ground attack, but fell late.  Miami isn’t in any better a position than their week 3 opponents, as they enter action at 0-2 as well.  The Dolphins were down big early to the Pats, but made a comeback after Jimmy Garoppolo went down with an injury.  Cleveland will be in this game until the end because Miami has had issues stopping the run early.  But even of Isaiah Crowell goes big on the ground, I still think they pull out the win at home. MIAMI WINS
  • Vikings @ Panthers: Minnesota will now be without their starting QB and running back for the rest of the season after Adrian Peterson went down in their game on Sunday night. The Vikings defense looked stong against Aaron Rogers in week 2. As for Carolina, they rebounded offensively in week 2, but they still struggled a bit on defense, allowing the Niners to score 27.  They’ll be without their running back Jonathan Stewart, but were picked up by Fozzy Whittaker on the ground.  Despite the 27 points allowed, I like the Panthers chances of stopping Sam Bradford and the new Vikings weapon and league receiving yards leader Stefon Diggs. CAROLINA WINS
  • Broncos @ Bengals: Andy Dalton has gotten off to a nice start this season, leading the league with 732 passing yards, so here’s a good test for the Broncos league leading defense.  CJ Anderson is having a good start to the season, and we’ve seen the Bengals give up the most rushing yards per game to start the season, so he should be able to help eat a lot of clock for Denver. DENVER WINS
  • Cardinals @ Bills: Arizona rebounded from a tough week 1 loss by handily beating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  The Cardinals led the league in total offense, while the Bills dropped to 0-2 despite putting up 31 points of their own in week 2. Buffalo has let their offensive coordinator go, so they really need this game.  Too bad I don’t think they’ll get it.  Look for a big game from running back Daniel Johnson. ARIZONA WINS
  • Raiders @ Titans: Oakland has not been able to stop anyone through two weeks, something I wasn’t expecting, allowing 70 points so far.  Tennessee has actually done a very nice job on defense.  Both teams are 1-1 heading into this game, but I still like the Raiders better.  The Titans offense hasn’t shown the big play ability the Raiders have, so Oakland should be able to hold them down better than they did with New Orleans and Atlanta. OAKLAND WINS

Sunday 4/425pm Games

  • Rams @ Buccaneers: LA’s defense showed up in week 2, Tampa’s did not.  The difference between these two teams is the offense.  While the Bucs went from scoring 4 TDs to 1, I feel more confident about their offense than the Rams, who have scored just 9 points in two games.  The best chance the Rams have is if their defense can do what it did a week ago, and good game out of Todd Gurley. That being said, I’ll take the home team in this one. TAMPA BAY WINS
  • 49ers @ Seahawks: This is a big (albeit early) NFC West battle between two 1-1 teams.  San Francisco followed up a surprise week 1 win with a defensive breakdown against Carolina.  Seattle had one of their worst offensive games in this recent stretch of Superbowl quality teams, scoring just a field goal against the L.A. Rams. I can’t see the Seahawks being held down again, especially by the Niners.  Russell Wilson should be able to dominate in this one. SEATTLE WINS
  • Steelers @ Eagles:  I never thought this would be a game where both teams have a chance to move to 3-0, but here we are.  DeAngelo Williams has been huge for Pittsbrgh in the abscense of Le’Veon Bell, who is out one more week due to suspension. Philadelphia has gotten about as good as you can ever hope to from a rookie quarterback in Carson Wentz, who hasn’t turned the ball over yet. It should be a good game, but I will go with the experience in this one. PITTSBURGH WINS
  • Jets @ Chiefs: Two teams I picked to make the playoffs in the AFC face off in Kansas City this weekend.  New York picked up their first win last week, thanks to the offense.  Off-season acquisition Matt Forte finished with 100 yards rushing, and three rushing touchdowns. Eric Decker and Brandon Marshall both finished with 100 receiving yards as well.  The Jets defense wasn’t as impressive as it was week 1.  The Chiefs hope that’s the case again this week, as they couldn’t get much of anything started against Houston. A lot went right for New York last week, and I can’t see them doing quite that well against Kansas City’s defense as they did against Buffalo.  If this were a home game for the Jets I might choose differently, but it’s a home game for the Chiefs, so I’ll go with them this week.  KANSAS CITY WINS
  • Chargers @ Colts: San Diego is 2-0, Indianapolis is 0-2.  I really thought that the Colts would be able to do better than they have on defense, but they haven’t. San Diego has looked very good on offense to start this season, Indy has been very up and down. INDIANAPOLIS WINS

Sunday Night Football

  • Bears @ Cowboys: Chicago is 0-2 despite holding early leads in both week 1 and week 2.  And now they’ll be without starting quarterback Jay Cutler due to a thumb injury.   Their best hope to beat the Cowboys is to continue limiting the passing game, as the Bears rank 4th in the NFL allowing 224 yards a game.   As for Dallas, they picked up their first win thanks to another clean day from Dak Prescott and a big night on the ground. The Boys were already a better team than the Bears before the Cutler injury, so give me Dallas at home to move to 2-1. DALLAS WINS

Monday Night Football

  • Falcons @ Saints: Atlanta picked up their first win against an impressive Raiders team in week 2, while New Orleans dropped to 0-2 after a game winning field goal by the Giants.  Atlanta hasn’t had any problems scoring this season, but their defense has struggled at times.  New Orleans’ defense was much better in week 2, forcing 3 turnovers, but it wasn’t enough.  I picked the Saints to make the playoffs, so this is a huge game for them.  If they want to get their first win, they have to figure out how to run the ball.  The Falcons tend to be very inconsistent, so give me New Orleans at home in a shootout. NEW ORLEANS WINS

New York Yankees: June in Review

IMG_1187June saw the New York Yankees win just two of their eight series (sweeps of the Mariners and Blue Jays), while squandering great opportunities to win more than that.  We’re exactly halfway through another season, and there are still many questions about this team, especially after a very bad month.

But the Ace of the staff isn’t one of them. Masahiro Tanaka is a winner, plain and simple.  The rest of the rotation has been pretty solid as well, though it’s starting to taper off here as we begin July.  Not to mention how good the bullpen has been. Another plus is that there haven’t really been new additions to the injury report this month.  Mark Teixeira made his return on June 3rd against the Athletics.  He drove in 2 runs, including a go-ahead solo homer batting right-handed. It looked like hitting from the left side would remain an issue, but as the month went on, the wrist became a non-issue.

With all that being said, this team is so inconsistent, particularly the offense.  Teixeira is the only power threat, Jacoby Ellsbury seems to have two hot weeks, followed by two very cold weeks and Brian McCann hasn’t really shown up yet. This team needs more from their off-season acquisitions.  Derek Jeter has been on and off, and the same can be said for Brett Gardner.  This team needs Gardner and Ellsbury on base to utilize their speed.  They can make things happen, small-ball is just as, if not more important as the ability to get that 3-run home run.

Best Starter: Masahiro Tanaka – He’s going to win this thing every month because he could be the CY Young award winner in the American League this year.  At 11-3, Tanaka continues to strike out double-digit batters with ease.  Losing streaks with this guy in the rotation won’t go past 4 very often.  Look for him to start possibly start the All-Star game.  He’d be closer to 13-14 wins right now if not for the low run-support he’s been given.

Best Reliever: Dellin Betances – May clearly wasn’t an anomaly.  Betances continues to strike out opponents in 3 or 4 pitches, which allows him to go two innings, AND still be available the next day.  He’s confident, yet humble and cool under pressure.  Like I said last month, this is Rivera in 96 type stuff.  He looked a bit shaky late in the month, but found ways to get out of jams, and that’s all you can ask of a guy.

Best Hitter: Mark Teixeira.  His batting average is hovering around .240 again, but he’s the Yankees only real power source, and almost every big hit this month came from via the switch-hitter.  If only he’d finally figure out how to hit against the shift.

Biggest Surprise: Chase Whitley.  Another month of solid performances and I probably can’t call him a surprise anymore.  He’s doing everything you’d want out of a 4th-5th starter.  He’s giving the Yankees decent length, and he’s staying away from the big innings (for the most part).

Record vs AL East: 6-7

Overall Record: 41-40

The American League East will be a fight for a while, with no one looking like they want to run away with it.  The Blue Jays came back down to earth a bit here.  But if the Yankees continue to do what they’ve done, while getting healthy and guys like McCann slowly coming around, things could be worse in the Bronx.

With that being said, as we approach the All-Star break, the question becomes what do the Yankees need and should they make a splash before the trade deadline?

New York Yankees: May in Review

IMGP3381What is this 2013?

It feels like another Yankee is placed on the disabled list every day. New additions this month included Shawn Kelley, Carlos Beltran and CC Sabathia. These are names this team can go very long without.  Kelley hit the shelf with a strained lumbar spine (back tightness).  Just when he was looking ready to come back, the tightness resurfaced to make it more than a 15-day loss.  Sabathia hasn’t looked good all year, and has been diagnosed with degenerative knees. He’ll be out until at least July because of it.  Beltran was given 2 weeks to work out discomfort from a bone spur on his elbow.  At the end of those 2 weeks, season ending surgery could be necessary.

After the injuries to key players, there is real concern with the lack of power in this offense.  Tex, Beltran and Alfonso Soriano are the only real power threats, but Soriano has been in a season long slump and of course Tex and Beltran have missed significant time.  And without the power, you need guys like Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner to get on base and make things happen. When they get on, they usually steal.  But after the final week of the month, Ellsbury’s hot April had turned into a big time slump.  A nice surprise has been the hitting of Yangervis Solarte, but even he has hit a skid, something we all saw coming for the 26-year-old rookie.  Brian McCann needs to start hitting for this team.  His adjustment time is over.  Two months are enough for the all-star catcher.  Interestingly enough, Ichiro Suzuki is hitting at the clip of how his career has gone, over .300.  This is a guy that was supposed to be a 4th outfielder, pinch runner.  But injuries have created situations for the sure-fire Hall-of-Famer and he’s doing his best to help in the field, at the plate and on the base paths.

It was a very up-and-down month for the bombers.  They showed something winning 2-0f-3 on the road against the great pitching staff of the St. Louis Cardinals.  But they were also held to less than 2 runs 8 times (1 win).  To be fair, they only lost 2 of the 9 series (3 splits).

Best Starter: Masahiro Tanaka – He takes the award again, and not by default.  The MLB rookie continues to dominate.  He dropped his first game (and it wasn’t a horrible start) and bounced back with two huge performances to move his record to a stellar 8-1 before June.  His ability to go deep on top of his great pitching has helped stopped long losing streaks, and solidified a less than perfect rotation.

Best Reliever: Dellin BetancesSo this guy has found it big time.  All he does is come in and shut people down for 1-2 innings a la Mariano Rivera in 1996.  He’s struck out a ridiculous 56 batters to just 9 walks in nearly 33 innings of work.  And he’s also electrified the Yankee Stadium crowd much like Joba Chamberlain did when he first made it with the big club.  If the 26-year-old is on the mound, you’re not leaving your seat.

Best Hitter: Mark Teixeira – Early in the month we were all thinking that the wrist was healed and Tex was primed.   The power was back.  He was playing basically everyday. But unfortunately as the month ran down, the wrist became an issue.  Inflammation meant missing a few games at the end of the month, and a trip to the surgeon.  He was told it was okay, and returned after missing 3 straight games.  But in the 6th inning of the game, Teixeira left and is now back to “square one” with the injury. (UPDATE: Teix did make his return on June 3rd against the Athletics.  He drove in 2 runs, including a go-ahead solo homer batting right-handed.  The issue has been when batting left-handed.)

Biggest Surprise: Chase Whitley.  Who? The rookie is a huge reason why the Yankees are still hanging around the top of the American League Division.  The 25-year-old righty doesn’t have a win in 4 starts, but he should.  His last two performances were worthy of the W, but the pen and offense didn’t help him, leaving him with an 0-0 record and a 2.37 ERA. (Honorable Mention: John Ryan Murphy – the young backstop made us all expand on the J.R. and he started hitting.  He doesn’t play often backing up the All-Star McCann, but when he does, boy oh boy is he hitting!  In limited action, Murphy is hitting a scorching .348.)

Record vs AL East: 11-9

Overall Record: 29-26 (2nd in the East)

It took a big month from the Toronto Blue Jays and Edwin Encarnacion (16 homers last month), and .500 record to bump the Yankees from 1st to 2nd after May, but considering all the injuries and inconsistency, you’ve gotta be happy to be over .500 for the season.

 

New York Yankees: April in Review

IMGP3377 Jacoby Ellsbury can hit, Carlos Beltran can play everywhere and the injury bug didn’t stay in 2013.

Let’s start on the injury front shall we?  They sure popped up early and often in April.  Mark Teixiera went down first with a grade 1 hamstring pull, and closer David Robertson quickly followed him onto the 15-day DL with a groin strain.  Both came back after the two weeks were up, and have looked good in a small sample size.  Then, Derek Jeter missed he final two games of the Red Sox series.  And in that final game (a win) against Boston, Francisco Cerveilli ended up on the 60-Day DL with a grade 2 hamstring strain, Brian Roberts went down with a back injury, and not to mention a scare with April revelation Yangervis Solarte. But the biggest loss? It came after a blowout loss against the Tampa Bay Rays.  Starter Ivan Nova, who many thought would have a break out season after a strong finish to 2013, is heading for season-ending Tommy John surgery.  The young righty has a torn UCL injury, which already claimed all of 2014 for another one of New York’s up-and-coming stars, the Mets Matt Harvey.  The month ends with Brett Gardner nursing a sore foot, and Ellsbury has a day-to-day hand issue.

Considering they started the season with 13-straight games (their first two series were in domes), coupled with the injuries, the Bombers should be very happy with their record.  It’s only April, and they’ve already changed their fortunes in the AL East.  They only won 6 games against Boston last year, yet they’ve already taken down the defending World Champs 6 times in one month of baseball here in 2014!  They lead the division early, only lost 2 series the entire month, and are over .500 in the East. Sabathia continues to search for a way to be successful with his new stuff, but one thing about the big guy you can’t take for granted. He gives you length every start. They might not be the sharpest innings late, but he finds a way to not kill your bullpen.

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Best Starter: Masahiro Tanaka – That 24-0 last season in Japan does NOT look like a fluke. Sure it’s early, and the league needs time to catch up, but man does Tanaka look like the real deal.  Tanaka’s 3-0 to start his MLB career and has a ridiculous 46 strikeouts to just 6 walks in 35.2 innings. His first start got off to a shaky start, giving up a lead-off homer to Toronto’s Melky Cabrera, but he sure settled down.  3-runs in 7 innings.  Then he did it again, going a complete 8 in a shut-out win over the Orioles, striking out 10 along the way in his Yankee Stadium debut. And what about his dominance over 8.1 against the Sox in Fenway! He’s been nothing short of dominant. His one bug-a-boo?  The long ball.  He’s so in the zone, that balls tend to fly out easily.  The good thing is they’ve been solo shots for the most part.  (Honorable Mention: Michael Pineda – I could’ve easily made him the best with his 2-1 record, minuscule 1.00 ERA coming off two years of arm issues.  If Tanaka has been number 1, Pineda has been 1a for the Yankees pitching staff. Too bad this all came to a screaming halt with a 10-game suspension due to pine tar, followed by a lat strain that will sideline him for another 3-4 weeks.)

Best Reliever: Shawn Kelly – Outside a bad outing in a non-save situation, Kelly did a wonderful job sliding into the closer role while Robertson was on the disabled list.  Adam Warren has the other save recorded this season, and without the legendary Mariano Rivera closing games, and a big injury to D-Rob, who would’ve thought they’d make it through April without any blown saves? (Honorable Mention: Adam Warren – He’s adjusted to the short reliever role very well.)

Best Hitter: Jacoby Ellsbury – For any Yankees fans that thought liking his former enemy would be hard, you were very wrong. He’s come in and not only torn the ball off the cover, he’s run the bases better than anyone this team has seen since a young Alfonso Soriano was stealing 40 a year. And no, I’m not omitting Brett Gardner here, who has blinding speed, but doesn’t always take advantage of it on the base paths. (Honorable Mention: Carlos Beltran – Power, power, power.  He leads the team in HRs, RBIs, OPS and Slugging %.  He’s been another great addition to the Yankees outfield and lineup.)

Biggest Surprise: Yangervis Solarte – He spent the first 7 years of his career in the minors. He wasn’t even supposed to make the team! Yet Solarte hit his way onto the team out of spring training, hitting Eduardo Nunez off the team completely.  He can and has played every position on the diamond and has done it well.  And talk about a doubles-machine!  He’s also tied with Beltran for the team lead in RBIs with 13.

Record vs AL East: 10-7

Overall Record: 15-11 (1st in the East)

So that was April.  Coming up in May, the Yankees are on the road a lot, including a 3-game series against the Leagues top team, the Milwaukee Brewers.  The Bombers also play their cross-town rivals, as well as the Nation League representatives in the World Series last year, the St. Louis Cardinals.

The End of My Childhood: Saying Good-bye to Number 2

222506_10150241532625555_7652187_nI’m a couple months from turning 25, so technically, it’s been a while since I was actually a kid. But if you want an official bench mark, it came on Wednesday February 12th, when Derek Jeter announced he would retire at the end of this coming season. Ironically, I was in Boston when I found out about the announcement… making the blow some how harder to take.
As long as I’ve been watching the Yankees, Derek Jeter has been the toast of the town.  The final member of the core four, and my 2nd favorite Yankee (Bernie Williams being number 1), Jeter leaving means the end of a captain in New York. There’s no one left that means enough to this team to be named captain for years to come.  In fact, when he leaves, recently extended Brett Gardner will be the longest tenured player (if you take away the suspended Alex Rodriguez, and I do).
It will be hard to watch baseball without number 2 running around, out-hustling everyone. Without a member of the core four. I grew up watching Jeter. To honor the captain, I give you a taste of my favorite moments watching my favorite team over the years, featuring number 2.
My Top 10 Jeter Moments (in no particular order)
  1. The Flip – Making plays on the biggest stage… that’s what Derek Jeter has been all about. Down 2-0 to the Athletics in the 2000. When I saw the overthrow from Shane Spencer, I thought there goes the game, and maybe the series. But then a flash of white caught streaked across the infield
  2. The Dive – Talk about sacrificing your body. And your face! In a marathon event, which is the usual case against Red Sox, Jeter made a play that will live forever.  He’s known for the jump pass, but also for his ability to go back on a ball usually reserved for a left-fielder.  He ran full out to catch a ball down the left-field line, that would’ve fallen fair, and with just feet between him and the wall, he had no choice to but to launch himself, Superman style
  3. Mr. 3000 – He’s not a home run hitter. But he is the captain, so of course he did what everyone would’ve guessed was improbable. He became the 28th player in Major League History to reach the milestone, and just the 2nd to do so on a homer; former teammate Wade Boggs was the other to do so.  Adding to the mystical moment, he hit the homer against David Price, who also surrendered the single that made Jeter the Yankees all-time hits leader as well.
  4. The Speech – It came at the end of the final game at the old Yankee Stadium on September 21, 2008. He stood in the middle of the diamond, amongst his teammates, and thanked the fans for making the stadium so special. It was off the cuff perfection. He asked to bring the spirit of the team over to the new stadium. It came in Jeter’s first season not making the postseason, so the stadium closed without a final championship.  But his words did carry, and the ghosts of Yankees legends past did travel across to the new cathedral, and a year later a 27th parade was held.
  5. The Jump Pass – it’s his signature move, and it gets me every-time. They say Jeter has no range, but I can find you video after video of him in the outfield grass throwing out a runner at first. Sure a lot of it was arm strength, and sure, there are others who have played the position with more range, but if a ball was hit to him, it usually meant an out.  And he found a way to get
  6. SNL – A dress, a taco hole and teaching kids how to deal with bullies. Derek Jeter took his sarcastic sense of humor usually saved for post game comments and brought them to Saturday night. It’s still one of the best episodes ever.
  7. Mr. November – 9/11 left the country stunned. Baseball was an outlet. Down 2-1 in the World Series to the Arizona Diamondbacks, Derek Jeter’s walk-off helped energize the city. The Yankees of course lost that series, but it will forever be my favorite World Series.  It was the only thing to make sense after something horrific that made no sense.  It happened in the bottom of the 10th Inning, with the score tied 3-3, facing Diamondbacks closer Byung-Hun Kim, jeter hit the walk-off homer, and gained the nickname.
  8. The Subway Series Lead-Off – The Mets were down 2-1 in the 2000 Subway Series, but coming off their first win, so they had some momentum.  That is until Derek Jeter stepped to the plate to start game 4.  The fans weren’t even in their seats when Jeter shut the door on any hopes of a comeback in the series. A first pitch homer gave the Yankees the lead, and was the final nail in the Yankees 3-peat.
  9. The Hustle – Every time he ran hard to first base… so technically each of the 10,614 career at-bats that didn’t end in a strike three,  because he ran hard EVERY SINGLE TIME!  And many of the previously stated moments relied on his hustle. It’s been a beautiful thing to watch.
  10. Retirement Press Conference– It said all you wanted to know about Jeter.  He said he didn’t want to even call it a “press conference” and didn’t want his teammates to waste practice time (the whole squad showed up). Every question was answered with the team in mind.  “I expect each and every year to be successful. I plan on having a good season,” Jeter said.  He wants to win another ring, and on that Jeter said, “If my expectation levels ever changed, I would have quit a long time ago.” Essentially, these quotes should be on his plaques in Monument Park and in Cooperstown.
He hasn’t had the greatest Spring Training, but who cares? He’s healthy, looks pretty good running down the line and playing the field and is set to play what we all hope is a majority of the 162 and beyond this season.
Jeter has only been active in 1 game where his team was out of contention for a playoff spot, and that just so happens to be the final game of 2008 (a win over Boston that gave Mike Mussina his first and only 20-win season). It’s just one of the remarkable facts/stats that go along with the 20-year veteran.  Here’s to hoping we see many more special moments that make me rethink this list by seasons end.
For now, I just say, thank you Derek Sanderson Jeter. Please allow me to hold on to my childhood just a little bit longer.  And good luck in 2014.
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UPDATE:
I’ve had a few days to recover from the end of an era.  It’s October 3rd, and the playoffs are underway.  And the Yankees aren’t a part of it.  Which means the Captain, number 2, Derek Jeter… is just a memory.
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It’s weird to think that two legends left the pinstripes behind without a shot at another ring, but that’s how Mariano River, and now Jeter have walked off into the sunset.  After decades of success, it’s now how anyone wanted to see it end.  Even so, we the fans, and the game of Baseball were privy to some amazing things.
Knowing Jeter’s final regular season home game would be his actual final home game was a double edged sword. We knew it was the final time to watch number 2 walk on that field, so we knew we could properly say goodbye.  But of course it meant no more postseason magic from the captain.  So what did he do?  Make a bit of magic out of the whole situation.
Big hits marked his final game, none bigger than the 9th inning walk-off hit.  The image of Derek jumping in the air as he rounded 1st will live in my head forever.  He looked like a kid just playing the game he loves.  And that’s how you should remember Derek Jeter.  He lived his childhood dream, and did it with love, dedication and poise.  It was beautiful.  It was all beautiful.
                                     Thank you number 2.
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MLB Predictions – The Hunt for Red October (World Series Edition)

We’ve come to that time of year.  The Fall Classic.  Our final 4 guaranteed baseball games until Spring Training.

It’s an all red World Series, a rematch of the 2004 series and the fourth time these two have met in the World Series.  The Boston Red Sox will represent the American League after taking out the Detroit Tigers in 6 games in the ALCS.  They will face off against the National League representatives, the St. Louis Cardinals, who also needed 6 games to advance past the Los Angeles Dodgers in their NLCS match-up.

The New York Yankees have the most World Series wins in MLB history with 27, but this is the decade of teams in red.  Why do I say this? Well, the winner of this year’s series will pick up their 3rd World Series Championship of the 21st Century, which would be the most of any franchise.  The Yankees and Giants are the other teams that have each two rings this millennium.  Of the two teams in this years Fall Classic, I think even if St. Louis loses, they’ve established themselves as the franchise of the 21st century.  They’ve appeared in 3 previous World Series since 2000, winning in 2006 and 2011, and of course losing in 4 to Boston in 2004.   This fourth appearance also ties them with the Yankees for most in this time span.  The Cards have been to by far the most League Championship Series’ with 6, and they’ve been to the playoffs more than they haven’t in the first 13 years of this century.  Not to mention their ability to draft and cultivate talent within has been remarkable and unmatched (with the exception of maybe the Tampa Bay Rays) the past 10 years.

Saying this takes absolutely nothing away from what the Boston Red Sox have done both in this decade.  Three World Series appearances and two wins after going 86 years between raising a championship banner.  But the turnaround from 2012 to 2013 is even more impressive than their playoff success.  They hadn’t played in October since 2010, and won just 69 games a year ago.  This was a franchise in turmoil, who instead of regressing, made a historic turnaround in just an off-season.  A lot of thanks for this has to be given to GM Ben Cherrington, who pulled of a miracle trade which dumped big money and big contracts of Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford.  Add the development of youngsters like Xander Boegarts, Will Middlebrooks and Jose Iglesias, and improved years of John Lester and Clay Buchholz, you can see why this team won the AL East.  Iglesias was of course traded, but his production allowed for Boston to acquire a quality arm in Jake Peavy.

Both teams have added pieces, and brought up guys from the minors that gelled quickly, allowing for them to be in the position they are.

This is the first World Series hosted by an American League team since 2009 when the Yankees held home-field advantage.  This because the AL snapped a 3-year All-Star Game losing streak, giving their representative, in this case Boston, home-field.  Both teams won 97 regular season games.

My Key Players in the Series:

St Louis

  • Starting Pitcher Michael Wacha: This isn’t your normal 22-year-old.  The youngster won the NLCS MVP after two huge wins, outdueling last years Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw twice.  If he can do anything close to what he did in the first two rounds, the Cardinals will be thrilled, and the Red Sox should be scared.
  • Carlos Beltran:  He’s in his first World Series after years of just missing.  He has many big hits in his postseason career, but now it’s time to see if he can continue it on the games biggest stage.

Boston

  • Closer Koji Uehara:  Talk about a breakout season.  Uehara was unhittable the last two months of the season, and has carried it into the postseason.
  • Starter John Lackey: If there’s one key starter for Boston, it’s Lackey.  He had a good bounce back year from 2012, but if the Sox want to win this series, they can’t have a performance like he had against Tampa earlier in the postseason.  He gave up 4 runs in less than 6 innings in that start.  Boston needs the guy that shut down the Tigers in the ALCS.

Here is the schedule and pitching matchups

Game 1 (Wednesday @ Fenway Park- First Pitch 7:30PM EST)

  • Adam Wainwright vs John Lester

It’s just what you want in Game 1 of the World Series; a match-up of aces who have been on this postseason.  The Cardinals send Adam Wainwright and his 1.57 postseason ERA to the hill.  Wainwright has 2 rings and knows what it takes close out a series, and get a series started  The Red Sox counter with John Lester, who hasn’t been too shabby this year, allowing just 5 runs in 19.1 innings this October.

Game 2 (Thursday @ Fenway Park- First Pitch 8:07PM EST

  • Michael Wacha vs John Lackey

Based simply on what has happened this postseason, this matchup favors the Cardinals, which is good down 0-1.  Clay Buchholz was the likely game 2 starter for Boston, but he’s suffering from fatigue.  Both are players I tabbed as key to the series, and know here’s their chance to prove me right.  Wacha looks to send his team home tied 1-1, Lackey hopes to make a statement and put the Sox up 2-0.

Game 3 (Saturday @ Busch Stadium- First Pitch 8:07PM EST)

  • Jake Peavy vs Joe Kelly

This is a toss up.  Neither has made a World Series start, though Peavy is a veteran to Kelly’s relative inexperience.  It’s a big game, as it’s the first swing game, with the winner being just 2 games away from a championship.

Game 4 (Sunday @ Busch Stadium- First Pitch 8:00PM EST)

  • Clay Buchholz vs Lance Lynn

I think the match-up favors the Sox, as Buccholz is really a number 2 in this rotation, though he was pushed back because of arm fatigue. Lance Lynn hasn’t been great this postseason, but with a 2-1 series lead, the Cardinals are saving Adam Wainwright for a possible clincher in game 5.

Game 5 (Monday @ Busch Stadium- First Pitch 7:30PM EST)

  • Jon Lester vs Adam Wainwright

With the series tied 2-2, it’s a re-match of game 1.  Lester was brilliant, while Wainwright was tattooed.  I don’t think either will be as good, or as bad as they were in game 1.  This will not be a blowout, but a close game, the way games 2-4 have gone.  The winner will have a chance at closing out the series Wednesday in Boston.

Game 6 (Wednesday @ Fenway Park- First Pitch 7:30PM EST)

  • Michael Wacha vs John Lackey

If Necessary***

Game 7 (Wednesday @ Fenway Park- First Pitch 7:30PM EST) 

So it all starts with game 1, which is important in any series.  It gives one team a quick advantage, and puts them 3 wins from a championship.  Winners of Game 1 have won 20 of the last 24 Fall Classics.  I hope you all enjoy what should be a long, hard-fought series. Both teams have had great runs to get themselves to this point.  From the Red Sox crazy turnaround, to the Cardinals getting big performances from different guys every night.  But I think the Cardinals core gets this done.  I like the Red Sox depth, but I think St. Louis’ depth is better.

CARDINALS IN 6