MLB Playoff Predictions

Two takes on how October will unfold

Nick Yusko and I join forces again to let you know how we see the MLB postseason playing out. We wrote this before both Wildcard games, but the editor (ahem…myself) took a little time getting it off the presses. Here’s what we thing is going to happen. Let us know what you think.

AL Wild Card:
Josh:
My thoughts on Twins have been documented. But, as I said, I’m picking the Yankees

Nick:
Remarkable season for the Twins as they take on a young Yankees squad. The Twins have a very good team but I have a hard time seeing their lineup do much against young fireballer Luis Severino. Yankees bats come alive early at home against Ervin Santana and their dominant bullpen closes out the Twins.
Yankees over Twins

NL Wild Card:
Josh:
I’ve always had a soft spot for the Rockies and have enjoyed the ride their MVP candidates (Nolan Arenado and Charlie Blackmon) have taken fans on, but they don’t have an arm near the caliber of Zach Greinke.
Diamondbacks over Rockies

Nick:
Another surprising matchup here in the NL Wild Card game with the Rockies at the Diamondbacks. The Rockies boasted a potent lineup for the past few years, but often lacked in the pitching department. Quite simply, that’s still a problem. Zack Greinke is better than John Gray and the Diamondbacks lineup itself is nothing to be ashamed of, plus this game isn’t at Coors.
Diamondbacks over Rockies

ALDS:
Josh:
The Indians have been the darling of the second half, but I think they peaked a bit too early. This Yankees team has the lineup to give the Indians’ deep staff trouble and a bullpen to rival any in the league. Cleveland lets this one slip away. All rise.
Yankees over Indians in 4

Nick:
The Indians have been the most dominant team in baseball for the second half of the season. Their remarkable run to end the season netted them home field advantage in the American League. In the postseason, you often see a lot of low scoring pitching duels. No starting rotation has been better than the Indians lately and the Yankees won’t have Severino right off the bat. Indians’ arms dominate this series and they breeze past a young Yankees squad that will be contenders in the coming years.
Indians over Yankees in 3

Josh:
The Red Sox don’t have much besides Chris Sale and the Astros lineup may be the deepest in the playoffs. Altuve, Correa and Springer finally get their postseason moment–aided greatly by the arms of Verlander and Keuchel.
Astros over Red Sox in 4

Nick:
The Astros hit a lull towards the middle of the season. However, they acquired an experienced ace in Justin Verlander and have been playing some of their best baseball as of late. Despite injuries taking some key cogs out of their lineup, the Astros still led the majors in runs scored and batting average. With David Price limited to bullpen duties, the Red Sox do not have anyone in their rotation that scares you outside of Chris Sale. He may take game one, but the Astros are a superior team and win this series.
Astros over Red Sox in 4

NLDS:
Nick:
The Dodgers put together an incredible regular season. Outside of one unexplainable losing stretch, they have been dominant. However, the Diamondbacks have had their number. The D-backs swept a pair of late season series from their division foes. Clayton Kershaw has been the best regular season of this generation, however he has yet to exorcise his postseason demons. He also has not looked all too sharp in his return from the disabled list. The acquisition of JD Martinez continues to pay dividends and an underrated rotation of Ray, Godley, Walker (don’t forget about Greinke!) has me leaning towards the snakes in a hard-fought series.
Diamondbacks over Dodgers in 4

Josh:
The Dodgers have struggled all year with the Diamondbacks, but will break out when it matters. Not having Greinke to match up with Kershaw will cost Arizona and Kenley Jansen will put the clamps on the D-backs in pressure situations. The Dodgers get this one easier than expected.
Dodgers over Diamondbacks in 3

Nick:
The Nationals got a big scare in Max Scherzer’s last start as he exited with a potential hamstring injury. The potential Cy Young winner not being at 100% is a huge blow to the Nationals rotation. On the offensive side, the Nationals lineup is phenomenal, featuring a lineup as fierce as anyone with Murphy, Zimmerman, Rendon, Harper (though he seldom played the last 2 months of the season). Meanwhile, the defending champs enter after a ho-hum season that saw the Cubs get out to a slow start before they turned it on to have the second-best record in the MLB in the second half. The starting staff has some questions, but a key pickup in Jose Quintana could prove huge. On the offensive side, the Cubs boast a lineup that equally has as much depth as the Nationals and one that can wear out starting pitchers. I think the Cubs are being slept on for how well they played in the second half and take care of Dusty Baker (who is notorious for leaving his starting pitchers in too long) and the Nationals.
Cubs over Nationals in 4

Josh:
The Cubs did well to get here, but have not looked right all year. They have gotten better in recent months, but the Nationals have the lineup to hang with Rizzo, Bryant and co. Plus, the Nats have two starters (in Scherzer and Strasburg) better than anything the Cubs will trot out. Unless Scherzer is really hurt, the NAtionals finally get past the NLDS. These Cubs will be back.
Nationals over Cubs in 5

 

ALCS:
Josh:
The Astros will have the edge in the rotation and the deeper lineup. However, if the Yankees can get in front, their bullpen will be hard to crack. Houston will have an emotional city behind them and will ultimately prove to have too much firepower for New York. Houston heads to just its second world series.
Astros over Yankees in 5

Nick:
In what I expect to be a spectacular series between the two best teams in baseball (in my opinion), I simply think the Indians experience and bitterness from last season wins out in the end. While the hitting metrics side slightly with Altuve, Correa, Springer, and co both of these teams have huge offensive firepower. The Indians themselves have Lindor, Ramirez, Encarnacion, and Jay Bruce. The old adage is “good pitching beats good hitting” and I think that holds true here. I like the Indians pitching staff a little more than the Astros plus the home field advantage will be key. I like the series to go the distance, with the Indians winning at home in game seven.
Indians over Astros in 7

NLCS:
Josh:
Dodgers and Nationals will be a familiar series. Kershaw shut the door on the Nationals last year, but won’t be enough this time. The Nationals have been under-the-radar much of the year, but ride their high-powered lineup and get enough from their starters to get past a Dodgers squad that will be left with a lot of questions. Washington will need to avoid a game 7 in LA, but I think they get the job done.
Nationals over Dodgers in 6

Nick:
Based on their regular season matchups, I expect this to be a bit of a higher scoring series than typical postseason baseball. While I think the Diamondbacks come into the playoffs hot, the Cubs have still been better over the entire second half. Additionally, the Cubs already got a bit of taste of a playoff atmosphere with two late season series against the Brewers and Cardinals. I think that experience on top of last year’s run to the World Series makes the difference here. In what ends as a great turnaround season for the Diamondbacks, we get a World Series rematch.
Cubs over Diamondbacks in 5

World Series:

Nick:
I think it is fitting after last season’s World Series classic, it is only fitting we get a rematch. The Indians are back and look better than ever. The Cubs are the young but experienced squad that has played a lot of baseball games the past few years. Throw in the boosts to their lineup and the fully healthy rotation and I think the Indians are better than this year’s Cubs. I think the games will be close and tightly contested, but I like Francona as a game manager more than Maddon. Unfortunately, I also see this series being rather run-of-the-mill in comparison to last year’s, but it feels like justice for the Indians to come back and end their long drought against the team that ended their own the year before at the Indians’ expense.
Indians over Cubs in 5

Josh:
I picked this matchup at the beginning of the season so am sticking with it (hold the applause because I picked it last year too…). I think this matchup features two teams due for October glory, two loaded lineups and impressive pitching. Dusty Baker finally getting to the World Series is another great storyline and the #HoustonStrong would be on full display. Ultimately, The Astros have been the better team all year long and combining that with home field pushes them over the top.
Astros over Nats in 5

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Double Take: NFL Debates

The Rams, AFC v. NFC, Thursday and London Games, Fantasy Trades

The following is a lightly edited extract from a back and forth I had with Nick Yusko. We like to challenge each others ideas as we figure out what we think. Here, we went in on some NFL topics.

Rams

Coming of a surprisingly entertaining 41-39 victory to move to 2-1…

Josh: Are the Rams a playoff team?

Nick: No I can’t see that happening. The Rams, granted their offense has looked much much better than a year ago, but they’ve beaten the Colts and 49ers. And lost to the Redskins. None of those teams are playoff teams in my mind and none of those teams play much defense either, which I think attributes some to the offense looking better.

Josh: I went back and forth on this team before the season, and eventually settled on the under for their wins. But a couple things have changed my mind. One, while I agree the teams they’ve beaten aren’t juggernauts, they did manhandle the Colts and the 49ers might be an underrated challenge. Plus, their schedule doesn’t get too much tougher as Jaguars, Giants and Saints all look like winnable games. The biggest thing though is how bad the Cardinals look. That really could be 2 wins (certainly 1) I didn’t see coming. Plus, the Seahawks are struggling and the Rams have had their number anyway. I think they are going to be right there for a playoff spot.

Nick: Just remember, this was a team that started 3-1 last year with wins over Seattle, Tampa, and Arizona. Then lost 11 of their last 12 (only beating the Jets) the rest of the season. The offense is better, but they still like to turn the ball over. Gurley has 4 fumbles (lucky to have only lost 1 in 3 games) and Goff threw a bad pick in against the Skins in their only truly big pressure possession. Even worse question marks are on the defense. The Rams rush defense has been absolutely shredded the past 2 weeks by a Redskins team that can’t run the ball and by a 49ers team that hadn’t scored a touchdown yet before last night. The next 2 weeks will be telling of their playoff potential in my mind as they travel to Dallas and host Seattle (2 playoff teams). You mentioned some winnable games but the 2nd half of their schedule looks pretty rough down the stretch with a 6 game stretch of @Minnesota, vs Saints, @Arizona, vs Eagles, @Seattle, @Titans.

Josh: You’re right, they need to stockpile some wins early. The Goff pick is concerning, but y’know what helps? Not having Jeff Fisher–that guy was just out of touch and really held this team back (this is a fun video). I think they get to 7-2 or 6-3 and then grind to 9 or 10 wins. That might be good enough

Nick: Ah, well Jeff Fisher–tied for the most losses in NFL history–certainly wasn’t helping. I think their ceiling is probably an 8-8 team, but even if they somehow eclipsed that with 9 wins… you mentioned 10 which I think is a stretch… I don’t see them winning that division still with the Seahawks and Cardinals. Over the last 5 years the average NFC wild card team has averaged 10.6 wins, including 3 teams that have been left out with 10-6 records. With a number of competitive teams in other divisions – ATL, TB, CAR, DAL, PHI, GB, MIN – I don’t see them eclipsing that number.

Josh: Imma say they go 9-7, second in their division and will need help from two of Carolina, Minnesota and Detroit to get a wildcard. Playoff caliber–may come up short.

Nick: I’m gonna say they go 7-9, still a year away from being a real contender.

AFC vs. NFC

Josh: So you kind of hinted at another thing I want to get into in talking the depth of the NFC. I think the AFC is the stronger conference this season, what’s the NFC’s case?

Nick: Right now if you just look at records, the AFC does seem stronger, especially the AFC West, plus the Patriots and Steelers looming. But honestly how strong is this conference? I’d like to point out I am basing my thoughts on projected growth over the year and then potential in the playoffs. Between the AFC South and East, you have the Patriots and maybe the Titans; I don’t think you are very high on them but someone has to win that dreadful division. The other 6 teams are trash. In the North, the Steelers look legit and the Ravens defense is scary but is anyone actually going to be afraid of Joe Flacco over the course of the year? And in the West, I see the Raiders as legit SB contenders but regular season stud QB Alex Smith (he wins a lot of games somehow) and Trevor Simian doesn’t strike fear into me come playoff time. Overall I’ll cede that the top 3 teams are very very good, but the lack of overall depth and absolute garbage at the bottom – Jets, Bills, Browns, Colts, Jags and even the Bengals and Texans – make me believe that the NFC is stronger.

Josh: To stay with listing negatives: The NFC has maybe one good looking division. The NFC West’s contenders have looked like a mess. The East was supposed to be good, but Dallas just got rolled, Eagles/Redskins have a lot of questions and the Giants look awful. In the North, there may be 3 good teams, but there’s a lot of injuries for Vikings and Packers and I don’t trust the Lions. I like the Buccs and Falcons down south, but am worried about the Panthers. So, I see falcons and Buccs with Packers and Seahawks maybe hanging around. Gonna have to see a lot of progression to believe they can put forward even 4 legit playoff squads.

Nick: I think overall though you have greater depth in the NFC. I’m a believer that the Seahawks will figure out their offensive line and I think Arizona will figure out how to regroup without David Johnson. I think in the East, at least 2 of those 4 teams will be playoff caliber. The Cowboys are still my favorite but I think Wentz could make a 2nd year jump like Mariota and Carr did. And if the Giants figure out their line they still have a very good defense that they rode to an 11-5 record last year. The North has the Packers, who everyone knows and respects, and the Lions have looked pretty solid so far. We’ll have a better idea about them maybe after this week. The Vikings have a solid defense and their offense looks more promising if Bradford can stay healthy. And down South you have the Falcons and Bucs, who are both very good teams, and the Panthers defense seems healthy and ready to dominate again this year. If Newton shakes off the cobwebs and gets fully healthy I think they are a dangerous team like a few years ago. My point being, while the NFC does not have a team that stands out as elite, like I think the top 3 in the AFC, they have better overall depth. Once the 6 teams are set in the AFC playoffs, people will pick the Pats and then a few die hard fans will pick their Steelers or Raiders to reach the Super Bowl. In the NFC playoffs, I think a case could possibly be made for any of the 6 teams that make it have a chance to make a run and reach the Super Bowl.

Josh: A lot of ifs in the NFC. Sounds like we agree the top of the AFC holds up, but I would argue the AFC has depth too. Out West, I think the Chiefs are Super Bowl contenders and Broncos are playoff threats (Chargers would be if they can find the snake venom antidote). Pittsburgh and Baltimore should capitalize on the Bengals and Browns’ woes and use their strengths (Steelers O, Ravens D) to coast to the playoffs. In the East, Miami can be a playoff caliber team and Buffalo and the Jets have not been as terrible as thought. The South is trash, but Watson and Mariota are exciting QBs who might can pull an upset if they make the playoffs. The depth is right there with the NFC and I’d take Chiefs, Raiders, Steelers, Patriots before all but Falcons and maybe Packers Super Bowl wise.

Thursday and London

Josh: So, which is worse, London Games or Thursday games?

Nick: Ahaha that’s actually a pretty hard one in my opinion. I don’t like either, but Thursday’s are worse… barely

Josh: I think both are brutal, London usually gets sub-par teams and Thursday is just too short of a turn around. I like the London idea–but its execution is a bit off

Nick: The only redeeming factor about London is that since both teams are bad the games are usually fairly close. There are exceptions, i.e. the Patriots have been there 2x and slaughtered both opponents. But there’s also last year’s joke, a tie between the Redskins and Bengals. I don’t like the London idea at all.
Thursday nights aren’t fun for anyone. It messes around with the resting period between games and usually are of an inferior quality. The majority of people who tune in are fantasy football fans. No one else gets excited to tune in and watch the Bengals vs Texans, Rams vs 49ers, Jets vs Bills, etc. The only Thursday that is acceptable is Thanksgiving.

Josh: We agree on Thursday–bad all around, Thanksgiving only please. London I get. You want international fans and they give teams the option to take the next week off. So, I get what they’re going for and I think it means a lot across the pond

Nick: I think the NFL wants to eventually move a franchise over there though. And I don’t like the thought of that. If you wanna have a few games a year over there, especially to expand the audience (and in the Jags case actually make more profit from a home game there than in Jacksonville), I guess it’s alright. The bye week afterwards isn’t that much of a reward still. The Ravens requested to have a later bye week because a week 4 bye is very early and means you have to play 13 straight to end the year. The NFL was like “sure no problem guys, we’ll give you a home game against your bitter rivals the Steelers the following week and then have you go to Oakland the week after that.”

Josh: Haha, i guess it worked out better for the Jags…who get the Jets. I’m with you that I can’t see a franchise there with current technology, but it’s good to try and make the game more international. That’s pretty brutal for the Ravens though…

Nick: I read that they are debating using games like that in London or Mexico City (or China for the Rams and 49ers next year) as a punishment for teams that are relocating. It seems the globalization is inevitable but that’s considered a “punishment” because it forces them to give up a true home game as well as the effects on the players body clocks.

Josh: Well…that’s interesting. Shocking to see the NFL with such vindictive management tactics...

Fantasy Trades

Josh: Fantasy football has been a huge reason the game has grown like it has–and is one reason guys like us watch as many games as we can. But, you have some things to say on Fantasy Trades, right?

Nick: I don’t even want to get started on this lol. Some people just are absolutely clueless when it comes to a player’s value. If that’s the case, you should just keep to the waiver wire and your own team. I hear you’ve had some pretty fun offers made to you this past week?

Josh: Yea, i got offered Rex Burkhead for Mike Evans…. so that was cool. I will say, people don’t wanna look stupid when the trade goes through so they are overly cautious. I mean i made what i think was a pretty fair trade: gave Demaryius Thomas, Jordan Howard, Devante parker; got OBJ, Crowell and Duke Johnson Jr.. And you still get questions and you still worry. So everyone wants to dominate trades and thus offer some lame ones.

Nick: Yeah the jury is still out on that one but it seems pretty even on the surface. I also don’t understand why the guy who has scored the 2nd most points so far would be looking to trade. Obviously his team is pretty solid; I would expect that people seek him out for trades and not the other way around. I also hate trades where people basically try to buy a player from you so they offer 2 for 1 or 3 for 2. Cause most leagues, but ours in particular, people carry a full roster so you immediately have to drop one of the guys you’re receiving in the trade or someone else on your roster. Which if they’re on your roster you must feel something about them.
I’m also pretty against trades in general too. Just my style of fantasy,

Josh: Yeah, both of us are more waiver wire centric. So I have enjoyed at least attempting to bring the negotiation dynamic into play. But yeah, it’s tough when your not on the same page or people clearly don’t have valuations correct. In general, with unlimited waivers you are probably better off just looking there. Less hassle and can get similar value. If you limit waivers, trades become more crucial.

Nick: I enjoy the prospect of talking about trades and proposing deals. But then never actually following through on them.

Josh: Classic.

MLB: State of the Race

3 weeks left for 3 key races

Cleveland’s 20*-game win streak is one of the more impressive feats in recent sports history–if not all time. They have dominated their September slate, while charging past the Astros for the best record in the American League. Some will argue it won’t matter if they flop in October, but this has been an enduring run regardless (Heck, they made a Brad Pitt movie about the last 20-game win streak).

While the Indians have stolen the show the last couple of weeks, there are still interesting races throughout the standings. Specifically, three races will define the closing stretch of 2017: home-field in the AL, the NL Central and the AL Wildcard. The NL wildcard is close, but the Brewers and Cardinals should be more focused on catching the Cubs (just 2 games ahead) than the Rockies (3 games ahead).

AL Home-field:
Houston has been the best team in the AL since April, but the Indians streak has given them a one-game lead in the loss column with less than 20 games left. The top spot in the league is crucial not just for the home-field advantage in a potential ALCS, but the top seed will face a wildcard team, while the second spot must play Boston and Chris Sale. So the Indians have every incentive to keep winning, while Houston will need to pick up the pace and hope Cleveland cools down a little bit.

Both teams face other playoff contenders down the stretch. Cleveland must face Kansas City, Minnesota and the Angels, while Houston has a daunting  10-game run against the Angels, Rangers and Red Sox to close the year. In fact, there’s a chance their four game closing series at Fenway will roll right into an ALDS showdown.

Prediction: Indians streak to a comfortable top spot.

Weekend series to watch: Royals @ Indians. Cleveland could be going for MLB record win-streak against a wildcard-contending division rival.

NL Central
The Cubs were swept by the Brewers over the weekend allowing their division lead over Milwaukee and St. Louis to slip to just 2 games. The Cubs have 11 games combined against the Cardinals and Brewers remaining, while St. Louis and Milwaukee close the season with a 3 game series in Busch Stadium. This race will be decided in the eight-consecutive road games the Cubs have from September 21-28. If they can split road series with the Brewers and Cardinals in that stretch, they should hold on to their post season spot.

Prediction: Cubs, but its very close.

Weekend series to watch: Cardinals @ Cubs. If St. Louis wins this series in Wrigley it will get very scary in Chicago.

AL Wildcard
The Yankees are all but in, with a 5 game cushion between them and the third place team. Minnesota has carved out a two-game lead for the second spot, but six teams are still within five games. Yet, if any teams  catch the Twins, it likely would be the Angels, Royals or Rangers.

Angels: They just started a 13-game run where they face either the Astros, Rangers or Indians–that’s a tough draw right now. All but three of those games are at home, but it will still be a tough ask to get through that stretch with more than six wins. Just playing .500 baseball probably won’t get the job done.

Royals: After their upcoming series with Cleveland, they won’t play another team above .500 until their closing series against a Diamondbacks team that should have its playoff standing sewn up. They lost the season series 11-8 against the Twins, which may end up costing them.

Rangers: Texas has Oakland on its schedule for seven games (including the final four), which should help them close the gap. If they can go above .500 in their upcoming nine-game West coast trip, I like their chances.

Twins: The team they are all chasing is looking to stretch its surprising run into October. They have three games each with the Yankees and Indians, but if they can take care of business in their seven remaining games against Detroit they will be hard to catch.

Prediction: This one might take 163 games, but the Royals steal the final playoff spot from the Twins.

Weekend series to watch: Rangers @ Angels. This series will be a major factor in which AL West team can catch the Twins.

 

*All stats and records correct as of 11a.m. 9/13

 

Week 2: Playoff and Hesiman race

Big games are helping paint the early season picture

Week 2 came through in its big games for the most part. Oklahoma controlling Ohio State in Columbus was the only major surprise, but it helps crystallize the early season pecking order. Nothing is decided in the first couple of weeks, but teams have made their statements, while others (Notre Dame) have missed out on early opportunities to vault up the rankings. Unpredictability defines college football and the things we don’t see coming will be the things we love. Yet, there is a definite hierarchy emerging for the top award available to a team and an individual in college football. I want to look at the top of the playoff race going conference by conference before diving into the Heisman contenders, both QBs and non-QBs.

Playoff Race:
1. Alabama (SEC)
2. Clemson (ACC)
3. USC (PAC-12)
4. Oklahoma (Big 12)
5. Penn State (Big Ten)

That is a pretty easy top-5 to make. You can quibble with the order–the AP poll would–but nearly everyone would have these 5 teams. Clemson is the defending champion. Oklahoma and USC had two great wins on Saturday. Penn State has looked like their form from last season was no fluke and Alabama is Nick Saban’s Alabama. This race will come down to which team can tackle their conference’s challenges, so let’s look at what each faces. Continue reading “Week 2: Playoff and Hesiman race”

NFL Playoff Predictions

Season’s about to start…let’s guess how it ends

The last Sunday without NFL football is behind us! This season has a few less questions than others because stalwarts like the Patriots, Packers and Steelers seem solid at the top. Still, young talent for the Cowboys and Raiders looks to build on last year’s strong campaigns, while the Panthers and Cardinals look to put last year far behind them. In the end, teams are looking for the Lombardi trophy and ‘Who will win the Super Bowl?’ is the question that will mark the season.

In my piece on team’s over/under win totals, I laid out the division standings I foresee, which lead to these playoff standings.

AFC

  1. Patriots
  2. Steelers
  3. Raiders
  4. Texans
  5. Chargers
  6. Ravens

NFC

  1. Seahawks
  2. Packers
  3. Buccaneers
  4. Cowboys
  5. Panthers
  6. Falcons

Let’s walk through my playoff bracket and predict how this new season will end. I will highlight my favorite championship bets at the end of the post as well. Continue reading “NFL Playoff Predictions”

MLB: State of the Race

Setting the stage for the hunt for October

With the calendar turning to September, baseball begins to heat up (In a real bummer for the MLB, football also starts…). The division and wildcard races begin to crystallize in ways the casual fan can grab hold of and the excitement of each game, inning and pitch begins to build to October’s crescendo.

The excitement will largely come from the wildcard race as only two divisions are within five games. In the AL, The Indians have put together a win streak that has effectively wrapped up the Central, while the Astros have cruised their way to a West title (the Justin Verlander acquisition is just gravy. In the NL, the Dodgers have run rampant out West and the Nationals have been dominant in the East. If you strain your eyes a little bit, you can see drama in the AL East and the NL Central. The Red Sox have a 4.5 game lead on the Yankees and the two don’t meet after the first weekend of September. The Brewers have hung tough after relinquishing their surprising division lead to the Cubs, but will need to dominate the teams’ seven meetings in September to have a realistic chance of catching the reigning champs.

For the true races, turn your eyes to the wildcards. Continue reading “MLB: State of the Race”