NFL Picks: Week Two

Last Week: 9-7

Thursday: Had @BAL Ravens over PIT Steelers

Early Games:

MIA Dolphins (EVEN) vs. @BUF Bills

JAX Jaguars (+5.5) vs. @WSH Redskins (UPSET)

DAL Cowboys (+3.5) vs. @TEN Titans (UPSET)

ARI Cardinals (-2.5) vs. @NYG Giants (OVER)

NE Patriots (-3) vs. @MIN Vikings (UNDER)

NO Saints (-6.5) vs. @CLE Browns (OVER)

ATL Falcons (+5) vs. @CIN Bengals (UPSET)

@CAR Panthers (-2.5) vs. DET Lions (OVER)

Later Games and Monday Night

@TB Buccaneers (-6) vs. STL Rams (UNDER)

SEA Seahawks (-6) vs. @SD Chargers (UNDER)

HOU Texans (-3) vs. @OAK Raiders (UNDER)

NYJ Jets (+9) vs. @GB Packers (UPSET)

@DEN Broncos (-12) vs. KC Chiefs (OVER)

CHI Bears (+7) vs. @SF 49ers (UPSET)

@IND Colts (-3) vs. PHI Eagles

NFL Week One Picks

Last Season: 154-112-1

Thursday: Had @SEA Seahawks (-6) over GB Packers

Early Sunday: 

@ATL Falcons (+3) vs NO Saints (UPSET)

MIN Vikings (+3.5) vs @STL Rams (UPSET)

@PIT Steelers (-7) vs CLE Browns (UNDER)

@PHI Eagles (-11) vs JAX Jaguars (UNDER)

@NYJ Jets (-5.5) vs OAK Raiders (OVER)

@BAL Ravens (-1.5) vs CIN Bengals (OVER)

@CHI Bears (-7) vs BUF Bills (OVER)

WSH Redskins (+3) vs HOU Texans

TEN Titans (+4) vs KC Chiefs (UPSET)

NE Patriots (-5) vs @MIA Dolphins (OVER)

 

Later Games and Monday Night

CAR Panthers (+2.5) vs @TB Buccaneers

@DAL Cowboys (+5) vs SF 49ers (UPSET)

@DEN Broncos (-7.5) vs IND Colts (UNDER)

NYG Giants (+6) vs DET Lions (UPSET)

SD Chargers (+3) vs ARI Cardinals

 

 

 

My 2014 NFL Season Predictions

AFC:

Seeds:

#1 Denver Broncos (14-2)

#2 Indianapolis Colts (12-4)

#3 New England Patriots (11-5)

#4 Baltimore Ravens (9-7)

#5 San Diego Chargers (11-5)

#6 New York Jets (9-7)

Playoffs:

Wild Card- Patriots over Jets, Ravens over Chargers

Divisional- Broncos over Ravens, Colts over Patriots

Conference Championship- Broncos over Colts

 

NFC:

Seeds:

#1 Seattle Seahawks (12-4)

#2 Chicago Bears (11-5)

#3 Carolina Panthers (11-5)

#4 Philadelphia Eagles (10-6)

#5 New Orleans Saints (10-6)

#6 Green Bay Packers (10-6)

Playoffs:

Wild Card- Carolina over Green Bay, Philadelphia over New Orleans

Divisional- Seattle over Philadelphia, Carolina over Chicago

Conference Championship- Seattle over Carolina

 

Super Bowl XLIX: Broncos over Seahawks

MVP: QB Peyton Manning

 

Awards:

MVP: QB Drew Brees (New Orleans)

Coach of the Year: Rex Ryan (New York Jets)

Offensive Player of the Year: WR Calvin Johnson (Detroit)

Defensive Player of the Year: S Earl Thomas III (Seattle)

Offensive Rookie of the Year: WR Mike Evans (Tampa Bay)

Defensive Rookie of the Year: LB Kahlil Mack (Oakland)

Comeback Player of the Year: TE Rob Gronkowski (New England)

 

Freshmen trio have lead St. John’s baseball to resurgence in 2014

A bad start to the season may leave some teams dejected, but not the St. John’s baseball team. After a 3-10 road trip to open the season in February and March, the Red Storm has won 27 of their last 32 games, including 19 of 21 at home at Jack Kaiser Stadium. They currently sit in first place in the Big East conference going into the final two weeks of the regular season.

St. John’s struggled in 2013 just one year after a Big East championship and a finish two wins shy of the College World Series, but the team has stormed back and are in a serious pennant race once again. They’ve also managed to achieve rank No. 23 in the whole country.

Underclassmen players have played a big hand with the resurgence of St. John’s baseball this season. In particular, the Red Storm have three freshman in the every day lineup, and all three have played very well when called upon.

“We’re winning a lot, I’m just trying to help the team win,” said freshmen outfielder Michael Donadio. “I just try to play hard, come out here and hit the ball hard, try to make all the plays that I can, just help the team win. That’s pretty much my goal.”

Donadio has been the Red Storm’s starting left fielder since day one, and he has responded in a big way. The Long Island native is currently batting .305 with a .906 OPS and 37 runs batted in. 14 of his 55 hits on the season have gone for extra bases. He ranks near the top among Big East freshmen in most categories.

“Mike’s been in there since day one as a starter and he earned that opportunity in the fall,” his coach Ed Blankmeyer said. “He’s been pretty consistent all year.”

The Red Storm have been able to solidify the third base position with a freshman as well. Robbie Knightes leads the team with a .363 batting average and has 21 RBI and a .438 on-base percentage.

 

“I’m a swinger,” Knightes said, “so I’m up there looking to swing, so I’m going to do that. On the field, same thing, just going after balls and try my best, you know.”

Up-state New York native Knightes earned his opportunity to become the team’s full-time third baseman, according to Blankmeyer.

“My goal is definitely to try to get on the field, work as hard as I can, to do anything I can, to help the team win,” Knightes said. “I think I’ve done pretty good so far, so just stick with it and being myself.”

“Robbie’s gotten his chance,” Blankmeyer said. “One third of the way into the season he’s solidified himself at third base. All of the sudden we popped him in and he was ready and he took advantage of the opportunity.”

Freshman catcher Troy Dixon’s skills at the plate have helped him get regular at-bats as both the team’s backup to catcher Tyler Sanchez and as the designated hitter.

“When I get in there and get my chance,” Dixon said, “I just take advantage of it and help the team win.”

Dixon has put up a .418 OBP in 72 at-bats this season and has been solid as the team’s backup catcher. He hasn’t committed an error all season behind the plate and has thrown out five of 14 potential base-stealers.

“He’s the two catcher and he’s also the DH and he’s gotten a lot of at-bats,” Blankmeyer said. “All three guys as freshmen have gotten a considerable amount of playing time and they’ve contributed to our success.”

Like the rest of the team, it was a slow start for all three players. Although Donadio has started almost every game all season, Knightes and Dixon have had to fight for playing time and regular at-bats.

“Once you play what we call ‘preseason baseball’, we play against very good competition, it kind of seizes the kids. So I like to call it two seasons in one, it’s the pre-conference schedule where we travel down south and play some good competition, and then we play our conference schedule. I think it kind of prepares them for that, so they adapt pretty good. Plus in Florida baseball, we train them pretty good. They become sophomores pretty fast.”

St. John’s has an advantage over a lot of teams in the country not only with the youth they have on the roster, but also with the fit they have on the team. Dixon, Donadio, and Knightes are all left-handed batters, and that helps balance the lineup out in terms of right-handed batters and left-handed batters.

“The one thing that we wanted to do is get some left-handed batting in our lineup so that we could neutralize righties,” Blankmeyer said. “Having three freshman hitters that bat left-handed is nice to bring in, and they’re all contributing.”

Donadio, Dixon, and Knightes will all be important for the program’s immediate future as well as next year. St. John’s is currently tied for second place in the conference just one year after Blankmeyer’s first losing season as the Red Storm’s head coach.

“Just keep it rolling,” Donadio said. “One pitch at a time, just do whatever I can to help the team win. Just keep having fun and just like that.”

St. John’s looks like a bright future is on the way with a sharp core of players led by this trio of freshmen.

“We work their asses off,” Blankmeyer said. “They work at it, they train all year round, and they understand what they need to do to be pretty successful and to maintain. This game of baseball, it’s a highly skilled sport and you got to keep working at your game, like anything else. And when you get opportunities to play, you’ve got to perform.

All three players look as if they have their roles locked down, but they look to improve their game every single day the rest of the way and for next season.

“Just keep getting better,” Dixon said. “Keep battling for a job. I’ll come back next fall bigger, better, and stronger and keep improving my game.”

All the better for the team, for both their immediate future and for the distant future.

NBA Followed MLB’s Standard With Punishment of Donald Sterling

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Sadly, the case of Donald Sterling is nothing terribly new.

In fact, the NBA may have just followed a set standard in banning the Los Angeles Clippers owner for life for racially charged comments about African Americans. Major League Baseball set this standard in the late 1990s in dealing with a similar case. Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott made similar racial remarks throughout her life and tenure as owner.

Just like with the NBA and Sterling, MLB knew what they were dealing with in Schott. Sterling’s comments should have come as no surprise given a history of racially charged remarks and a 2006 lawsuit from the U.S. Department of Justice for housing discrimination in using race as a factor in filling some of his apartment buildings. The suit charged that Sterling refused to rent to minorities in certain neighborhoods. The suit alleged Sterling was quoted as saying “Hispanics smoke, drink and just hang around the building,” and that “Black tenants smell and attract vermin.”

Much like Sterling, Schott had a history of vile comments. She made positive comments about Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany in 1996 in an interview with Sports Illustrated’s Rick Reilly.

Major League Baseball suspended Schott for three seasons following her comments. When she made further controversial comments about Asian Americans and African American players, she faced a third suspension in 1999 and sold her share of the Reds for $67 million

“What she said was egregious, but what he said was probably worse,” former MLB commissioner Fay Vincent told Bloomberg News. “There’s a question of where you draw the line. In this case with what this guy did and probably in Marge Schott’s case, you’re well over the line.”

Sterling faces the same fate as Schott. NBA commissioner Adam Silver went further from what MLB did and banned him for life, fining him $2.5 million. The new commissioner also has put the ball in the other 29 owners’ hands in forcing a vote to attempt to ouster Sterling from ownership of the Los Angeles Clippers.

There are some more implications of Sterling’s ban. The NBA took a strong stand against racism and made it clear that comments like Sterling’s will not be tolerated. More importantly, however, will his own banishment set a new standard in how professional sports leagues deal with their owners?

Look at a man like Indianapolis Colts’ CEO Jim Irsay, who was arrested for suspicion of DUI and drug possession last month. According to the Indianapolis Star, Irsay has had drug problems for a long time. Could the NFL step in and do something about his antics in regards to his duties with the Colts?

Donald Sterling’s exile from the NBA is only following a standard set by Major League Baseball with Marge Schott, and it may have set some new standards against racism as well as the accountability of bosses of pro sports.

2014 American League East Preview

 

I recently did a series of comparisons between the New York Yankees and the rest of the American League East, which is arguably the toughest division in all of baseball. The Boston Red Sox won it last year with 97 wins and went on to win their third World Series in 10 years. The Tampa Bay Rays won a crucial Game 163 in Arlington, TX to sneak in the playoffs and disposed of Cleveland in the Wild Card game before falling to Boston in four in the ALDS.The Yankees and Baltimore Orioles won just 85 games a year after taking it to the limit in the division race and in the Division Series in 2012. The Toronto Blue Jays, last year’s paper champions, were major disappointments and finished dead last.

This season, just about any of these five teams can make the playoffs or even win the division. The Yankees have made improvements but also have their problems. The Red Sox are the defending champions and have young talent on the way, but they did lose some important pieces. The Blue Jays and Orioles whiffed on some major free agents, but Baltimore managed to salvage the offseason with some late pick-ups.

Who will win the division? Will there be more than one playoff team out of the East? Well, as John Sterling says, “you just can’t predict baseball”, but I’ll try.

Division Champion: Tampa Bay Rays (96-66)

USATSI

The Rays have been contenders just about every year since 2008, but they have not been out of the ALDS since that 2008 season when they won the pennant after 10 years of struggle. After months of speculation, they did not trade ace David Price, so they remain serious contenders, perhaps good enough to win it all. Along with Price, they have one of the deepest rotations in the league with Matt Moore, Alex Cobb, and Chris Archer. Their offense looks to improve with a healthy Evan Longoria and a full season of Wil Myers. They also brought back Grant Balfour, who is an improvement over Fernando Rodney, so their bullpen is rock solid. They have enough to make the playoffs for the fifth time in seven seasons, and will take their third AL East crown.

Wild Card Qualifier: New York Yankees (94-68)

Associated Press

You may have heard: The Yankees are too old. The Yankees are overpaid. The Yankees are very injury-prone. The Yankees have to get younger. Big deal. The point of them losing Mariano Rivera, Robinson Cano, and Andy Pettitte has been made to death without regarding what they did do: They improved big time at catcher with Brian McCann and twice over in the outfield with Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran. Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira are better than what they had at short and first last year.

Pitching wise, they got the best arm available in Masahiro Tanaka, who should be at least half as good as advertised. CC Sabathia has reinvented himself and the rest of the rotation looks great. Ivan Nova and Michael Pineda have looked fantastic this spring and could play a huge role moving forward. Even without Mariano, the Yankees’ bullpen has a backup plan with several pieces in the minors. The Yankees are a much better team than the one that somehow won 85 games last year. That is a fact. They will make the playoffs for the 18th time in 20 seasons.

Just A Bit Short: Boston Red Sox (89-73)

Michael Ivins/Boston Red Sox / Getty Images North America

Let’s just get this straight: Everything went right for the Boston Red Sox last season. Everything. They set themselves up to be a solid but not serious team and it all came up pay-dirt. The acquisitions of Mike Napoli, Mike Carp, Stephen Drew, and Shane Victorino all paid off big time. David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia stayed healthy. Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and John freaking Lackey all pitched great again, and a 38 year-old Koji Uehara became the savior for their bullpen.

This isn’t to say the Red Sox were a fluke. If anything, the 2012 season was a fluke for them. They still have a solid team that should be considered a serious threat, but they will not be as good. They downgraded significantly at catcher with a 37 year-old A.J. Pierzynski replacing Jarrod Saltlamacchia (118 OPS+ last year). They replaced Jacoby Ellsbury with Grady Sizemore. If Boston fans think Ellsbury is injury-prone, look at Sizemore, who has not played in three years and barely has any knees left. With no other significant moves this offseason, the Red Sox are counting on everything to go right again. That will not happen. They will miss the playoffs for the fourth time this decade.

Not Quite: Baltimore Orioles (80-82)

Carlos Osorio/AP

The O’s had a mostly disastrous offseason. They traded Jim Johnson to Oakland to sign Grant Balfour, but Balfour failed his physical and signed with the Rays. Thus, they’re forced to go with Tommy Hunter as their closer. It wasn’t until February where they made some serious moves. They improved their pitching with Ubaldo Jimenez and Korean Suk-Min Yoon and also brought in Nelson Cruz on the cheap after he was embroiled in BioGenesis. Their lineup looks loaded, but do they have enough pitching? Not likely.

In the Cellar, Again: Toronto Blue Jays (78-84)

The Blue Jays were supposed to be great last year after acquiring Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes, Melky Cabrera, and R.A. Dickey, but they were anything but, finishing dead last. They whiffed during free agency, specifically on Ervin Santana. They have a very deep lineup featuring Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, but can their pitching go from an Achilles to a strength? Their bullpen is solid, but their rotation is old and thin. They will finish  dead last again in 2014.

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

My MLB Predictions for the 2014 Season

Derek Jeter (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

As winter dies and spring is born, baseball once again rises from the ashes like the legendary phoenix. The 2014 season had already really begun last weekend in Australia as the Los Angeles Dodgers took two from the Arizona Diamondbacks at the Sydney Cricket Ground, but it gets into full swing this week. The Dodgers again are in the spotlight tonight in San Diego against the Padres for the Sunday Night game on ESPN. Everyone else kicks off Monday and Tuesday.

There are a lot of running storylines for the 2014 season, none bigger than the last ride for the captain of the New York Yankees, Derek Jeter. It’s also commissioner Bud Selig’s last year as well (thank the Lord Almighty). But there’s also the new era of instant replay and the rise of a new generation of superstars, many from abroad.

Many teams have improved, some got worse, some stayed the same. Baseball has reached probably its highest level of parity in history, so just about any team can win it all. But only 10 teams can play in October, and only one can become World Series champions.

AMERICAN LEAGUE:

Eastern Division:

Tampa Bay Rays 96-66

New York Yankees*: 94-68

Boston Red Sox 89-73

Baltimore Orioles: 80-82

Toronto Blue Jays: 78-84

Why: The AL Beast is probably the toughest division in baseball, producing a wild card team every year since 2006. Even with questions in their lineups, New York and Tampa Bay have two potentially dominant rotations.

Central Division:

Detroit Tigers: 95-67

Kansas City Royals: 90-72

Cleveland Indians: 78-84

Chicago White Sox: 71-91

Minnesota Twins: 66-96

Why: Even after dumping Prince Fielder, losing Jose Iglesias, and trading Doug Fister for basically nothing, Detroit remains the most talented team in the Central. The young Royals will continue to get better and will have a go for their first playoff appearance in almost 30 years.

Western Division:

Texas Rangers: 97-65

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim*: 91-71

Oakland Athletics: 89-73

Seattle Mariners 72-90

Houston Astros: 57-105

Why: The Rangers will finally get it together and avoid another September collapse with acquisition of Prince Fielder. The Angels will finally live up to the billing thanks to resurgence from Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton (and the continued brilliance of Mike Trout) and will beat out a tough race for the second wild card. 

NATIONAL LEAGUE

Eastern Division:

Washington Nationals: 97-65

Atlanta Braves*: 93-69

New York Mets: 82-80

Philadelphia Phillies: 68-94

Miami Marlins: 65-97

Why: The Nationals’ rotation is deep and downright terrifying, and Bryce Harper will lead the way in a breakout season for the 21 year-old. Atlanta will survive this injury catastrophe  and will make it back to the postseason without Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy. The Mets could use this season as a bridge to a very bright future.

Central Division:

St. Louis Cardinals: 98-64

Cincinnati Reds*: 95-67

Pittsburgh Pirates: 85-77

Milwaukee Brewers: 76-86

Chicago Cubs: 61-101

Why: St. Louis remains a deep club, probably the deepest in the majors at just every facet of the game. The Reds could have an answer to their leadoff woes in the form of Billy Hamilton, and they have some of the best pitching in the game. Pittsburgh takes a bit of a step back, but their future remains bright thanks to Gregory Polance, Gerrit Cole, and of course, Andrew McCutchen.

 Western Division:

Los Angeles Dodgers: 102-60

San Diego Padres: 84-78

San Francisco Giants: 81-81

Arizona Diamondbacks: 76-86

Colorado Rockies: 68-94

Why: The Dodgers should easily run away in this weak division. Resurgence from Matt Kemp will make them even more dangerous come playoff time.

PLAYOFFS:

AL Wild Card: New York over Los Angeles

ALDS: New York over Texas (3-1), Tampa Bay over Detroit (3-2)

ALCS: New York over Tampa Bay, 4-2

NL Wild Card: Cincinnati over Atlanta

NLDS: Washington over St. Louis (3-2), Los Angeles over Cincinnati (3-1)

NLCS: Los Angeles over Washington, 4-3

World Series: New York Yankees over Los Angeles Dodgers, 4-2

Why: Two big market superpowers will collide for the first time since 1981. The Dodgers have the star power to stand out in a loaded NL. The Yankees have enough pitching depth and a good amount of seasoned veterans to make up for the losses of Robinson Cano, Mariano Rivera, and Andy Pettitte. Also, don’t underestimate the Jeter factor this season. This may be a homer pick, but I think the Yankees will be serious contenders this year and send the Captain out a champion for the sixth time.

AWARDS:

American League:

MVP: Mike Trout (Los Angeles)

Rookie of the Year: Masahiro Tanaka (New York)

Cy Young: David Price (Tampa Bay)

Manager of the Year: Ned Yost (Kansas City)

Comeback Player of the Year: Derek Jeter (New York)

National League:

MVP: Joey Votto (Cincinnati)

Rookie of the Year: Gregory Polanco (Pittsburgh)

Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw (Los Angeles)

Manager of the Year: Fredi Gonzalez (Atlanta)

Comeback Player of the Year: Matt Kemp (Los Angeles)