Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Look out for those A's

Jon Lester and the Oakland Athletics will be the most dangerous team in the postseason, if they can get by the Kansas City Royals in Tuesday night's Wild Card game

The regular season is in the books. Now that we know who's in and who's out, here are my 2014 MLB Postseason predictions:

AL WILD CARD:
--Oakland Athletics over Kansas City Royals
Had I known the A's would trade for both Jeff Samardzija and Jon Lester this season, I would have most certainly put them into the postseason mix in my preseason predictions. Lester goes for Oakland in the "play-in" game. Since being traded from Boston, Lester's posted a 2.35 ERA with 71 strikeouts in 76.2 innings. And we know he's a big-game pitcher. But he'll go up against another big-game pitcher in James Shields. In fact, that's his freakin' nickname, "Big Game" James Shields. It should also be mentioned that both Lester and Shields will be free agents this offseason. So, expect a pitcher's duel. I'll put my money on the A's though. Shields enters the game with a 4.98 postseason ERA, while Lester has a 2.11 ERA in 13 postseason appearances. And oh yeah, Lester has been downright dominant against the Royals, as he's 9-3 with a 1.84 ERA against them. That includes his 3-0 record with a 2.61 ERA against Kansas City this year. I can't possibly bet against that. And with Oakland's absolutely stacked rotation, they'll have one message for the rest of the league: "Don't let us win the Wild Card game."

NL WILD CARD:
--San Francisco Giants over Pittsburgh Pirates
A lot has been made of the Pirates attempting to win the division by throwing Gerrit Cole in the team's final regular-season game. Pittsburgh needed more than just a win to challenge the Cardinals for the NL Central. But it didn't matter, because they lost to the Reds. And while Cole got the no-decision, some say the Pirates wasted his services. So instead, they'll go with Edinson Volquez, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Volquez enters the game hot as a pistol. He finished the regular season with a 1.78 ERA in his final 12 starts. On the other side though is lefty Madison Bumgarner. He's 18-10 with a 2.98 ERA. He was my preseason pick to win the NL Cy Young, and while he won't beat out Clayton Kershaw for that award, Bumgarner is someone you shouldn't bet against, even on the road, where he is 11-4 with a 2.22 ERA in 18 road starts this year.


ALDS:
--Detroit Tigers over Baltimore Orioles
How about those Orioles? In my preseason predictions, I said, "A rock-solid Baltimore Orioles club will wish they were in a different division." So I did give them credit. I just didn't see them winning 96 games. And sure, Nelson Cruz' 40 home runs are nice. But if Baltimore wants to do damage in the postseason, they'll need some dominant pitching. And it's not that I don't think the Orioles' rotation can be dominant, it's just that I've seen the Tigers' rotation actually do it in the playoffs. Detroit would like to see their top-dog starters pick up their game when it matters most, and I think they will. I feel like nobody is talking about Detroit. Perhaps that will help them. And oh yeah, David Price is pitching for a new contract.

--Oakland Athletics over Los Angeles Angels
The Angels finished with the most wins in the majors, with 98, but they saw one of their best pitchers go down with a terrible knee injury in late August. Garrett Richards was 13-4 with a 2.61 ERA before he tore his left patellar tendon. That will turn out to be a tough loss in a series against the most stacked rotation in baseball. Sonny Gray had his coming out party in last year's playoffs. And now, he's joined by a rejuvenated Scott Kazmir, Lester, and Samardzija. I'm a firm believer that dominant starting rotations win championships, even if Mike Trout is on the other side. If Kansas City somehow beats Oakland in the Wild Card game, then obviously the Angels will advance to the ALCS, but I don't see that happening. I expect the A's to make some serious noise.

NLDS:
--Los Angeles Dodgers over St. Louis Cardinals
If I felt comfortable about Michael Wacha's shoulder, I would be sticking to my guns and would have them still advancing to the World Series. But as good as Adam Wainwright is, and as much as I respect John Lackey as a big-game pitcher, they'll need Wacha to be the stud he's supposed to be. And with shoulder problems this season, I don't feel comfortable sticking with them, especially against Kershaw and the Dodgers. Kershaw is simply on another planet this year. I have to go with LA.

--Washington Nationals over San Francisco Giants
After Bumgarner, I'm not sure how much I trust the Giants' rotation. On top of that, I feel strongly about Stephen Strasburg having his postseason coming out party. That Nationals also have Doug Fister, who finished the regular season 16-6 with a 2.41 ERA that ranked fourth-best in the National League. Fister has a 2.98 postseason ERA in seven postseason starts, all with the Detroit Tigers. I'm going with the Nats.


ALCS:
--Oakland Athletics over Detroit Tigers
In a rematch from last year's ALDS, the A's will get their revenge, thanks to jacked up rotation. I realize that all of this success I predict for Oakland relies on the fact that they win the Wild Card game, but if they do, I believe their top-four starters will dazzle all the way through to the World Series.

NLCS:
--Los Angeles Dodgers over Washington Nationals
Again, kind of tough for anyone to bet against Clayton Kershaw at this point. This one will go seven games, but I expect the Dodgers to have Kershaw in Games 3 and 7. Kershaw was 2-0 with a 0.60 ERA against the Nats this year. Take it to the bank. Dodgers in 7.


WORLD SERIES:
--Oakland Athletics over Los Angeles Dodgers
Let's just say that the Royals end up beating the A's in the Wild Card game. If that happens, I would choose the Dodgers to beat anyone else in the American League. But, I think Oakland will get past Kansas City, and then will use their dominant rotation to power through to the Fall Classic. And it's there that they'll continue to prove my theory true: dominant pitching wins championships. Oakland in 6. Sonny Gray the MVP.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

2014 NFL Predictions

Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks certainly have enough talent to repeat as Super Bowl champions, however, there will certainly be a few hungry teams in their way

The 2014 NFL season promises to provide plenty of interesting storylines. Heck, even in the preseason, we already have plenty of noise throughout the league that's kept football atop the headlines, even as baseball's playoff races begin to heat up.

But let's get something out of the way right now. Here in New England, we're spoiled. We know that our team will once again be a contender for the Lombardi Trophy. We know this because Tom Brady is the quarterback, because Bill Belichick is the coach, and because Darrelle Revis is the best cornerback in the NFL.

It's a league in which winners are built on star quarterbacks and shutdown defensive backs. I know what you're thinking after reading that statement: "But the Seattle Seahawks won the Super Bowl last year with Russell Wilson as their QB."

Perhaps you don't consider WIlson a star quarterback like I do. That's fine. We disagree on that then. But nobody can disagree with the fact that the Seahawks had the most physical secondary in the league.

And the defending Super Bowl champs will most certainly have a chance to repeat this year. But to play spoiler with you for a minute, I'm not going to put my money on that to happen.

Here are my official 2014 NFL Predictions:

DIVISION WINNERS

AFC EAST: New England Patriots
-I actually think the Miami Dolphins should be taken seriously this year. But at the same time, the Pats will win 12 games again. Ultimately, the Dolphins' 10 wins won't be enough to overcome the kings of the AFC East. Expect the Patriots to be dominant on both sides of the ball. Brady is playing with a little extra motivation this year. Might as well give him the regular-season MVP trophy now.

AFC NORTH: Baltimore Ravens
-My reasoning for this pick will be controversial, mainly because every time we see Ray Rice run the football, we'll be reminded of the fact that he knocked out his girlfriend in an elevator and is only facing a two-game suspension for it. Well, as brutal as that is, when Rice returns, expect him to bounce back from his worst pro season -- as an established NFL running back -- in 2013. Rice is only 27. Last year he ran for 660 yards in 15 games, marking the first time he didn't rush for 1,000 yards since his rookie season in 2008. fantasy football know-it-alls can study their draft rankings all they want, but when Rice returns from his suspension, he's still young enough and talented enough to help the Ravens get back to the playoffs.

AFC SOUTH: Indianapolis Colts
-Andrew Luck got a taste of the postseason last year, but unfortunately for him, he ran into the Patriots in the Divisional Round. The Colts should win the division again, and it might only take 10 wins to do so. The Houston Texans will improve on their 2-14 record in 2013, but even after trading for Ryan Mallett, they still won't have a good enough passing attack to grab a Wild Card spot. Expect the Luck-to-Reggie-Wayne connection to steal the AFC South's headlines all year.

AFC WEST: Denver Broncos
-It won't be a walk in the park, but do you really expect the Broncos to not win the division? Kansas City had 11 wins last year, and I think the Chiefs are good for at least 10 wins this season. And San Diego seems to always find itself in the Wild Card hunt. This division had three playoff teams in 2013. That could very well be the case once again in 2014. But there's no way that either of those two teams will knock off the Broncos.

AFC WILD CARD:
-Kansas City Chiefs
-Cincinnati Bengals


NFC EAST: New York Giants
-This would be the moment in which I pick the G-Men to bounce back from their 7-9 record last season. It's funny, all that talk about Eli Manning being "elite" not too long ago, and here we are with a New York Giants team that's missed the playoffs the last two seasons. Of course, that comes after they won a Super Bowl three years ago, but still. The Eagles won 10 games last year, and he obsession with Chip Kelly's offense will make them the popular pick to once again win the East. But I do think Eli is much better than the 18 touchdowns and 27 interceptions that he threw last season. At least, I expect him to be good enough to get the Giants back to the top of the division this year.

NFC NORTH: Green Bay Packers
-It's kind of crazy to think that the Packers won the division last year with only eight wins. An injured Aaron Rodgers missed most of the second half, but returned for the last regular season game and the playoffs. If Rodgers can stay healthy for the entire season, the Packers will be one of the best teams in the NFC, if not the entire NFL.

NFC SOUTH: New Orleans Saints
-Had Cam Newton not suffered a hairline fracture in his ribs during the preseason, my pick here would be the Carolina Panthers. But if I can't put my money on Newton's health now, I can't put my money on the Panthers. So I'll go with the Saints, who lost to the Seahawks in the Divisional ROund last year. Brees has thrown for 5,000 yards his last three seasons, and I don't expect him to fall off in 2014. Expect New Orleans to make some serious noise.

NFC WEST: Seattle Seahawks
-As long as Seattle remains the toughest place to play in professional sports, then the Seahawks are my pick here. And remember how I feel about Russell Wilson. I believe he's one of the elite quarterbacks in the game. The kid is only 25 years old, and entering his third season, he's only getting better. Strong arm, accurate when throwing on the run, and as smart as they come, Wilson is the real deal, even if your fantasy football draft guide doesn't say so. The San Francisco 49ers obviously get a serious look here, but at the end of the day, I don't see the Seahawks taking a step back in the 2014 regular season.

NFC WILD CARD:
-San Francisco 49ers
-Atlanta Falcons 


NFL PLAYOFFS

AFC WILD CARD ROUND:
-Indianapolis Colts over Cincinnati Bengals
-Baltimore Ravens over Kansas City Chiefs

NFC WILD CARD ROUND:
-New Orleans Saints over Atlanta Falcons
-San Francisco 49ers over New York Giants


AFC DIVISIONAL ROUND:
-New England Patriots over Baltimore Ravens
-Denver Broncos over Indianapolis Colts

NFC DIVISIONAL ROUND:
-Green Bay Packers over San Francisco 49ers
-Seattle Seahawks over New Orleans Saints


AFC CHAMPIONSHIP:
-New England Patriots over Denver Broncos

NFC CHAMPIONSHIP:
-Green Bay Packers over Seattle Seahawks


SUPER BOWL XLIX:
-New England Patriots over Green Bay Packers

See you in Arizona.

@DannyPicard