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Cincinnati Reds 2019 season preview: Expect a ton of offense, but the rotation is the key to breakout or bust

Cincinnati Reds 2019 season preview: Expect a ton of offense, but the rotation is the key to breakout or bust

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The Reds won just 67 games last season, good for their fourth-straight last place finish. To be fair, though, the NL Central has been unbelievably strong here for an extended stretch. In 2015, there were three teams with at least 97 wins. It carried the two best records in the NL last year while having four teams over .500.

Also of note, the Reds were brutal to start the season. They were 3-18 at one point, then 8-27 after 35 games. After that 8-27 stretch, they were 59-68, which still isn’t good but would be a 162-game pace of 75 wins, which isn’t horrible.

Talking about last year’s Reds from that perspective — a 75-win true talent base — gives room for hope of a breakout, and many are leaning in that direction. The Reds upgraded their rotation by adding Alex Wood, Tanner Roark and Sonny Gray. The offense added Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp, and there were already reasons to believe in internal improvement.

2018 record: 67-95 (negative-123 run differential)

2019 depth chart: Click here

2019 schedule: Click here

Probable lineup

Jesse Winker, LF

Joey Votto, 1B

Eugenio Suarez, 3B

Scooter Gennett, 2B

Yasiel Puig, RF

Scott Schebler, CF

Jose Peraza, SS

Tucker Barnhart, C

Bench: Curt Casali, C; Jose Iglesias, IF; Derek Dietrich, UT; Matt Kemp, OF

Surely Kemp will get his fair share of starts early — Winker and Schebler are both left-handed while Kemp is a righty — but the name to keep an eye on isn’t listed here. We’ll get to him.

Probable rotation

Sonny Gray, RHP

Luis Castillo, RHP

Alex Wood, LHP

Tanner Roark, RHP

Anthony DeSclafani, RHP

We could see starts from the likes of Tyler Mahle and Sal Romano, too, though part of the reason the Reds were aggressive in adding starters this past offseason was that those guys just weren’t working out. Take note that Wood is on track to start the season on the injured list due to a back injury.

Probable bullpen

Closer: Raisel Iglesias, RHP
Setup: Jared Hughes, RHP; David Hernandez, RHP
Middle: Amir Garrett, LHP; Zach Duke, LHP; Wandy Peralta, LHP
Long: Matt Wisler, RHP
Fun Hybrid: Michael Lorenzen, RHP/Masher/OF

We’ll discuss Lorenzen more in a bit. Iglesias is locked into the closer role at this point and considered one of the safer options for saves in Fantasy.

Introducing Nick Senzel

The Reds drafted Senzel second overall in the 2016 draft out of the University of Tennessee and he’s been a fixture in the top 10 of top prospects lists the last few years. He’s played mostly third base, some second base and dabbled at short, but this spring the Reds are using him in center field. Injury shortened last season to just 44 games for Triple-A Louisville, but he hit .310/.378/.509 with 12 doubles, two triples, six homers, 25 RBI, 23 runs and eight steals. He’s hit for average and power at every stop with the ability to steal bases.

Expect Senzel to start the season with Louisville again but a promotion in April is a decent bet. There’s a chance he takes center field from Schebler early and never looks back. The good news for Senzel is, while there will be hype for sure, he won’t be under a ton of pressure to carry the offense, because …

Offensive potential is huge

The Reds ranked fourth in the NL last season in both average and on-base percentage. They were only ninth in slugging and homers and eighth in runs, though. But if you remove 556 plate appearances of Billy Hamilton, and add the likes of Puig and Kemp to the mix, we’re talking about a much higher ceiling in those statistical categories.

Kemp hit 11 homers with a .508 slugging in 183 at-bats against lefties last year. Puig could explode in Great American Ball Park. Votto only slugged .419 with 12 homers, and I’d bet on sizable upticks in both stats this season.

How about Winker? He only played in 89 games last year, but his track record at the big-league level now shows 471 plate appearances with a .299 average and .387 on-base percentage. Last year, he walked more than he struck out. With him at the top of the lineup as a fixture getting on base 40 percent of the time in front of Votto, Suarez, Gennett and Puig, he has a realistic shot to lead the NL in runs scored.

It’s possible Peraza takes another step forward after improving by 120 points of OPS last season, too. He’s still only 25.

If things break right — and his includes Senzel making an immediate impact — this will be one of the NL’s best offenses. Look at it from an optimistic point of view and a top seven of Winker, Votto, Suarez, Gennett, Puig, Senzel, Peraza with Kemp off the bench is amazing.

Rotation question marks

The Reds’ revamped rotation now features three pitchers who were considered frontline starters at one point, but all were varying degrees in the past. The two holdovers have been fickle as well. Let’s take a look:

Gray was one of the best pitchers in baseball in 2015. In 2017, he was pretty good. Last season, he had a 4.90 ERA and 1.50 WHIP with the Yankees. He was also terrible in 2016. Which version will the Reds get?

Castillo was excellent in 2017 and looked ready to be the Reds’ ace, but he pitched to a 4.30 ERA and 1.22 WHIP last season. He was brutal early, mediocre for a bit and then settled in. After the All-Star break, he had a 2.52 ERA and 1.11 WHIP with just about a strikeout per inning. If he can carry that over, he’s a frontline starter, but the first two months of last season have to provide some level of concern.

Wood has been inconsistent pretty much throughout his career. His ERA+ figures the last three seasons, respectively: 108, 152, 105. He’s also dealing with the aforementioned back injury right now. Also, Great American Ball Park was tied for fourth last season in Park Factor (in terms of being hitter-friendly) while Dodger Stadium was 26th.

Roark finished 10th in Cy Young voting in 2016 in what was a very crowded field. In the past two seasons combined, he’s gone 22-26 with a 4.50 ERA (97 ERA+) and a 1.31 WHIP and has allowed 23 and 24 home runs, respectively, in each season. Now heading to his age-32 season, the Reds are betting on a change-of-scenery bump.

DeSclafani has shown flashes of being good with the Reds, but he’s also dealt with injuries and had a 4.93 ERA and 1.29 WHIP last season. It was, however, his first year back after missing all of 2017 with an elbow injury. It’s possible his second year back is when things click.

That’s an awful lot of risk. Is there upside? I think Castillo is a good bet. If we were getting aggressive, Gray benefits from the league switch and smaller market and gets right while Wood and DeSclafani have quality seasons. I can’t see anything better than average from Roark, though. Still, an optimistic read with this group teamed with that stellar offense gets the Reds into contention.

New pitching coach

The Reds poached pitching coach Derek Johnson from the Brewers and, boy, did he do a great job with his staff in Milwaukee. Maybe he’s a big help for the starters mentioned above. The back-end trio in the bullpen of Iglesias, Hughes and Hernandez were all very good last season, but Johnson’s help is needed with the rest of the group.

The Reds overall finished 14th in ERA in the NL last season. In order to contend, they probably need to get to the middle of the pack. It’s up to Johnson to aid the holdovers and new faces in the rotation to hit their upside.

Two-way fun

Reliever Michael Lorenzen is good on the mound. He had a 3.11 ERA (135 ERA+) with 1.3 WAR in 81 innings last season. He can also rake. In 34 plate appearances — yes, an incredibly small sample — he hit .290/.333/.710(!) with four homers. More emboldened by Shohei Ohtani’s brief two-way performance last season, more teams are going the two-way route.

The Reds could get pretty fun with Lorenzen this season. Let’s say Roark gets shelled early and the Reds need to get some length and save the bench/bullpen in hopes of a comeback? Put Lorenzen in the game, let him get length and two at-bats. Problem solved. He could also pinch hit for a pitcher and then just stay in the game, saving a bench bat like Kemp for the later innings when there’s more chance of impact.

Further, Lorenzen is getting time this spring in the outfield. He could be all kinds of fun this season. Keep an eye on the situation.

Breakout potential, but tough division

We don’t have a shortage of potential landmines here, do we? Especially looking at the starting rotation, there are some things Reds’ naysayers could grab onto. The optimistic point of view has lots of room, too. SportsLine has the Reds finishing last again with 67 wins, but Fangraphs and PECOTA have the Reds at 81-81.

A mitigating factor to the Reds being much improved has to be the strength of the division. Put this team in place of the Indians in the AL Central and I’d be predicting them to win the division. Instead, the Reds reside in one of baseball’s toughest divisions. The Pirates were 82-79 last season and finished in fourth. The Cardinals won 88 games and added Paul Goldschmidt — not to mention they were much better once Mike Matheny was replaced with Mike Shildt as manager. The Cubs had so many things go terribly wrong last season and still won 95 games. The Brewers were in the NLCS and the roster is mostly the same.

This is why it’s possible the Reds are a much better baseball team despite it not really showing up in the W-L category.

Top to bottom, this is the best division in baseball and that more than anything else might be what conspires against a Reds breakout into contention.

News

Posted by smashdownsportsnews on 2019-03-17 16:39:36

Tagged: , Baseball , News , Featured , NPStrans , Tempe , AZ , USA

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Spurs vs. Mavericks odds, line: NBA picks, predictions from model on 54-42 run

Spurs vs. Mavericks odds, line: NBA picks, predictions from model on 54-42 run

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The San Antonio Spurs continue their fight for a playoff berth Tuesday when they meet the Dallas Mavericks at American Airlines Center at 8 p.m. ET. San Antonio (38-29) currently holds the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference playoff race, a half-game ahead of the Utah Jazz. The Spurs have won five straight to help compensate for a disastrous 1-7 road trip that nearly caused them to fall out of playoff contention, while the Mavericks have lost five straight and 10 of 11 since they shifted their focus to the future and traded several key players for Kristaps Porzingis. San Antonio is a five-point favorite and the over-under for total points scored is 217.5 in the latest Spurs vs. Mavericks odds. Before you lock in your Spurs vs. Mavericks picks, check out the NBA predictions from SportsLine’s proven computer model.

The model, which simulates every game 10,000 times, is crushing its NBA picks. It entered Week 22 of the 2018-19 NBA season with a sterling 240-187 record on all top-rated picks, returning almost $4,000 to anybody following them. And it has been particularly red-hot on its A-rated NBA picks against the spread, entering Week 22 on a strong 54-42 run. Anybody who has followed it is way up.

Now, it has zeroed in on Spurs vs. Mavericks. We can tell you it is leaning over, and it also has a strong against the spread pick that cashes in over 50 percent of simulations. That pick is only available at SportsLine.

The model knows the Spurs are motivated to continue their late-season surge in an effort to avoid missing the postseason for the first time in 22 years. They appeared headed toward comfortably earning a berth before a disastrous road trip that was marked by injuries, poor play and tough opponents.

They returned home and broke out of their funk just in time, but still have work to do with 15 games remaining in the regular season. However, the Spurs are trending in the right direction and are coming off one of their best performances in recent memory in a 121-114 win over the Eastern Conference-leading Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday.

But just because San Antonio comes in hot doesn’t mean it is assured of covering the Spurs vs. Mavericks spread Tuesday.

The model also knows that Dallas has covered five of the past six games in this series and is on a 19-9 run against the spread on its home floor. For much of the season, the Mavs looked like one of the NBA’s more improved teams, bolstered by the addition of Rookie of the Year front-runner Luka Doncic. But the franchise’s brass decided to look toward the future when it traded the four starters surrounding Doncic for Porzingis, the versatile 7-foot-3 forward who was an emerging star with the New York Knicks before an ACL injury delayed his career.

Even so, Dallas appears to be adjusting to its new nucleus and is coming off one of its best performances since the trade. The Mavericks overcame an eight-point deficit in the fourth quarter Sunday against the Houston Rockets and had a chance to win on the final possession. But rookie Jalen Brunson had his shot blocked by Chris Paul and Houston escaped with a 94-93 victory. Doncic suffered a slight knee sprain late in the game and is listed as questionable for Tuesday’s game.

Who wins Mavericks vs. Spurs? And which side of the spread hits over 50 percent of the time? Visit SportsLine now to find out which side of the Mavs vs. Spurs spread you should be all over Tuesday, all from the model that’s up nearly $4,000 on NBA picks this season.

News

Posted by smashdownsportsnews on 2019-03-13 00:09:33

Tagged: , Basketball , News , Featured , NPStrans , San Antonio , TX , USA

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MLB odds, picks, lines, top predictions, best bets for March 29: This three-way parlay pays more than 8-1

MLB odds, picks, lines, top predictions, best bets for March 29: This three-way parlay pays more than 8-1

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The 2019 MLB season finally is upon us, with all 30 teams taking the field for 2019 Opening Day on Thursday. For Friday, the schedule has been cut in half — there are eight games on the docket, including four West Coast showdowns starting after 10 p.m. ET. The slate includes two NL Central contenders facing off when the Milwaukee Brewers host the St. Louis Cardinals; the defending World Series champions Boston Red Sox looking to rebound from an Opening Day loss when they play at the Seattle Mariners; and the Los Angeles Dodgers, following an Opening Day-record eight home runs, hosting the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Dodgers are the night’s largest favorite, at -160 in the latest MLB odds. But before you enter any MLB picks on Friday, you’ll want to see the MLB best bets from SportsLine handicapper Adam Thompson.

Thompson raked in the winnings as SportsLine’s top MLB handicapper last year, hitting on 61 percent of his money line picks for a massive profit of $4,062 to $100 players. He finished last year on a 22-4 run, a streak that included hitting every World Series game, and opened 2019 by nailing the Mariners’ win over the Athletics in the opener in Japan.

Thompson, who covered major sports for 20 years as a writer and columnist before joining SportsLine as a senior writer and handicapper, cites deeply-researched stats and trends you haven’t considered to build his MLB success. Anybody who has followed his MLB picks is way, way up.

Now he’s revealing his top three plays for Friday. Parlay them together and you’d be looking at a massive payout of more than 8-1.

We can tell you Thompson is going with the Mariners (+125) as a home underdog against the Red Sox at 10:40 p.m. ET. He went 23-8 picking games involving Boston last year.

Thompson knows Seattle has been a nice surprise so far this season. The Mariners traded away stars such as Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz, one big move as part of a larger rebuilding phase. But Seattle swept Oakland in Japan to open the season and hammered the Red Sox 12-4 in the opening at Safeco on Thursday. Seattle’s hitters shelled All-Star Chris Sale. Sale had a strong history against the Mariners before Thursday.

Now Boston counters Friday with Nathan Eovaldi, who was great at Fenway Park last year, but considerably worse away from it. His 5.18 ERA with more than three runs higher than his mark at Fenway. His ERA under the lights was a whopping four runs higher than his daytime effort.

Boston may have the lineup to bounce back in a big way, but last year the Sox were a sizeable 25 points worse hitting against left-handed pitchers, and on Friday get one they’ve never seen in three-time Japanese All-Star Yusei Kikuchi. Thompson says it adds up to another impressive upset win to start the season for the Mariners.

Thompson has also locked in MLB money line picks on two other West Coast games, calling for another huge upset in one of them. You can only see who it is at SportsLine.

So which 2019 MLB picks should you make on Friday for a huge 8-1 payout? And which strong favorite is going down hard? Visit SportsLine right now to get Friday’s MLB best bets, all from the SportsLine handicapper who returned a $4,000 profit on MLB picks last season.

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Posted by smashdownsportsnews on 2019-03-29 18:00:07

Tagged: , Baseball , News , Featured , NPStrans , toppic , Seattle , WA , USA

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MLB scores, schedule: Mets’ offense comes alive against Nationals; Braves try to even series in Philadelphia

MLB scores, schedule: Mets’ offense comes alive against Nationals; Braves try to even series in Philadelphia

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Our first Saturday of the 2019 Major League Baseball season still has a new car smell to it and we’ve got a full slate (except for the season’s first rain out in Cincinnati), chock full of action day and night. It’s a great time to be going hog wild with consumption of our beloved sport.

Headlining the action Saturday would be the number of intriguing divisional bouts.

Two NL Central powers, the Cardinals and Brewers, split their first two games in Milwaukee and square off again. In that same division, the Pirates and Reds had a fun opening day matchup. Over on the AL side, the Indians look to even things up against the Twins with Trevor Bauer taking on Jake Odorizzi.

Back to the NL East, the four expected contenders all match up. The Mets beat the Nationals in a Noah Syndergaard vs. Stephen Strasburg matchup. Meanwhile in Philly, the Braves look to even things up against the Phillies.

In later action, the Padres are looking to go 3-0 against the Giants while the Mariners are hoping to bounce back from a blown game on Friday night and become the first team to hit four wins.

Let’s see how it all turns out.

Select games can be streamed regionally via fuboTV (Try for free). For more on what channel each game is on, click here.

Baseball schedule/scores for Monday, April 1

Mets 11, Nationals 4 (box score)

Orioles 5, Yankees 3 (box score)

Pirates at Reds, POSTPONED

Indians 2, Twins 1 (box score)

White Sox at Royals (GameTracker) — stream on fuboTV (Try for free)

Tigers at Blue Jays (GameTracker) — stream on fuboTV (Try for free)

Braves at Phillies (GameTracker) — stream on fuboTV (Try for free)

Rockies at Marlins, 6:10 p.m. ET (GameTracker) — stream on fuboTV (Try for free)

Astros at Rays, 6:10 p.m. ET (GameTracker) — stream on fuboTV (Try for free)

Cardinals at Brewers, 7:10 p.m. ET (GameTracker)

Cubs at Rangers, 8:05 p.m. ET (GameTracker)

Giants at Padres, 8:40 p.m. ET (GameTracker)

Angels at Athletics, 9:07 p.m. ET (GameTracker)

Red Sox at Mariners, 9:10 p.m. ET (GameTracker)

Diamondbacks at Dodgers, 9:10 p.m. ET (GameTracker)

Mets are 2-0 after offensive explosion

On Opening Day, the Mets won a pitcher’s duel behind Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom. Saturday had the capability of being another duel, with Strasburg and Syndergaard taking the ball.

Instead, the Mets jumped on Strasburg for three runs in the first and the Nationals got three of Syndergaard through three. In the end, the duo had pretty similar numbers:

Strasburg: 6 IP, 7 H, 4 ER, 2 BB, 8 KSyndergaard: 6 IP, 7 H, 4 ER, 0 BB, 7 K

The story here was the Mets offense and Nationals bullpen implosion. The Mets ended up with 11 runs on 14 hits, including four doubles and a triple. They got some pretty amazing individual days where it’s encouraging to see. Rookie sensation Pete Alonso went 3 for 4 with two doubles and two RBI, displaying his easy gap power. Second year infielder Jeff McNeil had a four-hit game and — believe it or not — it was the fourth four-hit outing of his career in only 65 games.

The big knock was a bases-loaded hit from newcomer J.D. Davis:

Quite a moment for a first hit with a new club.

On the other side, new Nationals bullpen members Trevor Rosenthal and Kyle Barraclough did not cover themselves in glory. Rosenthal ended up stuck with four earned runs without recording an out. Barraclough balked home a run before he even threw his first pitch as a National and then allowed Alonso to double home one of Rosenthal’s runners. Both additions were cheap grabs on an attempt to draw from past success. Neither looked the part on Saturday, but all “it’s early” caveats still apply.

Indians even things up in Minnesota

Sure, there could be a surprise, but most believe the AL Central race is going to come down to the Indians and Twins. Without Francisco Lindor in the lineup — one that was already weakened in the offseason — the Indians were dominated by Jose Berrios and Taylor Rogers in an opening day loss. Through eight innings, the only run they scored was a prodigious blast from Hanley Ramirez.

Still, Trevor Bauer kept his team in the game with a nice outing and a Greg Allen sac fly helped them even the series at a game apiece. Bauer struck out nine in seven innings and allowed just one run on one hit.

Brad Hand had a pretty tough task in the ninth. Byron Buxton led off for the Twins with a double, but it was due to bad defense on a ball that should’ve been caught by the second baseman. Buxton was fast enough to get all the way to second and that’s a problem with no out. He’d be on third with one out when the Tribe intentionally walked Nelson Cruz. Eddie Rosario drew a walk and it was bases loaded with two out and a one-run game for C.J. Cron. Hand would induce an easy pop out to shallow right to close it down.

For the losing Twins, Jake Odorizzi struck out 11, and that put Minnesota in elite company through the first two games of the season:

The @Twins with back-to-back 10+ strikeouts by their starters (Berrios 10 / Odorizzi 11).

Since 1893, the only other team to have a pitcher strike out 10+ in each of its first 2 games of a season is the 2001 @Dbacks (Johnson & Schilling).@EliasSports confirmed

h/t @Krafty_3

— Dustin Morse (@morsecode) March 30, 2019

Quick hits

News

Posted by smashdownsportsnews on 2019-03-30 23:04:46

Tagged: , Baseball , News , Featured , NPStrans , TopPic , Washington , DC , USA

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MLB scores, schedule: Mookie Betts continues hot streak; CC Sabathia makes history

MLB scores, schedule: Mookie Betts continues hot streak; CC Sabathia makes history

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For the first time in his brief big league career, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is hitting the road. The Blue Jays and their wunderkind third baseman open a three-game series in Anaheim on Tuesday night. Vlad Jr. and Albert Pujols connected before the game:

Guerrero was 89 days old — 89 days old! — when the Cardinals selected Pujols in the 13th round of the 1999 MLB draft. Generations colliding indeed. Now here is everything you need to know about the rest of the day in baseball.

Select games can be streamed regionally via fuboTV (Try for free). For more on what channel each game is on, click here.

Baseball scores for Tuesday

FINAL – Cardinals 3, Nationals 2 (box score)

FINAL – Tigers 3, Phillies 1 (box score)

FINAL – Indians 7, Marlins 4 (box score)

FINAL – Red Sox 5, Athletics 1 (box score)

FINAL – Mets 4, Reds 3 in 10 innings (box score)

FINAL – Padres 4, Braves 3 (box score)

FINAL – Astros 11, Twins 0 (box score)

FINAL – Brewers 4, Rockies 3 (box score)

FINAL – Pirates 6, Rangers 4 in 11 innings (box score)

FINAL – Diamondbacks 3, Yankees 1 (box score)

LIVE – Dodgers vs. Giants (GameTracker)

LIVE – Blue Jays vs. Angels (GameTracker)

LIVE – Cubs vs. Mariners (GameTracker)

POSTPONED – Orioles vs. White Sox

POSTPONED – Rays vs. Royals

Betts heating up for Red Sox

Exactly two weeks ago, reigning AL MVP Mookie Betts called his play “unacceptable.” Betts went 0 for 3 in that night’s game to drop his season batting line to .212/.321/.394. That’s not truly horrible, but it sure as heck isn’t good.

Fast forward to Tuesday, and Betts is as hot as any player in the game. He’s gone 17 for 42 (.405) with five doubles, two homers, eight walks, and five strikeouts in 11 games since calling his performance “unacceptable.” And, on Tuesday night, he swatted a first inning home run against the Athletics.

Betts is red hot and the Red Sox are slowly but surely working their way out of their early season slump. Since starting 2-8, the Red Sox have gone 11-9 in their last 20 games. That counts as progress, I do believe.

Sabathia gets 3,000th strikeout

Yankees stalwart CC Sabathia on Tuesday night against the Diamondbacks notched the 3,000th strikeout of his career. He becomes just the 17th pitcher in history to join that exclusive club. Even more impressive is that Sabathia is just the third lefty ever to get to 3,000 Ks. Here’s the history maker:

Our own Mike Axisa has more on Sabathia’s milestone.

Martinez keeps hitting

In edging the Nationals on Tuesday night, the Cardinals notched a second-straight come-from-behind win in D.C. Overall, they’ve now won four in a row and nine of their last 10. Mike Shildt’s squadron still has the NL’s best record, and they finish April with 19 wins.

There are many reasons for those early successes. One of them is Jose Martinez. On Tuesday night in Washington, he went 2 for 3 with a walk. Thanks in part to some erratic playing time early on — the Cardinals’ crowded outfield situation is to blame — Martinez got off to a slow start, but he now boasts these numbers for the season:

Martinez has only one home run on the season, and he’s drawn just four walks. Still, that lofty batting average is enough to carry him to productivity. This isn’t a fluke, either. Since arriving in the majors in 2016, he’s done nothing but hit. Coming into Tuesday night, Martinez boasted a career OPS+ of 128, and he’s never had a bad season.

He’s 6 foot 6 with an unconventional setup and load at the plate, and he didn’t crack the majors until he was 28 years of age. Still and yet, he’s done nothing but produce. Professional hitter, this guy.

Stat of the day: Voit extends on-base streak to 40 games

The longest active on-base streak in baseball reached 40 games Tuesday night. Yankees first baseman Luke Voit drew a first inning walk against Zack Greinke, pushing his on-base streak to 40 games. That, obviously, dates back to last season.

Here are the longest active on-base streaks:

Luke Voit, Yankees: 40 games

Mike Trout, Angels: 26 games

Anthony Rendon, Nationals: 19 games

Cody Bellinger, Dodgers: 19 games

Yadier Molina, Cardinals: 19 games

The Yankees acquired Voit in a relatively minor trade with the Cardinals prior to last year’s deadline and he’s been a revelation in pinstripes. He went in Tuesday’s game hitting .283/.397/.538 with eight homers on the season. That’s after hitting .333/.405/.689 with 14 homers in 39 games after the trade last season.

Quick hits

Dayn Perry explored the best and worst from the world of baseball in April 2019. Small market teams in first place and struggling big name pitchers are the story of the season so far.

Ichiro Suzuki has rejoined the Mainers as an instructor. He begins immediately. Ichiro will work closely with the big league team and Triple-A team, with an emphasis on outfield play and baserunning.

The Padres placed SS Fernando Tatis Jr. on the 10-day injured list. He suffered a hamstring injury stretching for a ball at second base. 3B Manny Machado will fill in at shortstop for the time being.

The Reds are expected to call up top prospect CF Nick Senzel in the coming days. Senzel, a natural infielder, transitioned to center field in spring training to help get his bat into the lineup.

The Marlins demoted CF Lewis Brinson to Triple-A. Brinson has struggled tremendously for the second straight season. He was the key piece Miami received in the Christian Yelich trade.

Brewers OF Christian Yelich is “trending” toward being ready to play this weekend, reports the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

The Nationals placed 3B Anthony Rendon on the 10-day injured list with an elbow contusion, the club announced. He was hit by a pitch a few days ago. LHP Dan Jennings was called up in a corresponding move.

Yankees OF Aaron Hicks (back), 3B Miguel Andujar (shoulder), and SS Troy Tulowitzki (calf) have all started playing in minor league games. Andujar and Tulowitzki could return in the coming days.

Dodgers OF A.J. Pollock will have exploratory surgery on his elbow, reports MLB.com. Pollock has an infection that could require a plate in his elbow to be replaced or treated.

Cubs closer RHP Brandon Morrow received an injection in his elbow and will be shut down 2-3 weeks, reports the Chicago Tribune. Morrow has not pitched since last July due to various injuries.

The Mariners sent the struggling OF Mallex Smith to Triple-A, the team announced. Smith has hit a weak .165/.255/.247 in the early going this season. OF Braden Bishop was called up in a corresponding move.

The Tigers placed IF Josh Harrison on the 10-day injured list with a shoulder contusion, the team announced. He’s been having trouble swinging a bat. IF Harold Castro was called up in a corresponding move.

News

Posted by smashdownsportsnews on 2019-05-01 05:00:22

Tagged: , Baseball , News , Featured , NPStrans , Boston , MA , USA

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Christian Yelich is unstoppable, the Pirates are a surprise, plus everything else we learned this week in MLB

Christian Yelich is unstoppable, the Pirates are a surprise, plus everything else we learned this week in MLB

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Baseball is back in full swing, and the 20 or so games we’ve seen so far have been glorious. Although we haven’t even completed a third of the season, we still have storylines and players worth highlighting this early. We’ll be taking a look at the most interesting takeaways every week this MLB season so check back every Sunday for the recap. Now, here’s what we learned from Week 4 in MLB:

Yelich looks unstoppable

We mentioned Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Christian Yelich in our first installment of the season because he had homered in each of his first four games to open his 2019 campaign. The reigning National League MVP gets another nod because he’s still crushing home runs at a rapid-fire pace. Yelich is slashing .455/.538/1.545 with eight home runs, 16 RBI and four walks over his past six games. He hit his MLB-leading 12th and 13th home runs in Saturday’s win over the Dodgers at Miller Park (MIL 5, LAD 0), setting two Brewers records in the process.

His third inning solo shot off Hyun-Jin Ryu set the franchise record for home runs before the end of April (12), and his second blast of the night — in the sixth, again off Ryu — tied Prince Fielder’s franchise record set in May of 2007 for most home runs in a single month (13).

And those aren’t the only records Yelich is closing in on.

With a 2nd multi-HR game of the season, Christian Yelich now has 13 home runs, the second-most by a reigning MVP before May 1 in MLB history.

He is ony shy of the all-time record held by Albert Pujols with 14 in 2006. pic.twitter.com/1FKriRP3KJ

— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 21, 2019

The 27-year-old is one homer away from tying the MLB record for home runs before May 1, set by Albert Pujols in 2006 and matched by Alex Rodriguez in 2007 (14). The Brewers have nine games left in April (Dodgers, Cardinals, Mets, Rockies), with three of them at home where Yelich has hit all of his homers this season. It doesn’t look like Yelich is going to be slowing down anytime soon, so make sure you tune in for his next couple of at-bats — Brewers fans can stream regionally via fuboTV (Try for free). It’s can’t-miss baseball.

Carrasco has a strong turnaround

After beginning the season on a sour note, Cleveland Indians starter Carlos Carrasco appears to be back to himself. Carrasco gave up six earned runs in the shortest outing in his career on April 12 (six runs in 2/3 of an inning) against the Royals, and he told reporters the following the game: “Tonight nothing was there,” Carrasco told Paul Hoynes of Cleveland.com. “My command, my velo. Really nothing was there. Yes, I feel healthy. That’s the most important thing. But I couldn’t find myself. Nothing was there, man.”

In his fourth start of the season — a 1-0 win over the Seattle Mariners on Wednesday — Carrasco looked solid through seven scoreless innings. He finished with 12 strikeouts (the second time this season he’s whiffed 12 in a start), and struck out the side three times, only allowing one runner to reach third base. He racked up 23 swinging strikes in his 108 pitches, with 72 total strikes.

The drastic turnaround is not only encouraging for Carrasco, but it’s reassuring for Cleveland since it’s widely considered the favorite to come out of the American League Central due to its dominant rotation. With Mike Clevinger not set to make his return from the injured list (upper-back strain) until at least June or July, the big arms of Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Shane Bieber and Carrasco have been picking up the slack.

Carrasco’s next start of the 2019 season will be on Tuesday, when he takes on Marlins at Progressive Field — stream regionally via fuboTV (Try for free).

First-place Pirates are intriguing

Since starting the 2019 season 6-5, the Pirates have gone on to win six of seven to move to 12-6. They have racked up five straight wins from April 14-20 and as of Sunday, they own the best winning percentage in baseball at .667 (tied with Seattle and Tampa Bay). Pittsburgh’s starters have combined for a 1.93 ERA — the best in MLB — and they’ve put together 13 quality starts. It’s also the first time in franchise history that the pitching staff has recorded three shutouts through the first six games. The Rays and Mariners have been getting a decent amount of attention for their hot (and mostly unexpected) starts to the season, but the Pirates that have definitely been the most surprising team thus far.

Aside from the bad news we got from Friday’s ugly collision in the outfield (Starling Marte, Erik Gonzalez heading to the IL), Pittsburgh still has a lot of positives to be excited about. The rotation is the most significant bright spot, and as CBS Sports’ Matt Snyder wrote, the starting pitchers can be good enough to keep them in contention. That may very well be true, as the Bucs more than doubled their postseason odds from 9.8 percent on Opening Day to 26.7 percent on Sunday, according to FanGraphs. We’re still obviously early into the season, but the fact that Pittsburgh isn’t backing down to its NL Central foes means that it could be in the mix for at least a wild-card spot come late summer and into September. Only time will tell if the team’s rotation, fronted by Chris Archer, Jameson Taillon and Trevor Williams, can continue to pitch as well as they have been thus far.

News

Posted by smashdownsportsnews on 2019-04-21 19:09:25

Tagged: , Baseball , News , Featured , NPStrans , toppic , Milwaukee , WI , USA

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NBA Playoff Picture: Outlook, concerns for Warriors, Bucks and league’s other title contenders

NBA Playoff Picture: Outlook, concerns for Warriors, Bucks and league’s other title contenders

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There is still a certain inevitability to the Golden State Warriors, despite the defending champions dropping games at home, failing to sustain defensive intensity and knowing that the team could look significantly different next season. At their best and healthiest, the Warriors remain a problem that hasn’t been solved since Kevin Durant arrived. In the upcoming playoffs, though, they will face a bunch of teams that have built their rosters with them in mind. No one else has a duo like Durant and Stephen Curry, but the whole league has watched them win titles on the strength of their like-sized wing defenders, spacing and unselfish style.

The Milwaukee Bucks, remodeled by coach Mike Budenholzer, have drawn comparisons to Golden State in Steve Kerr’s first season. The Houston Rockets almost won last year’s Western Conference finals by deploying a small unit of their own against the Warriors’ Death Lineup. As the playoffs approach, let’s take a look at those two teams and three more in each conference that are aiming high.

The beasts of the East

Milwaukee Bucks

The outlook: Before recent injuries to Malcolm Brogdon and Nikola Mirotic, it was difficult to imagine the Mike Budenholzer era getting off to a better start. There is a strong argument that the Bucks should be considered the favorites to come out of the East based on their statistical profile, their roster balance and their superstar. Milwaukee’s ascension is a feel-good story for a team that had been frustrating in recent years despite Giannis Antetokounmpo’s brilliance. Everybody around the league knew that Budenholzer would prioritize spacing on offense, but this has been a wholesale transformation on both ends. He should win Coach of the Year.

Adversity, however, is hitting the Bucks at an inconvenient time. In the playoffs, we will find out whether Budenholzer’s system — and an increase in Antetokounmpo’s minutes — can keep them rolling. In many ways, the season is already a massive success, but, given that Milwaukee could finish the season with 60 wins, there is some pressure to validate all of this with a long playoff run. It would be silly to say the Bucks have failed if they don’t make the Finals, but a second-round loss to the Celtics would feel like a disappointment, which is kind of wild when you think about how the teams were talked about in the preseason.

Fun stat: Brook Lopez, now universally beloved, leads the team in 3-point attempts, averaging 6.4 per game. The last Buck to average that many was Ray Allen in 2002-2003. Allen, however, played 35.8 minutes a night that season, compared to Lopez’s 28.6 minutes.

Biggest concern: At full strength, this is not a team that has many weaknesses, but there is some skepticism about Milwaukee staying this dominant. I anticipate opponents trying to shut down its secondary playmakers, closing off passing lanes and daring Antetokounmpo to do everything himself. If the Bucks get bogged down, we don’t know how they will respond.

Further reading: Antetokounmpo has a real shot at winning both MVP and DPOY, writes Danny Chau of The Ringer.

Games remaining: vs. Rockets, vs. Clippers, @ Hawks, @ Nets, @ 76ers, vs. Nets, vs. Hawks, vs. Thunder

Toronto Raptors

The outlook: While they can’t claim to be the best team in the East, as they were in last year’s regular season, the Raptors have approached this whole deal with a big-picture mindset. Kawhi Leonard, such a fun guy, said weeks ago that he sees regular-season games as practices, which reflects a team-wide attitude that success outside of April, May and June means next to nothing. Considering Toronto’s recent history, this makes sense.

The Raptors have more high-end talent than ever, so old questions about past playoff demons and rarely having the best player in a series have been replaced by new ones: Are they at a disadvantage because of what Leonard and Danny Green’s former coach, Gregg Popovich, calls “institutional knowledge?” Are they cohesive enough? Will the reserves be reliable? Toronto optimists believe that coach Nick Nurse has what every coach wants in a postseason roster: two-way players, toughness and versatility. The challenge is that, while LeBron James is finally gone, the competition is formidable and the stakes are extremely high.

Fun stat: I am not sure if the Raptors have a reputation for this, but they’re all over the NBA‘s hustle stats leaderboard: per game, they are top-four in deflections, loose balls recovered, shots contested and box outs.

Biggest concern: In a word, cohesion. Leonard, Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam have only played 38 games together, and Marc Gasol has played 10 games with that trio. Lowry’s usage rate is just 16.1 when Leonard and Siakam are on the floor with him, and while he influences the game in lots of ways, it’s fair to wonder how playmaking will be distributed in the postseason. The Raptors are not the Rockets, where everyone knows what’s coming and it doesn’t matter because it’s so hard to stop anyway. They want to be more like the Warriors, who are unpredictable and can hurt you in all sorts of ways. It is not easy to play that way.

Further reading: The Toronto Star’s Bruce Arthur on the underappreciated production of Playoff Lowry.

Games remaining: vs. Bulls, @ Knicks, @ Bulls, vs. Magic, @ Nets, @ Hornets, vs. Heat, @ Timberwolves

Philadelphia 76ers

The outlook: The good news is that their killer starting five has now played 150 minutes together and still has a plus-15.7 net rating. This is a small but promising sample, and it supports the idea that Philadelphia raised its ceiling with the Tobias Harris trade. Recent wins against the Bucks and Celtics were encouraging, too. The big question, however, is whether or not the team can coalesce into something special.

The Sixers are not the only team on this list that has a significantly different roster than it did five months ago. No team, however, has done anything as drastic as they did — at the beginning of the season, Markelle Fultz, Robert Covington and Dario Saric were starters. Their relatively new four-star look makes them endlessly interesting, but it also makes things complicated. Philadelphia is an unpopular pick to come out of the East not necessarily because its star power is being underestimated, but because other teams feel like safer choices.

Fun stat: The Sixers average 1.89 dribbles per touch, which means they dribble less than every team in the league except Golden State. This is not inherently good — Houston leads the league in this category, and its offense better than every team in the league, except, again, Golden State — but it reflects how coach Brett Brown wants the team to play. While Philadelphia now employs multiple players who are capable of making plays off the bounce, its attack is predicated on ball movement, player movement and misdirection.

Biggest concern: A series of smaller concerns — trouble containing dynamic guards, Joel Embiid’s past struggles against Al Horford and Marc Gasol, Ben Simmons‘ turnovers against Kawhi Leonard and a shaky bench, to name a few — add up to one big question: Can sheer talent can outweigh matchup problems? The answer is sometimes yes, but the Sixers’ talent will be tested.

Further reading: Zhaire Smith has been through hell, and Rich Hofmann of The Athletic got the story.

Games remaining: vs. Nets, @ Timberwolves, @ Mavericks, @ Hawks, vs. Bucks, @ Bulls, @ Heat, vs. Bulls

Boston Celtics

The outlook: Who knows? If the Celtics make it to the NBA Finals, every moment of this soap operatic season will be framed as necessary adversity from which they emerged stronger. If they don’t, then the drama and disharmony will be seen as damning.

I tend to think that their plus-4.7 net rating, which ranks sixth in the league, is more indicative of who the Celtics are than any of the alarming quotes that have come from their postgame scrums. If they are healthy (note: it has become impossible to ignore how important Aron Baynes is to this team), they check just about every box for playoff success. On offense, they have an absurd amount of weapons and a closer who has made clutch shots in the most pressure-packed situations imaginable. On defense, they have a collection of versatile wings, rim protection and a center who can capably switch onto smaller players. But there is a world of difference between their on-paper profile and the confusing experience of watching them all season.

Fun stat: Per Cleaning The Glass, glue guy extraordinaire Marcus Smart is in the 98th percentile of a stat I’ve never seen cited: assist to usage ratio. His is 1.18 percent. As you can probably tell from its name, this stat compares a player’s assist rate to his usage rate. (You will not be surprised to learn that Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala and Joe Ingles are also elite in this category.)

Biggest concern: Coming into the season, Boston’s challenge was to embody the underdog spirit of prior Brad Stevens teams despite the fact that it had a star-studded roster. This has definitively not happened. Stevens recently said that this is the first team he’s ever coached that is “solely reliant on whether you make shots or not.” If the Celtics are going to live up to their potential, they have to be way less rickety than they’ve been.

Further reading: That Stevens quote came from a piece about Boston’s inconsistency by The Athletic’s Jay King, in which Marcus Morris says other teams’ coaches keep asking him why things aren’t working for the Celtics.

Games remaining: @ Cavaliers, vs. Pacers, @ Nets, vs. Heat, @ Heat, @ Pacers, vs. Magic, @ Wizards

The best of the West

Golden State Warriors

The outlook: The Warriors stunk it up against Dallas at home on Saturday, losing 126-91 with Stephen Curry sitting out. The next day, after a 121-114 victory against Detroit, coach Steve Kerr said this: “It’s hard for anybody to understand what these guys go through physically, emotionally, spiritually, trying to defend the crown, trying to win the title, trying to stay on top of the mountain. It’s hard. And last night they had nothing. They had nothing in the tank.”

The Mavs game was less surprising to Kerr than the lack of blowout losses in the first three years of his coaching career. It is worth remembering that Kerr was part of the Chicago Bulls’ second three-peat, and, when he was an analyst for TNT in 2013, he (correctly) predicted the Miami Heat wouldn’t win their third title in a row, citing emotional exhaustion and nonstop scrutiny. He knows that he has to be patient and that if Golden State raises its game when the time is right, none of its challengers can reach its level. The Warriors will be vulnerable if their defense remains average in the postseason, but do you really expect that to happen?

Fun stat: As a team, the Warriors have made 45.8 percent of their midrange shots, which leads the league. For context, master of the midrange, LaMarcus Aldridge has made 44.2 percent of his.

Biggest concern: Basketball-wise, it’s about the depth and the defense, but the biggest issue might be simpler than that: Do they have enough juice to go all the way again? As easy as it seems like it should be for a collection of future Hall of Famers, the Warriors have almost always had to deal with some sort of adversity on the way to the title. The rest of the league is hoping that this time, they will not only stumble but fall.

Further reading: The Athletic’s Ethan Sherwood Strauss on the return and rejuvenation of Andrew Bogut, who lost weight playing at home in Australia despite adding “a whole lot more beer to my diet.”

Games remaining: @ Grizzlies, @ Timberwolves, vs. Hornets, vs. Nuggets, @ Lakers, vs. Cavaliers, vs. Clippers, @ Pelicans, @ Grizzlies

Houston Rockets

The outlook: Compared to where they were a few months ago, everything is rosy. In a total reverse of last season, the Rockets struggled early on, particularly relative to expectations and the talent on the roster. They waived Carmelo Anthony, cycled through role players, suffered through injuries and asked James Harden to do almost literally everything. Harden kept them afloat, and now that Chris Paul and Clint Capela are playing like themselves, they have won 14 of their last 16 games.

On a recent Lowe Post podcast, general manager Daryl Morey said that “we feel like we will be better than last year’s team going into the playoffs.” That’s a tough sell with Trevor Ariza gone, but, if midseason acquisitions Austin Rivers, Iman Shumpert and Kenneth Faried earn Mike D’Antoni’s trust, perhaps this Houston team will be willing to go more than seven or eight deep in important games this time around. One thing that seems certain: Danuel House, an incredible find by Morey’s front office, will be in the rotation.

Fun stat: The difference between their league-leading 44.7 attempts from 3-point range per game and the second-place Bucks’ mark of 38.1 is the same as the difference between Milwaukee and the Nuggets, who rank 16th in that category.

Biggest concern: Even with Harden’s defensive improvement, Houston has allowed 110.8 points per 100 possessions, which ranks 21st in the league. This doesn’t preclude the Rockets from playing elite defense when they need to — they are third in defensive rating since the All-Star break — but, if you have less confidence in them getting stops than you did last season, I can’t blame you.

Further reading: I wrote about P.J. Tucker, who is indispensable to Houston because he has made himself into one of the league’s best defenders.

Games remaining: @ Bucks, vs. Nuggets, vs. Kings, @ Kings, @ Clippers, vs. Knicks, vs. Suns, @ Thunder

Denver Nuggets

The outlook: No longer a fringe playoff team, the Nuggets might also wind up with the top seed in the West. I don’t know an NBA nerd who doesn’t love watching them play, mostly because of the pass-first center who inspired this did-he-really-say-that quote from Bill Walton: “When you see someone like a Nelson Mandela or a Martin Luther King or a Mahatma Gandhi, someone who sees the future before anyone else does, knows how to get to where they need to be, where they want to be, that is Nikola Jokic. Happiness begins when selfishness ends. In a game that has been taken over by incessant dribbling for yourself, Nikola Jokic is such a breath of fresh air. And it’s his imagination. Watching him play basketball is like watching Bob Dylan come up with a song.”

It’s not just the Jokic show: Jamal Murray has made strides, Paul Millsap has done what Denver hoped he would and Monte Morris has come out of nowhere. The Nuggets are deep, and, after missing the playoffs by one game two years in a row, they knew they could no longer be pushovers on defense. There is a sense, however, that their record is more impressive than it is convincing. Aside from Millsap, hardly anyone has significant playoff experience. Depending on their first-round opponent, there might be some expert-led momentum to pick against them.

Fun stat: A floater master, Morris has made 55 percent of his short midrange shots, per Cleaning The Glass. Among players who have logged a minimum of 600 minutes, that leads the league.

Biggest concern: Will the defense translate? Teams will target Jokic and try to exploit Denver’s lack of size on the perimeter. There is no denying that it has committed to getting stops and massively improved, but the playoffs require schematic adjustments and versatility. The Nuggets might not be built for that.

Further reading: SB Nation’s Paul Flannery on Denver’s trajectory.

Games remaining: vs. Pistons, @ Rockets, @ Thunder, vs. Wizards, @ Warriors, vs. Spurs, vs. Blazers, @ Blazers, @ Jazz, vs. Timberwolves

Oklahoma City Thunder

The outlook: The Thunder might not deserve to be on this list right now, but they’re on it out of respect for what they looked like earlier this season when their defense was tops in the league and Paul George was in the MVP conversation. At their best, they were fast, physical and relentless, the type of team you’d hate to play against. For a while they even made you think shooting wasn’t going to be a much of an issue. Based on their recent play, however, it is reasonable to wonder whether we’ll see that version of the team again.

Oklahoma City has lost five of its last six games, including a total stinker in Memphis on Monday, and has fallen all the way to eighth in the West. It has an offensive rating of 105.2 since the All-Star break — only New York has been worse — and, since the beginning of the calendar year, its defensive numbers have resembled last season’s: good, not great. George has shot poorly for the last month, especially for his standards, and, while he said he is not concerned about his shoulder issues, Thunder fans surely are.

Fun stat: After making 25.9 percent of his corner 3s last season (15-for-58), Jerami Grant has made 38.5 percent of them this season (50-for-130). There hasn’t been much Most Improved Player buzz about him, but he has done everything OKC could have asked for in his new starting role.

Biggest concern: Aside from George’s health, it is the same as it always is: shooting. The Thunder are 25th in the league in catch-and-shoot 3-point percentage, and all the teams below them are headed to the lottery. Russell Westbrook’s percentages have risen since the All-Star break but he is still having a wildly inefficient year overall. Oklahoma City’s philosophy is to force turnovers, grab offensive rebounds and get to the free throw line so it doesn’t have to rely on missed shots, which makes sense if you have an average-shooting team. This is less viable if your shooting is awful, as the Thunder’s has been recently.

Further reading: The New York Times’ Scott Cacciola on George’s career season — and the little pond behind his house.

Games remaining: vs. Pacers, vs. Nuggets, vs. Mavericks, vs. Lakers, vs. Pistons, @ Timberwolves, vs. Rockets, @ Bucks

The rest

The Indiana Pacers are still fourth in the East, two games ahead of Boston, and if that’s the 4-5 matchup, they are the team less likely to combust. I dig essentially everything about them, but I could not credibly call them contenders. The Portland Trail Blazers are only half a game behind the Rockets, and yet, even before Jusuf Nurkic’s season-ending injury, I could not argue that they are the same sort of threat to Golden State.

The Utah Jazz, Los Angeles Clippers and San Antonio Spurs are all jumbled up in the standings, and while I could see any of them potentially beating a non-Warriors opponent in the first round, they were not included here because they don’t have Denver’s record or Oklahoma City’s upside. I feel particularly bad about excluding the Jazz, who have the same net rating as the Nuggets and the second-best defense in the league. This exercise was much simpler last year.

News

Posted by smashdownsportsnews on 2019-03-26 21:14:11

Tagged: , Basketball , News , Featured , NPStrans , TopPic , Houston , TX , USA

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What mystery team is reportedly after Manny Machado? Process of elimination points to a potential breakout club

What mystery team is reportedly after Manny Machado? Process of elimination points to a potential breakout club

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We are roughly four weeks away from pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training camps across Arizona and Florida, and still generational talents Manny Machado and Bryce Harper remain free agents. They’ll sign soon enough and be paid handsomely. You don’t have to worry about them. But even they have been caught up in the sluggish free agent market.

For most of the winter Machado’s market has been more active than Harper’s. Machado has visited more teams, as far as we know, and there are more rumblings about him in general. Scott Boras, Harper’s agent, is known to take his top clients deep into the offseason. Chances are Boras is waiting for Machado to set the market before getting serious about a deal for Harper.

The White Sox have reportedly offered Machado an eight-year contract, and the fact he hasn’t signed it yet tells us he’s still looking for more. Either more money or more years, or both. The latest scuttlebutt has a Mystery Team jumping into the Machado bidding:

Machado camp is telling some folks there’s a mystery team in addition to Chisox, Phils. Validity is unknown.

— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) January 11, 2019

The Mystery Team makes an appearance or two each offseason, usually when a top free agent is getting closer to making a decision. Truth be told, the whole Mystery Team thing is usually a transparent attempt by agents to create leverage, and crank up the bidding one last time. Do teams ever fall for it? Maybe! I can’t remember the last player to sign with a Mystery Team though. Maybe Cliff Lee with the Phillies way back when? That came out of nowhere.

Anyway, Machado reportedly has a Mystery Team pursuing him now. That’s when you know you’ve made it. Who is that Mystery Team? That’s what we’re here to figure out. The best way to do that is with the process of elimination, so let’s start knocking clubs off the prospective Mystery Team list step-by-step.

Step 1: Teams in on Machado

Can’t be a Mystery Team if we know you’re in on Machado.

The Phillies, White Sox, and Yankees are out. They are publicly in on Machado to varying degrees. We still have 27 possible Mystery Teams.

Step 2: Teams that can’t afford him

I mean, every team can afford Machado. League revenues are at an all-time high. Some teams are just less inclined to spend big on a free agent. We’re eliminating the following teams in Step 2: Athletics, Indians, Marlins, Orioles, Pirates, Rays, Reds, Royals, Twins. A case can be made the Indians should sign Machado. Put Machado at third, Jose Ramirez at second, and Jason Kipnis in the outfield. Their window to win is as open as it’s going to get. Cleveland has reduced payroll this offseason though, and I don’t get the sense it was so they could afford Machado.

The Pirates are another team you could argue should be in on Machado. They’re good enough as is to challenge for a postseason spot in 2019. The NL Central? Eh, maybe, if some things break their way. Put Machado on their roster — their current projected shortstop is career utility man Erik Gonzalez — and they are firmly in the wild card mix. Pittsburgh has given us no reason to believe they’ll spend money though. They salary dumped Ivan Nova and replaced him Jordan Lyles, remember. We’re down to 18 possible Mystery Teams.

Step 3: Teams that can afford Machado but are rebuilding

The White Sox could be lumped into this group, except they are making efforts to improve. Their young prospects are starting to arrive and they’ve added low-cost veterans (Nova, Jon Jay, Yonder Alonso) to help push the team in the right direction. The clubs we’re eliminating in Step 3 are not doing that. They are actively unloading veteran players, or at least ignoring them entirely. Those teams: Blue Jays, Diamondbacks, Mariners, Rangers, Tigers.

Toronto, to me, is a team that absolutely should be in Machado but isn’t. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette figure to arrive at some point in 2019, and pair those two with Machado, and you have the foundation of a devastating offense, which is pretty much a requirement for contending in the AL East nowadays. The Blue Jays have the money — they are owned by Rogers Communications, which is like Verizon and AT&T put together — and there is upward of seven million people in the greater Toronto area. Rogers Centre is packed when the Blue Jays are good. Alas, they seem uninterested in Machado. We now have 13 potential Mystery Teams.

Step 4: Contenders that don’t need him

This step sounds dumb because you make room for a player of Machado’s caliber. Rearrange the lineup, change some positions, whatever. Machado makes you a lot better, and if you have a chance to get him, you should. That isn’t the reality though. These contenders are out:

Astros: Jose Altuve at second, Carlos Correa at short, Alex Bregman at third. Houston is probably the only team in baseball that can make a genuine “we don’t have room for Machado” argument.

Braves: They already committed huge 2019 dollars to Josh Donaldson at third base and their infield is fairly well set. Any large contract from here on out figures to go to an outfielder.

Dodgers: Corey Seager is returning at shortstop and Justin Turner is locked in at third. They could sign Machado and use one of those guys at second, I suppose. Their recent austerity with regards to the luxury tax makes it unlikely.

Nationals: If they’re going to hand out a mega-contract this winter, it’ll go to retaining Bryce Harper. There’s no room on the infield now anyway.

Red Sox: They’re already way over the luxury tax threshold and have Xander Bogaerts at short and Rafael Devers at third. Moving Bogaerts to second won’t happen with a Dustin Pedroia return still possible.

Knocking another five teams off the list bring us down to eight potential Mystery Teams. Getting warmer!

Step 5: Contenders that have to move people around to make it work

Every team should want Manny Machado. Only a few are pursuing him though. USATSI

Gosh, the Mets really should be in on Machado or Harper, shouldn’t they? At least one of them. They’re a New York team, after all. The Mets have already added Robinson Cano and Jed Lowrie to an infield mix that includes Todd Frazier, Amed Rosario, and Jeff McNeil. Signing Machado and trading Rosario for help elsewhere on the roster seems doable. I just can’t see the Wilpons signing off on this. The Mets are out.

The Cardinals made their big offseason move when they acquired Paul Goldschmidt. That pushed Matt Carpenter to third and Jedd Gyorko to the bench, with Paul DeJong and Kolten Wong the middle infield tandem. DeJong’s a nice player. He shouldn’t stand in the way of Machado though. Signing Machado to play short, then cashing DeJong or Wong in as a trade chip is a nice idea that doesn’t seem all that likely. St. Louis made their big move already. They’re out too.

What about the Cubs? They retained Addison Russell, so they’ll have plenty of infielders once he returns from his suspension under the league’s domestic violence policy. Chicago could, however, move Kris Bryant to left field, a position he’s played plenty over the years. Bryant in left with Machado and Javier Baez on the left side of the infield is a fun little idea, isn’t it? The problem here is the Cubs have been crying poor all winter. And, even if they did spend big, it would likely be on Harper. No dice.

The Rockies are another “Harper fits better than Machado” team. If they grant a huge contract to an infielder, it’ll go to Nolan Arenado, who is a year away from free agency. Harper in Coors Field would be a fun baseball thing. Would be neat if it happens. Colorado is out on Machado and so are the Giants, who already have several massive contracts on the books and a full infield. They’re another “Harper over Machado” team. We’re down to three potential Mystery Teams after eliminating the Mets, Cardinals, Cubs, Rockies, and Giants.

Step 6: The contender that needs him but can’t afford him

Maybe “needs” is too strong a word here. Clearly though, the Brewers could stand to add Machado to their lineup. They could either install him at shortstop and move Orlando Arcia to second base, or install him at third base and move Travis Shaw to second base. Remember, Milwaukee went after Machado hard at the trade deadline last year. They settled for Jonathan Schoop instead and Schoop was a total bust.

The Brewers could use Machado. All indications are they can not afford him. Yasmani Grandal’s pricey one-year contract puts their projected Opening Day payroll at $115.1 million, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts. Here are Milwaukee’s Opening Day payrolls the last five years:

2018: $90.96 million

2017: $63.06 million

2016: $63.91 million

2015: $104.24 million

2014: $103.70 million

The Brewers had the best record in the National League last year when they went to Game 7 of the NLCS, and they’ve increased payroll going into 2019. That’s great. That is exactly how it should be. Milwaukee is already poised to run the largest payroll in franchise history this season and they play in the game’s smallest market. Realistically, they might not be able to go much higher with their payroll.

Remember, Machado is looking at something like $30 million per year on his upcoming contract. That would push the Brewers up over $140 million. I just can’t see it. Machado is a fit for the roster. Financially, the Brewers appear to be at their limit. They’re out and we have two potential Mystery Teams remaining.

Step 7: The team that has to pay Trout soon

The Angels should take every dollar they are considering giving to Machado and instead give it to Mike Trout, who is two years from free agency and has played three postseason games in his seven full MLB seasons. The Halos could absolutely fit Machado on their roster. Machado at third, Andrelton Simmons at shortstop, and Zack Cozart moves to second. See? Nice and easy. That would be the best defensive infield in baseball, hands down.

This offseason has been a great big “we tried” for the Angels and GM Billy Eppler. They’ve reportedly been “finalists” for several prominent free agents:

That indicates some level of financial restraint. In a perfect world, the Angels would sign Machado and add him to Trout, and move forward with two of the best players in the world plus the fun as heck Shohei Ohtani. In the real world, retaining Trout has to be the priority. He is the best player on the planet and a homegrown superstar. You don’t let him walk. Every dollar the Angels give Machado is a dollar they can not give Trout.

Barring a big — and unexpected, frankly — increase in payroll, the Angels aren’t going to end up with Machado. I do believe they are a good candidate to be the Mystery Team. A great candidate, really, because they have the infield opening and they’ve at least attempted to get better this winter, even if they’ve come up short a bunch of times. It just doesn’t seem to be in the cards.

So, with the Angels and 28 other teams ruled out, it means we’re down to one possible Mystery Team. Drum roll please …

The San Diego Padres!

Yes, the Padres. There are several reasons this makes sense. One, they have a tremendous farm system that will begin plugging high-end talent into the major league roster in earnest in 2019. The most efficient way to build a contender is to develop a homegrown core and supplement it with select veterans. Machado qualifies as a select veteran. He’d accelerate the rebuild and give San Diego a lineup cornerstone.

Two, despite all those prospects, the Padres do not have an obvious long-term third baseman. Sure, they could move someone like Fernando Tatis Jr. or Luis Urias to third, but that defeats the purpose. Those two are top-notch middle infielders and they should remain on the middle infield, where they’re most valuable. San Diego has had a revolving door at third base since the first time they had Chase Headley. The Wil Myers at third base experiment was well-intentioned but ill-fated, and it is now over.

Wil Myers said he and the Padres collectively decided he will return to the outfield this year. He may still fill in at third base on occasion.

— Dennis Lin (@dennistlin) January 12, 2019

And three, the Padres have money. They are currently on target for an $80.3 million Opening Day payroll in 2019, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts. They ran a $108.4 million Opening Day payroll four years ago, when revenues were quite a bit lower than they are today. Add in the forthcoming homegrown core that will remain cheap for several years, and this is the perfect opportunity to spend on a generational type talent like Machado. Those guys don’t come around often. Get ’em while you can.

San Diego spent big to add Eric Hosmer last winter, and say what you want about Hosmer’s production, but he is very highly respected within baseball. He’s a leader and players gravitate toward him. The Padres could sell Machado on joining Hosmer and leading the core group of young players to contention, and living in San Diego. And, also with lots and lots and lots of money, of course. That always helps.

The Padres are the best Mystery Team fit for Machado. They have been angling to do something big all winter as their reported interest in Noah Syndergaard and Corey Kluber suggests. Machado is available for nothing but cash, he plays a position of need, and he’d advance the rebuild considerably. Plus Padres GM A.J. Preller is known to step out and make surprise splashes (see: Hosmer, Eric). All the pieces fit. I hereby declare the Padres the Machado Mystery Team.

News

Posted by smashdownsportsnews on 2019-01-14 19:20:42

Tagged: , Baseball , News , Featured , NPStrans , toppic , Los Angeles , CA , USA

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