Final Four Picks

Loyola- Chicago Ramblers vs. Michigan Wolverines (-5.5)

The Final Four begins on Saturday with a matchup of two teams that play a similar style.  Strong defense and efficient shooting will be the name of the game.  While this game is not considered the main course of the evening it will be the most expensive appetizer the menu can offer.

When breaking down the South Region of the NCAA tournament bracket I listed Loyola-Chicago as a potential bracket buster.  When I said that I really only saw them winning the first two rounds.  They have shocked myself and the world be making it all the way through the region.  Last second shoots and supreme offensive and defensive basketball lead them to the Final Four, no one can argue they earned it.  Miami had better athletes, Tennessee was better defensively, Nevada had multiple better scorers, and Kansas State was just bigger, but none of that mattered to the Ramblers besting each playing their brand of basketball.  Talk all you want about Sister Jean, this team is good and they have a great chance on Saturday. But I have to follow my instinct on this game.

While the Ramblers are a great story, every story has two possible endings.  Happy or Sad.  Saturday the Michigan Wolverines will play the role of antagonist.  Talk all you want about Michigan having an “easy” journey to the Final Four.  They took care of business in each game the way their fellow higher seeds could not.  They imposed their will on other teams by smothering them defensively and hitting the big shots.  Moritz Wagner will force the lone big man for the Ramblers Caleb Krutwig out of the paint which will open up lanes for Charles Mathews to drive with little to no resistance.  Clayton Custer will still make plays but to see another day of above 50% shooting against a John Beilen coached team is just not believable.

The Ramblers will keep it close but eventually Michigan will impose their will on the smaller team. I see Michigan winning by double digits, I will take the 5.5 and run with it.

Michigan to win and taking the points -5.5

Kansas Jayhawks vs. Villanova Wildcats (-5)

While chaos was the theme of the South and West sides of the bracket, two #1 seeds made their way out to the East and Midwest.  A battle of two top programs as well as top coaches of our generation takes place on Saturday as the Jayhawks take on the Wildcats. This is the main event of the evening and the world seems split on who will come out on top.

Senior guards will be the main focus with AP Player of the Year Villanova’s Jalen Brunson takes on All-Big 12 point guard Devonte Graham.  Villanova has made already taken down two top level Big12 teams defeating both West Virginia and Texas Tech on their way to the Final Four and all the advantages seem to lean towards Nova in this matchup.  Multiple scoring options for Villanova make them very dangerous. I believe they will look to attack Udoka Azubuike early to force Bill Self to put in freshman Silvio De Sousa.  De Sousa showed immaturity in the Elite Eight matchup with Duke nearly costing Kansas the game. If De Sousa is forced into actions and makes similar mistakes Villanova has the experience to bury the Jayhawks.

I am a huge fan of the job Bill Self has done this year. He has taken his least talented team in years to the Final Four.  That has to be respected.  Ultimately Villanova is the better team and will advance.  While I believe Villanova will advance I am looking at Kansas to cover the 5 points.

Villanova Wins, Kansas covers +5

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Game 1: Recap Cards vs Mets

Opening day has come and went for the St. Louis Cardinals losing to the New York Mets 9-4.  Game 1 of 162 is usually not considered a problem , but Cardinals fans watching the game had to feel as if they were seeing a lot of similarities to the team of 2017.

The Negatives

Martinez’s Control

Card’s starter Carlos Martinez, whose emotions can sometimes impede his ability came out finding issues throwing strikes.  Martinez lasting just 4.1 innings, walking 6 Mets while throwing 90 pitches.  The Cardinals chose not to resign innings eater Lance Lynn or add a veteran starter in the offseason. They will need their ace to be the leader emotionally and physically as the season progresses.

Matt Bowman- Still Tired?

The bullpen got off to a shaky start as Matt Bowman came in and gave up 3 runs over just 1/3 of an inning.  Bowman is Mike Matheny’s work horse.  Matheny was ridiculed all last season for over working Bowman. Despite Bowman’s second half struggles, he is still one of Mikes “guys”.  He will be relied upon in big situations this year no matter how many pieces Cardinals management brings in.

Strikeouts

The Cardinals struck out 15 times Thursday afternoon.  Met’s ace Noah Syndergaard was able to fan 10 of those 14 over his 6 innings pitched.  The Cardinals have power up and down the lineup but they at lack the ability to make contact way to much.  While I would love to credit opening day jitters and a dominate pitcher on the mound this team is full of veteran hitters that have to make adjustments as the game gets into the later innings. You know Paul Dejong and Kolten Wong tend to have issues with strikeouts but having 9 strikeouts in a game from the top four in your lineup cannot be a trend that continues.

Jose Martinez Defense

It’s not good. I will cover that more in the positives.

 

The Positives

Jose Martinez

I told you I would get to Jose. Martinez was the bright spot at the plate for the Cardinals going 3 for 4 with a home run and 2 RBI’s.  His bat has to be in the lineup everyday, the man has proven himself as an impact bat.  The negative of Martinez is that while he can hit he is not a stellar defender. His throwing error in the first allowed the first run of the season to score.  He also forces the Cardinals to move Matt Carpenter to 3rd which takes arguably your best infielder defender Jedd Gyroko out of the lineup.  This will be a problem all season long for the Cardinals.  Do you sacrifice offense for defense?  That usually is not the way it works.

Jordan Hicks

The rookie is electric.  Certain pitchers have the ability to cause everyone to stop what they are doing to watch when they are in the game.  Trevor Rosenthal was one of those guys when he first came up and now Hicks looks to be the next.  With the signing of Greg Holland, there is talk either Hicks or Mike Mayers will be sent down.  Unless Mike Matheny was not watching this kid throw today, the choice is very simple. Hicks needs to stay!

 

Summary

Game one was not what fans were looking for.  This team still has way more talent then last year.  My message to St. Louis fan is please don’t panic over game one.

The Cardinals will have a chance to even the score between these two teams Saturday at Citi Field when Michael Wacha (Cardinals) looks to out dual Jacob Degrom (Mets). First Pitch at 12:10PM.

 

Gateway Grizzlies 2018: Season of Redemption

Opening Day has come!  The 2018 Major League Baseball season has come, the local St. Louis Cardinals kickoff their season tomorrow against the New York Mets.  While the Cardinals work towards another World Series run, there is another team in the St. Louis area that is looking for redemption on a year that was lost.

2017 was a season to forget for the Gateway Grizzlies, finishing with the worst record in the Frontier League at 32-64.  Despite a lost season, Manager Phil Warren did reach a personal milestone winning his 500th game.  “It was a bit bittersweet for me, given the nature of our season.  I owe a lot to people around me that have gotten me here.” Warren said when asked about the milestone. Warren looks forward to showing that 2017 was just a pothole on the road to success.

The Gateway Grizzlies enter the 2018 season with a young roster and a manager that sees this season as a chance to continue last years second half momentum. “In 2017 we were dependent on a lot of veterans that didn’t come through for us,” Warren said.  The Grizzlies tough start to the season forced the team to make moves to get younger, moves that included trading veterans to make room for new blood.  Veterans like first baseman Craig Massoni and Pitcher Will Landsheft were moved to competing teams.  While the moves were necessary  to make room for younger players, it did not have an immediate impact according to Warren, “We just weren’t experienced enough when we made the initial moves to beat more experienced teams. But as the year went on we began to see the development.”

Players like former Baltimore Oriole draft pick Matt Hearn, 21, 2018 Frontier League All Star Michael Elwood, 26, former Southern Illinois Miner Joel McKeithan, 27, and former New Mexico State Aggie Brent Sakurai, 23, were given opportunities to develop and show the fans and Warren the potential they have.

The Grizzlies pitching is beginning to take shape. Joining Michael Elwood will be Will Anderson, Garrett Woods, Alec Kisena, Austin Sweet, Tanner Cable and the resigning of Dakota Smith.  Smith, a 2016 Gateway Grizzlie, was signed away to the Boston Red Sox organization. Smith spent two seasons with the Lowell Spinners where he made 23 appearances, 13 starts, comprising an impressive 2.75 ERA. Warren looks forward to having set roles for his pitching staff for the upcoming season.

The Grizzlies will look to fill a void that has been prevalent over the last few seasons at the catching position. Since Warren’s first season in 2007 until 2014 the Gateway Grizzlies had two catchers. Over the last three seasons the club has seen over ten players spend time behind the plate, “Our current situation really makes you appreciate what you had with Landon Hernandez and Charlie Lisk,” Warren said. Warren’s search for a catcher has been centered around pitch framing and defense going into 2018.  Jhonniel Alvarez and Kyle Hamner are two offseason additions that will look to fill the backstop role. Alvarez, 25, spent time in the Texas Rangers system before signing with Gateway. Hamner, 24, spent 2017 with the United Shore Leagues Westside Wollymammoths. Both will have a chance to make the club and hopefully make an impact in the lineup and the pitching staff. Admittedly, Warren is still on the hunt for his potential backstop, “There are plenty of guys that are overlooked”.

As the Frontier League Opening Day nears, the Gateway Grizzlies still have certain holes to fill.  Exciting additions such as former Mariner Kristian Brito, 23, will join the team looking to add some much needed power to the lineup.  Brito is an imposing figure at 6’6, 240 pounds currently working out in Texas as his home in Puerto Rico was ravaged by hurricanes.  Fellow infielder Trae Santos, 25, will also be joining Gateway competing for a spot in the infield.  Santos, a 17th round pick of the San Diego Padres, had his best season in 2015 belting 15 homers.  His power should transition well to lefty friendly GCS Credit Union Ballpark.

Early projections for the Grizzlies show tons of talent in the lineup. Warren still believes there is work to be done to finalize the roles for his team.

The Grizzlies begin their 2018 campaign May 11th against the Schaumberg Boomers at GCS Credit Union Ballpark.

To check out the Gateway Grizzlies full roster and 2018 schedule go to Gatewaygrizzlies.com.

 

 

 

Cardinals Roster: Munoz and Mayers make sense

Opening day is right around the corner and the St. Louis Cardinals have made moves to finalize their roster.  The 2018 Redbirds will have a few new additions to their everyday team, including some new and surprising names.

Yairo Munoz, a piece of the deal that sent Stephen Piscotty to Oakland has emerged as the diamond in the rough.  While addressing its outfield clutter, the Cardinals were also able to upgrade their infield depth. Munoz gives the club an above-average defender who can play multiple positions, including shortstop. Munoz will take on a role that has become important on contending teams the super utility man.  Players that can function in multiple spots on the field as well as the lineup have become essential to winning organizations.  Ben Zobrist, Marwin Gonzalez, Kiki Hernandez are all recent examples of players that have played multiple positions and have made an impact on the roster. Munoz 2017 season showed the potential he can bring on the minor league level, blasting 13 homers while keeping his average at .300.  The Cardinals are taking a bit of a gamble keeping up Munoz and essentially naming him as their 5th outfielder behind Fowler, Pham, Ozuna and presumably Jose Martinez.  Munoz has shown the athletic ability to play the outfield, he has been primarily an infielder his professional career. Manager Mike Matheny made the choice of keeping Munoz on the team despite his history of sticking to “his guy”, Munoz’s spring training numbers were impossible to ignore, luckily for Cardinals fans they were not.

Mike Mayers, entered 2018 spring training still remembered in the minds of Cardinals fans for his infamous Dodgers game debut in 2016, giving up nine runs over 1 1/3 innings.  Mayers, used primarily as a starter in the minors has found a role in the bullpen that seems to fit him. With an injury to projected closer Luke Gregerson, the Cardinals were able to keep the now triple digit throwing Mayers in the bullpen., still unproven on the major league level, will have to earn the trust of the skipper but if successful could move into a role that current bullpen mainstay Matt Bowman has mastered over the last two seasons.  The added development of Mayers will allow Bowman to have a few more days off in the early part of the 2018 season.  Mayers development of a stronger mound presence has led to 12 scoreless innings in the spring as well as a new philosophy to pitching

“I’m not just here to be here,” Mayers said. “I’m here to dominate.”

The common Cardinal fan will see Mayers on the Opening Day roster and remember the awful beginning to his career, but this is not the same Mike Mayers.  This is the evolution of the pitcher formally known as Mike Mayers, now a fireballer that has no fear.  Again the Cardinals have modernized their bullpen, utilizing former starters in their bullpen similar to Andrew Miller and Wade Davis.

Mike Mayers and Yairo Munoz may not factor into the Cardinals season in the longterm but the decision to have them both on the roster shows that the Cardinals are open to changing the way they build their roster, they are beginning to evolve.

The Cardinals kick off their season Thursday March 29 as they travel to Citi Field to take on the Mets.  First Pitch set for 12:10PM.

 

Sweet 16 Picks: Part 4

4 Gonzaga Bulldogs (-5.5) vs. 8 Florida State Seminoles

The Gonzaga Bulldogs have not made this tournament easy for themselves. Twice letting half time leads evaporate quickly. The Zags overcame through strong play from most everyone, especially Josh Perkins, Zach Norvell, and Rui Hachimura, are now gathering the bulk of Final Four chatter after the rest of the bracket was decimated in the first weekend.

While the Zags got through the Big Ten regular season champion Ohio State Buckeyes most assumed they were set for a matchup with Big East regular season champion and region #1 seed Xavier. As this tournament has proved, seeds don’t mean anything.  Despite the Musketeers dominating a large portion of the game, they fell to a late surge from the Florida State Seminoles. The Seminoles’ pure size created issues for both Trevon Bluiett and Quentin Goodin on the offensive end for Xavier.  Florida State’s shocking win set us up with a rather interesting matchup.  Florida State’s high pace offensive strategy accompanied by their length on defense versus a high powered offensive Gonzaga team.

These two teams have very differing styles, while Florida State has multiple players that play a bulk of the minutes, Gonzaga has NBA level talent that they stick with for the larger portions of the game.  Determining a victor for this game is going to be about pace.  Florida State has to keep this game up tempo and not let Gonzaga utilize their advantage down low.  Killian Tillie and Jonathon Williams will attack the offensive glass all game, I can’t see Florida State being able to handle the power down low.

Florida State has shocked me after literally not showing up in the ACC tournament, they have turned it around defeating two teams that were highly regarded.  Problem is the Zags have more players to lean on then the Seminoles have dealt with.  Multiple scorers means multiple points.  I have the Zags winning but I won’t bet it.

 Gonzaga wins (Betting +5.5 for Florida State)

Sweet 16 Picks: Part 3

5 Kentucky Wildcats(-6) vs. 9 Kansas St. Wildcats (-6)

The Wildcat region has its second Wildcat matchup of the region, just not the one we thought we would get.  Kentucky sits as the favorite remaining in the bracket,  a team full of freshman is now the favorites. While they sit as the favorites they can’t loo past a battle tested Big 12  Kansas State team.

Kansas State played the role of midnight on the Cinderella of the tournament UMBC thanks to a Bryce Brown and Xavier Sneed.  Leading scorer Dean Wade had to watch as his teammates pulled out a grinding victory over the upstart Retrievers. Kansas State’s perimeter defense will have to repeat its performance of the first round holding down a offensive heavy Creighton team.  The purple Wildcats will look to keep the more athletic Kentucky team out of the lane.  Their 20th ranked defense will have to play at that level, especially if All-Big12 Selection Dean Wade is still not able to play, Kansas State will be challenged on the offensive end.

The biggest individual reason for Kentucky’s surge has been the rise to prominence of freshman Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.  SGA has been a swiss army knife for the young Kentucky squad  averaging 18 points 5 rebounds and 4 assists per game during their current win streak. The scary part about this Kentucky team is that he may not even be the best player on the floor, freshman Kevin Knox, a potential lottery pick still has the ability to take over a game at any point.

Kentucky opens this game as a 6 point favorite, with their current hot streak and the potential injury problem for Wade this number makes sense.  Wade has come out recently saying barring any setbacks he will play in the Sweet 16.  If Wade plays the entire game changes.  If he plays I see K-Sate covering the 6 points and even winning outright over a young Kentucky team that has limited range.

 Kansas State +6 (Lean Kentucky if Wade can’t play)

 

Sweet 16 Picks: Part 2

7 Texas A&M vs 3 Michigan (-2.5)

Texas A&M was ranked as high as No. 5 in December after starting the season 11-1. A five-game losing streak ensued, a string of so-so play that A&M never really busted out of until the NCAA tournament. A&M brings a loaded frontcourt with Robert Williams and Tyler Davis but it has been the emergence of freshman point guard TJ Sparks that has provided the front court stability during the first two rounds.  Sparks was unstoppable in the Aggies second round matchup with the vaunted North Carolina Tarheels, gashing the heels for 21points and 5 assists. Texas A&M are a dangerous team with NBA level talent, they have spent a lot of the year playing inconsistently, their 9-9 record and first round departure in the SEC tournament shows they have vulnerabilities.

Michigan enters this game on a high after the miraculous shot from freshman Jordan Poole pushed them past a very game Houston Cougars team.  Michigan’s defense is elite, they are the best defensive team left in college basketball.  Teams have shot 34.5 percent, but they have yet to face a team that will be working from the inside out like Texas A & M. Charles Matthews has been a key guy thus far in the Big Dance for Michigan. The Kentucky transfer leads the team with a 15.5 scoring average. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman has been good on both ends, ranking No. 2 in scoring with an 11.5 average while playing good defense. Still, keep an eye on Matthews, who is hot and matches up well with the Aggies. With Michigan outmanned down low, wing players like Matthews need to excel. While I do believe Mathews will play a big role, keeping Moritz Wagner out of foul trouble will also be key for Michigan on the offensive end.

I have gone back and forth on this game.  Texas A&M has a future NBA starter in Robert Williams but their inconsistencies are tough to look past against a very strong Michigan defense. I also consider John Beilien to be one of the most underrated coaches in college basketball. Michigan will suffocate the Aggies guards all day and Robert Williams talent will be matched by Wagner’s skill.  Give me the Wolverines moving on and covering.  If the line moves up i would be cautious.

 Michigan -2.5

Sweet 16 picks: Part 1

11 Loyola Chicago Ramblers vs. 7 Nevada Wolfpack (-1.5)

Cinderella rules the South region of the NCAA tournament, where Loyola-Chicago will take on Nevada in a Sweet 16 matchup Thursday night in Atlanta.

The Ramblers and Sister Jean have stolen the hearts of the viewing public.  An under estimated, in my opinion and under seeded Rambler squad play grind it out team basketball.  They have multiple players that can beat you on any night.  Mo Valley player of the year Clayton Custer runs the offense to perfection, moving the ball to find the defenses weakness.  They have been supremely efficient in their first two games, shooting 47 percent vs a stout Miami defense and an even more astounding 50 percent against a battle tested Tennessee squad.

Nevada pulled off one of the most amazing comebacks in NCAA tournament history overcoming a 22 point deficit to defeat the Cincinnati Bearcats Sunday night. They had similar sharp shooting in their two games thus far defeated two solid defenses to get to this matchup.

Both teams have played at an elite level the first two round of this tournament, right now the line sits at a slight edge in favor of the Wolfpack.  I believe most money will be going with the Ramblers as we inch closer to the tip.  The Ramblers have not played a team with this kind of offensive firepower.  Cody and Caleb Martin will be a tough matchup, I look for Nevada to speed up the pace and take down the Ramblers.  Sorry Sister Jean it’s over.

 Nevada -1.5

Good Job Astros

Lost in the madness of the NCAA tournament this weekend was the front office of the Houston Astros extending American League MVP, Jose Altuve to an astounding 7-year 163.5M deal.

Altuve, 27, has now been cemented as the cornerstone of a franchise that took home it’s first ever world series title in 2017.  The Astros continue to make moves that will make them a powerhouse in the American League for the next 5 years. Fans of Houston were subjected to abysmal baseball, during a during a 3 year stretch 2011-2013 the Astros would lose over 100 games before they were able to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

As the team began to develop so did the 5 foot star in the making.  Altuve is more then just the numbers, he is the leader of a team with a young core and a bright future.  His extension will lock up not only a great player but a leader of the organization. This contract could very well change the way that baseball evaluates its talent. Veteran DH of the Detroit Tigers Victor Martinez, teammate of Altuve onVenezuelan national team,  commented on the signing. “I hope teams learn a lesson about evaluating players, It’s not how tall you are. It’s your talent. It’s your heart.”

Altuve’s statistics got him the money, his leadership got him the years.  This is a move for the future, it is a move that shows Houston’s commitment to winning.  The Astros head into 2018 to defending their title, their front office has already won.