NL Central Outfield Rankings

The NL Central has been one of the most continuously active divisions in an offseason that has been mostly dull.  As we begin spring training we have to decide which teams stand out from the rest in each category.  We are going to begin with the outfield, additions and subtractions have set a few teams apart from the others.  Let’s get to ranking!

5. Cincinnati Reds, 2017 combined WAR: 5

Projected Starters: Adam Duvall, Scott Schebler, Billy Hamilton

Fourth Outfielder: Jesse Winker

The Cincinnati Reds currently sit last in our rankings due mainly to the fact that they are unsure of the future os speedster Billy Hamilton. Jesse Winker proved that he is ready for the big leagues but with Hamilton still in the fold manager Bryan Price may be forced into a platoon situation.

Adam Duvall and Scott Schebler combined for 61 homeruns in 2017, both however showed that they can be boom or bust a large percentage of the time.  Schebler and Duvall both hit just above .230BA and hovered around .301 OBP.  While they have been tasked with driving in runs the lack of production from speedster Billy Hamilton left them with few options to drive in.

The Reds have a solid future to grow on in the outfield but right now it is full of unproven potential.  Great American Ballpark will help them provide the power but outside of that and Duvall/ Hamilton’s solid defense, there is much to like about this outfield core.

4. Pittsburgh Pirates, 2017 Combined WAR: 3.3

Projected Starters: Starling Marte, Gregory Polanco, Adam Frazier

Fourth Outfielder: Jordan Luplow or Daniel Nava?

It wasn’t long ago that the Pittsburgh Pirates sat on top of this list.  Andrew McCutchen claimed that they the best young outfield in the game.  Now he sits in a San Francisco dugout wondering what could have been.

The Pirates still have two potentially dynamic players in Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco, but with Polanco’s injury history and lack of true star production you have to question whether his ability will ever match expectations.  Polanco still has never hit above .258 in three full major league seasons.   Marte entered 2017 as the potential breakout star of baseball senior circuit, a gold glover with the ability to one day be a 30/30 man in the majors with a strong .350OBP.  Sadly a early season steroid suspension put a hole in a season that looked to have big time promise.  Marte has now taken on the role of team leader and star as he shifts to centerfield for 2018, can he pick up for the lose of McCutchen not only on the field but also the locker room?

The Pirates also have to determine whether Adam Frazier, infielder by trade, is the answer in left field.  Frazier provides stability but pretty much no power for a team that will be looking to replace 28HR from its lineup.  The Pirates just added veteran Daniel Nava to it’s roster to compete for the position but, let’s be honest, Daniel Nava is what he is and that is not a consistent MLB starter.

Rookie Austin Meadows is still developing, but as of right now, the Pirates have to options in the outfield and the rest is a coin flip.  Marte and Polanco’s ability though allows them to stay ahead of the Reds for last place.

 

3. Chicago Cubs, 2017 Combined WAR: 5.4

Projected Starters: Jason Heyward, Albert Amora, Kyle Schwarber

Fourth Outfielder: Ian Happ

The Chicago Cubs have a lot of potential players that could spend a lot of time patrolling the outfield in the friendly confines.  But I see Ben Zobrist as more of an infield option at second base.  That leaves us with a few question marks with serious potential.

While I am sure the Cubs regret the amount of money spent on Jason Heward, they will never admit it because you still get the best defensive outfielder in baseball.  While Heyward has been great defensively his offensive output has been subpar over the last two seasons and there is no reason to think it will improve.

Luckily for the Cubbies Albert Amora showed flashes of brilliance in 2017, defensively he has the talent to play center and he bat has begun to show signs of life, his .338OBP and .298BA lead all cubs outfielders in 2017, with another year of experience under his belt he can only improve.

Kyle Schwarber will be the greatest mystery of the bunch.  While Schwarber supplies the power that fans and GM’s drool over, he has not developed as a complete hitter.  Being sent down last season seemed to do him some good but the Cubs need an improvement from the .211BA.  Schwarber’s limitations defensively will force Joe Maddon to sit him in big situations of games as well as limit his overall usage.  Reports say that Schwarber has come into spring training in great shape, but does that really magically turn him into a viable outfielder?

Ian Happ is good, if the Cubs can find AB’s for him he will hit 30 homers, but who do they sit to make room?

2. Milwaukee Brewers, 2017 Combined WAR: 13.7

Projected Starters: Chritian Yelich, Lorenzo Cain, Ryan Braun

Fourth Outfielder: Domingo Santana

It’s hard to argue with the depth of the 2018 Milwaukee Brewers.  The additions of Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain vaulted them right into the stratosphere of athletic/dynamic outfields.Yelich and Cain immediately provide upgrades in the lineup as well as defensively.  The Biggest question about this new look outfield is who is what Ryan Braun is going to show up in 2018

Braun featured career lows in every statistical category in 2017 outside of his injury riddled 2013 season.  Braun will have less pressure as the big names come into the fold but for the Brewers to overcome the arch rival Cubs they will need some form of the former MVP.

Another question that comes is what to do with Domingo Santana. Santana smashed 30 dingers for the Brew Crew in 2017 and now he has to relegated to a bench role.  Finding holes in the Brewers outfield depth was tough but, Cain has only played two full seasons in the majors without any injury issues and Braun seems to be a shell of his former self.  They are dynamic and talented but there are a lot of questions that still have no answers.

1. St. Louis Cardinals, 2017 Combined WAR: 14.3

Projected Starters: Tommy Pham, Dexter Fowler, Marcell Ozuna

Fourth Outfielder: Jose Martinez

The Cardinals entered the 2017 offseason with a goal to add a power bat.  They were successful and now Marcell Ozuna will play in the most talented outfield in the NL Central.

The biggest question about the Cardinals outfield is whether or not Tommy Pham’s monster season was a fluke or not.  The fact is that Tommy Pham has his on every level in professional baseball.  If not for his injury history then he would have been in the majors a long time ago.

Now you may ask, What if he does get hurt again?  The Cardinals feature a stable of young talented outfielders ready to step in on a moments notice.  Guys like Jose Martinez and Harrison Bader have come to the majors and made an impact.

The pickup of Ozuna gave the Cardinals the flexibility in the lineup and defensively, what gets lost in Ozuna’s gaudy power numbers is his defensive ability.  The pickup of Ozuna allowed the Cardinals to move Pham to center and Fowler to right.  Each of these players made MLB’s top 10 outfielders by position and they are set to dominate the league.  The Cardinals have their flaws but the outfield is not one of them.

 

 

Weekly NCAA Picks Feb 17 2018

Picks

Make it or break it time in College Basketball has come.  We have a quick prediction of a couple of Saturday’s games along with a few of my personal choices for picks against the spread.  Let’s break down the day!

Texas Longhorns @ Oklahoma Sooners -6.5

Two struggling Big12  teams meet in the basketball version of the Red River Rivalry. Freshman phenoms Mo Bamba and Trae Young will headline a matchup of two hungry teams. The first mathcup between the two ended in a Longhorns victory 79-75.

Offensively, the game matches up Oklahoma’s No. 1 nationally ranked offense (88.36 points per game) against a Texas Longhorns defense that sits as the No. 56 at 67.96 PPG. The Oklahoma Sooners have been averaging 47.74% from the field, more than the Longhorns have managed so far this season (43.85% on average).

Texas is 6-2 ATS in there last 8 games following a loss while Oklahoma 0-6 in their last 6 games ATS.  Oklahoma has become to reliant on Trae Young, while Texas offense has become more spread out.  The length and game plan put together by Shaka Smart will be a problem for the Sooners.  Both teams need this win, but Texas seems like a tough matchup for Oklahoma.

 Texas -6.5

Villanova Wildcats vs. Xavier Musketeers +1

Villanova looked unbeatable as recently as two weeks ago, but the Wildcats are suddenly reeling after losing two of three in advance of their toughest test of the season. Xavier hasn’t lost since falling at Villanova more than a month ago, ripping off nine straight wins since then. The Musketeers are undefeated at home this season, with wins over Cincinnati and Baylor, as well as every meaningful team in the Big East other than Villanova.

Villanova dominated the first matchup behind a strong performance from Phil Booth.  Villanova’s shooting is going to be the key to the game.  If Nova comes out hitting their shots they should be able to overcome the rowdy home court advantage of the Musketeers.

Villanova and Xavier are two national title contenders who meet on Saturday in a game that could go either way. If luck is what decides this one, then the Wildcats are hoping the Musketeers are due for a reversal of fortunes.

James Caldwell: Villanova -1

West Virginia Mountaineers vs Kansas Jayhawks -3.5

Since rallying to deal West Virginia a crushing blow in the league title chase, Kansas has gone just 5-3. Like the Mountaineers, the Jayhawks have an ugly loss to Oklahoma State on the ledger, and they also dropped contests to Baylor and Oklahoma since the 71-66 win in Morgantown on Jan. 15. Still, they are just one game out of the league lead, and have this game plus a road trip to Big 12-leader Texas Tech in which to make up ground.

West Virginia has won 3 of their last 4, they enter this game with a chance to bury their rivals hopes of another Big12 championship. If the Mountaineers allow Mykhailiuk, Vick and Newman unfettered looks from three, they are going to lose unless KU has a shooting meltdown of epic proportions. That did happen in the Baylor loss, where the Jayhawks went 6-31 from distance, but that is an anomaly. They have been under the 33% mark just one other time in Big 12 play this year (a home loss to Texas Tech) but outside that they range from good to sizzling. West Virginia, which has problems at times rotating to cover one or two shooters, simply can’t leave those players unguarded, even if it means trying to defend head up against Graham and not giving help on penetration.

West Virginia will need a big performance from Javon Carter and Essa Ahmed on the offensive end to get their first ever win at Allen Fieldhouse.  This feels like a classic Kansas show of power, but this isn’t your usual Kansas team.  Kansas most likely wins but its going to be very close.

James Caldwell: West Virginia +3.5

 

James other picks of the day-

Missouri +1 over LSU

Notre Dame +1 over Boston College

Bama vs Kentucky Under

Please no more Lebron

I grew up on Sportscenter. Everyday before I would go wait for the bus, I had to get up early to watch at least a half an hour of sports highlights. If didn’t matter what sport or team was being highlighted I just enjoyed seeing what had happened in the world of sports. As I have become an adult I don’t have as much time in the morning to commit to sports highlights, I am lucky to catch a few minutes of Golic and Wingo before  heading to work.  But last night I got home after a long night of work and figured I would try and catch up on what had happened in college basketball or scores around the NBA, shoot even see how my local Blues had played.  I turned on ESPN and found out the harsh realty, the Sportscenter I had grown up on was no more.  Now we have the 24 hour Lebron James show.

For 25 minutes I watched stories about Lebron James.  It started with the highlights of the Cavaliers beating the Oklahoma City Thunder.  Then it went to a panel talking about how Lebron James is better with his new teammates, next it was Brian Windhorst telling us why Lebron is better with his new teammates, then it was statistics of Lebron James with his new teammates, finally I though it was over.  Sadly I was mistaken, Lebron was now giving his post game interview talking about him and his new teammates.

On this night the Nashville Predators made a historic comeback in the 3rd period vs the Blues, the #1 college basketball team in the country played an in conference rival, Missouri and Texas A&M played a game that came down to the last second, Kansas and Texas Tech were battling for Big12 supremacy, of course pitchers and catchers reported for spring training.   After 25 minutes of not being able to see anything about these events I was forced to go on line to find out the results of these contests.

It is not Lebron James’s fault that we live in a world that is caught up in superstars, but  the continued struggles of the once great titan of the sports industry has to be due to the content that the provide.  Lebron James should be celebrated but please do it within reason.  Understand that there is more to sports then just him.

NL Central Chess Game- Yu Darvish

The NL Central has seen the most activity as a league during the 2018 off-season, Yu Darvish was just the latest move in a three way chess match for dominance.

The final memory of the 2017 MLB season was forgettable for Yu Darvish.  Two starts in the fall classic ended with Darvish setting new career lows in innings pitched per start. But the Chicago Cubs remembered Darvish a little differently, 6.1 innings pitched allowing 1 run while striking out 7.  Darvish helped end the cubbies season, now he looks to be the final piece for a potential championship.

Saturday, the Cubs inked the All-Star starter to a 6year $126million contract, taking the number 1 rated free agent pitcher off the market.  The Cubs effectively addressed their biggest concern leading into the 2018 season.  After several down seasons the Cubs utilized draft picks to build a strong core of position players which allowed them to make the moves necessary to fill a pitching staff with hired guns.  The Cubs rank dead last in innings pitched by “home grown” talent since 2012. Darvish will take the spot of departing free agent Jake Arrieta, presumably finalizing the 2018 rotation.  Darvish will join Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Jose Quintana, and fellow newcomer Tyler Chatwood,  forming the most complete rotation in the top heavy NL Central.

While the Cubs had an available spot in the rotation, this can be looked at as a reaction to the moves made by fellow NL Centrals rivals.  The St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers made moves to bolster their offenses to catch up with the powerhouse NL Central Champs.  The Cubs made the best counter move they could by bringing in Darvish.  Questions still loom around the Cubs bullpen, can they replace All-World closer Wade Davis with Brandon Morrow or Steve Cishek?  They also have to question the ability of long time ace Jon Lester, whom saw a nearly one run per game increase in ERA in 2017.  Darvish will provide stability to the rotation, playing his first five season in the bigs in hitter friendly Ballpark in Arlington, Darvish should have no fear of fellow hitter friendly Wrigley Field.

The Cubs inability to build pitching has been the lone criticism of a team that has now made three straight playoff appearances as well as two straight NLCS appearance.  But while the Cardinals and Brewers have to wait for young arms to develop, they Cubbies have been able to build a strong rotation that comes in immediately MLB ready.  The length of the contact will also give GM Theo Epstein a chance to continue to build.  If Lester is on his last leg and Kyle Hendricks comes back to the real world, Darvish will be able to fill in as the ace of a staff that will be competing for many years behind the great position player core.

While $126million sounds like a big number, in todays pitcher market Darvish comes in at a bargain price.  The Cardinals and Brewers have just been put on notice.  The Cubs have a grasp on the Central that they will not give up.  With great free agents still on the market it is the Cardinals and Brewers move.

NCAA Picks Feb. 10: Conference Supremacy

Three games, three conferences, three teams setting themselves apart from the rest.  Saturday features three matchups that could determine conferences championships. Let’s break them down!

Purdue (23-3) at Michigan State (23-3)

The Purdue Boilermakers looked to be the unstoppable force of the Big Ten winning 12 in a row until they ran into the immovable object of Kenta Bates-Diop and the Ohio State Buckeyes.  Purdues week doesn’t get any easier as they head to the Breslin Center to face preseason Big Ten favorite Michigan State.

Michigan State has the personnel to upset Purdue’s four-out, one-in offense, thanks largely to the versatility of Jaren Jackson and Miles Bridges, but—as is always the case with Purdue—teams have to find a way to run the shooters off the three-point line.  Michigan State will have the ability to place multiple defenders on the Purdue’s Isaac Haas, his size may be imposing but his post skills are still somewhat of a work in progress. Size will also be a factor with guard play, the Boilermakers lack of size at guard will allow Michigan State to play Cassius Winston and Tum Tum Nairn on the court at the same time, making their offense much more efficient.

While this game features great guard play, ultimately the matchup between Michigan State freshman star Jaren Jackson and Purdue’s Vincent Edwards could make the difference in a metrically even matchup.  Will Jackson’s length make an impact or will Edward’s ability to pull the freshman away from the basket cause trouble for the Spartans?  I left Purdue out of my top 5 believing my they were going to have trouble with the big timers of the Big Ten they are currently 0-1.

 Matt Boeding: Purdue    James Caldwell: Michigan State

Gonzaga (22-4) vs St. Mary’s (24-2)

The Zags head to Mckeon Pavilion with redemption on their mind.  Gonzaga features a better non-conference schedule but the loss to St. Mary’s in January still puts the Gaels in command of West Coast Conference. In the first game this year, the Zags got off their game plan and never re-found it. The offense broke down into 20 minutes or so of hero ball, which only works if your name is Rui Hachimura and your shots keep going in.

To be successful Gonzaga will have to keep moving the ball, Gonzaga averages 16.5 assists per game this season. Against Saint Mary’s, they only had 11. Most importantly, in a second half where the Zags were outscored 36-29, the Zags only had three assists. Even more importantly, in the second half of the second half, where the Zags were outscored 20-10, they had zero assists.

St. Mary’s will need to keep the same aggression on the defensive end they made in the first meeting. The matchup between St. Mary’s Senior Jock Landale and Gonzaga’s Senior  Jonathan Williams will be the matchup to watch on Saturday.  Landale is going to get his points but if the Mizzou transfer Williams can make him work for his shots then it can be a long day for St. Mary’s.  This game will no only decide the West Coast Conference but will also decide most likely whom will get the higher seed in March.

Matt Boeding: St. Mary’s      James Caldwell: Gonzaga

USC (17-8) vs Arizona (19-6)

Two teams that have more questions than answers about what kind of team they are.

Arizona has the most impactful player in the Pac12, Deandre Ayton, but just like every team led by freshman inconsistencies seem to follow them. Losing to UCLA put them in a vulnerable position against a hungry USC team.Their best offensive players — Allonzo Trier, Dusan Rustic and even Deandre Ayton — just aren’t difference-makers on the other end of the court.

The Trojans may have 17 wins and an 8-4 record in the Pac-12, but they do not have a win over a likely at-large team. Their only wins against likely tournament teams came against Middle Tennessee State and New Mexico State, powerhouses in Conference USA and the WAC, respectively. They missed an opportunity on Thursday, losing at Arizona State. Saturday’s game with Arizona—which has lost twice since Thanksgiving—is the Trojans last chance to get a win over an at-large quality team in the regular season. If they don’t get it, they’ll have to do some serious damage in the Pac-12 tournament.

USC’s offense an be elite as they are 4th in the Pac-12, 6’10” Junior Bennie Boatright will lead the charge against the suspect defense of Arizona.  USC needs this win but they really don’t have the consistency to pull this one off.

 Matt Boeding: Arizona      James Caldwell: Arizona

 

 

 

Eagles: The New Dynasty?

The 2017 NFL season has come to an end with a surprising result.  The Philadelphia Eagles took down the perennial powerhouse New England Patriots 41-33 in the most offensive football game in NFL history.

The media circus around the New England Patriots focused on the potential inner turmoil created in the New England locker room.  While the Patriots are still the best franchise in over the last 15 years, they are beginning to show chinks in the armor.  The uncertainty of the future for Rob Gronkowski, Tom Brady and even Bill Belichick has left the world looking for the new dynasty and they can look no further than the new world champions they Philadelphia Eagles.

Ironically the Eagles story of victory is as compelling as a young Patriots team in 2001 that made a change at Quarterback and overcame a powerhouse team.  Nick Foles was able to lead a stacked roster of talent to victory along with great coaching.  Foles most likely earned himself a chance to be a starter somewhere in the NFL to start the 2018 season.  Best bet would say that he is moved to the Arizona Cardinals for a mid-level pick.  The injury to Wentz allowed the Eagles to also get a look at Quarterback Nate Sudfield. His 83% completion percentage set a new NFL record for completion percentage for a quarterback making his NFL debut (minimum 20 attempts). The record was previously held by Sam Wyche, who completed 80 percent of his passes for the Cincinnati Bengals against the Houston Oilers in 1968.

The potential loss of  Nick  Foles  and the likely longtime multi- use runningback Darren Sproles. The Eagles should return multiple effective assets.  The Eagles will also get a full season with dynamic runningback Jay Ajayi alongside bruiser Legarrette Blount and their new version of Sproles, 3rd down back Cory Clement the Eagles will feature a trio of backs that second to very few in the NFL.  The Eagles made a great move in the offseason bringing in a real number one receiver in Alshon Jeffery which allowed Nelson Agholor to move to the slot where his skill set makes him the most effective.  The Eagles should look to add depth to in the secondary which gave up way to many big plays throughout the season.

Carson Wentz will return in 2018 and will have be a part of a championship team that will come out as the favorites in the NFC barring in crazy moves.  For the Eagles to make themselves the next great dynasty they will have to do what their Superbowl counterparts have been doing for the last decade, they have to win when its expected.  Their will be no sneaking up on teams in the 2018 season, each night they will get every teams best effort.  They are set with the best offensive line in the league and some of the most dynamic playmakers on both sides of the ball. They have the potential to dominate the NFC for the next ten years, should be fun to watch.