2018 NFL Mock Draft

Four quarterbacks in the top ten?  Another scandal involving a projected top pick breaking on draft day?  Two generational talents available?

In some ways, this draft is just like all the others.  Three of the quarterbacks are gonna suck and two will be stars, and nobody really knows which those will be.  (Seriously.  After every draft, GMs always go “We never saw this coming,” no matter which way their development goes).  In other ways, it’s completely different.  We have 4-5 first round caliber quarterbacks whose value has never been debated more; individually and worthily to a respective team.  We have two generational talents available as well.  In the top six picks, we could be looking at five superstars. That’s rare.

The rules for the mock draft have slighty changed.  I’ll address that later.  As always, the mock draft is part what I think should happen and part what I think will happen.  I usually identify where that difference exists.

The 2nd rule was always no trades.  There’s some really tough spots in my mock draft, where teams just don’t really need someone who’s available.  I broke the rule once today.  Consider it a treat.

No.1, Cleveland Browns: QB Josh Allen, Wyoming

This offseason drove me insane.  Teams spent $10 million more than they needed to on a quarterback and then still plan to draft one, or gave up a fair amount/too much for in a trade for a QB and are still gonna take one.

The Browns fit the last half of that sentance.  If you hacked the inner trenches of hippelsportshub, you’d find a 3,000 word column on free agency that included 1,500 words about the Tyrod Taylor trade that was never posted.  I loved the Taylor trade; I think putting him with weapons makes him an above average quarterback.  He never had anything to work with in Buffalo!  No one believed in him!

The Browns made may not believe in him either, which makes it strange that they gave up a 3rd round pick in order to get him (Just another example of the over-importance placed on quarterback.  You’re giving up a 3rd round pick for bridge guy?  NICK FOLES JUST WON THE FREAKING SUPER BOWL!!!).

That’s why I think Cleveland is in a picky spot here.  They don’t really need a quarterback.  They just gave Carlos Hyde a contract that will pay him $5 million a year, a pretty good price for a No.1 running back who has had injury issues.  Even though Saquon Barkley is a generational talent, you’re once again doubling down.  And though Quenton Nelson is also a generational talent, taking an offensive lineman at No.1 when you have two franchise QBs and a stud running back on the board seems like something that’s gonna piss off your already tortured fan base.

Again, this is a combination of what I think is gonna happen and what should happen.  Josh Allen is my QB1, and though I like the prospectus of Taylor, he’s also a member of the Cleveland Browns and isn’t winning you a Super Bowl with this current roster.  By the time this roster is ready, he’s well out of his prime.

The completion percentage of Allen’s is very concerning.  But his stature and natural presence in the pocket is attractive.  When I watched Allen in the pocket this season, he seemed the most comfortable.  When he threw the ball, he looked like a quarterback.  Him and one other guy have that in this draft.  If I ran Cleveland, I’d trade down and get a chest of future assets.  But they’re the Browns, and John Dorsey is gonna want his guy.  I’m okay with that.

No.2, New York Giants: RB Saquon Barkley, Penn State

Quarterback feels weird here.  The regime that benched Eli Manning is gone; owner John Mara was not gonna let that one slide.  Though Manning is totally washed, taking a quarterback at 2nd overall and having him sit for 2-3 years just isn’t worth it.  You have two generational talents to choose from.

The question is, which one?  Both are huge needs.  Part of the Giants’ horrendous offense the past few seasons has been due to the fact that Eli’s had to do too much; they’ve had no primary running back who they could give 25 carries too and rack up 125 yards.  It’s been a bunch of guys who get 12 carries and five receptions a game for a total of 80 yards.

But the offensive line has also been just as bad.  Ereck Flowers has been a complete bust so far (Good luck trading him by the way!).  John Jerry is washed.  They paid Nate Solder big bucks though, and adding Nelson makes 2/5 of the line above average.  Solder can use his experience to help out Flowers, and if he improves, you’re looking at a much better offensive line with two superstars.

But that’s a reach, and even though Nelson feels like one of the safest picks in the draft, the Giants haven’t had the best luck drafting offensive lineman lately.  Plus, watching Barkley score touchdowns and mowing dudes over isn’t gonna be fun when he’s not on your team even if Nelson turns into a Hall-of-Famer someday.  Make the fans happy and take Barkley.  He’s the best college running back I’ve seen.  Him in New York City with Odell Beckham Jr?  Sign me up (PS: I’m 95% sure the Giants are taking him.  The quotes from GM David Gettleman and the lack of hints about the QBs really make me think they’re set on him.  You’re not hearing anything but Barkley connected to them).

No.3, New York Jets: QB Josh Rosen, UCLA

“Wait!  I thought you didn’t like teams doubling down on quarterbacks?”

Oh I’m sorry.  I didn’t know Josh McCown counted as an actual NFL QB still.  I mean, if he’s getting paid $10 million this season (Puke), I guess we have to count him.

I mean…  what the raging F was that contract?

And as much as I’d like to think Teddy Bridgewater is a franchise QB, the odds are limited.  He signed with the Jets out of all teams.  There’s no way the Jets are rebooting Bridgewater’s career.  They should release him and now let him sign with Arizona or Buffalo, just to give him a chance.

The Jets taking a quarterback here makes sense because they’re a team that actually needs a quarterback.  They didn’t significantly overpay someone (Here’s the thing with McCown.  If the contract was for $9 million, it doesn’t look nearly as bad), or make a panic trade.  They need a quarterback, and have to take one.  Only them and Buffalo are in that scenario.

Rosen is the best one available.  He has a rocket arm, is great in the pocket has the “It” factor to him.

If you look at all the scouting reports on Rosen, there are no football related negatives.  Zero.  It’s durability and personality concerns.  The guy is a special talent.  He just has to stay focused and keep himself healthy.

Those are big concerns though.  Being drafted in New York probably isn’t the best scenario for him (Is it the best for Baker Mayfield, though?  No…).  After what Johnny Manziel had to say about the Browns not realizing how he wasn’t really focused on football, you have to be concerned about Rosen’s focus.

And why did his coach not have anything all that flattering to say about him?  Sure, Jim Mora might be kind of an idiot, but still?  What is holding you back from defending the kid as much as you can?  That was also a little concerning.

But the problem I have with this criticsm is that it’s coming from a bunch of old white dudes in NFL front offices.  They look at players like robots.

Who cares if Rosen’s woke or not?  If he’s a future top ten quarterback, who cares?

Rosen is gonna have to add some muscle.  He’s 6’4 218; a literal stick.  The durability is a viable concern.  But he has the talent.  The Jets should gamble on it.

No.4, Cleveland Browns: DE Bradley Chubb, NC State

This is the easiest decision the Browns have to make all draft.  You’re getting the chance to pair Bradley Chubb with Myles Garrett?  Yes please.

Chubb might be the 2nd best edge rusher I’ve evaluated besides Garrett.  The hype for Chubb would be so much greater if Garrett wasn’t drafted just a year ago.

Just take him, Browns.  The decision isn’t hard.  You’re making life hell for the opposing quarterback every week with this pick.

No.5, Denver Broncos: TRADE:  Broncos trade No.5 to Buffalo for No.12 overall, future assets, Bills take QB Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma 

I broke the golden NFL mock draft rule I’ve used all four times I’ve done this.  We’re doing a trade.

I haven’t done trades ever in my NFL Mock Drafts because if I was running each team, I’d be trading down almost every single time, because I’m a value/future assets guy.  If I were Cleveland, I’d be shopping No.1 like crazy.

I couldn’t figure out the right pick for Denver.  Quenton Nelson falling to No.6 seems absotluely crazy, but the Broncos have Ronald Leary on a big contract at one guard spot and Max Garcia is only 26 years old.  There’s no real need to replace him.

It’s a little early for someone like Tremaine Edmunds or Roquan Smith, and the Broncos need middle linebacker more than another dynamic edge rusher or athletic linebacker.

Denver could go quarterback here, but why?  You have Case Keenum at $18 million a year.  Bridge quarterbacks don’t get $18 million a year!  He’s your starter.  You believe in him.  Why take a quarterback so high?  Plus, you wiffed on Paxton Lynch just two short years ago!  You really trust yourself to develop someone?

Trade the pick and collect some extra assets.  I’m not gonna guess on what those are; I’ll let the teams hammer that out and evaluate it later.

I mentioned earlier that two teams actually needed quarterbacks: Buffalo and the Jets.  Cross both off.

The Bills currently have Nathan Peterman and AJ McCarron.  Yikes!

Baker Mayfield is my QB3.  The height and characteristic concerns take him down.  But the guy is a baller.  He’s pinpoint accurate.  He makes big plays.  His arm, like Allen and Rosen’s, is a cannon.

But Mayfield isn’t a 100% football sound like Rosen.  Sometimes he likes to force it. He’s short, which has a boom or bust history.  And the character is questionable, even though he feels like one of the most mature guys when you listen to him talk.

Being short didn’t affect him college.  But Mayfield was in the most perfect offense for his skills at Oklahoma, and didn’t have to deal with edge rushers like the ones he’ll face in the NFL.  Short QBs are Russell Wilson or Drew Brees.  Who else is there?  They don’t exist.

It’s concerning, but Mayfield has the star power to get over it.  Being in Buffalo won’t get him caught up in the limelight.  As long as the Bills invest in weapons, Mayfield is their QB of the future.

No.6, Indianapolis Colts: OG Quenton Nelson, Notre Dame

What an incredibly lucky pick for the Colts.  They’d be ecstatic to land Nelson.  There’s a good chance he is gone by now, though, depending on how trades shake out.

The Colts offensive line is awful, and with Andrew Luck hopefully (???) returning from a shoulder injury, he’s gonna need protection.  Nelson is a once in a generation prospect.  He mows 300 pound defensive tackles and slams edge rushers pulling.  Drafting offensive linemen high has been shaky lately, but Nelson is a guaranteed hit.

No.7, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: S Derwin James, Florida State

Not taking Minkah Fitzpatrick here hurts.

He’s been my guy all throughout the college football and draft season.  I’ve had friends nudging me on him.  Some of my most trusted football people say he’s the best defensive player in the draft (I found that a stretch, by the way).

But the Buccaneers can address a more immediate need by taking Derwin James, a hard hitting safety out of Florida State.  Sure, taking Denzel Ward or Fitzpatrick gives you the future after Brent Grimes and his wife leave town, but those two guys are over-qualified for the Bucs.  They need to get as many snaps as possible and get thrown to the fire like Marshon Lattimore and Malik Hooker did last season.

This is high for James.  Tampa Bay could trade down and get him later.  But he’s the better fit.  Taking the best player available isn’t always the smartest move in the NFL.

No.8, Chicago Bears: DB Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama

He’s a stud.  He can play practically anywhere.  He’s a play-maker.  He’s amazing in coverage and is physical at the same time.

The Bears can use an upgrade at all of their secondary positions.  Minkah Fitzpatrick provides all of those.  He’s a quick cornerback and a bruising safety at the same time.  Prince Anakuamara was a nice bridge guy for a year and worth a flyer, but now it’s time to build for the future.  Fitzpatrick is an upgrade over Adrian Amos or Eddie Jackson at safety as well.

No.9, San Francisco 49ers: CB Denzel Ward, Ohio State 

The 49ers secondary is the weakest part of their improving defense.  Denzel Ward is the latest stud Buckeye secondary member to be a first pound pick.  He’s a lockdown cornerback who’s incredibly athletic.  I expect 7-8-9 to be a run of the top defensive backs.  San Francisco will be fine with whoever is left.

No.10, Oakland Raiders: LB Roquan Smith, Georgia

A perfect Oakland Raider.  Smith is a nasty, physical linebacker who can bullrush lines and drop back into coverage.  He’s a hard hitter and an athletic beast.  The Raiders lack these type of guys on their below average defense.  Smith should be able to come in and make an immediate impact.

No.11, Miami Dolphins: LB Tremaine Edmunds, Virginia Tech

Edmunds fits the modern, hybrid type linebacker mold perfectly.  At 6’5, he’s a massive presence in the flats and can drop back to defend the middle of the field.  Coverage is his specialty, which will help out a Miami secondary that struggled last season.

No.12, Denver Broncos: LB Rashaan Evans, Alabama (Pick from Buffalo’s trade up)

It’s still hard finding the right pick for the Broncos.  I’m trying to trade down again here if I’m them.

Their defense is loaded, but there are some possible upgrade spots in the linebacking core.  Evans is another dynamic linebacker, who’s a hard hitter and can drop into coverage.  He’s a perfect Bronco.

No.13, Washington Redskins: CB Josh Jackson, Iowa

Another lockdown cornerback off the board.  Ward goes ahead of him due to the extreme athleticism.  But Josh Jackson hunts footballs.  He was an absolute ball-hawk at Iowa, and made life hell for the Buckeyes in that massive upset in Week 10.  I thought the Redskins biggest weakness was their secondary last season.  Sliding Jackson in locks down at least one side of the field.

N0.14, Green Bay Packers: WR Calvin Ridley, Alabama

Signing Jimmy Graham was one my favorite moves of the offseason, but besides him, the Packers are looking at an underwhelming selection of weapons for Aaron Rodgers.

Davante Adams and Randall Cobb are always hurt.  When they’re healthy, they’re threats, because they are not at all bad receivers and Aaron Rodgers is their quarterback.  But if they’re not there, then no one is there for Rodgers besides Graham, who probably just needed a fresh start and a new offense, but hasn’t been nearly the tight end he was in New Orleans the past two years.

Picking Calvin Ridley gets you a big, outside the numbers receivers to get the ball downfield to.  When everyone is healthy, you’re loaded.  When you’re banged up, at least you now have some consistency.

No.15, Arizona Cardinals: OT Mike McGlinchey, Notre Dame

If Sam Darnold goes high and one of the other three quarterbacks slips all the way here, I’m game.  At the end of the day, my QB big board is really more like this: Not Darnold.

I’ll get into that when he’s picked.  Arizona has options here.  They may trade up for a QB (Please no), settle for one here (I’m okay with that) or can select from a massive pool of offensive or defensive linemen.

I chose to go with the best offensive linemen left.  Mike McGlinchey certainly isn’t his teammate, but is a massive 6’8 tackle who can move.  DJ Humphries can’t stay healthy and hasn’t been good even when healthy, and Andre Smith doesn’t give me any more hope on the other side.  The Cardinals have worked to improve the middle.  Now it’s time build out.

No.16, Baltimore Ravens: OG Will Hernandez, UTEP

This year’s offensive lineman class is Nelson and everyone else.  “Everyone else” is mid-round talent.  Here they start to come off the board.

The Ravens can go inside or out with this pick.  I find Hernandez to be the next best lineman available, so the hole at left guard can be filled.  Him and Marshall Yanda smashing A and B gaps?  I don’t want to deal with that.

No.17, Los Angeles Chargers: LB Leighton Vander Esch, Boise State

This is another tough choice.  I considered Sam Darnold here (If a QB falls, the Chargers should consider taking whichever one does).

However, Phillip Rivers is the type of guy who’s just gonna be awesome until he’s 40.  That’s four years from now.

They can wait.  This is a roster that is incredibly talented.  You go over it and think “How did this team not make the playoffs?”  Plug the holes and move along.

Vander Esch plugs one of those holes.  He’s a big middle linebacker who moves like someone who should be playing on the outside.  Hayes Pullard wasn’t great last season in this spot.  Vander Esch provides immediate play-making and creates a threatening force over the middle of the field.

No.18, Seattle Seahawks: DT Da’Ron Payne, Alabama

This Seahawks roster went through a tumultuous offseason, which means a big draft will be needed to account for what could be some serious regression next season.

Seattle could go wide receiver, offensive line or cornerback here.  Seattle has built their identity on their secondary since 2010, but it’s possible that this is Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor’s last season in Seattle.  Why not shift the focus up front if that’s the case?  …Especially considering that defensive line is turning into the most valuable position group there is, and that the Seahawks already have a nice core up there.

Payne is a massive human who’s stunningly athletic for his size.  He blows up run plays and forces double teams.  He would make Seattle’s line deadly.

I like Carlton Davis here for the Seahawks as well.  The best corners are gone, but Davis is a first round talent.

No.19, Dallas Cowboys: WR Cortland Sutton, SMU

If I were Dallas, I’d consider trading down here.  I feel like wide receivers and running backs get drafted too high; there’s just too many of them!

The Cowboys could opt to go defense; Carlton Davis makes some sense, but Dallas needs safety more they need cornerback (Boy would they love to trade up and get Derwin James).  Sean Lee is always hurt, but after Vander Esch the market for linebackers really falls off.  Pass rushers are still available, but the Cowboys are talented and deep there.

For Dallas’ defense, it’s about staying healthy.  They’re more talented than most give them credit for.

That’s kinda the same case offensively.  I think this wide receiver core is good!  Even after Dez Bryant being cut, Dallas has dudes.  Allen Hurns is incredibly underrated. Cole Beasley is a bad man, and Terrance Williams is a decent target.  Plus, Jason Witten is still kicking it.

The Cowboys have to replace/upgrade upon the void that Dez left: A big, physical wide receiver.  Cortland Sutton is that.  He’s 6’3, big and strong, and can muscle through tacklers.  He’s got a little Calvin Johnson in him.

No.20, Detroit Lions: OG Isaiah Wynn, Georgia

The Lions offensive line is getting better, and selecting Isaiah Wynn would put one of the finishing touches on.  He’s very versatile and can play either tackle or guard.  I’d slot him in at left guard for now (Kenny Wiggins is not the answer), but his ability to play both positions could come in handy down the road.

No.21, Cincinnati Bengals: DT Vita Vea, Washington 

A little bit of a fall for Vita Vea, who will probably end up going much higher than this.  Vea is one of those guys who is just a massive human being.  He’s 6’4, 347 and plays bigger than that.  He’s a run stuffer and creates chaos in the middle.

The Bengals are aging up front.  Offensive line might be a bigger need, but it’s too high for Orlando Brown.  If Wynn falls here, they should take him.

No.22, Buffalo Bills: WR DJ Moore, Maryland

If I were Buffalo, I’d trade down to try and make up for the trade up to get Mayfield.  They need linebackers and offensive line, but both are reaches at this point.

The Bills receiving core is good on paper.  Kelvin Benjamin, Rod Streater, Andre Holmes, Zay Jones and Charles Clay?  Not bad!  But Benjamin and Clay are never healthy and are inconsistent, and Streater isn’t more than a 3rd option.

Getting DJ Moore makes a healthy core loaded and provides depth incase someone goes down (Very likely).  He isn’t the most talented receiver, but projects as a solid 2nd option on a good offense.

No.23, New England Patriots: DE Harold Landry, Boston College

The Patriots go local and take pass rusher Harold Landry out of Boston College.  Landry is a pure pass rusher; nothing else.  But his long arms and quick feet allow to put sick moves on opposing linemen.  The front seven was New England’s biggest weakness last season.  Landry gives them at least a presence up there.

No.24, Carolina Panthers: CB Carlton Davis, Auburn

There’s a lot of cornerback depth in this draft, so it’s really about who Carolina likes here.  No matter what, it’s a need.

I watched more of Davis than I did Mike Hughes or Jaire Alexander, so that’s the reason for the bias here.  Davis is big for a corner and plays like it; he’s physical with his hands and uses the first five yards effectively.

No.25, Tennesse Titans: DE Marcus Davenport, UTSA

The Titans have run stuffers in Jurrell Casey and Daquan Jones.  The outsides of the line however, are weak.

Here, Tennessee goes with the next best pass rusher available.  He’s a physical freak at 6’6, and uses that size to bullrush opposing linemen.  He’s a little raw in some areas, but his ceiling is too high for Tennessee to pass on.

No.26, Atlanta Falcons: WR Christian Kirk, Texas A&M

Essentially the Taylor Gabriel replacement.  Christian Kirk certainly isn’t as fast Gabriel, but his speed on short routes over the middle provide a similar target.  He also plays bigger than he is, which at 5’10 makes him a feisty cover.

No.27, New Orleans Saints: DT Taven Bryan, UCLA

The Saints don’t need a lot.  Any acting like they lack offensive weapons is underestimating Drew Brees’ ability to make anyone awesome.

They’re in best player available mode, and Taven Bryan is that guy at this point.  He’s a hassle in the trenches, and has supreme pass rushing skills for a defensive tackle.  The Saints adding Bryant gives them a scary rotation of guys on this line.

No.28, Pittsburgh Steelers: S Justin Reid, Stanford 

The Steelers also don’t need a lot.  It’s fair to question how Morgan Burnett will preform at safety, so taking Reid here gives Pittsburgh some insurance and a long term plan.

No.29, Jacksonville Jagurs: QB Sam Darnold, USC

Lets gooooooooo.

I am aware that there is a zero percent chance of this happening.  I do not believe Sam Darnold will get past Arizona at 15.

By doing this, I am trying to make a point. Darnold is my QB5.  I am not a fan.

Yes, he’s tall, which I and front office people like.  But he has such an awkward frame and body that it makes him look lanky when he’s dropping back.  Combine that with the weird arm motion, and Darnold just doesn’t possess the look.  The other guys do.

He was a sneaky turnover machine in college, which is a trait that usually translates to the pros pretty well.  It also makes him a fine Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback.

It seems like the Jags figured out how to make Blake Bortles not terrible: A strong running game, good coaching, and easy throws.

But what if this was just a weird outlier year from Bortles?  What if he’s like a streaky baseball player who just can’t do anything good?

The Jags did lock up Bortles on a contract, but there’s many outs incase he regresses back to what we thought he was.  Darnold would give them a long term option.

Again, there’s no way this happens.  If he falls, he doesn’t get past Arizona.  Even with my strong disliking, there’s no way he’s not a first round pick.  The Jags were the only team that made realistic sense.

No.30, Minnesota Vikings: OG Connor Williams, Texas

I’d expect a trade down here, since the Vikings really don’t need anything, and Williams is a reach.  Guard is one of the few needs the Vikings have.

No.31, New England Patriots: QB Lamar Jackson, Louisville 

Oh yeah!  It’s getting wonky in the back!

I don’t think this is the right move on New England’s part, but there’s been too much noise about them attempting to move up that I believe they might surprise some people.

I also think there’s no way Jackson gets out of the first round.  He’s my QB4, and there’s too much talk that he could go much higher than we imagine.  Him slipping here probably surprises you.

The Patriots drafted the right man to succeed Tom Brady in Jimmy Garappolo.  The problem was that they did it too early.

Now is the time they should have done it.

If Jackson goes to the Patriots, I’m all the sudden much higher on him.  New England has consistently shown that they can squeeze 110% out of any quarterback.  The same case goes for Jackson, who’s supremely talented but may not have the total package.  The Patriots can work on these things.  He’s got a good mentor.

No.32, Philadelphia Eagles: WR DJ Chark, LSU

The Eagles lost some weapons in free agency, so getting DJ Chark, a big, downfield receiver will pair nicely with Alshon Jeffrey.  His value is a lot higher than this.

Part Four Of The NBA’s First Round Playoff Preview

These will be very short and concise since my flight landed right as Game 1 of Jazz-Thunder was starting.

No.5 Utah Jazz vs. No.4 Oklahoma City Thunder

How the Jazz can win the series:  Donavan Mitchell is unstoppable.  The Thunder have multiple options for him (Russell Westbrook, Paul George, Terrance Ferguson).  It’s gonna be tough, but Mitchell could end up being a top ten player in the league someday.  This is only the beginning.

Utah ranked 2nd in defensive rating this year.  They are a literal wall.  If you put Ricky Rubio on Westbrook and Joe Ingles on Paul George, you’re in good shape.  Rubio’s tenaciousness can pester Russ, leading him to take more bad shots and try to do more than usual (Or, more than he already does).

That will happen at least once this series.  Russ will take 25 shots and hit eight or nine of them.  Will it happen four times?  Ehhhhhh

How the Thunder can win the series:  They have much more firepower than the Jazz.  When Russ is on, he’s unstoppable.  When Paul George is hot, he’s unstoppable.  When Carmelo Anthony is standing in the corner, he’s standing in the corner.

The Jazz’s defense is amazing.  But the bowling ball that Russ is should be able to get through it.  I would put a no jumpshots allowed rule on Russ.

Who wins?:  Oklahoma City in seven.  I think the Jazz are gonna make the Thunder work.  Mitchell will go off once, Russ will suck once or twice, and Utah will give OKC a “scare”.  I don’t like Oklahoma City enough to consider them heavy favorites in this series.

No.8 Minnesota Timberwolves vs. No.1 Houston Rockets

Why the Timberwolves can win: Ummmmmm…. because the Rockets offense isn’t one that takes advantage of bad athletes?  Even though Houston’s offense is a historic one, it’s not only that’s really hard to guard.

Here’s what I mean:  Houston literally puts five guys around the arc.  Either James Harden or Chris Paul start with it and try to shake-and-bake someone.  If they do, it’s a bucket!  If they don’t, they pass it to the guy standing 10 feet to their left or right and he either shoots a three or tries to isolate.

Because of this, the Wolves aren’t getting their defenders put in pick and roll or ball screens.  They have to defend one-on-one and close-out on guys.  That should be a little easier for them.  I’m looking right at you, Andrew Wiggins!

None it matters though.  The Timberwolves still won’t play defense, and even if they did, Houston is still gonna nail 28 foot threes in their face, which the Wolves won’t be able to counter.

What happens if Harden and Houston choke this series, carrying on the Rockets’ tradition?  How would you explain that?

This is why Minnesota can’t win.

Why the Rockets can win: I really have to think hard about this.

Jimmy Butler can only guard one of Harden or Paul.  The Wolves are close to the bottom of the league in three point percentage.  Houston plays defense.  Yeah, it’s not hard.

Prediction:  Houston in five.  The Rockets will shoot cold one game, and Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns will take advantage.

Part Three Of The NBA’s First Round Playoff Preview

Sorry for this preview being so broken up.  Being on vacation means using hotel, airport and Starbucks Wifi to write, and not having much time in general.  Anyways, here is previews for today’s early games.  Previews of Thunder-Jazz and Timberwolves-Rockets will be up later.

No.7 Milwaukee Bucks vs. No.2 Boston Celtics

Just another brutal first round series.  Had not for Kyrie Irving’s season-ending injury, this would have been at least watchable.  Kyrie vs. Giannis would’ve been a delight.

Now, we’re watching a Boston team that can’t score vs. a Milwaukee team that’s honestly just bad at the fundaments of basketball.

I told you this was gonna be a brutal series.

I’m just salty about Milwaukee.  I had them winning 55 games, Giannis contending for MVP, Jabari Parker being awesome again and everything coming together.  Nope.

First of all, coaching hasn’t helped them with any of their deficiencies.  Jason Kidd had no idea how to rotate guys defensively or clock reasonable minutes.  The offense relied too heavily on Giannis, although as we’re still seeing it wasn’t Kidd’s fault entirely.

Joe Puntry hasn’t done a better job.  Nothing’s gotten better, and the Bucks are now the underachieving 7th seed that everyone wants to play.

The Bucks have serious issues, yet they’re so simple and so dumb.  The Bucks are like that 4th grade community league team that your son is playing on, and the refs are high schoolers and the coaches are Dads.  Their play is a mess.  They can’t catch passes.  They make dumb plays.  They have no awareness.  You get the point.

That’s the Bucks.  They don’t turn the ball over a lot, but when they do it’s at the most critical time.  It’s stuff like Khris Middleton accidentally stepping out of bounds, or Giannis taking a jumpshot when he shouldn’t.

Brad Stevens has to be licking his chops.  This is a suicide mission for the Bucks from that point of view.  Joe Puntry sounds like the owner of your local farm store.

The Celtics don’t really have anyone primed for Giannis (Who does?).  I guess you slap Jaylen Brown on him and hope that switching can catch him off guard and force bad shots (Not hard in Milwaukee’s offense).  That would force the ball to go elsewhere, which, given the play of Milwaukee’s offense lately, sounds like a pretty good plan.

But in a vacuum, the Bucks should be much better.  They have fiery guards in Eric Bledsoe and Malcolm Brogdon, both who are crafty with the ball and can shoot off the ball, though both have been in that 35% gray area from beyond the arc this season.  Middleton is an excellent scorer, and hasn’t regressed like others this year, but may not be suited for a secondary role.

The Bucks have to get guys to step up.  Getting this banged up Boston team was their only chance of winning in the first round.  The story of the Bucks has been when the ball isn’t in Giannis’ hands, things don’t work out.  That can’t be the case in this series.

Boston may not be able to totally slow down Giannis, but as this season has taught us, Giannis himself isn’t enough.  Couple that with the shortcomings on Milwaukee’s defensive end, and the Bucks are looking at a poor matchup.

What Milwaukee does have that Boston doesn’t is a closer.  The Celtics offensive rating plummeted to 101.9 when Kyrie was off the court this year, compared to 108.7 when he was on it, per NBA.com.  Now the Celtics are staring at that first number 100% of the time.

Without Kyrie, the Celtics are looking to Terry Rozier dribbling the ball just a little too much, 20 year old Jayson Tatum, and Gordon Hayward’s Players Tribune videos for offensive production.  I would include Marcus Smart, but he’s not scheduled to come back from his own injury until Game 6, if the series gets that far. Smart, even though he’s a loose cannon, would be a huge upgrade over anyone the Celtics currently have on the offensive end.  The shots don’t always go in, but when they do, they’re at pivotal points in the game.  That alone would give Boston a chance at the end of games.

The offensive concerns I have about Boston may not matter though.  They could go old-school, and bang down low with Al Horford and Aron Baynes.  The Bucks pretend that rim protection doesn’t exist.  They have to put Giannis down there half the time, since John Henson just isn’t strong enough to contest shots, and Thon Maker seems like a swing and miss on a potential home run pick (Which, is okay.  It was worth it).

Boston will have to take what it can get offensively, which could be enough given Milwaukee’s likely overall disarray.  Tatum probably won’t be consistent, but he will have moments.  And those moments are gonna be the ones that carry Boston.  I expect Horford to get the ball a lot, Rozier to be subdued a little bit, and Tatum have plays ran for him.  No matter how basic or weak it is, Milwaukee won’t be able to guard it.  They’re just that bad on that end.

Picking against Giannis is scary.  Picking against Brad Stevens is terrifying.  In close series, systems give the edge.

Milwaukee will get a couple games.  Giannis is too good, and Boston will have a game where the ball just doesn’t go in.

Prediction: Celtics in 6

No.5 Indiana Pacers vs. No.4 Cleveland Cavaliers

I don’t think we talked enough about the fact that a LeBron James led team fell to the 4th seed in the East.  The Sixers had a better record!

What the Cavaliers did at the deadline certainly helped, but it didn’t really bring them above and beyond.  Getting back to normal was probably the first goal, and it was met, but any reach above that level would have been nice.

It didn’t happen, which led to LeBron going into one-man wrecking crew mode and putting up insane stat-lines night after night.

Indiana has also been a one-man wrecking crew, with Victor Olidipo running the show.

That might be as simple as this series gets.

The Pacers are fine defensively.  They don’t have many of the stretchy, three-and-d wings the league possess right now, but their alternative has gotten them this far. The Pacers love to play three guard sets, with a stretch 4 in the corner and Myles Turner anchoring down low.

What that means is that they don’t have someone they can just plant on LeBron.  Sure, no one does, but some teams have a rotation of guys who can at least make him work.  Indiana’s best bet is probably Olidipo, which is problematic given the offensive load he must supply (30.1% usage rate this season).

This is a bad matchup for Indiana.  If you maximize your resources for LeBron, then you’re leaving shooters open.  This is a Cleveland team that can catch fire quickly.  If you don’t put pressure on LeBron, well, he’s torching you.  That alone may not work for the Cavaliers later on this postseason, but it will in this series.

Cleveland needs to let LeBron do everything.  It’s not great for durability and enjoyment purposes, but it’s the best option they’ve got.  And more importantly, it will work.

Defensively, stick George Hill on Olidipo.  The Cavaliers backcourt has been trash, but Hill is a pest defensively.  This is why you went and got him.  The biggest advantage every team will have over Cleveland is the guard play.   Indiana has that as well, but they lack the firepower around Olidipo for it to matter. LeBron may not get to the Finals, but Indiana won’t be the team to knock him out.

The Cavs horrific defense will give up at least one game up. They have that special ability to get absolutely ran in any game. Olidipo will put up 34 one night, and maybe Bojan Bogdanovic hits seven threes in another game and forces Cleveland’s hand.

Prediction: Cavaliers in 6

Part Two: A Pelicans-Trail Blazers Mini Preview

The rest of the first round previews will go up tomorrow morning.

No.6 New Orleans Pelicans vs. No.3 Portland Trail Blazers

This series is a matchup of late-season bloomers.  The Pelicans seemed done after DeMarcus Cousins went down.  Portland was stuck in the middle until Damian Lillard went to another level, and elevated the Trail Blazers like Isaiah Thomas did to the Celtics last Spring.

The difference is that one of these late season runs made sense.  Portland frustrated me.  When Lillard and CJ McCollum were off the floor, they were screwed offensively.  They didn’t have any reliable shot-makers, or any sort of system.  That was until Shabazz Naiper started playing like UCONN Shabazz Naiper.

For Portland, it was all about guys finally reaching their potential.  We had been waiting for this.  We had been waiting for Portland to turn into a contender.

That was not the case with the Pelicans.  Ever.

What Anthony Davis did over the last 30 games of the season was magnificent.  It was a MVP performance, yet won’t get any credit since there were 2-3 other late MVP runs being made (Dame, Russell Westbrook, LeBron).  It was the classic put the team on your back performance.  Sure, Jrue Holiday started playing better and the Nikola Mirotic trade helped, but those guys aren’t capable of handling the load AD had.  AD took it on and powered through.

The bad news for Portland is that they will struggle to guard Davis, like anyone else would.  The good news is that they have all the firepower in the world, and that no matter what Davis does offensively, it won’t be enough.

The Trail Blazers’ best bet is probably Zach Collins.  Slapping a rookie on one of the eight best players in the league in a playoff series is usually a poor decision.  But Jursurf Nurkic is too lumbering to even attempt the task.  Davis doesn’t play down low; he sets up on the perimeter and goes to work.  Collins has quicker feet; he can defend more actively out there than anyone else on Portland.

Portland can also switch Al-Farouq Aminu onto Davis, but in that scenario Davis will post up from 15 feet out and back Aminu down.

Portland’s defensive play has risen this year.  They ranked 9th in defensive rating, stunningly good considering how bad Lillard and McCollum are on that end and how variable Nurkic can be.  But when Nurkic’s on, he’s a monster at the rim.  That, combined with their versatility from guys like Aminu, Mo Harkless (Who’s gonna miss the beginning of this season) and Evan Turner have plagued teams.

That’s gonna be a problem for New Orleans, who struggles to shoot three and has trouble getting the offense going without Davis.  Sure, playoff Rajon Rondo is incoming, but he won’t be able to match the firepower of Lillard, McCollum and the three-and-D wings of Portland.  Plus, the Pelicans are horrific defensively.

The Pelicans will have to feed Davis when he’s on the court and hope it’s enough.  Davis may put up massive numbers, but the end result won’t be pretty.

Can they get a game?  Possibly.  They’re gonna have to hope Portland goes cold, and Davis would have to put up 50-15-11 with five threes and six blocks to go along with it.

Prediction: Trail Blazers in 4

Part One Of The NBA’s First Round Playoff Preview

Since I am currently on vacation in San Francisco, the previews of the first round of the NBA Playoffs will be rolling out through Saturday and Sunday.  Below are previews for Spurs-Warriors, Wizards-Raptors and Heat-Sixers.  A Pelicans-Blazers preview will be up later this afternoon, and previews of the other series will be up tomorrow morning.

No.7 San Antonio Spurs vs. No.2 Golden State Warriors 

The Eastern Conference matchups were always gonna be more intriguing.  But man, did the scenarios that played out Wednesday create some duds of a series out West.  Spurs-Warriors?  Blazers-Pelicans?  Bucks-Celtics?  Wouldn’t you rather watch Oklahoma City-Portland in the first round?  Or 76ers-Cavaliers?

Anyways, we have to work with what we got.  The Warriors are fine with that.  San Antonio was their best case scenario.  Stephen Curry will not be playing in this series due to a lingering knee injury.  Golden State is limping into the playoffs, most likely due to boredom.  They finished the season on a 7-10 run, which isn’t exactly the definition of momentum.

There’s not a massive reason to be concerned, though.  Had Golden State somehow drawn Portland or OKC in the first round, then we could be a little concerned.  But this is the Spurs, who haven’t really been my fancy this season.  Watching them without Kawhi Leonard is brutal, and even though LaMarcus Aldridge turning back into his MVP candidate-self has been delightful, San Antonio just hasn’t been a team I’ve enjoyed watching.

It’s a lot of postups and slow moving basketball, combined with the wizardy of Gregg Popovich and whatever spiritual stuff the Spurs have going for them that’s gotten them to where they are now.  I wrote before the season that this roster was a 30-35 win caliber one if Kawhi didn’t come back, and that if they exceeded that total, then Pop was unquestionably Coach of the Year.  I’m still deciding if I’m gonna follow through on that.

The Spurs have won with defense this year; some of their lineups possess stunningly low defensive ratings.  When comparing them to Golden State, it matters.  The Spurs win games cause of it, and Golden State loses games cause of it.

The counter to that is that Golden State hasn’t gave a single crap defensively all season and still ranked 9th in defensive rating.  They’re not even trying and they’re top ten defensively.

That’s gonna be a huge issue for the Spurs.  The slow, methodical basketball won’t cut it against the Warriors, who are going to be locked in on both ends.  We won’t see the settling from we saw from Golden State in the regular season.

Don’t be fooled by the Warriors taking only the 17th most threes per game in the league this year.  They still have two of the ten best shooters ever (Klay and KD.  Yes KD is top ten all-time in shooting).  That can be unleashed at any time.  It just hasn’t been this season.

The Warriors stepping it up defensively will be the key to this series.  Playoff Draymond Green will slow down LaMarcus, and the Warriors’ switchability can clog any passing lanes the Spurs try to create.  Poor effort from the Warriors could let the Spurs hang around in games, but the Warriors crunch-time presence and experience will reign.  Yeah, the Spurs don’t really have all the experience any more; Tony Parker and Manu Gibnobli’s presence helps, but the Spurs can’t afford those guys to be out there at the end of games.  Dejounte Murray, the closest thing San Antonio has to a crunch-time guy, is 21 years old.  Four years ago he was my age watching Golden State win the title.  Now he’s playing against them in the first round.

The Warriors should be capable of sweeping this Spurs team.  A lackluster start, poor shooting or a lack of effort defensively could make one game close, but I still trust the Warriors to pull away in the end.  Letting this get to six games could hurt Golden State later in the playoffs.

Prediction:  Warriors in 4

No.8 Washington Wizards vs. No.1 Toronto Raptors 

It seems insane that the Wizards slipped all the way to the eighth seed.  They felt like another classic Wizards 3-4-5 seed that was never gonna make conference finals.  But then the East got cluttered like the West, and Washington lost a couple of really, really bad games (I’m looking right at you, Scott Brooks and John Wall in that Cavaliers game from a week ago!).

That Cavs loss was so bad that from it, Washington deserved the 8th seed.  I mean, Washington literally ran the same John Wall pull-up mid-range jumper two times on back-to-back possession when they needed a bucket late.  Both missed, expectedly so.

Washington has been the same team for years:  They can beat anyone on a given night or lose to anyone on a given night.

Toronto, until this season, was that.  Give Dwane Casey props.  He realized that they couldn’t keep isolating every time, so he instilled ball movement and elevated their ceiling offensively.  Toronto’s offense this year ranked only behind Golden State’s and Houston’s.  Not bad.

That doesn’t mean we can let the past out of our view though.  If there’s one doubt I’ve had about them this season, it’s the playoff history.  They’ve just never been able to win when it mattered.

What makes this series difficult, interesting and brutal at the same time is that both teams have the same history and the same issues.  It’s gonna come down to who chokes first, not executes.

You just can’t feel great about either team.  Both have guards who have a flared past chemistry wise, have coaches who have shown that they aren’t all that great, and have the same affinity for choking in the clutch.

This series might go nine games because nobody will figure out how to pull ahead of the other.

When it’s this tight, small things can make a huge difference.  For example, Toronto averaged the 3rd most three point field attempts in the league this year.  They were 18th in three point percentage.

Washington, on the other hand, shot the three very well, but only did it in a limited fashion.  They shot 26.5 threes a game, 23rd in the league.

It might seem backwards, but this works in Toronto’s favor.  They’re more equipped to spread the floor due to their depth.  Toronto can go small ball, and get Jonas Valancuinas off the floor.  The bench unit, which includes Pascal Siakim and Jakob Poeltl, has a 116.2 offensive rating compared to the starters’ of 112.9.

Toronto is more willing to move the ball, which creates more open shots, and more open threes.  The math has to allow something, for once, to break, and in this series, that could be huge.

At the same time, this is the playoffs, and Toronto loves to forget how to preform when they come around.  Kyle Lowry’s role has been deflated a bit; he’s scoring less and doesn’t have the ball as much.  What if he gets a little angsty and wants the ball?  “This is my time,” he’ll proclaim.  “Does DeRozan think he’s good or something?”

Plus, as good as the Toronto bench is, they’re young and inexperienced, and may not be able to handle the load they supported in the regular season.  Then again, even if they do fall off, they’re still probably better than Washington’s.

It’s becoming hard to make a case for Washington in this series.   Putting a lot of confidence in their chemistry and coaching doesn’t feel right, then again, neither does Toronto whooping anyone’s butt either.

It’s possible this series goes seven games not because of how good each team is but because of how bad each team is capable of playing when things ramp up.  It could seriously be a colossal collapse by each squad in every game.

It’s easier to see things crumble for the Wizards, though.  They’ll make it close, because Bradley Beal will have a game, Otto Porter will hit six threes in another game, and maybe Toronto shoots poorly to get it to Game 7.  The last scenario is unlikely.

Prediction: Raptors in 6


No.6 Miami Heat vs. No.3 Philadelphia 76ers

This is the series NBA hipsters are waiting for.  James Johnson small-ball lineups?  Richaun Holmes’ versatility on both ends?  Josh Richardson’s underrated defense?  Lets gooooooo!

This series is fascinating.  Both teams have immaculate versatility, which is displayed by their switching on the defensive end and their ball movement on the offensive end.  It’s beautiful to watch.

Miami has the tougher task.  Stopping Ben Simmons is the whole league’s nightmare right now.  He’s gone up a level in the last month.  The passing and attacking with the basketball has been astonishing.

The Heat were 7th in defensive rating, and have the lengthy wings needed for excellent defense in today’s NBA.  But nobody has anyone for Simmons.  The Heat don’t as well.

The Heat are great off-the-ball.  They close out and are long enough to switch consistently.  They were above average when defending the three point line.  But Simmons doesn’t possess that threat, and it’s somehow an advantage.

Despite a performance that’s gonna land him on an All-Defense team, Josh Richardson doesn’t have the size to keep up with Simmons.  His athleticism allows him to make any pass, whether it’s a kick-out to the perimeter or scoop under the basket.

Miami doesn’t have anyone to contain that.  With Joel Embiid out at least one game, the Sixers are gonna have to rely on Simmons to give them matchup advantages.

The problem with Philadelphia is that Simmons, WHO IS DEFINITELY A ROOKIE, is a rookie.  He’s never done this before.  Embiid hasn’t done this before.  Neither are real closers either.  Who’s Philly going to at the end of games?

Sure, guys like Marco Belinelli, JJ Redick and Ersan Ilyasova help when it comes to a furnacing a young team.  But the ball screens on the perimeter that Philadelphia loves to run for Redick and Belinelli doesn’t work with two minutes left in Game 5 of a playoff game.

This is the role that Markelle Fultz was gonna play this season.  Despite the flashes, you can’t expect that in these playoffs.  Plus, he’s a rookie too.  Maybe it wouldn’t have mattered.

This is how Miami wins the series.  The Heat lack a go-to guy as well, but have a well-rounded, deep roster that can throw out any lineup they want.  Miami swings the ball like the Spurs; it kicks out and around like a pinball and is only shot when a lane opens up or a three is available.  It’s marvelous, and it’s all thanks to Erik Spolestra, who knows how to get 110% out of his guys.

Philly is long and athletic.  They’ve been a menace defensively, ranking 3rd in defensive rating.  But a lot of that has been due to Embiid’s presence at the rim.  Miami has to take advantage of that for however long he is out.  While Simmons and Robert Covington are good defensively, Redick and Belinelli are not.  When Philly switches and the Heat get Richardson or Goran Dragic on of those two, it’s go-time.    The Sixers have depth in the front court. but nobody affects the game quite like Embiid.  His return will be huge.

Miami has to steal the games the Sixers play without Embiid.  Philly is too talented for Miami to win every game based on skill and being better.  The Heat have the infrastructure to do both.

The Hassan Whiteside dilemma bothers me.  A lot of people are passing over it like it was just another thing, but I think we need to consider it more seriously.  This is a guy whose effort fluctuates.  Yes, Embiid is motivation.  But even if the motivation is there, who says Whiteside handles Embiid?  What makes Embiid special is the athleticism and ball-handling skills.  He’s a bucket-getter.  Miami had to bench Whiteside in crunch-time just a couple weeks ago since he crams the paint doesn’t allow for as much spacing.  He kinda just lumbers around.  That doesn’t work anymore.  It won’t in this series.  What happens when Embiid spaces Whiteside out to the perimeter?  That will happen, and it makes Philadelphia deadly.  James Johnson is a much better option, but we also need to consider to even Johnson, a skilled, stretchy defender, may not have a chance.  We’re dealing with a Hall of Fame talent from Embiid.  Nobody has an answer for that.  I have no doubt he’ll be back sooner that later, and that’ll power the Sixers through.

Miami will get a game or two due to the Sixers inexperience.  If it’s close at the end, it’s anyone’s game.

Prediction: Sixers in 6

2018 MLB Season Preview: PECOTA Over/Unders

Teams ordered by win total.  Thanks to Baseball Prospectus for the PECOTA projections.  Enjoy Opening Day!

AL East

New York Yankees: PECOTA Prediction: 97 wins  Verdict: UNDER

Even with the lack of free agent signings, plenty of teams threw up middle fingers to the rest of the MLB this offseason.  The Astros got Gerrit Cole (More on that later) and the Padres signed Eric Hosmer (Oh, wait, that’s more like putting your middle finger up your own butt).  Anyways, like Houston, the Yankees made a middle finger move in getting Giancarlo Stanton for absolutely nothing.

I never wrote about the trade, and it’s not worth it doing it now.  For now, we should focus on how good this Yankees team can be.

Stanton won’t play in the outfield.  He’s not amazing defensively, and Brett Gardner and Aaron Hicks provides better defensive production than substituting one for Stanton.

The Yankees have a ton of depth out there with Stanton, prospect Clint Frazier, and Jacoby Ellsbury, who’s on the DL already and probably has the Yankees front office hoping he stays there.  That contract might be the worst one in the majors.

The injuries have already hit the infield as well.  On Monday it was announced that Greg Bird will be out 6-8 weeks with surgery coming on his foot.  I’m starting to get worried about him.  He missed all of 2016 with a shoulder injury, and wasn’t great in a limited amount of games last year.  Sure, the slash line in the playoffs was promising, but none of it matters if he can’t contribute in large volumes.

This is where Neil Walker’s versatility helps.  He has a sneaky good bat, and can play anywhere in the infield.  He’ll play first base for now.

But due to regression and age (This is his age 33 season), Walker may not replicate the offensive production from last year.  For now, the Bronx Bombers may not be bombing as much as we want them to.

The 2nd base situation isn’t great; it’s directly impacted by Bird’s injury.  The Yankees would love to get Gleyber Torres in the mix, but neither he or Didi Gregarious is able to play 2nd.  That slides in Tyler Wade, who has high upside at 23 years old, but can’t be expected to contribute majorily at the plate.  That’s not saying Ronald Torreyes is a better option.  It’s just…  the Yankees may not get off to the hot start we expect them too.

I love Brandon Drury at 3rd base though.  Even with some bats being a little concerning early on, they have enough to probably make up for it.

The main reason I am going under on the Yankees though?  Once again, it’s the rotation.  Fangraphs had the Yankees rotation ranked 7th in WAR last season thanks to CC Sabathia not being a complete disaster (At age 37 now, do you really think that’s gonna happen again?), Luis Severino finally breaking out (Regression should be expected), Jordan Montgomery providing solid innings and a late season trade for Sonny Gray.

Looking at the 1-5 depth chart and scanning the names, you just can’t feel good.  Luis Severino?  Okay, fine, you got me.  Masahiro Tanaka?  He’s going into his age 29 season and wasn’t exactly great last year.  CC Sabathia? Bwahahahahaha.  Sonny Gray?  Alright, alright, you got me again.  Jordan Montgomery?  Can he repeat last year?  We’ll see.

This is a slight under.  The bullpen is still ridiculous, and once everyone is healthy, this is one of the most dangerous lineups in the MLB.  Plus, if we learned anything last year, it’s that pitching may not matter as much as we think it does.  The Yankees have the formula down.

Boston Red Sox: PECOTA Prediction: 89 wins  Verdict: OVER

The always impossible-to-predict, chaos driven AL East having two 90 win teams is a daunting forecast.  But considering that we’re looking at two teams who will probably be terrible (Baltimore and Tampa Bay), that leaves more wins for the rest.

89 wins seems low for the Red Sox.  Here’s what PECOTA probably doesn’t like:

  • Hanley Ramirez’s streaky hitting and inconsistency in health, offense and defense.
  • Injuries to a rotation that leaves us frustrated and feeling disappointed every year.
  • Did it account for Dustin Pedoria’s injury?  It should like Eduardo Nunez a little more due to youth.

The Red Sox, like the Yankees, are kinda ridiculous.  The outfield is stacked.  Mookie Betts is awesome; so is Andrew Beinentendi.  Jackie Bradley Jr. still needs to improve his bat, but is awesome defensively (He made the best throw I’ve ever seen in that Cardinals-Red Sox game I attended last August).  JD Martinez can play out there as well, and Brock Holt isn’t a disaster for limited innings.

The concerns are the same ones we’ve had for years: Postseason meltdowns and an underwhelming rotation.  It could be especially bad this year.  Chris Sale is awesome, but David Price is coming off injury and was delegated to the bullpen last season (Yikes!).  Rick Porcello is someone who you never know what you’re gonna get out of him.  The back end is banged up or in trouble; Steven Wright was suspended 15 games for domestic violence (That seems a little light) and is coming off injury from last year.  Drew Pomeranz is on the DL (That trade might be one of the worst trades in MLB history for both sides involved).  Eduardo Rodriguez is also banged up, and is another “What are we getting?” guy; at this point, he may never figure it out.

Plus, the bullpen isn’t as good.  They’ve still got dudes like Heath Hembree pitching out of that thing.

I’m still going over.  It feels risky, but the bats of guys like Betts, Beintendi, Martinez, Hanley(?), and Devers should be able to power them through.  Maybe the rotation can be better than expected, and they can add some extra guys to the bullpen at the deadline.

Tampa Bay Rays: PECOTA Prediction: 83 wins  Verdict: UNDER.  DEFINITELY UNDER.

83 wins?!?!?


I’m gonna go take a walk.  Hold on.

It’s high.  Very high.

First of all, Denard Span and Carlos Gomez are 2/3 of the outfield.  I don’t remember where I was when that happened, but I do know that’s probably not where you want to be.  Span is not great defensively (I guess that’s okay when you have Kevin Kiermaier) and is entering his age 34 season.  Gomez hasn’t been productive in years as well.

Moving in, I’m not sure I know who Joey Wendle is.  CJ Cron is your answer when you have no idea what to do at first base.  The left side is better with Matt Duffy and Adeiny Hechavarria, but by the time this team is ready to contend they could be exiting their prime.  

They blew up the rotation over the offseason.  Everyone is gone besides Chris Archer; he could be a nice piece at the deadline for someone.

This isn’t the NBA, but this feels like a team that’s not trying to win.

Toronto Blue Jays: PECOTA Prediction: 79 wins.  Verdict: OVER

I don’t think this team is terrible!

Let me lay out the case.  The outfield is decent.  Randall Grichick is a good bat but can’t defend well, but that’s made up for by Kevin Pillar.  Curtis Granderson platoons with Steve Pearce since he can’t hit.  Josh Donaldson and Troy Tulowitski stay healthy and have one last glory year(s).  Justin Smoak mashes the ball again, and this rotation strings together enough good, solid outings to push this team to an upper 80 win total.

Sounds goods?

Eh.  They have no ace, and the starters, as much as I have loved everyone of them, can’t put together solid outings.  They’re either a disaster or are throwing for no-hit bids.

The defense and possibility of age catching up could sink them.  Smoak won’t hit that well again, and Deon Travis and Kendrys Morales just aren’t moving the needle.  Plus, besides Roberto Osuna, the bullpen won’t be able to save the rotation.

I’m still going over.  I think they can win around 85 games.  But PECOTA is weary, and with good reason.

Baltimore Orioles: PECOTA Prediction: 71 wins  Verdict: UNDER

Dylan Bundy is the ace on this team.  Please don’t watch them.

The Manny Machado question will be hovering over all year.  The front office has no idea what it’s doing.

The bats are kinda interesting, but the rotation will probably be bad enough to suppress it.

Again, please don’t watch this team.

AL Central

Cleveland Indians: PECOTA Prediction: 96 wins  Verdict: PUSH

Sounds just about right.  This team is still very good.  They can mash the baseball, and shut you down with their rotation and bullpen.  The Yonder Alonso contract felt like a steal at $8 million per year; a much better value than Carlos Santana.

Bradley Zimmer in a bigger, everyday role should be fun until Michael Brantley comes back (Which, may be never given his history).  Francisco Lindor is a delight.  Tyler Naquin is one of my dudes.

I see no real concerns here.  I wish Brantley and Danny Salazar would stay healthy, but the Indians have been able to overcome those over the past three years.  A World Series appearance should be the goal.

Minnesota Twins: PECOTA Prediction: 82 wins  Verdict: OVER

Early on, it seemed like Minnesota, like most teams, was gonna do nothing to upgrade their rotation or overall team.  They signed Fernando Rodney and Michael Pineda with their first moves of the offseason.

Turns out, the market just took a little longer to stimulate.  Minnesota signed Lance Lynn and traded nothing for Jake Odorozzi, boosting their rotation to an at least competent level.

The rotation has been the biggest downfall to this team’s success the past three years.  It’s okay if Kyle Gibson is your 5th starter (Like he is now), but it’s not okay if he’s your 3rd (That’s the way it’s been the past three years).

Now Minnesota is trotting out Ervin Santana (Who can be expected to regress after posting a 3.28 ERA last season and is entering the season injured), youngin Jose Berrios who is promising, Odorozzi, Lynn and Gibson.

Again, it’s competent.  That might be all that matters.

The Twins are young and talented.  Byron Buxton might have figured it out at the plate, while Eddie Rosario and Max Kepler are solid bats.  Brian Dozer is still cranking.  Joe Mauer is not (There’s no way he’s batting .305/.384/.417 with a 3.4 WAR again at 35.  That was one of the most surprising slash lines of last season).  Miguel Sano dodged a suspension for a suspected domestic violence incident, which is big since Jorge Polanco is now suspended 80 games for PEDs.

PECOTA came in low due to the rotation being still average and the reliance on young guys to produce.  If last year taught us anything, it’s that these guys are just hitting their primes.

Chicago White Sox: PECOTA Prediction: 72 wins  Verdict: OVER

Holy crap.  This could be the worst division in the league.  PECOTA has 3rd place with only 72 wins.

The White Sox are young, with their minor league talent better than their major league roster.

The rotation is interesting though.  James Shields isn’t great anymore, but Lucas Giolito is one of the young prospects who have potential, and Carson Fulmer and Reynaldo Lopez are only 24.  If they have solid seasons, this team could be better than PECOTA thinks.

72 seems low.  Yoan Moncada should energize this lineup, and injuries shouldn’t hit as hard.  Jose Abreu probably won’t hit .302 again, but his power will be nice to have.  Matt Davidson should rebound, and Avisail Garcia is one of the league’s most underrated outfielders.

The White Sox won’t be good, but they’re not as bad as PECOTA thinks.

Detroit Tigers: PECOTA Prediction: 68 wins  Verdict: OVER

We are entering brutal territory with this division.  68 wins, let alone 65 for Kansas City, is an unusually low projection from PECOTA.

Then again, they did only win 64 last year.

For Detroit, it is low though.  Sure, the Tigers have been completely purged of what they possessed just four years ago: An AL favorite.  But this team isn’t THAT bad.  They’re not the Padres (Sorry Padres).

I think it’s the pitching that can keep this team afloat.  Michael Fulmer and Matt Boyd are young, talented arms.  Same with Daniel Norris; he should improve given that he’s just 24.  That’s three competent arms.  There’s teams with worse situations!

Jordan Zimmerman is washed though.  Lock down a 5.00 ERA+ out of him.  He won’t be their No.1 by the end of the year.

Around the diamond, it’s a lot of questions marks.  Age, reliability and competence is an issue.  I’m not sure who Dixon Machado is.  Miguel Cabrera slugged .399 last season and is gonna be 35; his early 30s run might be over.  Jeimer Candelario is young, but he batted well in limited appearances last year.

The outfield is another weird mix.  I’m still in on Leoyns Martin, even though he’s some how gonna be 30 (What?) this season.  Remember when he was a young, exciting prospect for Texas?

Anyways, he never turned out.  Martin is fine if he’s your 4th outfielder.  He’s starting for the Tigers in center.

Maybe 68 wins sounds about right for Detroit.

Kansas City Royals: PECOTA Prediction: 65 wins  Verdict: OVER

This another brutally low projection from PECOTA.  This one is a little more justifiable.

The Royals are full of guys who are non-starters on the playoff rosters.  They’re pinch-runners, pinch-hitters, or defensive specialists.  And then there’s Lucas Duda.

One of the few reliable bats Kansas City has is Mike Moustakasas, who is desperately seeking a big year after being one of the few guys to get absolutely shafted this offseason (That contract was despicable.  That’s not how I felt about the lack of spending, either.  But that deal was criminally low).  He should one of the few bright spots for this Royals team.

The outfield isn’t pretty.  It seems like Jorge Soler just isn’t ever gonna figure it out; that trade looks worse and worse every day (Imagine what they could have gotten for Wade Davis from someone else!!).  Alex Gordon was horrible last year and is 35. John Jay is a backup at this point in his career.

Like the Tigers, the rotation might actually be able to get them some more wins.  Danny Duffy is still good, and Jason Hammel is competent.  Besides that, it’s rough.  I’m just trying to be nice.

65 is too low, but their win total won’t be far above that.

AL West

Houston Astros: PECOTA Prediction: 99 wins  Verdict: OVER

We led off with the Yankees, who were able to add Giancarlo Stanton to a roster that made the ALCS and already had Aaron Judge.  They got him for nothing.  They stuck their middle finger to the league.

Since last July, the Astros have been doing just that.  They made the Justin Verlander trade, turning their rotation from great to “No one is beating this.”  That proved true when they won the World Series, thanks to clutch hitting and great performances from guys like Charlie Morton and Brad Peacock.  Then, they went out and got Gerrit Cole for nothing, who’s only 27 and was easily one of the top aces in the league just three years ago.

If the Yankees put their middle finger to the league, the Astros put both middle fingers and their middle toes to the league.

This is probably the most unfair team in the league.

99 wins is a lot for PECOTA to spit out.  100 games is a lot of wins.

At the same time, the World Series Champions lost nobody and got better.

Seattle Mariners: PECOTA Prediction: 82 wins  Verdict: PUSH

This is another rough division, and it’s not helped by the fact that the best team in the MLB is at the top.

Seattle’s been pissing me off the past few years.  Every year we go “This is the year.  The Mariners are gonna win 90 games, make the playoffs, and contend.”

Nope.  Hasn’t happened once.  And now, they might have missed their window.  This roster is not the one we’ve been hyped up about in the past.

Left field seems like it will be some type of platoon.  Guillermo Heredia has never been an everyday guy at age 27.  Ichiro’s a legend, but it’s hard to assume he’ll really contribute.  Kirk Newhuisnes is a 4th outfielder.  Yeah, it’s not great out there.  They did sign Jayson Werth to a minor league deal, which could be interesting if we get to June and there’s still no production coming out of left.  He just has to stay healthy.

The rest of the lineup isn’t actually bad at all.  Dee Gordon and Mitch Haniger are good hitters, and they have some power in Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz.  Kyle Seager has been overshadowed by his brother. Mike Zunino is one of the league’s most underrated catches.

It’s just… I don’t want to hop on this team yet again and be let down.  And that rotation…

That rotation… yikes.  This was a good tweet.

That’s the Mariners rotation in a nutshell right now.

King Felix Hernandez is still awesome in our hearts, but he put up a 4.36 ERA last season and will be 32.  Can he still be King?

If he’s not, then there’s really no chance.  James Paxton should regress back to a No.3 or No.4 starter rather than a No.2 after a suspiciously good year.  Yovani Gallardo is just not good.  Mike Leake is fine, but he’s not moving the needle.

Fangraphs WAR had the Mariners rotation ranked 25th last year.  If it’s in that range, then Seattle is going nowhere.  If it’s better, a Wild Card push can’t be ruled out.  The question is whether the rotation is bad enough to hold them back.  Given my luck with Seattle since I’ve launched this site, the answer to that question is “Yes.”

Los Angeles Angels: PECOTA Prediction: 79 wins  Verdict: OVER

Remember at last season’s deadlines and early into the offseason when I was freaking out about how the Angels thought they were good?

Well, Los Angeles capped all that off with Shohei Otani.  And now this roster isn’t all that bad!

OK, it’s a little worrisome.  They’re old; Ian Kinsler is 35, and they’re counting on him big time after that December trade, which was like the 3rd most exciting thing that happened this Winter.  Luis Valbeuna is also old and didn’t even bat .200 last season.

Yet, a guy like Zach Cosart was worth the money; he gives them a solid bat and another good defensive presence to an already stacked team.  Andrelton Simmons is awesome.  Justin Upton was paid a little too much, but you’re hopeful to get 2-3 good years out of that contract.  Mike Trout is Mike freaking Trout, and I’ve always been on the Kole Calhoun bandwagon.

And then there’s Ohtani, who left everyone stunned when he decided to join the Angels.  “The Angels?  Really?  That’s where you want to go?”  That was the reaction we all had.  The Angels didn’t deserve Ohtani.  What had they done the past four years?

Perhaps the action of doing by LA starts now.  But if they want to go anywhere, Ohtani is gonna have to contribute largely, specifically with his arm.

LA’s rotation is (still) a disaster.  It’s worse than their division foes, Seattle’s.  It’s bad.  And it could be bad enough to hold them back significantly once again.  The funniest part is that they completely overhauled it, and it’s still just as bad.

Garrett Richards’ elbow acted up last season, forcing him to only start six games like he did in 2016.  Essentially, it’s been two years since he really pitched.  That’s not what you want from your ace!

Tyler Skaggs isn’t good and shouldn’t be counted on.  Matt Shoemaker seems washed.  Andrew Heany is hurt.  Yeah, it’s not great.

The Angels need Ohtani to be their ace.

I’m not evaluating Spring Training performance.  It means nothing; they’re not real games and no one’s really trying that hard.

Signing guys from the Chinese, Japanese and Korean leagues has been hit or miss over the years, but if we’ve learned anything, the pitchers turn out better than the hitters do.  Byung Ho Park just couldn’t figure it out.  Yu Darvish and Masahiro Tanaka did.  It turns out that if you throw fast, you throw fast, and no one can hit you.

For now, the Angels don’t really need Ohtani to hit well.  It’d be nice, sure, for baseball itself, for fantasy baseball players, and for entertainment and history’s sake. But Ohtani mowing down batters with that fastball and whatever the nuts that forkball is much more impactful.  Ohtani’s 23.  He’s not like most guys who come over, who are mid-to-late 20s and already developed fully.  He’s gonna have adjustments to make.

I’m going over on the Angels.  This team is way too fun to be that bad.  I don’t think they’ll make the playoffs, but for Trout and Ohtani’s sake, I’ll be watching.

Oakland A’s: PECOTA Prediction: 76 wins  Verdict: UNDER

We’re gonna make this as quick as possible.  A couple notes:

  • Shoutout to Tri-Valley native Stephen Piscotty for coming home.
  • (Is that it?)
  • Yup

Texas Rangers: PECOTA Prediction: 75 wins  Verdict: UNDER

This is another team whose fall from grace has been astonishing.

The roster is purged and still old.  The rotation is in rough shape.  They have a decent bullpen, but not good enough to save the roster.

Ryan Rua and Delino DeShields cannot be relied on for production.  Nomar Mazara is the one bright spot in the outfield.

Moving in, we don’t really know what we’re getting.  Rougned Odor is coming off a rough year and should bounce back, but a good season out of him won’t make up for the lack of hitting elsewhere.  Adrian Beltre was still unbelievable last year, but he’s gonna be 39 this season.  Can he squeeze out one more year?  Joey Gallo, like Mazara, is a bright spot.  I expect a breakout season from him; he’s too talented to hit this poorly.

Behind Cole Hamels, the pitching staff is weak.  Every guy is one spot higher in the rotation than they should be.  PECOTA projects the Rangers to be horrific defensively as well, which won’t help.  The bullpen has some arms: Matt Bush, Jake Diekman, and Keone Kula.  That could help them down the stretch, but even if they’re in the playoff hunt they’ll need to add.

The Rangers are a team waiting to tear it down.  They’re not there yet due to some guys lingering around.  But Mazara and Gallo are names to watch.  They’ll take them into the future.

NL East

Washington Nationals: PECOTA Prediction: 88 wins  Verdict: OVER. DEFINITELY OVER.

Lets try and figure out how PECOTA came in with this low of a projection for the Nationals, who were my pick to win the World Series coming into last October.

  • Anthony Rendon regression season?  He stayed surprisingly healthy and had an on-base percentage over .400 last year.
  • Maybe that age is catching up to guys like Daniel Murphy and Ryan Zimmerman?  Zimmerman, like Rendon, turned it around last year at 32.  Will he do that again?  Murphy may not be back until May, did PECOTA account for that?  When he’s healthy, I’m not betting against him though.
  • This rotation isn’t exactly the dominant force we’ve thought it was the past three years.  Houston blows this staff away.  Max Scherzer and Stephen Strausburg is quite a 1-2 punch, but despite that, it’s not all flowery.  Despite a good year in 2017, Gio Gonzalez is still the type of pitcher who can be flawless one day and give up seven runs in three innings the next (That’s in a regular season game.  Once he hits the playoffs, him and this whole team implodes).  Tanner Roark gets somewhat unlucky by putting the ball in play too much, but was also abominable last season.  PECOTA must think he’s on the wrong side of 30.

Other than those reasons, I can’t figure out why PECOTA came in so low at 88 wins.   The Nationals have Bryce freaking Harper and Trea Turner, who’s an absolute delight.  Oh, and traded smart at the deadline last year, keeping intact a ferocious bullpen.

I thought Washington was the best team heading into last October.  That was obviously incorrect, as the MLB postseason never spits out the right winner.  But they lost practically no one.  88 wins is way too low.

Philadelphia Phillies: PECOTA Prediction: 81 wins  Verdict: OVER

This is the type of projection where you see it, smirk and start laughing uncontrollably until you look at the roster and go “Oh, I see I see.”

The Phillies aren’t guaranteed to win less than 80 games this year!  It’s unbelievable!

This is a franchise that’s had no idea where it’s been going the past few years.  Now, they have a young core and added some veterans to put together what’s looking like a pretty nice team.  It makes more sense now why they were in the Giancarlo Stanton talks.

Philadelphia is ready to throw what they have to the dogs.  Five of their eight full-time position guys are in that 23-25 age range.  They’ve got a massive 5-7 year window wide open!  We’re only in year one!

And that’s the problem.  We’re only in year one.

For guys like Nick Williams, JP Crawford, and Jorge Alfaro, this is their first real playing time.  They have no experience, and some struggles can be encountered with that.

Plus, the rotation and the bullpen aren’t there yet.  And the Phillies could be horrific defensively.

Getting Jake Arrieta for this haul couldn’t have been a better signing.  The annual money is a little high, but overall it will be worth it.  There’s your starter for Game 1 of a playoff series, and there’s your mentor for Vincent Velasquez, Ben Lively and Nick Pivetta.

The Phillies are gonna be super entertaining, and could emerge as a Wild Card team if everything goes right.  PECOTA might be on to something here.

New York Mets: PECOTA Prediction: 80 wins  Verdict: OVER

When writing about the Nationals above, I had assumed that the NL East would just be terrible again, and I used that as another “WTF?” counter against their projection.

Now I understand why that was wrong.

I loved what the Mets did this offseason.  It wasn’t that I forgot about them completely while writing about Washington, it was just that the Nationals had owned (Like, so owned) this division forever.  It wasn’t even close.  Now, those other teams are catching up.

New York went out and got Todd Frazier to play 3rd base, instead of rotating a cast of shortstops, 2nd basemen and Jose Reyes’ who hit .220.  They got Adrian Gonzalez to replace Lucas Duda or whatever scraps they were getting away with over there (Though, Gonzalez may hit like Duda this year.  We’ll see).  They brought back Jay Bruce to make sure no weak spots existed in the outfield (Michael Conforto needs to be back ASAP, though, for that statement to be true).

The Mets went out and attacked their holes aggressively.  They knew they were wasting a once-in-a-lifetime rotation, and had to put guys around it.   About time!

The middle infield is still concerning.  Asdrubal Cabrera is a classic example of a guy who plays 3rd base for them last season and is a part of that rotating cast of skinny guys who can’t hit.  Amed Rosario could be awesome, but he’s only 22 and was called up at the end of last year for meaningless games.

That being said, the Mets have a nice mix of young guys and veterans, which is usually the right formula in October.

But the veterans are gonna have to contribute.  Jay Bruce can’t age, especially with the money they’re paying him.  Gonzalez can’t bat like Lucas Duda; even at age 36, I still have hope.  He’s two years off from batting .285/.349/.435.  Staying healthy will be huge.

I like this team, but I’m stuck feeling like PECOTA right now.  Since there’s questions about age and production, it doesn’t know what to do.  PECOTA projects teams for right around .500 when it doesn’t have any idea.  That’s me right now.

I’m gonna go over because I like this team, but it’s slight.  The NL Wild Card race will be too good for them.

Atlanta Braves: PECOTA Prediction: 76 wins  Verdict: PUSH

This feels about right.  The Braves are becoming more encouraging, but still have too glaring of holes to take them seriously.

They have a couple career backups starting, like Ryan Flaherty at 3rd base and Preston Tucker in the outfield.  The rotation is iffy; I’m not really a Mike Foltynewicz fan and Anibal Sanchez is washed.  That said, I do like Sean Newcomb, and Julio Tehran feels like he should be 30, not 25; I can’t tell if that’s a good or a bad thing.

The Braves are gonna have some fun guys to watch.  Ozzie Abiles will be playing (And maybe Ronald Ocuna!), and we can try and figure out once and for all who won the Dansby Swanson-Shelby Miller (Can you believe that’s actually a debate?).  They also have Freddie Freeman and Ender Inciarte, who are underrated stars stuck on a bad team.

The Braves are getting closer, but they’re just not there yet.

Miami Marlins: PECOTA Prediction: 65 wins  Verdict: Under

This is a low projection you can’t harp on PECOTA for.  The Marlins deserve this.

The blowup this Winter made no sense.  The Marlins were closer to contending then they were to having to blow it up.  Stanton+Christian Yelich+Marcel Ozuna??  Slap some pitching on that and maybe not trade Dee Gordon and now we’re talking.  It’s not a contender, but it’s closer than they are now.

Jose Fernandez’s death still stings deep.  He was the type of guy who could save a rotation.  Save this one, potentially.

Now, the Marlins are stuck in no man’s land, with Derek Jeter doing all he can to help out other teams.

It’s a slight under.  They could be the worst team in the league.

NL Central

Chicago Cubs: PECOTA Prediction: 91 wins  Verdict: OVER

They’re loaded, once again, which makes PECOTA’s 91 wins odd.  Why so low?

I’m not huge on Ian Happ (Even though he just hit a home run on the VERY FIRST PITCH OF THE MLB SEASON), and the bullpen goes through weird, two weeks imploding cycles, but besides that, Chicago will be ready to contend for the World Series once again.

St. Louis Cardinals: PECOTA Prediction: 85 wins  Verdict: UNDER

Once again, PECOTA comes in a little confused.  And again, it makes sense.  There’s a lot to like, and a lot to not.  The outfield is great, with new addition Marcel Ozuna ready to make a big impact.  I like the middle infield, even though there’s some durability concerns.  Matt Carpenter struggled last year, but still got on base at a .384 rate.  And…

Yeah, that’s about it.  The rotation is old, and already banged up.  There’s probably regression coming for Jedd Gyroko, who had a great year last season.  The bullpen isn’t gonna save the starters.

The outfield bats, Alex Reyes and Adam Wainwright are gonna have to do quite a bit.  That’s a lot to ask from Reyes and Wainwright; Reyes hasn’t been in a rotation before and Wainwright struggled last year at 35.

It seems improbable, but a lot could potentially go wrong here.  They could be in store for a Giants-like season from hell.  My under isn’t that extreme, but 85 is too much.

Milwaukee Brewers: PECOTA Prediction: 84 wins  Verdict: PUSH

The Brewers projection seemed low considering the overhauling they did this offseason.  They have one of the league’s best outfields (Thanks, Marlins!) and will be better than PECOTA thinks defensively.

But it’s also easy to see why PECOTA came in low.  The rotation is a disaster (The Twins’ is better.  Seriously.).  Yeah, Chase Anderson put up 4.1 WAR last season and  two other starters posted top 5 WAR within the team.  But they all had really good years, and the Brewers still couldn’t make the playoffs.  With regression a guarantee, how far could Milwaukee sink?

The Brewers also got really lucky.  ClusterLuck had them in the top three of all MLB teams last season.  Will that happen again?  Probably not, as luck doesn’t really carry over season to season.

It’s still a pretty good team.  Travis Shaw is a solid 3rd baseman, and Orlando Arcia is one of the most underrated young guys in baseball.  Eric Sogard is fine.

But the drawbacks, a bad stash of starting pitchers, luck probably not helping them out, and an Eric Thames regression season keeps me back from really believing in this team.

Pittsburgh Pirates: PECOTA Prediction: 78 wins  Verdict: UNDER

Aside from some good infield depth, this team is terrible.  Ivan Nova is your ace, congratulations.

The Andrew McCutchen trade propels them into a rebuild, yet they don’t have anyone who’s really, really good.  Austin Meadows could get called up eventually, and Colin Moran will start at 3rd.  But for now, the Pirates are waiting for that guy.

Cincinnati Reds: PECOTA Prediction: 75 wins  Verdict: OVER

I like this team.  The outfield is solid; Scott Schebler and Adam Duvall are great hitters.  Billy Hamilton is a delight.  They might be horrific defensively besides Hamilton, but it’s at least fun!

I like the middle infield; Scooter Gennett and Jose Pereaza are solid hitters, and Peraza is a huge part of their future.  Joey Votto probably won’t bat .320 again (Man, reflecting on the fact that he didn’t win NL MVP feels strange), but after last season I won’t dare project regression.

The downfall with the Reds is their rotation, which wouldn’t be horrible if not for injuries already taking their toll.  Anthony DeSclafani is coming back from a UCL injury, and Brandon Finnegan, a young 24 year old who has a ton of experience from his Kansas City days, may be out for two weeks.

The rest is actually pretty intriguing.  Homer Bailey is washed, but Luis Castillo is a young pitcher who just needed a team to keep him around.  He pitched well last year and should again this season.  Sal Romano wasn’t great last year, but is also only 24.

The Reds might be kinda fun!  It’s a talented, young team.  But a lot things are gonna have to come together for it to work out.  They might surprise some people.

NL West

Los Angeles Dodgers: PECOTA Prediction: 97 wins  Verdict: UNDER

I was ready to make this Dodgers preview quick until I saw Matt Kemp starting in left field.

The classic little league joke is that typically the worst player on the team plays left field.  That’s not the case once you hit high school, but for the Dodgers, it’s most certainly the case.

Kemp’s numbers aren’t that bad at first glance.  He batted .276/.318/.463 with Atlanta last year, and had an OPS over .800 the year before that.  He’s not totally washed.

But some other stats say otherwise.  Kemp grounded into 25 double plays last season, the most in the Majors.  And he only played 115 games!  How can you be that unclutch?

WAR also hated him last season; it calculated to -1.3.

Kemp might be okay this year.  But the fact that he’s on an MLB roster, let alone starting for the Dodgers, is just too funny.

The Dodgers have a couple other concerns.  Justin Turner is gonna be out for awhile with a broken wrist.  Logan Forsythe will play 3rd base until he returns, which is fine.  The trade for him isn’t a loss yet, with the Rays not getting Jose De Leon’s service due to Tommy John Surgery (That trade might be a lose-lose for both at this point).  Forsythe had a rough year last season, which fits his career trajectory quite well.  He should rebound this season.

Once again, I’m ready to doubt this rotation.  Clayton Kershaw is amazing, but the rest, like usual, is a little leaky.  Alex Wood was way too good last year; so was 37 year old Rich Hill (Hill has that curveball though.  It’ll probably keep working).  I like Kenta Maeda, and Hyun-Jin Ryu is good when healthy.

The Dodgers are gonna be fine, but the regression in the rotation and Kemp’s presence in the outfield tells me that 97 wins is a little too high.

Arizona Diamondbacks: PECOTA Prediction: 87 wins  Verdict: UNDER

Arizona only got better this offseason.  They added Steven Souza Jr., Brad Boxberger, Jarrod Dyson and Alex Avila.

They lost practically no one.  Paul Goldschmidt should be an NL MVP candidate once again, and the outfield has AJ Pollack and David Peralta mashing baseballs.  Jarrod Dyson will provide some needed defense, and can get on base.  Jake Lamb is a slugging machine at 3rd, and Alex Avila is a much better hitter than Jeff Mathis.

To fight some possible regressions, Arizona added even more hitting over the offseason.  They’re loaded at the plate.

They’re also deep in the outfield, which is good since Peralta and Pollack tend to miss games.  Souza Jr. is hurt, but his presence coupled with the versatility of Chris Owings and Daniel Descalso provides some insurance.

My concern with Arizona is once again the pitching (That’s a common trend in the NL West).  The Diamondbacks pitched phenomenally well last season; breakout years from Robbie Ray and Zach Godley occurred, and Zach Greinke threw like an ace.

That probably won’t be the case this season.  Greinke said some concerning things over the offseason, like this below:

Wonderful.  I have to worry about this along with Robbie Ray returning to pitch like Robbie Ray.  Oh, and Shelby Miller is gonna pitch in some innings this year!  You can feel the ERA rising.

87 wins feels about right.  They somehow won 93 last year, which was overshadowed by the Dodgers winning an insane amount as well.  Arizona is super talented, but last year might have been the year to really make an impact.

San Francisco Giants: PECOTA Prediction: 83 wins  Verdict: UNDER

I think PECOTA saw the Giants’ and Rockies’ pitching staffs and went “¯\_(ツ)_/¯”

I have no idea how the Giants got projected six wins better than Colorado.  San Francisco’s depth chart has them possessing only eight pitchers right now.  Eight!  There’s two I’ve never heard of!

And guess who’s starting Opening Day?  Ty Blach!  Oh yeah!  Here’s Your 2018 San Francisco Giants Everybody!

They’re really banged up.  Madison Bumgarner broke his hand and can’t pitch for at least two months.  Jeff Samardzjia is also on the DL, which depletes them of innings.  The bullpen is also feeling those effects.  Will Smith is out for the year after TJ surgery and Mark Melancon is also recovering from an arm surgery.

They’re a mess to start the season, and the bats are old.  Brandon Crawford is 30, Hunter Pence will be 35.  Brandon Belt fell off a cliff last year and will be 31 this season.

They added Andrew McCutchen, which makes the outfield less horrid; the fact that Austin Jackson keeps finding MLB jobs is hilarious.  He’s the Sam Bradford of the MLB.

The Giants made some nice moves, but I just don’t see it coming together.  This team won 64 games last season.  They won’t be that bad, but it’s time to start thinking about trying to be.

Colorado Rockies: PECOTA Prediction: 78 wins  Verdict: OVER

Once again, the Rockies have a World Series lineup with no pitching.

The numbers say their rotation was pretty bad last year, but it was good enough to get them to the NL Wild Card Game.  They lost a big part of it, though.  Tyler Chawood is now a Cub, leaving Jon Gray as their only real trustworthy starter.

PECOTA comes in low probably because of it.  Ryan McMahon is a young 1st baseman who could struggle out of the gate, but Colorado has done okay with guys like that in the past.

The pitching is going to be a real problem.  If the Rockies are in it around the deadline, they should go all in for whoever the top starter available is.  It’s time to stop wasting this lineup.

San Diego Padres: PECOTA Prediction: 73 wins  Verdict: UNDER

It’s a slight under.  Please don’t watch this team.

Can The Wolves Survive The Jimmy Butler Injury?

For Timberwolves fans, nothing could have felt worse than seeing All-Star guard Jimmy Butler be carried off the floor by teammates Friday night.  He is their guy; their superstar, their best player, and as SI put it this Summer, their answer to the Warriors.

Now a torn meniscus could completely derail that chance to face the Warriors.

Somehow, it also could have been so much worse.  An ACL not only would have knocked him for the rest of this season, but the start of the 2018-2019 season would have been no guarantee either.

Butler is slated to come back in 4-6 weeks.  So essentially, he’ll be back for the Playoffs.  But does that really matter?

Currently the Timberwolves are in the 3rd seed out West.  They’re keeping up with their projection; a 50 win-ish team landing somewhere between the third and six seeds.

They’re stunningly 3rd in offensive efficiency, a feat that I certainly didn’t expect.  That’s what a superstar like Butler gets you.  He’d been putting up 22.2 points a game with five assists and 5.4 rebounds, plus two steals and a 47.3% clip from the field.  Also, he gets buckets when they matter.

The defense as a whole has been an issue, but that wasn’t surprising.  What did you think would happen when you’re running out Karl-Anthony Towns (OK, he’s been better lately), Andrew Wiggins and Jeff Teague on the other end?  The metrics disagree (We still have no good defensive stats for basketball), but the Wolves haven’t been able to rely solely on Butler and Taj Gibson defensively.  Since they don’t have the best personnel for switching (KAT’s lacking lateral quickness has been the biggest reason why they can’t… it’s not necessarily all an effort thing with him on that end), a help scheme gets burned with Wiggins and Teague goofing off.

To give the Wolves credit, their schedule has been brutal this season.  Some metrics have it ranked 5th toughest in the league.

It doesn’t get any easier the rest of the way.  Minnesota has Golden State, Houston, Boston and San Antonio (Who could have Kawhi Leonard back then) left, plus a couple other tough matchups (Washington, Philly, and Portland tonight).

As we’re seeing with Oklahoma City, a bad, sub .500 stretch in the West can be costly.  The Thunder have plummeted to the 7th seed after bad losses and as their stars go through horrid shooting slumps.  Perhaps this is just catching back up to the mean after an eight game win streak that got everyone fired up about their playoff hopes, though.

Still, Minnesota has to avoid a stretch like that.  This isn’t a Finals team; it wasn’t and never has been; the problems they’re having now were evident enough in the beginning of the year to hold back those aspirations.

The biggest reason why the Wolves have to stay afloat is because of the peculiar matchups they face in the first round of the playoffs.  A series vs. OKC should go nine games simply because of each team’s inconsistency, but the star power of OKC along with their defensive switch they can flip should power them through if that’s the scenario.  San Antonio is scary enough without Kawhi; who knows what Pop will be able to pull possibly without him.  But with Kawhi??  Forget about it.  Portland has become one of my favorite teams this season.  They’re also inconsistent, but CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard love the Playoffs, and the Blazers are sneakily 10th in defensive rating.  Minnesota should probably be able to beat them, but I wouldn’t want to test it (Hot take:  It won’t happen, but Portland vs. Golden State could be a long, intense and even scary series).

New Orleans has stayed afloat without DeMarcus Cousins (They’re gonna get spanked by whoever the play in the first round though). Minnesota has to stay out of their way.  The Pelicans are up to 5th (!!!!) in the standings, leaping OKC.  New Orleans just doesn’t deserve anything higher than 7th, or maybe even 9th for that matter (Sorry, that was mean… I’d just rather see Donavan Mitchell!)

Put it this way:  Minnesota falling to 7th or 8th is a death sentence.  The first round is gonna be hard enough depending on the matchup.  Golden State and Houston are unbeatable for the Wolves.

The problem is that the odds of it happening are a little too high.

In the first half of their game against Sacramento Monday night, Minnesota went back and forth with one of the worst teams in the league.  Sacramento is terrible.  Yet the Wolves got no stops, and it was a three point game at halftime.

They pulled away, as they should have.  It could have just been Warriors-syndrome first half, where effort was low against a bad team.  But unlike Golden State, games matter for Minnesota now.  They can’t afford to lose or fall behind.  A poor first half may not matter against Sacramento, a young team that doesn’t know how to win at the end yet, but against Boston, Houston and Washington, it will.  They’ll capitalize on the slow starts.

Minnesota’s offense was already very isolation heavy before Butler’s injury.  Now, they’re relying on Jeff Teague to play more pass first instead of trying to draw fouls on ridiculous three point attempts (He, like this team as a whole, has been better lately).  Andrew Wiggins also has to step up.  He’s been a little more consistent lately, shooting 47.1% in the last 10 games.  But the three point percentage is down (30.8%) and there’s still those ugly, 3-10 from the field-like games that happen just a little too often.

KAT’s been a monster all season, putting up 20.2 PPG and 12.2 RPG while shooting 41.3% on threes.  Feeding him and limiting ISO scenarios is probably the way to go; more Tyus Jones minutes helps to move the ball around as well.

Against Sacramento, Minnesota threw out a lineup that included KAT, Gorgui Dieng and Nenjma Belicia.  That was… big for me.  Sure, Belly gives them some of the shooting they’ll miss with Butler out, but offenses can throw those guys in the pick and roll and destroy them.

Butler unlocks a lot for the Wolves.  He’s crunch-time scorer, their leading scorer, their defensive stopper and their alpha-dog.  That’s a lot of responsibilities, and Minnesota doesn’t really have anyone there to fill all of it.  A rough stretch, especially considering the schedule, is likely, and it couldn’t come at the worst time.