The good times have returned for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Roughly two decades of futility are now in the rear view mirror and the Pirates will enter the 2015 campaign with expectations rather than just hope. But in spite of what appears to be one of baseball’s better rosters, there are a few areas that I believe are serious concerns.
The outfield sure isn’t one of those question marks. Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen and Gregory Polanco form a spectacular trio, and it could well be the best outfield in the game. Neil Walker is firmly entrenched as a quality 2B, Jordy Mercer is on his way to becoming a well above average SS and while Josh Harrison might not be able to equal last year’s output, he has certainly shed that utility tag and now owns 3B. I like the available depth at all these spots as well, particularly intriguing rookie Jung-ho Kang.
That leaves two positions that I would call shaky. Sorry, but I’m just not a big Pedro Alvarez guy. He’s less of a liability at first base than he was across the diamond. But Alvarez is not a good offensive player, despite his prodigious power potential. Put it this way. If Alvarez bombs out 30 homers, the suspect defense and the poor BA are acceptable. But if Alvarez is only in the 20 HR neighborhood, he’s more liability than asset. I feel the Pirates are better off with a straight Alvarez/Corey Hart platoon at first base.
Then there’s the catching situation, and this is clearly the most crucial worry for the Bucs. Russell Martin’s departure leaves an enormous hole that right now doesn’t appear to have been even partially filled. Martin was a plus offensively, but the Pirates have enough of an attack to overcome his absence there. Not so behind the plate. Francisco Cervelli is little better than replacement level and he’s also had some durability concerns. Chris Stewart is strictly a backup and Tony Sanchez has yet to display that he can be a regular in the big leagues.
I think it’s unrealistic to think Martin’s loss won’t impact the Pittsburgh pitching and I’m not sold on their rotation as it is. Gerrit Cole as a #1 is a question mark. Francisco Liriano is fine, but he is also always a breakdown candidate. I’m not sure what AJ Burnett has left and the back end is acceptable at best. The Bucs have a dynamite bullpen, so when they’re up late, they should be fine.
Put it all together and the Pirates are certainly a team that has realistic hopes of more post-season action. But I really have apprehension about just how massive the loss of Martin might be, and for that reason, I make the Bucs no better than 50/50 to still be playing past 162 games. As for the season O/U, I lean to the Under on the win total, but not enough to make it a play.
Split my Thursday card, and of course, on the wrong side of the UNC/Wisconsin finish. That’s just the way it’s been going here on the end games in these tournaments.
The fact I don’t have to sweat spread swings at the finish line is a big reason I enjoy baseball as much as I do. Pick the winner, cash the ticket and dealing with money lines also offers more value in determining a true line and playing the advantage situations. To find out more about how my baseball program works, simply email me at email@example.com and I’ll get back to you directly.
The Thursday free play was on one of tonight’s NCAA games, so no result there yet. Here’s another side I like this evening, this one being in the NBA.
(873) UTAH JAZZ at (874) DENVER NUGGETS
Take: (873) UTAH JAZZ +2
Right off the top, this is a game where monitoring the injury updates during the day is important. I’m operating on the assumption that the Jazz won’t be too shorthanded this evening, but I would definitely get the latest info available before taking a stance.
My main thrust here is that it looks to me like the Denver regression might finally be kicking in. The Nuggets put together their best stretch of the season as soon as beleaguered Brian Shaw was finally shown the door. It was clear the players and coach were not only not on the same page, they weren’t even reading from the same book. Therefore it wasn’t anything resembling a coincidence to see the Nuggets suddenly get hot once the move was made by management.
Now it looks as though the regression to the norm is beginning to take place. The Nuggets have started to slip back into their mediocre ways and they were very bad down the stretch in an ugly loss last game to the 76ers. This is not surprising. The novelty of the new coach has worn off, and the reality that the team is playing want amounts to meaningless games under an interim mentor has started to take hold.
Utah won’t be participating the playoffs either, but I think it’s fair to say their situation is far more settled right now that that of the Nuggets. The Jazz are in rebuild mode but their foundation is in place. I’m pretty sure we’re going to be seeing an overhaul of sorts in Denver once the campaign closes and when that’s the case, we frequently see a stretch drive that’s most weaving all over the road.
The technical aspects here favor Utah as well. The Jazz have owned this series from a spread standpoint of late, and they own considerably better situational numbers here than do the Nuggets.
Again, I’d take a look at the injury updates before wagering here. But barring Utah being down too many players tonight, this appears to me to be a good spot to back the Jazz as any kind of underdog.