The baseball previews continue today with a look at the 2015 Baltimore Orioles. This team has confounded many experts for two years running. When it happens once, maybe it can be chalked up as a fluke. Two years in succession, it’s time to reassess.
The Orioles are once again a team that on paper, doesn’t seem all that daunting. But there’s clearly a positive chemistry that works for this squad, and there simply aren’t many better at maximizing the talent on hand than Baltimore manager Buck Showalter.
The Orioles could well be better offensively this season. Matt Wieters will be back after losing virtually the entire 2014 season to injury. The Birds will hope to get a full year out of Manny Machado. One has to think Chris Davis will rebound to some extent, and that Jonathan Schoop will continue to improve. I’ve always liked Alejandro De Aza. JJ Hardy remains a fixture at shortstop, and Adam Jones is rock solid. I don’t know is Steve Pearce can repeat his breakout, but he’s now an asset. Aside from filling the right field spot long held by Nick Markakis, this lineup is really well set.
The pitching will remain the question mark, as the Orioles don’t have any dominating arms. Kevin Gausman has a chance to break out though, and the quartet of Chen, Tillman, Norris and Gonzalez are steady if not spectacular. The bullpen is what I’d call league average. That could change if a healthy Dylan Bundy reverts to his pre-injury status. If that happens, Bundy either joins the rotation at some point or fortifies the pen.
By the numbers, the Orioles are still not that good. But this is one case where I just can’t trust the numbers, and that’s coming from a very numbers-oriented baseball analyst. I think the Orioles will find a way to get to +.500 again and will once again contend for a playoff spot. But for wagering purposes, I will pass on playing the 81.5 O/U.
One of the heartbreaker beats of the entire season with Sacred Heart, but it was still a 3-2 winning Wednesday, so the good results continue.
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Bryant hit what can only be called a miracle three at the horn to force OT against Sacred Heart and the Pioneers bet eventually lost by the hook in two OT’s. No doubt about it, that one stung a little. I’ll try my hand at breaking down another conference tourney matchup tonight.
(581) USC UPSTATE at (582) FLORIDA GULF COAST
Take: (581) USC UPSTATE +4.5
Sure, you remember Florida Gulf Coast. One of the all-time great NCAA Cinderella stories, the Eagles are trying to make their way back to the Big Dance and they’ll try to take another step tonight as they host USC Upstate in an Atlantic Sun Tournament semi-final matchup.
This is no longer the high flying Lob City entry that stood the college hoop world on its collective ears a couple years ago. The current edition can still do some crazy athletic stuff and they’re shot blocking maniacs. But this is a defense first Florida Gulf Coast entry and point prevention is their game.
USC Upstate is also a team that I think would qualify as defense first. The Spartans force lots of turnovers and feature a pretty tough man to man defense that seems to work for this experienced entry.
I don’t think there’s a great deal to choose between these teams. The road team needs Ty Greene to have a big game. The hosts are going on rely on Brett Comer and Bernard Thompson, the two senior leaders who were such a huge part of the Sweet 16 run two season ago.
It’s definitely not easy to pull the trigger and fade this favorite at home. Florida Gulf Coast is not going to fold under the big game pressure. But I don’t believe the visitors will either. The Spartans are actually the slightly better team on the ratings set that works most reliably for me in these tournaments. I see this one having a great chance to be a one or two possession game that goes to the wire. That being the case, I feel I’m getting enough here to justify taking USC Upstate plus the points.