Dave’s Free Play, Tuesday 3/31/15

“The Cardinal Way” is what they call it. That might sound a bit haughty to some, but the results indicate there’s something to it, and it’s not bragging if it’s fact. St. Louis is poised to again be a central figure in the National League pennant chase, and the Cardinals are the favorite to bring home another NL Central title.

There’s really not much debate about this being a model franchise. The Redbirds are big on developing their own talent and instilling a winning attitude from the big league clubhouse all the way down the chain to rookie ball. Their system works.

Taking a look at this year’s edition, there are few weaknesses. Yadier Molina runs the show on the field from his position behind home plate and he remains an elite catcher. Molina is also in phenomenal shape this spring, and that seems to have set the tone for the rest of the Cardinals as well.

Matt Adams, Kolten Wong, Jhonny Peralta and Matt Carpenter will comprise the starting infield reading from right to left. New addition Jason Heyward joins incumbents Jon Jay and Matt Holliday in the outfield. Heyward has a chance to get his five tools together here, moreso that I believe he did in Atlanta. The depth chart looks fine, as usual.

The Redbirds absorbed a tragic of season loss with the death of the tremendously gifted Oscar Taveras. For some organization, this would be a disaster. While it’s clearly a very sad ending to what could have been a remarkable career, the Cardinals went out and grabbed Hayward to fill the regular right field spot. It’s not the ideal set of circumstances for the illustration, but that’s really the Redbirds in a nutshell. There’s never any panic and they just keep rolling along.

You can forget about any bargains on the O/U win total with this team. The only surprise would be if St. Louis suddenly went sour and missed the playoffs. I don’t see that happening. No play here on that win total, as it looks just about right. As for the divisional race, I don’t see the Redbirds getting unseated as champs. Business as usual. It’s “The Cardinal Way.”

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2-0 on Monday with the Celtics and Hawks coming through fairly comfortably.

Just a handful of days till the first pitch of the 2015 MLB season is thrown, so just that amount of time to get set up to be with me for the entire season of selections. All plays I make myself are sent out to all clients, no multi-level setups depending on how much is spent. For all the pertinent info fire off an email to me directly at cokin@cox.net.

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The Celtics got the job done as Monday’s free play. I’ll look at one of tonight’s tourney games for the Tuesday comp.

(773) TENNESSEE-MARTIN  at  (774) EVANSVILLE

Take: (774) EVANSVILLE -6.5

Heath Schroyer has done phenomenally well in his first years at the UT-Martin helm. For a program as steeped in mediocrity as this one to still be playing, minor tourney or not, is simply remarkable. The former Wyoming head coach and UNLV assistant has done himself proud in the process.

But my thoughts are that the Skyhawks might not have enough to win tonight as they journey to Evansville. Marty Simmons is a very savvy coach and he’s got a young team that’s getting a great head start on next season with their showing to close this one.

I went the matchup route to determine what I believe takes place here. Evansville is not all that big, but their occasional physical shortcomings won’t be as much of a factor here, as UT-Martin is not a tall team. If that’s the case, the Purple Aces, who really don’t like to rely on outside shooting, simply won’t have to. I think they can get a good number of high percentage shots tonight, and if that is indeed the case, the road team will have trouble keeping the hosts off the scoreboard.

UT-Martin does the have the equalizer as they can knock down shots from anyplace and Evansville can be burned by effective outside shooters. So this is not a slam dunk by any means.

I like the scheduling setup for Evansville. They should be feeling great after scoring two straight road wins, while this is now a fourth consecutive road game for the Skyhawks. At some point one would think that might have an impact on UT-Martin.

The Skyhawks have a terrible history when facing the Missouri Valley Conference. Most of that is inconsequential as it took place prior to the arrival of Schroyer and this year’s squad is vastly superior to recent editions. But there’s still what I believe is a class difference here and I expect that to be a factor tonight. It’s not by any means a cheap number, but I like Evansville to emerge with the win and cover tonight.

Dave’s Free Play, Monday 3/30/15

The first step is complete. Now it’s time for the Seattle Mariners to make their way back to the playoffs for the first time since 2001. That Seattle team won 116 regular season games before losing the ALCS for the second straight year to the Yankees. This year’s Mariners won’t come anywhere close to that amazing campaign, but they definitely appear to be team with a big chance to be playing well into October.

Seattle is going to pitch it well, and if the offense does its job, this team will be a part of the post-season. They appear to be improved over last year’s 87-75 entry and while there are still a few questionable spots, anything less than a playoff spot would be a big disappointment.

Felix Hernandez remains the main man in Seattle. King Felix is en route to a  Hall of Fame career and he enters the 2015 season as one of the favorites to claim another Cy Young Award. There’s some solid support on hand as well. Hisashi Iwakuma looks to be in good health, Taijuan Walker and James Paxton are high end prospects ready to make statements and while the fifth rotation spot is shaky, that’s still a very good first four.

Fernando Rodneyis the closer for now, but if he falters, the Mariners can easily go to Danny Farquhar. The remainder of the pen could probably be a little stronger but it’s hardly a disaster area.

The Mariners really helped themselves in the off season with the acquisition of Nelson Cruz. He’s a pure power bat and is great protection for Robinson Cano. Kyle Seager is on the verge of becoming a legit star. Austin Jackson and Dustin Ackley both have a chance to improve offensively this season. Logan Morrison can be adequate at first base, and I expect a better year out of Brad Miller at shortstop. Mike Zunino might never hit for average, but he’s getting rave reviews behind the plate and he’s got power. A Seth Smith/Justin Ruggiano platoon in right field is tolerable, and vets like Rickey Weeks and Willie Blomquist make for a quality bench.

The Mariners are not likely to overwhelm with their offense, but they really don’t need to. This is a team built on a pitching and defense setup that plays well at Safeco, and the fact is they’re very likely to be respectable with the sticks this season. If that’s the case, this team has a chance to wrest the AL West title from the Angels, and looms as a favorite to make the playoffs. I think the O/U is right about where it should be, so no play there, and assuming Seattle is around that number, they’ll play past Game 162.

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A 1-1 Sunday, with the underdog OT loss on Louisville and a comfortable win by the Spurs in the NBA. The end of regulation could not have played out worse for Louisville backers from a spread standpoint, and I though the outcome at that point became predictable.

I’m as ready as I can be for baseball, so now it’s just a matter of getting the season started. If you’d like to join me for what should be another productive campaign, get all the details join what I’m offering by shooting an email my way at cokin@cox.net.

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No need to rehash Louisville. There have been an ample number of tough to swallow losses with the free plays lately, and this was as sour as any of them. Here’s a preview of an NBA game being played tonight.

(731) BOSTON CELTICS  at  (732) CHARLOTTE HORNETS

Take: (731) BOSTON CELTICS +4

Here we go again with the Celtics back in the no rest scenario, and for whatever reason this team seems to embrace that role about as much as any team in the NBA.

The numbers for Boston playing the second of back to back games don’t make a whole lot of sense, but it’s tough to argue against 10-5 straight up and 12-2-1 against the line. In fact, the Celtics are a sort of ridiculous 68% play the last 50 occasions where they’ve had to endure playing on a second straight night. .

The dealings between Boston and Charlotte have been underdog dominated, with the team receiving points standing 23-9-1 in the last 33 meetings.

Enough with the historical data. I can see a case being made for the Celtics just on the way they match up with this opponent. They’re simply what appears to be the better basketball team at this juncture. That’s not to suggest Boston is any kind of powerhouse, but rather, the Hornets have been largely awful of late.

I’m not giving any weight to the Charlotte win over Atlanta on Saturday. The Hawks stay their regulars and were coming off a celebration win the prior night. Call it right place, right time for the Hornets and they cashed in. But over the last few weeks, Charlotte has been one of the worst teams in the NBA, and that make them  risky proposition as even small chalk.

This is a big game for both teams. Boston currently sits in ninth place in the playoff race, just a half hame behind Brooklyn for the last post-season spot. The Hornets are also right there at 31-41, just one game behind the Nets. But while the Celtics are holding their own, Charlotte has been going in the wrong direction.

This ought to be a close game that is approached very intensely by each team. It’s certainly not a stretch to see Charlotte winning on its home court. But I don’t see it being easy and in a close to 50/50 type of matchup, give me the team that’s been more consistently competitive on the current form chart. That’s the Celtics and getting points in the process makes Boston the side I’ll align myself with tonight.

Dave’s Free Play, Sunday 3/29/15

It’s an odd numbered year, so that’s apparently good news for any team not named the San Francisco Giants. The Giants rode the left arm of Madison Bumgarner to their third World Series title in only five years in 2014. That’s an amazing feat with parity being what it is these days. Regardless of what takes place this season, I think it’s fair to say the Giants are simply the best franchise in the game right now.

But as has been the case following the prior two championships, this has the look of a down season for San Francisco. I’m not going to go all doom and gloom as this is still a solid cast with a great manager and front office. so writing them off completely is foolish. Nevertheless, the reality is that this edition is not as strong on paper and the Giants will also now wear that king of the mountain target on their backs.

The offense is very likely going to be down. There’s a serious power outage here with a couple of significant bats having left town and Hunter Pence injured to start the season. The starting rotation could be very shaky as age and diminished results are a potentially major factor with much of the staff.

MadBum on top as the ace should be fine, in spite of the immense workload from last season. But beyond Bumgarner it’s a series of question marks. Tim Hudson, Matt Cain, Jake Peavy, Tim Lincecum, Ryan Vogelsong. Wow, that’s a load of age and a load of innings among that quintet. I think there’s enough savvy in that group to get by, but I can’t say I’m really confident that’s a group I can put great faith in at this juncture. The bullpen looks okay as usual, so few worries there.

Buster Posey is as good as it gets behind the plate. Brandon Belt might never blossom to superstar status as some predicted, but he’s good enough at 1B. Joe Panik is on his way to being better than I thought he’d be at 2B. Brandon Crawford is not much with the stick, but there aren’t many shortstops that are his equal with the leather. If Angel Pagan can stay on the field in center, he’s a definite asset.

The rest of the lineup looks dicey. Casey McGehee at 3B, Nori Aoki and Gregor Blanco in place of Pence are better suited to bench roles in my view. I’m apprehensive about Aoki’s defense at this site as he takes some really crazy routes at times and with that Bay Area wind now a daily factor, that could be a real adventure.

Bruce Bochy is a great manager, so I can’t just blue pencil the Giants and say they have no shot at getting back to the playoffs. But a repeat of last year’s win total is a reach and I actually think there’s a chance this team could dip to barely .500. I’ll lean Under on the Giants win total. But 2016 is an even numbered year, so if it’s a wait till next year scenario for this team, it might just be worth that wait yet again.

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I’m in the throes of a very nasty slump right now. This happens without fail on a couple of occasions minimum every calendar year, and that’s why this entire endeavor has to be met with a roll with the punches mentality. I’m having some bad luck and I’m also making some really bad reads. Hopefully, the bottom out stage was reached on Saturday and the climb back up the mountain begins today.

The best news for me is we’re one week away from baseball. For info on on my MLB 2015 program, fire off an email to cokin@cox.net and I’ll get back with all the pertinent info. Two things you can take to the bank. One is that all correspondence is confidential, so you’ll not be suddenly getting inundated with unsolicited offers. Secondly, I don’t toss around any manure. If you’re betting real money as I am, that’s the last thing you need to hear.

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Notre Dame outplayed Kentucky and I thought they were unlucky not to win the game. Great job by Mike Bray taking away Kentucky’s physical superiority. I could not have gotten the game more wrong. I’ll go the far more simple route with today’s free play.

(719) MICHIGAN STATE  vs. (720) LOUISVILLE

Take: (720) LOUISVILLE +2.5

KISS. That stands for Keep It Simple Stupid and I think I’ll heed that advice today. First off I think there is a simple approach to this Michigan State/Louisville duel. Secondly, the way I’ve called too many recent shots, I’m at least a temporary member of the stupid set.

I don’t relish the prospect of trying to beat Tom Izzo. The longtime Spartan coach is as good as it gets come tournament time. But so is Rick Pitino and I just keep staring at one set of numbers regarding Pitino. The guy is now 14-2 against the spread as a an underdog over the past four seasons. I understand that’s not a huge long term sample that one likes to see, but it’s sure not bad.

Beyond that, it’s really tough to make a case for either side here, at least from my vantage point. This is a very even matchup. The Spartans are better offensively, although their inaccuracy at the stripe can be an issue. The Cardinals rate the edge on defense, although it’s not a blowout by any means on that count. Good luck trying to find a coaching advantage.

So in essence I have what looks to me to be a pure coin flip. But I’m getting a basket with the Cardinals and I’ve got Pitino in a role in which he’s flourished spectacularly in recent years. Short and sweet, I’ll take Louisville with the points.

Dave’s Free Play, Saturday 3/28/15

If you subscribe to the change is good theory, you’ve got to be impressed with the new look San Diego Padres. The Friars put a new man in charge to try and rebuild the franchise, and AJ Preller has taken the bull by the horns in what amounts to a mass transformation of the team.

I don’t think there’s any question a major gamble is taking place with the Padres. Welcome to Preller Mania if it works out. But if this goes the other way, the Padres could be behind the proverbial eight ball for years to come. Put me on the side that says it was worth the shot regardless. San Diego hasn’t won much recently, they’ve been painfully boring to watch and they had absolutely nothing to lose. Thus from a risk vs. reward perspective, I’m giving two thumbs up to Preller.

The Padres have been good pitch and no hit for some time now, and the staff looks to be in tremendous shape. Andrew Cashner, James Shields, Tyson Ross and Ian Kennedy are a stellar quartet of starters, and I think Brandon Morrow, if healthy, could resurrect his career with the Padres. The pen looks solid enough with Joaquin Benoit the headliner. I do think the Padres are in need of some lefty help though, as they’re really thin when it comes to southpaws and that could be a critical factor in situations where the specialist is required.

The offense is clearly improved. The all new starting outfield of Matt Kemp, Wil Myers and Justin Upton might not win any Gold Gloves, but that’s a load of offensive talent, and the Friars have good depth here as well.

Now for the potentially bad news. The San Diego infield looms as a significant liability. Yonder Alonso doesn’t have ideal power for a first baseman and needs to find a way to at least get the BA to a better level to offset his lack of punch. I’m not sold on Jedd Gyorko as a mainstay at second base, although I do think he has the moist upside in this group. The left side of the infield is a big problem. Derek Norris should be adequate behind the plate and his power is a plus.

My biggest concern with the Padres is that they go into sell mode in a hurry if things don’t work out, and that would be a disaster for a team that hasn’t been thrilling its fan base lately. That’s why when I look around the SD infield, my optimism for this team wanes considerably.

I don’t see the O/U as a strong play either way. The pitching is absolutely good enough to carry this team and with the upgrade to at least part of the offense, an intact roster should mean a winning season. But getting to the mid to high 80’s might be asking a bit too much and if the Padres start slowly, things could get ugly. As it stands now, however, I can see the Padres battling for second place in the NL West with at least a chance to be playing in October.

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I’m writing this before all the Friday results are tallied, but the evening is not off to a good start, so my recent skid is unfortunately still going. The good news is I like the Saturday NCAA card, so here’s hoping it delivers something positive.

And the best news is that baseball is just about here. The players have had enough of the meaningless games and so have the fans. Find about exactly what my baseball program entails by shooting an email my way at cokin@cox.net.

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No results yet on the two Friday plays, so I’ll update that on Sunday. Meanwhile, it’s Elite Eight time at the Big Dance and I’ve got an opinion to share on Notre Dame-Kentucky.

(511) NOTRE DAME  vs.  (512) KENTUCKY

Take: (512) KENTUCKY -11

One cannot help but be impressed with the way Notre Dame has come together. The Irish did themselves proud winning the ACC Tournament and now they have a chance to become the big story of the entire season by knocking off all-powerful Kentucky.

Great storyline to be sure, but I don’t see it happening. I’ve said all season the only team that can beat Kentucky is Kentucky, and that opinion hasn’t changed even a little bit. The Wildcats are an incredible collection of pure talent and they’re just huge to boot.

Therein lies the problem as I see it for Notre Dame. When peering at potential matchups as the brackets were put together, I circled this one as  what I felt loomed as a blowout possibility. It’s just a matter of size to me. Notre Dame is talented and they really run some first rate stuff on offense. But they’re not big and they’re not physical and that makes the Wildcats a really bad opponent for Mike Bray’s outfit.

I’m not saying the Irish have no chance here. If they can light it up from beyond the arc again, as they certainly did in the ACC final against North Carolina, and as they did in the win against Wichita, Notre Dame can hang. But that’s anything but a sure thing against the Wildcats, who just happen to non the best three-point defense in the country.

I just don’t see how Notre Dame can have much success inside against the mammoth Kentucky front line. Unfortunately for the Irish, they are also going to be hard pressed to get many second chances here, so I’m not sure where the points required to compete will come from. That therefore could put the burden on the Irish defense to stifle the Wildcats and that just isn’t their strong suit.

The number is big, and the idea of getting doubles with Notre Dame will be very appealing to many wagerers. I don’t see it myself. On a pure power rating, I think a case for the Irish can be made. But the matchup is the overriding factor for me, and I believe Kentucky will eventually turn this into a fairly lopsided result. I’m laying the points with the Wildcats.

Dave’s Free Play, Friday 3/27/15

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.

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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 cokin@cox.net and I’ll get back to you directly.

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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.

Dave’s Free Play, Thursday 3/26/15

Philadelphia sports fans have a longstanding reputation as being tough, passionate and as intense as it gets. They’re going to have a challenge maintaining even a passing interest in the 2015 edition of the Phillies.

This has a chance to be a really bad baseball team. The 73-89 2014 record wasn’t good by any means, but even just equalling that mark seems like a long shot at this point.

There’s not much question where the fault lies here. The Phillies front office has been incompetent. There’s just no way to sugar coat it either. And from what I’ve seen since the conclusion of last season, I think it’s fair to say things are not getting any better.

The likely Phillies lineup is unimpressive. Ryan Howard has shown some life this spring, but one can’t help but think wear and tear will impact the veteran 1B as the campaign rolls on. Chase Utley is still a quality 2B, but his best days are likely done. Cody Asche is a little better than replacement level at 3B and Freddy Galvis could well be the weakest starting SS in the game. Carlos Ruiz is a very solid backstop, but he’s also not getting any younger.

The outfield is well below average. There’s always hope that Grady Sizemore gets back to his pre-injury days, but that’s probably not going to happen. Ben Revere can be fun to watch, but at best he’s a poor man’s Juan Pierre. Dominic Brown has gone from blazing prospect to just a shade above replacement level. The bench is middling at best and probably less than that.

The rotation is a mine field. Cole Hamels is a legit ace, but I’m not sure he wants to be with the Phillies at this point and that could negatively impact his performance. The Cliff Lee injury means we’re looking at Aaron Harang as the #2, and what appears to be a Quad-A group manning the last three spots. About the only plus on the staff is the bullpen. So maybe the Phils will have a decent chance to protect their late leads, but that’s not much to hang one’s hat on.

There are surprises and disappointments every year in baseball. I don’t see much possibility of the former here, and in fact, there’s a really good chance this team could be even worse than the projections suggest. Even at 67.5, I see the Under as the only way to play and I can absolutely see the Phillies losing 100 games this year.

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No way around it, my college tournament action has not been sharp. I’ve coughed back the substantial early March profits and an now barely in the black for the month, which is very disappointing. My Wednesday produced a 1-3 result, and while there has been some tough end game luck in this negative run, the reads just haven’t been good.

The good news is the NBA continues to do pretty well, and all remaining plays from the Association are included with my 2015 MLB Package. It’s not exactly a secret that baseball is my best sport as far as net profits are concerned, and I honestly believe I’m getting better as the years go by thanks to all the great data that’s now available. Find out about how my program works by emailing me directly at cokin@cox.net. All correspondence is confidential, no info is shared with anyone, and the only one who sees the info is me.

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Good work by Brooklyn with the win at Charlotte, so a modest 3-0 free play run right now.

I don’t see anything among the four Thursday NCAA games that I will be willing to risk a full unit on, and rather than give out an opinion I already know I won’t be backing for my usual wager size, I’ll instead go with a Friday matchup for today’s comp.

(883) UTAH  vs.  (884) DUKE

Take: (884) DUKE -5.5

Let’s get the obvious out of the way here. Duke will be public chalk in this game and that’s not something that thrills me from a wagering standpoint. But while I’m one who prefers to go against the grain when I can, if I think the popular favorite is the right side, I’m generally going to go ahead and play it regardless.

Larry Krystkowiak has done a truly phenomenal coaching job at Utah. He took over a program that has absolutely bottomed out and getting the Utes to this level so rapidly is nothing short of incredible. Make no mistake, there’s nothing fluky about Utah. They’re balanced, they’re big and they’re legitimate.

However, I’m liking this Duke entry more and more. It really has become a true addition by subtraction scenario for the Blue Devils. Since Coach K decided to give Rasheed Sulaimon the boot, Duke has become a better basketball team. They’re 14-1 since his departure and that record has been achieved against some very talented opposition.

My key for this game is not in the numbers. Fact is, I think I could use the math to build a case for the underdog if I was inclined to. My take is that Duke is playing such good offense right now, I believe they can get good looks and cash in regularly, even against a very tough Utah defense. If that happens, I don’t see Utah keeping pace for 40 minutes.

I’ll also toss in the moment as a potential factor. I’m certainly not going to say with any degree of certainty that Utah gets overwhelmed by the pressure that comes with playing in the Sweet 16. But I think it’s a possibility. Duke has been prepping for this moment all season, and I will speculate that this could be an advantage for the Blue Devils.

Is this as strong an opinion as a typical regular season game where I can implement all kinds of variables? Nope. That’s one of the things that, at least for me, makes the post season less of a certainty than the regular season. The numbers are razor sharp and the spread is frequently a coin flip right to the finish. So yeah, there’s a grain of salt recommendation here. But I’m seeing Duke as the winner here and while the line is surely no bargain, I prefer the Blue Devils minus the points.

Dave’s Free Play, Wednesday 3/25/15

Today’s big league preview team is the Oakland Athletics. The A’s provided me with one of the most unexpected winners I’ve ever had last season, as I’d played them Under on the win total. This was a play I basically had no shot to win, and then I did as the A’s hit a massive late season skid. It got worse for the franchise when they blew a big late lead in the play-in game against the Royals and then had sit and watch KC roll all the way to the AL pennant.

I did learn a lesson, or actually got one reinforced along the way last year. That is, don’t bet against Billy Beane. He might be a mad scientist at times, but he’s a great GM. The fact the mid-season rental ploy blew up doesn’t take away from that reputation. I thought the approach was terrific, even if the final tally didn’t justify the moves.

So now I’m looking at the 2015 A’s and my initial thought is that they’re supposed to slip in the standings. I don’t especially like the offense, which on paper is simply not as good as it was last year. This could very well be a team without a single 20-HR producer and the Athletics aren’t an organization that likes to play small ball.

The starting pitching is also not a sure thing. Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir are probably going to be fine. Jesse Hahn looked good in his first extended look with the Padres and he slots nicely as a #3. The back end of the rotation is kind of an unknown quantity right now. Drew Pomeranz probably has the inside track for the #4. I’ll call the #5 a fluid situation for the time being, although at some point Jarrod Parker figures to claim a starting spot. The bullpen should be better than average.

As for the lineup, Ben Zobrist and Billy Butler are quality adds. Marcus Semien is at least a breakout candidate after coming over from the White Sox. Brett Lawrie is an across the board contributor, but he’s not Josh Donaldson. Coco Crisp can still be a productive leadoff hitter and I can see Stephen Vogt being an acceptable option behind the plate. Josh Reddick needs to relocate his power stroke as the projected 3-hole hitter. I;m not enamored with the 1B or CF scenarios.

My bottom line is that I don’t see the A’s making the playoffs this season and I do think there’s a real possibility they could regress to perhaps even below .500. But as previously stated, I got away super lucky with my Oakland projection last season. I don’t think I’ll try that again this year.

————

So I get back that silly Mercer loser from Monday night with a very surprising Miami Hurricanes rally for a tasty win to start my Tuesday. And then I give it right back as the Heat blow a 16-point fourth quarter lead at Milwaukee, and lose the game on a ridiculous three at the horn by a Bucks player who’d been laying bricks all night. A very weird 1-1 and in the process, I would say more worst NBA loser of the season.

We’re one day closer to the start of the baseball season. Obviously, I’m chomping at the bit. Find out about what I’m offering by shooting an email my way at cokin@cox.net. The MLB results have been very solid over the years, and there’s no reason to suggest that will change this season.

———-

I never did see the Miami rally to get past Richmond as last night’s free play cashed in. To be honest, I’d gotten a bit disgusted with the way the ‘Canes were playing and decided to instead watch some exhibition baseball action. I had no idea I’d gotten a win with the U until I did a quick check on Twitter and saw what had taken place. I’ll take it! A little NBA action tonight.

(751) BROOKLYN NETS  at  (752) CHARLOTTE HORNETS

Take: (751) BROOKLYN NETS +3.5

I’m not suggesting that this strategy works for everyone, but one of my tendencies over the years has been to try and get in a zone with a team. If I make a good read on a squad, I’ll frequently look to stay with that team in some fashion until I’m proven wrong one way or the other.

The Brooklyn Nets got me a payday on Monday as I went against them and backed the Celtics. Obviously, this doesn’t take place all the time, but as it happens, I pretty much nailed that game in terms of how almost everything played out.

Coming out of that game, I immediately circled tonight’s clash with Charlotte as a potential play on spot for Brooklyn. The Nets have been very competitive taking to the road following a home loss and I still believe there’s a real effort being made from this entry’s vets to try and grab one of those two bottom playoff rungs in the less than loaded Eastern Conference.

I also like the idea of going against Charlotte. The Hornets have been mostly just plain lousy lately and they’re also not at all a team that shows much fortitude off a bad game. Check out the Hornets ledger for the season in the next game following a double digit defeat. Let’s just say it’s not a pretty picture.

No word as of now on the status of Jefferson or Zeller for the Hornets this evening. I’m basically taking the stance that it doesn’t matter as far as my play is concerned. What’s more meaningful to me is how badly this team is playing for the most part. Charlotte is 2-6 over its last eight outings. That’s clearly not good, but what’s worse is the ugly factor involved. The Hornets offense has been mostly atrocious, with two games in that group where they couldn’t even put 70 points on the board.

I see this as a good bounce back opportunity for a Brooklyn team that while not sizzling by any means, has at least been showing some recent life. I’ll grab the available points with the Nets is what looks like a winnable spot tonight.

 

 

Dave’s Free Play, Tuesday 3/24/15

What’s a big league post-season without the New York Yankees? The networks probably aren’t crazy about it, but from a Red Sox fan’s vantage point, it’s not a terrible thing. There’s every chance this October’s playoffs will again be contested sans Yankees. But it also wouldn’t be a surprise if the most storied franchise on America’s professional sports scene is participating.

That’s my way of saying that the Yankees are one of the teams I’m having a very tough time getting a handle on. The safe call is that they’ll be right around .500, maybe a game or two above or below. But if things break right for the Yanks, they could very well be a player come the second season.

One thing that is known about this team is that they’re a major injury risk as a whole. But there’s no real way of forecasting with any degree of certainty who might get hurt and who won’t. So I’ll just go with the good health outline for the purposes of this rundown.

Ideally, the Yankees batting order is probably something along the lines of Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner, Carlos Beltran, Mark Teixeira, Brian McCann, Chase Headley, Alex Rodriguez/Garrett Jones, Stephen Drew, Didi Gregarious.

That’s not the worst lineup on the planet. The Ellsbury and Gardner tandem is potentially extremely dynamic. Beltran and Teixeira have each declined, but each is capable of providing power and production. McCann has a good chance to put up better numbers in his second year in the Bronx. Headley will likely never get back to his fluky 2012 stats, but he’s entirely capable of okay numbers now that Petco is a memory. Garrett Jones is a nice fit as a platoon DH with ARod and the latter can fill in here and there at either infield corner. The only two weak spots are at the bottom of the order.

The pitching is also a question mark as far as the rotation is concerned. But I’ll state with confidence that if the Yankees have late inning leads, that setup and closer combo of Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances could be deadly. As for the starters, it’s tough to be glass half full. Masahiro Tanaka is pitching with a bad elbow. CC Sabathia has regained some velocity this spring, but he’s a wear down candidate. Michael Pineda has ace stuff when he’s healthy, but betting on Pineda to make 30-35 starts is not a safe wager. Nate Eovaldi has the big heater, but his secondary stuff hasn’t developed and he’s simply not more than a #4 right now. Chris Capuano is probably the favorite for the bottom rotation rung, and there are worse guys at the #5 but yet again durability is in question.

If all the above sounds confusing, well, that’s pretty much my state of mind with this edition of the Yankees. It looks to me like the oddsmakers feel pretty much the same way as the O/U is right around .500 and I don’t see either option as a strong wager. But for the purposes of this preview, I’ll slot the Yankees at 79 wins with a fourth place finish in the AL East. Just don’t take that to the bank.

————

3-1 here on Monday with all three wins being pretty easy. The loser was Mercer, which somehow managed to blow a 20-point second half lead at home. I’ve had an unfortunate knack for landing on the biggest blown lead on the board on a far too frequent basis lately and it’s thoroughly aggravating.

My baseball focus feels crystal clear right now and the anticipation for the start of the season is really building. For those interested in playing exactly what I’m on myself this season, I’ll be happy to explain how my program works if you’ll simply send an email my way at cokin@cox.net. As previously noted, I’m not into “big plays” on the diamond. I strongly believe that more than any other game, baseball has to be a steady grind where isolating value and simply playing the games that fit is the way to go. So if you’re into major excitement and lots of hype, I’m not your guy. If you’re more the long haul type, perhaps what I offer is worth exploring.

———–

Nice work by the Celtics as they pretty much wire to wired the Nets. Tonight’s free play is on one of the NIT hookups.

(695) MIAMI  at  (696) RICHMOND

Take: (695) MIAMI +2.5

Here’s the short version of tonight’s free play. Jim Larranaga as a road dog, take Jim Larranaga.

For those preferring a bit more elaboration, here goes.

Miami has been as enigmatic as any team in college basketball this season. On any given night, the Hurricanes look as though they can compete with any program in the country. The very next time out, they appear incapable of defeating an intramural squad. But there are at least some tendencies for this team, and one of them is that they very frequently play to the level of the opponent, and that’s why Miami has been money in the bank when cast in the role of road underdog.

If the good Miami shows up tonight, they’ll likely beat Richmond. The Spiders are a good team and Chris Mooney’s guys are a smart outfit as well. But Richmond is also not the most physically gifted team you’ll see playing basketball. They can get pushed around inside and against a team that has the ability control the glass as Miami does, that puts the onus on the Spiders offense to nail their shots as second chances are likely to be few and far between.

Miami point guard Angel Rodriguez is questionable as I’m writing this and there’s no doubt he’s a very important component for the ‘Canes. But it’s also worth noting that Miami has won all three games that Rodriguez has been forced to sit out. I have a theory on this based on viewing this team in action on a fairly regular basis. It looks to me, for what that’s worth, that Miami plays more within itself when Rodriguez is not on the court. In other words, they don’t rely on their engine to control every possession and work better together as a team. I understand that doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense, but that’s just the way I see this Hurricanes entry.

Gauging the intensity level of this Miami squad is, for lack of a better term, guesswork. I don’t think there’s much doubt there have been times where Larranaga has been utterly frustrated with the team’s hoop IQ as they do some really dumb stuff at times. Richmond is the more reliable of the two teams. The Spiders are also in very good form, with a narrow loss to VCU the only blemish in their last nine outings.

I ended up keying on two variables for this game. One is the clear as day Miami record as a road dog this season. I don’t want to try and beat that. The other is the conference affiliation. We’re seeing that the A-10 is a solid league, but it really does look like all the teams in the conference have a ceiling. The ACC has really been flexing its muscles in the post season and I believe that might well be the case again tonight, even with the game being played at Richmond. I’ll look to be taking the available points tonight with Miami.

 

 

 

 

 

Dave’s Free Play, Monday 3/23/15

The New York Mets have been pretty much irrelevant recently. But there’s renewed hope emerging from a 2014 season that flashed some upside. Here’s my breakdown on the ’15 entry and what might be expected from a franchise looking to become a player following a run of losing campaigns.

The best news for the Mets is the return of Matt Harvey. Expectations are supposed to be tempered for any pitcher just off Tommy John surgery, but it’s tough not to get revved up about Harvey picking up here he left off. This guy is a tremendous talent, and if you like baseball, even if you can’t stand the Mets, you have to be rooting for Harvey to get right back to his dominant form. He’s a fierce competitor and he’s a blast to watch. It’s early, but the early returns are extremely positive.

If Harvey is good to go, it transforms the Mets staff, and that’s even with the injury to Zack Wheeler. There’s no question the loss of Wheeler is damaging, and the Mets probably don’t have a true #2 starter. But Jon Niese is a decent southpaw, and in spite of a lousy spring to date, Bartolo Colon should be adequate. Dillon Gee had been slated for residence in the bullpen, but if he’s the #5, there are plenty worse options. Noah Syndergaard and Rafael Montero are talented prospects and Steven Matz is climbing the ladder impressively. With Wheeler, possible a very high end rotation. Without him it’s still a staff that I think can be above average.

I like the Mets bullpen. I’m not sure who emerges as the long haul closer, but there are a bunch of good young arms in this relief corps. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t the NL version of the Royals. But I don’t see any glaring issues with what the Mets have for the crucial late inning work.

I expect improvement from the Mets offense. David Wright is perhaps not on track to be a Hall of Fame member, as was thought to be the case a few years ago. But he’s still well above average. David Murphy gets good grades at 2B and Wilmer Flores is a breakout candidate at SS.

Juan Lagares is a great center fielder and his offense is getting better. Michael Cuddyer won’t duplicate his Rockies numbers but he can still play and some mechanical tweaks appear to have Curtis Granderson on track to at least get back to a respectable level. I’m evidently just not ever going to be sold on Lucas Duda at first base, and the Mets depth chart is not exactly laden with stars.

Overall, this is not a team that I can foresee making a playoff push. It’s just not a complete entry at this point. Therefore, I’d have to lean Under on the win total option, but not by enough to justify a bet. I’ll slot the Mets into third place in the NL East and I’d look for another season right in the .500 neighborhood.

———-

First time I’ve had to write this in a while, but I had a very bad week. The year to date numbers are still palatable and I’m ahead a tick this month, but the tournaments have not been good at all for me. That obviously needs to change, and my task is to start making better reads, and I don’t mean tomorrow or the next day.

Baseball is almost always my most profitable sport, and there’s a pretty simple reason for that being the case. It’s a numbers game and with the right implementation of the data that matters, it’s the best bet in the book as far as garnering consistent value is concerned. It really comes down to just that. If you can get +140 on a game where the true line is perhaps +120, it’s a play. On any one night or week, the results are random. Over the course of 162 games, I’ll submit they aren’t. Consistently find the value and the bottom line will be in black ink.

Find out about how my program works and get any questions you might have answered by emailing me directly at cokin@cox.net.

———–

Horrific read on Virginia yesterday as they were clearly the wrong side against Michigan State. It wasn’t just the fact the Cavaliers couldn’t throw the hit water from a cruise ship in the middle of the ocean. I thought Sparty played with more energy and confidence and Izzo outreached Bennett by a mile in the process. As much as I like Bennett, I am becoming convinced he’s a system coach and those guys are too inflexible to win at the highest level. An NBA look tonight for the free play.

(605) BOSTON CELTICS  at  (606) BROOKLYN NETS

Take: (605) BOSTON CELTICS +4

As far as anything pertaining to the NBA title is concerned, this game between the Celtics and Nets has no meaning. But for two teams just on the outside looking in as far as getting to the playoffs goes, this is a very big basketball game. Boston  and Brooklyn are just off the #7 and #8 seeds right now. A win in a head to head meeting such as this one is very meaningful.

The Celtics are on a three-game losing streak following the Sunday OT loss to the Pistons. The Nets have won their last two to gain some positive momentum. But I’m not sure how much momentum means to a losing team. If they were able to consistently build on plus results, they wouldn’t be a losing team. In fact, I think one can make a better argument that short winning streaks might actually signal a sell sign as these teams have a tough time avoiding quick regressions.

That thought also comes into play as far as Boston goes. They’re not good, but perhaps the biggest reason the Celtics are still in the post-season hunt has been their ability to avoid long losing skids. A quick check shows Boston is 6-2 this season playing off a three-game loss streak.

The fact Boston played OT on Sunday while the Nets were off will be reflected in the betting number being slightly adjusted here. The oddsmakers will frequently add a point to a rested home favorite hosting a visit that played the extra session the prior day. But I’ll hope that it’s a bit misplaced here. One thing that’s certain is that the Celtics don’t have a problem playing without rest. In fact, that’s really when they’ve been at their best this season.

Marcus Smart will be back in action tonight for Boston following his one-game suspension for hitting an opponent. Smart has played better lately and is showing signs that he’s starting to figure things out. I mention Smart here not because he’s a difference maker at this point, but it sure looks to me like Boston has a better rotation with him on the floor, and that he was missed Sunday against the Pistons.

I think the key tonight is the bench for Brooklyn, which has been on fire the last two games. If that takes place again tonight, I’m probably up a tree here. But on paper, that’s not really a likelihood and the Nets have simply not shown a particular ability to string together more than a couple of good games at a time. Brooklyn has enjoyed ten two-game win streaks this season. They’re only 3-7 trying to make it three in a row.

This figures to be a battle, and it’s one I feel could go either way. It is, for all intents and purposes, a playoff game of sorts for the two rivals. The situation, based on past performance this season, favors Boston and I don’t think the Celtics are a bad option catching more than one possession tonight.

 

 

Dave’s Free Play, Sunday 3/22/15

The future isn’t quite now for today’s team in the preview spotlight. But the Minnesota Twins are going to start making a splash in the AL Central pretty soon, and there’s always the chance they could arrive had of schedule.

At the present time, most of the Minnesota buzz is about the prospects on the way. OF Byron Buxton has had some trouble staying on the field thanks to bad injury luck. But Buxton still rates second only to Kris Bryant on the prospect meter. Power hitting Miguel Sano isn’t far behind, and there are a bevy of additional Twins properties who look like future big leaguers as well.

As far as the 2015 Twins are concerned, I don’t see an escape from the AL Central in the cards. There’s just not enough talent on the current big league roster to be optimistic about. Kurt Suzuki is a decent catcher and former catcher Joe Mauer can still hit for average while manning 1B. Brian Dozier might never hit for a big average, but the second baseman does a variety of other things well and SS Danny Santana had a fine rookie campaign, although much of it was spent patrolling center field. Trevor Plouffe is respectable at 3B. I like the upside of OF Oswaldo Arcia and the welcome home of Torii Hunter is a plus. Aaron Hicks will evidently be in CF, and he remains a huge tease. The talent is there, but he just hasn’t been able to put it together at the big league level, at least offensively.

Phil Hughes had a tremendous 2014 season, and he’s now the Twins ace. I’m iffy on whether or not he can duplicate last year’s numbers. Ervin Santana isn’t really a #2, but he’ll be okay in all likelihood. The balance of the starting staff is really shaky. Glen Perkins is a solid closer and I like the idea that new skipper Paul Molitor is looking for his top bullpen guys to perhaps work more than just the standard one inning stints. The rest of the pen is adequate if not spectacular.

The Twins needed some new life in the dugout and it really sounds as if Molitor will not be going strictly by the book, which is a very good thing. But the material on hand just isn’t good enough to justify any major expectations. I would look for the Twins to be competitive, but it’s tough to see more than a low to mid 70’s win total as the 2015 ceiling. The good news is that major help appears to be just around the bend.

———–

Another split here on Saturday, which isn’t the goal, but is also preferential to wallowing in mediocrity. I’ll call it just matter of time before the next hot run arrives, and as it is, the March numbers are still in the black.

And big league baseball is just about here! Get the info on my baseball package by emailing me at cokin@cox.net. The offer includes all my plays, with the remainder of the baskets included, and with few exceptions, complete analysis is included with every selection I send out.

———–

The Kentucky play got away in the final 70 seconds, and that can sometimes be the peril of laying a big number. I’m on a more reasonably priced favorite for the Sunday comp.

(723) MICHIGAN STATE  vs.  (724) VIRGINIA

Take: (724) VIRGINIA -4.5

When it comes to coaches the masses love to back, Michigan State’s Tom Izzo might well be the most popular choice in all of college basketball. That’s with good reason, as his Spartans always seem to be a threat at this time of the season, and Izzo is truly one of the best in the business. That said, I’ll be looking to beat Michigan State today.

Virginia was en route to a cinch #1 seed and were being deemed by many as the primary threat to knock off Kentucky at this year’s Final Four. The came a late season slump of sorts for the Cavaliers and they’re no longer the hot choice to upend the Wildcats en route to John Caliper claiming another national championship for Big Blue.

I’ll go into Lee Corso mode here with a not so fast, my friend comment. There’s no question Virginia lost its edge late. But I believe that had everything to do with there fact the Cavaliers don’t have much quality depth and really suffered significantly when Justin Anderson went down.

Anderson is now back for Virginia and finally looked like himself in the opening round win over Belmont. That was not a brilliant overall effort by Tony Bennett’s team, but I think the real Virginia is ready to resurface again today.

There’s definitely a way to beat Virginia. One avenue to success is to get them in foul trouble, so that Bennett has to go deeper down the bench. But Michigan State is not really adept at drawing fouls, and they’re also not very proficient at making those free throws when they do. I believe that’a an issue of some importance here, as the seven-man rotation for the Cavaliers is really good.

The return of Anderson completely changes what the opposition is able to do defensively. With Anderson out, there just wasn’t much fear in Virginia’s ability to knock down shots from outside. That all changes with him back on the floor, as Anderson is a sensational long range bomber. His presence means better scoring opportunities for Anthony Gill and Malcolm Brogdon.

As for the Spartans, while they’re okay defensively, this team’s strength is on offense. Aside from Kentucky, there’s not a team on the D1 board more efficient than the Cavaliers.

One thing I can’t offer a prediction on is how this game is officiated. If it’s a whistle happy crew, that’s bad for Virginia. If the stripes let the guys play, it’s a plus for the Cavaliers in my estimation as there’s less chance the bench has to get involved.

One thing I’m more certain about is the betting pattern we’ll see on this game. Michigan State should be the most popular dog on the board from a ticket percentage standpoint. That might not be the case as far as the actual dollars go, but I’ll go head and speculate with confidence that the Spartans will be a public darling today.

I think it’s a pretty good matchup for the favorite for the reasons outlined above. That doesn’t by any means insure s blowout, and I absolutely believe this will be a battle. But a big edge at the charity stripe could be very meaningful late in the game, and that makes me believe Virginia will have a decent opportunity to win the last minutes of each half. I expect this to be close to the number, but I’ll put my faith in the Cavaliers to notch the win and cover.