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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Dave’s Free Play, Saturday 3/21/15

Next up in the 2015 MLB preview department is the Milwaukee Brewers. This is a team that appeared to be destined for the post-season in 2014. But they went from a mid-August mark of 71-55 into a massive tailspin, finishing the season barely above .500 at 82-80. Now comes the task of shedding any residual effects of that blown opportunity.

There’s a good deal of talent on this Milwaukee roster. But I’ve got doubts about how well the pieces fit together at this point. Maybe it was banged up players, maybe it was something internal. Whatever the root cause, I’m very reluctant to be optimistic about the rebound prospects of teams that fell apart late in the prior season.

Ryan Braun is probably the key to whether this team contends for the playoffs again or just falls back to the sub-.500 pack. Braun battled through a variety of ailments en route to a very pedestrian season. Make no mistake, there are more than a few observers who are now stamping Braun as a PED star and one who’s nowhere near that level minus the supplements. He missed the majority of the 2013 season and was little more than ordinary last year. If Braun is done putting up the big digits, chances are the Brewers are done as major players for the foreseeable future.

Jonathan Lucroy is a definite asset behind the plate.  Braun’s outfield cohorts are good ones, as Carlos Gomez is a producer and Khris Davis has 30 HR possibilities this year following his 2014 breakout. Jean Segura is an exciting shortstop who I’d like to see leading off for the Brewers. Scooter Genett now looks like a fixture at second base. Maybe 3B Aramis Ramirez will make his last roundup one to remember. Adam Lind is adequate at 1B. Gerardo Parra is a plus off the bench, albeit there isn’t much quality depth on hand beyond him.

The pitching isn’t bad by any means. Wily Peralta hasn’t put it all together yet, but he owns ace stuff and could still breakout if he puts it all together. Kyle Lohse remains reliable, Matt Garza might never live up to his potential but he’s not bad at all, Mike Fiers and Jimmy Nelson could well be a strong #4-5 combo at the back of the rotation. Francisco Rodriguez is still capable as a closer and the setup crew should be acceptable.

When adding all the pieces together, this is not a bad baseball team. I don’t think they’re legit contenders, but it’s certainly not a hodgepodge of stiffs. Nevertheless, I remain troubled by the 2014 late collapse, and with the Cubs on the rise and the Cardinals and Pirates already entrenched as playoff caliber entries, it’s hard to maintain a glass half full outlook for this team. I’ll have to peg the Brewers for fourth place in the NL Central, and would lean Under on the O/U win prop.

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A split for me on Friday. The NCAA produced a 3-1 ledger, but I lost my one NBA play and got run over with my NIT play on South Dakota State as the Jackrabbits were done in by some sensational Vanderbilt shooting during a monster second half run. Today’s card will be very thin, with just one play made this far and likely only a couple other possibilities.

MLB 2015 is nearly here, so now is the time to find out what I’m offering. Get all the details on my baseball package by shooting an email my way at cokin@cox.net.

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West Virginia blew a nice lead in its game with Buffalo, but the Mountaineers came through in the clutch to notch the win and cover as the Friday free play. Today, I’ll go with the best college team in the land and will take my chances with the naturally high number.

(521) CINCINNATI  vs.  (522) KENTUCKY

Take: (522) KENTUCKY -16.5

Here’s a play that has nothing to do with garnering value. There’s none to be had when it comes to Kentucky. One will either pay the premium when choosing to back the Wildcats, or will be in nervous mode hoping the Wildcats don’t bring the “A” game if taking the points against them.

I’m all about the matchup when it comes to this game. Long story short, I don’t see Cincinnati as a very effective offense and unless they have a light out day shooting the basketball, I have no idea how this team is going to generate many good scoring chances against the Wildcats.

Cincinnati is a grinder. They play physically, and love to ugly it up. That’s a recipe for success that has mostly served them well. But I fail to comprehend how this style can work against Kentucky. The ‘Cats are enormous and the only chance for the Bearcats, at least the way I see it, is to get lucky with transition points off Kentucky misses and hope for the best.

Kentucky is nothing short of amazing on defense. The numbers for this team are downright absurd. The only close calls were in games where the Wildcats either shot it really poorly or happened to run into an opponent that was knocking down attempts at a rate way above their norm. That could happen here, but it’s not the favorite, let’s put it that way.

Here’s more potentially bad news for Cincinnati. The Wildcats barely broke a sweat in their opening round romp. They’ll be fresh as the proverbial daisies today. The Bearcats have to to bounce back quickly from a tense OT win on Thursday. Advantage Kentucky.

The fact it’s a neighborhood battle of sorts is also probably trouble for Cincinnati. Maybe Kentucky gets caught yawning against an adversary that’s not for the same region. But matched up against an opponent who’s basically right next door should fuel the Wildcats interest level.

There’s no such thing as a bargain with this powerhouse, and sure enough the line has probably been inflated from the power ratings by a basket or so. But sometimes one has to simply pay the price. I just don’t see this being competitive over 40 minutes and off a lazy second half against outmanned Hampton, my sense is that the favorite brings its best today. If that’s the case, there’s every chance this is a blowout, so I’m siding with Kentucky to obtain the win and cover.

Dave’s Free Play, Friday 3/20/15

I’m not sure how many fans will show up at their games on a regular basis, but the Miami Marlins have a chance to provide some genuine excitement for those who do. The Marlins got close to .500 last season and it would certainly appear as though they have a legit shot to climb above the break even plateau this year.

Despite playing in what might not be a haven for hitters, this edition of the Marlins is going to provide some offense. The conversation starts, of course, with the sensational Giancarlo Stanton. There really might not be a more feared hitter in the game today, and Stanton will enter the 2015 season as a serious MVP contender in the National League. I believe he’ll have his best campaign to date, and that has quite a nit to do with an enhanced supporting cast. Just pitching around Stanton is no longer an option.

Stanton is part of the best young outfield in the game. Christian Yelich is turning into a five tool performer. I really like Marcell Ozuna’s potential and he’s a breakout candidate in 2015. The infield will provided more punch than last year as well with three key newcomers in the fold. Michael Morse can still deliver power, Martin Prado is really solid if not spectacular, and there’s Dee Gordon, who is a good bet to take second on his own whenever he gets to first base safely. Adeiny Hechavarria might never be an All-Star SS, but he’s definitely acceptable. Jarrod Saltalamacchia is adequate behind the plate. There’s some okay depth on hand as well, including Ichiro Suzuki, who while clearly past his prime, actually profiles as a good fit in this ballpark and he’ll be a valuable backup.

I’m less convinced about the Miami staff, and that’s the holdup that keeps me from putting this team into my post-season mix. Mat Latos should emerge as the staff ace if he’s healthy, but he’s not really a #1 at this point. Henderson Alvarez is an okay mid-rotation guy and Jarred Cosart is getting there as well. The back end could be dicey as I’m not sold on Tom Koehler as a long term option and I’m just not sure about Dan Haren anymore.

The Marlins bullpen is not bad. Steve Cishek is not the prototypical closer but he mostly gets the job done. AJ Ramos has turned the corner and is potentially the best reliever on this roster and Mike Dunn is underrated. The Marlins also have some other additional options on hand.

Mike Redmond needs to get away from his tendency to bunt when he shouldn’t. This is a lineup with big inning potential and giving away outs early in games to get one run makes little sense. Redmond drove me nuts at times with this habit last season, especially when bunting allowed the opposition to simply pitch around Stanton. Simply stated, any move that takes the bat out of Stanton’s hands is a blunder.

My concerns about the rotation are the only holdup for me on this team. If the starters come through with a steady combined effort, the Marlins could have shot at getting to the wild card game, and anything can happen at that point. But I”l onto to play it conservatively and will just lean to the Marlins getting Over their posted win total. Nevertheless, this is a team that should be on the rise.

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2-1 Thursday with Northeastern and UAB the good and North Carolina State the bad. No beefs about the close loss on the Wolfpack., as they had no business winning the game with LSU. The collapse by the Tigers was epic but they did lead for virtually the entire game, so I really can’t bitch about the Wolfpack not covering the short number.

We’re getting really close to the start of the MLB season, so if you’re considering joining me for the big grind, find out about how my program works. It’s not gimmicky in even the mildest sense, so if you’re a “big game hunter” I’m not your best choice. Flip side is if you can accept just going for the value on a virtually daily basis, I’m not a bad option. Get all the pertinent info by emailing me at cokin@cox.net.

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Nice work by UAB as the Thursday free play. Funny game, this handicapping endeavor. I could not have gotten a game more wrong than I did with Colorado State on Wednesday. The very next day, I basically ace Iowa State being dead flat and get a really easy winner. This is a perfect example of why I prefer to avoid going bananas on any play on any day. The slam dunk mentality is a pure gamble and it just won’t work long run. Play smart in terms of handling the bankroll and you can do this forever, have loads of fun and actually add some income in the process. Here’s one of the early games from the Friday Dance card.

(833) BUFFALO  vs.  (834) WEST VIRGINIA

Take: (834) WEST VIRGINIA -4.5

Right off the bat, yes. I’m leery about laying points with any team the way things have gone so far in this tournament. But there are a series of checkpoints I like to utilize to try and gain an advantage and the majority of those appear to favor West Virginia here.

The easy edge is the site. Columbus is only about 200 miles from Morgantown, so chances are a good portion of the in person audience here will be comprised of those very loyal and very noisy West Virginia fans. Don’t underestimate this aspect. Over the years, owning a site advantage has been a plus in the NCAA tournament.

The Mountaineers come into this game having lose three of four games, but bear in mind they played those games without two key players, including senior leader Juwan Staten. That duo is apparently now good to go once again, and the presence of Staten is big for the Mountaineers.

I like this Buffalo team. Bobby Hurley has done some outstanding work as the head coach and the Bulls are no pushover. They take pretty good care of the basketball for the most part, so perhaps the Bulls don’t get forced into turnovers against the West Virginia pressure and physicality. But this is still a type of defense Buffao hasn’t really seen, and they could eventually get worn down.

One thing I’m sure of is that there will be no fear on the Buffalo sidelines. This team gave Kentucky fits for a half and also played well enough in a respectable loss at Wisconsin. It’s time for the big conference schools to accept the fact there is no longer a deer in the headlights syndrome.

That being said, I believe this matchup does favor West Virginia. Both teams like to play fast. The worst games for West Virginia this season were against Baylor, a team that took the tempo out of the Mountaineers control and the Bears ended up beating WVU three straight times. That won’t be an issue here and I happen to believe that’s a variable that is a good one for the favorite. It’s not easy to play any NCAA favorite right now, but I’m going to take my chances with West Virginia today.

 

Dave’s Free Play, Thursday 3/19/15

Today’s MLB preview is on one of the clear favorites to contend this season, and I don’t see much of an argument against that likely occurrence.

The Los Angeles Dodgers did not stand pat following the 2014 campaign. There’s been a bit of housecleaning done, and I like the new approach the front office is pretty clearly taking.

The Dodgers have joined those teams that are more about run prevention than anything else. That might not be the most exciting brand of baseball, but it’s what is in vogue right now and it’s also what’s winning right now.

The starting rotation here is first rate. Clayton Kershaw is putting together a Hall of Fame career. Zack Greinke and Hyun-jin Ryu are a very imposing convo behind the staff ace. Brandon McCarthy left his ridiculously unlucky metrics in Arizona and rediscovered his ability to win with the Yankees. He’s a plus ion the fourth slot. Whether Brett Anderson can stay healthy enough to hold down the bottom tier in the rotation is a question, but if he’s able to give this team even 120 innings, Anderson is a potentially terrific #5.

The bullpen is a a bit more concerning. Kenley Jansen needs to come back from his injury in his normal form. The Dodgers might be lacking a true setup stud at this point, but they’re loaded with depth and if this isn’t an area of strength now, I have confidence moves will be made as necessary to remedy any ailments.

The middle infield should be much stronger with Howie Kendrick and Jimmy Rollins. The latter might be past his prime somewhat, but I like his chances of putting up better numbers in his new home and his defense is still adequate. Kendrick isn’t a superstar but he’s damn good. Adrian Gonzalez is still well above average, and Juan Uribe is still reliable as well as being an asset in the clubhouse.

The departure of Matt Kemp clears up some of the mess that existed in the LA outfield. Joc Pederson is a wait and see prospect in center field, Carl Crawford remains injury prone in left field and Yasiel Puig might infuriate at times, but the kid is a terrific player. There’s plenty of depth on hand as well. As for behind the plate, the Dodgers really appear to like Yasmani Grandal. He’s a guy with a high ceiling and I believe he takes a big step forward this year.

There isn’t much not to like here. I think this team has clear sailing to the top of the NL West and should surpass 90 wins. As for the post-season, that could be another story. But getting there should be no problem at all for the Dodgers.

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I did a bad job with the NIT on Wednesday night and coughed back 3.4 units of what was an attractive bottom line for this month to date. I don’t like being forced into rebound mode, but that’s what the game plan will have tone today.

Meanwhile, we’re another day closer to the start of the baseball season. Find out what I’m offering and get a complete breakdown of how my program works by emailing me directly at cokin@cox.net.

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The daily free plays have hit a nasty little snag the last few days. I’ll go the big underdog route for today’s NCAA comp selection, and note this play is already on my card for Thursday.

(729) UAB  vs.  (730) IOWA STATE

Take: (729) UAB +14

No, I’m not expecting an upset here as Iowa State is clearly superior to UAB. But this is a large line to be sure, and I’ll give you a couple of reasons the underdog looks live to me.

First, the Blazers have absolutely noting to lose and even less pressure as no one has any expectation for them. That doesn’t do UAB any good from a physical standpoint. But unless this youthful entry falls victim to the just happy to be here syndrome or gets a bad case of deer in the headlights, I think they have a chance to compete with the Cyclones. UAB has spent the entire season playing above perceived assessments, so there’s every chance that continues for one more game.

Iowa State is in a potential flat spot, even though this is the NCAA Tournament. The Cyclones are off an amazing run of crazy comebacks and wild finishes in true rivalry games. This game is being looked upon as a mere inconvenience by the media and I would not be shocked if the players feel somewhat the same way. It’s an easy game against a non-threatening opponent.

There’s an old angle that applies here that has gotten me paid nice over the years when it shows in opening round NCAA games, and it’s already 1-0 this season. I won’t go into the specifics of the theory, as that’s what people pay me for. But this will be the only other game at this year’s Big Dance where it applies and the angle is 33-15 ATS going back roughly 25 years. Smallish sample, yeah, and obviously not a high volume indicator, but it works and there’s a reason.

My sense is that Iowa State eventually gets this one in the win column, but that it might be as easy as everyone seems to be convinced it will be. Therefore I’ll side with UAB and all those points to hang the number and score the ATS win.

Dave’s Free Play, Wednesday 3/18/15

Next up in the MLB preview department is a team that won 98 games last season but couldn’t get the job done when it mattered most. So while there was lots to cheer about in Anaheim last year, the Los Angeles Angels headed into the winter disappointed. I’m not so certain even the regular season will be as much fun this time around.

That’s not to suggest the Halos are going to tumble to the depths this year. There’s too much talent still on hand for the Angels to not be a serious playoff contender. But there are also some issues that at least for the time being, appear to be potential potholes for this team.

The pitching looks to be okay, particularly when the Angels have a lead going to the late innings. This has a chance to be a really good bullpen, with Joe Smith and Huston Street taking care of the last six outs. There’s a good and versatile mix of setup hurlers on hand for manager Mike Scioscia to utilize, and he’s always been very good at choosing situational relievers.

The starting pitching looks to be okay and maybe better than that. If Garrett Richards goes back to flashing the form he had prior to getting hurt last year, the Halos have their ace. Jared Weaver is not quite at his previous level, but he’s as savvy as it gets and knows how to win. Matt Shoemaker figured out how to dominate with a nasty splitter and I don’t believe he was a one-year wonder. CJ Wilson could rebound and if not, there’s Hector Santiago and a potential star in Andrew Heaney.

I’m a bit less enthralled with the offense. Sure, Mike Trout is awesome. Albert Pujols appears to be the healthiest he’s been to start a season in some time. Erick Aybar is solid and Kole Calhoun is turning out to be way more than what many expected. But I’m not sure on David Freese at this point, I think there’s a problem at second base and the left field/DH slots are a bit shaky.

Note that I’m not factoring Josh Hamilton into this analysis at all. First off, I don’t know if and when he’ll be eligible to play. And if and when he finally is, I don’t know anyone can be positive he’s still even a shadow of what he once was. Let’s face it, Hamilton was really bad in the second half of 2014. Given the inability to stay healthy and the other problems, Hamilton looked like a guy way past his prime late last season. The truth of the matter is that he might be exactly that.

I don’t see the Angels coming close to another 98-win campaign. I expect them to be more in the high 80’s neighborhood this season. That’s not bad at all, and it’s enough to have them a likely playoff team. But I’d be mighty surprised to see this team entering October as the team to beat in the American League.

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Kind of a disappointing split on Tuesday with the disastrous second half collapse by BYU proving the most costly. But no particular damage done and I’ll hopefully avoid the melt syndrome tonight.

I’m counting the days till the start of the baseball season. If you feel the same way and are intent on producing some meaningful profits this season, I believe I can be of some assistance in attaining that goal. Fire off an email to me at cokin@cox.net and I’ll be happy to explain all the particulars of my MLB 2015 program.

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The free plays didn’t work out last night, so let’s see about a rebound tonight with a chalk piece in the NIT.

(639) SOUTH DAKOTA STATE  at  (640) COLORADO STATE

Take: (640) COLORADO STATE -8

There are two ways to look at Colorado State playing in the consolation tournament known as the NIT. The glass half empty outlook is that the Rams are still devastated from being left out of the NCAA field they fully expected to be a part of. The glass half full approach is that they run with being accorded top seeding in the NIT and make a strong statement that takes them to the Big Apple for the Little Dance Final Four.

My initial impulse after hearing about the unhappiness absorbed on Selection Sunday was that the Rams might just roll over here. That opinion has been altered in the last 24 hours. Sorrow appears to have given way to legitimate outrage. This is now an angry basketball team and if sure sounds like there’s going to be some real intensity on display this evening at Moby.

In fact, the more disappointed team here might well be South Dakota State. The Jackrabbits were the top seed in the Summit tourney, and were the favorite to go dancing. But they came up one point short in the finals against North Dakota State and now they’re stuck on the road in a very tough first round NIT draw.

Colorado State is back at full strength tonight as JJ Avila has been pronounced fit and ready to play and he’s got a chance to be a real handful here. Avila plays with an edge anyway and I feel as though he’s going to have his teammates playing with that same resolve this evening.

This game is by no means a cinch. The Jackrabbits have no quality wins out of conference. But they almost beat Buffalo on the road. They weren’t really close at Utah or Northern Iowa, but they never gave up in either of those games. However, those were different scenarios than this one.

My guess is that we’ll find out pretty quickly which Rams entry shows up tonight. If it’s the good Rams and they’re amped up to send a message, South Dakota State is likely going to get overmatched. If not, this might well be a straight up dogfight and laying a bunch of points won’t get anyone paid. I’m going with the first option. Colorado State minus the points is my play in this game.