Dave’s Free Play, Saturday 9/19/15
College football will be center stage today. That’s no surprise, as football is always the king when it comes to the numbers. But I’m definitely going to be keeping at least one eye on the goings on at Wrigley Field as the Cardinals continue their series with the Cubs. Let’s just say that the heat that always exists between these old rivals rose by a few degrees yesterday.
Things got started in the fourth inning yesterday when Anthony Rizzo got hit by a pitch. No big deal there, as Rizzo has been hit by pitches more than any player in the NL this season. This time it loaded the bases for the Cubs, so the likelihood this was in any way intentional is pretty much zero.
Next inning, Cubs starter Dan Haren lost control of a two-seamer and nailed Matt Holliday in the helmet. I saw the pitch and it looked to me like one that simply got away. But the Cardinals didn’t feel the same way as there was lots of yelling from the dugout directed toward Haren, who’s post game response was that it absolutely wasn’t intentional.
Umpire warnings were issued to both teams following the Holliday HBP, and he did have to leave the game. Haren says that he warned Rizzo at that point there could be some retaliation coming, and that he might be the specific target. Sure enough, Matt Belisle hit Rizzo in the leg with a purpose pitch in the seventh inning, and he was immediately tossed along with St. Louis manager Mike Matheny.
That was not the end of the on field statements. Despite being comfortably ahead by five runs at the time he was hit by the Belisle pitch in the seventh inning, Rizzo went ahead and stole second base. This apparently did not go over well with some Cardinals, and I think it led to Cubs skipper Joe Maddon verbally unloading on the Redbirds after the game.
Among Maddon’s comments: “We don’t start stuff but we will end stuff.” His reaction to the Rizzo targeting, which was pretty obvious: “I don’t know who put out the hit. I don’t know if Tony Soprano is in the dugout. I didn’t see him in there.” And finally, on the apparent no-no of stealing a base when holding a commanding lead late in the game: “I never read this book the Cardinals wrote way back in the day regarding how to play baseball.” Maddon went on to explain that he remained aggressive in that spot as trying go up six runs rather than five would mean he could avoid getting his closer warmed up if the Cardinals happened to get a couple runners on. He also referred to “the book” having been written at the turn of the last century, inferring that it’s obsolete and means nothing in today’s game.
I largely agree with Maddon on that last point, which ties in with my general disdain for the intentional out, more benevolently labeled as the sacrifice bunt. Baseball in 2015 should not be played with 1915 strategy that has somehow held up, despite a mountain of statistical evidence that says it shouldn’t be. But I don’t want to go off on that tangent here. Okay, yeah, I actually do, but I will resist the temptation.
In any event, I think I need to watch today’s game between the Cardinals and Cubs. Whether or not anything happens is a complete unknown. But I sure wouldn’t rule it out. The Cubs and Cardinals have never been pals and no one should be shocked if there are more “statements” issued today.
Just one play here on Friday, and it was on the most nondescript baseball game on the schedule. But the money doesn’t know the difference between a big game and a meaningless late season clash, and the Braves got me a one unit Friday night profit. Way more action today, as I have an involvement in 11 college football games, with a mix of small underdogs and a few good sized chalk pieces.
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The Friday free play was on one of tonight’s college games, and I’ve got another from my card that I’ll include as today’s comp.
(117) CHARLOTTE @ (118) MIDDLE TENNESSEE STATE
Take: MIDDLE TENNESSEE STATE -20.5
The newest member of the FBS makes its conference debut today as Charlotte heads to Murfreesboro for a duel with Middle Tennessee State. The 49ers have gotten out of the gate nicely with what was deemed a mild upset win at Georgia State, and they followed that up by coasting to an easy win last week against Presbyterian. Things figure to get more difficult for Charlotte tonight.
I happened to land on Charlotte in that season opener, going against the money, which was pretty heavily on Georgia State. That worked out nicely as the favorite played horribly early on and by the time they got it together, the deficit could not be overcome and Charlotte ended up with the outright win. But I also somewhat made up my mind that I would likely be looking for a spot to go against the 49ers in short order, and I’ll be doing so here.
Make no mistake, this is absolutely huge stuff for Charlotte. Their head coach, Brad Lambert, says they’ve been preparing for this game for two years, as it’s their first ever CUSA game. The 49ers have done some things well in garnering two straight wins, and it’s possible I’m now selling them short. But I think they’re a candidate to get run over tonight at MTSU.
The problem for the road team, as I see it, will be on defense. True enough, they had injury issues last season on the stop unit. But Charlotte’s defensive data from last season is pretty ugly. Among 122 FCS teams, Charlotte was 113th in yards allowed per game. Note that’s FCS, not FBS. Injuries or not, that’s pretty bad. The 49ers have a new defensive coordinator this season and are going with multiple schemes. But I keep looking at those defensive numbers at a lower level last season, and Charlotte is going to have to prove to me they can handle a step up in class better.
I like what I’m seeing so far from MTSU. Veteran coach Rick Stockstill has his son Brent now starting at QB and he’s already showing some savvy under center. The Blue Raiders didn’t do much with the football last week at Alabama, but they weren’t supposed to. Middle Tennessee should find the path down the field much easier to navigate tonight.
A key as far as whether or not tonight’s game gets lopsided will be the Charlotte offense against the Middle Tennessee defense. The 49ers use a two-QB system, and MTSU will have to be ready for the different styles of play they’re going to see. Matt Johnson is the conventional QB. Freshman Brooks Barden is a lefty who likes to take off and run. Johnson and Barden are each seeing lots of action, and in fact, there has even been some alternating of the two QB’s on the same series of downs.
Middle Tennessee certainly seems to be taking this game seriously. If there’s a hangover from the more exciting challenge against Alabama, it isn’t showing and all reports are that the team has looked crisp at practice this week. I like this team’s defense, which is a veteran unit that also got much bigger physically in the off-season.
This likely all comes down to whether the gaudy defensive stats registered in the first two games by the Charlotte stoppers are real or not. The 49ers currently lead the league in several defensive categories. But I’m currently inclined to believe that’s a mirage and that reality sets in tonight as Charlotte steps up in class.
The number is obviously a hurdle here, and it’s worth mentioning that MTSU could have been purchased at a bit of a discount earlier in the week. But I also don’t mind that there seems to be some support for the dog as far as ticket count is concerned, yet the line has gone up. My sources indicated that some sharp money dropped on the favorite and I’m going that way as well. I’ll look for Middle Tennessee State to win convincingly enough to cover the substantial impost.