Dave’s Free Play, Thursday 3/20/14

  • March 20, 2014

The long wait finally ended last season. The Pittsburgh Pirates concluded two decades of disappointment with a winning record and a berth in the NL playoffs. Now comes the big challenge. The Bucs will have the burden of living up to high expectations in 2014. It says here it’s not going to be easy.

I don’t think what the Pirates did last season was particularly fluky. There’s some real talent on this roster, and the farm system could have as 10 legitimate prospects at various levels. But the flip side is that the organization did little to improve itself in the off season, and I think that has to chafe hard line Bucs fans to at least some extent. When your top winter acquisition is Edinson Volquez, it’s tough to be overly optimistic.

I have to rate the Pittsburgh rotation as questionable. Volquez is not an adequate replacement for AJ Burnett. Gerrit Cole is a very high end arm, but putting too much too soon on him is problematic. Francisco Liriano was amazing last season, but he’s not blessed with a great track record of staying healthy. Liriano has also never had back to back good seasons.  Charlie Morton and Wandy Rodriguez are okay #3-4 fits, but there is no fifth starter right now, unless one wants to take a huge leap of faith with Volquez. Jameson Taillon needs to get ready in a hurry and move into that back of the rotation spot.

The bullpen was awesome last season. It might well be again in 2014, but we all know how volatile pens can be from one year to the next. Nevertheless, I’ll go ahead and put a green check mark next to that segment of the Bucs, and for their sake, I’d better be right in that assessment.

The Pirates are not a great offensive team. Andrew McCutchen is sensational, Starling Marte should keep improving and while he can’t hit lefties, Pedro Alvarez is still 30-40 HR’s and somewhere in the 100 RBI neighborhood. Russell Martin won’t likely hit for average, but he’s a productive enough catcher and his leadership skills are outstanding. Lots of holes elsewhere for this team, though. Neil Walker is really better suited to a 2B platoon. I would classify 1B, SS and RF as below par, and there’s not much depth.

I really like what’s on the way for the Pirates. But I am going to call for 2015 as the real leap forward year for the Pirates.  I don’t see any realistic chance of a 94-68 repeat. Neither do the oddsmakers, who put the O/U on the Bucs at 83.5. Personally, I suspect even that could be a shade high. But there’s limited value on playing Under when the line is already accounting for a likely decline.

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The rough sledding in hoops continues, with an absolute inability to avoid late game fades right now. Vermont was a killer for me last night. I’d love to paint a prettier picture but there isn’t one right now. It’s my worst one-sport slump in years. The confidence is still there, but I just cannot seem to hold a lead presently. Hopefully that begins to even up today.

Baseball is just about here, and I’ll be happy to accept a rerun of the last two Aprils, which were both outstanding for me. Find out about my available baseball packages by emailing me at cokin@cox.net. I’ve decided to run an April special that I’ll have complete details on here once it’s added to the “buy now” feature. For now, just drop me a line to find out about this guaranteed special.

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The free plays have turned back in the right direction, at least, with Clemson and SMU providing wins the last two nights. Big chalk today in one of the Big Dance second round battles.

03/20 01:10 PM  CB   (717) ALBANY (718) FLORIDA

Take: (718) FLORIDA -21.5

It’s easy to overlook NCAA games with very large spreads. It’s generally a given that the favorite will win, but few are willing to lay any inordinately high numbers. I expect that to be the case today as Florida basically plays host to Albany.

The underdog here has nothing to lose. The Great Danes have to be thrilled with their First Four win and should be totally loose for this game. If there’s any pressure, it’s on Florida. They’re supposed to cruise to an easy win, and sometimes that can get a team either tight or overconfident.

I don’t think the Gators will fall prey to either of those potential pitfalls. Here’s why. 32, 26, 28, 43, 26. Those are the last five first game win margins for Florida in the NCAA Tournament. In other words, Billy Donovan has done about as good a job as possible at getting his Gators ready to be at their best, regardless of how easy that first game of the tourney is supposed to be.

Obviously, the game is a huge mismatch. Albany would need to play out of its mind and the Gators would need to be extremely flat for this to be anything other than a lopsided result. That’s always a possibility, as anyone who has watched this game lately can attest. But it’s just not very likely.

Albany is not the worst team on the planet, and their one game this season against a top flight opponent was a 58-46 loss at Pittsburgh. Of course, that was a meaningless early season exercise, which this certainly isn’t. The Great Danes are likely to try and milk the clock here in an effort to stick around. But this is a Gators team with some serious killer instinct and I envision them making that usual opening game statement. It’s a huge impost to be sure, but I’ll lay it with Florida.