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The Tampa Bay Rays (61-61) are playing great baseball…and will look for their sixth straight win over the New York Yankees (61-59) on Saturday afternoon in St. Petersburg. Tampa Bay’s starting pitchers have not allowed more than two runs over a 7-2 stretch, which is easily the best in the Majors. The Rays will send their most recent acquisition, LHP Drew Smyly (7-10, 3.73 ERA), to build on their recent string of strong starts. Smyly was Tampa’s main return in a three-team trade that sent ace LHP David Price to the Detroit Tigers. Smyly is coming off a dominant seven inning, nine-strikeout performance on Monday against the Texas Rangers. Smyly only has one career start against the Yankees that happened during 2012. Smyly only allowed one run in six innings in a 7-5 win.

The Yankees will counter Smyly with RHP Shane Greene (3-1, 2.89). Greene hasn’t pitched since August 7th when he tossed eight innings a 1-0 victory over the Tigers. It’ll be interesting to see if Girardi opts to use Greene’s main battery mate, Francisco Cervelli, or opt for Brian McCann, who is coming off the disabled list.

The Yankees have lost five straight games and a loss on Saturday will give the Yankees their first six-game losing streak. The Yankees have only scored five runs during the losing streak. Jacoby Ellsburgh and Carlos Beltran have just one hit in their last 30 at-bats.

Current MLB odds slate Tampa Bay as a comfortable -140 home favorite. Baseball is a game all about streaks and trends. The Rays always play well against the Yankees in the Trop. Roll with Tampa Bay for your MLB Picks!

Today’s Pick: Tampa Bay -ML

Major League Baseball’s top player will squad off in the 85th annual All-Star. The game will begin at 8:00PM EST in Minnesota. The American League won last year’s Mid-Summer classic, but the National League notched wins in the three prior years. The American League’s victory ensured home field advantage for the eventual World Series champion Boston Red Sox. Needless to say, a lot will be on the line when these two star-studded clubs square off tonight.

The American League will start Seattle Mariners RHP Felix Hernandez (11-2, 2.12 ERA) while the National League will counter with St. Louis Cardinals RHP Adam Wainwright (12-4, 1.83 ERA). Expect both of these aces to pitch 2-3 innings. Both squads boast an impressive bullpen arms, but the National League carries a sizable advantage. The National League can give the ball the LHP Clayton Kershaw and RHP Zack Greinke during the middle innings while handing it over to RHP Craig Kimbrel and LHP Aroldis Chapman to close it out. The American League can trot out RHP Yu Darvish, RHP Max Scherzer, and LHP Chris Sale, but it’s back end of the bullpen isn’t as strong as the National League’s. RHP Fernando Rodney and RHP Koji Uehara could be late game options.

Both lineups feature power and speed. The National League lineup consists of Andrew McCutchen, Yasei Puig, Troy Tulowitzki, Paul Goldschmidt, Mike Stanton, Aramis Ramirez, Chase Utley, Jon Lucroy, and Carlos Gomez. The American League lineup consists of Derek Jeter, Mike Trout, Robbie Cano, Miggy Cabrera, Joey Bats, Nelson Cruz, Adam Jones, Josh Donaldson, and Sal Perez. 

The American League has some serious pop and speed on its bench. Jose Abreu, HR Derby Champ Yoenis Cespedes, and Adrian Beltre are just three options while ML hit leader Jose Altuve is also an option. 

Current MLB All-Star game odds have the American League as a small -108 favorite. Take the AL as a small home favorite for your MLB picks.

Official Pick: American League -108

Germany crushed host country Brazil, 7-1 in the first World Cup Semi-Final. Expect a much more competitive Semi-Final when Argentina squares off against the Netherlands. Argentina and the Netherlands have only faced each other once in the 1978 World Cup final. Argentina prevailed 3-1 to win their first and only World Cup title. The Netherlands reached the World Cup final in 2010, but dropped the match to the heavily favored Spanish club. Thursday’s clash marks the fourth time Argentina has reached the Semi-Finals. 

Argentina will play without one of their star players, Angel Di Mara. Argentina only notched one goal and sorely missed Di Mara in their quarterfinal win over Belgium. Still, Argentina has the lethal Lionel Messi, who is arguably the best player in the world. Argentina went a perfect 3-0-0 during the group stage, but were tested in the knockout round. Argentina was able to prevail over the Swiss squad, but had to work hard to earn the victory in extra time. Messi set-up Di Mara’s game winning goal, but the match nearly went to penalty kicks. Argentina notched an early goal against Belgium, but the game was a grind. 

The Netherlands started the World Cup off with a bang by thrashing defending champion Spain, 5-1. The Netherlands finished the group stage by beating Australia, 3-2 and Chile, 2-0. In the knockout round, the Netherlands notched two very late goals to escape a scare from Mexico. The Netherlands needed penalty kicks to put away a very pesky Costa Rica club in the quarterfinals. The Netherlands have excelled in high leverage situations, but will that be enough to beat a World Class Argentina club?

Current World Cup odds have Argentina installed as a +140 outright winner while the Netherlands are slotted as a +240 outright winner. For either bet to cash, clubs will need to win the game in regulation. This game will be tightly contested, so I’m going to side with the Orange Crush as a value bet in this showdown. I’m worried about Di Mara’s absence and the Orange Crush have been great in high leverage situations. Lionel Messi is the pivotal player in this showdown, but the Netherlands pressure should somewhat slow down Messi. Take the Orange Crush at a discount for your World Cup picks.

Pick: The Netherlands +240 

There’s no rationale reason for the U.S. and Germany to play for anything other than a draw during Thursday’s highly anticipated World Cup showdown. There is not a hotly contested rivalry between the two clubs and the U.S. head coach, Jurgen Klinsmann, coached the German team ten years ago. His assistant coach, Joachim Low, is now the head coach of the German team. Still, egos and reputations are at stake, so expect a tightly played contest. Both clubs want to win and lock up the Group G crown before advancing to the Round of 16. 

The U.S. Club is coming off a heart-breaking 2-2 tie against Portugal. Portuguese forward, Cristiano Ronaldo, sent a deadly cross into the U.S. box during stoppage time. The ball was perfectly headed into the goal to keep Portugal alive. The U.S. was a mere 15 seconds away from a 2-0 group record which would have put them into the next round. Instead, the U.S. will need to play a third great game against one of the world’s best club. 

Going into this match, both the U.S. and Germany are 1-0-1 with four total points. The Germans have a four goal differential, which the U.S. only has a one goal differential. Both Ghana and Portugal are 0-1-1 with one point each. Ghana has a -1 goal differential while Portugal has been seemingly eliminated with a -4 goal differential. Ghana and Portugal will face off this morning as well, so expect an aggressive effort from both sides. A win will give either team a slight chance of advancing should Germany blow out the U.S. 

You can check out all of the World Cup odds and sports odds at AllPro. NFL and World Cup odds are available. Enjoy today’s World Cup games and may the best team win! 

It’s Deja Vu all over again. The San Antonio Spurs lead the Miami Heat two games to one heading into a pivotal Game 4 of the NBA Finals. The Spurs put on an offensive clinic in Game 3, making 19 of its first 21 shots and shot an NBA Finals record, 76 percent from the field in the first half. The Heat went on a small third quarter run, but the Spurs cruised to a comfortable 111-92 victory. This outcome may feel familiar since the Spurs won Game 3 in blowout fashion last year, toasting the Heat 113-77. Miami ultimately came back to win the series in seven games, so both teams will look to impose their will in Game 4.

Several Heat players, including Chris Bosh, LeBron James, and Mario Chalmers, must step up after woeful Game 3 performances. After scoring 18 points in Games 1 and 2, Bosh only had four shot attempts in Game 3. James was responsible for seven of Miami’s 20 turnovers while Chalmers missed all of his shots in Game 3. All three players must bounce back in Game 4.

In typical Spurs’ fashion, Spurs’ coach Greg Poppovich made a strategic move by starting power forward, Boris Diaw. Diaw, who boasted an impressive +30 during Game 1 and -5 during Game 2, was +20 during Game 3. Diaw has a total plus-minus of +45, which is the second highest in NBA history through three NBA Finals games. Diaw’s game isn’t flashy or exciting, but it is effective. 

The Spurs will look to put a vice grip type lock on the series by winning Game 4. If the Spurs do win Game 4, they’ll have a chance to win the championship on their home floor and avenge last year’s tough loss. 

Current NBA Odds have the Heat installed as 5.5 point home favorites. The Heat haven’t lost back-to-back games this season, but I think that may change in Game 4. The Heat have no answer on the defensive side of the ball and the Spurs are on a mission to win a championship. I’ll take the Spurs and the points while laying a little on the money line. It’s a contrarian play, but sometimes you need to go with your gut.

Pick: Spurs +5.5 and -ML

The San Antonio Spurs easily won the first two games of the Western Conference Finals, but a strong Game 3 showing from the Oklahoma City Thunder put them right back into the series. That strong showing was helped by the return of their defensive superstar. Power forward and rim protector, Serge Ibaka, returned for Game 3 after missing the first two games. Ibaka contributed 15 points, seven rebounds, and four blocks en-route to season saving, 106-97 victory on Sunday night. Ibaka, who injured his calf in Game 6 of the Western Conference Semi-Finals against the Los Angeles Clippers, was believed to miss the rest of the playoffs. However, Ibaka gutted through 30 minutes and slowed the Spurs from driving into the lane at will. Ibaka’s presence slowed down San Antonio’s dynastic point guard, Tony Parker. Parker only managed to score nine points on 4-of-13 shooting. He committed four turnovers.

While Ibaka’s presence alone gave the Thunder life, OKC made several adjustments that helped erase bad memories from Games 1 and 2. OKC’s coach, Scott Brooks, opted to start back-up point guard, Reggie Jackson, alongside Russell Westbrook and relegate Thabo Sefelosha, who did not score in Games 1 or 2, to the bench. Jackson chipped in with 15 points and took some of the scoring onus off Kevin Durant and Westbrook. Unlike Games 1 and 2, Durant and Westbrook were aggressive and got to the basketball at will. Both players made all eight of their free throw attempts. Rookie center, Steven Adams was injected into the starting lineup and helped OKC out-rebound the Spurs, 52-36. 

After running like a well-oiled machine in Games 1 and 2, San Antonio’s offense sputtered in Game 3. After making over 50 percent of their shots in the first two games, the Spurs made just 40 percent of their shots in Game 3. Manu Ginobili, who left with a foot injury and Tim Duncan were the only two Spurs in double figures.

OKC, according to NBA odds, is pegged as a 2.5 point home favorite in Game 4. I have a hard time believing the Spurs will drop two straight games, but I think OKC is hitting its stride at the right time. Ibaka’s mere presence is critical and I fully expected another emotional effort. Lay the points with the home team and get ready for a must-watch Game 5 Thursday night in San Antonio. 

Pick: Oklahoma City Thunder -2.5

The San Antonio Spurs utilized a late 10-0 run to squeak by the Dallas Mavericks, 90-85. Tim Duncan led the way with 27 points and seven rebounds while Tony Parker chipped in with 21 points and six assists. Manu Ginobili, the third member of San Antonio’s ‘Big 3′, went for 17 points off the bench. While each of the Spurs top players got their points, Dallas’ top player, Dirk Nowitzki, struggled. Nowitzki only registered 11 points on 4-of-14 shooting. Monta Ellis and Devin Harris combined for 30 points in the loss, but Dallas will need a lot more from Dirk if they want to keep pace with the Spurs. 

The most impressive stat from Game 1 was Dallas’ 3-point defense. Dallas held San Antonio to just 3-of-17 shooting from 3-point range. Danny Green, Patty Mills, and Marco Bellinelli went o-for-7 from deep. The Spurs will need their sharp shooters to knock down shots in Game 2. 

The Spurs were able to get to the charity stripe 22 times compared to just 13 times from Dallas. Dallas won the turnover battle 10-8. They’ll need to keep limiting turnovers and transition points in Game 2. 

Some of the best sportsbooks have the Spurs installed as 8.5 point favorites. The Spurs failed to cover the eight point spread in Game 1, so I fully expect them to bounce back with a huge effort in Game 2. The Spurs shot over 35% from three during the regular season, so I’m expecting a huge bounce back performance. Lay the points and roll with the Spurs in Game 2

Pick: Spurs -8.5

The Brooklyn Nets finished sixth in the Eastern Conference and will face the upstart three seed Toronto Raptors in the first round of the playoffs. The Raptors haven’t made the playoffs in years and the Nets will look to rebound after last year’s first round exit against the Bulls. The match-ups alone are interesting. The Nets boast one of the NBA’s oldest rosters, but that old roster, which is led by Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Joe Johnson, has logged over 17,000 playoff minutes. The Raptors have one of the NBA’s most explosive back courts in point guard Kyle Lowry and shooting guard DeMar DeRozan. Can the Nets slow down this dynamic duo?

Both teams have gone on impressive runs which makes this a very captivating playoff series. Since trading small forward Rudy Gay in December, the Raptors have gone 41-22, which is the best record in the Eastern Conference during that span. During this stretch, the Raptors rank 10th in turnover percentage, demonstrating a very diplomatic approach to offense. Center Jonas Valanciunas, who emerged late in the season by averaging 18 points and 11 rebounds, will be a critical player. The Nets have the second worst rebound percentage in the NBA, so Valancuinas will have opportunities around the rim. This Toronto team has a lot of talent, but lacks playoff experience. Can they come together?

On the flip side, the Brooklyn has the second best record in the East since January 1st (34-17). A season ending injury to center Brook Lopez forced Brooklyn into more a ‘small ball approach’ with Pierce playing the power forward position. Brooklyn boasts may grizzled veterans that have championship experience, but backup point guard Shaun Livingston may be their most important player. The 6’7″ Livingston perfectly fits Brooklyn’s small ball approach and his size will be critical to slowing down DeRozan. The Nets average three fewer points with Livingston on the court.

Current NBA odds have Toronto slotted as a 2-point favorite. Toronto opened as a 2.5 point favorite, but were quickly bet down to 2 points. I’m expecting an emotional, spirited opening game from the Raptors. I think Brooklyn will win this series, but Toronto will take Game 1. Lay the points and take the Raptors.

Pick: Toronto -2

The 2014 FIFA World Cup will not be an easy one for the United States soccer team. The U.S. has been placed into the ‘Group of Death’ with two power houses (Germany and Portugal) and the team that defeated them during the 2010 World Cup (Ghana). The U.S. will bring some veteran leadership in the form of Everton goalie, Tim Howard. Forward Jozy Alitdore of Sunderland will attempt to lead the offensive charge. The U.S. thrives in the counter attack, keying on its midfielders to help push offensive chances. The counter attack may run into a few speed bumps against Germany and Portugal. Both teams rely on strong midfielder play to limit chances and help power the offensive attack. After the jump, I’ll preview each U.S. opponent and present some official picks.

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Less than 72 hours remain in the Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes. I’ve written a scouting report, valuation study, and just some general thoughts.  Overall, I think a six-year, $120 million deal is pretty reasonable. However, two of baseball’s richest teams, the Yankees and Dodgers, as well as new regimes in Arizona and Chicago have also shelled out nine figure offers. When the competition is this fierce, someone is going to pay a premium. Tanaka’s agent, Casey Close, has done an excellent job keeping negotiations quiet, so we don’t know where each team stands.

When we compare Tanaka to the entire free agent pitching market, it’s not even close–and Close knows that. Based on age alone, Tanaka is three years younger than the next pitcher (Phil Hughes). Skill-wise, an argument can be made that Tanaka has the best ‘stuff’ among free agent pitchers. This article will show us why we shouldn’t be shocked when Tanaka signs a deal in excess of $140 million.

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