Football Picks: Weekend of November 2-3, 2019

I skipped picks last week with all the distractions, plus doing pretty badly the week before. Season totals stand at a you-may-as-well-flip-a-coin 39-38-3.

But with a lot of work done and other crap dealt with, it’s time to plunge back in and see what happens. I’m trying to be stricter in throwing possible bets out, so let’s see if that has a positive effect.

In the college games:

Pittsburgh by 7 over Georgia Tech

Cincinnati by 23 1/2 over East Carolina (the secret 51st state)

Kansas State by 4 1/2 over Kansas

LA Lafayette by 22 1/2 over Texas State

SMU plus 5 1/2 against Memphis (a good matchup)

Oregon State plus 5 1/2 against Arizona (probably my iffiest one, tbh)

In the NFL:

Jaguars plus 1 1/2 against the Texans

Panthers by 3 over the Titans

Colts by 1 over the Steelers

Packers by 3 1/2 over the Chargers

I also think the Patriots will win out over the Ravens in what’s probably the best game of the week. Will they cover the 3 1/2 or just win by a field goal? I’m figuring they cover or just lose it outright, to be honest…. so I’ll go with cover! The power of positive thinking.

Another Unemotional World Series, I Guess

I don’t know if there’s some sort of baseball award for most blown opportunities in a series, but the Yankees really deserve it for this year’s ALCS.

I won’t bother researching the Bill James stats or whatever they are to see if they set a record for men left on base or for the lowest batting average with runners in scoring position… but it sure feels like it. And defensively they were certainly erratic.

And give it up to the Astros – they took advantage of every mistake, made the most of practically every opportunity they had, sparkled in the field, and simply carried themselves like the team to beat. Too many of the Yankees looked confused and tired. A lot of times you can predict the winners of these things just by sensing the mood and attitude.

So I’ll watch what looks like to be a great matchup between the Astros and Nationals. Both teams have a pair of amazing starting pitchers, and I wonder if Nats manager Dave Martinez will do what he did to the Dodgers and stagger his pair of aces so that they don’t face the aces on the Astros. I guess we’ll see.

I’d have to give the edge to the Astros (who I figured to win it all once they signed Greinke, to be honest… but I have to root for my team and hope for the best… that’s what fandom is all about). The Astros have better hitting and balance, and probably a more reliable bullpen.

Yankees off-season will be interesting. I’m thinking they let Encanarcion go. Sabathia is retiring. I’m not sure if they’ll re-sign Gregorius with Andujar due back & the team overflowing with infielders, although I’d love to see him return. But with Urshela becoming what he has, and Voit doing well, and the wonderful addition of LeMehieu (probably the best move they made) along with future HOF Gleyber Torres out there… well, it’s a bit crowded.

What would I like to see in the off-season? Well, signing Garret Cole would sure be nice, although right now the 2020 starting rotation looks to be Severino – Tanaka – German – Paxton – Montgomery, and that’s not too bad. Bettances should return to the bullpen, too. But they can spend a billion dollars on free agents for all I care. I’m not paying for tickets and get to watch free on TV. Spend, spend, spend, I say!

Although all the “ifs” involved in that or any roster set up rely on avoiding the never-ending injuries that plagued nearly the entire team this year, so I think what I really want to see during the offseason is what I’ve wanted to see since maybe late April, that being for them to FIRE THE ENTIRE GOD DAMN STRENGTH AND TRAINING STAFF. Whatever the hell they’re doing, they’re doing in wrong. Guys miss half the year injured, like Judge – or the entire year like Stanton, only to come back and strain themselves AGAIN doing ordinary baseball stuff like running to first or swinging a bat. It’s ridiculous.

Another off-season move they should seriously consider is trading Gary Sanchez for pitching and prospects. They have other catchers who are perfectly fine, and the more I watched him this post-season the more I think he costs more than he provides, even when he hit better this year.

Cutting loose Jacoby Ellsbury and Greg Bird might be imminent as well.

So now to watch the World Series as merely a fan of the sport. Less stressful to be sure, but I don’t think it will affect my alcohol consumption during the games.

These Are The Times That Try Fans’ Souls

Watching the Yankees the past week has been an emotional chore. They’ve set a team record by allowing more than 73 runs in their last 7 games, not exactly the sort of record you want to set.

They can still score runs, if not enough to win, and they had some nice comebacks against the Twins, early on in this ongoing slog. But the Red Sox decimated them.

The pitching? Awful. Just awful. No one consistently pitches effectively. While sporting a weak starting rotation all year, they managed to finesse a wonderful record by a stars-all-align combo of people like German stepping up, across-the-board solid performances by overused bullpen names, and a lot of breaks going their way.

But these are the sorts of things that catch up with a team down the post-All Star break stretch, through August, when team pitching strength really makes the difference in which teams fade, collapse, or get to the finish line strong, ready for October battles between strong starting rotations.

Every team I can think of that started out the first half or 2/3 of the year looking amazing and then falling apart and collapsing by the end of the season all have the same thing in common: weak pitching. The ’64 Phillies overused their 2 main starters and blew a 6 1/2 game lead with only 12 to play. The ’69 Cubs, ’78 Red Sox, ’07 Mets, ’11 Red Sox… all cruised along early in the season, only to wither and fall by the wayside during the August-September stretch, all because of mediocre to poor pitching.

This week makes me think the 2019 Yankees could be added to this list – they got a 9 game lead right now, flirted with the best overall record in baseball, looked good against likely October competition like Houston, Tampa or Minnesota… but this past week… ugh. They look like crap.

CRAP I TELLS YA!

They have no stopper in the starting rotation. You won’t find a Guidry to chalk up a majority 25 wins after a Yankee loss like in ’78. When the bullpen door opens, Rivera will not appear to ensure the game is over, victory secured. Their best starter, German, seems effective but his win-loss record is a tad deceptive since they’ve come back in a few games where he got blown out early. Guidry he is not.

I thought they might stand pat before the trade deadline, but now it’s looking very likely they deal before the stroke of midnight July 31 for a starter, and the other teams know the price is going up for the Yankees when they’re playing like this. They’ll most likely give up some of the younger players and prospects I like just to get some above .500 pitcher with an ERA below 5, and that’s not good.

Severino, Montgomery and Bettances might come back before season’s end… but the odds of any of them being in top form after being injured so long are slim.

Can they rebound from this week’s doldrums? Sure, anything is possible. Signing some solid starter who rallies a clubhouse might happen. Standing pat, getting players back from the IL and coming together might happen.

I might also win the lottery. You never know. But in the meantime, Houston, Minnesota and Cleveland must be licking their chops.

Halls Of Fame Exist For Guys Like These

While sports heads constantly argue back and forth with hot, cold and lukewarm takes on who-was-better-than-who, it’s practically unheard of for someone to pretty much be unanimously accepted as the Best EVER at their particular position in the sport.

I can’t think of anyone making a serious argument for anyone other then Mariano Rivera as the best closer of all time, both in the regular and especially in the post-season. When the bullpen door opened and “Enter Sandman” blasted over the speakers at Yankee Stadium as Rivera took the mound to protect an 8th or 9th inning lead, you could see the opposing dugout simply shrug since they knew the game was over. The man was practically unhittable.

Yeah, I know… he’d been gotten to in a few key games in the post-season, like in the ’97 playoffs, ’01 series and ’04 against the Red Sox… nobody’s perfect. The Yankees winning championships in that period boiled down to whether or not Rivera got saves, and he most often did.

Most closers don’t last as long as he did, unless they’re knuckleballers like Hoyt Wilhelm. 18 seasons of consistency from closers is just unheard of – most of ’em have a few stellar seasons and then blow their arms out, or fail to fool hitters, or just lose control. The history of baseball is littered with guys who had one to a few amazing seasons as a lights-out closer and then vanished – I can think of all the ones I remember over the years – Bill Campbell, Eric Gagne, Tom Niedenfuer, Rawly Eastwick… the list goes on. And then there were the ones who had the staying power, the ones who most often made in into the Hall like Rivera: Eckersley, Sutter, Hoffman… but even those guys weren’t as good as Rivera.

Practically every other position in baseball presents a debate over who was the best ever: Catcher? Berra or Cochrane? Wait, what about Bench? Fisk? Maybe shortstop is easier… Wagner? Jeter? No, no… maybe Ripken. How can you compare different baseball eras, some will say. Even the greatest ever gets debated, by those in the Ruth camp and those offering various alternatives for assorted reasons.

Continue reading “Halls Of Fame Exist For Guys Like These”

Belmont Stakes Predictions 2019

I’m still amazed War of Will won the Preakness. I didn’t see it coming. So bear that level of prognosticatin’ genius in mind as I make my picks for the final leg in this year’s Triple Crown races, Saturday’s Belmont Stakes.

My general rule is to throw out any horse that ran in the Preakness when they have to run against some killer route runners that have gotten a lot more rest. I made exceptions when I (along with many others) correctly picked the recent Triple Crown winners American Pharoah and Justify, or when I woulda picked I’ll Have Another if he’d run the Belmont. So when I tell you that #9 War Of Will at the opening line of 2-1 is totally beatable, it’s NOT because I’m still whinin’ over missing the Preakness, I’m simply applying a proven historic standard that horses who have run in the Preakness (AND the Derby in this case) don’t muster the energy against fresh horses of a similar class.

So who is left? Well, the opening line favorite at 9-5, #10 Tacitus is a good bet to win it. I picked him as a possibility in the Derby, and he did decently down the stretch to come in 4th (oh EXCUSE me, 3rd thanks to disqualification, that LAME disqualification…. and I call it lame since I picked that horse to win. You can’t fault me for honesty.).

But checking the numbers, I gotta say that Tacitus is beatable here, and I can point to two strong possibles to do it: The first is another Derby runner who was gaining on all of ’em down the stretch and given another 1/4 mile, the grueling length of the Belmont, had an excellent chance of catching & overtaking Tacitus – #3 Master Fencer, opening at a nice 8-1, though I’d expect that to fall to 4-1 or 9-2 by post time. He’s mostly raced in Japan and not at this distance, but he’s got the speed and class, and it looks like they’re stretching him out a bit by looking at the works. If he and Tacitus run similar to how they did in the Derby, and that was on a sloppy track – this time we’ll get a fast one – Master Fencer should outrun him in the end.

My other possible is #7 Sir Winston. While he’s never really competed at this level, he’s the only horse in the field to achieve the speed figures usually associated with winners of this race, albeit at the G3 level Peter Pan stakes last month. He had veteran Joel Rosario in the saddle for that one, and Rosario is on him again this time. This horse closes… and while he lost earlier in the year to Tacitus, much like Master Fencer in the Derby, he was gaining on him and had a real shot at overtaking him had the distance been longer. And he’s 12-1 on the opening line, maybe 8-1 by post time.

So it all comes down to whether or not Tacitus can maintain the lead down that long distance, or be caught by #3 or #7, in my opinion. I’ll probably wuss out and do a trifecta box of them. This field doesn’t look like it will yield monster pools & payouts on all the exotics, so I’ll probably just limit myself to a “let’s see if I just get it right this time” type bet.

And yeah, I might throw War of Will in there on the exotics, but not to win.

Weekend Entertainment for May 25-27, 2019

Some books and movies to discuss this Memorial Day weekend, thanks to several days of clouds ‘n’ drizzle that kept me inside most of the time. So while I’m letting a seasoned porterhouse come to room temperature before I sizzle it up for dinner (I posted a wonderful steak recipe & method here), I’ll tell ya about them.

I knocked off a couple of Hollywood gossipy quasi-bios this weekend, starting out with the one I grabbed a week back aong with a nice haul of other volumes at a big annual library sale – George Jacobs’ Mr. S – My Life With Frank Sinatra. Jacobs was Sinatra’s personal valet from the early 1950s to 1968, the PERFECT time to get all the dish ‘n’ dirt about bad marriages, Rat Pack Tales, the prime years of his music (if you ask me), dalliances with the Kennedys, and so forth. Jacobs mostly focuses on the sex lives of everyone he discusses, so this one was a very entertaining page turner. Sinatra would be incredibly loyal, sentimental and generous to people he liked, and could turn on a dime if he felt betrayed, cutting people completely out of his life & taking the grudge to his grave. Jacobs incurred Frank’s wrath by dancing with Mia Farrow at a Hollywood club, setting off gossip and rumors about affairs and such…. all perfectly innocent in Jacobs’ version, but Frank could never ever forgive the other men who he thought had eyes on “his” women – most often Ava Gardner, who he never could get over – but also the mismatched Farrow. Jacobs spins wonderful anecdotes – little wisps of his observations of Sinatra, and none of ’em disappoint. When I picked it up at the library sale and flipped through it to see if it’d be worth reading, every page I landed on contained another story about Frank getting pissed off at something or someone, smashing a phone, kicking a car radio, or threatening to kill himself – and I said “SOLD!” It was certainly a must-read item, an entertaining behind-the-scenes description of truly monstrous behavior towards people and especially lovers by the overly entitled – just perfect to make me feel both morally superior AND entertained.

Continue reading “Weekend Entertainment for May 25-27, 2019”

Preakness 2019 Predictions

After that debacle of a Kentucky Derby, perhaps we can begin anew with some Preakness handicapping, eh?

Not that I was too wrong in my Derby predictions, picking Maximum Security to win before that lame disqualification. But I would have messed up my combos regardless, with 2 long shots running into the money and knocking some my other horses down to 4, 5, and 6.

I’m always less excited about the Preakness, to be honest. Fewer horses, smaller pools, and in way too many years a lopsided favorite destroying any chance of decent payoffs on combos.

But not this year! The Derby Champ and REAL Derby Champ aren’t in it, a few other horses dropped, and our favorite, Baffert’s Improbable, is opening at 5-2 and will probably go up as other horses, like the ones I’m about to mention, come down.

So I might put some other combos together, or I might just stick with the two horses I think have a really good shot at winning it despite their lack of experience at this class level.

My top choice is #7 Alwaysmining, winner of his last 6 races by multiple lengths, and whose consistent clock times indicate a strong chance to go gate to wire here. He’s in great form, got some killer workouts… the only caveat is a poor trainer record in graded stakes, something this horse has not run. BUT he’s got a good pedigree for stakes winners…. so I’m liking it. He’s 8-1 on the opening line, but expect that to drop to maybe 5-1 or so by post-time.

After that, another non-graded stakes, non-stakes winner of ANY caliber is the increasingly speedy #3 Warrior’s Charge, coming off of 2 straight wins by multiple lengths. Again, great time, solid works, good form… raring to go. And he’s 12-1 opening line, probably knocked down to 8-1 or so by post time.

I think Improbable is a totally beatable favorite here. I also think that other highly-touted horses like War of Will, Win Win Win or Bourbon War don’t have the speed to catch my 2 choices. The other horses I can see vying for money spots might be #5 Owendale at 10-1 opening, #12 Anothertwistafate (although he does MUCH better on artificial surface) and #4 Improbable (not a winner, but I can see him 2, 3 or 4).

If I’m right and it’s 3 or 7 followed by those others, those combos are gonna be worth it, especially if everyone decides they love Improbable enough to knock him down to 2-1 or so. But we’ll see. The weather should be decent, and the track won’t be the mudslide we got at Kentucky.

Here’s hoping we get a winner without the instant replay committee BS. And here’s hoping it’s my horse again.

The Future Is Now: We Are All Saints Fans For 15 Minutes

Welcome to 21st century sports, where the results get to change due to bad calls and committee meetings after the fact.

Maximum Security may have crossed the finish line at the Derby first, but after some interminable review of tape, his move to impede a horse slowing down anyway somehow determines that the 2nd place 65-1 shot Country House gets to win.

Barely a bump. Never affected the 2nd place horse. No one watching those replays would think it changed the outcome of the race.

No matter! Maximum Security gets disqualified!

AND ALL MY TICKETS GO DOWN. (And yes, that’s why I’m really angry).

From the volume & quantity of the booing as they hand out the trophy, I’m gonna go out on a limb and guess the crowd at Churchill Downs feels the same way I do.

Vox populi sez BULLSHIT.

We’ve been treated to horrible reffing during the NBA finals, we got to see the egregious non-call of pass interference knocking the Saints from the Superbowl, we get bad umpiring over balls and strikes every day in baseball.

And we get endless reviews, replays, and bullshit.

Not just in sports, either, we can get it all over. We can have endlessly disputed election results where people refuse to concede, or public policies bounced around friendly and unfriendly judges at different court levels, criminal sentences thrown out the window, juries ignored, conspiracy theories abounding and accepted as fact by idiots… you name it.

Nothing is allowed to be a mutually agreed upon outcome. Nothing.

It’s all about endless hot take debates and arguing, and if someone’s argument rubs you the wrong way, well, just deplatform them or disqualify them and then claim you won.

Granted, most of my bets would have gone down the toilet with the longshot Country House placing 2nd, but COULDN’T I JUST GET MY 9/2 WIN BET, YOU FRIGGIN BASTARDS??? (Yes, that’s the TRUE reason for this rant).

Bah.

Kentucky Derby 2019 Predictions

I’ve been on a self-imposed break from horse betting for some months now. It’s partly a resting-on-my-laurels feeling after finally hitting a Pick 6 at Santa Anita last fall, along with a hesitation to go back to betting Santa Anita during their recent tragic Winter meet which featured so many mysterious horse deaths that racing got suspended for weeks on end.

But now it’s the first Saturday in May, and that means the Kentucky Derby.

And when you’re talkin’ a 20+ horse race with pools the size of oceans, I’ll set aside those Pick 6 laurels and venture back into handicapping the thing and seeing if I can put together some winning tickets. I did well with last year’s race and again with the Belmont (the Preakness always disappoints me from a betting standpoint) so here we go again for 2019.

The original opening favorite, Omaha Beach, has been scratched, making the race more interesting on a lot of levels. I’d originally had Omaha Beach among my possible winners, and his absence doesn’t simply bump everyone else up a notch since horses who have raced against each other before or are next to each other at the outset and so forth sometimes personally duel within a race, and with him gone, all of that strategery went out the window. Went back and ‘capped the race a 2nd time.

On top of that, it’s supposed to rain all day in Kentucky on Saturday, so I’d expect a muddy track. Went back over it all AGAIN.

And here’s the result: I think #7 Maximum Security has a real shot at victory with Omaha Beach on the sideline. Maximum Security is undefeated in 4 races, steadily improving (most recently winning the Florida Derby), and demonstrates speed and class numbers superior to the majority of the field. Opening line on him is also 10-1, but expect that to drop to 9/2 or the like, he might even wind up the post time favorite. He runs just as well in the mud, too.

The other two horses I’d put in the can-win-it category are #5 Improbable and #17 Roadster, two of the three Bob Baffert entries in the race. Improbable has faster speed than Roadster, whose form has been improving enough to overtake the other Baffert entry right next to him, #16 Game Winner. Roadster overtook Game Winner from behind to win the Santa Anita Derby, and Improbable finished 2nd to Omaha Beach in the Arkansas Derby. But what makes me think they might all be battling for 2nd place is how they have been placing 2nd since returning from layoffs. Third-after-layoff is a legendary handicapping item to look for, and that gives us both Game Winner & Improbable… while Roadster has been a winner both times after layoff, albeit with Mike Smith as jockey, not Florent Geroux, who hasn’t won with Baffert this year.

Roadster seems to have the best shot here, I’d put Improbable next and then Game Winner.

The other horses I’ll throw into possible trifecta and superfecta combos: #6 Vekoma and #8 Tacitus, both speedy enough to keep up with my top horses, but less likely to close at the end.

So there you go, the half-dozen best I can cull from my figurin’. I feel rich enough with my Pick 6 money to box some combo bets with ’em all, since it looks like the odds indicate larger pools in those exotics than in more recent years where a runaway favorite didn’t disappoint.

So crank up those mint juleps! Will it be bad karma for me if I drink my preferred Jack Daniels Tennessee whiskey on Derby day? I like it better than Kentucky bourbon, sorry. Though my favorite brand of rye comes from Kentucky. Maybe I’ll have that for good luck.

And maybe I’ll start now.

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