Saturday, October 14, 2017

2017 National League Championship Preview

Now here we sit, two teams left standing in all of the National League. One team moves on to play in the World Series, while the other heads home for a long winter of what ifs. Its the defending Champions taking on a team that hasn't won a pennant in 29 years. The last round saw a sweep over the Diamondbacks and the Nationals again choke away a playoff series. The Los Angeles Dodgers now get set to lock horns with the World Champion Chicago Cubs. For the Cubs, its defending the title for one more round. For the Dodgers, its a shot at getting back to something they haven't seen in almost thirty years. Enough fluff, lets get right into it. Here's the breakdown of the National League Championship Series.

Its the National League Central Champion Chicago Cubs taking on the National League West Champion Los Angeles Dodgers. Chicago is the defending World Series Champions, winning the National League Central, for the 2nd year in a row, with a 92-70 record. They got here in the playoffs by beating the Washington Nationals in five games in the divisional round. This is the Cubs' third consecutive appearance in the NLCS. In 2015, they were swept in 4 games by the New York Mets. In 2016, they beat the Dodgers 4–2 in six games, eventually going on to win their first World Series since 1908. Chicago is now 46-68 all time in the playoffs.

As for the Dodgers, they won the National League West for the 5th straight year, with a 104-58 record. They got here by beating the Arizona Diamondbacks in a sweep in the Divisional Round. This is the Dodgers' second consecutive appearance in the National League Championship Series, and 12th all-time (with this being their third appearance in the past five seasons). In 2016, they lost in six games to the Chicago Cubs, the eventual World Series winner. Los Angeles is seeking to make the World Series for the first time since 1988. The Dodgers are now 72-89 all time in the playoffs.

This is the third postseason meeting between the Cubs and Dodgers. The clubs have split their two previous postseason meetings. Los Angeles swept Chicago in the 2008 NLDS (3–0) and the Cubs beat the Dodgers in the 2016 NLCS in six games (4–2). During the regular season, the Dodgers won four of the six meetings between the teams.

Here are the dates and times for every games in this series:
October 14 Chicago Cubs @ Los Angeles Dodgers Dodger Stadium 8:08 PM
October 15 Chicago Cubs @ Los Angeles Dodgers Dodger Stadium 7:38 PM
October 17 Los Angeles Dodgers @ Chicago Cubs Wrigley Field
October 18 Los Angeles Dodgers @ Chicago Cubs Wrigley Field
October 19† Los Angeles Dodgers @ Chicago Cubs Wrigley Field
October 21† Chicago Cubs @ Los Angeles Dodgers Dodger Stadium
October 22† Chicago Cubs @ Los Angeles Dodgers Dodger Stadium

This has been a tale of two seasons for these two teams. Los Angeles was the talk of the first half of the season, getting off to a blistering start to the year,. They were beating everybody and everything in sight, and looked to be well on their way to breaking the record for most wins in a season. Once the 2nd half of the season got rolling, the wheels seemed to fall off. It looked like, at one point, the Dodgers might even lose their once mighty grip on the West. But as the season drew to a close they managed to get things figured out. A lot of that had to do with the outstanding hitting of Justin Turner. Not only did Turner have a solid year during the regular season, he hit .461 and drove in five runs during the divisional round. he;s getting hot at the right time. Corey Seager, who had a solid start to the year but slowed a little in the 2nd half of the year, looked better at the plate in the series but still seems to lack some of his pop as he continues to play in the aftermath of a nagging elbow injury. Around this time of year, the discussion always comes up about guys stepping their game up and Austin Barnes really did that in the divisional series, going four for eight in the last series, driving in three runs and belting a huge home run in game three.

Pitching has been just as important for the Dodgers, as Clayton Kershaw seems he has shaken off some of his bad memories of post seasons past. He still had a slightly high ERA, it was at 5.48 for the one game he pitched, but it is still better then what he'd done in performances past. Then there's Yu Darvish, who pitched five strong innings in his game three win. One of the strong suits for LA right now is that they also boast a strong bullpen. When you have guys like Brandon Morrow and Kenley Jansen, and it just got deeper with Kenta Maeda proving his slider can devastate in relief. Then there is the fact that the Dodgers now have a solid four starters to rely on, which means it doesn’t have to throw Kershaw out there on short rest. It makes the Dodgers a tougher team to play against.

As good as the Dodgers were in the first half of the year, the Cubs were in the 2nd half of the year. They closed out the season going 49-25 down the stretch to get back to the top in the Central. And they match up pretty well against the Dodgers right now. There's no denying that the Cubs have good hitters like Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, and Kyle Schwarber. But they didn't look quite as dominant against the Nationals. The Cubs’ bats weren’t exactly moving Chicago toward baseball euphoria either. Against the Nationals, Jon Jay, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo combined to go 11-for-51 for a combined .220 batting average. That can't really be helping them now in this series, the bats really need to wake up. They also need the pitching staff to find its way again.

Kyle Hendricks has pitched great since coming back from his injury. During the divisional round, he had 13 K's in 11 innings of work. Jon Lester looked OK in his outings in the last round, so he should be solid to go in this round as well. The wild card in all of this is Jake Arrieta. Arrieta didn’t allow an earned run in Game 4, but he walked five in his four innings of work and needed 90 pitches to bob and weave his way through four frames. Arrieta pitched much better in the second half, but he hasn’t been himself from either a control or a command standpoint this season. His velocity has also been down. If Jake can find his game again, it might help give the Cubs more of a chance in this series.

Going into this series, I'm not exactly getting the same vibe from the Cubs that I did a season ago. They seemed a little out of it against Washington, but managed to pull it out in the end in game five. Now they're going up against a rested Dodgers team with Clayton Kershaw and Rich Hill over the first two games. LA enters Saturday with reinvigorated pitchers and an offense that is taking pitches and producing runs the way it had at the beginning of the season. As much as I want to see the Cubs go back to tangle again for a world title, I just don't think they have enough of the horses right now to be able to pull it off I think the Dodgers are too good.

Pick: Dodgers in 6!

Friday, October 13, 2017

2017 American League Championship Preview

So here we sit, in the middle of October. Its time for the American League Championship Series. One team playing in this series was projected top be here, the other one not so much. Houston has been one of the top teams in the AL all year. The Yankees were a team who weren't pegged to get into the playoffs, let alone make it even this far. Yet here they sit. Should be an entertaining series. Enough of the fluff and what not, lets get right into it. Here's how this years ALCS breaks down.

Its a battle of titans, if you will, the two teams left standing in the American League. We got the AL West winning Houston Astros going up against the AL Wild Card winning New York Yankees. New York finished 2nd in the AL East with a 91-71 record. They got this far in the playoffs by beating the Minnesota Twins in the Wild card game, and followed that up by beating the Cleveland Indians 3–2 in the ALDS to advance. This is the Yankees' sixteenth appearance in the ALCS, and their second as a Wild Card. They had won in eleven of their previous fifteen appearances, the last win coming in 2009.

As for the Houston Astros, they won the AL West wit a 101-61 record.  As for the playoffs, they got here by beating the Boston Red Sox 3-1 in the American League Divisional Round. This is the Astros' fifth appearance in a League Championship Series, and their first since transferring from the National League to the American League. Their only previous LCS win came in the 2005 National League Championship Series. Houston had previously lost in 1980, 1986, and 2004. They are also the first AL West team to make it to the ALCS since the 2011 Texas Rangers.

This marks the 2nd ever playoff meeting between the two teams, with the Astros having won the previous meeting in the 2015 AL Wild Card Game. Houston won five off the seven meetings between the teams this season.

Here's the dates and times for every game in this series:
October 13 New York Yankees @ Houston Astros Minute Maid Park 8:08 PM
October 14 New York Yankees @ Houston Astros Minute Maid Park 4:08 PM
October 16 Houston Astros @ New York Yankees Yankee Stadium 8:08 PM
October 17 Houston Astros @ New York Yankees Yankee Stadium
October 18† Houston Astros @ New York Yankees Yankee Stadium
October 20† New York Yankees @ Houston Astros Minute Maid Park
October 21† New York Yankees @ Houston Astros Minute Maid Park

Pitching is going to be an intricate part of this series, and right now the Yankees pitchers are feeling it. When the Yankees were down 2-0 against the Indians, they needed great outings from their starters. CC Sabathia, Luis Severino and Masahiro Tanaka more then provided it. Oh and lets not forget about one of the best bullpens in all of baseball. According to Sports Illustrated, during the comeback against Cleveland, New York's bullpen tossed 8 2/3 shutout innings, allowed seven baserunners, and recorded 15 strikeouts. Aroldis Chapman has thrown 6.2 scoreless innings with 13 strikeouts, Tommy Kahnle has not allowed a hit in five innings and David Robertson has conceded just four hits and one run in eight frames of work. If you can get solid work out of your starters and then turn it over to that pen, with a lead, it's pretty much over the wya they have pitched this year.

The Yankees offense, when its going, can really deliver. Just look at what Didi Gregorius did in the divisional round, hitting those two clutch home runs in game five. Aaron Hicks and Greg Bird also had solid series. Brett Gardner came up with big at bats in that 5th game, really working counts and wasting off a lot of good pitchers from Indians hurlers. The biggest story though for the Yankees offense was Aaron Judge, or rather how quiet he was in this last series. Judge had one hit, a huge two-run double in Game 4, in the ALDS and set a record for most strikeouts in a postseason series with 16. Here's an eye popping stat for you, according to ESPN. Aaron Judge has 15 strikeouts in this series. Tony Gwynn had 15 strikeouts in 535 at-bats during the 1995 season. That's an insane number.

Judge and company didn't have a ton of help in the last round, but Jose Altuve did as Houston took down Boston. Altuve hit .533 for the series including a monster 3 home run game in the opener. Yuli Gurriel also hit over .500 so far in the playoffs. George Springer also hit over .400 in the series. Houston has more of a balanced offensive attack then the tribe did, which is going to be a massive difference maker in this series. Another key for the Astros in this series is going to be pitching. Starting pitching is an area of strength for Houston, though, carrying two aces in Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander along with strong secondary options such as Lance McCullers Jr. and Brad Peacock. Keuchel, who will start Game 1, iced the Yankees in his lone start against them in the regular season, going six innings with five hits and earned runs.

Houston is going to have to step its game up in this series. The Indians neutralized Judge. How did that work out for them? The Astros will have to do more to beat the Yankees. Their best chances will include them pummeling Gray and hoping the bad Tanaka shows up. That and keep up the hitting that propelled them past the Red Sox in the opening round.

This could be a very entertaining series. New York is coming off a stirring rally against Cleveland, while Houston put a pounding on Boston. Boston isn't as good a hitting team as the Yankees, but Houston has the better team then the Bombers do. This isn't a case of doubting the Yankees, not by any means. This is just an observation. Tha Yankees have proven, when their up against the ropes, they can pull it off. This series will go the distance, but at the end of the day, I think the Astros are going to be too much.

Pick: Astros in 7!

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Best And Worst Of NFL Week Five

My word, week five sure made for one interesting week around the National Football League. Just look at some of what happened around the league. The AFC North’s top squad was thrown for a massive loop against a team that wasn't supposed to be near that level. Two teams won despite the fact their quarterbacks didn’t eclipse 100 yards passing. One of the best quarterbacks in the league the past decade-plus threw five interceptions. You read that correctly, and it'll be explained more a little later on. It was nasty. It was also a very interesting week as well. Don't believe me? There’s now a three-way tie atop the AFC East, with one team surprising everyone with a better-than-.500 record. Oh and one more thing, there's a team that has now gone winless for the season that NOBODY expected to be at this stage of the season. Here's some of the best and worst from an insane week five.

Best:
Myles Garrett, Defensive End, Cleveland Browns
When you get taken as the first overall pick in the NFL draft, there are high expectations around you and what you can do. Myles Garrett had plenty to live up to. He missed the first four games of this season, due to a high ankle sprain. When he finally got into a game, the Browns 17-14 loss to the Jets on Sunday, he made his impact. Garrett hauled down Josh McCown on a fierce stunt up the middle. A bit later on, Garrett made his second sack of the season. This means that, in just one game, Garrett is already tied for the team lead in sacks on Cleveland’s defense with Emmanuel Ogbah and James Burgess. Welcome to the NFL, rookie, the future looks go for the man.

Worst:
New York Giants
In a battle of 0-4 teams between the Giants and Chargers it was a game of who was going to break first. It turned out to be the Giants, literally In addition to the fact the Giants lost to the Los Angeles Chargers 27-22, New York was decimated by injuries. Wide receivers were dropping like flies in this game for the Giants. The biggest ones were Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandon Marshall, bot of whom fractured their ankles, need to have surgery and are done for the season. Sterling Shepard also left the game with an ankle injury. Dwayne Harris was carted off the field during the game as well and was determined to have a fractured foot. If it wasn't bad enough that the Giants now sit here at 0-5 on the season, some of their best players are starting to drop like flies. It doesn't look good for Big Blue right about now. More like big Black and Blue

Best:
Cam Newton, Quarterback Carolina Panthers
It's been a very weird year for Cam Newton, both on the field and off. Off the field, he made some comments about a female reporter he shouldn't have and has since apologized for it. On the field, it has been a very up and down season. Last week he had a good week, so he decided to repeat the performance this week. Carolina pulled off the 27-24 win over the Lions, with Newton having a good day. Newton was 26 of 33 for 355 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions in a 27-24 win. He didn’t have his best receiver, tight end Greg Olsen, so he just hit tight end Ed Dickson for 175 yards. There had been some questions as to how well Newton was feeling when the year started, because he really looked off his game. Cam now seems to be back on his game and the Panthers are sitting at 4-1.

Worst:
Ben Roethlisberger, Quarterback Pittsburgh Steelers
He has been one of the best QB's in the game for a long time, but on Sunday, in a 30-9 loss to the Jaguars, Ben Rothlisberger had himself a bad day. He went 33 of 55 for 312 yards. What's worse is he was picked of five times and two of which were returned for touchdowns. He’s only thrown two in a game one other time in his career, and that occurred back in 2006 when he was a third-year pro. When it was all said and done, Big Ben threw five interceptions and failed to throw single touchdown. According to NFL Research, this marks a new career low for the long-time Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback. If the Steelers are to really get themselves back to being a major threat, they need Big Ben to find his old form again!

Best:
T.Y. Hilton, Wide Receiver Indianapolis Colts
Some wide receivers, when their quarterbacks get hurt, go into hiding. T.Y. Hilton has done the total opposite. He is doing everything in his powers to try and keep the Colts hanging around until Andrew Luck gets back from injury. Indy walked away with a 26-23 win over the 49ers on Sunday, and Hilton was a huge reason for that. He finished the day with seven catches for 177 yards. He didn't find the endzone, but his huge day heled get the Indy offense rolling. In the Colts’ win over the Browns two weeks ago, he had seven catches for 153 yards. Hilton is third in the NFL in receiving yards, behind Antonio Brown and A.J. Green, and that’s with Jacoby Brissett and not Luck at quarterback.

Worst:
Eric Ebron, Wide Receiver Detroit Lions

Detroit had high hopes for Eric Ebron to be a big threat in Detroit. But is he a star? Not even close. At least not yet. Detroit dropped a tough game against Carolina, with the Panthers walking away with a 27-24 victory. Matthew Stafford started the game off hot, hitting on four of his first five attempts. Then, from Carolina’s 12-yard line on third-and-10, Stafford put a pass right into the hands of Ebron in the middle of the end zone. Only Ebron couldn’t hang on. The dropped pass cost Detroit four points (assuming the extra point was made) in a game that was ultimately decided by three points. Ebron finished with just one catch on four targets for six yards. For the season he’s caught just 12 passes on 23 targets. And aside from one glorious first half against the New York Giants in Week 2, the tight end might as well be invisible in Detroit’s offense. He was supposed to be a big key in the Lions offense, but he hasn't been a factor

Best:
Leonard Fournette, Running back Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars lead the AFC South with a 3-2 record and they have looked great at times this year, including Sunday in their 30-9 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. One of the biggest reasons, was rookie Leonard Fournette. He finished the day with 28 carries and a league best 181 rushing yards to go along with a pair of scores. One of the big plays of the day was Fournette outrunnning the entire Steelers defense for a 90-yard score. A lot of what you saw from him Sunday is a reason why he was selected 4th overall in the draft. His running ability, combined with Jacksonville’s defense, is the reason why people have this Jacksonville team pegged as a playoff team.

Worst:
Nick Folk, Kicker Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tampa Bay had done more then enough to come away with a win over the New England Patriots. Sadly that didn't happen, as the Patriots won 19-14. A good chunk of the blame is going to fall on kicker Nick Folk, who missed three field goals, two of which he absolutely should have made, in the Patriots win. If you remember, Folk was the guy who took over for Roberto Aguayo, who was cut this summer after the Bucs traded up into the second round last year to draft him. Through four games this season, the veteran kicker has now connected on just 6-of-11 field goals, and he’s missed two extra points. This is a problem though, because Tampa Bay won't have a kicker if they let Folk go, so they almost seem like they are stuck with him no matter what.

Best:
Aaron Rodgers, Quarterback Green Bay Packers
The Dallas Cowboys are a good football team. But there are few players better with the game on the line then Aaron Rodgers. He had 1:13 left in the ballgame, down by three. He did his thing. The Packers pulled off a 35-31 victory over Dallas. Rodgers, who didn’t have all that great an overall game, going 19 of 29 for 221 yards and three touchdowns. When it came down to it, Arron did Aaron things, calmly engineered a nine-play drive that went 75 yards in just over one minute. He finished off the drive with a gorgeous back-shoulder pass over the top of rookie cornerback Jourdan Lewis. Rodgers looked human for the most part in this one, but much like Brady, when the game is on the line and you need a big comeback drive, leave it to Rodgers to get the job done. Aaron Rodgers is good late in games, nobody can dispute that, and this win just went to further prove it.

Worst:
DeShone Kizer, Quarterback Cleveland Browns
Its a tough job, being a quarterback in Cleveland. Since 1999, the Browns have used 26 different men to start a game for the Browns. DeShone Kizer didn't fare very well on Sunday against the Jets, a 17-14 win for New York. For the second game in a row, Kizer was shown the bench in the 2nd half. Unlike last weekend, Kizer didn’t even play in the second half. After turning the ball over twice inside the New York Jets’ five-yard line and completing just 8-of-17 passes for 87 yards, he got the hook at halftime. As noted by NFL Research, the two turnovers inside his opponent’s five-yard line marks the first time since 2009 that an NFL quarterback had done so. Through four-plus games, Kizer has now turned the ball over 13 times, which is, by far, the most in the NFL. Some guys can hang in the NFL and some guys can't. Kizer is proving that he's not quite ready yet for the NFL.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

2017-18 NHL Preview

Here we go! Its October, the leaves on the trees are starting to change. Its getting a little cooler outside. It means that the coolest game on earth is back! The National Hockey League is setting off the 2017-18 regular season. With the new Las Vegas Golden Knights, there are now 31 teams battling it out for the greatest prize in all of professional hockey, the Stanley Cup. Its going to be a fun season with some new faces in new places and new rules around the league. We will try as best we can to break it all down here on the blog.

This year, the league will be facing some new rule changes. The challenge of an offside rule has changed, and oh is it for the better. Coaches had used the offside rule to challenge for something as close as a millimeter. Now, in order to reduce the number of coach's challenges, a two-minute penalty for delay of game will be handed out if the review does not result in an offside being overturned. Coaches are now no longer allowed to call time outs after their team iced the puck, in order to rest their players. There is also now more of a crackdown by the refs on faceoff violations and slashing. Referees are now expected to enforce the existing two-minute penalty for slashing when players chop at the wrists and hands of a puck carrier. As far as the faceoff rule is concerned, referees are now expected to enforce the existing two-minute penalty for improper stance by a player taking a faceoff. This follows an extensive period where players have not been standing with their feet properly placed within the limits of the markings by the dot, with their bodies square to the end boards.

This will be an exciting year for the league as well, playing some very big games. We go international, as the Ottawa Senators and Colorado Avalanche will be playing in Stockholm, Sweden on November 10th and 11th. Once again this year, the game will be taken outdoors. The 100 Classic will be held on December 16 at TD Place Stadium in Lansdowne Park, Ottawa, featuring the Montreal Canadiens against the Ottawa Senators. The Winter Classic will be held on January 1, 2018 at Citi Field in Flushing, New York, with the New York Rangers playing the Buffalo Sabres. The Stadium Series will be held on March 3, 2018 at Navy–Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Maryland, featuring two of last seasons playoff teams, the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Washington Capitals. This year's All Star Game will take place on January 28th at Amalie Arena in Tampa.

We got some other new changes coming around the league this year as well. Detroit will now move from the Joe to its new home in the Little Caesars Arena, while the expansion Vegas Golden Knights will be playing home games at T-Mobile Arena. Washington (Capital One Arena) and Winnipeg (Bell MTS Place) will be playing in the same arenas, just with different names. We also have some new coaches taking over around the league. Vegas gets a brand spanking new coach in Gerard Gallant. They aren't the only team. Vancouver (Travis Green), Los Angeles (John Stevens), Florida (Bob Boughner), Dallas (Ken Hitchcock), Buffalo (Phil Housley) and Arizona (Rick Tocchet) all have brand new bench bosses for this season.

Enough with the fluff, lets get right into it. Here's how I see the 2017-18 National Hockey League Season going down!

Western Conference
Central Division:
1.  Dallas Stars (105 Points)*
Last season was one that the Dallas Stars would like to forget. Goaltending was inconsistent and they badly missed the playoffs. In fact, the only team that had a worse record in the Central Division was the Colorado Avalanche. Antti Niemi, Patrick Sharp and Ales Hemsky have all left town for other teams, but there still plenty of talent on this hockey club. Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Jason Spezza are expected to carry the offensive load, which they have no problem doing. They will get help in the goal department from newly signed Alex Radulov and Martin Hanzal. Taking a lot of pressure off this team will be Ben Bishop, who was acquired from Tampa last season. He solidifies a position that was a big hole in Big D last season. Now with Bishop and Kari Lehtonen patroling the pipes, along with a solid blueline core in front of them (lead by John Klingberg), look for Dallas to climb right back to the top again this season in the Central.

2. Nashville Predators (104 Points)*
After coming off the deepest playoff run in the history of the club, Nashville is set up for another strong season again this year. A march all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals has got to make this hockey team hungry for more this year. And who's to say they can't possibly make it again, they've got a very good hockey club.  They did trade Colin Wilson to Colorado for a draft pick, but they were able to sign Nick Bonino and Scott Hartnell. They join an already solid offense, powered by Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson, and Ryan Johansen, among others. Plus with a loaded blue line with P.K Subban Ryan Elis, Roma Josi, and Mattias Ekholm as your top four, that's a pretty good defense unit. It also doesn't hurt when you have one of the best netminders in all of the game in Pekka Rinne as your number one goalie. If anybody watched the playoffs last year, you know how loud that Bridgestone Arena can get. This year it will be on full display as the Predators will be back in another playoff run.

3. Chicago Blackhawks (99 Points)*
Its been a bit of an interesting offseason for the Hawks this year. After finishing the year last year with not only the best record in the division, but the top overall record in all of the Western Conference, the Hawks were rudely knocked out of the first round in a four game sweep at the hands of Nashville. Since then, Chicago seems to have taken a few steps backwards. Marian Hossa will miss the entire season due to a progressive skin disorder and will undergo treatment. Also the Hawks traded Artemi Panarin to the Jackets for Brandon Saad, Niklas Hjalmarsson to the Coyotes for Connor Murphy and Laurent Dauphin. Finally the Hawks traded Marcus Krüger to Vegas for future considerations. Chicago still has a balanced offense thanks to Patrick Kane, Jonathan Towes, Patrick Sharp and Richard Panik. Some do wonder how well Kane is going to play without Panarin around. Chicago still has a soldi back end with Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith leading the defense in front of Corey Crawford. Chicago still has a good enough team to make the playoffs, but it won't be good enough for a deep run.

4. Minnesota Wild (97 Points)(WC)
There's a lot of talent on this good young hockey club in Minnesota. They finished three points back of the Hawks for the best record in the division a season ago. A big reason for that was Devan Dubnyk playing out of his head, winning 40 games for the Wild. He' have another very good year this. Minnesota did pull off a big trade this summer, sending Jason Pominville and Marco Scandella to Buffalo for Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno. There is a slight dip in talent level, but the change of scenery could be good for all four players involved in the trade. They laso lost Christian Folin, and Martin Hanzal to free agency and Erik Haula was taken by the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft. Still with that being said, this Wild team has plenty of talent to be back in the playoffs once again. There's a lot of talent on this Minnesota hockey club. Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu, Chris Stewart, Jason Zucker, Eric Staal, Nino Niederreiter all who are expected to help lead this heavy offensive attack. Then you have guys like Jared Spurgeon and Ryan Suter leading things from the back end, its quite clear that there's more then enough offensive talent here to make it to the playoffs. But because this division is going to be a really tough place to play this season, Minnesota won't get as high as they did last season. It will be a playoff appearance, sure. There's plenty of talent there to make this team get into the playoffs, but I'm not sure the mental toughness is there for a deep run.

5 . St Louis Blues (94 Points)
There's still quite a bit of talent on this team that Mike Yeo has to work with as head coach. One of the notable moves that the Blues made was sending Jori Lehtera and draft picks to the Flyers for Brayden Schenn. St Louis also added a little bit of depth by adding Chris Thorburn at the start of free agency. Vladimir Tarasenko still leads the offensive charge, along with Alexander Steen, and Paul Stastny leading the charge. Alex Pietrangelo, Carl Gunnarsson, and Carl Gunnarsson are going to be counted on big time on the blue line in front of Jake Allen. What has me worried is the injury bug that's already striking the Blues. Patrik Berglund and Jay Bouwmeester are already slated to miss time. Don't get me wrong, this is a very good Blues hockey club. I just don't know if they have enough talent to really be able to hang with the heavy hitters in the Western Conference. Its good enough to be a contending team for a playoff spot, but they will come up just short this year. But knowing Mike Yeo, and his past track record, he should have no problem getting the best out of his players and have them playing above expectations.

6. Winnipeg Jets (92 Points)
This is a very good, young Jets team that could be on the rise real soon in a tough Western Conference. Winnipeg did a good job solidifying its goaltending by bringing Steve Mason in as a backup to Connor Hellebuyck. The guys in the nets are going to be a big question to keep the Jets in the postseason. In front of the goalies, Dmitry Kulikov was added to help out guys like Dustin Byfuglien, Tyler Meyers and Jacob Truba. There's plenty of talent up front for Winnipeg, lead by Mark Scheifele, Nikolaj Ehlers, Blake Wheeler and some guy named Patrik Laine, who's kinda good. This team had five guys score over twenty goals a season ago, so its clear the offensive talent is evident in this team. Only thing stopping it is the back end and how it can hold up in a tough conference.

7. Colorado Avalanche (70 Points)
This is still a young team in a rebuild mode. They have plenty of young talent in the form of Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, and Matt Duchene. They've got talent around them up front in Colin Wilson and Nail Yakupov. On the back end Tyson Barrie and Erik Johnson lead the budding last line of defense. On paper, the goaltending tandom of newly aquired Jonathan Bernier and veteran Semyon Varlamov are going to be alrighty. Varly has looked shaky the past season or two, so maybe having Bernier in as a backup could help get him back on track where he belongs. But lets face facts, Colorado was the worst team in the NHL last season, even with all that talent. They didn't do much of anything in the offseason to improve this hockey club. So what has to happen is this team needs to improve from within if they really want to try and make a jump back into relevance in the Western Conference.

Pacific Division:
1. Anaheim Duclks (104 Points)*
For the past five seasons now, the Ducks have held the Pacific Division crown as their own, something they do again this season, but by the skin of their teeth. The mark of a good team is being able to overcome, and Anaheim will have to do that at the start of the year. Injuries to Ryan Kesler, Sami Vatanen and Hampus Lindholm could slow them down early, but they will be a contender in the end. And why not, the Ducks have a very good hockey club. Lets start from the back end out, they brought in Reto Berra and Ryan Miller to help out with john Gibson and sure up the goaltending. The only thing that remotly has me worried about Anaheim staying on top is their age. All of their big stars, Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, Antoine Vermette ,Andrew Cogliano, Francois Beauchemin, they're all in their mid 30's, which is why they will hang on by the skin of their teeth to the division crown. They have good young talent in Cam Fowler on the bqack end, but for my liking at least, there isn't enough youth up front yet that can replace that aging superstar talent. Still, with that being said, Anaheim is a very good hockey club and they will once again, for one more year at least, rule the Pacific Division.

2. Edmonton Oilers (103 Points)*
A season ago was the real coming out party for this young, rebuilt Oilers team. Conor McDavid took over the league, winning the Hart Trophy and becoming the only 100 point scorer in the league last season.  There was a change in a couple of pieces for the Oilers this year, Jordan Eberle was sent to the Islanders in exchange for a good young talent in Ryan Strome. Andrew Ference called it a career and retired. But they also locked up a lot of their young, core talent, to long term contracts. McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Kris Russell, Zack Kassian all were given nice extensions to keep the core group of this team together. Cam Talbot has settled in as the number one man in Edmonton and has a lot of talent playing in front of him. Draisaitl and Adam Larsson lead the defensive charge for Edmonton, and McDavic has plenty of help on the offensive side of things. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Zack Kassian, Milan Lucic. There's a lot of talent on this hockey club and they have what it takes to possibly take that next step, which would be huge for this young team. But the big question is, once they make the playoffs, can they make it past the 2nd round?

3. Calgary Flames (100 Points)*
This could be a very good year for the battle of Alberta in 2018. Calgary has a shot at really pushing the Oilers to the limit this season. they did some rebuilding, losing Deryk Engelland, Lance Bouma, Brian Elliott all gone vqia free agency. There are a few new pieces that have been brought on board though. They traded for Travis Hamonic from the Islanders, got Eddie Lack from Carolina which are both nice additions to really bolster this hockey team. Oh and they added some guy named Mike Smith in net, and when he's on his game, he's kinda good. He did win 38 games for the Coyotes, but that was five years ago. Still, Smith has plenty left in the tank. This Calgary team has a solid defense, led by Mark Giordano and Dougie Hamilton, and it's among the league’s best. Calgary has plenty of hot young offensive talent to go along with that solid blueline. Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau, Sam Bennett, Mikael Backlund, and Michael Frolik leading the young group, will help take the Flames to the next level. General Manager Brad Treliving has done a great job over the last three years building this team up to making them serious contenders in the Western Conference.

4. Los Angeles Kings (95 Points)(WC)
Los Angeles is coming off missing the playoffs a season ago by eight points. This year will be a bit of a bounce back year for the Black and Silver. Yes, Los Angeles is one of the older teams in the league, but they still have enough talent in the tank to get it done and get into the playoffs. One of the biggest reasons why they are always a threat to make the playoffs is their goalie, Jonathan Quick. Quick got hurt on opening night and missed most of the year, this coming a season after winning 40 games. Expect him to have a bounce back year this year in the Kings nets. Michael Cammalleri was brought back to fill up the opposing nets, helping add to an already veteran laiden lineup that also features Dustin Brown, Jeff Carter, Anze Kopitar and Marian Gaborik. They have a small young core on this team that features Tyler Toffoli, Jake Muzzin, Tanner Pearson, and Drew Doughty. This team has a ton of experience and will be a tough team to beat. They are going to be a good team to go up against but with how loaded the rest of the West is, the best that this Kings team is going to be able to do is a Wild Card spot. Its been a weird feeling for the Kings, having missed the playoffs two of the last three years. This year they get right back into it.

5. Arizona Coyotes (94 Points)
This is a team that could be really good in the future. They did lose Radim Vrbata, Chad Johnson and Peter Holland. However, the Coyotes managed to pull off some pretty swift deals over the summer to improve their team. They snagged Niklas Hjalmarsson from the Hawks as well as Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta from the Rangers. This to go along with some of the outstanding young talent that's on this team. Dylan Strome and Clayton Keller are nice additions in their rookie seasons, and they will vastly help improve a team loaded with talent like Anthony Duclair, Max Domi, Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Louis Domingue patroling the crease. It will be a little different watching the Coyotes play without Shane Doan in the lineup, as he has retired since the end of last year. He was the last connection to the old Winnipeg Jets. Because of the youth movement in the Desert, it could be a little while before they are a serious threat in the West. With the way things are looking right now, Arizona could be a solid team within the next couple of seasons.

6. San Jose Sharks (89 Points)
This is going to be a drastic drop off for a team that went all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals two years ago and finished 3rd in the division last season. Patrick Marleau, the teams all time leader in most major offensive catagories, is gone, having signed with the Leafs over the summer. Otherwise the Sharks were kind of quiet in the open market this summer. They did lock up some young talent, signing Martin Jones and Marc-Edouard Vlasic to long term contracts. San Jose has some good young talent with guys like Mikkel Boedker, Logan Couture, Joonas Donskoi and Tomas Hertl. At the same time the older core of players like BRent Burns, Joe Thornton Paul Martin and Joe Pavelski aren't getting any younger. I think the prime years out in San Jose, at least for the time being, may have past them bye.

7. Vancouver Canucks (79 Points)
This team has some pieces to work with in the coming years. Erik Gudbranson and Christopher Tanev lead a relatively young blueline. The elder statesman on that defense is Alexander Edler, who's only 31. They have to defense a young goalie tandom, now that Ryan Miller is out in Anaheim. Jacob Markstrom and Anders Nilsson to handle the load in the nets on Canada's West Coast. They do have some young talent up front in the likes of Bo Horvat, Sam Ganger and Brandon Sutter. But some of their better talents are starting to get a little long in the tooth. Loui Eriksson, Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin, and Thomas Vanek are all in their 30's. There is a solid mix of talent in the Canucks lineup, but I'm not sure its really going to work out very well.

8. Vegas Golden Knights (67 Points)
It's been a long time since we've seen expansion in the NHL. There will be some growing pains with this Vegas, as there is with any expansion team. But the first year will be a solid test run to see how well the city of Las Vegas can work with hockey. As far as the on ice product, there's a decent mix of veteran and young guns. Marc-Andre Fleury, Jason Garrison, James Neal, and Deryk Engelland lead the veteran group, at least out of the ones who are healthy enough to play. Then, there's the young talent in Cody Eakin, Erik Haula, Jonathan Marchessault, Reilly Smith, there's a lot going on in Vegas. The team was built from he ground up and its going to be tough for other teams to scout, which will make things interesting for this season. If nothing else, the Golden Knights should be fun to watch.

Eastern Conference:
Atlantic Division
1. Tampa Bay Lightning (100 Points)*
It was a disappointing year for the boys from Tampa last year. They missed the playoffs for the first time since 2013. Injury took a toll on the team including team captain Steven Stamkos playing only 17 games. But there were some bright spots for the Bolts. Victopr Hedman had a big year, as did Nikita Kucherov and Andrei Vasilevskiy. Now Vasilesvskiy is the top man in the Tampa nets this year, and he's good enough to be able to take it and run with it. To bolster the lineup they added some big names with Dan Girardi and Chris Kunitz. They still very good, with talent like Ondrej Palat Tyler Johnson, Stamkos, JT Brown. They've got a nice mix of veteran and young talent. They can roll four lines and have a very balanced attack. That was a beautiful move by General Manager Steve Yzerman. he could have sold off a lot of talent and try to rebuild the team. Instead he kept the team together and added a little more grit to the lineup. Tampa is going to be another big threat in the East this season.

2. Montreal Canadiens (98 Points)*
After a fantastic year and winning the division a season ago, Montreal was quickly dispatched in the playoffs. They are looking to try and make a little noise again this year. They still have one of the very best in the game in Carey Price, who will still be at the top of his game again this season. He has Al Montoya still tending with him, but Price will get the bulk of the workload once again. Alexander Radulov and Andrei Markov are both gone, being replaced with Jonathan Drouin and Karl Alzner. They have Shea Weber, a returning Mark Streit, David Schlemko among others to take control of the blueline. They are solid but could be a weak spot. Scoring won't be much of a problem in Montreal. Max Pacioretty, Brendan Gallagher, Paul Byron, Andrew Shaw and Alex Galchenyuk lead a young attack. They have a good mix and could make some noise in this division. They could take a step back this year with the resurgence of Tampa and the charging of Toronto, but the Habs should still be in very good shape this year.

3. Toronto Maple Leafs (97 Points)*
This team is going to be good, very good. And for a long time at that. Expect a big year from Auston Matthews, who some are expecting a slump in his sophomore year, but I can't see that happening. He's going to almost do with the Leafs what McDavid has done in Edmonton, that's how good this kid can be. He's got a good mix of talent up front with him. Matthews has fellow young guns William Nylander, Mitchell Marner, and Mitchell Marner to go along with veteran talent like James van Riemsdyk, Nazem Kadri, Tyler Bozak and newly signed Patrick Marleau. Signing a guy like Marleau uis a tad bit of a head scratcher only because of his age.He's 38 years old so who knows how productive he's going to be. Maybe this is the year he's trying to prove he still got something left in the tank and wanted to play on a competative team. He found one in this young Leafs team.

4. Ottawa Senators (95 Points)(WC)
Ottawa seems to be in a real good place right about now. Most of the core of this team is back in tact from a season ago, a year in which Ottawa not only finished 2nd in the division but made it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals, falling just one win short against the Penguins. The only real major change was adding more toughness to the team by bringing in Nate Thompson from the Ducks, otherwise the core group is still in tact. Captain Erik Karlsson is going to miss a little time at the start of the year with injury, coming off offseason surgery. He should be good to go by about Halloween. The big thing that could be a distraction for him. He also is due for a new contract at the end of the season so that could be a possible distraction. Craig Anderson is expected to have another solid year in net, and the hero against the Rangers in last years playoffs, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, will be counted on to provide more heroics as the season wears on. The reason I feel the Sens are going to take a step back this year is because they didn't really do anything to try and improve on the success of a season ago, which may end up hurting them. They get into the playoffs again, but they won't go very far.

5. Boston Bruins (94 Points)
Boston coming off a year last year in which they made the playoffs and are hoping to try and build off of it. The one thing that I give credit to GM Don Sweeny for is staying the course. Boston didn't really lose anybody to free agency, they also didn't really sign anybody either, sticking with the roster pretty much as it is. Anton Khudobin and Tuukka Rask are going to have good years in net again for Boston. Zedeno Chara has hit 40 and who knows how much he really has left in the tank to really be able to contribute. He has a good young defense partner to work with in 19 year old Charlie McAvoy, who's expected for great things in Boston. There's others on this blueline who can contribute, guys like Adam McQuaid and, when he gets healthy, Torey Krug. They have plenty of firepower to work with in Boston in Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, David Pastrnak, and Brad Marchand. Boston has plenty of scoring punch to help get the job done. They bot back Pastrnak on a nice extension, but that's about all Boston really did. Based on how good the rest of the division is, the Bruins are goona fall short of reaching the post season.

6. Buffalo Sabres (90 Points)
There will be vast improvements made in Western New York this season, as the Sabres are going to be on their way up from what happened last year. No team shook things up more in the offseason than the Sabres, who replaced general manager Tim Murray with two-time Stanley Cup winner Jason Botterill, and head coach Dan Bylsma with former Nashville Predators assistant and former Sabre Phil Housley. But that was just the beginning. They locked up Jack Eichel to a long term contract right before the start of the season. They traded Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno for Marco Scandella and Jason Pominville. They lost Anders Nilsson to Vancouver, but brought back Chad Johnson, who will split time in the nets with Robin Lehner. They also added a little depth by bringing in Benoit Pouliot. There's plenty of talent surrounding Eichel on this team. Matt Moulson and Kyle Okposo will be expected to provide plenty of veteran leadership for young talent like Ryan O'Reilly, Sam Reinhart, and Zemgus Girgensons just to name a few. This Buffalo team could be good down the road, but this year it won't click to be a playoff team.

7. Florida Panthers (85 Points)
As much as I hate to say this, the Panthers have taken a major step backwards this offseason. Roberto Luongo and James Reimer are going to be solid in those nets down in Sunrise. They've got some young talent to work with in the form of Vincent Trocheck, Jonathan Huberdeau, Alex Barkov, Aaron Ekblad. A season of messy moves set the Panthers back big time, but with Dale Tallon again in charge, the ship seems to be turned around. Rough seas could still be ahead, however, especially if the health of star D-man Aaron Ekblad comes into question. They lost a lot of talent from last year due to the expansion draft and some bad dealings by upper management. Hope things do turn around in the Sunshine State.

8. Detroit Red Wings (84 Points)
After making a long run at the post season for the long stretch they did, it looks like the era of missing the playoffs may have begun. Detroit is opening a new building in Little Caesars Arena. Goaltending with Jimmy Howard and Petr Mrazek will be solid once again. Mike Green brings a steady presence to the blue line to go along with guys like Danny DeKeyser and Jonathan Ericsson. Dylan Larkin, Anthony Mantha, and Riley Sheahan lead a young forward group that still has a nice mix of veterans like Henrik Zetterberg, Frans Nielsen and Tomas Tatar. There is a bit of a notable difference in the Motor City. There was a time when unrestricted free agents wanted nothing more than to be part of one of the NHL's most storied franchises. Those days are over. Even the most ardent Red Wings fans seem to understand that Detroit is no longer one of players' top destinations.

Metropolitan Division
1. Pittsburgh Penguins (108 Points)*
There's a reason why this club has managed to win back to back Stanley Cups. There hasn't been a team to be able to win three cups in a row since the Islanders of the early 80s. But its going to be an interesting year in the Steel City. They've lost Marc-Andre Fleury, Trevor Daly, Mark Streit, Ron Hainsey, Matt Cullen, Nick Bonino and Chris Kunitz all to free agency (Fleury was taken in the expansion draft). Antti Niemi was brought in to bacakup Matt Murray, who has the starting job all to himself. There still plenty of talent on this hockey club. On the blueline you got Olli Matta, Kris Letang (if he can stay healthy), and Justin Schultz leading the pack. Up front, you got Jake Guentzel, Bryan Rust, and Conor Sheary lead a young group that can still mesh well with veterans like Phil Kessel, Evgeni Malkin and of course, the best player in the world, Sidney Crosby. They still very talented and are going to be the top team in the division once again.

2. Columbus Blue Jackets (105 Points)*
Something special happened a year ago in Columbus. Running off 16 straight wins last season helped them gain something they really needed. They became believers in themselves and coach John Tortorella. Those good vibes were doused in a five-game loss to the eventual Stanley Cup champions, but if certain players can build off breakout seasons, the Jackets will be back challenging the Pittsburgh Penguins for the top seed in the East. They got better by adding a guy like Artemi Panarin from Chicago. They have the best goalie in the league in Sergei Bobrovsky. Defend that crease would be talent like Seth Jones, and Zach Werenski. Boone Jenner (when he gets healthy) will help lead the offensive charge along with the Bread Man, Cam Atkinson, Nick Foligno, Brandon Dubinsky, and others. This Blue Jackets team is yong and hungary and they have a good balance of youth and skill and they can make a lot of noise in the East this year. But what I really want to know is can this young group get it done not only in the regular season, but when it really matters most in the playoffs.

3. Washington Capitals (100 Points)*
For the past two seasons, the Washington Capitals have finished as the President's Trophy winners with the best record in the league. This past summer, Washington has taken quite a hit. They lost Kevin Shattenkirk, Karl Alzner and Justin Williams to free agency. Then Marcus Johansson gets traded to the Devils to clear up cap space in Washington, almost out of necessity because of the contract extension signings for Andre Burakovsky, T.J. Oshie, and Evgeny Kuznetsov. They wanted to lock up the core for a while now to go along with Alex Ovechkin. They have the goaltending with Braden Holtby holding the fort down. The blueline, which is lead by Matt Niskanen, Dmitry Orlov, and Brooks Orpik, are going with a bunch of unprovens behind them. It leaves something to be desired. Ovechkin, Backstrom and Oshie can lead the scoring charge, along with Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky. The one thing that sticks out though, is that the depth doesn't seem like its really there in Washngton like it had been in years past. Washington is a playoff team no doubt, but they seem like they're going to take a step backwards.

4. Carolina Hurricanes (95 Points)(WC)
Talk about the surprise in the division, you got it in the Carolina Hurricanes. First, they pick up Scott Darling at the draft from Chicago, then lock him into a nice contract. By having Darling play in the nets with Cam Ward, it makes Carolina solidified in net, something they have really needed. They got a solid blueline, which is lead by new captain Justin Faulk, who is a good all around defender. Joining Faulk on the blueline will be Noah Hanifin, Jaccob Slavin and Trevor van Riemsdyk. Its a young blueline core that could take a little time to mature, but they maybe to gel and make something happen. Carolina has something going on offense as well. With Jordan Staal leading the charge, he joined by a returning Justin Williams, Sebastian Aho, Jeff Skinner, Elias Lindholm, and Marcus Kruger. This team has enough talent to surprise a few people and sneak into the playoffs.

5. New York Rangers (94 Points)
Over the last eleven or so seasons, the New York Rangers have been a model of consistency. They have only missed the playoffs once since the 2005-06 season. This maybe a step back for the Blueshirts this year. They traded Stepan and Raanta to Arizona, and they lost Dan Girardi to free agency. They bring in Kevin Shattenkirk, Ondrej Pavelec, and David Desharnais to try and help improve this team. There's plenty of talent on this Rangers hockey club. It starts in net with Henrik Lundqvist. Joining Shattenkirk on the blue line are Captain Ryan McDonagh, Marc Staal, and Brady Skjei. They can get plenty of scoring from Mats Zuccarello and Chris Kreider. Rick Nash could still be effective, as can young guns Jimmy Vesey and Pavel Buchnevich. There's plenty of scoring talent that on this hockey club, there's no doubt about it. The onlyt thing is, I just don't know how well the defense and goaltending are going to hold up. Hank is getting older and his numbers have gotten a little inflated the last couple of seasons. If they want any shot at making the playoffs this year, Hank needs to be great.

6. New York Islanders (92 Points)
The Islanders just missed out on the post season last year, coming ever so close to making it back into springtime hockey. Now they are going to look to get back there. They made a splash this summer, trading Travis Hamonic to the Calgary Flames for draft picks, then sent Ryan Strome to the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for Jordan Eberle. That was really about it. Don't get me wrong, there's still plenty of talent on this team. Thomas Greiss and Jaroslav Halak are holding it down in net. Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuck are asked to lead a defense that is very young, with guys like Calvin de Haan, Scott Mayfield, Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock. John Tavares, Josh Bailey, Anders Lee and Brock Nelson are getting plenty of support from young guys like Josh Ho-Sang, Anthony Beauvillier, and Mathew Barzal. There's just a lot of question marks on this team, and I really don't think there's enough talent here to get them into the playoffs. Oh, and this is a contract year for John Tavares. If they don't do something to try and really improve this team and get more talent around him, I wouldn't be surprised if he walks at the end of the year.

7. Philadelphia Flyers (89 Points)
There have been a few changes made to this Flyers team over the summer. They traded away Brayden Schenn to the Blues for Jori Lehtera. They drafted Nolan Patrick 2nd overall and brought in Brian Elliott to split time with Michal Neuvirth. Philly has a good mix of talent on this team. Shayne Gostisbehere, Ivan Provorov, and Nolan Patrick to go along with veterans like Valtteri Filppula, Claude Giroux, Wayne Sommonds, Jakub Voracek and Dale Weise. It has a good mix in Philly to be good for a long time, but just not this year. The Flyers simply don't have enough reliable forwards, defensemen and goaltenders to make a serious run this season, but they are certainly headed in the right direction.

8. New Jersey Devils (88 Points)
General Manager Ray Shero has a tough task at hand in New Jersey. After finishing with the worst record in the East a season ago, the Devils have nowhere to go but up. How high they can go and how long it will take them could depend on a gifted 18-year-old Swiss forward who fortuitously fell into their laps. By winning the draft lottery and taking Nico Hischier with the first pick in June, the Devils took their first step toward respectability. I just kind of feel bad for goalie Cory Schneider, because he really has played his best hcokey in Jersey, but they haven't really been able to do much for him. They do have a bright future in Jersey with this team, but it hasn't quite fully arrived just yet!

(All predictions made before the start of the season)

Friday, October 6, 2017

2017 NLDS Preview

Here we stand with four teams remaining in the National League, all with the same goal in ind, win the pennant and play for a World Championship. This year, the defending World Champions the Chicago Cubs, begin their quest to defend their crown. Standing in their way are the Arizona Diamondbacks, Los Angeles Dodgers and Washington Nationals, all with something on the line and something to try and prove. Each team has their own ghosts of the past to deal with. Chicago wants to defend their crown. Los Angeles is looking for their first title since 1988. Washington is looking to just win a playoff series. Arizona is looking to do something they haven't done since 2001, win a world championship. So lets get right down to it. Here's what the divsional round looks like in the National League.

First up, we have the National League West winning Los Angeles Dodgers taking on the National League Wild Card winning Arizona Diamondbacks. For the Dodgers, this marks the 5th year in a row that they've won the National League West, going with a 104-58 record, the best one in all of baseball. Over the last four years, the Dodgers have gone 2-2 in the divisional round. Los Angeles is looking to reach the World Series for the first time since 1988. They are 72-89 lifetime in post season play. As for the Diamondbacks, this marks their 6th ever trip to the playoffs. They finished 2nd in the National League West with a 93-69 record, and dispatched the Colorado Rockies in the Wild Card game. In there five previous playoff appearances, Arizona has won the divisional round only twice, once riding it all the way to the World Series. Arizona is 171-19 lifetime in the post season. This marks the first ever meeting between the two teams during the playoffs. Of the 19 meetings between the two teams, Arizona went 11-8 against the Dodgers during regular season play.

Here are the dates and times for every game in this series:
October 6 Arizona Diamondbacks @ Los Angeles Dodgers Dodger Stadium 10:30 PM
October 7 Arizona Diamondbacks @ Los Angeles Dodgers Dodger Stadium 9:00 PM
October 9 Los Angeles Dodgers @ Arizona Diamondbacks Chase Field -
October 10† Los Angeles Dodgers @ Arizona Diamondbacks Chase Field -
October 12† Arizona Diamondbacks @ Los Angeles Dodgers Dodger Stadium -

This looks like it could be a very good year for the Dodgers, who now have a stacked pitching rotation. Clayton Kershaw will start the opener then you go to Rich Hill and Yu Darvish, which is something that the Dodgers haven't seen since the late 80s. You also have Alex Wood and Kenta Maeda available as well, which will make the Dodgers dangerous.  Powering the offense this year was Cody Bellinger who hit 39 homers and drove in 97 runs, the only Dodger to actually drive in more then 80 runs on the season. He wasn't the only one to make contributions to this team. Cory Seger, Yasiel Puig, Justin Turner and Cory Taylor all had solid years for the Dodgers at the dish. They had some good numbers and were able to do this without Adrian Gonzalez in the lineup for most of the year. One of the biggest questions the Dodgers will have this year is how well will Clayton Kershaw do, as it has been well documented how he has struggled in the post season.

They go up against an Arizona team that is no pushover. They have one of the best hitters in all of the National League in Paul Goldschmidt. Driving in 120 runs has become something that's been expected from Goldy for a long time now and he can show he can deliver. He's not alone in this whole run scoring and run generating department. Jake Lamb also drove in 105 runs, followed by 65 from JD Martinez, who proved to be a huge acquisition for the Diamondbacks. Arizona will have Taijuan Walker, Robbie Ray and Zach Grenkie going into this series, which makes for a pretty good starting staff. But its the bullpen that leaves you to wonder. Fernando Rodney is a solid closer, but at times has a tendancy to be a flaky pitcher. Arizona has been solid this year, which will make this an interesting series.

Because the Dodgers have slumped as badly as they did in the latter half of the season, a lot of people are worried about them. I think they will be fine. Only reason I say that is because the Diamondbacks I don't see being able to stand with the Dodgers over the length of a five game series. Arizona will put up one hell of a fight, no doubt about that. I just have this gut feeling that the depth and experience of the Dodgers is going to win the day and move the Dodgers on to the NLCS.

Pick: Dodgers in 5!

Next up, its the National League East winning Washington Nationals taking on the National League Central winning Chicago Cubs. Chicago comes in as the defending World Champions. This marks the 3rd straight playoff appearance for the Cubs and the 2nd year in a row they've won the Central. Chicago now has seven division titles since divisional play began back in 1969. Chicago has now won in the divisional round two straight years, looking to now go three in a row. Chicago is 43-66 all time in the playoffs. As for the Nationals, they've now won the National League East for the 3rd year in a row and 5th time in the last seven years, doing so with a 97-65 record. Washington is looking to do something they've never done in Washington, and that's win a playoff series. The only one they have was in 1981 when they were still the Montreal Expos. This will mark the first ever meeting between the two clubs in the playoffs. During the regular season, Washington won four of the seven meetings between the two teams.

Here are the dates and times for every game in this series:
October 6 Chicago Cubs @ Washington Nationals Nationals Park 7:30 PM
October 7 Chicago Cubs @ Washington Nationals Nationals Park 5:30 PM
October 9 Washington Nationals @ Chicago Cubs Wrigley Field -
October 10† Washington Nationals @ Chicago Cubs Wrigley Field -
October 12† Chicago Cubs @ Washington Nationals Nationals Park -

Now the champs start the defense of their title. They are once again led by Anthony Rizzo, who drove in 109 this year, the only Cubs hitter to drive in more then 80 runs. Javier Biaz, Kris Bryant, Wilson Contreras all contributed to the Cubs offense. This was a team that dominated in the 2nd half of the year, winning more games after the all star break and driving in more runs then any team in the 2nd half of the year. Oh and Chicago has a pretty good starting staff too. Kyle Hendricks, Jon Lester, and José Quintana are expected to be on the hill in this series. Chicago can hurl with the best of them, so look for the Chicago pitching staff to keep them in a lot of games, so their offense can do their thing.

Now they're going up against a Washington team that has had trouble getting it done in the playoffs. They've yet to win a series since moving to Washington, including blowing a 2-1 lead in the series last year against the Dodgers. Max Scherzer has been the best pitcher in Washington all season, but because of a slight injury near the end of the season might halt the start of his playoffs. Still the Nationals have Gio González and Stephen Strasburg on the hill, which is a pretty formidable staff to deal with in the playoffs. Washington has no problem swinging a bat either. Ryan Zimmerman drove in 108 runs, while Anthony Rendon drove in 100. Daniel Murphy and Bryce Harper both drove in over 80 runs, so the Nats do rely on their top talent plenty this year, and they've been able to carry the load without a problem.

The biggest thing that is going to stick with me is the Nationals inability to get it done in the playoffs. Chicago has been there, done it and they know what works for them. Chicago is too good and Washington is too top heavy. Chicago has the horses to get it done, despite being out pitched by the starters. Chicago is deeper and more well balanced then Washington and they've been hotter in the 2nd half of the year.

Pick: Cubs in 4!

(All predictions made BEFORE start of series)

Thursday, October 5, 2017

2017 ALDS Preview

Now the fun really begins. The dust has settled on the regular season and wild card games and we get into divisional round play. Its the American League Divisional Round and we have four teams left standing. After a year of setting such high benchmarks, the Cleveland Indians start their mission in defense of the American League Pennant. They've got some pretty tough competition this year, in the form of not only the New York Yankees, but Houston Astros and Boston Red Sox as well. All four teams are now fighting for the right to represent the American League in the biggest stage in all of baseball. The march begins today. Lets not waste any more time and get right down to business. Here's a preview of the ALDS!

First up, we have the American League Central winners the Cleveland Indians playing host to the Wild Card Winning New York Yankees. The Yankees come into this series after finishing 2nd in the American League East with a 91-71 record, and having beat the Minnesota Twins in the Wild Card Game. This marks the first appearance for the Yankees in the Divisional Round since 2012.  As a matter of fact, since 1995 the Yankees have failed to make it to the divisional round only five times. New York is 223-155 lifetime in the playoffs and are starting the drive for their 28th World Championship. As for the Cleveland Indians, they are the defending American League Champions. They got to the playoffs this year by winning the American League Central for the 2nd year in a row, finishing this season with a 102-60 record. This marks the 13th playoff appearance in Indians history and just the 8th appearance in the ALDS. Cleveland is 10-10 lifetime in the playoffs. this marks just the 4th meeting all time in the playoffs between the two teams, with Cleveland winning two of the last three meetings. During the regular season, Cleveland won five of the seven meetings.

Here are the dates and times for every game in this series:
October 5 New York Yankees @ Cleveland Indians Progressive Field 7:30 PM
October 6 New York Yankees @ Cleveland Indians Progressive Field 5:00 PM
October 8 Cleveland Indians @ New York Yankees Yankee Stadium 7:30 PM
October 9† Cleveland Indians @ New York Yankees Yankee Stadium -
October 11† New York Yankees @ Cleveland Indians Progressive Field -

There's a lot riding on the Indians shoulders going into this series. They are coming off a year in which they won 102 games, only the 3rd time in the history of the franchise they've won over 100 games in a year. The last two times resulted in World Series trips, a 1954 loss to the Giants and a 1995 loss to the Braves. This could be the year the Tribe make the turn. And it starts with this series against the Yankees. this year, Cleveland scored 254 more runs then they allowed, which should go to prove that winning 102 games was no fluke. when it comes to pitching, the Indians are loaded at the top, being led by Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco, who are arguably the AL's two best starters in the second half. If dealing with them two wasn't bad enough, you also have to worry about Trevor Bauer, who's no slouch in his own right. Lets not forget about the Tribe's offense, which has some pretty good boppers in their lineup. Jay Bruce had a solid season split between the Mets and the Tribe, managing to club 36 home runs and drive in 101 runs. Edwin Encarnacion lead the club with 38 homers and 104 RBI. Francisco Lindor, Jason Kipnis, Carlos Santana, they all have good numbers this year and all have the experience from being with this club last year and knowing what a deep playoff run is like. They want to get back to having another run this year.

Lets face facts, the opponents for the Tribe are no slouch in the New York Yankees. This is a club that blasted more home runs then any other team in baseball, led by the 52 from Aaron Judge. They also got major contribution from Gary Sanchez who belted 33 homers, the only other Bronx Bomber to hit more than 30. Shortstop Didi Gregorius also contributed, driving in 87 runs, the only other Yankee, along with Sanchez and Judge, to drive in more then 80 runs. This offense has some experience mixed in with this youth group. Brett Gardner has been here before with this team and knows what it takes to get the job done in the playoffs. So too does Jacoby Ellsbury and Todd Fraiser. have the same experiences. Plus they have a pretty good pitching staff to contend with. You have solid starters the first two games with Sony Grey and CC Sabathia, but there's nothing announced yet for game three of the series. What the Yankees do have going for them is one of the very best bullpens in all of baseball, which was put on full display Tuesday night against Minnesota. Once the Yankees get a lead in a game its almost lights out when they turn things over to the Pen.

Now here comes the interesting part of trying to pick. The Yankees have been dominant at the Stadium, but aren't nearly as good on the road. Cleveland had a near identical split, but they were a slightly better road team. Cleveland has the more balanced offensive attack and by far the better starting pitching. Its going to be an entertaining series, of this I have no doubt. I Just feel that right now, the Indians have the horses to get the job done in the big time.

Pick: Indians in 4!

The other matchup in the American League pits the American League West winning Houston Astros going up against the American League East winning Boston Red Sox. Boston has won the American League East for the 2nd year in a row and 3rd time in the last five years, finishing the regular season with a 93-69 record, the same exact record they had a season ago. this now marks the 23rd playoff appearance for the Sox, having won eight World Series. Boston is 90-80 all time in the playoffs. As for the Astros, they won the American League West with a 101-61 record, giving them their 8th total division title, 4th in the Western Division (all prior titles had been won in the National League). This marks the 11th playoff appearance for the Astros, a team who has won four total playoff series and lost in their lone World Series in 2005. Houston is 4-10 lifetime in the post season. This marks the first ever playoff meeting between the two clubs.  The two teams split the two meetings

Here are the dates and times for every game in this series:
October 5 Boston Red Sox @ Houston Astros Minute Maid Park 4:00 PM
October 6 Boston Red Sox @ Houston Astros Minute Maid Park 2:00 PM
October 8 Houston Astros @ Boston Red Sox Fenway Park 2:30 PM
October 9† Houston Astros @ Boston Red Sox Fenway Park
October 11† Boston Red Sox @ Houston Astros Minute Maid Park

This is going to be a bit of a change of pace for the Red Sox going into this series. Last year, nothing went right for Boston as they were swept right out of the playoffs by the Indians. This year, the Sox had to rely on speed and clutch hitting. Rookie Andrew Benintendi had himself a fine year, driving in 90 runs. Mookie Betts lead the way with 24 homers and 102 RBI. Both of those guys had over 20 steals on the year. The one thing though, that seems to be hanging around the Red Sox is they are missing that one big weapon. They had it last year in David Ortiz, but he's now retired. Starting pitching in Boston has more then held up its end of the bargin in the regular season. Drew Pomeranz, Rick Porcello and Chris Sale all hit double digits in wins and Sale looks to be a front runner for the Cy Young in the American League this season.

Going up against them is the best hitting team in the American League, led by Jose Altuve. He had a fantastic year, collecting 204 hits, 24 home runs and 81 RBI. Then you got Marwin González who lead the team in home runs and RBI. George Springer lead the team with 34 Homers. It was a very balanced attack in Houston, which is why they won over 100 games and finished with the 2nd best record in the American League. Then we have the Astros pitching staff. Manager A J Hinch may favor fly-ball heavy options like Collin McHugh and Brad Peacock for the latter games of the series over grounder-inducing choices Lance McCullers and Charlie Morton. And when you have a guy like Just Verlander at the top of the rotation for the playoffs and Dallas Keuchel right behind him. This Houston team is very balanced.

The Red Sox aren't equipped to win an offensive shootout with Houston. While the Astros bullpen comes with questions, they have the starters to ensure one never breaks out. The Justin Verlander-Dallas Keuchel duo is just as good as Sale-Pomeranz. If not better. Boston will make it a good series, but at the end of the day, the better team comes out on top.

Pick: Astros in 5!

(All Predictions made BEFORE start of Series)

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Best And Worst Of NFL Week Four


Well here we now sit a quarter of the way through the season in the National Football League. There's only one unbeaten team still left standing and that is the Kansas City Chiefs. The AFC East has been turned on its head with the Bills leading the charge at 3-1, while the Patriots sit in the middle of the pack at 2-2. The Jets won a second straight game, while the Titans, who had to battle injuries in this game, got blown out by Houston. It was just one of those weeks around the league where you kind of go, what just happened? Every year we get one or two of those weeks during the season. Well with that being said, here's some of the best and worst from week four in the NFL.

Best:
New York Jets Running Game
Its been an interesting first quarter of the season for the Jets, to say the least. They got beat the first two games, then come back to win the next two, including an overtime thriller against a very inconsistent Jacksonville team. The Jets did a little of everything on Sunday, driving Blake Bortles crazy, the quarterback play of Josh McCown went pretty well. But the biggest step forward of the day was the play of the running game, between Elijah McGuire and Bilal Powell. McGuire broke off a 69 yard run for a score and finished the day with 10 carries for 95 yards. Not to be outdone, Powell scored on a 75 yard run, untouched mind you, to get the Jets on the board, and he finished with 21 carries for 163 yards and that touchdown. Powell's 163 was the best numbers by any back in the league this week.  Here's hoping they do it again next week against Cleveland.

Worst:
Tennessee Titans
It happens in the NFL once in a while, every team has it. So you have a bad week. Sometimes a bad game can even get away from you on that rare occasion. But I don't think anybody expected it to be this bad of a week. Tennessee got blown out by Houston this week in a 57-14 drubbimg. It was a way of Houston showing that they are still the team to beat in the AFC South. now you have to give credit where its due, the Titans have done a little better to try and improve the football team. And it has shown flashes that they are on the rise. They got put back in there place in a rude way by Houston. And to try and make matters worse, Marcus Mariota suffer a hamstring injury that he’ll get an MRI on. If Mariota misses time, the Titans aren’t going to win much with Matt Cassel. It doesn't look good for the Titans.

Best:
Le'Veon Bell, Running Back Pittsburgh Steelers
There had been some question marks about the play of Le'Veon Bell, as his holdout from camp kept him from getting in game shape. It showed over his first couple of starts this season. This week, in the Steelers 26-9 win over the Ravens, Bell went off. He proved to the rest of the football world that he was back in game shape. He had 42 receiving yards on four catches and carried the ball 35 times for 144 yards and scored twice. Those 186 yards of total offense really carried the team, because Antonio Brow was held to 34 yards (and a sideline hissy fit) and Big Ben managed to throw for 216 yards. So it really had to be all on Bell and he showed that he had no problem picking up the slack and taking over the game, something he's done so well in the past.

Worst:
Danny Trevathan, Linebacker Chicago Bears
He's not a dirty player, and hasn't been over the course of his career. At least not to the same level as some of his other defensive peers. Trevathan had a nasty looking helmet-to-helmet hit on Davante Adams Thursday night, which is totally unacceptable and has no place in today’s NFL. It caused an injury to Adams and could cost him to miss some playing time possibly. Trevathan got a two game suspension at first from the NFL, but now it appears it has been knocked down to one. It was a bone headed play and its the type of play that the league is trying to corral and take out of the sport. Its been tough on defensive players to try to adjust to and Trevathan hadn't quite got the memo yet.

Best:
Cam Newton, Quarterback Carolina Panthers
Over the first few weeks of the season, Cam Newton didn't really look like himself. But he manged to find a way to pull it all together on Sunday, helping lead the Panthers to a surprise 33-30 win over the Patriots. He started out shaky, having one of his passes early on picked off by Malcolm Butler. newton finally found a handle on the ball and was able to help lead Carolina to victory. He finished the day going 22 of 29 for 316 yards, three touchdowns and a pick. Those yards totals were good enough for fourth best in the league this week by a quarterback. It was the first time this year that it really seemed that the former MVP had really gotten into a groove. I think he needed a game like this to get his game back, because it came at the expense of the weakest defense in the league. Now the question is, can he keep it going next week.

Worst:
Matt Ryan, Quarterback Atlanta Falcons
You almost kind of had a feeling the wheels were going to fall off for Atlanta at some point, but I think few were expecting it to happen against Buffalo. A lot of credit has to go to the Bills for playing as well as they did down in Hot Lanta. But some of the blame has to fall on Matt Ryan. He threw two interceptions and lost a fumble while going 24 of 42 for 242 yards. The three turnovers turned out to be quite costly. All of them occurred in the second half and they all turned into points for Buffalo. It was just a terrible performance by one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, who doesn’t usually have these types of games, especially at home. Hopefully he can rebound fast and get Atlanta back on track.

Best:
New Orleans Saints Defense

Its strange to really say that the Saints have had a defense that has looked good over the last couple of weeks. Well it has actually happened. First, look at what they did to Carolina last week. They just made the Panthers look uncomfortable and like he was never really set in what he wanted to do. Then this week, they do the same thing to Jay Cutler and pitch a shutout in a 20-0 win over the Dolphins in London. There's some talent on that Saints defense. Cameron Jordan is a fantastic end to watch play, with his speed and maneuverability. Cornerback Marshon Lattimore has been living up to the ability of being made a first round pick. Guys like linebacker A.J. Klein and cornerback Ken Crawley are playing hard and made plays Sunday. It’s hard to believe the Saints can keep this up all season, but they have to be thrilled to see some hope from a unit that has been a debacle for years.

Worst:
Los Angeles Chargers

I almost feel like the Chargers may be a tad cursed. Its bad enough that the Chargers are now 0-4, following their 26-24 loss to the Eagles at home on Sunday. That's not even the worse part. What's worse is how empty and outnumbered the Chargers are in their own stadium. See as things are set up right now, they are supposed to get a new stadium to share with the Rams, but that won't be ready until 2020. Right now, the Chargers are playing in a soccer stadium that holds 27,000, but the Chargers consider a crowd of 25,374 to be a sellout, because they appear to be using tarps to reduce the stadium’s seating. It sometimes happens when unsold seats need to get covered up. A team hasn't played in this small a stadium since the Packers moved into Lambeau Field in 1957. Oh and the Chargers say that the seats don't look empty. Don't know exactly what your watching but trust me they are. And yeah the crowd also sounded like mostly Eagles fans as well so don't give me that. The team sucks and the stadium isn't selling. The Chargers need help.