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NBA Playoffs

Tomorrow night marks the beginning of the NBA’s “second season”. The NBA playoffs begin the flow of casual basketball fans starting to watch and pay attention again, because as they justify it, “These games actually matter.” The stakes are raised, the contenders rise to the occasion, superstars are born and pretenders are sent packing. While the Heat, Thunder and Spurs are the obvious favorites for the title, there always seems to be a dark horse that emerges in the postseason. With the regular season over, the storylines are set for the first round. Here’s a break down of each match-up.

Eastern Conference
(1) Miami Heat vs (8) Milwaukee Bucks
We’ll start with the easiest match-up to predict this postseason. Here are some of the facts. The Bucks finished with a sub-.500 record at 38-44 in a depleted Eastern Conference including a 24-28 conference record. Miami just completed one of the most impressive regular seasons in the history of the league. They also have the best player in the world right now, possibly ever, in LeBron James. If the Bucks look like anything less than a deer in the headlights throughout this series, Jennings deserves a max deal and Jim Boylan deserves an extension. This scenario is about as likely as Gary Busey winning an Oscar for Best Actor (I know, I know, he was nominated in 1978). Prediction: Heat in 4.

(2) New York Knicks vs (7) Boston Celtics
Live by the three, die like a fly. That was the philosophy taught by my father to all the teams he coached back during his stint as a grade school head basketball coach. This series features a team that has based its entire season on living or dying from beyond the arc. Mike Woodson is an excellent coach, but Knicks fan should be fearful of a series in which 2 or more of their 3-point specialists get cold for any extent of this series. The Celtics defend and rebound the ball incredibly well and could cause fits for the Knicks, especially if Jeff Green can maintain a steady motor throughout the series. Look for the Celtics to push this series to at least 6 games. Prediction: Knicks in 7.

(3) Indiana Pacers vs (6) Atlanta Hawks
Frank Vogel needs the Paul George from 2 months ago back if the Pacers want any hope of making a deep playoff run. In fact, Vogel will need a consistent Paul George if they want to advance past the Hawks, who are deceptively very good. George is averaging only 12.8 per contest during the month of April and the whole team has certainly felt the lack of production. With the core of Josh Smith, Al Horford and Jeff Teague, the Hawks are certainly capable of pulling off the upset. George Hill’s health will also be crucial to the Pacer’s returning to mid-season form. The teams split the series during the regular season. Look for this one to be a dogfight. Prediction: Pacers in 6.

(4) Brooklyn Nets vs (5) Chicago Bulls
The Nets have quietly been a very strong team down the stretch. At he beginning of the season almost no one would have predicted that the Nets would be one of the better defensive squads in the league, ranking 6th in points per game allowed. Deron Williams has also come on strong recently and has morphed back into the Deron Williams we had seen in the past, a top tier point guard. With both Rose and potentially Noah out for the series, I don’t see anyway the Bulls compete with the Nets in this series especially when it comes to matching up against Williams and All-Star Center Brook Lopez. The Nets are my dark horse selection for the 2013 postseason. Prediction: Nets in 5.
Kevin-Durant

Western Conference
(1) Oklahoma City Thunder vs (8) Houston Rockets
This is the match-up most NBA fans wanted to see. With Kevin Martin and James Harden squaring off in this opening round, it appears as if the exes have both been invited to the same party, and it makes for a awkward yet great story. Aside from Harden, the Thunder are better at nearly every single position including a deeper bench. While the Rockets are certainly a talented team, they’re still a year or two away from being a legitimate strength in the West. They may have enough in the tank to steal one, possibly two from the Thunder, but don’t expect an upset here. This is Durant and Westbrook’s conference to lose. It won’t happen in this round. Prediction: Thunder in 5.

(2) San Antonio Spurs vs (7) Los Angeles Lakers
Believe it or not, of all the series in the first round this one has the most upset potential. For starters, the Spurs have been shaky down the stretch this season, including a loss to Los Angeles post Kobe Bryan injury. With Parker and Duncan’s limits being limited all season due to health concerns, and Ginobili potentially our for the whole series, the Spurs rotation is greatly depleted. Look for the Lakers to try to pound the ball inside like they did in their recent win over the Spurs on Sunday. Expect the Lakers to take try to take advantage of spots in the series when Duncan is off the floor and Poppovich is managing his minutes. This series will go to the brink but look for the Spurs to come out on top. Prediction: Spurs in 7.

(3) Denver Nuggets vs (6) Golden State Warriors
NBA statisticians could be reaching for the record books during this series, because this one will be a shootout. Both the Warriors and the Nuggets have two of the most high-powered offenses in the game (7 and 1 in scoring respectively). Both have very young and incredibly talented point guards in Ty Lawson for the Nuggets and Stephen Curry for the Warriors, who are both arguably their teams best players. Curry, though has been playing at an unbelievably high level in the last half of the season. It’s often said that the team with the best player wins the series, and if Curry maintains his high level of play through the first round, they could find themselves in the quarterfinals. Prediction: Warriors in 6.

(4) Los Angeles Clippers vs (5) Memphis Grizzlies
There’s a lot of bad blood between these two teams, especially with this being a repeat of these teams’ first round series last year. It’s been made very clear Blake Griffin and Zach Randolph don’t take to kindly to one another and their physicality towards one another will certainly rub off on their teammates. While the Clippers appear to have the edge in overall talent, the Grizzles superior post play of Marc Gasol and Randolph could give the Clippers fits. They may not be able to play small ball as much as they did in the regular season, at least during this series. The Clippers, still, are a much deeper team than the Grizzlies and are 3-1 in the season series between the two. They will rely heavily on DeAndre Jordan and Griffin and their athleticism to limit Gasol and Randolph. Look for the Grizzlies to make yet another early postseason exit. Prediction: Clippers in 6.

Award Predictions
Rookie of the Year: Damian Lillard, Trailblazers
Sixth Man of the Year: J.R. Smith, Knicks
Defensive Player of the Year: Marc Gasol, Grizzlies
Most Improved Player: Paul George, Pacers
Coach of the Year: Mike Woodson, Knicks
Most Valuable Player: LeBron James, Heat

Cardinals Recap

As the Cardinals are now two weeks into the young 2013 season, I figured I would write a recap and discuss some of the highs and lows at this point in the season. After twelve games, the Cardinals have an overall record of 7-5 (4-2 home). They have done a good job against division rivals, taking two out of three from both the Cincinnati Reds and the Milwaukee Brewers. They also took two of three from the defending champion San Francisco Giants, which had to feel good after the disappointing NLCS series last October. In the following article, I will list a couple pros and a couple cons of the season so far.
wainwright

PROS
1. Adam Wainwright-Cardinals fans should be ecstatic about the start that Wainwright has had to this point. Although he got knocked around by the D’Backs in the season opener, he has been nothing short of sensational since. In three starts he has a 2-1 record with a 2.05 ERA. In 22 innings of work, he has 24 strikeouts which should not come as a huge surprise, but impressive nonetheless. Perhaps the two most important statistics are innings pitched and walks. Through three starts, Wainwright has 22 IP, which confirms the question of whether or not he is still able to go deep into games. Perhaps more importantly is his walk total…or lack thereof. Through three starts he has not issued a single free pass. You know what they say…walks will kill you. Maybe that’s why Wainwright has let up so few runs so far. With the injuries and contract situation out of the way, look for Wainwright to have a big year.
2. Matt Carpenter- Another pleasant surprise has been the offensive production of Matt Carpenter. He has played in all twelve games so far, and already has fifteen base hits. Though he only has one home run, he is still being very productive. He has fifteen hits, six RBI, and four walks, which shows that he also has patience at the plate. More importantly, six of his fifteen hits have been doubles, which has helped him to score thirteen runs in twelve games. He leads position players with a .319 batting average, and his on-base percentage is slightly higher.

CONS
1. Competition Level- What I mean by this is how the Cardinals play against teams with different talent levels. For example, they played extremely well in the two games that they beat the division rival Reds. That being said, they also came out slow against the weaker Arizona Diamondbacks, losing two of three to begin the season. Now that may have been just because it was the beginning of the season, so we’ll see how things play out going forward.
2. Road Play-Through six games on the road, the Cards are a mediocre 3-3. They dropped two of three in Arizona, one of which was a 10-9 loss to a decent-at-best Diamondbacks team. They did take two of three from the Giants, but the game that they lost was one where they could not get a run across throughout the entire game, losing 1-0. A better road record would have been 5-1 or 4-2 at the very least. I have no doubt that they will start to pick it up, but if they want to be a dangerous team, they will have to be significantly above .500 on the road this season.

The next few weeks will be a real test for the Cardinals. Through their next 16 games, they have six against the Pirates, four in Philly, three in DC, and three back at Busch against the Reds.
Christian Biondi

Top 5 Shortstops

The following list consists of the top five shortstops currently in the Major Leagues in my opinion.

derek-jeter

  1. Derek Jeter- I hope this pick does not surprise anyone because Mr. Jeter has been nothing short of outstanding for the better part of the last two decades.  Since his first full season in ’96, Jeter’s season-low in games played is 119.  Only five times in seventeen seasons has he hit under .300; four of those times he hit in the .290’s.  A great contact hitter, Jeter keeps his strikeout total low, and is also a very talented base-stealer.  Jeter has recorded 200+ hits in a season eight out of his seventeen seasons, which is nothing short of phenomenal.  He is coming off of a serious ankle injury this season, so keep your eyes open to see whether or not he can be the same player he was a year ago.
  2.  Jose Reyes- Some may not realize how good Jose Reyes is because of his awful situation in Miami, but in reality, Reyes has been very solid for the past few years he has been in the league.  His first full season came in 2005 with the Mets, in which he hit .273.  Reyes, like Jeter, is a fantastic contact hitter who does not hit for much power.  On occasion he can put a ball out of the park, as he did nineteen times in 2006.  The only real problem I have with Reyes’ game is his fielding is sometimes very shaky.  There have been several seasons in which he has made fifteen or more errors.  Fielding aside, Reyes is one of the better base-stealers in the recent years.  In 2007, he totaled a whopping seventy-eight stolen bases!  He has gotten off to a slow start this year in Toronto, but look for Reyes to pick it up now that he is out of Miami.
  3. Troy Tulowitzki- Tulowitzki is personally one of my favorite shortstops in the league, due in large part to his passion for the game day in and day out.  When he broke into the league in 2007, he hit a stellar .291 while playing in 155 games.  The only downside to Tulo is his lack of consistency as an everyday player.  Only twice in six years has he played in over 150 games.  He is not a base-stealer like Reyes or Jeter, but he is still an above average baserunner.  Fielding-wise, Tulowitzki is a stud.  His career high in errors is eleven, and he has a career fielding percentage of .985.  He is off to a good start this season, as are his Rockies who have started the season 3-1.
  4. Hanley Ramirez- Coming in at number four is Hanley Ramirez.  In his early years, Ramirez was known as a big time young player as he broke out with the Florida Marlins.  His missed a little less than half the season in 2009, which led to his worst season in the pros.  He batted over .300 for four straight seasons, 2007-2010, and has a career average of .298.  When he got out of Miami halfway through last season, he admittedly struggled a little bit with his new Dodgers team.  He was also recently injured in the World Baseball Classic so he has not played in a game so far this season.  Ramirez commits a significant amount of errors each season, which is why he dropped toward the bottom of my list, but he is also a fantastic base-stealer like Jose Reyes.
  5. Starlin Castro- Starlin Castro rounds out my top five because I believe he is the best young shortstop, and maybe even player in the game today.  Though Castro hasn’t been playing that long, he has been an all-star two out of his first three years.  He has accumulated a .295 batting average over his first three seasons, and in 2011 he totaled 207 base hits.  He is not a known power hitter but he did put fourteen balls out of the park in 2012, a season in which he played every single game.  On the negative side, Castro is sometimes a very shaky fielder.  When he messes up once, there is a good chance he will get down on himself and mess up again in the near future.  Though still not great, he has progressed his fielding over the last season or two and I believe that with time and effort, he will become an MVP caliber player in the next three to five years.

Other notable shortstops include Jimmy Rollins of the Phillies, Alexei Ramirez of the White Sox, and Elvis Andrus of the Texas Rangers.

Christian Biondi

Top 5 Second Basemen

Top 5 Second Basemen

The following article will consist of the five best all-around second basemen in the Major Leagues in my opinion…

  1. Dustin Pedroia- What can I say about Dustin Pedroia? How about I start with this: he’s really, really good.  Even in his young career, Pedroia has clearly established himself as one of the faces of the MLB.  The pressure of playing in a big market city like Boston hasn’t slowed him one bit.  Pedroia consistently plays 140+ games each year, which doesn’t sound like much but it is something that a lot of guys don’t do.  Through six seasons he has a lifetime average of .303.  He is also often associated with the phrase “Laser Show,” which is nothing short of accurate.  A great majority of Pedroia’s hits are literally laser line drives that give infielders almost no chance of making a play.  On top of that, he is a solid base stealer and has never made more than seven errors in a season.
  2. Chase Utley- Over the past several years, Chase Utley has been the cornerstone of the Phillies franchise.  Through thick and thin, he has been there the whole time with just a few other players.  While he is not as good of a fielder as Pedroia, his batting statistics are closer to a Pedroia level.  Utley has given himself a .288 lifetime average over a nine year career, which includes almost twenty home runs per season.  Unfortunately, Utley’s consistency has slightly declined over the last two or three seasons due to injury, but I still believe he is one of the elite second basemen in the game today.
  3. Ian Kinsler- In the number three slot, I have chosen Ian Kinsler, who narrowly beat out Brandon Phillips and Howard Kendrick.  Kinsler has been a very strong player since he came into the league in 2006, at the age of twenty-four.  Kinsler consistently hits in the high .200’s every year, but gets on base in more than one third of his plate appearances.  He also averages around twenty home runs per season, and what doesn’t clear the fence often ends up as a double or even a triple.  He is also a very strong base-stealer, and can hold his own on the infield.
  4. Howie Kendrick- I believe that Howie Kendrick is one of the most underrated players in the whole MLB.  His contributions to the Angels are often overshadowed by the accomplishments of others such as Jered Weaver or Kendrys Morales.  Unfortunately, I think his stats will still be overlooked in the future because of new Angels such as Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton.  In his seven year career, Kendrick has hit almost .300, with about 125 hits per season.  Home runs are few and far between, but he does drive in a decent amount of runners for a contact hitter.  The only real problem I have with Kendrick is his amount of strikeouts per year, but that can be easily fixed.  Look for Kendrick to maintain his role as a solid, everyday player under a cloud of superstars.
  5. Brandon Phillips- Through his first eight full seasons in the pros, Phillips has been nothing short of solid.  Known for his flashy defensive plays, he has only had one season in which he committed more than ten errors in the field.  That being said, Phillips can also swing the stick a little bit, as well.  He is sporting a .273 lifetime average, with 1249 hits in just 1188 games in his career.  Only once in eight full seasons has he played in less than 140 games.  Phillips has been a key contributor to the Red’s success over the past couple of seasons, consistently beating down on my beloved Cubs.

Christian Biondi

Future betting tips on the top MLB teams

Future betting means gambling on sporting events several months in advance of them taking place, and is a very popular way of betting on major sporting events like the new season – as the early odds for the teams are released well in advance by the sports betting sites. Already the odds, and thus the favourites for both the American and National Leagues and the World Series have been made available – establishing teams like the Los Angeles Angels and the Washington Nationals amongst the favourites at this stage.

However a lot can change once the action gets underway, which is why the single most important tip for those considering MLB futures betting to consider, is that it is better to wait until further into the season before placing a bet. This is because, if one of the top teams performs as expected, their odds will not really change much, but if they don’t, you will avoid losing money betting on a pre-season favourite that doesn’t live up to expectations. After all, there are many factors – including injuries to key players –that can cause this to happen. This is why another major tip to remember is that you need to research form and injury records for key players before making a futures bet on the MLB.

It is not as if there aren’t other ways of mixing betting and a love of the MLB, while you are waiting – as a game like the baseball slot Hot Shot offers great entertainment and betting. Hot Shot, which is available at online casino sites like LuckyNugget  is a nine pay line, five reel, non-progressive slot, which has reels designed to look like baseball caps, pitchers, catchers mitts, and baseball snacks like fries and popcorn. It also has a backdrop of a baseball field and the sound effects – including crowd noise (murmurs which rise to a roar when you get a winning reel with the gold cup scatter symbol) – and a baseball bat hitting a ball, when you get a winning reel without the scatter, really add to the appeal of the game.

Top 10 Catchers

As the MLB season nears, I decided I would post an article every couple of days breaking down my top players at each position.  My last article covered starting pitchers so this one will cover catchers.  However, this article will only feature five cathcers simply because there are not many elite catchers in the game today.  The catcher’s position is one where a superstar comes along once, maybe twice in a lifetime.  Players such as Johnny Bench, Yogi Berra, or Carlton Fisk don’t come around everyday.  Here we go.

molina

  1. Yadier Molina- Molina has my vote for the best all-around catcher in Major League Baseball.  He is a career .279 hitter, but he is most known for his defense.  I tend to be very drawn to players like Molina, because there is literally nothing flashy about him.  He is just fundamentally sound in all aspects of the game.  He consistently calls a great game, he blocks pitches in the dirt better than anyone in the league, and can gun down virtually any would-be base stealer.  He is a classy player on and off the field, gets along with his teammates, and is a very coachable star.  Basically the only downsides to Molina are his very poor speed and occasional baserunning mistake, but his positives heavily outweigh his negatives.
  2. 2.    Buster Posey- Posey is arguably the best young player in the game today.  With less than three years of total big leagues experience, he has already won himself two World Series rings.  His 2011 campaign was brutally cut short by a broken leg due to a collision with a runner at home plate.  In his short career, Posey has a .316 batting average, and he doesn’t tend to strike out all that much.  Similar to Molina, Posey is a very solid fielder.  He calls a great game, takes care of the pitching staff, and has thrown out better than thirty percent of base stealers in each year of his career.  He also compiles a very small amount of errors every year.  Posey’s three-year career has already rewarded him with the 2010 Rookie of the Year Award, and the 2012 Most Valuable Player Award.  This may be a bold statement early in his career, but I think Buster Posey will have no problem getting into Cooperstown when he retires, barring any major setbacks.
  3. 3.    Joe Mauer- Over the past six or seven seasons, Mauer has been arguably the most consistent player in the Major Leagues.  Having played his entire career with the Minnesota Twins, he has posted a career .323 average, with his lowest being .287 during the 2011 season.  Mauer’s career year came in 2009, when he put up a .365 average with 28 bombs.  The main reason Mauer dropped to third on my list is because in recent years, Mauer has been switching between catcher, first base, and designated hitter.  Albeit small, I think taking days off from catching gives him just a slight advantage over everyone else, as he has a little bit more time to relax and give his body time to rest.  He puts together a great balance of aggressiveness and patience at the plate, and is nothing short of a solid defender.  Mauer, like Posey, should have a good shot at Cooperstown if he keeps up his game for the next few seasons.
  4. 4.    Brian McCann- Although McCann has dropped off over the last season or two, I still believe he is one of the best in the game.  He hit .270 or above every season except for 2012, in which he hit a career-low .230.  Since his first full season in 2006, McCann has been a steady complement to Chipper Jones in the middle of the Braves lineup.  With 2013 being his first season without Chipper, look for McCann to have a bounce-back year while producing a large portion of the Braves offense.  I find McCann to be a mediocre fielder, letting a decent number of passed balls through, and only throwing out about 23% of potential base stealers.  That being said, he has made six appearances in the all-star game, proving that he is nothing short of a solid player.  Look for McCann to have a good year, assuming the role of the Braves top hitter.
  5. 5.    Matt Wieters- Rounding out my top five is the young catcher for the Baltimore Orioles.  Wieters is steadily developing into one of the most reliable catchers in the game today.  While his offensive game is still developing, he has already proven himself as one of the best defensive catchers in the pros.  He has only let up eleven passed balls in his four years in the majors, and has gunned out an impressive 32% of would be base stealers.  Look for Wieters to steadily improve his game.  I see him hitting around .300 this season.

Christian Biondi