Playoffs or Week 4?

If I told you that an exhibition baseball game crushed the ratings of a late-season football game you would have said I was crazy, right? Then you’d say “Wait, that’s not possible, Spring Training starts after the Super Bowl.” Then I’d say “Hush, this is my hypothetical.” Of course, this would never happen. Not even in LA if the Dodgers were playing the Angels and Giants morphed into one team.

But this did happen–only the other way around. The Redskins matched up with the Ravens–certainly not the best matchup of the preseason–and it drew a 18.7 rating. On August 25th! That same day, the Yankees hit three grand slams and beat the A’s 22-9, but didn’t even put up a wimper in this unfair matchup.

So this week is the real challenge; we have the Division Series in baseball and Week 4 in the NFL–with no marquee matchups. Ravens-Jets is nice, but this early season game won’t hold a ton of weight at the end of the season. For baseball, this is what it all comes down to: 8 of the best teams in the game gunning for glory. And what’s sad is that Week 4 is probably going to win in ratings.

Maybe you can blame the fact that teams in Tampa Bay, Phoenix, Milwaukee, Detroit, and St. Louis are in over metropolitan cities like LA, Boston, Chicago, and San Francisco, but the point is that football really is the king of sports. Or at the very least, the lockout revamped interest like never before.

But because this is my blog, I’m going to break down baseball first. If you want to skip down to my NFL picks, that’s fine–just know that there may or may not be a chance to win money by reading the baseball picks. I’ve already shared my MLB picks, but here is a more in-depth breakdown.

Yankees (3) over Tigers (1)

There are reasons to not like the Yankees, but they’re the exact same reason I picked against New York two years ago when they won it all. They don’t have a #2 starter. They’re old on defense. They don’t have Cliff Lee. But you can pick as many holes as you want in this team–they are really good. Even if you don’t think A-Rod is clutch in the playoffs, they’ve still got Granderson, Cano, Teixeira, and Jeter.

Detroit, on the other hand, doesn’t have quantity or quality of players New York does. Miggy Cabrera might just be the best player in the series, but after that you’re looking at the likes of Austin Jackson, Alex Avila, and Jhonny Peralta. Where Detroit does turn out to be better, though, is in the pitching department. Verlander is much more dependable than CC, and Fister, Scherzer, and Porcello are far less erratic than A.J. Burnett, Nova, and Freddy Garcia. But this isn’t Glavine, Smoltz, and Maddux we’re talking about–they’re just pitchers who lack the propensity to give up 8 runs in 1 2/3 innings (cue to A.J. Burnett).

At first glance, Detroit looks like a great team. 95 wins was good for the 5th best record in the league. But if you look closer, Detroit has really taken advantage of a weak division. No other team in the division had a winning record–an average of 89 losses per team. In divisional play, the Tigers cleaned up with a 50-22 record. But outside of the division? Try 45-45. And you can bet they won’t be seeing the Twins and Royals in the playoffs.

Brewers (3) over Diamondbacks (1)

I’m just going to be straight-forward: these are two seriously flawed teams. The Brewers have a horrific defense–especially in the infield, specifically on the left side featuring the great Yuniesky Betancourt. The Diamondbacks have an anemic offense and 25 players you’ve never heard of. But one team does have to (SPOILER ALERT!) get the honor of being crushed by the Phillies in the NLCS.

Name this Diamondback!

Name this Diamondback!

In this age of hoarding prospects and building for the future potentially in spite of today’s success (see Tampa waiting until the last possible moment to call up Desmond Jennings and Matt Moore), I’ve got to give props to Milwaukee’s GM Doug Melvin for pushing in all of his chips. This past calendar year he’s added 4 high-impact players Zack Greinke, Shaun Marcum, Francisco Rodriguez, and Nyjer Morgan. He’s now built a division winning team with three #1-type starters, a deep ‘pen, and a powerful offense.

The D-Backs, too, have re-built around pitching–only they don’t have the flashy names like Greinke, Fielder, and Braun. Ryan Roberts, Willie Bloomquist, and Lyle Overbay may not be household names, but somehow someway, they’re making things work. This no-name group of hitters aren’t the forte of this team, of course, that would be the starting pitching. You can point to Ian Kennedy or Daniel Hudson–two young pitchers who have really broken out this year–but they have, in my opinion, been putting up much higher numbers than their actual skills would indicate. They, like the Tigers, have taken advantage of weak opposition with some of the worst offenses in the league like San Francisco, San Diego, and LA. The pair are huge fly ball pitchers, which will not bode well against the big mashers in Milwaukee.

The biggest issue for Arizona will come if and when they fall behind. If they lose the first game or two, they’ll have to turn to Joe Sauders and Josh Collmenter to out0duel Marcum and Gallardo. I don’t think Arizona is one of the 8 best teams in baseball–I’d almost rather face Atlanta, Boston, or the Angels. This should be quite a clean sweep because of Milwaukee’s holes on defense and Randy Wolf, but I’d be shocked if the D-Backs reached the NLCS.

Phillies (3) over Cardinals (0)

I’m not quite sure how the Cards made the playoffs. At the trade deadline, they dealt their best young player to come through their season in nearly a decade for Edwin Jackson while being undermined down the stretch by Tony La Russa’s over-managing (Post Game 1 note: there’s no reason to pinch run Gerald Laird for Albert Pujols. Ever.). But Atlanta went unnoticed in their massive collapse, and St. Louis has found its way too October.

Anyone can tell you why Philadelphia is great, so I won’t waste my time. Instead, I’ll just poke any holes I can find in their team. Well for starters, Domonic Brown is nowhere to be found while Raul “Coffee and Creme” Ibañez continues to labor out if left field. And Oswalt’s ERA is a ridiculous 3.69. Not to mention the fact that Charlie Manuel has gone through a league low 54 boxes of sunflower seeds this season–23 less than his previous career low in 2008. It’s just disappointment after disappointment.

As for the Cards, there’s just not much to put them over the top in the playoffs. It’s not that Skip Schumaker, David Freese, Jon Jay, and Rafael Furcal aren’t starting quality players, they’re just not starting quality players. Few teams have a threesome of sluggers as prolific as Pujols, Holliday, and Berkman, but when the last two-thirds of the team is below average, you can work around the tough spots. The rotation is similarly top-heavy with Carpeter on top, but Jaime Garcia, Edwin Jackson, and Kyle Lohse trudging along in the back.

I’m sorry if you’re a Cardinals fan, but congratulations on making the playoffs. Halladay, Lee, Hamels, and Oswalt will try to make this as painless as possible. And by the way, there isn’t a chance of winning money by reading my baseball picks. But congratulations on reading this far! Almost to the football.

Red Sox (3) over Rangers (2)

Yes, they stumbled their way through September, but the important thing is that they made–what? They didn’t make the playoffs? Dan Johnson hit a 2-out, 2-strike, pinch-hit homer before Jonathan Papelbon blew a 2-out lead, and Evan Longoria poked a ball 316 feet for a homer to claim the Wild Card? Crap.

Rangers (3) over Rays (2)

Andrew Friedman and crew look real smart right about now after they waited until literally the last possible moment to call up superstar youngsters Jennings and Moore to squeak in to the playoffs. In the end, they did make it to October, and they’ve got plenty of reasons to to be excited. They’ve got four young guns and hot bats–all you can really ask for in October.

Name this Ray!

You can call them the Lions of Major League Baseball because they’re a young, up-and-coming team with a ton of home grown talent–nearly impossible to root against. Unfortunately, with such a low budget, they’ve got some big holes on offense. Instead of mashers like Adrian Beltre and Josh Hamliton they can bring in, they have more economical options like Matt Joyce, Casey Kotchman, and Johnny Damon. But when it comes to October baseball, you don’t need good bats, you need hot bats. That and great pitching, which they have.

When it comes to big bats, look no further than Texas. They were 5th in the league with a .340 team OBP and 2nd with 210 home runs. With such a cadre of options offensively, You can’t pick and choose around big hitters like the Rangers will be able to with Longoria. If one of Tampa’s pitchers’ slightly off their game, you can kiss that game goodbye because Texas will make them pay. The key for Texas, though, still has to be if their young pitchers can rise to the occasion.

Without a doubt, this is the hardest series to call. Great pitching and great hitting collide with youth against experience. This series is, without a doubt, going 5 games, which gives Texas a slight advantage as they will host the rubber match. At the end of the day, though, I trust C.J. Wilson more than Matt Moore in a decisive game, especially with the difference if offensive firepower.

And without further ado, my Week 4 NFL picks; home teams in CAPS.

Bills (-3.5) over BENGALS:
Do you take the redhead day-walker quarterback or the Harvard quarterback. I’ll take the guy with 270 more passing yards. But doesn’t it scare the city of Buffalo that Ryan Fitzpatrick–Ryan Fitzpatrick–is about to get a $40 or $50 million contract this off-season?

BEARS (-6.5) over Panthers
Would you rather have Cam Newton play like he did in the first two weeks or in the last week? Well, if he plays like he did against Jacksonville, the only team he’s going to beat is, well, Jacksonville.

Titans (+1.5) over BROWNS
Is Chris Johnson this bad? Is Colt McCoy this competent? No and probably not. Gimme the points!

COWBOYS (-3.5) over Lions
This is the team everyone loves to have vs. the team everyone loves to love. These are the situations where the line is skewed against the unsuspecting public. Plus I like Romo a lot better than Stafford.

Vikings (+1.5) over CHIEFS
Yes, McNabb is bad, but the Chiefs are really bad. At least they’re making baby steps–they only gave up 20 instead of 40+ last week.

RAMS (-0.5) over Redskins
There’s a good chance I lose this one. But there’s also a good chance Rex Grossman throws 3 picks and fumbles twice.

Saints (-7.5) over JAGUARS
I’m utterly confused. Marques Colston is back, and so is Blaine Gabbert.

EAGLES (-6.5) over Niners
Is Michael Vick Iron Man or just crazy? Because I swear he’s broken his hand, been concussed, and had his hand concussed over the last two weeks. For now, I’m going with Iron Man. But if he was actually crazy, that wouldn’t stop him from downing the Niners.

Steelers (+3.5) over TEXANS
The Texans, like the Lions, are really hard not to like. They put up points, have cool unis, and are the darlings of the AFC South for the last decade. But this is the Steelers we’re talking about. They can take Arian Foster and Ben Tate out of the game without stuffing the box, and Big Ben will do just enough to beat this overrated defense.

Falcons (-4.5) over SEAHAWKS
I hope Seattle didn’t justify giving Sidney Rice $41 million by bringing in his teammate Tarvaris Jackson.

Giants (-1.5) over CARDINALS
The Cardinals aren’t stopping the run, and that’s New York’s forte. Furthermore Kevin Kolb hasn’t proved to me he’s that good. I think that people unfamiliar with the NFC West look at the Cardinals and see a handful of skilled players (Fitzgerald, Wells, Dockett, Peterson, Wilson…) and declare them playoff contenders without actually watching them. Arizona is not good. Not one bit.

Name this Patriot!

PACKERS (-13.5) over Broncos
Two touchdowns is tough to swallow, but not with the Packers. Kyle Orton could make up a bunch of ground at the end with garbage time points, but Aaron Rodgers–who needs a nickname other than A-Rod–has too many weapons to lose this one.

Patriots (-4.5) over RAIDERS
Bill Belichick is 16-2 in his last 18 games after a loss. Tom Brady doesn’t lose this game. This game is going to be like taking candy from a baby–or rather Lance out of Jason Campbell’s Pants. Lock that up.

CHARGERS (-8.5) over Dolphins
I can’t think of eight and a half reasons to consider the Dolphins here.

RAVENS (-3.5) over Jets
The Jets are 25th in rushing and 31st against the rush. You know which team that works well against? The Ravens. Oh, wait. No it doesn’t. Especially not for a team with a QB completing 55% of his passes.

BUCCANEERS (-9.5) over Colts
Did the NFL look at its Monday Night Football schedule? It’s awful! Not even counting Broncos-Raiders we’ve also got Chicago twice, Jacksonville twice, Miami twice, St. Louis twice, Minnesota, Seattle, and Kansas City. Do no red flags go up when Florida teams show up 5 times while Green Bay, Pittsburgh, and Philly show up once each?

Last Week: 6-10

Season: 24-24

Lance in my Pants Lock o’ the Week: 2-1


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