NFL Picks: Week 1

Last Season: 144-81

After a slow start, I thought I recovered nicely last season to come up with a pretty solid season winning percentage. And now I can use PFF stats. So yeah, since nobody donated to my Patreon (except one, thanks Dad), I couldn’t pay for a PFF account to better analyze these picks, so I just went and got a job with them. Go figure. But anyway, picks are back and I’m off to a slow start, as I picked the Falcons to beat the Eagles on Thursday night, which didn’t happen so let’s hope this goes better.

Pittsburgh Steelers vs Cleveland Browns

This season of Hard Knocks may have been the best ever. It was funny, interesting, and eye-opening. It really makes me root for this Cleveland Browns team. However it also showed me another thing: Hue Jackson is a shitty head coach (great guy, though, would not mind having a beer with him). That coaches meeting from the first episode was all I needed to see to know why the Browns are 1-31 under Jackson. So despite the fact that the Steelers won’t have Le’Veon Bell, I still think they beat the Browns, though the influx of talent will make this a close game.

Projected Score: Steelers 31 Browns 24

Cincinnati Bengals vs Indianapolis Colts

San Francisco 49ers v Indianapolis Colts

Frank Reich’s debut as an NFL head coach comes at a perfect time as Andrew Luck is back from a shoulder injury that many believed could derail his career. We have yet to see whether that holds true, but Colts quarterbacks (Jacoby Brissett and Scott Tolzien) carried the 6th worst PFF grade in his absence. In 2016, the last time we saw Luck, Colts passers carried the 4th best¬†PFF grade. So Luck makes a huge difference. It’ll be a challenge against the Bengals, who I think will quietly have one of the NFL’s best defenses. It’ll be interesting to see how Andrew Luck is protected against that vaunted defensive line. I think the Bengals come away with this one.

Projected Score: Bengals 24 Colts 17

Tennessee Titans vs Miami Dolphins

Another head coaching debut, Mike Vrabel now has the reins of the Titans and will begin his tenure in South Beach against the Dolphins. A lot has been made of the Titans trying to become the Patriots 2.0 by acquiring all their old players (Logan Ryan, Dion Lewis, Malcolm Butler, even Vrabel himself played 8 years there), but obviously they’re not going to replicate the same results. Marcus Mariota had a weird season last year, as he appeared to struggle with 13 touchdowns and 15 picks, but PFF actually graded him pretty well at 76.2 (for comparison, Kirk Cousins was a 70.0 and Cam Newton was 66.5). I think they get the win against the Dolphins, who are returning Ryan Tannehill but seemingly nothing else.

Projected Score: Titans 27 Dolphins 21

San Francisco 49ers vs Minnesota Vikings

I probably should abstain from this one like I did Clemson-Texas A&M yesterday because I’m working this one for PFF, but my work doesn’t start until well after the game ends so I think I’m okay to pick this. The Vikings are my pick to win the Super Bowl this year and they go up against Jimmy Garoppolo and his unbeaten record as a starting quarterback. Something has to give. I think I’m going to go with the Vikings, as I think they’re much more well-rounded.

Projected Score: Vikings 31 49ers 17

Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs New Orleans Saints

Divisional Round - New Orleans Saints v Minnesota Vikings

Jameis Winston’s 3 game suspension for groping an uber driver begins and it’ll be Ryan Fitzpatrick taking on the Saints. I’m not going to lie, this game is going to get ugly. Yes the Bucs have a revamped defensive line, but the Saints have one of the best offensive lines in football and loads of weapons like Michael Thomas and last year’s rookie of the year Alvin Kamara. They’re going to be fine even without Mark Ingram, who is serving a 4-game suspension for PED’s.¬† Saints win easily.

Projected Score: Saints 38 Buccaneers 14

Houston Texans vs New England Patriots

The Texans are getting a LOT of key contributors back from a season that was lost due to injury so I think this will be a fun game as they take on the Patriots. But it’s still the Patriots, even with all the players they lost from last season. So I think they still win, but I think the Texans will make them sweat.

Projected Score: Patriots 28 Texans 24

Jacksonville Jaguars vs New York Giants

The Jaguars had a fantastic season on defense last year and basically everyone from that unit is back. The Giants are getting ODell Beckham back and Saquon Barkley will be making his debut but it won’t be enough as Jacksonville’s defense suffocates them and leads them to a victory. It won’t be a bloodbath like their opener against the Texans last year, but it will still be a relatively easy win.

Projected Score: Jaguars 34 Giants 17

Buffalo Bills vs Baltimore Ravens

It’s going to be a long season for the Bills, especially if they think Nathan Peterman was the best option at quarterback. I get not starting Josh Allen right away, because based on his up-and-down preseason, he could use some time on the bench, but did you have to trade AJ McCarron? I don’t know, man. The defense should be solid but the offense is going to struggle and I think the Ravens will win easily.

Projected Score: Ravens 28 Bills 10

Kansas City Chiefs vs Los Angeles Chargers

Los Angeles Chargers v Kansas City Chiefs

The Pat Mahomes era has officially begun and it comes against a very tough Chargers defense. Cornerbacks Casey Hayward and Trevor Williams will have their hands full with Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins running under Pat Mahomes’ passes, but he’s only going to be able to get the ball down there if the offensive line holds up, which is going to be tough with Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram coming off the edge. I think the Chargers win a fun back-and-forth affair.

Projected Score: Chargers 31 Chiefs 28

Dallas Cowboys vs Carolina Panthers

It’s the end of an era, as the Cowboys will play a game without both Jason Witten (retired) and Dez Bryant (released) for the first time since 2003. They take on the Panthers, who remain mostly unchanged from the team that made the playoffs last season. I think it’s going to be a low-scoring game, as both teams bring strong defenses to the table, but I think Carolina is going to come out on top.

Projected Score: Panthers 20 Cowboys 17

Washington Redskins vs Arizona Cardinals

Alex Smith debuts for the Redskins after a career year in Kansas City against the Cardinals, who get David Johnson back from a wrist injury. The Cardinals are a tough team to place this season. Sam Bradford is the new quarterback after Carson Palmer retired and while he is an accurate passer and has played well when on the field, his problem is he can’t stay on the field. There’s also a lot of talent on the Arizona defense but they did lose a BIG piece in Tyrann Mathieu this offseason. I think I’m going to go with Washington this week.

Projected Score: Redskins 24 Cardinals 20

Seattle Seahawks vs Denver Broncos

This is a Super Bowl XLVIII rematch but both teams could not look more different. The Legion of Boom has pretty much completely dissolved while Denver is starting Case Keenum at quarterback. Seattle still doesn’t have an offensive line so I think I’m going to pick a Von Miller-led defense to take apart this Seahawks offense and lead the Broncos to victory.

Projected Score: Broncos 23 Seahawks 17

Chicago Bears vs Green Bay Packers

Pittsburgh Steelers v Green Bay Packers

The oldest rivalry in the NFL is renewed with some new faces in Chicago. Matt Nagy is at the helm and he has a brand new toy after the team sent to first rounders to Oakland for Khalil Mack. All of a sudden this Bears defense looks formidable for the first time since 2012. But the Packers are also getting Aaron Rodgers back and their young secondary looks like it could have a similar effect on this year’s team as it did for the Saints last year and I think I’m going to take Green Bay.

Projected Score: Packers 28 Bears 20

New York Jets vs Detroit Lions

The first Monday Night game of the year features a couple debuts. Sam Darnold is the new rookie quarterback getting the start for the Jets while Matt Patricia is making his head coaching debut for the Lions. Darnold looked really sharp in the preseason and was doing things you don’t see 30 year-olds do. The Lions are in a similar position to the Cardinals in that they have some talent with a rookie head coach but I have no idea what to make of them. So I think I’m going to pick the Jets to come away with the win.

Projected Score: Jets 23 Lions 14

Los Angeles Rams vs Oakland Raiders

The other Monday Night game, this is going to be a blowout. I’m picking Oakland to pick first in the 2019 NFL draft as they have absolutely no defense, especially now that they’ve traded Mack. Meanwhile the Rams stocked up on talent in the offseason. This won’t be close, Rams win.

Projected Score: Rams 42 Raiders 14

So that’s it for my picks this week. Like I’ve said many times, I’m going to keep trying to do this every week, but I can’t promise I’ll be able to. Let me know what you think of my picks in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.

NFL Rookies Best (and Worst) Set up for Early Success

So every year guys get drafted by teams that just put them in the perfect situation, whether that be the scheme fit or having the right supporting cast around them. A lot of times success and failure in the NFL is based on just being in the best situation. So with that, let’s take a look at some rookies that are in the best and worst position to succeed.

Best: Sony Michel-RB-New England Patriots

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This one’s not quite so obvious, but hear me out. Yes, Michel is in a VERY crowded backfield in New England and he’s going to be in an offense that prefers to throw the ball (who could blame them with the GOAT slinging it). However it’s a very similar situation to what he had at Georgia and look how that turned out. Michel shared a backfield first with Todd Gurley and Nick Chubb, then with Chubb and D’Andre Swift. Nowadays he’s going to be sharing with James White (pass catcher), Rex Burkhead (wildcard), and either Jeremy Hill or Mike Gillislee (power back) and replacing Dion Lewis as the de facto all-around guy. One of Michel’s main issues coming out of college was stamina and when you’re splitting carries, it allows you to remain fresh throughout the game. Michel will basically be doing the exact same thing in New England that he was at Georgia only this time the roles are more defined and there will likely be a specific gameplan geared towards his skills. I think that bodes well for his future NFL success. He may never reach 1000 rushing yards in a season, but his yards per carry is probably going to be nuts.

Worst: Sam Darnold-QB-New York Jets

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Darnold is probably the safest quarterback in this year’s class. There’s very little that he does poorly, or at least there are far fewer red flags than what you get from the other quarterbacks. However there was one major flaw at USC that had me a little concerned about team fits and that was the fact that his play dropped significantly when the talent around him wasn’t as good. He was awesome his redshirt freshman season when he was throwing to guys like Juju Smith-Schuster, however when Juju was drafted by the Steelers and Darnold’s entire offensive line went pro as well, he struggled mightily. While from a talent standpoint, the Jets are obviously better than USC, they are one of the least talented offenses on paper. Robbie Anderson is the #1 receiver and while he had a pretty solid season last year, that was more out of necessity than anything. The offensive line of the Jets isn’t great either and unless the front office somehow manages to swing a deal for some talent before Darnold gets the starting job (whether that be this year or next), he could be in for a world of hurt, no matter how good he is.

Best: Saquon Barkley-RB-New York Giants

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Barkley doesn’t really need help to be great but he’s going to get it anyway. Not only is he the most talented runningback to come out of college maybe ever, but he’s going into a situation that will be really beneficial for him. Now yes, the Giants sucked last season, but injuries and offensive line woes played a big part of that. Well ODell Beckham Jr is coming back healthy and the Giants signed Nate Solder at left tackle and drafted Will Hernandez out of UTEP to play guard. Plus, if they should decide to move Ereck Flowers to guard, that could wind up being beneficial for his career. So having Beckham back to take pressure off of him and an improved offensive line should set up Barkley nicely for early career success.

Worst: Denzel Ward-CB-Cleveland Browns

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Ward is a really good corner but given the Browns’ lack of options at the position, he may draw #1 receiver duties from Day 1. Now granted, it worked for Marshon Lattimore with the Saints last year, but I felt like Lattimore was a more complete player than Ward was. Ward struggled with the bigger receivers and there are plenty of them in the AFC North like AJ Green, Juju Smith-Schuster, and Michael Crabtree. Plus there’s also the smaller but even more dangerous Antonio Brown to contend with. Lattimore didn’t have an ideal group of guys to cover either like Julio Jones and Mike Evans, but again, he was more polished than Ward is and Lattimore also didn’t have to draw #1 receiver duties out of the gate. And even if he did, he had better safeties available to bail him out should he need them. I’m not saying Ward isn’t up to the challenge because if any cornerback in this year’s rookie class is it’s him, but his situation isn’t ideal by any stretch.

Best: Rashaan Evans-LB-Tennessee Titans

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Evans was a leader on Alabama’s National Championship-winning defense and it looks like he’s going to be thrust into the limelight in Tennessee as well, as he immediately becomes the best member of the Titans’ needle-thin linebacking corp. The offensive lines he’ll be going up against in the AFC South are mediocre and the only really potentially deadly runningback he’ll have to face at this point is Leonard Fournette. He’s also got an excellent coach of linebackers in Mike Vrabel as his head coach so he’s going to get even further mentoring. He’s in prime position for Defensive Rookie of the Year.

Worst: Rashaad Penny-RB-Seattle Seahawks

<> on December 23, 2017 in Fort Worth, Texas.

Penny was a reach by Seattle, however given that he was likely going to be gone the next time they picked (late 3rd round), I can understand why they went that route if they were so high on him. Penny’s a good back, don’t get me wrong, and he fits the bruising style of running back the Seahawks like to employ. However the Seahawks have once again hardly touched that god-awful offensive line this offseason so they’re just setting Penny up for failure. Duane Brown at left tackle is the only competent guy on that offensive line and he’s going to be 33 when the season starts. He’s basically going to be running for his life out there. Plus aside from Doug Baldwin, there aren’t any receivers of note to take the pressure off the running game. Again, Penny does have the power to bulldoze over guys, but he’s going to get stuffed behind the line more often than not and I’ve got a feeling his yards per carry numbers are going to be pretty ugly.

So those are just a few guys that have some interesting situations brought about with them. I stuck with just first rounders given that the expectations for them are so much higher than the others. Let me know what you think of these conundrums in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.

Patriots Trade Brandin Cooks to the Rams

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Last season, the Patriots traded the 32nd overall pick to the New Orleans Saints for the speedy wide receiver Brandin Cooks. Cooks was being phased out of the Saints offense as the emergence of Michael Thomas proved that any wide receiver could succeed in that offense (which is pretty true) and that Cooks was expendable. The Patriots got a good season out of Cooks while the Saints used the 32nd pick acquired from the Patriots on Wisconsin tackle Ryan Ramczyk. Ramczyk was my top-rated tackle in that class and he did not disappoint, as he was very productive as the Saints’ starting right tackle. For the Patriots, Cooks had 65 catches for 1082 yards and 7 TD’s. Really good numbers considering how much the Patriots like to spread the targets around between what was a plethora of receivers even with the absence of Julian Edelman.

However the Patriots found themselves in a similar situation as to that of Chandler Jones a couple years ago. Jones had a year left on his contract when he was traded to the Cardinals for a 2nd round pick (which was used on Cyrus Jones, who has been a disaster in his first 2 seasons). The Patriots felt they wouldn’t be able to afford Chandler Jones so they felt like they ought to get something for him instead of letting him walk in free agency. This is the same situation with Cooks, as his contract expires after the 2018 season. The Patriots likely weren’t confident in their ability to re-sign him so they sent him to the Rams, who have a big need at receiver after the departure of Sammy Watkins in free agency. In exchange, the Patriots will receive the 23rd overall pick in the draft and a 6th rounder while also sending a 4th to the Rams with Cooks.

So what does this mean for both teams? Well for the Rams, it seems like they’re all in on the 2018 season. They made some big splashes this offseason, acquiring both Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib at corner, signing Ndamukong Suh at defensive tackle, and now trading for receiver Cooks. The Rams now have a receiving corp of Cooks, Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods and Tavon Austin. Lots of speed at wideout. However they’re taking a risk investing in so many 1-year contracts. Cooks has 1 year left, Suh has 1 year left, Peters has 1 year left, and Todd Gurley may only have one year left if his club option isn’t exercised (which I can’t imagine the Rams not doing). So this all points to a big run at a Super Bowl in head coach Sean McVay’s second year as head coach. A Super Bowl win in 2018 would make McVay the youngest head coach ever to win the Super Bowl. However their draft prospects for this season take a hit, as barring a blockbuster trade they won’t have a first round pick for the second consecutive year and their first pick in 2018 isn’t until 87th overall, midway through the third round due to a trade made with the Bills for their second rounder.

As for the Patriots, a lot of people are saying this opens the door for them to make a run at ODell Beckham Jr. I’m going to put the breaks on that REAL quick. Beckham is a transcendent talent, sure, and the Patriots have 2 first rounders to offer the Giants, which is their minimal asking price. But Beckham doesn’t fit the Patriots culture. Now yes, the Pats have had success with “diva” receivers before…well, really they only had success with the one, Randy Moss. Beckham, like Cooks, also only has one year left on his contract and he wants to be the highest paid receiver of all time. There’s no chance the Patriots pay that so trading for Beckham doesn’t put them in any better situation than Cooks, only they’ll be out two first rounders.

So what do the Patriots do here? Well for starters, this puts them in a much better position to get a tackle to replace Nate Solder. Left tackle is the biggest hole on the Patriots roster right now, as La’Adrian Waddle is currently the guy. He couldn’t crack the Lions starting lineup, to think he can start for the Patriots is just laughable, no matter how good a line coach Dante Scarnecchia is. I’ve been hearing a lot of people saying UCLA’s Kolton Miller is most likely, as he compares favorable to the departed Solder and I’d have to say they’re not wrong. He is the 4th-rated tackle on my board, but he is the better fit for the Patriots amongst the three ahead of him (Texas’ Connor Williams, Notre Dame’s Mike McGlinchey, Pittsburgh’s Brian O’Neill). It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest to see them go that route with the 23rd pick. It does create a little more intrigue with the 31st pick, though. Quite frankly, I don’t think the Patriots make the pick. The last time Belichick made two first round selections was 2012 when he took Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower. Now, both picks were home runs, but I don’t think this class is as strong as the 2012 one. I think they’re going to trade back a couple picks with a team that picks in the early 2nd round trying to get back into the first in order to build some draft capital.

So as a Patriots fan, I’m sad to see Cooks go. I enjoyed the threat he posed with his great speed and he was an exciting playmaker. But it was a necessary move to make for New England as they simply wouldn’t be able to afford him and now they have an extra first round pick for their troubles. Let me know what you think of the Cooks trade in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.

General Sports: March 29

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-Opening Day is today. The most wonderful time of the year. First game is Marlins-Cubs at 12:40 so of course I won’t get to watch any of it because I have class at 1:00 and since I’m in Indiana, I can’t stream it on the MLB At Bat app because I’m in the Chicago market so I’ll get blacked out. Bullshit. I’ll also only able to get to watch the first few innings of the Red Sox-Rays game at 4 because I have a class at 5:30 and my professor banned technology. It’s a 2.5 hour class. Granted, it’s a movie class and we’ll be talking about Donnie Darko, which I saw for the first time on Tuesday (really good, kind of messes with your head a little bit), so it won’t be the worst thing in the world. My mind is just going to be elsewhere because I could be watching baseball instead.

-Former NFL linebacker Dave Wyman (no relation) called the NFL’s new tackling rule change “a fucking mess” and that the NFL “wants to self-destruct.” Oh those Wymans, always causing trouble. In truth I never knew there was ever a Wyman in the NFL. I knew there was a pitcher named Frank Wyman who pitched in the 1800’s and had an ERA over 6, and a hockey player named James Wyman (not to be confused with a far more handsome blogger), but otherwise we Wymans aren’t particularly talented athletes.

-I guess you want my opinion on the new rule change. It’s basically the targeting rule in college football, which I think is an unmitigated disaster even though I get what they’re going for. It’s so poorly called anyway because you can still get called for targeting even if the player you’re tackling lowers himself into you through the force of gravity. Players could be ejected depending on the severity of the hit, which is another “case-by-case” situation and there’s no way to determine what’s a vicious hit and what isn’t. I guess malicious intent? Either way, I get not wanting players to use their helmets as weapons, but you’re making it harder to play defense. Stop it.

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-The Giants reportedly are looking for at least 2 first rounders for ODell Beckham Jr, which sounds reasonable enough. With a guy whose talent is as insane as Beckham’s, he should command a king’s ransom. Honestly, he’s so good that I don’t mind the diva personality. From what I understand, he’s not disruptive with teammates, it’s just the media that really has a problem with his antics (the alleged cocaine notwithstanding). If I’m a team like the Browns, with a plethora of draft capital, I’d at least make a call and get a feel for what kind of deal they’d be willing to make.

-Ndamukong Suh signed with the Rams and holy shit is that defense terrifying. Not only do they have the cornerback duo of Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib, but now the interior of their defensive line is reigning Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald and Suh with a defensive genius in Wade Phillips running things. On paper, the NFC West looks to be the Rams’ to lose, especially now that the Seahawks have blown up their defense, the 49ers are still a few pieces away, and the Cardinals are trending towards an overhaul. Now they just need some receivers for Jared Goff (though they did just fine with the okay group they had last year).

-The baseball season hasn’t even begun yet and we already have a postponement, ruining the “every team opens on the same day” thing. It’s expected to rain heavily in Cincinnati, postponing Reds-Nationals. The game will be postponed to 4:10 on Friday, which would have been an off day for both teams and they will conduct the usual Opening Day festivities. Shame. Was really looking forward to every team starting at the same time even though there was no chance I was going to watch every game, as much as I would’ve liked to.

-Vladimir Guerrero Jr hit a walkoff home run in his dad’s old stomping grounds at Olympic Stadium in Montreal while wearing his dad’s number 27. I’m going to let the video do the rest of the talking.

-Johnny Manziel is meeting with several NFL teams because apparently he looks really good right now. I haven’t seen any of the footage of him throwing at pro days, but reports are that he looks even better now than he did coming out of college. Hell, the Patriots of all teams met with him. Tom Brady’s heir apparent, perhaps? I am rooting for Manziel on his attempted comeback because I do feel like he’s turned a new leaf and has learned from the mistakes he made at Texas A&M and with the Browns.

-Poor Salvador Perez. Gets off the flight to Kansas City and tears his MCL while carrying luggage. He’s estimated to be out 4-6 weeks, which isn’t as bad as you might think considering he tore a ligament, but the impact is greater for him since he’s a catcher and the MCL is located in the knee. He’ll be in a crouch at all times so that won’t be doing the MCL any favors. Theoretically this will impact him more than, say, a left fielder. Just a tough break for the guy right before Opening Day.

-And lastly, the rules committee has stated that kickoffs will be at risk of being removed if not made safer. STOP FUCKING WITH FOOTBALL!!!!!

That’s going to do it for this edition of General Sports. Let me know what you think of any of the topics I discussed in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.

30 Clubs in 30 Days: The Seattle Mariners

The biggest news I have to report right now is Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue is taking a leave of absence due to medical reasons. The immediate takes are that LeBron has some thing to do with this, however I’m going to genuinely believe Lue really does have a medical condition he needs to deal with at this point. We don’t need to deal with another Gary Kubiak situation where he suffers a mini stroke on the sideline so it’s better that he rest up. But add this on to the soap opera that is any team that Lebron is on. So with that, let’s get into the latest edition of 30 Clubs in 30 Days, featuring the Seattle Mariners.

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2017 Results:

Record: 78-84, 23 games behind Houston Astros, 7 games behind Minnesota Twins for 2nd Wild Card Spot

Notable Offseason Additions: CF Dee Gordon, 1B Ryon Healy, RF Ichiro Suzuki, RP Juan Nicasio, RP Mike Morin, UTIL Andrew Romine

Notable Offseason Subtractions: 1B Yonder Alonso, OF Jarrod Dyson, 3B Danny Valencia, RP Shae Simmons, RP Ernesto Frieri, SP Yovani Gallardo, SP Drew Smyly, RP Evan Marshall, C Carlos Ruiz, 2B Gordon Beckham

Best Offensive Player: 2B Robinson Cano

Best Pitcher: James Paxton

Depth Chart:

C-Mike Zunino, Mike Majarma

1B-Dan Vogelbach, Ryon Healy

2B-Robinson Cano

3B-Kyle Seager, Andrew Romine

SS-Jean Segura, Taylor Motter

LF-Ben Gamel, Ichiro Suzuki

CF-Dee Gordon

RF-Mitch Haniger, Nelson Cruz (DH), Guillermo Heredia

SP-James Paxton, Felix Hernandez, Mike Leake, Erasmo Ramirez, Ariel Miranda, Marco Gonzales

Bullpen-Edwin Diaz (CP), Juan Nicasio, Nick Vincent, David Phelps, Mark Rzepczyinski, Dan Altavilla, James Pazos, Mike Morin

Coaching Staff:

Manager-Scott Servais (3rd season with Mariners)

Hitting Coach-Edgar Martinez

Pitching Coach-Mel Stottlemyre

1st Base Coach-Chris Prieto

3rd Base Coach-Scott Brosius

Bench Coach-Manny Acta

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The Mariners always seem to be on the brink of being really good but never quite reach those heights. I couldn’t tell you why that is, perhaps the 2001 team that won 116 games then got bounced in the ALCS cursed them, considering they haven’t made the postseason since that season. But this year I feel that they have the chance to be really good provided they can stay relatively healthy (no team can ever stay perfectly healthy). Here’s a look out how I’m projecting them to line up in 2018.

1. Dee Gordon-CF

2. Jean Segura-SS

3. Robinson Cano-2B

4. Nelson Cruz-DH

5. Kyle Seager-3B

6. Mitch Haniger-RF

7. Ben Gamel-LF

8. Mike Zunino-C

9. Dan Vogelbach/Ryon Healy-1B

That’s a strong lineup right there, especially the top half. Dee Gordon is arguably the fastest player in baseball and he’ll be moving from his usual second base to the outfield. I’m not sure how well that’s going to work out, considering he’s been a middle infielder his whole career, but from the small sample size I’ve seen he looks decent. Robinson Cano continues to make me look dumb for suggesting to a baseball panel that included ESPN’s Buster Olney, some Red Sox scouts, and Brewers reliever Oliver Drake that Cano’s tenure in Seattle would be a disaster. For context, my high school hosts a Hot Stove forum every year where noted alumni such as Olney and Drake come to talk baseball. I attended all four years I was at the school and after Cano signed his huge deal with the Mariners, I asked them if they thought that the signing would have a similar effect on Cano that it had on Adrian Beltre several years prior, where a great player’s career was nearly crushed by the Safeco Field confines. They felt that he would be fine, though a power decline could be in order since he’d be leaving Yankee Stadium, whose dimensions are “a joke,” as one scout put it. Last season Cano hit .280 with 23 home runs and 97 RBI and was All Star Game MVP after hitting a go-ahead solo home run in the top of the 10th inning to win the game for the AL. The switch to Safeco seems to not be affecting Cano the way I expected. Surrounding Cano in that lineup is Nelson Cruz and Corey’s Brother, Kyle Seager. Cruz continues to mash, as he hit .288 last season with 39 home runs and 119 RBI. Seager had a down year in terms of average, as he only hit .249, however he did hit 27 home runs and drove in 88 RBI while playing a decent third base and being worth 3.5 WAR. But the big breakout hitter for the Mariners was catcher Mike Zunino last season. Zunino was a former top 5 pick in the MLB Draft who was absolutely abysmal as a hitter to start his career, as he consistently struggled to get over the Mendoza Line. He was always a quality defender, but his bat was holding him back. That changed last season, as he hit .251 with 25 home runs and 64 RBI while being the second most valuable hitter on the team after Cruz with a 3.6 WAR. If Zunino can continue that trajectory, the Mariners will have an absolutely DEADLY lineup.

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Pitching is kind of weird for the Mariners right now. For so long, Felix Hernandez was the be-all-end-all for that staff, however he’s been trending in the wrong direction for a few years now. Battling injuries in 2017, Hernandez went just 6-5 in 16 starts with a 4.36 ERA and let up 1.77 HR/9. In fact, since finishing as runner-up for AL Cy Young in 2014 with a 2.14 ERA, his ERA has gone up in every season. It’s hard to believe he’s only 31 years old because it feels like he’s been in the Majors forever (he debuted as a 20 year-old) and now it appears that he’s in the twilight of his career. Luckily for the Mariners, though, King Felix’s decline isn’t a sign of doomsday for the rotation. James Paxton appears ready to take over the mantle as team ace, as he had a very strong 2017 (when healthy). In 24 starts, Paxton went 12-5 with a 2.98 ERA and struck out over 10 batters per 9 innings while keeping a microscopic HR/9 rate of 0.60, which would’ve been the best number in baseball had he pitched enough innings to qualify. Hernandez’s streak of 9 straight Opening Day starts could be in danger with the rise of Paxton. After those two guys, Mike Leake is an accomplished sinkerballer who had a decent 2017 between the Cardinals and Mariners, posting a 3.92 ERA overall but a 2.53 ERA in 5 starts with the Mariners. Safeco Field plays well to his strengths so I wonder if the 30 year-old could be in for a big season.

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The Mariners bullpen features one of the most electrifying relievers in the game in Edwin Diaz. Diaz’s fastball can touch 98 MPH and his breaking ball practically falls off the table. I think he’s the most talented reliever I’ve seen since Carlos Marmol (who I believe is the most talented pitcher of this past generation). However, like Marmol, Diaz has had control issues. Marmol threw gas with the Cubs and had a wicked breaking ball that was pretty much impossible to hit. As a result, he got a ton of strikeouts but also walked a ton of batters because it appeared he had no idea where any of his pitches were headed. Diaz is kind of in the same boat. He had a 3.27 ERA last season and struck out over 12 batters per 9 but also walked over 4 per 9. If he can somehow find a way to master his pitches, we could be looking at another Craig Kimbrel rather than Carlos Marmol, who flamed out with the Cubs. After Diaz, there really isn’t much of note in the Mariners’ ‘pen. Nick Vincent has a nice slider while Juan Nicasio was pretty reliable for the Pirates for a while. The success of this ‘pen is going to come down to Diaz, though. If he can realize his potential, the 9th inning will be on lockdown for this club.

Overall, I think the Mariners have a talented squad. I really do believe they can challenge for a Wild Card spot. There’s no shot at the division crown for them because, let’s face it, nobody in that division is unseating the Astros. It’ll be a really tight race between them and the Anaheim Angels, however if you’ve been keeping track of my projected records and finishes for each team, you’ll notice that I have the Angels winning that race. I’ve got the Mariners narrowly missing a postseason berth once again.

Projected Record: 85-77, 3rd in AL West

That’s going to do it for this edition of 30 Clubs in 30 Days. Join me tomorrow where I preview the St. Louis Cardinals, who made a rare big splash in the offseason when they acquired Marcell Ozuna from the Marlins. Let me know what you think of the Mariners’ chances in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.

30 Clubs in 30 Days: Baltimore Orioles

Happy birthday to me, happy birthday to me, happy birthday dear meeeeee, happy birthday to me. It’s my 22nd birthday, that’s what the song was referencing. But that’s neither here nor there since nobody cares about anybody’s birthday after their 21st so let’s get to some baseball. Not only is today the first day that MLB teams will face other MLB teams in Spring Training, but today we’re talking about the Baltimore Orioles, who I think are the most intriguing team of the 2018 season mainly because they could be a team that could compete for the playoffs but they could also find themselves in the division cellar and that leaves a lot of implications for a certain superstar infielder. So let’s get into the Baltimore Orioles for this edition of 30 Clubs in 30 Days.

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2017 Results:

75-87, last in the AL East, 18 games behind Boston Red Sox, 10 games behind Minnesota Twins for final Wild Card Spot

Notable Offseason Additions: OF Colby Rasmus, OF Alex Presley, RP Josh Edgin, SP Andrew Cashner

Notable Offseason Subtractions: SP Wade Miley, C Welington Castillo, 2B Johnny Giavotella, SS JJ Hardy, IF Pedro Alvarez, 2B Ryan Flaherty, SP Jeremy Hellickson, SP Ubaldo Jimenez

Best Offensive Player: SS Manny Machado

Best Pitcher: CP Zach Britton

Depth Chart

C-Caleb Joseph, Chance Sisco

1B-Chris Davis

2B-Jonathan Schoop

3B-Tim Beckham

SS-Manny Machado, Engelb Vielma

LF-Trey Mancini, Alex Presley

CF-Adam Jones, Colby Rasmus

RF-Joey Rickard, Mark Trumbo (DH)

SP-Kevin Gausman, Dylan Bundy, Chris Tillman, Andrew Cashner, Gabriel Ynoa

Bullpen-Zach Britton (CP), Brad Brach, Mychal Givens, Darren O’Day, Miguel Castro, Josh Edgin, Richard Bleier

Coaching Staff:

Manager-Buck Showalter (8th season with Orioles)

Hitting Coach-Scott Coolbaugh

Pitching Coach-Roger McDowell

1st Base Coach-Wayne Kirby

3rd Base Coach-Bobby Dickerson

Bench Coach-John Russell

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The Orioles may have finished in last place in the AL East last season, but they were tied with the Oakland A’s for best record amongst last place teams last season at 75-87. There’s a lot of talent on this team, particularly on offense. They boast one of the best infielders in the game in Manny Machado, an underrated hitter in Jonathan Schoop, two of the deadliest power bats in Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo, and that’s without even mentioning the guy that has been doing it all for the Orioles for the longest time in Adam Jones. However the Orioles did not live up to their offensive ability last season as they finished just 16th in runs scored. Here’s how the team is expected to line up this season.

1. Joey Rickard-RF

2. Adam Jones-CF

3. Manny Machado-SS

4. Chris Davis-1B

5. Jonathan Schoop-2B

6. Trey Mancini-LF

7. Tim Beckham-3B

8. Mark Trumbo-DH

9. Caleb Joseph-C

Now, Trumbo and Davis have been inconsistent over the last couple of years but when they’re on, they’re two of the deadliest bats in the game and can take pretty much any ball out of the yard. Jonathan Schoop is also probably the most underrated second baseman in the game and in 2017 he took his play to new heights, hitting .293 with 32 home runs, 105 RBI, 2 DRS, and being worth 4.1 WAR. Trey Mancini is another guy teams shouldn’t sleep on. In his first full season in the Majors in 2017, Mancini hit .293 with 24 home runs and 78 RBI as he finished in third place for AL Rookie of the Year behind the better-known Aaron Judge and Andrew Benintendi. Last season’s Trade Deadline acquisition Tim Beckham really came into his own after arriving in Baltimore from Tampa Bay. The former #1 overall pick had been considered a bust for quite some time, but upon joining the Orioles, he appeared to start to realize his potential as he hit .306 with 10 home runs and 26 RBI in 50 games. He’s going to be the everyday third baseman in Baltimore. But wait, you ask, isn’t Manny Machado the third baseman there? Not anymore, as he’s finally moving back to his natural position of shortstop, which is a weird thing to call it considering how good of a third baseman Machado is. Machado has been arguably the most exciting third baseman in baseball since his debut in 2012 but he’s made it very well known that he’s a shortstop by trade. It’ll be interesting to see how the transition goes. Machado’s a good shortstop, as he’s been able to showcase his abilities when JJ Hardy spent time on the DL. But he is so good at third base that most teams wouldn’t dare try and move him away from there. He’s never had a DRS below 6 in his career (it was as high as 35 in 2013) and he’s won two gold gloves and a platinum glove at the position. But as good as Machado is in the field, one could argue he’s even better at the plate. He did have a down season in 2017, hitting a career-low .259, but he was able to keep up his power stroke by hitting 33 home runs and driving in 95 RBI, his third straight season of at least 30 home runs and 85 RBI. Machado is easily Baltimore’s best player, however he’s also their biggest question mark, but I’ll get into that a lot more when I delve into the Orioles’ season outlook at the end of the blog.

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Starting pitching has been a major issue for the Orioles for a long time. It’s not from a lack of talent, it’s more a lack of overall production. Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy are two of the most talented pitchers in baseball but they haven’t put together the consistency needed to solidify the pitching staff. Last season, the Orioles finished 27th in the majors in team ERA at 4.97 and it’s not like this has been a one-time problem, it’s seemingly every year that the Orioles rank lowly amongst pitching staffs. For a while, they were trotting out Chris Tillman as their ace, a guy who probably wouldn’t even crack the Red Sox 25-man roster. While you could do a lot worse than Tillman, he is certainly not the guy who should be the best pitcher on your staff. Gausman and Bundy are the two guys the Orioles are going to need to really break out if they’re going to have a chance to reach the postseason in 2018. Gausman has had some success before as he had a pretty solid 2016 season where he pitched to a 3.61 ERA. However that number jumped a whole run in 2017 and he hasn’t been striking out batters the way you’d hope a guy who throws 97 MPH would. He strikes out about 8 batters per 9 innings, which isn’t bad but it’s pretty low for a guy with his repertoire. Bundy had slightly better numbers than Gausman last season, as he pitched to a 4.24 ERA with roughly the same strikeout rate but his talent is similar to that of Gausman’s. If these two guys can reach their potential, the Orioles will have a 2-headed monster that could rival the likes of Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling (a bit of a bold statement, but these guys really are extremely talented).

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The bullpen has been a strength for the Orioles over the last few years but they’ve taken a significant blow in regards to their closer, Zach Britton. Britton missed most of last season and will miss the start of this season due to injury after a downright ridiculous 2016 season. How good was Britton in 2016? He allowed 3 earned runs in April. He allowed 1 the rest of the season. That equates to an ERA of 0.54 and quite frankly, if I had a Cy Young vote given the group of guys that the American League was putting out there that season, I think I would’ve voted for Britton to win despite him being a reliever. The Orioles should be in good shape without him, though. It will likely be Brad Brach who takes over the closer role in Baltimore in Britton’s absence and he does have an All Star appearance on his resume. Darren O’Day is another guy who can be really tough to hit. I would know, he’s by far my least favorite pitcher to face when I’m playing MLB the Show. His sinker and slider are deadly and couple that with the fact that he’s a submarine pitcher and you’ll be all out of sorts. Mychal Givens is also a quality arm out of the bullpen for the O’s.

The 2018 season is going to be huge for this front office. The lineup is very talented provided they hit the way they’re capable of but the pitching rotation will cost them many games. This will lead to a very difficult decision if the Orioles are hovering around the brink of a playoff berth because Manny Machado will become a free agent after this season and given his talent and the fact that he’ll be 26 when he hits the market, he’s going to command an INSANE contract that the Orioles simply won’t be able to afford. So if they find themselves sputtering and on the outside-looking-in for the playoff race when the Trade Deadline rolls around, I expect them to blow up the team and it’s going to start by trading Machado for a plethora of prospects. Reportedly the White Sox and Yankees have already contacted the Orioles about Machado and both teams do have the prospects to offer for his services. I’d consider the Yankees a long shot simply because it is widely believed within the Orioles’ organization that they don’t want to trade Machado within the division. However if the Orioles play to their abilities and are in the thick of the playoff race, they may decide to keep Machado with a chance to go on a deep playoff run. But if that’s your plan, you’d have to be World Series-or-bust because there’s very little chance that the O’s will be able to bring him back. So I can already tell you that the most intriguing team when the Trade Deadline rolls around on July 31st will be the O’s.

Projected Finish: 81-81, 3rd in the AL East

That projected record is kind of a place holder because what they do at the Deadline is going to be a huge barometer about how I project this team. If they trade Machado and other players on the roster, that record is going to drop like a ton of bricks. If not and their pitchers pitch to their capability, then we could see that first number in the 90’s. That’s going to do it for this edition of 30 Clubs in 30 Days. Join me tomorrow where I preview the Boston Red Sox, who look to win a third consecutive division title for the first time in franchise history. Let me know what you think of the Orioles’ chances and send me some birthday wishes in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.