MASAHIRO TANAKA A $155-MILLION BARGAIN FOR YANKEES…SO FAR
The New York Yankees are not a good Major League Baseball team. They’re old and overrated. They figure to get worse before they get better this season.
The Yankees entered Friday night with a 30-29 record – and they’re probably not that good. They’ve been outscored by 28 runs (268 to 240) through 59 games.
Injuries to the starting rotation have contributed to the team’s spotty play and one can only wonder how much worse things would be minus Masahiro Tanaka.
The Yankees outbid several other teams, most notably the Chicago Cubs, to lure the 25-year-old right-hander from his native Japan: 7 years for $155 million. So far, Tanaka has been a bargain.
Tanaka has made 12 starts – all quality starts (three-or-fewer earned runs through six innings) – with a 9-1 record, American League-best 2.02 earned-run average and AL-best 0.96 WHIP (walks+hits per inning). In 84 2/3 innings, he has allowed only 68 hits, with 13 walks and 92 strikeouts. Opponents have a .218 batting average.
There is a long way to go this season. But so far, Tanaka deserves serious consideration for American League Rookie of the Year, Cy Young Award and even Most Valuable Player.
(I don’t believe veteran players from Japan should be eligible for Rookie of the Year in Major League Baseball. Tanaka played seven pro years in Japan at the highest level. He was 99-35, including 24-0 last season).
At this point, Toronto veteran Mark Buehrle (10-1, 2.10 ERA) merits the start for the AL in the All-Star Game based on seniority, but Tanaka deserves to work the next few innings.
Where would the Yankees be without him? Probably in a season-long battle with Tampa Bay to avoid the basement in the AL East.
HERE’S HOPING I DON’T JINX CALIFORNIA CHROME
If California Chrome becomes the 12th horse to win the Triple Crown – and the first since Affirmed way back in 1978 – he’ll have to carry the added weight of my picking him to get the job done early Saturday evening in the Belmont Stakes.
I’d like to see California Chrome get the job done and I believe he will. I picked him to win the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes. But I was a history major and I respect the fact that 12 horses in the past 35 years won the first two legs of the Triple Crown but failed to win the 1 ½-mile “Test of the Champion.”
Post time is scheduled for 6:52 p.m. on NBC. The total purse is $1.5 million. All starters carry 126 pounds.
Here are my picks from last-to-first:
11th – Matuszak. Hasn’t shown much against softer competition…Finished behind Kid Cruz twice last winter before that colt disappointed in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes…Won his first career start last fall and didn’t win in his seven starts since.
10th – Matterhorn. Might belong on this card but not in this race…Sixth in the Peter Pan Stakes, beaten 6 ¼ lengths by Tonalist…Super trainer Todd Pletcher merits respect but he can’t carry this horse.
9th – Samraat. Always tries but likely to flunk this 1 ½-mile test. He has speed and could help set the pace, but he’ll likely to backing up when the serious running starts…If you bet on him, he’ll give you early thrills at a generous price.
8th – Medal Count. Won’t mind the distance but probably lacks the speed…Had a troubled trip in the Kentucky Derby but didn’t show much when he got clear. He’ll be closing but others figure to be closing faster.
7th – Commissioner. Couldn’t keep up to Tonalist in the Peter Pan Stakes May 10 at Belmont Park. It rained that afternoon. It figures to be drier on Saturday but it probably won’t matter despite top-shelf trainer (Pletcher) and jockey (Javier Castellano).
6th – General a Rod. Had rough trips in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. Figures to get a cleaner trip but it could be too long. Rosie Napravnik gets the call.
5th – Commanding Curve. Strong finish for second at 37-to-1 in the Kentucky Derby, 1 ¾ lengths behind California Chrome. Chance on best if Derby performance wasn’t a fluke….Skipped the Preakness to freshen up for Saturday’s test.
4th --Tonalist. Impressive romp in the Grade II Peter Pan May 10 at Belmont Park. Relatively fresh and may better rating… Lacks the push-button acceleration of California Chrome but has speed and might have the stamina to foil the latest Triple Crown bid.
SHOW -- Ride On Curlin. I can’t throw this son of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin out. Rough trip in the Kentucky Derby and a hard-closing second in the Preakness…Stamina shouldn’t be a problem…A plus rider switch to savvy NYRA veteran John Velazquez.
PLACE -- Wicked Strong. The impressive winner of the Wood Memorial finished a respectable fourth in the Kentucky Derby after a rough trip out of the extreme outside No. 19 post position…Skipped the Preakness…In the past 12 years, six horses won the Belmont Stakes after running in the Derby and skipping the Preakness That’s a plus pattern…… Sharp recent workouts suggest he is the challenger most likely to upset California Chrome.
WIN – California Chrome. Horses can’t feel pressure but they can feel fatigue. California Chrome looks good from the outside but we don’t know for sure if he has enough left in his tank to go 1 ½ miles against fresher horses…He won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes fairly easily with perfect trips. He’s been good and fortunate. Will his luck continue Saturday?...There are more closers than speed horses in this field. The horses with the most early foot are Samraat, Tonalist and California Chrome. Samraat and Tonalist are the ones most likely to try to take the lead and set modest fractions in an attempt to have enough left to steal the race. The key to theoutcome could be when jockey Victor Espinoza asks California Chrome to move on the leaders. ..So far, California Chrome appears to be the class of an ordinary crop of three-year old colts He’ll go off the huge favorite Saturday. Your best bet to cash a decent ticket probably is an exacta or trifecta with the right long shots behind him.
Summing things up, I don’t think California Chrome has done enough to be the huge favorite he figures to be (maybe 1-to-2; bet $2 to win $1) at post time Saturday, but I can’t recommend betting against him.
A TAD OF RESPECT FOR THE BUFFALO BILLS
Not every national NFL analyst is underestimating the Buffalo Bills entering the 2014 season.
Most of the assorted Power Rankings have listed Buffalo between 25 and 29. I don’t think the Bills are that bad and you probably don’t either.
Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus this week ranked the 32 NFL teams by overall roster strength. He’s not the first to use that method for the 2014 season but he has the most respect for the Bills than any of the other versions.
Monson ranks Buffalo 20th. He praised the defensive unit: “That side of the ball has been loaded with talent for a while, but it was anonymous in 2012 under the old coaching staff and then a completely different prospect in 2013 under Mike Pettine.”
Monson isn’t nearly as high on the offense: “Much rests on the shoulders of EDJ Manuel in his second season after an ugly first year. Manuel has a decent offensive line in front of him and a backfield full of talent to hand the ball off to, but the receiving corps needs first-round draft pick Sammy Watkins to be special right off the bat.”
Two starters were ranked as “poor” by Monson: Manuel and OLG Chris Williams: “Manuel at least has the chance to improve upon that ranking with a big step forward in his development…Chris Williams has been a model of consistently poor play…Kyle Williams is the team’s lone blue-chip player, but along with Marcell Dareus and Mario Williams, three quarters of the Bills’ defensive line rank as good starters or better.”
Here are the Football Focus rankings by division (lower the better):
NFC West – Seattle 1st…San Francisco 2nd…Arizona 9th…St. Louis 31st (total 43)
AFC West – Denver 3rd…Kansas City 10th…San Diego 14th…Oakland 28th (total 55)
AFC East (surprise) – New England 6th…Miami 13th (honest)…Buffalo 20th…NY Jets 23 (total 62)
NFC North – Green Bay 8th…Detroit 11th…Chicago 15th…Minnesota 29th (total 63)
NFC East – Philadelphia 5th…Dallas 18th…NY Giants 19th…Washington 26th (total 68)
NFC South – New Orleans 4th…Tampa Bay 17th…Carolina 22nd…Atlanta 30th (total 73)
AFC North – Cincinnati 7…Baltimore 16th…Cleveland 24th…Pittsburgh 27th (total 74)
AFC South – Indianapolis 12th…Tennessee 21st…Houston 25th…Jacksonville 32nd (total 90).
GIVE ME TIM DUNCAN OVER DWIGHT HOWARD
The All-NBA Teams were announced Wednesday. Tim Duncan wasn’t included – not even on the Third Team -- and Dwight Howard was selected to the Second Team. Why? Duncan is 38 and not the player he used to be, but I’d still take him over Howard, who has become a chronic underachiever.
Here are the active players who’ve been selected to All-NBA Teams:
First team – Kobe Bryant 11 times (2002, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 0210, 2011, 2012, 2013)…Tim Duncan 10 times (1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2013)…Kevin Garnett 4 times (2000, 2003, 2004, 2008)…LeBron James 8 times (2006, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014)…Kevin Durant 5 times (2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014)…Dwight Howard 5 times (2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012)…Dirk Nowitzki 4 times (2005, 2006, 2007, 2009)…Chris Paul 4 times (2008, 2012, 2013, 2014)…Steve Nash 3 times (2005, 2006, 2007)…Dwyane Wade 2 times (2009, 2010)…James Harden 1 time (2014)…Joakim Noah (2014)…Derrick Rose 1 time (2011)…Amare Stoudemire 1 time (2007)
Second Team – Dirk Nowitzki 5 times (2002l 2003, 2008, 2010, 2011)…Amare Stoudemire 4 times (2005, 2008, 2010, 2011)…Tim Duncan 3 times (2006, 2008, 2009)…Kevin Garnett 3 times (2001, 2002, 2005)…Blake Griffin 3 times (2012, 2013, 2014)…Tony Parker 3 times (2012, 2013, 2014)…Dwyane Wade 3 times (2005, 2006, 2011)…Russell Westbrook 3 times (2011, 2012, 2013)…Carmelo Anthony 2 times (2010, 2013)…Kobe Bryant 2 times (2000, 2001)…LeBron James 2 times (2005, 2007)…Kevin Love 2 times (2012, 2014)…Steve Nash 2 times (2008, 2010)…Deron Williams 2 times (2008, 2010)…Chauncey Billups 1 time (2006)…Chris Bosh 1 time (2007)…Elton Brand 1 time (2006)…Andrew Bynum 1 time (2012)…Vince Carter 1 time (2001)…Stephen Curry 1 time (2014)…Marc Gasol 1 time (2013)…Pau Gasol 1 time (2011)…Dwight Howard 1 time (2014)…Jermaine O’Neal 1 time (2004)…Chris Paul 1 time (2009)…Paul Pierce 1 time (2009).
Third Team – Carmelo Anthony 4 times (2006, 2007, 2009, 2012)…Dirk Nowitzki 3 times (2001, 2004, 2012)…Paul Pierce 3 times (2002, 2003, 2008)…Dwyane Wade 3 times (2007, 2012, 2013)…LaMarcus Aldridge 2 times (Ray Allen 2 times (2001, 2005)…Kobe Bryant 2 times (1999, 2005)…Kevin Garnett 2 times (1999, 2007)…Pau Gasol 2 times (2009, 2010)…Paul George 2 times (2013, 2014)…Manu Ginobili 2 times (2008, 2011)…Shaun Marion 2 times (2005, 2006)…Steve Nash 2 times (2002, 2003)…Jermaine O’Neal 2 times (2002, 2003)…Ron Artest 1 time (2004)…Chauncey Billups 1 time (2007)…Andrew Bogut 1 time (2010)…Carlos Boozer 1 time (2008)…Elton Brand 1 time (2009)…Vince Carter 1 time (2000)…Tyson Chandler 1 time (2012)…Goran Dragic 1 time (2014)…Tim Duncan 1 time (2010)…James Harden 1 time (2013)…Al Horford 1 time (2011)…Al Jefferson 1 time (2014)…Dwight Howard 1 time (2013…Joe Johnson 1 time (2010)…David Lee 1 time (2013)…Damian Lillard 1 time (2014)…Tony Parker 1 time (2009)…Chris Paul 1 time (2011…Zach Randolph 1 time (2011)…Rajon Rando 1 time (2012).
Among the surprises in this year’s balloting: LeBron James received only 124 of 125 First Team votes. What was the lone person not to think he was one of the league’s two-best forwards watching?...Carmelo Anthony, the NBA’s No. 2 scorer, didn’t even make the Third Team…Russell Westbrook, one of the best players in the league and probably the most explosive, also failed to make even the Third Team.
USA A REALISTIC 250-TO-1 LONG SHOT IN THESE WORLD CUP ODDS
There are all sorts of on-line World Cup wagering opportunities. The action starts June 12 in Brazil. One of my favorite sits is Sky Bet.com. It offers realistic odds – meaning very high odds on the long shots. It also has a clever incentive for bettors: money back if Brazil wins.
Here are the latest Sky Bet odds (they’re updated frequently): host Brazil 11-to-4 favorite…Argentina 4-to-1…Germany 11-to-2…Spain 6-to-1…Belgium 18-to-1…,France, Portugal each 22-to-1…England, Italy each 25-to-1…Holland, Uruguay 28-to-1…Colombia 33-to-1…Chile 50-to-1…Russia 80-to-1…Switzerland 100-to-1…Ecuador 125-to-1…Bosnia-Herzegovina, Ivory Coast, Japan each 150-to-1…Croatia 175-to-1…Ghana, Greece, Mexico each 200-to-1…South Korea, USA 250-to-1…Nigeria 300-to-1…Cameroon 750-to-1…Algeria, Honduras each 1,500-to-1…Australia, Costa Rica, Iran 2,500-to-1
The Group G “Group of Death” odds to win the World Cup: Germany 11to-2…Portugal 22-to-1…Ghana 200-to-1…USA 250-to-1.
LeBRON HATERS ARE POURING IT ON…UNFAIRLY
Many LeBron James haters are having a field day after he left Thursday night’s Game 1 of the NBA Finals with leg cramps. Most of them probably never have had leg cramps.
Some of LeBron’s critics have contrasted his game-ending cramps to Michael Jordan playing a key playoff game when he was sick with the flu. Well, good for MJ. But let’s be fair.
The Miami at San Antonio game was up for the grabs when James left the game for good with four minutes to play. Give San Antonio credit for pulling away late for the 110-95 victory. The Spurs played a terrific fourth quarter – particularly down the stretch with the best player in the world a MIA. Miami missed LeBron’s defense even more than his offense.
By the way, it was a shame that the game was played in such horrible conditions. The air conditioning failure and subsequent sweltering heat probably was a factor in James’ physical problems, but I don’t agree with those who say the game should’ve been halted and continued at a later date. Once the game began, it had to be finished.
But to believe the heat did not hurt the Heat more than the Spurs is ridiculous. King James proved how great he is when his team folded without him.
The Rochester Rattlers, pretty much an afterthought when this Major League Lacrosse League season started, soared to second in this week’s MLL Power Rankings. They had a 3-2 record entering Thursday night’s home game against the Chesapeake Bayhawks. The powerful Denver Outlaws are the top-ranked team in the eight-team league. Why not? They’ve won 25 consecutive regular-season games.
If California Chrome doesn’t win Saturday’s Belmont Stakes, the winning payoff might well boost the already fat $25.55 average win payoff for a $2 bet in the 35 runnings of the Belmont Stakes since Affirmed won the Triple Crown in 1978. Those winning payoffs included $142.50, $108.80, $79, $74 and $51.50.