Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Week 12 FIVE: Not this week

Sometimes, real life intrudes.

This is one of those weeks as I'm spending a lot more time on the road traveling for business than I would prefer.

As a result the FIVE is taking another week off.  I went 2-3 last week, which was a bummer because I felt really good about all five games.

One thing we do know about this college football season is that we really don't know much at all.

That said, this week is an AWFUL week for college football.  There's literally no game that I consider "must watch" as the SEC is giving us their annual "play a patsy" week and the teams that aren't are playing the bad teams.  The ACC isn't much better, while the Big XII has a couple of mid-card matchups of interest and we MIGHT find out something about Wisconsin.

Were I going to make some plays this week it might be these.....

UAB @ Florida (-11) (No Total Yet)

Florida has fallen apart and UAB is not THAT bad for a group of 5 team returning to the game after a two year hiatus where they shut their program down because the parent school in Tuscaloosa basically torpedoed them.  Pick: UAB to cover +11

Army @ North Texas (-3) (No Total Yet)

It's hard to believe that the oddsmakers and public haven't yet caught up to Army being really good but here we are.  North Texas is pretty good as well, but do you really feel comfortable saying the Mean Green will beat the Black Knights?  I don't.  Pick: Army to win on the M/L

UNLV @ New Mexico (-1) (No Total Yet)

All year I've been banging the drum for UNLV, but it's time to jump off the bandwagon.  They have a good QB, RB and.....not much else. The defense is atrocious and should struggle against the Lobo's triple option. Sorry Desert Rug Rats, but you've lost me.  Pick: New Mexico to cover -1.

And finally.....

Michigan @ Wisconsin (-8) (No Total Yet)

I've been mum on my Wolverines for the last couple of weeks and I think it's time to address some things.  First, the defense is still pretty good, but they've shown that they can tire and be ran over. 2. Harbaugh is still struggling to win big conference games. That's a problem he needs to address. 3. NO his job is not, nor should it be, in jeopardy.  The program is in much better shape now than it was at any point in the last 10 years.  We just need a QB to emerge,  That said I'm afraid that Wisconsin is the real deal and Michigan is going to have some issues with them.  I think the Badgers are underrated on defense and despite the fact that Michigan has shown an offensive pulse since making the QB change, this is too tall a hill to climb. All that said, hope springs eternal.  Pick: Michigan to cover +8

Enjoy the games or, if you're a more level headed person, go watch some college basketball instead.  The two ESPN games on tonight might be a good place to start.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The Week 11 FIVE: Quickly.

Win, Lose or Draw (usually lose) the FIVE continues to chug along.

Last week though was a winner (3-2) which raises our overall record to 16-22-2 such that it is.

I have a new slate of games to get to this week so let's get to it.

1. Duke (-3) @ Army. T: 48

I'm a big believer in the Black Knights this year and Duke seems to be struggling since they got broken by Miami. This is one of those where everyone might think Army is the better team, but the betting is going to go the way of the Blue Devils. Take advantage of that. Pick: Army to win on the M/L

2. Arkansas @ LSU (-17) T: 56.5

Yes, I know that Arkansas has looked like crap of late but LSU is coming off of Alabama and teams the week after playing Bama are.....not good.  Pick: Arkansas to cover -17

3. Florida @ South Carolina (-7) T: 45.5

Speaking of broken, have you seen the Gators of late?  Pick: South Carolina to cover -7.

4. Michigan State @ Ohio State (-15.5) T: 55.5

The easy play is that a pissed off Ohio State team is going to come out and whup up on Sparty at home.  The problem with that thinking?  1. I don't think Ohio State is that good and 2. I don't think Sparty is that bad. Pick: Michigan State to cover +15.5

5. Washington State (-1) @ Utah.  T: 52

Utah has questions as to whether it can score and who knows what Wazzu is these days, both of these teams seem different on the road vs. at home.  Utah looked great last week and that's hard to get out of my mind.  Look at Wazzu's last two road games.  Yuck.  Pick: Utah to win on the M/L.

I'll try to do a full write up of what promises to be a really great weekend of football tomorrow.

Maybe, the schedule she be pretty full right now.

Good luck and enjoy the games.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Houston Texans: Welcome to the disaster.

The Houston Texans are talking Kaepernick which tells you just far off the rails this team has gone.

As an admitted fan of the 49ers I've always been sympathetic to Collin. He got caught up in a dysfunctional team environment and then cast aside by a 2nd generation head coach who didn't want to deal with the drama.

Yes, he's a polarizing figure, much of that he brings onto himself in tandem with his activist girlfriend.  And yes, there are big (huge) questions regarding whether or not he can actually still play to the level he did during the Super Bowl run. But the issues with Kaepernick's protests are overblown and have become politicized to the point that the original intent has been washed away in a wave of psuedo-patriotism.

Ignoring all of that, were I the Texans I would give him a tryout.

'I'll boycott!!' you say?  I would argue that most of the fans who would abandon the team over that have left already and that's a small sub-set of fans anyway.

MOST fans just want their team to win. To feel like they're a part of something that's successful on Sundays.  And that's what fandom is really all about. Winning makes people feel good. They like it. Losing makes them feel like, well.....losers.

It's ridiculous and silly and it's all about being a fan.

For 49ers, and Texans, fans of late that's been a real hard thing.

At least the 49ers seem to have a plan for turning it around.  For the Houston Texans things have never seemed more dire.  You have an owner who isn't serious about winning, might possibly be slightly addled and is known more for his poor word choice than anything else. You have a general manager who might be the sucker at any table he sits down at, and a head coach who is irascible, foul mouthed and seemingly not very good at coaching the game of tackle football unless a gift from the God's is playing at QB.

But even WITH Watson the Texans record was 3 & 4 1/2. With three of those losses squarely falling on the shoulders of the Chin.  Whether as a result of bad game-planning or overly conservative play-calling it's apparent that BoB is in well over his head, and the team is destined to be 9-7, 8-8 or (more likely) worse with him in charge.

Here's the problem.  From top to bottom this is not a franchise that is built to win. It starts at the top, incompetent management who can evaluate talent in the first round, but which is splotchy in its track record in the subsequent rounds. The result of this is a roster with more holes than Mayor Turner's tax increase defense and no plan to address it.  Do YOU have any faith the Texans brain trust can draft its way out of this mess?

There are stars on the Texans, and a bunch of guys. The problem is most of the 'guys' are just that. Not players, not performers, but guys, roster spot fillers who would be camp bodies for good NFL teams, but who start for the Texans.  I'm not going to call anyone out, you (and they) know who they are.

After losing Sunday to the hapless Colts, one struggles to find a future game on the roster where the Texans could reasonably be favorites.

Well, except for my 49ers of course.  But 4-12 is now more of a possibility than is 9-7 and don't even think about 10-6. Such a thing for O'Brien is unpossible.

Maybe he can tell us again about his AFC Championships. THAT should do it.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Houston Astros: 2017 World Series Champions!!!

40 years.

That's how long I've been a fan of the Houston Astros.  I was five when my infatuation with the team started.

Back then it was all about Enos Cabell, Jose Cruz, J.R. Richard and Terry Puhl.  Then Nolan Ryan came on board and it all clicked. Through the years of Dickie Thon, Bob Knepper, Phil Garner, Kevin Bass, Bill Doran, Kevin Bass, Mike Scott and Denny Walling followed by Glen Davis, Jim Deshais, frumpy old Charlier Kerfeld and the magical 1986 team with the no-hitter.

After that some leaner years, with great (to me) players though. Billy Hatcher and Gerald Young, some young buck named Ken Caminiti, Buddy Bell, Danny Darwin and a young catcher named Craig Biggio. The dawn of the 90's brought us Larry Anderson, one of the pivotal players in franchise history and Casey Candele, the original 'everyman's' player.

But the trade of Larry Anderson (one of the games all-time great characters and funny-men) brought the Astros one Jeff Bagwell and we were off. Pete Harnish and Tony Eusebio joined the fold, each to play key roles in the development of the team. Daryl Kyle and Shane Reynolds joined the pitching staff along with Doug Drabek.  Eric Anthony joined the team and hit one of the longest home runs I've ever personally seen.

The mid-90's brought terrible uniforms, and Steve Finley and Luis Gonzales. Plus, a labor strike. (And Bagwell's only MVP.) Those were fun times. Derek Bell made his appearances as did Billy Wagner (Enter Sandman), The bulldog Mike Hampton and the debut of Bobby Abreu.

The late 90's brought us Sean Berry, Tim Bogar, Richard Hidalgo and the late, great Jose Lima.  And then the Grand Randy Johnson experiment.  Which was brilliant but fell just short.  Into the late 90's and early 2000's Lance Berkman, the Big Puma, started his rise to local hero fame. Carl Everette and Bill Spires were also mainstays of those teams. Teams that consistently finished either 2nd or 1st in the NL Central, but could never knock down the World Series door.

The 2000's ushered in the Ballpark at Union Station, also known as Enron Field. It also saw Moises Alou added to the roster, who may, or may not, have peed on his hands for grip, and flame-throwing, but out of control, Scott Elarton, and a cup-of-coffee by Dwight Gooden, who threw the first pitch ever at Enron in an exhibition game. I missed that first pitch, and the entire first inning, because the Metro bus driver from our park and ride got lost.

These early 2000's teams were good. Roy Oswalt was the ace and the offenses were stout. Brad Ausmus became the catcher and then-local sports columnist Richard Justice fell in love with him. Morgan Ensberg would be clutch from time to time and light-hitting Adam Everett was never the star they wanted him to be.

In 2003 the Astros spent a lot of money, for them, to sign Jeff Kent. He solidified the hot-corner and provided depth behind the "Killer B's" of Biggio, Bagwell and Berkman. In 2004 it all clicked. The Astros traded for Carlos Beltran before the trade deadline and he went on to have one of the best post-seasons of any player, ever. Oh yeah, they also signed Roger Clemons and Andy Pettitte to deals, this was a good team. There was trouble brewing however when closer Brad Lidge gave up a homerun in the NLCS to Albert Pujols that is still flying somewhere today.

But they ran into a juggernaut that year in the form of the Chicago White Sox, who swept them in four.  At that time we didn't care however, because we knew that big things were ahead for this team. How wrong we were.

The next year saw the loss of Billy Wagner, the signing of Chad Qualls and Wandy Rodriguez, and the beginning of a slide. 2006 saw the departure of Jeff Bagwell and Andy Pettitte, and the deepening of the slide.  By 2008 this was Lance Berkman's team. Carlos Lee was the 2nd star, but the Clemens and Biggio's and Bagwell's were gone. Hunter Pence showed promise, and Miguel Tejada had an all-star year, but the team finished 3rd. In 2009 the Astros signed Pudge Rodriguez, and finished fifth, things were coming off the rails, yet team owner Drayton McLane refused to acknowledge the team needed a rebuild. The City had fallen out of love with the team it once adored. 2009 was awful, the team finished 4th in the division and only Michael Bourn made the All-Star game, as the "has to be one" Astro representative.

After 2011 the team was sold. Jim Crane came in, inheriting a team that had lost 106 games and finished last in the NL Central.  2012 was last time the Astros would play in that division, and they finished dead last again, with 107 losses. One bright note, Jose Altuve was the team's All-Star game representative.

2013 saw the beginning of the rebuild. Dallas Keuchel was a rookie, Altuve was in a Sophomore slump but Jason Castro showed some promise.  The team lost 111 games. In 2014 though there was improvement. The Astros only lost 92 games, George Springer made his rookie debut, Altuve returned to All-Star form and Marwin Gonzales started playing better. The team had hope leading up to 2015.

As amazing as this sounds, the 2015 team led the Major Leagues in strike-outs, by a lot, and STILL made the wildcard game.  The team as we now know it was starting to come together as Carlos Correa, Brad Peacock, Luke Gregerson and Evan Gattis all joined the roster. The team made the playoffs, beat the Yankees in an exciting Wild Card game only to lose to the eventual Champion Kansas City Royals in heart breaking fashion. (The Astros blew a 3-1 lead before the Golden State Warriors did).  2016 was a year lost to injury and strikeouts, as the team decided it needed to go back to the drawing board to build a winner.

Enter 2017. And what just happened.

This team, this wonderful, outstanding, beautiful team that I've been following for my entire life just did what I thought was unthinkable.  All of the stars came together, the team signed Justin freaking Verlander, Alex Bregman became a star, Yuli Gurriel became a 33 year-old rookie, and Charlie Morton delivered 3 plus innings of some of the most clutch pitching I've ever seen.

It was a beautiful night, a marvelous night, a night that I never thought had any chance of happening.

But it did.

And right now I'm still not even sure it's really, really real.

Houston Astros: 2017 World Series Champions.

Thank you for giving this one Houston sports fan the sports moment of a lifetime.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

College Football: The Week 10 FIVE

Last week, as advertised, I took a much-needed week off from the FIVE to visit Las Vegas and reset my compass.  Yes, I made some sports bets and no, I did not write about them. It was my annual "personal week" with the missus in Vegas and it did wonders.

We need to start this turnaround.

Sports betting is a marathon, not a sprint, and there are a ton of handicappers who will tout a "unbelievable" winning record over the short term but don't pay much attention to long-term. From the beginning I've said that I'm more concerned about the long-term than anything but I'm really going to need to start getting some stuff done if I want to hit my goal of 55% for the season.

To recap, I was 11-17-2 going into last week, which saw me go 2-3 which lowers my record to 13-20-2 for the season.  All I can say is I hope you're fading.

Previously I could point you to my "Bet the Rent" newsletter results to bolster my record but, sadly, last week the founder of that understandably decided it was no longer worth the effort he was putting into it and decided it needed to be shuttered.

Before I get into the picks I just want to thank Brian for the opportunity to write for him, albeit briefly.

Now, let's get back to the FIVE.....

1. Kansas State @ Texas Tech. (-3.5)  T: 63

My feeling has been that KSU head coach Bill Snyder has been given too much weight all year. His teams aren't near as good as they used to be and they DO, in fact, often make mistakes to beat themselves, especially on the road. I'm no fan of Kingsbury as a head coach, but he should win pretty easily here.  Pick: Texas Tech to cover -3.5

2. Maryland (-3) @ Rutgers. T: 50.5

Despite not looking horrendously awful at Michigan the fact remains that this is not a very good Rutgers team. Maryland has not been consistent this year but they do one thing well that Rutgers fails to stop.  They run the ball. They also have a good passing game. I think Rutgers struggles here. Pick: Maryland to cover -3

3. Iowa State @ West Virginia (-2)  T: 59.5

In case you haven't been watching, Iowa State is a good football team. They've shown the ability to handle spread offenses, while the Mountaineers have not looked good against better than average competition. (mild) upset here. Pick: Iowa State to win on the M/L

4. Army @ Air Force (-6.5)  T: 59.5

The Black Knights are bowl eligible. Let me repeat that, the Black Knights are bowl eligible. I also think there's a better than average chance they walk away with the Commander in Chief's trophy this year.  Air Force in Colorado will be tough though.  Pick: Army to cover +6.5

5. Oklahoma @ Oklahoma State (-2.5)  T: 76

It just feels weird having Bedlam occur this early in the season, but I think that OU is still the better team and there's something about this rivalry that brings out the worst in the Cowboys. I still think the Sooners will be a CFP team so I can't pick against them here right?  Pick: OU to win on the M/L

Bonus game:

CMU @ WMU (-4)  T: 48

I've got a weakness for Tuesday and Wednesday Night college football.  And while I will be watching the World Series tonight I'll have this game up on TV2 just for kicks.  Western Michigan is still a very, very good team, but this is a rivalry game so anything can happen.  Pick: Over the total of 48.

Enjoy the games and have a great weekend.

Houston Astros: So much for fate.

It seemed the stars were perfectly aligned. Then the game happened. A game that was as much of a wet fart for Astros fans as the city itself. 

Were you caught in rush hour traffic?  It took me 2 1/2 hours to get home, on a drive that typically takes 45 minutes to an hour. Then the rains came, we found a roof leak, and the Astros lost.  As far as bad birthdays go this one ranks right up there with the time only one kid showed up to my bowling party on Halloween day. (In retrospect, not the best day to hold a birthday party)

Days like this are why I no longer celebrate my birthday.  Fate is bunk.

And the Astros are in deep trouble.

It's not that they can't win the game tonight, but that I'm afraid they won't.  Because Yu Darvish is taking the mound against them, a very good pitcher that had a very bad game a few nights ago, but who will have the entire Nation behind him because he was the epitome of class after the Yuli Gurriel situation. (On a related note: Rich Hill is a sanctimonious prick)

But to cast this story as "the good guy Dodgers versus the bad guy Astros" is way, way to simplistic.  Don't forget that that walking piece of human garbage Chase Utley is on the Dodgers roster as is Yasiel Puig, who can have fun, but is also a brooding, glowering sore loser when things don't go his way.  And the Astros have Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa, two of the legitimately good guys in baseball.

It's never about "good versus evil" despite what fans will tell you, and despite the fact that I make jokes about it on various occasions.  It's about pitching versus hitting and I'm still worried that the Dodgers have more good of the former.

And that's a problem.

Because again the Astros bats went cold when they needed it most. They couldn't plate a single run with men on 2nd and 3rd with no outs, they went into a funk after that for four innings, in the 8th and 9th they went meekly, on around 20 pitches.

You never felt comfortable at 1-0 because you knew that Verlander is human.  A great pitcher no doubt, but human, and the Dodgers have a powerful lineup as well.  Taylor, Seager, Turner, Bellinger, Puig, Pederson is just as good as Springer, Bregman, Altuve, Correa, Gurriel, McCann, possibly better.

But here's the rub.  Morrow, Maeda and Jansen are much, much better than Morton, Gregerson and Giles.  Much, much, much better.

In game 7 the Dodgers give the ball to Darvish while the Astros place their hopes on Lance McCullers.  Unless the latter can miraculously do something that Verlander could not (Pitch 9 scoreless in a World Series elimination game) I'm afraid that the stage is going to prove to be too big, too soon for these baby Astros.

I hope I'm wrong.

Go Astros.

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