3 Most Important Offseason Decisions For The Tampa Bay Rays

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Minnesota TwinsThe Tampa Bay Rays are an interesting team.

When compared to some of their historic rivals, the Rays are still a veritable rookie in Major League Baseball, having entered the league in 1998. Since then, they have been a remarkably consistent club, for good and bad. For the first decade or so of their existence they missed the playoffs each year, and were certainly one of the lesser teams in the American League East.

But since 2008, they have experienced a pretty remarkable turnaround. Over the last six seasons, they have made the playoffs four times, missing them just twice; a mark of success that any team would envy.

However, in that time period they have made just one trip to the World Series, and lost. After losing out in the American League Division Series to the Boston Red Sox this year, they’ll enter 2014 still looking for their first championship in team history.

What are the chances they will succeed?

Odds To Win 2014 World Series: 18/1

Key #1: Dominant pitching

One of the main reasons why the Rays have been good for so long is their pitching. The team is renowned in the Major Leagues thanks to their penchant for finding and developing top pitching prospects, as they seem to have a never ending stock of great young pitchers.

The Rays start from a good position going into 2014, with the entirety of their effective starting rotation poised to return. The lone caveat is potentially their ace David Price, who is headed into arbitration and free agency in 2015. If the Rays think they may lose him as they have other high priced talents, they may try to deal him for a return.

But Price may decide to stay with the Rays and if he does, they are likely to continue their run as one of the best pitching teams in baseball.

Key #2: Hang on to key free agents

One of the reasons the Rays have so much respect around the league is that they do what they do despite working with one of the lowest team payrolls in the Majors. They also play in arguably the worst stadium in the bigs, the domed Tropicana Field.

They have also shown great resiliency in developing more great players as older ones leave in free agency to play in bigger markets, for more money. Once again, the Rays face the possibility of losing some key players to free agency this year. Catcher Jose Molina and first basemen James Loney are both entering the market and the Rays would do well to keep them both if at all possible.

Key #3: Better hitting

The Rays were undone by a lack of offense in the playoffs, with a team batting average of .225 in the series against the Red Sox. If they can return to the playoffs, they’ll need to improve on that mark quite a bit.

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College Football Odds: ACC Battle Puts Contenders on Display

jameis_winston_florida_state_2A pair of ACC juggernauts will collide Saturday, each ranked within the top-10 of the BCS standings, but don’t mistake that for an equal matchup on the college football moneyline. When No. 7 Miami takes the field against No. 3 Florida State, they’ll do so as 22-point underdogs.

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With much to prove, thanks to one of the lightest workloads of any contender or even fringe contender in the NCAA this season, the Hurricanes will look to play FSU tight on the road. A solid performance, even in a loss, coupled with a manageable November, could put this team in a good position come bowl season.

FSU, however, has only one bowl game in mind.

Already with 9/4 odds of winning the BCS National Championship, an impressive showing against a No. 7 club could vault them even closer to equality with the perennial powerhouses in Alabama and Oregon who sit ahead of them in the standings.

Think you know how the critical Week 10 conference pairing will unfold? Not only does it have the makings of an ACC classic, but one of the pivotal games of this college football season.

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NFL Odds: Hungry Pats Host AFC Foes in Week 9 Game

PatsPitt2After a busy offseason, the New England Patriots are finally in a groove in the AFC East. This weekend they’ll get the opportunity to show that they still deserve to be taking up prime real estate on the Super Bowl futures list by making short work of an old rival: the Pittsburgh Steelers.

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Heading into the Week 9 clash, the Pats have a 7-point advantage on the NFL spread and 12/1 odds of winning the Super Bowl. The Steelers, in contrast, have struggled to reach even .500 in the standings and are a virtual non-factor when it comes to long-term NFL betting.

Despite that they’re trending in opposite directions here in 2013, it’s hard for any football fan to look at the pairing and not think back to when the two clubs were perennial contenders to win the championship.

Times may have changed for both franchises, the years kinder to Tom Brady and the Pats than to Ben Roethlisberger and company, but both remain competent threats with just enough experience to eke out a win in any given matchup. Think you know how it will unfold?

2013 Breeders’ Cup Odds: Game On Dude Named 8/5 Favorite for Classic

bcatsantaanita-350He couldn’t get it done last year, but Game On Dude is the favorite to win Saturday’s 2013 Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1, 1 1/4 mile, dirt), the main event of this year’s Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Santa Anita Park. Game On Dude was installed as the 8/5 favorite in a very tough field that also includes the top four finishers from the 2012 Classic.

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The Bob Baffert-trained gelding finished seventh in last year’s race, but he hasn’t lost since, going 5-for-5 in 2013 and sweeping the three grade 1 California handicaps: the Santa Anita Handicap, the Hollywood Gold Cup and the Pacific Classic. The only other horse to take down all three races in the same year was Lava Man in 2006.

Game On Dude will be challenged by last year’s Classic winner, Fort Larned (6/1), as well as Mucho Macho Man (5/1), Flat Out (12/1), and Ron the Greek (8/1). Jockey Mike Smith also gets to ride the favorite for Friday’s Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1, 1 1/8 mile, dirt), as Royal Delta (8/5) attempts to win for the third-straight year.

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Best NFL Matchups Of The Week: November 3-4

rams-titans.3The NFL season has reached November. Two months have come, and two months are left. The level of urgency in each and every game will only rise as the weeks pass by.

Tennessee Titans @ St. Louis Rams

This is a game the Titans really need to win. Tennessee is coming off a bye week and has had a chance to heal after sustaining a number of important injuries, chiefly at the quarterback position, where Jake Locker missed most of October and took away a measure of scoring punch from his team. The Titans will be playing a St. Louis squad that is without its top quarterback, Sam Bradford, for the rest of the season. The Rams, without Bradford, should be a greatly diminished team. If Tennessee loses here, it cannot expect to be seen as an AFC playoff contender.

San Diego Chargers @ Washington Redskins

This is a game that the Chargers will almost certainly have to win if they want to make the playoffs. Yes, San Diego currently sits in playoff position after the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins lost in week eight. Yet, the Chargers have not yet played one game against the two best teams in their division, the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs. It’s quite possible that San Diego will lose three of those four games, and it’s likely that the Chargers will lose at least two of those games. The playoff picture gets complicated for San Diego if it loses after a bye week to a struggling Washington team. This game is a PICK in the sportsbook.

Chicago Bears @ Green Bay Packers

This is a Monday Night Football NFL betting game that the Packers should be able to win. The Bears are reeling on a physical level. They are coming off a bye week, but they will still be dealing with a lot of injuries. Quarterback Jay Cutler and linebacker Lance Briggs will both be out, dealing Chicago a huge pair of setbacks against the NFC North’s most accomplished team in recent years.

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3 Keys To 2013-14 Success: Los Angeles Lakers

nba_u_lakers_gb1_600Few teams in the NBA can boast of a dynasty to rival that of the Los Angeles Lakers.

With 16 championships, the Lakers are one of the most successful franchises in the league’s history, and since their inception in 1948, they have missed the playoffs just five teams; an astounding feat.

But the burden of such success is high expectations, and the Lakers haven’t won a title since their repeat seasons of 2009 and 2010. Los Angeles may be the only NBA city in which that can be considered a drought.

Since then, the Lakers have been eliminated in the conference semi-finals twice, and last year they were swept in the first round. That’s a troubling pattern for a proud team like the Lakers, and they want to turn it around this year.

Odds To Win Championship: 75/1

Key #1: Kobe Bryant

There aren’t many players in NBA history who have made an impact like Kobe Bryant has.

For nearly two decades he has been one of the league’s top players and biggest names. But even the best athletes can’t be dominant forever, and at 35, Bryant is certainly closer to the end of his career than the beginning.

If he retired tomorrow, Bryant would be celebrated as one of the league’s all-time best, and certainly one of the Lakers franchise’s most impactful players. But he hasn’t made any noise about retiring, so the Lakers can continue to enjoy his contributions.

He’s not the dominant star he once was, and he’s coming off an Achilles tendon injury, but he’s still one of the better players in the game and he’s going into a contract season. He’s also likely to be very motivated to bring the Lakers back to prominence. He’ll need to deliver a top flight effort to make that happen.

Key #2: Strong efforts from veterans

Bryant is hardly the only NBA veteran the Lakers have on their roster. Steve Nash is nearing the age of 40 and is clearly winding down. But he has made an impact in his short time with the Lakers and is still one of the most capable guards in the game. If he can continue to develop his rapport with Bryant and the other offensive weapons the Lakers possess, that will go a long way in making his team one to watch this season.

Pau Gasol is heading into a contract season like Bryant. He’s also the oft-repeated subject of trade rumors. He’ll need to either eliminate those distractions or use them as motivation this season.

Big contributions from their veteran core is a must for the Lakers this year if they want to accomplish anything come playoff time.

Key #3: Stay healthy

Every sports team must battle injuries, but the Lakers seem to be uniquely snake bitten in this regard of late. Bryant is coming of an injury, and Chris Kaman got banged up on the Great Wall of China of all places. They need to stay on the court if they’re to have a good season.

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NBA Betting: Minnesota Timberwolves 3 Keys To Success

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Minnesota TimberwolvesThe Minnesota Timberwolves have assembled an impressive group of core players over the past five years. Now they have to find a way to stay healthy. Injuries have been the biggest factor in the Timberwolves’ struggles over the past couple of years, as they haven’t been able to stay healthy long enough to play to their potential. Basketball fans in Minnesota are hoping that will change this year, as health is the biggest key to their success heading in to this season.

2013 NBA Championship Odds: + 12,500

Key To Success #1: Staying Healthy

From Kevin Love’s broken hand to Ricky Rubio’s plethora of injuries, staying healthy has been a major problem for the Timberwolves over the years. The team added more depth in the offseason, but the biggest key to success is still the ability for the core of this team to stay on the floor. Love and Rubio have each proven their All-Star potential on their own, but both players should be even better if they can spend an extended period of time on the floor together. The fact that players like Nikola Pekovic, Alexey Shved, and Derrick Williams played bigger roles last year due to injuries will help in the long term, but ultimately both Love and Rubio need to stay healthy for this team to contend for a playoff spot.

Key To Success #2: Martin, Brewer Must Play To Expectations

The Timberwolves added Corey Brewer from the Denver Nuggets and Kevin Martin from the Houston Rockets to help provide a spark at the offensive end of the floor, and both players will need to play at a high level for this team to succeed. Both are capable scorers that have the ability to stretch the floor and make big shots from beyond the arc, and the combination of Rubio’s playmaking ability and Love’s presence in the middle should really help when it comes to them finding open looks. Love and Rubio are the two key core players for Minnesota, but Brewer and Martin are both excellent fits for this team and both need to play at a high level.

Key To Success #3: Depth Players Must Continue To Provide Support

The injuries to Love and Rubio helped open the for players like Pekovic and Shved to get more playing time and really show what they can do when given the opportunity, and their continued development will be crucial to this team’s success. The Timberwolves’ frontline must stay healthy, but they will also need their depth players to continue to provide a punch at both ends of the floor off the bench, especially if the offense struggles. Minnesota isn’t the deepest team in the Western conference, but they may be among the most underrated thanks to the experience some of those key players managed to get a year ago. Pekovic and Shved will get plenty of opportunities to contribute, only Minnesota basketball fans are hoping they are able to do so in a supporting role rather than being thrust in to bigger roles due to injury this time around.

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MLB Odds: World Series within Reach for Boston Red Sox

hi-res-183178390-david-ortiz-of-the-boston-red-sox-rounds-the-bases_crop_northThe Boston Red Sox are a win away from their third World Series title in 10 years and are perfectly set up to walk away victorious at Fenway Park – no wonder they’re favorites on the MLB moneyline heading into Game 6.

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It’s been a wild ride for both Boston and the St. Louis Cardinals so far this week, one that’s put two of the most dominant MLB clubs of the past decade through the ringer. Now with an end in sight, St. Louis and their young manager Mike Matheny will have to find a way to respond.

While the Cardinals have dug themselves a whole heading into the final two series matchups, they’ve been mainstays atop the MLB futures for much of the season. Why? Because they have legitimate World Series experience. Sure, there’s no guarantee that that translates over into success late in the best-of-seven, but the veteran attitude in the clubhouse certainly doesn’t hurt.

Can the Red Sox hold on in front of their faithful Beantown crowd when Game 6 unfolds Wednesday night? Expect John Lackey and Michael Wacha on the mound when we find out.

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NCAA Basketball Odds: Andrew Wiggins, Kansas Take Center Stage Early

ku_bkc_scrimmageUntil somebody can establish themselves as the clear-cut frontrunner to win a National Championship this season, we find it hard to get excited about any NCAA squad more so than the Kansas Jayhawks. Consider it the Mega Prospect Effect thanks to the arrival of Andrew Wiggins. Will the addition of the super freshman improve their college basketball odds?

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Currently the Jayhawks sit second on the college basketball futures with 11/2 odds of winning March Madness this season. That trails Kentucky, but no one else. Considering how the Wildcats handled last year’s top dog status, we’re not too worried that the Jayhawks won’t still eventually reveal themselves to be the most entertaining club to keep tabs on over the course of the 2013-14 season.

With a matchup against Duke in just their second game of the season, it shouldn’t take long for Wiggins to become a household name (if he isn’t already). Being tabbed the future first overall NBA draft pick, however, doesn’t necessarily equate to success in the college game, making this year’s NCAA basketball moneyline a particularly tricky one to peg.

Does Wiggins make Kansas a favorite in 2013-14?

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NFL Monday

St Louis Rams v Seattle SeahawksSEATTLE SEAHAWKS (6-1) at ST. LOUIS RAMS (3-4)

Sportsbook.ag Line & Total: Seattle -14 & 44

Opening Line & Total: Seahawks -10 & 42

The Seahawks head into St. Louis on Monday night where they meet a Rams team that will be without quarterback Sam Bradford for the rest of the season.

Seattle played the Thursday night game last week and came away with a convincing 34-22 victory on the road against the Cardinals. The Rams, on the other hand, came up empty-handed in Carolina as they committed three turnovers and fell 30-15 against the Panthers. St. Louis quarterback Sam Bradford tore his ACL in the game and will be replaced by Kellen Clemens for the time being. Considering the team contacted 44-year-old Brett Favre to be its starter, Clemens does not figure to be a long-term solution. In the past five meetings between these teams, the Seahawks are 4-1 SU with the last matchup being a 20-13 victory for Seattle last December. However, the Rams covered as 10.5-point underdogs and won outright 19-13 at home when these division foes last met at Edward Jones Dome. The Seahawks are 16-4 ATS (80%) off 1 or more straight Overs in the past three seasons, and are also 13-4 ATS (77%) against conference opponents in the past two seasons. St. Louis has favorable trends too though, as Jeff Fisher is 47-27 ATS (64%) in weeks 5 through 9 as an NFL head coach, and Seattle is just 24-43 ATS (36%) after a win over a division rival since 1992.

Seattle went into the desert and defeated the Cardinals behind the superb play of QB Russell Wilson, who threw for 235 yards (8.1 YPA), three touchdowns and no interceptions in the game. He also rushed for 29 yards, but did fumble three times, losing two of those. Wilson has now thrown for 1,489 yards (8.0 YPA), 11 touchdowns and just four interceptions on the season, but he has taken 20 sacks and fumbled eight times, losing five of those. RB Marshawn Lynch continued to run the ball extremely well with 91 yards on 21 carries with a score, giving him 578 rushing yards (2nd in NFL) and six rushing touchdowns (T-2nd in league) for the season. WR Golden Tate was Wilson’s leading receiver with four receptions for 77 yards, but his targets should decrease with the return of top WR Percy Harvin (hip) nearing. Harvin has a slight chance to play in this game, but he is more likely to return next week. Although TE Zach Miller and WR Sidney Rice both caught touchdown passes versus the Cardinals, there is no guarantee they do it again as Wilson spreads the wealth, completing passes to nine different receivers in that victory. The Seattle defense has been stellar this season as it is allowing a league-low 4.5 yards per play with just 190.6 passing yards per game (2nd in NFL) and 91.6 rushing yards per game (6th in NFL). The Seahawks rank third in the league in scoring defense (16.6 PPG) despite a below average time of possession (29:42). This defensive unit has forced multiple turnovers in all seven games (19 total), and recorded a season-high seven sacks last week. This will make it very difficult for new Rams QB Kellen Clemens to move the football.

St. Louis Rams was a devastating blow with Sam Bradford tearing his ACL in the midst of his best pro season (90.9 passer rating, 24 passing YPG, 14 TD, 4 INT). His backup Clemens (2-for-4, 19 yards last week) will start in Week 8, but is just 4-8 as a starter in the NFL with his last win coming in 2009. His last start was in December of 2011 where he threw completed just 45% of his passes for 226 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT. He also rushed for 18 yards and a touchdown in that game against the 49ers, a 34-27 home loss. St. Louis is now going to rely heavily on their new starting RB Zac Stacy (214 rush yards, 4.3 YPC, 1 TD), who carried the ball 17 times for just 53 yards (3.1 YPC) against the Panthers last week, but he did catch four passes for 34 yards and a touchdown out of the backfield. With a shaky starting quarterback, the Rams will hand it off to Stacy as much as they can but it will be hard for him to get it going against the Seahawks stout rush defense. The Rams’ run defense has been just the opposite, surrendering 126.4 rushing YPG (3rd-worst in NFL), and will have to step it up otherwise Marshawn Lynch will really make them pay. St. Louis hasn’t been great defending the pass either though, allowing 8.0 yards per pass attempt, which is the second-highest number in the league. The Rams tied for the league lead in sacks last year (52), but they have just 18 sacks this season (T-16th in NFL). But they will try to exploit Wilson being turnover-prone, as St. Louis has been able to generate nine takeaways over the past four games. However, this won’t be as easy if top CB Cortland Finnegan (thigh) remains out.