MLB Picks — Sept. 18 (Kansas City @ Pittsburgh; Chicago White Sox @ Cleveland; Tampa Bay @ Texas)

These are the condensed versions of picks for Tuesday’s MLB games between the Kansas City Royals and Pittsburgh Pirates, Chicago White Sox and Cleveland Indians, and Tampa Bay Rays and Texas Rangers for Winners and Whiners.

Links to the full previews are below, and confidence rating is in parentheses. Note: The 5/5 does not represent the best overall pick of the day’s games, simply the best pick of each individual game.

Game 1: Kansas City at Pittsburgh:

Side Prediction/Full Game: Pirates -200 (4/5)
Total Prediction/Full Game: Under 8 runs -110 (3/5)
Prop Prediction/Full Game: Pirates -2.5 adjusted run line +150 (3/5)
Side Prediction/Half Time: Pirates -0.5 runs -145 (5/5)
Total Prediction/Half Time: Under 4 runs -120 (3/5)
Prop Prediction/Half Time:  No to 1st-inning run -140 (3/5)

Game 2: Chicago White Sox at Cleveland:

Side Prediction/Full Game: Indians -222 (4/5)
Total Prediction/Full Game: Under 8 runs -115 (3/5)
Prop Prediction/Full Game: White Sox under 3 runs -105 (3/5)
Side Prediction/Half Time: Indians -0.5 runs -150 (5/5)
Total Prediction/Half Time: Under 4.5 runs -130 (4/5)
Prop Prediction/Half Time:  No to 1st inning run -130 (3/5)

Game 3: Tampa Bay at Texas:

Side Prediction/Full Game: Rays -200 (4/5)
Total Prediction/Full Game: Under 9.5 runs -125 (5/5)
Prop Prediction/Full Game: Under 28.5 runs+hits+errors -115 (4/5)
Side Prediction/Half Time: Rays -0.5 runs -170 (3/5)
Total Prediction/Half Time: Under 5 runs -125 (3/5)
Prop Prediction/Half Time:  Rays 1st-inning 3-way win +210 (3/5)

Previous Day’s Record: 2-4 (.333)
September Record: 82-104 (.441)
Season Record: 159-189 (.457)

1-Star Pick Record: 0-0 (.000)          (0-0 (.000) in September)
2-Star Pick Record: 1-1 (.500)          (1-0 (1.000) in September)
3-Star Pick Record: 92-117 (.440)     (48-61 (.440) in September)
4-Star Pick Record: 42-47 (.472)    (20-27 (.426) in September)
5-Star Pick Record: 24-24 (.500)     (13-16 (.448) in September)

Champions League Match Day 1 preview — Liverpool vs. Paris-Saint Germain

It is not about who scores the goals for Liverpool and Paris-Saint Germain in their Champions League opener at Anfield on Tuesday, but rather, which side will be able to stop the other from scoring that will determine who gets an early foothold in Group C.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

No one is questioning the credentials of either club’s offence. Liverpool have amassed the maximum 15 points through their first five Premier League matches, trailing Chelsea on the slimmest of goal difference after bagging 11 goals through those contests.

Last season’s Champions League runners-up boast a potent trident strike force in Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino, and the trio have accounted for eight of those goals. Firmino scored in both of Liverpool’s last two contests, though he was an injury concern after suffering an eye injury in an awkward clash with Tottenham’s Jan Vertonghen in their 2-1 victory last time out.

Manager Jurgen Klopp is eager to use that win as a springboard into this contest given it was Liverpool’s first match against one of the elites in the Premier League, and the higher tempo and quality served as a reminder of the demands of European football.

“It was different to all the other games obviously, because Tottenham is a different team so we had to do that, but that was actually always one of our biggest strengths so we did pretty well.” Klopp said at Monday’s news conference. “If we could do better that would be really cool, because probably we need to.

“But the Champions League is there to face teams like that. … Everyone knows where Paris is, obviously, and everyone knows about their power on the pitch so it’s a challenge – but I’m really looking forward to it.”

While Liverpool fortified themselves in the offseason with the additions of Alisson between the sticks, Naby Keita’s long-awaited arrival from Leipzig and Xherdan Shaqiri’s depth in attack beyond the trio, midfielder Fabinho continues to be the odd man out. The £39 million signing from Monaco has yet to appear in a match for the Reds and was among the reserves just twice in their first five contests.

Of the three midfielders Klopp is expected to start among Keita, Jordan Henderson and James Milner, Henderson may be the most likely of the three to be subbed out at some point given he is still recovering from England’s run to the World Cup semifinals. Still, he is eager to start the journey back to the Champions League final and take that last step to lift “Old Big Ears.”

“I think last season was obviously a good step in the right direction, but at the end of the day we didn’t win anything,” he told the club’s official website.

“So there’s a lot of room for improvement and this season we want to make that step closer and try and get some silverware because ultimately that’s what we’re here to try to do: be the best team in England and in Europe as well. We’ve got to keep winning games.”

But while it is go, go, go on offence for Liverpool, Alisson has made an immediate impact at the back. The Reds have conceded just two goals in their five matches, with Alisson directly responsible for one with a howler of a dribbling move. Virgil van Dijk has been massive in central defence, surprisingly augmented there by Joe Gomez while Dejan Lovren continues to recover from an abdominal injury and his run to the World Cup final with Croatia.

Yet they are in for a stern challenge in Paris-Saint Germain, who boast a wealth of attacking options themselves in burgeoning superstar and World Cup winner Kylian Mbappe along with Brasil ace Neymar and fellow South Americans Edinson Cavani and Angel Di Maria.

The quartet have taken well to new manager Thomas Tuchel, with Les Parisiens also sporting the maximum 15 points through their first five matches in domestic play. PSG have racked up an impressive 17 goals, 13 through their four-man attack force in the German’s 4-2-3-1 set-up.

This match also serves as an early referendum on Klopp’s successor at Borussia Dortmund. Tuchel took over PSG after a one-season coaching sabbatical, replacing Unai Emery after he failed to get beyond the Champions League quarterfinals in each of his two seasons in Paris. Domestic domination with Le Rouge-et-Bleu is a given as they have done the treble four consecutive seasons running, the mandate is European success come hell or high water.

“Paris have gone very close to making the quarter-finals in the last two years,” Tuchel noted in his Monday news conference. “Sometimes people say a lot of things to try to explain and find reasons for every single little event and everything that happens… but maybe sometimes you just need a special win to get the confidence to go a long way in a competition.

“In my opinion, if you want to go a long way, you have to have the experience that you can do something special. It makes our challenge even bigger. Liverpool have won the Champions League five times, they have that experience, this stadium has that experience.”

One player whose experience would be welcome in this game but is unavailable is goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon. The old lion is serving a three-match ban for his comments following his loss to Real Madrid in last spring’s semifinal loss while with Juventus. PSG central midfielder Marco Verratti is also out for this match after being sent off in their round of 16 loss to Real last season.

PSG keeper Alphonse Areola turned in his first clean sheet in domestic play last weekend in their 4-0 romp past Saint-Etienne, continuing his fine play for France as he deputised for the injured Hugo Lloris in Nations League play. Areola posted a shutout in a draw against Germany and conceded once in a victory over the Netherlands during the international break.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Liverpool are solid 21/20 favourites to open group play with a victory, while PSG are 11/5 underdogs to take all three points back across the channel. The odds of the team’s splitting points are 27/10.

For those who expect a goal-fest, or at least three or more, a Liverpool win over 2.5 goals is getting 7/4 odds, while one for PSG returns 10/3. A 2-2 draw would bring back a 7/1 return on such an investment. For those thinking the defence and keepers will step to the forefront, a draw under 2.5 goals is the oddsmakers choice at 24/5, followed by a Liverpool win (11/2) and a PSG victory (17/2).

For first goal-scorers, Salah is a clear favourite at 16/5, surprisingly followed by Liverpool striker Daniel Sturridge at 5/1. Cavani lurks just behind the England international as Les Parisiens’ top option at 11/2, with Mbappe and Firmino returning 6/1 odds if they make it 1-0.

Salah is the only striker with better than even money odds to score during the match at 10/11, with both Cavani and Neymar checking in at 17/10. Just behind the PSG duo are Mbappe and Liverpool counterpart Mane at 9/5.

PREDICTION

One of the things that stands out about this match is the contrast in attack. Liverpool likely will go through the middle of the pitch with Milner and Keita to challenge Andre Rabiot and Lassana Diarra while exploiting Verratti’s absence, while PSG will look to unleash Mbappe down the right side of the pitch to pin back Robertson.

On the other flank, Di Maria can use his wiles against Trent Alexander-Arnold, who is still learning his way on the job against higher-end competition and also has accrued three yellow cards in his first five Premier League matches.

To a degree, Alisson will be in the spotlight for Liverpool as the focal point of compare and contrast given how last season’s Champions League ended with Loris Karius’ nightmarish final. The Brasil international definitely has a swagger to him, and for Liverpool fans, they can only hope he sticks to shot-stopping first and dribbling second.

Areola presents an intriguing counterpart given PSG brought Buffon on board to be one of the players who get them over the hump in Champions League. This is PSG’s seventh consecutive appearance, with the previous six ending in the quarterfinals or round of 16. The offensive talent is unquestionably there, it’s whether the defence and the goalkeeping can shine equally.

Possession and pace will be keys in this game. If Liverpool can force turnovers in the middle of the park and PSG’s half of the pitch, they will create scoring opportunities. If Rabiot and Diarra can link to Neymar on quick passes through the middle to set up runs by Mbappe and Di Maria, the Ligue 1 side will find success.

Cavani can also be a difference maker with his nous in the box, and Gomez will have to be up the challenge on a quick turnaround after helping van Dijk do a solid job in containing another world-class striker in Harry Kane in their most recent game.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Liverpool 3, Paris-Saint Germain 2.

Champions League Match Day 1 preview — Inter Milan vs. Tottenham Hotspur

It may be too soon to panic, but there is definitely concern surrounding Tottenham Hotspur as they being their Champions League campaign Tuesday in a Group B match at the San Siro versus Inter Milan.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Last season, the Spurs took their next logical step in terms of joining the European elite, reaching the knockout round of the Champions League before falling in the round of 16 against Juventus in which their tactical naivete was exposed in the second leg at home.

That 2-1 loss to the scudetto holders was their only defeat in eight Champions League matches, but it also showed the fickle fate of a team who claimed four points off eventual champions Real Madrid in group play.

“Experience is experience, yes, but you need to apply the experience, plus the hunger, plus your own motivation, plus being clever and learning. If you are not clever, it is only experience and it’s not going to help you in the future,” Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino told The Times.

Pochettino’s team blazed out of the gates in the Premier League with the maximum nine points through three matches, but they dropped back-to-back games around the international break after a 2-1 loss to Liverpool at Wembley Stadium on Saturday.

Erik Lamela helped the Lilywhites avert a shutout when he converted a corner by Kieran Tripper in the 93rd minute, but the question of overall team fatigue reared itself once more as the Spurs — who did not make a move in the summer window — looked lethargic in contrast to a Liverpool squad who spent aggressively in the summer in their bid to both contend for the Premier League title and return to the Champions League final.

That question about squad fatigue returned to the spotlight when Pochettino announced he would be without at least four regulars for this game. He opted not to bring defenders Trippier and Toby Alderweireld with the squad to Italy, while attacking midfielder Dele Alli and keeper Hugo Lloris remain sidelined through injury.

“You cannot bring 25 players and can only play 11,” Pochettino told the BBC as part of his remarks Monday. “That is the reason. It was a technical decision. You can find it in the dictionary, maybe tactical also on the pitch – yes, it’s tactical too.”

Under the harshest glare regarding potential fatigue is striker Harry Kane. The World Cup Golden Boot winner had two goals and an assist in Tottenham’s fast start but has been silent since, and he was held out of England’s friendly against Switzerland after the Three Lions began Nations League play with a loss to Spain. This game will serve as another referendum on chairman Daniel Levy’s decision to stand pat, but with arguably much more at stake than playing in a new international continental tournament.

Inter Milan are in the Champions League for the first time in seven years following their fourth-place finish in Serie A last season, edging out Lazio for the final spot on the strength of a 3-2 victory in Rome to give them more head-to-head points from the two matches.

This season’s squad, however, has gotten off to a slow start with one win through their first four matches. Inter are coming off a 1-0 loss at home to newly promoted Parma on Saturday despite owning a 29-9 edge in shots and putting eight of those attempts on frame. A top-shelf goal by Inter loanee Federico Dimarco 11 minutes from time separated the sides, and he also saved a goal on the defensive end with a clearance of a shot by Ivan Perisic.

Despite the loss, Inter manager Luciano Spalletti was upbeat ahead of the continental opener and eager to have his side prove their worth in a challenging group that also includes evergreen side Barcelona.

“It will be a very competitive group stage and it’s very important for us to get a positive result. Both teams arrive in a similar situation and we’re both going to fight to change that feeling. We have to show our best and show we deserve to be a contender. We need to be consistent. If we are going to be a contender then we need to improve a lot.”

Spalletti also had some injury concerns ahead of this match, but a large one was expected to be alleviated with the return of striker Mauro Icardi. The Argentina international made a second-half runout versus Parma, and the Nerazzurri are eager to have him back after he bagged 29 goals in Serie A last campaign.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Betfair, Inter are slight favourites to win at 8/3 odds, while Tottenham Hotspur have 23/8 odds. The odds of the teams splitting the points are the longest at 10/3. A 1-1 draw appears to be the preferred outcome of oddsmakers at 6/1, followed by a 1-0 scoreline in either direction or a 0-0 draw at 17/2.

Icardi and Kane are joint-favourites for first-goal/last-goal scorers at 13/3, with Kane owning a slight edge for a goal over the 90 minutes at 21/10 compared to Icardi’s 11/5 return. Tottenham’s reserve strikers — Fernando Llorente and Heung-Mon Son are both listed at 10/3 odds to score and 7/1 odds to make it 1-0, and Inter’s Lautaro Martinez is the second choice behind Icardi at 17/5 odds at any time and 13/2 to open or close the scoring.

PREDICTION

For all the talk of who is not playing for Spurs, one player definitely in the spotlight for the north London side is keeper Michel Vorm. The Netherlands international has not looked like a world-beater in his two starts deputising for Lloris, yielding four goals. Vorm’s lone Champions League start came last season in a dead rubber versus APOEL in group play and did not have to make a save in Spurs’ 3-0 win at Wembley in December.

This will be a much different contest, though it also appears Inter are a work in progress based on their slow start. The Nerazzurri will also be without a key defensive cog as right back Sime Vrsajlko suffered a knee injury on international duty with Croatia and is listed as day-to-day.

The issue for Inter, though, has been more offence than defence. They have scored only five goals and been held off the scoresheet in two of their four league matches. The Nerazzurri have relied heavily on Ivan Perisic, who has two of their five goals and leads the team in shots on frame (7), overall shots (16) and crosses (41).

The teams have split four all-time meetings, with the home side victorious on all four occasions. Goals have been plentiful at the San Siro, where Inter won a 2010 Champions League group game 4-3 and a second-leg round of 16 Europa League tie 4-1 three years later that allowed Spurs to escape to the next round on the away goals rule.

Tottenham’s next Champions League match will be at home against group favourites Barcelona on Oct. 3, while Inter will take to the road the same day for a contest at Dutch side PSV Eindhoven.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Inter Milan 1, Tottenham Hotspur 1.

 

 

 

MLB Picks — Sept. 17 (Seattle at Houston)

These are the condensed versions of picks for Monday’s MLB game between the Seattle Mariners and Houston Astros for Winners and Whiners.

Links to the full previews are below, and confidence rating is in parentheses. Note: The 5/5 does not represent the best overall pick of the day’s games, simply the best pick of each individual game.

Game 1: Seattle at Houston:

Side Prediction/Full Game: Mariners +160 (3/5)
Total Prediction/Full Game: Over 8.5 runs -120 (3/5)
Prop Prediction/Full Game: Mariners over 3.5 runs -130 (4/5)
Side Prediction/Half Time: Mariners +150 (3/5)
Total Prediction/Half Time: Over 4.5 runs -125 (5/5)
Prop Prediction/Half Time:  Mariners 5-inning win 3-way +185 (3/5)

Previous Day’s Record: 6-6 (.500)
September Record: 80-100 (.444)
Season Record: 157-185 (.458)

1-Star Pick Record: 0-0 (.000)          (0-0 (.000) in September)
2-Star Pick Record: 1-1 (.500)          (1-0 (1.000) in September)
3-Star Pick Record: 91-114 (.444)     (47-58 (.448) in September)
4-Star Pick Record: 41-47 (.466)    (19-27 (.413) in September)
5-Star Pick Record: 24-23 (.511)     (13-15 (.464) in September)

MLB Picks — Sept. 16 (Oakland @ Tampa Bay; Detroit @ Cleveland)

These are the condensed versions of picks for Sunday’s MLB games between the Oakland Athletics and Tampa Bay Rays, and Detroit Tigers and Cleveland Indians for Winners and Whiners.

Links to the full previews are below, and confidence rating is in parentheses. Note: The 5/5 does not represent the best overall pick of the day’s games, simply the best pick of each individual game.

Game 1: Oakland at Tampa Bay:

Side Prediction/Full Game: Athletics -106 (3/5)
Total Prediction/Full Game: Under 8 runs -120 (3/5)
Prop Prediction/Full Game: Under 26 RHE -115 (5/5)
Side Prediction/Half Time: Athletics -0.5 runs +135 (3/5)
Total Prediction/Half Time: Under 4 runs -110 (4/5)
Prop Prediction/Half Time:  No to 1st inning run -130 (3/5)

Game 2: Detroit at Cleveland

Side Prediction/Full Game: Indians -260 (3/5)
Total Prediction/Full Game: Over 8.5 runs -110 (3/5)
Prop Prediction/Full Game: Over 27.5 RHE -115 (4/5)
Side Prediction/Half Time: Indians -0.5 runs -130 (5/5)
Total Prediction/Half Time: Over 4.5 runs -115 (4/5)
Prop Prediction/Half Time: Yes to 1st-inning run (3/5)

Previous Day’s Record: 5-7 (.417)
September Record: 74-94 (.440)
Season Record: 151-179 (.458)

1-Star Pick Record: 0-0 (.000)          (0-0 (.000) in September)
2-Star Pick Record: 1-1 (.500)          (1-0 (1.000) in September)
3-Star Pick Record: 89-109 (.449)     (45-53 (.459) in September)
4-Star Pick Record: 38-47 (.447)    (16-27 (.372) in September)
5-Star Pick Record: 23-22 (.511)     (12-14 (.462) in September)

2018 NFL Week 2 — (Detroit at San Francisco; New England at Jacksonville)

These are the condensed versions of picks for the NFL Week 2 games between the Detroit Lions and San Francisco 49ers, and New England Patriots and Jacksonville Jaguars for Winners and Whiners. Confidence rating is in parentheses. Note: The 5/5 does not represent the best overall pick of the day’s games, simply the best pick of each individual game.

Week 1 Review: I’ll be succinct. Matthew Stafford played like a rookie. Sam Darnold did not. Accordingly, the belief the Lions would win on every single pick and hold the Jets under 20 points was an unmitigated disaster. Moving on then:

Game 1: Detroit at San Francisco:

Side Prediction/Full Game: 49ers -6 -115 (4/5)
Total Prediction/Full Game: Over 47.5 -110 (3/5)
Prop Prediction/Full Game: Kittle to score TD+49ers win +162 (3/5)
Side Prediction/Half Time: 49ers -3.5 -105 (5/5)
Total Prediction/Half Time: Over 24.5 (3/5)
Prop Prediction/Half Time: YES to score in first 6:00 (3/5)

Game 2: New England at Jacksonville:

Side Prediction/Full Game: Patriots -2 -110 (4/5)
Total Prediction/Full Game: Under 45 -110 (3/5)
Prop Prediction/Full Game: Jaguars Under 21.5 points (4/5)
Side Prediction/Half Time: Patriots -115 (3/5)
Total Prediction/Half Time: Over 22 points -110 (3/5)
Prop Prediction/Half Time: Patriots over 11.5 points -110 (5/5)

Previous Week’s Record: 0-6 (.000)
Season Record: 0-6 (.000)

1-Star Pick Record: 0-0 (.000)          Season (0-0, .000)
2-Star Pick Record: 0-0 (.000)          Season (0-0, .000)
3-Star Pick Record: 0-3 (.000)          Season (0-3, .000)
4-Star Pick Record: 0-2 (.000)          Season (0-2, .000)
5-Star Pick Record: 0-1 (.000)          Season (0-1, .000)

MLB Picks — Sept. 15 (Oakland @ Tampa Bay; Chicago White Sox @ Baltimore)

These are the condensed versions of picks for Saturday’s MLB games between the Oakland Athletics and Tampa Bay Rays, and Chicago White Sox and Baltimore Orioles for Winners and Whiners.

Links to the full previews are below, and confidence rating is in parentheses. Note: The 5/5 does not represent the best overall pick of the day’s games, simply the best pick of each individual game.

Writer’s Note for Sept. 15 — The A’s-Rays game will feature two “openers” facing each other for the first time since Tampa Bay started the trend earlier this season. Thus, there is admittedly some guesswork involved in picks specific to this game.

Game 1: Oakland at Tampa Bay:

Side Prediction/Full Game: Rays -111 (3/5)
Total Prediction/Full Game: Under 8.5 runs (3/5)
Prop Prediction/Full Game: Uner 26.5 runs+hits+errors (4/5)
Side Prediction/Half Time: Rays -0.5 runs (3/5)
Total Prediction/Half Time: Under 4.5 runs (5/5)
Prop Prediction/Half Time: No to 1st-inning run (4/5)

Game 2: Chicago White Sox at Baltimore:

Side Prediction/Full Game: White Sox -115 (5/5)
Total Prediction/Full Game: Under 9 runs (3/5)
Prop Prediction/Full Game: White Sox over 4.5 runs (4/5)
Side Prediction/Half Time: White Sox -0.5 runs +110 (4/5)
Total Prediction/Half Time: Over 4.5 runs (3/5)
Prop Prediction/Half Time: Yes to 1st-inning run (3/5)

Previous Day’s Record: 1-11 (.083)
September Record: 69-87 (.442)
Season Record: 146-172 (.459)

1-Star Pick Record: 0-0 (.000)          (0-0 (.000) in September)
2-Star Pick Record: 1-1 (.500)          (1-0 (1.000) in September)
3-Star Pick Record: 86-106 (.448)     (42-50 (.457) in September)
4-Star Pick Record: 37-44 (.457)    (15-24 (.385) in September)
5-Star Pick Record: 22-21 (.512)     (11-13 (.458) in September)