There has already been drama at the betting windows for Game 7. ... The NFL trade winds have blown in some interesting ways. ... Yes, there really is something to see in Kalamazoo this evening.
We’ve got work to do across multiple sporting fronts on Wednesday, naturally starting with the biggest showcase, as the Astros and Dodgers are forced by the rules of MLB to end the season tonight, though this is a series that should be allowed to go on a bit longer. While that will make for high drama, it may not necessarily produce classic baseball.
Today there are also NFL trades to sort through, and as the nature of this endeavor will have it be on so many days, with most of the attention tuned to the climax of one of the better World Series ever played, my biggest focus will be on tracking the weather in Kalamazoo, Mich. That’s just the way it is.
Item: On to Game 7, and what’s left in those buffet steam tables
Perhaps it is just the Las Vegas influence in me, but while it has been a quite some time since I made my way up and down one of those long corridors that are buffets in our fair city (even though Bob Scucci owes me one, which is a story for another time), I can’t help but set up tonight’s handicap as being of one near the end of serving time. The best work of the kitchen has already been consumed, and you are left with filling your plate from what is left with no more fresh items on the way.
From a purist’s standpoint it is a rather unfortunate way for a championship to be crowned, but those cold and calculating folks in the betting industry don’t mind, because we can take advantage of such settings. When I went to bed on Tuesday evening I did not expect to be in play, so many wild cards in the handicapping equation for the game on the field, but the morning trading is offering something up – I will be putting #913 Houston in pocket at +155 or better, which is showing up in the marketplace (there is a +157 to be had as I write this), as well as Over 7.5 at even money or better, which a good shopper can also find.
I am not going to spell out a list of reasons why I believe Houston will win what could become a long scramble of a game because that is not what this one is about; it is strictly the value equation in play – these circumstances just don’t call for the LAD side being this high, nor the total this low.
If you want some meat to put between the bread, the biggest key is that what was the strongest Dodger edge when the series began, their bullpen being superior to the Astros, doesn’t look that substantial this evening. It isn’t that the Houston corps earns a high degree of trust, but simply that the key cogs from Dave Roberts’ crew may be running on empty, which puts a lot of pressure on him to pull the proper strings.
I don’t think we see Kenta Maeda tonight, off of four appearances and 106 pitches, his natural role as a starter not conducive to a back-to-back. If Brandon Morrow pitches it will be the seventh time in 9 days. For Kenley Jansen, it has been 109 pitches over five games already, exacerbated by the fact that he worked multiple innings on Sunday and again last night. As brilliant as Jansen has been across the 2017 campaign, there should not be an anticipation of him being near his A-level for this one. And, yes, Clayton Kershaw is in the equation, but after only two days' rest following 94 pitches in an ineffective showing in Game 5, I would not expect to see the vintage version of his stuff.
Can Yu Darvish foil this by turning around his Game 3 form and working deep into the night? That can happen. Can the Dodgers foil the side ticket by attacking Lance McCullers Jr. early and then getting into a Houston bullpen that is fresh but might not be very good anyway? That can happen, but it opens the door for the Over to get there. Could I work around this by simply playing the Houston Team Total Over? Some may want to go that route, but the +155 has me opting for the nice return on a game that I see as being much closer to a coin flip than much of the early marketplace.
Item: The NFL trade winds blow the sails around
Since there is a Game 7 tonight, what would have been the lead topic gets reduced here, some major moves across the NFL landscape before the trading deadline, despite that league usually being the most serene in professional sports around that time. There were several moves of short-term impact, and perhaps one for the long term if Jimmy Garoppolo can be the guy whom Kyle Shanahan builds an offense around in San Francisco (the 49ers have seen enough to know that C.J. Beathard doesn’t have a high enough ceiling).
We won’t see Garoppolo this week, and in truth perhaps not all that much from the offense the rest of the way – Shanahan’s building process will be a slow and gradual one because he isn’t under a lot of pressure, and remember that there were no early fireworks in Atlanta, where it took a while before he and Matt Ryan could get on the same page. I am not sure there will necessarily be fireworks later with Garoppolo, but that is not a matter for this week.
Where should the immediate focus go? I will bring the Buffalo side of the Kelvin Benjamin trade in as part of the lead tomorrow, taking a deeper look at Bills-Jets, but while there were a lot of questions about why Carolina would make that deal, especially being depth-shy at WR, it does make some sense as GM Marty Hurney lays it out: “This was more about getting more speed on the field. We've got some young players who we think have some real ability. Kelvin was a very good player and was productive for us. It was more getting a mix of skill sets on the field and more speed.”
What Hurney didn’t say was that it was also about saving $8.5 million against the salary cap for 2018. But there is a football logic in play – in Benjamin and Devin Funchess the Panthers had two big WRs who had games that were a little too similar, neither having the speed to stretch the field, something they had the last two seasons from Ted Ginn. Are Curtis Samuel and Russell Shepard ready to take over the load? There must be some folks in house that believe so, though I am still not confident of Mike Shula’s ability to maximize the pieces.
Don’t underestimate what OT Duane Brown can mean in Seattle. I can understand the Texans making the move, having had enough games without him this season to believe they can be OK, especially with Deshaun Watson’s mobility and also perhaps feeling the need to purge a locker room distraction as the Bob McNair issues play out. Brown fills a major need for the Seahawks, while at the same time preventing one of the teams they may have to beat in January, the Philadelphia Eagles, from addressing that very need.
I believe the Eagles did get a key piece in Jay Ajayi. The full-season numbers for LeGarrette Blount may appear to be fine, 467 yards at 4.7 per attempt, but he has looked a little worn-down already the past two games, only managing 77 yards on 30 rushes (2.6). With more than a half season to go based on playoff expectations, they may have recognized his limitations.
Adam Gase was not happy with Ajayi’s performance this season, claiming that he was aiming for too many home runs instead of grinding every yard available, while also not doing the best job of being prepared to play within the framework the offense. There appears to be some truth, and not just coach-speak, behind that; Damien Williams had already supplanted him as the third-down back.
File this away from Gase, a couple of days before the trade: “At the end of the day, guys have got to actually take this stuff home and study it. They’re not going to just learn it all in meetings. We’ve got to find guys that will actually put forth effort to actually remember this stuff and really, it starts with our best players.”
But now Ajayi gets the boost that comes from the shot at a Super Bowl ring, which can do wonders for a player’s mind-set. Meanwhile, the Dolphins have to cobble together a RB rotation from some role players, which is going to be a challenge. Perhaps they are already resigned to not making a run at the playoffs this season, which is possible based on the standings but not so much based on the reality of the available pieces at the offensive skill positions.
Item: Seriously, there’s a lot going on in Kalamazoo
My biggest handicapping focus tonight is not on the World Series, nor a full NBA board, but instead the Central Michigan-Western Michigan clash in Kalamazoo, which will play out for me on EPSN2, right next to a video screen focused on Astros-Dodgers. Who knows, the college game might even go to the main screen.
I think this total has run too low if the conditions are good enough, an opener of 51.5 now down to 47.5 in some key precincts. The move is understandable, as is Western Michigan -7 dropping to -3.5 because the Broncos will be starting freshman Reece Goddard at QB after veteran Jon Wassink suffered a broken collarbone. But have the markets gone too far?
First note that Goddard has had a little more practice time to assimilate into the offense because of the midweek setting and also have the offense tweaked around his skills because he does bring some dimensions that Wassink lacked, in particular being more of a run threat. There is a wild-card element at play, of course, but that isn’t all bad for Over designs, and Bronco HC Tim Lester lays it out well:“He is going to go out there and make a play, run around a little bit and make some throws that everyone’s going to say ‘Wow’ and you might say ‘oh no’ too sometimes, but that’s the exciting part.”
The flip side is that the Central Michigan offense is also ready to get back to early-season form, something that was written about here in a take on QB Shane Morris. The Chippewas were not able to reach their full potential because that promising WR corps took some early injury losses, but now Corey Willis is back after missing four games, and his performance vs. Ball State, five catches for 98 yards and three touchdowns, shows the spark he can bring.
But now the problem – it looks like a dreary evening. There will be rain on and off throughout the day, the high not expected to top 47 degrees, and the kickoff temperate a few ticks below that. Hence it becomes a waiting game, with no ability to pull the trigger this early, but as kickoff approaches if the weather is not too stifling I may go into pocket for a game that could play out much looser than the way the Total is being priced.
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