Previewing 2019 National League Division Series

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The National League playoffs have been set after the Washington Nationals defeated the Milwaukee Brewers for a spot in the Division Series in the NL Wild Card Game. That being said, it’s exciting to see the teams finally set up to play one another for potentially some outstanding baseball. Let’s take a look at the matchups.

Los Angeles Dodgers vs Washington Nationals

So the Dodgers and Nationals meet again, but things are a bit different now as the Dodgers are clearly a dominant team while the Nationals are red hot. The last time they played one another, the Dodgers edged the Nationals out in a thrilling Game Five in 2016, but Washington will be looking for redemption. With clearly one of the best teams going against an incredibly hot side, this should be a very interesting matchup.

Los Angeles Dodgers

The Dodgers have been a strong team for a very long time as they have won seven straight division titles and are the defending National League champion. So yeah, there’s a lot to like about them as they have some of the best starting pitching in baseball, a lockdown bullpen, and big bats. The team is led by Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler, Cody Bellinger, and Max Muncy and are the favorites to win the pennant. It will be interesting to see a team with 106 wins going against a hot Nationals side.

Washington Nationals

The Nationals were left for dead essentially when they started the season 19-31, but after rallying off a 74-38 run to the playoffs and an enthralling NL Wild Card Game win, here they are in the Division Series. The Nationals have great starting pitching and a lot of good hitters on their team with a nice blend of veterans and young talent. Their biggest issue though is that the bullpen is atrocious as it’s collective ERA ranks very low. Washington will really need their bullpen to step up if they want to win the series because otherwise they will not do well.

Notes: Dodgers won the season series 4-3

Predictions

James Rowe: Dodgers. While it would be nice to see the Nationals advance, the Dodgers are too good of a team for them to defeat. This will come down to each team’s bullpens and that’s not a good thing for Washington.

Atlanta Braves vs St. Louis Cardinals

The Braves have had a very good season as they have shown that their rebuild is not a fluke. While they were clearly one of the weakest sides in last year’s playoffs, they are much more dangerous this season. Of course though, the Cardinals are playing some of their best baseball going into the postseason, which sets up a potentially great series.

Atlanta Braves

The Braves have finally come out of their rebuild and have a plethora of good young talent. They have some exciting bats, solid pitching, and a very reliable bullpen. The team is led by Freddie Freeman, Dallas Keuchel, Ozzie Albies, and Ronald Acuna. Acuna and Albies, along with Mike Soroka and Max Fried, show the collective young talent the Braves boast. It shows how well built Atlanta is and could potentially go deep in the playoffs.

St. Louis Cardinals

The Cardinals are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2015 and it’s very exciting to see baseball return to such a great baseball town. The Cardinals have a strong lineup with Paul Goldschmidt, Matt Carpenter, Paul DeJong, and Marcell Ozuna and a strong bullpen, which was a key factor in their run to the playoffs. The question is whether their starting pitching will keep up as aside from Jack Flaherty, the starting pitching is suspect. St. Louis has the experience and the talent to possibly make a deep run to the pennant.

Notes: Braves won season series 4-2.

Predictions

James: Braves. I’m not convinced that the Cardinals are all that strong of a side to beat the Braves and they lack a strong starting rotation to keep up with Atlanta.

Previewing 2019 American League Wild Card Game Tampa Bay Rays Vs Oakland Athletics

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After last night’s thrilling National League Wild Card Game, a great start to the postseason, the American League will have it’s chance to make a more exciting contest as we have the Tampa Bay Rays traveling to Oakland to play the Athletics. Another evenly matched game, baseball fans couldn’t have asked for a better start to the playoffs

Tampa Bay Rays

The Rays on paper don’t look like a playoff contender, but they sure do play like it. They also have a lot of young talent here, so the Rays are a lot of fun to watch. Tampa Bay is lead by youngsters Willy Adames, Yandy Diaz, Matt Duffy, Brandon Lowe, Austin Meadows and Joey Wendle and have veteran players like Avisail Garcia, Travis d’Arnaud, and Tommy Pham leading the way. The Rays will trot out Charlie Morton for this game and even at the age of 35, Morton dominates. Morton allowed only one run in 13.1 innings against Oakland in two starts this season with one victory. Tampa Bay also has a very dominant bullpen with pitchers like Chaz Roe, Ryan Yarbrough, and Oliver Drake, plus two starting pitchers in Blake Snell and Tyler Glasnow in there for this game. The Rays are a dark horse team to make the World Series.

Rays lineup

  1. Joey Wendle 2B
  2. Tommy Pham LF
  3. Austin Meadows DH
  4. Travis d’Arnaud C
  5. Jesus Aguilar 1B
  6. Avisail Garcia RF
  7. Kevin Kiermaier CF
  8. Matt Duffy 3B
  9. Willy Adames SS

Oakland Athletics

If they Rays have a lot of talent, then the Athletics are just as or even more rich in young talent. Oakland can hit the ball well and have a dark horse candidate for AL Most Valuable Player in Marcus Semien pacing the offense. There’s a lot of great talents on their team like Ramon Laureano, Matt Olson, Matt Chapman, and Franklin Barretto as well as their big slugger in Khris Davis. The Athletics had started the season slow as they were 19-25, but went 78-40 the rest of the way to earn a postseason berth. Oakland also boasts a very stout pitching staff including their starter for tonight’s game, southpaw Sean Manaea. Manaea only pitched five games this season after coming off the injured list, but it all came in September as he went 4-0 with a 1.21 ERA and is clearly their hottest pitcher. The team also has a very good bullpen in Jake Diekman, Liam Hendriks, and J.B. Wendelken, plus have starters Chris Bassitt and Mike Fiers available tonight which only strengthens them more. The Athletics are another dark horse candidate to win the pennant.

Athletics lineup

  1. Marcus Semien SS
  2. Ramon Laureano RF
  3. Matt Chapman 3B
  4. Matt Olson 1B
  5. Mark Canha CF
  6. Seth Brown LF
  7. Khris Davis DH
  8. Jurickson Profar 2B
  9. Sean Murphy C

Notes: Oakland won the season series 4-3.

Prediction

James Rowe: Rays. Sure the Athletics have a lot of offensive firepower and solid pitching staff, but never count out the Rays as they have really shown how to play baseball the right way. Plus, they have a righty-heavy lineup tonight going against a hot Manaea. It just seems like they are confident enough in beating him.

USA Could Shock People In 2019 Rugby World Cup

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The United States might be in the Group of Death as they have already played a formidable foe in England who is a favorite to win this World Cup, but the Eagles also have to play other nations like France, Argentina, and Tonga. It’s not an easy group to be in despite all the progress they have made in the last year to say the least. That being said, I still think the United States can actually make it out of this group. Hear me out now.

Argentina is ranked 10th in the world while the United States is ranked 13th. That right there should suggest that the matchup should be more evenly matched. Argentina did not look all that sharp against France in their match recently and while I personally see them as the second best team in the group, I think the US will play them hard. If the Eagles were to play Scotland as close as they did last year, then they should able to play Argentina hard and beat them. The only issue here is the scrum as the Argentinians are known for their strong scrum. That will be a key factor here.

France is another story. The French have been a very inconsistent side of late and you never know what to expect of them. Sure they have had some very good defensive matches, but you never know what squad shows up. If they show up well, then the United States should struggle, but if they don’t, you could expect an upset. France may be ranked seventh, but they are only ranked ahead of Japan, a tier two nation like the Eagles and whom beat them recently, should suggest the competition is closer than it appears. This match may be closer than appears.

Going into this tournament it was thought that the best finish for the US was fourth as most thought that they would beat Tonga. Tonga has always been a strong and physical team and a “guaranteed” win should have never been the mindset. That being said, if the US does win that match, what a result it would be. If the Eagles were trying to make it to the Quarterfinals by the Tonga match, then this would be a good opportunity.

So let’s review this, if the US could beat Argentina and France, they essentially advance if the outcome of the Tonga match proves to be true. The Eagles have been putting up solid performances for the last year and it only suggests that the closer the competition is in the rankings, the better the outcome will be for them.

It’s not like the United States has no world class players, they have AJ MacGinty, Hanco Germishuys, Titi Lamositele, Nick Civetta, Shaun Davies, Ben Landry, Blaine Scully, Joe Taufete’e, and Bryce Campbell, as well with other great players as Cam Dolan, Tony Lamborn, Nate Augspurger, Nate Brakeley, Will Hooley, Will Magie, Paul Lasike, Paul Mullen, Marcel Brache, Dylan Fawsitt, and Greg Peterson. There’s a lot of quality there. They can match up well with most of the world. They are also led by a world class coach in Gary Gold, who is doing wonders for the national side.

Now, the likelihood is that the Eagles will not move out of group play and win one match. That’s fine, but still, it ignores the fact that the United States are way better than people think. They’re going to be aggressive and they are going to play solid defense. They also have confidence which is dangerous in any sport. With the recent upset of Japan over Ireland, it shows how much better the Tier Two nations are. The rest of the world is lucky that the US is as not in the sport as possible for the moment, otherwise, Americans would dominate this sport. France and Argentina should be careful with the Eagles, they’re much more dangerous than one would think, they could actually pull off some upsets and move on as the matchups are closer than they appear.

Previewing 2019 National League Wild Card Game: Washington Nationals Vs Milwaukee Brewers

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It is finally the Major League Baseball postseason and it is always very exciting to watch October baseball. What’s enthralling is the matchups in the Wild Card Games as they are all evenly matched. Tonight’s game is the National League Wild Card Game as we see one of the hottest teams in baseball, the Washington Nationals, and the hottest squad in the last few weeks, the Milwaukee Brewers face off tonight. It’s almost like an immovable object going against an unstoppable force. It will be interesting to see what happens between the two in this game.

Washington Nationals

The Nationals started the season 19-31 and there were talks that manager Davey Martinez should be fired. Then, the team miraculously pulled off an awesome run to the playoffs going 74-38 to finish the season at 93-69 and a postseason berth. The Nationals have a strong blend of veteran presence and young talent as on offense they are lead by Ryan Zimmerman, Anthony Rendon, and Kurt Suzuki, while such great young players like Trea Turner, Juan Soto, and Victor Robles fill out the rest of the lineup. Washington also has such great starting pitching as they will send out a dominant and tenacious starting pitcher in Max Scherzer as he makes it tough on any team to face him. Problem with the team is that their bullpen is atrocious. Luckily in the Wild Card Game they have some starting pitchers in their bullpen in hopes of shutting down the opposing offense as Patrick Corbin, Stephen Strasburg, and Anibal Sanchez all will be available, but they have long time veteran Fernando Rodney, flamethrower Hunter Strickland, and reliable closer in Sean Doolittle in there too. The Nationals finished the season with an eight game win streak and outscoring their opponents in that run by 30 runs. They are in a good position and they are feeling confident.

Nationals lineup

  1. Trea Turner SS
  2. Adam Eaton RF
  3. Anthony Rendon 3B
  4. Juan Soto LF
  5. Howie Kendrick 1B
  6. Asdrubal Cabrera 2B
  7. Kurt Suzuki C
  8. Victor Robles CF
  9. Max Scherzer P

Milwaukee Brewers

If you think the Nationals are hot, then the Brewers are hotter than hot. The Brewers have won 18 of their last 20 games to end the season and clinch a playoff spot. They lost their best hitter in Christian Yelich for the season with a fractured knee which many saw as a dagger to their playoff chances, but Milwaukee managed to rally and are experiencing postseason baseball for the second straight season. They’ve got some serious fire power on offense in Mike Moustakas, Eric Thames, Ryan Braun, and Yasmani Grandal along with aging, but relentless veteran Lorenzo Cain and youngster Keston Hiura. The Brewers will be sending out Brandon Woodruff who has been very reliable this season. The bullpen is filthy as they will have arms like Brent Suter, Alex Claudio, Drew Pomeranz, Freddy Peralta in there as well as the nasty Josh Hader, it will be tough for the Nationals’ bats if it comes down to a battle of bullpens.

Brewers lineup

  1. Trent Grisham RF
  2. Yasmani Grandal C
  3. Mike Moustakas 3B
  4. Keston Hiura 2B
  5. Ryan Braun LF
  6. Eric Thames 1B
  7. Lorenzo Cain CF
  8. Orlando Arcia SS
  9. Brandon Woodruff P

Notes: Woodruff went 6.0 innings allowing one run on four hits in one outing against the Nationals on May 8 while earning the win. Scherzer had a no decision on May 6 against the Brewers as he went six innings allowing one earned run and struck out 10. The Brewers won the season series 4-2.

Predictions

James Rowe: Nationals. It’s a home game and with how talented the Nationals are, they win this game. It’s clear Davey Martinez doesn’t trust his bullpen enough, but getting those three other starters in there should help make him relax a bit. I do think it will be a close game, but the Nationals just have the edge here.

Shamrock Thoughts: My Tribute To Marty

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*While it might be the beginning of the Reds last home series of the 2019 season, this will be my last visit to pressbox for the year. Because of that, I had to compose one last baseball related piece before I prepare for the postseason. This was a hard one to write.

I grew up a diehard Chicago White Sox fan and was lucky enough to listen to John Rooney make the play by play calls on the radio. I did face a problem, though. Since I only had access to a limited amount of broadcasts, I wasn’t able to appreciate the styles that each commentator brought to baseball until much later in life.

During my time as a broadcaster in college, I listened to as many casts as I could that related to Major League Baseball. This allowed me to pick up a better understanding of the industry and apply it to my own work. Of all the broadcasters in the league, there was one in particular that always held my attention to longer than most. That person would be the legendary Cincinnati Reds play by play commentator, Marty Brennaman. From the minute I heard his voice I was mesmerized. His broadcast was not only entertaining, but the content he provided was incredible.

For a little bit of background, in 2013, I began working in baseball with the Birmingham Barons. To start my career, I was working within the Media Relations department. In 2014, I was hired by the Tennessee Smokies broadcaster, Mick Gillispie, to do both Media Relations and broadcasting. It was here that I got to really appreciate Marty’s work (having my own taste of professional broadcasting). One of my responsibilities was to listen to broadcasts around the Southern League and MLB [to record and cut them for highlights]. I can remember my coworker and good friend, Boomer Dangel, and I listening to Marty’s broadcasts. We were enthralled. Majority of the time we listened for enjoyment rather than recording his highlights, though we did use his calls a lot for our broadcast, maybe a little too much.

In December 2015, I went to Nashville for the Baseball Winter Meetings to find another job in the sport. One of the teams I interviewed with was the Cincinnati Reds, to work for the Reds’ Director of Media Relations Rob Butcher. I had interviewed with Rob the year before in San Diego, but ultimately was not offered the position. Flash forward to Nashville, I applied again and we talked having already been familiar with one another. He told me that he would let me know a week later. The next week, Rob called to offer me the position. Up to that point in my baseball career, I felt as if [it] was the single greatest moment. I was also told I was going to be working for one of the best media relations people in baseball, which made it more exciting. Then it hit me, I would be working with the great Marty Brennaman. As a fan of his broadcasts, I got antsy to move to Cincinnati to not only work for an MLB team, but alongside a Hall of Famer.

In January 2016, I arrived at Great American Ballpark to work for the Reds and met Marty for the first time. I arrived when Pete Rose was announced to be inducted into the Reds Hall of Fame (could my timing be any better) later that season. The managers of Media Relations, Larry Herms and Jamie Ramsey, went on to introduce me to Marty after the ceremony and the first thing Marty asks me having heard that I was from Washington D.C. was: “What did you do there?” My response? Well I couldn’t have said anything more idiotic than what I said. “Oh, well I lived there!” I replied. With a big grin, he chuckled and said back “Well, no kidding.” To this day I am reminded about that moment. It also was the moment where we would become good friends.

Over the next few months getting to know the man, he had become someone you could easily relate to. One thing that should be noted about Marty is that he might actually be the funniest person alive as there were many things he said to me and others that had us belly laughing that turned into tears. He knew that I was someone he could make fun of. He doesn’t do it maliciously, he just loves to kid around. In his tribute to Marty, MLB.com beat writer for the Reds, Mark Sheldon, mentioned that if Marty makes fun of you, it’s because he likes you even if it comes at your own expense, especially me as I am often the one he pokes fun at. He is a joy to talk to. His stories capture your attention and most importantly, he wants to get to know you. One of the things that stands out about him is no matter who you are whether you’re an intern, someone in a different department of the front office, a player, or whoever, Marty always took the time to get to know people. He actually cared who he was meeting or getting to know. Even when my aforementioned friend Boomer was hired on as the Miami Marlins’ broadcast intern working for the legendary commentator Dave Van Horne and his talented partner Glenn Geffner in 2016, Boomer went into Marty’s booth when the Reds visited Marlins Park and he took the time to get to know my friend. Boomer was a big fan of Marty before meeting him, I have no doubt he became a bigger one after that friendly encounter. However, the more I listened to his broadcasts and the more I was around Marty in person, I got to finally understand why he was so good; he broadcasts like he talks to you. As Dave “Yid” Armbruster, a WLW producer for the Reds radio broadcasts, said in a recent The Athletic article that Marty isn’t a broadcaster, he’s an entertainer, that’s what makes him so good. That rings so true. He also is one of the hardest working individuals in the business. No one, and I mean no one, will ever match his work ethic.

Most people, especially Reds fans, know Marty the broadcaster. I know him so much more than that and for the past four seasons having been in the pressbox, I’ve seen every side of him. He’s also been incredibly generous as when I made a trip with the team back to D.C. for a series with the Nationals in 2016, he asked me if my family planned on coming down for the series and if they weren’t and were up to come to a game, he would be willing to grab some tickets for them. He eventually got two tickets for my father and a friend of mine. I guess Marty really liked me if he went out of his way to do that.

When hearing of that he would retire at the end of 2019, I made it a point to take in every opportunity I could when up in the pressbox to enjoy every moment I was around him because every story I have with him is memorable, but that’s what happens when you’re around Marty Brennaman. I didn’t think I would get emotional about his retirement, but as I sit here writing this column, I fought back the tears after I watched Matt Vasgersian’s tribute to him. I didn’t realize the type of impact Marty had on me until I saw that video. Everything Vasgersian said in that video rang true as I was able to relate to everything that was said about him. Marty is not only a great broadcaster, but an awesome human being.

My mentor from the Birmingham Barons was their broadcaster Curt Bloom. “CB” as he was known, was inducted into not only the Barons Hall of Fame (in 2013), but also the Southern League in 2018. While his work got him into those respective Hall of Fames, he wanted to be remembered as a “Hall of Fame person” as he coins it, which he strives to be every day. What he meant was that he wants to be a great individual and be remembered for that. That’s how Marty should be remembered. Marty didn’t just get into the Hall of Fame because of his broadcasting, but also for who he was as a person. That’s why I’m going to miss seeing him in the pressbox in 2020.

My nickname here in Cincinnati, that all of Cincinnati sports media members know me by, is “Preacher.” I got that name because there was a former pitcher named Preacher Roe (different spelling) and my last name sounded alike, that’s how I got it. The person who of course puts a heavy emphasis on my nickname is Marty and his call is all too iconic up here in the pressbox: “Preach! How we lookin’!?”

Of the 46 years he was in baseball, I am glad I was there for his last four. On Thursday, I have no doubt in my mind that when I listen to his last broadcast, I’m going to tear up. All the jokes, all the talks, heck all the complaining about how much our beloved and shared fandom of the Washington Redskins or University of North Carolina basketball when they underperformed or downright just stunk up the joint, that won’t happen in 2020. And even though it was joked about, I’m a bit bummed not coming on to his broadcast just once for fun and just having a chat for one half inning. It would have been comedic gold. I did, however, get to sit in his booth for a few innings in 2016, and it’s a highlight in my life that I will never forget.

Marty is one who doesn’t like being the center of attention despite being overtly extroverted, I am sure he didn’t want this goodbye tour. I don’t think what he realizes is that he deserves this. Baseball needed it. We needed it. He is beloved by so many fans, media members, coworkers, and everyone involved in baseball. That’s why Thursday is going to be so hard. I have no doubt he will be around the ballpark next season at some points of the 2020 campaign, but it just won’t be the same. Marty used to be someone I admired because of his reputation and his fame, but now after getting to know him, he’s much more than that. I’m sure that he was just as excited in meeting me as I was meeting him. That is just who Marty is.

So thank you Marty, thank you for your friendship, generosity, humor, kindness, and of course your broadcasting, but most importantly thank you for being a Hall of Fame person. I am going to miss you here in the pressbox in 2020 and beyond.

And this one belongs to you Marty Brennaman.

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A gag of me that Marty has on his wall in his booth

Previewing 2019 Rugby World Cup

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After four long years the Rugby World Cup is here and this has the makings of being the best edition of the tournament. There are so many improved Tier Two nations and with the Northern Hemisphere teams seemingly having caught up to the Southern Hemisphere ones, this could be a very competitive and exciting World Cup. It seems like there are so many strong sides, some having sent the best team ever in their country’s history like the United States and Ireland, so expect a lot of great matches. It’s a well balanced tournament and there is a good number of legitimate favorites to win the World Cup. It is also going to be held in a nation that is not a traditional top rugby nation and for the first time in Asia, Japan who not only will host the World Cup, but they are openly embracing it in what could be a very exciting one. With that being said, let’s take a look at each nation in this World Cup.

Pool A

Ireland

Ireland is coming into this World Cup with not only their best squad they’ve ever had, but with the World Ranking of number one and for good reasons. They have been a force for the last two years including having beat New Zealand and Wales and it is realistic to think that they might even win this World Cup. There was talk about whether they peaked too early after their Grand Slam in the 2018 Six Nations and with the incredible victory over New Zealand, but we shall see in this World Cup. Led by the mastermind in Joe Schmidt, they also have a wealth of talented players like Jonathan Sexton, Conor Murray, Jacob Stockdale, and Tadhg Furlong. Just watch out for them in this tournament as they are one of the favorites.

Scotland

Scotland is an interesting squad as at times they look great and then in others they seem to be complacent. That being said, don’t count them out as they have a lot of talented players on their squad and are led by a great coach in Gregor Townsend. Some notable players to watch on Scotland are Stuart McInally, Finn Russell, Greg Laidlaw, and Stuart Hogg. It will be interesting to see what Scotland does in this World Cup, but they could be a dark horse.

Japan

The host nation will want to showcase how good they can be and are very capable of pulling off an upset. Japan became the first nation to win three games in a World Cup that didn’t advance in a World Cup in 2015 as one of their wins was a memorable victory over South Africa. However, Japan is coming close to becoming a Tier One nation as the last four years have been great for the team especially having Jamie Joseph at the helm. With such players as Michael Leitch and Kenki Fukuoka leading the way for Japan, they could sneak into the knockout stage.

Russia

Russia pretty much lucked themselves into the World Cup after a very controversial and crazy World Cup European qualification scenario, but here they are to show that they belong. Russia is always an aggressive and physical team in international rugby, but there really isn’t much to know about them considering not many of their players play overseas aside from Valery Morozov. It will be interesting to see what they do in this tournament.

Samoa

Samoa for a while looked like a nation that was destined to become a Tier One nation as they put up some brilliant performances, but the Samoans have slipped. Yes there is some world class talent on their squad like Michael Alaalatoa, Kane Le’aupepe, Jack Lam, and Rey Lee-Lo, but with how badly they have played of late, it will be interesting to see how they fair in the World Cup.

Predictions

James Rowe

Winner: Ireland

Runner Up: Scotland

 

Pool B

Canada

Canada is on the cusp of becoming a breakthrough nation like the United States, but it feels like there is something holding them back. Sure, they have a Toronto based team in Major League Rugby, but when will they start becoming more competitive on the world stage? Canada has a wealth of great players like Hubert Buydens, Jake Ilnicki, Tyler Ardron, and Jeff Hassler. They are in a tough group, so they might not get the positive results that they want.

Italy

Italy has been considered a Tier One nation for a while, but with seemingly having not made much progress since joining the Six Nations tournament in 2000. They have even fallen behind some Tier Two nations in the rankings, but here they are trying to prove everyone wrong as head coach Conor O’Shea will hope to right the ship in this tournament. They’ve got some experienced players like Leonardo Ghiraldini and Sergio Parisse and with other young talents like Matteo Minozzi and Michele Campagnaro. We’ll see how they do in this World Cup

Namibia

Namibia is the second best rugby side in Africa right behind South Africa. That being said, Namibia is far from being a force as they have the unfortunate distinction of the worst loss in World Cup history. There are some talented players here like Johan Deysel, Lesley Klim, and Eugene Jantjies, but don’t expect Namibia to make any noise.

New Zealand

The All Blacks are not only the greatest rugby team of all time, they are the most successful sports team in the history of sports. So, because of that reason most rugby fans and pundits have them listed as the favorite to win the World Cup and have the first ever three-peat in the tournament’s history and with Steve Hansen at the helm, they have a great chance of winning the tournament. What’s there not to like about them? They have such great players as Beauden Barrett, Ardie Savea, Brodie Retallick, and Kieran Read on their squad. This team should go deep in the tournament.

South Africa

Some have dubbed South Africa as the second best ever nation in rugby and their two World Cups shows how successful they have been. South Africa’s forward packs always are the hardest to play against with how aggressive they are both with the ball or defending it. There’s a lot of great players for the Springboks as they have Malcolm Marx Eben Etzebeth, Siya Kolisi, and Cheslin Kolbe. Oh, and they will face off against their arch-nemesis New Zealand (arguably the best rivalry in the sport) in their first match of the tournament. They are another favorite to win the tournament especially with head coach Rassie Erasmus leading them.

Predictions

James

Winner: South Africa

Runner up: New Zealand

 

Pool C

Argentina

The Pumas keep climbing up in international rugby as they have now established themselves as a legit Tier One nation and could be a dark horse team in this tournament especially as they have been known to have a strong scrum. With that being said, they are sending out a strong side, but are unfortunately placed in a really tough group. Argentina boasts such great talents like the hooker duo of Agustin Creevy and Julian Montoya, Pablo Matera, Nicolas Sanchez, and Bautista Delguy. It will be interesting to see if they get out of the group or not.

England

England has been in great form and have a very strong squad, it is without a doubt that England are heavy favorites to win this tournament especially with the mastermind of Eddie Jones coaching this squad. England is the only Northern Hemisphere to win a World Cup back in 2003 and are trying to make it the second time a Northern Hemisphere team win a World Cup. They have some outstanding players like Owen Farrell, Billy Vunipola, Jonny May, and Maro Itoje. These guys are scary good.

France

France has been trying to find their identity for a while and have been going through somewhat of a rebuild, but never count them out as they are strong in defense. They also have a lot of good talents on their squad such as Demba Bamba, Guilhem Guirado, Gael Fickou, and Wesley Fofana. Their match against Argentina could decide whether they make the quarterfinals or not.

Tonga

Tonga has always been big and aggressive players, but something doesn’t seem right here as they have seemed to have regressed. While there doesn’t seem to be much optimism for them, Tonga does boast some talent here like Siale Piutau, Telusa Veainu, Vunipola Fifita, and Cooper Vuna, plus they have an experienced Kurt Morath there. They might shock someone here though, so who knows.

USA

One of the other fast rising nations in the sport, the United States could make noise in this World Cup as they are sending out their strongest team ever to the tournament and have beaten some notable nations. The only issue is that they are put into the Pool of Death and have some very strong competition. They could pull off an upset and actually have a good chance of even making it into the quarterfinals (though not likely). That being said, they have such great talents on the team like AJ MacGinty, Joe Taufete’e, Hanco Germishuys, and Bryce Campbell. They will be interesting to watch and head coach Gary Gold is molding this team into a cohesive unit.

Predictions

James

Winner: England

Runner up: Argentina

 

Pool D

Australia

Australia has not looked like a strong rugby side for a couple of years, but they tend to find their best form for the World Cup and they could be a favorite to win the tournament as Michael Cheika will look for answers into hoping his squad win the World Cup. Historically, they have been very successful as they have won two World Cups and boast as being one of the best nations in the sport’s history. There are some talented players here like Michael Hooper, David Pocock, Kurtley Beale, and Will Genia, but there is also a young and exciting player in Jack Dempsey on the team. Australia might shock everyone.

Wales

Wales was on the highest of highs after winning a Grand Slam in this year’s Six Nations and were once ranked number one, but they seemed to have lost that form and there are a lot of questions about them. The Welsh could however return to form and if that is the case, they will wreak havoc in this tournament as they have the legendary head coach Warren Gatland leading the team. With great players such as Alun Wyn Jones, Leigh Halfpenny, Ross Moriarty, and Liam Williams, Wales might have a great chance of winning this tournament.

Fiji

Fiji has been on the rise in international rugby and even to the point where they rank higher than Italy and Argentina in the world rankings. They probably should be considered as a Tier One nation now and could make it to the quarterfinals. There is a lot to like about Fiji as they have such great players such as Semi Radradra, Josh Matavesi, Mesu Dolokoto, and Api Ratuniyarawa. Don’t be surprised to see them make it out of the group.

Georgia

Georgia just keeps getting better and better as a rugby nation as they are even ranked higher than Italy and have made the case for inclusion for the Six Nations or promotion/relegation in the tournament. They have thoroughly dominated European Championships and could be a team that gives other Tier One nations some problems and could cause an upset. They do have some great players such as Vasil Lobzhanidze, the legend himself Mamuka Gorgodze, Merab Sharikadze, and Tedo Abzhandaze. Like Argentina, they have an imposing scrum, so expect them to be competitive in the tournament.

Uruguay

Uruguay is slowly rising, but they are becoming a better rugby nation every year. They shocked Canada to qualify ahead of them in the Qualification campaign, but they will want to show how much they have progressed as a rugby nation. Uruguay has such great players on their team like Gaston Mieres, Leonardo Leivas, Santiago Arata, and Mateo Sanguinetti. It will be interesting to see what they do in this tournament.

 

Predictions

James

Winner: Wales

Runner up: Australia

 

Favorites to win the World Cup

Ireland, Scotland, New Zealand, South Africa, Wales, Australia, and England

 

Squads that could surprise/cause an upset

USA, Fiji, Georgia, Japan, Argentina

Shamrock Thoughts: It’s Time For The National League To Adopt Designated Hitter

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Dear fans of the National League, your time of watching a pitcher hit needs to end now. I don’t want to hear your argument about how it “dumbs down” the game, because in reality having the pitcher still hit is what dumbs down the sport. People make the argument that if you don’t play the field, you shouldn’t be allowed to hit. Well, okay, that’s fine, but if that’s the case, pitchers need to be better hitters then. What are pitchers acquired for? Their pitching, but please, let me know when their bat is also a reason. And no, just because Madison Bumgarner is a good hitter (and he actually isn’t as he just hits better than a normal pitcher does), that is not a good enough reason. Fans also pay to see pitchers pitch, not hit. One thing you’ll notice in this column is I leave one important argument out because while it’s a great one, it’s just used all the time.

With the news  a couple months back about possibly seeing the designated hitter coming to the NL according to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal as the Major League Baseball Player Association proposed to bring on a universal DH as, according to the article, has been something the MLBPA has been trying to do for nearly three decades. The hope was to implement the DH this season, but realistically that won’t happen until next year or even 2021.

However, the players recognize it too, as it not only produces another job, but they also recognize that pitchers are bought for their pitching and not their hitting. And if anything, most players who are for this for a NL team will be very happy as it will give some players that should be playing every day a chance to do so.

It is obvious pitchers cannot hit. No, Madison Bumgarner is not the “exception” as his numbers are still very poor despite his ability to hit “better.” Last year, the slash line for pitchers overall was a .115 batting average with a .144 on-base percentage and .149 slugging percentage in a combined 4,524 at-bats. So why risk keeping in a player in the lineup who can’t contribute offensively on a regular basis? It makes more sense that all nine players in the lineup can produce. What’s the point of having a pitcher hit in a key situation when everybody knows that it’s basically an automatic out. It makes the game less exciting. The “No DH” people always try to point out when a pitcher actually contributes to a game and always try to say that’s the reason why the DH should not come to the NL. The numbers above don’t lie and because it happens once in a blue moon, it doesn’t mean that pitchers should be still hitting.

Then there is the argument about whether the DH actually “dumbs down” the game. Many fans from the National League say that the DH doesn’t provide any strategy at all. Oh, so finding ways with the double switch and pinch hitting for a pitcher is strategy? Maybe more so if that was the case for all position players, but its not. Literally the strategy is to find ways to not have the pitcher hit. That’s it.

Having the designated hitter not only gives more roster flexibility, it also provides more strategy. More strategy, you say? How so!? Well, it’s quite simple. Here are a few ways that it provides more strategy:

  1. Get a player with power implemented into the lineup
  2. Get a player with speed in the lineup
  3. Someone who hits better against left handed/right handed pitchers
  4. Someone who hits well against a certain pitcher
  5. Adding another right handed/left handed bat against a right handed/left handed starting pitcher
  6. Giving someone a day off from the field
  7. Improving a teams defense on a certain day by putting someone whose defense is not as strong at the DH and keeping his bat in the lineup, while putting someone whose defense is better in the field.
  8. Get a player who gets on base in the lineup
  9. Someone who has been hitting well and are trying to find a way to keep them in the lineup
  10. Someone whose defense is terrible, but who’s bat is a plus
  11. Someone who is a good contact hitter
  12. Someone who is a switch hitter

There are more ways, but twelve right off the bat (no pun intended) should suggest that yes, there is strategy involved with the DH. I love the flexibility it gives, plus you can slot the DH anywhere in the lineup like as the leadoff hitter, in the middle, or even at the nine hole. An example would be the 2016 White Sox as they could’ve used Adam Eaton as a DH or Jimmy Rollins at times so that Tyler Saladino could see the field. However, there are many reasons why it should be used.

One of the biggest things the DH provides is extending careers of aging players, but that’s what it’s traditionally known as. What the DH is now known for is a lot different. However, one of the biggest arguments that it provides is the ability to prevent injuries to key players, most importantly pitchers. It was a shame for the St. Louis Cardinals to lose Adam Wainwright, a Cy Young caliber pitcher, in 2015 after he suffered an injury in an at bat. The Cardinals made the playoffs that year and lost to the Chicago Cubs in the Divisional Round, but if Wainwright was healthy, the Cardinals might have made a trip to the National League Championship Series or even the World Series. Other pitchers that had gotten hurt because of an at-bat were Max Scherzer and Ryan Vogelsong. Speaking of the Cubs, another thing the DH does is it can protect key batters too as in 2016, early in the season, their prized slugger Kyle Schwarber was injured trying to make a catch and he is someone who should have not been playing in the field in general. Had the DH been implemented then and he was the DH, he might have played for a full season.

However, there will always be the people who claim they are traditionalists and who say the DH diminishes the game. It does? The DH has been around since 1973, nearly 50 years now, and many generations have grown up watching it or it’s all they have ever known. So spare me with your “tradition” talk. Yes, that was how baseball was played back in the days, but you have to be progressive. And then there is the argument that if you play the field, you hit. Okay, well that’s fine, but if the pitcher is a legitimate hitting threat, then by all means you have a good point. Oh they don’t hit well? Then that point is moot. Also, in 1980, a committee of NL executives were holding a yes/no vote to the designated hitter being implemented. Of the 12 teams represented of that committee, a majority vote was needed to approve of the designated hitter. It was expected to pass, however, Phillies vice president Bill Giles was tasked to represent the team while the owner Ruly Carpenter was on a fishing trip and being unsure of how he would vote, they could not contact him, Giles was forced to abstain from voting. Also, the Pirates told their representative to vote with the Phillies. Since then, no vote has been held. But that’s literally the only reason the DH has not been in the NL. That’s literally it. Otherwise, we would’ve very likely have watched the DH in the NL for the last 39 years.

That pretty much covers why the DH needs to come to the NL. Most of the arguments here pretty much shows that the DH not only is best for the NL, it must be implemented. NL baseball is losing casual fans because it’s stuck in its old ways. To me, baseball is baseball, no matter what. I can watch baseball any way it’s played, however, for me, there are ways I want it to be played just because it’s a better way and that would be having the DH. The NL is one of only two professional leagues in the entire world to not use the DH (Central League in the Nippon League in Japan is the other). It’s used on the international stage and pretty frequently in Spring Training games, so clearly the DH is the way to go anymore. The players want it too and that right there speaks volumes.

The one argument I did not use to justify my claim, and simply didn’t use it because it’s not only obvious, but used all the time is about fairness. There is an unfair advantage when an away team plays against another team at home from the opposing league as the rules help the home team in that situation. Having two different sets of rules in a sport makes no logical sense. Another argument is that pitchers basically don’t hit from high school and college before going pro, so when they start hitting professionally, that’s unfair to them. The best analogy that I’ve heard about pitchers hitting for the first time since Little League essentially is like when you go from a driving range at a golfing venue to immediately go play in The Masters. It’s just silly.

The funny thing is that the league that would benefit the most from the DH is the National league ironically. Getting that player who needs consistent at bats to have them finally would be huge for those NL teams. Fans of NL teams might have a hard time liking the rule change, but once they see it on a regular basis, I guarantee they will love it.

Previewing 2019 Major League Rugby Playoffs: Final

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It’s hard to believe that the 2019 Major League Rugby season is about to come to an end, but how it ends could be one of the most exciting ways imaginative. The San Diego Legion and the Seattle Seawolves will square off in the MLR Championship in where the Legion, the best team all season, look to win their first championship and the Seawolves, who are looking to defend their title. With that being said, let’s preview this matchup.

San Diego won their last match against Rugby United New York in an epic clash that saw the Legion score a last minute try and a Joe Pietersen conversion to take the victory against RUNY and advance to the championship game. Seattle won their match in dominant fashion as their defense absolutely stifled the Toronto Arrows attack as Brock Staller’s kicking abilities was the difference maker on the board and bone crushing tackles from Api Naikatini and Samu Manoa put a stop to the Toronto attack.

Matchup

San Diego swept the season series 2-0 and the last time they played was on March 31, so lots has changed since then. Seattle’s defense had struggled all season after having the best in 2018, but with that dominant performance against a very good Toronto attack, that could be the difference in this match. That being said, San Diego’s defense bullies the opposing attack and they had the best defense all season. Seattle had the best offense all season, but San Diego isn’t too far behind as they had the third best in the league. There are two areas where this game will come down to as it will come down to scrummaging and penalties. San Diego led the league all year in penalties, but the Seawolves conceded the fewest in the league. The match will likely be decided by the forward packs as Seattle won 95.65% of their scrums, most in MLR, while San Diego won 88.32% which was fifth in the league.

Predictions

James Rowe: San Diego. This will be a really exciting match as this will come down to the wire and it could be decided by a score, but San Diego has been so good all year that it would be hard to go against them here.

*Here’s a link to the previews of each team going into the playoffs

Previewing 2019 CONCACAF Gold Cup

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One of the more exciting federation tournaments in the world, the CONCACAF Gold Cup is about to get under way. The United States and Mexico are the heavy favorites, but others like Panama, Honduras, and Jamaica will be looked at as strong sides. Let’s preview each nation’s squads and groups.

Group A

Canada

Canada has a lot of talent, but this nation always seems like they are the cusp on becoming a good soccer nation. While they are youthful and talented, they lack experience. However, with players like Alphonso Davies, Jonathan David, Cyle Larin, Jonathan Osorio, and Samuel Piette, there’s something to like about them.

Cuba

The Cubans have managed to produce some solid players over the years and have been to the Gold Cup nine times including 2019. They have been playing well and have some talent in players like Luis Paradela, Yordan Santa Cruz, Dariel Morejon, and Daniel Luis, however, there is always the possibility of players defecting. The question will be is whether they have enough talent to make it to the knockout stage.

Martinique

Martinique are not expected to do much in this Gold Cup, so just expect them to make a mark. However, most of the players are amateurs, so there is a serious lack of talent outside of Kevin Parsemain. They are likely to lose three and head out.

Mexico

One of the odds on favorites to win the tournament, Mexico will look to win their seventh Gold Cup as they arguably have not only the most talented squad, but probably the deepest. They don’t have Javier Hernandez, Carlos Vela, or Hirving Lozano on this squad for this tournament, but if they did, it would put them over the top. That being said, they still have a lot of great players like Raul Jimenez, Andres Guardado, Jonathan dos Santos, Carlos Salcedo and Rodolfo Pizarro. Expect Mexico to make it to the Final.

Predictions

James Rowe

Advancing to knockout stage: Mexico and Canada

Winner of group: Mexico

Game to watch

Cuba vs Canada: This should be the match that decides who advances to the knockout round. This should be a fun one to watch.

 

Group B

Bermuda

Bermuda, like Martinique, is not expected to do much. However, unlike Martinique, they do have some professional players that makes them better. Queens Park Rangers Nahki Wells is an example of this, but there are other players like Zeiko Lewis and Justin Donawa. However, even with some proven talent, there is a lack of experience as most of the squad are amateur or semi-professional players. They should lose all three of their matches.

Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a nation in the CONCACAF that is considered one of the best despite how weak of a federation it is. That being said, there is a lot of talent here like Joel Campbell, Bryan Ruiz, Celso Borges, Allan Cruz, and Kendall Waston and could make a deep run to the championship. What hurts them is that they have a hole at goalkeeper as they haven’t been able to find anyone to replace Keylor Navas, who is superb. That might be the difference between whether they win the tournament or not.

Haiti

Haiti is an underdog, but they are seemingly a consistent side every Gold Cup. There is some good talent and they could be a dark horse to win the tournament. They have a great player in Derrick Etienne, but they also have an exciting player in Duckens Nazon. However, depth is an issue and it might hurt them in their chances of going far. Either way, keep an eye on them.

Nicaragua

Nicaragua is an interesting case. They are not expected to do much, but are expected to keep things competitive. If they can keep it competitive, they might even sneak in a win or two and possibly move on to the next round. However, don’t expect that to be the case as Haiti and Costa Rica are two very strong sides in this group. Some notable players on this team are Juan Barrera, Oscar Lopez, and Luis Galeano.

Predictions

James

Advancing to knockout stage: Costa Rica and Haiti

Winner of group: Costa Rica

Game to watch

Costa Rica vs Haiti

It’s no doubt about it that these two will advance to the knockout stage, but this will determine who wins the group.

 

Group C

Curacao

Curacao is flying under the radar here. They could be the surprise team of the tournament as they have some intriguing talent with Leandro Bacuna, Rangelo Janga, Cuco Martina, and Gevaro Nepomuceno on the squad. However, their problem is that Jamaica, El Salvador, and Honduras are in the group and it could be difficult to get the promising results. However, expect them to give each of these other nations problems and could sneak in a victory or a draw.

El Salvador

El Salvador is a dark horse side and could make the quarterfinals. What they have is experience playing against some these same nations in their group and the familiarity could pay off. That being said though, it is a difficult group and just like Curacao, they might not get those promising results they want. However, with talented players like Nelson Bonilla and Gerson Mayen on the squad, they may shock people.

Honduras

Honduras is another strong side of the CONCACAF that usually makes the semi-finals in this tournament, but is this the year where they go far and make some noise? With some talented players in Anthony Lozano, Bryan Acosta, and Romell Quioto on the team, there is a lot to like. However, the issue here is age as despite having some experience, age always causes problems. Expect them to make it to the knockout stage.

Jamaica

Honduras has been of late been a very strong side in the CONCACAF, but Jamaica might be the best of this group as they have shown in the last two additions of the Gold Cup how strong they are. With talented players like Alvas Powell, Kemar Lawrence, and Darren Mattocks on the team, expect them to do a lot of good things this tournament. They should make the knockout stage.

Predictions

James

Advancing to knockout stage: Jamaica, Honduras

Winner of group: Honduras

Game to watch

Jamaica vs Honduras

These two are likely to be the two that make it out of the group stage despite a talented El Salvador team, but this should be the match that decides who wins the group.

 

Group D

United States

The other favorite of the tournament, this will be sort of a redemption tournament after having not qualified for the World Cup in 2018. However, with a new head coach in Gregg Berhalter, the road back to the World Cup starts here as fans and coaches will get an idea of who will make the team in 2022. They have such great talents like Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, Weston McKinnie, and Christian Pulisic and maybe they can lay down the groundwork into becoming a force in international soccer. They should advance to the knockout stage and the final.

Panama

Panama has quietly become a much better soccer nation over the past decade especially after making their first World Cup in 2018 and look to build on that. However, lots of players like Luis Tejada retired and the squad is looking tirelessly to replace them. They have a lot of talent like Gabriel Torres, Michael Murillo, Alberto Quintero, Armando Cooper, and Erick Davis and maybe they can make a deep run and possibly win the tournament.

Trinidad and Tobago

The nation that knocked the United States out of World Cup qualifying, they have a chance at doing it again in this Gold Cup with being in the same group as the U.S. There is a lot to like about this team as now they have some talent and experience with the likes of Alvin Jones, Kevan George and Joevin Jones on the squad, they may make it into the knockout stage.

Guyana

Guyana is clearly the weakest side of the group, but they should come in, play competitively, and then leave. However, with being heavy underdogs, that might motivate them to dash some of the others chances in this tournament. There is talent here like Emery Welshman and Warren Creavalle, but overall, not much. Expect them to be done after the group stage.

Predictions

James

Advancing to knockout stage: USA, Panama

Game to watch

Panama vs Trinidad and Tobago

Most of the matches in this group should be fun to watch and watching a rematch of the United States and Trinidad and Tobago is exciting, however, the Panama vs Trinidad and Tobago game should be the one to watch as it could decide who advances to the knockout stage.

 

*Some of the analysis and information about each team can be cited from https://www.espn.com/soccer/concacaf-gold-cup/0/blog/post/3858976/2019-gold-cup-ultimate-preview-can-anyone-topple-mexico-or-the-us-this-summer

Previewing 2019 Major League Rugby Playoffs: Semi-Finals

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The Major League Rugby playoffs are here and American rugby fans couldn’t be any more excited. It comes down to four teams as two will be returning from last year’s playoffs and two newcomers, who are the two newest teams in the league. This is already set up to be an exciting MLR Championship Series and expect a lot of drama. Let’s take a look at the teams and the matchups.

San Diego Legion vs Rugby United New York

San Diego Legion

San Diego made it to the playoffs last year before falling to the eventual champion Seattle Seawolves, but there was some promising talent on the club. However, they lost a lot during the offseason even if they brought in some and it seemed like the Legion would take a step back. That would not be the case as they were the best team in the league in almost every aspect and finished on top of the table. The club allowed the fewest points in the league and scored the third most, to say they are the most complete team is a bit of an understatement as they have an outstanding defense and stout attack. With such players as Joe Pietersen, Dylan Audlsey, Ryan Matyas, Psalm Wooching, David Tameilau, and Paddy Ryan on the roster, expect them to do a lot of damage on offense and will defend well.

Rugby United New York

Coming into the season some pundits thought of them as a serious threat to the MLR championship crown with the slew of moves they made during the offseason as they were an expansion team, but despite their inconsistencies, their scrappy play helped them nab the four seed by the skin of their teeth and a chance to win the MLR Championship. However, they are defensively sound as RUNY had the second best defense in the league allowing only the second fewest points in the league. With such talents as Dylan Fawsitt, Matt Hughston, Cathal Marsh, Ben Foden, John Quill, Kyle Sumsion, and Mark O’Keeffe. It should be interesting to see how they hold up against San Diego.

Matchup

The two teams split the season series, but San Diego won the most recent matchup on April 14. RUNY tends to play better on the road, but these two teams have the best defenses in the league so anything can happen.

Predictions

James Rowe: San Diego. While RUNY will put up a fight, the inconsistencies are what concern me and San Diego will pounce on those mistakes.

Seattle Seawolves vs Toronto Arrows

Seattle Seawolves

The Seawolves are back to defend their title and they finished with the two seed in the playoffs. They pride themselves with a stout defensive effort dubbed the “Seawall” however the “Seawall” has not been as effective this year. That being said, the Seawolves scored the most points in the league this year, which may have helped counteract a struggling defense. Having made additions this offseason such as Ben Cima, Stephan Coetzee, Roland Suniula, and JP Smith to join a team that already boasts Brock Staller, Mathew Turner, Olive Kilifi, Vili Toluta’u, and Peter Tiberio, plus adding Samu Manoa during the season, this team looks primed to repeat.

Toronto Arrows

The Arrows are the other new expansion side for 2019 and some even saw them as favorites to win the championship. The team started off sluggish as they were 4-5, but then they rattled off seven straight victories and grabbed the three seed in the playoffs. The Arrows might be the team that’s in the best form coming into the playoffs as they are red hot, but they also boast a powerful attack and a solid defensive corp, which ranks as third best in the league. They have a wealth of talent like Rob Brouwer, Mike Sheppard, Gaston Mieres, Leandro Leivas, Sam Malcolm, Shawn Windsor, Avery Oitomen, and Andrew Quattrin. They will be a handful for Seattle.

Matchup

The two squads split the season series with Toronto winning the last matchup 29-7 in Week 14. When Seattle won the first matchup, Toronto was without a lot of their players who were called up to Canada’s national team for the Americas Rugby Championship, which might have been the reason why the Arrows lost that match. Seattle is also getting Toluta’u back from injury in hopes of stabilizing their defense, however, the Seawolves defense is capable getting back to what they did in 2018.

Predictions

James: Toronto. I think this will be a fun one to watch as I expect Seattle’s defense to be at it’s best, but it will be awesome to see what that defense does against such a lethal Toronto attack. That being said, the Arrows are in the best form they possibly can be and because of that, and all of the momentum, they will win this.