Spring Fever

Yes, basketball is in the air, but baseball also gets the Royal treatment


Kentucky epitomizes the unpredictable nature of this college basketball season.

Want to know why this is shaping up to be one of the craziest NCAA tournaments ever—and why I haven’t released a single college basketball selection this month (which is already half over)? Just look back to these four results from March 9:

Kentucky, the freefalling defending national champion coming off consecutive double-digit losses to mediocre Arkansas and Georgia, dumped 11th-ranked Florida 61-57—less than a month after star center Nerlens Noel suffered a season-ending knee injury late in a 17-point loss to … Florida.

Syracuse, ranked as high as No. 3 at one point this season, lost for the fourth time in five games, falling at No. 5 Georgetown. Nothing embarrassing about that, except for the fact the ’Cuse scored 39 points … in the entire game.

Kansas, riding a seven-game winning streak during which it outscored opponents by more than 21 points per contest (an average score of 82-61), lost 81-58 at Baylor … the same Baylor that had dropped five of its previous six.

Finally, there was UNLV, which brought a five-game winning streak into the Thomas & Mack Center for Senior Day against lowly Fresno State. Not only were the Rebels rolling, they had revenge on their side, having suffered a humiliating 64-55 loss at Fresno exactly a month earlier. Result? More humiliation, as UNLV produced a season-low 52 points—including zero baskets in the final 9:52—in another nine-point loss (this time as a 14½-point favorite).

And all that happened in a span of eight hours. So, um, yeah, you can understand why I’ve been clinging to my bankroll like Chumlee clings to his 15 minutes of fame. (Just kidding, Chum—hell, I’m sure I’ll be hitting you up for a loan by the time the Final Four tips off!)

Anyway, before diving headfirst into the madness, let’s resume breaking down Major League Baseball win totals, focusing on the five best bets in the American League (for last week’s National League recommendations, visit VegasSeven.com/GoingForBroke) …

Royals OVER 78: Kansas City has finished with more than 77 victories exactly once since 1993 (the same year George Brett was finishing his Hall of Fame career and Bill Clinton had just begun scoping out White House interns). So why believe in the Royals this year? Because they play in a weak division (only Detroit has substantially more talent), their maturing offense (fourth in the AL in batting average last year) is another year older, and they finally have some decent starting pitching (having acquired James Shields, Wade Davis and Ervin Santana in the offseason). Yes, spring training results are pointless, but it’s still worth noting that K.C. was 13-1 through March 11, outscoring opponents by 53 runs (no other team had a run differential better than plus-25).

Yankees UNDER 85.5: When last we saw Derek Jeter in a meaningful game—that being Game 1 of the AL Championship Series—his left foot was dangling from his body like a piñata. And yet today, he’s one of the healthiest players on a roster that’s been ravaged by both injuries and free-agent departures. How depressing are things in the Bronx, where the Yanks have won at least 87 games for 17 consecutive seasons? The opening-day lineup might include Melky Mesa in left field and Ronnier Mustelier at third base. If only George Steinbrenner were alive to see this …

Astros UNDER 59.5: The good news for the Astros: They’ve lost more than 97 games just twice in their 51-year history. The bad news: It happened in 2011 and 2012, when they led baseball with 106 and 107 losses. Now Houston has been traded from the NL Central (think Brewers, Cubs and Pirates) to the AL West (think Angels, Rangers and A’s) without a single upgrade to its roster. Case in point: The Astros now get to employ a designated hitter. His name? Brett Wallace, he of the 16 career big-league home runs.

Rays OVER 86: That Tampa Bay could part with arms the quality of Shields and Davis speaks to the depth of its pitching staff (which is anchored by ace David Price). The Rays will struggle to score runs, but that’s nothing new for this franchise, which has posted 97, 84, 96, 91 and 90 victories the last five seasons.

Twins UNDER 68.5: Scott Diamond, Kevin Correia, Vance Worley, Liam Hendriks, Mike Pelfrey—ladies and gentlemen, your 2013 Minnesota Twins starting rotation! I hope Joe Mauer is doing a lot of stretching this spring …