John P. Lopez: Just A Sprinkle: Value and $$$ on Astros, NBA playoffs and NFL Draft? Yup. Don’t overthink it

Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback C.J. Stroud runs during Ohio State football’s pro day at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center in Columbus on March 22, 2023. Football Ceb Osufb Pro Day

John P. Lopez: Just A Sprinkle: Value and $$$ on Astros, NBA playoffs and NFL Draft? Yup. Don’t overthink it

There’s an old saying in coaching circles: When crunch time hits, don’t call plays — call players.

In other words, don’t overthink things. No matter all the what-ifs, gut feelings, and deep-dive analyses, ultimately the things that win are the most obvious and expected.

Steph Curry taking the last shot. Justin Verlander taking the ball in a big game. Putting the ball in Patrick Mahomes’ hands and letting him make a play.

This week’s Just A Sprinkle is very straightforward, as it should be. And, potentially, it’s very profitable. All you have to do is not complicate things with silly ideas like not running Marshawn Lynch at the goal line in the Super Bowl. Do the expected.

And the Astros, riding a four-game winning streak going into Monday night’s series opener versus the best team in the game, should lead the way.

While the Monday opening-night matchup might be a tough task, coming off a series sweep of the Braves, do not let it deter you. Here are the plays:

Tuesday and Wednesday: Astros money-line vs. Tampa Bay

When the Astros were at their best a year ago, you could count on four things on an almost daily basis: Yordan Alvarez being clutch, veterans like Alex Bregman and Kyle Tucker driving in runs, the leadoff man (then Jose Altuve) sparking rallies early and often and the Astros’ bullpen completely shutting the door on any late-game threats.

Lo and behold, after an uneven start to the season, the Astros are grooving, and they’re doing it the old-fashioned, reliable way.

The opponent will be the toughest the Astros have faced all season, and it will be on the road, where the Rays have yet to lose a game. But the Astros we know thrive in hostile environments and against favored teams, and both those things are working in Tampa.

Alvarez has been an absolute monster, leading the team with 27 RBI – the most any Astros player has had through 22 games. And with the bases loaded when clutch is a necessary gene, Alvarez is 4-for-5 with 14 RBI. KEY PROVISO: Alvarez was sent home Monday with neck discomfort. It’s a definite uh-oh and should be considered.

As for the leadoff hitter, it only adds to the confidence level in these two road games. Mauricio Dubón is no Jose Altuve, but you’d never know it.

Dubón puts pressure on every team he faces. Period. There’s a reason Yordan and Aaron Judge both have six home runs, but Alvarez has 14 more RBI. Dubón. He creates traffic and pressure on opposing pitchers.

Dubón leads the Astros in runs, hits, batting average and has struck out just four times all season.

Meanwhile, since starting the season 0-for-16, Bregman is batting .290, with a .424 on-base percentage, two home runs, and 10 RBI. Kyle Tucker has been on a tear all season and enters the series batting .303 with a .903 OPS and 17 RBI.

Then there is the bullpen. It, too, had an erratic start to the season. But against the Braves, the Astros bullpen went 9.1 innings, giving up zero hits, zero runs, walking just three, and striking out 11.

The Rays are outstanding, and it should be an entertaining, close series. But don’t bet against the Astros now that they are finding themselves. Don’t bet against them, literally.

Thursday: C.J. Stroud drafted No. 2 overall (plus-450)

So many rumors, so many changes on the betting board regarding who, exactly, the Texans will pick at No. 2.

The key thing to remember here: Who says it will be the Texans’ making that pick? And if it’s not the Texans, the most likely sure-thing quarterback prospect is C.J. Stroud without question. Sure, the Texans might talk themselves into staying put and drafting an edge rusher like Tyree Wilson or Will Anderson Jr., but they also easily could be talked into moving back in the draft and have more premium picks.

With so many teams in dire need of a quarterback, while Las Vegas considers three players more likely to be drafted at No. 2, the value of Stroud to ultimately be the pick is too good to pass. The Texans also need a quarterback, of course, but may well be more inclined to accumulate draft picks and make a run at a quarterback next year.

If that increasingly likely possibility happens, again, don’t overthink this. Will Levis may have the rocket arm, and Anthony Richardson might be an athletic freak, but no GM worth his salt is going to give up a lot of draft capital and take that kind of risk.

Stroud is the safest bet. And at plus-450, he also offers the best value.

Thursday: Prop bet Quentin Johnston (plus-140) to be drafted in the first 26 picks

This one seems almost too easy. Usually, that might be a red flag but don’t sweat it. A year ago, six wide receivers were taken in the first round. The new NFL LOVES drafting receivers. And while this might be considered a weaker overall WR draft class, Johnston, like Stroud, is the safest pick.

Ohio State’s Jaxon Smith-Njigba could well be the first receiver taken, but there are some questions about his recent durability, having played just three games in 2022. Still, among all the other receivers on the board, none have the “measurable” characteristics Johnston possesses. While 5-11 and 6-foot receivers like Zay Flowers, Jalin Hyatt, and Jordan Addison run in the low-4.5s, Johnston stands 6-3 with a large frame and catch radius and also runs in the low-4.5s. Get the ticket and then cash it in.

Wednesday: Warriors (minus-3.5) vs. Sacramento Kings

The Kings were rolling right along and looked every bit like a team that could take out the defending champs. But then pedigree happened. And then De’Aaron Fox fractured a finger late in a Game 4 loss and is listed as doubtful for Game 5. PROVISO No. 2: There is a chance Fox could play Wednesday night, but it wouldn’t scare me off. A broken finger is no joke for a high-volume scorer like Fox.

Forgetting the emotional letdown not having Fox could have on Sacramento, he far and away is the Kings’ best player and it’s not close. No other Kings player averages more than 16 points per game, and with Steve Kerr and the battle-tested Warriors smelling blood, playing on the road won’t matter. They should pull away and win comfortably.

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