by Eric Fulton
After advancing to the World Series the past two years, the Los Angeles Dodgers, in the team’s seventh consecutive postseason, was poised to be the first team since the New York Yankees from the late 1990s and early 2000s to make it to at least three straight World Series. The Dodgers faced the Washington Nationals in the National League Division Series, a team who got off to a very rocky start, but was the best team in MLB from late May into the postseason.
Even though everyone had penciled in the Dodgers to once again make it to the National League Championship Series, the Nationals, who were led by their strong starting pitching (Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasberg, Patrick Corbin and Anibal Sanchez), MVP candidate Anthony Rendon, speedster Trea Turner and young outfield sensation Juan Soto were a particularly strong foe.
Going into the series, the Dodgers had MVP candidate Cody Bellinger, Corey Seager, Max Muncy, Justin Turner and Joc Pederson. You could say it was another David vs. Goliath matchup. And, just like in Biblical times, David would find a way to win.
The Dodgers won 106 games in the regular season, but all of that was erased with the upset by the Nationals in the Division Series in five games. The 106 wins in 2019 was the most by a Dodgers team ever. They won the National League West by a wide margin, but when they had their chance to move on, they simply could not capitalize. Don’t get me wrong, I am going to give the Nationals a ton of credit. Washington was an underdog, and yet they proved why they were the best team throughout the summer.
In Game 5 of the Division Series, the Dodgers had home field advantage and they had a pitcher in Walker Buehler, who has been really good in the postseason. Buehler was also one of four Dodgers pitchers to win at least 10 games this season (Hyun-jin Ryu, Clayton Kershaw and Kenta Maeda the others). Buehler was brilliant in game five going 6 and 2/3 innings giving up just one run. Manager Dave Roberts had a decision going to the seventh with the season on the line and it backfired majorly. He went to his veteran ace Clayton Kershaw, who has had a history of bad performances in the postseason. While it can be a great idea for some to put your best pitcher on the mound in a big situation, it may not be the greatest plan when that pitcher historically struggles.
Kershaw, who arguably is one of the 10 greatest regular season pitchers in baseball history, just isn’t the same pitcher in the postseason. He gave up back-to-back home runs to Rendon and Soto to tie the game at three.
The Dodgers had chances to win in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings, but couldn’t get it done. In the 10th inning, former Dodgers infielder Howie Kendrick burned his old team by hitting a grand slam to give Washington a 7-3 lead. In the home half of the inning when Nats outfielder Michael A. Taylor made a diving catch to end the game, it would be the nail that ended what could have been a special season for the Dodgers.
In some instances, an elimination like this would get managers/coaches fired. The Dodgers, however, aren’t going that route with Roberts. He has been a great manager for the Dodgers leading the team to four straight postseason appearances. The team has been the best in the National League for some time now and have done it with mostly players that have grown up in their farm system, but just can’t get over the hump.
The question is what moves they will make to finally get there. Last offseason, they traded a popular player in outfielder Yasiel Puig, which turned out to be a good decision. But expect most of the team to be intact for the 2020 season. One thing is certain, though, until this team can bring home a World Series title, they will merely be stuck in the good team conversation and not the great team conversation.
by Julian Spivey
It’s hard being a fan of the Atlanta Braves. I think you could make the argument it’s the hardest franchise in Major League Baseball of which to be a fan. I know there are a handful of teams that have never won the World Series like the Texas Rangers, Seattle Mariners, Washington Nationals and others. I know the Mariners haven’t even been to the postseason in almost 20 years and the Cincinnati Reds currently have baseball’s longest postseason series win drought at almost 25 years.
But the Braves playoff series win drought, which is currently tied with the Mariners for the third longest in baseball, as they haven’t won a playoff series since 2001 is in some ways even more devastating for the team’s fan-base because the Braves have been to the playoffs a lot. Since the Braves last won a postseason series beating the Houston Astros in the 2001 National League Division Series they have been to the postseason nine times and have lost in their first round – whether it’s the best-of-5 Division Series (a whopping eight times) or the single game do-or-die National League Wild Card round (once).
And, the latest elimination in game five of the NLDS at home against the St. Louis Cardinals is the most embarrassing moment of my 25 years as a Braves fan. I have a feeling many fans will agree with that assessment. The Braves were eliminated before they even stepped to the plate for their first at-bat of the game as Braves starting pitcher Mike Foltynewicz (who was excellent in game two of the series) and reliever Max Fried (who was a very good starting pitcher throughout the regular season) allowed the Cardinals to bat around and score a record 10 times in the top half of the first inning.
There was no coming back from that. It’s such a certainty that I’m actually writing this in the fourth inning of the game and it’ll likely be published before the final out is made.
The incredible embarrassment I’m feeling as a Braves fan right now isn’t just because it’s the ninth straight first round bow out or because they didn’t even give themselves a chance in the do-or-die fifth game of the series, but also because there shouldn’t have even been a fifth game of this series. The Braves could have had a sweep in three games had the bullpen not imploded late in game two of the series and they had the series win in reach in game four when the game got away from them again and they let what would’ve been a game-winning run stranded on third base after All Star outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr. tripled to lead off an inning and the offense couldn’t move him a measly 90 feet.
There was also the play of perennial All Star Freddie Freeman, the greatest first baseman in Braves franchise history, who looked like an also ran the entire series and choked on the biggest stage possible.
But, choking on the biggest stage possible is the Braves modus operandi. It’s who this team has traditionally been. It’s the team that won 14 consecutive divisions and only brought home the World Series trophy once, despite having potentially the greatest rotation in the history of baseball led by three hall of famers in Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz who annually shared the Cy Young Award between them. Atlanta is the sports town of the ultimate sports choke of all-time when the city’s football team the Falcons couldn’t hold a 28-3 lead late against the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LI less than three years ago. It’s Choketown U.S.A. and the Braves have been at the center of it for most of the last 30 years.
But we remain fans because the team has had stellar players like the three aforementioned pitchers and hall of fame third baseman Chipper Jones, and Freeman and some of today’s most fun players to watch in Acuna and Ozzie Albies. It’s a team that you know is going to be in contention more often than not – which is easier to root for than say the San Diego Padres or Mariners. But it’s a team you can’t trust to do anything after game 162. Anything at all, except for disappoint. And that’s hard on a fan-base.
by Julian Spivey
If I had an MVP vote this would be the top five on my ballot
1. Cody Bellinger (Los Angeles Dodgers)
The National League Most Valuable Player race has pretty much been a two-way race between Milwaukee Brewers outfielder and reigning N.L. MVP Christian Yelich and Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Cody Bellinger since the early part of the season. Many of the numbers between Bellinger and Yelich are close, which is impressive for Yelich since he missed most of the final month of the season. But I’m giving the MVP to Bellinger with the biggest factor being that his Wins Above Replacement (WAR) is nearly two full points higher than Yelich’s, with the final month of the seeing likely playing into that a bit. Bellinger hit .305 this season with 47 home runs and 115 RBI.
2. Christian Yelich (Milwaukee Brewers)
Yelich just missing out on back-to-back MVPs for me (he very likely could do it in real life) might have a lot to do with missing most of the final month of the season after breaking his shin fouling a ball off of it. It also doesn’t help that the Brewers were shockingly the hottest team in baseball over the season’s final month without him. Yelich had a 7.1 WAR in 2019 with a tied for batting crown .329 average, 44 homers and 97 RBI. Yelich potentially would’ve led the N.L. in homers without missing so much time.
3. Anthony Rendon (Washington Nationals)
Anthony Rendon had perhaps quietest potential MVP campaign in 2019 leading the Washington Nationals offense to a somewhat surprising playoff berth after seeing where they were at the All Star break. Rendon led the National League with 126 runs batted in to go along with a career-high 34 homers, a .319 batting average and a WAR of 6.3. Bryce Harper left a big hole in the Nats lineup, but Rendon more than filled it.
4. Freddie Freeman (Atlanta Braves)
It’s kind of sad, but true, but one of the things that’ll probably keep Freddie Freeman from ever winning an MVP is the fact that his WAR at 4.4 is a lot lower than other candidates. The unfortunate aspect about that is that first baseman kind of get screwed in overall WAR because it’s not as important a position defensively as many others. Freeman has been the guy keeping the Atlanta Braves lineup so consistent over their surprising back-to-back National League East Division titles and with a .295 average, and career highs with 38 homers and 121 RBI he should still be right in contention for the honor.
5. Ronald Acuna Jr. (Atlanta Braves)
If Freddie Freeman is No. 4 on my list than his teammate Ronald Acuna Jr. is basically 4b for me or I wouldn’t even have an issue flip-flopping them … but I’ll slot him in at No. 5. Acuna’s batting average was 15 points lower than Freeman’s and he drove in 20 fewer runs, but he hit three more bombs and has a WAR more than a full point higher playing a more defensively important position. The aspect of Acuna’s game that almost had me place him above his elder teammate was his league leading 37 stolen bases, coming up just shy of the fifth 40 homer/40 steals season in MLB history.
by Julian Spivey
If I had an MVP vote this would be the top five on my ballot.
1. Alex Bregman (Houston Astros)
As long as the award is called Most Valuable Player, I will never believe it should solely be given to the best overall players in a league. This is why I don’t believe this honor should annually go to Mike Trout. Trout is the best player in baseball. However, I like for MVP winners to most of the time be on teams that are either in the playoffs or at least contended for a spot in the playoffs. That’s almost never Trout and the Los Angeles Angels. Not Trout’s fault, but that’s how I’d vote. The Houston Astros were the best team in baseball this season and their best player is third baseman Alex Bregman. I feel that should account for something. Bregman’s overall numbers mostly ended up being better than Trout’s, as well, because Bregman played the full season, where as Trout was shut down almost a month early due to a foot injury. Bregman’s led the American League in Wins Above Replacement at 8.4, actually surpassing Trout on the season’s final day. He also five points higher than Trout and drove in eight more runs (I know, I already said Trout missed three full weeks), but games played should matter a bit too.
2. Mike Trout (Los Angeles Angels)
I basically explained why Angels outfielder Mike Trout should come in second in the A.L. MVP voting above in my explanation for giving the honor to Alex Bregman. I do predict Trout will win the honor, though, because more and more I believe voters are turning this honor into a Best Player in Baseball award.
3. Marcus Semien (Oakland Athletics)
The Oakland A’s are probably tied with the Tampa Bay Rays, whom they will play on Wednesday night to decide the American League Wild Card winner, for most surprising playoff team of 2019. The A’s best player all season was shortstop Marcus Semien, who may not even be known by novice baseball fans. Semien had the third highest WAR in the A.L. this season at 8.1, while batting .285 with career highs of 33 home runs and 92 runs batted in.
4. D.J. LeMahieu (New York Yankees)
D.J. Le Mahieu was a former batting champion in the National League where he’d frequently hit .300 or better in the hitter friendly Coors Field as a Colorado Rockies infielder, but his signing with the New York Yankees last offseason was somewhat of a head-scratcher as they seemed to have a stacked infield. LeMahieu turned into one of the team’s few healthy hitters for the entire 2019 season and one of the team’s best leaders. LeMahieu hit .327 for the Yanks, which was 50 points higher than with the Rockies last season playing home games in Coors. LeMahieu also hit a career high with 26 homers (11 more than his previous best) and drove in a career best 102 runs in a lineup that was supposed to have Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton as the big boppers.
5. Justin Verlander (Houston Astros)
I know many people don’t like seeing pitchers in the MVP battle because they have their own award in the Cy Young, but I’ve always said pitchers are players too and deserving of such an accolade. What Justin Verlander is still doing on the mound at age 36 is amazing. He led the A.L. with 21 wins in a league leading 34 starts and 223 innings pitched in an era when arms are being babied. Verlander hit the 300 strikeout mark for the first time in his career, which is incredible at 36. He also had a 2.58 ERA and a 7.8 WAR, best among A.L. pitchers and fourth overall in the league. Oh yeah, he also pitched his third career no-hitter this season. If Verlander is number five on my A.L. MVP ballot than his pitching teammate Gerrit Cole would probably have to be 5b.
by Julian Spivey
When Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck stunned the sports world on Saturday, August 24 by announcing his retirement at the age of 29 it started a conversation of the most shocking early retirements in the history of sports.
Luck’s retirement is certainly shocking due to his age and his stature in the game as likely one of the NFL’s five best quarterbacks, but the recent focus on the game’s injuries might make decisions like the one made by Luck over the weekend more commonplace.
Among the shocking early retirements that many brought up after Luck’s decision where two of the greatest running backs in NFL history: Jim Brown’s decision to focus on a Hollywood acting career retiring from the Cleveland Browns at 30 years old as the league’s all-time leading rusher and Barry Sanders decision in 1999 to retire at 31 less than 1,500 yards away from Walter Payton’s all-time rushing record at the time.
Then you have the early retirements of Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson in the NBA, both of whom eventually returned to the league, though with Jordan having much more time and success. Jordan’s retirement followed the murder of his father and his interest in playing professional baseball. Johnson’s was health related after contracting HIV.
But, of all of the shocking sports retirements many are forgetting about the time when the best pitcher in Major League Baseball, perhaps the greatest to ever set perch upon a pitching mound, Sandy Koufax walked away from the game at the height of his career in 1966 at the age of 30 (the same age and year Jim Brown called it quits).
Koufax had been the game’s most dominant pitcher throughout the early-to-mid 1960s for the Los Angeles Dodgers after beginning in the late ‘50s with the team in Brooklyn to average success. Through the first seven full seasons of his career (more than half of it in total) Koufax was only 54-53 with an ERA more than a full run higher than what his final tally would be.
The combination of entering a pitcher friendly Dodgers Stadium in 1962, his previous L.A. home at the Los Angeles Coliseum had a left field line that was a measly 250-feet from home plate, Dodgers scout Kenny Myers fixing a hitch in his wind-up and MLB expanding the strike zone in 1963 Koufax became a completely different pitcher.
From 1962 through his final season of 1966 Koufax would lead the National League every season in ERA with a career best of 1.73 coming in his final season. It would be the third time in a four year span he would have an ERA under 2.00, and the year that it was above it was barely at 2.04. Koufax had gone from a .500 career pitcher over the first part of his career to a 111-34 record over the last five years of his career, winning a career high 27 games in the final season of his career.
In the final four years of his career Koufax would win the Cy Young Award in the N.L. three times, including a Most Valuable Player award in 1963. He would also lead the N.L. in strikeouts in three of those seasons topping 300 Ks every time.
Koufax led the Dodgers to World Series titles in 1963 and 1965, winning the MVP of the series both times. He would go 4-1 in those World Series appearances. His final game in the league would be in losing fashion against the Baltimore Orioles in the 1966 World Series, which the Orioles would go on to win, but he pitched well only allowing one earned run in six innings. It was his third start in just eight days. His career World Series ERA was 0.95.
Koufax threw four no-hitters, the second most all-time in MLB history behind Nolan Ryan’s seven, during his career and a perfect game against the Chicago Cubs on September 9, 1965. There’s no telling how many more no-nos he might have thrown had he pitched into his 30s.
Koufax had been pitching through pain over the last two years of his career, despite those being arguably the two finest seasons he’d ever pitch. He was told by a doctor after a spring training outing in 1965 that left his arm black and blue and hemorrhaging that he’d eventually lose use of his arm. He would doctor himself with numerous medications, shots and balms just to get through his outings. After the 1966 season he decided enough was enough and to walk away from the game while he could still feel and use his arm.
When it comes down to it Koufax was leaving the game back then for the same reasons Luck is leaving the gridiron now. He wanted a life after his career in which he wasn’t completely destroyed by pain.
He left baseball on his own terms, but still at the top of his game … leaving the rest of us to wonder just what else he could’ve done in his legendary career.
by Julian Spivey
Today marks two weeks since one of the most devastating gun-related days of violence in the history of our country and few, if any, seem to be talking about how one of this weekend’s biggest sporting events – the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series event at Bristol Motor Speedway is being co-sponsored by Bass Pro Shops and the National Rifle Association. Multiple times on this very website I’ve called for NASCAR to cut ties with the NRA, most recently in February of last year when the sport’s biggest race the Daytona 500 took place just days after the tragedy in Parkland, Fla. The sport continues to take the NRA’s money and support the organization, of which NASCAR team owner Richard Childress is the Vice President, with sights set on being its future President. Allowing the NRA to sponsor a major race just 14 days after another one of our country’s many mass shootings is a bad look for the sport.
Here is the article originally posted in February of 2018:
Flags flew at half-mast at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla. last Sunday during the 60th running of the Daytona 500 just over a three-hour drive north of Parkland, Fla. where 17 students and faculty had been gunned down a few days before in one of the worst school shootings in American history. Parkland victims and survivors were in the prayers of those at the speedway all weekend during the prerace invocations.
Austin Dillon would go on to win the Daytona 500 that day. One of his sponsors is the National Rifle Association (NRA), which thankfully wasn’t on his car that day. Imagine how that would’ve looked. The reigning NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series champion Martin Truex Jr. is also occasionally sponsored by the NRA. The NRA also is set to sponsor the August race at Bristol Motor Speedway once again this season and has sponsored races at Texas Motor Speedway before.
The sport of NASCAR depends on sponsorship for survival maybe more than any other professional sport in the country, but they can be picky about what brands they allow to associate with the sport. Journeyman racer Carl Long found this out the tough way last season when NASCAR made the driver’s team remove decals for the company Veedverks from his No. 66 car. Veedverks is a hemp vape shop based in Colorado.
NASCAR takes issue with a legal (in Colorado) hemp vape shop but is OK with the NRA – a group that some people refer to as an American terrorist organization.
The same NRA that donated $10,000 to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School’s four-person varsity marksmanship team, in 2016. Parkland shooter Nikolas Cruz was on that team and honed the very skills needed to perpetrate the tragedy at his school. The NRA that seemingly proves time and time again it cares more about the sale of firearms than people killed by AR-15s, which should be used for military purposes and nothing else.
NASCAR has never taken issue with the NRA as a race or team sponsor before, and the topic has come up before. In 2013, just months after 26 people were killed at Sandy Hook in Newton, Ct. the sport announced the NRA would sponsor a spring race at Texas Motor Speedway. NASCAR simply distanced itself from the decision with spokesman David Higdon saying, “Texas Motor Speedway ultimately secured this entitlement sponsor, not NASCAR.” After that season NASCAR instituted a new clause in its sanction agreements stating that it had to approve race sponsors, according to ESPN. Two years later the NRA was back as a race sponsor at Bristol, where it’ll serve as sponsor for a third consecutive year in August. NASCAR didn’t say no. This time they also didn’t comment. NASCAR team owner and NRA Second Vice President Richard Childress did, praising the sponsorship deal. He said: “So many fans are supporters of the NRA. They [NASCAR/Bristol Motor Speedway] made the right decision putting the NRA back in because so many of our fans are NRA members.”
There’s little doubt that many NASCAR fans are NRA supporters, but that doesn’t make it a right decision by the sport or a decision that looks good upon it. I’m sure a lot of NASCAR fans support marijuana, as well. I’m sure a lot of NASCAR fans are also supporters of Playboy magazine, which has been rejected as a sponsor multiple times for not being “representative of the image of NASCAR,” according to USA Today.
Pot and naked ladies aren’t good for the sport’s image, but high-powered machines of death are fine.
NASCAR should reconsider its relationship with the NRA, but it’d be highly surprising if they did. In the last few days many companies have felt the heat from people claiming they would no longer support them if they didn’t cut ties with the NRA. In response companies like Enterprise, Alamo, National and First National Bank of Omaha have already cut ties. Other companies like FedEx, LifeLock, Hertz and Norton Online are being pressured, as well. Nobody seems to be putting any pressure on NASCAR, probably because they view it to be a lost cause. Like I said, it probably would be. But, it’s still worth the fight. Who knows maybe NASCAR will decide to do something just because it’s the right thing to do? They lowered their flags and said they’re prayers in Daytona. But, as long as they’re taking the NRA’s money and giving them a sales boost by placing their companies on their cars, races and tracks they aren’t doing enough.
If LeBron James wins two titles over the next three years in L.A., where would you rank him on the list of all-time Laker greats? - Charles B.
That’s a great and interesting question Charles. Thank you.
The problem here is that the Los Angeles Lakers are one of the most storied franchises, not just in the NBA, but in any professional sports league. They have so many legendary players in their illustrious history that you could put together a starting five and still be leaving out an all-time great.
That’s the problem facing LeBron James, who I wouldn’t argue with someone if they told me was the greatest player in NBA history, in your scenario. Even if James were to lead his Lakers team to two titles in the next three seasons, which is a big if I don’t believe he’d be a top-5 all-time Lakers player.
The Lakers easily have two of the 10 greatest players of all-time in NBA history in Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Both won five championships with the team and each won three MVPs with the team. Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant are arguably top-10 all-time NBA players or borderline top-10 NBA players of all-time. Bryant, like Johnson and Abdul-Jabbar, also won five titles with the team. Shaq won three consecutive titles with the team. Kobe and Shaq each won an MVP in Los Angeles.
So, even if LeBron can win two titles in three years with the Lakers he’s automatically still behind these four players.
Then you have Mr. Laker Jerry West. West is such an iconic player with the Lakers and in the NBA that he’s literally the logo for the NBA. He only won one championship with the Lakers, mostly because they had to go up against the greatest force in pro sports history in the Boston Celtics of the 1960s, but even though in your scenario LeBron would have won more titles than West with the Lakers I couldn’t in good conscious rank him higher all-time as a Laker than West with such less time in a Lakers jersey.
At best I’d say LeBron would be the sixth greatest Los Angeles Lakers player of all-time, but even that seems like a bit of a slap in the face to Elgin Baylor.
LBJ will have to settle for his no. 23 in the rafters in L.A. and being the greatest player in franchise history for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
by Julian Spivey
The Major League Baseball Trade Deadline, which is now a hard deadline with baseball no longer allowing waiver deals throughout the month of August, was fairly exciting with a flurry of deals going down to the wire on Wednesday, July 31 despite many of the biggest names not trading jerseys. There was one big name dealt at the very last second – ace Zack Greinke going from the Arizona Diamondbacks to the Houston Astros in a deal that mirrors what the Astros were able to pull off two summers ago when they acquired Justin Verlander from the Detroit Tigers and rode him all the way to their first ever World Series title.
Here are the winners and losers of the 2019 MLB Trade Deadline:
The Astros are clearly the biggest winners of the trade deadline getting an ace of a starting pitcher in Greinke to go along with he other two aces they already have in Verlander and Gerrit Cole. Scoring runs on the Astros in the postseason is going to be very hard and that’s a problem for the rest of baseball considering the offense is among the best in the game, as well. I know you still have to play the games, but I really believe the Astros just clinched their second title in three years with this deal. Adding icing to their cake the additions of another starting pitcher in Aaron Sanchez (who’s better than his 2019 numbers suggest) and a reliever in Joe Biagini (3.78 ERA) from the Toronto Blue Jays just bolsters their pen for the postseason.
The one glaring hole the Atlanta Braves have faced all season is their bullpen. As long as they could address that they would end up on this winners list and, boy, did they ever address it. They added an all star closer in Shane Greene (1.18 ERA and 22 saves) from the Detroit Tigers, a former all star closer in Mark Melancon (3.50 ERA) from the San Francisco Giants and Chris Martin from the Texas Rangers, who’s had a great K/BB ratio this season and walks have been a huge issue for the Braves ‘pen. The fact that Greene and Melancon aren’t rentals and the Braves only had to give up prospects, and not their biggest ones either, just adds to the winning in their deadline deals.
New York Mets
The New York Mets and what they were going to do with their pitching staff was the bulk of the discussion leading up to the trade deadline with many believing they would trade either Noah Syndergaard or Zack Wheeler, if not both. They wound up somewhat surprisingly not trading either. In fact, the Mets decided to add to their rotation at the deadline acquiring the Toronto Blue Jays ace Marcus Stroman, who had a top five ERA this season playing in the high-powered offense American League East Division. At 53-55 the Mets are probably out of contention the rest of this season (although we that second Wild Card it’s too early to say for certain), but to have a starting rotation of Jacob deGrom, Syndergaard, Stroman, Wheeler and Steven Matz next season should put fear into the hitters of the National League.
The Cleveland Indians were a part of a three-team deal with the Cincinnati Reds and San Diego Padres the day before the trade deadline that got them a couple of good bats for the playoff stretch and one of those bats who should be their power hitting designated hitter for a while. They received Yasiel Puig from the Reds and Franmil Reyes from the Padres. Reyes is a 24-year old monster of a hitter who’s already on pace to hit 40 or more homers in his first full MLB season this year. The addition of him to this lineup for the foreseeable future is major. Trading Trevor Bauer to the Reds could hurt their rotation, especially if their injured stars can’t return well, but in the long run the deal should prove to be well worth it.
New York Yankees
The only thing of significance the New York Yankees were able to do before the trade deadline came over a month ago when they acquired power hitting designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion from the Seattle Mariners. What the team really needed was to add a pitcher to their rotation for the postseason and they failed miserably. They desperately wanted Zack Greinke from the Diamondbacks, but just couldn’t make it work and the Astros could … that’s going to hurt big time, especially if the two teams matchup in October.
Boston Red Sox
General Managers of the American League East Division just were not getting the job done going into the end of the trade deadline on Wednesday. The reigning champion Boston Red Sox currently sit third in the A.L. East at 10 games behind the Yankees and if the playoffs began today they’d be at home watching from their couches. The Red Sox desperately needed some bullpen help and there were plenty of bullpen arms to be had, hell the Braves acquired three within a 24 hour span, but the Red Sox basically stayed pat and because of it may end up staying put in third place.
Los Angeles Dodgers
OK, so I’m putting the Dodgers on the losers list because they didn’t do much at the trade deadline and we’ve been accustomed to them making some of the splashiest deal like acquiring Manny Machado from the Baltimore Orioles last season and Yu Darvish from the Texas Rangers the year before that. But even though the biggest name they acquired was utility infielder Jedd Gyorko from the St. Louis Cardinals the Dodgers are still easily the best team in the National League.
by Julian Spivey
One of the biggest issues in Major League Baseball right now is pitchers head hunting against batters for celebrating home runs. The biggest example of this this season has been the ongoing battle between the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds, two teams fighting over last place in the National League Central Division.
In the early part of the season Reds infielder/outfielder Derek Dietrich was hitting the Pirates like he was a descendant of Babe Ruth and occasionally pimped the blast that drew the ire of the Pittsburgh team.
In April Pirates pitcher Chris Archer threw a ball behind Dietrich’s back, which led to a bruhaha in which Reds outfielder Yasiel Puig attempted to take on the entire Pirates ballclub in one of the best images of the entire MLB season.
Almost four months later it seems the Pirates are still upset with Dietrich as reliever Keone Kela opted to throw a pitch directly over Dietrich’s head in the seventh inning of Tuesday (July 30) game while up 8-2. The incident led to an argument between Kela and Reds all star first baseman Joey Votto between innings.
In the ninth inning with the Pirates leading 11-3 Reds reliever Amir Garrett was on the mound with the Pirates dugout apparently jawing at him (at least that’s what seemed to be happening) and Garrett took off from the mound in a sprint toward the Pirates dugout to take on the entire team, just as Puig had done months earlier leading to yet another one of the best images of the season.
This, of course, led to a multi-minute incident that saw both teams going at it in front of the Pirates dugout and Reds manager David Bell, who had been ejected from the game the inning before for arguing balls and strikes, sprinting on the field from inside the locker room to take on the Pirates, with Pirates manager Clint Hurdle seemingly being his target. The most interesting aspect of the entire melee was the major involvement of Puig, who had actually been traded to the Cleveland Indians less than an hour prior to the brawl but was (unusually) never removed from the ballgame. He’ll certainly be serving a suspension as one of his first acts as a member of the Indians.
Puig, Garrett and Bell are all going to receive suspensions and it wouldn’t be surprising for all three to be rather lengthy. But, make no mistake this brawl doesn’t happen at all if the Pirates organization could have just let Dietrich’s homer celebration from more than a quarter of a year ago go. The brawl doesn’t happen if Kela doesn’t throw the ball toward Dietrich’s head – and make no mistake it was intentional. Kela admitted such after the game to the press: “I’m going to tell you the truth. The reason I went up and in was strictly, one, to show my intent and to pretty much let Dietrich know that I didn’t necessarily agree with the way things went down.”
It’s time that Major League Baseball step in and say head hunting is done. There’s no more place for it within the game. Players policing themselves on the field has always been part of baseball and I’ve always been completely fine with that. I don’t think the bean ball is something that should be completely taken out of the game – although I’m kind of done with it being used against celebrations. But, going at someone’s head whether you’re actually attempting to hit the batter or just buzz him has to be dealt with harshly. Pitchers are throwing harder than they ever have in the history of the game and we’re playing around with people’s lives here. Any time a pitcher intentionally throws the ball near a batter head it should be a minimum of a double digit game suspension and baseball should start right now with Kela. I also believe MLB should hand down a lengthy suspension to Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, as many times these bean ball pitches are directed by the manager himself. Baseball can and should take a stand right now and let the Pirates know their bad blood with Dietrich and the Reds is over and show any team in the future that if you want to go near someone’s head with a pitch there’s going to be consequences.
by Preston Tolliver
The Oklahoma City Thunder of seven years ago was nearly perfect. Its young core featured a blossoming Kevin Durant leading the team to the NBA Finals, flanked by his righthand man and athletic juggernaut Russell Westbrook, All-Defensive First Team and number-one block party host Serge Ibaka and a baby James Harden, who was voted that year as Sixth Man of the Year, his beard just then starting to become as famous as any player in the league.
But years past, and players got traded or left. Harden was traded right after that to Houston, where he became the leader Daryl Morey built around. Serge became a good role player for Orlando, and then Toronto, and Durant packed his bags for West Beach. Even coach Scotty Brooks was bounced from Tornado Alley.
And last week, the last piece of that championship-caliber team (a team, which, should have won that championship, had fouls been a thing that were called in the last minute of the series), Westbrook, was traded to Houston to reunite with Harden.
A lot’s changed in the last seven years. Harden went from sixth man (though third-best on that Thunder team) to the alpha dog. Westbrook’s transition to the Thunder’s star player wasn’t as seamless – it’s likely what pushed Durant out the door – and the chances of friction between him and Harden are likely to reach Shaq and Kobe levels.
The NBA transitioned this summer from a league of a couple of superteams to a team with a lot of tandems. It’s almost a callback to the ‘90s – the days of Jordan and Pippen; Kemp and Payton; Malone and Stockton (if ever there was a time to bring back NBA Jam, now would be it).
Oftentimes, and not just in the NBA, the best things come in pairs: peanut butter and jelly; Tom and Jerry; buddy cop movies. And it’s that last one that I like to use to predict the future of an NBA pair – specifically, “Bad Boys.”
“Bad Boys,” for the uncultured, features peak Will Smith and peak Martin Lawrence as Miami P.D. detectives Mike Lowrey and Marcus Burnett, respectively, and in the series’ (current) two movies, they take on mobsters, the cartel and racism. The first movie, though, is a lesson in the dynamic an NBA should strive for: Smith’s Lowrey is the obvious alpha, with Lawrence’s Burnett the beta, who plays perfectly – though at times irritatingly – off his partner. “Bad Boys II,” though, sees Lawrence’s character seek a bigger role in the team, and he challenges Smith for the alpha spot. It’s a recipe for chaos, peaking in a famous freeway chase scene in which cadavers and body parts fling out of vans and under the Miami detectives’ car. “Bad Boys II” is the dynamic that – while entirely possible to succeed – NBA teams should not strive for (there is a rare exception in which two players are equally alpha and take co-leadership roles, such as Kemp and Payton, or DeRozan and Lowry – we’ll call this the “Tango & Cash” rule).
Jordan and Pippen, for example? That’s “Bad Boys.” Pippen knew he was the number-two option. Kobe and Shaq? That was “Bad Boys II.” Kobe, although an all-time great, tried taking the throne too early. Lebron and AD? “Bad Boys.” Irving and Durant? “Bad Boys II,” probably.
Three years ago, before Durant left for Golden State, he and Westbrook were drowning in “Bad Boys II” territory. Westbrook wanted to be the guy, and he got his wish with Durant’s departure. If history is any indication, it’ll be similar in Houston – it’s Harden’s team, but Westbrook was the better of the two when they last played together. He won’t forget that, and he won’t forget when he edged out Harden for MVP (or when Harden edged him out the next year).
That’s not to say the Houston Rockets won’t be more or less successful with Westbrook eying Harden’s throne the same way he did Durant’s MVP trophy during that ceremony so many years ago. What it means is that’ll be chaotic, it’ll be unpredictable and just like that freeway scene in “Bad Boys II,” heads are gonna roll.