July 7th, 2018: Arizona Sports are Saved

Alright, so a lot happened on Saturday, and I’m here to tell you about it.

 

  1. Devin Booker Extension

Five years. $158 million. All five years guaranteed, no options. This is the nature of the extension of the Phoenix Suns’ franchise player. Devin Booker, after holding out due to Tyler Ulis miscommunication, signed his extension on July 7th, 2018. For the next five years, he is a Sun, and he won’t even be in the prime of his prime when that extension ends. He’ll be 26! And when that contract expires, THEN he’ll be in his prime and the Suns can sign him to something even better! That’s amazing news, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

 

  1. Deandre Ayton did some cool stuff

21 points and 12 rebounds was the name of the game for Deandre Ayton in game 2 of his Las Vegas Summer League tenure. His first half looked very lackluster, as he was getting beat in the post by Harry Giles, a man who has undergone two ACL surgeries. He was trying to post up by standing straight up and down instead of trying to dig into his defender, and he wasn’t slashing strongly after setting screens. He ended the half with 4 points, and Marvin Bagley looked to be his superior. But, in the second half, something changed. He was setting tough on-ball screens, he was passing out of doubles effectively, he was catching the ball over the top of his defender, and he really started to dig in. By the end of it all, he was efficient, strong, and using his size extremely well. Deandre Ayton looks good.

 

2b. Mikal Bridges did things too

In the last two games of Summer League, Mikal Bridges is 5 for 8 from three and 6 for 10 in general. That’s impressive. He looked great defensively on Saturday, and he had a nice steal and slam to cement himself as a decent defensive talent with athleticism. He’s proving he’s worth the trade-up on draft day, and that’s good.

 

  1. Masked Josh Jackson happened

Need I say more? That block is plastered all over every highlight page online. He stood over him and taunted him! He taunted the 2nd overall pick! Don’t elbow Josh Jackson in the face. He will kill you.

 

  1. The Diamondbacks scored 20 runs in a single game

That’s a franchise record. Wow. Alex Avila had 3 RBIs. That’s really all you need to know about that. He’s hitting .148 and he had THREE RBIs. The Padres are very bad.

 

Well, there you have it, folks. Arizona sports are saved and everyone can rejoice as Phoenix becomes a great sports city once again. (But, seriously, it was a good day. There’s a lot for the Suns to build on, and the Diamondbacks might finally get back into the groove they were in to start the season. I’m very happy about these results. Thank you for your time.)

Advertisements

UFC 226 (Updated) Preview

Why, God?

Mainstream fight fans have no Conor McGregor.

Actual fight fans have no incentive to pay attention to CM Punk getting dominated for three rounds.

There finally was (and still is, but not as much) something to look forward to in this tumultuous world of Mixed Martial Arts.

From the exclusive Fight Pass prelims all the way up to the main event, UFC 226 was easily the best pay-per-view card the promotion put together in 2018.

That was, until featherweight champion Max Holloway had to pull out of his scheduled featherweight title defense against undefeated prodigy Brian Ortega due to “concussion-like symptoms.”

If everyone remembers correctly, Holloway agreed to fill in for Tony Ferguson three months ago for a lightweight title bout against Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 223.

Just like 223, Holloway made it past open workouts to pull out just a few days before fight day.

To the mainstream fight fan, it may appear that Holloway pulled out of his last two fights in fear of losing or to augment his title reign.

But that simply is not the case.

Holloway was responsible for cutting a massive amount of weight for a bout he was not healthy enough to participate in at UFC 223.

Fast forward three months, even with a solid grace period to cut weight, Holloway had to cut to 145 pounds, ten pounds lighter than the goal for UFC 223.

Now, our fearless featherweight champion is having issues with his health and UFC President Dana White claims he will need some significant time off.

Prayers go up for the UFC to figure out the healthiest weight cut path for fighters, and blessings go up for UFC featherweight champion “Blessed” Max Holloway.

Get well soon Max.

Let’s talk about people punching each other.

The prime time slot on the Fox Sports One preliminary card righteously sees Uriah “Prime Time” Hall (14-8) face off against “The Eraser” Paulo Costa (11-0).

Besides having the perfect ratio of intimidation and beauty, Costa also sports a perfect record of 11-0 and has finished every opponent that has faced him so far.

Hall has been on a 10 month layoff and lost three of his last four fights.

However, Hall did win his last fight by way of knockout in an impressive comeback against number 14 ranked middleweight Krzysztof Jotko.

A victory over the surging Costa would give him a two fight winning streak and a good argument for a fight with a top five middleweight contender.

Another potential opponent for the victor of this upcoming bout could be surging newcomer Israel Adesanya (14-0).

In his third fight with the UFC, Adesanya headlined his first card and handily defeated short-notice fill-in and #8 middleweight contender Brad Tavares (17-5).

To sweeten the tea, Adesanya also suggested his next fight should be the winner of Hall-Costa.

Either way the fight plays out, the fight world would be happy.

Do not miss this middleweight bout.

As we look to the main card, we see an intriguing welterweight matchup between “Platinum” Mike Perry (11-3) and Paul “The Irish Dragon” Felder (15-3).

Perry is currently riding a two fight losing streak both of which he lost decisively via decision. Perry’s ex-girlfriend Danielle Nickerson, who is a professional tennis player with zero professional fights under her belt, cornered him in both losses.

It will be interesting to see how Greg Jackson measures up as his cornerman, as Nickerson has given him one tough act to follow.

That was blatant sarcasm.

Perry’s opponent Felder, the number 14 ranked lightweight, is enjoying a three fight knockout streak as he approaches his welterweight debut.

It remains to be seen whether Felder will add another knockout to his already impressive streak. Yet, Perry would carry a similar incentive as all 11 of his victories have come by way of knockout.

Up next on the card, a heavyweight bout turned grudge match between Francis “The Predator” Ngannou (11-2) and “The Black Beast” Derrick Lewis (19-5).

These two have been jawing at each other as early as May 2017 when Lewis responded to Ngannou’s claim that Lewis is “too slow” in the octagon.

“F*ck that guy,” Lewis said on episode 383 of the MMA Hour.

A simple yet telling quote from “The Black Beast”.

Despite the jabs thrown from Lewis, “The Predator” still believes he holds every advantage over ”The Black Beast”, as reported by Jed Meshew.

Even if we removed the bad blood between the two, this bout would still make for an exceptional outcome.

But, after the scuffle they had at the weigh-ins Friday, it appears that all is not forgotten.

Before losing his title shot against Stipe Miocic by decision in January 2018, Ngannou finished every opponent in his last ten fights and remains the number one contender in the heavyweight division.

Lewis, on the other hand, won seven of his last eight with all but one of those seven victories coming via knockout.

The outcome of this bout could also set up a title eliminator or even a title shot in the best case scenario.

In the main event, the biggest superfight of the year takes place as the undisputed UFC heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic (18-2) defends his title for the fourth time against the undisputed UFC light heavyweight champion Daniel “DC” Cormier (20-1).

Miocic’s current win streak and subsequent title run boasts victories over heavyweight legends Alistair Overeem, Junior Dos Santos and Mark Hunt. Although all the opponents named are staples of the division, Cormier could very well be his toughest challenge to date.

“DC” is coming off a successful title defense after a knockout win over Volkan Oezdemir at UFC 220.

On that same card in Boston, Stipe Miocic successfully defended his heavyweight title against the aforementioned Ngannou.

This fight is going to be a spectacle.

Cormier will try to become the second fighter ever to hold two UFC titles concurrently (Conor McGregor, lightweight & featherweight).

Cormier’s key to victory this evening is wrestling.

Miocic is a pure boxer and the only time we’ve seen him resort to wrestling was the slow motion dance party that main evented UFC 220 against Ngannou.

But he’s not facing Ngannou on July 7.

Daniel Cormier is a decorated amateur wrestler who beautifully transported his amateur prowess to the octagon that the two will be standing in.

It is Miocic’s responsibility to defend the takedown and keep the fight on foot.

Miocic’s best bet to win is by knockout, and that is not an opinion-driven statement.

Five of Stone Cold Stipe’s last six wins have all come from knockout.

Four of those five knockouts came in the first round.

Stipe’s key to victory is simple, knock Cormier out as soon as possible.

It has been erased from history, but those who watched UFC 214 saw Daniel Cormier get knocked out.

It is possible, but then again, Cormier is undefeated at heavyweight.

It is evident the worth of the pay per view purchase has plummeted drastically after Holloway pulled out of the co-main event.

Regardless, this is the fight world we live in.

Enjoy UFC 226, and get well soon Max Holloway.

MLB All Star teams, but determined by fWAR

I’m not saying I don’t like fan voting, I’m just saying it allows undeserving players to play in the All Star Game. Fan voting is how we ended up with a .222-hitting Jason Varitek in 2008, or Cal Ripken starting over Alex Rodriguez and/or Troy Glaus in 2001.

If the game were to truly showcase the best players in baseball, fWAR is a slightly better way of doing things.

For those of you who hate, or don’t know about advanced metrics, fWAR (Wins Above Replacement) is a measurement used by FanGraphs to approximately how many wins a player is worth — seeing if team more or less likely to win with or without a specific player in a game.

I totally copy-pasted that from my article on Chris Davis. Hopefully nobody sues me for plagiarizing myself. That’s actually a thing. It happened to John Fogerty.

Anyway, here are the current starting lineups for the 2018 All Star Game.

National League

Position Player fWAR
1B Freddie Freeman 3.4
2B Ozzie Albies 2.9
3B Nolan Arenado 3.4
SS Brandon Crawford 2.8
OF Nick Markakis 2.3
OF Matt Kemp 1.7
OF Bryce Harper 1.3
C Buster Posey 1.7

American League

Position Player fWAR
1B José Abreu 0.6
2B Jose Altuve 3.7
3B Jose Ramírez 5.5
SS Manny Machado 2.9
OF Mookie Betts 5
OF Mike Trout 6.3
OF Aaron Judge 4.2
C Wilson Ramos 1.2
DH JD Martinez 3

Now here’s what the teams should look like.

National League

Position Player fWAR Difference
1B Freddie Freeman 3.4 0
2B Genett/Albies/Baez 2.9 0
3B Nolan Arenado 3.4 0
SS Trea Turner 2.9 0.1
OF Lorenzo Cain 3.4 1.1
OF Brandon Nimmo 2.5 0.8
OF Kyle Schwarber 2.4 1.4
C JT Realmuto 3.2 1.5

American League

Position Player fWAR Difference
1B Matt Olson 1.6 1
2B Jose Altuve 3.7 0
3B Jose Ramírez 5.5 0
SS Francisco Lindor 4.8 1.9
OF Mookie Betts 5 0
OF Mike Trout 6.3 0
OF Aaron Judge 4.2 0
C Max Stassi 1.3 0.1
DH JD Martinez 3 0

The American League is more accurate, as 6 of the 9 (nice) voted players also have the top fWAR at their positions. That’s actually not too terrible. The NL could use some work though. Six of those 9 (nice) do NOT lead their position in fWAR.

Honestly, I don’t see a need to change too much. I just thought this would be a fun comparison.

Elie Okobo will be your new favorite Sun

Drafted 31st in Thursday’s NBA Draft, Elie Okobo is one of the newest members of the Phoenix Suns. First thing he did? Call himself Swaggy E on Twitter.

Okobo is a currently a point guard for Élan Béarnais Pau-Lacq-Orthez in France. He’s a little undersized at 6’2’’, but he gets the job done on the offensive end. He’s also got a 6’8’’ wingspan, which helps him have active hands on defense. Here’s highlights of a recent game against AS Monaco, where he scored 44 points. That’s awesome. He’s awesome. As shown by the highlights, he’s got a nice handle, and a pretty silky-smooth 3-point shot. An offensive-minded, undersized point guard may not be the solution to the Suns’ defensive woes, but he’s a much needed spark off the bench on offense.

Swaggy E is also known for notable performances for the French U20 national team, and was the third highest scorer in the 2016 FIBA U20 tournament with a line of 18.9 points/3.9 rebounds/1.6 assists/1.9 steals. Obviously he didn’t move the ball a lot, but he scored when he needed to be the primary scorer, had active hands on defense, and rebounded surprisingly well for a guy his size.

When Elie was drafted at 31, a large portion of analysts and writers called it a steal. This is a good sign already. Ryan McDonough, while not good at many things, is good at the NBA Draft. He finds the right guys (Alex Len notwithstanding) to get the job done. Booker at 13, Warren at 14, and (even though we didn’t keep him) Bogdan Bogdanovic at 27. Consensus on Okobo was that he’d be a good pick in the mid-teens in the first round, so getting him at 31 was one of the better under the radar picks in this year’s draft.

Lest we forget another French point guard that was drafted 28th overall in 2001. He ended up having a pretty good career.

As of yesterday, Okobo signed a 4-year, $6 million rookie deal, with the 3rd and 4th years being team options. Okobo has two years to develop into something fantastic. Okobo will also play on the Suns’ Summer League team in Las Vegas starting next week, so we get to see just how NBA-ready he is, and how his talent translates from overseas.

There’s a certain aura to Elie Okobo that’s kind of indescribable. He seems fun, but hungry at the same time. I might just be being optimistic here, but there’s something there that will set him apart from the Suns point guards of the last few years. He’s got something that Bledsoe, Knight, and Ulis just don’t have. I don’t know what it is yet, but there’s something there.

Elie Okobo will definitely leave an imprint before his third year in the league, as long as the Suns give him time to see the floor and learn the game. He’ll be an integral part of the Suns bench sooner than later. If Tyler Ulis’s contract isn’t picked up, he’ll be coming off the bench with Daniels, Bridges, Chriss, and Chandler. If that happens, Okobo stands to make an impact right away.

I have a good feeling about this one. Elie Okobo will be my (and your) new favorite Sun.

Lakers in position for an exciting offseason

Dominating an offseason is not uncharted territory for the Los Angeles Lakers’ franchise.

In July of 1968, the Lakers traded for 76ers superstar Wilt Chamberlain who, in 1972, led Los Angeles to their first NBA championship. He was named the Finals MVP. In June of 1975, Los Angeles acquired Kareem Abdul-Jabbar via a trade with Milwaukee. As a member of the “Showtime Lakers,” Abdul-Jabbar helped win five titles. In the summer of 1996, the Lakers made their most successful free agent signing in history when they brought in Shaquille O’Neal. He went on to win an NBA MVP award and three Finals MVPs.

This summer, the Lakers have an opportunity to add multiple franchise-changing players, in hopes of receiving results similar to past successes. Free agency begins on July 1, with unrestricted free agents being able to officially sign on July 6.

However, before they can make a run at stars like LeBron James and Paul George, they have a chance to trade for a former Finals MVP and two-time Defensive Player of the Year who is unhappy in his current situation.

Kawhi Leonard and the San Antonio Spurs had a fallout last season regarding how the organization handled his quad injury. According to ESPN, Leonard would prefer to play in Los Angeles, where he is from.

Kawhi_Leonard_Dunk_(33179280005).jpg

Despite Leonard being gone for most of last season, the Spurs still managed to earn a spot in the playoffs. Veteran bigs LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol are locked in for next season, but San Antonio could use guard and wing help. The Spurs will certainly not give Leonard up without substantial compensation, but the Lakers have young pieces that San Antonio may find desirable. Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich has always been against helping Western Conference rivals, but perhaps if Los Angeles provides the best offer for Leonard, it could force his and General Manager R.C. Buford’s hand.

The Lakers could package youngsters Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball to send to San Antonio, along with Luol Deng’s $18 million-dollar contract over the next two seasons and a draft pick for Leonard and perhaps a veteran guard like Patty Mills. The Lakers could also add restricted free agent forward Julius Randle to the mix to sweeten the deal, as long as he agrees to a sign-and-trade and the Spurs want to bring him in.

This way, the Lakers add an elite player (as long as he stays healthy) who came in third-place in the MVP voting in 2017, along with a guard who shoots well from the perimeter with a lot of playoff experience. They could also get rid of the noise that surrounds the Ball family which was a distraction last season, not to mention Deng’s lucrative salary.

Meanwhile, the Spurs get a couple of former second overall picks who could potentially blossom and lead San Antonio for years to come. Plus, it would be an improved roster from last season when Leonard was inactive for all but nine games, so they could theoretically contend for a playoff spot again.

Salary-wise, as long as the Spurs willing to take Deng’s contract, Los Angeles should come out of the trade in a very beneficial financial situation. President of Basketball Operations Magic Johnson and General Manager Rob Pelinka would be left with enough cap room to add two max contracts without going far into the luxury tax.

 

If this hypothetical exchange goes through, then the Lakers would head into free agency with Kawhi Leonard, Kyle Kuzma coming off of a very productive rookie season, Josh Hart who also looked good as a rookie last year, and Patty Mills to lure in available talent.

DXeS-HaU8AEn-oV.jpg

Photo via @kylekuzma

That cast could certainly be a compelling one, especially for someone who came from a team with lackluster support as LeBron James did.

James is referred to by some to be the greatest player the NBA has ever seen, and should be the Lakers’ number one priority come free agency.

James is seemingly comfortable in LA, he even has two houses in Brentwood. Leonard is a great teammate to have help deal with the Warriors since he can defend many different positions at an elite level. Plus, the Lakers can give him his desired salary.

There is the possibility of a sign-and-trade between the Lakers and Cleveland, but that would be a better option if Leonard ends up elsewhere and the Lakers still had Ball, Ingram and Deng to give up. It still could happen even with the Spurs deal, but it isn’t likely that James would want weapons on his future team traded away when he is looking to win a title.

But, Johnson and Pelinka cannot be solely transfixed on getting James. Paul George is also available, and George-to-the-Lakers rumors have gone on for years. The timing is perfect it seems. A player who grew up rooting for the Lakers, and who has admitted that it would be fun to play for them, is a free agent in the same summer that the Lakers are looking to load up.

Cap wise, the Lakers have the space to take on James, George and Leonard, a hellacious amount of talent to add in one summer. But, they do all play the small forward primarily. Many NBA teams in recent years, though, have strayed away from traditional positions. The Golden State Warriors’ “death lineup” includes two guards, two small forwards and an undersized power forward.

With the facilitating skills of James and shooting ability of both George and Leonard, the three could mesh quite effectively. Defensively, all three have shown to be elite, with Leonard winning the Defensive Player of the Year twice and James and George earning multiple All-NBA Defensive honors each. The three can all defend different sized players as well.

Nevertheless, if Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka feel as if that is too many wing players, there are several centers on the market too. Perhaps instead of George, the Lakers could go after DeMarcus Cousins, an elite scorer with a six-foot-eleven frame. The problem with Cousins is his past of attitude issues, also the fact that he will be coming off of Achilles Tendon surgery and has been a defensive liability in the past.

Magic_Johnson_Mercedes-Benz_Carousel_of_Hope_Gala_2014_(15333165438).jpg

Clint Capela and DeAndre Jordan are slightly cheaper alternatives at center. They both finish very well around the rim. Capela led the league in field-goal percentage last season and Jordan led the NBA in the category for several seasons before that. They both defend the rim well too, with good size and awareness to block shots. Jordan is a better rebounder, but Capela is five years younger and could be more valuable down the road.

If Johnson and Pelinka do go with the three wings, then they could sign a cheaper big to plug in at center. Perhaps Leonard’s former teammate Aron Baynes, who just had an effective year in Boston and has playoff experience with the Celtics and Spurs, or by bringing back former Laker Ed Davis after three years in Portland. Both can defend the rim well, and should be able to benefit from the passing ability of LeBron James. Baynes can also shoot threes, adding another dimension to the offense. Additionally, in small lineups, Kuzma could plug in as a five for an athletic and strong scoring rotation.

From there, the Lakers would just have to worry about developing their bench beyond Hart, Kuzma and other players still under contract in LA, like Tyler Ennis, Ivica Zubac and Thomas Bryant. They can fill the bench with veterans who would be willing to sign for the minimum, since some players do so near the end of their careers when looking for a chance at a ring, or by drafting a couple of players since they have picks 25 and 47 (assuming they aren’t traded to San Antonio but likely one would be).

 

The problem with value contracts

Where I’m from, avocados cost about two bucks. During some parts of the year, this might go up to closer to $3; other times they’re $1.50. Aside from the fact that this is the price which allows everyone along the chain of avocado production to make a little bit of coin, it is also the price which ensures avocado supply and demand stays pretty well balanced.

If you know anything about economics, this won’t be anything new to you. If one day the supermarket decided that the avocados should be priced at 20 cents, the first ten people to the supermarket would probably buy 100 each, and the rest of us would be ruing not having anything to put with our poached eggs. In contrast, if the supermarket suddenly upped the price to $50 per avocado, no one would buy them, and after a couple of days all the avocados would get thrown in the bin.

So what does this have to do with basketball, you might ask? NBA players, like avocados, have an inherent value. Of course, this is related to their ability to play the game and make a team better, rather than how much nutritional value they provide you with and what they taste like, but the concept is the same. The salary cap is a system which is roughly based around these inherent values, and is intended to ensure that talent is, at least to an extent, distributed across the league.

Another difference between players and avocados though, is that players have a say in their own worth. They can actively decide to sign a contract which doesn’t truly reflect their value. When they decide that they’re willing to take a pay cut so that their team can, say, sign Kevin Durant, the general consensus seems to be to say, ‘hey, good for them. Putting the future of their team ahead of their own personal needs’. As Draymond Green so pertinently stated after Game 1 of this year’s finals, ‘we’re out here trying to feed our families’, so why shouldn’t we laud them for making a sacrifice? Well, aside from the fact that I can’t imagine Dray’s family is going to bed hungry with the $16 million plus endorsements, appearances etc that he makes a year, it disrupts this concept of talent distribution.

Players shouldn’t necessarily be criticised for signing these kinds of contracts, and there certainly is an element of selflessness to it – though they aren’t exactly Nelson Mandela for doing it. This selflessness, however, is more related to the fact that they value a ring over an extra few million a year, rather than a desire to sacrifice for the greater good. It benefits their teammates, themselves, and their fans, but as for the rest of us? Not so much.

The NBA isn’t the most equitable league on the planet, but it isn’t the English Premier League, and as mentioned, the salary cap is one of a number of systems intended to ensure an element of competitive balance. This cap, as we know, acts to ensure teams can only have a playing group with a certain sum worth on their roster. When a player chooses to sign a contract which doesn’t reflect his true worth, it disrupts this system. The result? The Warriors.

I’m not one to say Golden State have ruined the NBA. They were that close to being beaten by Houston, and if that had’ve happened we would have all lost our opportunity to whinge and moan about them. Having said that – despite how good the Rockets are, the Warriors are clearly – clearly – the best roster in the NBA. If they play near their best, they won’t lose.

Now we have an NBA where other great players are scrambling to find ways to beat this juggernaut. Presumably, LeBron will join a far better team than the one he was on last season in a desperate attempt to challenge Golden State. Maybe that team will be Houston, but even if it isn’t the Rockets will no doubt be looking for that extra piece to their already Championship-quality roster as well. The balance is shifting, and a higher proportion of the best players in the league being on a select few teams is going to be the result. Of course the Warriors aren’t the first great team to get even better in their history, but they are the first 73 win team to sign the second best player in the world.

The Warriors themselves, of course, couldn’t give a single shit about any of this. They’ve been given the chance to be on the greatest team of all time, and seem to be having a hoot of a time while doing it. Good for them. I’d probably do the same. Unfortunately, I have about as much talent as Steph Curry’s little finger so don’t have that opportunity, and am instead forced to watch a league in which one team is clearly better than the rest, and everyone else is scrambling to stay competitive.

Draymond shouldn’t be criticised for taking a smaller contract than he could’ve demanded, nor should Durant. After all, they’re just trying to have a good time, and since so much emphasis is placed on rings, why not secure your place in history as one of the most successful players of all time? At the same time though, they do not deserve praise for earning a completely ridiculous amount of money instead of an even more ridiculous amount of money. Because just like the supermarket manager who decided to sell his avocados for well under their market value, they’ve upset the balance.

Three MLB vets who have certainly pitched their way to their first All-Star Games

It took six seasons for three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer to make an All-Star team. Clayton Kershaw, 2014 NL MVP and three-time Cy Young winner, finally made the NL All-Stars in his fourth season. Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan pitched for five years before earning a spot in the “Mid-Summer Classic.”

It takes time for even the greatest pitchers to develop into All-Stars. James Paxton, Trevor Bauer and Mike Foltynewicz are MLB veterans who have surged this season, and should be in good shape to pitch in their first All-Star Games in July.

James Paxton, LHP Seattle Mariners

James Paxton threw the sixth no-hitter in Seattle history on May 8. From that game forward, the lefty has been tremendous. He is 5-0 with an ERA of 2.15 in that span. But, things didn’t always look so agreeable for the Seattle ace.

Paxton debuted in September of 2013. In four starts, he went 3-0 with a 1.50 ERA that season and a lot of excitement surrounded his development. But, injuries derailed his career for a time. They held him to just 13 starts each in 2014 and 2015.

Afterwards, he struggled getting back to form in Spring Training 2016, and he was optioned to Triple-A Tacoma to begin in the season. He was brought back up after 11 starts and finished the year with a respectable 3.79 ERA and 8.7 strikeouts-per-nine innings in the majors.

After a healthy 2016, he had his best season yet in 2017. He posted a 2.98 ERA and career bests in WHIP (1.103) and FIP (2.61). A short DL stint in May and a tough month of June most likely kept him out of the All-Star Game, but he responded well with a dominant July. Through 39.1 innings that month, he struck out 46 hitters, gave up just six runs and went 6-0. He won 2017 AL July Pitcher of the Month.

This season, Paxton has been dynamic once again. He is one of just three pitchers at this point with multiple complete games as of June 12. He has the ninth highest WAR out of Major League pitchers, behind seven past All-Stars and Aaron Nola. He is striking out batters at a career-best rate, 11.2 per-nine. That is the eighth best in baseball.

Also, despite losing their top hitter (Robinson Cano) to an 80-game suspension and being in a division with the defending champion Houston Astros, the Mariners are thriving. At 43-24, they have the third-best record in baseball. A lot of their success can be accredited to Paxton’s performance, as Seattle is 9-3 over his last 12 starts.

Trevor Bauer, RHP Cleveland Indians 

From the time Trevor Bauer was drafted, expectations were high. This resulted from his three fruitful seasons at UCLA, where Bauer racked up awards such as 2009 Pac-10 Freshman of the Year, 2011 First-Team College All-American, 2011 Pac-10 Conference Pitcher of the Year and 2011 NCAA National Pitcher of the Year.

The Arizona Diamondbacks selected him third overall in the 2011 MLB Draft. In June 2012, he was called up at just 21-years-old, and he stumbled out of the gate. In his first four starts, he gave up 11 runs and walked 13 hitters through 16.1 innings.

Fast forward to December of 2012, Bauer was shipped to Cleveland as part of a three-team deal between the Diamondbacks, Indians and Reds.

As a member of the Indians, Bauer was given a regular rotation spot in 2014. From 2014 through 2017, Bauer never lived up to the potential that was seen at UCLA. He never had an ERA under 4.18 and he had control issues. He led the league in walks in 2015 and followed that up by walking the seventh most batters in 2016.

Also, during his first three full campaigns in Cleveland, he never finished a season well. ERA-wise, September was his worst month in all three of those years.

But, last season, the opposite effect occurred. Despite having a less than rousing first-half of the season with a 5.24 ERA heading into the All-Star Break, he broke out with the best span of his career to end the year. He went 10-1 over his final 14 starts with an ERA of 2.60. His walks diminished and his strikeout rate rose to the sixth best in the league.

This season, he has performed even better than how he finished last year. His strikeout rate is the highest of his career (and once again the sixth-best in the league), while his walks rate is his personal lowest. His ERA is the fifth-lowest in the AL at 2.62. Also, his swing-and-miss rate is the highest of his career and his fastball average speed is faster than it has ever been, college or pros. He has allowed two or less runs in nine of his 13 starts.

Mike Foltynewicz, RHP Atlanta Braves

Mike Foltynewicz was the nineteenth pick by Houston in the 2010 MLB Draft. He was selected out of high school, and didn’t debut until 2014, but he got hammered by opposing hitters in Houston. He gave up 11 runs on 23 hits in just 18.2 innings.

He was shipped off to Atlanta during the following offseason, and has been a part of the starting rotation ever since. But, he has never had a season like this year.

“Folty” ranks third in the NL in ERA at 2.16, only behind Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer.  Prior to 2018, he never earned better than a 4.31 ERA.

Compared to his NL All-Star competition, he fares very well. He ranks in the top-10 in the National League in WAR for pitchers, strikeouts and strikeout rate, adjusted ERA+ and hits and homeruns per-nine.

Also, Foltynewicz is gaining momentum at the right time. The All-Star Game is about a month away, and the Braves’ big righty is going through a dominant stretch. Over his last seven starts, he has thrown 42 innings and given up four runs.

In this period, he pitched a complete game shutout of the division rival Washington Nationals, a game of which he struck out 11 hitters. It was the second time in that span where he sent down double-digit batters on strikes.

Sideline Intel Bracketology: Post-Deadline Edition

It’s the middle of June, and sports are pretty slow. All we’ve got as college basketball fans is recruiting… maybe the World Cup… maybe baseball?

Why not drop a bracket, right?

Here’s a look at where I’d say the field of 68 stands, now that we know who’s staying and who’s going.

Let’s be honest, it’s all speculation, but it’s better than nothing. Take a look:

~~~

EAST REGIONAL | Washington, D.C.

(Columbia, S.C.)
No. 1 DUKE
No. 16 WOFFORD / No. 16 UC DAVIS

No. 8 
Houston
No. 9 Xavier

(Seattle, Wash.)
No. 5 UCLA
No. 12 PENNSYLVANIA

No. 4 WEST VIRGINIA
No. 13 SOUTH DAKOTA STATE

(Jacksonville, Florida)
No. 6 Florida
No. 11 Maryland

No. 3 Virginia
No. 14 FLORIDA GULF COAST

(Jacksonville, Florida)
No. 7 Purdue
No. 10 NC State

No. 2 Auburn
No. 15 HAMPTON


MIDWEST REGIONAL | Kansas City, Mo.

(Des Moines, Iowa)
No. 1 KANSAS
No. 16 TEXAS SOUTHERN

No. 8
 LSU
No. 9 Louisville

(Tulsa, Okla.)
No. 5 Clemson
No. 12 Oklahoma State vs. No. 12 Marquette

No. 4 Michigan
No. 13 BUCKNELL

(Tulsa, Okla.)
No. 6 OREGON
No. 11 Notre Dame / No. 11 Penn State

No. 3 Tennessee
No. 14 Belmont

(Salt Lake City, Utah)
No. 7 Ohio State
No. 10 BUFFALO

No. 2 NEVADA
No. 15 GEORGIA STATE


SOUTH REGIONAL | Louisville, Ky.

(Columbus, Ohio)
No. 1 KENTUCKY
No. 16 NORTHERN KENTUCKY vs. No. 16 Radford

No. 8 Arizona State
No. 9 Nebraska

(Des Moines, Iowa)
No. 5 Florida State
No. 12 DAVIDSON

No. 4 Kansas State
No. 13 NEW MEXICO STATE

(Hartford, Conn.)
No. 6 Texas Tech
No. 11 Arizona

No. 3 Virginia Tech
No. 14 RIDER

(Hartford, Conn.)
No. 7 Mississippi State
No. 10 Indiana

No. 2 VILLANOVA
No. 15 Northeastern


WEST REGIONAL | Anaheim, Calif.

(Salt Lake City, Utah)
No. 1 GONZAGA
No. 16 WAGNER

No. 8 
Vanderbilt
No. 9 Miami

(Seattle, Washington)
No. 5 TCU
No. 12 MARSHALL

No. 4 Syracuse
No. 13 MONTANA

(Columbus, Ohio)
No. 6 Butler
No. 11 LOYOLA-CHICAGO

No. 3 MICHIGAN STATE
No. 14 STEPHEN F. AUSTIN

(Nashville, Tenn.)
No. 7 Cincinnati
No. 10 Seton Hall

No. 2 North Carolina
No. 15 ALBANY


And here’s a quick look at the bubble:

Last Four Byes
St. Bonaventure
NC State
USC
Oklahoma

Last Four In
UCLA
Louisville
Alabama
Texas

First Four Out
Arizona State
Syracuse
Oklahoma State
Saint Mary’s

Next Four Out
Baylor
Middle Tennessee
Notre Dame
Marquette

 

Clippers Offseason Outlook

The Clippers have a tricky summer ahead of them. They traded away their 2019 first-round pick, so they’ll need a roster ready compete for the postseason next year because having a poor record serves no purpose. So, what can they do?

The salary cap in the NBA for 2017-2018 was $99 million with the luxury tax sitting at $119 million. The cap has increased by $24 million since 2015-2016, resulting in teams being able to give more max contracts to top players.

The Clippers were $7 million under the luxury tax limit last season, when they finished 42-40 and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2011. Despite missing the postseason, the Clippers had the tenth highest payroll in the league.

A lot of what the Clippers can do this offseason will result from player options. Center DeAndre Jordan and guards Austin Rivers and Milos Teodosic all have to decide whether to opt into their deals or to become unrestricted free agents.

Other players who could sign elsewhere are guards Avery Bradley and Tyrone Wallace who are unrestricted free agents. Also, energy big Montrezl Harrell is a restricted free agent with a $1.8 million qualifying offer. Harrell could draw some interest since he is 24-years-old and has improved in each of his three seasons.

So, who is still on the books?

For starters, Sixth Man of the Year finalist Lou Williams signed a three-year contract worth $8 million per year just after the season ended. Forward C.J. Williams agreed on for two more years and will be paid $1.4 million in 2018-2019. Also, Wesley Johnson already opted into his deal worth $6 million for next season.

$56.4 million more is going towards seven players who were already locked in for 2018-2019, $21.6 million of which is going to Danilo Gallinari who played just 21 games last year (he made more than a million dollars per game).

dkymr2aueaipuzq.jpg

Photo via @gallinari8888

With all of those deals, and the money Los Angeles owes to past players, the Clippers are in line to spend about $74.7 million for next season at the beginning of June.

Theoretically, if all three players with options opt in, then the Clippers will be spending $112 million for next season before free agency starts.

They all could opt out and renegotiate for more lucrative deals. The most likely to do so being DeAndre Jordan, as he signed his last deal in 2015, before the salary cap rose, and stayed healthy and productive last season.

Rivers’ case for opting out is that he has steadily improved his scoring and three-point shooting in each season that he has been in Los Angeles. But, former GM Doc Rivers was highly criticized for giving his son $12 million dollars to be Chris Paul’s backup in the first place, so Austin Rivers may feel like he won’t get paid as much by another team for next season.

Teodosic should likely opt in. A nagging foot injury held him to 37 games in his debut season last year, but the Clippers were 24-13 in those games. He is a bit of an anomaly, entering the league at age 30 from Europe. Due to his health concerns and age, perhaps opting for the $6 million he’d earn with the Clippers is the smartest move.

DTsPUxVXkAImzGT.jpg-large

Photo via @MilosTeodosic4

So, the team’s financial situation gives General Manager Lawrence Frank and Consultant Jerry West a couple of options for how to handle the offseason.

One thing they can do is work to retain most of last year’s team and their new draft picks, they have the twelfth.

That means negotiating with Jordan, Rivers and Teodosic if they opt out, as well as matching any offer that Harrell receives.

Bradley was paid just under $9 million per year for the past four years, so he will most likely look to get a pay raise, one that the Clippers will not be able to afford.

Wallace was on a two-way deal last year, like C.J. Williams, meaning he bounced back-and-forth from the G-League. Wallace will most likely play Summer League ball before possibly getting re-signed for a friendly deal, similar to C.J. Williams’ contract. He could be a valuable cheaper player as he played well in his 30 games (19 starts) last year.

Injuries played a big role last season for the Clippers, so perhaps with better luck health-wise and a couple of new young talents, Head Coach Doc Rivers’ club could jump back into the postseason.

However, another way of going about the offseason for Frank and West could start with creating cap room. This requires letting Jordan walk, after a decade of being a Clipper, if he opts out. It also means letting Austin Rivers leave if he opts out, as well as not re-signing Harrell or Wallace.

If those contracts are gone, and perhaps a trade is made to take more money off of the books, then the Clippers could add another max deal by entering the sweepstakes for free agents like Paul George or DeMarcus Cousins.

But, the Clippers refrained from trading Jordan at the deadline, which could mean that they just didn’t find the right deal for him or that re-signing their center is part of their plan. Plus, most of the Clippers’ workouts for players who have entered the draft have been with wings and guards.

Maybe there is a trade brewing to send a few players away while keeping the core with Jordan and Lou Williams intact and pairing them with their youngsters.

CYKUFUWU0AA-N3j.jpg-large

West and Frank could also possibly package their two picks and try to move up in the draft. There are rumors that the Clippers are interested in European prospect Luka Doncic, who is a highly regarded combo guard. He won the MVP of his league in 2017-2018.

A lot can happen this summer for the Clippers’ franchise, especially with Jerry West calling a lot of the shots. He worked wonders as a consultant with Golden State, perhaps he has the right eye to see how to help the Clippers become contenders again.