Royals fire manager Matheny after 65-97 season

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Manager Mike Matheny and pitching coach Cal Eldred were fired by the Kansas City Royals on Wednesday night, shortly after the struggling franchise finished the season 65-97 with a listless 9-2 loss to the Cleveland Guardians.

The Royals had exercised their option on Matheny’s contract for 2023 during spring training, when the club hoped it was turning the corner from also-ran to contender again. But plagued by poor pitching, struggles from young position players and failed experiments with veterans, the Royals were largely out of playoff contention by the middle of summer.

The disappointing product led owner John Sherman last month to fire longtime front office executive Dayton Moore, the architect of back-to-back American League champions and the 2015 World Series title team. Moore was replaced by one of his longtime understudies, J.J. Picollo, who made the decision to fire Matheny hours after the season ended.

Matheny became the fifth big league manager to be fired this year.

Philadelphia’s Joe Girardi was replaced on June 3 by Rob Thomson, who engineered a miraculous turnaround to get the Phillies into the playoffs as a wild-card team. The Angels replaced Joe Maddon with Phil Nevin four days later, Toronto’s Charlie Montoyo was succeeded by John Schneider on July 13 and the Rangers’ Chris Woodward by Tony Beasley on Aug. 15.

In addition, Miami’s Don Mattingly said late last month that he will not return next season.

By |2022-10-05T23:26:23-04:00October 5th, 2022|News|

'Excited' Mitchell scores 16 in his Cavaliers debut

PHILADELPHIA — Less than five weeks since being acquired by the Cleveland Cavaliers in a stunning blockbuster of a trade to cap a frenetic offseason in the NBA, Donovan Mitchell made his debut for the Cavaliers Wednesday in Cleveland’s preseason opener.

And, after finishing with 16 points on 6-for-9 shooting, including 3-for-4 from 3-point range, to go with five assists in 19 minutes in a 113-112 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers at Wells Fargo Center, Mitchell admitted the idea of putting on a different jersey than the Utah Jazz one he wore the first five years of his career will take some getting used to.

“One hundred percent,” Mitchell said with a smile, when asked if it felt weird wearing a different jersey for the first time. “It just didn’t feel real … it still didn’t hit me yet.”

Mitchell said he spent Monday looking out the window of the Four Seasons high above downtown Philadelphia, and that it was only then that it really sunk in that he was about to be officially playing for another team for the first time.

“Today, I just kind of sat there and had one of those moments where you sit there and look out and see everything and it’s like, ‘Wow. It’s really here’,” he said.

“Then once you get on the court, basketball is basketball. But all the little things, it’s definitely weird. A little different. But I’m excited. It’s going the way I thought it would, in a good way.”

Mitchell’s arrival in Cleveland to augment a burgeoning young core featuring All-Stars Darius Garland and Jarrett Allen and runner up for last season’s Rookie of the Year award in Evan Mobley has the Cavaliers hoping this season will mark an uptick in fortunes to places the franchise hasn’t seen in decades when LeBron James wasn’t in town.

The last time Cleveland made the playoffs without James? The 1997-98 season. The last time the Cavaliers won a playoff series without him? Thirty seasons ago, in the 1992-93 campaign, when Cleveland was swept by Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in four games in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

But to do those things — particularly in what is arguably the deepest version of the Eastern Conference the NBA has seen in a generation or more — Cleveland will first need to get its two ball-dominant guards, Mitchell and Garland, on the same page.

Before Wednesday night’s game, Cavaliers coach J.B. Bickerstaff laid out the criteria that will show that process is taking hold, saying the focus was on avoiding playing “your turn, my turn” basketball.

Afterward, he, Garland and Mitchell all were pleased with how things came together in their first dry run against another team.

“I thought it was pretty seamless,” Bickerstaff said. “The way they played together, the way the ball moved, everybody got involved … as long as we play in the same style we want to play, where it isn’t just based on one guy, but based on the team, I think it’s going to work out well for us.”

And, for the most part, it did Wednesday night. Mitchell’s first make as a Cavalier — a 3-pointer from the right wing — came off an assist from Garland, who finished with 12 points and four assists on 4-for-7 shooting in 15 minutes, and was sandwiched between Mitchell setting up Kevin Love for a pair of triples himself.

“I think we did a lot of things well,” Mitchell said. “You walk up the floor and it’s like, ‘He’s got it.’ But it’s not like, ‘He’s got it in isolation.’ It’s like, he’s got it, make a play, create … I said in the locker room, we didn’t call a lot of plays in the first half. That speaks to our ball movement.”

After Cleveland was almost solely reliant on Garland to both create offense for himself and his teammates last season, he was thrilled at his opening look at life playing alongside Mitchell — even within the meaningless confines of the first half of Cleveland’s first preseason game, in large part because of how it’s going to take pressure off of him to do everything offensively.

“I think it was the spacing, for me,” Garland said, when asked what he noticed most about playing next to Mitchell. “Just coming off pick and rolls, there’s so many threats on the opposite side, and it’s just a lot easier … you can just pick your poison. You have to live with it.

“It was just fun out there, to be honest with you.”

While Cleveland is waiting to get forward Evan Mobley back on the court after he suffered a sprained ankle over the weekend, the Cavaliers also have another decision to make between now and opening night: Who will start at small forward alongside Garland, Mitchell, Mobley and Allen.

There are a few possible options, including Caris LeVert, who started Wednesday’s game, Dean Wade, who hit 3 triples off the bench, and Isaac Okoro, the fifth overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. Bickerstaff said his ultimate decision on who to plug in there will be determined by how they can help unlock the best attributes of the four stars around them.

“It’s just going to be truly about the fit, and that’s going to be who makes those four guys better,” he said. “Who helps them on the offensive end of the floor? Who helps them on the defensive end of the floor? Who can protect guys in certain situations defensively? How does it help our matchups? Offensively, how does it help us space the floor? Those are all things we’re taking into consideration.”

By |2022-10-05T23:26:20-04:00October 5th, 2022|News|

Sources: Dubs' Green punched Poole in practice

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Golden State Warriors All-Star Draymond Green threw a punch at teammate Jordan Poole at practice on Thursday, sources told ESPN.

The two players had been verbally sparring prior to some pushing, which escalated when Green took a swing and made contact with Poole, sources said. Team officials are reviewing the episode, sources said.

Poole wasn’t hurt by the punch and completed his workout before leaving the practice floor on Thursday, sources said.

It is possible there could be some punishment meted out to Green for escalating the practice encounter, sources said.

By |2022-10-05T21:57:44-04:00October 5th, 2022|News|

Twins 1B Arraez tops Judge for AL batting crown

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CHICAGO — Luis Arraez won the AL batting title, hitting a third-inning double after walking twice to finish the season at .316, and the Minnesota Twins rolled to a 10-1 victory over the Chicago White Sox on Wednesday.

Arraez was all but assured of topping the Yankees’ Aaron Judge for the batting crown when the day began. He removed any doubt by walking in his first two plate appearances and then hitting a drive that barely cleared the glove of right fielder Gavin Sheets before he was lifted for a pinch-runner.

“It’s amazing,” Arraez said. “This was one of my goals. I’m living a dream right now. This is amazing for me because I worked hard for this.”

Judge, who sat out the Yankees’ season finale, batted .311 with an AL-record 62 homers and a league-leading 131 RBIs.

“I couldn’t sleep last night, just thinking and thinking about it,” Arraez said.

Arraez, 25, became the fifth Twin to win a batting title, joining Rod Carew (seven), Tony Oliva and Joe Mauer (three apiece), and Kirby Puckett (one).

“I think he achieved what he was hoping to do,” Minnesota manager Rocco Baldelli said. “And he’s not a guy who normally thinks about things on a personal level like that. He’s a team player and here to win and compete.”

Arraez received a hug at the top of the dugout steps from Carlos Correa, who planned before the game to give him a Louis Vuitton roller bag in recognition of his achievement.

“[Correa] is amazing,” Arraez said. “He sets an example for us. He’s a leader, and I love that guy a lot.”

Arraez batted .361 (13-for-36) during a nine-game hitting streak to end the season.

“It wasn’t easy,” Arraez said. “But my mind is strong.”

Gary Sanchez and Jermaine Palacios homered during a six-run first inning for Minnesota, which snapped a four-game skid. The Twins finished at 78-84, a six-game improvement over 2021.

The White Sox (81-81), last year’s AL Central champions, had their three-game winning streak snapped and finished 12 games worse than their 2021 record.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

By |2022-10-05T20:11:48-04:00October 5th, 2022|News|

The playoff field is set! Here's why this could be the greatest MLB postseason since … well, maybe ever

The regular season is officially in the books (OK, maybe there is still a game or two trickling slowly to its finish as you read this) and the 2022 MLB playoffs are set to start Friday — and this year’s postseason could be epic.

In addition to a new format that features 12 teams and a three-game wild-card round that is guaranteed to bring drama to October from the very start, there are so many storylines to follow throughout that it has a chance to be an all-time great month of baseball.

Below, we highlight the 12 themes that will dominate the entire sport as the new 12-team format begins.

1. This is the best playoff format … ever

I think baseball finally nailed it. Yes, there are those who will always favor the old setups of two pennants or four division winners, but the 12-team arrangement is an improvement over 10 teams (which had been the norm for the past decade). The do-or-die wild-card game, which had been around since 2012, never felt right and, frankly, never really turned into the must-see drama that the sports world stopped everything to watch anyway.

As we saw with the temporary 16-team bracket in 2020, these quick, three-game series are fun. They’re still plenty pressure-packed, but they feel more like baseball than a winner-take-all matchup.

Crucially, this format still rewards the best teams with a first-round bye and the opportunity to rest a pitching staff and line up a rotation. My only nit with where baseball landed this year is that a seven-game division series would be better than five — maybe next year, when the start of the season won’t be delayed by a lockout.

2. There’s a 111-win superteam and nobody is sure what to make of its World Series chances

The Los Angeles Dodgers won 111 games — the most ever for a National League team in a 162-game season and a total topped only by the 2001 Seattle Mariners and 1998 New York Yankees. If they win it all, they go down alongside that Yankees team as one of the greatest of all time; if they don’t win it all, they’re relegated to the back pages of history alongside those Mariners.

Since 2017, the Dodgers have had four 104-win seasons, a remarkably long period of domination … but just one World Series title. Their sole championship came in the shortened 2020 season, with playoff games played in front of empty stadiums or at neutral sites. It counts — or as a friend of mine who is a longtime die-hard Dodgers fan told me, it counts as one-third of a title. And don’t forget that teams were allowed to play with 28-man rosters that postseason, which allowed the Dodgers to use starters as relievers and relievers as starters and do things they might not have been able to do with a 26-man roster.

Alden Gonzalez had a good breakdown of the pressure the Dodgers face this October. In a sense, they’re playing for two championships: 2022 and a validation of 2020. While manager Dave Roberts told ESPN he “absolutely” considers the Dodgers a dynasty — and four 104-win seasons certainly back that claim up — two titles would definitely secure their place in history as one of the greatest teams of all time.

3. We’ve got a real chance of a repeat

After winning the World Series in 2021, the Atlanta Braves lost Freddie Freeman to the Dodgers — and got younger and better, winning 101 games and their fifth straight division title. No team has repeated as World Series champs since the Yankees won three in a row from 1998 to 2000; the Braves have the power, the pitching and the momentum — after stealing the NL East in the final week with a three-game sweep of the New York Mets — to do it.

And it’s not just a repeat, the Braves might be on their way to a dynasty here. Their turnaround from a 10½-game deficit to the division title began when they called up Michael Harris II to play center field in late May and moved Spencer Strider to the rotation. From June 1 — the first win in a 14-game winning streak — to the end of the regular season, they went 78-33. Strider’s injured oblique might keep him out of the playoffs, but they still have Max Fried, 20-game winner Kyle Wright and October hero of the past Charlie Morton, plus a lineup that led the NL in home runs.

4. Speaking of dynasties … what do we make of the Houston Astros?

You might have noticed by now, but there are a lot of good teams at the top of this year’s playoff bracket. We have four 100-win clubs in the Dodgers, Astros, Braves and Mets, with the Yankees finishing at 99 wins. The you-can’t-predict-baseball nature of the postseason doesn’t guarantee we’ll see two of these teams in the World Series, but if we do, there’s a good chance we’ll see a classic series. The last matchup of 100-win teams in the World Series was 2017, when the Astros beat the Dodgers in seven thrilling games. Before that, you have to go all the way back to 1970 to have two 100-win teams in the World Series.

The Astros also have four 100-win seasons since 2017, including 107 in 2019 and 106 this season. Sign-stealing scandal or not, if they win the World Series, perhaps they go down as the dominant franchise of this era. And an added bonus? After 25 years of managing in the big leagues and making his 12th trip to the postseason, manager Dusty Baker is hoping to finally win that final game of the season.

To make matters more interesting, the Astros appear on a collision course to meet the Yankees in the American League Championship Series for the third time since 2017. Remember the war of words in the spring between Astros owner Jim Crane and Yankees general manager Brian Cashman after Cashman cried that the only thing that had stopped the Yankees in previous seasons from reaching the World Series was “something that was so illegal and horrific.” A Yankees-Astros ALCS would be an epic battle — even if it is one Evil Empire versus another.

5. New York baseball is B-A-C-K

This is now the Yankees’ 13th season since last appearing in a World Series in 2009 — an unacceptable length of time for baseball’s richest and most historically successful franchise with 27 titles in a sport where the wealthiest teams have a decided advantage. Longtime fans will note the Yankees are closing in on the infamous World Series drought from 1982 to 1995, the reign of terror era under George Steinbrenner when he cycled through 13 managers and seven general managers.

On the other side of town: The Mets won 100 games for just the fourth time in franchise history and first time since 1988, but they enter the postseason with the bitter taste of defeat after losing that final series to the Braves. Everyone knows that Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer can carry a team through a postseason — but deGrom allowed 14 runs and six home runs in 21 innings over his final four starts, so the Mets will need him to find that groove where he posted a 1.66 ERA over his first seven starts after returning in August. Still, this is hardly a two-man team: Pete Alonso led the NL in RBIs, Francisco Lindor might finish in the top 10 of the MVP voting, Chris Bassitt and Taijuan Walker are solid 3-4 starters and Edwin Diaz has been a lockdown closer. The Mets have had their moments since that run of success in the 1980s, including two World Series appearances, but it’s been 36 years since their iconic 1986 team won it all.

6. Did you really think we forgot about Aaron Judge?

Yes, both teams have made New York baseball interesting all season, but nobody has been more at the center of that than the man who just finished up a 62-home run campaign — and has fans of both New York teams envisioning his free agency will end with him signing with their club.

Now, we have Judge trying to cap off what might be arguably the greatest season of any player in history — by that, I mean a historic regular season, a great postseason and a World Series title. Ted Williams in 1941? Didn’t even win the pennant. Carl Yastrzemski in 1967? The highest single-season WAR for a position player other than Babe Ruth, but the Red Sox lost the World Series. Bob Gibson in 1968? A 1.12 ERA and a record 17 strikeouts in one World Series game, but he lost Game 7. Dwight Gooden in 1985? The Mets missed the playoffs. Pedro Martinez in 1999? The Red Sox lost in the ALCS. Barry Bonds in 2001? The Giants didn’t make the playoffs. Bonds in 2002? He had a great postseason, but the Giants lost Game 7 of the Fall Classic. Mookie Betts in 2018? A 10.7-WAR season that matches Judge and the Red Sox won the World Series, but Betts had a lackluster postseason (.210/.300/.323).

7. Can the GOAT go out on top?

Let’s not forget the other slugger who made home run history this season — Albert Pujols. Every player would love to go out on top, either still playing well or with a dogpile on the field. Almost none of them do. Pujols and Yadier Molina have a chance to do that — and maybe Adam Wainwright joins them in retirement as well (he’s yet to officially announce his status for 2023).

The three St. Louis Cardinals legends reunited this season when Pujols returned after a 10-year exile, and all three will play a key role in what happens to the club in October. As will Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado, two of the greatest players of their generation who will likely finish 1-2 in the MVP voting in the NL — and who both seek their first trip to the World Series.

8. The playoff drought-busters

While the Cardinals come into this postseason with loads of October experience, there are two franchises about to get their first taste of the playoffs in a long, long time. The Seattle Mariners and Philadelphia Phillies ended the sport’s two longest playoff droughts in securing wild-card spots, although both teams will be on the road for the first round — Seattle at Toronto, Philadelphia at St. Louis.

When Cal Raleigh hit his pinch-hit walk-off home run to clinch a wild-card spot, the Mariners celebrated like they had won the World Series. Can you blame them? Twenty-one years is a long time between playoff appearances. Sure, they had plenty of terrible teams along the way, but also several near misses: 93 wins in 2002 and 2003, 88 wins in 2007, one win short in 2014, three short in 2016, alive until the final day last season. They aren’t even guaranteed a home playoff game if they don’t beat the Blue Jays, although you can bet the watch party at T-Mobile Park will have a playoff-like atmosphere.

The good news is Julio Rodriguez returned from his back problem to play a couple of games at the end of the regular season (and homered in the season finale). The bad news is second-half spark plug Sam Haggerty and outfielder/DH Jesse Winker both just landed on the injured list. The rotation and bullpen are healthy, however — Luis Castillo looks like a legitimate ace when he’s on, while Logan Gilbert had a 2.00 ERA in September, allowing one run or less in five of his six starts. If you like a good underdog story, believe in the Mariners.

Meanwhile, the Phillies had the majors’ second-longest playoff drought, making it for the first time since 2011. They have Bryce Harper, back in the postseason for the first time since 2017, and power-hitting Kyle Schwarber, who led the NL in home runs. Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler and Ranger Suarez (2.95 ERA since July 16) are a strong rotation trio. I wouldn’t bet on them in the tough NL, but there are similarities here in roster construction to the 2019 Nationals, who went from the wild card to World Series champs.

9. The World Series curses we don’t talk about enough

The Cleveland Guardians are trying to win their first World Series since 1948. The San Diego Padres and Tampa Bay Rays are trying to win their first one, while the aforementioned Mariners remain the only franchise never to play in a World Series.

The Guardians’ World Series drought has never received as much attention as the ones for the Red Sox and Cubs did, but it’s now been 74 years since the Cleveland franchise won it all — longer than the 1986 Red Sox had gone (68 years) when they lost to the Mets. How about winning it all in the first season with the new nickname? They might make a movie out of that given this list of Cleveland’s postseason heartbreaks:

  • 1995: The best team in baseball that year, but they lost the World Series to the Braves.

  • 1997: Blew a ninth-inning lead in Game 7 of the World Series to the Marlins and lost in extra innings.

  • 2007: Lost the ALCS to the Red Sox after being up 3-1.

  • 2016: Were up 3-1 in the World Series and lost Game 7, again, in extra innings.

  • 2017: Lost the division series to the Yankees after being up 2-0.

And then there’s the team that’s been around since 1969 — and never won it all. The Padres made World Series appearances in 1984 and 1998, but this is just the seventh postseason trip in franchise history.

But these aren’t your older brother’s Padres. This is a team that has spent the past three seasons acquiring an All-Star squad of talent while playing with a brash style that could make it very popular this postseason — if the Padres can stick around long enough for national fans to get familiar with their stars. They’ve gone all-in to dethrone the Dodgers in recent seasons — only to fall well short. But they squeaked in, and anything can happen in the playoffs, right? Especially with Manny Machado and Juan Soto and Joe Musgrove and Yu Darvish and a suddenly rejuvenated Blake Snell (1.76 ERA over his final seven starts). The Mets-Padres wild-card series is the one to watch — with the winner facing the Dodgers in a colossal division series showdown.

10. The redemption stories

Let’s see here. We’ve got Justin Verlander, who after missing 2021 with Tommy John surgery, came back and went 18-4 with a 1.75 ERA while leading the American League in wins, ERA, WHIP and lowest batting average allowed. His status as future Hall of Famer is secure, but with a big October and another World Series championship for the Astros, his legacy becomes that of an inner-circle Hall of Famer. DeGrom and Scherzer missed some time, and deGrom sputtered at the end of the season, but that dynamic pair could carry the Mets to their first title since 1986. And then of course, there is Clayton Kershaw. Yes, he got his ring a couple of years ago, but he was injured last October, and he hasn’t won a ring in a full season with a normal postseason. How will he perform?

11. The October introduction of some legit young stars

As my colleague Kiley McDaniel pointed out recently, this is the best rookie class since Pujols and Ichiro Suzuki debuted in 2001 — and most of the biggest names will be playing in the postseason (sorry, Adley Rutschman). We’ve got Rodriguez leading the Mariners and Harris and Strider on the Braves.

But it’s not just the rookies who will remind us how bright the future of baseball is this postseason …

While we often think of the Rays as a parade of bullpen stars, they also have two budding young superstars in Wander Franco and Shane McClanahan who could power another small-market success story this postseason. And across the AL East, Alek Manoah, Alejandro Kirk, Bo Bichette and Vlad Guerrero Jr. form a young core that makes the Blue Jays a team nobody wants to face this postseason. Of course, the question we’ll all be waiting to see answered is how these young stars will handle the bright lights of October … or should we say November.

12. It’s an October so great — it could take part of November to finish it

That’s right, thanks to the combination of the new format and the MLB lockout pushing back the start of the season, Game 7 of the 2022 World Series would take place on Nov. 5, the latest date of a playoff game in MLB history.

If every series goes the distance, we’ll get 53 postseason games with all of these incredible storylines fueling the possibility that any given night can become a must-see moment for baseball fans. Of course, in the end we need great games to have a great postseason.

That’s what still makes 1986 the gold standard for all postseasons. There were just 20 playoff games that October — the seven-game ALCS between the Red Sox and Angels, the six-game NLCS between the Mets and Astros, then the seven-game World Series when the Mets beat the Red Sox. Five of the 20 games went extra innings. Eight were decided by one run. Several are all-time classics, including Game 5 of the ALCS; Games 3, 5 and 6 of the NLCS; and Games 6 and 7 of the World Series.

The stage is set. I’m going with the Dodgers over the Astros. I’ll take Kershaw versus Verlander in Game 7 of the World Series, thank you very much.

By |2022-10-05T19:42:53-04:00October 5th, 2022|News|

Second-year fantasy basketball breakout candidates

Being a rookie in the NBA can be difficult.

While some players like LeBron James (2003-2004) and Blake Griffin (2010-2011) are able to make a quick adjustment and thrive right out of the gate, the vast majority require some time to figure things out — needing to get stronger both mentally and physically.

Here is a look at the second-year players who possess the talent to expand upon their rookie showing and break out in Year 2:

Josh Giddey, PG/SG, Oklahoma City Thunder

Did Giddey have a stellar rookie season? Yes. But there is a still a lot of room to grow. As one of the league’s most promising prospects during the 2021-22 season, he was the NBA’s second-youngest player. While his rookie campaign was partially derailed after 54 games because of a hip injury that ended his season, he was phenomenal from November through February, putting up 12.7 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 6.5 APG and 1.0 BPG. During that span, Giddey was recognized as the Western Rookie of the Month every month.

There are two key areas where he can improve, though: field goal percentage (41.6%) and turnovers (3.3 TPG). With six second-year players on its roster, the Thunder are a young team and with rookie Chet Holmgren is out for the season (Lisfranc), Giddey will be counted on to be an ever bigger part of things. He’s an excellent value in fantasy drafts.

Bones Hyland, PG, Denver Nuggets

Denver had high hopes for Hyland’s long-term potential after selecting him 26th overall in the 2021 NBA draft, but had no expectation of how much he would contribute during his rookie season. Hyland stepped up in a big way. He finished with 10.1 PPG, 2.7 RPG and 2.8 APG and posted a 55.8 True Shooting Percentage. Hyland was named to the league All-Rookie team.

With Monte Morris and Will Barton‘s departures, Hyland solidifies himself as the backup point guard. Starting point guard Jamal Murray‘s health is sketchy, too, so the Nuggets will likely take their time with him. Additionally, Hyland has what it takes to play both guard positions this season so he’ll probably share the court with Murray at times. Hyland should significantly exceed his average draft position, especially if the Nuggets have more injury woes.

Davion Mitchell, PG, Sacramento Kings

Mitchell was a very productive player last year in the Summer League and was named co-MVP with Cam Thomas. Although on the smaller side, he showed defensive prowess, high basketball IQ and offensive skills. Mitchell’s success carried over into the regular season, too. In 75 regular season games, he averaged 11.5 PPG, 2.2 RPG and 4.2 APG in 27.7 MPG.

The thing to pay attention to, though, is what Mitchell did during the final 11 games of the season when De’Aaron Fox was shut down with a hand injury. If you remember, Mitchell filled the void and had a remarkable stretch of games, averaging 18.8 PPG, 2.5 RPG and 9.3 APG. As Fox’s backup, Mitchell will be the Kings’ sixth man this season and is a solid fantasy option, but most formats will make it difficult for him to finish inside the top-100. His blocks, steals and shooting percentages were suboptimal, but the possibility of the Baylor product finishing inside the top-150 can not be ruled out.

Herbert Jones, SF/PF, New Orleans Pelicans

Jones was widely considered the best waiver wire pickup in fantasy basketball last season; his defensive skills helped him finish just outside the top-75 in category formats. Jones started 69 of 78 games, averaged 9.5 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 2.1 APG, 1.7 SPG and 0.8 BPG in 29.9 MPG while shooting 47.6% from the field.

With Zion Williamson returning, Jones is likely to start at small forward and should play a large role considering the Pelicans are thin on the wings. Look no further than Jones if you want a steals and blocks specialist who can also contribute in other statistical areas. He’s a great pick who is currently being drafted just outside the top 100.

Joshua Primo, SG, San Antonio Spurs

While Primo flashed potential early on, he was unable to provide reliable contributions as last season progressed. When rookies first enter the league, the Spurs tend to shield them from pressure in order to better position them for future success. This was good news for Primo, who only played 50 games and finished with 5.8 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 1.6 APG, 0.4 SPG and 0.5 BPG.

Fast-forward to present day, and Primo is in better position. He looked great in this season’s Summer League and, with Dejounte Murray now in Atlanta, the second-year player will have more opportunities out at the perimeter. Primo’s role in the Spurs’ rotation is secure. During training camp, he suffered a sprained MCL, but he’s in line to return for the start of the regular season.

By |2022-10-05T19:11:45-04:00October 5th, 2022|News|

Protester files police report after Wagner tackle

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — The fan who ran onto the field during the Los Angeles Rams’ loss to the San Francisco 49ers on Monday night filed a police report against Rams linebacker Bobby Wagner.

Shortly before halftime of the game on Monday night, a fan ran across the field with what appeared to be a device letting out pink smoke. Rams linebacker Takkarist McKinley came toward the person then Wagner stepped in and laid him out with a big hit.

Santa Clara Police Department Lt. Cuong Phan confirmed to ESPN on Wednesday that the police report was filed on Tuesday afternoon. Because this is an active investigation, information will be limited, Phan said.

According to TMZ Sports, the individual is an activist for the Berkeley-based animal rights group Direct Action Everywhere and was trying to “raise awareness for a trial involving the alleged theft of pigs from a factory farm.”

Wagner said Wednesday that he’s aware of the police report, but the incident is behind him.

“Can’t really focus on it,” Wagner said. “I’m more concerned about the security guard that was hurt trying to chase him. … You just got to do what you got to do.”

Wagner reiterated on Wednesday that as players, you never know what a person has in their hands or their pockets when they’re on the field.

“There’s consequences for your actions,” Wagner said.

When asked what he thought of the police report, Rams head coach Sean McVay said, “I think that we all know where Bobby’s intentions were.”

“And I support Bobby Wagner,” McVay said. “That’s where I’m at with that. I don’t think anybody will disagree.”

By |2022-10-05T18:26:48-04:00October 5th, 2022|News|

'Beautiful day': RB Robinson returns to practice

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ASHBURN, Va. — Five weeks after being shot twice in the leg, Washington Commanders rookie running back Brian Robinson returned to where he most wanted to be: the football field.

He performed the mundane tasks, running in and around dummy bags on the ground, taking handoffs in drills and even running some scout team.

“It was a beautiful day for me,” Robinson said.

The Commanders running back practiced for the first time since being shot on Aug. 28 while going out to dinner in the District of Columbia. The police report called it a robbery or a carjacking.

Robinson remains on the non-football injury list, but now that he’s practicing the Commanders have 21 days to place him on the active roster, or keep him on NFI.

Washington coach Ron Rivera has not ruled out Robinson playing against the Tennessee Titans on Sunday. But, with another game four days later, Rivera said they would be careful. They’ll see how he feels Thursday and measure his progress by using a GPS coordinator, seeing if there’s any drop off in his speed the more he practices.

“It was good to have him out there, and he looked solid,” Rivera said. “He’s got a little bit ways to go. Conditioning will be a question, that’s for sure. But his retention, his recall looked pretty good. We did some of the things that he does well. He was out there doing them. It was all promising.”

Robinson was going to be Washington’s primary running back before he was shot, allowing Antonio Gibson to be used in a more versatile role. The Commanders like Robinson’s consistency running between the tackles; he’s not as explosive as Gibson, but runs with more power.

But Wednesday wasn’t about Robinson’s traits as a player; it was about others welcoming him back. Before a passing drill, quarterbacks Carson Wentz, Taylor Heinicke and Sam Howell shook his hand. Rivera stood next to him, said a few words and smiled.

Robinson has been around, in the locker room and working on a side field during practice, but being on the field in his burgundy helmet and in shoulder pads represented a major step.

“You think back for a couple weeks and what he’s been through,” Wentz said, “and it’s a lot bigger than football; it’s real life to know he’s out there running that is a total blessing. Sometimes in those moments, you have to remove yourself from football and realize how much bigger this is.”

“He’s half Wolverine or something,” said Washington running back Jonathan Williams of Robinson.

Robinson underwent surgery on his right leg after being shot; doctors told him there was no structural damage. That allowed him to recover quicker. Indeed, three weeks ago Robinson returned to the field for agility work. Two weeks ago he warmed up before a game, running pass routes. Last week the team put him through a simulated series.

For Robinson, getting shot was just another obstacle.

“I guess I’m the king of adversity,” he said. “I’ve … dealt with so much adversity in my life. This is just another situation where I just got to be stronger than what I’m up against. I’ve had my tests, just having to be away from ball, be away from the organization for a little while just to kind of get myself together. But all of that time was very much needed.”

He also needed to hear the doctor’s words shortly after surgery that he would play football again. Robinson said that caused his mind to automatically shift into his recovery and return.

Not that it was always easy.

“That was probably the lowest point I’ve ever been in my life,” Robinson said of being in the hospital. “The only thing I remember is just receiving all the love and everybody reaching out to me, just spreading the love. That was all I needed at the time. People probably didn’t know. I don’t think the crowd knows how much that meant to me.

“It’s been a long five weeks, but it’s a lot of work. We put in a lot of work over that time. I can say I did everything I needed to do over that time period to make sure I was here today.”

Robinson said he learned that he could “pretty much fight anything” he’s up against. “The one thing I’ve definitely learned about myself is that I’m definitely ambitious and I’m going to fight for anything I believe in,” Robinson said.

During his recovery, teammates say he remained upbeat whether in the locker room or the weight room. Receiver Terry McLaurin, four years older than Robinson, said his story can motivate others.

“To keep a good disposition and an upbeat mindset while you going through the storm is really hard,” McLaurin said. “It’s something I’m trying to grow though in my life so when you see someone like that younger than you who been through something I never been through to come out on the other side stronger, that’s a testimony I take from it, inspiring to not only me but to other people as well.”

Robinson was pleased with how he moved during the drills, dodging dummy bags and making cuts — running laterally and forward. On one drill, he dodged bags, had to duck under a pole and make a sharp cut at the end. After he ran one drill Wednesday, Robinson pointed to the sky — he called it a thank you to God.

“I was forced to do a few movements and cuts in that drill that I wasn’t completely confident in before walking out on the field,” Robinson said. “That just helped me gain more confidence in myself, so by the time I finished that drill I knew that I was at least where I needed to be, if not a little bit further as far as the progress I’ve made.”

Mostly, though, Robinson was just happy to be on the field again. Rivera said he brought a joy and energy to the field. Robinson also brought determination.

“My mindset’s not going to change. I expect to dominate as soon as I come back on the field,” he said. “I don’t really want to get too much into what’s in the past. I just plan on moving forward and looking for what’s ahead of us and try to help this team make some progress.”

By |2022-10-05T17:11:28-04:00October 5th, 2022|News|

Clemson's Davis II, Greene sued over '21 collision

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A South Carolina postal worker who was injured in a collision involving Clemson defensive back Fred Davis II has filed a lawsuit against Davis and teammate Malcolm Greene, alleging the two were racing at the time of the accident.

The lawsuit, filed by Karen Lorraine Alvarez in Pickens County, South Carolina, alleges that on July 21, 2021, Davis, driving a 2021 Dodge Charger, and Greene, driving a Ford, were witnessed racing “at a high rate of speed, weaving in and out of lanes, and the defendants appeared to be racing their vehicles.”

Davis was arrested and charged with misdemeanor reckless driving after the crash, with subsequent tests showing he was driving 115 mph before the crash. The collision, which occurred on US Highway 129 outside Clemson, overturned Alvarez’s mail truck and pushed it into oncoming traffic.

Greene’s vehicle was not involved in the collision, and he was not charged with a crime at the time of the incident.

According to the lawsuit, Alvarez said she sustained “serious, severe, and permanent injuries, including fractures of her skull, spine, pelvis, rib, and clavicle” in the accident.

The school did not immediately comment on the lawsuit.

At the time of the incident, a Clemson spokesman said Davis “would be subject to internal discipline” according to the school’s student-athletes handbook, which gave head coach Dabo Swinney latitude to determine punishment.

Davis ultimately played in nine games last season, while also battling injuries. He finished the season with six tackles, largely participating on special teams. Davis has played in all five games for Clemson this season.

Greene has played in 10 games last season and has been a regular contributor in three games so far in 2021, including hauling in an interception against Louisiana Tech.

By |2022-10-05T16:56:16-04:00October 5th, 2022|News|

Can other clubs follow Napoli's brilliant example of how to reload?

There are only four clubs from Europe’s Big Five Leagues who play in the Champions League and are undefeated both domestically and in Europe this season. Three of them are legitimate super clubs: Manchester City, winners of four of the past five Premier Leagues, Paris Saint-Germain, also winners of four of the last five domestic titles and Real Madrid, the reigning European and LaLiga champions.

The fourth is Napoli, who have only three Italian Cup trophies to show for the past 30 years … yet here they are. They’re top of Serie A and perfect in their Champions League group (three wins from three games, the latest being a 6-1 away hammering of Ajax), with 31 goals scored in 11 games across the two competitions.

Here’s the incredible part: They are doing this after a summer in which they cut their wage bill by 30% and made a €13 million ($12.8m) profit in the transfer window. A summer that saw them say goodbye to exactly the sort of players that, according to conventional wisdom, are the key to success in sports. You know, the type that ex-pros turned pundits love to talk about: talented, experienced leaders who have a real connection to the club and the fan base.

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Lorenzo Insigne, the Napoli-born, bred and buttered forward that came through the youth ranks and had been a fixture for the past 10 years, was allowed to leave via free agency. Kalidou Koulibaly, the club’s spiritual leader, defensive mainstay and one of the best in the world at his position, joined Chelsea after eight seasons. The hugely popular Dries Mertens — the club’s all-time leading scorer in Serie A — was also allowed to move on, joining Galatasaray, while Fabian Ruiz, the elegant midfield playmaker, went to PSG.

In all of the above cases, money was a factor. The first three were the wrong side of 30 years old while Ruiz was 26, but had just one year left on his contract (like Koulibaly) and the club felt they couldn’t afford to lock him in to a longer contract. And so, they took it on the chin.

When clubs do this, you think “reset button” and “rebuilding season.” They finished third last year, after all, and it was hard to see them making the Champions League again — especially with a sector of the often-agitated fan base angry with president Aurelio De Laurentiis for effectively gutting their team in an effort to save money. And even more so when, in early September, their most gifted remaining player, Victor Osimhen, went down injured (he hasn’t returned to action yet).

Instead, their results thus far have shown they are masters of the “reload.”

For clubs outside the top dozen or so — basically, the deep-pocketed one-percenters like Real Madrid, PSG or Manchester City — reloading is pretty much the Holy Grail. It’s different from rebuilding because when you rebuild, you accept you won’t be as competitive in the short-term because you are going in a new direction, usually with a new manager and/or younger players.

Reloading, however, is predicated on the fact that you need to replace the guys you lost without suffering in terms of results. Why? Because if your results deteriorate, so does — in many cases — your revenue. And then you get stuck in a vicious cycle.

Reloading was what Napoli’s opponent Tuesday night were hoping to do, too. In the summer, Ajax lost Antony and Lisandro Martinez to Manchester United, Sebastian Haller to Borussia Dortmund, Ryan Gravenberch and Noussair Mazraoui to Bayern Munich, Perr Schuurs to Torino and Nicolas Tagliafico to Lyon (among players who made at least 22 league appearances). They spent more than €100m on replacements to stay competitive, win the Dutch league and try to make some inroads in Europe. (They’re second in the Eredivisie, but after Tuesday’s result they face an uphill task in reaching the Champions League knockout stage, which in turn would mean less revenue next season and less of a chance to hang on to their remaining prized players like Jurrien Timber and Mohamed Kudus.)

This is the reality facing Europe’s upper middle class and, to some degree, teams just outside the Big Six in England. In Napoli’s case, however, their approach has been hugely effective and they’ve hit on just about every summer signing thus far.

Part of the strategy was to move quickly and decisively for targets who were not quite off the radar, but were on its margins, at other clubs and who appeared to have limited downside. At the back, they acquired Min-Jae Kim from Fenerbahce, a 26-year-old South Korea international who spent three seasons in China before his campaign in Turkey last season. Mathias Olivera, a Uruguay international, arrived battle-hardened from LaLiga strugglers Getafe. Norwegian defender Leo Ostigard arrived from Brighton after doing very well during a six-month loan at Genoa and proving himself in Serie A.

In midfield, they took a calculated gamble taking Tanguy Ndombele on loan from Tottenham. A one-time phenom, Ndombele has basically been sub-par the last two seasons (including during a loan spell back home at Lyon), but the logic is simple: If he gets his act together, you have a standout player. If he doesn’t, he’s not a projected starter anyway and you send him back to his parent club.

Striker Giovanni Simeone, best known to some for being Diego’s son and having a tattoo of the Champions League, was another low-risk loan. He scored a career high 17 goals last season for Verona, but the knock against him is that he’s streaky and, at 27, isn’t going to improve. Again, for one season, he’s a useful alternative to have. (Oh, and he’s already scored against both Ajax and Liverpool in the Champions League.)

Then there’s Giacomo Raspadori, signed from Sassuolo on loan with an obligation to buy. (It’s basically an accounting trick: He’ll cost Napoli between €30m and €35m in transfer fees depending on performance.) Raspadori is a 22-year-old forward who is a part of the Italy squad but, possibly because he was at unglamorous Sassuolo, few big clubs were beating a path to his door. His age made him a risk worth taking.

Finally, they acquired the player who possibly has had the greatest impact on Serie A this season: Khvicha Kvaratskhelia.

The 21-year-old Georgian wunderkind is a human highlight reel who has been on scouting radars for the past three years. A combination of factors (including the war in Ukraine) made it possible for Napoli to sign him at a bargain fee of €10m. He already has six goals, three assists and more #Kvaradona mentions that you can shake a stick at (which matters in this town).

Schlewitz: How Napoli’s revamp made them a better team

Last season’s holdovers are also performing at a high level. Whatever leadership void was left by the departures of Insigne, Koulibaly and Mertens is being filled by guys like Osimhen (before his injury), Piotr Zielinski and Giovanni Di Lorenzo. Goalkeeper Alex Meret, heavily criticised by some local media and supporters for lacking personality, has shown he belongs.

And let’s not forget coach Luciano Spalletti. He may be an eccentric, but he has gotten the mood of the fans, the city and the squad just right, and he’s getting his young, high-energy team to play like one, whereas last year he catered a little more to the veterans with a more patient approach.

There’s not necessarily a broader blueprint to follow here. What is working for them may not work for other clubs; maybe they have better decision-making personnel, or maybe they just got lucky. But it is remarkable that they’re in this position given how difficult it is to reload wholesale on the fly. And maybe their experience can encourage other clubs to be bold and make tough decisions of their own, too.

By |2022-10-05T16:26:28-04:00October 5th, 2022|News|
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