Optimistic or Fool-hearted? Do the San Francisco Giant Have the Right Attitude at the Deadline?

Up until a few weeks ago, one of the focal talking points of the 2019 baseball season was who would trade for Madison Bumgarner and Will Smith from the San Francisco Giants at the trade deadline. With their expiring contracts and a franchise that feels ready to accept the need to rebuild, it was just assumed they would move two of their valuable assets in order to prepare for the future. That is, until an out-of-the-blue hot streak got them within a couple of games of the National League Wild Card. Suddenly, 2019 did not seem so lost to the Giant’s personnel, who have all but forgotten the trade talks in place just a few weeks ago. While this method of thinking is surely preferable to the fans, is it really the best thing for the franchise in the long term?

The Giants are not set up for long-term success. Their farm system lacks any serious prospects, and they have not shown much prowess in free-agency over the last couple years. Although they are significantly more talented than tanking teams such as the Marlins or the Orioles, their conflict on the direction in which to take the franchise is costing them. They have been stuck in playoff-less mediocrity for the last few seasons, and the front office has shown little proof of any sort of exit strategy.

What is worse than the Giant’s lack of planning is their misplaced belief in this 2019 squad. Despite recent success, this team is still far from looking like a true contender. While their hot streak momentarily put them within striking distance of the postseason, it is nothing more than a mirage. While they are currently two games over .500 on the year, their Pythagorean Win-Loss says they should actually be seven games under it. Their lineup has been boosted by over-performing players who are sure to come back to Earth in the next few weeks. Their starting pitching has Madison Bumgarner, but then four other arms who are having significantly below average seasons. Their bullpen has been stellar, but that is of little consequence on a team that will rarely have a lead late in the game. This team simply does not have the pieces to truly contend for anything significant at the moment.

It makes sense that the Giants are reluctant to trade. Their long-time, 3 time World Champion manager Bruce Bochy has announced that this year will be his final at the helm. it would be a Hollywood ending to send him off with a miraculous playoff appearance that nobody expected. Why finish his great career by trading one of his favorite players when you don’t have to?

The answer is that they DO have to. This year was always meant to be a transition year. They trade off some of their valuable assets, build up their farm system, make a few prudent moves in free agency and are back to competing in the next couple years, ideally right when their rivals, the Los Angeles Dodgers, are beginning to decline and relinquish their hold on the National League West. By ignoring this plan, they are setting themselves back at least a year. Maybe longer, since they are not likely to resign Bumgarner or Smith, leaving them with less value to trade.

By not selling this year at the deadline, the Giants are putting themselves in a trap. If they don’t at least augment their farm system this year, they will have to completely tank. They won’t have anything to trade for prospects, and will be forced to rebuild completely through the draft. That process takes significantly longer, and is less likely to succeed. The fans surely do not want to watch the team give up this year, especially when its this close, but the alternative is an even longer wait for a good team to root for in the future. For the Giants, the moves are going to hurt, but that does not mean that they aren’t the moves that need to be made.

A Trade for Trading's Sake; The Rockets' Move to Acquire Westbrook for Paul Will Create More Problems Than It Solves

The Houston Rockets did not need to make too many moves this offseason. While their chemistry was clearly breaking down after a rocky 2018-19 season, their position was still enviable after the Golden State Warriors lost Kevin Durant. The West opened up, and the Rockets’ experienced core had to have as much as a chance to pick up the mantle as any other teams, even after both Los Angeles teams acquired multiple superstars. All they had to do was work through the clubhouse issues with the way star James Harden was used, at least enough to please a clearly frustrated Chris Paul, and their chemistry and knowledge of how to play together should give them a huge advantage over the rest of the competition. Instead, they chose to panic and trade for the absolute last player James Harden should ever be playing with.

Russell Westbrook is one of the greatest point-guards in the history of basketball. His athleticism and court vision give him the complete package on the offensive end, and the ferocity he plays with should give the opposing teams goosebumps every time they’re unfortunate enough to play him. His game is so complete that he managed three consecutive seasons of averaging a triple-double, a feat nobody had even done once since Oscar Robertson. There is one huge side affect to his unique skillset, however. He needs the ball to be in his hands every single possession. The reason he played fairly well with Paul George in Oklahoma City last year was that George was able to play well without the ball, playing good defense and setting himself up in a solid shooting position consistently. When paired with James Harden, however, the scheme does not work quite the same.

James Harden has proven himself to be the best isolation scorer in the NBA, and possibly the greatest of all time. Last year, due to the Rockets’ series of injuries that plagued them all year, we saw this part of his game in full effect. He took the ball every possession, in isolation, and either shot it or passed to an open teammate essentially every time. While this increased shooting rate caused his efficiency to tank a bit, it also allowed him to set a record for consecutive games scoring 30 points as well as carry the Rockets back near the level they were the season before, an impressive feat considering how infrequently they hd their whole starting lineup healthy.

Both Harden and Westbrook are game-changing, generational talents. Their abilities to perform with the ball are about as good as it gets. The only issue is they can’t both take every shot. They have the two highest usage rates in the NBA over the past two seasons. They both are coming from game plans that let them have total control of the game, giving them the ball whenever they wanted, and they both wanted it a lot. There simply is not enough time in an NBA game for both players to be given the usage that they are accustomed to, and this will undoubtedly cause problems.

Admittedly, Paul and Harden’s relationship did not deteriorate just because of Paul’s usage, but rather a difference in offensive philosophies. It was still a factor, though. What’s more, Westbrook has shown that he is not really wiling to accept a smaller role, something that feels inevitable. What’s more, Houston is unequivocally Harden’s team, a situation Russell has not found himself in since Durant left OKC. His ego is going to take a hit here, and there’s no telling how Westbrook will respond.

There is a good chance that the Rockets were not gong to survive the influx of westward talent that occurred this offseason. While they were still certainly a playoff team, the issues between Paul and Harden would have had to disappear for them to have a realistic chance at a championship. Still, the odds of settling that dispute seem much more likely than the odds that this move goes smoothly. Maybe the Rockets have a plan, and maybe they don’t actually plan on keep Westbrook, but, if they do, they may have doubled the issues in the clubhouse rather than solving them. Big personalities regularly clash poorly in the NBA, and this move may well have set up one of the biggest disagreements of all time. This combination feels like a time bomb, and it seems inevitable that it will blow up in the Rockets face.

Unbusted! Is Former Top Prospect Lucas Giolito Finally Putting it All Together, or is His Historic First Half Just a Mirage?

After a few seasons as a top prospect, including time as the number one in baseball, White Sox pitcher Lucas Giolito entered 2019 at just about the bottom of the barrel in terms of being a starter. He was having to compete for a spot in a rotation for a team that won a total of 62 games the previous season. He himself was not much more successful, holding a 6.13 ERA and only striking out six and a half per nine innings. HIs whole Major League career had been a struggle, and his lack of recent success in the minors seemed to suggest that he really was not the pitcher that scouts had projected, until all of the sudden he was.
Since the start of 2019, Giolito has somehow become one of the most impressive pitchers in all of baseball, sporting a 2.74 ERA and striking out 10.97 per nine, up over four k’s from the previous years. His advanced numbers even suggest this is more than just fortunate pitching, as he has low contact rates and a well above average FIP(Field Independent Pitching). His 78.7% strand-rate is very high, but not to the point where it is unsustainable. Nothing about Giolito’s numbers seem to point out any luckiness. That just leaves the question: How does a player go from nearly being thrown out of the Big Leagues to a contender to start the All-Star Game?

The first important thing to understand is, although it really looked like his chance at a career was dwindling, Giolito was still only 24 heading into this season. While his start had been poor, that still meant there was plenty of time to turn things around. Even as terribly as he pitched through his first few seasons in The Majors, he probably had at least one or two more years to improve before people gave up on him completely. Plenty of great players had slow starts, and while it is rare for someone to come back from that horrendous of a beginning to a career, it is not unheard of. Not that anyone should have suspected this incredible uprising, but it is still important to note that is resurgence does not completely defy logic.

The more technical reason for his success, though, is his improved ability to use his repertoire to its full potential. This begins with his most important pitch, his fastball. According to brooksbaseball.net, Giolito is using his fastball at a much higher rate than he had previously, and with better results. His velocity is up, and his swing and miss rate has increased as a result. His increased trust in it has also allowed him to get ahead more frequently in counts, resulting in a lower walk rate than he’s ever had before.

He has also altered his curveball, using it a little less frequently and with a more 12-6 action than the previous side-to-side. This helps it to look more like his other pitches while also helping it stay in the strike zone more often. This helps him once again stay ahead in counts, something he was never capable of doing in his previous years.

The biggest improvement, though, is his increased use of his slider and changeup. He relied too heavily on his fastball and curveball early on, which meant hitters always only had two options to worry about. By spreading out his pitch usage with two more effective pitches, hitters are going to be less confident in what they are seeing and therefore less able to sit on certain pitches. Pitching is all about deceiving the hitter, and having a wider repertoire helps greatly in that regard.

While one good half season hardly means Giolito is a full-fledged star, it does at least prove he is capable of pitching in the MLB. Maybe he does regress into a more average pitcher, and this will be his only taste as a Cy Young candidate, but even then his feat should not go unnoticed. His career looked like it may have ended before it began, so seeing his revival still shows how impressive his ability to improve and adapt is. Whether he has just bought himself time or turned himself into a new level of starter remains to be seen, but Giolito’s career will now never be looked at as the bust he once appeared to be. For him and the White Sox, that alone is worth celebrating.

The Shot Heard Around St. Louis

It finally happened. After 52 seasons, three Stanley Cup appearances, and more dozens of painful playoff defeats, the St. Louis Blues have won a game in the Stanley Cup Finals thanks to an overtime Carl Gunnarsson one-timer that somehow found its way over the blocker side of the human brick wall that is Bruins’ goalie Tuukka Rask that cemented Game 2. Although they need three more wins to transform this season from great to legendary, it still feels already like an intense burden has been lifted from the city of St. Louis.

Game 2 was truly in ever sense a must win for the Blues. After blowing a two goal lead in Game 1 and looking more like Disney on Ice than a professional team over the last two periods, a second loss would take the air out completely from their miraculous playoff run. If they did not show they could hang in their with this formidable Boston team there, it could easily be too late by the time they arrived in St. Lous for Game 3.

The game began with a rocky start. An aggressive play by Sammy Blais early in the first period resulted in him accidentally tackling Rask and earning a two minute interference minor. The result was a defensive breakdown that gave Charlie Coyle an easy goal and the Bruins a 1-0 lead. After answering with a Robert Bortuzzo goal of a Bruins’ player’s skate, the Blues gave up another easy goal off a breakdown, with an offensive zone turnover leading to a perfect set up of Joakim Nordstrom, who slipped a goal through Blues goalie Jordan Binnington’s legs. The Blues showed the same resiliency that they had all playoffs though, with Tarasenko leading a break in which he managed to get off two shots, each stopped by Rask. No Bruins could move the puck, though, and, when the second shot rebounded to Tarasenko once again, he managed to flip it from his belly over Rask and into the net, tying the game at two.

Then came two periods of nothing. Each team’s defense took over the game, and scoring chances were suddenly few and far between. Even with team’s trading penalties throughout, nobody was able to find the net. Bodies flew everywhere, with a big hit seemingly occurring every few moments. Even in the few times where defenses broke down and a team got a clean shot off, either Rask or Binnington was always there to shut down the puck and keep the game tied.

Then came overtime. After three period of balance, with neither team really looking like they were going to take control, OT was all Blues. Boston was kept puck chasing for the whole three minutes and fifty-one seconds, never controlling coming close to controlling it in their zone. Finally, after a series of well-timed passes that had suddenly become easy for the Blues over this time, O’Reilly gave a little set-up pass to Gunnarsson just in front of the Blue line. Gunnarsson immediately ripped the past on a line right into the left corner of the goal for a St. Louis Blues victory. A victory that eluded Brett Hull, T.J. Oshie, and even the great Wayne Gretzky during their St. Louis tenors. A team that was in last place just months ago has won a Finals game for the first time ever for the Gateway to the West. Now, they just need three more…

Who is Really the Best Pitcher in the American League, and Why is the Word Best so Confusing?

The 2018 Cy Young voters received some heat over the winter for their selection of Blake Snell as the best pitcher in the American League. It’s not that Snell did not have a spectacular season, because he did, but rather that there were a slew of other pitchers who also could be said to have deserved it. it really was a no-win situation for the voters, because the race was so tight that there were going to be angry fans regardless of who wound up winning. With as many viable candidates as there currently are, it is almost impossible to know which pitcher is really the best. Really, the answer to that question depends entirely on how you define the word “best” in regards to pitching.

In terms of sheer value given to their team, Snell was the best. His 7.5 WAR via baseball-reference led the American League solidly, as nobody else even managed to get up to seven. He was 1.2 WAR ahead of Justin Verlander, and 2.6 ahead of Corey Kluber, who were the second and third place runners in the Cy Young voting. Snell also led the league in ERA+ and h/9, and a 11.0 K/9 show he was able to miss bats with the best of them, so it doesn’t feel like too big a leap to consider him to have been deserving of being the most valuable pitcher.

The thing is, the title of this article isn’t Who’s the most VALUABLE Pitcher, its who’s the BEST. Although Snell may have produced the most overall value, he also did it in considerably more playing time than two of the other prime candidates, Chris Sale and Trevor Bauer. All of Sale’s peripheral stats were better than Snell’s, as his FIP would have led the league as would his K/9 had he not missed too many innings to qualify. Bauer’s FIP did lead the league, and his K/9 was also higher than Snell’s. If you look at WAR per 100 IP, Snell does edge out Bauer, 4.15 to 3.25, but Bauer was on track to pitch far more innings as he was able to work much deeper into starts. Sale’s WAR per 100 IP beat out both of them at 4.36. Since both Sale and Bauer missed about a month of the season, it’d be easy to see either of them passing him in WAR had they stayed healthy. More notably, Sale’s stats seemed better than either of them in terms of value on a per-opportunity basis, so if you’re just talking about who’s the best pitcher when healthy, the answer seems to shift from Snell to Sale.

At this time of year, considering only on the previous season also doesn’t usually lead to the correct answer. Focusing on last year’s Cy Young race would make sense for only looking at 2018, but knowing the best overall at a given time may require a more in-depth look. We aren’t doing that, though, and instead are looking at who is the most talented pitcher, which means potential for future success is also going to be important. Last season plays the biggest factor, but it shouldn’t be the only one. Instead, it would make sense to look at last year relative to their career, as that probably provides the most clear answer for who simply had a good year, and who is truly a next level talent.

If you average the WAR per 100 of the five pitcher in serious consideration for the Cy Young Award’s 2018 season with their whole career, the order reads as follows: Sale(3.67), Snell(3.23), Kluber(2.66), Verlander(2.63), and Bauer(1.63). Again, this seems to suggest that Sale is the best of all of the starters when he’s able to stay healthy. Frustratingly, though, Sale also has the biggest injury history of anyone on this list.

The truth is that this question seems to depend on your perception of what it means to be good at pitching. In terms of producing the most over the course of a season, it seems like Snell may be the top candidate. If you want to focus on career accomplisment, you should probably choose either Verlander or Kluber, or perhaps even C.C. Sabathia if you’re willing to discount the past few seasons of mediocrity(the reason he isn’t mentioned before now). If you believe being the best shouldn’t be dependent on service time, than the best pitcher is likely either Chris Sale or a number of incredible relief pitchers. The answer to this question is really completely subjective, and it honestly depends on who’s asking. After all, beauty really is in the eye of the beholder.

Bryce Harper Finally Got His Deal, but Should He Have?

It finally happened. The “Bryce is Right” sweepstakes are over. Bryce Harper signed the largest deal in American sports history, topping Manny Machado’s $300 million free-agent deal and Giancarlo Stanton’s $325 million extension by agreeing to a 330 million dollar deal that’s good for the next 13 years. A deal of that size and that length is going to go down in history, especially given that there’ s no escape with a full no-trade clause and zero opt-outs for Harper. Its importance is going to go be significant, but it’s tough to say whether it will be a great success or a horrible failure.

The issue with attempting to evaluate a contract like this is that there are none. Harper and Machado both set records this offseason in terms of contract size, but that was only partly because of how much more money there is to give them. The biggest oddity in figuring out how these contracts will play out is not the size or length, but rather how young both players are. They are both entering their age 26 season this year. That is an astoundingly low age for giving up such a large paycheck. It’s difficult to predict how they will react to those sets of circumstances, because they have never actually existed before. Although past history will give some clues, there are no clear examples of a contract like the ones these two signed.

There is no question that Harper’s value comes from his bat. Since his career began, the only area he has been at all consistent in has been inside the batter’s box. HIs 27.4 WAR ranks 34th among position players entering their age 26 season since 1920, which is incredible but perhaps not legendary. His 27.4 oWAR, however, is 25th all time through age 25, and his career OPS(0.900) and OPS+(139) are 18th and 16th respectively. He has drawn the fourth most walks of any 25 year olds ever, and hit more home runs than all but 11 players by age 26 ever. An MVP, Rookie of the Year award, and six All-Star appearances also account for his hitting prowess. Simply put, few players in history have achieved as much as Harper has offensively at this point in their careers.

While the total number suggest greatness, one of Harper’s biggest question marks has been consistency. Over a third of his 27.4 total WAR came in his incredible 10.0 WAR MVP season in 2015. Although his WAR has been at an All-Star level in three of his seasons, he also has thee more where he’s been below two, which is the average for a Major League starting position player. At his best, Harper is one of the best players in the league. At his worst, though, he isn’t even good enough to crack the starting lineup. Injuries have certainly played a role in his inconsistency, but just means that the Phillies need to be concerned about his health remaining optimal. Harper figuring out how to play at his best full-time is going to be a deciding factor in whether he’ll wind up deserving this contract or not.

The most common knock on Harper’s play is his defense. His -3.2 dWAR last season was the eighth worst performance of any player in the history of baseball. He’s been a negative in the outfield most of his seasons in the league, and there’s no guarantee he’ll even be able to stay there for his entire career. There is some hope that he can be a decent fielder, as he had a 1.5 dWAR in his rookie year. He won’t have to be a positive fielder for this contract to work out, but he can’t be as detrimental to his team as he was last season either. While he probably won’t ever reach his rookie season level again, there is at least a solid chance that he can go back to be an around-average fielder again, which would do a lot to help him finally stay as one of the best players in the league.

One aspect of Harper’s game that is going to be questioned is his performance in the playoffs. His .211/.315/.487 slash line is not incredible, but it is hardly conceding either given that it’s only over four different playoff series and 19 total games. especially with the five home runs he hit, there’s nothing to suggest he can’ hit in October, just that he hasn’t necessarily done it yet. If he wants Philadelphia to believe he’s earned his massive deal, though, he’s going to have to show up when it counts. The Phillies have clearly put themselves in a position to reach the post-season, so Harper is almost certainly going to get chances to prove himself. How he plays when the lights are brightest will go a long way in deciding whether Philadelphia really should have given him everything they did.

Harper is going to be an interesting case-study over the next 13 years. Good or bad, this contract may wind up influencing a lot of future contracts given to the next wave of superstar free-agents Until its over, though, there is no way of knowing which way it is going to go. Harper has cemented that he’ll have an important place in baseball history, but now it’s up to him to show exactly how he’ll be remembered.

Manny Machado Was Just Given the Biggest Free-Agent Contract Ever. Did He Deserve It?

Manny Machado was always going to get paid. Since his breakout season in 2013, everyone who followed him at all knew he was going to break the bank of whatever team decided to sign him. What people may not have expected, however, is that he would become the highest paid free-agent in American sports history, which is what happened Tuesday when the San Diego Padres locked Machado up for the next 10 years for $300 million(Giancarlo Stanton’s contract is technically larger, but it was an extension, not a free-agent contract). The only problem with a contract this large is that, from now until it’s completion, it will always be accompanied in conversation with the question, “Was it really worth it?’

There is no question that Machado has been one of the best players in the league since his emergence half a decade ago. HIs 146 OPS+ and .905 OPS ranked 8th and 11th in the league last season, respectively. The 2.8 Wins Above Replacement(WAR) that he gave the Los Angeles Dodgers last season after his trade from the Orioles, which occurred immediately after the All-Star break, proved to be crucial for their late-season playoff push. The most telling stat, though, is that Machado has the 21st highest WAR of any player entering his age 26 season since the Live-Ball Era started. There are four players ahead of them who are not in the Hall of Fame. Vada Pinson, Andruw Jones, and Cesar Cedano all managed career WAR’s of over 50, and were each likely Hall of Famers before injuries took away their careers. The only other who is not in is Trout, who is number one and would be a first-ballot Hall of Famer even if he didn’t get another hit in his entire career. That history certainly seems to suggest that Machado will be able to provide exceptional value for the Padres for the better part of that contract.

Machado’s ability on defense may be what really separates him from the rest of the pack. His ability at the hot-corner is historically good. He has won a pari of Gold Gloves and even a Platinum Glove at the position. The stats back up the accolades, as his 11.8 dWAR is the second highest among active players, behind only the great Andrelton Simmons(yes, I said great). Combined with his exceptional offensive ability, this certainly makes Machado one of the best all-around players in all of Major League Baseball.

One of my arguments for Machado is also one of the largest against him. The biggest issue with Machado’s defense at third is that he doesn’t want to play it. Despite the fact that Machado’s numbers at short were significantly worse than at third, he refuses to shift back over. Last season, Machado posted the worst dWAR of his entire career. Maybe this is for the best for the Padres, as their biggest prospect, Fernando Tatis Jr., may not be able to stay at short given his larger frame, so shifting him to third and Machado to short might be the best defensive alignment in the coming years. Regardless, this shows a selfish mindset where Machado is prioritizing himself over winning, and that won’t fly when this team begins trying to contend.

Of course, the third base issue is only a microcosm of Machado’s biggest flaw. He has been known his whole career for issues such as dirty slides, a lack of hustle, and a disinterest in being any sort of clubhouse leader. Maybe the new position he’s in will change him, but a franchise player can’t have those sorts of characteristics. This team is giving this money with the expectation that he will help them win both on the field and off. Whether or not he will, though, certainly has yet to be proven.

Finally, it can’t be ignored that Machado struggled in the post-season last year. He has a .213/.268/.382 slash line in his career in the playoffs, and his .182/.208/.182 line in the World Series last season did not help. It isn’t a very large sample, so it could be a fluke. There is no question that it matters, though. The Padres need him to be the cornerstone of their franchise for most of this contract, and that means performing when it matters most. If he fails to do that, it will be hard believe he was really worth the money.

The truth is that only time will tell whether or not the Padres made a mistake. While he has a lot of question marks, a lot of those issues are things that players can grow out of, and there’s no question that Machado is young enough to experience growth. With a career well on track for Cooperstown, as well as the hope that his best years are even still ahead of him, this contract seems much safer than any previous 10-year deal. The next decade could go any number of directions, but it still feels like most wind up with the Padres not regretting the deal too much. Who knows, maybe this is the turning point in Baseball’s most pathetic franchise. Time will tell.

An Ode to Frank Robinson

On fFebruary 7, 2019, Frank Robinson died at the age of 83. Robinson was one of the greatest players in the history of baseball. In every aspect of his life, he was successful. As amazing as he was at playing, his life off the field was just as impressive, and in many ways far more important. He was a player who everyone in the game respected, and who deserves to be remembered for as long as baseball is relevant.

Robinson was truly exceptional as a player. His 107.3 career WAR is the fifth highest among right-fielders of all time. When he was traded from the Reds to the Orioles after the 1965 season, their GM famously regarded Robinson as an “old 30.” He responded by winning the American League Triple-Crown, the MVP, and a World Series the very next year. He led the league twice in hits, twice in On-Base Percentage, four times in slugging, and four times in OPS and OPS+. He was the first and only player to win the MVP award in both leagues, as he had won one with the Reds in 1961 along to go along with his 1966 title. Most notably, his 586 home runs are the tenth most all time, which is impressive as he only ever topped 40 once.

As amazing as a player he was, he was more impressive off the field. As a player, he was as tough as they come. His teammates all have said that he was unafraid to talk to anyone who made a mistake, and was always a presence in any clubhouse he was in. His most notable accomplishment is being the first ever African-American manager. People often speak of the grace that he carried despite the hatred he received from the racist, primitive-minded fans who existed in such great numbers back then. Although he is far less famous, he deserves every ounce of respect that is given to the earlier trailblazers such as Jackie Robinson or Roy Campanella. He loved the game, and not even the ignorance of the area that crippled opportunities for so many was going to prevent him from pursuing it.

Truly, Frank Robinson was a great figure in a great sport. He helped to make huge strides for African-Americans in baseball. The game will never be perfect in that regard, but there is no questioning that it would be worse without him. He deserves to be remembered not only as one of the very greatest players in the history of the game, but also as one of the greatest people to ever be a part of it.

Keep the Hall Clean, Baseball's Greatest Honor has No Place for PED's

Every year since they entered the ballot, people have argued more about whether or not Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens belong in Baseball’s Hall of Fame more than any other players. Bonds and Clemens are arguably the two best players in fifty years, however what they accomplished was hardly legitimate. although they both set a number of records that seem unreachable, they also did it with the help of performance enhancing drugs(PED’s). This has left the Baseball Writers Association of America with a. tough decision of whether or not their careers deserve that reward. Although they had nearly no traction at the beginning, they have steadily climbed every year, and now, in their seventh year of eligibility, they have garnered approximately 60% of the vote. This is widely due to a growing number of rationalizations on why they actually belong in, however in the end they really are just that; rationalizations.

One of the most common phrases brought up in this discussion is “they were Hall of Famers before they took any PED’s, so they should be rewarded for that.” Yes, the first half of that argument is true. Both Bonds and Clemens were easily hall of famers before they are believed to have begun juicing. Still, that should not be enough to win votes. The fact that they were great players on their own should not justify the means that they went to in order to become better. The most popular counter to this argument would be Pete Rose. Having more hits than any other player wasn’t enough to put him in the Hall of Fame after he gambled, so why should Bonds’ and Clemens’ careers be any different with an equally serious crime. Being good at baseball shouldn’t excuse them from being punished in the same way everyone else was.

Similar to the idea that they should be recognized for what they accomplished without steroids, some also believe that what they did while on them should be enough as well. What they are saying is that it isn’t fair that the player with the most home runs or the one with the most Cy Young awards are both not in the Hall of Fame. Again, past events in history help to counter this idea. When Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record, he received an asterisk because he played in more games the tRuth did. If Maris is penalized for simply having more time, than the punishment for actually cheating to achieve a record should be far more severe. Yes, the players with those records are not in the Hall. However, with the means they went to in order to achieve those, should we even acknowledge their achievements to begin with. While erasing them from history would not be an appropriate response, rewarding them for cheating certainly isn't either. While their records should not be forgotten, they also should not be received with the highest honor baseball has to offer.

The arguably most common argument does not actually involve either Bonds or Clemens, however it is the idea that we already have unknowingly elected someone who used PED’s already. This argument is probably true. Baseball does not have affective drug testing, and as a result there certainly have been several who have cheated without being caught, enough even that it doesn’t seem at all unlikely that one would have made it to the Hall of Fame. However, electing someone who cheated because we probably have already accidentally done so previously is not a good enough reason to elect Bonds and Clemens. You should not reward someone who you KNOW cheated because you have already elected someone who you THINK cheated. There is a huge discretion between mistakenly electing someone who committed this offense versus knowingly doing it. Just because someone may or may not have gotten away with it does not justify allowing people who didn’t get away with it the same privileges. If it becomes found out later that someone in the Hall did in fact cheat, it would make more sense to in some way punish him rather than lower the standards for everyone else.

Bonds and Clemens should not be in the Hall of Fame. By taking PED’s, they violated the game. They decided that it was more important to play well then it was to play fair. It is too late to punish them as players, but not to do so during their post-career lives. To elect them would be to say that it is okay to cheat as long as you do so better than everyone else. This is not the mentality that belongs in a professional environment, especially one that so strongly caters to younger minds. Plus, it is not at all the players that did not cheat to give the greatest award in the sport to players who did. Despite the rationalizations that have been presented by so many writers, there honestly is no justification for electing these people who so fully disgraced the game of baseball.

Are the Blues Taking the Leap?

After a seriously disappointing 2017-18 season, the St. Louis Blues knew that something had to change. After missing the playoffs for the first time since 2010-11, they completely changed their philosophy. Instead of continuing to plan for the somewhat-distant future, the Blues began going into complete win-now mode. They made a series of offseason moves that seemed to guarantee them a spot come the postseason this year. However, the team still has yet to get going halfway through the season. Over the last few games, they finally have shown signs of life. Is it a sign of things to come, or simply a blip of success in the middle of the coldest seasons in franchise history.

The Blues really should be good. They completely revamped their offense by trading star-prospect Tage Thompson for star center Ryan O’Reilly, as well as singing free-agents Tyler Bozak and Pat Maroon. These moves, combined with a healthy Jaden Shwartz and star Vladimir Tarasenko, should have made the offense one of the most potent in the NHL. This has been far from the case, though. Tarasanko has been having one of his worst scoring seasons to date, while Bozak, Schwartz, and Bozak all have yet to really get things going. While they’ve all shown bursts of being what they were supposed to be, none have done it with any real consistency. Only O’Reilly, the Blues lone all-star this season.

While the Blues offense has struggled, other teams’ certainly have not when playing St. Louis. The Blues have struggled all year at preventing goals. Their star defensive players, Alex Petrangelo and Colton Parayko, have been having worse years than anybody expected on both ends of the ice. The real problem, though, has been Jake Allen. Allen has been having the worst season of his career, as both his GAA and save percentage are at the lowest he’s ever had. Although teams have been getting far too many shots up at the nett thanks to their defense, there is no question that the goaltending has been the biggest problem with the team.

Finally, though, the Blues are playing like they should have. They’ve won four of their last seven games, including wins over the Calgary Flames and Washington Capitols. Their last win was their most impressive, though, a 3-0 shutout in Philadelphia as Jordan Bennington had a shutout in his first career shot. The team played well the whole game, and did a far better job of getting up to the net and getting off clean shots than they have done any other game this season. Ryan O’Reilly has had a point in his last six, and the offense has finally looked like the one St. Louis paid for this offseason.

While this burst may not be proof that the Blues are finally going to play the way they should, it is at the very least a good sign. We know that they can play well, which gives St. Louis fans hope moving forward. This season has not offered a lot to be optimistic about, as the Blues spent a brief time at the bottom of the league and have yet to win more than two games in a row, so any silver lining is going to be a welcome sight among Blues fans. Even if they do surge back, they are so far out that it may not be enough to land a playoff spot. Even so, knowing that the team CAN play well would be huge, as it may keep them from tearing apart the team for scraps this offseason. Maybe this is just the Blues once again fooling St. Louis fans into having hope just to rip it from their hearts, as they’ve done so many times since their inauguration into the league. Maybe not, though. Maybe this is finally something to feel optimistic about. Probably not, but maybe.

Craig Kimbrel Wants a Six-Year Deal, But Should He Get It

Craig Kimbrel may well be the most sought after free-agent reliever of this offseason. Many teams would love to have a relief ace of his caliber, and are willing to pay plenty in order to get it. However, early in the offseason, Kimbrel announced that he wanted a deal that would last for the next six seasons. Craig Kimbrel’s dominance has been felt for nearly a decade now, but is even that enough to justify giving a deal that long term to a member of baseball’s least consistent position?

Since the start of 2010, there is no question as to who the best reliever in baseball has been. In that time, no relief pitcher has accumulated a higher WAR via baseball-reference than Kimbrel. He also has the highest era+ of any reliever, with a score of 211. That means that, over nine seasons, he has been twice as good at preventing runs than an average player would have. He has more saves than any other active pitcher. He has a career WHIP below 1.000, both an ERA and FIP below 2.00, and a K/9 of 14.7. Nobody has come close to approaching his level of dominance since his career began, and, when it is all said and done, he will go down as one of the greatest relief pitchers of all time.

While Kimbrel’s 2018 season wasn’t his best, it also was far from his worst. His WAR was the 14th best in all of the Major Leagues, he gave the Red Sox crucial innings all year that would eventually lead to their World Series victory. That being said, Kimbrel’s FIP, ERA, and WHIP were all higher than his career average, while his K/9 and ERA+ were both well lower. All of these were still well above average, but they also aren’t quite on the same level as what we have come to expect. While this by itself wouldn’t be concerning, the fact that it happened the same year that he broke the 30 barrier possibly is. While there is a chance that it was just a down year, and that his few injuries may have contributed, it doesn’t help that he is now past the age that is universally considered to be when player’s skills begin to fade, especially in the case of relievers. There is of course a chance that he will still be dominant for another decade, as we saw with Mariana Rivera and Trevor Hoffman, but there is never a guarantee.

Despite his age, there really is no reliever more deserving of the deal he’s asking for than Kimbrel. The biggest problem with it isn’t Kimbrel himself, but rather the fact that it may be impossible for any reliever to warrant a deal of that caliber. While his WAR is the best among relievers, its only the 25th highest since 2010 among all pitchers. Set it too include all players, and suddenly he drops all the way to 100th. Relievers simply do not provide enough value to warrant the amount of money he’s asking. His WAR last season was 2.0, which is said to be the amount that an average position player starter gets. If he was providing that value from third-base, nobody would even consider giving him the level of money or time he’s asking for.

The other issue with relievers is how steeply they decline. Every year, there are at least one or two closer’s who had been amazing the year before who struggle to then point of being traded or cut. Since he is past the 30 year old mark, there is no telling if or when Kimbrel is going to suddenly stop being able to contribute. Although he currently is one of the most trustworthy relievers in baseball, there’s no guarantee that he won’t suddenly loose that as early as next year. With that level of risk involved, it seems hard to justify giving an expensive, long term deal to him. Maybe it would work out, but there is still a chance that he’ll only be able to play well for half of it.

Kimbrel certainly has proven he’s no ordinary reliever. Maybe he is good enough to stay great for another six seasons or more. Certainly, any team that gives him the deal he’s asking would be happier giving it to him than any other closer. That said, there are a huge number of risks involved, and any GM is going to know that. There’s no way of telling how it’d pan out, but any team that does decide they want him long term should seriously think it through. He’s a great player, but there’s no telling how long he’ll be able to stay great.

The Bryce Harper Paradox; Is Baseball's Most Pursued Free Agent Really Worth Signing?

There is no question that one of the thirty Major League Baseball teams is going to open their checkbooks and guarantee that free agent outfielder Bryce Harper will immediately jump permanently into the 1%. He is considered the number 1 free agent in baseball, and some believe that he is enough to make any team a serious contender. While his monumental payday is all but inevitable, there is one question that should have formed in the back of every single GM’s mind; is Bryce Harper really that good?

Bryce Harper has been “the next face of baseball” for years. He made the cover of Sports Illustrated when he was in high school. Before he was even drafted, he was being treated like a MLB superstar. While the exposure to this sort of environment can be beneficial, as there were no real surprises once he got to the Big League level, it may also have depleted him of his competitive edge. He has been handed things his whole career, as he was a star even in the minors and made the All-Star game as a teenager. There hasn’t been a lot for him to work for so far in his career.

This has shown itself in a number of ways. He has had to be benched for not hustling. He cut up his face when a bat he threw at the dugout bounced back and hit him. There was the Jonathon Papelbon incident where something he said led to Harper being choked by him. Some of this stuff is old, and Harper’s 25 now. Maybe this stuff can be grown out of, but maybe it can’t. There certainly are players who outgrow these sorts of labels, but there are some that don’t. If Harper can’t, it could be seriously detrimental to a clubhouse of a team that is trying to compete.

Unfortunately for Harper, his issues don’t simply end with his perceived immaturity. There are some serious questions as to how valuable he really can be as a player. In 2015, he was far and away the best player in baseball. Outside of that one season, though, he has never really lived up to the hype. For a number of reasons, he has always struggled to be the player that people expected when he was first emerging.

Many believe that Harper is good enough at offense to make any lineup dangerous, but there are some serious red flags in that area. Last season, Harper his just .214 and struck out 102 times in the FIRST HALF. His high walk rate and ability to hit the ball far when he actually made contact were the only things that kept him even at all above-average. It took a huge second-half surge to make his season what it was, and who knows which of those two halves is actually indicative of his real skill. He’s shown both sides of the coin up to this point of his career, which should be a concern given that his hitting is supposed to be what sets him apart from the pack. Is it really worth locking into an expensive, long-term deal for a player whose had two seasons where he played the majority of games and still finished with a. WAR of about 1. A lot of the time, he is a very good hitter, but is he really $300 million good?

The biggest issue facing Harper, however, is also the most well-known. Harper can’t, or won’t, play defense. Throughout his career he has struggled to even play marginally well in the outfield. Although all the skills are seemingly there, Harper has always been a huge negative with his glove. In fact, by Fangraphs defensive metric, he rated as the third worst fielder in the entire Majors last season. Not just outfielder, but fielder. According to Baseball-Reference, he had a -3.2 dWAR. The Nationals would have won THREE more games with just an average fielder out there. These numbers suggest that he is simply always gong to be dangerously bad out there, so much so that it should raise serious concerns for any team not planning on using him as a DH. And since he probably views himself as too good to be a DH, that list is probably all 30 teams. In short, teams should be careful before handing this man a glove.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the last three seasons have been a mix of bad timing and bad luck. Maybe 2015 Bryce Harper is what we can expect for the next 5 or 6 years. Probably not though. More than likely, he is going to continue to be inconsistent and and even detrimental at times. This brings up the paradox; any team looking to add him is looking to stabilize their starting lineup for years to come, but they’re doing it with a player who has never been stable in his own right. I’m not saying that he shouldn’t be singed, or not even necessarily that he doesn’t deserve the insane money he is going to get. I’m just suggesting that GM’s be careful. Nothing is a given, but the past suggests that Harper may never be the player that some predicted, so why pay him like he is?

The Cardinal's Made Their Biggest Trade in Years, and It May Be One of Their Best Ever

The St. Louis Cardinals are not a team that frequently targets top players. For over a decade, they have had a never ending pipeline of solid players that has fueled them to four World Series visits and two World Series wins since 2004. After a dominant stretch though, their formula of relying on homegrown talent stopped working, and its caused a three year playoff drought for the redbirds, their longest since the late 90’s. Determined not to let another October come and go, the Cardinals seem to be making moves, as they just pulled off what may end up being the biggest trade this offseason by moving three players and a pick to the Arizona Diamondbacks for the perennial all-star Paul Goldschmidt. For a team that manages to come so close and just miss every year, a star like Goldy may be just what they Cards need to push themselves back over the top.

The last three seasons have been brutal for the Cardinals. In 2015, after winning 100 games and finishing with the best record in baseball, they lost a tough NLDS to their arch-rival Chicago Cubs in four games. Then, in 2016 they showed promise but lacked consistency, as they missed the playoffs by one game. 2017 was worse, as the team took a huge slide downward after the first month and finished four games out of the Wild Card. 2018 may have been the most heartbreaking, as the team treaded water all year up until August, where they took off after firing manager Mike Matheny. They did not lose a series that month, and managed to climb all the way to the first Wild Card,. In September, though, they fell short yet again, missing the playoffs by just a few games. Their huge comeback went for nought, and sent the team searching for answers.

The team’s offense has struggled to find an identity over that painful run. Their lineup had solid players like Matt Carpenter and Yadier Molina, but nobody that could consistently carry a team. Now, with a star like Goldschmidt joining the fray, they may finally have that anchor whom they can rely on all year. Goldy is coming off of a year where he hit .290 with 33 home runs, and has not had a year with a WAR under 4.6 since 2012. He has also been an all-star every year of that stretch, and even led the Diamondbacks to the playoffs back in 2017 while being the majority of offensive production. He’s the type of consistently good player the Cards haven’t had, as their big hitters like Carpenter and Marcell Ozuna both were some of the streakiest players in the Bigs a year ago. Goldschmidt, however, may be the force they’ve been looking for to carry St. Louis back into the postseason.

While Goldschmidt will undoubtedly be good, there are other factors that will impact the effectiveness of this trade. They gave up prospects Luke Weaver and Carson Kelly for him, along with AAA shortstop Andy Young as well as a pick. Goldschmidt only has one year on his deal left, so if Weaver or Kelly wind up being anything special, the Cardinals may regret the move if they can’t resign him. Although they will have the finances to do so, as well as the baseball crazed environment players usually love, nothing is a given. People thought Brandon Heyward was a lock to stay their trade with the Atlanta Braves in 2015, but he jumped ship to Chicago after one year. If Goldschmidt does decide to leave after this season, it wouldn’t take much from Kelly or Weaver for the Diamondbacks to win the trade. There are always these risks, and the Cardinals surely realize that, but re-signing Goldschmidt is going to need to be a huge focus of theirs over the next few years.

The Cardinals need this move. They haven’t been able to survive with their lineup full of solid role players, and it has made life difficult for them. Now, with a. legitimate star they can lean on, they finally have an element to their came that they haven’t since Albert Pujols took of for the LA Angels after 2011. It may not be enough on tis own to take them back to October, but this is the most hopeful sign the Cards fans have had in a long time.

The Sad Story of Kemba Walker; a Superstar Lost in a Sea of Mediocrity

Kemba Walker must be the most frustrated player in the NBA. He went from a great college career, which he capped off with a championship run, to the then Charlotte Bobcats. It took him a while to develop, but over the last few years he has shown he is a legitimate star. Now, though, he is having what may be the best season of his career. And he is doing it on a team that not only can’t win, but doesn’t really seem to be trying to either.

Much was expected out of Kemba after his great career at UConn. He started as a top prospect, but didn’t have a very polished game his freshman season. He then had a much better Sophomore year, which lead many to believe he may transition into a truly great college point-guard in the future. The next year, he did just that, averaging 23.5 points, 4.5 assists, 5.4 rebounds, and 1.9 steals a game. What was more remarkable, though, was how he carried the Huskies all the way to an NCAA championship that few saw coming. He impressed so much that the then Charlotte Bobcats decided he could be their point-guard of the future, and snatched him with the number 9 overall pick in the following draft.

It didn’t happen all at once. His defense never really carried over, and his scoring took a few seasons to translate. Everyone always saw the potential, but it wasn’t fully realized until his fifth year in Charlotte, when he put up 20.9 points a game with 5.2 assists, as well as showing much more efficiency with his shot. From there, it has only grown since, as the two full seasons since both yielded more points and assists per game, as well as a pair of all-star nods. Now, in 2018, he seems to have fully blossomed into the scoring machine people long expected him to become.

After proving that he was an all-star caliber player the last few years, he has reached a new level to his game, and set the NBA on fire in the process. He is averaging 28.2 points per game, which his five more than his previous career high of 23.2, while also having a carer high in assists as well, with 6.6. The advanced stats also show how dominant he’s become, as he has a 25 Player Efficiency Rating(PER). An average player has 15, so he is clearly setting himself apart from the rest of the NBA in a way he’s never done before.

There’s only one problem with Walker’s successs; it’s not enough. Despite their franchise player having his best year of his career, the Hornets have managed a lowly 9-10 record and are narrowly holding on to a play-off spot. Even if they hold on to their 8th seed, it would just mean they get an extra few games to be beaten down by however manages to finish atop the East. Walker simply has no talent around him. Although Miles Bridges looks like he may be good someday, and Molik Monk has played well since coming back from his injury, there really just isn’t a lot of help. They only have three players averaging double-digits, and their number two scorer, Jeremy Lamb, is only averaging half of Kemba’s output per night. This fact became abundantly clear a few games ago, when they lost in overtime to the Philadelphia 76’s despite Kemba dropping 60 points. That was the first time a player scored 60+ points and lost at home in 20 years. Clearly, no matter what level Kemba Walker plays at, Charlotte is a team without hope for this year.

Maybe Kemba should think of this as an audition. He’s a free-agent this offseason, so his performance may at least land him a lofty payday. What’s more, he was almost traded at the deadline last year. If the Hornets continue to play at this level, they may decide to finish a deal this year. That would at least give Walker a chance to play on a contender. Whatever happens, I’m sure Kemba Walker wants to win. Playing at a high-level and still lose be a terrible feeling, and nobody in the NBA understands that more than Walker.

Derrick Rose is Back; The Former MVP Has Finally Adapted, and May Be As Good As Ever Because Of It

Derrick Rose’s career may be one of the most tragic stories in sports history. At his best, he was at the very top of the game. He was the star in his hometown, and was good enough to dethrone King James in the MVP race while making his Bulls squad good enough to compete for championships. Then, when he seemed destined to be one of the greatest point-guards in history, it all collapsed. It started with one torn ACL, which then became knee injury after knee injury until it seemed like a miracle he could walk. In a matter of years, he went from the star of Chicago to being cut in midseason by a Cavaliers team that thought no point-guard was better than using him. When it all felt hopeless, the Minnesota Timberwolves, lacking depth at the guard position and desperate to make a play-off push, decided to give him a chance. While he was on and off after not playing consistently last season, he has turned that opportunity into something nobody expected; he has managed to once again make himself a legitimate NBA star.

For a long time, it looked like Derrick Rose could not adapt. He was a slasher whose injuries had drained him of his quickness, which meant that burst of speed he used to get to the rim was no longer there. It felt like watching a shell of his former self, and while the flashes were still there, few believed he would ever reach his former level of greatness ever again. Thinking along those lines, he was inevitably traded to the Knicks, who believed that maybe they could use him in their last ditch efforts at making a good team. It failed, and he had an average year in which he struggled with injuries and never really was able to consistently do the things he once did with ease. After that, he left for Cleveland, who desperately needed help at the point-guard position, having just traded their star, Kyrie Irving, for a less than suitable replacement in Isaiah Thomas, who would miss the first few weeks with injuries. Again, though, he struggled, and when it came time for the Cavs to rebuild their roster at the deadline, they no longer had a place for him. He was released and, for the first time in his career, unemployed. After a bad year, though, the Minnesota Timberwolves felt they could use him in their final push for a spot in the play-offs. While he wasn’t exactly stellar, he did manage to keep them afloat in the race enough that they let him keep his job. it was his chance to prove that he could still keep up with NBA competition, and he fully planned to take advantage of it.

Rose has turned his second chance at basketball into something nobody saw coming, as he went from struggling to find a place into the league into once again being a legitimate star. It didn’t happen from luck, or a fully healed body. Rather, he seems to have accepted that he isn’t quick enough to be the slasher he once was. Never again will he be able to simply burst past hopeless defenders for lay-ups 20 times a game. He won’t have defenses collapse on him to create for teammates the way the used to, because it only takes one man to keep up. So instead, he found different ways to score. And he found them at the 3-point line.

Rose, like the rest of the NBA, has decided that 3’s win ball games. He has begun making more 3’s than ever, and his stats have ballooned because of it. Over his career, Rose has hit 30.6% of his 3-pointers. That made him easy to guard, as you didn’t have to meet him at the perimeter to defend his jump-shot. This year, though, his percentage has skyrocketed to 47.8%. That means that instead of being dismissible from deep, now he has to be a priority. He can stretch the floor in ways he never could before. He doesn’t need to blast by his defenders the way they did, because, with them meeting him further outside, he only needs one step to get past them. Then, if they stay back to prevent his penetration, he can simply unload for 3. It adds a dimension to his offensive game that he wasn’t capable of before, and, if he can keep it up, he may find himself once again as one of the top point-guards in the game.

Nothing is a given. This may just be a long hot streak, or perhaps another knee injury will come and once again demolish everything he’s built. But maybe none of that will. Maybe this is Rose making good on the chance Minnesota has given him by fully reinventing himself as a player. Maybe he has managed to unlock a skill nobody thought he had, and can use it to bolster himself back to the top. There is always reason to doubt, but, for the first time in a long time, there is definitely reason to be optimistic.

Mahomes Can't Do Everything; The Chiefs' High Flying Offense May not be Enough to Overcome Defensive Struggles

There can be no doubt that this is the best football team Kansas City has had in years, maybe even decades. Second year back Patrick Mahomes has been the story of the NFL, as he is not only having one of the best first seasons of all time, but really one of the best in general. The Chiefs have the number one offense in the NFL, and have the firepower to maintain it for the rest of the season. There defense, however, is widely considered the worst defense in football. After a horrendous showing against the Rams on Monday Night Football, it may be time to ask the question Chiefs fans have been hoping to avoid; is the Chiefs defense bad enough to keep a historically great offense from winning in the Play-Offs.

The Chiefs have played three games against teams that were projected to compete for the Super Bowl so far this year. In all three they have been kept close by the offense, but gave up enough mistakes defensively that they only have one win in those games. it is in these three games that we see that, although the Mahomes led freight train of an offense is unbelievable, there defense may be so bad that its doesn’t matter.

The first of these games was a 42-37 away win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in week 2. At the time, this looked like a great win. Mahomes threw for 6 touchdowns as the Chiefs managed to hold off a tough opponent on the road. Now, though, this win seems as much a confirmation of the Chiefs’ hopelessness defensively as it was a confirmation of Mahomes’ talent. They allowed 475 total yards offensively, and allowed a team that shouldn’t have been on the same level to almost come back and steal a victory. It was a good job of them to hold on, but the cracks in the foundation definitely became apparent.

The next game was Kansas City’s first loss of the season, a 43-40 loss to the Patriots in New England. This loss was hardly a bad one. It was the first real adversity that Mahomes faced, and he responded by leading a comeback from 14 down in the second half before losing on a field goal in the final seconds. However, giving up 43 to a team is always going to make winning difficult. The Chiefs gave Belichick;s offense whatever he wanted, and because of that, they were able to march down the field multiple times in the fourth quarter to secure the victory. While nobody was blaming the Chiefs for losing in Foxborough, it still showed that there defense was going to struggle against talented teams.

Finally, there is the game in LA. On what might have been the greatest regular season game of all time, The Chiefs gave up 54 points in a 3 point loss in the Coliseum. Mahomes was great. He threw for 6 touchdowns(again!), and two of his three interceptions were on desperation throws in the last few minutes. Their defense, though, was terrible. They had penalty after penalty. They couldn’t guard any of the fast Ram’s receivers downfield. They did manage to hold Todd Gurley III without a TD for the first time in 13 games, but that and a lucky fumble recover TD are the only things they can hang their hat on. They simply could not stop the Rams, and it cost the Chiefs a game that they deserved to win. Mahomes was having one of the greatest performances of all time, and they cost him the dub. Before, it seemed as though the Chiefs could outpace their opponents most of the time, but, after last night, it seems like it doesn’t matter what they do offensively when they face talented teams. One of the greatest performances by an offense ever was not enough to overcome their defensive woes.

If they are going to win a Super Bowl, they have to learn to contain teams like this. They can’t give up 40+ points every time they play an above average offense, because it is just too much to expect Mahomes and Co. to keep up. They don’t have to be perfect, but they have to learn to get stops. They have to force the occasional turnover. The Chiefs have what it takes to win, but they need there defense to be consistent. They have shown flashes of what they can do, and even held the Bengals, a team having one of its best offensive seasons in years, to ten points. They can hold tough against these teams, and they know it. Proving it, though, is the only way we can see the Chiefs finally raise another banner.

No More Fruitless Seasons; The Orange Are Ready to Make an Impact

The last three seasons have been very touch and go for Syracuse fans. They combined solid wins with bad losses to finish on the bubble all three years. Going into Selection Sunday, nobody knew whether they had a place in March Madness or not. Although they made it to at least the second weekend in the two that they made it, missing the tournament hardly lives up to the tough standards that the Boeheim’s Orange always hold themselves to. This year, though, things are looking different. This year’s Syracuse team is loaded with talent, has a deep lineup, and is full of veteran players that are just dying to make a big run in this year’s tournament.

Admittedly, this year’s team may get off to a slow start without their star point-guard Frank Howard. Their first two wins came without too much difficulty, as they managed a double-digit win over a tough Morrehead State team and a 32 point obliteration of Eastern Washington. Still, though, with a couple tough games against UConn and Ohio State, they may struggle without Howard. They have the talent to beat them, however a loss does not necessarily mean they have any serious problems. Howard will be back in plenty of time for ACC play, though, so you can expect them to really hit their stride and compete for the top spot in league play.

One of the biggest things Syracuse has going for it is the return of its star player, Tyus Battle. After testing waters in the draft last season, he decided to return for his final year of eligibility. That means that he is going to spend this season not only working for wins, but also for a good spot in next year’s draft class. Expect him to work harder than anyone on the team to play as well as possible. He is going to do everything he can to carry this team on his shoulders, and with all of his talent, that could be bad news for the rest of the ACC.

The biggest difference between this year’s team and the last three is how much more talent they have. While the previous Orange squads have had to rely on two or three players to carry the bulk of the load, but that isn’t going to be an issue this year. While Howard and Battle are going to be able to do a lot of scoring, they Oshae Brisset, who is averaging 18.5 points through the first few games, and Paschal Chukwu to provide consistent scoring inside as well as some of the best defense in the country. Add in Marek Dolexaj and Elijah Hughes as top role players, and you have a team with as much talent as any in the country.

While they are going to miss their starting point-guard for the first month or so, and don’t even have the deepest team to start with, this team is still going to be dangerous. Once Howard comes back, they will have an incredibly dangerous team that can beat anyone on a given night. As long as they can avoid serious injuries, it won’t take a bubble-vote to get them into the tournament this season. If everything goes well, they may even be able to capture a 3-4 seed. The sky really is the limit for this team, and they might fly under the radar all the way to April basketball.

College Basketball is Back, and This Year Could Be Great

College basketball is one of the best parts of every calendar year. From November to April, I rarely go longer than a few days without watching a game, and that would be the absolute longest I would go. No, it isn’t as great as baseball, but nothing could be. However, there is no better way to spend the winter than sitting on the couch and losing my mind every time the refs decide to hand Kansas a gameIarticles on that are sure to follow, I do not like the officiating in Kansas games) or stare in disbelief at something that whatever hyper-athletic recruit Calipari managed snap does. In short, college basketball is one of the most fun sports to watch, and this year is looking like it could be one of the best

This season seems prepared to be as exciting as any that have come before it. The biggest reason, and the most overplayed at this point in the year, is Duke’s recruiting class. This team is stacked, but Duke being good hardly constitutes any excitement. It isn’t just that they are talented, but its more how they are talented. Firstly, Zion Williamson may be the best dunking 18 year old of all time. Secondly, R.J. Barret is one of the best all around freshman you could imagine. He has the ball skills of a guard with the body of a wing. He can get inside and finish through contact, or shoot over you for three. He already has a very complete offensive game, and he hasn’t even talent the court in an official game yet. Seeing what he does with the talent around him will certainly be as interesting as it is breathtaking.

Secondly, there are two cinderella stories from last season’s tournament who are poised to be better this year. Loyola-Chicago managed to retain the majority of it’s players, so it should be able to repeat as a dominant force in the Missouri Valley that wins a couple games come March. The really exciting team, though, is the Nevada Wolfpack. By managing to bring back both of the Martin twins, they look like they might be a top ten team in the whole country. They probably won’t have a lot of tough games between now and March, but it should still be fun watching them ground their competition to a pulp up until that point.

While there are a lot of interesting recruits left, the last one I want to talk about is the 7 foot 2 center who can shoot. Whether or not Oregon’s freshman Bol Bol will actually pan out as the prospect some think he will remains to be seen, but no matter what, watching him play will be fun. If he really does have control over his jump shot, he might be one of the most dangerous scorers of all time. It should be a given that he can score inside, so it should be cool to watch a seven foot monster dominate either way, but if he can stretch the floor as well, that would be something else entirely. I am already this guy’s biggest fan, and I really hope he ends up being as awesome as people say..

There are a lot of reasons this will be a great year, but these were my favorite. College basketball is a great sport, so it’s always exciting when it starts. Who knows if any of this will actually pan out, and there will certainly be new, more interesting storylines as the season progresses, but I am more excited for the beginning of this year than I can remember being for any prior seasons. It’s shaping up to be great, and I can’t wait to see what happens.

How Much More Can We Expect From The Lakers?

Nobody thought the 2018-2019 Lakers were a good enough team to take a championship back to Los Angeles. They were, however, expected to be a top three team in the West could maybe make it all the way to the conference finals before jumping in front of the freight train that is the Golden State Warriors. With the addition of Lebron, as well as a few solid role players, they seemed poised to make last years team look like a joke. After a rough start to the season, though, these goals may seem like far more than they can chew, as they are currently residing in twelfth place in their conference, meaning they have to pass four teams just to make the 8th seed in the playoffs. There’ve only been 10 games so far this season, but are we sure that this isn’t more than just a slow start?

Almost every year, LeBron’s teams get off to a slow start, especially when he’s on a new team. Both the Heat and the Cavaliers got off to bad starts when he joined and rejoined them respectively. Both years, though, he still managed to lead them into The Finals. This year, however, feels different. LeBron isn’t young anymore, and these Lakers have nowhere near the supporting classes he had in Miami or Cleveland. There are no super starts to pick up the slack when he isn’t at his best, and his best isn’t enough to carry teams on his back anymore. James’ 2017-2018 season was perhaps the most strenuous of all time, as he had to lead the league in minutes and play at his best every single night to make the Cavs as successful as they were. Although he is one of the greatest althea’s of all time, it would take something magical for him, or anyone, to be able to pull a season like that off again.

The biggest problem for LA is not that LeBron is getting older, but more that he has almost no help. The team has talent, but none of it really seems to meld. They have two pass-first point guards who don’t really play defense and have no jump shot in Lonzo Ball and Rajon Rando. Their starting center Javale McGee has far surpassed expectations, but he is the only solid big on the team, and he is one of the only players the Lakers have who can play defense. It feels like coach Luke Walton just does not have many lineups that fit together, and almost every lineup he has without James is going to struggle.

The Leker’s biggest problem is definitely their defense. While LeBron, McGee, and newcomer Lance Stephenson are all fairly talented on that end of the floor, the rest of the roster is almost a blackhole every time they try to defend. Two of the players that are supposed to lead the team, Kyle Kuzma and Brandon Ingram, are human turnstiles. I already mentioned that Ball and Rando struggle regularly to stay in front of people. The Lakers may need some new personal if they want to resolve this issue, because there are just too many players who aren’t able to keep up. It is becoming a serious problem, and if we don’t see improvement, it may jeopardize them even making the playoffs while effectively ruining their chances at competing for the Western Conference Championship.

It’s far from time to throw in the towel. Walton is a smart coach, and there is plenty of talent on the roster to see better results. However there are clear cracks in the foundation that need to be fixed. They really need to fix defense, as well as have someone step up to reduce the pressure that LeBron faces on a nightly basis. The season is young, and there is still plenty of time to right the ship, but these still are problems that need to be resolved sooner than later if this team plans to meet its lofty expectations.

Has the Window Closed for a Milwaukee World Series?

The Milwaukee Brewers were arguably the best team in the National League this season. Their bullpen could easily have been the best in baseball, and they were carried down the stretch by the probably MVP winner Christian Yelich. Their lineup had few holes in it, and they were solid defensively as well. The only real problem that they ever encountered was their starting pitching, and that didn’t really show up when they can get four solid innings out of their ‘pen on a nightly basis. After winning the play-in game against Chicago, they finished first in the central, dominated the Rockies in the divisional round, and narrowly lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers in a tight seven game series. For most teams, that would be a successful season that left hopes for better ones in the future. For the Brewers, though, this may be their last chance for a long time to compete at this high a level.

The first red flag for the Brewer’s future hopes is their lack of starting pitching. While it didn’t show up a lot this season, it really was a problem for them. In fact, their inability to get a starter through any significant number of innings was probably what cost them the NLCS against the Dodgers. While their problem is easily identified, fixing it is going to be very difficult this off-season. There is not a strong class of free agent pitchers this winter, and they have few prospects who are going to be able to make any kind of a difference anytime soon. Their only hope would be to acquire a solid starter via the trademarked, but they may not have a deep enough team to be able to make that happen. it seems like this is a problem that could persist for years to come.

Another reason that the door may be closing in Milwaukee is how many of their contributors may not be able to repeat. The surging offense of Jesus Aguilar seems unlikely to happen again, as he came out of nowhere and slowed down in the second half as pitchers learned how to get him out. Lorenzo Cain and Ryan Braun are both getting up there in years, and may not have a lot of time left to play at their 2018 levels. While Yelich is young enough that he should still be a very solid player for a long time, the odds of him repeating his magical 2018 campaign seem rather low. They simply lack the sustainability to make me believe that they’ll be able to reach the level they played at this season offensively again.

Their future’s biggest problem, though, is how much they are built through their bullpen. While having a dominant bullpen almost always results in October baseball, it also has as many risks as rewards. Bullpen pitchers almost always have steep and sudden declines, and they can happen at anytime. Teams that build through their bullpens are typically very good for at least a year or two, but they also tend to implode once their bullpen stops being elite. The 2014 and 2015 Royals dominated baseball when they had the tandem of Wade Davis, Kelvin Herrera, and Greg Holland. However, almost all at once, that bullpen fell apart, and they haven’t reached the play-offs since capturing their 2015 championship. Unfortunately, that seems like a route the Brewers may end up taking as well. They relied very heavily on their bullpen this year, and if it takes even a slight step back, it could prove very costly for The Crew.

Nothing is a given. The Brewers may prove me wrong and string off a half decade of domination with these pieces. If their offense stays intact and they can improve their pitching staff, they may actually do just that. However, the way it is right now, it seems much more likely that they look back at 2018 as the one year that they really had a chance. Consistently winning is difficult, and too many teams that were built like MIlwuakee’s have fallen fast. It doesn’t seem too unlikely that the Brewers will follow suit.