Blog/Sports Articles

2017 World Series Preview: History-Rich Dodgers Face History-Chasing Astros

Home field advantage will play a vital role in 2017 Fall Classic

By Brendan DeVenney

The Dodgers just won their 22nd National League pennant. The Astros just won their 1st American League pennant, 2nd overall after being in the National League. That is all you need to know about how historic this upcoming World Series is.

Last year’s World Series had a similar feel. The Cubs entered with 16 National League pennants, while the Indians had just 6. But by throwing history out the window, both teams gave America and the world a World Series to remember. Houston and Los Angeles both hope to do just that starting on Tuesday night in Hollywood.

Digesting this series

The pitching between these two teams is slightly incomparable. Houston’s pitching, behind the dominating Dallas Keuchel and veteran Justin Verlander, have come up clutch in their wins. Make note of that, because in the American League Championship Series, New York was able to get to them in the Yankees’ three wins in a row at home, three of the four Postseason losses for the Astros.

Houston’s pitching let up 19 runs combined in Games 3, 4, and 5. We all know how much home field advantage plays a huge role in the Postseason, and we’ve seen that be a factor particularly in the American League bracket. In the Yankees’ Divisional Series with Cleveland, they got back in the series with huge wins at Yankee Stadium. They did the same thing by winning three in a row to take the series lead in the Championship Series with Houston.

The Astros did the same thing, winning the first two games at home in both series with Boston and New York. And with New York, they regrouped back at their place to win the series in elimination games at Minute Maid Park. And their pitching has been a major reason for all those wins and losses.

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Looking back at this crazy ALCS, Houston’s pitching was all over the place in the series. In their first two games at home, Dallas Keuchel, who will throw Game 1 of the World Series, and Justin Verlander, who goes in Game 2, were magnificent, both going the distance. Keuchel went 7 innings striking out 10 and shutting the Yankees’ lineup down, and Verlander went a complete game with 13 strike outs and just one run on 5 hits, doing just enough to get the Astros win.

However, then they went on the road and didn’t do as well, with Charlie Morton getting rocked, not making it through 4 innings and giving up a dismal 7 runs in Houston’s 8-1 loss at Yankee Stadium in Game 3. In Game 4, Houston was nine outs away from winning with a 4-0 lead in the 7th, but Lance McCullers, known as a bullpen guy, got tired and exited the game. That’s where the bullpen didn’t do its job, with Chris Devenski, Joe Musgrove, and Ken Giles giving up six runs in the 7th and 8th innings, allowing New York’s lineup to ride the Bronx crowd in a comeback win to tie the series. And Game 5 wasn’t a great outing by Keuchel, giving up 4 runs in 4.2 innings of work, despite striking out 8, as the Yankees won 5-0 to take a 3-2 lead in the ALCS.

But it was so interesting how going back to Minute Maid Park, Justin Verlander dazzled again, and Charlie Morton looked like a different pitcher. Verlander went 7 scoreless innings with 8 innings in Game 6 to even the series, while Morton did his job in 5 scoreless innings, and McCullers pitched a 12-out, scoreless save.

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Home field advantage plays a critical role. It’s been proven. We’ve seen crowds at Dodgers Stadium, Yankee Stadium, and Minute Maid Park play key roles in helping their teams win ballgames. How will the Astros and Dodgers handle their opposing crowds?

Well, like mentioned above, the Astros don’t play particularly well on the road in the Postseason. Even in the 2015 ALDS versus Kansas City, they went 1-2 at Kaufman Stadium. This year they are 1-4 on the road. They won’t have that Houston crowd to back them up in the first two games of the Fall Classic. The Los Angeles Dodgers, much like the Yankees, are undefeated at home in the Postseason. Having the best record in baseball, the Dodgers won the first two games of each series with Arizona and Chicago, protecting that home field play. Ever been to a Postseason game in Hollywood? You’re missing a lot, especially when the offense is red hot sizzling.

The Dodgers offense has been lighting it up hitting a combined .273, led by Yasiel Puig and Justin Turner, hitting .414 and .387 respectively. After their losing streak at the end of August, beginning of September, some worried about Los Angeles. But it turned out to be a positive lesson for “The Boys in Blue,” peaking at the right time and going on a tear in the Postseason. In their first two home games versus the Diamondbacks, the Dodgers put up 9 and 8 runs off tough Arizona pitching. Justin Turner had 5 RBI’s in Game 1, and in Game 2, down early, took advantage of pitching miscues and rolled, thanks to a three hit game from Logan Forsythe, and two huge RBI’s from Yasiel Puig. They would go on to sweep Arizona with You Darvish dominating in Game 3.

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They would come back home to host the defending World Champions, and they used both their pitching and hitting to take down the Cubs easily in five. Without Corey Seager, who injured his back in Game 3 of the NLDS, Los Angeles pummeled the Cubs in Game 1 with home runs by Puig and Chris Taylor and rolled to a 1-0 lead. Then in Game 2, with the game tied at 1-1 in the 9th, Justin Turner walked it off in the bottom of the inning with a three-run home run to left-center to take the series to Wrigley Field with the Dodgers up 2-0. It was the first walk-off home run for Los Angeles in the Postseason since Kirk Gibson’s historic, symbolic walk-off at Dodgers Stadium in 1988 World Series versus Oakland.

In Game 3, things didn’t get much better for Chicago, with Andre Ethier and Chris Taylor hitting home runs in the 2nd and 3rd innings, and then Taylor roped an RBI triple to put the pressure even more on the Cubs, as the Dodgers rolled to a 6-1 win. After Chicago took Game 4, the Dodgers exploded for 11 runs in Game 5 to advance to the World Series. Enrique Hernandez broke out for three home runs, one being a grand slam in the Dodgers’ 5-run third inning.

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We have seen that the hitting is there for the Dodgers. But is the pitching? Los Angeles’ staff has a lot on their plate going up against a really strong lineup in Houston, who in Games 6 and 7 powered their way to the World Series against strong New York pitching, scoring 3 off Luis Severino, 4 off David Robertson, and hit C.C. Sabathia out of the third inning in the final game. José Altuve has hit .400 in the playoffs with 5 huge home runs. Carlos Correa has hit .295. Alex Bregman has been real special hitting .190 with 5 RBI’s. George Springer has hit .233, but is just 10 for 43. And Yulieski Gurriel has been huge with a .366 average and a three RBI game at Yankee Stadium.

But at home, Houston’s hitting has been unstoppable. They scored eight runs in both their first two home Postseason games, walked off in Game 2 versus New York with Carlos Correa, and came up huge with 7 and 4 runs in Games 6 and 7. With the Dodgers’ pitching, they’re blessed with having home field in the first two games with Cy Young candidate Clayton Kershaw going in Game 1 and Rich Hill going in Game 2.

Kershaw is a story in himself. In the regular season, he went 18-4 with a 2.31 ERA in 27 starts, and pitched just one complete game coming against Kansas City. Kershaw has not had a rough patch at all this year, and in the Postseason, he’s thrown three games earning a 2-0 record with a 3.63 ERA. Historically, he’s not a great playoff pitcher, with a 6-7 Postseason record and 4.40 ERA. He went 2-1 last Postseason, 1-1 in 2015, 0-2 in 2014, and 1-2 in 2013. But this year, he’s off to a much better start, and his last outing at Wrigley Field, he had his stuff working for him in 6 innings of work, giving up 3 hits, and just 1 run in Game 5 of the NLCS.

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Rich Hill for Los Angeles will go in Game 2. Hill has thrown a 3.00 ERA in October in just two starts, not even making it past the fifth inning of either of those games against Arizona and Chicago. Hill went 12-8 in the regular season, so if a lineup built like Houston’s can get to him early in the game, you won’t see much of him. He’s known for doing just enough and letting the bullpen do the rest consisting of Ross Stripling, Kenta Maeda, Tony Watson, and closer Kenley Jansen. In Game 3, Yu Darvish will take the mound and he’s been special with a 2-0 record and a 1.59 ERA. He’s had experience with road postseason games with both his starts coming on the road so that helps Los Angeles. And Alex Wood will go in Game 4, with his only start coming in Los Angeles’ only loss in Game 4 of the NLCS where he went 4.2 innings of work, allowing 3 Chicago home runs.

That being said, both Arizona and Chicago were able to expose Los Angeles’ pitching, with the Yankees showing weaknesses from the Astros’ pitching staff. On paper, Houston’s pitching staff is stronger, and they are going to get tested from a lineup in Los Angeles that has hit .273 in the Postseason. Houston as a lineup has hit .247 in 11 games played, compared to Los Angeles needing only 8 games with the NLDS sweep of Arizona.

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Playing the sorrow note

Everyone has felt bad about what has happened in Houston with Hurricane Harvey rolling through in August. Also, California has seen their fair share of devastation as well with deadly wildfires burning through northern Los Angeles near Hollywood. This is not the first time that baseball has played as an intercessor for fans of those cities that have been hit with harsh reality.

You take a long look back at the 1989 “Bay Bridge” World Series where the Loma Prieta Earthquake struck areas of both San Francisco and Oakland right before Game 3 at Candlestick Park. The series had to be postponed 12 days before Oakland would go on to sweep San Francisco, 4-0. Once that series resumed, it meant so much to the Bay Area, no matter who was winning the series at that point, as baseball became a time of satisfaction and hope that people in California can come back to reality.

In 2001, the Major League Baseball season would be postponed 18 days, and the regular season concluded from September 30 to October 7. The World Series was even more special that year as the New York Yankees would bring the City of New York and, the nation as a whole, together by making that year’s Fall Classic, and taking Arizona to seven games before blowing a ninth inning lead in Game 7. Once again, the series acted as a time where New Yorkers could forget what happened over a month ago and get back to reality.

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The same thing will go for the 2017 World Series. It happens almost two months later from the end of Hurricane Harvey, but for Houstonians the devastation is still there and is still real. This Postseason, and this upcoming World Series, acts as a time of celebration and sheds light on what the city of Houston is all about.

Series Notes:

  • Game 1: Tuesday, October 24; First pitch: 8:00; Dodgers Stadium, Los Angeles, California
  • Game 2: Wednesday, October 25; First pitch: 8:00; Dodgers Stadium, Los Angeles, California
  • Game 3: Friday, October 27; First pitch: 8:00; Minute Maid Park, Houston, Texas
  • Game 4: Saturday, October 28; First pitch: 8:00; Minute Maid Park, Houston, Texas
  • Game 5*: Sunday, October 29; First pitch: 8:00; Minute Maid Park, Houston, Texas
  • Game 6*: Tuesday, October 31; First pitch: 8:00; Dodgers Stadium, Los Angeles, California
  • Game 7*: Wednesday, November 1; First pitch: 8:00; Dodgers Stadium, Los Angeles, California

Prediction: Los Angeles in 6

 

 

Cavaliers falter for first time in embarrassing loss to Orlando

By Brendan DeVenney

Learning curve? Yeah, you can say that. Everyone knew it was going to take time for Cleveland to start to jell as a team with so many superstars on this roster. That’s why it makes it okay that the Cavaliers got their butts kicked by a sub-average Orlando team on Saturday night, 114-93.

Orlando jumped out to a 25-8 lead in the first quarter thanks to five three-pointers, and finished the quarter leading leading 36-18 at Quicken Loans Arena with eight three-pointers in the first quarter.

They kept on stretching their lead in the second quarter with the three ball, but Cleveland got on a run at times during the night, too. Kevin Love with a hook shot cut the lead to 15 in the second, 45-30. Love continued to impress in the half cutting the lead to 11 with under two minutes to play, 54-43.

At halftime, Orlando was up 56-45.

Highlighted by a 31-foot triple by D.J. Augustin, the third quarter looked a lot like the first, with the Magic continually shoving the ball down the Cavaliers throat. Despite Cleveland cutting the lead to seven with a Dwayne Wade three, Orlando used the three as their amo to increase their lead back to double digits. An Evan Fournier three-pointer to make it 70-58 started the onslaught back up for the Magic in the third, outscoring Cleveland 32-20.

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At one point in the ballgame, it was 106-69 Magic, a 37-point lead for the 53-loss team from last year. Luckily, James and the Cavaliers were able to outscore Orlando 28-26 in the fourth to make the loss seem not as bad. But still, this should be a learning experience for this new look Cleveland squad.

Orlando used the three ball, 17 triples to be exact, and that was the only way they were going to stand a chance against the Cavaliers, and they answered. The Magic were led by 23 points from Nikola Vučević, who shot 11 for 16 from the field in 28 minutes played, only hitting one three. Jonathan Simmons went 3 for 5 from behind the arc, putting up 19 points in 20 minutes. Evan Fournier also went 3 for 5 from behind the arc, adding 13 points total for the Magic. D.J. Augustin went 3 for 4 in three’s, putting up 12 points. Mario Hezonja went perfect in three-pointers with 3, adding 11 points. And four other Magic hit three’s to bring the total to 17 three-pointers on the night for Orlando.

Side note: The Magic used ’17’ three’s to end a ’17’ game losing streak to the Cavaliers.

The Magic are a team with promise, and already at 2-1 on the season, they have the ability to surprise some people this year. They may be on the outside looking in at a playoff spot come April.

As far as Cleveland goes, they were led in scoring by, you guessed it, LeBron James, who put up 22 points on 8 for 15 shooting, went 1 for 3 from long distance, and 5 for 6 at the stripe. But surprisingly, the Cavaliers second leading scorer was Iman Shumpert, who tallied 21 points on 5 for 14 shooting, 4 for 5 from three-point land, and went a crazy 7 for 10 from the free throw line. Kevin Love was the only other Cav who hit double digits with 19 points on 8 for 17 shooting. But, let’s look at the negatives.

On Friday night at Milwaukee, Derrick Rose sprained his left ankle after a foul from the Bucks’ Gregg Monroe, a hit that was later upgraded to a flagrant 1 foul on Sunday. Rose, thus, sat out Saturday’s game, and José Calderón filled in at starting point guard. Calderón finished with just 2 points. That was it, on 1 for 3 shooting.

Dwayne Wade, starting at shooting guard but supposedly still trying to figure out his role, finished with just 5 points. He has yet to hit double digits in the regular season in a Cavaliers uniform. And starting forward Jae Crowder did not get in the scoring column.

With those guys and the eight guys that came off the bench, Cleveland shot just 38% from the field, compared to 44% shooting from Orlando. But I wouldn’t worry. It’s just game three of eighty-two.

Next up: Cleveland vs. Chicago, Tuesday, October 24, 7:00 at Quicken Loans Arena

 

Korver, James help Cavaliers defeat Bucks

By Brendan DeVenney

It started as a major test and challenge once again for the Cavaliers in their first road game of the season. Traveling up to Milwaukee, Cleveland was given a major test with the promising Bucks in their second game of the season.

Coming off a heart pounding, thrilling win over Boston in their season opener on Tuesday night at Quicken Loans Arena, the Cavaliers were in for another challenge with Milwaukee. But Cleveland decided to show up late in the game and roll to what in the end looked like an easy road victory.

Led by Giannis Antetokounmpo and Malcolm Brodgdon, Milwaukee jumped out fast and started to challenge the Cavaliers in the first quarter. Brogdon hit a big three to give his team a 10-6 lead, and then Tony Snell hit a big three to give the Bucks a 16-12 lead with seven minutes left.

But Cleveland wouldn’t be fazed, with J.R. Smith and Dwayne Wade making clutch shots to force a tie game at the end of the first quarter, 25-25.

Then the Cavaliers really started to play their game with conviction. The second quarter saw Cleveland outscore the Bucks 30-24, where Kyle Korver got hot with back-to-back three-pointers, a huge alley-oop from Kevin Love to LeBron James, and Jeff Green have an impressive six points in the quarter. The Cavaliers led 55-49 at halftime.

The third quarter then was really when the Cavaliers started to pull away. With Milwaukee still lingering around, 71-68, the “Korver Kounter” was activated as Kyle hit three huge three’s to start the rout of Milwaukee. James added a huge dunk to the momentum swing, and Smith tipped one in at the buzzer to make it a 13-point lead for Cleveland heading to the fourth quarter.

The fourth quarter was a cake walk for the Cavaliers. James shined once again, proving that he can be a clutch, fourth quarter player. He let a streaking Antetokounmpo go right past him, just so he could rise and block him off the glass for his only block of the night. James would then go on to finish with eight fourth quarter points highlighted by two huge three-pointers. Cleveland outscored the Bucks, 30-24, in the fourth and proceeded to knock off Milwaukee to move to 2-0, 116-97.

Six Cavaliers jumped into double digits for Tyronn Lue. LeBron James once again led the way with 24 points, 8 assists, and 5 rebounds on 10 for 16 shooting. Another huge night for the 15-year veteran. But the story of the night was Kyle Korver, coming off the bench and lighting it up from behind the arc. After playing just seven minutes against Boston and not scoring, he tallied up 19 minutes of hot offense. He went 6 for 8, 5 for 6 from behind the arc, putting up 17 points to lead the bench players.

Kevin Love also accounted for 17 points, going 5 for 12 from the field and a perfect 7 for 7 from the charity stripe. New Cavalier Jae Crowder, who was playing not too far away from his alma mater Marquette, had an impressive 14 points in 25 minutes. Derrick Rose tallied up 12 points for Cleveland, and Jeff Green finished with 10 points.

Dwayne Wade, who also went to Marquette, had a disappointing night finishing with just 4 points and going 2 for 7 from the field.

For Milwaukee, Giannis Antetokounmpo, who is going to be in the MVP conversation all year long, led the game with an outstanding 34 points, going 15 for 22 from the field and 4 for 6 from the free throw line. Malcolm Brogdon was the only other Buck to hit double digits with 16 points, knocking down 4 three-pointers.

Next up: Cleveland vs. Orlando, Saturday, October 21, 8:00 at Quicken Loans Arena

LeBron Beats Kyrie in Season Opener

By Brendan DeVenney

Father always knows best? Never mess with the elder lion? Whatever metaphor you want to use, LeBron James proved to Kyrie Irving that as long as I’m here, there is no taking me down while I’m the leader of the East.

Cleveland opened the new season with a classic back and forth battle with the Celtics at Quicken Loans Arena on Tuesday night, and it featured an amazing fourth quarter.

In the fourth quarter, neither the Cavaliers nor the Celtics had a lead larger than three points in the entire final quarter. After being outscored in the third quarter 33-18 by Boston and up only one point, the Cavaliers slowed the pace down and played their style of basketball, with Kevin Love and LeBron James going right at Kyrie Irving and keeping the Cavaliers in the ballgame.

But the ultimate moment of the ballgame came in the final two minutes. With 1:20 to play, LeBron James drove with a spin move on Jaylen Brown to give the Cavaliers a 99-98 lead.

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Then after a big defensive stop by Cleveland, LeBron in the paint kicked it out to Kevin Love in his comfortable corner, and calmly knocked down the eventual game-winning three with 46 seconds left to make it a 102-98 lead.

Kyrie Irving had a chance to force overtime with a three ball with seconds ticking away, but air balled it with James right in his face, and the Cavaliers prevailed in the league’s season opener in Cleveland, 102-99 over Boston.

The game had everything you wanted. Dominance by LeBron made the night for the Cavaliers, putting up 29 points with 16 rebounds and 9 assists, nearly scoring a triple-double on opening night. In 41 minutes, it felt as if James was wanting to prove everyone wrong, especially Kyrie.

Speaking of Irving, he did not disappoint his new teammates and coach putting up 22 points with 10 assists and 3 steals. For Cleveland fans, it was watching vintage Kyrie just wearing a different color and trying to defend his old teammates. He hit some clutch shots throughout the night, specifically in the third quarter where Boston rallied back into the game. The third quarter was also highlighted by a huge night from Marcus Smart, putting up all of his 12 points off the bench in the third to bring the Celtics within one point at the end of the quarter.

Throughout the crazy night, no one could turn away from the fact that Boston lost their newest superstar five minutes into the ballgame, where Gordon Hayward, who was going up for an alley-oop from Irving, came down and landed on his left leg, fracturing his left ankle, and it was a horrible, gruesome injury that changed the mood of the entire night. What was supposed to be an intense season opener with LeBron facing off with Irving, and there being a lot of drama and emotions played out on the court, the mood of the night turned to playing with emotions about the game being bigger than basketball.

As far as the new guys for Cleveland, Derrick Rose and Dwayne Wade did not play all that bad. Rose finished with a huge performance of 14 points and 4 rebounds, while Wade finished with 8 points and 3 assists. J.R. Smith, coming off the bench in a new role, hit just one three and finished with 10 points.

It’s just one game for the Cavaliers, but there’s already a number of things that Cleveland can start working on, as far as rotations go and who plays better with who.

Next up: Cleveland @ Milwaukee, Friday, October 20, 7:00 at BMO Harris Bradley Center

2017-2018 Cleveland Cavaliers Season Preview

By Brendan DeVenney

It will go down as one of the most drama filled, anxious, and exciting off seasons in Cleveland Cavaliers history. So many transactions, moving parts, and additions to this team made for a very interesting offseason, and in the end, made for a highly anticipated 2017-2018 Cavaliers season with a brand new team.

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First off, we start with the firing of ex-General Manager David Griffin after the Cavaliers lost their second NBA Finals with Griffin. Despite leading Cleveland to their first title in franchise history, owner Dan Gilbert did not think what Griffin was looking to do was enough to hang with the league’s top team in Golden State. Thus, with no general manager, for the longest time there was no one running basketball operations. Over a month, reports were that owner Dan Gilbert was running basketball operations, although there was speculation that assistant GM Koby Altman was making moves, and that became true in late July when he was named the new general manager.

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Moving parts started in July when the Cavaliers signed veteran José Calderón to a 1-year deal, acquiring him from the Atlanta Hawks. This is Calderón’s seventh NBA team in 12 years, which that statement right there should tell you he’s not a player you build a team around. He’s a veteran, so he brings a leadership mentality to this year’s team, and will give you solid minutes in garbage time. The very next day, the Cavaliers added Jeff Green, who is playing in his prime right now out of Georgetown. Green can not only fly, but he can shoot the ball very well, too. Green is a player who, having played with playoff teams in Oklahoma City, Boston, Memphis, and Los Angeles, adds an extra utility man to play with LeBron, J.R., and Kevin.

The Cavaliers then signed forward Cedi Osman from Minnesota. Osman will be on Cleveland’s roster at the beginning of the season, and has played most of his career in Turkey, both on Anadolu Efes S.K. in the EuroLeague, and on both the Turkish Junior and Senior National Teams. Don’t expect to see much of this guy. He’s a quality piece to have only when the Cavaliers have run away with a win in the second half.

But then the biggest news of the offseason came on July 21, when ESPN’s phenomenal NBA beat reporter Brian Windhorst reported that Kyrie Irving, the Cavaliers number one draft pick out of Duke in 2011, wanted out of Cleveland and to have his own team where he is the face of the franchise, not one of many. This triggered a Twitter storm around the NBA, and created havoc in Cavaliers’ front office, because at this time there was no GM yet. But, it was funny how just three days later, Altman took the reigns.

This also created a lot of drama in the Cavaliers locker room. Not necessarily in between games since it was the summer, but it caused a stir of discussion whether or not the relationship between LeBron James and Kyrie Irving was broken and torn, and if it ever was mutual in the first place.

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None of that mattered as on August 22, the Cavaliers traded Irving to their Eastern Conference rival Boston Celtics, and they got in return a load of talent. Point guard Isaiah Thomas joined Cleveland, along with forwards Jae Crowder and Ante Žižić. The trade was made official on August 30, where Cleveland then received future draft picks from Brooklyn and Miami. So, if it’s one team that lucked out of this trade, it’s Cleveland. You can argue that Boston got a superstar to lead their team and make them more dangerous to beat the Cavaliers, but adding Thomas and Crowder only made Cleveland a better defensive team and a deeper team to beat the rising Celtics.

Thomas has been injury prone recently with an aggravated right femoral-acetabular impingement. He recently tore it again in the 2017 Eastern Conference Finals against Cleveland and has been cautious with doctors of playing on it. Thomas won’t start the season playing, but could be back as early as Christmas, if not before the All-Star Break, making sure his hip is a full go.

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Thomas has been one to have break out games, really making a name for himself playing with Boston. In his debut with Boston, he had a 21-point performance, off the bench! In that first season with the Celtics, he did injure his back, but then came back and had a season high 38-point performance against Detroit. Just last season Isaiah averaged over 25 points per game, and shot 46%. He also had his best playoffs in his career, averaging 23 points in the first round, Eastern Conference Semifinals, and Eastern Conference Finals. He had both a 33 and 53-point performance in the Semifinals against Washington, which ended up being a career defining moment for Thomas.

However, we’ll likely not see him make his Cavaliers debut until late this season. Until then, we’ll see two other new Clevelanders make their debut in the Wine & Gold alongside LeBron. After the Irving trade, Altman and his crew knew they would have to reload losing their All-Star point guard. So, on July 25, the Cavaliers added former league MVP Derrick Rose. That deal was already in the talks way before Irving dropped his bombshell. Then after James’ best friend agreed to a buyout with Chicago on September 24, Dwayne Wade would reunite with his former teammate in Cleveland. That’s adding 37 combined years of NBA experience between James, Rose, and Wade. You can not go wrong with that much experience and leadership on a team.

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Now there are some flaws here though between the two vets in Rose and Wade. First of all, Rose has been plagued by injuries in his career. After winning the MVP in 2011, Rose suffered an ACL injury the following season in the 2012 playoffs. After missing the 2012-13 season, Rose tore his right meniscus. After sitting out the rest of that year, he returned in 2015, only to tear it again. After that, he was traded to the Knicks. But in April of his only season with New York, he tore his left meniscus and is currently trying to rebound from that injury.

Through all of these injuries sidelining the youngest MVP ever, Rose has continued to produce quality numbers in those health plagued seasons. Since 2013, his numbers have continued to rise after they dropped since his first injury. He averaged 17.7 points per game in 2014-15, shooting 40%. He shot 42% in 2015-16, and then averaged 18 points per game last year, shooting 47%. But the Cavaliers are hoping and expecting that he returns to pre-MVP and MVP season caliber Derrick Rose. From 2008 to 2011, he was able to play full seasons. He hasn’t played a full season since. When he would start 81 games, he’d average 25 points per game, with 4 rebounds, 7 assists, and shot 44%. All Cleveland can realistically hope for is Rose getting close to those numbers, producing when he is in with other superstars around him (which will be new to him), and staying healthy for all 82 games.

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As for Dwayne Wade, LeBron’s “best friend forever,” he has not had the same numbers in recent years. Once there was a time where Wade played “hero ball” and was the leader of the team, putting up averages in a season of 27, 24, 30, 26, and 25 points per games. In the two championship seasons with James, he averaged 22 and 21 points per game. And that was expected with other attributes of James and Bosh. But after those years, he has gone down to 19, 21, 19, and 18 points per game in a season. Last year with Chicago was his second worst season since his debut year in the NBA. He can still shoot. He can still drive. And he can still be affective in some way out on the court. But in the past four years he just hasn’t had anyone around him to help him make an impact. Last year’s Bulls team of Jimmy Butler, Rajon Rondo, and Michael Carter-Williams was probably the worst team with the most quality of talent. They just did not mesh well together.

All that being said, the big question is if Wade can find a second home in Cleveland with James, Rose, Love, Smith, and Thompson? That is a huge question for Cleveland and needs to be answered soon in the beginning of the season.

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Enough about the additions to this already stacked team. The Cavaliers will bring back Kevin Love, J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, Tristan Thompson, Channing Frye, and Kyle Korver. They let go of Dahntay Jones, Walter Tavares, Deron Williams, Derrick Williams, traded away Richard Jefferson and Kay Felder, and allowed James Jones to officially retire. But bringing back players in Love, Smith, Frye, and Korver make the Cavaliers a better match from behind the arc against the Warriors, who absolutely love to shoot the three ball. Smith last season shot 35% from behind the arc, compared to shooting 39% and 40% in the two seasons prior with Cleveland. Love shot 37% last season. Frye shot 40% last season, and 37% the season prior. And Kyle Korver, with his unorthodox form, led the NBA last year with a 48% three-point shooting percentage.

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When you add the shooting of Rose, Thomas, and even Jae Crowder who can knock three’s consistently, this year’s team has the makings of an even better offensive team of year’s past. Crowder shot an amazing 39% from three-point land last year, and for a player of his size, that is a dangerous and special asset to have on your team.

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Obviously, with LeBron James leading the way, and Kevin Love as the co-sergeant on the team, it almost feels like championship or bust with these guys. In the Eastern Conference, it’s a joke once again. Atlanta lost all their fire power, getting rid of Dwight Howard, Mike Dunleavy, and Thabo Sefolosha. Toronto will be the same team, not having enough power to take down Cleveland behind Kyle Lowry, Jonas Valančiūnas, and DeMar Derozan. Washington has some promise this year only because of the hyped up talk by John Wall. With Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, and Jodie Meeks, they have a lot of talent to at least make the Eastern Conference Finals. And Boston should get back to the final four even without Thomas and Crowder. They’ve added Irving, young talent in Jayson Tatum from Duke, Gordon Hayward from the Jazz who played under Head Coach Brad Stevens at Butler, and have promising talent with Al Horford and Marcus Smart. Boston will be a fast team this year, and a very interesting team to watch. It’s just hard to comprehend that they have enough in them to take out the Cavaliers.

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With a 90% of getting back to the NBA Finals, the Cavaliers just have to watch out for Golden State, who bring back everyone after their 5th championship season. They’ve resigned Stephen Curry, Shaun Livingston, David West, Andre Iguodala, Kevin Durant, Zaza Pachulia, and Javale McGee. Klay Thompson and Draymond Green are back. And they’ve added special talent in the likes of Nick Young and Omri Casspi. Don’t look now but we could be looking at the first ever fourth NBA Finals in a row that features the same two teams.

Marquee games for the Cavaliers in 2017-2018:

When it comes to key games on the schedule anymore in the NBA, just look at games that feature annual playoff teams. For Cleveland, here they are:

  • October 17: Cavaliers vs. Celtics – Kyrie Irving returns to Quicken Loans Arena, this time wearing the green of Boston.
  • October 24: Cavaliers vs. Bulls – Former Bulls Rose and Wade play their former team as members of the same team.
  • October 29: Cavaliers vs. Knicks – Rose faces off with his former team of last year at The Q.
  • November 9: Cavaliers @ Rockets – Cleveland gets their first taste of the new look Rockets who feature James Harden, Chris Paul, Trevor Ariza, and Demetrius Jackson.
  • December 14: Cavaliers vs. Lakers – LeBron James faces off with rookie phenom Lonzo Ball, and could Lavar Ball make an appearance at The Q? Probably.
  • December 25: Cavaliers @ Warriors – It’s the rematch of last year’s NBA Finals series, but this time Curry gets a look at the new look Cavaliers.
  • January 3: Cavaliers @ Celtics – Kyrie will get to showcase his new home to James and Love in the second edition of the new rivalry.
  • January 8: Cavaliers @ Timberwolves – Aaron Brooks, Jimmy Butler, Jamal Crawford, Taj Gibson, Jeff Teague, Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, and the rest of this rising Minnesota team await the Cavaliers.
  • January 15: Cavaliers vs. Warriors – Cleveland fans get to see this two rivals face off in The Land one more time before they potentially meet again in June.
  • January 20: Cavaliers vs. Thunder – Cleveland gets a look at the new super team in Oklahoma City, featuring Russel Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, and Paul George.
  • February 18: All-Star Game in Los Angeles – With all this talent, how many All-Stars will the Cavaliers have this year? 4?
  • February 25: Cavaliers vs. Spurs – LeBron faces off with his favorite coach in Gregg Popovich and the MVP caliber forward Kawhi Leonard.
  • March 11: Cavaliers @ Lakers – The stars will be out in full force too see Lonzo face LeBron. Could it be a potential sight of the future with both on the same team in LA next year?

Season Prediction: Cleveland Cavaliers win NBA Finals over Golden State in seven games. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2017 Postseason: American League Championship Series Preview

Houston Astros vs. New York Yankees

By Brendan DeVenney

Two franchises that could not be more different historically. On one side, you have the Astros, who have for years been the laughing stock of the league until the past few seasons and have only made one appearance in the World Series, and lost. Yet, on the other side, you have the storied franchise in the New York Yankees. 27 World Series Titles, 40 American League pennants, and 58 Hall of Famers. The Astros have 11 Hall of Famers.

But in 2017, the better team both on paper and talent wise is the Houston Astros. Houston is loaded this year, and after knocking out Boston in the ALDS, they have a ton of momentum after three huge wins over the Red Sox.

Taking a look at their series win over Boston, they won their three games with attitude and vengeance. In Game 1, they got hot and stayed hot getting Jose Altuve going with a three home run game, and Verlander went 6 dominant innings in his Houston Postseason debut. In Game 2, George Springer and Carlos Correa got in on the fun, and Dallas Keuchel got the win with a 7 strikeout night. And in their win in Game 4, Alex Bregman and Carlos Beltran came up clutch with huge at bats in the 8th and 9th innings for their 5-4 win.

The way that Altuve, Bregman, Beltran, Correa, and Springer all hit the ball, this could go down as one of the best lineups in Astros history. These are guys that see the ball well and are patient at the plate. This lineup is dangerous. Just ask Boston pitching.

Plus, their pitching has been dominant, from their starters to their relievers. That is if you don’t count their Game 3 loss. I look at that loss and say that the Fenway Park crowd played a big role in Boston scoring 10 runs. Justin Verlander looks like 2014 Justin Verlander now in his new role with the Astros and Dallas Keuchel is finally getting his shot at pitching on the big stage. Chris Devenski out of the bullpen has two solid appearances with one hiccup in Game 3. And Ken Giles, Houston’s closer, has looked solid in his appearances, as well.

This will be the first time in franchise history that they will play in the American League Championship Series after 50 seasons of playing in the National League. They moved to the AL West in 2013 but haven’t made it this far since. So, this is a historic series for Houston, and a series that reveals a new stage of baseball to a large percent of the Astros’ roster.

As for New York, the Yankees have been here before. That is, the franchise. But most players on New York’s roster this year haven’t been this far in their careers. The last time the Yankees made the ALCS was 2012, where Brett Gardner, C.C. Sabathia, and David Robertson were all on the roster. There are also other veterans who have LCS experience as well, such as Jacoby Ellsbury who has won two World Series titles with the Red Sox. Starlin Castro was on the NLCS Cubs team in 2015.

But for guys like Aaron Judge, Didi Gregorius, Gary Sanchez, Aaron Hicks, and Greg Bird, this is their first taste of American League Championship Series baseball. And from what we saw in the ALDS vs. Cleveland, they are ready for it.

Gregorius has started to become real hot and has shown that he can hit off of All-Star pitching, taking Corey Kluber yard twice in the ALDS. Sanchez also homered twice in the series for three RBI’s, and Hicks went an impressive 7 for 22 with 5 RBI’s, coming up huge in Game 2 despite New York losing that game.

The major concern though for New York is Aaron Judge striking out a whopping 16 times versus the Indians. Now, he won’t get the same caliber of pitching versus Houston, but his struggles at the plate have to be concerning for Joe Girardi. You don’t just come out of a slump like that in one game. However, from what we saw in the Wild Card game against Minnesota, if he sees a pitch he likes, he’ll take you out of the ballpark with one swing and change the game.

As far as the Yankees pitching goes, they impressed everybody in the Division Series, shutting down Cleveland’s lineup. Who knows if that was phenomenal pitching, or just really bad hitting. None the less, the starters of Masahiro Tanaka, C.C. Sabathia, and Luis Severino all answered the bell for New York with strong starts in the final three games. You need the same out of them against this Houston that you know is going to hit the ball, unlike the Indians.

And their bullpen could not have performed any better. David Robertson did not let up a run in his appearances in Games 3 and 5. Aroldis Chapman scared the living day lights out of Cleveland once again in New York’s three wins. And Dellin Betances and Tommy Kahnle are great backup guys when needed.

Houston did win the season series against the Yankees, 5-2. Houston won the series at Yankee Stadium, 3-1, and then beat New York 2-1 at Minute Maid Park. But from what we saw with Cleveland, it doesn’t matter if you win the season series. This is Postseason baseball. Anything can happen.

I look at this series and the only way these teams win is if they win the battle of New York pitching vs. Houston hitting. Houston’s lineup is really dangerous right now, and if the Yankees starters and relievers can keep them in check, then New York has a chance.

Series Notes: 

  • Game 1: Friday, October 13; First pitch: 8:00; Minute Maid Park, Houston, Texas
  • Game 2: Saturday, October 14; First pitch: 4:00; Minute Maid Park, Houston, Texas
  • Game 3: Monday, October 16; First pitch: 8:00; Yankee Stadium, Bronx, New York
  • Game 4: Tuesday, October 17; First pitch: TBD; Yankee Stadium, Bronx, New York
  • Game 5*: Wednesday, October 18; First pitch: TBD; Yankee Stadium, Bronx, New York
  • Game 6*: Friday, October 20; First pitch: TBD; Minute Maid Park, Houston, Texas
  • Game 7*: Saturday, October 21: First pitch: TBD; Minute Maid Park, Houston, Texas

Prediction: New York in 6

 

Thoughts on the Indians-Yankees American League Division Series

Cleveland blows 2-0 lead, Yankees advance to ALCS

By Brendan DeVenney

Major sports franchises (MLB, NFL, NBA), whether or not they want to publicly proclaim it, want drama filled stories in the playoffs and feel good stories to make the sport better. For instance, in the NFL it has been the aging Tom Brady and the Patriots winning Super Bowls like he’s 24 years old. In the NBA, it’s been LeBron James bringing a winning culture to the Cavaliers and the Warriors’ dynasty in the making. In baseball? Well there hasn’t really been one. Yes, the Cubs became America’s team last year winning the World Series, but now it feels like people have forgotten about them quickly. This postseason? It looks like it will be the Yankees.

New York has struggled for the last five years, not really being relevant in Postseason conversation. But now, they’re in the American League Championship Series after a historic comeback in the franchises rich history. Down 0-2 in the ALDS versus the Indians, the Brett Gardner-led Yankees rallied and fought their way to a series win over Cleveland.

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MLB is most likely drooling over the fact that the “Yankees,” the 27-time World Series Champion Yankees, the major market, Jeter-faced, pinstripe, America’s team Yankees, are now four wins away from playing in the World Series for the 41st time. They haven’t played in the Fall Classic since 2009, and for baseball lovers everywhere, for Major League Baseball, and national media combined, this could be the year they get to lavish over New York going for title #28.

This New York team doesn’t really have a ton of big names like Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, or Jorge Posada. Instead they have numerous newcomers in Aaron Judge, Didi Gregorius, Starlin Castro, Greg Bird, Luis Severino, and Gary Sanchez. This is a Cinderella story so far for the Yankees, and they get Houston next after coming back down 0-2. That being said, how did they accomplish a major task against Cleveland? Well, they were handed so many gifts by the Indians, who once again blew a major lead in the Postseason by losing series clinching games.

Cleveland entered the Postseason as a World Series favorite, and after Game 1 it looked like we were watching the same old Indians from their 22-game winning streak. Trevor Bauer threw a stellar outing, and the offense came out hitting to win. But then came the next four games.

In Game 2, Kluber got rocked and didn’t make it out of the third inning. Then the bullpen got rattled, as Mike Clevinger gave up critical runs for the Yankees. Luckily for Cleveland, they had their lone Postseason moment and rallied down 8-3 to win in 13 innings. Francisco Lindor got his first of two hits blasting a grand slam to cut the New York lead to 8-7, Jay Bruce got his second Postseason home run to tie it up, and Yan Gomes ripped a walk-off single down the third base line, creating hallmark, marquee photographs at Progressive Field. With the walk-off, they took a 2-0 lead to New York with a chance to sweep the Yankees. Instead, they got worse.

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In Game 3, Carlos Carrasco pitched a gem and did his job, shutting down the Yankees. Andrew Miller and picked up where he left off, but gave up a crucial solo home run, a home run that would be the game-winning run because the offense turned into a garbage fire. The next three games saw the Indians fall flat on their face at the plate. As the series continued, they kept on getting worse at the plate. Indians batters struck out 11 times in Game 3, 14 times in Game 4, and 16(!) times in Game 5!

And it came at the worst of times, other than Game 4, the Indians had multiple times to take the lead and win the series. In Game 3, Cleveland lost 1-0. That was it. The Tribe left 14 men on base! Jason Kipnis hit a triple to left, but they couldn’t get him home because Ramirez and Bruce were swinging at air, missing everything in sight. Earlier in the game, Austin Jackson and Michael Brantley both grounded into double plays that ended innings and stalled possible scoring opportunities. Overall in that game, the offense was 5 for 30. A pathetic performance for the second best offense in the American League.

In Game 4, it almost seemed as if the Indians were in no man’s land. Cleveland gave up 6 unearned runs to the Yankees!  The defense committed four errors that all led to runs, with two coming from Giovanny Urshela was has been known for his stellar defense at third base. They had their worse defensive performance of the year on the wrong night because the lineup actually contributed with home runs from Carlos Santana and Roberto Perez. If they don’t give up 6(!) unearned runs, they possibly win that game and escape a scare from New York. But instead, here we go back home to Cleveland for Game 5.

Francona set the pitching rotation around Corey Kluber so that if there would be a Game 5, Kluber would be on regular rest. You can’t go against that game plan. Your best pitcher on the team, best in the league, on the mound for a win-or-go-home game. Plus, you’re at home! No matter what happened the past two games, this is what you hope to have going for you. Well, it backfired on the Indians.

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Kluber did not have his stuff, yet again. It wasn’t like he was awful, using his breaking ball a lot efficiently and finishing with 6 strikeouts. But Didi Gregorius figured him out and drilled two home runs (one a two-run blast) in his first two at bats against Kluber. Those three runs would be plenty for New York, because guess what? The offense stunk up Progressive Field and failed to help out their ace. Francisco Lindor went 1 for 4. Jason Kipnis struck out three times. Josè Ramírez went 0 for 3, along with Edwin Encarnacion. Carlos Santana struck out twice going 0 for 4. And this was against 37-year old C.C. Sabathia, whose best pitch is his offspeed pitch! Embarrassing performance by the lineup for the third straight game.

I have two thoughts, and they regard Corey Kluber and the lineup. First on Kluber. Wednesday nights outing was his third straight start where he did not make it past the fourth inning. In Game 7 of the World Series in 2016, he went 4 innings giving up 4 runs on 6 hits, including 2 home runs versus Chicago. I don’t know how you explain that other than is he not fit for the big stage? If not, then he really doesn’t deserve the Cy Young Award if he can’t pitch like he does in the regular season in Postseason games, specifically series clinching games. In 2016, he only got to the seventh inning once, compared to 18 times he went 7-plus in 2016 and 19 times in 2016, and that was with an injury mixed in in May. Kluber has the will and attitude of a regular season pitcher, and has yet to prove himself in the Postseason. Francona and Mickey Callaway need to help this guy if they make it back to the Postseason in 2018.

And on to the lineup. Your best hitters in Lindor and Ramírez were absolutely silent in 5 games going a combined 4 for 38. That is called choking. Both these superstars had slumps in the regular season and got out of them, hitting the ball with fire and vengeance. But that’s supposed to get you ready for the Postseason. And it’s not like they haven’t been here before. They were strong at the plate last Postseason. It was so disappointing seeing them struggle the way they did at the plate. They were chasing everything and weren’t seeing the pitches well at all.

And as for the other men in the lineup, specifically Michael Brantley and Jason Kipnis. I honestly feel as if we should move on from the sympathy show with these two and get something better for these injury plagued All-Stars. They can’t stay healthy. And when they come back, they try acting like they’ve been in the lineup for all 162 games, when in reality they show the attitude of not caring at the plate. Their swings are broken and aren’t working against American League pitching. They wave at everything and are so frustrating to watch. Now, we’ve signed Kipnis through 2020 with a team option, and Brantley has one more year with a team option. I would use that team option if I’m the Indians front office.

LOOKING AT THIS OFFSEASON

Chris Antonetti has a lot to think about this coming offseason. He has to reevaluate who he wants to stay and leave in the starting rotation. You obviously keep Kluber, Bauer, and  Carrasco. We own Kluber through 2020 and Carrasco through 2019. But with Bauer, he has arbitration this upcoming season, so Antonetti has to sign a deal that keeps him. Then you start asking questions about Tomlin and Salazar and Clevinger. How valuable do we see them being in the future? Tomlin’s and Salazar’s contracts are nearing an end and I would so be for getting better starters than those two injury prone hurlers. Guys like Gio Gonzalez or Robbie Ray. I feel like they would be way better than what we have right now.

As far as this offense goes, we need to make a decision on Carlos Santana. What will be the most talked about free agency discussions in the league, it might not be a bad idea to get a better bat for him. His production has dropped from this season to last, and there are plenty of first basemen first agents this offseason to choose from, like Yonder Alonso, Eric Hosmer, and Matt Holiday.

My biggest request from Antonetti this offseason is that he gets rid of Brantley and Kipnis, and fills those holes with better talent. That’s all I ask for.

DON’T BLAME TITO

There were a number of decisions that Francona made this Postseason that were controversial. But they were decisions he has made in the past with other teams and he thought only best for the team. Throwing Bauer in Game 1 worked out. There’s no question that we all thought Francona was the smartest ever after Trevor’s performance. He then decided to keep going with Kipnis in centerfield. Kipnis had shown promise at the plate after coming back from his injury in August and Francona had to have seen that he was getting his groove back or I’m almost positive he wouldn’t have put him in the lineup in center. There may have been one instance in the series where it looked like Kipnis didn’t belong in center, but that was bound to happen and Tito had to have been ready for it. Also, it was a big question if Bauer would be ready to go in Game 4. Why not throw Tomlin? Or Clevinger? Guys that had been rested and experienced starters for going long distance and who have pitched well against this lineup. Well, Francona wanted someone who was in a rhythm and he wanted to get the win and not play New York again. So he went with a guy that was better in games like this than Tomlin or Clevinger. But in the end, you can’t blame Francona for this series loss. He didn’t strike out 41 times in the three losses. He didn’t call Game 5’s awful strike zone. He didn’t catch Lindor’s potential home run in Game 3. He didn’t commit 4 errors and give up 6 unearned runs in Game 4. You can only put full blame on the entire team.

TIP OF THE CAP TO THE YANKEES

I tip my cap to the New York Yankees on playing a phenomenal series and showing us what a team looks like that really wants to win. I fully believe that if the Indians went down 0-2, they would not have enough to come back and win the series in three straight games. New York took advantage of the fact that they still had a possible three games. They calmed down and took game by game and just flat out beat the Indians’ butts. Girardi became a genius in New York after being a scapegoat, and if Judge gets his act together after striking out 16 times and going 1 for 20 in the series, then the Yankees truly have a shot at getting to the Fall Classic.

 

 

Analysis on National League Division Series Game 2

Lights, camera, action! Dodgers are rolling in the Postseason

By Brendan DeVenney

So far it has been a Hollywood story in the Dodgers clubhouse. This Los Angeles ball club is going out and proving that they are not going to falter in October this year, and they showed it again with another game of lighting up the scoreboard.

In Game 2, the Diamondbacks pitching staff struggled all night long, and they gave Los Angeles multiple opportunities to capitalize on offense. None bigger than the fourth inning, where Arizona had a 2-1 lead after a big first inning.

With Robbie Ray on the mound for Arizona, he would let up the Dodgers back in the game. After loading the bases, Ray through a wild pitch to bring home Forsythe, who started the huge inning with a single to left. That would make the game tied at 2-2.

It was then Chris Taylor to deliver the Dodgers’ first lead of the game, ripping a single up into left, Austin Barnes came home to score, and Los Angeles was back clicking leading 3-2.

A one-run lead, however, wouldn’t be enough for the Dodgers’ liking. The very next inning, the Los Angeles lineup erupted again, something they have been known for all year. This fifth inning would be just like any other of their huge innings.

After Ray hit Justin Turner with a pitch, Corey Tovullo would have to take him out of the game and bring in Jimmy Sherfy. Well Sherfy couldn’t help Arizona’s cause either. With two on and one out, the bottom of the lineup started to produce with Logan Forsythe delivering a huge RBI single to left. Then Austin Barnes roped a two-run double to left center, adding the huge blow the Dodgers always have. Yasiel Puig then capped off the inning with a single to left bringing home Barnes to make it 7-2 Dodgers and the punch to Arizona’s gut was officially delivered.

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Diamondback’s Brandon Drury would launch a three-run bomb to the seats in left to start a potential Arizona comeback in the seventh, but Los Angeles’ bullpen would prevent that from occurring.

Could this be the Dodgers’ Hollywood October that they’ve been searching for? With the clutch hitting of their lineup and dominant bullpen helping out their starters after they struggle, the Nationals and Cubs, whoever comes out of that series, should be careful of how they go about their game planning.

For Arizona, their pitching just hasn’t been enough and their experience level is hurting them against a veteran built Dodgers’ roster. I’m no where near writing them off with them going back to their place, but down 0-2, Los Angeles’ momentum is carrying them strong to a potential series sweep.

In Game 3, it’s two of the games best going at in You Darvish for LA and Zack Greinke going for Arizona. That should be a huge test for both starters, and after how Greinke got rocked in the NL Wild Card game against Colorado, he can only get better and have a better start at home and prevent Los Angeles from eliminating the D-backs.

 

Analysis on National League Division Series Game 2

Washington says never say die, evens up NLDS with Cubs

By Brendan DeVenney

We now have ourselves a series between two of the undermined teams in the league. The Nationals proved theirselves in Game 2 of the NLDS with fight and the never say die attitude.

Down 3-1 in the eighth inning, the face of the franchise, Bryce Harper, ignited the Nationals crowd with one swing of the bat, a two-run blast to deep right field to tie the ballgame up at 3-3. Carl Edwards for Chicago was in on the mound at this point, and Joe Maddon had to bring him out and bring in Mike Montgomery in relief. That didn’t work out very well.

With two on and just one out, Ryan Zimmerman would launch a ball a mile high and just a foot over the left field wall to cause bedlam in the nation’s capital, making it 6-3 Nationals. And that score would stand to tie the series up at 1-1.

When you look at this win in Washington baseball history, it’s up there as one of the biggest. The Nats were down 3-1 and two innings away from going down 0-2 in the series and be on the verge of going home early. They have lost intense, important games, such as Game 2 of the 2014 NLDS versus San Francisco where the game went 18 innings only to lose 2-1. And remember, a Nationals team has never won a Postseason series. This ended up being a must win game to not make themselves go down 0-2 into a very hostile Wrigley Field crowd on Monday.

A lot of credit also has to the Washington pitching staff. After Gio Gonzalez got rocked early on, Matt Albers, Sammy Sólis, Ryan Madson, Óliver Pérez, and Sean Doolittle all came in and shut down the Cubs lineup. It was one of the most impressive bullpen managing that Dusty Baker has shown in quite some time, and his relievers all answered the call.

Now, for both teams, comes the decisive Game 3 on Monday in Chicago. The Nationals will look to go up two games to one with Max Scherzer on the mound. The interesting thing about this move by Baker is that Scherzer, over a week ago, tweaked his right hamstring and was listed day-to-day. He was originally supposed to start Game 1, but everything got pushed back in this Nationals rotation. Now he pitches in the biggest Postseason game of his career, not close to being 100%.

The Cubs will throw Jose Quintana out there in their Postseason home opener after having an 11-11 regular season and posting a 4.15 ERA.

 

Analysis on National League Division Series Game 1

Dodgers get huge win versus Arizona behind big night from Turner

By Brendan DeVenney

The Dodgers have not been a Postseason team for a long time. But, on Friday night, they showed that they are looking to rewrite history in October.

The Dodgers’ bats came out hot early on in their NLDS Game 1. Los Angeles cut into Arizona’s World Series hopes early in the first inning with a four run spark. Justin Turner, who has ben a huge addition to this Dodgers’ team for the past four years, started his huge night with a three-run shot off of Taijuan Walker. Then Yasiel Puig, the Cuban hero for the Dodgers franchise, roped an RBI double to center bringing home Cody Bellinger. Walker hasn’t been one of the best pitchers in the National League, and it showed on Friday night getting hit out of the game after one inning.

The offensive onslaught didn’t stop there for Los Angeles in front of their home crowd in the fourth inning. Corey Seager started it with an RBI single to left bringing home Logan Forsythe to make it 5-1 Los Angeles. Then Justin Turner delivered again with a single up into center scoring Chris Taylor, and the Dodgers were rolling 6-1.

After three home runs by Arizona through the sixth and seventh innings, Corey Seager and Justin Turner delivered huge blows to the Diamondbacks potential comeback in the eighth inning, making it 9-4 Dodgers at Dodgers Stadium.

Arizona’s four runs were accounted for all by home runs. So it wasn’t exactly a great pitching performance by either starting pitcher. Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers had a tough night but still got the win, giving up 4 home runs, 5 hits, and striking out seven in 6.1 innings pitched. His Postseason numbers continue to be shaky, now with a 4.63 playoff ERA, and a 4-7 record entering Friday.

But the story of the night was no doubt Justin Turner’s ability to come up huge in the moment. He finished 3 for 4 with 5 RBI’s and drew a walk and was Arizona’s Achilles heel, with none of the Diamondbacks relief pitchers being able to figure him out. No doubt this was his best career Postseason performance.

Arizona and Los Angeles now gear up for Game 2, and it’s a must win for the Diamondbacks to avoid going down 0-2. Robbie Ray goes for Arizona, and he has season Postseason time already after the NL Wild Card game against Colorado. He threw 2.1 innings in relief against the Rockies, so he will only be on three days of rest. For the Dodgers, 12-game winner Rich Hill takes the mound. Los Angeles is looking to go up 2-0 in a playoff series since 2009.