Top 5 Sports Blunders

Athletes can do amazing things.  They physically have the ability to defy logic while in play.  Their gifts are respected, honored and immortalized in history.  But even athletes make mistakes, JR Smith’s recent mistake in Game 1 of the NBA Finals may go down as one of the worst of all time.  It had me thinking what other brain farts on the field were worse.  So here is my top ten Sports Blunders of all time.

5. Ruben Rivera’s worst baserunning ever

Ruben Rivera never really lived up to his cousin Mariano’s family legacy.  A career .216 hitter with little impact in his professional career does have something historic on his resume. Rivera may have the worst baserunning moment in the history of Major League Baseball.  In 2003 while playing for the Giants Rivera was on base in the 9th with the game on the line, Marquis Grissom roped a shot to right field that was overrun by the fielder.  Rivera then proceeded to resort to third grade t-ball status.  It must be seen to be believed.

Rivera gets completely confused around second base, at first unsure about what is happening in the outfield, where the outfielder misplays a line drive.  Once Rivera realizes that the ball is still in play and no out has been recorded, he heads to third, but forgets to tag up at second.  He goes back to do that, and then heads to third, where it looks like he will be out by 10 feet.  However, the third baseman misplays the ball and it kicks away from him.  Eventually Rivera is tagged out and his career was tagged out shortly after.

4. 1982 NCAA Tournament Game:  Fred Brown passes it to the wrong team.

The 1982 NCAA Championships matched two iconic programs fighting it out as Michael Jordan’s North Carolina Tarheels taking on the Patrick Ewing’s Georgetown Hoyas.  This game had everything you could want, future NBA legends, Hall of Fame Coaches and back and forth action.   With 17 seconds left in the game and North Carolina leading 63-62, Georgetown Guard Fred Brown mistook Carolina’s James Worthy for a teammate and passed the ball right to his opponent. Worthy was fouled by Eric Smith with two seconds to go.  With no timeouts left the Hoyas were unable to get the ball down the court after two missed free throws.  In the heat of the moment even the best make mistakes but this one will live on in the memory of Hoya fans as an all time blunder.

3. Leon Lett fumble recovery… sort of.

Leon Lett was a 2-time pro bowl defensive lineman for the Dallas Cowboys during their early 90’s dominate run.  Lett was a dominant force at times for a strong Cowboys defense.  While his playing career had many highlights he is known more for his two massive mistakes. His famous Super Bowl fumble was pretty embarrassing but the Cowboys destroyed the Buffalo Bills so the embarrassing moment was overshadowed by victory

On Thanksgiving day in 1993,  during a rare snow and sleet storm in Dallas, the Cowboys, who came into the game with a 7–3 record, were leading the 8–2 Miami Dolphins by a score of 14–13 with 15 seconds remaining in the game.But instead of allowing the ball to die down and let the refs pick it up, Leon Lett comes rumbling, bumbling and stumbling on top of the ball, squirting it into the arms of shocked Dolphins. Re-kick. The Dolphins take advantage of the second chance and win.

2. Jim Joyce Noooo!

Mental mistakes don’t always just happen to athletes officials some times don’t make the best decisions. On June 2 2010 the Detroit Tigers were taking on the Cleveland Indians in a central division showdown.  The Tigers had Armando Gallarraga on the mound putting on an amazing performance retiring 26 straight Indian batters when Jason Donald stepped up to the plate.  Donald hit a weak ground ball to First Baseman Miguel Cabrera, Cabrera tossed to the covering Gallarraga to complete just the 21st ever Perfect Game in MLB history…..or so we thought.

Veteran umpire Jim Joyce called Donald safe at first thus ending the bid for perfection.  Upon review it showed that he baserunner was out by at least a step and a half.  Joyce, whom was voted as the top umpire in Major League Baseball the year before had just made one of the most epic wrong calls in the history of the game.

Gallarraga never was able to capture the same stuff he had that night, his career ending after a few subpar seasons.  Jim Joyce is still umpiring, but every time his name is brought up you can’t help but think of that call.

1.Chris Webber’s huge mistake

Chris Webber was arguably the best college basketball player in the country during his time at Michigan.  Webber, the #1 ranked recruit going into the 1991-1992 season brought size, speed and athleticism to the power forward position unlike anything the game had seen.  He could run point, post you up and hit jumper in your face while grabbing ten boards a game.  The cornerstone of the historic Fab Five teams college resume will always be tarnished but not because Michigan was forced to bring down the banners.  It will be tarnished for the biggest mental mistake in the history of college basketball.

On April 5th 1993 the Webber’s Michigan Wolverines were in the National Championship game against Dean’ Smith’s North Carolina Tarheels.  With seconds left in the game and the Wolverines down Webber had the ball and charged down court. Then it happened

“Webber brings it into the frontcourt … they have no timeouts remaining … Oh! He calls it, too many timeouts! That’s a technical foul! He called a timeout, and Michigan doesn’t have any!”

North Carolina shot the two technical free throws and sealed up another National Title.  Webber and his teammates had to just watched as for the second year in a row their dreams of a championship would go down the drain.  Webber to this day doesn’t want to talk about the miss timed timeout.  He went on to have a great NBA career, currently one of my favorite NBA Analyst to listen to.  But forever I will remember him as the guy that called the worst timeout in college basketball history

NBA Finals Pick

The world seems bothered by the fourth straight matchup between the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers. As the twitter world screams for diversity I am intrigued by this matchup.   I am intrigued because this could be the potential defining moment for a player and a team.

If the Cavaliers win Lebron James will have his first true argument that he is truly the greatest player ever to play the game.  The Cavaliers currently sit as one of the biggest underdogs in 15 years heading into the finals. Gone is Kyrie Irving — he averaged 29.4 points per game in last year’s series— and the role players that Cleveland brought in have mostly been flops. Rodney Hood has been relegated to the bench, and Jordan Clarkson has shot 30.6 percent from the field in the playoffs. Larry Nance Jr. has been effective as an energy guy off the bench, and George Hill has been a solid starter, though he’s been inconsistent. Others returning players from the 2017 Cavaliers team have been a shell of their former selves.  Kyler Korver, Tristan Thompson and JR Smith bring finals experience but other they will have to play vital roles to have a chance to pull off this epic upset.

If the Warriors can pull off their third championship in four years they can cement themselves as a dynasty.  This is not the same Warriors team the cruised into the finals in 2017 at 12-0. Kevin Durant has been has not been the dominant MVP of last season.  He has averaged 29.0 points, but his postseason shooting has been all-too human, at 47.9 percent from the field and 32.8 percent from the 3-point line. Don’t discount the importance of Durant’s defense, either, especially if Andre Iguadola’s leg contusion keeps him sidelined. Iguodala usually gets the lion’s share of LeBron duties when these teams collide, but Durant could be one of the primary options if Iggy can’t go. The Warriors will also have an interesting matchup for Steph Curry against veteran George Hill.  Hill surprisingly has a 10-4 career record against Curry while also holding a better shooting percentage in those matchups.  If Curry does struggle the Warriors will have to look to their other two All- Stars Draymond Green and Klay Thompson to take on bigger roles.

This matchup has a clear advantage for the Warriors.  They have the depth and star power to sweep this series.  But there has almost been a sense of overconfidence for the Warriors all season.  When the Warriors struggle they let it effect their emotions.  Durant will most likely be taking on the task of holding down the force that is Lebron James.  If he struggles to do so, will that effect his offensive game?  This Warriors team also lacks the proven depth of the past. Relying on Kevin Looney, Quinn Cook and Swaggy P to provide solid minutes off the bench is a serious question mark.

This is the finals everyone expected to see. It is easy to say the Warriors will sweep with ease.  But let’s not jump to conclusions until the games are played.  Lebron has had a chance to rest for a few days and his legacy is on the line.  I think he can carry them to at least one victory.  I would consider myself a Lebron hater, but that does not mean I do not respect the game that masterful performances I have seen in these playoffs.  The Cavaliers do not have the depth to compete with the historically talented Warriors but I am excited to see how this series plays out.

 Warriors in 5

Six Man Rotation Pros and Cons

The St. Louis Cardinals saw a small glimpse of the future this weekend.  Jack Flaherty took the mound and dazzled the Busch Stadium crowd with a masterful performance that has now forced the hands of Cardinals management to make a decision they had thought and possibly hoped they wouldn’t be forced to make in 2018.  Flaherty has solidified himself in the rotation similar to the way Luke Weaver did in 2017, he took the decision away from them with his performance.   The Cardinals now stare at a rotation that features Miles Mikolas, Michael Wacha, Luke Weaver, Jack Flaherty and at the moment Jon Gant.  Formidable as that is the impending return of Carlos Martinez is coming along with a prospect by the name of Alex Reyes…perhaps you have heard of him?  With Gant being the guy most likely to enjoy another bus trip back to Memphis that leaves the birds with an interesting decision.  Six starters, traditionally five spots.  What do they do?  This is a decision that is best handled the old fashion way pros and cons list!

Pros

Six man rotation can save innings for young starters

In a day of Tommy John surgeries being passed around like chicken pox in a kindergarten class room innings restrictions have become the new fun trend of the MLB.  Bulldogs like Nolan Ryan and Cris Carpenter are no longer seemed to exist in a time where players and agents look at the long term over the short.  The Cardinals will feature one of the youngest rotations in baseball with an average age of 25.  They will also feature a rotation that has had its fair share of injuries.  Martinez, Wacha and Reyes stand out as players that have dealt with injuries during their young careers.  While Flaherty, Weaver and Mikolas have all not been featured in rotations for the length of a Major League Baseball season. A six man rotation will allow the Cardinals to limit the innings for the starters will also keeping their starter regiment the same thus not having to worry about transitioning them from the bullpen.

Don’t have to leave an asset in he minors

There seems to be nothing worse for a fanbase then to watch a young talent sit in AAA.  The backlash for Jack Flaherty dominating in Memphis while Adam Wainwright was trying to “find” it at the major league level was frustrating for the fanbase.  Carson Kelly has been another example of a young player that seems to have nothing left to prove at the minor league level but has been blocked by a veteran.  Problem for him is that there is only one player allowed to play catcher per game and that one player for the Cardinals is a potential hall of famer still playing at a high level.  The Cardinals have major league ready starters that have to be played.  Reyes, Weaver and Flaherty cannot waste a year helping Memphis win a championship when they can help the big club bring home a World Series.

Cons

Less starts from your #1

Carlos Martinez, when healthy, is a Cy Young candidate.  He has also graduated to Adam Wainwrights role as a team leader.    Moving to a six man rotation would mean limiting his games started and potentially setting him up for less opportunities down the home stretch of the season.  Limiting your best pitcher is never a recipe for success.

It’s never been done.

The Los Angeles Angels talked about the potential of a six man rotation after signing Japanese sensation Shoehei Otani.  Ultimately deciding not to invest in what I am sure baseball purist see as an abomination to the game.  There is no statistical proof that a six man rotation will improve the likelihood pitcher injuries or improve overall performance.  We live in a baseball world that relies on stats and with no stats to support this strategy then it may as well not be an option.

 

Sabermetrician Russell Carleton wrote that six-man rotations offer few obvious benefits in terms of pitching performance: The extra day of rest doesn’t seem to increase pitcher strikeout rates or reduce walk rates. And, because the extra man entails splitting up the workload among a larger group of people, it tends to dilute the effect of truly great starting pitchers. Over a full season, a six-man rotation results in about 30-50 fewer innings per starter.

The Cardinals have a great problem coming their way when their starters are healthy.  They also have a mind in the dugout like Mike Maddux that can help Matheny transition into a new way of thinking.  Would it be easier to have one of these guys go to the bullpen?  The answer is yes, but would it make your team better to have a potential ace coming in for maybe an inning?  No! I don’t see the Cardinals going with a six man rotation based on the comments from John Mozeliak, but wouldn’t it be cool if for once the Cardinals were at the forefront of alternative baseball thinking.

3 Things Cardinals need while Pena starts

When Yadier Molina went on the disabled list after his unfortunate incident with Kris Bryant and a 101 MPH fastball the time had come for the world to see what prize prospect Carson Kelly was going to bring to the table. For the Memphis Redbirds, the 23-year-old Kelly was slashing .234/.337/.364 with four doubles, two home runs, and 11 RBIs in 21 games. Kelly is the team’s top catching prospect and is rated third overall by MLB.com behind right-handed hurlers Alex Reyes and Jack Flaherty. Kelly’s familiarity with the young pitching staff was thought to be an easy transition. As the Cardinals enter June they have yet again seen another set back at the catching position. Kelly has been placed on the disabled list with a hamstring injury which has forced the Cardinals to rely on the next man up, Francisco Pena.

Son of former Major League All-Star Tony Pena, Francisco will now be called upon to take over the role as primary catcher until Molina is able to return.  Pena was signed from the Baltimore Orioles in the offseason to serve as backup, allowing Carson Kelly to continue to get consistent at bats in the minors. He will now be asked to keep the Cardinals afloat for the next three weeks (hopefully).  The Cardinals currently sit one game out of the NL Central.  Even with the injuries they should still be looking to contend if they can do these three things.

1.) Young arms must prove they are ready at the Major League Level

The Cardinals rank #4 in team pitching ERA despite the loss of veteran Adam Wainwright and ace Carlos Martinez. Miles Mikolas has been everything the Cardinals could have asked for from a preseason #4 starter leading the team in wins (5), innings (51.1) and first among starters in WHIP (1.05). Adam Wainwright has been moved to the 60-day DL which means that Jack Flaherty will finally be a member of the rotation without the worry of one bad inning means he is headed back to Memphis. Flaherty has shown that he has major league stuff after his first two stars. It will be up to the the youth to guide them through the first half of the season. The youngster will have to trust Pena.

2.) Defensive consistency behind the plate

Pena has been used primarily as defense-first organization depth for more than a decade, with the Mets, Royals and Orioles. He is not fleet of foot and has struggled to hit consistently over 11 Minor League seasons. But he brings a strong arm, good receiving skills and fundamentals in spades. The Cards tracked several of Pena’s throws to second this spring in the 1.80-second range, which is considered an elite pop time.

Replacing a multi time gold glover behind the plate is nearly impossible but Pena will give the Cardinals a serviceable replacement for the time being.

3.) Struggling bats will have to step up

Yadier Molina’s offensive output has been great during the 2018 season.  His 6 HR 17 RBI’s have helped pick up the slack of struggling mainstays in the lineup.  Matt Carpenter and Dexter Fowler have to pick up their production. They are the veterans of this team that have the track records.  Harrison Bader and Jose Martinez have been great for the Cardinals but it is time for the guys that were projected to be at the top of the order to play to their potential.  If they don’t Matheny cannot wait for them to come around.  Tyler O’Neal is ready to come up and make an impact.  If the Cardinals are relying on Francisco Pena to help the offense they are going to have a tough couple of weeks ahead of them.

The Cardinals made the right decision leaving prospect Andrew Knizner in the minors.  They must allow him to continue to develop his defensive skills.  If they did bring him up and it didn’t go well you can burn what could be a future asset to the club.  Going with Pena is the only option for the Cardinals, it is up to the rest of the team to get them through these weeks with out their leader.

Grizzlies All-Star Reliever set for new role

In the summer of 2017 Micheal Elwood was in Kansas enjoying a Country Stampede concert.   No longer thinking about continuing his baseball career after a Gateway Grizzlies Manager Phil Warren said that there was no room on the roster for him. “I figured that was the end,” said Elwood. He had accepted that maybe his time as a baseball player was over.  Then right as Chase Rice took the stage Elwood received a phone call  from Normal Cornbelters Manager Brooks Carey.  Carey was calling Elwood to offer him a spot on the Cornbelters roster based on his tryout with Gateway. His time as a baseball player was not over yet.

Micheal Elwood, 25,  spent his college career pitching for Canisius College located in Buffalo, New York.  Originally a shortstop/first baseman made the transition to full time pitcher his sophomore year.  “I was pitching in a summer game in Buffalo and after the game a few scouts came up to me and said every pitch I threw was over 90 MPH. I was shocked.”   The transformation into full time pitcher had become official.  He began to focus on pitching, having his most successful season during his senior campaign finishing with 5-4 record, and a 4.26 ERA having thrown in 57 innings throughout the year.

Elwood struggled through is first Frontier League season finishing with a a 7.12 ERA while appearing in 13 games for the Cornbelters.  Despite the rough start Elwood received an invite back to spring training for the 2017 season. Making the 13 hour trip from his home in Texas to Bloomington, Il ready to make his mark in the Frontier league, another call came from Brooks Carey.  Carey informed Elwood that he had been traded to the Gateway Grizzlies the original team that he had tried out for.  Elwood turned his car around and began to head to Sauget, Illinois.

Elwood made an immediate impact with the Gateway Grizzlies  becoming a force out of the bullpen. Working 32 innings across 21 appearances  with a team-leading three wins against zero loses holding a 3.09 ERA in the first half of the season earning him a spot in the Frontier League All- Star game as one of three Gateway Grizzlies representatives. Elwood continued to impress finishing the season with a 3.05 ERA over 42 appearances.

Entering the 2018 season the Gateway Grizzlies had to fill the void left by departing veteran pitchers, JaVuan West, Will Landsheft, and Vince Molesky.  Starting pitching became a need.  Elwood was given the chance to fill one of the holes in the rotation.  “I realized that I can be most helpful to the organization as a starter. I have a knuckleball that I can use more as a starter.” said Elwood when asked about his new role. “We have so many strong arms at the end of the bullpen and the front of the rotation hopefully I can give us six or seven strong every night.”

Elwood will be entering his third season in the Frontier League, for the first time going into the season with a defined role and high expectations.  “We have five guys in the rotation that have been in pro ball for a long time. I learn from them everyday. I think we have all of the pieces to have a championship team.”

Elwood’s new role has will be tested for the first time Wed. May 16th at the Washington Wild Things.  If all goes to plan he will be making his first home start for Gateway will be their next home stand May 22-24 against the Lake Erie Crushers.

 

Jayson Tatum- Make Basketball Great Again in the STL

The last time the city of St. Louis had a professional basketball team was in 1976.  The ABA’s St. Louis Spirits did not make it into the NBA when the two leagues merged.  As the Spirits left so did the spirit of professional basketball in the Gateway City.  It is time for the city to recapture its passion for the sport by watching one of its native sons emerge on the grandest stage professional basketball has to show.

Celtics GM Danny Ainge made a controversial move when he traded away the #1 overall pick to the 76ers. Washinton’s Markelle Fultz was looked at as the can’t miss star of the draft.  His length and athleticism was thought to be elite on all levels.  Ainge took the gamble moving down to draft Duke Freshman  and St. Louis native Jayson Tatum. Jayson Tatum has emerged as an underrated rookie star for the Boston Celtics. If you are not sure who Jayson Tatum is, he is the guy  from the Imo’s commercials.

While flashier rookies  like Ben Simmons and Donovan Mitchell have been getting the headlines Tatum has quietly brought his team to the verge of the the Eastern Conference finals. Tatum, a graduate of Chaminade Preparatory School in Creve Coeur, Missouri, has given St. Louis sports fans a reason to watch the NBA playoffs.  With key stars, Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward going do with season ending injuries Tatum was forced to take a more prominent role on a team that finished  with the #2 seed in the Eastern Conference. His scoring and defense have transitioned perfectly into the professional level.  Unlike most lottery draft picks Tatum has not been forced to be the savior of the organization.  Instead he was put in a position that allowed him to play a role, he was able to develop throughout rather then burden himself with the weight of the organization.  The regular season went well for Tatum averaging 13.9 PPG, 5 RB, shooting 43% from three and an astounding 53% shooting overall.  Tatum’s production has been taken to the next level for the Celtics in the playoffs.

In Game 1 of the second round series against the third seed Philadelphia 76ers, Tatum had a career-high 28 points in a 117–101 win, becoming the first Celtics rookie to score 25 or more points in a playoff game since Larry Bird (Maybe you have heard of him) during the 1980 NBA Playoffs, also against the 76ers. Tatum continued his strong play in Game 2 of the series scoring 21 points, those points would be the fourth game in a row Tatum reached the 20 point mark, making him the youngest player ever to accomplish that surpassing a guy by the name of Kobe Bryant (Maybe you have heard of him).  Brad Stevens has been called the best coach in the NBA for his ability to develop players, having them exceed expectations by putting them in a place the helps them excel.  The best example of the Stevens approach has been the production of Jayson Tatum.

St. Louis has had its fair share of NBA talent over the last few years.  Players like Larry Hughes, Darius Miles, and Bradley Beal have made an impact at the NBA level but Tatum is showing that he may end up being the best of the bunch.  He goes about his business quietly and professionally.  He plays in a major market and will be put in the spotlight as he develops and he will develop under the leadership of Brad Stevens.  Next season the Celtics may be the favorite in the Eastern Conference when their injured stars return but for now Tatum is the guy leading the charge of the dynamic Boston offense.  Tatum is the star that the St. Louis fan base needs, giving the fanbase a player and a team to follow.

Tatum is becoming the face of St. Louis basketball.

 

 

Pham leading off makes sense

The St. Louis Cardinals lineup debate has been centered around the struggles of Matt Carpenter and Dexter Fowler. Both players have spent time in the leadoff spot for the majority of their careers, because of this the casual fan has this predetermination that they have to be at the top of the lineup to be effective.  That isn’t what makes sense right now in the Cardinals lineup.  During the two game series with the Chicago White Sox, Mike Matheny decided to put Tommy Pham in the leadoff spot.  While the offense didn’t explode, it could be the move that ends up making the Cardinals better offensively the rest of the 2018 season.

When the St. Louis Cardinals signed Dexter Fowler in December, 2016, they were wanting a player with speed who could get on base at the top of the lineup.  This would allow the Cardinals to shift Matt Carpenter to a more RBI-producing role in the middle of lineup that they believed he was better suited for.  The Cardinals abandoned that approach early in 2017 more out of necessity than anything else.  Opening the 2018 campaign, Matheny decided that it was time to put Fowler back in that role in order to accommodate his new toy Marcell Ozuna in the number four spot in the order.  It did not hurt that the top four in the lineup would now feature switch hitter, right handed hitter, left handed hitter and right handed hitter 1-4 in the lineup.  The traditionalist that Mike Matheny is assumed this would cause problems for opposing managers late in games. Matheny’s plan made sense to start the season but with the struggles of Fowler much like 2017, Matheny has been forced to make a change to his lineup once again.

Matt Carpenter was not the leadoff batter for the Cardinals last season until June 7. Once June 7 hit, so did Carpenter. His xwOBA (Execpted Weighted On-base Average)was a solid .368 and his wOBA (Weighted On-Base Average) was 20 points higher at .388, indicating Carpenter’s results might have been a bit lucky. In 2018, Carpenter has seen his luck change a bit even though most advanced statistics have stayed the same and some have improved according to baseballsavant.com. It took Carpenter awhile to find his groove in 2017, I look for him to turn it around as the season goes on.  If he continues to barrel the ball at at 17% rate he will eventually find the holes in the defense.  So the question is why not put Carpenter in the lead off spot?

Screen Shot 2018-05-03 at 3.39.59 PM.pngScreen Shot 2018-05-03 at 3.39.41 PM.png

The answer is no, with Matt Carpenter in the two hole Tommy Pham can feel free to take off whenever he sees an advantage.  Carpenter famously likes to take pitches,  at times seems to prefer to hit with a few strikes on him.  Carpenter’s patience can be a virtue.  The more he takes the better read Pham can get on a pitcher which will allow him to utilize his speed.   With Pham on the move, it can move the defense out of their lefty shift opening up more hitting lanes for Carpenter.  The argument for Carpenter continues to be that he only hits while in the leadoff spot.  His stats do prove the historically he is a better hitter in that spot. Is is just that he can’t hit anywhere else or is it that he has never been given a chance to prove himself anywhere else for long enough?

The movement of Tommy Pham into the lead off spot will allow the Cardinals to put their most productive hitter in a position to get more at bats.  Pham’s .330 BA, .447 OBP both lead the club.  Pham will also be able to move on the base paths more freely while hitting in the lead off spot.  Matheny has to find a way to spark the offense. Tommy Pham is the spark that can light the offensive fire.  He can bring immediate energy to the team similar to the way he lead off the first game of the White Sox series.  Mike has to continue to let this play out.  Carpenter will adjust and Fowler will benefit from the move.  Fowler will be able to let his swing loose and utilize his power from both sides of the plate.  A free swinging Fowler at this point in his career is his best option.  Tommy Pham leading off makes sense for him and for the team as a whole.

 

 

 

Raptors/Cavs- Raptors Best Chance

The Toronto Raptors were able to fend off the Washington Wizards in the first round of the East Conference playoffs setting up a matchup with their nemesis The Cleveland Lebron James’s. Cleveland has ended the Raptors playoff runs two years in a row including an embarassing sweep during last years conference semi-finals .LeBron James averaged 36 points in that sweep for Cleveland and carried his squad through a seven-game battle with the Indiana Pacers in the first round by pouring in 34.4 per game, including 45 in the 105-101 clincher Sunday.

The key to this series is and always will be Lebron James.  Can he continue to hold up a Cavaliers team that has been uninspiring through its first round series.  The evolution of the Raptors game has been a bright spot for them this season leading to a number one seed in the Eastern Conference.  Moving away from the simple pick and roll offense of years past into a more ball movement offense has changed the way the play.  Home court advantage in this series will also be a huge advantage, the Raptors were tied for the best home record in the NBA while at best the Cavaliers were mediocre to say it best.  If the Raptors can jump out to an early 2-0 lead in the series it could deflate the psychie of an already mentally drained king.

The Cavaliers do have some hope, the emergence of Tristan Thompson in game seven could breath some fresh air into a team badly in need of a change. The Cavaliers also will likely have a healthy George Hill for the series, something the missed very much in the first round.  His defensive ability will be huge against the Raptors star front court. But all of the role players in the world mean nothing if Lebron doesn’t carry the load. He has had little help from teammates in the postseason — Kyle Korver was often the Cavs’ second-best player until Tristan Thompson’s revival on sunday— and has had to carry Cleveland to this point. In the Cavs’ first three wins of the series, they needed 46, 32 and 44 points from James to get the W, plus 45 points in a tough game seven.

The Raptors have their best chance to dethrone the East’s top dog and they have to take advantage of this chance right now.  With the young Sixers continuing to get better and the Celtics getting back a healthy Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward next year the Raptors window for Eastern Conference greatness is quickly closing.  The question on everyone’s mind is whether the Raptors mentally have what it takes to overcome their past.  Can they forget their history and pull off what many outside of Vegas would consider an upset?  They have the star power, the bench and the experience to do it.  They have to prove it.

Raptors in 7

Check out more live tweets @Italksportsandti.

 

Cardinals/ White Sox Preview

The Cardinals look to rebound from a frustrating weekend as they head to Chicago to take on the young White Sox. The Cardinals find themselves in a situation where they need to come out and create their own momentum heading into their first matchup with the Chicago Cubs at home.  They have the perfect team to help them forget about their trouble in Pittsburgh.

St. Louis will have the difficult task not looking ahead.  Talk in St. Louis will be about the anticipation of the second round of the Cards/Cubs showdown. The Cardinals have to stay focused on the task at hand, taking care of business against a team they should beat.  The Chicago White Sox enter this two game series with a record of 8-18.  Five of those eight victories were against the the lowly Kansas City Royals.  The Cardinals need to take advantage of a White Sox team that is currently having a season long tryout camp to find out who they will be building their organization around for the coming years.

The White Sox are currently in tank mode, cutting bait with essentially all veteran personal.  The salary cuts and trading of assets has paid off for the White Sox. MLB Pipeline and Baseball America each released their latest organizational rankings  anointing the White Sox as the top system among baseball’s 30 teams. The White Sox also received the No. 2 farm system ranking from Baseball America behind the Atlanta Braves. While the White Sox wait for super prospects Eloys Jimenez, Luis Robert and Dylan Case, they currently sport some of previous years top prospects on their roster.  Yoan Moncada, Nicky Delmonico, Yolmer Sanchez and Matt Davidson have been put into the starting lineup on a day to day basis in order to find out what the team has for the future.

The White Sox will send one of their last veterans to the mound, James Shields will take the hill in game one of the series.  Shields has been a punching bag for opposing lineups in all for most of the year up until his most recent start.  Shields will look to build on a solid outing on Wednesday against the Mariners. He worked six innings and allowed six hits and four runs, but he wound up taking a 4-3 loss.  The loss dropped Shields record to 1-3 with an ERA of 6.14.  Opposing Shields in game one of the series will be Micheal Wacha. Wacha conquered some lingering command issues in his last start vs. the Mets, when he struck out eight against one walk. He’s won four straight starts. The victory for Wacha brought his record to 4-1 3.62 ERA.

In game two of the series the White Sox will send one time Nationals prospect Lucas Giolito to the mound against Cardinal ace Carlos Martinez.  Giolito, the prize of the Adam Eaton deal last winter, has yet to establish himself as a major league starter holds a 1-3 record with a 7.71 ERA.  Giolito has limited opponents to a .240 batting average, but he leads the team with 21 walks. The 26-year-old Martinez got tagged on Opening Day but has been sensational since, yielding two earned runs over 33 1/3 innings while striking out 35. After walking 17 in his first five starts, Martinez didn’t give up a free pass in his last outing.

The White Sox enter this series with a team ERA of 5.08 which sits third in the American League and fourth overall.  The southersiders have had an issue holding down their home field advantage during the 2018 season holding a record of 2-10 at Guaranteed Rate Field.  The Cardinals need to walk in angry after suffering a sweep at the hands of division rival Pittsburgh over the weekend.  They will have a chance to feast on two pitchers that have continually struggled the first month of the season.  Having the advantage at pitcher in both games of the series should set them up to be successful.  Allowing for the DH to come into play should also help the Cardinals as double switch machine Mike Matheny’s questionable decisions should be taken out of his hands going into this series.

No team can ever be overlooked in the Major Leagues but heading into this matchup I would like to see the Cardinals come out and continue to dominate lesser competition.  I expect the Cardinals to win game one 7-4  and the second game 3-1 after a strong performance from Carlos Martinez.  The Cardinals need momentum heading into the Cubs series, they also need to have a rested bullpen.   If they can get a strong performance from Martinez in the second game of the series, accompanied by an extra day of rest the Cardinals could be set up for a great weekend against the Cubbies.