Midwest RegionalIN BRIEFGame to watch: No. 7 Wichita State vs. No. 10 Indiana (84.6) at 2:45 p.m. on CBSUpset alert! No. 12 Buffalo (32 percent) vs. No. 5 West Virginia at 2:10 p.m. on TNTMost lopsided matchup: No. 2 Kansas (89 percent) vs. No. 15 New Mexico State at 12:15 p.m. on CBSIN DEPTHWichita State (72 percent win probability) vs. IndianaPlayer to watch: Fred VanVleet, Wichita StateA year removed from a magical, near-undefeated season, Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall has led the mid-major standard-bearers to a round-of-64 game against Indiana, thanks to an excellent, balanced team. Both teams are great at protecting the basketball (and Indiana is one of Division I’s worst defenses at forcing takeaways), so don’t expect this game to be decided by points off turnovers. Instead, the Hoosiers’ path to the upset would seem to involve — what else? — 3-point shooting, a skill in which they ranked 7th nationally during the season. But Indiana also has a very shaky defense that placed among the bottom half of all Division I schools, and it could prove the ultimate liability against a Wichita State squad that shoots and rebounds well on offense and hardly ever gives the ball away. West RegionalIN BRIEFGame to watch: No. 8 Oregon vs. No. 9 Oklahoma State (82.5) at 6:50 p.m. on TBSUpset alert! No. 9 Oklahoma State (59 percent) vs. No. 8 OregonMost lopsided matchup: No. 1 Wisconsin (98 percent) vs. No. 16 Coastal Carolina at 9:20 p.m. on TBSIN DEPTHOregon vs. Oklahoma State (59 percent win probability)Player to watch: Phil Forte, Oklahoma StateOregon is the No. 8 seed, with a 25-9 record, but our model has 18-13 Oklahoma State favored, with a 59 percent probability of pulling the “upset.” Why? The Ducks are a small, one-dimensional team with a great offense but a vulnerable defense, while the Cowboys have greater balance, better size and the stronger backcourt combination with Phil Forte and Anthony Hickey. (Oklahoma State also played the tougher schedule during the season, which accounts for its superior power rating despite an inferior record.) Oregon’s chances, then, might depend on the play of big man Jordan Bell — a relative offensive non-entity but one of the nation’s top defensive players. His ability to block shots and shore up the Ducks’ interior defense could make him an equalizing force against the Cowboys. South RegionalIN BRIEFGame to watch: No. 7 Iowa vs. No. 10 Davidson (a harmonic mean of 83.6) at 7:20 p.m. on TNTUpset alert! No. 9 St. John’s (42 percent win probability) vs. No. 8 San Diego State at 9:40 p.m. on CBSMost lopsided matchup: No. 1 Duke (98 percent) vs. No. 16 Robert Morris at 7:10 p.m. on CBSIN DEPTHIowa (62 percent win probability) vs. DavidsonPlayer to watch: Aaron White, IowaIowa has an experienced, balanced team with great size, and its dynamic front-court duo of Aaron White and Jarrod Uthoff will be difficult for Davidson to match. It’s in the top 40 in both offense and defense, according to Ken Pomeroy, dean of college basketball stats.For the Wildcats to win, they probably need to catch fire from the 3-point arc: During the season, Davidson ranked 16th among Division I schools in 3-point accuracy and ninth in the percentage of field-goal attempts devoted to 3-pointers. We give Iowa a 62 percent chance of moving on, but Davidson’s long-distance shooting prowess does give it a fighting chance at the upset. That and its apparent love of advanced basketball statistics. After an upset-filled opening Thursday, the 2015 NCAA men’s tournament rolls on with 16 more games Friday. The marquee matchups of the day aren’t quite as strong as they were Thursday, but there are a few good 7-versus-10 games to keep an eye on, as well as an 8-versus-9 pairing (Oregon vs. Oklahoma State) pegged as a likely upset by our model and a compelling tossup between Providence and play-in winner Dayton.Read on for more of what to look for in the NCAA tournament Friday. East RegionalIN BRIEFGame to watch: No. 7 Michigan State vs. No. 10 Georgia (84.4) at 12:40 p.m. on TruTVUpset alert! No. 11 Dayton (49 percent) vs. No. 6 Providence at 9:57 p.m. on TruTVMost lopsided matchup: No. 2 Virginia (96 percent) vs. No. 15 Belmont at 3:10 p.m. on TruTVIN DEPTHMichigan State (62 percent) vs. GeorgiaPlayer to watch: Denzel Valentine, Michigan StateWe’ve written before about the incredible record of Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, who has led the Spartans to six Final Fours (and was about 16 minutes away from a seventh last March) starting from a collection of seeds unlikely to produce that many deep tourney runs. History may not repeat this year, though; Michigan State is a No. 7 seed (no Izzo Final Fours have come from a seed worse than 5th). Even Georgia is a tough draw — a matchup between the Spartans’ offense (15th-best, according to Pomeroy) and the Bulldogs’ defense (24th). Georgia’s style of play isn’t necessarily ideal for producing upsets, though — the team doesn’t shoot a lot of threes or force a lot of turnovers, which are some of the gambling hallmarks of strong underdog candidates. Still, Michigan State has its own Achilles’ heel: free throws. The Spartans were one of the worst foul-shooting teams in Division I, and it wouldn’t be surprising if that weakness becomes a real factor if the game comes down to the wire.
Serena Williams, the future No. 1 player in the world come Monday, was defeated in the Qatar Open finals on Sunday by defending champion Victoria Azarenka 7-6 (6), 2-6, 6-3.Azarenka ended her 10-match losing streak against Williams to earn her 16th title. She had not defeated Williams since 2009, and had a 1-11 record against her going into Sunday’s final. But Azarenka has been on a roll lately, winning her last 14 matches, which included her second Australian Open title.“It feels incredible,” Azarenka told The Associated Press. “You know, this tournament is really great. … It had such a strong field going into it, and I’m really glad that in the end of the week I’m the one who’s holding the trophy.”Williams stumbled from the beginning of the match. She was unable to impose her fierce serve throughout the first set. Williams had a dismal 26 unforced errors. Despite her horrific start, Williams managed to stay in the first set of the game with a set point at 6-5 in the tiebreaker. Ultimately, Azarenka won the first set after Williams hit a poor forehand into the net.Williams managed to bounce back in the second set, capitalizing on her potent serve and forehand. Azarenka only managed to hit 39 percent of her first serves.In the final set, Williams had control of the first game. Azarenka fell behind quickly 0-30, but administered a comeback to take a 3-0 lead. Williams made one last effort to stay in the match by saving a match point at 5-2, but Azarenka clinched the victory when Williams hit a forehand wide.“I just wanted to fight and give it my best, give myself every opportunity I can,” Azarenka said.Williams saluted Azarenka’s performance, but it was apparent that she was not at her best. She was still recovering from a right ankle injury that bothered her at the Australian Open and appeared to be managing a cold. Williams needed three sets to beat Petra Kvitova in the quarterfinals.“This whole week, I just don’t think I played my best tennis, and I was fighting every match,” Williams told The Associated Press. “I can’t play that quality game against a top player like Victoria. I have to be able to pick up my game, and I wasn’t able to do that today. I stayed at a two out of a 10, and I can’t play that low.”However, Williams smiled when asked about her return to No. 1 ranking in the world.“It was such a long journey, and after winning Wimbledon and the U.S. Open and the (WTA) Championships, I thought, I just don’t think I can win anymore,” she said. “I don’t know what it takes to be No. 1. So it was awesome to come here and achieve that goal.”Williams could easily lose the ranking next week in Dubai to Azarenka if she does not make it to the finals and Azarenka does.Another rematch would put the top two players in the world against each other once again.
Photo by espn.com/goThe Giants fan, 48-year-old Alexander Poulides, insists he did not intend to throw a banana at the Baltimore Orioles’ Adam Jones after doing just that.Jones, who is black, did not take kindly to the act—which had strong racial tones.Poulides told the San Jose Mercury News that he grabbed a banana off a catering cart at AT&T Park and threw it toward the field in frustration near the end of the Orioles’ 10-2 victory over the struggling Giants. That says a lot about a grown man right there.The banana landed in the vicinity of Jones, who angrily tweeted about the incident following the game, criticizing people who apparently defended the incident and hinting that he may no longer participate in social media.Poulides said he had no idea of the controversy until he got home and watched the local news.“Oh, my god,” Poulides told the newspaper he thought when he watched the broadcast. “I threw a banana on my way out. . . I’m embarrassed and shocked by the outcome. In hindsight, I wish I didn’t do it and I apologize. I’m very sorry.”“It’s unfortunate that things happen like that,” Jones said ,”but it ain’t going stop me, myself and the Orioles, We have games to win. It’s mid-August. I’ve got a bigger concern in my head than someone’s ignorance or act of whatever. You know what I mean?”The Giants released a public statement earlier Monday, saying:“We were extremely disappointed to learn about the incident involving Adam Jones at AT&T Park yesterday. The Giants have a zero tolerance policy against this type of behavior, which results in immediate ejection from the ballpark. While we have been investigating the matter since we learned of the situation, unfortunately we have been unable to identify the person responsible.“We would like to extend our sincerest apologies to Adam and the entire Orioles organization for this unfortunate incident. The inappropriate actions of this individual in no way reflect the values of our organization and our fans.”Jones, who scored a home run and had four RBIs in the game, tweeted to his more than 129,000 followers: “I want to thank whatever slapd— threw that banana towards my direction in CF in the last inning. Way to show ur class u jacka–.”
The freeze on this year’s class of free agents is alarming. For one thing, it took much longer than usual for a team to break the free-agent ice. And, aside from a brief acceleration during the winter meetings in mid-December, the pace of signings has been markedly slower than normal — particularly early in the offseason, when the biggest flurry of signings usually takes place.Only the 2008-09 offseason, when just 53 percent of top-40 players were signed by this stage of the winter, came close to lagging as much as the current slowdown. And even then, most of the biggest available names had already been signed by this point in the offseason. Granted, three of those (Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett) were all picked up by spendthrift Yankees. By contrast, the current Yankees made their big splash in the trade market, where they acquired Giancarlo Stanton, and the team is now trying to squeak in under the luxury-tax threshold rather than adding free agents. Perhaps in the past, slow free-agent classes could always count on the Yankees to open the pocketbook and keep the money flowing — but not this year.Before we jump to any conclusions about the owners being in cahoots, it’s worth noting that many of the explanations for this year’s issues contain at least a kernel of truth. This class of free agents is indeed mediocre — in terms of wins above replacement2Using an average of the WAR metrics found at FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference. produced by top-40 players in their previous three seasons, this is the worst crop of available talent since at least 2006.3Looking only at the most recent previous season improves this group’s standing slightly, bringing it up to sixth out of the 12 free-agent classes I examined. At the top of ESPN’s free-agent rankings, ace starter Yu Darvish is as good as any prized free agent from yesteryear, but many of the names further down the list come with legitimate issues, including Jake Arrieta’s declining value, J.D. Martinez’s inconsistent defense and Alex Cobb’s durability.It’s also true that more teams are tanking now than in years past. And the proliferation of statheads in MLB front offices over the past decade could explain why teams are no longer scrambling to offer big free-agent contracts to players who are already past their primes.As Yahoo’s Jeff Passan wrote in an excellent column last week, that final point is part of a bigger issue with the fundamental way baseball’s economics works, particularly as younger players generate more and more of the game’s on-field value. But if teams are suddenly realizing the folly of free agency, it’s also worth asking why they’ve chosen to simultaneously make their stand this year. (Bad deals still got made last season, though perhaps not as many as in the past.) The alternative explanation — collusion — is notoriously difficult to prove, however, and seems like an unbelievable risk for a group of owners who are already making money hand over fist.But the simple truth is that we don’t really know why the market for free agents is so sluggish this year. We can only prove that it is indeed historically slow-moving — and that fact alone demands an explanation. Something strange is happening with the baseball hot stove this winter. Not only is it not hot, it almost seems like it’s off.Available stars who would ordinarily have been snapped up long ago are still sitting on the shelf, which has the MLB Players Association panicking — and looking for answers. Is this simply a weak class of free agents? Have all 30 teams finally figured out that spending boatloads on veterans is usually dumb? Is the gap between contending and tanking teams to blame? Or is it just — gasp! — collusion, like the kind owners engaged in three decades ago?It’s difficult to pin down exactly why this offseason has proceeded so slowly. But the sluggish pace it has taken is quantifiable — and eye-catching. I gathered data on ESPN’s top 40 free agents1For all players ranked 40th or better on ESPN’s yearly free-agent rankings. In some years, the rankings skipped numbers, presumably because some players were ranked but did not actually hit free agency. This means that the top 40 doesn’t always include a full 40 players. for each winter going back to the 2006-07 offseason and tracked how many days it took after the end of World Series before those top players were signed. (Players technically become free agents the morning after the World Series ends.) For instance, today is Day 82 since the Astros beat the Dodgers in Game 7 of the Fall Classic, and only 43 percent of the top 40 free agents — including only two of the top 10 — have put pen to paper. How abnormal is that? Between 2006 and 2016, the average offseason saw 76 percent of the top 40 free agents inking deals by Day 82 of the offseason.Here’s what this offseason looks like so far compared to how long it usually takes for top free agents to sign:
sara.ziegler: What, if anything, can the Blazers do to turn the tide as the series heads back to Portland?chris.herring: I think it goes without saying that they did enough to win Thursday.You’d imagine they can control the tempo better at home than they did at Oracle, where the Warriors play extremely fast and in transition during those ridiculous comebacks. I think maybe Terry Stotts would call timeout when he feels one of those runs coming on. And they need to clean up some mistakes, in terms of fouling and taking care of the ball. Andre Iguodala made a great steal on Lillard on the final play, and Lillard had that pretty brutal foul on Steph while he was shooting a three late.tchow: I’m actually not sure what else they can do. They played well on Thursday and still lost. I feel for Portland fans, I really do. But our predictions give them a 6 percent chance of making it to the finals which seems … high?chris.herring: Realistically, unless Golden State has another major injury, that was probably it. I don’t see a whole lot of adjustments for a scenario where you were in control most of the game. You just have to finish the game. Period.natesilver: I guess the one piece of good news for Portland is that it’s not obvious that KD’s going to play any time soon.tchow: Chris mentioned that they needed another huge bench performance to have a chance, but both Rodney Hood and Seth Curry had pretty decent games. I don’t know where else it could come from. Zach Collins?sara.ziegler: Meyers Leonard! He had a pretty good game.chris.herring: Collins had five fouls in eight minutes yesterday, somehow. Leonard was impactful, though.tchow: Yeah, some of those Collins fouls were bad fouls, too.chris.herring: That’s why it’s hard to see Portland doing this: Everything seems really scattered right now.Also, props to Draymond Green for raising his game to a ridiculous level lately. You can’t mention the Warriors looking like the Warriors of old without talking about how incredible he’s been on both ends.natesilver: Maybe Draymond secretly hates KD and so ups his effort level when KD is out?sara.ziegler: LOL. I kind of want that to be true. Since the NBA is just a soap opera, at its core.tchow: “The Plays of Our Lives”I’m sorry.sara.ziegler: OMG, yes.Moving on to the East: Chris, you wrote after Game 1 that the Raptors would likely be kicking themselves for letting that get away from them. How important was that outcome to the series?chris.herring: Not nearly as much of a killer as Game 2 for Portland. But still potentially big.There’s that saying that a series hasn’t begun until a road team wins a game. And on some level, that may be true. I just think that if you’re going to beat Milwaukee, it makes sense to grab the winnable game when it’s there. And the Bucks played really poorly in some regards, yet they still won. They are a complete team, whereas the Raptors look very stilted on offense at times.And it’s part of why I continue to like Milwaukee’s chances of winning this whole thing.tchow: It’s been really impressive seeing how well the Bucks have continued to play when Giannis Antetokounmpo is not on the floor.natesilver: The thing I’d hate if I were a Raptors fan is that I felt like my team played pretty well in Game 1, and it still wasn’t enough. Obviously, not everything was perfect — the cold shooting in the fourth quarter — but it felt like a relatively fair contest.chris.herring: Yeah. I guess there are two ways to view it:1) Lowry is probably never going to shoot like that again.2) There’s probably no way they’ll ever get less of a contribution from the rest of the team than they did in Game 1.tchow: 3) Brook Lopez will not have a game like that again.sara.ziegler: Lopez was EVERYWHERE.chris.herring: I’m not completely sure about No. 3! If Toronto doesn’t go smaller, the Raptors are going to have to sacrifice something defensively. I don’t know that he’ll have almost 30 again, but the Raps are going to dare Brook and guys like him to prove they can make that shot as opposed to letting Giannis run wild in the paint.That’s the risk.sara.ziegler: To your second point, Chris, you can’t imagine a scenario happening again where no Raptor aside from Lowry makes a single shot in an entire quarter.chris.herring: Yeah, those stats — 0 for 15 aside from Lowry in the fourth, and 1 for 23 in the second half outside of Lowry and Leonard — were some of the more insane ones I’ve ever seen.And the one second-half basket that someone else made was a buzzer-beating 3 by Pascal Siakam in the third! One he wouldn’t have even taken if not for how much time was left.tchow: The last time Lopez had a double-double while scoring more than 20 points was … one second, I’m still scrolling up on Basketball-Reference.sara.ziegler: LOLchris.herring: That part is true. But him scoring a bunch wouldn’t shock me based on how they’re defending him. Brook isn’t the biggest rebounder, in part because he’s more concerned with boxing out and making sure a teammate collects the miss. (But also, their minutes are longer in the playoffs, meaning he’ll have more chances.)tchow: Found it! Nov. 3, 2017, when he was on the Lakers. And it was the Lopez revenge game because they played the Nets.chris.herring: Remember: Milwaukee was 11 of 44 from three! That’s 25 percent. So the Bucks left a ton of points on the table. And many of them were wide-open shots.As I was saying, I think Toronto may want to consider playing a little smaller. That would potentially crank up the tempo to a level Lopez isn’t comfortable with, and potentially give him more defensive responsibility, to where he has to come out farther to defend.natesilver: I dunno, I feel weird about slicing-and-dicing the Raptors’ shooting stats into so many little pieces. Overall, they shot 15 of 42 on threes, which is pretty average/good.chris.herring: Lowry was 7 of 9 by himself!natesilver: They didn’t shoot great on twos, but a lot of teams don’t do that well against MIlwaukee. They made 85 percent of their free throws.chris.herring: The other Raptors will likely shoot better. But Milwaukee did plenty to make Kawhi Leonard get his points. This team is really great at pushing star scorers to drive with their weaker hand.tchow: Sixers should take note. Too soon?sara.ziegler: LOLchris.herring: The statistics illustrated that in Game 1. Leonard drove 15 times, and 11 of them were to his left. During the season, he drove to his right a little more than 57 percent of the time.sara.ziegler: That seems to be a huge focus for the Bucks — and it looks like it’s paying off. But again, the Raptors almost stole Game 1. It would be huge for them to get Game 2 tonight.chris.herring: Agreed.While I still think Milwaukee is clearly the stronger team in this matchup, I wouldn’t be foolish enough to say that Toronto is out of this, regardless of what happens tonight. This is a more evenly matched set of opponents than with Portland and Golden State, clearly.sara.ziegler: So let’s end on some soft predictions. How long will each series go?tchow: I’m predicting a gentleman’s sweep for the Western Conference finals.natesilver: Yeah, five games seems like the smartest bet.sara.ziegler: It would be only fair to the Curry parents.tchow: I believe Dame and CJ can do enough to get at least one win in Portland.chris.herring: Agreed on the West.In the East, I’ll go six, with the Bucks winning. Though if Milwaukee wins tonight, I wouldn’t be shocked if they closed it in five.natesilver: I’m going to go seven games for the East. Despite what I said earlier about Game 1 being a bearish indicator for Toronto, I still think they’re a liiiiiiittttle underrated, and Nick Nurse probably has more ways to make adjustments than Mike Budenholzer does.tchow: I think it’ll be Bucks in six, too.natesilver: I have a hot take.sara.ziegler: 🔥natesilver: Steve Kerr’s comments about Kevin Durant’s injury sound fairly ominous.WHAT IF DURANT HAS PLAYED HIS LAST GAME FOR THE WARRIORS?!?!?sara.ziegler: Ooooooohtchow: * searches in google * Durant Knicks jerseychris.herring: That doesn’t sound as crazy to me as some people might think.If it’s a more serious strain, and it’s closer to a month than it is a one-week or two-week injury, then the NBA Finals or the middle of the finals would be more realistic for him.But if the finals aren’t competitive …natesilver: So Knicks fans should be rooting for a Warriors sweep?chris.herring: I don’t know. It would be really interesting. If the Warriors win easily without him, it would be weird for him to stay if he wants validation. If the Warriors LOSE, it gets interesting. Because, obviously, the last time the Warriors lost, he went and signed with them.tchow: I just really want Curry to win his first finals MVP trophy.sara.ziegler: Would THAT push KD to the Knicks?natesilver: I think the BEST-case scenario for the Knicks would be if the Warriors are like up 3-1 over Milwaukee in the finals, and then KD comes back and they LOSE.tchow: grinchgrin.gifCheck out our latest NBA predictions. sara.ziegler (Sara Ziegler, assistant sports editor): The NBA conference finals are just three games old, but we’ve already seen two of the most entertaining games of the entire playoffs.After Golden State easily dispatched Portland in Game 1 in the West, Milwaukee needed a furious comeback to take down Toronto in the East’s first game. And then came Thursday night, when the Trail Blazers led the Warriors by as many as 17 points in the third quarter, but Golden State used a 27-8 run to get back into the game. The teams traded leads down the stretch, but the Warriors prevailed.Let’s start with the Golden State-Portland series. What have you made of these first two games?tchow (Tony Chow, video producer): The “Warriors are better without Kevin Durant” crowd has gotten REALLY loud.I’m not stupid enough to say they’re better without KD, but I can see the argument being made that they might be more fun to watch?natesilver (Nate Silver, editor in chief): Tony, that feels like a way to rationalize the idea that KD will feel dejected or something by the Warriors because they can win without him so he’ll have to come to the Knicks.sara.ziegler: LOLtchow: I’m still auditioning for my Knicks GM job, Nate.chris.herring (Chris Herring, senior sportswriter): I think they are more fun to watch this way, for sure. It’s a good reminder of what they were before Durant ever signed with them. The up-tempo, heavy ball-movement, “we can be down by 15, but still come back to beat you” Warriors.I think Portland losing on Thursday was pretty brutal. It’s sounding more and more like Durant won’t be back in the conference finals, and a win would have gone a long way toward making this a series again. It’s hard to imagine them winning four of the next five.tchow: You’re not kidding about the heavy ball movement, Chris. Per Second Spectrum, the Warriors have averaged 42 more passes per 100 possessions when KD was not on the floor during these playoffs.natesilver: I guess the question is whether the Warriors could win grind-it-out, slower-paced, half-court-type games at the same rate without KD.chris.herring: And that’s the thing. When the Warriors play that way, it’s changing the pace of the game. If you have a game with fewer possessions, I’d venture to guess it leaves things to random chance more often and helps the underdog.Kind of why Virginia was seen as vulnerable in the NCAA Tournament for so long. (A loss to UMBC helps with that, too.)natesilver: Beating Portland twice at home is just not all that rigorous a test, however.tchow: That’s important to keep in mind. All the Warriors did was hold home court.chris.herring: It may not be. But the Blazers played really well on Thursday, and then that third quarter happened. I just think we’re used to these sorts of onslaughts at this point.tchow: Yeah, even with that scoreline at halftime, after the first three minutes of the third quarter, I think all of us kinda went, “Oh, the Warriors are winning this.”natesilver: The Game 6 closeout against Houston, in a game where the Rockets played pretty well, was impressive. But I’m still not sure I really have a great sense for how Golden State is going to match up with Milwaukee or Toronto, with or without KD.sara.ziegler: A Portland win would have completely changed the tone of this series. And it was close to happening — even after the Warriors stormed back!natesilver: “Were the Blazers actually close to winning or was it all just an illusion” is a fun epistemological question. I mean, obviously, a win probability model or whatever would have them ahead for a lot of the game. But the Warriors have made SO many third-quarter comebacks over the years that I just don’t really know.sara.ziegler: When the Blazers were up 8 with 4:28 left, I thought they could really win it.Silly me.chris.herring: I grow somewhat tired of the Curry vs. Curry storyline at times. But it was pretty awesome to see Seth play so well last night, and to try to get into his brother’s head at one point.Crazy to think that, if Pau Gasol were healthy, there would be two sets of brothers playing against each other this round.tchow: That’s very interesting. I’m kinda loving the Curry vs. Curry storyline. It’s pretty cool IMO to have siblings play against each other at such high stakes.I found myself pingponging between “Where’s Steph? OK, where’s Seth now?” when they were both on the court.chris.herring: I like the storyline. I just think it’s being milked pretty heavily in terms of showing their parents in the crowd, that’s all. But Seth was huge last night.I think the challenge for Portland is that there’s a lot of “your turn, my turn” from Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. McCollum owned the first half, and then Dame got hot in the second half.And it kind of feels like they may need more of a balance, or another huge bench performance from someone, to get over this hump.natesilver: What if Seth Curry woke up one day and had Steph Curry’s skills, and vice versa? That feels like a weird/bad movie plot.tchow: “Freaky Friday 2”natesilver: Would the Blazers play McCollum at the 3 or something? It would be a really weird team.chris.herring: I already feel like it’s a weird team as is.Credit to them for adjusting heavily after how bad Game 1 was.tchow: You knew they had to do something about that pick-and-roll defense.chris.herring: Enes Kanter was back at the free-throw line in Game 1 and then moved much farther up to contain their pick and rolls in Game 2. That made Golden State’s looks far more challenging, which you almost have to do in order to have a chance.sara.ziegler: The Blazers didn’t get much on offense from Kanter on Thursday, though. What was going on there?chris.herring: His impact is going to be a bit less on a night where they shoot as well as they did from three. Because he doesn’t get any offensive rebounds that way.But also, when he’s playing so much higher up on D, it probably wears him down a bit.Not to mention the fact that he’s fasting during daylight hours, which seems like such a tough thing to do during such a high-stakes series.sara.ziegler: That does seem brutal.chris.herring: Now THAT storyline I find fascinating.sara.ziegler: I can barely edit when I’m hungry. Can’t imagine trying to play basketball at the highest level!natesilver: If I fasted during daylight hours, I don’t think I could even do a Slack chat, let alone play in an NBA game.sara.ziegler: Hahatchow: Muslim soccer players do it all the time! (during Ramadan)It is pretty cool the Blazers have three Muslim players on the roster (Kanter, Jusuf Nurkic and Al-Farouq Aminu).chris.herring: Hakeem Olajuwon did it as well, and apparently Kanter reached out to him to figure out what all he did to maintain his game during that stretch of the postseason.natesilver: I didn’t realize that the dates of Ramadan shift around a lot from year to year. It doesn’t always coincide with the playoffs.
RPSergio RomoTwins0.4 RFShin-Soo ChooRangers1.5 BenchEric ThamesBrewers1.1 SPRyan YarbroughRays1.7 DHEdwin EncarnacionYankees1.9 2BDee GordonMariners0.3 RPAnibal SanchezNationals1.3 RPNick WittgrenIndians0.6 RPAnthony DeSclafaniReds1.5 3BAsdrubal CabreraRangers0.8 RFGiancarlo StantonYankees0.2 RPJason VargasPhillies1.1 CFChristian YelichBrewers6.1 BenchAustin BarnesDodgers0.5 BenchAdeiny HechavarriaMets0.2 SPChris PaddackPadres1.6 2BKetel MarteDiamondbacks4.8 As the MLB trade deadline approaches, the Miami Marlins are at it again, trading reliever Sergio Romo on Saturday to the Minnesota Twins for a prospect. We shouldn’t be surprised — trades are essential to the Marlins’ identity: The franchise has won two titles, in 1997 and 2003, but hasn’t made the postseason otherwise. Both titles were immediately followed by major trades of key players from the championship runs.Of the top 25 players in Marlins history by wins above replacement,1According to FanGraphs’ measurement. 23 were traded away, and the other two were meant to be traded, according to Miami executives, but the trades fell through. The team’s history is littered with fire sales and payroll slashes. Some deals were merely ill-advised, such as the buy-now moves that sent away key prospects in 2016 — a season that ended with 79 wins. Others were more absurd, such as sending then-prospect Trevor Williams to Pittsburgh as compensation for a pitching coach who was let go by Miami after two seasons.This got us thinking: Could you make an entire lineup of Marlins trade castaways? An entire roster even?As it turns out, you can. And it’s a fairly good team. A 25-man roster of players who, at one point in their careers, were traded from Miami would project to win at least 90 games over the course of this season, based on the WAR those players have accumulated with their current squads. Through Monday, the team would be roughly 61-43 and in line for a wild card. Sources: Baseball-Reference.com, Fangraphs You could even name a manager in Craig Counsell, who scored the winning run in Game 7 of the 1997 World Series and was traded to the Dodgers in 1999 for a player to be named later.2That player would be minor leaguer Ryan Moskau.We used the current WAR of the former Marlins to construct this lineup, with some slight adjustments for injury: We would start Giancarlo Stanton, even though Cameron Maybin and Jake Marisnick have had better seasons so far, and Nathan Eovaldi, who could be replaced by Anthony DeSclafani in the rotation and Steve Cishek on the roster. And we moved some players out of their regular positions, including stashing the aforementioned DeSclafani in the bullpen and putting regular right fielder Christian Yelich in center field to make room for Stanton.That 25-man roster doesn’t even include two of the most notable traded-away players: future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera, who is at -0.4 WAR for the season, and two-time All-Star Andrew Miller, sitting at -0.1 WAR.3The other active players left off are outfielder Josh Naylor and relievers Cishek, David Phelps, Dillon Peters, Dan Jennings and Kyle Barraclough It’s also worth noting that this roster isn’t one the Marlins could realistically have if they had just stood pat: Some of the players on this list were at one point acquired by the Marlins in a trade for another player on the list: Dee Gordon, for instance, was acquired in a 2014 trade that sent four current major leaguers to the Dodgers, including Kiké Hernandez.The total WAR from this 25-man roster, from their 2019 performances with non-Marlins teams, is 30.3, breaking down to 16.6 for position players and 13.7 for pitchers. The hitting WAR roughly equates to that of the Brewers, and the pitching WAR is close to that of the Astros. Both groups of former Marlins would rank in the top 10 of baseball. Using the winning percentage expected from a replacement-level team,4Roughly 29 percent. we can extrapolate the former Marlins’ WAR to 162 games from the 104 the Marlins have played through Monday. Without adjusting for playing time, we find that the team would project to 95 wins over a 162-game season.5This team would have fewer plate appearances than expected for an MLB team but slightly more innings pitched.If you think all of these trades should have netted the Marlins good players in return, well, they’re last in the National League by four games and have a farm system consistently ranked in the bottom 10 of the majors (though that may be improving).The Marlins aren’t the only team that could fill out a roster of traded-away players: The Seattle Mariners have executed big trades in recent years. A roster assembled of the very best of once-traded Mariners, aided by recent trades of Edwin Encarnacion and Jay Bruce, can compete with the Marlins.6The Mariners’ team has accumulated more WAR this season, but the Marlins have far fewer plate appearances. The Pirates similarly have a potentially solid team of cast-offs, if not quite as good, but they don’t have a catcher (unless someone drags David Ross out of retirement.) BenchJake MarisnickAstros1.4 RPJason VargasPhillies1.1 RPShawn KelleyRangers0.5 SPDomingo GermanYankees1.7 1BJustin BourAngels-0.1 RPAndrew HeaneyAngels0.5 RPEmilio PaganRays0.8 LFMarcell OzunaCardinals1.7 SPMichael PinedaTwins1.8 CManny PinaBrewers0.8 The Mariners also let go of some major playersHypothetical roster of former members of the Seattle Mariners, projected to win at least 90 games based on their 2019 performances through July 29 CFBen GamelBrewers0.7 RPAlex ColomeWhite Sox0.5 The Marlins traded an entire playoff-caliber rosterHypothetical roster of former members of the Miami Marlins, projected to win at least 90 games based on their 2019 performances through July 29 RPPaul FryOrioles0.6 SPTrevor WilliamsPirates1.1 BenchCameron MaybinYankees1.2 LFChris TaylorDodgers1.3 1BCarlos SantanaIndians3.0 SSEnrique HernandezDodgers1.3 Seattle has 50 eligible active players for its all-trade team, so half can be left off the roster; the Marlins have “only” 34. That’s a major difference: The Mariners’ current team is built from their sheer number of trades. Sure, they’d love to have Ketel Marte, but they got Mitch Haniger and Jean Segura, both 2018 All-Stars, in return.The Yankees could also assemble a full roster of players they traded away, though it would project to a sub-.500 team. So it’s definitely hard to argue that they’d be better had they not made those trades. The Marlins, meanwhile, would almost certainly rather have Chris Paddack or Luis Castillo on their team right now than the three months of Fernando Rodney in 2016 or the two seasons of Dan Straily they received in return. Of the five players sent to Florida in the Cabrera trade, Maybin contributed the most value with just 2.3 total WAR in his stint with Miami — and four years later, all the players the Marlins had received were gone. Miami got a disappointing return in the 12-player 2012 trade with the Blue Jays; none of the prospects the Marlins received for Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, etc. remain with the franchise or made a major impact. The recent trades under new CEO Derek Jeter have netted some prospects and are probably too early to truly be graded, but they’re still not enough to push Miami’s farm system into the top tier.Of course, there’s another reason the Marlins are so accomplished at trading stars: money. Most trades for the small-market Marlins, last in baseball in attendance by a large margin, have been aimed at cutting costs.The Marlins probably couldn’t have fielded their all-trade team because they couldn’t afford it. The 2019 contracts, according to Spotrac, for the 25 traded-away players total $134 million,7That number doesn’t count Cabrera’s $30 million or Miller’s $11 million contracts since both players have been below replacement and don’t make the top 25. nearly double of the team’s opening-day payroll of $72 million.Check out our latest MLB predictions. RPFreddy PeraltaBrewers0.8 Sources: Baseball-Reference.com, Fangraphs SPWade MileyAstros1.8 CJ.T. RealmutoPhillies3.0 RPJ.A. HappYankees0.9 BenchJay BrucePhillies1.2 PositionPlayerCurrent TeamWAR BenchLuis RengifoAngels0.6 SPPablo LopezMarlins1.6 SPLuis CastilloReds2.3 SPJames PaxtonYankees1.7 RPSam DysonGiants1.1 RPEdwin DiazMets0.4 3BColin MoranPirates0.8 SPNathan EovaldiRed Sox-0.2 PositionPlayerCurrent TeamWAR SSJean SeguraPhillies2.3 RPYusmeiro PetitAthletics0.7
11Cincinnati154011Kansas City1532 27Chicago141927Cleveland1409 25N.Y. Jets144025N.Y. Jets1458 9Philadelphia15459New Orleans1540 2New England16752New England1653 32Tennessee133932Oakland1346 29Tampa Bay137729Tampa Bay1358 RANKTEAMRATINGRANKTEAMRATING 10Arizona154110Pittsburgh1536 We relaunched our NFL Elo power ratings on Thursday with a nifty interactive that lets you track where your team stands and how likely it is to win each game. But Elo isn’t the only statistical power rating out there; in fact, our NFL previews used predictions and rankings generated by ESPN’s new Football Power Index (FPI), a system of far greater complexity.1While Elo simply takes last year’s overall end-of-season ratings and regresses them to the mean, FPI adds some intricacies: It breaks a team’s quality down into components that measure its offense, defense and special teams, incorporates Vegas expectations, and employs subjective survey data from NFL experts. Since we plan to use both metrics in our NFL coverage throughout the season, we thought it would be interesting to look at how closely the two ratings mirror each other, as well as which teams fare better in each. (Note: To make an apples-to-apples comparison, I converted FPI to the same scale as Elo. I also updated the Elo-equivalent FPI ratings of New England and Pittsburgh to reflect Thursday night’s season-opening game.) 8Pittsburgh15528Baltimore1553 23St. Louis147723Minnesota1477 26Cleveland142226Chicago1444 28Oakland138928Washington1394 16San Francisco152916Buffalo1510 18Houston150518Detroit1501 30Washington137130Jacksonville1351 24Atlanta146224San Francisco1463 For the most part, Elo and FPI agree about the landscape of the league; the correlation coefficient between the two metrics is 0.94. But the fit isn’t perfect. 17San Diego152317Houston1508 13Detroit153813Arizona1526 12Kansas City154012Miami1530 20Miami148420N.Y. Giants1496 1Seattle16781Green Bay1653 22Minnesota147922St. Louis1484 5Dallas15905Denver1622 15Buffalo153415Carolina1515 4Denver15954Indianapolis1635 3Green Bay16013Seattle1642 6Indianapolis15816Dallas1592 ELOFPI 7Baltimore15777Philadelphia1564 14Carolina153614Cincinnati1525 31Jacksonville135731Tennessee1349 19New Orleans148619San Diego1497 Elo thinks more highly of 17 teams — including the San Francisco 49ers,2Probably because Elo has no idea they lost so much talent during the offseason. Oakland Raiders, Detroit Lions, Seattle Seahawks3Thus continuing Elo’s ongoing crush on the Seahawks. and San Diego Chargers — than FPI does. Among the teams that FPI favors, on the other hand, are the Indianapolis Colts, New Orleans Saints, Green Bay Packers, Miami Dolphins and Atlanta Falcons.It’s tough to pinpoint exactly why the discrepancies exist in many cases (so many factors go into the FPI’s construction, in particular), but they’re worth keeping an eye on as the season progresses. 21N.Y. Giants148021Atlanta1495
OSU redshirt senior first baseman Erika Leonard (15) swings at a ball. Credit: Courtesy of OSUThe Ohio State softball team is finally headed home. With 22 games already in the books in 2016, OSU (15-7) has the chance to make a statement on its own field. The Buckeyes, who are coming off a 4-1 trip to San Diego, which included a 9-6 win over then-No. 22 Fresno State, are set to face Maryland (7-20) in their home opener Friday at 6 p.m. at Buckeye Field. The three-game series stretches from Friday to Sunday and marks the beginning of conference play. Up to this point, OSU has seen action in five tournaments since February. “We won, but we aren’t even at our best yet,” said OSU coach Kelly Kovach Schoenly. “Everyone has been like, ‘Wow, imagine what we will be like when we put it all together,’ which is great.”Maryland at a glanceThe Terrapins have not had a winning season since 2013, and this season has been more of the same. Maryland failed to tally a winning weekend at any of the six tournaments it attended, including an 0-3 showing at its own invitational last week.Maryland checks in at last place in the Big Ten for both win percentage and team pitching. The Terrapin pitching staff, which is led by redshirt junior Madison Martin, currently owns a 6.08 ERA while allowing 238 hits. Starter Brenna Nation has only 19 strikeouts in her 19 appearances, although the redshirt junior’s slow start might just be an adjustment to a larger role than in her two previous seasons.Sophomore Skylynne Ellazar has 13 RBIs and a .388 batting average, while senior infielder Lindsey Schmeiser leads the team with four home runs, despite having only 11 total hits so far.The Terrapins’ opponents are outhitting them .327 to .281 and have nearly 60 more RBIs than the younger Maryland squad. The team has only two seniors, but its key advantage is the versatility of its players. Eight of the 20 Terrapins play multiple positions, enabling the team to rotate and increase its endurance.Strength from the moundUnlike the Terrapins, the Buckeyes’ greatest asset is their cohesive pitching staff. OSU still boasts the lowest ERA (2.30) in the conference, and its five pitchers continue to fill both starting and relieving roles. Junior Shelby Hursh continues to dominate from the mound with 69 strikeouts, only 23 behind her total in 2015. The right-hander retains the lowest ERA in the conference.“Shelby’s ability to step in and execute her pitches immediately allows us to take the momentum back into our dugout,” Schoenly said.Junior Lena Springer also has performed well, ranking in the top 10 with a 2.17 ERA, while surrendering only four extra-base hits to opponents.More top honorsBuilding off senior Cammi Prantl’s Big Ten and Louisville Slugger honors last month, two more Buckeyes earned conference awards last week. Senior first baseman Erika Leonard earned Big Ten Player of the Week, while second baseman Emily Clark was named co-Freshman of the Week. Leonard and Clark recorded strong weekends in Arizona and California, as both players posted a batting average north of .350. Leonard hit two home runs, while Clark recorded her first-career four-bagger against Fresno State. In late February, Leonard was announced as one of 30 candidates for the Senior CLASS Award, which will be given to one NCAA Division I softball player in May. The award, which focuses on community, classroom, character and competition, encourages players to use their platforms to act as leaders in their community, according to its website. “This team is lucky to have such strong seniors this season,” Schoenly said, referring to Leonard, Prantl and shortstop Maddy McIntyre. “They’re leaders and role models, and I never want them to leave.” Eight other Big Ten players were selected as candidates. Leonard’s nomination marks the first time an OSU player has been selected since the award’s inception in 2007.Coming upAfter their series with Maryland, the Buckeyes are set to head to Wisconsin for another three-game matchup spanning from April 1 to 3. First pitch is set for 5 p.m. on April 1.
OSU freshman pitcher Morgan Ray (6) throws a pitch during a game against Maryland. Credit: Gabriella DiGiovanni | Lantern PhotographerThe Ohio State softball team might be only one weekend into its Big Ten schedule, but the Buckeyes (18-7, 3-0) are currently sitting atop the conference after sweeping Maryland in their home debut. This first-place standing could give OSU the upper hand as it looks to continue its win streak in its three-game matchup against Wisconsin (16-12, 2-1), which is set to start Friday at 5 p.m.The Buckeyes have not faced the Badgers since the 2013 season, so the matchup will be a change of pace. Still, OSU coach Kelly Kovach Schoenly said she is aware of the momentum and energy Wisconsin will likely bring this weekend.“We will play a tough team this weekend in Wisconsin,” she said. “We know what to expect, but we still need to focus on what they are going to generate against us.”Scouting WisconsinThe Badgers are coming off a winning weekend against Michigan State, headlined by a 10-1 win in which they scored all of their runs in one inning.Schoenly mentioned Wisconsin’s heavy use of small ball, as well as wearing down pitchers by strategically putting the ball in play.“They have a very unique brand of softball,” she said. “They do a lot of base stealing, a lot of hit-and-runs, a lot of squeezes, so we have to be on our toes nonstop.” Nine Badgers on the roster bat left-handed, giving the lineup the opportunity to take advantage of bunting, slap hitting and its overall speed. For OSU’s pitching staff, this week’s practices will be dedicated to preparing to stop its opponents’ agility.“We’re going to have to take their speed away with strikeouts. We’ve got to get to work,” Schoenly said.Wisconsin sophomore Kelsey Jenkins is hitting .410, while junior Chloe Miller has racked up 32 RBIs. Last season, Jenkins started every game and led the team in home runs, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. Miller added two team highs of her own in RBIs and doubles.Following in Jenkins’ footsteps is catcher Melanie Cross, who is having her own stellar freshman year. Cross was named Big Ten Freshman of the Week on Monday after batting .500 in the Badgers’ past five games, including a 3-for-4, two-RBI performance in their loss to the Spartans on Saturday.From the circle, Wisconsin falls near the middle of the Big Ten in overall ERA, but the duo of junior Kirsten Stevens and senior Taylor-Paige Stewart have combined for 117 strikeouts. Like last weekend against Maryland, the Buckeyes will face another left-hander when batting against Stevens, who was named the Southern Conference Pitcher of the Year last season at Mercer prior to transferring. Before facing OSU on Friday, the Badgers are scheduled to go head-to-head against South Dakota on Wednesday in their home opener. This game will give Schoenly and the Buckeyes one last chance to scout the Badgers before heading to Madison, Wisconsin, to take them on for themselves.“What’s nice is that we don’t have any midweek games this week, so we can fully focus on what they’re going to do,” Schoenly said.Top of the conferenceFour Big Ten teams pulled off sweeps of their opponents last weekend, but OSU’s strong tournament showings and domination of Maryland have sent it to the top of the conference for the first time this season. Schoenly said she was impressed not only by the run her team is on but also by who stepped up against Maryland, especially the players who generated more than just singles.“We’re showing a ton of power, and I hope we can continue with a lot more of these doubles, triples and home runs,” she said.This commanding offense might be the key to staying atop the conference. The Buckeyes have finished the past two seasons in sixth place in the Big Ten, but Schoenly said she sees promise in her players to remain on top as the season progresses.“I’d rather be No. 1 than not,” she said. “We’re feeling good, and the girls have a lot of confidence, which I think breeds winning.”Up nextAfter their trip to Wisconsin, the Buckeyes are scheduled to return to Buckeye Field on April 6 for a doubleheader against Penn State in another Big Ten contest, which is set to begin at 4 p.m.