Month: June 2015

X’s Three Stars Of The Week (6/21/15 – 6/27/15)

Here is a look at this week’s “three stars” – according to X Marks the Sport.

1. Jordan Spieth (PGA Tour – United States)

It would be easy to classify last week’s U.S. Open as a collapse or come-from-ahead loss by Dustin Johnson (United States), but we’ll stay positive and keep the focus on the winner. Jordan Spieth had to overcome some adversity of his own, giving up a 3-stroke lead on the 17th hole with a double-bogey, to pick up the win. Credit him for being able to recompose himself and pick up a birdie on 18 when he needed it most to put himself in position to win. Spieth came into the final round tied with the aforementioned Johnson and Branden Grace (South Africa) and bested them on Sunday by 1 and 2 strokes respectively. So this win was more than “just a guy blowing it” – Spieth earned it. With the win, Spieth became the youngest player (age 21) win the U.S. Open in 92 years. He joined some of golf’s royalty (Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Craig Wood, Tiger Woods) by winning the U.S. Open and Masters in the same year. He is the youngest player to win both majors in the same year, and the first player in 13 years to pull off the feat. For several reasons, Spieth’s win on Sunday was historic.

2. Nolan Arenado (3B – Colorado Rockies)

If Nolan Arenado were on a better team, he would be at the forefront of National League MVP discussions halfway through the season. This week was just another sampling of how good he has been in 2015. Arenado recording at least one hit in all six games he played this week, pushing his overall hitting streak to 14 games. He had two multi-home run games this week and scored at least one run in every game this week – often batting himself in via the long ball. He also had at least one RBI in every game, including a pair of 4-RBI games. His overall stat line for the last week was a .391 batting average with 6 home runs, 12 runs batted in, and 9 runs scored while slugging an impressive 1.217. Usually more power leads to more strikeouts, but Arenado only struck out once in 23 at bats. At just 24 years old, a superstar is being born in Colorado.

3. Washington Nationals Starting Pitching Rotation

When the Washington Nationals signed Max Scherzer in the offseason, their rotation on paper was one of the best Major League Baseball had ever seen. Outfielder Bryce Harper indicated as much when he (in)famously quipped “Where’s my ring?” in response to learning about the final piece to the loaded rotation. The performance by the rotation this week is what Harper had to be envisioning when he made that remark. Gio González kicked things off by firing 7 scoreless innings on Sunday to clinch a series sweep of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Stephen Strasburg (5 innings), Jordan Zimmermann (8 innings), and Doug Fister (7 innings) took turns pitching nothing but shutout innings in a series sweep of the Atlanta Braves. Max Scherzer closed out the weather-shortened week by holding the Philadelphia Phillies to 2 runs (the first runs surrendered by the starting rotation all week) in another Washington win. For the week, Washington’s starting pitchers combined for 4 wins (would have been 5 had Jordan Zimmermann not received a no-decision after a Drew Storen blown save). 35 innings, 0.51 ERA, 0.77 WHIP, and a sparkling 24:4 K/BB ratio. If they keep performing at this level, they will end up fulfilling Harper’s brazen prophecy.

X’s Three Stars Of The Week (6/14/15 – 6/20/15)

Here is a look at this week’s “three stars” – according to X Marks the Sport.

1. Max Scherzer (SP – Washington Nationals)

It seems like every week we are seeing dominant pitching performances. With that said, Max Scherzer probably had the most dominant two-start week we’ve seen in a long time. On Sunday, Scherzer was in the zone. He ran right through the Milwaukee Brewers’ lineup, giving up just one hit (in the 7th inning) while striking out 16 batters (most by a Nationals pitcher since the club moved to Washington, D.C.) en route to a shutout. Scherzer was somehow arguably even better yesterday (Saturday). How dominant was he? He threw a “disappointing” no-hitter. He was one out away from a perfect game before hitting José Tábata with a pitch which Tábata clearly turned and leaned into. For the week, Scherzer’s stat line was ridiculous: 18 innings, 1 hit allowed, 1 walk, 0 runs, and 26 strikeouts. It doesn’t get much better than that.

While on the topic of dominant pitching, an honorable mention goes to White Sox SP Chris Sale, who also recorded 26 strikeouts over two starts during this past week. Basically since Memorial Day, Sale has been striking out batters by the dozen (or more) and kept that trend going in his last two starts.

2. Andre Iguodala (SF – Golden State Warriors)

For the first time in forty years, the Golden State Warriors are the champions of the NBA. Despite not starting the first three games of the series, Andre Iguodala won the Bill Russell NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Award. The decision wasn’t unanimous, but it was a decision that has the endorsement of this website. In a closeout game on the road, Iguodala came up huge scoring a season-high (regular and postseason) 25 points. In the two games this week (Games 5 and 6), he had 12 assists and no turnovers – taking the pressure off of Stephen Curry to have to create for others by himself. Even more important was the job Iguodala did defensively competing with LeBron James on the defensive end. James shot 40% from the field for the series, but that percentage dropped down to 35% when guarded by Iguodala. When you factor in the defense, the facilitating, the timely shooting (aside from the free throw line – yikes), and the on-court leadership displayed, Andre Iguodala was rightfully named MVP of the series.

3. Duncan Keith (D – Chicago Blackhawks)

The Chicago Blackhawks have a modern day dynasty going, capturing their third Stanley Cup championship in the last six years. We have already touched on the value of leadership in this week’s Three Stars, and Duncan Keith was the epitome of that for the Blackhawks on their path to victory. In Game 6 on Monday, Keith was the only player (excluding goaltenders) to record 30 minutes of Time On Ice (TOI) for either team. This was a surprise to no one, as the workhorse became just the fourth player in history to log over 700 minutes of ice time in a single NHL postseason (according to sportsnet.ca). Keith scored one goal in the Stanley Cup Final, and it seems only fitting that goal would prove to be the game-winner in the closeout game. The tangibles were there all postseason for Keith, but the intangibles (non-stop max effort, poise, leadership, etc.) were key in Keith becoming the obvious choice to be awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as the Most Valuable Player of the NHL postseason.

 

X’s Three Stars Of The Week (6/7/15 – 6/13/15)

Here is a look at this week’s “three stars” – according to X Marks the Sport.

1. Chris Heston (SP – San Francisco Giants)

Dominant pitching is very appealing around these parts, and it’s hard to be more dominant than Chris Heston was on Tuesday. In just his 13th career start Heston threw a no-hitter against the New York Mets, striking out 11 batters (a career high) while walking none. Only three batters reached base and they all did so the hard way, getting hit by pitches. Heston was at his best in the final inning, shaking off hitting the leadoff batter in the 9th and striking out the next three batters. One has to wonder why those final three Mets took called third strikes knowing what the situation was and how umpiring changes in those situations, but nonetheless it was a great performance by the 27-year-old rookie. Heston has been uneven is his performance this year, but this was his 7th start out of 12 giving up one or fewer earned runs. He’s been bad in the other five starts (in all fairness, two of the five bad starts were at the hitters Paradise known as Coors Field), but Heston has shown enough (especially on Tuesday) to prove he is indeed an up and comer to watch.

2. LeBron James (SF – Cleveland Cavaliers)

The NBA Finals has become a total mismatch on paper due to the Cavaliers’ expanding injury list, but LeBron James has done everything in his power to keep the series intriguing. James led Cleveland to two improbable wins, doing so by transforming into a volume scorer and doing great work on the glass. In the three games last week, James posted averages of 33.0 points, 13.3 rebounds, and 9.0 assists while playing over 45 minutes per game. The workload James has had to manage has affected him and his the primary culprit in his shooting an uncharacteristic 35.2% from the field over the last three games. However, James is still performing at an elite level for any Finals series, to the point where there are series discussions about whether or not he should receive the Bill Russell Finals MVP award even if the Cavaliers ultimately come up short. Granted some of that discussion is due to the fact that no Warrior has consistently stood out in this series, but the fact that this is even being considered speaks to just how impressive James has been.

3. Giancarlo Stanton (RF – Miami Marlins)

No one is baseball right now hits home runs with the authority that Giancarlo Stanton does. So when he starts hitting them in bunches, there aren’t many things more fun to watch. Stanton has been on an absolute tear, and in seven games last week he hit 12-26 (.462 batting average) with 5 HR and 12 RBI. As a team, the Marlins scored 26 runs last week and nearly half of those runs were driven in by Stanton. He collected five multi-hit games last week, raising his batting average by 26 points (.234 to .260) and his slugging percentage 72 points (.541 to .613) in the process. For the season, Stanton leads the majors with 23 home runs and 59 runs batted in. And according to ESPN’s Home Run Tracker, 5 of the top 10 longest home runs hit in the Major Leagues this year were hit by none other than Giancarlo Stanton. His team isn’t very good, but this guy alone is worth the price of admission if he comes to your town. He may just hit one out like this…

Thoughts on 2015 NBA Finals After 3 Games

Five of X’s thoughts on the Finals heading into Game 4…

1. LeBron James is the story.

Why not start with the obvious? It would be an historic performance if a player had 41 points, 12 rebounds, and 8 assists in any single Finals game. But that is what James has done on average through three games, without a ton of variance in any of those stats from game to game (especially in the scoring department). James has made the adjustment of playing outside of his character and comfort zone, going from being a natural facilitator who can score to being a volume shooter who must score. And keep in mind he is doing this against the team that ranked #1 in the NBA in defensive efficiency this year.

2. Cleveland’s “other guys” are better than you think.

While LeBron James is the story, he is NOT winning these games alone. Other guys have stepped up in a huge way. The Warriors were the best scoring team in the league this year, averaging 110.0 points on 47.8% shooting. In the Finals, the Warriors have failed to hit 100 points in regulation of any game and as was exemplified last night they are struggling to get to 40 points by halftime. In this series, they’ve dropped to 97.3 points per game (with two of the three games going into overtime) on 41.4% from the field. That’s called team defense – one guy can’t defend five no matter how good the one is. Matthew Dellavedova had his 3rd game of the postseason with at least 17 points in Game 3, despite that game only being his 4th start of the playoffs. He’s not “just a try hard” guy. Tristan Thompson is averaging 14 boards per game in the Finals and has had double digit rebounds in 8 of his last 9 games. Thompson’s 17 offensive rebounds in the Finals are more than the rest of the Cavaliers have combined. He is averaging 5.7 offensive rebounds – no other player in the series has had more than 4 offensive rebounds in any game. Iman Shumpert has a series-high 10 steals despite missing a good portion of Game 3 with a shoulder injury. Timofey Mozgov has 3 less free throw attempts than the Splash Brothers put together in this series. J.R. Smith produces just enough of his own offense to give James the occasional break from having to create for others. Basketball is a team game, and even the best player in the world needs some help. These role players are being called bums, but they are making significant contributions.

3. Harrison Barnes does not belong in this series.

0 points. 0 for 8 shooting from the field. 3 turnovers. 2 fouls. This was Harrison Barnes’ “contribution” to Game 3. If you’re thinking “Man, I can do that.”, you’re right. Add to this stat line that Barnes can’t slow LeBron James down in any sense of the word, and there’s simply no room for Barnes in this series. He has always been too passive, and the Warriors can’t afford that right now with their MVP still trying to find himself. Andre Iguodala has been the player in this series for Golden State who looks the most confident to me. Though he can’t stop LeBron, he has shown that he can make LeBron work twice as hard as he wants to, which is all you can ask. In my opinion, Iguodala needs to be starting, and should be on the floor every minute that James is out there. This is the Finals, no use in restricting minutes at this point.

4. More David Lee, please.

David Lee was dusted off and inserted into the lineup for 13 minutes in Game 3, and responded with 11 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1 steal. I know he has fallen out of Steve Kerr’s favor for various reasons, but it’s time to see more of David Lee – at the expense of Andrew Bogut. Lee is every bit as good a passer as Bogut is, but he’s also a scoring threat from more than 5 feet away from the basket. Golden State needs to kick start their offense somehow, and inserting a big man who can knock down the mid range jumper may be one way to do it. Yes, this means the Warriors would have to go undersized. But it’s not as if their “big” lineup has done anything to keep Tristan Thompson off of the glass. So why not see if Lee can capture some of his old form. After all, he is only a year removed from being an 18 point/9 rebound per game guy.

5. Draymond Green is in “self-check” mode.

For those unfamiliar with the term, “self-check” is used for the guy who you intentionally leave open because you want him to shoot. Green has become that guy. He shot a miserable 3-15 from the field in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals, and has brought those bricks with him to the NBA Finals. In this series, Green is shooting 8-30 from the field. That pace would make for a decent albeit uninspiring batting average, but it’s not close to good enough to win an NBA championship. Going back ten games, Green is 6-40 (15%) from the three-point arc. He has got to realize that the defense wants him to take that shot. He is not a Splash brother, and right now he’s not even a faint ripple brother. What he is however is a gifted passer and solid ball handler for his size. Golden State needs him to play to his strengths at the offensive end and resist the urge to shoot open perimeter shots – because right now he is open for a reason.

X’s Three Stars Of The Week (5/31/15 – 6/6/15)

Here is a look at this week’s “three stars” – according to X Marks the Sport.

1. Serena Williams (Women’s Tennis)

Fighting through illness, Serena Williams persevered to win her 20th Grand Slam singles tournament with a win over Lucie Safarova in the 2015 French Open Final. At less than full strength, Williams won four matches during this week, with three of those wins coming in three sets. The most impressive part of her run was her domination in the third sets. During the last four rounds of the tournament, she won a combined 18 of 23 (78.3%) games she played in the do or die third sets. It’s speaks to Williams’ unsurpassed determination to be at her absolute best in those deciding sets, when given her physical condition she should have been at her worst. With Saturday’s title clinching win, Williams broke a tie with Helen Wills to take sole possession of 3rd place on the all-time Women’s Grand Slam singles titles list.

2. Carlos Martínez (SP – St. Louis Cardinals)

The Dodgers have had enough of Carlos Martínez. In the past week, they had to face him twice and both times he dominated. In his two starts against Los Angeles, Martínez pitched 14 innings surrendering just 4 hits and 1 run (good for a 0.64 ERA) while amassing 19 total strikeouts. These performances came after two previous scoreless starts from Martínez, so he’s been on fire for a while now. But what really made this a stand out week for him is what he did last Sunday. Martínez, visibly emotional on the mound, fired seven shutout innings to commemorate the one year anniversary of the Major League debut of the highly touted Oscar Taveras (May 31). Taveras, who was very close to Carlos Martínez, passed away last fall in a car accident at the age of 22. To honor the memory of his fallen teammate and friend, Martínez switched his jersey to Taveras’ #18 last winter.  So the win on Sunday was as special as a win in May could possibly get for Martínez.

3. American Pharoah (horse racing)

X does not like to consider horse racing a true sport since it is about the competitive performances of horses (and the questionable treatment of them during the races) instead of humans. However, X will acknowledge that there are plenty of folks who feel American Pharoah’s victory yesterday was a significant sports moment. It is difficult for a horse to win a relative marathon race like the Belmont Stakes (12 furlongs) right after pulling off victories at the Kentucky Derby (10 furlongs) and the Preakness (9.5 furlongs). Owner Bob Baffert and jockey Victor Espinoza are all too familiar with that fact. They probably cherish this moment even more than most owners and jockeys would after coming so close to the Triple Crown on multiple previous occasions – just to see it slips through their hands at the Belmont. It was indeed a treat for horse racing fans to see something that hadn’t occurred in 37 years.