Month: July 2015

X’s Three Stars of the Week (7/12/15 – 7/18/15)

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

1. Novak Djokovic (Tennis – Serbia)

Novak Djokovic wrapped up a good weekend for the top singles seeds at Wimbledon by successfully defending his title from a year ago. To pull off the feat this year, Djokovic had to get past Roger Federer (Switzerland) who had been in vintage form throughout the tournament. Heading into last Sunday’s final, Federer had won 18 of 19 sets. Djokovic and Federer split two extremely tight sets to kick off the final, before the reigning champ ultimately pulled away to capture his third career title at Wimbledon. It was the second Grand Slam title of the year for Djokovic, and the ninth of his career. Of course, he celebrated his victory by enjoying a taste of the apparently well-treated Centre Court grass. That tradition of his is questionable at best, but with appearances in all three Grand Slam events this season there is no questioning where his level of play is currently.

2. Mike Trout (CF – Los Angeles Angels)

The term “face of the league” was tossed around a lot last week in reference to Mike Trout, and he spent the week validating that notion. Trout made an immediate statement in Tuesday’s All-Star Game by hitting a lead-off home run off of the recently untouchable Zack Greinke. He scored another run later in the game, leading the American League to a 6-3 triumph in the mid-summer classic. Trout was named the Most Valuable Player of the game, and at age 23 became the first player in league history to win the award in consecutive All-Star Games. Once regular season games resumed, Trout reminded fans once again why he is considered by many to be the best player in the game. I Friday’s game against the Boston Red Sox, he broke a 0-0 tie in the 9th inning by launching a game-ending solo home run off of closer Koji Uehara. Trout has been incredibly productive over the last few years, but it is the signature moments such as the ones he authored this week which make him Major League Baseball’s brightest star.

3. Clayton Kershaw (SP – Los Angeles Dodgers)

For the first time in almost a month, Clayton Kershaw has his win-loss record for the season above .500. The reigning Cy Young winner accomplished this in impressive fashion, shutting out the Washington Nationals on Saturday night over 8 strong innings. With his signature curveball in full effect, Kershaw held the Nationals’ lineup to just 3 singles. He struck out a season high 14 batters and did not allow any bases on balls. His ERA for the season now sits at 2.68, the lowest point it has been at all year. Kershaw seems to have regained his Cy Young form in the month of July. In three starts this month, he has given up just one run over 24 innings (0.38 ERA) while recording a sparkling 34 to 2 strikeout to walk ratio. With this last start, Kershaw became the first pitcher to have consecutive starts with at least 13 strikeouts and no walks since Dwight Gooden in 1984. With Kershaw finding his groove, he and teammate Zack Greinke form the most daunting one-two punch of any rotation in the majors.

X’s Three Stars of the Week (7/5/15 – 7/11/15)

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

1. Carli Lloyd (FW – United States)

This was the easiest top star of the week to name since X Marks the Sport began doing the “Three Stars” segment. Any concerns from American fans that this year’s Women’s World Cup Final would have the same results as the Final between the United States and Japan in 2011 were immediately quelled by Carli Lloyd. The forward came out of the gates on fire, scoring two goals in the first five minutes of the match seizing control of the match before most fans had time to get seated and comfortable. A little over ten minutes later, Lloyd launched a heat check shot (to borrow a basketball term) from midfield and scored again. Her early offense left little doubt as to who the eventual World Cup winner would be. In the process, Lloyd became the first woman in history to record a hat trick in any World Cup Final – and did so with well over an hour to spare in the match. Lloyd’s historic effort broke the 16-year mini-drought for the United States women in the World Cup and ensured that highly-decorated and accomplished teammate Abby Wambach would not retire without a World Cup championship on her esteemed résumé.

2. Serena Williams (Tennis – United States)

It was another week of brilliant tennis in a Grand Slam event for Serena Williams en route to her sixth career Wimbledon championship. To get to the final, Williams defeated her sister Venus Williams (United States) and followed that up with wins over Victoria Azarenka (Belarus) and Maria Sharapova (Russia), dropping just one set in the process. All three of those opponents have been ranked #1 in the world at some point during there careers, so it was a distinguished list of opponents Serena Williams got through to get to the Final. Williams went on to top a newcomer to the Grand Slam finals picture in Garbiñe Muguruza to win yet another Grand Slam event. The victory on Saturday means that Williams currently holds all four Grand Slam titles for the second time in her career. She is the first women’s player since Steffi Graf (Germany) in 1988 to win the first three Grand Slam events in a calendar year. She is also the first women’s player to complete the calendar “Channel Slam” (French Open and Wimbledon) since…well, since herself back in 2002. She is an all-time great having a special year even by her sky-high standards.

3. Brian Dozier (2B – Minnesota Twins)

The overall stat line of Brain Dozier for this week won’t stand out too much. He went 7-28 (.250 batting average), with 3 home runs, 9 runs batted in, and 5 runs scored. However, it was Dozier’s flair for the dramatic which earned him a spot on this week’s edition of “Three Stars”. On Monday, Dozier delivered a walk-off 2-run home run in the 10th inning off of Baltimore Orioles pitcher Tommy Hunter to propel the Twins to a 4-2 victory. Dozier was even more clutch on Friday. After the Twins had cut a 6-run deficit to the Detroit Tigers down to one run, Dozier blasted his second walk-off home run in five days off of Tigers closer Joakim Soria. This time it was a three-run homer and lifted Minnesota to an 8-6 win. Dozier capped off the exciting week by receiving his first selection to the MLB All-Star Game.

X’s Three Stars of the Week (6/28/15 – 7/4/15)

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

1. Justin Bour (1B – Miami Marlins)

When the Miami Marlins lost Giancarlo Stanton to a broken left wrist, they desperately needed someone in the lineup to step their level of productivity up. After all, Stanton was leading the majors in both home runs and runs batted in at the time of his injury. Last week, Justin Bour did his best Stanton impersonation. He put together a four-game home run streak, including big home runs in key spots. On Wednesday, Bour hit a walk-off three-run home run with his team down two runs in the bottom of the ninth inning. He followed that up the next day by hitting a go-ahead three-run homer in the 5th inning to help secure a win for José Fernández in his season debut. For the week, Bour hit .389 (7 for 18) with 4 HR and 8 RBI. Most importantly, the Marlins won all four games in which he hit one out of the park.

2. Steven Matz (SP – New York Mets)

Things didn’t start off so promising for Steven Matz when he made his Major League debut against the Cincinnati Reds last Sunday. He surrender a lead-off home run to Brandon Phillips, the first batter he’d ever faced in the big leagues. Matz rebounded quickly however, and ended up going seven and two-thirds innings, limiting the Reds to two runs and striking out six on his way to his first career win. The pitching performance was strong, but he made more noise at the plate than on the mound. Matz came up for three at bats in the game and came away with three hits, including a two-run double in his first at bat. He drove in a total of four runs, becoming the first Major League pitcher ever with 4 RBI in their debut. He also became the first player at any position since 1920 to go 3 for 3 with 4 RBI in his first Major League game. The 24-year-old hometown hero gave Mets fans plenty to be excited about in an historic effort which he will never forget.

3. Rakeem Cato (QB – Montreal Alouttes)

As the third string quarterback on the depth chart, Rakeem Cato was not supposed to be starting the second game of the season for Montreal but injuries forced him into duty. He surely was not supposed to beat the Calgary Stampeders, the defending champions of the league. But Cato did just that, performing almost flawlessly in the process. Cato completed 20 of 25 passes (80% completion percentage) for 241 yards, 3 touchdowns, and no interceptions. Cato’s quarterback rating of 148.9 leads the league (minimum 15 pass attempts) for the the young season. College football fans will remember that Cato was highly productive as Marshall’s quarterback over the last couple of years, but was spurned by the NFL due to his lack of NFL size (5’11”, 171 lbs.). Despite that setback, this debut performance as a pro may suggest that Cato has a bright football future after all, even if that future is north of the border.

76ers “Fleeced” Kings? Not Really…

There has been a surprising amount of reaction to the recent trade between the Philadelphia 76ers and the Sacramento Kings. To summarize the deal, the Sixers received Nik Stauskas, Jason Thompson, Carl Landry, a future top-ten protected first round pick, and the right to swap two future first round picks. The Kings received two low-end negligible European prospects (Arturas Gudaitis of Lithuania and Luka Mitrovic of Serbia) who most likely will never see an NBA court outside of on television. They did, however, clear $13 million or so of cap space in the process. Other than saving money, we know Sacramento got nothing out of this trade. However, there seems to be this feeling going around that Philadelphia made off with a boatload of assets here. Let’s examine the Sixers’ recently acquired “assets”.

Nik Stauskas

The man known in some circles as Sauce Castillo was the player Philadelphia really wanted out of this deal. The 8th overall pick of the 2014 draft, Stauskas should provide the 76ers with some outside shooting and scoring. Although he is the “crown jewel” of this deal, the jury is still out on Stauskas after a nondescript (to be kind) rookie season. In his first year in the league, Stauskas averaged 4.4 points, 1.2 rebounds, and 0.9 assists while playing about 15.5 minutes per game. He shot a poor 36.5% from the field and and just 32.2% from three-point range. If there was a silver lining in Stauskas’ rookie season, it’s that he did make 22 of 52 three-point attempts (42.3%) over his final 20 games. Hopefully for the Sixers, Stauskas’ shooting stroke continues to come around as he’s not a player who provides much else beyond scoring. Based on what we’ve seen so far, I’m not sure if the offensive potential will ever be worth the defensive liability in any role larger than a floor spacer coming off of the bench. At the very least, being excited about Stauskas and calling him a steal seems like a reach.

Jason Thompson

 Thompson had his best NBA season back in 2009-10, when he averaged 12.5 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. Over the last five years, Thompson has only averaged double-figure scoring once while collecting under 7 rebounds per game in each season. Last year, he averaged a career-low 6.1 points while shooting a career-worst 47.0% from the field. This decline in production from Thompson figures to continue in Philadelphia as a log-jammed frontcourt was an issue for the Sixers even before his arrival. Thompson is due $6.4 million and 2015-16 and $6.8 million in 2016-17 (although only about $2.8 million of that is guaranteed). That’s a considerable amount of money to pay someone who will likely be scrapping for minutes off the bench – especially if the 76ers get anything from Joel Embiid next year.

Carl Landry

 Just what Philadelphia fans have enjoyed seeing brought in over the last few years – more damaged goods (note the sarcasm). Landry missed 41 games during the 2011-12 season and 64 games during the 2013-14 season. He is coming off of wrist surgery this offseason and with a 3-4 month time table to return there is a good chance he won’t be ready for the start of next season. Landry, who will be 32 years old by the time next season gets underway, is coming off of his two worst scoring seasons since entering the NBA in 2007. He will most likely have a minimal role on the team once he gets healthy, but as it stands at the moment his $6.5 million salary for 2015-16 is the highest of any player on the current roster. Owed $13 million over the next two years, don’t expect much on-court return on investment from Landry.

Top-Ten Protected Draft Pick

There are two issues with the future top-ten protected draft pick the 76ers acquired in this trade. The first is that due to a couple of trades from the past, the Kings owe a protected top-ten draft pick to the Chicago Bulls. That pick has a window of 2015-2017, and since Sacramento did pick in the top ten in this year’s draft the picked owed to Chicago is still pending. If the Kings’ draft picks in 2016 and 2017 are top ten picks, the Bulls then end up with a 2nd round pick in 2017. The pending pick owed to the 76ers doesn’t kick in until two years after the debt to the Bulls is paid off. So Philadelphia could be looking at not getting anything until the 2019 draft. The second issue with this top-ten protected pick is that the Kings have gotten really good at ending up with a top-ten pick. Here is where the Kings have drafted every year since 2009:

2009 – 4th; 2010 – 5th; 2011 – 7th, 2012 – 5th; 2013 – 7th; 2014 – 8th; 2015 – 6th

As you can see, Sacramento’s recent draft lottery results (and regular season failures) suggest that Philadelphia may never even see this pick that so many people have lauded them for acquiring.

Right to Swap Two Future First Round Picks

In case you haven’t noticed, the Philadelphia 76ers are not good. At all. Over the last two years, they have a combined record of 37 wins and 127 losses. They traded Rookie of the Year winner Michael Carter-Williams in his second season and are possibly looking at entering next year with Isaiah Canaan as their top point guard. This team has “earned” the 3rd overall pick in each of the last two drafts. So given the direction this team has been headed in for a while, they’re unlikely to be looking to swap top picks with anyone – meaning there is a high possibility of this part of the trade being totally negated.

Bottom line: Based on this review of the assets the 76ers acquired from the Kings, it’s difficult to argue that Philadelphia came away with any type of enviable haul. They certainly did not hurt themselves in this trade. Picking up the salaries of Thompson and Landry ensures that they will be safe as far as the salary floor is concerned – which they’ve flirted with for the past couple of seasons. But if anyone thinks this trade is going to somehow reshape what has been one of the most pathetic franchises in sports lately, they are extremely likely to be proven wrong.