New York Giants: Special Teams Priority Under Dave Gettleman

All of the botched punts, wide field goal kicks, and missed tackles on special teams only scratches the surface of struggles the New York Giants endured in 2017. Special teams played a big part, and general manager Dave Gettleman has made it a priority to turn the unit around in a big way – signing several key contributors to bolster the punting unit.

Following last season, Pro Football Focus ranked the Giants’ special teams unit dead last in the league, making it a must-upgrade group going into the offseason. The special teams cost the Giants several games last year that could have given them the momentum to win a few extra matches. In the end, we got Saquon Barkley out of the nightmare of a season, but the confidence and morale we lost will never be returned – unless a Super Bowl comes crawling across our desk in the next three years.

In the week 15 loss to the Eagles, the Giants’ special teams unit had an extra point, punt, and field goal blocked. The lack of effort displayed was of full display, and it was the epitome of a team that fell apart at the seams the very moment Odell Beckham Jr. broke his ankle in week five.

The upgrades:

Gettleman has worked diligently to improve the struggling unit, as he released punter Brad Wing and signed Riley Dixon through a trade with the Broncos. Dixon is currently in the lead for the starting job. The Giants also signed Taylor Symmank to provide competition.

In terms of the kicking unit, Aldrick Rosas remains the assumed place-kicker for the Giants. While he only made 72% of kicks last year, he will be looking to turn it around in 2018. So far in practice, Rosas has struggled with consistency issues, failing to make consecutive kicks. He has his good days, but he also has his bad. In my opinion, if your kicker isn’t consistently making kicks in practice with no pads on, there’s no way he will make them in games – especially in big moments. The Giants brought in Marshall Koehn to provide competition with Rosas.

The Giants signed safety Michael Thomas to provide aid on special teams. He’s one of the best in the business, earning PFF special teams player of the year awards in 2014, 2014, and 2017. He will be most active on the upgraded unit, despite his position as a safety.

Some additional players that will play a part are Roger Lewis, Cody Lattimer, Kareem Martin, Josh Mauro, RJ McIntosh, and Wayne Gallman.

New York Yankees: For Greg Bird “Baseball Is Life”

Credit the arrival for the New York Yankees of Brandon Drury, who many believe will see some playing time at first base as a result of  Greg Bird‘s offensive woes since coming off the disabled list on May 15, or credit karma or the blistering heat, but Bird broke out of his slump with an offensive show that saw him blast home runs to both sides of the field in a 8-1 victory over the Boston Red Sox on Friday night.

Yankee fans have been getting restless to see Bird’s bat come alive this season.  To date he has posted a .204/.315/.421 slash line with five home runs and eight RBIs in 93 at-bats.

Bird told Scott Thompson of SNY. tv in the postgame interview that what got him through his struggles this season was this philosophy:

“Just keep going. That’s the biggest thing. You just keep going, keep your head up and keep going and keep playing. Baseball is life, so just keep rollin’ with it.”

“Baseball is life,” Bird says and, for him, as for many players, baseball is seamlessly sown into their lives and they experience the slumps and the triumphs as part of a continuous landscape—and the best at it get neither too high nor too low in the course of the season.

Fans however, experience a player, like Bird’s, failures and successes episodically—anxiously awaiting the results of his at-bats with high expectation and judging him on that day’s results.

For many Yankee fans, Bird has been an enigma since joining the big club as he has been plagued with a series of injuries which robbed him of significant playing time in 2016 and 2017.  However, the nature of Bird’s injuries, first shoulder surgery, then a bizarre congenital defect in his ankle that results in surgery, have left fans with mixed feelings about his ability to stay on the field.

Bird has his fervent supporters, count me among them, who recall his impact in the postseason in 2017 after being activated from the disabled list on August 26, 2017.  He hit .244/.421/.500 with three home runs and six RBIs in the postseason, and who could forget the only home run given up to a left hander in 2017 by Andrew Miller came off the bat of Bird during the American League Division Series. Bird’s home run was the only run scored by the Yankees in the game, giving the Yankees an opportunity to win the game and ultimately the series.

Yankee fans hope to see Bird back on track offensively after the display of power he featured on Friday night. In baseball, as in life, it was only a matter of time before Bird’s fortunes would change at the plate and the timing of his take-off couldn’t have been better.

 

 

New York Mets Series Preview: Miami Marlins (6/29-6/31)

The New York Mets hit the road after another dreadful homestand to take on fellow National League bottom feeder, Miami Marlins. These are two worst teams in the NL and come into this weekend’s series with 32 wins each. Both teams come from different directions, the Mets were build to make a postseason run and the Marlins are in total rebuild mode. The Mets have the upper hand in this season’s series, taking four of the six games.

Probable Pitching Matcups:

(6/29, 7:10 PM) Corey Oswalt (0-0, 3.86 ERA) vs. Sandy Alcantra (First Start of the Season)

(6/30, 4:10 PM) Jacob deGrom (5-3, 1.69 ERA) vs. TBD

(6/31, 1:10 PM) Steven Matz (3-5, 3.69 ERA) vs. Dan Straily (3-3, 4.82 ERA)

deGrom is Pushed Back

Jacob deGrom was originally slated to take the mound Friday night, but a family issue arose which pushed his start back to Saturday. Corey Oswalt will make the start in his place, Gerson Bautista was optioned to Triple-A to make room for Oswalt. In his only start this season, he gave the Mets 4.2 innings and allowed two runs while striking out four batters. With Seth Lugo back in the Mets bullpen, Oswalt has an opportunity to stay in the rotation if he shows that he is major league ready.

Wilmer Flores has been one of the Mets hottest hitters since he returned from the disabled list. He is hitting .286 with three home runs and a .571 slugging percentage in his return to the lineup. As Dom Smith has failed to find any consistency at the plate, it created an opportunity for Flores to take his job. Peter Alonso is also scratching at the door to enter the big leagues with could take Smith out of Mets first base picture.

Trust the Process in Miami?

It was obvious that the Marlins were going to tank with Derek Jeter at the helm. The have not been .500 at any point this season and have held last place in the NL East firmly. J.T. Realmuto has been their lone bright spot and will likely be their lone all-star this season. Realmuto has batted .308 with 10 home runs and 36 RBIs after missing time early in the season due to an injury.

Derek Dietrich has been one of only the surprises for the Marlins this season. He is top-20 in the NL with 82 hits and has been hit with 10 pitches this season. Brian Anderson has shown he can be part of the Marlin’s future plans. He has a .293 average and is fourth in the NL with 92 hits. Anderson has the ability to play third base and the corner outfield positions and is a dark horse to be an all-star as well.

Matchups to Lookout For

Derek Dietrich vs. Jacob deGrom: 4-21 (.191) Walk, 11 Strikeouts

Justin Bour vs. Jacob deGrom: 8-19 (.421) Double, 2 Home Runs, 2 Walks, 6 Strikeouts

Asdrubal Cabrera vs. Dan Straily: 3-11 (.273) 2 Doubles, Walk, 2 Strikeouts

Jose Reyes vs. Dan Straily: 2-11 (.182) 4 Walks, 2 Strikeouts

Interesting Stats

Wilmer Flores in Late & Close Situations in 2018: 11-27 (.407) Double, 3 Home Runs, 3 Walks, 2 Strikeouts

Starlin Castro Leading Off an Inning in 2018: 25-74 (.338) 4 Doubles, 2 Home Runs, 4 Walks, 12 Strikeouts

Want To Write About College Football? ESM Is Now Covering The Big Ten!

Ever feel like college football is more exciting than the NFL? Are you looking for a high quality source for college football news, outside of the mainstream outlets? If so, you may be interested in knowing that Empire Sports Media is expanding to cover the Big Ten Conference.

The Big Ten has 14 teams and some of the largest alumni bases in the country, and we want to hear from all of them. If you want to write about your favorite team, or about the conference in general, this is a good chance for you to do it.

We want to represent a number of teams and fanbases with this new section, and if you’ve ever wanted a chance to break into college football writing, this is a good opportunity for you. Whether you’re interested in recapping games during the season, analyzing your team’s strategies in detail, or following the recruiting trail,  your voice can be heard.

If you’re interested or have further questions, check out our Write For Us page and get in touch.

New York Yankees Vs Boston Redsox: Yankees Bats Need To Come Alive

New York Yankees, Yankees, CC Sabathia

The New York Yankees are set to face off against the Boston Red Sox to secure first-place in the division. The Red Sox have squeezed by a recently cold Yankees team to earn a one-game lead going into Friday’s game.

Both teams have been on fire this season, with the Sox winning their last four games and the Yankees winning only two of their last six games. The bombers will look to return to form on the arm of CC Sabathia, the Yankees veteran pitcher. He will take on Eduardo Rodriguez, who’s entering the game wit a 9-2 record (386 ERA). It will be a good matchup, but for a Yankees lineup that has struggles as of late, they will need to return to form to defeat the No. 1 team in the American League.

How impressive have both teams been?

Both the Yankees and Red Sox have enjoyed 17-1 winning streaks this season, the only two teams to do so. These two teams are the strongest they’ve ever been at this point in the season, with winning percentages of 6.67 (Yankees) 6.71 (Red Sox).

For the Yankees, only several hitters have been consistent as of late – Didi Gregorious, Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, and Austin Romine. You can throw in both Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar, but they have seen their fair share of the rookie bumps. They will need to bring their A-game against Boston, who are seeking a firm lead. The one Yankee that has stepped his game up significant is Aaron Hicks. He’s currently hitting .252 with 11 home-runs over 61 games. He has been a trusted lead-off man since Brett Gardner sustained an injury.

The biggest struggle for the Yankees in this matchup will be the bull-pen, as the Yankees have given up several leads. With the bats quiet, it makes covering up those costly runs much more difficult. Both teams are averaging about 5.16-17 runs per game, which should put them on an equal playing field, but baseball is a lot about hot streaks and gaining confidence at the right time. The Yankees have been struggling to maintain their confidence and abilities over the past week, but a series win against the Sox would get them back on track as we head toward the All Star Break.

New York Giants: Looking Back At Davis Webb’s Game Winning Drive

While we wait for the 2018 season, it’s worth looking back at what happened last year for the New York Giants. This time, we’re looking all the way back to the preseason, to a game that’s often either forgotten or discounted when talking about Davis Webb. This, of course, is the Giants final preseason game leading up to the 2017 season, when they defeated the Patriots behind Webb leading a game winning drive.

The game was won 40-38, and it only happened because of Webb’s clutch throws. Yes, it’s only the preseason, but the game should be an indication that Webb isn’t a bust that won’t be on the team by the time Eli Manning retires. Let’s take a look at one of the key plays from that game.

This throw was an important one, because time was running out and the Giants gained a key chunk of yards to help them beat the clock. The throw isn’t the prettiest one, and almost looks like it might hit the ground, but it gets the job done and Webb completes the pass to the sideline to gain much needed yards and stop the clock.

On third down and with sixteen seconds left on the clock, Webb makes a similar completion and releases the ball just as separation is made, resulting in a catch. The clock keeps running, but it’s not a problem here because the Giants are getting closer to field goal range and still have two timeouts at this point.

Again, Webb shows good timing here. He enters his throwing motion just as his receiver starts breaking towards the sideline, and even though the Patriots know that the offense will target this area, they can’t do anything to stop it. After this play, the Giants kicked the field goal that won the game.

What can we learn from this? That Davis Webb has at least some NFL talent. Of course, we can’t know at this point if he’ll be a worthy successor to Eli Manning, or even an average NFL quarterback. The odds are against him, as far as the former is concerned. However, many Giants fans treat Webb as an afterthought and don’t consider him at all when thinking about the future of the Giants’ quarterback position.

The point isn’t that Webb will be a good quarterback because of leading a game winning drive in one preseason game, but that the team already has a young QB who has shown flashes of potential. Furthermore, Webb likely picked up some skills under Eli Manning last season, and we won’t know how much better or worse he is until we see him on the field again.

But if his last preseason game is any indication of talent, Webb is at least worth looking into as an option for the future.

New York Giants: Saquon Barkley’s Impact On The NFC East

New York Giants, Saquon Barkley

Facing off against the New York Giants usually meant Odell Beckham Jr. would receive 75% of the pass-attempts, the running game would be lackluster, and the offensive line would be swiss cheese. Well, those days are over, and the NFC East is about to see a major shakeup with the way the Giants approach every game and how they utilize their talent.

First-round draft choice, Saquon Barkley, presents a significant threat out of the backfield – even more-so than any runners on the Eagles or Redskins. The only back that presents more of a threat is Ezekiel Elliot, due to him having NFL experience. Barkley could easily surpass the likes of Elliot with a year in the NFL under his belt. In fact, he could be better right out of the gate, but let’s not assume anything until it’s proven true.

The shakeup:

Barkley finished 2017 with 632 receiving yards, only 23 less than Pittsburgh Steelers’ LeVeon Bell, who had 655. While Barkley was still in college and was facing off against lesser talent, we can still look at the stats as a foreshadowing of what’s to come. Penn State lacked talent on the offensive side of the ball for the most part, and Barkley presented their most lethal target. Defenses knew that and game-planned for him. On the other hand, Bell had Antonio Brown to open up the secondary and keep the linebackers honest. He also has one of the best quarterbacks in the league, Ben Roethlisberger.

Comparing the two might be like apples and oranges, but their skill-sets are similar. They both acquire immense agility and the ability to exploit gaps in the defense. Bell has better vision on the interior while Barkley tends to bounce it outside for extra yardage. For the Giants, Barkley presents one of the most lethal running backs the league might ever witness, and we get to root for him week-in and week-out.

What he needs to work on:

As stated before, Barkley tends to bounce the ball outside when he feels pressure from the interior. Sometimes, it’s better to simply run it straight up the gut and grind out a yard or two instead of getting tackled for a loss in an attempt to get around the edge. It’s all about opportunity cost. If you make one decision, you could be gaining positive yardage from another. In 2016, 23.2% of Barkley’s runs went for zero or negative yardage. But there’s a caveat – Barkley predominantly ran out of the shotgun formation, effectively taking his momentum away and forcing him to choose a hole without any burst or speed, which caused him to use his lateral agility to bounce it to the exterior.

This problem will disappear with the Giants, as they run a lot of I-formation plays, so Eli Manning can work the play-action and have Barkley appear in the flat. It will be a different type of running for Barkley, but one that should benefit him on the field.

Why the NFC East should be scared:

The rest of the division should be worried about the Giants’ new back. He is an all-around play maker and can do anything that’s asked of him. They haven’t faced a back like this before, and never from the Giants… Jerry Reese made sure of that. Expect to see Barkley get a lot of usage early in the year, as they break him in like a pair of shiny new shoes.

During minicamp, Barkley was asked if he had dropped a pass since becoming a Giant, his response, according to Giants.com:

“I did. I dropped one,” the second overall selection conceded today after a minicamp workout. “That is something that I pride myself on. You come out here every single day and you want to be perfect. When I mean perfect, I don’t mean a perfect player, but you want to go through practice without drops. Sometimes it reassures you that you have to get back on the jugs and catching after practice. There is a ball that I caught 100 times and I dropped it, because I was trying to turn up field instead of securing the catch. I kind of worked on that after and it has not happened since. That is just a part of the game. I hate making mistakes, but I love making mistakes. I love having MA’s (missed assignments) and drops. It reassures you and makes you get back on your grind, lock in and focus a little more. It is better to happen now and in practice than in week one against Jacksonville or preseason against the Browns.”

The Giants have struggled in the past with dropped passes, but Barkley will take that statistic and shove it up your… You get the point.

The NFC East should be worried, because Barkley makes the right decision nearly every time, whether it’s before the play, running full speed at a defender, or breaking out into a route. He knows the game, and he knows how to deceive even the most gifted athletes. So be wary, Cowboy’s fans, because the Giants have a new weapon that has yet to be unleashed.

Tell Me If You Have Heard This One Before…The Mets Bullpen Blows Another Win

Zack Wheeler was spectacular again for the New York Mets last night. He hurled seven shutout innings against the Pittsburgh Pirates and retired 10 batters in a row at one point. Unfortunately for the 21st time this season the Mets bullpen took another loss, 5-3. The game once again showed the questionable decisions Mickey Callaway makes.

The downfall started with Robert Gsellman allowing Starling Marte to leadoff the eighth with a double then steal third. Marte was driven in on a sac fly then Gsellman allowed another hit to Josh Bell. Callaway had a quick hook and pulled him after three batters. He has struggled in his last 9.2 innings allowing 10 earned runs. Gsellman has lost the hard sink on his fastball and has been overworked because of the lack of good pitchers in the bullpen.

Give the Man a Break

Jeurys Familia was called upon to get the save in the ninth, a day after throwing 28 pitches. Familia proceeded to allow three straight base runners with two strikes and did not record an out in the rough outing. He had the same problem as Gsellman, his pitches did not have the same bite and looked overworked. Familia has struggled to get back in a groove since his return from the disabled list.

Anthony Swarzak was brought in to clean up Familia’s mess but ended up with a blown save. Swarzak had less than two minutes to warm up and when Callaway was asked about it he let out a sarcastic response. “So how it works in baseball in the ninth inning, or in any inning, is you get a guy going and they call down when they are ready…so they are ready when they go in.” Callaway showed some fire there, but if he put the same amount of thought into his in-game strategy as he did for his postgame remarks, this team would not be 14 games under .500.

Ride the Hot Hand

Tim Peterson was the only reliever who pitched well last night. He retired both of his batters to end the eighth inning in nine pitches. Callaway, in plain terms, said he was not ready to the “high leverage” moment in the ninth. There was not too much pressure on Peterson if he were to pitch the ninth. The Pirates were dead, the Mets are already way back in the standings and there was about 10,000 people left in the ballpark.

Callaway needs to throw the “reliever roles” out the window in that spot. Familia threw a lot of pitches the night before and the Mets simply do not have a dominant reliever they can trust right now. There is nothing to lose with keeping Peterson out there and if he struggled then you move on to the next guy. A bullpen can revolve around the same two or three guys. We still do not know what some of these new relievers can do in big spots and that was a great time to find out what you have.

Plaxico Burress Warns New York Giants About Leaving Beckham “Disgruntled”

Everyone has an opinion on what the New York Giants should do about Odell Beckham Jr’s contract, and that includes former receiver Plaxico Burress. Of course, Burress knows a thing or two about playing wide receiver for the Giants, having caught the winning touchdown in Super Bowl XLII. That’s not the only reason why his take is interesting, though.

Burress fought for a new contract and skipped minicamp following the Super Bowl win, and the situation is vaguely similar to the current one with Beckham Jr.

“Everybody in the world knows the guy needs to be rewarded. It’s only a matter of time. Don’t have him disgruntled going into the season, and then you lose him. Why even put yourself in that position?” Burress told NJ.com.

His fear is one that many Giants fans have been voicing since last season. When the team went 3-13, large parts of the fanbase assumed that Beckham would take more money to move to a winning team when his contract is up. Now that it’s June and Beckham still doesn’t have a contract, those worries have only become more intense.

As far as paying Beckham goes, Burress has the same opinion as many of the fans. “I hope that he doesn’t let that affect him going into training camp. I say just go pay the guy so they can put all that behind them and everybody goes into a season with a tremendous focus of winning another championship.”

He also touched on another controversial subject, and that’s whether the Giants can win with Beckham in the future or not.

“I think he is a generational talent. He has everything that a wide receiver possibly could have. He is a fierce competitor, and a lot of people misconstrue some of the things that go on. But the guy wants to win bad. He competes, and I love that part about him. At the same time, there is a maturation process, too. I think he’ll realize and come into his own. You can build a team around him.”

Lastly, Burress has a positive outlook for what lies ahead, and on the situation with Eli Manning going into the 2018 season. “Obviously, last year nobody did really well. If you protect him, especially with the weapons he has and bringing in Saquon, it can have the possibility of being one of the most explosive offenses in football.”