Mets’ Jacob deGrom is “aging like fine wine”

Another night, another impressive outing by New York Mets’ ace Jacob deGrom. During Thursday night’s start against the Houston Astros, the right-hander casually dropped 100 mph heaters, and even reached 102 mph at one point. He is such an ageless wonder that it is becoming customary.

When he wasn’t pumping fastballs by Astros’ hitters, he was freezing them with 94 mph changeups. Lots of major league pitchers would dream to have a heater as fast as deGrom’s changeup.

The 32-year-old Mets’ ace has found a way to increase velocity almost every single year of his career. When he broke into the league in 2014, the fastball averaged 94 miles per hour. The yearly increase began in 2018, with 96 mph, and it reached 97 on average in 2019. Last season, it usually hovered around 98.6 mph, but hit 102.2 during his final outing.

This time, he is already at 102 in spring training.

“He’s aging like fine wine,” Mets first baseman Pete Alonso said to MLB.com. “It’s so fun to watch, because every year, he just keeps getting better and better.”

The Mets’ ace totally dominated the Astros

During last night’s start, deGrom struck out seven of the nine hitters he faced, mostly Astros’ minor leaguers and bench players. His three innings on the mound were scoreless, and that didn’t surprise anyone in attendance.

“Totally dominated,” said a scout in attendance.

“He looked like a Hall of Famer out there,” added Alonso. If he looked like one, it’s probably because he is well on his way to be elected one day.

“He knows his routine,” Mets’ manager Luis Rojas said. “He’s gone through Spring Training before and these Opening Days now. … He knows what to do out there.”

Unsurprisingly, the Mets announced deGrom as their Opening Day starter, and the pitcher himself has said that winning his third Cy Young award is a personal goal of his. Watch out.

UFC: Is Julianna Pena justifiably confident or extremely delusional?

Last weekend at UFC 259, Amanda Nunes (21-4) successfully defended her featherweight title. The greatest fighter in women’s MMA history furthered her legacy by demolishing Megan Anderson in the first round.

After her latest title defense, Nunes is planning on dropping back down to bantamweight to defend her other UFC title. Waiting for her at 135 pounds is Julianna Pena (10-4). Pena has been extremely vocal about wanting a shot at Nunes.

After Pena’s win over Sara McMann, she got on the microphone and called out Amanda Nunes. She said that the UFC‘s two-division champion had been dodging her for years and it was time for the two of them to meet inside the octagon.

These comments seemed to amuse Nunes and most of the MMA community. After Nunes won on Saturday night, we learned that Holly Holm was out of her upcoming fight against Julianna Pena. That fight was being looked at as a potential title eliminator.

After that news dropped, Julianna Pena took to social media to continue her callouts of the UFC champion. Pena also appeared on Ariel Helwani’s MMA show where she continued to callout Nunes and made some rather interesting remarks.

Will the UFC book the grudge match?

Pena told Ariel Helwani, “She knows stylistically I’m the worst matchup for her. Let’s go back to the Cat Zingano fight. She lost, she curled up the fetal position and the referee had to pull Cat off of her. I beat Cat. I’m the best wrestler in the division. She knows she’s gonna curl up in the fetal position (again).”

Strong words from Pena towards the UFC’s two-division champion. However, is her words just showing confidence or straight up delusion? To me, everything she said in this interview with Ariel Helwani came across as Chael Sonnen level delusional.

The fight she’s referencing was seven years ago before Nunes had a strength and conditioning program. Nunes hasn’t remotely gassed in a fight anytime in the last few years. In fact, she just beat Felicia Spencer for five consecutive rounds without breaking a sweat. There is no questioning the cardio of Amanda Nunes now.

I’ll give Pena credit for putting herself out there, but some of the things she says just make no sense at all. However, at the end of the day, this talk is likely going to get her a crack at the UFC title.

After UFC 259, Dana White hinted that Pena might be next for Nunes at 135 pounds. Despite being ranked sixth and having just lost to the top contender a few months ago, Pena’s ability to sell the fight might win out here.

I respect Julianna Pena for calling for this fight and wanting this fight. Not many people do, however, my advice to her would just be to be careful what you wish for. Personally, I hope this fight gets made because the women’s divisions could use some of this heat.

Yankees could make blockbuster move for Luis Castillo, but here’s why they won’t

New York Yankees, Luis Castillo

Imagine the New York Yankees‘ starting pitching rotation looking like this:

1.) Gerrit Cole

2.) Corey Kluber

3.) Luis Castillo

4.) Jameson Taillon

5.) Jordan Montgomery/Domingo German/Deivi Garcia

Pretty nice, right? Well, what are the chances that Cincinnatti star Luis Castillo becomes available…for the right price? Low.

The Athletic’s Jim Bowden responded to a question regarding the Yankees potentially targeting Luis Castillo at the trade deadline later this year:

Q: If the Yankees look pretty good at the deadline and think it could be their year, but they need one more piece, do you think GM Brian Cashman sells the farm for Luis Castillo?

A: I’ve never seen Cashman “sell the farm,” so I don’t think that’s going to happen. I do think he’ll make a strong offer to land Castillo if he can. However, in past conversations between the teams, the Reds were interested only if they could get Yankees shortstop Gleyber Torres back in the trade, and that’s not happening.
The Yankees will never part ways with Gleyber Torres unless they feel absolutely necessary, and as of right now, he is their starting shortstop. Management has high expectations for Torres, who has been phenomenal this spring so far, earning a .400 batting average with six hits and two homers over just 15 at-bats. If he can carry this production into the regular season, Torres could have a massive bounce-back year, and hopefully, his defense improves in the process.
However, if the Yankees could strike a deal with the Cincinnati Reds for Luis Castillo, he’s just hitting his prime, and the team has control over him until 2024. He’s earning just $4.2 million for the 2021 season and logged a 3.21 ERA last year over 70 innings. He’s a bonafide starter with ace potential, and parting ways with a player like Deivi García might be in their best interest, despite Castillo being 28 years old. Luis has plenty of juice left in his arm — he would be an immediate upgrade over Jordan Montgomery in the middle of the rotation.
Alternatively, Garcia is 21 and already adapting to the MLB level, and they might see more upside with him, especially since he is seven years younger than Castillo. This is a preference of winning now or later, but I believe García could end up being just as efficient within the next two years.

New York Jets to attend QB Trey Lance’s pro day (Report)

New York Jets general manager Joe Douglas is expected to be among those observing North Dakota State QB Trey Lance in Fargo.

The New York Jets will officially begin their rookie quarterback evaluation on Friday. General manager Joe Douglas is expected to be one of several decision-makers on hand at North Dakota State University’s pro day to view touted thrower Trey Lance. Proceedings can be viewed at 11 a.m. ET on NFL Network.

A report from Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated mentions that Douglas will be one of five general managers stationed in Fargo. Atlanta, Carolina, and Detroit are each sending both a coach and general manager while Washington is likewise repped by its GM Martin Mayhew.

Lance is expected to be one of the first passers selected in the first round of the NFL Draft come April. Though Lance has only a single full year of starter’s experience, he posted one of the most prolific ledgers in the history of the Bison’s storied football program. Lance was responsible for 36 touchdowns without throwing a single interception during their eighth Football Championship Subdivision title in program history. The Bison’s perfect 16-0 record hadn’t been achieved at the Division I level since 1894 (Yale).

For his efforts, Lance, then a redshirt freshman, earned the 2019 Walter Payton Award, annually bestowed to FCS’ most outstanding offensive player. Previous winners include Steve McNair, Tony Romo, Jimmy Garoppolo, and Cooper Kupp. Lance was the first freshman to ever be bestowed the award named after the Chicago Bears legend and Jackson State alum.

Lance is not partaking in the Bison’s ongoing season, which was moved to spring and continues on Saturday at the Fargodome against Illinois State (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+). But he did partake in a brief fall showcase against Central Arkansas, earning 292 total yards and four scores in a come-from-behind victory.

One of the most dominant programs in FCS history, NDSU’s pro offerings won’t be limited to Lance. Blocker Dillon Radunz earned positive reviews for his performance during Senior Bowl prep in Mobile while receiver-turned cornerback Marquise Bridges has likewise warranted a look. That group helped NDSU break its own record for the longest winning streak in FCS history (39), which was snapped on February 27 against Southern Illinois.

The last NDSU alum chosen by the Jets was running back Gordy Sprattler in the ninth round of the 1979 draft. Sprattler did not play a regular season down. They last chose a quarterback from an FCS/Division I-AA school in 1983 through first-rounder Ken O’Brien of California-Davis.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags   

Knicks’ Tom Thibodeau shoots down idea of trading for star before March 25 deadline

New York Knicks, Tom Thibodeau

The New York Knicks simply aren’t good enough to challenge some of the better teams in the NBA like the Milwaukee Bucks. Falling 134-101 on Thursday evening,

The Knick started off the second half of the season in disappointing fashion, and despite All-Star Julius Randle stating that it was just an off night and simply an anomaly, this has happened to the Knicks a few times. Their inability to stick with above-average teams has become apparent, and making a living off beating sub .500 squads doesn’t necessarily scream playoff contention.

The idea of trading for a superstar is becoming more attractive, but the rumors have died down as of late, with Victor Oladipo being the latest connected to New York. However, Oladipo has dealt with serious injury issues and has only played 16 games this season. If New York is going to trade for a star player, it needs to be someone committed to the team and with a good health history.

Head coach Tom Thibodeau was asked about the potential for a trade, and he was very dismissive of the idea.

“That’s a Leon (Rose) question,” Thibodeau said when asked about trading for a star player. “Look, I have a strong bias toward good players. I know they’re looking at all the possibilities. If something makes sense for us, we’ll do it. If not, I love the team that we have. I love the guys that we have on the team. We’ll just keep working with what we have and Leon and Wes (Knicks senior executive William Wesley), they’re combing the league. (GM) Scott Perry, that’s their job.”

What assets do the Knicks have?

If the Knicks do want to execute a deal, they have five first-round picks over the next three years and a ton of second-round picks. They also have a few youth pieces to utilize, including Kevin Knox, Frank Ntilikina, and a few veterans to consider.

A few smaller options they could target include JJ Redick, a premier three-point shooter who can help in specific ways, and guard Lonzo Ball was also been floated in recent days.
Personally, I think the Knicks are rolling with their current team and eyeing the 2022 off-season as an opportunity to sign a star player. With all of their draft capital, I believe they prefer to utilize it appropriately instead of trading it away. The Knicks aren’t a championship-contending team right now, but retaining all of their capital and signing a player in free agency might be the most efficient move.

New York Yankees Spotlight: Domingo German and Brett Gardner, spring training stars

New York Yankees, Brett Gardner

This is a new weekly column featuring the New York Yankee who has made the most positive impact on the team during spring training for the week. It will spotlight one pitcher and one hitter that excelled beyond the rest.

This week’s pitcher spotlight is on Domingo German. So far in spring training, he has performed the best of any starter. Although he apparently struggled in winter ball, he has done the exact opposite so far this spring. Putting it simply, he has been pure dominance. Obviously, the sample is small, but it is what it is, and it’s great.

No other starter has pitched more innings than German. He has an ERA of 0.00 with only two hits allowed and has stuck out 7 opponents while walking none. Unfortunately, German carries with him much baggage that is not very pleasant to talk about. He shows that he is a changed man off the field and is working to prove it to the team and the fans.

Both Corey Kluber and Jameson Taillon run a close second but haven’t pitched enough innings to be in contention. Taillon will pitch again today and Kluber on Saturday. So far, the worst-performing pitcher is ace Gerrit Cole. With Cole, there will be an ongoing conversation on who will catch him. Like last season, Cole struggled in his first start with Gary Sanchez, then cut his ERA in half in the next game caught by Kyle Higashioka.

This week’s hitter spotlight goes to Brett Gardner, who leads the entire team in OPS for players playing in at least four games. His OPS (on-base % + slugging) is an incredible 1.722. He has one homer and has driven in more runs, sharing that stat with Chris Gittens than any player. Brett is the last holdover from the New York Yankees’ 2009 World Championship, and based on his performance so far this spring train; he has been the bright spot in the lineup.

The New York Yankees, after the season, refused to exercise Brett’s option and bought out his contract. He waited until almost to the beginning of spring training for the Yankees to give him an offer. They did, and now Gardner shows the team why he is still an important tool going into a year that the Yankees hope to win another championship.

Running a very close second is Yankee catcher Gary Sanchez. He has an OPS of 1,544 with three home runs in just seven games. That’s a home run in every 2.3 games or the torrid pace of 70 homers in a season. Giancarlo Stanton has also gotten off to a good start, and LeMahieu is LeMahieu. On the other side of the coin, Aaron Judge has gotten off to a disappointing start. He has no homers and is batting only .250, although he is healthy so far.

EmpireSportsMedia.com’s Columnist William Parlee is a member of the Society for American Baseball Research. Follow me on Twitter @parleewilliam.

UFC Vegas 21 Preview: Leon Edwards – Belal Muhammad

Leon Edwards

Tomorrow night in the headliner of UFC Vegas 21, we will see a highly anticipated welterweight matchup. The third ranked contender in the world, Leon Edwards (18-3), is finally makes his return to the UFC to take on the surging Belal Muhammad (18-3).

There is no questioning that Leon Edwards is one of the best welterweights in the UFC. Edwards has tremendous striking and a very good overall game. Not too mention the fact that he’s currently won eight fights in a row.

However, we haven’t seen Edwards compete since July of 2019. Edwards was scheduled to face Tyron Woodley last March, but the pandemic cancelled the fight. After the UK locked everything down, Edwards was unable to train which didn’t allow him to take another fight.

Finally, the UFC booked him against Khamzat Chimaev in December. However, that fight fell through three times due to COVID-19. Now, all the hurdles have been cleared and Edwards will finally get his chance to compete again.

Standing in his way is Belal Muhammad. While Edwards wasn’t able to compete in 2020, Muhammad continued his own winning streak last year. Muhammad has now won four in a row and he’s 8-1 in his last nine inside the octagon.

Belal Muhammad just fought at UFC 258, but when Khamzat Chimaev fell out, he jumped at this golden opportunity. If Muhammad is able to beat Edwards tomorrow night, he will shoot right to the top of the UFC‘s welterweight rankings.

UFC Vegas 21 Prediction

When it comes to the main event tomorrow night, it’ll all come down to how Leon Edwards looks in my opinion. As mentioned, Edwards is one of the best welterweights in the UFC. His striking is on a completely different level than Belal Muhammad’s.

His wrestling and grappling also looked much improved the last couple of times we saw him. Now, he’s had almost two years to prepare for wrestlers so we can imagine that his wrestling defense is pretty good which he will need tomorrow night.

Belal Muhammad needs to come forward with immediate pressure tomorrow. He needs to try and land takedowns, but ultimately he needs to make this a dirty fight. If this fight is at range, it won’t go well for him. He can certainly land, but he doesn’t want to be in a kickboxing match with Leon Edwards.

I believe Belal Muhammad is a very underrated welterweight, but I just don’t think he’s better than Leon Edwards. I believe Edwards will be able to avoid the takedowns, land good elbows in close range, and outstrike Muhammad to get the win at UFC Vegas 21.

Yankees: Gerrit Cole may help a special guest get into Yankee Stadium to watch the home opener

New York Yankees, Gerrit Cole

If Thursday’s game is any indication, then Gerrit Cole is more than ready for the start of the season. The New York Yankees’ ace was on the mound for three innings and allowed three hits and just one run, with no walks and five strikeouts.

The Yankees love the fact that he could reach 50 pitches, with still a lot of spring training left to stretch out to 85-90. He got an impressive 10 swings and misses out of those 50 bullets, and sat in the high-90s with his heater. He is all systems go.

Yankees’ manager Aaron Boone said it was another good step for Cole, who was scratched from his last start because rain was threatening on March 6th.

“It’s just making sure his stuff is resembling what it should,” Boone said. “It really comes down to him building up his workload and then you can evaluate how his balls move, if everything’s doing what it should be doing, how his delivery and arm slot is. The biggest thing is getting through his workload comfortably.”

Papa Cole wants to see the Yankees

Cole, who is entering his second season as the Yankees’ ace, grew up a Bombers’ fan thanks to his dad and can’t wait for the home opener to take place.

His father was a huge fan of Willie Randolph, according to Bryan Hoch of MLB.com. Yet, he hasn’t had the opportunity to see his son pitch in pinstripes live.

“My dad has been itching to get to Yankee Stadium to watch a game,” Cole said. “He told me, ‘If they don’t let us in for Opening Day, I’m just going to put the radio on outside the gate, sit there and listen.’ I’m like, ‘I think we can probably get you in.’”

For April 1’s season opener at Yankee Stadium, a limited number of fans is expected to be allowed when the Bombers play against the Toronto Blue Jays.

Yankees: Robinson Chirinos’ quest for a roster spot ends with a wrist fracture

For a team like the New York Yankees, having two or more players competing for at-bats, innings, or even a roster spot is huge, because competition will bring the best out of the parties involved and will end up benefiting everyone involved.

However, it’s disappointing when competition ends because of an injury. That is precisely what happened to catcher Robinson Chirinos, who was going toe to toe with Kyle Higashioka for a spot on the Yankees’ bench.

However, Chirinos, who the Yankees brought this year thanks to his leadership and playoffs experience, will now be sidelined for weeks after he was diagnosed with a wrist fracture.

He was hit by a pitch in the Yankees’ Wednesday win

The experienced backstop was hit by a Blake Cederlind pitch on the Yankees’ 6-5 spring training win against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday at George M. Steinbrenner Field.

Thursday was a day of undergoing –rays and CT scans at BayCare Outpatient Imaging in Tampa, Fla. For Chirinos. Per MLB.com, Drs. Daniel Murphy and Christopher Ahmad reviewed the images and confirmed that the wrist was indeed fractured.

The Yankees are talking to hand specialists to determine the next steps for Chirinos.

“It’s been awesome having Robinson in here,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “He’s been a great teammate; he’s really influenced the catching room. He’s been a lot of fun for me to be around. Just a really good guy. I’m especially hurting for him today, just knowing how much he’s put in to be a part of this team.”

At 36 years old, Chirinos still has the drive to go to a spring training camp and compete for a spot, which the Yankees certainly appreciate. Splitting time with the New York Mets and the Texas Rangers, he hit .162 with a homer and seven RBI in 26 games.

2 Round New York Giants Mock Draft: Offensive Line Support

Rashawn Slater, New York Giants

The New York Giants continuously have problems on the offensive line, and those issues won’t be alleviated in 2021 after they released starting RG Kevin Zeitler. There is “optimism” that Nate Solder will make a return to the team on a restructured contract, featuring as a swing tackle or the starting RT, but I wouldn’t rule out the idea that the Giants could look to the 2021 NFL draft to solve a position in the trenches.

Ultimately, general manager Dave Gettleman has guaranteed that he would solve the problems on the line, and that promise has remained unfulfilled. With plenty of other holes on the roster, including wide receiver and pass rusher, the Giants are going to have to use the draft strategically.

Two round New York Giants Mock Draft:

1.) OT Rashawn Slater – 11

Considering Solder hasn’t officially been retained on a restructured contract, there is still a possibility they cut him and save some salary space. If they cut him pre-June 1, they will save $6 million, but if they release him post-June 1, they will save $10 million against the cap.

There is a scenario where the Giants utilize a second consecutive first-round pick on an offensive tackle. Lately, Northwestern OT Rashawn Slater has been climbing up the draft board. At 6’4” and 315 pounds, the senior is an athletic option for the Giants in the draft, with incredible flexibility and the ability to adapt to various schemes. He might be a perfect fit with the Giants at right tackle, securing both OT spots with rookies on efficient deals.

Of course, this would stop the Giants from injecting a premier playmaker into the offense to help QB Daniel Jones. However, you can have 10 amazing playmakers, but without time in the pocket, their services become obsolete.

Securing Slater here gives Jones the time he needs in the pocket, and the Giants one of the youngest OLs in football — an underrated positive.

2.) WR Nico Collins – 42

The Giants desperately need a receiver in the draft, and Michigan standout Nico Collins could fit the bill perfectly. As a receiver who will likely thrive in a vertical offense at the NFL level, he would offer the Giants a great option to target in man-coverage downfield.

Collins opted out of the 2020 season but posted 729 yards and seven touchdowns over 12 games in 2019. I believe Collins has a ton of hidden potential based on the inadequacies of the Michigan offense, which translated over to his production. He has a big frame at 6’4” and 215 pounds, giving him the size to be a solid red-zone threat and a big body that coordinator Jason Garrett likes to utilize in his scheme. While he’s a bit more developmental than one of the premier options, he’s someone with impressive upside and the physical frame to be exactly with the Giants’ need moving forward.

Some might argue that Collins isn’t worthy of the 42nd overall pick, and you would likely be right. But the Giants my view him as a perfect scheme fit, which makes him a bit more intriguing in context.