Yankees’ manager Aaron Boone admired Giancarlo Stanton’s blast: ‘He’s a unicorn’

New York Yankees, Giancarlo Stanton

The New York Yankees were able to get their second win of the young MLB season. It came yesterday in the series opener against the Baltimore Orioles, and the final score was 7-0.

When the game was still close, Yankees’ slugger Giancarlo Stanton, who was getting booed by a portion of the crowd, deposited a middle-middle pitch on the other side of the wall for a grand slam that broke the game open.

Upon punishing the ball at 115 miles per hour and sending it 471 feet away, Stanton took a couple of seconds to admire the beauty of the blast. The sound, the ball leaving the park in a hurry, the distance, the crowd. Everything.

Then, he tossed his bat and started his jog around the bases. The Yankees were up 6-0 at that point.

The Yankees were happy to see their slugger get that first hit

It was the eighth grand slam of Stanton’s career. “Sometimes there’s no sound — there’s not anything except you watching the flight of the ball,” he told MLB.com. “You don’t know anything else that’s going on, and it’s a very cool feeling. It’s hard to describe very specifically, but it’s kind of like a blacked-out zone and an in-sync feeling. You’ve got to enjoy it and make sure you have a nice finish on it.”

Before his majestic slam against Shawn Armstrong, Stanton was 0-for-10 in the young season, and some Yankees’ fans had enough, as difficult to believe as that sounds.

“The way he hits them, it’s just different,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “It’s like nothing else. He is a unicorn. That ball was so pure.”

Fellow Yankees’ slugger Aaron Judge was happy for his teammate. “You always want to get that first hit out of the way, you want to get the first RBI and the first home run,” Judge said. “When you get it off your back, now it’s time to go. I don’t think mine went as far as Big G’s, but wherever they go, they still count.”

Brock Nelson has rebounded nicely for the Islanders after slow start to season

If you’ve watched the Islanders from their first few weeks of the season and what has transpired since up until the present day, you would say it’s been a tale of two seasons.

Forward Brock Nelson has followed the same path.

The Warroad, MN native struggled mightily out of the gate, recording just three points in the first nine games of the season. He looked out of sync at both ends of the ice, as did his linemates who made up the second line. It felt as if Nelson, the Isles’ most consistent forward the previous two seasons, needed a bit of a reset to get himself going. Then came the pause in the team’s season the first week of February, as a result of the Buffalo Sabres dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak; the Islanders were supposed to play Buffalo twice that week.

That break, when it’s all said and done, might have been what turned the Isles’ season around. Furthermore, it might have also been a blessing in disguise for Nelson. The first game back against Pittsburgh, he recorded an assist and had his strongest performance of the season playing on a newly-formed line with Jordan Eberle and Michael Dal Colle.

Following that game, Nelson has recorded 18 points in 28 games. In years past, those kinds of numbers might seem like he’s falling short of expectations because Nelson was depended on to produce at a higher rate. But for how the Isles are currently constructed — now become a well-balanced attack, even with the absence of captain Anders Lee — those a pretty solid numbers.

Nelson’s 13 goals have him in a three-way tie for the team lead with Eberle and Mathew Barzal. Six of those redlights too have come on the power play, a department where both Nelson and the Islanders have made huge strides. He also still has a shot at a third consecutive 20-goal season with 18 games left to play.

What’s also been noticeable has been Nelson’s defensive improvement, perfectly exhibited by his tremendous backcheck to stop a breakaway for Philadelphia’s Joel Farabee last game.

“I have a lot of trust in Nellie’s game over the course of time that I’ve been here,” head coach Barry Trotz noted before the Islanders’ most recent shootout victory Saturday over the Flyers. “And when his line with him and Bails have been together and Beau is over there, that line has given us really good minutes. And when they don’t, it’s noticeable. It’s noticeable to our group. It’s not noticeable to the production and success of the team.”

The Islanders have given Nelson the “A” with Lee now out, and he’s run with it so far. They are going to need his leadership and sound play as they continue to be in a dogfight for the top spot in the MassMutual East Division.

A few weeks into this truncated season, it looked as if Nelson was lost and a step behind. That seems like an afterthought now. He’s recovered quite well.

And with the postseason on the horizon, that is huge for not just him but for where the Isles hope they will be going.

Hard to believe Mathew Barzal hadn’t been named the league’s “First Star of The Week” in his four-year career up until he received the honor yesterday. Barzal has had weeks and runs just like he did last week — seven points in three games, including a five-point explosion against the Capitals last Thursday — but somehow never got top billing.

This will probably be the first of many top star of the week honors Barzal will attain during his career.

Will be great to see one of the OGs back at the Coliseum starting Tuesday. Organist Paul Cartier will make his long-anticipated return after his battle with COVID-19 months ago.

 

 

Patricio Pitbull’s next title defense means a lot for him and Bellator

Patricio Pitbull Freire

Last weekend at Bellator 255, Patricio “Pitbull” Freire (32-4) defended his featherweight title against Emmanuel Sanchez (20-5). The fight was a semifinal matchup in Bellator‘s Featherweight Grand Prix, but the title was also on the line.

The two met for the first time back in 2018 and Pitbull walked away with a decision win. Since 2017, Pitbull had been the only man to have defeated Sanchez inside the Bellator cage.

Sanchez made the walk on Friday night having gone 7-1 in his last eight fights. Many, including myself, thought he was going to give Pitbull a run for his money. The first fight was relatively close, but the second fight was anything but.

At Bellator 255, we saw an extremely patient Pitbull. He waited for Sanchez to engage and when he did, Pitbull blasted him with powerful counters. At one point, Sanchez went for a kick and ate a left hook for his troubles.

That left hook sat him down, but he got right back up and engaged. The problem was he went right into the guillotine choke of Bellator‘s two-division champion. Pitbull tightened the choke and put Sanchez to sleep setting up the finale that everyone has been wanting to see.

Bellator’s dream scenario has played out

When Bellator unveiled the Featherweight Grand Prix, fans everywhere wanted to see one matchup in particular. That matchup would feature Patricio Pitbull and the undefeated superstar, AJ McKee (17-0).

Like Patricio Pitbull, McKee dominated his way to the finals of the Grand Prix. McKee has spent his entire career with Bellator and he’s finally getting his shot at the title. The 25 year old is looked at as arguably the best young fighter in the sport.

When these two fighters face off, it’s a massive deal for Bellator. Patricio Pitbull is the greatest fighter to have ever laced up the gloves in Bellator. The two-division champion holds the most wins and he’s the most decorated in terms of championships.

AJ McKee is a homegrown star, but he’s a star that has extremely high aspirations. McKee has been vocal that he’s keeping an eye on the top guys over in the UFC. The Mercenary also said that he only has two fights left on his current Bellator contract.

With that in mind, this fight becomes a big deal for Bellator. If McKee wins, he would be the featherweight champion with only one fight left. McKee has said that if he beats Pitbull, he wants them to rematch at lightweight so he can try to become a two division champion.

While that might be great in theory for Bellator, it’s actually a nightmare scenario. The UFC would likely pry McKee away and he would walk away as an undefeated two-division champion.

Meanwhile, Patricio Pitbull has no desire to leave Bellator. He is the face of the promotion and he just signed a new deal recently. While McKee is the future, it would probably be best for Bellator if Patricio Pitbull walks away victorious when they fight.

Knicks’ RJ Barrett responds to Anthony Edwards trash talk

new york knicks, rj barrett

The New York Knicks fell to the Brooklyn Nets on Monday evening in a hard-fought battle, and that performance was far more indicative of their quality of play than a recent loss of the Minnesota Timberwolves, arguably the worst team in the NBA. During that contest, the Knicks once again forced the ball to Julius Randle with time winding down, but it was RJ Barrett who took the last shot to win the game, subsequently missing and catching a bit of heat from Timberwolves star Anthony Edwards afterward.

Edwards made sure to leave a comment that got into RJ Barrett’s head, stating that they desperately wanted him to take the final shot, and everything worked out in their favor.

“Gladly RJ caught it and if he made the shot, we would’ve lived with it,” Timberwolves rookie Anthony Edwards said. “Because that’s who we wanted taking the shot. We didn’t want anyone else taking it.”

Clearly, they believe Barrett is incapable of rising to the occasion and hitting big shots, but I would argue he’s well on his way to being a quality NBA player and hasn’t even scratched the surface.

Barrett isn’t one to take things personally, but this one seemed to get to him, utilizing a rare tweet to expressed his confusion in Edward’s comments.

“I thought it was funny,” Barrett said. “You’re right: I don’t normally tweet. I don’t know what it was about this one. I just felt like this one was an OK scenario to laugh at.”

This season, RJ is averaging 17.3 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 3.0 assists on .445 shooting from the field. His three-pointer has taken a massive step forward, hitting on .359% compared to .320% in 2019. At 20 years old, he has taken an extensive developmental leap this year, showing flashes of stardom.

Comparably, Edwards is in his rookie season at 19 years old, averaging 17.6 points and .394 shooting from the field. There is a primary difference between the two, Barrett is an aggressive defender who is rounding out his game in year two while Edwards is focusing on offensive contributions. I believe that RJ has a bright future ahead of him, especially with the Knicks as a hopeful star player.

Clearly, opponents are trying to get into his head, but RJ is more worried about playing basketball at a high level than being concerned with trash talk.

UFC unveils new Venum Fight Kits

UFC, Dana White

Today marked the beginning of a new era in terms of the UFC. Last month, the promotion’s apparel deal with Reebok officially came to a close and today marked the beginning of a new day in the UFC.

Last July, we learned that the UFC had signed a new exclusive apparel deal with Venum. Venum as an apparel company has been in the fight game for a long time. They have specialized in making apparel for fighters.

We have seen Venum on the shorts of many greats in the past in the UFC. Now, Venum will be sported by all athletes competing inside the octagon. This change is welcomed by many in the industry.

The new Fight Kits were officially revealed today on the UFC‘s social media pages. The Fight Kits are relatively simplistic in design but feature the signature Venum snake. You can check out the new Fight Kits in the Instagram post below.

What the deal means for UFC fighters?

Now that there is a new sponsor, the question becomes, what does it mean for the UFC fighters? Well, in reality there’s not a ton that is changing in terms of what the fighters are getting compensated for wearing the apparel.

The new pay structure for the UFC breaks down like this:

Number of Fights Reebok Compensation Venum Compensation Percentage Increase
1-3 $3,500 $4,000 14.3%
4-5 $4,000 $4,500 12.5%
6-10 $5,000 $6,000 20.0%
11-15 $10,000 $11,000 10.0%
16-20 $15,000 $16,000 6.7%
21+ $20,000 $21,000 5.0%
Title Challenge $30,000 $32,000 6.7%
Title Defense $40,000 $42,000 5.0%

As you can see, while there is an increase across the board for the athletes, the change is relatively minimal. The deal that Venum signed with the UFC is for six years and $70 million.

The Fight Kits will make their official debut this weekend at UFC Vegas 23 which is headlined by Marvin Vettori and Kevin Holland. The card is the second UFC card that will be featured on ABC so there is expected to be a big audience. The perfect time for the promotion to make their Venum debut.

Why the New York Islanders should stay far away from Taylor Hall

islanders, taylor hall

The New York Islanders are in the trade market after their captain Anders Lee was placed on LTIR with a torn ACL. The Islanders were gifted back Anders Lee’s cap hit for this year, which is about $7 million. The Islanders need a top 6 forward to help out Mat Barzal and Jordan Eberle. There are several targets, and most of them are appealing. Guys like Conor Garland, Phil Kessel, Kyle Palmieri, Dustin Brown, Viktor Arvidsson, and many more. One of these targets, Taylor Hall, is a guy the Islanders need to stay far away from.

The Reasoning

Taylor Hall has been quite rough in his last 2 years as a player and is playing his worst Hockey right now. Currently, this kid has 2 goals, and he played alongside Jack Eichel. I know Eichel wasn’t playing his best Hockey either, but I think his stats would be inflated if Hall actually scored more than once a blue moon. All the fans keep saying is that the Isles need a goal scorer, but when it comes to Hall, there’s an exception. Hall has only one more goal than Michael Dal Colle. Taylor Hall has been on 3 teams, now 4 teams in the last 3 years. That says quite a lot about a player. And it’s gonna take value to actually get hall: Kieffer bellows, a second, and another good player. Hall would only be a half-year rental too, and it’s not worth it.

Other Options

Conor Garland is a perfect top 6 forward for the Islanders for many reasons. Garland is currently rocking 10 goals and 18 assists in 37 games for the Arizona Coyotes. He’s putting up good numbers while having Nick Schmaltz and Michael Bunting on his line. The only problem is that he will be an RFA this offseason and will look for well-deserved big money. I also believe Kyle Palmieri is the best and most realistic trade for the Islanders. Palmieri is already sitting games ahead of the trade deadline, as he currently has 17 points in 34 games. Alongside some struggling young forwards, Palmieri is due for a change of scenery. It’ll be a relatively cheap trade to get him.

Yankees: Good news and bad news in win over Orioles

New York Yankees, Giancarlo Stanton

The New York Yankees took on the Baltimore Orioles on Monday evening, securing a 7-1 victory. The Yankees have simply dominated Baltimore the past few years, and that didn’t end in their first game of the season against one another.

The home runs were flying, but it wasn’t until Giancarlo Stanton hit a grand slam to blow things open in the fifth inning, driving in DJ LeMahieu, Aaron Judge, and Aaron Hicks.

The Yankees needed this blowout win after struggling offensively the first three games of the season, scoring a high of five and a low of three against Toronto.

Good news and bad news for the Yankees:

The good news was plentiful in the win, with Stanton finally showing a bit of life after struggling the first few games. Sample sizes are incredibly small and shouldn’t be taken too seriously, as a solid sample would be 4-6 weeks until we can make any realistic predictions. However, this grand slam for Giancarlo is exactly what he needed to get back on track, as he currently has a .083 average.

In addition, Aaron Judge launched his first homer of the season, opening the score between both teams in the fourth inning. He secured two hits, currently sitting at .294.

However, it was the pitching that really impressed, as Jordan Montgomery lasted 6.0 innings, allowing four hits and zero runs, striking out seven batters over 73 pitches. Montgomery could’ve continued on, but the Yankees wanted to mitigate fatigue, and they already had such a daunting lead they felt as though concluding his day was the right move. Clearly, he walked away with a stellar performance and enough juice to start again on a short schedule.

The bullpen was also stellar, with Luis Cessa lasting two innings and striking out three batters. Aroldis Chapman logged in his first action of the year with three consecutive Ks to secure the win.

There wasn’t much bad news against Baltimore in game one, aside from Gary Sanchez, who struck out three times and has seen his offense continue to struggle after hitting home runs in the first two games of the season. Hopefully, he can get back on track, as we know, his home run production is really his only value as a hitter these days.

Mets’ manager Luis Rojas ‘satisfied’ with decision to pull Jacob deGrom after 77 pitches

New York Mets, Luis Rojas

The New York Mets, in their season opener last night, decided to pull Jacob deGrom, who was dealing on the mound, after throwing 77 pitches. That call has become controversial ever since Kevin Cash did something similar with Blake Snell in last year’s World Series, as it shows the marked division between two schools of thought: the analytical-driven people who say that having a pitcher face a lineup for a third time it’s not worth the risk, and the old schoolers who live and die with their ace.

Mets’ manager Luis Rojas called the bullpen in the seventh, bringing right-hander Miguel Castro even though the skipper had said prior to the game that deGrom’s pitch count for the contest would be near 100.

“Going out for the six innings and you guys saw the activity on the bases. And he hasn’t thrown in 10 days. So the conversations in between innings with him led us to make the decision of pulling him,” Rojas told reporters via Zoom following the Mets’ 5-3 loss to the Phillies (link to the SNY article here). “…I know he was way under than what he’s built up leaving camp. But maybe the 10 days without throwing led to the decision during the game.

The Mets had already discussed the idea

The Mets’ manager said “it was an agreement between everyone after we got to that spot in the sixth.”

He later added that despite the result (the bullpen and defense blowing the game), he was “satisfied” with the decision to pull his ace.

The Mets’ pitcher confirmed that it was discussed before the game that he wouldn’t go as far as initially planned.

“That was kind of discussed where we’re going to be before,” deGrom said. “10 days without facing hitters, kept trying to throw bullpens but didn’t want to throw too many pitches with the hope of playing Saturday and then finding out that series is canceled so that was the last time I was able to throw. So it was kind of a how many ups thing, how many pitches not being in a game facing hitters for 10 days.”

New York Yankees Player Profile: Kyle Higashioka, where does hit fit this season?

New York Yankees, Kyle Higashioka

Tonight when Gerrit Cole takes the mound for the New York Yankees against the Baltimore Orioles, all eyes will be on who will be catching him. Earlier in the spring, manager Aaron Boone said that Kyle Higashioka would no longer be Gerrit Cole’s personal catcher.

The controversy arose when it was determined that Cole pitched better when paired with Higashioka behind the plate. Last season when pitching to Gary Sanchez, Cole had an ERA of 3.91, but when pitching to Higashioka, his ERA was 1.00 in his last four starts of the regular season. Higashioka also caught Cole’s 3 post-season starts with an ERA of 2.95. These stats are why Yankee fans were shocked when Boone said that would no longer be the case.

I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that Gerrit Cole has never said anything negative regarding being caught by Gary Sanchez; however, he has expressed his comfort with the relationship he has developed with Kyle Higashioka.

Fast forward to this year. Cole was one of the Yankee starters that struggled the most in spring training, all but one caught by Gary Sanchez. He also gave up 5 home runs in just 18 innings. Five days ago, on opening day, Sanchez caught Cole in a no-decision game. He gave up 2 earned runs, one of them a homer. With Sanchez catching in four straight games, it would seem logical that he would get the day off, and Higashioka would catch. Tonight we will find out. Let’s take a look at Higashioka’s career.

Higashioka (he-GAH-shi-OH-Kah) is a fourth-generation Japanese American born on April 20, 1990, in Huntington Beach, California. He attended high school there and played for its baseball team. He has always preferred the backstop position when playing. After high school, he committed to the University of California to play for the California Golden Bears. Instead, he signed with the Yankees when they drafted him in the seventh round of the 2008 MLB draft.  He is the longest-tenured Yankee with Brett Gardner. Higashioka is multi-lingual.

His time in the minor leagues

He played for the Tampa Yankees A-Advanced team in the Florida State League and the Trenton Thunder AA club in the minors. During 2013 and 2014, he played in only 13 games due to an injured thumb and the need for Tommy John surgery. He played for the Tampa team again in 2015. After the season, he, as a free agent, again signed with the Yankees and started the 2016 season with the Trenton Thunder and won a player of the week award. He was then promoted to the Scranton Wilkes/Barre Rail Riders. He finished the season .276 with 21 home runs and 81 RBI’s, and he was added to the New York Yankee’s 40 man roster, only to be optioned to the Rail Riders again at the beginning of the 2017 season. Due to an injury to Gary Sanchez, he was called up and made his major league debut on April 10 when he went 0-18 and was again sent back to the Rail Riders upon Sanchez’s return.

Kyle makes his major league debut

He in July suffered a knee injury and only played eight games in August and September. He started the 2018 season at the Rail Riders but was called up in June due to another Sanchez injury. On July 1, he hit his first major league home run against the Boston Red Sox’s David Price. His next two hits were also home runs, making him the 1st player to hit three home runs as his first hits in the majors since 1920.

During the rest of 2018 and in 2019 New York Yankees seasons , Higashioka was called up several times due to Sanchez’s injuries. When called up, he usually alternated with Austin Romine caring for the backstop’s duties and is an integral part of the organization. Kyle is not the best hitter, but when he does, it’s often for power (23 HR was between the Rail Riders and the Yankees last season). He calls a great game and is an excellent defender. He is the longest-tenured Yankee minor leaguer, having been with them eleven years before this season.

Competing to be the full-time backup catcher

After long-time catcher Austin Romine left for the Tigers last year in the shortened spring training, he played in 12 games and made 31 plate appearances.  He hit a team-leading three home runs in those appearances and drove in four while providing excellent backstop defense.  He competed to be the backup catcher for Gary Sanchez with Chris Iannetta and Erik Kratz.  With his spring training performance, he has nearly assured himself of the backup job and a dream realized. As it turned out late in the season, he became ace Gerrit Cole’s personal catcher with amazing results. He has solidified his position as the Yankee’s backup catcher.

Higashioka’s personals

Kyle is married to his wife, Alyse. They were married in November of 2016 in Maui. They reportedly have no children as of yet and live in southern California in the off-season. There are no know scandals involving Kyle. Although of Japanese heritage, Kyle could not speak Japanese, so he learned it to be able to better communicate with the likes of Masahiro Tanaka. Being the studious type, he also learned Spanish to better speak with the Latino Yankee Players.

He earned the nickname “Higgy” from his fellow Rail Riders and New York Yankee players and is very well-liked and respected by the other players. He has taken classes in mechanical engineering at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, California in the off-season.

Bellator 259 headlined by Cris Cyborg – Leslie Smith 2

In cased you missed the Bellator 255 broadcast last Friday, we learned that the promotion has finalized a big time women’s matchup. The matchup will headline Bellator 259 on May 21st.

That matchup features the Bellator featherweight champion Cris Cyborg (23-2, 1 NC) taking on Leslie Smith (12-8-1). This is the second time that these two ladies have squared off against each other.

There was a ton of hype around their first meeting because it was the UFC debut of Cyborg. Leslie Smith was tasked with welcoming Cyborg to the world’s premier MMA organization.

Smith had traditionally competed at 135 pounds, but she moved up to take on the challenge of Cyborg. Ultimately, Cyborg was able to get the TKO victory over Leslie Smith in the first round.

Since that loss to Cyborg back in 2016, Leslie Smith has gone 4-1. She also made the move to Bellator during this stretch of her career. This 4-1 stretch is the best five fight stretch that she’s had since making her professional debut.

Bellator’s Best

The 38 year old Smith might be on the best stretch of her career, but she has a giant mountain in front of her at Bellator 259. That mountain is one of the greatest women’s mixed martial artists of all time.

Cris Cyborg made her professional debut back in 2005. That night, she was submitted in the first round by knee bar. Since that night, Cyborg has gone 23-1, 1 NC in 25 fights.

The only woman that’s made Cyborg look human is Amanda Nunes. Nunes fought Cyborg back in 2018 and knocked her out in under a minute. Granted, while Cyborg is one of the best, Amanda Nunes is by far the greatest to ever do it.

After that loss to Nunes, Cyborg fought once more in the UFC before moving to Bellator. She made her debut with the promotion and took on long reigning featherweight champion, Julia Budd.

Cyborg was able to score the fourth round TKO. She made her first title defense back in October and submitted dangerous challenger Arlene Blencowe in the second round. There is no questioning the fact that Cyborg is the best that Bellator has to offer and she will look to continue her dominance in May.