New York Yankees chasing enormous sweep over title contender

New York Yankees, Jameson Taillon

When the New York Yankees welcomed the Chicago White Sox for a three-game series, Yankee fans knew that it’d be an important series. The White Sox entered the series with a 26-16 record, one of the best in MLB and as the favorite to win the AL Central division. So far, the series has gone exactly according to plan for the Yankees, winning both games and allowing just one total run.

Friday’s victory over the White Sox was an early contender for the game of the season for the Yankees. Gleyber Torres drove in both runs, including a ninth-inning walk-off single and a home run earlier in the game. Jordan Montgomery fired seven shutout innings for the Yankees, and the team even turned an around-the-horn 5-4-3 triple play.

On Saturday, Gleyber Torres continued his post-COVID-19 diagnosis tear. Torres drove in four of the Yankees’ seven runs while going 3-for-4. After a terrible start to the season, Torres has elevated his average up to .268 with a .708 OPS. Gerrit Cole shoved, pitching seven scoreless innings and punching out seven.

This sets the Yankees up for a sweep opportunity on Sunday. However, the Yankees have Jameson Taillon on the mound, the one starter who hasn’t quite hit his stride yet. Taillon has a 5.73 ERA with a 1.27 WHIP in eight starts. He does, however, have a 3.00 ERA at home, so that could potentially play a factor in Sunday’s game.

Taillon also has a lot of pressure on him built up by the other Yankee pitchers. Yankee starting pitching hasn’t allowed a run since Tuesday, which was the last time that Taillon pitched. He’d love the continue the streak of scoreless outings, but he’ll have to overcome the elevated pressure.

And finally, this game is incredibly important for the Yankees’ position in the AL East. The team has won five games in a row, however, the Rays have countered it with a nine-game winning streak and the Red Sox have as well with a four-game winning streak.

The Yankees have had a difficult time sweeping series this season, however, they have a great opportunity to finally do so on Sunday.

New York Yankees: 3 Major takeaways from White Sox series win

It’s inspiring to see how the New York Yankees have been playing lately, and that continued in yesterday’s matinee against the Chicago White Sox. The Yankee ace Gerrit Cole struggled a bit, but the Yankee hitting more than made up for any uncomfortableness he experienced on the mound. The game had a little bit of everything, some great fielding play by the Yankees, and an unusual lineup caused by injuries that came alive with seven runs.

Cole struggled but hitters picked him up

For the second outing in a row, New York Yankee ace Gerrit Cole didn’t have his best stuff going and seemed uncomfortable on the mound. In his last game, the hitters failed him and he recorded his second loss of the season against the Texas Rangers, he gave up five earned runs in five innings of work, while the Yankees only scored 2 runs in the game.

Yesterday was different, he didn’t allow a run even though his command was off, like any top-notch pitcher he found a way to make the pitches he needed to keep the Sox from scoring. Meanwhile, the Yankees supported him with seven runs in the game. Cole has been nothing short of great this season, he presently sports an ERA of 1.81.

Gleyber Torres has stepped it up

Gleyber Torres got off to a lackluster start this season even though he reportedly came into the season stronger and more ready than last season. But little byt little he has improved behind the plate and at short, playing much better baseball.

In the last two series, he has really shined, making some great plays in the field, by fielding more aggressively, and his bat has been alive. In the last two games against the White Sox, he has tried to carry the team on his back. On Friday he drove in all of the runs in the game. Yesterday he went 3 for 4, and with 4 RBI’s, raising his batting average to .268.

Playing against a powerhouse like the Chicago White Sox, the Yankees really needed performance out of their lineup, and they got it on this hot afternoon in the Bronx. Torres lead with 4 RBI’s. Brett Gardner provided the spark with two hits as did Aaron Judge. Four other Yankees hit in the game as well. Mike Ford had a 447′ foot homer in the sixth inning.

Could we ask more of Gio Urshela?

Recently, arguably the best 3rd baseman that ever played at the hot corner, Brooks Robinson commented on Gio Urshela, singing his praises, saying he really likes him. That is some pretty high praise from a third baseman of his stature.

The New York Yankees got a hell of a bargain when the secured him from the Cleveland Indians, as a backup player in the minor leagues. Early in 2019 the Yankees third baseman Miguel Andujar required shoulder surgery, giving Urshela the chance to show what he could do at the hot corner, and he has done nothing less than impress. But he couldn’t hit..wait, that’s not true he has particularly shown that he can be one of the best and most consistant hitters behind the plate, he presently has the second highest batting average on the team.

Not only is Gio hitting but he is shining in the field, making plays that reminise Graig Nettles and yes Brooks Robinson. On Friday he started the first triple play since 2014. Yesterday he would have started three double plays if Rougie Odor hadn’t bobbled the ball on the third one. Quite frankly, there isn’t much more that could be asked for when speaking of Gio Urshela.

 

New York Giants: Will Azeez Ojulari be an immediate starter at OLB?

new york giants, azeez ojulari

The New York Giants made a tremendous effort to improve their pass rush this off-season, retaining Leonard Williams, signing Ifeadi Odenigbo, and drafting Azeez Ojulari. They did add a few supplemental pieces, like former Washington OLB Ryan Anderson, but the expectation is that their 50th overall pick could be an impact player on day one.

Ojulari was being considered one of the best pass rushers in the draft class and a potential first-round pick just a few days before the draft commenced. However, he ended up slipping all the way to 50th overall. The Giants simply couldn’t pass up on the opportunity to acquire him. His supposed knee injury was the reasoning behind his falling, but the Giants didn’t seem to have any concerns.

“I don’t know where the knee thing came from,” Gettleman said in a WFAN interview. “We had no concerns with that.”

An interesting reality for the Giants, as they ended up getting one of the best pass rushers in the draft class late in the second round. This was a perfect scenario for the Giants, who needed to upgrade the OLB unit after starting Carter Coughlin and Jabaal Sheard, a seventh-round pick from 2020 and practice squad player for the majority of the season.

Nobody expected Ojulari to be available at 50, but the Giants got better after selecting Andrew Thomas’s roommate during his time at Georgia.

“We didn’t expect him to be there that late, we had a lot of calls trying to move up to that spot as we were getting ready to pick him,” head coach Joe Judge said on the latest epsiode of Giants Life. “He plays stout against the run and he had a lot of production in pass rush to have the number of sacks he had and was very, very impressive.”

Ojulari is a fantastic player that ranked first in the SEC in sacks and forced fumbles. He tallies 9.5 sacks and four forced fumbles last season, utilizing a variety of pass rush moves and solid run defense.

He’s expected to be a day one starter for Patrick Graham on defense, and while some might believe he is undersized, at 6’3″ and 249 pounds, he has a similar frame to Von Miller back in 2011 when he was drafted to the NFL. Ojulari is only 20 years old, so he has plenty of time to refine his talents and make an impact in the NFL over the long term. He has solid bend around the edge, underrated flexibility, and is quite powerful with his hands at the point of attack. They desperately needed a pass rusher to upgrade the OLB unit, and they did that with flying colors drafting Azeez.

While he still needs a bit of refinement in the run-stopping category, experience well only assist him. He occasionally lacks the functional strength to disengage against combo blocks and is a tad over-aggressive in his pursuit angles. Having live training sessions and a preseason to utilize will be extremely beneficial in his growth before the start of the regular season. The Giants are now being regularly considered a playoff caliber team, and Joe Judge remains a catalyst behind this incredible turnaround.

Five questions for the Chicago Bears rookie class this offseason

The Chicago Bears entered the 2021 NFL Draft with a number of questions. With no long-term solution at quarterback and no franchise-caliber left tackle, combined with limited resources, many saw it being difficult for the Bears to come away with any sort of significant haul.

Instead, general manager Ryan Pace managed to find the Bears’ future franchise quarterback in Justin Fields and left tackle in Teven Jenkins. Chicago added depth at key positions like wide receiver, offensive tackle, defensive line, and cornerback.

With still over a week until the Bears return to Halas Hall for OTA’s, there is plenty to talk about. The Bears rookie class has many excited because it could finally turn around the Bears franchise.

As we’ve mentioned previously here at Fireside Bears, Chicago’s 2021 rookie class will be dictated by how the Fields pick pans out. But there are plenty of reasons to be excited about Chicago’s rookie class. There are also a number of questions before the newest additions to the Bears franchise officially meet their new teammates next week.

1) How quickly will Fields develop chemistry with his playmakers?

Bears fans are already picturing Fields hitting wide receivers Allen Robinson and Darnell Mooney in stride. Just look at comments fans have made on social media. One aspect of Fields’ game in college was that he was always on the same page with his wide receivers.

The same will need to happen in the NFL but how quickly is the question. Robinson and Mooney proved last season that they could become one of the NFL’s best WR duos after combining for 163 receptions, 1881 receiving yards, and 10 touchdowns.

When Fields gets his opportunity to take first-team reps, his connection with both wide receivers will be under the microscope. How quickly Fields proves he can connect with Robinson and Mooney could determine when the Bears decide to really begin the Fields era, officially giving the 11th overall pick the keys to the franchise.

2) What’s the plan for Jenkins’ development at LT?

General manager Ryan Pace sounded noncommital to where Jenkins would play during his post-draft press conference. Just 48 hours later, the Bears would release longtime starting LT Charles Leno Jr., who had been with the franchise since 2014.

The release of Leno Jr. now means that Jenkins will end up playing left tackle for the Bears, making him a cornerstone on the offensive line.

“We feel his best fit is either tackle spot for us. Really just describing the player for you guys, powerful tackle, he can bend, he can play with leverage, he consistently moves guys out in the run game,” Pace said via the Bears official Youtube channel.

Jenkins experience cannot be denied either. After having played both left and right tackle, along with left and right guard while at Oklahoma State, Jenkins has what it takes to be a day one starter, which means that OL coach Juan Castillo will like the nastiness that Jenkins brings on every play.

“We had first-round grades on him,” Pace said. “That’s why in the second round, especially that position, that player, we wanted to make sure we got him.”

Chicago knows that Jenkins will have an impact in both the running and passing game but the faster he develops, the quicker Chicago’s offense should see success as an entire unit.

3) How does CB Thomas Graham Jr. make the DB room expendable?

Uncertainty should be the word used to describe the Bears DB room heading into 2021. Besides safeties Eddie Jackson and Tashaun Gipson, many of the Bears defensive backs are unproven. One name to keep an eye on as a potential cornerback and safety is sixth-round pick Thomas Graham Jr.

A smart and instinctive player with a nose for the football, Graham Jr. had eight interceptions and 32 pass breakups as a three-year starter for the Oregon Ducks. A competitive tackler as well, Graham Jr. gets after ball carriers, never losing sight, even showcasing his physicality.

“We’re excited about developing some of these guys right now,” said defensive coordinator Sean Desai on the Bears official Youtube page. “We like the volume and depth we got there. We got to play football.”

While his role has yet to be determined, the Bears should experiment with Graham Jr. at both CB and safety, before determining what his best fit his. There is also a possibility that he starts for the team in 2022, making 2021 a developmental year for a player with a tremendous amount of upside.

4) Can Khyiris Tonga be another hidden gem?

The Bears lost two key pieces on the defensive line this offseason: Brent Urban and Roy Robertson-Harris. Enter Khyiris Tonga, the fourth defensive lineman that Ryan Pace has drafted since 2015. Throughout his career at BYU, Tonga was a force as a run stuffer but also consistently took on double teams.

At 6-foot-4, 322 pounds, Tonga has proven he can get to the football with ease, using his size and power. His ability to take on double teams means that the Bears linebackers should flourish, which will also open up opportunities for Eddie Goldman, Akiem Hicks, and Bilal Nichols.

“Just being able to be quick, using my hands more, not trying to power everything with pads,” said Tonga. “Without pads, showing speed, elusiveness, being able to be quick on my feet. Any reps I can possibly take, it’s going to be positive for me. I’m just trying to take as much as I can.”

Tonga will start off as a rotational player in year one but there is no denying the possibility that he becomes a starter at some point in the future.

5) What will the Bears do with Khalil Herbert?

In the NFL, any spark on offense is a good spark, and sparking offenses is what Herbert did during his lone season at Virginia Tech. At a first glance, with what is expected to be a crowded backfield, there doesn’t appear to be a role for Herbert, unless he’s the primary return man on special teams, where he averaged 26.9 yards per return in 2020.

“They really want me to come in here and learn as much as I can,” Herbert said via the Bears official Youtube page. “Establish a role on special teams, they’re really big on that. Getting in my playbook, learning as much as I can to help contribute to the team in some way or form”.

Right now, Chicago doesn’t have a set role for Herbert but he has shown that he’s a hard runner who has a knack for explosive plays. Despite having minimal impact in the passing game, Herbert’s big-play ability is hard to ignore, especially in an offense that lacked big plays all throughout 2020.

New York Giants: Sterling Shepard praises Daniel Jones in important area

New York Giants, Sterling Shepard

The New York Giants team and organization seems to have faith in Daniel Jones going into 2021. Despite Jones regularly ending up on the other side of complaints from the fans, the Giants front office and staff have been nothing but committed to the third year QB in all their statements this offseason. Other members of the roster have also painted a popular picture of Jones, including the receivers he’ll play with this season.

Sterling Shepard is one of those satisfied receivers, and had some things to say to the New York Daily News about Jones’ leadership. Specifically, the trip to Arizona that Jones led earlier in the offseason was brought up. During this trip, Jones worked with other members of the offense to get some early practice in under Jason Garrett’s system.

“It just shows his leadership skills in getting everybody together and trying to get some of the timing down. That’s important for offense, especially receiver to QB. Good session. We had a great time out there getting to know each other and bonding with each other, as well. Just shows you [Jones’] maturity level in being able to set something like that up,” Shepard said.

Shepard also spoke during the same interview about the Giants adding Kadarius Toney, another receiver, with their first round pick.

He said that he’s not looking at Toney as new competition – and his explanation is pretty on point. Him and Toney aren’t the same player, with the rookie having a more physical and explosive game.

“No. We’re different players. We needed weapons. That’s just another weapon added to the team and to the offense, and he also brings some value in the return game.”

Daniel Jones has more weapons than ever this year

Many have called this the make or break season for Daniel Jones. His performance might determine whether the front office stays committed to him or starts looking at other options. However, Jones will have more weapons than ever to help him this season.

Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton, the leading receivers from the last couple of seasons, are back – and they’re joined by the additions of Kenny Golladay and Kadarius Toney. The Giants even added former Bengals pick John Ross, bringing another former first round name to see if he can recover his previous upside.

At the tight end spot, Jones will have two pass catching tight ends in Evan Engram and Kyle Rudolph. And of course, Saquon Barkley is expected back for week one. The elusive running back has a reputation for being a weapon in the receiving game, not just on the ground.

This all, however, means there will also be less excuses for Jones. After all, if there’s more poor performances this year, the excuse of not having weapons likely won’t hold up.

For now, though, anyone in the organization will tell you that they have faith in Jones avoiding that pitfall and making a big step up in 2021.