New York Giants: Azeez Ojulari pick called smartest move this offseason

Leading up to the NFL Draft, some mock drafts had the New York Giants taking Azeez Ojulari at eleven. After all, the Giants have been trying to work out their pass rush for the past few years and Ojulari entered the draft as one of the top prospects at that impact position. So it was quite surprising for most, then, when the Giants were able to pick up Ojulari outside the first round entirely.

They selected him with their second round pick after a surprising fall, but many analysts are still high on Ojulari’s prospects and believe the Giants gained a major steal.

On a list of every team’s smartest offseason move from Bleacher Report, selecting Ojulari was named the smartest move for the Giants.

The Giants will benefit from this gamble. If Ojulari goes through the 2021 campaign without any issues, he’s a candidate to log double-digit sacks. The 6’2″, 249-pounder can beat tackles with speed and great use of his hands on the edge. The rookie’s short-area quickness, coupled with his balance, allows him to stay in position for a sack on stunts.

With Leonard Williams and Dexter Lawrence on the interior of the defensive line, they’ll open lanes for Ojulari to squeeze through and collapse the pocket. He’s a Day 2 pick who should make an immediate impact in Year 1.

What makes the Ojulari pick a gamble?

The thing that caused Ojulari to fall out of the first round and muddied the waters around his draft stock is an injury rumor. Word came out about Ojulari’s knee not long before the draft, and teams seemed to take this seriously as the alleged knee problem was said to be serious.

Ojulari does have a history of knee injury from high school, but was otherwise healthy during his time at Georgia and initially appeared to be all clear entering the draft.

Giants GM Dave Gettleman, after drafting the player, claimed that the Giants don’t know where the rumors about Ojulari’s knee came from.

If this is the case, and those rumors were simply draft week smoke and mirrors that don’t amount to anything substantial, it looks like many of these predictions are right and the Giants did come away with a steal.

After all, not many other teams can say they were able to secure a potential top 10 prospect in the second round.

New York Yankees Recap: Red Sox took the second game in a row from the Yankees

New York Yankees, Aaron Boone, jameson taillon

After losing game one to the Boston Red Sox, the New York Yankees met up again with the Sox in the Bronx at Yankee Stadium for game two of the 3 game set. Jameson Taillon faced the Sox ace Eduardo Rodgriguez. It was an absolutely perfect night for baseball. 86 degrees and sunny at the Stadium with no chance of rain. The game was broadcast nationally on the Fox Network. With the largest crowd of the season (20K), the final score was the Red Sox 7 and the New York Yankees 3.

In the first inning, Taillon took the mound and faced the Soxs’ Danny Santana, who popped out. Verdugo doubled. Bogaerts flew out to Urshela in foul territory, and he made an amazing throw to the new first baseman Chris Gittens for the out. Rafael Devers lined out to LeMahieu to end the half. At the bottom of the inning, LeMahieu was at the plate, and he lined out to first. Giancarlo Stanton chopped to short for the second out. Then, Aaron Judge lined out on a sharp hit to short. No score.

Hunter Renfroe led off the second by lining out. Marwin Gonzalez walked.  Hernandez was out to first. Christian Vázquez singled but tried to make it two and was called out for the final out of the half. Gio Urshela led off the bottom of the inning, and he struck out swinging. Gleyber Torres struck out on a change-up. Chris Gittens, in his major league debut, ground out to short. No score.

Bobby Dalbec led off the third inning by flying out to Frazier in right. Santana flew out to Andujar in left. Verdugo ground out to first to end the half. At the bottom, Miguel Andujar led off for the Yankees and flew out to left-center for Rodriguez’s seventh Yankee putdown. Gary Sanchez flew out to right field. Clint Frazier hit to left for a single. LeMahieu singled, moving Frazier to second. Stanton struck out to end the inning, leaving two on base. After three, no score.

Xander Bogaerts, at the top of the fourth, flew out. Devers flew out. Renfroe singled to left field. Gonzalez flew out to Andujar in left, leaving one on. Aaron Judge led off the bottom and struck out looking. Urshela singled to center. Torres hit a two-run home run into the left-field stands. Chris Gittens ground out, and Andujar lined out to end the inning, but the Yankees took the two-run lead. New York Yankees 2 Boston Red Sox 0.

Enrique Hernandez led off the fifth inning by striking out against Taillon with only 53 pitches in the fifth inning. Vazquez hit back to Taillon for the second out. Dalbec struck out to end the half as Taillon dominated. Gary Sanchez led off the bottom by striking to a back door slider. Frazier also struck out. LeMahieu flew to far-right for the last out of the inning. Yankees 2 Red Sox 0.

Santana, at the top of the sixth, flew out. Verdugo singled on a ground ball. Bogaerts doubled to left on a ball that Andujar could have caught. With the tying run on base, Devers singled to right to tie the game up at 2, and that was Taillon’s night. The new pitcher Jonathan Loaisiga faced Renfroe, who singled to left. Gonzalez doubled down the left-field line for the Red Sox lead. Hernandez struck out. Vazquez popped out to catcher Gary Sanchez but the Sox took the 3 run lead. At the bottom, Giancarlo Stanton stuck out swinging. Aaron Judge walked with one away. Urshela doubled on a ground run double with Judge going to third base. Torres faced the new pitcher Garrett Whitlock and flew out to far-right, but it scored Aaron Judge to tie the game. Chris Gittens went down on strikes, but the Yankees tied the game. Yankees 3 Red Sox 3.

Dalbec led off the seventh by grounding out. Santana singled. Verdugo took a four-pitch walk. Bogaerts, with two on and one out, lined directly to Urshela, who made the perfect play to second to get the last out. Miguel Andujar led off the bottom of the frame and went down swinging. Sanchez singled to left with one out. With Tyler Wade running for Sanchez, Frazier hit into a double play to end the inning still tied. Yankees 3 Red Sox 3.

The top of the eighth saw Rafael Devers against the new pitcher Chad Green and singled to center. Renfroe struck out. Gonzalez popped out to third. Hernandez struck out. In the end, they scored four runs after the two-run home run by Dalbec. LeMahieu ground out, Stanton struck out. Judge flew out to cent to end the inning, but the Red Sox went ahead. Red Sox 7 Yankees 3.

In the ninth inning, with Brooks Kriske on the mound, he stuck out Verdugo. Bogaerts struck out. Devers popped out to third baseman Urshela to end the half. With last licks on the line for the New York Yankees, Gio Urshela at the plate he flew out to left. Gleyber Torres struck out. Then it was up to Chris Gittens, and being patient, he walked. Brett Gardner pitch hitting for Andujar, he walked. The Red Sox closer Barnes faced Kyle Higashioka with two on and two outs stuck out to end the game and lose the series for the Yankees.

Final score Red Sox 7 New York Yankees 3. The winning pitcher was Garrett Whitlock, and the loser was Chad Green.

 

 

 

Jairzinho Rozenstruik knocks out Augusto Sakai at UFC Vegas 28

Two top ten heavyweights battled it out in the UFC Vegas 28 main event tonight. Sixth ranked Jairzinho Rozenstruik (11-2) took on Augusto Sakai (15-2-1) as both men looked to bounce back.

A lot has changed for Jairzinho Rozenstruik in the last 13 months. 13 months ago, Rozenstruik was booked against Francis Ngannou at UFC 249. Bigi Boy was undefeated entering that fight and he looked like he was knocking on the door of a UFC title shot.

However, Francis Ngannou knocked him out in 20 seconds which ended that dream. After than, Rozenstruik bounced back with a knockout win over Junior Dos Santos before being booked in a headliner against Ciryl Gane back in February.

Rozenstruik put on one of the worst performances imaginable in getting shut out in the UFC main event. There was no urgency from the heavyweight striker and he proceeded to get outpointed for five rounds. Tonight was an opportunity for Bigi Boy to redeem himself in another main event.

Standing across from him was Augusto Sakai. Sakai last fought in September when he was stopped by Alistair Overeem. That loss was his first in the UFC and it snapped a six-fight winning streak. Sakai was looking to avoid a second straight loss tonight.

UFC Vegas 28 Recap

Round 1

The UFC Vegas 28 main event kicked off with a touch of the gloves. Sakai circled on the outside as Rozenstruik immediately took the center and both men exchanged kicks to start the striking. Nice low kick and jab lands for Rozenstruik.

Both men appeared to just be gauging the range in the first 90 seconds. Sakai throws a calf kick as he continues to circle on the outside. Another kick lands for Sakai and Rozenstruik counters with a nice straight to the body.

Rozenstruik pushes forward with a 1-2 to the body and Sakai tries to counter with a low kick but misses. Sakai throws a kick, but Rozenstruik catches it and explodes forward with a right, but just misses. Rozenstruik is doing a really good job of holding the center here in the first round.

Nice jab lands for Rozenstruik. Sakai throws a good kick to the body as he continues to circle. Rozenstruik pushes Sakai against the fence and rips a combination. Sakai circles out and escapes.

Rozenstruik again pushes and lands a left hook and right straight to the temple. Sakai crashes to the canvas and Rozenstruik follows up with a couple of shots and this one is over. Massive knockout win at UFC Vegas 28 for Jairzinho Rozenstruik.

Jairzinho Rozenstruik def. Augusto Sakai by KO – Round 1

New York Liberty: Three Stars from Saturday’s loss at Connecticut

The New York Liberty were dealt their third straight defeat in Connecticut, as they were unable to stop All-Star Jonquel Jones.

Jonquel Jones tallied a career-best 31 points for the Connecticut Sun, who rolled to an 85-64 victory over the New York Liberty on Saturday night at Mohegan Sun Arena.

Rebecca Allen tallied 14 points to lead the Liberty (5-4) who have now lost three in a row heading into a week-long break. The sour New York feelings further manifested with Betnijah Laney being held to eight points, ending her streak of 20-point game to open the season at eight (tied for second-longest in WNBA history).

ESM has three stars to highlight from another tough New York effort…

Third  Star: Rebecca Allen

14 pts. (5-10 FG), 2 steals, 2 rebs.

Fresh off a season-best 16 against Las Vegas on Thursday, Allen was the only New Yorker who reached double figures in scoring. Between her rediscovered shooting prowess (Saturday was the third time she reached double-figures this season) and tenacious defense that ha assisted a defense sorely missing Natasha Howard, it may be time to put Allen on the Sixth Woman of the Year Award’s shortlist.

Second Star: Michaela Onyenwere

7 pts. (3-4 FG), 4 rebs. 1 blk.

The trial by fire continues for Onyenwere, who has been forced to deal with the powerful interiors of Las Vegas and Connecticut in her first contests after winning the league’s Rookie of the Month Award. Early foul trouble presented an issue in the early going, but Onyenwere still managed to earn some respectable numbers before things got out of hand.

First Star: Jazmine Jones

8 pts, 3 assists, 3 rebs. 

The second-year pro was, alas for New York, overshadowed by Connecticut’s representative of the same surname, but Saturday was a remarkable showcase for the last pick of the 2020 draft’s first-round.

Jones had a starring role in the Bradenton bubble but the spotlight has moved with the return of Sabrina Ionescu and several newcomers. She has kept the energy rolling through energetic bench celebrations and introductions, however, and she finally got to share the power on the court in an extended showing. Contributions all over the court allowed the Liberty to stage a late run on the lead in the first half and even hold a brief lead.

The Liberty return to action on Sunday, June 13 against the Phoenix Mercury (6 p.m. ET, YES). 

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Giants: Why Andrew Thomas will prove himself in his second season

New York Giants, Andrew Thomas

The New York Giants committed to fixing the offensive line last offseason. The Giants spent three of their draft picks in the 2020 NFL Draft on the offensive line. New York’s top pick in the 2020 NFL Draft was offensive tackle Andrew Thomas, selected fourth overall in the draft.

Andrew Thomas had an up-and-down rookie season. At times, he looked worthy of his top-ten draft spot. But he also looked like the worst offensive tackle in the league at other times. That might sound harsh, but statistically, it is hard to find many tackles that had a worse season than Andrew Thomas.

In his rookie 2020 campaign, Andrew Thomas allowed 10 sacks, the most of any tackle in the league. He struggled greatly in pass protection, causing many to second guess the Giants’ first-round draft choice. However, there are still reasons to believe that Andrew Thomas is a franchise left tackle. His improvements in the second half of the 2020 season are encouraging and could foreshadow a breakout 2021 season.

Why Andrew Thomas could turn things around in 2021

Andrew Thomas is under pressure entering 2021. Of the top four offensive tackles taken in the first round of last year’s draft, Thomas had the worst season of them all. Many fans have criticized the Giants’ selection of Thomas because of the fact that they could have selected the likes of Tristan Wirfs, Jedrick Wills, or Mekhi Becton.

In 2021, Thomas has the opportunity to prove the doubters wrong. It was kept under wraps, but the Giants’ first-round pick actually played through an ankle injury all season long. He had surgery in January to clean things up. This injury could be the reason for Thomas’s struggles and the reason his technique became so inconsistent.

A healthy Andrew Thomas could be a much-improved left tackle in 2021. By the end of the 2020 season, Thomas showed significant improvements. After allowing three or more pressures in eight of the Giants’ first eight games in 2020, Andrew Thomas allowed three or more pressures in only three of the Giants’ last eight games (PFF). Andrew Thomas earned just one PFF pass-blocking grade below 59.0 over the second half of the season, whereas every single outing before Week 8 fell below that mark. Outside of one disastrous game against Arizona, his pass-blocking grade was above 70.0 from Week 8 onwards (PFF).

The New York Giants’ offensive line has been a weakness for years. After investing so much into the unit last year, the Giants are hoping to see some improvement this season. Fans are low on Andrew Thomas, but if he can turn it around this season, he will establish himself as a franchise left tackle for the Giants.

New York Yankees: Gerrit Cole hasn’t been as sharp of late

yankees, gerrit cole

Gerrit Cole got off to a fantastic start in his first full season with the New York Yankees. Cole pitched to a 1.37 ERA in his first eight starts, putting him second to Jacob deGrom in terms of ERA across MLB.

However, Cole’s last four starts have raised some eyebrows with recent struggles. Dating back to May 17 against the Texas Rangers, Cole has a 4.30 ERA over four starts and his season ERA has increased nearly an entire run. Of his last four starts, Cole’s allowed five earned runs in two of them with at least one home run allowed in both.

Cole’s strikeout numbers have also decreased of late, him striking out no more than seven batters in his last four starts. Prior to when his struggles began on May 17, Cole had punched out 10 or more batters in five of his first eight starts.

Even before his struggles really began, we saw a game against the Houston Astros on May 6 where Cole only struck out four batters. That number is low for just about every starter, not just Gerrit Cole. It could’ve been just a bad start or due to the fact of how familiar the Astros are with Cole, but it’s still a little concerning.

One of the only things that are really attested to Cole’s recent struggles is spin rate. MLB is looking to crack down on foreign substances, something Cole and other pitchers have frequently been accused of using. Over his last four starts, Cole’s spin rates are down to around 2500 from around 3000 on his fastball, a surprising number. The lower that spin rates are, the more likely a batter is to hit the ball hard. If Cole was truly using foreign substances, his struggles could potentially be due to his adjustment of pitching without them.

Regardless, the Yankees need Gerrit Cole of old back. The team is still struggling to hit, meaning they are even more reliant on the success of Cole and the rest of the pitching staff to win games.

New York Yankees: Yankees finally call up Chris Gittens

The New York Yankees finally have called up first baseman Chris Gittens. This call-up solves two problems immediately. Gittens, .283/.486/.585 at the Rail Riders this season can take over first base and move DJ LeMahieu back to second base. It also replaces no production from a first baseman to a good hitting performer. The odd man out will be Rougie Odor that has not been hitting.

I thought that bringing Mike Ford instead of Gittens was a mistake from the beginning of the season. Gittens addition does not add a lefty to the lineup, but it does add a bat that can hit and hit for power.

Gittens plays first base; he bats and throws from the right. He is 6′ 4″ and weighs 250 pounds. He was born on  February 4, 1994, in Texas. He attended Grayson County Junior College. The New York Yankees selected him in the 2014 draft on the 12th round. In a Baseball America report, he was said to be a pitching and hitting prospect. He plays excellent defense at first and can fire the ball at 93 mph.

At Tampa of the Gulf Coast League, he started the 2015 season and absolutely dominated the level, batting .363/.452/.645. He hit 8 home runs in 146 plate appearances. Gittens has ascended through the organization rather quickly. Other than some hip cups during the 2018 season at Trenton, he has continued to gain notice by the Yankee’s front office.

In 2019, at 25,  the first baseman broke out and won the Eastern League MVP for the Trenton Thunder. He hit .281/.393/.500 (164 wRC+) and hit 23 homers (.219 ISO). He still struck out a lot (29.1 percent), but it was his power impressed. However, there was no place for Gittens; the Yankees choose Greg Bird and Mike Ford to hold down first base at the Stadium. After spring training in 2020, he didn’t make the team, and with no minor league games, he couldn’t continue to impress.

In the first 18 games of the AAA minor-league Rail Riders, he has turned heads. He has hit 4 doubles and 4 home runs and is batting .281; with amazing patience at the plate, he has over a walk per game. Now Gittens will be able to show off his stuff at Yankee Stadium.

 

Yankees finally call up raking infielder to aid struggling offense

chris gitten, yankees

The New York Yankees fell to the Boston Red Sox on Friday evening in an embarrassing performance, as their offense tallied just two runs and blew multiple opportunities to drive in runners in scoring position. Totaling eight hits, they also logged 15 strikeouts, an unacceptable number. Some of the bigger victims on the evening were Gary Sanchez, who struck out all four times, Clint Frazier, Rougned Odor, Brett Gardner, Gio Urshela, and DJ LeMahieu all struck out twice apiece.

It seemed that Red Sox relief arm Hirokazu Sawamura had the Yankees’ number, recording five strikeouts in just 2.0 innings.

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With the majority of Yankee bats still struggling to get going, the team has elected to call up Chris Gittens, who is currently featuring in their AAA squad. The first baseman is hitting .283, with four homers and 11 RBIs. Having climbed the ranks in the Yankees’ farm system, this will be his first Major League opportunity, and seeing exponential growth in offensive production should allow him to make a contribution in one way or another.

Defensively, he has played 14 games at first base this year, not allowing an error and recording 95 put-outs over 113 innings. He has shown quality defensive play so far, despite six errors last year over 78 games. The 6’4″, 250-pound infielder will likely give the Yankees an alternative option at 1B, after utilizing DJ LeMahieu at the position in the loss on Friday.

It is clear skipper Aaron Boone does not trust the likes of Mike Ford and would rather LeMahieu stick at second base. Odor isn’t offering enough offensively to make him a cemented starter, so giving Gittens an opportunity is a positive move and one that should be commended as a desperate change is needed.

The Yankees are preparing to take on Boston at 7:15 on Saturday evening, with Jameson Taillon on the board against Eduardo Rodriguez. Rodriguez, a left-handed pitcher, currently features a 5.64 ERA over 52.2 innings, offering the Yankees a fantastic opportunity to get their offense going and extract a win in the AL East. They are currently 4.5 games back from the Tampa Bay Rays, and the Boston Red Sox have pulled away with a 3.5 game lead over New York.

Report: Knicks targeting PG Kendrick Nunn, could be steal for future

kendrick nunn, knicks

When Derrick Rose said the New York Knicks have “big plans” for this upcoming offseason, PG Kendrick Nunn wasn’t that exact player that came to mind regarding a massive spending spree. However, if the Knicks elect to go with a more cost-efficient, potential-based move, Nunn would fit the bill perfectly.

Of course, the big names of Chris Paul and Damian Lillard remain at the top of the totem pole for New York, but there is a chance neither will desire a move to the Big Apple, so President Leon Rose must have backup options in place in case things fall through. Aside from Paul, Lillard, and Nunn, options like Lonzo Ball and Devonte’ Graham also remain in the fold.

The Knicks were heavily connected to Ball prior to the 2021 trade deadline, acquiring Derrick Rose instead, who had a phenomenal season and turned back the clock quite a bit. Nonetheless, the organization has about $60-75 million in open funds to operate with this off-season, meaning they can afford a big name if that is what they desire.

Let’s take a look at what Nunn would offer the Knicks if they elected to go that route, vastly different than spending $40 million per season on Paul or Lillard.

Per Ian Begley of SNY:

“Nunn, per sources, is among the guards who have been on the Knicks’ radar as they consider their offseason plans. Nunn shot 38.1 percent from beyond the arc on nearly six attempts per game this season and shot it remarkably well in the second half of the season. One member of an opposing organization analyzing the market drew a comparison between the 25-year-old Nunn and Terry Rozier, who averaged nine points per game in his last season with the Celtics before signing a three-year, $56 million deal with Charlotte. Rozier’s role increased. His production also increased. The opposing team thought Nunn, who averaged 14.6 points per game last year, could follow a similar path if his opportunities increased.”

What would Kendrick Nunn bring to the Knicks?

There is reason to believe that Nunn could make upwards of $15 million per season, having earned just $1.7 million last year with Miami. Averaging 14.6 points per game, seeing his points total decrease by .7, he was more efficient with the basketball in his hands, shooting .381 from beyond the arc and a .485 field-goal percentage. His downward trend of offensive production was more of a mirage, as he was shooting more efficiently from the field but simply taking fewer shots. Whether he was asked to play more defense, Nunn proved to be an efficient shooter but was also phenomenal from the free-throw line, hitting .933% of his shots.

He’s not the player that Paul or Lillard would bring to The Mecca, but he is a 25-year-old point guard with a ton of potential that can’t be overlooked. Increasing his earnings by nearly 4X might be a bit optimistic for a player who hasn’t truly broken out yet, but if the Knicks signed him to a long-term deal, they could be getting a steal for the future.

Yankees’ coach finally returns after intense battle with COVID-19

New York Yankees, Phil Nevins

Near mid-May, the New York Yankees had a mini COVID-19 outbreak that affected Gleyber Torres among players, and other members of the staff. One of them was third base coach Phil Nevin, who learned about his positive diagnosis ahead of the May 11-13 series against the Tampa Bay Rays in Tropicana Field.

Since that day, Nevin has had a rough time with both COVID-19 and a staph infection, one that significantly weakened him. Now, after almost a month, Nevin is back with the Yankees, doing his job.

“I feel good, comparatively, to where I’ve been,” Nevin told MLB.com. “I’m just getting my strength back, my energy. I’m still going through some treatments that will keep me off the field. … I lost 22 pounds in the process, but it’s really good to be back and around the guys.”

Aaron Boone, the Yankees’ manager, and players were all looking forward to seeing Nevin on the field and his return is very meaningful to them.

“I think he’s one of the best third-base coaches in the game and he does a lot with our running game, defensively, giving signs,” Boone said. “He brings a ton to the table as well as having a real presence in our room. He’s ‘The Viking.’ We’re looking forward to getting him hopefully all the way back to being ‘The Viking.'”

The Yankees coach had a rough time

Nevin didn’t have the luck of those who are asymptomatic positives. He had increasing fevers, and he had to visit the emergency room around a week after starting experiencing them. At one point, he took a walk with Yankees’ pitching coach Matt Blake, but was noticeably fatigued.

Blake told Tim Lentych, the Yankees’ assistant athletic trainer: “Hey, I’ve only known him for a short time, but there’s something else wrong. It doesn’t seem right that this would take him down like this.”

The morning after, blood tests confirmed another issue: a bacterial staph infection. Since they knew early, doctors were able to treat it.

“That phone call probably saved us,” Nevin said. “A lot of things could have been a lot worse.”

Because of his health, Nevin wasn’t able to see his son’s Tyler debut in the big leagues with the Baltimore Orioles.

“I had a great seat. I was on the couch,” an emotional Nevin said. “Not to be able to see him right after the game, that gets you a little bit, because we’ve been talking about it for so long. To not be there for that, that’s something you’ll never get back, but I couldn’t be prouder of him.”