New York Giants: Victor Cruz predicts breakout year for Sterling Shepard

sterling shepard, new york giants

With recent additions to the wide receiver position, some wondered where Sterling Shepard would fall in the New York Giants‘ plans for this season. However, it looks like Shepard is in for a large role after a training camp and preseason where both Kenny Golladay and Kadarius Toney have dealt with injury troubles.

Shepard is one of the offense’s main healthy weapons right now, and former Giant Victor Cruz is predicting a big year for the wide receiver.

“I think watch out for Sterling Shepard. I think he’s going to be a guy… Sterling Shepard is going to be a guy that’s going to do some really big things this year that might slip under the radar,” Cruz said to TMZ Sports on Saturday.

Things have changed a lot for Shepard over the past year. He’s had a hard time playing a full season, participating in 10 games in 2019 and 12 games in 2020. He hasn’t had a 1,000 yard receiving season yet, and the closest he came was back in 2018 when he racked up 872 yards.

Because of problems with concussions that led to his long absences in 2019, many believed the Giants should trade the player while his value is still high.

This season appears to be the other way around. Shepard is the healthy one, and it’s other high profile Giants receivers that are at risk of missing time with injury. Given these circumstances, this is just about as good of a time as any for Shepard to have a breakout season and assert himself as the top weapon in the receiving game for Daniel Jones.

Some will undoubtedly be cautious in making predictions about Shepard thanks to his history of missing games, but Victor Cruz is certainly confident in Shepard making something happen this season and definitely knows a thing or two about Giants wide receivers.

NASCAR: Denny Hamlin avoids playoff chaos, finally earns a win in 2021

Denny Hamlin got the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs off to a strong start, capturing his first win of 2021 as other contenders faltered.

The Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway is no longer considered NASCAR’s “throwback” race, that honor instead being bestowed to the legendary track’s spring event. Sunday night’s winner, however, provided perfect throwback vibes as a victory lane staple finally got to hoist another trophy.

Denny Hamlin, driver of the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, finally earned his first race of 2021, holding off championship favorite Kyle Larson to win the opening race of the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs. Hamling stood atop the regular season standings for most of the year, but his lack of victories allowed Larson to take over.

As several other playoff contenders dropped out due to on-track incidents, Hamlin stayed out of trouble and held off a furious last-lap push from Larson to secure the win, his fourth at “The Track Too Tough to Tame”. Hamlin also earned automatic advancement to the second round of the Cup Series playoffs, which began with 16 drivers on Saturday night. The bottom four in the playoff grid will be eliminated after the upcoming race at Bristol on Sept. 18.

Non-playoff driver Ross Chastain finished third, while Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick rounded out the top five.

FedEx Toyota finally delivers a win

Hamlin winning the regular season title seemed like a certainty, as he sat atop the points standings for nearly six months despite failing to visit victory lane. Entering last season’s playoffs, Hamlin and the No. 11 group had won six races before appearing amongst the championship-contending quartet in Phoenix. He maintained general consistency throughout this season (he remains the only driver in the Cup Series that has run and finished all 27 races) but saw his points lead evaporate thanks to Larson’s five victories in his return to the circuit.

The streak finally ended on Sunday night at a familiar locale. He needed no guidance toward victory lane, as he earned his fourth career victory at the legendary Darlington. That breaks a tie with Harvick for the most amongst active drivers and he becomes the eighth driver to win at least four times at a locale that has hosted NASCAR events since 1950.

Hamlin won the first of two 115-lap stages and was running second before some late damage at the end of the latter shuffled him to fourth. The No. 11 crew earned a chance to set up Hamlin for a victory when pole sitter Ryan Blaney’s spin at lap 318 of 367 brought out the caution. Hamlin beat out Chastain for the lead and then secured it for good on the restart.

“We had so many opportunities earlier this year to win races…For us, it certainly is significant,” Hamlin said of his win. “I’m not going to downplay the significance of it. It’s not just another win. This one is big for us and our team and the momentum.”

The No. 11 team now has a pair of consequence-free opportunities to tinker with their Camry before the playoff field is sliced down to a dozen.

“We didn’t have the playoff points that certainly we wish we had going into these playoffs,” he continued. “There was no room for error. And now to punch our ticket to the next round, we get to go out there and focus on getting through that second round, which I think is probably the most dangerous.”

Drive Stuck at Five

Eager to earn another win, Larson gave Hamlin everything he could handle on the final lap. Catching up to the No. 11 by running close to Darlington’s famous wall, eventually getting too close for comfort on the final lap. His No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet crossed the start/finish line in a shower of sparks but managed to finish second.

“We got to the white, and I was like, well, I haven’t been able to gain on him now, I’m going to try something,” Larson said with a smile, admitting he went for the video game-style finish. “Honestly got to his bumper too quick. I was hoping he was going to run that diamond to kind of be safe and I could skirt to his outside, but gave (him) everything I had.”

Larson nonetheless owns a healthy 80-point lead above the 12th spot occupied by Tyler Reddick and Alex Bowman, a lead built through a series-best five victories and the 15-tally bonus offered to him through winning the regular season title.

Ross Is Boss Amongst the Remainders

Chastain missed out on the Cup Series playoffs but nearly disrupted the postseason party on Sunday night. His No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet was leading at the time of Blaney’s spin after a strong green flag pit stop situated him in front of Larson with 67 laps to go.

Chastain and his teammate Kurt Busch are looking to send CGR out on a strong note. The team is set to shut down its NASCAR operations at the end of the season, having sold its assets to Trackhouse Racings (where Chastain will drive the No. 1 Chevrolet next season). Busch, the current driver of the No. 1, is seeking his second Cup Series title. He led 13 laps on Sunday and finished sixth to establish a 26-point lead ahead of the cutoff.

“This McDonald’s car, I think it was the fastest car here tonight,” Chastain said. “It’s humbling to come with this CGR group these final 10 races here, a place where my career kind of took a totally different trajectory three years ago and to have people like Clover and the Moose (Fraternity) and Advent Health on board supporting me and still letting me race three years later, it means the world. I’ve just got to clean up some more, though.”

Lady in Black Scorns Playoff Drivers

Darlington lived up to its reputation as The Track Too Tough to Tame, claiming the vehicles of several playoff drivers…

  • Larson’s runner-up finish salvaged a brutal night for Hendrick Motorsports: Bowman made contact with the wall at lap 16, damaging teammate William Byron’s car in the process. Byron’s No. 24 Chevrolet failed to finish after a blow tired put him into the wall at lap 200, dropping him to 34th in the final running order and 15th in the playoff standings, nine points behind Reddick and Bowman’s cutoff. Bowman’s No. 48 Chevrolet finished the race in 26th, four laps down.

 

  • Defending series champion Chase Elliott, another HMS rep, was not immune to the struggles. His No. 9 Chevrolet was forced to make another stop after clipping a tire being held by a crew member from James Davison’s No. 53 stall at lap 28. Like Byron, a downed tire ruined Elliott’s day, as contact with Christopher Bell cost him his steering and relegated him to 31st.

 

  • Daytona 500 winner Michael McDowell’s quest to shock the NASCAR world in the No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Ford was derailed by when he got loose coming out of Turn 2. His subsequent meeting with the inside wall pushed to dead last in 37th. Now 22 points away from advancement, McDowell may need another surprise victory to keep his Cinderella run alive.

 

  • Kyle Busch got loose in Turn 2 while racing Austin Dillon for the 12th position, putting his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota into the wall. A disgruntled Busch immediately went to the garage area and finished 35th, pitting him two points behind the cutoff.

 

  • Truex, the winner of May’s Darlington event, undoubtedly earned his top five finish. An unscheduled pit stop to fix a loose wheel put him a lap down before a late speeding penalty on pit road possibly cost him a chance at the win. Such a strong finish put Truex in third place, 36 points ahead of the cutoff.

 

  • Blaney finished 22nd after his spin.

Ware Released After Carbon Monoxide Scare

Cody Ware retired from the race early after reportedly showing symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning. His No. 51 Rick Ware Racing Chevrolet was previously involved in a stage one incident with teammate Davison and spent an extended stay in the infield care center. Ware was in good spirits on Twitter after the race and thanked both the Darlington medical staff and well-wishers.

What’s Next

The second leg of the Cup Series’ opening playoff round comes at the short track at Richmond Raceway, where drivers will compete in the Federated Auto Parts 400 Salute to First Responders (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN). This will be the second visit to Richmond this season, as Bowman earned his first victory in the No. 48 Chevrolet, passing Hamlin on a restart with 10 laps to go in securing the victory. Kyle Busch is by far the most accomplished driver at the track, earning six Cup Series wins (his last in September 2018).

For full results, click here.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Yankees Recap: Gary Sanchez’s six RBIs couldn’t save the Yankees from another loss

Today was the rubber game between the New York Yankees and the Baltimore Orioles. The Yankees won the first game in the 11th inning and lost yesterday’s game 4-3. To come away with the series win, the Yankees sent Corey Kluber to the mound to face the Orioles’ Keegan Akin. Being only a half a game ahead of the Red Sox for the first spot of the wild card, the Yankees really needed the win. Unfortunately, Gary Sanchez’s six RBIs couldn’t save the Yankees from an 8-7 loss.

To start, the first Kluber faced Cedrick Mullins, who worked a walk. Mullins stole second and, on a bad throw by Sanchez, advanced to third. Anthony Santander went down on strikes. Trey Mancini struck out swinging. DJ Stewart struck out; that was three strikeouts in the inning for Kluber. At the bottom, DJ LeMahieu faced Akin and singled to center. Joey Gallo struck out looking. Aaron Judge struck out swinging. Giancarlo Stanton struck out. No score.

The top of the second inning was led off by Austin Hays, who solo homered to right-center. Ramon Urias worked a walk. Pedro Severino struck out as Kluber got a strike em out throw em out. Jorge Mateo struck out to end the half. Anthony Rizzo led off the bottom by grounding out to second. Luke Voit walked. Gleyber Torres got a base hit to left, moving Voit to second. Rougie Odor was hit by a pitch loading the bases. Gary Sanchez, with the bases loaded and one out, hit a Grand Slam. LeMahieu flew out to center. Gallo walked. Aaron Judge ended the inning by striking out. New York Yankees 4 Orioles 1.

Kelvin Gutierrez led off the third by chopping to third. Mullins singled to right. Santander popped out to short. Mancini walked, moving Mullins to second. Stewart flew out to Judge in right to stand two. At the bottom, Stanton led off by who flew out to center. Rizzo ground out to second. Voit tapped back to pitcher Akin. New York Yankees 4 Orioles 1.

The fourth inning was led off by Hays, who flew out to Judge in center. Urias singled to right. Severino doubled down the left-field line, moving Urias to third. Mateo flew out to Gallo, but Urias scored on the throw, with Severino holding at second. Gutierrez was hit by a pitch ending Kluber’s day. Mullins faced the new Yankee pitcher Joely Rodriguez and went down on strikes leaving two on base. In the bottom, Torres went down on strikes. Odor ground out to second. Sanchez flew out to center to end the inning. Yankees 4 Orioles 2.

Anthony Santander led off the fifth by flying out to Gallo in left. Mancini walked. Stewart walked, ending J-Rods day. Manager Boone argued with the home plate umpire and was thrown out of the game. Hays faced the new Yankee pitcher Albert Abreu and ground out with the runners moving up. With a man on second and third and two outs, Urias ground out to first, with Abreu making the assist. LeMahieu led off the bottom against new pitcher Conner Greene by working a walk. Gallo walked. Judge flew out to center. Stanton went down on strikes. Rizzo faced the new O’s pitcher Fernando Abad and singled, driving in LeMahieu. Voit flew out to right to end the inning. New York Yankees 5 Orioles 2.

The sixth inning was led off by Severino, who struck out. Mateo popped out to Rizzo at first. Gutierrez beat out Torres’s double-clutch throw for a single. Mullins homered to right-center driving in two runs, making Torres’s bad throw even most egregious. Santander hit a long one, but Stanton made a long run and diving catch to end the half. Torres led off the bottom by singling to center. Torres went to second on a wild pitch. Odor flew out to left field. Gary Sanchez faced the new Orioles pitcher Marcos Diplan and got his second homer of the game, a two-run shot. LeMahieu flew out to center. Gallo popped out to end the inning. New York Yankees 7 Orioles 4.

Mancini led the seventh inning, who faced new pitcher Andrew Heaney and got hit by a pitch. Stewart singled to left. Hays, with two on and one out, singled, loading the bases. Jahmai Jones, as the go-ahead run, singled, driving in two runs and bringing the O’s within one. Severino popped out for the first out of the inning. With two on and one out, Mateo got a bloop single, tying up the game at 7. Gutierrez faced new Yankee pitcher Wandy Peralta and singled to give the O’s the lead in the game. Mullins, still with only one out, popped out. Santander flew out to left to finally end the half.

At the bottom of the seventh, with the game tied at 7, Aaron Judge walked to the plate and flew out to the warning track in right. Stanton worked a walk. Rizzo faced new O’s pitcher Tanner Scott and walked. Voit with two on and one out went down on strikes. Torres ground out to end the inning. Baltimore Orioles 8 New York Yankees 7.

The eighth inning was led off by Mancini, who against the new Yankee pitcher Chad Green and flew out to Stanton at the right-field wall. Stewart went down on strikes. Hays struck out to end the half as Green put down the O’s in order. At the bottom, Odor lined a rocket for an out in right. Sanchez ground out to second. LeMahieu reached on a ball off the pitcher. Gallo went down on strikes. Orioles 8 Yankees 7.

Leading off the ninth inning was Jones, who struck out against Green. Severino lined out right at Urshela at third. Mateo popped out to catcher Sanchez to end the half. With last licks on the line for the Yankees in the bottom, Aaron Judge came to the plate facing new O’s pitcher Tyler Wells and flew out to far-right. Stanton popped out to second. Rizzo flew out to left to end the game.

The final score was the Baltimore Orioles 8 and the New York Yankees 7. The winning pitcher was Marco Diplan, the loser was Andrew Heaney, and the save went to Tyler Wells.

 

NASCAR Trucks: Sheldon Creed holds off Nemechek, Friesen to win at Darlington

Sheldon Creed held off John Hunter Nemechek and Stewart Friesen late to win the In It To Win it 200 at Darlington Raceway in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. The win is Creed’s third of the season and his second in as many races.

“It feels so good to go back-to-back,” Creed said in his frontstretch interview with FOX Sports’ Josh Sims. “I just want to remember it more this year and have more fun with it. [I want] to put the pressure on the other guys. I had nothing to lose coming in”.

With his win two weeks ago at WWT Raceway, Creed became the only driver locked into the Round of 8 in the Camping World Truck Series playoffs. However, a second-place finish for Nemechek at Darlington was enough to punch the second ticket into the Round of 8.

“[We needed] clean air,” Nemechek told FOX Sports’ Jamie Little. “We had a really good truck all day, the Mobil 1 Toyota Tundra was fast from the start….. it is what it is, at least we clinched our way into the second round”.

The only thing missing for third-place finisher Stewart Friesen was time. He pit for tires during a late caution and raced back to within a second of the lead. However, late lapped traffic served as a barrier for the 38-year-old but he still settled for his best finish of the season.

“We fought a loose condition all day,” Friesen told Little. “We got off sequence and got some tires there, [and] almost thumped one out there but kind of got caught up in lap traffic”.

Todd Gilliland finished in fourth-place for his eighth top-10 in the last nine races, while Parker Kligerman finished fifth-place for the second time this season. Kligerman will now assume his TV role with NBC Sports for the Cup Series race later this evening.

Chandler Smith and Zane Smith finished the race in seventh and ninth place, respectively. However, due to poor finishes at WWT Raceway, both drivers sit below the playoff cutline. Austin Hill, Sunday’s 12th place finisher, currently holds onto the final playoff spot.

Notably, Ben Rhodes finished in 35th place but still has a 15-point cushion heading into the final race of the Round of 10. He incurred damage at multiple points throughout the race and finished seven laps down. Rhodes had finished 1st and 2nd in his previous two starts at Darlington and entered the race as a favorite to win.

The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series returns to action on Thursday, September 16 at Bristol Motor Speedway. The race is slated for a 9 p.m. start on FS1.

Full results can be found HERE.

Chicago Bears: How long is Andy Dalton’s leash in 2021?

bears, matt nagy

Nearly a week away from the 2021 season opener, debates about the Chicago Bears naming veteran Andy Dalton the starting quarterback continue. Since signing with the Bears in March, general manager Ryan Pace and head coach Matt Nagy have reiterated that Dalton will be the starter. What the GM-HC duo hasn’t disclosed is how long Dalton will be the starter, fueling speculation about how many weeks Dalton will be the first-team quarterback.

No leash seems to exist. Nagy, who hopes to replicate the Kansas City model where Patrick Mahomes sat behind Alex Smith for 15 games in 2017 knows the best-case scenario is Justin Fields following in the footsteps of Mahomes, seeing very little action in 2021. There is an issue. Fields playing in 2021 will be inevitable at some point. The 11th overall pick will see the field his rookie season being Nagy’s handpicked quarterback.

Ownership in Chicago doesn’t appear to have a timeline for Pace and Nagy either. The assumption is that both have at least two seasons (2021 and 2022) with Fields while others say 2021 means both are on the hot seat with change likely coming when the calendar turns to January.

Dalton struggling early will lead to the clock ticking, forcing Nagy and Pace to evaluate whether or not Fields is really ready to play. When the Bears host the Detroit Lions in week 4, Fields could be under center. The best-case scenario for Dalton is that he plays well enough to lead the Bears to a winning record before Chicago begins a five-game stretch that includes playing the Green Bay Packers, San Francisco 49ers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Baltimore Ravens from mid-October to mid-November.

Simply put, the Bears need to play Fields when the franchise feels like he’s ready to go unless the Bears are one of the top teams in the NFC with Dalton leading the way, something that is unlikely to happen.

3 lineup combinations the Knicks can use to stay efficient during 2021-22 season

new york knicks

The Knicks relied heavily on power forward Julius Randle and shooting guard RJ Barrett to play a significant amount of minutes last season, as both played a minimum of 71 games and 35 minutes per. Putting so much pressure on their top players can be a recipe for disaster, as increased fatigue can lead to injury, but the Knicks have set themselves up perfectly to have several lineup combinations which can contribute toward an efficient team.

Last season, the Knicks struggled to put together a cohesive team with multiple combinations which can allow the primary starters to rest. During an 82-game season, it’s essential the reserves take on a bigger role.

Three player combination the Knicks can use to remain productive throughout 2021-22 season:

1.) The starting 5

C: Mitchell Robinson

SG: RJ Barrett

SF: Evan Fournier

PF: Julius Randle

PG: Kemba Walker

This is the expected primary starting lineup, with the exception of Kemba Walker and Derrick Rose possibly swapping nightly. Replacing Reggie Bullock with Evan Fournier and Elfrid Payton with Kemba represent huge upgrades in scoring prowess. Fournier should nearly double the production Bullock offered last season and take pressure off Randle — the former Celtic has the ability to create shots on his own instead of being solely a catch-and-shoot specialist.

2.) Second-fiddle

C: Nerlens Noel

SG: RJ Barrett

SF: Alec Burks/Immanuel Quickley 

PF: Julius Randle

PG: Derrick Rose

Considering how much Barrett and Randle played last season, they will both likely stay on the floor with the second team. However, the dropoff isn’t significant when comparing Alec Burks and Fournier – both are capable of playing guard and small forward. Fournier is a more refined shooter, but Burks is capable of leading the offense and hitting open shots at a high clip. In 2020, Burks connected on 41.5% of his 3-PT attempts. Interesting, nearly 50% of Burks’ points last season came from beyond the arc, which clearly indicates his most effective usage.

Of course, having a starting-level PG on the 2nd team is a huge development. Rose was a god-send for the Knicks after they acquired him at the deadline. He averaged nearly 15 points and elevated his teammates with a floor-general approach. The drop-off from Kemba to Rose isn’t far, as he offers more court-vision and facilitating abilities.

3.) The youngsters

C: Taj Gibson

SG: Immanuel Quickley

SG: Quentin Grimes

PF: Obi Toppin

PG: Miles McBride

The Knicks’ 3rd-team won’t earn a notable number of minutes, but they have the talent to offer rest to the first two combinations. Toppin will be Randle’s backup and will take over during garbage time or healthy leads to give him a break. With increased scoring production, the Knicks will get their rookies and younger players on the floor for essential live experience. Miles McBride showed solid offensive and defensive abilities during the Summer League, especially from 3-PT range. While I might prefer to have Jericho Sims on the roster over Taj Gibson, the coaching staff views him as an extension to their contributions.

I would be remiss to disregard Quentin Grimes, who was dominant over the last three Summer League games. He presents himself as a solid shooter and athletic defender. Grimes might push his way for more minutes at some point, but the team simply has too much talent ahead of him.

Yankees news, 9/5: Aaron Boone holds back anger after loss to Baltimore, Chapman implodes again

aroldis chapman, yankees

The New York Yankees failed to overcome the Baltimore Orioles on Saturday in a game they desperately needed to win, with Tampa Bay continuing to advance in the AL East.

Tampa blasted the Minnesota Twins 11-4 on Saturday, giving them a healthy 7.5 game lead over the Yankees. In the Wild Card, the Bombers have given up a ton of ground, sitting at 0.5 games above Boston and four games above the Seattle Mariners and Oakland Athletics. With the season quickly winding down to an end, the Yankees must walk away with wins against bad teams like Baltimore, which shows a serious kink get their armor.

However, the Bombers entered the ninth-inning tied 3-3 after Joey Gallo smashed a two-run homer in the eighth inning. Unfortunately, closer Aroldis Chapman blew another save, giving up one hit and one run over an inning. His ERA has elevated 3.72 on the season after starting off the year in phenomenal form. He has come crumbling down, and while skipper Aaron Boone is trying his best to remain positive, it was clear that the loss to Baltimore was frustrating.

“These games are super important and we’re trying to win them,” Boone said. “We got held down enough today, so that’s frustrating and unfortunate, but we have a big one tomorrow we have to grab.”

Chapman was able to corral the inconsistencies for a bit, but eventually, he allowed Pedro Severino to lash a sacrifice fly to left fielding driving in Ryan Mountcastle.

“When it started to get a little wobbly there, I felt like he was able to corral it,” Boone said. “And I think that’s important moving forward.”

Boone is grasping at straws here, as one of the best closers in the history of the game should be able to finish off poor teams like the Orioles routinely. However, ever since the MLB crackdown on substances to increase speed rate and velocity, Chapman has seen his numbers and efficiency plummet.

The Yankees have one more game against Baltimore on Sunday afternoon with Corey Kluber on the mound, giving them a solid opportunity to bounce back. Baltimore will have Keegan Akin featuring, and with a 6.90 ERA this season, the Yankees have a solid advantage.

New York Yankees: Takeaways from tough-to-swallow loss to the Orioles

New York Yankees, Aroldis Chapman

The New York Yankees struggled but finally got a win in their game against the Baltimore Orioles in the eleventh inning on Friday night. Last night they were not that lucky almost being no-hit. The Yankees lost the second game 4-3 when closer Aroldis Chapman failed to hold the Orioles in the top of the ninth. The Yankees could not recover at the bottom of the frame.

Montgomery continues frustrated with no support

Jordan Montgomery is one of the top five pitchers in the American League that has received little or no run support in their starts. Including last night he has 15 no-decisions. Here are the facts: He has 6 games with no support; of 24 starts, he has had 12 starts with 2 or fewer runs of support, and 19 games with 3 or fewer runs in support. Yesterday was the worst yet, he not only got no runs to support pitching into the fifth inning, but the Yankees also couldn’t even boost his confidence with a single hit.

Through all of this, Montgomery, all season long, has been a trooper, not complaining at all about the lack of run support. However, that changed somewhat yesterday in an after-game interview. He indicated that he could pitch more aggressively and throw more fastballs if he had some run support.

Surprisingly, Gerrit Cole actually has received less run support but is a better pitcher being the New York Yankee ace.

Gallo breaks out, but the Yankees still not hitting

Prior to last night, Joey Gallo had gone 0-17, even getting some boos from the Yankee faithful when he would strikeout. Yesterday that all changed. Yesterday Chris Ellis held the Yankees hitless into the seventh inning. In the bottom of the seventh, Gleyber Torres’s pinch-hitting got the Yankees first hit of the game, scoring Anthony Rizzo, who had previously walked. In the eighth inning, DJ Lemahieu got an infield bunt single. Gallo took to the plate and hit a two-run bomb into the right-field stands, his 31st of the season.

The Yankees, for several games now after their 13 game winning streak, are again not hitting the ball well. Yesterday it was the first time since 2018 that the Yankees remained hitless through six innings of play. At the end of the day, the Yankees could only muster up 3 hits in the loss. What is most disturbing is that this is against the worst team in all of baseball.

With the New York Yankees race to be in the postseason, they must win over teams they should beat, and the lowly Orioles is one of them. Their rivals for the postseason are doing that; the Yankees aren’t. When the Rays last met up with the O’s last week, they swept them. The Red Sox outscored the O’s 30-5 in their series. The Yankees must do better. With the loss yesterday, the Yankees are now only 1/2 game ahead of the Red Sox for the first wild card slot.

Aroldis Chapman still has issues

Anyone that watched yesterday’s game knows that Aroldis Chapman still hasn’t figured out his lack of fastball control. Chapman was lights out during the first half of the season with an ERA of 0.00 through May 21st. During July, that ERA rose to 4.00 due to him seemingly losing control of his fastball. August wasn’t much better, but on August 26th, he was dominant, encouraging the Yankees. He followed that up on September 1st with another scoreless close. But last night, the old Chapman showed up in the ninth.

Mountcastle led the ninth inning with closer Aroldis Chapman on the mound for the Yankees; he reached on a wild pitch. Hays got a base hit to left, moving Mountcastle to second. Mancini, with two on and no outs, walked, loading the bases. Urias went down on strikes. Severino got a sac fly to left, scoring Mountcastle. Mateo struck out, but Chapman failed to hold the Orioles. Baltimore Orioles 4 New York Yankees 3.

If the New York Yankees get to the postseason, they will need Chapman to be dependable; as of now, that is not the case.

FUN FACT: Shortstop Andrew Velazquez is the only player in New York Yankees history born and raised in the Bronx, NY., per YES broadcaster Michael Kay.

QUESTION: With the game on the line in the 7th inning, why did manager Aaron Boone take Clay Holmes out of the game after only 18 pitches and striking out all four of the Orioles he faced. Instead, he went with Wandy Peralta, who immediately gave up two runs.

NOTE: Today, the New York Yankees complete the series with the Orioles in a rubber game at 1:05 pm EDT. Corey Kluber will be on the mound for the Yankees and Keegan Akin for the Orioles. The game will be broadcast on MASN and the YES Network.

Was the Chicago Bears ranking from The Athletic fair?

bears, matt nagy

With just about seven days until the Chicago Bears open the 2021 regular season, the franchise was recently ranked 14th overall in the NFC by unanimous NFL executives. When looking at the article, Chicago is clearly one of the more polarizing teams in 2021. Despite the presence of rookie quarterback Justin Fields on the roster, Chicago made a number of moves this offseason that have raised eyebrows, including inking quarterback Andy Dalton to a one-year deal worth $10M while releasing cornerback Kyle Fuller, a two-time Pro Bowler.

Fuller’s release and Dalton’s signing are still factors that will define the Bears season, as will when Fields eventually takes over as the fulltime starter, ushering in a new era of Bears football. The Bears roster does include stars such as Khalil Mack, Roquan Smith, Eddie Jackson, and Akiem Hicks on defense. The offensive side of the ball is a different story where the front office failed to lock up star wide receiver Allen Robinson but have an emerging pass-catcher in Darnell Mooney and workhorse running back David Montgomery.

Perhaps Chicago’s biggest question that skews results is the offensive line. Despite returning four of five starters from last season, Chicago has key questions at left tackle coupled with an inconsistent right tackle in veteran Germain Ifedi, who the team retained this offseason on a one-year deal worth $5M.

Head coach Matt Nagy, despite leading the Bears to the playoffs in 2018 and 2020 has drawn plenty of criticism over the last two seasons for the Bears porous performances, including a six-game losing streak in 2020 while posting a record of just 1-5 in the last six games against the Green Bay Packers.

Overall, are the Bears as bad as some suggest? Nope. However, the Bears aren’t as good as some think either. External analysis on the Bears presents examiners with an aging roster, including uncertainty at key positions, making the Bears a middle-of-the-pack team heading into 2021.

 

Who’s the New York Knicks’ most underrated player?

alec burks, knicks

When considering the New York Knicks’ most underrated player, most may point to third-year shooting guard RJ Barrett. Barrett established himself as one of the best players on the team last season, averaging 17.6 points, 3.0 assists, 5.8 rebounds, and shooting 44% from the field. However, I would argue that Barrett is rated properly and took a significant step forward in his development at 20 years old.

The one player who simply doesn’t get enough credit for his contributions is shooting guard/small forward Alec Burks. Burks is a former first-round pick from back in 2011, and at 30 years old, signed a three-year, $30 million extension this off-season with the Knicks. The third-year is not guaranteed, so the deal is essentially a two-year, $20 million contract if the Knick elect to opt-out during the 2023-24 season.

Burks was one of the Knicks’ top scorers last season, averaging 12.7 points off the bench. The team needed Alec’s ability to curate instant offense, which is something they desperately needed during the first half of the season when they were one of the worst three-point shooting squads in the NBA. Burks finished the year shooting 41.5% from range over 49 games. He averaged 25.6 minutes per contest and even picked up the slack at point guard before the front office traded for Derrick Rose at the deadline.

He’s one of those savvy veterans who can’t be overlooked, but fans and analysts often forget his value to the team as a consistent scorer and solid defender. Burks posted a 56.4% true shooting percentage this past season, including a 15.2 assist to turnover ratio. His net offensive rating was extremely comparable to his defensive performance, indicating consistency on both ends of the floor.

This upcoming year, the Knicks will use Burks in a similar way, featuring him off the bench to help mitigate fatigue for players like Evan Fournier and RJ Barrett. His role is essential in keeping the starting team healthy and fresh over the course of a game, let alone the entire season. His impact in the 4th quarter last year was massive — his timely shooting and burst of energy on offense were awesome.

Interestingly, Burks scored 23.8% of his points in 2021 from inside the paint; 49.2% of his points came from three-point range. Burks is a well-rounded player for the Knicks, and given his extension, the coaching staff agrees.