Geoff Neal edges Santiago Ponzinibbio at UFC 269

On the main card of UFC 269, we saw a showdown in the welterweight division. Two top contenders faced off as Argentina’s Santiago Ponzinibbio (28-4) took on Geoff Neal (13-4).

Both of these men find themselves in a similar spot at UFC 269. At one point, both looked like they were on the path to becoming UFC champion. However, they’ve both been derailed.

Ponzinibbio has been hindered by injuries and a knockout loss to Li Jingliang. However, he did bounce back earlier this year with a win over Miguel Baeza.

Geoff Neal on the other hand has lost his last two UFC fights. Prior to those two losses, he had won five straight which included wins over Belal Muhammad and Niko Price.

Both men were looking to make a statement and show why they are still top contenders.

UFC 269 Recap

Round 1

The UFC 269 welterweight contest kicked off with a touch of the gloves. Ponzinibbio immediately takes the center and he’s looking to pressure Neal. Neal circles on the outside as he tries to gauge the range.

Neal comes forward with double jab but both fall short. Two powerful leg kicks land for Neal. Neal looks for a head kick that just misses. Nice 1-2 down the middle from Ponzinibbio. Left straight lands for Neal.

Nice low kick lands for Ponzinibbio and Neal counters with a high kick. Lots of pressure here from Neal and he lands a combination. Nice jab lands from Ponzinibbio. Two shots land from Ponzinibbio but Neal counters with his own combination.

Two good lead right hooks for Neal and Ponzinibbio is cut. Lots of pressure for Neal and he lands another good combination. Ponzinibbio tries to fire back but Neal is not there to be found. More pressure from Ponzinibbio and he’s trying to make this a brawl.

However, Neal circles on the outside. Lots of forward pressure from Ponzinibbio and he lands a couple of solid kicks. The round comes to a close and it was a close one but I lean Neal at UFC 269.

Round 2

Ponzinibbio was really finding his rhythm at the end of the first at UFC 269 so it’ll be interesting to watch him here in the second. Ponzinibbio immediately goes back to the pressure to start the second. Nice lead left hook lands for Ponzinibbio.

Low kick from Ponzinibbio. Neal tries to slip and counter but just misses. Both men step in and trade big shots. Ponzinibbio throws a big leg kick but Neal checks it perfectly and that might’ve hurt Ponzinibbio. However, Ponzinibbio resets and he looks okay.

Nice lead left for Neal. Body kick lands for Geoff Neal and he throws a left behind it. Out of no where, Ponzinibbio tries for a takedown. However, Neal defends well and keeps the fight standing. Neal starting to move forward a little ore.

Straight left from Neal and Ponzinibbio lands one of his own. Nice combination from Ponzinibbio backs Neal up against the fence. Neal circles out and he lands a nice right straight. Both men step forward and land good shots.

Back to back 1-2’s for Ponzinibbio. Neal lands a nice shot and Ponzinibbio complains of an eye poke. However, the ref says it’s clean. The round comes to a close and Ponzinibbio looked better in the second. Might be 1-1 after two at UFC 269.

Round 3

Entering the final round at UFC 269 and whoever wins this round will likely win the fight. Ponzinibbio takes the center to start the final round. Neal continues to circle on the outside. Nice shot from Ponzinibbio and Neal lands a counter left.

Check right hook from Neal and Ponzinibbio goes down briefly. Neal rushes and lands another good shot. However, Ponzinibbio recovers well and he circles out. Low kick lands for Ponzinibbio. Double jabs from Ponzinibbio who is starting to collect points here.

Good combination from Ponzinibbio who has now retaken momentum. However, Neal starts moving forward. Another good check right hook from Neal. Ponzinibbio lands a stiff shot right down the middle.

Both men are looking tired here in the final frame. Pressure from Ponzinibbio and he lands a stiff right hand. Neal counters but Ponzinibbio then lands a good combination. Another combination from Ponzinibbio.

Solid left from Neal but he eats a big kick from Ponzinibbio for his troubles. Ponzinibbio pulling away here in the final round. Big shots from Ponzinibbio. However, Neal takes momentum back a little with a few big shots of his own.

Huge combination from Neal lands and Ponzinibbio looks a little wobbled. Another big combination from Neal. Neal has Ponzinibbio hurt here in the final frame. Ponzinibbio still throwing but Neal lands. Close final round and honestly either could win at UFC 269.

Geoff Neal def. Santiago Ponzinibbio by Split Decision (29-28, 30-27, 28-29)

Kai Kara-France knocks out Cody Garbrandt at UFC 269

kai kara france

On the main card of UFC 269 we saw the highly anticipated flyweight debut of Cody Garbrandt (12-4). The former bantamweight champion dropped down to 125 pounds to take on Kai Kara-France (22-9).

Originally, the former UFC champion was planning on making the drop to flyweight last year. However, after coming down with Covid and having a bicep injury, he decided to stay at bantamweight for one more fight.

That fight came against Rob Font earlier this year. Garbrandt lost that fight and afterwards he decided it was time for him to finally make the switch to 125.

He jumped right in there with one of the more exciting flyweights in the UFC in Kai Kara-France. Overall, Kara-France is 5-2 since making his debut with the UFC.

His two losses came against the current champion Brandon Moreno and top contender Brandon Royval. The last time we saw Kara-France was against Rogerio Bontorin where he won by decision.

UFC 269 Recap

Round 1

The UFC 269 flyweight contest started with a swift low kick from Garbrandt. The size difference is pretty big here in the opening seconds. Both men trade jabs in the center. Garbrandt circles on the outside and he lands another leg kick.

Kara-France ups the pressure here trying to cut Garbrandt off. Garbrandt continues to circles trying to gauge the range. Low kick from Kara-France and he tries to throw a 1-2 behind it. Another low kick from Kara-France. 

Kara-France comes in and Garbrandt just misses with a big counter. Nice jab from Kara-France and he throws a leg kick behind it. Huge right hand from Kara-France drops Garbrandt. Garbrandt jumps right back up but gets dropped again. 

Kara-France is all over him but Garbrandt waves him on. These two reset and they’re back to striking. Garbrandt still looks shaky and Kara-France drops him again. This fight is over and Kai Kara-France spoils the flyweight debut of Cody Garbrandt at UFC 269. 

Kai Kara-France def. Cody Garbrandt by KO – Round 1

Sean O’Malley stops Raulian Paiva at UFC 269

Sean O'Malley

Kicking off the PPV main card at UFC 269 was a battle between two dynamic strikers in the bantamweight division. The Suga Show returned as Sean O’Malley (14-1) took on Brazilian standout Raulian Paiva (21-3).

Raulian Paiva made his UFC debut at 17-1 and he did it in the flyweight division. However, he got off to a rough start.

Paiva lost his first two fights and ultimately moved up in weight. He’s now on a three-fight winning streak which includes a win over O’Malley’s teammate in Kyler Phillips.

That said, Paiva had a tall mountain to climb at UFC 269. Sean O’Malley is one of the more dynamic fighters in all the UFC. He’s incredibly talented wherever the fight takes place, but he shines in the stand up.

O’Malley is huge for the weight class and he’s going to have a big size advantage on Saturday night. After suffering his first loss to Chito Vera last year, O’Malley has bounced back with two solid wins this year.

UFC 269 Recap

Round 1

The UFC 269 bantamweight started with immediate pressure from O’Malley. The striking starts with a body kick from O’Malley. Paiva tries to catch a kick and take O’Malley down but O’Malley defends well.

Now it’s Paiva pressure as O’Malley circles the outside. Good jab from O’Malley. O’Malley looks for a body kick and Paiva lands one of his own. Paiva looking to get more aggressive here and he lands a nice low kick.

Paiva catches O’Malley with a nice right straight. Low kick behind it causes O’Malley to switch stances. Halfway through the round and Paiva continues with the pressure. Big left straight lands for O’Malley but Paiva doesn’t seem bothered.

Another good low kick lands for Paiva. Lots of feints from O’Malley. O’Malley tripes up on the jab to get some space after eating a low kick from Paiva. O’Malley steps in but it’s Paiva that throws. However, nothing solid lands.

Paiva pushes forward with a combination. O’Malley lands a flush right hand and Paiva is hurt badly. O’Malley all over him and Paiva is out on his feet. The referee is giving Paiva every opportunity but O’Malley finishes the fight. Huge performance at UFC 269 from The Suga Show.

Sean O’Malley def. Raulian Paiva by TKO – Round 1

Josh Emmett edges Dan Ige at UFC 269

In the featured prelim of UFC 269, we saw a highly anticipated matchup between two finishers at 145 pounds. Josh Emmett (16-2) made his highly anticipated return as he took on Dan Ige (15-4).

Had it not been for injuries, Josh Emmett could have fought for a UFC title by now. He’s that special and talented. The last time we saw him was against Shane Burgos last year.

Despite tearing virtually every ligament in his knee in the opening round, Emmett gutted it out and got the decision win. Many were looking forward to this return at UFC 269.

Dan Ige is trying to establish himself as one of the best featherweights in the UFC. After winning six straight, Ige got a main event last year against Calvin Kattar.

He lost that fight but bounced back with a quick knockout over Gavin Tucker. In his last fight, he lost to The Korean Zombie, Chan Sung Jung.

UFC 269 Recap

Round 1

The UFC 269 featherweight contest kicked off with a touch of the gloves. Emmett immediately takes the center and Ige opens with a jab. Good low kick lands for Ige who has now taken the center.

Looks like Emmett is just feeling things out in the opening minute. Then out of no where, a massive right hand from Emmett drops Ige. Emmett pounces, however, Ige defends well and then he ends up briefly on the back of Emmett.

Emmett reverses the position and stands the fight back up. Ige still is looking a little hurt, however, he’s pressing forward. Nice combination from Ige and he lands a low kick behind it. Emmett is looking for one big shot here as Ige is throwing combos.

Two straight big jabs from Ige find their mark. Another good jab from Ige and the nose of Emmett is starting to show some damage. Solid combination from Ige who is really starting to look good in the final part of this round.

Emmett pushes forward but nothing lands. Both men land big shots in the final seconds of the round. Ige definitely looked good in spots, but the first goes to Josh Emmett at UFC 269.

Round 2

Entering the second at UFC 269 and Ige looked to get a little momentum there at the end of the first. The second round starts with a massive right hand from Emmett which immediately stiffens up Ige a big.

Powerful low kick from Emmett. Ige moves forward and lands a really nice combination. Another good combination from Ige who finishes with a nice shot to the body. Good body shot from Emmett.

Ige shoots for a takedown, however, Emmett defends well and lands a couple of really nice shots. However, Ige rocks him with a nice left and Emmett’s legs wobble. Ige pushing forward as Emmett looks to regain his footing.

Ige shoots for a takedown, however, Emmett again defends well and they’re back to striking. Two straight stiff jabs from Ige. Both men trade big jabs. Wind up right hand and a body kick land for Dan Ige.

Huge left hook and a jab behind it for Ige. Ige looks sensational here in the second round. 1-2 down the middle for Dan Ige. Emmett loads up but nothing lands. Ige lands a beautiful counter on Emmett.

Emmett trying to push forward, but he’s not landing much here. Nice lead uppercut from Dan Ige. The second round comes to a close at UFC 269 and it should be Ige’s round.

Round 3

Entering the final round at UFC 269 and it should be 1-1 entering the final frame. Emmett opens the final frame aggressive but he’s whiffing on his shots. Ige lands a couple of nice shots up the middle to start his striking.

Emmett trying to throw more combinations here in the final round and he lands a nice one. However, Ige pops his head back with another nice jab. Another jab from Ige. Lead left hook from Ige.

Emmett lands a couple of bombs and Ige looks hurt for a moment. However, he lands a knee and backs Emmett up. Double jab lands for Dan Ige. Another stiff jab from Ige and Emmett is breathing with his mouth open.

Ige throws a big power shot and Emmett throws back but neither man lands. Short left hook lands for Emmett and Ige lands a body kick. Emmett looks much better in the third as he throws his own jab. Ige is not as active as we enter the final minute.

Ige tries for a takedown, however, Emmett defends well. Emmett lands a shot, but Ige is back on the pressure.Nice short left from Emmett but Ige steps in and lands a nice combination. Both men throw heavy in the final seconds and the round comes to a close. Razor close third round that could go to either man at UFC 269.

Josh Emmett def. Dan Ige by Unanimous Decision (29-28, 29-28, 30-27)

Dominick Cruz defeats Pedro Munhoz at UFC 269

On the prelims of UFC 269, we saw a tremendous matchup in the bantamweight division. Former champion Dominick Cruz (23-3) took on contender Pedro Munhoz (19-6, 1 NC).

Dominick Cruz is considered by many to be the greatest bantamweight in UFC history. He was the first bantamweight champion for the promotion and he had a tremendous run at the top of the division.

However, injuries really derailed the career of Cruz. For example, he’s only fought six times in the last ten years. The last time we saw him was at UFC 259 when he won a close decision over young contender Casey Kenney.

Back in 2019, it appeared that Pedro Munhoz was on the cusp of a UFC title shot. He had won three in a row which included a knockout win over former UFC champion Cody Garbrandt.

That win got him a fight with Aljamain Sterling which he ultimately dropped by decision. Starting with that fight, Munhoz is just 1-3 in his last four fights. His last fight was a decision loss to Jose Aldo at UFC 265 in August.

UFC 269 Recap

Round 1

The UFC 269 bantamweight contest kicked off with a touch of the gloves. Cruz immediately starts moving back and forth and opens with a kick. Munhoz tries for a head kick of his own but doesn’t land.

Good low kick lands for Munhoz. Munhoz misses with a big head kick and Cruz pops him with a 1-2. Another nice straight shot from Cruz. Cruz catches Munhoz clean with a nice left hand. Munhoz hits another leg kick and Cruz tries for a takedown.

Pedro Munhoz defends and they’re back to striking. Good low kick and a combination behind it from Cruz. Munhoz pushes forward trying to land back but nothing lands. Another 1-2 for Cruz.

Huge left hand for Munhoz and down goes Cruz. Cruz is out on his feet as he gets back up. Munhoz drops him again and Cruz dives on a leg. It appears that Cruz is going to survive after using his defensive wrestling.

Munhoz lets Cruz back up and they’re back to striking. Cruz lands nicely but Munhoz is stalking him here in the final minute. Good knee to the body and a combination from Cruz. Beautiful jab from Munhoz.

It’s remarkable how much Cruz has recovered here. Another jab from Munhoz but Cruz lands a big combination that backs him up. Big shots from Cruz as the round ends. Cruz did well, but Munhoz takes the first at UFC 269.

Round 2

Entering the second round at UFC 269 and it looks like Cruz was able to get momentum near the end of the first. He starts the second with another good combination after catching a low kick from Munhoz. Solid 1-2 for Cruz lands.

Another good 1-2 for Cruz who appears to be back on stable ground here in the second. Munhoz lands a nice body kick. Head kick attempt from Munhoz just misses. Good jab from Cruz. He follows that up with a nice 1-2.

Munhoz gets popped with another 1-2 and then he tries to answer with a combination. Munhoz shoots for a takedown and Cruz defends easily. Both men exchange jabs in the center. Nice lead left for Cruz.

1-2 for Cruz and Munhoz counters with a double jab. Cruz pushing forward here and throws a leg kick. Munhoz lands a jab but that triggers a combination from Cruz that cuts him open. Another good combination from Cruz lands.

Beautiful striking on display from the former UFC champion in the second. Another good combination and Cruz is pulling away with this round. Massive combination from Cruz and Munhoz looked hurt for a second. The round comes to a close and a dominant one for Cruz.

Round 3

Entering the final round and whoever wins this round likely wins this fight at UFC 269. They touch gloves and here we go. Munhoz lands some solid shots and he’s heavy on the pressure here in the final round.

1-2 for Cruz and Munhoz pushes forward to counter. Munhoz much more aggressive here in the final round. Good combination from Cruz backs Munhoz off the pressure. Another nice 1-2 lands for Cruz and he’s keeping Munhoz at range here.

Good jab from Cruz but Munhoz catches him flush with a huge right hand. However, Cruz resets and lands another good combination. Munhoz chasing here and lands a jab. Good knee to the body from Cruz but Munhoz is on him here with the pressure.

Massive 1-2 from Cruz stops the pressure from Munhoz. Nice jab rom Munhoz however, Cruz counters with a big shot. Another 1-2 from Cruz and Munhoz lands a straight shot right after. Lead right hand from Cruz.

Cruz lands a big combination that Munhoz just eats. Low kick from Cruz. Munhoz pushes Cruz against the fence and tries to land something big but the former UFC champion makes him miss.

Big body kick from Munhoz. However, a nice body shot counter from Cruz. Both men trade jabs in the center. Good combination from Cruz. Munhoz steps is up but Cruz hits him flush as the round comes to a close. Should be 29-28 Dominick Cruz at UFC 269.

 Dominick Cruz def. Pedro Munhoz by Unanimous Decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)

Knicks: Obi Toppin enters COVID-19 protocols after career game in Toronto

obi toppin, knicks

After his career game in Toronto, New York Knicks‘ second-year forward Obi Toppin returned home and was quickly greeted with bad news.

The team announced Saturday afternoon that Toppin had entered the health and safety protocols. The dynamic reserve forward became the first Knicks casualty of the still ongoing pandemic this season.

Based on the league-mandated health and safety protocols, Toppin will miss 10 days unless he could yield at least two negative PCR test results from samples collected at least 24 hours apart.

Toppin will miss the Knicks Sunday matinee game against the rejuvenated defending champion Milwaukee Bucks.

It’s a dampener as Toppin has started to carve an integral role with the second unit that crescendoed Friday night in Toronto. He played like the lottery pick he was projected to become in the Knicks’ 90-87 loss to the Raptors. Toppin scattered 19 points and 10 rebounds in 24 minutes, all career-highs, as he energized the Knicks, who almost completed a comeback win from a 20-point deficit.

Toppin played longer than usual as the Knicks centers Nerlens Noel and Mitchell Robinson only combined for 35 minutes, leaving 13 minutes for a small-ball lineup.

New York coach Tom Thibodeau was effusive in praising Toppin’s performance, but he made it clear that he’s not ready yet to give him an expanded role.

“He’s worked hard. He’s always been a confident guy,” Thibodeau said of Toppin. “There’s still a long way to go. But his progress has been steady. Overall, I’m very pleased with him.”

Toppin is primarily serving as Julius Randle’s backup. Randle is averaging 35.3 minutes. But Toppin’s infectious energy off the bench and confident play has earned him spot minutes next to Randle in small-ball lineups.

“[Obi’s] got to work at being an all-around player. And I see that work every day. I see how he approaches it. He’s a great worker, a great kid. So I’m not surprised that he’s improving. If he plays well, he plays more. It’s that simple. You have to earn what you get,” Thibodeau said.

Against the Raptors, Toppin dropped eight points in the second quarter, where the Knicks quickly wiped out Toronto’s 20-point lead. In the second half, he played from the final 2:12 of the third quarter up to the 3:40 mark of the fourth quarter. He scored nine and grabbed five rebounds during that stretch.

Asked about his decision to pull out Toppin and play with only Randle as the big man down the stretch, Thibodeau said it was a tactical adjustment.

“It was basically [because] they were playing zone [defense] and so we thought we got behind a little. We wanted to add more shooting onto the floor. But overall, I thought [Obi] did a lot of great things. That’s how we got going — running the floor, hustling, his all-around play. I thought he really did a good job for us.”

Toppin doesn’t have any issue at all with the short leash. His mindset, he said, is to give 110 percent every time he steps on the court and inject passion and energy into the team.

“Whatever happens with minutes, with playing time like I said coach Thibs is a great coach. He’s been doing this for a very long time,” Toppin said.

[Thibodeau] knows what he’s doing. He knows who got to be in the game at what time. He has a different feel for the game than we do so because he’s a lot more experienced.”

After the team’s light practice on Saturday and before the bad news broke out, Thibodeau expounded on Toppin’s playing time situation despite the online clamor from the fanbase to give him more minutes. Toppin’s play with the second unit has been one of the few silver linings amid the team’s recent struggles.

“[It’s] very good offensively. Defensively, we lose the rim protection and rebounding. So you’re sacrificing that part of the game which is critical but I like the speed and the way they’re playing. I thought that group really played well together. Our bench came in and gave us a big lift,” Thibodeau said.

While he’s not ready yet to give Toppin an expanded role, Thibodeau reiterated how he values the 2020 eighth overall pick.

“He’s young and he’ll continue to get better. So there are still things he needs to improve upon but he’s made great strides. I’m very pleased with him. He adds a lot to the team. He’s a very important part of the team. I expect him to continue to improve,” he added.

Last season, Toppin played well in significant minutes during the start of the preseason until a calf injury caused him to miss six games. His confidence dipped, and he looked lost when he returned. It took him until the second half of the season to find his footing, and he has never looked back since last year’s All-Star break.

If Toppin misses an extended period, Taj Gibson is expected to step into his role with the second unit. It remains to be seen how this setback will affect Toppin’s situation when he returns.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

 

Yankees: Are players doing enough to state their case as lockout drags on?

The New York Yankees and the other 29 MLB teams are in lockdown. The present CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement) expired on December 1. Commissioner Rob Manfred wasted no time putting the clubs in lockdown. A lockdown forbids any transactions. Historically the owners have mostly had their way in CBA negotiations, except for getting their long-sought-after salary cap. The players association (MLBPA) knows that they are determined not to let it happen again.

With Manfred frequently speaking out, most fans know the owner’s complaints, but that is not true of the players. Few speak out on social media with their complaints; even the union head Tony Clark is seldom open about the negotiations. There are 30 owners and over 1,200 players, so the players should have the upper hand, but they don’t, they have little bargaining power. They can get more power if they state their case to fans that now see it as a fight between millionaires and billionaires. 

Having the most exposure, MLB can put pressure on the players, in many ways, including scrubbing articles and even their photos from the official MLB site. The players union has not placed a gag order on the players. The only way for the players to get the fans on their side is to talk, which almost all are not doing. If they can get the fans on their side, that is the best chance they have of putting pressure on the owners and possibly elevating their wants.

The union should schedule daily Zooms in which players explain to fans, through reporters, why they believe the game’s economy is broken. Get their case out there to the fans. Also, use your social media account. One of the significant issues they should explain is that over 90% of players earn the league minimum salary, very few players have mega-contracts, only the ones you see in the news. Players want more money sooner rather than later. The NFL, NBA, and NHL all have higher starting salaries than the MLB players. When you consider the average baseball life is only about four years, the minimum salary is significant.

Many minor league and even major-league players have second and third jobs in the off-season. They are laborers, janitors, or any position they can get to get by and feed and provide for their families. Again, I have to point out we’re are not talking about the Mike Trouts or Max Scherzer’s of the baseball world; they have plenty, and most have no worries for the rest of their lives. Most of those players are grossly overpaid.

In my opinion, compared to other sports, the players should have a higher starting salary. They should at the same time accept a reasonable salary cap, something they will never agree to. But for the time being, get out there and state your case. Get the fans on your side.

 

New York Yankees News: Everything you need to know in one place

CC, Jeff Nelson suggests Frazier shut his trap

The New York Yankees designated their failed outfielder Clint Frazier for assignment on Nov. 19 and cut him days later; the move brought to an end his tremulous time with the Yankees. Frazier, now 27 years old, took a one-year $1.5 million contract with the Chicago Cubs. He is now taking shots at the Yankees in usual Clint Frazier form as his immaturity shines through yet again. Some ex-Yankees are not taking it lightly.

Pitcher Jeff Nelson has been one of the most outspoken:

“Here is something for you,” Nelson tweeted. “You can talk the talk but, you have not walked the walk. Love the confidence but, you have to do something on the field.” “Don’t talk s–t about the Yankees when they gave him a chance so, screw you,” Nelson tweeted.

Pitcher CC Sabathia chimed in: 

“If I see another Clint Frazier story, bro, I’m gonna punch somebody in the f–king face,” he said on the R2C2 Podcast, per Audacy’s John Healy. “S–t is ridiculous. That kid played 15 games in the f–king big leagues. Get the f–k out of here with all these stupid ass f–king stories.”

Seiyu Suzuki suggests no-no to the Red Sox via social media

The New York Yankees have been reportedly aggressive in their pursuit of Japanese stud outfielder Seiyu Suzuki. After the lockout is resolved, it is assumed that Brian Cashman will continue that pursuit. Last season the start outfielder had a Suzuki posted a .317 batting average with 38 homers and 88 RBIs, striking out 89 times over 439 at-bats. If the Yankees can land the right-fielder, it could solve two problems for the team. They could move star Aaron Judge to center where he played flawlessly last season, sometimes replacing the ill Aaron Hicks, and put Suzuki in right.

The Yankees were not the only team in hot pursuit of the star; the Boston Red Sox and the Toronto Blue Jays were also aggressive. But in a bit of good news for the Yankees is that Suzuki apparently has scrubbed the Red Sox off his list of teams he might be interested in playing for. He un-followed the Red Sox on social media.

Ex-Yankee Mike Tauchman Korea bound

Many New York Yankee fans were sorry to see lefty Mike Tauchman leave the Yankees. Last season he played only eleven games for the Yankees when they traded him to the San Francisco Giants. He played in only 64 games with the Giants with a .186 batting average. Now a free agent, he has signed with the Hanwha Eagles of the Korea Baseball Organization, receiving a $300K signing bonus and salary of $700K for a total of $1 million. Hopefully, the outfielder can savage his career overseas.

Aaron Hicks is healthy and reported ready for 2022

Reportedly center fielder Aaron Hicks is healthy and ready to take his place on the field. On the upside, he played winter ball in the Dominican, which is now over. He got off to a slow start but heated up near the end of the season. With the Leones del Escogido he played in twelve games, hitting 4 home runs and batting .265.

The big question with Hicks is if he can stay healthy. History has proven that when he can stay on the field for any time, his hitting improves. However, the Yankees are not counting on him staying healthy. After the lockout is resolved, the Yankees may look to replace him, making him a bench player.

Rob Brantly to be number 3 backstop

The Yankees have re-signed catcher Rob Brantly to a minor league contract. Brantly played six games for the Yankees during the 2021 season, collecting three hits in 21 at-bats. Most of Brantly’s playing time last season came with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, where he hit .289 in 68 games. By signing Brantly, the Yankees will gain depth in triple -A and a third option at the Stadium, after Gary Sanchez and Kyle Higashioka.

Yankees among the teams that re-invest small amounts back into the team

One big question for Yankee fans, is after the lockout is over, will the Yankees spend the necessary money to improve the team for 2022? The Yankees in the last few years have been among the teams that have spent the least of their revenues to re-invest in their team. In 2018 they spent just 29.5 and only 33% of revenues for payroll enhancement in the last reporting year, 2019. 

The Yankees have some pretty big holes to fill, notably getting a shortstop to play in place of Gleyber Torres that has been moved to second base. Many of the best options are already gone. They also need a valid number two starting pitcher to follow Gerrit Cole. Add to that they need help in center field and also have decisions to make at first base. Both owner Hal Steinbrenner and GM Brian Cashman have indicated that they are willing to spend, but as of this point have done nothing.

Knicks’ tough loss to Raptors magnifies one of their weakest links

Forget about Julius Randle’s missed three-pointer. Forget about RJ Barrett’s miss at the buzzer.

The New York Knicks could have completed their 20-point comeback if only they secured the long rebound, which led to Gary Trent, Jr.’s backbreaking triple.

That shot swung the momentum and the lead back to the Raptors as they escaped with a hard-fought 90-87 win against a Knicks team that showed great resolve after another poor start.

“The second shot hurt us,” New York coach Tom Thibodeau said. “It was a shame not to come out of here with a win, but the way we started the game really hurt us.”

The same issue plagued the Knicks at the start of the game. They dug a 20-point hole in the first quarter as they gave up five more rebounds to the Raptors and four turnovers. Toronto took advantage and cashed in with a combined 11 points on transition and off turnovers. It didn’t help that the Raptors shot 5 of 9 3s and took seven more free throws.

“So we got into a big hole and had a fight,” Thibodeau said. “And then we downsized to get more shooting onto the floor and then the rebounding hurt us in the end.”

After Obi Toppin missed two consecutive three-pointers in the fourth quarter, Thibodeau decided to pull him out. By the time Evan Fournier subbed Toppin, the Knicks’ energetic second-year forward had already logged in his first career double-double with 19 points and 10 rebounds in 24 minutes, all career-highs. But his missed shots were a sign of exhaustion after playing straight from the final 2:12 of the third quarter up to the 3:40 mark of the fourth quarter. That was more than 10 minutes straight of running up and down the court.

Thibodeau’s tactical adjustment to counter the Raptors’ zone defense down the stretch backfired as the small-ball lineup on the floor got outrebounded in the most crucial time. The Knicks’ closing lineup of Derrick Rose, Alec Burks, Evan Fournier, Barrett, and Randle outscored the Raptors, 10-6, but gave up two crucial offensive rebounds in the most pivotal play of the game.

“You can’t take off, you can’t stand and stare. You got to turn and check,” Thibodeau said. “Because of the way people shoot, there are going to be a lot of long rebounds. That’s your guards’ responsibility but oftentimes you see offenses are inverted where the big guys are out. And so you have to find a body. That’s what we didn’t do. That has to be corrected.”

But the film tells otherwise.

Rose, Burks, and Barrett all found a body to box out after Trent, Jr.’s first three-point attempt hit the back iron. But they could only do so much against 6-8 Pascal Siakam, 6-7 Scottie Barnes, and 6-9 Chris Boucher. Randle missed the rebound because he went too deep, and Siakam tapped the ball out to Fred Van Vleet, who missed another 3-point attempt. Barnes got the long rebound from the left elbow and passed it to Van Vleet, who quickly swung it back to Trent, Jr. for his redemption shot.

The Raptors grabbed the lead, 89-87, and never relinquished it.

“We outrebounded them but we gave up costly ones when it counted the most,” Thibodeau said.

The Knicks won the battle of the boards overall, 55-48, and had two more offensive rebounds than the Raptors. Two offensive rebounds cost them the game. Even if Thibodeau can correct the Knicks’ gang rebounding deficiency, it will just be a band-aid solution. It’s not that the Knicks guards lacked the effort and awareness to box out. But the reality is, the Knicks’ inability to field a rebounding big man who can also be a threat against the zone defense is the biggest weakness of the current roster.

Even with Nerlens Noel and Mitchell Robinson not at full health, the Knicks are still among the top 10 rebounding teams in the NBA. Last season, they finished tied for eighth with 45.1 per game. After Friday night’s loss in Toronto, the Knicks are ninth with 45.7 rebounds per game.

Noel and Robinson only played a combined 35 minutes and 15 seconds on the floor against the Raptors due to lingering health and conditioning issues. They produced 10 points and 10 rebounds combined. But even when they are healthy, they don’t possess a decent outside shot or even a midrange jumper that can keep the defense honest.

Toppin can grow into that role if he develops a consistent outside shot. But until that happens, they need outside help.

If the Knicks are to salvage this season, point guard won’t be the priority at the trade deadline. A big man who can space the floor on offense and be a decent pick-and-roll defender and rim protector should be their top target. That way, they can optimize Randle as a bully point forward next to Burks. A floor-spacing center will unclog the paint for Randle and even for Barrett to attack the rim rather than settle for long jumpers.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Yankees: Aaron Hicks ends his stint in the Dominican league with good sensations and acceptable numbers

New York Yankees, Aaron Hicks

New York Yankees’ center fielder Aaron Hicks finished his stint with Leones del Escogido in the Dominican League (LIDOM), after completing the 50 plate appearances he was initially assigned by the Bombers.

In a strong pitching league (the average league OPS is around .640), Hicks held his own considering that he hadn’t played competitive baseball since injuring his wrist in May. Overall, he was third in the team among players with at least 40 plate appearances with a .729 OPS.

The Yankees’ outfielder hit one home run and slashed .265/.321/.408, with nine RBI, four doubles, and five runs scored. He took four walks and struck out 10 times. He also stole two bases.

More than the stats themselves, the most important takeaway for the Yankees is that Hicks made it through his winter experience healthy and in one piece. The 2022 campaign is a big one for him, as he will try to prove that he can still be the Bombers’ starting center fielder. New York may or may not bring a capable outfielder to compete with him this offseason when the lockout ends.

The Yankees need him to find his 2018 form

Hicks peaked in 2018, when he slashed .248/.366/.467 with 27 home runs, 90 runs scored, 79 RBI, and 11 stolen bases. That year, he had a very solid 129 wRC+ and 5.0 Wins Above Replacement, or WAR.

He was limited to 59 games with the Yankees in 2019 because he needed Tommy John surgery, and his offensive performance collapsed all the way to a 103 wRC+. He returned to a 124 wRC+ in 2020, but his power was affected: he had a .189 ISO, his lowest mark since 2017.

He slumped badly in 32 games this year, with a .194/.294/.333 line and a 76 wRC+, and then injured his wrist: he suffered a torn left tendon sheath, forcing him to get surgery and miss the remainder of the season.

The Yankees wanted to see where he was at after missing such a high amount of games, and that’s why they sent him to the Dominican Republic, the most competitive Caribbean league. But he will need to have a strong spring training to dissipate any doubts about his future with the team.