The key to the Yankees finding consistency as the 2022 season churns on

anthony rizzo, yankees

The Yankees’ offensive consistency is one of the few things that the team needs to look at correcting as this season goes on. While it sounds easier than it really is, the Yankees need to develop a consistent team-wide approach to scoring runs each and every game. I’m not expecting the team to win every game, that is like asking for a million dollars in exchange for a nickel.

However, I am asking for a more leveled approach and one that isn’t so “all or nothing.” Even with their sixth straight series win over Texas, the offense clearly struggled over the weekend. Across three games, they only managed to score 5 runs. For a team with this much talent, it should be closer to 5 runs per game, not per series. 

Over the course of the Yankees’ 11-game win streak, the team was lighting up the scoreboard and scored more runs than anyone in the league in that span. We discussed on Fireside Yankees how there really weren’t any gripes with this team and that they are playing an extremely fun brand of baseball.

Fast forward ahead another few games, and of course, the three delays, and it seems like the team is back to where they were early season. I’m not expecting any of the elite players to struggle much longer, as Donaldson is especially just itching to break out. The Law of Averages suggests that those who are not great will come back down to earth, and vice versa for those struggling, so I believe that some guys will turn it around in a big way. Even many Yankees’ ‘fans’ least favorite player, Joey Gallo, has done his job to silence the haters. Last eight games, Gallo is slashing .285 / .400 / .438 – good for a .838 OPS. 

Yankees with RISP continue to be below average, as according to TeamRankings, they have left 3.33 runners in scoring position per game this season. That number ranks as the eighth-worst in baseball, just beating out Toronto’s 3.37. That number has ballooned up to right around four a game in the last four games. It is as fundamental of a solution as they come, and that is that in order to win games, you have to score more runs. New York has been scoring runs, sometimes at will, but as a whole, still are struggling to get those needed insurance runs in close games early on. 

Yet, there’s not much to complain about when one steps back and looks at this team across the board. Their 119 wRC+ is the best in baseball, and they sit second in the league with a .326 team wOBA, plus lead the league with 37 home runs thus far. Simply put, the Yankees continue to thrive, even with a few minor kinks in the armor. Luckily, while the offense continues to figure it out, the pitching has been lights out. From the emergence of Mike King in the bullpen to every starter in the rotation performing exceptionally well, this team is here to make some noise this year. The Yankees are also the first AL team to claim the coveted 20th win of the year, as they now sit at 20-8 on the season.

Ben Simmons in high spirits after surgery, plans to make Nets debut next season

ben simmons, knicks

Brooklyn Nets’ forward Ben Simmons can now focus on returning to playing competitive basketball after successful back surgery.

Simmons was in high spirits after going under the knife last week in Los Angeles, according to The Athletic’s top NBA insider Shams Charania.

“I’m told he’s feeling a lot better and the goal for him is to be playing basketball in the 2022-23 season,” Charania said on Pat McAfee Show Tuesday.

Simmons is expected to recover before next season’s training camp in September. But there’s a big question mark on what kind of player the Nets will be getting back.

“Everyone’s just gonna hope that Ben Simmons can regain some of the form that he had when he’s a three-time All-Star and two-time All-Defensive Team member,” Charania said.

Simmons will attempt to return after a year and a half away from competitive basketball. In what started as a holdout after his much-publicized falling out with his former team Philadelphia 76ers, Simmons’ situation turned into bizarre. He cited mental issues as the main culprit until his back injury exacerbated the problem, causing him to miss the whole season altogether.

The Nets never had the chance to live up to the hype as the preseason title favorites after a series of unfortunate events, with Simmons’ situation serving as the final straw. A stunning sweep to the Boston Celtics in the first round mercilessly ended their agonizing season.

Next season, they are banking on Simmons to give them length and defensive versatility, which they sorely lacked against the Celtics. And they are also hoping to get back a healthy Joe Harris and Seth Curry to complement the Kevin Durant-Kyrie Irving-Simmons trio.

Curry also underwent successful arthroscopic surgery on his left ankle Monday. Orthopedic surgeon Dr. Martin O’Malley performed the surgery at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York. Dr. O’Malley also did Harris’ ankle surgery.

Like Simmons, Curry should be ready before next season’s training camp barring any setback.

The Nets, who will enter next season as a luxury team anew, are limited in what they can to remake their roster. So, the health and the availability of their stars will be crucial in their bid to win their elusive first NBA championship finally.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

The Giants have a fierce, long-term pass-rushing duo forming

kayvon thibodeaux, new york giants, azeez ojulari

The New York Giants entered the 2022 NFL Draft with a major weakness on defense. The Giants needed to add another edge rusher to their lineup. New York struck gold with the fifth overall pick in the draft, drafting Kayvon Thibodeaux out of Oregon. Kayvon was once looked at as the top prospect in this year’s class, and many believe he has the potential to be a perennial All-Pro. The Giants are pairing him alongside Azeez Ojulari, the team’s second-round pick in last year’s draft. These two will combine to form a fierce pass-rushing duo on the Giants’ defense for a long time.

Kayvon Thibodeaux and Azeez Ojulari: The Giants’ potentially elite pass-rushing duo

There were rumors that the New York Giants would draft Georgia edge rusher Azeez Ojulari with the eleventh overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. Instead, they traded down, then traded down again, then stole Ojulari with the fiftieth overall pick. Azeez posted 8 sacks, 49 combined tackles, and 8 tackles for loss in his rookie season. Ojulari established himself as one of the best young edge rushers in the league, and now, the Giants just added a premiere rookie at the same position to play alongside him.

Azeez Ojulari has great potential to be a top-tier edge rusher. Yet, the Giants’ other edge rusher has even greater potential. Kayvon Thibodeaux’s potential is elite. Some believe he had the highest ceiling of any prospect in this year’s draft class. Kayvon models his game off of All-Pro Von Miller and mirrors his playing style closely at times. Kayvon has an elite first step and all the athletic tools necessary to turn himself into a premier pass-rusher.

Kayvon Thibodeaux is a 6-foot-4, 254-pound athletic freak of nature. The 2021 1st-Team AP All-American produced 19 sacks and 35.5 tackles for loss in 32 games across his collegiate career. He has been described as a “perfect fit” for Wink Martindale’s 3-4 blitz-heavy defense. Kayvon has room to grow, but he was a star for Oregon from the moment he stepped on the field as a freshman. The New York Giants have secured themselves a potential star in Kayvon Thibodeaux.

The Giants are financially flexible at edge rusher

Edge rusher is one of the most expensive positions in the NFL. Signing a premium pass-rusher will run teams upwards of $20 million. The Giants, currently in a cap pinch, could never afford to improve that position through free agency. However, the exciting part of the Giants’ defensive construction is their rookie contracts. Azeez Ojulari and Kayvon Thibodeaux both have the potential to be excellent players on cost-efficient rookie contracts.

Azeez Ojulari is playing on a rookie contract with an average salary of $1.6M. His cap hit will exceed $2M only in the final year of his deal in 2024. Kayvon Thibodeaux has yet to sign his rookie deal, though it will not break the Giants’ bank when he signs. The 2021 fifth-overall pick (Bengals wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase) signed a contract worth about $7.7M on average annually. Chase’s contract is well below his worth as one of the NFL’s top receivers.

Kayvon Thibodeaux’s four-year contract, with a fifth-year club option, is projected to be worth $36,206,254 with a $23,511,820 signing bonus per OverTheCap. As with Ja’Marr Chase, this will put Thibodeaux on an incredibly affordable salary ranging from $7-9 million. If Kayvon develops into one of the NFL’s best edge rushers, this will be viewed as one of the biggest bargain contracts in the league. Having top-tier players on rookie contracts at expensive positions gives the Giants a great amount of funds to invest elsewhere.

Rangers’ Igor Shesterkin nominated for the Vezina Trophy

The NHL anounced their three finalists for the Vezina Trophy with New York Rangers goalie Igor Shesterkin nominated for the first time in his young career.

New York Rangers goalie Igor Shestrekin is one of three finalists nominated for the Vezina Trophy. The trophy is presented annually “to the goaltender adjudged to be the best at his position” and is voted on by the general managers of the NHL’s 32 teams.

Shesterkin, 26, is the first Rangers goaltender since Henrik Lundqvist in 2012-13 to be named a finalist for the Vezina Trophy. Lundqvist was a runner-up that season in his bid for back-to-back Vezina Trophy wins. If Shesterkin were to take home the award, he would become the sixth Ranger to do so and join Henrik Lundqvist (2011-12), John Vanbiesbrouck (1985-86), Ed Giacomin & Gilles Villemure (1970-71), and Dave Kerr (1939-40). (via NYR PR)

Shesterkin posted a 36-13-4 record with a league-leading 2.07 goals-against average and a .935 save percentage.

  • Shesterkin’s .935 save percentage was The highest single-season save percentage in Rangers history among goaltenders who made 30 or more appearances.
  • Among goaltenders who played 50 or more games, Shesterkin had the third-highest save percentage in NHL history behind Tim Thomas (2010-11 – .938) and Dominik Hasek (1998-99 – .937).
  • Among NHL goaltenders in 2021-22, Shesterkin’s 36 wins ranked sixth and his six shutouts ranked third. His 36 wins were tied for the seventh-most by a Rangers goaltender in a single season throughout team history.
  • Shesterkin had a .900 save percentage in 75 percent of his starts this season, the highest rate in the NHL (min. 20 starts).

The other finalists for the award are Calgary’s Jacob Markstrom and Nashville’s Juuse Saros.

The winners of the 2022 NHL Awards will be revealed during the Conference Finals and Stanley Cup Final, with exact dates, format and times to be announced.

Mets: Pete Alonso is maturing as a hitter

With his two home runs on Sunday, New York Mets’ Pete Alonso now has seven long balls for the season, and keeps showing why teams who play the Mets need to be very careful when pitching to him. “Beware the Bear” would be a good message for opposing pitchers.

Heading into Tuesday, Alonso is slashing .276/.333/.500 with the seven homers and 26 RBI in the young season. He is well on his way to surpass 100 RBI for the first time since he was a rookie in 2019. His 143 wRC+ is just shy of his 144 mark that year, when he broke the record for most home runs by a rookie with 53.

The Mets’ slugger has a nice 113 blasts in 400 games for his career, and he is just entering his prime. Things could be promising for him from a totals standpoint.

The Mets have enjoyed not only Alonso’s power, but also an improved approach at the plate. He looks like a more complete hitter, going the other way frequently and taking what pitchers give him.

His .276 batting average is, according to MLB.com, almost 20 points higher than his career .258 mark.

The Mets’ manager raved about the hitter and the person

Here is what Mets manager Buck Showalter has to say about his first baseman: “Sincere,” Buck stated. “Always the same guy every day. Never moody. Really good teammate. Really wants to win. Doesn’t mind working on his weaknesses. He doesn’t look at the media as an enemy. A simple soul, really. Good husband. His nickname is perfect: Polar Bear. I see someone I call country strong. Very respectful, and he ain’t scared, and he likes baseball. A lot.

“He appreciates everything he has, like he can’t believe the money he’s making. And here’s something else that’s especially meaningful to a manager, and to his teammates: He listens.”

Because he listens, he has been able to improve as a hitter.

“Just taking whatever the opposing teams give me. I’ve always been able to go to the big parts of the field. This year it has happened a lot earlier,” Alonso said after the Mets got to 20-10, one of the best records in the National League. “I haven’t seen as many driveable pitches where you want to get big on and hit a double in the gap or go up top, but I just want to stay within myself and just put good quality swings on good pitches. Going to right field is a product of having a plan and not getting too big.”

He may be getting too big… too big of a hitter, a teammate, and a clubhouse guy.

Do the New York Yankees have a new ‘ace’ in town?

nestor cortes, yankees

The New York Yankees might be spending $324 million over nine years for Gerrit Cole, but that doesn’t automatically make him the ace. Of course, that money suggests he should be performing like one, and he has stepped up his game tremendously after a tough start to the 2022 season, but there’s another starter making waves in the Bronx.

27-year-old pitcher with Cuban origins, Nestor Cortes, has become the next best thing for the Yankees, posting a 1.41 ERA over 32 innings to start the year. Over six games, Cortes hosts 11.81 strikeouts per nine, 0.56 home runs per nine, 88.7% left on base rate, and 36.6% ground ball rate.

Whatever Cortes is doing, teams have been completely lost trying to figure out his game. In fact, against the Texas Rangers on Monday afternoon, Cortes threw a no-hitter entering the 8th inning, striking out 11 batters over 103 pitches.

The Yankees are seeing the best of their young starter:

After starting his career in Baltimore back in 2018, Cortes endured a rocky road trying to find an established home. He joined the Yankees in 2019, recording a 5.67 ERA over 66.2 innings in a relief role. However, after a short stint with the Seattle Mariners, Cortes made his way back to New York, where he earned a 2.90 ERA last year over 93 innings, pitching in 22 games.

Now, Cortes is looking like a bonafide ace with his new approach. Looking at his pitch metrics, Cortes doesn’t display vast differences in his usage compared to 2021, despite an increase in his slider. He’s throwing his slider at 40.3% this year, up 17%. His fastball sits at 42%, curveball at 13.7%, and change-up at 4.0%. However, he’s mixed in a cutter recently, a pitch that tantalized Texas on Monday.

What makes Cortes super unique is his arm slot and wind-up. He’s always changing his fundamentals to keep batters off balance. They don’t know if it’s going to be a quick release or a long-drawn-out pitch with break. Every now and then, Cortes will throw a blazing fastball that catches hitters staring into the abyss.

His approach is vastly different compared to Gerrit Cole, who relies heavily on his fastball and consistent technique. This year, Cole has also incorporated a cutter into his repertoire of pitches but continues to lean heavily on his four-seam fastball at 49%. Cole has far more velocity than Cortes, but that doesn’t make him more effective necessarily.

The incredible turnaround that Nestor has curated the past two years has been a godsend for the Yankees. Without him, they would have a major hole in the starting rotation. At this point, he’s definitely the “People’s Ace,” but he’s pushing hard to have an even better season than the $324 million man.

How much salary space do the New York Giants currently have available?

giants, joe schoen

The New York Giants have had to make a few tough decisions this off-season trying to lower the salary cap hits of some of their more expensive players. With new management coming in and a full rebuild underway, it was always a possibility that former pricey free agent signings would end up being released to save a bit of cash.

The latest player to hit the road was corner James Bradberry, who the Giants released on Monday afternoon. Big Blue saved $10.1 million from his salary, adding it to their cap space. Currently, the Giants have $14.7 million available, just enough to sign their rookie class, which will require $12.8 million.

The Giants have already restructured multiple contracts, including Blake Martinez, Sterling Shepard, and Graham Gano. Martinez will accrue a $1.25 million base salary but count $7.5 million against the cap. Shepard will earn $1.5 million in base salary but take on an $8.5 million dead cap hit.

Looking at 2023, Shepard will be a free agent, but the Giants had to add a void year at $4.2 million to open up some flexibility this off-season.

Gano restructured his contract multiple times, sitting with a $4.47 million cap hit this year and earning $1.12 million in base salary. Next year, he will earn $3.75 million in base and a $2.6 million hit against the cap.

General manager Joe Schoen had to make a few strategic moves to open salary space, but the Giants still project to have upward of $83 million next year. However, that doesn’t include their 11 new rookie contracts, so it’s around $60 million.

Since the Giants have already declined the fifth-year option of Daniel Jones and picked up Dexter Lawrence’s, which has already been factored into the 2023 cap space, they will have a big decision to make retaining their quarterback on the franchise tag or via extension.

Nonetheless, they can always push bigger cap hits to the future and not take on the brunt in the first year, which is a normal practice in the NFL trying to open up more flexibility.

Given how poor the situation was when Schoen took over, the Giants have still managed to inject a ton more talent in the offensive line and multiple position groups that were glaring weaknesses.

Yankees’ manager Aaron Boone calls out Josh Donaldson for lazy jogging to first base

yankees, aaron boone

On Monday, the New York Yankees barely squeaked out the win against the Texas Rangers, driving in just one run. If not for stellar pitching from Nestor Cortes, the Bombers may have found themselves on the other side of the win column.

However, in the 6th inning of the game, it looked like some of the Yankee players ran out of gas following a tough double-header on Sunday. Third baseman Josh Donaldson hit a ground ball to shortstop, which Corey Seager bobbled. Donaldson had already cashed in and jogged with his head down to first base. He might’ve been able to beat out the throw if he was a bit more aggressive with his running.

“I think anytime you get caught slowing down, you know right away,” Boone said, per the NY Post. “There’s times you have to say something. DJ’s wasn’t an issue because it was inconsequential. … But Donaldson probably took his eye off it for a second. With some of our guys, the gait is important and making sure we’re running with the right gait. But I think any time you make a mistake, usually you know it. Now and then you gotta say something. I have not said something yet.”

Donaldson has been performing well lately, though, hitting .220 with two homers and seven RBIs. In fact, Donaldson is currently on a 10-game hitting streak while also contributing six walks during that time span. He has struck out eight times, showcasing more hits than strikeouts.

“What I love about it is he’s grinding right now and getting on base a ton,” Boone said before the game. “Getting some big hits here and there. I think a sign of a great hitter, when you’re kind of grinding through it and you’re having this level of getting on base and mixing in your hits, when it clicks, he’s one of those guys who can carry you for stretches at a time.”

In the month of May, Donaldson is hitting .273 with a .678 OPS. While Boone did notice he wasn’t giving maximum effort, I think he’s going to let him slide just this once based on his recent performance.

Rangers can’t keep up with Penguins weapons as team faces elimination Wednesday

Plenty has gone wrong for the New York Rangers in the first four games of this best of seven series.  It could be too late for the Blueshirts to adjust to the multiple advantages the Penguins have displayed compiling a 3-1 lead.

The body language was all that was needed when looking at the New York Rangers last night as the second period concluded.  They were beaten down mentally, by the Penguin’s speed, in goal by a shell shocked Igor Shesterkin and behind the bench, where Penguins coach Mike Sullivan has outdueled Gerrard Gallant in the four games played to this point.

How did things get so bad so fast? Believe it or not, it began at the end of the regular season when the Rangers dropped three out of the last four regular-season games, and including the playoffs, they have now lost six out of the last eight games they have played.

Penguin’s Top Line Outperforming the Ranger’s Number 1 Unit

There is a huge discrepancy between the team’s two top lines. For the Penguins, the line of Guentzel-Crosby-Rust has been a force to deal with for the Rangers.

The Pen’s top line has combined for 20 points and eight goals. Sidney Crosby leads the team with nine points (2G) followed by Guentzel with six points (5G) and Rust with five points (2G).

The Ranger’s numbers one line has combined for 12 points even distributed with four points each for Kreider, Zibaenjad, and Vatrano.  Kreider has netted two goals as has Vatrano. Zibanejad is still looking for his first goal of the playoffs with the team heading into game five Wednesday night.

Artemi Panarin leads the team with five points (2G) and Andrew Copp has the lead in goals scored with three.

The absence of Barclay Goodrow is unmeasurable for the team.  His injury, the second in two weeks, has changed the dynamic of the fourth line. The coaching staff recognized this with the substitution of John Brodzinski for Dylan Hunt. The only lineup change from game three went pretty much unnoticed.

Goodrow is expected to be out the remainder of this series and then he will be re-evaluated.

What Defense?

The Defense has probably played its worse four-game set than at any time this season.  Ryan Lindgren has missed theist three games and it’s causing the coaching staff fits while the Penguins seem to be having their way with the Rangers.

It’s best to address the elephant in the room, Patrick Nemeth has struggled mightily in this series. He has taken four minor penalties, had a turnover in game three that resulted in theme winning goal being scored (albeit a soft goal by Alexandar Georgiev), and has not looked comfortable on the ice against the speed of the Penguins have shown.

Adam Fox has been unable to show much offensive spark since Lindgren was injured. He has been paired with Justin Braun, and the two have done fair considering the borage of play in their own end.

The Trouba/Miller pairing is the only pairing intact from the regular season and has not been at their top-level themselves.  Turnovers, missed shots, and checking assignments have been the par for the course up to this point and this pairing has been no exception.

Igor Shesterkin was pulled again on Monday night. He has given up 10 goals in the three periods he has appeared in this playoff.  He has a 4.25 GAA along with a .905 save percentage.

His struggle is real but the team defense has hung him out to dry for most of the series. Surprisingly he has not looked comfortable in goal aside from the game two win.

For those who may believe there could be a goalie controversy brewing, Gallant put that issue to bed during last night’s presser,

“He’ll be back in there ready to win on Wednesday”

The Rangers find their backs against the wall now.  Down 3-1, they will need to win the next three games in order to advance to round two.  A tough task to endure with so many issues in front of them.

Defenseman Jacob Trouba talked about the next game in front of the team following Monday’s loss,

“I don’t think you’re going to find a guy who’s happy with that performance,” Jacob Trouba said. “There’s really not a whole lot to say passed that. I think we know we’ve got to be better, to a man. We’re going to show up to Game 5, put that behind us and be ready to play.”

 

Follow Frank Curto on Twitter at @RangerProud