LeBron James at Dodger Stadium No Longer A Dream

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On July 1, 2018 LeBron James signed a 4-year $154 million deal to play for the Los Angeles Lakers.

A monumental moment is sports history, indeed.

What follows for King James and the Lakers will only take the two brands to unprecedented heights. A dream come true for the purple and gold faithful. It all starts with the picture of LeBron holding up his Lakers jersey for the first time while standing next to legendary Magic Johnson at the introductory press conference. A jersey that will likely sell out faster than any other jersey ever before. Next will come LeBron’s first game, first point, first dunk, first win, fourth championship, and so on and so forth. All of it being captured as another chapter to the career of arguably the greatest player in NBA history.

But let’s make one thing clear.

Nothing will be more monumental than LeBron’s ceremonial first pitch at Dodger Stadium in a Los Angeles Dodgers jersey.

LeBron will never feel more welcomed to Los Angeles until he gets the standing ovation at the Chavez Ravine. He will feel the pressure of winning a championship, sure, but the pressure of delivering a strike in front of 50,000-plus fans in one of the most iconic jerseys, in one of the most iconic stadiums, in American sports history is a different beast. LeBron will take pride in wearing Dodger Blue. The man knows the significance. One can only hope he throws from the mound but making that pitch in a Jackie Robinson No.42 jersey would be all kinds special.

That’s where I want to be. The first time LeBron gets his official welcome from Los Angeles, gets a picture taken with the current king of LA, Clayton Kershaw, and it better be on July, 13, 14, or 15, against the Angels so all their fans can once and for all realize there’s only one team in Southern California that people actually care about.

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Dodgers’ Wins Mean More Against Cubs

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The San Francisco Giants are the hated ones, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are the irrelevant ones, the Arizona Diamondbacks are the Arizona Diamondbacks, and the Chicago Cubs are public enemy No.1, no longer the lovable losers of baseball, sitting at the top of the list of teams you love to beat, for now, if you’re a fan of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

As good as its feels for a Cubs fan after a win over the St. Louis Cardinals, or as delightful as it may be for a Dodgers fan to pound the Giants on a night when Madison Bumgarner takes the mound, both fan bases know that deep down a win against one another feels just as good or better, because the path to the World Series in the National League will inevitably run through Los Angeles or Chicago.

The 103-win Cubs team in 2016 outclassed the Dodgers in route to their first World Series championship in 108 years. The 104-win 2017 Dodgers’ returned the favor with a gentleman’s sweep of Chicago on the way to their first World Series appearance since 1988. In the last three years, two of the highest winning percentages in all baseball belong to the Dodgers (.591) and Cubs (.601). Outside of a couple of new faces added into the mix, with a select few (Yu Darvish and Brandon Morrow) deciding to trade in one hat for the other, a lot of the same faces from both sides look geared up for battle in 2018, once again.

On Tuesday night, 53,904 fans packed Dodger Stadium, to attend the second game of the four game set between the two National League powers. It was the largest MLB regular-season crowd for a game since Aug.30, 2012 (also at Dodger Stadium). The schedule makers decided to pack all seven regular-season games between them into a two-week span but how can you blame them. There’s a reason why ESPN has broadcasted three consecutive games in Los Angeles. The Dodgers and Cubs bring everything to the table for even the average fan, start power, flair, drama, and a mutual respect for each other.

Not surprisingly, none of the games have disappointed, thus far. Each one bringing a high intensity not usually seen until late September postseason pushes take full effect.

The first two games were played as a doubleheader at Wrigley Field, on Jun.19. The Dodgers needed a pinch-hit single from Kyle Farmer in the ninth inning to come away with a 2-1 win in the first game. The Cubs responded with an extra-inning walk-off single from Albert Almora Jr. in game two to split the doubleheader in a 4-3 win. On the following day, the Cubs shutout the Dodgers with a 4-0 win to take the first series.

The two heavyweights have continued to trade blows in the first three games of the series at Dodger Stadium this week. On Monday night, the Dodgers pulled out another 2-1 nail bitter, thanks to two solo home runs from Enrique Hernandez and Chris Taylor, respectively, on top of Kenta Maeda’s seven scoreless innings of work on the mound. The next night belonged to Javier Baez of the Cubs. He finished the night 4-for-5 with five RBIs, two home runs, including a grand slam in the 9-4 win.

The Dodgers countered on Wednesday night with a 7-5 win, backed by three home runs, Max Muncy’s solo shot in the first inning, Joc Pederson’s two-run blast in the second, and Cody Bellinger’s solo homer in the eighth inning for good measure. A game that began with Justin Turner and Willson Contreras having words with each other after a play at the plate in the first inning. Words was all it was. Otherwise it was just another day in the month of June where the Dodgers have now hit 51 home runs in 23 games, the most in franchise history since, well, they hit 53 in 28 games last season in June.

Six games, three wins a piece.

On Thursday afternoon, the final game of the regular-season between the familiar foes will feature the biggest star in games newest rivalry. Three-time Cy Young Award winner, 2014 NL MVP, Clayton Kershaw will make his second start since returning from the DL on Jun.23. He’ll be on a pitch count, and yes, everyone is aware that this is a game in June and not October. But every pitch, hit, run, steal, any advantage, disadvantage, one way or the other could be sealed away for when it matters most four months from now. These games do matter. Kershaw will face a lot of the same dudes he’s faced before, the result may be the same or likely different, but either way each guy wont skip over video of the last time he faced him and vise-versa across the board for every matchup that has occurred over these seven regular-season games.

So if you’re a Dodgers fan you should cheer a little louder when Javy Baez whiffs at a slider for the fifth time in a row, when Addison Russell can’t field a ground ball, or whenever Jon Lester attempts to make a pick-off throw to first base, because at the end of the day it should feel better to beat the team that you know you’re destined to face in October.

Harden’s MVP is Another Win for Seattle

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Try to imagine your favorite professional sports team uprooting the franchise for an entirely different State, City, and then for good measure changing the team colors and nickname that you rocked for years with a pride unlike any other.

Most of us can’t imagine that, right?

But we can sympathize for those who have gone through it, Seattle, is the first team that comes to mind. The city lost the Supersonics after the 2008 season when they booked a one-way ticket to Oklahoma City and changed their name to the Thunder. Despite not having a team to root for the last decade, Seattle, has had the one team who’s been the most fun to root against, if you’re a Seattleite.

The Thunder have made four Western Conference Finals appearances, one NBA Finals appearance, while drafting three NBA MVPs, and one of the three has two NBA Finals MVP awards on his resume. The Thunder are the first franchise in NBA History to draft future MVPs in three consecutive seasons. (Via @ESPNStatsInfo on Twitter). Now that sounds unbearable if you’re a Supersonics fan but Oklahoma City doesn’t have an NBA championship to show for which has allowed Seattle to bask in the glory of every mishap the Thunder have taken in the last ten years.

On Monday night, Seattle was basking again.

James Harden took home his first NBA MVP award at the NBA awards show on TNT, the former Oklahoma City Sixth man of the year, now, Houston Rockets guard who averaged 30.4 points per game and 8.8 assists per game. Oklahoma City traded Harden in 2012 after falling to the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals in five games. Just a few weeks ago, the Golden State Warriors won their second of back-to-back NBA championships with Kevin Durant taking home a consecutive Finals MVP award, the former NBA MVP of the Oklahoma City Thunder (2013-14 season). Durant left the Thunder in free agency in the summer of 2016 after falling to the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals in seven games, despite leading the series 3-1. This all happening one year after current Oklahoma City guard Russell Westbrook won his first NBA MVP award while averaging a triple-double for the (2016-2017) season.

The Seattle fans nightmare of an Oklahoma City Thunder Championship celebration came close to happening right in front of their eyes, instead, they’ve gotten to watch one of the great “What If” sports debates unfold with the rest of us. Except they’ve likely enjoyed it more than you, and I, and we can’t blame them for it. Oklahoma City is now stuck in the 90 percentile of the league on the outside looking in at a Warriors dynasty, waiting for its next turn at an NBA title run, a wait that might be long enough to see a return of the Seattle Supersonics, who don’t seem any farther away from a championship than the Thunder do these days.

 

Celtics’ 2-0 Series Lead is What Fans Should Want

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LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers are down 0-2 in the Eastern Conference finals after dropping Tuesday night’s game to the Boston Celtics, 107-94. If you’re a fan of the NBA or sports in general this is exactly what you want.

First things first, no one wants Boston to win this series outside of the fans from Boston, and the fans who fall in the MJ corner of the Jordan-LeBron debate along with the lonely handful of fans in the other corner that think Kobe Bryant got skipped over in the debate. Boston’s 2-0 series lead is fueling a fire. The fire every sports fan prays to see from their favorite player and fears to witness against their favorite team. The fire that ignited LeBron to score 21 first quarter points on 8 of 13 shooting from the field, 4 of 7 from the three-point line, tying his playoff career high for points in a single quarter.

LeBron finished with 42 points, 10 rebounds, and 12 assists.

That line is the standard for LeBron these days. The Cavaliers need every bit of LeBron, per usual, but especially this postseason with a rotation so thin you’d mistake them for a high school team with half its players ineligible because of bad grades. The aforementioned line should be good enough for the Cavs to win and for fans to marvel at, but it’s not. It’s the sad but honest truth. The 40-15-12 lines only have fans asking for more because a 21-point first quarter convinces us that there’s more to WITNESS.

The farther the Celtics push the Cavs to the brink, the deeper LeBron has to dig to discover new heights.

Boston can take credit for discovering the monster LeBron currently is. In 2012, in a decisive Game 6 in Boston, LeBron went for 45 points, 15 rebounds, and five assists on 19 of 26 shooting from the field which was his greatest performance to date. He’s won three NBA Championships since. Think of that as LeBron Volume 1. The 2018 Celtics injury plagued team is somehow beating the Cavs without a star and a bunch of kids who attended LeBron’s camp growing up. They could go down as the unlikeliest NBA finals team ever or the team that gives us the greatest LeBron game ever played.

LeBron might actually need to drop numbers we’ve never seen from him before to win this series. His career-high in points in 61 from a game on March 3, 2014 against the Charlotte Hornets. His career-high in rebounds is 19 against the same Hornets franchise on January 11, 2008. His career-high assists is 19 from a game earlier this year against the Atlanta Hawks on February 9, 2018. Any of those career-highs could get broken in this series against Boston or have to be if the Cavs want to make this a series.

The Celtics have a handful of players to throw at LeBron and a head coach that is considered a mad scientist in basketball circles. They held him to 15 points in Game 1 and let him score 42 in Game 2. In Game 3 LeBron could give us another 45-10-14 line or he could give us a performance that we will talk about forever and we’d only have the Celtics to than for that.

 

Utah’s Recipe to Their Game 2 Victory

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The Utah Jazz defeated the Houston Rockets on Wednesday night with a score of 116-108, evening the Western Conference semis at one game apiece, 1-1. On a night when rookie sensation Donovan Mitchell fell below his season average of 20.5 points per game and finished with 17 points on 6-21 shooting from the field, Utah’s scoring load was picked up by five different players finishing in double figures, led by Joe Ingles team-high 27 points, Alec Burks (17), Jae Crowder (15), Rudy Gobert (15), and Derrick Favors (10).

Despite his poor shooting performance, Mitchell’s 11 assists were the key to the Jazz victory.

The team was without point guard Ricky Rubio for its second straight game due to a hamstring injury, a traditional point guard/hair savant who opens up passing lanes and makes everyone’s life easier on the basketball court. Mitchell took on that role in Game 2 against Houston. It was clear from the tip that Mitchell was looking to create for others and the others and himself put an emphasis on shots from behind-the-arc. The Jazz needed to be leaps and bounds better from three-point land than they were in Game 1 when they finished 7-22 to Houston’s 17-32 performance. Mitchell’s five assists and Joe Ingles 11 points including three 3-pointers found Utah leading Houston 36-28 after the first quarter.

The Jazz lead got as big as 19 points in the second quarter before entering halftime with a 64-55 lead.

A James Harden and Chris Paul led team in Houston finally took a lead halfway through the third quarter, 71-69, their first since it was 6-5 with 9:56 remaining in the first quarter. It was 86-85 in favor of Utah headed into the final 12 minutes of the game. Enter the Mitchell and Ingles duo, once again. The two combined for 16 points in the fourth quarter, split down the middle with eight apiece. The Jazz never wavered from the game plan. Mitchell added four assists in the quarter, two of which ended with an Ingles three-pointer, and on back-to-back possessions found Dante Exum in the corner for three to go ahead 95-94, and then Crowder less than a minute later from behind-the-arc to take a 98-94 lead. A lead in which Utah never gave up. The Jazz finished 15-32 from three-point land as Houston ended up going 10-37.

Defensively, Utah held Harden to 32 points on 9-22 shooting from the field, 2-10 from three, and Paul finished 8-19 from the field and 2-5 from three with 23 points.

The Potential Rise of the Phillies is Scary

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Over the weekend, the Philadelphia Phillies inked free-agent starting pitcher Jake Arrieta to a three-year deal worth up to $75 million. The 2015 CY Young Award winner was the best arm available entering the off-season according to anyone that watched Yu Darvish spoil my life-long dream of missing work to witness a Los Angeles Dodgers World Series parade while enjoying an offseason-long celebratory bender. (I wasn’t making it into work the next day, regardless).

You should love this signing for a few different reasons.

  1. The NL East is sneaky interesting/fun and will have a say in the NL wild-card game.
  2. The Phillies will be a major play in the Bryce Harper sweepstakes this winter.
  3. Every competitive move made by an NL East team makes Derek Jeter’s tear down of the Miami Marlins that much worse.

Best believe either the New York Mets or Phillies will be one of the teams playing in the NL wild-card game. The Mets lineup will be dong happy with Yoenis Cespedes, Todd Frazier, and Jay Bruce in the middle of it. For whatever its worth, Noah Syndergaard is throwing 1000 MPH this spring and looking like a potential CY Young candidate. A healthy Jacob deGrom and Thor make for one of the best 1-2 combos in baseball. A lot has to go right but beating up on the young Atlanta Braves and mercy-rule Marlins will be an asset in September.

The Phillies now have a viable 1-2 punch in their own right. Aaron Nola is coming off a career-year in 2017 and now has a CY Young winner with a postseason pedigree to learn from. It’s baffling that this aspect of the signings of guys like Eric Hosmer and Arrieta don’t get nearly enough credit. This team is on the opposite end of the spectrum than the Mets. Philadelphia will be relying heavily on a youthful offense, although, the addition of Carlos Santana to the lineup will help. Rhys Hoskins, Maikel Franco, and Odubel Herrera have shown flashes of carrying the load. If the Phillies are indeed in the hunt in late September and make a postseason run let’s not forget what advantage Citizens Bank Park could be.

It’s clearly the Nationals division to lose but it won’t be a cake walk.

Speaking of the Nats…they lost out on the Arrieta sweepstakes to a division rival. We don’t know how close the two parties came or if it was close at all. We do know that Washington’s superstar Bryce Harper mentioned how nice it would be to add a piece like Arrieta at the start spring training. The Nationals adding Arrieta would’ve made for an absurd postseason rotation but Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg is already one of the best. One could say that if you’ve underachieve as much as Washington has it doesn’t hurt to keep adding. Continue reading “The Potential Rise of the Phillies is Scary”

NL WEST > AL EAST

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JD Martinez to the Boston Red Sox is good for everyone involved, including the Los Angeles Dodgers and everyone not named Paul Goldschmidt.

Get that man as far away from the National League West as possible. I love all of the talk of the American League East is the “AL BEAST”, as if the Tampa Bay Rays aren’t bottoming out this past week to make you think maybe Derek Jeter might be running both Florida teams into the ground just for post-retirement fun. Give me the now Eric Hosmer led San Diego Padres and all of that “volcano full of hot talent lava” over the Tampa Swamp Rays, give me the San Francisco Giants and their aging stars of Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria (added Madison Bumgarner to this list for my guilty pleasure) over the fire sale waiting to happen to the Baltimore Orioles, give me 100x gold glove winner Nolan Arenado’s Colorado Rockies and the thin air of Coors field over the other fire sale waiting to happen in Toronto, give me the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Ace in Zack Greinke and stone faced Goldschmidt over ESPN’s favorite butt-buddies Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton of the New York Yankees, please give me the team that came within ONE WIN of the World Series in the Dodgers over the reigning and STILL AL East favorite Boston Red Sox.

The two-headed monster of the AL East does not compete with the competitive nature of the NL West. Put that shitty narrative to bed.

However, let me jump in the front seat of the narrative that the Red Sox and Yankees rivalry is back. And back for the long haul.

The Yankees became the evil empire once again this offseason when they were gifted Stanton from the Miami Marlins. The Red Sox countered this week by adding power-bat JD Martinez with an opt-out after two years (beautiful contract for Boston) to a stacked lineup of young stars Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi, Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers. Throw in an ace like Chris Sale, and former CY Young award winners/big question marks in David Price and Rick Porcello to build a formidable rotation to get the ball to all-star closer Craig Kimbrel on the back end.

The Yankees have the best bullpen in the league, two guys who can hit the ball to Mars plus Gary Sanchez and a pitching staff with a potential ace in Luis Severino followed by similar question marks that might haunt the Red Sox. Both teams are equally easy to hate for no other reason than an obvious East Coast bias that irritates the best coast. They will play on national television every time they play, I’ll watch every single six-hour game  with zero complaints and keep finding reasons to hate all the players simply because they don’t play for the Dodgers.

I favor Boston because of a deeper lineup, a true ace, and JD, who will homer once on a fly ball to right field at Yankee Stadium and immediately become public enemy No.1 in New York for at least the next two years. That’s when the Rivalry will officially be back.