Miami Hurricanes

It’s time to respect the Miami Hurricanes

It’s all about The U. The Miami Hurricanes are taking the NCAA by storm with their swagger and stellar defense.

The Hurricanes began the season ranked 18th in the AP poll, and now find themselves ranked third in the latest CFP poll, moving up four spots after several of the top ranked teams lost on Saturday.

Notre Dame, who was previously ranked No. 3, was the latest victim of The U. The matchup was one of the most anticipated of the week as the Catholics and Convicts were both ranked in the top 10 with a lot to prove.

If you tuned in Saturday night, it was a rather boring game. Miami blew out Notre Dame 41-8. Miami’s prized turnover chain also made four appearances throughout the night.

This was a statement win for Miami. As of late, nobody has been giving them much respect since they have had a few close calls against unranked opponents and supposedly have a weak strength of schedule. However, they kept moving up in the polls due to their undefeated record.

Now that they have blown out a top-10 team on national television, it is time to start respecting the Miami Hurricanes.

Strength of record

Some fans just can’t get around the fact that the Hurricanes haven’t played big-time competition like Clemson or Notre Dame. The Hurricanes currently rank 21st in strength of schedule, which is the fifth toughest amongst the top 10 teams in the CFP poll. The best teams they have played include Notre Dame, Virginia Tech and Toledo.

Mark Richt knows what it’s all about. (Photo by Erum Kidwai // The Miami Hurricane)

However, their strength of record is first in the nation. Strength of record is a little more foreign to some fans, but it is not simply saying a 9-0 record is better than 8-1.

Strength of record reflects the chance of an average top 25 team having the same record or better as said team based on their schedule. Strength of record incorporates some strength of schedule in it. Basically what it is getting at is would the average top 25 team have an undefeated record like Miami if they played the same teams.

As far as strength of record goes, Miami is first followed by Alabama, Oklahoma, Clemson, Georgia and Wisconsin. Despite Clemson having the third hardest strength of schedule, it is still more impressive that Miami has gone undefeated given their schedule than Clemson going 9-1 with theirs.

If fans still want to complain about Miami’s “weak” schedule, they better really complain about Alabama, who ranks 38th and is the No. 1 team in the nation. Or maybe No. 5 Wisconsin, who currently ranks 67th in strength of schedule.

Hurricane Irma and injuries

It has been a while, but remember that Miami had a lot of conflict to deal with early on in the season due to Hurricane Irma.

Miami had to cancel their game against Arkansas State and also had to reschedule matchups against Florida State and Georgia Tech. Miami also struggled in those two games, winning at Florida State 24-20 and beating Georgia Tech at home 25-24 in back-to-back weeks. These two games are a big part of why Miami has not gained the respect of all college football fans.

After having five games scheduled for the month of September, Miami only played three.

Playing those early season games are important for a team to get into rhythm and get ready for conference play down the stretch. Sure, having a week off to rest later in the season is nice to give players a break, but how do you expect to get in shape when you don’t play a game for 21 days? That is what the Hurricanes were dealing with and explains why they were having struggles in the month of October.

Miami also lost their star running back Mark Walton for the rest of the season due to an ankle injury in the Florida State game. In the four games Walton played this season, he had 428 yards and three touchdowns while averaging 7.6 yards per carry. He was already dealing with problems with his other ankle to begin with and still put up numbers like that. Imagine what Miami could be doing with a healthy Walton, who was a possible ACC player of the year candidate.

Along with Walton, one of the team’s top receivers, Ahmmon Richards, has also missed time due to injury, including the Georgia Tech game. Richards has been dealing with a hamstring problem and missed time due to an ankle injury. After being an All-American freshman last season, expectations for Richards were through the roof this year.

All of this can really put pressure on a quarterback to perform, but Malik Rosier doesn’t seem to be letting it bother him too much. After star quarterback Brad Kaaya took off for the NFL, fans weren’t really sure what to expect from Rosier. Throw in all the missed time due to Hurricane Irma and injuries to some of your star players and it makes it that much more difficult.

Despite his circumstances, Rosier has 2,410 passing yards with 20 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He also has 339 rushing yards and four more scores.

Defense wins championships

While the offense has struggled at times this season, the defense has been keeping Miami competitive.

Miami Hurricanes

Trajan Bandy knows a thing or two about the turnover chain. (Photo by Associated Press)

Miami’s defense will wreck you. They rank second in tackles for loss per game (8.8), second in turnover margin (1.67), fourth in forced turnovers (24), fourth in interceptions (16), fifth in sacks (33) and 10th in points allowed per game (16.6). Keep in mind that Miami has had to cancel a game, making their season totals that much more impressive.

This defense held Notre Dame, who ranks 14th in points scored per game at 38, to just eight points. They held Virginia Tech, who is averaging 31.5 points per game, to just 10 points.

Everybody knows about Miami’s turnover chain by now. It’s pretty hard to miss if you have watched any Miami football games or any weekend highlights of any kind.

Miami defensive coordinator Manny Diaz came up with the idea and has his defense hungry for the football with it. It gives his players that much more reason to force turnovers and look like a boss on the sidelines wearing the prized possession.

Respect The U

It is time to give the Miami Hurricanes the respect they deserve. With the top ranked strength of record, hungry defense and the issues caused by Hurricane Irma and injuries, this Miami team is something special. After those struggles in October, they are playing their best football against their toughest competition.

The U will be facing off against Clemson for the ACC Championship game when the season is all said and done. With Clemson currently ranked No. 2 and Miami No. 3, the stage is set for a historic showdown. Miami is out to prove they are legit and Clemson is seeking their third straight championship game appearance. Get ready.

 

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Lauri Markkanen

Why is nobody talking about Lauri Markkanen?

We all knew there was something special about this draft class. This group was just loaded with talent, so much so that Malik Monk fell to No. 11. A player of his caliber is almost always a top five selection.

Throw in Ben Simmons playing his first NBA season and the “rookie” class gets that much better. Simmons is the frontrunner for rookie of the year now, but there are so many other rookies having exciting seasons.

Jayson Tatum has stepped up in Boston to fill the hole left by Gordon Hayward. The third overall pick is averaging 13.7 points and 5.7 rebounds a game and been a key part of why the Celtics have the best record in the NBA.

De’Aaron Fox is also looking impressive so far this season. The fact he is on the Kings has not kept fans from seeing his production. With averages of 12.3 points and 5.5 assists per game, it is a wonder he has only started two games. He also just hit a game-winning shot to beat Simmons and the 76ers.

Fox’s former teammate, Malik Monk is also looking nice. He started off slow, but is now averaging almost 10 points per game with the Hornets. He has had some explosive performances like his 25 points in 23 minutes against the Bucks and 21 points in 27 minutes against the Knicks.

The most talked about rookie in this class has definitely been Lonzo Ball, but not because he has been one of the top rookies in this class. Sure, the No. 2 overall pick has had some nice games like his almost triple-double in his second game, but he only has topped 10 points once since then.

Ball’s fellow rookie teammate, Kyle Kuzma, is also looking good. Kuzma is third amongst rookies in scoring at 14.8 points per game and is also grabbing 6.5 rebounds.

Dennis Smith Jr., Donovan Mitchell, Mike James, John Collins, Josh Jackson and Bogdan Bogdanovic are also averaging double figures in points per game. This class has been truly amazing.

I purposely left a name out of that list though, and you may not have noticed because of how little he has been talked about. That name would be Lauri Markkanen.

Quietly dominating

If you remember the draft, Markkanen was picked seventh overall by the Minnesota Timberwolves, but then was traded along with Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn for Jimmy Butler.

Lauri Markkanen

Markkanen has quietyly been the most successful player from this year’s draft. (Photo by Getty Images)

In his one season at Arizona, Markkanen averaged 15.6 points and 7.2 rebounds per game while shooting 49.2 percent from the field and 42.3 percent from behind the arc.

He has put up similar stats in his 10 games with the Bulls, as he is averaging 15.4 points and 8.4 rebounds per game. Those numbers are both good for second amongst rookies behind, you guessed it, Ben Simmons.

With all the hype surrounding Simmons, the struggles by Ball and Markelle Fultz and Tatum and Boston being so successful, Markkanen’s production has seemed to go unnoticed.

It more than likely has something to do with the fact that he is playing with the Bulls. With so little star power in Chicago, why would anyone talk about them? They also are second to last in the Eastern Conference. It is hard enough to get talked about in the East with all the stars playing in the West and getting all the attention.

Scouting report

Let’s take a look at what Markkanen’s draft profile said about him. According to Draft Express, Markkanen’s biggest strengths were his shooting ability and size.

He’s definitely a good shooter. Known as a stretch big at 7-feet, 230 pounds, Markkanen’s field goal percentage is 42.6 and his 3-point percentage is 36.1. Not bad numbers for a rookie big.

For comparison, Kristaps Porzingis had a 39.8 field goal percentage and 21.4 3-point percentage through his first 10 NBA games. Porzingis has obviously improved since then. But in today’s game, you have to be able to shoot around 40 percent from deep, and that percentage should only improve for Markkanen as his career progresses.

Markkanen’s size puts him right up there with guys Porzingis, Kevin Love and Dirk Nowitzki. Obviously they aren’t exact in height and weight, but they are all big men that can stretch the floor and open lanes for their teammates. You have to respect their shot because they all can hit 3-pointers.

One of the bigger weaknesses in his draft profile was his defense. His lack of weight and length prevents him from being physical inside and blocking shots. Guys like Porzingis and Anthony Davis got a whole foot of length more than him with their 8-foot wingspans.

This is not as big of a concern to me though. A lot of the rookies coming in had question marks about their defensive abilities. This is also something that can be improved over time.

I’m also not going to let something like length determine if a guy can be good in this league or not because Love and Nowitzki also don’t have significant length.

Of course you can’t make assumptions this early on in a rookie’s career. Fans love to declare guys future Hall of Famers or busts early on in the season. But you cannot judge a guy that early. Giannis Antetokounmpo averaged less than seven points per game in his rookie season. Now he is the leading candidate for MVP in his fifth season.

Maybe Markkanen peaks at his rookie season. Maybe he continues to improve. Maybe we will see him in the 2020 All-Star game playing in front of his home crowd in Chicago. What we know for sure is he has exploded onto the NBA scene faster than his fellow members of this draft class.

So why is no one talking about Lauri Markkanen? I have no clue, but the numbers speak for themselves. This guy is ballin.

 

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J.T. Barrett Heisman

A look into J.T. Barrett’s comeback season

Last year on New Year’s Eve, Ohio State got embarrassed in the postseason by the eventual National Champion Clemson Tigers. Embarrassed might be an understatement, as the Buckeyes were shutout 31-0.

The offense could get absolutely nothing going offensively. They had 215 total yards, three turnovers, just nine first downs and had the ball for about 12 less minutes than Clemson.

A big part of the struggle was quarterback J.T. Barrett. Barrett had been inconsistent all season long and laid an egg in one of the most important games of the season. Barrett finished the night with 127 yards, zero touchdowns and two interceptions.

Barrett finished the season with 2,555 yards, 24 touchdowns, seven interceptions, a 135.3 rating and a 61.5 completion rate. Barrett also had five games where he completed less than 60 percent of his passes, including three where he didn’t even complete half of them. It was definitely nothing like his freshman year when he helped lead the Buckeyes to the playoffs.

This season

It appeared that some of that inconsistency came into this season as well when Barrett and the Buckeyes struggled early in their season opener against Indiana and then in their loss to Oklahoma in the following week. Fans and analysts were writing off Ohio State already, mostly due to Barrett’s play.

Whatever the reason was for Barrett’s forgettable junior season or his slow start to this season, all of those bad memories have been erased from his brain apparently. Barrett has been performing like his old self this season.

In his next five games after the Oklahoma loss, Barrett began to take off. Yes, those games were against Army, UNLV, Rutgers, Maryland and Nebraska, who all have a combined record of 20-20. But Ohio State took advantage of the opportunity, winning all five games by a combined score of 266-56.

J.T. Barrett heisman

J.T. Barrett played one of his best games ever against Penn State last week. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

Then came a test for the Buckeyes with their matchup against Penn State. It was also a test for the Nittany Lions, as the only rated team they had played all season up to that point was Michigan, who is not even ranked in the AP Poll anymore. Penn State got off to a great lead and appeared to have another win over the Buckeyes like they did last season.

Ohio State wasn’t finished though. They scored 19 points in the fourth quarter to beat Penn State 39-38. Barrett played arguably his best game ever. He finished with 328 yards, four touchdowns, zero interceptions, completed 84.6 percent of his passes and also ran for another 95 yards. This game put Barrett in talks for the Heisman Trophy by some analysts.

Is this an overreaction to one good game? Think again.

Barrett’s numbers on the season have been spectacular. He has completed 69.5 percent of his passes, which is seventh in the NCAA. He has thrown for 2,166 yards, 25 touchdown passes (third), one interception (lowest for players with at least 70 attempts), and a 176.2 rating (third).

He also leads the Big Ten Conference in all of those categories, which is arguably the best conference in college football. Not too much of an overreaction after all.

Barrett now finds himself in the Heisman race with Penn State running back and Heisman frontrunner Saquon Barkley, Stanford running back Bryce Love, Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield and Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph.

Barrett’s case for the Heisman

It seems that it is Barkley’s award to lose. The guy has been doing it all for the Nittany Lions all season long.

Love has also had an amazing year, but has played a bunch of average teams. However, he is averaging over 10 yards per carry and has 1,387 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns. That is impressive regardless of which power five conference you play in. But let me explain Barrett’s case.

J.T. Barrett Heisman

Could Barrett actually win the Heisman this season? (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

First off, the numbers don’t lie. Don’t let the yards by Rudolph and Mayfield fool you. Yes, they may have more passing yards than Barrett, but look at their strength of schedule.

Rudolph has played just two teams with records over .500. They beat West Virginia, but lost to TCU. Mayfield has played just two as well, losing to Iowa State, but beating Ohio State. Barrett’s yards would probably be through the roof too if he was playing teams like Baylor and UTEP.

Barrett has played three teams over .500, including Oklahoma, Army and Penn State. The worst team he has played has a 3-5 record. Rudolph has played four teams with losing records, including 0-8 Baylor and 2-7 Tulsa. Mayfield has also 0-8 UTEP and 0-8 Baylor.

Despite Barrett’s schedule, he still has more touchdowns and less interceptions than both Rudolph and Mayfield. Not to mention he has more rushing yards than them and also a higher completion rate and rating than Rudolph.

The rest of the season

Barrett is going to have a few more tests before the season is all said and done. They will play at Iowa this week, who has always been a competitor in the Big Ten. Then they will host No. 24 Michigan State, who have been surprisingly successful so far this season. They will also end the season against their big rival Michigan at The Big House.

Barrett will get the chance to prove himself worthy of the Heisman against some of the best competition in the Big Ten. If you ask me, I think he can handle it and will prove to the doubters that he is legit.

If Ohio State wins out, they will be back in the playoffs, looking for redemption after their loss last season. You can bet these Buckeyes want nothing more than a shot at the National Title to make everybody forget about last season. It is going to be an exciting finish.

 

 

Featured image by USA TODAY Sports

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Devin Booker records

How good can Devin Booker be?

Devin Booker has accomplished quite a bit in his young NBA career. On Monday, the Suns’ guard turned 21. It is incredible what Booker has done in his young NBA career already.

The numbers

In his rookie season, Booker scored his 1,000th career point at the fourth youngest age behind just Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Kevin Durant. Booker also became the second teen to record back-to-back 30-point games along with James. He also became the sixth teenager to top 1,000 career points along with Bryant, James, Durant, Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard. Booker finished his rookie campaign with 1,048 points.

Booker continued to dominate in his second season. He had a stretch of 16 straight games where he scored at least 20 points. He became the youngest player in NBA history to accomplish that, passing James.

Devin Booker records

Devin Booker joins elite company with his accomplishments in his young career. (Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE)

Who could forget his 70-point performance against the Celtics? Booker set the franchise record for points in a game while shooting 52.5 percent from the field. He also became the sixth player in NBA history to score at least 70 points in a game. It also made him the third youngest player to score at least 50 points in a game behind just James and Brandon Jennings.

How about the 28 points he scored in the fourth quarter against the Mavericks? Booker finished the night with 39 points and set the franchise-record for most points in the fourth quarter.

By the end of the season, Booker finished with three quarters of at least 27 points, while the rest of the NBA only came up with two. That made him the first player since Bryant in 2005-06 to do so.

Booker is continuing his record-setting play this season as well. In his last game Saturday before turning 21, he scored 34 points. That was his 21st career 30-point game, which is the third most in NBA history before turning 21, behind just James and Durant.

Another impressive accomplishment by Booker is that his 2,897 career points are the fourth most for a player before turning 21. Only James, Durant and Anthony had more. Bryant comes in fifth with 2,755. Mind you Bryant came into the league out of high school and played 40 more games than Booker before turning 21.

Now don’t think I’m saying Devin Booker is going to be better than Kobe Bryant. Bryant is an all-time great, but that is what makes Booker’s accomplishment so incredible.

This guy is a star in the making. He is in good company with all of his records and accomplishments so far.

Why doesn’t Booker get more credit?

There is one thing about some of these records though that puts a knock on Booker. The 70-point game, the 28-point fourth quarter and the 21st career 30-point game were all in losing efforts.

In case you haven’t noticed, the Suns are one of the NBA’s biggest laughing stocks. They reinforced this reputation by firing their head coach Earl Watson after just three games this season. Watson was the team’s interim coach last year, and Phoenix decided to keep him on and sign him to a three-year deal. After losing the first three games this season, the Suns decided to give up on Watson.

Besides the coaching situation, the Suns also lack experience. The Suns are the youngest team in the NBA with an average age of 24.5, including six players 21 or younger. Even Watson, at the time of his promotion to head coach, was the second youngest head coach in the NBA.

There is also the Eric Bledsoe drama. The team’s starting point guard apparently tweeted that he doesn’t want to be with the team anymore. Since the Tweet, Bledsoe has not played in a game since.

Defense is also one of Phoenix’s struggles, as they have ranked 28th, 30th and 29th in all three of Booker’s seasons. You aren’t going to win too many games with numbers like that.

The Suns currently sit at 2-4. These losing ways are a big reason Booker is overlooked. One of the games most dominant scorers is on one of the worst teams. The situation the Suns are in would be difficult for even LeBron James to fix, much less Booker.

Playing in the Western Conference also doesn’t help. With so many great teams like the Warriors, Rockets and Spurs and star players like James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Steph Curry and Durant, players like Booker tend to get less attention.

Why talk about a 21-year-old kid from one of the league’s worst teams when Harden and Westbrook were putting up triple-doubles almost every night last season? If Booker was in the East, he’d definitely get more recognition and would be one of the conferences top players along with James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kyrie Irving and John Wall.

How good will Booker be?

Devin Booker records

Stay tuned for what is still to come from this record-breaking young gun. (Photo by Anthony Gruppuso – USA TODAY Sports)

What can we expect from Booker in the future? You can bet he is going to continue dominating on the offensive end of the floor. According to the numbers, Booker should end up being on the same level as James, Durant, Anthony and Bryant.

The Suns offense only will help Booker, as the Suns have a reputation for lighting up the scoreboard that goes back to when Steve Nash was running the team. If Bledsoe ends up getting traded, that will only give Booker more opportunities to put up points as the clear go-to guy on the team.

This kid has a bright future, and I can’t wait to see how his career plays out. Keep an eye on him, and don’t let the Suns atrociousness distract you from his performance and success.

This team is still young. Maybe things will begin to turnaround for Phoenix once players like Josh Jackson, Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender spend a few more seasons in the NBA.

Could this be “The Process” 2.0? Only time will tell, but for now, Booker is one of the league’s premiere players whose limit is higher than the sky.

 

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Biggest overreactions in the NBA so far

The NBA has now been in full swing for just over a week now, and there are already plenty of storylines. Gordon Hayward suffered a gruesome injury in Boston’s first game against Cleveland. Ben Simmons is looking like a No. 1 overall pick. The Suns are already a mess. Then there is the Lonzo Ball talk, mostly from his dad.

A lot of the main headlines and early performances have caused major overreactions in the league after most teams have played just four games. Let’s break down some of the major overreactions that have occured after the NBA’s first full week.

Giannis Antetokounmpo is MVP

Fans and analysts were predicting LeBron James, Russell Westbrook and James Harden to be in the MVP race this season. However, Giannis Antetokounmpo is suddenly the frontrunner for MVP.

NBA overreactions

Giannis Antetokounmpo has received a lot of love so far this season. (Photo by Tom Lynn, AP)

Kevin Durant said in a YouTube video that Antetokounmpo could be the best player ever if he really wanted to. That is quite a prediction from the NBA Finals MVP.

The Greek Freak through four games is averaging 36.8 points, 10.8 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 2.3 steals per game. He is definitely a top 10 player in this league, but let’s slow down on those MVP talks.

Anthony Davis also had a hot start like this last season. After the first four games, Davis was averaging 37 points, 13 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 2.5 steals and three blocks per game.

The MVP talks came then too. But remember, the NBA is a long season. Players go through hot and cold stretches. By the end of the season, Davis’ season averages were 28 points, 11.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 2.2 blocks and 1.3 steals per game. Those are impressive numbers, but they aren’t like the ones he started off with. When it was all said and done, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Kawhi Leonard were the MVP finalists.

This is not made to be a knock on Davis or Antetokounmpo, but a lot can change through a season. DeMar DeRozan scored at least 30 points in his first 12 games last year with an average of 33 points per game during that stretch. He ended the season averaging 27.3. Lets see how the other 95 percent of the season goes for the Greek Freak, or just half of it.

Any Lonzo Ball reaction

Lonzo Ball went from being a Rookie of the Year favorite before the season started, to a bust after his first game, to owning the Phoenix Suns, to whatever his dad recently said about him.

It is crazy how much of a roller coaster the comments have been towards the Lakers’ point guard. He is currently averaging 11.5 points, nine rebounds and nine assists per game.

I’m going to stick with my prediction of Ball for now. We all know he isn’t going to lead the Lakers to 50 wins, a playoff appearance and make a run at MVP like his dad predicted for this season, but it is reasonable to believe the No. 2 overall pick can average 13 points and six assists and help the Lake Show to maybe 30 wins.

That was my prediction at the beginning of the season and I’m not changing my mind after three games. You shouldn’t be jumping to conclusions about Ball’s career either.

Kyrie Irving is overrated

Irving made headlines with his trade to the Celtics this offseason and all the drama that followed it. Irving also will be taking on a bigger burden than he may have realized now that Gordon Hayward is out.

NBA overreactions

Kyrie Irving’s Celtics career is not starting off like he hoped. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

It definitely hasn’t been a pretty first couple games for the new Celtic. His 20 points, six assists and 2.3 steals per game may seem nice, but he is shooting an atrocious 37.5 percent from the floor. In other words, he is shooting a lot for a little, but don’t give up on him yet.

Remember that Irving is learning to play with a new team in a new system. The fact that he is the point guard makes it that much more difficult. As mentioned before, he does not have Hayward to help him out either.

He is working with Al Horford and young guys like Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. He is also still learning to be a main guy after working alongside LeBron James for the last several years.

We all know Irving can play. We have seen his performances in the NBA Finals the past two seasons. Irving is dealing with nothing more than a rocky start.

The Memphis Grizzlies are for real

After a 3-1 start with wins over the Warriors, Rockets and Pelicans, it appears that the Grizzlies were overlooked in the preseason.

A roster that features only two stars with Marc Gasol and Mike Conley has beaten some of the NBA’s best teams so far. The Warriors of course are favored to win the title again, the Rockets made noise with the Chris Paul trade and the Pelicans are expected to do damage with the duo of Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins.

Forward James Ennis III and second-round pick Dillon Brooks have both had nice starts to the season as well. The Grizzlies expect their hot start to continue with games against below-average opponents like the Mavericks, Hornets and Magic in their upcoming schedule.

Should we expect the Grizzlies to stay at the top of the might Western Conference? Probably not.

The Warriors, Rockets, Pelicans, Thunder and Nuggets are all off to cold starts this season. Those are all teams we expect to be in the playoffs this season. Those cold starts are definitely a fluke, just like the Grizzlies’ hot start is most likely one. Their lack of star power is going to make it difficult for them to compete with these kinds of teams down the stretch.

 

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the road to the big leagues

David Ledbetter: The road to the big leagues

It’s October, the best time of the year in baseball. For fans, it means watching their team fight to get to the World Series. For players, it means building a legacy and making history. The regular season is now meaningless and anything can happen.

It is truly exciting, but not everybody can be a part of it. Not every team makes the postseason. Not even every player from the postseason teams gets to participate. Then there are the guys in the minors, just dying to get even just a taste of MLB action.

It is not an easy road to the MLB. Just ask pitcher David Ledbetter. The former 2013 third-round pick just finished his fifth season in the Texas Rangers’ farm system. He completed this season with the Round Rock Express, the team’s triple-A affiliate. In triple-A, he went 3-4 with a 4.31 ERA and 85 strikeouts in 110.1 innings.

Now 25 years old, Ledbetter is still hoping he can make his dream come true. He has been working for years to get to the big leagues and is now one call-up away from making the dream a reality.

Life in the minors

Ledbetter found out he’d been promoted to triple-A while on a bus ride to his next game. It surprised him at first, but it was also fulfilling to get recognition for his performance.

“I felt like all my hard work had paid off a little bit,” Ledbetter said. “It is always nice to see an advancement in whatever you do.”

David Ledbetter: road big leagues

Ledbetter went 3-4 with a 4.31 ERA in triple-A this year. (Photo by Andy Nietupski/Round Rock Express)

Ledbetter has spent time in all levels of the farm system. He said life is basically the same in all levels of minor league baseball. With all the traveling and bus rides, you can’t really settle down in one place for too long.

“You’re pretty much homeless,” he said. “You can’t really call a single place home.”

The minor league life is a grind. You are living out of a suitcase. And if you do have an apartment, you usually don’t spend more than a few months in it. You also try to live with a lot of guys to cut rent costs and save money due to the low pay in the minor leagues.

Ledbetter is also married, and since his wife is a pharmacist, she can’t be with him all the time. Ledbetter said being away from family is tough. Why would anyone want this lifestyle?

Ledbetter said he loves the experiences you can only get from playing professional baseball.

“It is really cool because you get to meet people you never otherwise meet,” he said. “You get to experience a lot of different cultures because guys come from all over the world. That’s an experience that I would only be getting if I was in pro ball, and I’m really happy for that.”

Road to the show

In high school, Ledbetter played with his twin brother Ryan at Heritage Christian High School (Indiana), where they won back-to-back state championships. The twins went on to pitch at Cedarville University (Ohio), where they both had successful careers. Cedarville had never had a player drafted, so they went into school just looking to play the best they could and maybe bring a championship to the team.

Unfortunately, they never won that championship, but both had successful careers in college. David finished his time at Cedarville with the second lowest career ERA and second most career wins and strikeouts in school history. Ryan wasn’t bad either as he finished with the third most saves in school history and posted a 3.16 ERA.

David Ledbetter: road big leagues

Ledbetter and his brother Ryan were both drafted by the Rangers. (Photo by Andy Nietupski/Round Rock Express)

They both ended up getting drafted as well, making them the first players in school history to do so. David, as mentioned earlier, was drafted in the third round by the Rangers in the 2013 draft. Later in the 19th round, Ryan was also drafted by the Rangers. What are the odds of that happening?

“That was totally God’s favor on that draft,” Ledbetter said. “It was unbelievable. There was definitely a little bit of nervous excitement there for a little bit though in between the rounds.”

Both of them played together in single-A for a few years. Then Ryan played double-A in 2016. He is now working in the medical field.

David moved up to double-A last year and also got the call-up to triple-A. He is still going and is glad to see his work paying off.

“It’s definitely been a ride,” he said. “I never thought I’d be where I was today. I’ve worked really hard, but it’s cool to see God’s hand through everything.”

What does it take to get to the bigs?

So what does Ledbetter need to work on to get to the big leagues? He says consistency.

Ledbetter said at all levels, there are guys who are very talented. However, the ones that stick around and play in the majors are the ones that know what they do well and do it often.

“If I’m going to make it in the big leagues, I have to make sure I’m consistent with my strengths,” he said.

It hasn’t been an easy path to get here, and he still isn’t in the majors yet. But Ledbetter is glad to be chasing his dream and is working hard to get there.

“If you don’t follow your dreams as a human, it’s going to be a sad life,” Ledbetter said. “We have all these aspirations and passions in our lives, and a lot of people just want to dumb them down and not pursue those. I really think you have those for a reason. So I’m glad I really followed mine.”

 

Featured image by Andy Nietupski/Round Rock Express 

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

Quinton Flowers

Quinton Flowers overcomes tragedy through football and faith

South Florida’s football team is making noise this season, but they haven’t always been this dominant. From 2011-14, the Bulls finished with a record of 14-34.

The Bulls’ turnaround centers around quarterback Quinton Flowers. Flowers has been winning ever since he was named the starting quarterback. Now a senior, Flowers has the Bulls looking better than ever.

The path to stardom was not easy for Flowers. In fact, he almost quit football entirely in high school. Most people have a difficult time with one death in their family. Flowers has had four, the most recent being his aunt before the Bulls’ game against Stony Brook last month. How has Flowers made it this far?

“Faith in God,” Flowers said. “Just trying to go day by day, one at a time, not trying to move too fast.”

Early years

Flowers made a name for himself at Miami Jackson High School (FL). He was known as one of the top athletes in Florida as a four-star recruit who had a 4.4-40 time.

As a sophomore, Flowers threw for 2,151 yards and ran for another 562. In his junior year, he passed for 1,712 yards and 17 touchdowns and rushed for 631 yards and 10 touchdowns. Things were looking good for Flowers. Then later in January, he received some awful news.

Flowers lost his mother to cancer. He had already lost his father when he was 7 in a drive-by shooting. Now an orphan, he moved in with his uncle’s family and decided to quit football.

Quinton Flowers

(Photo by AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

When his coach, Antonio Brown, heard Flowers’ decision, he challenged him to reconsider quitting.

“If your mom and dad were here,” Brown said, “Would you quit? Would you give up?” Flowers said no. “So why give up now? You know your mom is still watching down on you. She’s watching every move that you make.”

Those comments stuck in Flowers’ head. He returned to the team and finished his high school career on a high note. He threw for 1,349 yards and ran for 641 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Flowers passed for 6,042 yards and rushed for another 2,002 yards and 32 touchdowns in his high school years. He had offers from plenty of prestigious schools, including Alabama, Nebraska, Florida, Miami (Fla.) and Texas. Despite having the opportunity to play at a power five school, Flowers decided he was going to be the guy at South Florida.

“Everybody always wants to go to Alabama or LSU to just be another guy,” Flowers said. “Why not be that guy? That’s the reason I came to the University of South Florida, just to be that guy and make a change.”

Flowers already changed Miami Jackson and took them to the state semifinals, which is the farthest they have ever gotten. He turned their program around and wanted to do the same at South Florida.

“I like to be a difference maker,” he said. “I don’t like to be a follower. I set my own path and try to start my own legacy no matter what I do.”

South Florida turnaround

Flowers arrived at South Florida after the Bulls finished 2-10, the worst season in school history. Flowers and head coach Willie Taggart definitely had their work cut out for them.

It was a rough first season for Flowers. He had limited action his freshman year, appearing in five games with one start. His brother also died in a shooting just days before his first start, the third death in his family.

The Bulls finished 4-8. It was slightly better than the year before, but Flowers definitely had bigger plans for this team than four wins.

Quinton Flowers

(Photo by Jason Behnken/Getty Images)

The next season, Flowers took control as the starting quarterback and did not disappoint. He passed for 2,296 yards and 22 touchdowns while running for another 991 yards and 12 touchdowns. Better yet, the Bulls finished with a winning record of 8-5 and made it to the Miami Beach Bowl. They ended up losing 45-35 to Western Kentucky, but Flowers had 381 total yards and three touchdowns in that game.

What exactly changed for the Bulls? Flowers believes it was a matter of wanting to compete and giving it their all.

“I want to win. I’ll do whatever it takes to win,” Flowers said. “I felt like there was more that I could do, there was more that I could give. I felt like I was giving it all, but we still didn’t come out on top.”

Flowers decided to put more time in the film room to study opponents and figure out how the offense was going to score every chance they got. Flowers felt like they could get to another bowl the next season and wanted to guarantee a victory.

The Bulls continued winning, finishing 11-2. Flowers had his best season yet with 2,812 passing yards and 24 touchdowns and also rushed for 1,530 yards and 18 touchdowns. The Bulls also made it to another bowl, this time the Birmingham Bowl to face the South Carolina Gamecocks. Flowers didn’t plan on losing this one.

“Every time we got the ball, the only thing that was going through my mind was we have to score every time we get on the field,” Flowers said. “You have to come away with some points. You can’t leave the field punting the ball.”

The Bulls put up 39 points in regulation, but so did the Gamecocks. Flowers threw a touchdown pass on the first play in overtime to give the Bulls a 46-39 lead. The defense forced a fourth down and came up with a sack to end the game with a win.

Senior year

Taggart left after the season to take the head coaching job at Oregon. The Bulls got a great replacement with Charlie Strong though. Strong was very familiar with Flowers as he was recruited him when he coached at Louisville.

The Bulls are off to a 5-0 start this season and look better than ever. Flowers has some ideas for how he’d like to finish out this season.

Quinton Flowers

(Photo by Jason Behnken/Getty Images North America)

“My ideal way would be going undefeated, make sure we beat UCF, get into a bowl game, win, go to the senior bowl, meet new people, just the whole nine yards. Everything you want to do as a senior,” Flowers said. “There’s a lot of things that I want for my senior year. I got it all out there in front of me, I just have to take it one day at a time.”

Flowers will also be leaving the Bulls after this season with his name all over the record books. He has set the school records for career rushing and total touchdowns and the single season record for passing touchdowns, rushing touchdowns, rushing yards, total offensive yards and total touchdowns. And there is still time to set more.

A winning football program, a bowl win, broken records, just as Flowers had planned it.

“It was the reason I came to the University of South Florida, to put the school back on the map and put it back where it is supposed to be,” Flowers said.

Nobody would have blamed Flowers had he quit playing football back in high school. Losing one family member is hard enough. Those tragedies forced him to mature faster than other kids. Flowers gets through life by doing what he believes his parents would want him to.

“It’s a lot of tragedy that I go through,” he said. “I just think about what would they want me to be doing? What would they be doing if they were here? What would they tell me? I just try to go by that everyday and try to stay focused.”

Flowers understands not all is right with the world, but has learned to have faith in the difficult times that things will work out.

“Everything is not going to go your way,” he said. “Everything is not going to be right because that is the way our world is. But at the end of the day, just pray to God and have faith, and he will figure everything out for you.”

 

Featured image by Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

Cam Newton struggles

What happened to Cam Newton?

Cam Newton has not been the same player he was back in 2015 when he was the NFL MVP. The Panthers’ quarterback had a disappointing season last year following the MVP and Super Bowl appearance and looks even worse this season. What is going on with Cam?

Newton is coming back from shoulder surgery and didn’t have much time to get back in shape before the season, so that may have something to do with his slow start this year. Could it be that he does not have enough support around him? Maybe his MVP season was just a fluke?

Newton is now 28 years old and in his seventh season, so it is not like he is an inexperienced quarterback that still needs to develop. This is Newton’s prime. Is this as good as he will be?

Let’s take a look inside Newton’s numbers and the weapons he has had around him.

Newton’s numbers

Below is a chart with Newton’s stats from his first six seasons in the NFL. I left off his numbers this year since there have only been three games played.

Comp pass yds pass TD INT rush yds rush TD
2016 52.9 3,509 19 14 359 5
2015 (MVP) 59.8 3,837 35 10 636 10
2014 58.5 3,127 18 12 539 5
2013 61.7 3,379 24 13 585 6
2012 57.7 3,869 19 12 741 8
2011 60.0 4,051 21 17 706 14

As you study Newton’s numbers, you will notice a few things. The first thing that jumps out to me is his completion percentage. His most accurate season was just 61.7 percent. Nineteen starting quarterbacks topped that number last season, and 10 of them finished above 65 percent. Newton’s 52.9 completion percentage last year ranked 30th. Completing just over 50 percent of your passes is not good.

Cam Newton struggles

We saw a lot of dabs during Newton’s MVP season. (Photo by USATSI)

Another thing you will notice is that he has only topped 4,000 passing yards once. Newton accomplished that when he threw 4,051 in his rookie season. Newton has ranged from 3,100-3,800 ever since.

Last year, 13 quarterbacks topped 4,000 yards. In the season before that there were 12. The NFL is a passing league now and the quarterback play is showing it.

One thing I have always liked about Newton is that he doesn’t throw interceptions. He threw a career-high 17 in his rookie season, but has not thrown more than 14 since.

Let’s take a look at that MVP season. It is definitely Newton’s best season of his career. For starters, he had a career-high in touchdown passes and a career-low in interceptions. He had the Panthers sitting at 15-1 and took them to the Super Bowl where they lost to the Denver Broncos.

So far this season, Newton has completed 61 percent of his passes for 566 yards and has also thrown two touchdowns and four interceptions. Newton also has 46 yards on the ground and another score.

The bottom line is Newton’s numbers have never been fantastic. Could Newton possibly have been carried by his team all this time?

The supporting cast

Newton has definitely had talent all around him throughout his career. Let’s start by looking at his running game.

The Panthers’ rushing attack has always been one of the best in the league during Newton’s career. Since 2011 when he entered the NFL, Carolina has ranked third, ninth, 11th, seventh, second and 10th in total rushing yards.

Newton of course has been one of the main contributors to the team’s rushing yards. He has also had reliable running backs like DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart to help take pressure off the passing game.

Cam Newton struggles

Newton has always been surrounded by talented teammates like Luke Kuechly. (Photo by David Allio/Icon Sportswire)

Now let’s take a look at Newton’s receivers. He has had guys like Steve Smith, Greg Olson, Brandon LaFell, Ted Ginn, Jericho Cotchery and Kelvin Benjamin. It is definitely not the most talented bunch. Yes Smith, Olson and Benjamin are big playmakers, but he hasn’t had the opportunity for all of them to be together at once in their primes.

During Newton’s MVP season, his top targets were Olson, Ginn, Cotchery and Devin Funchess. Olson was the only one of those guys to have more than 50 catches (77 to be exact). However, the Panthers ranked 27th in pass attempts that season, so that would explain why the receivers had such few catches.

Carolina’s offensive line has been pretty consistent through Newton’s time with the team. They have always ranked around the middle in terms of sacks and quarterback hits. Last season was probably the worst Newton’s line has been as they ranked 19th in sacks allowed and 18th in quarterback hits. That may have played a factor into why last season was also Newton’s worst season. The best it has been was during his MVP season when they ranked 11th in sacks allowed and third in quarterback hits.

Lastly, let’s look at Newton’s defenses. Carolina has almost always had a solid defense to back up Newton and get him and the offense back on the field quickly. In four of Newton’s first six seasons, they have ranked in the top 10 in total yards allowed. The two times they didn’t were Newton’s rookie season when they ranked 28th and lost 10 games and the other time was when they ranked 21st last season and lost 10 again. The team has definitely been at its best when the defense is top notch.

This tends to get overlooked, but a system and coaches can also make the difference with a quarterback’s development. Quarterbacks have a more difficult time when they have had multiple coaches and playbooks to work with.

In Carolina, Newton has had Ron Rivera as his head coach his whole career. He has had Mike Shula as his quarterback coach for his first two years and his offensive coordinator for the rest. Ken Dorsey took over as his quarterback coach once Shula got promoted and Rob Chudzinski was his offensive coordinator in his first two seasons. Not much has changed for Newton in terms of coaching.

What is Cam’s problem?

Cam might not have a problem per se. He has been mostly the same throughout his career. The biggest things that have hurt him are the fact he was the first overall pick and the fact he won MVP.

Cam Newton struggles

Newton’s numbers have been about the same his whole career. (Photo by Jeremy Brevard-US Presswire)

Expectations for Newton to perform have been sky high. If you take away his MVP season, Newton is mostly an average quarterback. He can get the job done as long as he has a great supporting cast around him. He can’t really put the team on his back like other star quarterbacks in the league. He needs that running game, offensive line and defense to carry him.

Matthew Stafford, Andrew Luck, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Kirk Cousins are all quarterbacks that have lead a team to the postseason without a top 10 defense or running game. Now of course Stafford, Cousins and Luck haven’t played in a Super Bowl and Rodgers has only won one. To win the big one you need that supporting cast. Newton just can’t get it done by himself.

That is okay too. There are many great quarterbacks in this league. Newton certainly isn’t one of the worst starting quarterbacks in the NFL. He’s not my first choice, or even my tenth choice, but he’s definitely a starting quarterback. Newton is not the only good quarterback that needs his team to carry him.

As mentioned earlier, Newton is also recovering from injuries. Newton only threw two passes all preseason and focussed on resting his shoulder. He also twisted his ankle in their game against the Bills. Newton’s health is worth keeping an eye on.

 

Featured image by Jeff Siner/The Charlotte Observer

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

Cody Thompson NFL Draft

Cody Thompson hopes hard work can push him to the NFL

The Mid-American Conference, better known as the MAC, has been gaining respect in the college football world. The latest big win the conference got was last Saturday when Northern Illinois won at Nebraska 21-17. Ohio State and Wisconsin now are the only Big Ten teams not to go down to a MAC team this century.

The conference is also putting out more NFL talent. Former Western Michigan wide receiver Corey Davis was just drafted fifth overall by the Tennessee Titans in this year’s NFL Draft. Khalil Mack (Buffalo), Eric Fisher (Central Michigan), Joe Staley (Central Michigan) and Ben Roethlisberger (Miami) are all MAC products that were drafted in the first round. Other MAC talent includes Antonio Brown (Central Michigan), Julian Edelman (Kent State) and Doug Free (Northern Illinois).

One other MAC product is looking to get to the NFL. Toledo Rockets wide receiver Cody Thompson could very well be the next top NFL product to come from the MAC.

Thompson is currently leading the conference with 391 receiving yards and four touchdown catches. Last year he set the school record for receiving yards in a season with 1,269. He’s helped the Rockets to a 3-0 start to the season and they are heading to Miami for a big test with the Hurricanes. Things are looking bright for Thompson and the Rockets.

Thompson thinks the MAC is starting to get more recognition for their hard-working style of football.

“I definitely think the MAC is getting more respect,” Thompson said in an interview with The Game Haus. “I’ve always had respect for the MAC. It’s a great conference; competitive, hard-nosed gritty football. Everybody is going to give you their best day in and day out no matter what the team is.”

Early years and recruiting

Thompson started his high school football at Huron High School off with a bang. As a sophomore, he finished the year with 48 catches for 865 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Then things changed up a bit. Thompson’s quarterback graduated and the team was looking for a replacement. Thompson’s coach decided to move him to quarterback and see what he could do.

Cody Thompson NFL Draft

The Rockets were the only Division I offer Thompson got, and he has not disappointed. (Photo by Andy Morrison/The Toledo Blade)

Thompson didn’t disappoint. In his first year at quarterback he threw for 1,574 passing yards and 22 touchdowns while also rushing for 1,001 yards and 14 more touchdowns. He followed up his senior year with even better numbers, throwing for 1,883 yards and 17 touchdowns and rushing for 1,139 yards and 22 more scores.

Thompson had fun playing quarterback, but his heart has always been at the receiver position.

“I enjoyed quarterback, but I knew I had a passion and love for receiver,” Thompson said. “So when it came to the recruiting process I went to all my camps and everything as a receiver or an athlete. Then when I got the opportunity at Toledo, I moved to receiver. I was excited to get back to receiver.”

Thompson said switching back to receiver wasn’t a problem despite playing two years of quarterback. He said the upperclassmen on the team helped make the transition easier.

“It was pretty smooth and I’m happy with it,” he said. “I love the position I’m at now and I wouldn’t change it for anything.”

When it came to recruiting, Thompson didn’t get that much attention from the Division I scene. Toledo was the only offer Thompson received. Head coach Matt Campbell (currently at Iowa State) liked what he saw in Thompson and offered him a spot on the team.

Thompson said joining the Rockets has been his greatest football-related memory to date.

“I was beyond happy and excited and kind of at a loss for words,” Thompson said. “At that moment I knew they gave me a shot and I was going to take it and commit here, and that’s what I did and I ran with it.”

Rocket life

Thompson started off slow as most freshmen do. He caught just four passes for 34 yards in his first year as a Rocket. Most of his snaps came on special teams. It wasn’t until his sophomore year that he started to make an impact on offense.

Cody Thompson NFL Draft

Thompson has been a playmaker since he first got a shot as a sophomore. (Photo by Andrew Weber/Getty Images)

In his sophomore season, Thompson led the Rockets in receiving yards with 825 on 37 catches, five being touchdowns. Toledo finished 10-2 that season with big wins over No. 18 Arkansas, Iowa State and No. 24 Temple in the Boca Raton Bowl. Thompson had four catches for 119 yards and a touchdown in the bowl game.

Thompson continued to get better in his junior year. The Rockets finished 9-4, although they lost in the Media Camellia Bowl against Appalachian State. But Thompson’s numbers got even better. Thompson got a school-record 1,269 receiving yards off of 64 catches and scored 11 touchdowns.

Thompson is in his senior year now and dominating the field so far. He leads the MAC conference in yards (391) and touchdown catches (four). Thompson and the Rockets have a big test Saturday against the Miami Hurricanes, who are currently ranked 14th. You can catch that game on the ACC network to watch Thompson showcase his skills.

NFL Draft

Thompson’s hard work is paying off and has captured the attention of sites like Sports Illustrated. He was also put on the NCAA’s Biletnikoff Award watch list at the beginning of the season.

Thompson now has a legit shot at the NFL. The MAC’s leading receivers for the last decade have all had stints in the NFL. Some sites like Hero Sports think Thompson could get picked as high as the third round. Depending on how well Thompson plays this season, it could be even higher.

Thompson believes NFL teams will like his intelligence and work ethic.

Cody Thompson NFL Draft

Thompson has gained college football’s attention with his hard work, intelligence and talent. (Photo by Andrew Weber/Getty Images)

“I’m still a pretty smart football player when it comes to football IQ, understanding the game coverages and defenses and how we gameplan and study and why we’re doing certain things,” Thompson said. “I also think I’m pretty good at tracking the ball, blocking on the perimeter, really just being a hard-nosed gritty person.”

Thompson also understands that his game has room for improvement. He believes every player has aspects of their game that can get better.

For me that is a quicker burst off the line, creating more separation at the top of my route, really every aspect of my game has room to improve on,” he said. 

Thompson’s former teammate Kareem Hunt has been the latest product from the MAC to make noise in the NFL. Hunt has already set the record for most yards from scrimmage by a player in their first game. Thompson said watching Hunt has served as motivation for him to get better and get to the next level.

It’s been amazing,” Thompson said. “Something I know he’s dreamed of his entire life and now he’s got the opportunity to do it. He’s really taken it and ran with it. What he’s done so far is just a testament to the player he is and the person he is.”

The NFL is also something Thompson has dreamed about. Right now he is focussed on working hard and finishing his time at Toledo strong.

Playing in the NFL has been a dream of mine since I was little and couldn’t even pick up a football,” Thompson said. “Ultimate goal right now is to win a championship and have the best possible senior year I can and this team can. I want to chase that with everything I have and make the most out of every opportunity.”

Thompson has been working hard his whole life to get where he is and doesn’t plan on stopping any time soon. Any team that gives him a shot in the NFL won’t regret it. Thompson is the type of player that goes 100 miles an hour at all times and isn’t going to let anybody get an edge on him.

I’m always going to play and practice and compete as if i’m fighting for my spot still,” Thompson said. “I don’t think I’ve lost any complacency. It’s something that will get you beat or get your job taken from you. I don’t want to be complacent with anything.”

 

Featured Image by the Associated Press

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

 

Cleveland Indians winning streak

A look at the Cleveland Indians’ historic winning streak

In case you have been living under a rock for the past three weeks, the Cleveland Indians have been the hottest team in baseball with a historic winning streak.

On Wednesday, the Indians won their 21st straight game, breaking the Oakland Athletics’ American League record of 20 straight wins and tying the Chicago Cubs record of 21. Last season the Tribe set a franchise record with 14 straight wins and are looking better than ever this year.

During the streak, the Indians have been putting up video game numbers. They have dominated their opponents with incredible pitching and hitting. They have made it a point to strike first and not look back.

Let’s take a look at some of the numbers behind the Indians’ historic streak.

Lights out pitching

It all starts with pitching on the Indians. They lead all of baseball in ERA, strikeouts, complete games and shutouts, while also throwing the fewest walks.

The pitching has been even more dominant during these last 21 games. The Tribe have posted a 1.67 ERA (1.70 by starters), 193 strikeouts and just 36 walks.

The pitching staff has also posted seven shutouts, which is just as many or more than 18 teams have thrown all season. As stated before, the Indians lead the MLB with 19 shutouts. The Dodgers come in second at 14.

The starting rotation has been outstanding and are led by their ace and Cy Young candidate Corey Kluber. Kluber has pitched in four games during the streak and has gone 4-0 with 35 strikeouts and just two walks in 32 innings pitched. Kluber on the season has a record of 16-4 (tied for most wins in AL) with 243 strikeouts (second) and a 2.44 ERA (first).

Cleveland Indians winning streak

Carlos Carrasco has been one of the Indians’ dominant pitchers during this streak. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

Carlos Carrasco has also been dominant during this stretch. Carrasco has gone 3-0 with a 0.62 ERA and 34 strikeouts in 29 innings pitched.

Trevor Bauer, who was on the mound when the Indians started this streak, has also been impressive, going 4-0 with a 3.38 ERA and 28 strikeouts in 24 innings pitched.

Mike Clevinger has also gotten in on the fun. In his four starts during the streak, he has gone 4-0 with a 0.38 ERA and 28 strikeouts in 23.2 innings pitched.

Cody Allen and the bullpen have also been fantastic closing games out. Allen has picked up six saves and a win in 10 appearances. He has also thrown 13 strikeouts and allowed zero runs off of five hits.

It all starts and ends with the Indians’ pitching. When you are allowing under two runs every nine innings, the bats don’t have to do too much damage. That hasn’t stopped the Indians from putting up runs on the scoreboard though.

Big bats

The Tribe has not been wasting the good pitching they have gotten. They have been contributing plenty on the offensive end as well with a team batting average of .305.

The Indians have been blowing out their opponents with a run differential over 100. The Tribe has outscored their opponents 139-35 over these 21. They have also only trailed in four of the 189 innings they have played. They have been taking the lead early in the game as they have scored first in 19 of the 21 wins. They have also outscored opponents 68-13 in the first three innings.

It all starts with Francisco Lindor. The switch-hitting shortstop and leadoff man has hit .370 and leads the Indians in hits (30), runs (19), home runs (nine) and RBIs (19). Lindor also hit his 30th home run of the season on Tuesday, which is the most by a shortstop 23 years or younger since Alex Rodriguez hit 42 during the 1999 season as a 23-year-old.

Cleveland Indians winning streak

Jose Ramirez has been proving his case for American League MVP. (Photo by Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)

Lindor made league and team history with the mark. He joined Hal Trosky and Manny Ramirez as the only players 23 years old or younger to hit 30-plus homers in Indians history. It also tied Jimmy Rollins and Jose Valentin for the most home runs by a switch-hitting shortstop in baseball history.

Speaking of home runs, the Indians have hit 41 home runs during this streak, opposed to 35 runs allowed by the pitching staff. You read that right. 41 home runs hit and 35 runs allowed in 21 games.

Lindor isn’t the only one hitting with fire power. Edwin Encarnacion has hit five homers in this stretch and 34 on the season. Carlos Santana has also hit five of his 23 homers during this streak. Jay Bruce has only hit two during the streak while missing eight games, but also has 34 on the year.

Jose Ramirez has hit eight during the streak and 26 total. Ramirez has been quietly putting up an MVP-caliber season with a .309 batting average, 73 RBIs, 48 doubles and 80 extra-base hits.

Comparison to the A’s and Cubs

How does the Tribe stack up against the last team to win 20-straight games?

Through 20, the Indians posted a 1.60 ERA, .942 OPS and a 102 run differential. The A’s posted a 2.65 ERA, .885 OPS and a 76 run differential.

The A’s went on to finish their season with a 103-59 record and won the AL West. However, they lost the division series to the Minnesota Twins 3-2.

The Chicago Cubs won 21 straight games back in 1935. They finished the year with a 100-54 record, but lost in the World Series to the Detroit Tigers 4-2.

The New York Giants have the record for most straight games without a loss. They won 26 games and had a tie after the 12th win back in 1916. They finished fourth place in the National League that year.

All these teams got hot during the regular season, but couldn’t translate it to a World Series trophy. Even the Los Angeles Dodgers, who started this season off hot, have lost 16 of their last 18 games. They went from a 91-36 record to a 93-52 record. It is still impressive, but they have gone incredibly cold.

Cleveland Indians winning streak

Ryan Merritt has been one of the many Indians to step up and perform when needed. (Photo by Getty Images)

Another impressive thing to note about the Indians’ streak is that they have won all these games without stars like Michael Brantley, Jason Kipnis, Andrew Miller and Danny Salazar. Brantley hasn’t played since Aug. 8 due to an ankle injury. Kipnis has been out since Aug. 23 after reaggrivating a hamstring injury. Miller hasn’t pitched since Aug. 21 due to a knee injury. Salazar returned last week after missing 17 games due to an elbow injury, but only for limited action. The team said he will be coming out of the bullpen the rest of the season.

Rookie center fielder Bradley Zimmer also went down this week with a hand injury and could miss the rest of the season.

Despite all these injuries, the Indians have had many young players step up. Yandy Diaz, Giovanny Urshela, Greg Allen, Erik Gonzalez and Ryan Merritt have all stepped up when needed and helped the Indians continue their elite play.

The Indians are also chasing home field advantage for the World Series as this is the first season in a while in which the winner of the All-Star Game does not get home field advantage. It will be determined by record, and the Indians are currently 3.5 games behind the Dodgers for home field advantage.

The Indians of course are playing for something bigger than a winning streak or even home field advantage. They are looking for redemption after losing the World Series to the Cubs last year after having a 3-1 lead.

It is a long season. A lot can happen in a 21-game stretch. Teams enjoy hot and cold spurts. Will the Indians continue to stay hot? Only time will tell.

 

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