Minnesota Vikings 2017 NFL Draft Profile

It’s day 31 of Draftmas and the Vikings are on the clock.

Summary

The Minnesota Vikings had a lot to deal with last season, as Teddy Bridgewater went down with a knee injury right before the start of the season. Sam Bradford was acquired and competed admirably, but Minnesota failed to make the playoffs at 8-8.

With Bradford and Bridgewater, the Vikings have two solid, but not great quarterbacks. If Bridgewater isn’t ready to go following the injury, Bradford will start until a competition can get underway. Adrian Peterson was not re-signed and is now a free agent, while Latavious Murray was signed to replace him. Stefon Diggs is a good young receiver, but last year rookie Laquon Treadwell didn’t see the field much and didn’t play all that well when he was on it. Minnesota does have a good tight end in Kyle Rudolph.

Mike Zimmer (Photo courtesy: upi.com)

The offensive line still needs to be addressed and was a major issue last year. Mike Remmers and Riley Reiff were signed to start at the tackle spots, but both had bad seasons last year. The Vikings will likely target a few offensive linemen in this draft.

Defense was the Vikings forte last season. They gave up the third fewest passing yards and were average stopping the run. The defense does have a few things to address this offseason.

Sharrif Floyd had complications with his recovery from knee surgery, which could be career ending. That leaves the Vikings thin on the interior of the defensive line. Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffin both had good years at defensive end.

Anthony Barr did not play well last year, but should be able to bounce back to good form. Eric Kendricks had a solid second season, but they might need some depth behind those two. Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes are both young corners who still need growth. Harrison Smith is one of the best safeties in the game, but needs a partner in crime at the safety position.

 

Picks and Needs

The Vikings have eight picks in the 2017 NFL Draft, but none in the first round.

First round: (0)

Second round: (1) No. 48

Third round: (2) No. 79, 86

Fourth round: (2) No. 121, 129

Fifth round: (1) No. 160

Sixth round: (1) No. 199

Seventh round: (1) No. 232

These needs are in no particular order.

Offensive Needs:

Offensive Line- There is a pressing need for offensive line help and signing veterans who aren’t great, will only go so far.

Running Back- Murray was signed, but they will need depth behind him to groom.
Defensive Needs:
Defensive Tackle- This may not have been a huge need before the Floyd news, but it is now.
Outside Linebacker- Another linebacker is needed to go with Kendricks and Barr.

Safety- They will likely just get depth at this position to start.

Targets and Thoughts

The picks here are who the Vikings could realistically get where they are drafting. There will be no trades.

Second Round

Pick #48: Dan Feeney, G, Indiana

Dan Feeney (Photo courtesy: Drafttek.com)

Feeney is a physical guard that can help get the Vikings ground game going. They could go with a tackle here too, but there may not be any worth taking at this spot.

Third Round:

Pick #79: Carlos Watkins, DT, Clemson

With the Floyd injury, the Vikings need to get at least one defensive tackle in this class. Watkins is good at stopping the run, but was Clemson’s best interior pass rusher last season.

Pick #86: Semaj Perine, RB, Oklahoma

Perine is a power back that can be a nice compliment to Murray. He set the single game rushing record for division I college football during his time in Norman.

Conclusion

The Vikings have more needs than originally anticipated, but if they get the right players in this draft, they can find themselves back in the playoffs.

You can read all of the previous days of Draftmas here!

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Art by Jaemin Kim, courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment

The New 9th Class – The Future and Flavour of Warlock

Who knew that the class with the best hero power in the game would have the worst performance? After several weeks of the Journey to Un’Goro expansion, it’s becoming clear that one class is struggling more than any other. In the infamous words of Mike Donais, “When you list the nine classes in order, there will always be a class that is ninth.” In the post-Karazhan meta, that was Priest; now it is Warlock.

Since the rotation of Reno Jackson from Renolock, Controlling Warlock archetypes have suffered from a lack of survivability tools. The class lacks the lifegain and taunts of other control-oriented classes, and little to counter the life loss from tapping. Meanwhile, Zoo has struggled to gain early game tempo, and suffers from a proliferation of board clears and synergistic minion packages that can out-value or out-tempo them. Without any strong early or late-game archetypes, Warlock is sorely lacking many reasons to play it.

Tempo Troubles

Zoo has been a staple throughout the entirety of Hearthstone’s history. Playing efficient minions on curve early on, and continually refilling with Lifetap is a solid strategy. However, it’s one that has quickly become eclipsed. Synergistic minion packages have proved superior, and without early-game board control, Zoo struggles heavily. Warrior’s Pirates, Paladin’s Murlocs, Druid’s tokens, and Hunter’s Beasts can quickly out-tempo Warlock’s reliable, but less synergistic cards.

Disappointing Discards

Warlock’s new cards are heavily discard-focused; but the deck is too unreliable to be competitive

Across the past few expansions, most of Warlock’s synergies have been focused around the mechanic of Discarding cards. While this was initially competitive, the synergies have not held up over time. The Discard mechanic was promising, but ended up being too inconsistent and limiting to be truly defining for the class. It shut off all control strategies by discarding card advantage and tools, as well as being heavily RNG dependent both in effects and in drawing the perfect balance of discards and synergies. By going all-in on Discard synergies for Warlock’s early game, Team 5 unfortunately ended up pigeon-holing the class in a manner similar to Paladin in Mean Streets of Gadgetzan; over-reliant on a fundamentally weak mechanic.

There are two potential solutions to this; either Team 5 can double down on the discard mechanic and continue to support it with ever-more-powerful cards; or, create a new mechanic that minion-based early game Warlock decks can be built around.

Struggling to Survive

Outside of the Zoo archetype, Controlling versions of Warlock such as Handlock have struggled to find a niche. Whilst the new Humongous Razorleaf offered some hope, a fundamental fragility without the mass-heal of Reno has left the archetype weak and brittle; especially in a meta still dominated by Pirate Warrior and with new, burn-oriented mage lists rapidly proliferating. To make matters worse, the class suffers from a lack of non-AOE removal, with Siphon Soul and Blastcrystal Potion being hardly the epitome of tempo.

Flavourful Irrelevance?

Part of the problem is class identity. Warlock has always benefited from Neutral minions, with Antique Healbot and Reno being the two most obvious examples. They also benefited from hand-size synergies in Mountain Giant and Twilight Drake, and taunt generators and targets like Ancient Watcher and Defender of Argus. Unluckily for Warlock, Team 5 is refocusing on class identity, with deliberate rotation out and non-introduction of ubiquitous, generalized, powerful Neutral cards. This means that Warlock lacks the ability to shore up its weaknesses for a controlling game. But how is this rectified without ruining Warlock’s class identity?

Imagining a Future

Humongous Razorleaf wasn’t enough to keep Handlock viable without Reno

The fundamental contradiction of Control Warlock is that Control decks tend to require healing to be competitive. That gels rather poorly with the lore of Warlocks being power-mad, ruthless, self-damaging fel manipulators. But this contradiction can be solved. The answer lies in cards like the now-nerfed Molten Giant; cards that synergize with low life totals that can be used to improve survivability without being just boring heals. Currently, the way to beat Warlocks is pretty straightforward; hit them in the face enough and they crumble. That strategy should still be viable, but it should come at the risk of a huge comeback swing that can lock you out of the game. Recapturing the spirit of Handlock, one that thrives on the razor’s edge between victory and defeat, would go a long way to making Warlock both competitive and fun.

 

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Reviewing the National League so Far

The season is well underway and teams are starting to show who they really are. Fast starts and slow starts are beginning to even out as we begin to see separation in the standings.

If you’ve missed any of the action, don’t worry. We will go division-by-division and hit all of the high points so far in the National League.

NL East

National League Review

We haven’t seen much of this from Ryan Zimmerman this season (Alex Brandon/AP Photo).

The NL East is beginning to take form, with the Nationals (13-5) having a 3 game lead over the Marlins (10-8) for the division lead.

Leading the way for the Nationals is none other than Bryce Harper. Harper is hitting .393 with seven homers and 20 RBIs in 61 at bats this season. He seems to be showing no signs of what ailed him last season and is producing at a higher level than he did in his MVP season.

He’s not alone in driving the Nationals to the top of the division. Longtime face of the franchise Ryan Zimmerman is having a renaissance year in Washington. He has blasted five homers to go along with 14 RBIs and a .373 batting average. Zimmerman is only 32, so this could be a return to form for him.

Don’t count out the second place Marlins. They’ve relied on production from an unlikely source with catcher J.T. Realmuto leading the team in batting average (.344). Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich have also gotten off to good starts, with both posting over 10 RBIs already on the year. Even so, another NL East rival is not far behind.

Cesar Hernandez has been a revelation for Philly (9-9) so far. His .338 batting average has been a pleasant surprise for Philadelphia, as well as his four homers and three steals. He could be an interesting trade chip for the Phillies if he keeps it up.

Rounding out the division standings are the Mets (8-11) and Atlanta (6-12). The Mets are off to a rough start this season, but still two games back of Miami for the second spot in the division.

Their offense has failed to deliver this season with a team batting average of .211. The pitching staff has carried the Mets, with three starters having an ERA under 3.00. If the Mets can continue to get strong outings from Matt Harvey (2.84 ERA) and have their offense catch fire, they should overtake Miami with ease.

The Braves’ management and fans alike are hoping Dansby Swanson’s slow start (.139 batting average) is just a blip on the radar. He has struggled this season, and has been a hole in Atlanta’s lineup.

NL Central

National League Review

Amir Garrett has been a revelation for Cincinnati this season (Joe Robbins/Getty Images).

After a surprising start from Cincinnati, the Red (10-9) have been unseated atop the division by the World Series champion Chicago Cubs (10-8). The division is still a five-team race, with St. Louis (9-10) third in the division, but only 1.5 games back of first place. This division has started out a tight one, but only time will tell if it remains so.

The Cubs haven’t been world beaters recently, going 5-5 in their last 10 games. It was still good enough to earn them the top spot in the division.

Jason Heyward is finally showing signs of the player Chicago thought they were getting. He’s batting .297 with two homers and 12 RBIs. With such a stacked lineup, if Heyward can keep his production even close to what he’s done this season, Chicago could reach another offensive level.

Cincinnati has been a pleasant surprise this season. After being predicted to sink to the bottom of the division, the Reds have battled all season long.

The pitching staff has been the biggest boon for the club, lead by the young lefty Amir Garrett. He’s started three games for the Reds and posted a 1.83 ERA while striking out 21 batters over 19.2 innings pitched. Veteran Scott Feldman has also thrown well, pitching to a 2.38 ERA. Even in the midst of a rebuild, the Reds have remained competitive.

St. Louis has experienced a power outage of late, but is still third in the division at 9-10. Their 6-4 record in the past 10 games has lifted them out of the cellar of the division.

Milwaukee has also opened some eyes this season. Sitting at 9-11 on the year, the Brewers have blown away preseason predictions. That is due in large part to the hot start put up by Eric Thames. Thames leads the majors with eight home runs and also has a .359 batting average. Needless to say, the Korean import has paid off.

That leaves the Pirates (8-10) as the last team in the division. After losing Starling Marte to an 80-game PED suspension earlier in the week, the outlook is bleak for the Buccos.

NL West

National League Review

The electric rookie has provided a strong presence for the Rockies (Ron Chenoy/USA Today Sports).

The NL West has truly been wild this season. Colorado (13-6) has gotten off to a hot start this season and sits atop the division, followed by Arizona (12-8) who are 1.5 games back. The Dodgers (9-10) are four games back of the division lead, followed by San Diego (8-12) and San Francisco (6-13) at the bottom of the division.

Colorado has relied on an unexpected source of offense this season. Mark Reynolds has performed exceptionally well in Ian Desmond’s absence, hitting five homers and driving in 16 RBIs.

However, Antonio Senzatela has stolen the show in Colorado. The 22-year-old has won all three of his starts with a 2.08 ERA. Colorado has surprised everyone this season with a strong starting rotation and an exceptional offense.

Arizona has also blown away expectations this season. The offense has been the driving force behind their surge, with seven starters hitting over .250. The pitching staff has also been good for the Diamondbacks, with Zack Greinke posting a 3.28 ERA so far this season. The Diamondbacks have the opportunity to be in the thick of it all season long with a solid offense and pitching staff.

The same could be said of the Dodgers, but their slow start has them looking up at the Rockies and Diamondbacks in the division. The pitching staff has let them down, with Kenta Maeda posting a 8.05 ERA this season. The Dodgers will need to have more support for Clayton Kershaw in the rotation, or it could be a long season for the Dodgers.

San Diego is fourth in the division with a 8-12 record, besting their preseason predictions. Wil Myers has led the way so far with a .354 average and four homers to go along with 11 RBIs. Clayton Richard has also been a surprise contributor for the Padres. His 3.04 ERA is good for first in the starting rotation, and has been the ace of the starting staff.

San Francisco recently lost their staff ace to an off-the-field injury. Madison Bumgarner will be out an unknown amount of time after a dirt bike accident. That only worsens the Giants chances, as their 6-13 record already has them behind.

 

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American League Weekly Wrap-Up: Week 3 Statistical Standouts

Week three has come and gone and things have begun to normalize around the league. The divisional records remain close with only a few games separating the pack. That is, every division except for the East and Toronto. Sorry Blue Jay’s fans, we feel for you.

Other than the anomaly up north, teams are clearly settling into the regular season groove. This has netted baseball fans some extremely impressive performance so far this season, and that’s what we’ll be highlighting today.

Today we look at the statistical leaders from around the AL and decide if we’re buying or selling that performance over 162 games.

Buy or Sell: Statistical Standouts

Average: Avisaíl García

American League Weekly Wrap-Up: Week 3 Statistical Standouts

(Photo Courtesy of Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Besides having one of the most fun names to say in baseball, Avisaíl García has been on a torrid hitting spree to start the season. As a top 100 prospect back in 2013, the White Sox organization has been patient with Garcia’s development. That patience has certainly paid off as the 25-year-old is slashing .371/.426/.581 with three home runs to start the season.

Season Long Statistical Standout: Sell

What I will buy is that Garcia will end the season as the White Sox best hitter. Given the make-up of the White Sox roster, that isn’t a glowing endorsement, but it’s something.

There’s no reason not to believe Garcia will be a significant part of the Chicago rebuild and a solid ball player for this club. That said, Garcia has hit a .250 average over the last three seasons, so handing him the batting title now may be a bit premature.

Power: Khris Davis / George Springer

American League Weekly Wrap-Up: Week 3 Statistical Standouts

(Photo Courtesy of Thearon W. Henderson)

Both Davis and Springer are off to excellent starts and currently are tied with an AL leading seven home runs apiece. Both sluggers are in their prime at age 29 and 27 and displayed breakout power in 2016.

Springer is the better-rounded player of the two, but Davis actually appears to have more power upside. Granted there is a small sample size in this department for both, but both have excellent power potential.

Season Long Statistical Standout: Davis – Buy / Springer – Sell

As previously mentioned, this is not a comment on who I believe is the better overall player. That award currently belongs to Springer. Given the current state of the MLB, it is going to take over 40 homers to win this category. Davis has already shown that type of power in 2016, and it’s clear that pace hasn’t slowed.

Unfortunately it appears Springer is dealing with some early-season injury issues, which will clearly impact overall totals. Even so, when it comes to the pure power department, it will be no surprise if Davis is leading at the end of the season.

ERA: Jason Vargas

American League Weekly Wrap-Up: Week 3 Statistical Standouts

(Photo Courtesy of John Sleezer)

Alright let’s be honest, no one saw this coming. Not to say Vargas hasn’t been a solid pitcher over the course of his career, but this was unexpected. A 34-year-old who had Tommy John surgery and sporting a career 4.11 ERA isn’t supposed to lead the entire MLB in this category.

Vargas has been masterful in his first three starts at a time when the Royals desperately need an ace. The question facing this veteran is how long can this continue?

Season Long Statistical Standout: Sell

Vargas is very much the Kyle Hendricks or Rich Hill type of story we saw in 2016. He’s a pitcher who relies on mixing it up and keeping hitters off balance more than overpowering them. It may take the MLB awhile to adjust, but given Vargas’ stuff, it’s likely only a matter of time.

There’s still plenty of reason for optimism, and pitchers like Vargas have experienced increasing success in recent years. However, the next name on the list isn’t going to make it easy for other pitchers to lead in many categories.

Strike Outs: Chris Sale

American League Weekly Wrap-Up: Week 3 Statistical Standouts

(Photo Courtesy of Fred Thornhill/The Canadian Press via AP)

You knew this guy would show up somewhere. Currently leading the league with 42 strikeouts in four games, Sale has certainly found his groove in Boston. Sale has wasted little time in establishing himself as the undisputed ace in a rotation featuring Rick Porcello and David Price. It was hard to visualize Sale being much more dominant than he has been in years past, but here we are.

Season Long Statistical Standout: Buy

Sale went for eight innings in his last star and didn’t allow a single run while throwing nearly 80 percent of his pitches for strikes. It’s been that kind of command we’ve seen throughout his career, but it has been even more impressive to start the season. There’s little more to say, other than Chris Sale is dominant and the odds-on favorite for AL Cy Young in 2017.

 

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Fantasy Baseball 2017

Fantasy Baseball 2017: Weekly Update (April 16th – April 22nd)

In week three of our fantasy baseball 2017 update, we will continue to notify owners about which player are hot, or cold, and whether they will continue to trend in that direction. The week one and two fantasy updates can be found at thegamehaus.com.

 

Who’s Hot

 

Eugenio Suarez, Third Base, Cincinnati Reds

 

  • 7 for 20 with 4 runs scored, 3 home runs, and 4 RBI.

 

Suarez is officially breaking out in 2017. The 25-year-old has already mashed five home runs in his first 17 games this season. He is primarily batting fifth, which puts him behind All-Stars Joey Votto and Adam Duval, boding extremely well for fantasy his production. Also, he has improved his strikeout and walk rates, which displays his progressed approach. There is no reason he shouldn’t break the 30-home run and 100-RBI plateau this season.

 

Yasmany Tomas, Left Field, Arizona Diamondbacks

Fantasy Baseball 2017

Yasmany Tomas is multi-home run machine. (Courtesy of MLB Trade Rumors)

  • 8 for 25 with 5 runs scored, 3 home runs, and 8 RBI.

 

The Diamondbacks left fielder is picking up just where he left off in 2016. So far this season, Tomas has 10 runs scored, 13 RBI, and four home runs, two of which came in the same game against the Dodgers. He finished 2016 with 31 home runs in only 140 games, and at this pace, he is sure to break that career mark in 2017. The 26-year-old bats fifth for the Diamondbacks, who lead the league in runs scored, which gives Tomas immense fantasy value moving forward.

 

Michael Brantley, Left Field, Cleveland Indians

 

  • 10 for 25 with 7 runs scored, 2 home runs, and 5 RBI.

 

Top-three MVP candidate in 2014, Michael Brantley, has reestablished himself as a premier player in Major League Baseball. The career .292 hitter currently has a .310 batting average with nine runs scored, three home runs, 11 RBI, and three stolen bases in 2017. The 29-year-old is sure to be a high-level producer batting third for the defending American League champion Indians. The health of Brantley’s shoulder remains discomforting, although the Indians seem to be giving him regular days off to ensure he is healthy for their presumed playoff run this season.

 

Austin Hedges, Catcher, San Diego Padres

http://thegamehaus.com/2017/04/17/fantasy-baseball-2017-weekly-update-april-9th-april-15th/

Austin Hedges will be the everyday man for the Padres for years to come. (Courtesy of The San Diego Union Tribune)

  • 6 for 21 with 5 runs scored, 4 home runs, and 9 RBI.

 

The Padres catcher had a monster week, hitting four home runs with nine RBI. Hedges began the season ice cold, as even after this successful week, he is still only batting .179. The 24-year-old is the every-day catcher and five or six-hitter for the Padres, depending on the day, making him a solid fantasy option at catcher in 2017.

 

Jason Vargas, Starting Pitcher, Kansas City Royals

 

  • 1-0 allowing 4 hits, 0 walks, and 0 earned runs with 9 strikeouts in 7 innings pitched.

 

Vargas has been masterful in 2017, having a record of 3-0, while allowing only one earned run, with 23 strikeouts in 20 2/3 innings pitched. The 34-year-old veteran has never been this dominant in his 12-year career, as he has a career ERA of 4.11, WHIP of 1.3, and K/9 of 6.0.

It would be crazy to say that Vargas will continue to find success, although I’m ballsy enough to do it.

Over the past two seasons, Vargas has pitched a total of 55 innings, as he missed essentially the entire 2015 and 2016 seasons after suffering a UCL tear in his left elbow. Since last pitching a full season in 2014, Vargas has stopped throwing a slider and cutter, and has begun exclusively throwing a fastball, curveball, and changeup. His new arsenal and approach with Kansas City are the main factors to his extreme success early in 2017.

 

Who’s Cold

Fantasy Baseball 2017

Byron Buxton’s ice cold start continues in 2017. (Courtesy of MLB.com)

Byron Buxton, Center Field, Minnesota Twins

 

  • 2 for 15 with 0 runs scored, 0 home runs, and 0 RBI.

 

Buxton’s struggles have continued in 2017, as the former second over-all pick in 2012 has only six hits in his first 17 games. The 23-year-old is striking out at a mind boggling rate of 47%. It would not surprise me to see Buxton demoted in order to develop a new approach. I would consider holding onto him in only keeper or dynasty formats, as he has plenty of time to capitalize on his immense potential, but 2017 does not look like it will be his year.

 

Dansby Swanson, Short Stop, Atlanta Braves

 

  • 2 for 24 with 2 runs scored, 0 home runs, and 1 RBI.

 

The first-overall pick in 2015 is off to a slow start this season. In 17 games, Swanson has nine hits, only two going for extra bases, and 18 strikeouts. His career strikeout rate in the minors suggests that he is good at making adjustments and is sure to improve.

Swanson’s potential is real, as he was a three-year college player who batted .335 with 15 home runs and 16 stolen bases in 71 games as a junior. Swanson will be a legit contributor sooner rather than later.

 

Kevin Gausman, Starting Pitcher, Baltimore Orioles

Fantasy Baseball 2017

Kevin Gausman is off to a tough start, and has an even tougher road ahead. (Courtesy of MLB.com)

  • 0-1 allowing 8 hits, 3 walks, and 8 earned runs with 2 strikeouts over 2 2/3 innings pitched.

 

Gausman was on many fantasy radars prior the start of the 2017 season, as had struck out 174 batters in just 179 2/3 innings the previous year. The 26-year-old was named the opening day starter for the Orioles once Chris Tillman was placed on disabled list to begin the year.

Gausman has struggled mightily to begin the season, as he has allowed 15 earned runs to go along with only 13 strikeouts in 18 2/3 innings pitched. He will have a tough road ahead, as he will face two tough American League East foes, the Red Sox and Yankees, in his next two starts. It will take a miracle for Gausman to get through the rest of the month unscathed.

 

Justin Verlander, Starting Pitcher, Detroit Tigers

 

  • 0-1 allowing 3 hits, 6 walks, and 4 earned runs with 4 strikeouts over 5 innings pitched.

 

The 2016 AL Cy Young runner-up has struggled in his last two starts, although I am confident he will immediately turn things around moving forward. He is currently 1-2 with a 6.04 ERA, 22 strikeouts and 11 walks in 22 1/3 innings pitched. The wily veteran has a career ERA of 3.5, K/9 of 8.5 and has pitched over 200 innings in nine of his last ten seasons. He will look to get things back on track at home against the Seattle Mariners on April 27th.

 

Steven Wright, Starting Pitcher, Boston Red Sox

Fantasy Baseball 2017

Steven Wright’s struggles are due to his shoulder injury from 2016. (Courtesy of Boston.com)

  • 1-1 allowing 18 hits, 1 walk, and 5 earned runs with 1 strikeout over 9 2/3 innings pitched.

 

The 2016 AL All-Star has not been the same since injuring his shoulder after sliding back into second base. The 32-year-old had a 13-6 record with a 3.33 ERA last season in 156 2/3 innings pitched. Wright has allowed a league high 33 hits in 17 2/3 innings pitching this year, which shows his knuckle ball clearly isn’t back to its previous elite form. He told ESPN, “It’s just a matter getting everything back, the muscle memory back, and getting back to where I was before the injury”. Clearly Wright is not fully recovered from his injury, and if he fails to find his release point, he will continue to relinquish hit after hit. It’s only a matter of time until David Price returns for the Red Sox, which may push Wright to a middle reliever roll for the remainder of the year.

 

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Kiev Major Group Stage

The Kiev Major Group Stage Preview

The first Major of the 2017 season is upon us and it looks as though it will be amazing. The Kiev Major will take place from April 24th – April 30th. The event will be split into Group Stages followed by a single-elimination main event bracket. Let’s take a look at the Kiev Major Group Stage.

The Kiev Major Prize Pool

The prize pool of the tournament is $3,000,000 USD.

Place $ USD Percent Team
1st $1,000,000  33.33% TBD
2nd $500,000  16.67% TBD
3rd-4th $250,000  8.33% TBD
TBD
place 5 to 16
5th-8th $125,000  4.17% TBD
TBD
TBD
TBD
9th-16th $62,500  2.08% TBD
TBD
TBD
TBD
TBD
TBD
TBD
TBD

Courtesy of http://wiki.teamliquid.net/dota2/Kiev_Major/2017

Kiev Major Group Stage Format

For the first time at a Dota 2 event, Kiev will use the Swiss-system format. A format commonly seen at CS:GO events, it will be interesting to see if it creates better seeding heading into the main event.

  • 16 teams are placed in a single group where they play in a Swiss-system format.
    • Four rounds of matches.
    • All matches are played in a Bo3.
    • Opponents will always have the same Win/Loss record.
    • Teams will never play an opponent twice.
  • Round 1
    • Initial eight matches are seeded.
  • Round 2
    • Divided into two groups:
      • Winners of Round 1 (“high”)
      • Losers of Round 1 (“low”)
    • Teams will be drawn an opponent from their group.
  • Round 3
    • Divided into three groups:
      • Teams with a record of 2-0 (“high”)
      • Teams with a record of 1-1 (“mid”)
      • Lastly, teams with a record of 0-2 (“low”)
    • All teams will be drawn an opponent they have not played yet from their group.
    • Winners of the high group are the highest seed for the playoffs.
    • Losers of the low group are the lowest seed for the playoffs.
  • Round 4
    • Divided into two groups:
      • Teams with a record of 2-1 (“high”)
      • Teams with a record of 1-2 (“low”)
    • All teams will be drawn an opponent they have not yet played from their group.
    • Winners of the high group are the 2nd highest seed for the playoffs.
    • Losers of the low group are the 2nd lowest seed for the playoffs.

Courtesy of http://wiki.teamliquid.net/dota2/Kiev_Major/2017/Group_Stage

The Kiev Major Group Stage – Round 1 Thoughts and Predictions

The Kiev Major Group Stage Round 1 Matches

Image courtesy of https://twitter.com/wykrhm

Team Secret v VG.J

In the first game of the first round, Team Secret will face off against VG.J. Both of these teams will likely finish in the middle of the pack somewhere. VG.J on paper are the stronger squad. However, outside of the second place at StarLadder, they have yet to live up to the hype.

Both Team Secret and VG.J have a point to prove at Kiev, this will be one of the closest series of the group stages. When the dust settles, I think Team Secret will take the series 2-1. Mainly because VG.J have been inconsistent in recent times. This is also Team Secret’s return to the Major’s after missing out on a place in Boston. Team Secret will be the sharper team heading into round one and should take a close series.

Team Secret Kiev Major Group Stage

Image courtesy of teamsecret.gg

Invictus Gaming (IG) v Mousesports

No series on the road to a Major trophy is easy. However, Mousesports will be feeling unlucky with their round one match-up. Going up against one of the favorites and DAC winner, IG will be a huge challenge for the Greeks. This series will be the first that the former Ad Finem roster has played since the second place finish at the Boston Major. Since then they have changed orgs, failed to attend a single LAN and we have had a series of game changing patches. On the other hand, IG comes into this event in the form of a lifetime. A strong showing at DAC, which would eventually see them take home the crown, has catapulted them into a spot as favorites. IG and Mousesports are at opposite ends of the spectrum and IG should sweep the Greeks 2-0.

IG Kiev Major Group Stages

Image courtesy of teamliquid.net

Team Random v IG.Vitality

In the only all domestic match-up, Team Random will take on IG.V. This series looks to be another close match-up with both teams experiencing mixed form. Team Random, formerly Team Wings, are searching to recover the form they had leading up to TI6. IG.V are looking to establish themselves as a top team. Team Random have the stronger set of players but seem to out mind game themselves in most games. Team Random showed flashes of genius during DAC, but normally it was too little too late. IG.V, on the other hand, showed promise during DAC finishing in fourth place. At DAC IG.V started slowly and for this reason I am backing Team Random to take the series 2-1.

Team Randon Team Wings Kiev Major Group Stages

Image courtesy of teamliquid.net

OG v SG esports

Favorites for the event OG take on newcomers SG in their first group stage game. For SG this series will be the hardest best of three they have most likely ever played. The current OG team are the most consistent team heading into the event. Since November, the lowest placing they have had is 3rd – 4th. Not bad for a team that everyone always rules out. SG will have to pull out a miracle to take the series from OG, think TNC at TI6. OG will come into the series full of confidence and will take it 2-0.

OG Kiev Major Group Stage

Image courtesy of teamliquid.net

Liquid v Thunderbirds

This series is my one to watch heading into the first round. Two teams who have championship pedigree but are currently having some issues. Liquid are more up and down than a yo-yo. They place first at StarLadder and then finish 9th – 12th at DAC. Liquid are another team that on paper should be challenging for every title. However, for whatever reason, they are struggling to convert talent into ability in-game. Thunderbirds, formerly DC, have struggled since winning ESL One Genting in January. The team has been struggling in-game and out of it. With the team now leaving DC, it is possible that they will make a return to winning ways. Similarly to Secret v VG.J, both these teams will likely finish in the middle of the pack. This is a difficult series to call, but I have Liquid edging it 2-1.

Liquid Kiev Major Group Stage

Image courtesy of teamliquid.net

Faceless v Virtus Pro (VP)

Kiev will be the first LAN that VP have attended since January. Starting off with a series against Faceless will be a tough test for VP. Faceless come into the event the same as always, dominant in SEA, disappointing internationally. VP come into Kiev with strong domestic form in the last few months. This is series will set the tone for both teams heading further into the event. Will VP choke again, will it be same old Faceless? Faceless are on the cusp of a strong performance. However, VP are the team in form at the moment and I have them taking the series 2-1.

VP Kiev Major Group Stage

Image courtesy of teamliquid.net

Digital Chaos (DC) v Newbee

In their first series as DC, the former Team Onyx squad will face off against Newbee. Newbee are one of the more consistent teams heading into the event with a first, second and third place finish in the three events they have attended in 2017. On the other hand, this will be DC’s first LAN event as a team. The nerves will be high for the new squad, especially with the controversy surrounding their move to the DC banner. Newbee are looking to go into the later rounds of the tournament and a strong performance in round one will set the tone. I have Newbee taking the series 2-0

Newbee Kiev Major Group Stage

Image courtesy of http://wiki.teamliquid.net/dota2

Evil Geniuses (EG) v TNC Pro Team

EG v TNC on paper should be a relatively easy matchup for the North American powerhouse. However, if one thing is certain in Dota it’s that EG always start slow. EG come into the event with questions hanging over the roster. The performance at DAC raised more questions on whether the roster is strong enough to be consistently at the top. On paper EG has one of the strongest rosters in the world, they just can’t seem to click consistently.

TNC come into Kiev in the same spot they always are, underdogs. TNC have had an up and down 2017, which has included winning WESG. Furthermore, TNC have been hit and miss domestically, which is concerning considering the lack of tier one times in SEA. I have EG taking the series but it will be a close 2-1.

EG Kiev Major Group Stage

Image courtesy of teamliquid.net

Kiev Major Group Stage – Final Thoughts

Every event since Boston has been building up to the Kiev Major. The first Major of 2017 will be hotly contested with at least five teams strong favorites to take the event. Near the top should be the likes of OG, IG, VP and EG. Teams like Secret, Liquid and Thunderbirds have questions to answer moving into the build up to TI7. At the other end, SG esports are looking to capture the hearts of fans as TNC and Ad Finem have done before them.

The new group stage format will provide more consistent seeding heading into the single-elimination main event. Teams that start slow will have the chance to repair things and get a decent seed for bracket play.

For more in-depth coverage of each region check out my Regional Roulette series:

South East Asia

The Americas

Europe and CIS

China

What are your thoughts on the round one matchups? Let me know in the comments below.

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You can follow Joe here – https://twitter.com/TrenchCommander

 

 

Jonathan Toews’ playoff struggles doom Chicago Blackhawks

At Game 4 between the Anaheim Ducks and Calgary Flames, a man dressed up as Waldo from “Where’s Waldo?” was found in the stands at the Scotiabank Saddledome.

You could make the case it was Johnathan Toews wearing the Waldo clothes, since he was missing the entire 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs.  But by the time he was found at Bridgestone Arena in Game 4 Thursday night, the Chicago Blackhawks were well on their way to a 4-1 loss and a first round exit at the hands of the Nashville Predators.

It was a quiet conclusion to a historically bad series for the Blackhawks, who entered as the top seed in the Western Conference.  It was the first time they had been swept in a playoff series since 1993, and the first time the 1st seed was swept in the first round in the NHL’s current playoff format.  Perhaps more concerning, it’s the 2nd straight season that Chicago exits in the 1st round.  Expectations are constantly high for the 6-time champion Blackhawks, but after they collected 109 points, their second-highest season total, their elimination was shocking and disappointing.

(Photo courtesy: chicagotribune.com)

So how did this happen?  It was the offense that was stagnant, with Toews at the forefront of the issues.  The Blackhawks didn’t score in the first two games of the series and look listless doing so.  A Predators defense that was physical the entire series pressured Toews any chance he got.  When he touched the puck, he was swarmed multiple times and had to make a quick decision on what to do with it.  Even more concerning was his inability to put shots on net.  Ten shots on net in four games is unspectacular for a player who’s scored 20 goals in each of his nine seasons in the league.  Granted, Pekka Rinne was stellar the entire series, but Toews and the rest of the offense couldn’t get much going against Nashville’s blue line anyway.

Just how concerning was it that Toews and Patrick Kane struggled this series?  I think Blackhawks fans have to tip their cap to Rinne and the Preds, who fell to Chicago in the 1st round two years ago and lost four of five in the regular season series.  They had scoring from multiple lines and were relentless in front of the net.  However, the scoring variety that Nashville had was nonexistent with Chicago.  Toews, Kane, and Dennis Rasmussen were the only goal scorers in the series.  Artemi Panarin, the young winger coming off a 74-point campaign, was -4 on the ice.  When the leading producers on offense can’t get going, then the entire unit looks disjointed, as it did in the first two games.  When they built a 2-goal in Game 3, it was the defense and exhaustion that ultimately doomed then.  However, this Blackhawks team built its small dynasty on high-production from Kane and Toews.  They haven’t gotten it in the playoffs the last two years, and it’s hurt them as a result.

(Photo courtesy: cnbcchicago.com)

Now that the Chicago offseason arrives early for the second straight season, questions about whether the Blackhawks can reach those glory days again dominate the headlines.  It starts with Toews, who is owed $10.5 million every year until 2023.  While he is still a solid scorer, he is coming off a career-low 21 goals.  And for someone who’s only scored one postseason goal the past two years, it’s a lot of money for someone who is fading in crunch time.  Kane has the same contract as Toews, and Panarin is improving to the point where he may demand a big payday soon.  That doesn’t even factor in the salary they need to address issues on defense.  The Blackhawks currently have less than $3 million in cap space for next season.  This means the players making the big bucks need to produce when it matters the most.

The thing about Waldo is you always managed to find him at the end of the book.  Jonathan Toews is much easier to find on the ice than Waldo is at a crowded amusement park.  But if Toews wants to keep the Blackhawks in the upper echelon of hockey, he can’t disappear in the playoffs while wearing the red and white.

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Los Angeles 2017 NFL Draft Profile From Chat Sports

The Rams are on the clock for day 30 of Draftmas.

Summary

The 2016 season was not kind to the Los Angeles Rams. No. 1 overall pick Jared Goff struggled behind an iffy offensive line (as did RB Todd Gurley) and the Rams limped through the year as NFL’s worst offense with just 14 points per game. The defense was just below league average, but they couldn’t work miracles. A better offense would lift some of the burden off the defense and likely result in better play.

Todd Gurley (Photo courtesy: latimes.com)

Head coach Jeff Fisher was fired mid-year and now the young Sean McVay is in charge. He has a bright future and the presence of Wade Phillips as the defensive coordinator will help on multiple levels. The main mission for McVay, who is a bit of a wunderkind and did great work in Washington, will be to ensure Jared Goff becomes the franchise option. Goff was not good last year, completing 54.6 percent of his passes of 1,089 yards, five touchdowns and six interceptions. He never looked fully comfortable, likely due to a combination of a poor offense around him and Fisher’s strange decision to hold off on playing Goff early in the year. McVay will need to set up a system friendly to Goff, much like the Titans and Cowboys have done a fantastic job of doing with their young QBs.
Todd Gurley should be primed for a bounce back year, especially with the changes the Rams made on the offensive line. Andrew Whitworth, one of the better left tackles in the NFL, comes over from the Bengals. It was one of the best signings off the offseason: at a team-friendly price (compared to the rest of the OT market), Whitworth will provide a badly need blindside protector and veteran leadership. The rest of the offensive line will likely shake out as Rodger Saffold at LG, John Sullivan at C, Rob Havenstein at RG and Greg Robinson at RT. Havenstein and Robinson could flip spots, but the hope is Robinson locks down the RT spot after struggling badly on the left side. Sullivan isn’t a long-term answer, but he can be a stop-gap if the Rams select a young center in the draft. Maybe not for this year, but more OL help could be on the way if the unit doesn’t gel.
Weapons for Goff remain an area of concern. Tavon Austin has ability, but he’s on an unfriendly contract and the Rams have yet to use him properly. Robert Woods was signed to a big deal, but he never proved himself in Buffalo and that deal could look bad in a year or two. Pharoh Cooper has upside, but he’s not a legit No. 1 weapon. Getting that true No. 1 WR for Goff is a must in the near future. At tight end, last year’s fourth round pick Tyler Higbee might not be the answer. In a loaded TE class, the Rams should look for another option. Lance Dunbar will assume some of the third down duties at RB.
As mentioned, Phillips comes to town on the defensive side of the ball. The dirty little “secret” of Phillips vaunted defense is that it’s really just a 4-3 under with a defensive end standing up. So, Aaron Donald will still be one of the best 3-techniques in the NFL. How the rest of the defensive line fits is still up for grabs. Dominique Easley might be better as a 3-technique than a 5-technique or a 1-technique, so he might be relegated to backup duty. Michael Brockers could end up at either spot, but he’ll start somewhere. Where exactly he lines up most of the time might not be decided until after the draft.
The Rams overhauled the edge rusher spot, with Robert Quinn and Ethan Westbrooks the only notable players returning. Connor Barwin was a smart signing, as he’ll provide a veteran option. But a young piece or two is needed, especially if Robert Quinn can’t return to form. Alex Ogletree and Mark Barron should work as the two ILBs, but there isn’t much proven ability behind them.
In the secondary, picking up Kayvon Webster and Nickell Robey-Coleman were great moves. Webster, who knows Phillips defense, could break out as the No. 2 corner. Robey-Coleman will man the nickel role. That allows LaMarcus Joyner to assume free safety duties, as Maurice Alexander shifts to strong safety. Trumaine Johnson is back, for the time being, as the No. 1 CB.

Picks and Needs

The Rams have eight picks in the 2017 NFL Draft. They are without a first round pick as a result of the Jared Goff trade, which also cost them a compensatory draft pick in the third round. The extra fourth is a compensatory pick, while the sixth is via the Dolphins from the William Hayes trade. The seventh is from the Ravens as part of the Chris Givens trade, as the Rams’ original pick was swapped in the Hayes deal.

First round: (0)
Second round: (1) No. 37
Third round: (1) No. 69
Fourth round: (2) No. 112, No. 141
Fifth round: (1) No. 149
Sixth round: (2) No. 189, No. 206
Seventh round: (1) No. 234
These needs are in no particular order and are the top ones.
Offensive Needs:
Wide Receiver – Tavon Austin has been inconsistent, while Pharoh Cooper hasn’t proven himself yet. Robert Woods is a No. 2, at best, so getting a legit No. 1 option for Goff is needed.
Tight End – It’s an amazing draft class for tight ends. The Rams should either add a legit No. 1 TE or a compliment for Tyler Higbee.
Offensive Line – I’ll group this together, since there are multiple needs. Whitworth and Sullivan are not long-term options, so young pieces will be needed at some point. In a bad tackle class, a center might be the route the Rams elect to go. A guard, even if it’s just a future backup, wouldn’t be a bad idea.
Defensive needs:
Defensive Line – Maybe it’s a true nose guard or maybe it’s another 5-technique. Either way, the Rams could use another piece alongside Brockers and Donald.
Edge Rusher – This might be the Rams’ biggest need. Robert Quinn is one keeper (hopefully: he’s had two down years in a row), but Connor Barwin isn’t a long-term option. Phillips’ defense is based on getting pressure. It’s a really good edge rusher class, so adding one early makes sense.
Cornerback – Kayvon Webster could have a breakout year and Nickell Robey-Coleman will man the slot, but Trumaine Johnson’s future is a question mark. He’ll likely get a year to see how he fits under Phillips, but there are no guarantees. With little reliable depth behind those three, another mid-round pick is needed.

Targets and Thoughts

Below are some potential targets for the Rams for each of their Day 1 and Day 2 picks.

Second Round: 
Pick No. 37: Carl Lawson, EDGE, Auburn

Carl Lawson (Photo courtesy: profootballfocus.com)

If it wasn’t for injuries at Auburn, Lawson would likely be a first round pick. The production is there and although he’s a bit undersize, he should fit in the Rams’ system. He could be a part-time player in year one before replacing Barwin full-time once Barwin’s deal is up. There will plenty of edge options on the board here for Los Angeles.
Third Round: 
Pick No. 69: JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, USC
The Rams have shown quite a bit of interest in the physical, productive WR from USC. He might not be a full-fledged No. 1 option, but he’s a very different player than Austin or Cooper. Concerns around his speed and separation ability (think Laquon Treadwell) could cause him to slide out of the first two rounds.
Conclusion
The Rams aren’t ready to truly contend next year. It’s a rebuild year, with the focus on Goff improving. Not having a first round pick doesn’t help, but the Rams can add a few pieces, on either side of the ball, as they continue their rebuild.
You can read all of the previous days of Draftmas here!
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Toxic Design

Stress Spikes – The most questionable designs in StarCraft II

Balance revisions are once again in season in the StarCraft world. And while these changes are far from insignificant, it will be a while before the next major overhaul. As such, I thought I would get an early start on the list of units that should be considered for the next renovation.

The units in this discussion aren’t on here because of poor balance, and to be clear, this isn’t a balance discussion. Rather, today I want to look at units infamous for their toxic design.

Most of the units here serve important roles in their race’s design. But in some cases, those roles could stand to see some revisions, into forms that accomplish similar goals but in a way that doesn’t inspire players to put their fist through their monitors.

 

Oracle Fly-by

There are many units in StarCraft that can cripple you if you’re not prepared for them. The Oracle, however, is a special case.

If your anti-air is mispositioned, an early Oracle can end the game. There’s an indescribable feeling you get seeing an Oracle fly-by and realizing your grave has already been dug. Some would suggest you could say the same thing about detection and stealth units. The thing is, workers can run from a Dark Templar or Banshee. Try as you may, there’s no running from an Oracle. It raises the question as to why Pulsar Beam is necessary in its current form, especially with Stasis Ward becoming more common as a means of harassment.

 

The mine that got away

It’s not exactly surprising to say the Widow Mine is a unit that inspires a special kind of loathing. But I’ve always been of the firm belief that it’s not the Widow Mine’s damage that makes it a toxic unit. Rather, the most toxic thing about the Widow Mine is watching it get away – watching a mine being dropped into your mineral line and then just barely failing to kill it before it borrows is an exasperating feeling that’s made worse knowing you need to evacuate your mineral line immediately and deal with finishing it off before you can get back to work.

Nerfs to the Widow Mine were a huge talking point earlier this year but it seems surprising that the Mine’s 90 HP never came into question. For reference, the Widow Mine’s predecessor from Brood War, the Spider Mine, only had 20HP. For that 20HP, the Spider Mine could only hit ground units, could not be moved once set, were only good for one-shot and yet were still widely used.

The Widow Mine is not going to get its health cut anytime soon. That would be a balance call rather than a design call. But the next time issues with the Widow Mine come up, rather than just cutting its damage again, maybe think about adjusting its durability instead. Personally, I would even be in favor of the Mine getting a damage buff if it meant a durability trade off.

 

Throwing Shade

I’ve gone through a lot of this already so I’ll be sparing on the details here. Psionic Transfer was an interesting experiment but the results are back and they don’t look good.Toxic Design I almost feel it’s a cop-out to include this because of how vocal the community has been about this ability. But still, the balance team hasn’t really done anything about it so maybe it’s not as obvious as I thought. Sure they cut the shade vision, but all that did was make the shading process into guesswork.

This arguably made the Adept even more toxic to play against. At least when the Adepts had vision you could reasonably predict when the Protoss would commit or not. Now that the shades are blind, you really never know when the Protoss is going to go full yolo. This new layer of unpredictability means that the act of activating Psionic Transfer alone is enough to keep an opponent on the defensive.

The community has been vocal enough about this that the fact that Psionic Transfer still exists in its current form can only be described as stubbornness on the balance team’s part. Yes, we Protoss players have had our laughs with this one but the joke is getting old. The ability to cancel shades needs to go.

 

Supply Pits

Let’s talk about offense vs defense in esports. As a rule of thumb, you generally want defending to be somewhat more skillful than executing an attack. This is done to encourage aggressive tactics and discourage passive playstyles that risk creating boring or monotonous shows for audiences. Supply Pits are units that take this concept to the absolute extreme. These are units like the Disruptor and Seeker Missiles that are exponentially harder to defend against than they are to use. And failing to defend against them can at times have game-ending results.

Spending 10 minutes building up an army only to lose it all in a second is a unique experience, and one not often seen in the RTS genre. Being on the receiving end of a Supply Pit is easily the most toxic experience in StarCraft II and one of the most toxic experiences in any esport.

With this in mind, the damage fade of splash and AoE damage is worth reviewing at least once. We can call it a social experiment. And if there is any aspect of StarCraft II that’s worth experimenting on, this is it.

 

Why does my Core Unit look like ass?

Toxic Design

It shoots lasers from its eyes. You know, just in case the design wasn’t dumb enough as is.

While we are on the topic of bad design, let’s talk about the Stalker. Granted, the Stalker is badly designed in a different way but it still makes me want to break my screen so here we are. Every race has one or two core units. These are units that are generally useful at all points in the game which are capable of fun micro-mechanics. Terran has Marine-Marauders, for Zerg: Hydralisks and Ravagers. If you only started playing StarCraft some time in the last few months, it’s easy to think that our Core unit is the Adept.

To a certain extent, the Adept has become a core unit despite scaling poorly into the late game. But Protoss has had another core unit for years prior to Legacy of the Void and that is the Stalker.

Toxic Design

It’s a Winter’s Veil Miracle

If I had to describe the Stalker, I would say it looks like the result of an underachieving demon possessing a mashed-on beetle. I wish I could say that was an exaggeration, that really just is what the Stalker looks like. Just like it isn’t an exaggeration to say the Stalker is possibly the single ugliest unit ever designed in the history of the RTS genre.

How or why the Stalker’s current design came into existence is a mystery. My theory is that some famous Protoss player slept with Dustin Browder’s wife and this was his revenge. Whatever the case, I think we’ve been punished long enough. Zerg has their sleek Hydras, Terrans have their badass Marines but somehow Protoss got stuck with Little Nicky.

WarChests are coming later this year, all I ask is that we get a skin that makes the Stalker not look like ass.


 

Featured images courtesy imgbaseAfreecaTV and Blizzard Entertainment.

Follow me on Twitter: @Stefan_SC2

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Serena Williams

Serena’s Shocker, Maria’s Return, and More

It has been quite a newsy week both on and off the court for some of the biggest stars in tennis. Here is a look around the ever-changing landscape of the sport.

Serena Shocks the World

Serena Williams Pregnancy

Photo: Serena Williams Instagram

The real reason for Serena Williams’ lengthy post-Australian Open absence was revealed Wednesday. The 23-time Grand Slam winner took to Snapchat to announce that she and fiance Alexis Ohanian are expecting their first child.

The 35-year-old was eight weeks pregnant when she won the Australian Open to break Steffi Graf’s modern era record for Grand Slam singles titles.

Williams stated her intention to return to the tour in 2018. While it is foolish to put anything past her, it is far from a certainty given her age and apparent happiness in her personal life.

The already wide open ladies tour is now even more so without its unquestioned superior athlete. However, as one megastar steps away, another is back on the scene.

Sharapova is ready to Roll

Maria Sharapova

Photo: twitter.com/mariasharapova

Maria Sharapova has arrived in Germany for her comeback at next week’s Porsche Tennis Grand Prix. She will play her first match when her doping suspension ends on Wednesday. She will have to practice off tournament grounds until then.

Sharapova’s return remains controversial, but it is happening. There is no reason to look in the rear view mirror. It has been 15 months since Sharapova has played an official match. Until she takes the court for her opener against Roberta Vinci, no one will know if she can get back to the top, not even Sharapova herself.

We do know a few things. Sharapova has dominated everyone not named Serena over the years. Williams is out of the picture for now. Also, we know that the 30-year-old Russian is highly motivated and in great shape. This could make for a lethal cocktail for the competition.

2017 Themes Continue in Monte Carlo

While the ladies tour is being rocked to its core, it has been business as usual for the men at the season’s first big clay court event in Monte Carlo, Monaco.

While it is a step in the right direction just to see them back on the court, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray lost relatively early to lesser players once again. While their opponents played well, Djokovic and Murray continue to search for answers.

Rafa Nadal

Photo: atpworldtour.com

One person who has them, but is not sharing is Rafael Nadal. The “King of Clay” is into the final in search of a mind blowing tenth title in Monte Carlo. There is no reason to think Nadal’s 2017 rebirth will slow down on his favorite surface. The final member of the “Big Four” continues to reiterate his intention to rest until the French Open. Even when he is not around, Roger Federer’s presence looms large.

 

 

 

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