These playoff percentages mean that about 58 percent of all win streaks that passed through 10 games came from teams that eventually made the playoffs, a slight increase from before.The Royals are right at the previous season average (they went 86-76, which gets you a regressed winning percentage around .522), but their pre-streak record was slightly below the standard for other 10-win-streak teams; their “at the time” regressed winning percentage was .488. How much does that matter?To determine whether these Royals could be a playoff team, we set up a logistic regression predicting make-the-playoffs odds from streak length, at-the-time regression winning percentage, and prior-season regressed winning percentage. This also helped us figure out how much of the chance of making the playoffs comes from the streak itself, and how much is just that good teams are more prone to run up these kinds of streaks. Causation versus correlation, basically.After running the regression, it told us that the Royals are 23.2 percent less likely to make the playoffs than a normal 10-game-win-streak team because their record before the streak was 29-32, whereas the typical 10-gamer would have been 32-29. That looks like a very strong effect for just a three-game swing; we might be seeing a big inflection point here. At any rate, as you would expect, pre-streak record certainly matters.Once we take their 10-win streak into account, the Royals have a little better than even odds of making the playoffs. Baseball Prospectus’s Playoff Odds Report gives KC a 42.3 percent chance of getting there. So if you want to peg the Royals somewhere around 50-50, that’s a decent place to start. And if you think about Kansas City’s roster — one with strengths but also significant weaknesses — that makes even more sense.On the plus side, the Royals are an elite defensive team. According to Baseball Info Solutions’ Defensive Runs Saved stat, KC has fielded the second-best defense in the American League. By Ultimate Zone Rating, the Royals actually lead all of baseball, and by a wide margin. The outfield is particularly impressive: The combination of Jarrod Dyson and Lorenzo Cain has been extremely effective in chasing down fly balls in the gaps. Meanwhile, Alex Gordon has been a force of nature in left field, the best in all of baseball by pretty much any advanced metric. He’s pretty good by Fancy Plays Over Replacement too.Your browser does not support iframes.That airtight defense has made an already strong pitching staff look even better. Closer Greg Holland and righty setup men Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera have combined to allow just one home run in 89 innings pitched this season.Davis in particular has been a revelation. Acquired from the Tampa Bay Rays in the controversial December 2012 blockbuster, Davis was viewed as a throw-in, with James Shields and Wil Myers being the keys to the deal. After messing around with Davis as a starter last year, the Royals plopped him back into the role in which he excelled with Tampa Bay two years ago. So far this year, he has been right there with Sean Doolittle, Koji Uehara, Dellin Betances and one or two others for the title of best reliever in the American League. His season line: 31.1 innings pitched, 1.15 ERA, 52 strikeouts, and zero extra-base hits allowed.The starting rotation has flourished lately, too. Shields has been steady as expected, though his numbers are actually down slightly from recent years. But he’s received ample support, from 23-year-old fireballer Yordano Ventura (who leads all KC starters in fielding independent pitching), free-agent pickup Jason Vargas (tops in innings pitched), and Danny Duffy (tops in beating long odds, having come back from Tommy John surgery, and at one point nearly quitting baseball entirely).The big question revolves around the team’s offense. Just 13 days ago, the Royals sat in last place in the AL Central, and also last in the AL in slugging percentage, home runs and runs scored. Some of the team’s biggest slumpers came alive during the streak, especially Billy Butler and Mike Moustakas. Still, those players, along with talented but disappointing first baseman Eric Hosmer, have fallen well short of expectations in 2014, and KC still owns the third-lowest-scoring offense in the American League even after its recent explosion. The Royals almost certainly won’t be sellers any more at the trade deadline, not after this streak. Whether they’ll be buyers — to the point of possibly benching or jettisoning current players once viewed as future franchise cornerstones — remains an open question.Still, it’s a great question to get to ask. After nearly three decades in the wilderness, the Royals now have a legitimate shot to see October’s spotlight. It’s about damn time. The Detroit Tigers nipped the Kansas City Royals 2-1 in the final game of a four-game series Thursday. That win snapped a 10-game winning streak for KC, but even with that setback the Royals lead the American League Central Division by half a game. In late June. This is not a drill.If the baseball world seems shocked by the Royals’ sudden success, the franchise’s recent history may explain why. When the Royals beat the Tigers on Tuesday in the second game of their showdown for AL Central supremacy, the victory marked the first time the Royals had owned sole possession of first place since May 1, 2013.Of course, downtrodden teams always have a better chance to claim bragging rights early in the season, when hot starts and small sample sizes can skew what we’re seeing. So consider this: The last time the Royals were in first place after June 1 was all the way back in 2003. That year, Kansas City preyed on a weak AL Central — one dragged down by a 119-loss Tigers squad and no elite teams — to own a share of first as late as Aug. 20. They ended the season seven games off the pace at 83-79, a lukewarm showing for most franchises. For the Royals, the finish was almost something to celebrate. Kansas City hasn’t made the playoffs since 1985, the longest postseason drought for any major league team by a span of eight years.Now here’s the good news for Royals fans: Teams that win 10 straight games in a single season stand a good chance of making the playoffs. Which means that for the first time since “Careless Whisper” wasn’t at all ironic, the Royals could crack the postseason.Going back to 1995, the first year of the wild card,1The wild card was supposed to debut in 1994. But … well, you know. we looked at all teams that had a streak lasting at least one game (you gotta start somewhere), to see how often those streaks portended October baseball. Here are the results:As you can see, every team passed through streaks of one, two and three wins, and all but four teams passed through a streak of four wins. By this measure, with a 10-win streak the Royals have about a 55 percent chance of making the playoffs.2You’ll notice that it appears that a team is more likely to make the playoffs if it’s had an 11-game win streak than if it’s had a 12-game win streak. That’s just one of those weird quirks that can happen due to randomness in a small sample.It’s not quite that simple, though. Before their streak began, the Royals’ record only stood at 29-32, so they may not be totally representative of the type of team that tends to have 10-game win streaks. To examine that further, we looked at historical winning streaks of a given length since 1995 and tracked what each team’s regressed winning percentage was before the streak started (that is, we added 67 games of .500 baseball — 33.5 wins and 33.5 losses — to each team’s record at the time).3Regressed winning percentages add 67 games of .500 ball because that’s the number of games necessary for a team’s observed record to be half skill and half luck. (We know this by comparing the distribution of actual baseball teams’ records to the spread we’d see if every team was equal and each game was decided by a coin flip.) We used regressed winning percentages here so that every pre-streak winning percentage would be on the same footing, no matter when in the season the streak began. Otherwise, if one team started its streak early in the season, and another started it late, a straight average would weigh the two winning percentages equally even though the latter is much more indicative of what we’re trying to measure than the former. By regressing the records, we can make an apples-to-apples comparison between the streaks, no matter when in the season they occurred. We also recorded each team’s regressed winning percentage from the previous season. The results:
In 1964, Ron Hunt was a young second baseman just starting to make his bones in the big leagues. He played for the Mets, a terrible team still years away from transforming into Amazin’ glory. On May 9 of that year, they were playing the mighty Cardinals, a loaded team that would go on to win the World Series. The man on the mound that day was Bob Gibson, one of the best and most terrifying fireballers in baseball history.Gibson had staked the Cards to a big lead, and he now needed just two more outs to bag a complete-game win. Hunt was due up next, and he knew all about Gibson’s blazing fastball, his tendency to come inside with it, and his neverending quest to intimidate batters into submission.“I started messing with my shoelaces,” said Hunt 51 years later, speaking in short, hard-edged bursts from his farm in Wentzville, Missouri.At the time, he figured that fiddling with his laces and stalling for time would do one of two things: Break Gibson’s concentration, piss the big right-hander off, or both. A warning rang out from the dugout: “ ‘Gibson is gonna drill you!’ Sure enough, he hits me.”Shaking off the impact of the pitch, Hunt spotted the ball coming to rest near his feet. He picked it up, turned toward Gibson … and flipped it back to him. Trotting down to first base, Hunt was greeted by first baseman Bill White, who wanted to know if Hunt was OK after getting drilled by the one fastball that caused more nightmares than any other of his generation.“Yeah, I’m all right,” Hunt replied indignantly. “Now tell that fucker to go warm up!” 1Ron Hunt197150 That’s a 43 percent spread between Hunt’s 50 and Baylor’s runner-up effort. Pick your most unbreakable record, and Hunt’s dominance dwarfs it. Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak? Pete Rose came closer to Joe D at 44 than Baylor did to Hunt.3We’re not counting Willie Keeler’s 45-game hitting streak, from 1896 to 1897, to stay consistent on post-1900 numbers. Cy Young’s 511 wins? Walter Johnson’s 417 Ws came closer. Barry Bonds’s 73 homers in 2001? Nope. Hack Wilson’s 191 RBIs in 1930? Nope. You could argue that in modern baseball history, no player ever crushed all others in any one facet of the game the way Hunt did with his plunk-fest in 1971.When we assemble every player since 1900 who’s ever logged 502 or more plate appearances in a season,4The minimum required to qualify for a batting title. Hunt’s lonely spot way over on the right side of that chart is 13 standard deviations above average for hit-by-pitches in a season. If you’re not a math expert, think about that number this way: There’s ostensibly nothing in our everyday lives that could ever be anywhere close to 13 standard deviations above the norm — not a man who’s 8 feet tall, or 700 pounds, or blessed with a 200 IQ.When you’re 13 standard deviations ahead of any other season, it suggests somebody didn’t just get lucky — he got really, really good.“His hitting style was that he crowded the plate,” said Bill Stoneman, Hunt’s teammate for three seasons in Montreal, including his record-breaking campaign. “Back when we played, pitchers pitched inside a little more than they do now. When that pitch came inside, he didn’t budge. He just let the thing hit him.”“First I would blouse the uniform — this big, wool uniform, I would make sure it was nice and loose,” Hunt said. “Then I’d choke way up on the bat, and stand right on top of the plate. That way, I could still reach the outside pitch. That was the Gil Hodges philosophy on hitting: The two inches on the outside corner were the pitcher’s, the rest was his. I thought, ‘If I can take away those two inches, and he’s not perfect, I can put the ball in play and get some hits. And if he comes inside, I can get on base that way, too.’ ”This, to Hunt, was gamesmanship, a way for a power-deficient hitter to gain an edge on the pitcher both physically and mentally. It was also, if we’re applying the letter of baseball law, illegal. A right-handed batter, Hunt would set up with his left arm hanging over the plate. Major League Baseball’s Rule 6.08(b) stipulates that the batter must make an “attempt to avoid being touched by the ball” to be awarded first base after getting hit by a pitch. Hunt made no such attempt.“The ball would be headed toward his elbow or his ribcage,” said Dave Van Horne, who called Expos games on TV and radio for the first 32 years of the franchise’s existence. “He would turn his back away from the pitcher and deflect the ball with that spin move, so that he avoided those direct hits. To the average person, it would look like he was trying to get out of the way of the pitch, when, in fact, he just wanted to stand in there and take it.”“Did the umpires know what he was doing?” Van Horne asked rhetorically. “Sure. But I don’t think they wanted to get into many arguments with him!”At 6 feet tall, 186 pounds, Hunt wasn’t the biggest guy, even if he was strong for his size. But it was his fearlessness, as well as his quick and nasty temper, that earned him respect within the game. No other player, then or now, had the courage to flip baseballs back to pitchers after getting hit. Most players don’t want to piss off the guy who could hold your life in his hands, and really don’t want to do it when that guy is Bob Gibson.Never was Hunt’s win-at-all costs approach better on display than in 1971. His HBP pace started relatively slowly that season, with Hunt getting hit seven times in his first 33 games. Then on May 26, he put on a clinic, reaching base four times in five trips to the plate, via a walk, a trademark slap single, and two plunks in an 11-1 over the Braves. On June 6, Padres lefty Dave Roberts fired a nine-hit shutout against the Expos … and Hunt still found a way to get hit twice. On June 25, he absorbed three blows in a single day, with one HBP in the first game of a doubleheader, and two more in the nightcap; that first one came against Nolan Ryan, whose fastball could bore a hole into Fort Knox. Finally, on Aug. 7, Hunt led off the game against Reds right-hander Jim McGlothlin … and got nailed for the 32nd time that season, breaking the 20th-century record held by long-ago Cardinals outfielder Bobby Evans.But he still had 18 bruises and one major brawl to go. Ten days later, Hunt led off the top of the third against Padres righty Steve Arlin. He took a fastball in the ribs, winced, then watched the ball come to a dead stop right next to him. Keeping with tradition, Hunt picked the ball up and gently tossed it back to Arlin. His next at-bat came in the fifth, with a runner on first and nobody out. Again Arlin tried to come inside with a fastball. Again he whacked Hunt with the pitch, this time on the arm. The ball bounded a few feet up the first-base line. Hunt walked toward it, ready to scoop the ball up and lob it back. Padres catcher Bob Barton, widely regarded as a nice guy, had had enough of Hunt’s act. Barton scurried to the ball, and grabbed it before Hunt could get it. Hunt turned toward Barton, ripped his mask off with two hands, and punched him right in the jaw. A fight ensued, the benches emptied, and in the end Hunt was the only player ejected. He returned to the lineup the next day and got drilled by Padres lefty Fred Norman.Hunt took all of that beating with pride. He was keenly aware of his limited talent and reveled in beating his opponents with guile, and a mean streak.All that abuse took its toll over the years. Now 73 years old, Hunt can reel off his 15 surgeries, 12 of them from baseball: one on the left shoulder, four on the right, both knees, a steel rod in his back, you name it. And none of that counts the injuries he’d shake off to play the next day.5Hunt’s manager in Montreal, the equally scrappy Gene Mauch, knew that his second baseman frequently played hurt, so he’d occasionally lead off with Hunt on the road, then pull him in for a pinch-runner if he reached base to start the game. Don Drysdale once threw a fastball so hard, it left a baseball-shaped imprint on Hunt’s shoulder blade for weeks.Hunt eventually gave in, donning a protective rubber sleeve around his ribs that was so tight, it was painful to watch him pull it on. That one provision aside, Hunt’s body was fair game, with none of the modern armor that helped next-generation HBP leaders like Biggio trot to first base again and again.Jacques Doucet, a sportswriter for La Presse in Montreal for the Expos’ first three seasons and the French-language TV voice of the team for their final 33 years, was one of Hunt’s closest friends. They’d go on fishing trips together, with Hunt airing his grievances against half the league and Doucet sitting and listening. They remain close to this day, with Hunt offering little nuggets of baseball wisdom that never fail to make Doucet smile.“Ronnie always used to say one thing to me in jest,” Doucet said. “ ‘A lot of people give their body to science. I gave mine to baseball.’ ” 2Don Baylor198635 3Craig Biggio199734 9Craig Biggio200128 4Jason Kendall199731 Flipping balls back to pitchers wasn’t something Hunt reserved for titans of the game like Gibson. He did it nearly every time after getting plunked by a pitch. And nobody in baseball’s modern era has been hit more times in one season than Hunt. He retired in 1974 with 243 hit-by-pitches (HBPs)1Don Baylor broke that post-Dead Ball Era record in 1987, and Craig Biggio subsequently passed Baylor in 2005. Hughie Jennings remains the all-time leader with 287, but he played most of his career in the 19th century., but his record-breaking season came when he was playing for the Montreal Expos in 1971. That year, he got plunked 50 times, still the highest total for anyone after 1900.2Jennings did get hit 51 times in 1896. But when you consider that spitballs were legal (and incredibly hard to control) in the 19th century (thus causing more wayward balls to hit batters), and that the overall level of play in those days was much more uneven due to a lack of talent, Hunt’s total of 50 is more impressive.It’s one thing to be a record-holder. It’s quite another to absolutely obliterate the field in one statistical category. Check out how far ahead of the pack Hunt’s 50 HBPs look compared to all other post-1900 totals. 7Craig Wilson200430 8Fernando Vina200028 5Jason Kendall199831 6Steve Evans191031 PLAYERYEARHBP
Unbeaten Timothy Bradley defeated eight-time champion Manny Pacquiao with a controversial decision, taking the WBO welterweight title and throwing boxing’s mega-fight further up in the air.In a split decision that stunned most everyone in the arena, even many of his supporters, Bradley defeated Pacquiao to take the belt of the Filipino fighter and congressman and hand him his first loss since 2005. And it sets up a rematch, likely on November 10, and likely in Las Vegas again.Bradley remained undefeated, improving his record to 29-0, with 12 KOs. Pacquiao fell to 54-4-2, with 38 KOs, suffering his first loss since 2005, when he lost to Mexico’s Erik Morales.“Me and my team, we did it, we shocked the world like I said we would,” Bradley proclaimed. “I heard the boos at the end of the night, which is OK.“We definitely need to do this again in November, and let’s make it more decisive.”Source: Detroit Free Press
Matt BarnesSacramento Noah is more willing to shell out for tickets for some of his many New York supporters, but he has set a modest budget for himself. He is adamant that he won’t let things get as far out of hand as they did for Rose, who had dozens of friends and family members come to each home game in Chicago.“His situation got out of control to where he was scrambling, trying to round up tickets right before games,” Noah said. “I definitely don’t wanna get like Derrick was.”Rose said he developed a nightly routine before Bulls’ home games: Get to the arena three hours before tipoff to work on his body; sit in hot and cold tubs; and assign tickets for his loved ones to pick up. (Some players — including Louisiana native Langston Galloway, who joined the Pelicans this past summer — say they hate the inconvenience of creating ticket lists before games, as it interrupts pregame routines such as watching film of that night’s opponent.)“I ended up just buying a box [at the United Center]. Had to get anywhere from eight to 10 tickets every night, plus a [suite] that held 16 people. Probably 26 to 30 tickets a game, for every single home game,” said Rose, describing a batch of tickets with a face value of six figures each season. “That’s crazy, right?”Asked whether the Bulls gave him extra tickets or the suite since he was a star and 2011 MVP, Rose, who’s earning $21 million this season, responded, “What do you think? I wish it had been like that. I had to pay for everything.”3Rose wouldn’t say how much, exactly, he used to spend in Chicago on tickets. The Bulls confirmed that they didn’t give Rose any free tickets or discounts.Playing for your hometown team isn’t all ticket headaches; there’s plenty of upside, too.Howard, for instance, says he loves being able to enjoy regular Sunday dinners with his family. Bucks forward Steve Novak said that because he grew up an hour from Milwaukee and knew the city well before he signed there, he faces fewer potential distractions from basketball. And Wade said his ticket distribution has surprisingly become easier since signing with the Bulls.“When I used to come back to Chicago, it was always really hectic, because my family could only see me play in person once or twice a year. So for those games, I’d get about 50 tickets for my family. And that’s serious money,” said Wade, who added that he later vowed to never spend so much on tickets again. “Now I play here 41 times a year. So I can lower the number of tickets for each game and spread things out over the whole season. And it’s much easier.”Players said veterans generally are better about standing firm on money than their younger teammates. Many hire staff to help handle their ticket-distribution responsibilities so as not to hinder their game-to-game focus.Haslem said he used to buy 20 or more tickets for every home game — like Rose in Chicago — but began managing his finances better about six years into his career, when he put his stepmother in charge of his tickets.“I appointed her as my head of ticket sales, because she just tells everybody to go to hell. She don’t care,” Haslem said. “She tells people, ‘You ain’t been there with him since the beginning, so you ain’t coming to his games!’ ”Some players find that a good, old-fashioned guilt trip is the most effective way to get people to stop asking for tickets: Make them aware of how much the extra seats cost, and most people will think twice before requesting more.“With a lot of them, I don’t think they know that we have to pay for those extra tickets,” says Knicks forward and Brooklyn native Lance Thomas, who, until last season, never had a guaranteed contract and was careful with his money. “So I make sure to let them know afterwards, so it doesn’t become a habit.” Quincy AcyDallas Veteran players who joined a team within 100 miles of their birthplace this season After being traded from Chicago to New York this past summer, Derrick Rose was elated when free agent center Joakim Noah, his close friend and ex-Bulls teammate, signed with the Knicks. But Rose, who had played in his hometown of Chicago for eight years, had a piece of advice for Noah now that he’d be playing for a team a mile from where he grew up.“I just told him to be careful,” Rose said, after congratulating Noah, “because everybody’s going to ask you for tickets, and the demand is about to be crazy.”Noah is far from the only guy who’s getting a brisk education in what it’s like to play at home 41 times a year. An unprecedented number of NBA veterans signed with their hometown teams this past summer, and many of them are encountering an awkward predicament: What to do with all these seemingly random junior-high classmates who blitz them with ticket requests?According to the Elias Sports Bureau, 122 NBA veterans switched teams this past summer. Of that group, 10 — or 8 percent — joined a club within 100 miles of their birthplace, according to an analysis run by David Corby of Basketball-Reference.com at FiveThirtyEight’s request.1There’s no way of consistently defining NBA players’ hometowns that would work for every case. The definition we used generally identifies players most fans would consider to have returned to their hometown, but there are exceptions. For example, Dallas-area native Deron Williams’s 2015 signing with the Mavericks isn’t counted since he was born in West Virginia.Meanwhile, when there is more than one team within 100 miles of a player’s birthplace, he might be counted when joining a team that isn’t the closest to his hometown — even when he was previously playing for a team that’s closer. For instance, our analysis includes the trade that sent Philadelphia native Marc Jackson from the 76ers to the New Jersey Nets before the 2005-06 season. Distance between a player’s birthplace and his team was calculated as the crow flies. That’s the highest number of veteran players to make their way home during a single offseason since 1988, the year unrestricted free agency took root in the NBA, and more than triple the average annual number.2Basketball-Reference.com’s analysis counted players in the year they moved to their hometown teams. For consistency, that was considered the year before the season ended, even in the case of the season after the 1998-1999 lockout, which both started and ended in 1999; transactions before that season are counted in our analysis as 1998. The analysis excludes rookies and veterans with fewer than five career win shares as of Jan. 30, as well as players who were acquired by their hometown teams but never appeared on the roster during the season. PLAYERTEAM JOINED Jeff TeagueIndiana Langston GallowayNew Orleans Randy FoyeBrooklyn Dwyane WadeChicago Cole AldrichMinnesota Joakim NoahNew York Dwight HowardAtlanta Gerald HendersonPhiladelphia Excludes players with fewer than five career win shares as of Jan. 30, as well as players who were acquired by their hometown teams but haven’t appeared on the roster during the season. Players listed in descending order of win shares. It’s unclear what caused the spike in players going home this past summer. It might have been a fluke. But perhaps LeBron James’s decision to return to Cleveland in 2014 for a second stint with the Cavaliers, 30 miles from his hometown of Akron, Ohio, influenced more players to consider the possibility.“I think that’s definitely had an impact,” said Miami native Udonis Haslem, who has spent his entire NBA career with the Heat and watched ex-teammates James and Dwyane Wade leave South Beach to go back home to Cleveland and Chicago, respectively. “There’s nothing like playing for the team you grew up watching as a kid. You can’t replace that.”That sense of home initially appealed to 2015 All-Star Jeff Teague, who was thrilled to be traded from Atlanta to play for his hometown Indiana Pacers in June. (The three-team swap — which sent George Hill, also an Indianapolis native, away from his hometown club — was the only trade to bring a veteran back to his hometown last offseason. The other nine players making a return trip all signed as free agents.)Teague, a point guard with a mural of Indianapolis tattoos on his left arm, says he prioritizes his family; after the trade he moved into the basement of the house he bought for his parents. But as much as he loves being around his folks, the 28-year-old said in an interview that playing at home “is definitely not what I expected” so far. It’s been challenging to deal with so many people coming out of the woodwork to ask him for tickets, Teague said.“Honestly, it’s a lot easier playing in a place where you don’t know anyone, because no one really bothers you,” said Teague. “At home, everybody knows you. People ask for everything. And I try to tell them, ‘Talk to my parents,’ or just turn them down. But it’s hard to say no. Sometimes I just end up giving into it.”Requests, some of them from family friends he doesn’t know, weigh on Teague. “I end up having to buy and buy and buy, because there’s no way around it,” he said. “It’s not cheap, and it’s definitely not ideal.”Generally speaking, NBA teams allow their players to give out three complimentary tickets for home games, and two free tickets for road contests. But some teams handle their distribution differently, according to interviews with two dozen players in NBA locker rooms. A few clubs offer better seats than others, and in a handful of smaller markets — where sellouts are rarer — teams are occasionally more flexible in letting players have extra tickets.When players need more than their own allotment of free tickets, they do have options. The most common solution is to borrow a teammate’s seats that night, then return the favor later in the season, whenever the club visits that teammate’s hometown.“That usually works. But it can get a little hairy if you don’t ask people far enough in advance,” said Cole Aldrich, who grew up near Minneapolis and signed to play for the Timberwolves this past summer. He recalled a preseason game in Kansas City, Missouri, that led to a ticket rush between him and teammates Andrew Wiggins and Brandon Rush, who “were all fighting over our teammates’ extras right up until the game,” Aldrich said. (High ticket demand can extend beyond players’ hometowns: Aldrich, Wiggins and Rush starred at Kansas in college.)Players can often buy additional tickets if they run out of their own and can’t get any from teammates. But not everyone is willing to pay for acquaintances and distant relatives to attend games for free.“I bought my parents courtside seats, and I got a suite for my kids. Other than that, people are grown and there’s this thing called Ticketmaster that they can use,” said Dwight Howard, the Atlanta native who in July signed with the Hawks. “Everybody knew I was gonna handle it that way, because I sat down with them in advance and told them I’m not spending extra money on things like that.”
MILWAUKEE — The Bucks have dropped only one contest all postseason, but for much of Wednesday night’s game against Toronto, Milwaukee was falling victim to the same problems that doomed them in that defeat.The Raptors, just like the Celtics in Game 1 a round earlier, were walling off the painted area with several stoppers, making life difficult around the rim for likely MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. Those efforts in half-court situations often dared the Bucks’ role players to shoot from outside — something Milwaukee was ready and willing to do, but generally failing with.But unlike in that loss to Boston, the Bucks found their stroke just in the nick of time against Toronto, and they paired that offensive breakthrough with a defensive effort that stifled the Raptors’ scorers late. The result: The Bucks earned a 108-100 victory here in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals.Milwaukee big man Brook Lopez (29 points) was sensational, hitting three triples in the final quarter, including what turned out to be the game-sealing three with just under two minutes to play. He helped turn the tide in what up to that point had been a dismal 6-of-35 performance from deep by the Bucks, the most prolific 3-point shooting club after the Rockets during the regular season.Even after Lopez and his Milwaukee teammates shot 5-of-10 from there in the fourth, the Bucks finished at just 25 percent (11 of 44) on the night, easily one of their worst showings all year. On many levels, that — paired with a relatively mild night from Antetokounmpo (24 points and 14 rebounds on 7-of-16 shooting) — suggested that the Raptors were in great shape to steal a game on the road. And none of that even covers the Raptors’ biggest bright spot: Guard Kyle Lowry, who’s been impactful but inefficient on offense during these playoffs, having a stellar 7-of-9 night from deep. Lowry went scoreless in Toronto’s playoff opener but was decisive on Wednesday, pouring in 30 points.Yet it was all for naught in a game that will haunt the Raptors if they ultimately lose the series. Toronto got almost nothing after halftime from its non-All-Stars. Excluding Lowry and Kawhi Leonard, the Raptors shot 1 for 23 from the floor in the second half (and that lonely basket was a third-quarter buzzer-beating triple from Pascal Siakam). Arguably even worse: Outside of Lowry, no Toronto player even scored a basket in the fourth period, a span in which his teammates shot 0-for-15. Leonard had two free throws; Siakam had one. No one else scored.Norm Powell missed on his lone attempt. Fred VanVleet and Danny Green misfired twice each. Leonard and Siakam tried and failed three times apiece. And Marc Gasol bricked all four times.Video Playerhttps://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/MISSES.mp400:0000:0003:24Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.It’s fair to wonder if fatigue is partly to blame for the Raptors’ shooting struggles — they missed a handful of open looks down the stretch after entering the series with far less rest than Milwaukee got. But the Bucks’ No. 1 defense also deserves credit for making life tough on Toronto.Antetokounmpo said after the game that Milwaukee, which deployed Khris Middleton and Malcolm Brogdon on Leonard, sought to push the Raptors star to his left throughout the night. The numbers bear that out: 11 of Leonard’s 15 drives were to his left on Wednesday (or 73 percent), according to data from Second Spectrum. That’s a pretty substantial shift from what he normally does: 57 percent of his drives were to his right over the course of this season. (The Bucks have made this a regular part of their defensive effort against elite scorers, most notably against lefty James Harden, whom they had success against by forcing him to his right.)Using other wings on Toronto’s best player, a replication of what the Bucks did during the regular season, allowed Antetokounmpo the freedom and energy to roam and offer help on D. He made a pair of huge plays on that end to stop the fire-breathing Lowry in the fourth quarter, impressively forcing the guard into a double-dribble early in the period before literally swatting away the Raptors’ last-ditch effort in the closing seconds of the ballgame.It’s worth mentioning that Toronto did plenty right in this game, too. Unlike in Game 7 against Philly, in which a handful of Raptors looked almost afraid to shoot, Lowry and others weren’t hesitant on open looks, even if their shots were off the mark in the second half. And the Raptors’ defensive plan likely would have earned them a victory had it not been for Lopez’s outburst in the last period. Early on, they swarmed Antetokounmpo whenever he entered the lane. The Bucks shot 23 percent (3 for 13) on drives during the first half, down from the 55 percent Milwaukee shot in drive situations in the first two rounds, according to data from ESPN’s Stats & Information Group. Toronto found success when it forced Giannis into half-court scenarios during that span, limiting him to just 3-of-9 shooting from the field with three turnovers. (By contrast, he shot 3 of 4 during the first half when he managed to get out in transition.)Video Playerhttps://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/GIANNIS3.mp400:0000:0001:00Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.The real difference was Lopez, a player the Bucks signed for a criminally cheap amount of cap space this past offseason, finding his touch from outside. His last triple stemmed from a play on which the Raptors, again concerned about an Antetokounmpo drive through the lane, overcommitted with one too many help defenders. Gasol helped too far down into the paint on Giannis, leaving Lopez wide open behind the left wing. Lopez’s play will be worth watching going forward. If Toronto can’t slow him down with their current lineup, the Raptors may have to go smaller in hopes of speeding up the game, which would make it more challenging for Lopez to defend and stay on the floor.Toronto showed it can more than hang with the Bucks. But given that Milwaukee shot unusually poorly from outside and didn’t get an otherworldly performance from its superstar, the Raptors should be kicking themselves that they didn’t close the game better and find a way to steal one on the road. Opportunities like those don’t come very often against teams of Milwaukee’s caliber.Check out our latest NBA predictions.
Here’s another stunning aspect of Germany’s 7-1 domination of Brazil on Tuesday: We have a new best soccer team in the world. The blowout changed the landscape of ESPN’s Soccer Power Index (SPI) ratings. Going into the match, here’s what the SPI top five looked like:Despite somewhat unimpressive play in the World Cup, Brazil still ranked first over Argentina by a healthy margin, and the Germans ranked fourth. But when ESPN’s Stats & Info team recalculated the SPI on Wednesday morning, a very different picture emerged:Essentially, Germany’s incredibly lopsided victory caused it to flip spots with Brazil. Now the Germans have a sizable lead over the rest of the field (nearly as big a separation as Brazil had going into the tournament), and Brazil has dropped to fourth behind the Argentines and Colombians. (Note, too, that Colombia’s SPI dropped marginally, because Brazil’s loss affected the strength-of-schedule component of its rating.)SPI was wrong Tuesday in its estimation of the relative qualities of Germany and Brazil, even after adjusting for the loss of Brazil’s superstar forward, Neymar. But the good thing about a rating system like SPI is that it can use new information to revise its estimates; the stronger the new evidence, the greater the adjustment. And a 7-1 win is strong evidence that SPI had Germany rated too low and Brazil too highly.
College football’s championship will be decided via a playoff bracket for the first time this year, rather than media polling or the near universally loathed Bowl Championship Series. You can read about the details of the new setup here, but the basic gist is that a 13-person committee of experts will come out with their own weekly rankings of the top 25 teams starting Oct. 28 and culminating in a Dec. 7 ranking of the top four teams in order to seed a four-team playoff.The committee is new and its members have yet to release any rankings, so it’s hard to say what their voting tendencies will be. But it’s probably a good bet that they won’t stray too far from long-standing rankings such as the Coaches Poll and the Associated Press Top 25. And if the AP’s rankings (since 1992) are any guide, now is when the existing Top 4 teams start to solidify their places in the final, pre-bowl edition of the regular-season rankings.Up until Week 5 of the college football season, the schools on the periphery of the AP’s Top 4 typically have a slightly lower probability of finishing the year among the (now-coveted) top quartet of teams than those currently occupying those slots. Starting in Week 6 — and accelerating in Weeks 7-9, the current stage of the 2014 campaign — the teams in the top four slots begin to pull away from the rest of the pack, increasing their probability of ending the regular season among the “Final Four.”That’s good news for Florida State, Auburn, Mississippi State and Ole Miss, each of which found themselves sitting in the AP’s Top 4 after the dust cleared on this past weekend’s wild spate of upsets. Teams that survive midseason aren’t completely in the clear — historically, there’s still about a two-in-five chance that one of the teams in the existing Top 4 falls out after Week 9 — but teams in that position are significantly more assured of being “in” now than they were just two weeks ago.
OSU freshman defender Lauren Boyle (6) during a game against Minnesota State on Oct. 23. Credit: Courtesy of OSUThe Ohio State women’s ice hockey team recorded its third series split of the season at the University of Minnesota Duluth over the weekend, continuing the slow but positive steps the team has taken in recent weeks.The Buckeyes (9-18-1, 5-16-1) defeated the Bulldogs (10-17-1, 7-14-1) by a score of 6-4 on Friday with six players for the Scarlet and Gray registering two or more points. Minnesota Duluth snapped OSU’s three-game winning streak the following day, however, as the Bulldogs scored a goal with less than two minutes remaining to win it 4-3.On Friday, the Bulldogs used three different goalkeepers to try to stop the OSU offense. Minnesota Duluth freshman Maddie Rooney allowed three Buckeye goals in the first period, which came from sophomore defenseman Dani Sadek, sophomore forward Lauren Spring and freshman defenseman Lauren Boyle. Both Spring and Boyle’s goals came on Buckeye power plays. The Bulldogs also managed to get three goals past OSU sophomore goalie Alex LaMere during the first period.Minnesota Duluth put Karissa Grapp into goal to start the second period, but she also struggled to stop the red-hot OSU offense. Junior forward Claudia Kepler opened up the second period scoring, lighting the lamp 1:17 into the period. Senior forward Kendall Curtis found the net a little over a minute later, and a fellow senior forward, Melani Moylan, added a power-play goal to stretch the OSU lead to three goals.Minnesota Duluth changed goalkeepers after the three Buckeye goals, but the three-goal lead proved to be too much for the Bulldogs. Freshman Morgan Morse scored halfway through the third period for UMD, which ended the scoring for the game.On Saturday, Minnesota Duluth jumped out to a two-goal lead in the first five minutes of the game off goals from Morse and Katherine McGovern. The Buckeyes were able to answer with less than a minute left in the period with a goal from Kepler to cut the Bulldogs lead in half.OSU senior forward Julia McKinnon scored halfway through the second period to tie the game. About a minute later, Curtis scored for the second night in a row for a 3-2 lead.Stepping it up to avoid the sweep at home, though, the Bulldogs tied the game less than five minutes later off a goal from Ashleigh Brykaliuk. The game remained tied through most of the third period, but Morse scored her second goal of the game and third of the series with less than two minutes remaining to give the Bulldogs the 4-3 win and a series split.The Buckeyes are scheduled to return home next weekend to face the University of Wisconsin (25-1-1, 19-1-1). Wisconsin sits at the top of the Western Collegiate Hockey Standings heading into the matchup in Columbus. The puck is slated to drop at the OSU Ice Rink at 7:07 p.m. on Friday and 4:07 p.m. the day following.
Ohio State women’s hockey defenseman Jincy Dunne surveys the ice trying to find an open skater against Minnesota on Oct. 21, 2016. Credit: Courtesy of OSU AthleticsWhen redshirt freshman defenseman Jincy Dunne signed to play for Ohio State women’s hockey in 2015, she had a resume brimming with on-ice accomplishments and was looking ahead to a promising future at OSU. A member of the U.S. Women’s National Hockey team for multiple years, Dunne was set to represent the U.S. at the U18 Women’s World Championships that same year. There was nowhere to go but up, until Dunne encountered the biggest roadblock of her career. Shortly after scoring the winning goal for the U.S. in the gold medal game of the world championships, Dunne skated head-on into boards, resulting in the worst concussion of her career. The injury forced her to sit out for the 2015-16 season, putting her time with OSU women’s hockey on hold.“It was hard. Obviously, I wanted to be a part of the team, just be with the girls and everything they were going through,” Dunne said. “But in the same breath, I was trying to look at it as a chance. I’m a big believer that everything happens for a reason, so I was just really trying to take a step back and learn about where I was and what position I was in.” After a challenging offseason, Dunne, who is often referred to as the Jack Eichel of women’s college hockey, has returned to the ice at full strength, and is looking to prove herself as a tough competitor and dedicated teammate. “I know coming back from an injury … it’s just frustrating at first,” Dunne said. “So really (I’m) just focusing on trying to be a good teammate and trying to stay positive through all of it.” Dunne has been quick to make an impact on OSU women’s hockey, playing in every game so far in the 2016-17 season. She is tied for second in points on the team, with two goals and seven assists. OSU coach Nadine Muzerall said that Dunne’s work ethic both on and off the ice has helped elevate the Buckeyes’ overall intensity . “She is an outstanding, solid defenseman,” Muzerall said. “Her vision on the ice is always two steps ahead of everyone else, so her playmaking is sensational. She also has incredible hands in tight areas.” Despite being ranked near the top of the roster, Dunne remains humbled and focused on her one true goal: playing the sport that she loves. “I really try to go out there and just be fearless and not worry about making mistakes or being as good as I once was, but instead to really just enjoy it, have fun, live in the moment and do my best,” Dunne said. Her dedication to hockey and OSU doesn’t go unnoticed by her teammates, especially sophomore forward Maddy Field, who said Dunne’s encouragement and leadership keep the team going through tough times “She knows that she’s a very big player on our team,” Field said. “She’s very calm and collected on the ice and she knows that she’s kind of like the quarterback back there. She knows how to calm us down and get us pumped up right.” Even with all the praise and accomplishments, Dunne isn’t too caught up in becoming a decorated player while at OSU. She said she’s more concerned with enjoying her time here and be the best teammate she can be. “I just want to be a part of it,” Dunne said. “I just want people to remember me as someone who really helped build something and who really cared and put her heart and soul into the program and her teammates, and really just tried to leave this program better than she found it.”
For baseball enthusiasts, Opening Day means adults take off work, children are taken out of school, and college students skip class to witness the start of the MLB season.There’s nothing like it, especially in Cincinnati, where Opening Day is an unofficial holiday. There’s the Findlay Market Opening Day Parade, which mazes through the streets of the Queen City. There are the pregame meals at Skyline Chili, where you can eat the best chili around. And then there’s the actual game.It’s the only game of the year that it doesn’t bother me if the Reds lose. Okay, it doesn’t bother me as much. It’s also the only game where all the pregame shenanigans don’t bother me at all. How can you not get goose bumps watching a fly-over with four F-16s? Or be moved hearing the National Anthem sung by former Bengal tight end Ben Utecht?The excitement and pure bliss in the atmosphere is contagious. If there was this much optimism in the world every day, depression would cease to exist.That optimism also translates to the season itself. Whether you’re a Yankees fan or a Royals fan, it’s impossible to not have some glimmer of hope at the onset of the season. That brings me back to the Reds, who are trying to reverse a decade of futility.There are no excuses for the Reds this year. Their young guys took their licks last season. Right fielder Jay Bruce’s batting average hovered around the Mendoza line for much of year before breaking his wrist. First baseman Joey Votto battled depression and anxiety issues following the death of his father.The young starting pitching also struggled. Homer Bailey wasn’t consistent until the end of the season. Johnny Cueto was consistently inconsistent. Edinson Volquez blew out his elbow in June.But there is palpable hope for the Reds this year. Their rotation of Aaron Harang, Bronson Arroyo, Cueto, Bailey and Mike Leake is second-best in the division behind the St. Louis Cardinals.The strength of the team is the bullpen, which ranked third in the NL last year in ERA and is anchored by All-Star closer Francisco “Coco” Cordero. Setting up Cordero is hard-throwing right-hander Nick Masset and ageless left-handed Arthur Rhodes.The lineup is stocked with both youngsters and veterans. Alarmingly quick center fielder Drew Stubbs and rock-solid shortstop Orlando Cabrera will be at the top of the batting order. Votto, second baseman Brandon Phillips and third baseman Scott Rolen will be the main run-producers. Bruce, catcher Ramon Hernandez and a platoon of speed demon Chris Dickerson and Shrek look-alike Jonny Gomes will round out the lineup in left field.Votto is on the cusp of being a perennial 30-home run, 100-plus RBI player. Bruce and Phillips both should have 25 home runs and 90 or more RBIs. Cabrera, Rolen and Hernandez are veteran hitters with long histories of being line-drive machines and clutch-run producers. Add in the speed of Stubbs and Dickerson, and the Reds should end their run-scoring struggles.But as always, there are “ifs” with the Reds. For baseball’s oldest franchise, injuries derailed the team last season. The opening day lineup only played 10 games together. It very well could happen again this year, as one of the team’s glaring weaknesses is lack of depth.However, for the first time in years, roster competition is fierce. The Reds’ farm system depth is rapidly improving under general manager Walt Jocketty, who dipped into the past to recruit former Reds greats such as Eric Davis, Barry Larkin and Joe Morgan to come to spring training as guest instructors.The team also has a handful of wild cards. Volquez should be back by August at the latest and could contribute during a potential stretch run. Youngsters Juan Francisco and Yonder Alonso look like the next David Ortiz and Pablo Sandoval. The Reds also have Travis Wood, who was the MLB.com Double-A Starting Pitcher of the Year, and Leake, who went 16-1 with a 1.17 ERA last season for Arizona State, waiting in the fold.And of course, no mention of Reds’ prospects is complete without left-handed Cuban defector Aroldis Chapman. There’s no precedent for what Chapman can mean to the Reds. Armed with a fastball topping out in triple digits, a Randy Johnson slider and a rapidly developing changeup, Chapman has the ability to be a dominant No. 1 starter. The Reds are doing the right thing by shipping him to the minors to get him some seasoning and to adjust to the American way of life.But my favorite thing about Chapman has nothing to do with his potential. It’s that he’s going to be essentially immune from pressure. Before he defected, Chapman was pitching in Cuba … for food. If he did not pitch well, he couldn’t feed his family. When he’s clinging to a one-run lead in the bottom of the seventh inning and staring down Albert Pujols with the bases loaded and the division lead on the line, Chapman won’t back down. He’ll accept the challenge.Which is what Chapman and the rest of the Reds need to do: embrace the pressure, revel in it and deliver a winning season to a city that’s dying for an October pennant race. Despite an Opening Day loss, there remains hope.