Sometimes basketball is as simple as having taller guys everywhere

Nikola Jokic in Game 1: 27 points, 10 rebounds, 14 assists

I wouldn’t pretend to be a basketball expert. My colleague Stephen will be around later to do that stuff. I do know there are myriad ways of designing an offense and defense and how to guard pick-and-rolls and rotations and a bunch of other things that coaches play with throughout a playoff series. They hunt matchups, switch coverages, run counters off their counters.

Or if you’re the Denver Nuggets, you just have guys that are taller than the other guys at every position.

It seemed pretty simple last night, as any fan could tune in and after a few seconds say to themselves, “Wait, I remember this from grade school.” It was a little more complicated, but not much. The first quarter saw Aaron Gordon run whatever schmuck was guarding him right into the post and sometimes through the stanchion. Then it was Nikola Jokic, basically moonwalking into yet another triple-double, simply looking over whatever defense the Heat wanted to throw at him and finding the open man either under the hoop or at the three-point line. Or maybe it was Jamal Murray shooting over whoever.

On the other end, unless Miami could heave in a streak of three-pointers, it looked a lot like them getting anywhere near the line and “NOPE.” Passes out beyond the arc to start all over again or risk getting their shot slapped right back down their esophagus. We know the Heat survive on grinding through a game but this was something else. This was a little brother getting typewriter’d by big brother and landing only a few blows from way out of reach. Every mini-Heat run would have to be classified as “adorable” before the Nuggets would yawn, give the ball to Jokic at the nail, and then either watch him mosey to the rim or find yet another open teammate that we couldn’t even see on TV until he got the ball.

Sure, the Heat were probably still working out the stiffness in the legs from their seven games against the Celtics. The altitude didn’t help. The Nuggets were rested. Except with two days off before Game 2, the Nuggets aren’t going to be any less rested. And the altitude will still be there. And they’ll still be bigger in every spot than Miami. And not just bigger, but just as athletic if not more so. They’ll continue to weave their gorgeous patterns and continue to just be open whenever Jokic decides they are. And when that doesn’t work they’ll just bully the Heat in the paint. And then they can just shoot over them. And dare Miami to keep hitting threes at their abnormal pace, because they’re not going to get much inside. Especially if Jimmy Butler is going to take 14 shots, and eschew doing much of anything as he really has the past three games.

You knew it when you were 8. You knew it when you were 17. You know it now. In basketball, sometimes the bigger guy just wins.

New NWSL team Bay FC unveils crest, colors

The new NWSL team that will join the league next year, now known as Bay FC, unveiled their crest and colors yesterday. Gotta say this will play quite nicely:

MLB the good guy in Diamond Sports ordeal?

To keep coming back to a small miracle, MLB continues to look like the well-thought-out good guy now that the bankruptcy court has ruled that Diamond Sports has to pay the money they signed up to pay when they acquired the TV rights to 14 baseball teams, and this will eventually lead to MLB landing the broadcasting when Diamond fails to do so.

It’s hard to make Rob Manfred and his cohorts look like the cogent and decent ones, but Sinclair has managed it, and if nothing else Sinclair will be getting out of the baseball business with their tail between their legs. Whatever that means for a billion-dollar corporation.

Still waiting for MLB to fuck this up though.

Max Scherzer hates the pitch clock

It would be an awfully chalky pick to opt for Max Scherzer to be the only one constantly complaining about the pitch clock, but it also would assuredly cash:

The funny thing about this is Scherzer asking why MLB is making its umps make a big deal about one warm-up pitch, when we could all ask why he’s making such a big deal about one warm-up pitch. Baseball players have always been psychotic about their routines, and yet most of them have adjusted with no fuss to this season’s rules. But Scherzer is going to have his say, because that’s who he is. Must be so hard to be that red-assed all the time. Think it would be hard to sit down for four consecutive minutes.

Follow Sam on Twitter @Felsgate.

Karim Benzema is the latest to take the blood money

Karim Benzema is headed to the land of beheaded journalists and oppressed women.

And people thought MLS was a retirement league.

Karim Benzema, whose majestical powers as a #9 really only started to wane a touch this season — he is the reigning Ballon D’Or winner after all — is reportedly set to take a huge offer from Saudi Arabia to leave Real Madrid after the season concludes this weekend. The details of the offer are quite something, as they don’t come from a specific team. Reportedly, Benzema can choose whom he’d like to play for, will pay no taxes, will keep 100 percent of his image rights, and be paid $100 million a year for two seasons. Not bad work if you can get it.

Or is it? It is an insane amount of money, and you’d be hard-pressed to find too many people with the willpower to turn it down. Certainly, Benzema’s time at Madrid would probably have only lasted one more season at most (he’s 35), and after that, he would either be looking at dropping to a mid-table Spanish side or going back home to France in the non-PSG division. And nowhere would he be making anything close to $200 million for two seasons.

The last part of the offer, being an ambassador for Saudi Arabia’s World Cup bid, is what kind of sticks in the craw. We just learned what a shitshow it was having the World Cup in Qatar and all the atrocities FIFA gave license to for that country to prepare and host the tournament. And that’s before you get to the much less important but still noticeable mess of having to move the tournament to the winter again. Things would be no different in Saudi Arabia, who don’t have any more warm feelings for migrant workers or women or the LGTBQ+ community or journalists, as it turns out.

And yet, Benzema, for a price, is willing to stand in front of everyone to tell them what a great host Saudi Arabia would be, and that there won’t be any problems. No one thinks the waters run too deep with Benzema, as this is the guy who went on trial for trying to blackmail one of his international teammates over a sex tape. What little soul he may or may not have clearly has a price.

And yet beyond handing Benzema an ocean liner of cash, it’s hard to know what else is accomplished. There’s been the pox of “sportswashing” on the scene for a while now, but it’s hard to figure out what it’s washing. Everyone knows the blood that these regimes in the Middle East are soaked in and the havoc they’ve caused in places such as Yemen. We also know they have more money than we all can possibly conceive of. And we know all of our governments are basically beholden to them as long as everyone’s economy runs on oil and fossil fuels. They basically remain a tourist destination for the ultra-rich and no one else, because no one else can afford to go there. It’s all in stasis.

But the money makes it so no one has to care. LIV golfers are laughingstocks amongst golf fans and are seen as easily bought, soulless robots. But they are being paid enough to not care, and certainly, there’s always a level of money where one can live without the esteem of people they’ll never meet. No one’s ever going to take the Saudi league seriously, if that is indeed the end game here with Benzema and Ronaldo before him, and yet those players, and managers that go there will get awfully rich doing so.

If the Qatari or Saudi or UAE rulers were hoping for just a nice coat of paint from bankrolling the world’s biggest clubs and warping their leagues and by paying galactic sums of money to bring over-the-hill players to their league to shine to the rest of the world, it’s hard to see how that’s happening. It just brings what they’ve tried to keep under wraps more to the surface. Would as many people know about the modern slavery in Qatar is they didn’t have the World Cup? Unlikely. Doesn’t mean much was done about it, but it certainly didn’t make Qatar look any better.

As for the pure football matters, Benzema’s departure from the Spanish capital throws the striker market this summer into even more upheaval, as they, Chelsea, Manchester United, and Bayern Munich will be looking for #9s now. Dusan Vlaovic’s, Victor Osimhen’s, Lautaro Martinez’s, and Harry Kane’s agents are probably very aroused right now. And maybe one day they’ll all end up in Saudi Arabia for the price of the GDP of France.

Follow Sam on Twitter @Felsgate.

Don Callis shows everyone what wrestling heat really looks like


Pro wrestling is America’s most enduring art form. Which might tell you a lot about us as a country, but whatever it tells you you probably already knew. It predates movies, rock music, jazz, baseball, and even the cheeseburger. Wrestling is the only thing we do well that keeps going. And occasionally, there are moments, or whole segments that feel like they’re a part of the entire history of the business. Something that could be dropped into the 1930s or 60s, or 80s, and it wouldn’t look or feel much different.

This could have happened anywhere, in any theater or armory, or carnival ground, and it would get to the heart of professional wrestling. Don Callis didn’t have to say a word, the arena in San Diego was boiling over the minute he stepped onto the ramp to approach the ring. This is Greek theater. He might as well have carried one of those big masks with the frown on it to signal to everyone he was the villain, except he didn’t have to. There is something guttural, visceral to the outpouring of bile towards Callis that you simply don’t get in any other live experience, or even on TV. Anyone watching at home could not only hear the boos of the in-arena crowd, but feel the ones coming from everyone else watching on TV too, and vice versa.

Callis, the genius that he is, knew when to pull himself away from the mic to stare into the crowd to stoke the flames even more, and when to shout over the cacophony to deliver his promo, which only enraged the crowd more. It’s one thing to give the crowd power to stop your promo, and it’s another to stick it to them by showing that they can’t actually stop you. Each builds on top of each other.

Callis turned the AEW world against him by not only turning on Kenny Omega at the end of his cage match with Jon Moxley, but by then ending the riotous “Anarchy In The Arena” match at Sunday’s Double Or Nothing PPV with his new protege Konosuke Takeshita, whom Callis turned heel from being one of the company’s biggest babyfaces. But it takes more than what’s written out in that sentence, and it’s the way that Callis carries himself that takes this from being merely good to great heel manager work and into the stratosphere.

There are a few ways to go about being a heel. There’s the current face of the company MJF, whose insecurities are out there for all to see that he simply weaponizes against everyone else. It’s not hard to see MJF’s jealousy of everyone and everything played off as arrogance that he doesn’t need any of those things that he so clearly wants. MJF is no less an expert in this fashion.

Wow, what an asshole

And then there’s Callis, who’s simply just under a delusion of his own grandeur. He doesn’t think he’s covering anything up, he believes this shit! There is no heart-to-heart with himself in the mirror when no one’s around. His assuredness is what drives a crowd into a fury because we all know he can’t even hear us, really. The payoff in wrestling is always the heel’s world crumbling down. Eventually, MJF will come face to face with what he isn’t and doesn’t have, but we already know that he knows it’s lurking. Callis, on the other hand, will have it come crashing down around his ears, with the added surprise that it was all an illusion. He will be blindsided. This is what Jay White has been playing at in Japan for years, always getting his toes up to the line of a life-altering revelation before slithering back into the world he’s created around himself that isn’t real. Callis is doing it bigger and bolder.

To watch Callis puff out his chest, to the point you wonder if he isn’t straining his back, and his assured, air-horn delivery that evokes memories of that kid in high school you could never win an argument with simply because he refused to ever admit he was wrong, is to watch a genius in getting your blood to curdle.

Seeing Callis stand amongst that ravenous ocean of an angry crowd is a throughline to the entire history of wrestling. Managers like him have stood against that crest in WWE or WWF or WCW or in the territories or well before. Maybe it’s glossier now. It has new tweaks. It’s on TV. But in the end, it’s the same. He has touched a nerve in fans, he made us all feel something, we are in the story, desperate to see him get his. It is as simple as wanting to see a self-deluded, pompous windbag simply get punched, or driven through a table. But it is so much more as well.

Follow Sam on Twitter @Felsgate while he prays for Mercedes’s ankle to heal.

The past, present and future of Ted Lasso

Ted Lasso cast members pose for a portrait at the Four Seasons Hotel in L.A.

The landing was stuck. Many storylines came to a close in the Ted Lasso season-three finale, with the main timeline of the show likely over based on the perfection that was the closing montage. There’s no way we’ve seen the last of all of these characters, whether a spinoff called “AFC Richmond” or a buddy-cop movie featuring Roy Kent and Jamie Tartt is in the cards. Maybe I’m in denial that one of the best shows of the last decade is now done.

Where do things stand with all the major players on the show? Here are the details of their journeys and what possibly would come from a future appearance from any of the characters, starting with the show’s namesake. Obviously, massive spoilers ahead.

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As the show went, Lasso did, which is the most obvious thing to say as the series wasn’t called Edwin Akufo. Lasso is the surest bet on this list to be done, or only have a brief cameo with the character in the future. He was the vocal focal point and he had the longest and most fulfilling journey and is back in the US.

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The owner of AFC Richmond now owns 51 percent of the team and runs into Matthijs at the end of the season after spending a night with him in Amsterdam during the team’s mid-season road trip. A show focused on Hannah Waddingham’s character would be welcomed by me, but a spinoff would probably be better suited for other characters to star in.

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The former owner of AFC Richmond and now West Ham United was the needed villain for most of this season and influenced Nathan Shelley to become an awful human being for most of season three. We’ll likely never see Mannion again as he’s made enough of an ass of himself.

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Now running her own public-relations agency, Jones didn’t end the series with a special boo, like most of us expected her to, denying both Kent and Tartt in the season finale.

But she seemed plenty happy with how she’s involved in everyone’s life.

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From AFC Richmond captain, to assistant coach to ending season three as the Greyhounds’ new head coach. Kent not being as stuck up and willing to let loose and others in was a major theme throughout the series. And we see him at Dr. Fieldstone’s office in the closing montage. Props for the show and actor Brett Goldstein for how much range Kent was able to show.

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From an overconfident young star, to reality TV dropout, to the central figure of Richmond’s switch to total football and being the most unselfish teammate of all time, Tartt showed how to properly absorb the limelight. And we saw he started to rebuild his relationship with his father too.

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The right winger and restaurant owner is one of the most loyal characters on the show, wavering from Richmond or from who he truly is. He’s the vice-captain at Richmond and finally gets his call-up to the Nigerian national team after the end of Lasso’s third season in charge at Richmond.

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One of the delightful figures of AFC Richmond, with Dottie Lasso making sure to mention how he was the player she wanted to meet most. We see him at the end of the series as a key figure for the Mexican national team and kissing two women at Coach Beard’s wedding. Truly a superstar. Speaking of Beard …

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Ted Lasso’s right-hand man for his entire coaching career stays in England at the end of the series because he’s in love with Jane and he marries her with everyone but Lasso (that was weird) in attendance. We find out his real first name is Willis. And he’s also an assistant with Shelley under Kent’s first Richmond staff.

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The former kit-man to assistant coach, then Richmond exile and leading West Ham to Champions League positioning in the Premier League, to “differences” with Mannion that led to him quitting the Hammers and finding a girlfriend in Jade. No one had more of a showing-all-sides-of-your-personality journey in season three than Shelley.

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Probably the breakout star of season three, with him being closeted being an early, major storyline of the season.

He eventually comes out to his team at halftime of a match against Brighton, where he leads a second-half comeback with two assists.

Hughes also gets called up to the Welsh national team and is seen kissing boyfriend Michael after the final game of the season and Beard’s wedding.

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Oddly enough, Higgins’ character wasn’t involved in many major storylines of season three and was used as the comedic glue to keep the rest of the show together. Like when he spilled tea on himself in his office or his joyful prance into Lasso’s office for a meeting of the Diamond Dogs.

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Formerly of The Independent, Crimm spends season three writing a book about AFC Richmond and changes the title in the final parts of the season at Lasso’s request. He also comes out as gay to Hughes after seeing him kissing Michael away from his teammates. His last appearance of the series is at a book signing and we see on the cover that it features a very brief foreword by Roy Kent.

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Ted’s son and only child with now ex-wife Michelle. The driving force behind Ted’s departure from AFC Richmond and he’s wearing No. 9 for his youth soccer team, playing in a game with dad coaching in the final shot of the season. Playing “Father And Son” by Cat Stevens as the final montage rolled was just a great touch.

Toronto trolls Blue Jays pitcher Anthony Bass for his bigoted views

Anthony Bass “apologizing” for sharing a homophobic social media post on his Instagram account

In a rare display of an MLB team following the lead of its fans, or at least being in the vicinity, something satisfying took place last night in Toronto when bigoted Blue Jays asshat Anthony Bass came out of the pen:

Makes it pretty clear how a great majority of the city feels about Bass and his Dark Ages views.

The Jays haven’t taken the plunge on tossing Bass overboard (get it?), and there are probably some issues that the MLBPA would have for a player being DFA’d for something he shared on social media (Editor’s note: First, he was bitching on Twitter about United Airlines, then he shared homophobic views on Instagram.) You’d have to get into the weeds in the fine print of the contract for sure.

Maybe it’s become quite clouded lately, or even in the past couple decades, but at the base root of sports and sports fandom is that the team and the players on it are representing the fans, who are from that particular city. Rarely are they from there, and rarely do they share every or even most values of that place. But the idea is that fans feel civic pride through their team, that being a fan of whoever makes them feel better and feel proud to be where they live. The Jays are supposed to instill a buzz in Toronto residents about being from Toronto. The idea, however buried under layers of capitalistic crap it may be now, is that the Jays bring Toronto together. That’s the foundation of fandom and one that’s been monetized to a mutated degree, at least.

Gestures like this, and the reactions Bass has engineered to his posts, certainly make it clear that Bass doesn’t really stand for Toronto and Jays fans anymore. So his presence on the team is kind of pointless, even beyond the bonfires he’s starting from the mound with his performance (4.26 ERA, 1.32 WHIP).

Would the Jays be opening a can of worms by dumping Bass for not aligning with how their fans see the world? Maybe. Is that a can of worms worth opening? Almost certainly.

Rob Manfred takes the stand — but it’s about Diamond Sports

When baseball fans saw the phrase “Rob Manfred took the stand” there was probably a brief flash of euphoria that finally this slimy snake was getting his. That would have been instantly wiped out by the realization that Manfred’s running of MLB is just immoral, not illegal, and is based on the lie that is America for the most part and would be followed by a spiral of despair and a feeling of sinking into the abyss. BUT THAT’S NOT WHY YOU CALLED.

Anyway, Manfred was testifying in the bankruptcy hearing for Diamond Sports, who had already defaulted on their deal with the Padres and have 13 other TV rights deals with baseball teams that very well may go kaput. The hearing was to give Diamond/Sinclair the floor as to why they should be allowed to hang onto these deals for a cut-rate price. And if I tell you that Manfred sounds like the sane one, you will know it probably didn’t go well for Diamond.

Evan Drellich of The Athletic has a pretty thorough breakdown of the whole thing. The gist is that Sinclair and Diamond’s acquisition sounded doomed from the start, to the point where execs would just no-show meetings with MLB. And when you think about it for any longer than seven seconds, there was no other way this could have gone.

Sinclair bought the RSNs off Fox Sports with money they didn’t have, and it was all based on the idea that they could keep being funded by people who didn’t really want their service. The RSN model was based on rights fees passed onto customers in the form of cable fees, but most of that is based on people getting cable for things other than sports and just paying for the RSNs because it was part of the cable package anyway. The streaming revolution was basically based on more and more people simply wanting to pay for only what they wanted and for less money. Both sports fans and the non-sports inclined found what they wanted by cutting the cord and getting rid of what they didn’t want. It didn’t take a genius to figure out that model had a definite time limit on it. Sadly, none of those non-geniuses worked for Sinclair, which I’m sure is a huge shock to know that a conservative communications company was filled with people with their heads decidedly inserted into their own rectum.

Anyway, MLB has basically slow-played this and is going to let Diamond fall on its own face and then get the rights to their own teams without doing much more than not getting in the way of an enemy pratfalling. It was a vital lesson of Lao Tzu, really.

Sevilla adds to their Crash Davis resume

Sevilla won their seventh Europa League/UEFA Cup yesterday afternoon, their seventh in the past 17 years. It is unquestionably their tournament. Which is something of a weird statement. It’s not that the Europa League is a consolation prize, but it’s also…kinda? There are many clubs that appearing in the Europa League would be a huge accomplishment. And perhaps it’s the height of what those clubs can dream of, given the game’s imbalances.

But a club like Sevilla that regularly appears in the Champions League, and then regularly drops down into the Europa League by finishing third in their group as they did this year, probably aims to regularly be in the Champions League. And if a club is regularly in the Champions League, it probably should hope to go far in it and maybe even win it one day. At the very least, when they finish a season in the Europa League places, or drop out of the Champions League but land on the safety pad that the Europa League provides, it’s a disappointment, however small.

There’s a Crash Davis element to all this, where Sevilla get a glimpse of the big time before eventually settling down to a lower level and accomplishing things there that no one else has. It’s not the biggest accomplishment, but it might be the most unique. The memories of the seven trophies are something their supporters will take forever, even if it’s more oddity than celestial accomplishment. They’ve done something no one else has, even if it’s something no one else would really think of.

Follow Sam on Twitter @Felsgate so you too can tell him you’ll pray for him.

The Philadelphia Phillies’ offense is doing that thing again

Trea Turner certainly isn’t hitting as well as we’ve seen him hit

The Philadelphia Phillies are an imperfect being. Yes, they’ve been that way for pretty much their entire existence. But every baseball fan/watcher knows that the recent vintage of the Fightins is kind of a top-heavy outfit, that generally plays defense like it’s just about to sneeze, and the bullpen is going to get a little funny. It’s still jarring to see, though, after last fall’s heroics. Which is why playoff baseball is not to be trusted.

The Phillies got shut out by Kodai Senga last night in Queens, which dropped them to four games under .500, and in fourth place in the NL East. They’re 23rd in runs, 19th in on-base percentage, and 19th in team wRC+. For a team that’s spending $115 million just on the first five spots in the lineup, this isn’t how it was drawn up.

Most fingers are being pointed at this winter’s shiny new toy, Trea Turner. Turner was supposed to provide something different at the top of the lineup, which was a lot more contact than the K-prone rest of the lineup, an on-base weapon to be around to be driven in by the swole behemoths behind him, as well as adding a dash of speed that could create his own runs at times.

None of that has happened. Fangraphs broke it down pretty heavily, and basically, Turner is swinging at everything while making less contact, which has ballooned his strikeouts. He’s also hitting far more in the air, which can be a good thing, but not when you’re popping up a lot of fastballs to the infield. Turner would hardly be the first person to struggle at first carrying his first big contract and the expectations that come with it, but the metrics don’t look very promising.

It isn’t just the new guy

But Turner isn’t the only reason the Phils’ offense has got mud in the tires. J.T. Realmuto has been decidedly average as well. He’s another who’s seen his walks drop and his contact suddenly get a little squishy. Realmuto has been buried by fastballs, unable to turn them around as violently as he once did. (His average exit velocity has dropped three points this season, and slugging has dropped 166 points on fastballs.) And there’s an inkling that he’s beginning to cheat to get to heaters, because his whiff rate on offspeed pitches has jumped frighteningly (12 percentage points).

And of course, there’s Kyle Schwarber. But this is his thing, where he kind of muddles along for the season’s first two months, and then in June he turns into the Hulk’s big brother (.760 slugging in June ‘21, .680 slugging in June ‘22). Philly was probably counting on this.

Positively, Bryce Harper has only played for a month, and he’s hit since he came back. They clearly miss Rhys Hoskins, as Alec Bohm and Edmundo Sosa on the corners have been…well, Alec Bohm and Edmundo Sosa on the corners.

It’s hard to believe that Turner will continue to be this bad, and there’s a Schwarber binge coming that should even things out. Realmuto is a little more worrisome, as he’s a catcher in his early 30s and sometimes they just turn odd colors in the sun after 8,000 innings in a crouch, as Realmuto has spent.

The Phillies rotation has been wonky past Zack Wheeler

Perhaps just as worryingly is that the rotation has been pretty wonky past Zack Wheeler. Taijuan Walker has been a gasoline fight (5.57 ERA). Aaron Nola has watched his Ks dip as his fastball has lost some juice and he’s pivoted to using a cutter more often. But the latter is doing him no favors as hitters are teeing off on it to the tune of a .588 slugging. Ranger Suarez has only made four starts and has been speed bagged for the most part, and they’re making it up beyond that. And as it is Phillie tradition, the bullpen can’t find the strike zone with a team of hounds and is laughably tossing out Craig Kimbrel in front of their usually so-understanding fanbase on the reg.

But this is what they do. They’ll probably surge through the summer and make one trade for a starter to even out the rotation. This was a third-place team last year, and while a hot couple weeks in October kind of shaded that fact, it’s still kind of a third-place team now. What might be a nuisance is if the Marlins’ pitching can keep them afloat long enough to keep the Phillies in 4th, or if that Diamondbacks thing out west is real that will deny them the last wildcard they sort of stumbled into last season.

Circle back when the swamp-ass Philadelphia summer air turns Citizens Bank Park into a fireworks factory. It’s what the Phillies are banking on.

Follow Sam on Twitter @Felsgate if you can weed through the Jesus freaks.  

Where should the USMNT players move this summer?

Juventus is favored to land Christian Pulisic

There’s going to be a lot of movement for the top end of the USMNT roster, but what would be best for them? We mean other than Ibiza or The Algarve on vacation. Though they should do that too. They’ve earned it. But after the Nations League semis and (hopefully) final, the main cogs of the USMNT will probably get to business figuring out where they’re going to ply their trade next season. There are going to be a lot of them on the move in the next month or two, given various playing situations and relegations and the general scatterbrained nature of soccer as a whole. So how should it shake out (but definitely won’t)? We got ya. Let’s kick this pig.

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The big one, the captain, still the U.S.’s most talented player (until Gio Reyna both plays regularly for Dortmund and isn’t such a pain in the ass). Pulisic has already, basically, been told to do one by new Chelsea coach Mauricio Pochettino, and quite frankly Chelsea need the money he would bring in a transfer.

The main rumor is that Juventus are very interested in Pulisic, and on the surface that sounds enticing. While Juve won’t be in the Champions League next season thanks to their points deduction, it’s still Juventus and they should still be contending for a Serie A title. Then again, a lot of what should happen in Turin rarely does lately.

It’s hard to know what kind of fit Pulisic would be at Juve because there’s so much we don’t know about them. It sure feels like Max Allegri will be booted as manager, which is probably a good thing for our Yank captain because Allegri’s latest 3-6-1 formation didn’t really fit Pulisic or would have had him playing something like a wingback, which was a major problem at Chelsea. Until we know who’s coaching, it’s hard to judge.

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If Pulisic’s best position is still on the left side of an attack, and it’s hard to know given how rarely we’ve seen him at Chelsea, there isn’t much competition he can’t stand out against at Juventus, as both Juan Cuadrado and Angel Di Maria are exiting stage left. That’s a bigger problem at Milan, another rumored destination, where Rafael Leão lives on the left and might have missed a window on a big transfer to the glitterati of Europe. Pulisic isn’t dislodging Leão.

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The problem at both is that Pulisic has never looked very comfortable with a team that has the ball a lot, and has looked much better when he can get out in space on the counter and at pace. That might be a growing problem at Newcastle, another team that’s been connected to him. That doesn’t mean he has to downgrade to a bad team, but he should be picky if he can.

Which means Pulisic should swallow his pride a bit, and opt for the move that wouldn’t even involve moving house. Brentford are going to lose a forward for half of next season in Ivan Toney, they like to play on the counter, and he can easily grab the starting berth on the left week after week. If it’s true that Chelsea will let him go for just $20 million, that puts him in Brentford’s range. While the Bees spent most of the season in a 3-5-2, towards the end Thomas Frank was using a 4-3-3 that would hit Pulisic between the eyes. He’ll never do it, but it makes a ton of sense.

Where he’ll go: Juventus

Where he should go: Brentford

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While Pulisic may be the most talented, Adams is still the U.S.’s most important. They don’t have a replacement for him anywhere, he’s the only one who can make the USMNT’s midfield go with his all-action style and endurance. And he nor the national team will be helped by him trudging around various muddy pitches of the Championship in the dark with Leeds next season. Adams turned some heads in the Premier League with his performances, but it’s still only 24 games that he played so it might be hard to convince some to take the splash.

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The obvious answer is West Ham, who will lose Declan Rice and Adams can at least run as much as Rice. What he can’t do is be three midfielders at once like Rice can, which Hammers fans would notice pretty quickly. Adams can break up play and make simple passes, but he can’t create much. He’d have to be part of a midfield overhaul at West Ham. He certainly could add to Aston Villa’s depth as a holding midfielder, which doesn’t have much behind Douglas Luiz. Some rumors have Man United circling, but again he’d be more depth there behind Casemiro and it’s unclear how Adams fits with a team that will have the ball a lot. He’s just not that good with it.

Where he should go: West Ham

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We know he’s not staying at Leeds, and Leeds fans are certainly happy about that, and one wonders if the whole experience soured him on England altogether. A stay at Juventus doesn’t seem likely. Again, McKennie is a hard player to accommodate and get the best out of. You need a set midfield behind him and allow him to sort of go off-script so he can get in the box to score, which is what he does well. Leeds had him too deep, Juve too wide.

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If he wants to try England again, Villa seem like a natural fit. Unai Emery’s 4-2-2-2 system means that McKennie could be absolved of a lot of defensive duties in the forward two of the midfield, and wouldn’t be shunted out wide as he was with Juve. Villa aren’t a possession-heavy team either, where his lack of passing skills might get exposed. There’s a foundation in the middle already there in Luis, John McGinn, and Jacob Ramsey, while they still press enough to get enough out of McKennie’s athleticism and energy (when he bothers to show it).

Where he should go: Aston Villa

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Aaronson is a different case than everyone who came before, given that it really wasn’t clear that he’s Premier League quality. Sure, he runs around a lot and is very annoying to play against, but he’s an attacker who produced one goal and three assists. Luckily for Aaronson, thanks to his relegation release clause, he should be pretty cheap.

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Still, a move to the Bundesliga seems best. Bayer Leverkusen may lose a couple forwards this summer, and that might be too tall a task for Aaronson’s limited skill. Replacing Florian Wirtz would also put him behind the eight-ball as he’s never going to be Wirtz. But they also are the most pressing team in Germany, and Aaronson needs to be in a team that presses a lot otherwise he’s wasted. Mönchengladbach are another team lower down the totem pole that press a ton and also play a 4-2-3-1 where Aaronson’s flexibility would play up. If he needs to stay in England, Bournemouth or Everton might work, especially the latter given their love of forwards who don’t score.

Where he should go: Bayer Leverkusen (it’s a pipe dream), Borussia Monchengladbach

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You might have forgotten about him, because he’s been a ghost since the World Cup. It’s likely most at AC Milan don’t even know his name, and so he’ll head back to Barcelona in the summer. Barcelona also don’t want him. He might be even harder to accommodate than McKennie, given he’s a fullback who can’t really defend.

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Union Berlin have been a rumor, and they’re now a Champions League club, and though they’re more a 3-5-2 team, Dest seems more attuned to being a wingback than a fullback. Union have gotten by this season with very adventurous players on the right at wingback in Josip Juranović and Christopher Trimmel, but the latter is 36. Maybe Union will be cannon fodder in the Champions League, but this makes too much sense for an active player with an active team.

Where he should go: Union Berlin

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Now that Valencia have almost guaranteed their safety, it’s not for sure that Musah will be going. But there have been rumors that he’d like to move to England, and even his old club Arsenal have been somewhat curious. Musah to Arsenal sounds like a dream reunion, and he could be more dynamic than the departed Granit Xhaka while maybe not being as forceful. Like a lot of his national team teammates, Musah is not a great passer, though maybe playing for Mikel Arteta would be the perfect place to work on that. There is a dream of a Partey-Musah-Ødegaard midfield–one destroyer, one dribbler, one creator, that perfectly links. And yet it seems a stretch, and Musah would likely be more of a squad player in North London. He’s also been briefly mentioned as a cheaper alternative in Liverpool’s midfield revolution, but some of the same issues there.

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If Musah could be convinced to lower his sights, playing at Brighton to fill in for their midfield departures this summer seems a great option. He’ll still get Premier League wages, a good chance at playing every week, and playing for a team and manager that doesn’t hesitate to hit the gas. One season or two there could prime him for a move to the top six as well.

Where he should go: Brighton

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This is the most fun one, because he has way more options. Being in the top five in goals in Ligue 1 will open some doors, as well as being just 20 years old. Balogun might have his sights set on the Premier League and those kinds of wages, but he can go anywhere. He’s been talked about as a replacement for the Chelsea-bound Christopher Nkunku, which would feed well into his pacey/get-behind-the-defense style. If Everton had more than a nickel he’d be the perfect guy to finally cure their scoring woes, but they don’t so that’s out. He may dream of Man United, but Marcus Rashford kind of takes their running-in-behind role and they want something more of all-rounder at the No. 9. Don’t rule this out though. Brentford need someone to take Toney’s spot while he’s suspended, but he’s probably out of their price range.

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Milan would be an interesting call, given Olivier Giroud’s age and how he’d dovetail with Leao. But Balogun hasn’t really played as a central striker on his own, more so either on the left of a three or with a partner. Which makes him the perfect replacement for Nkunku, who was the same kind of tweener between a wide and center forward.

Where he should go: RB Leipzig

Follow Sam on Twitter @Felsgate, especially when Musah ends up at Anfield and he writes an article about how great it is.

Clayton Kershaw will stand up for the poor, little, misunderstood, underdog Christian faith

Were your feelings hurt?

Looking for a night to not go to Dodger Stadium? Might we suggest July 30? Not only is it usually ungodly hot in Chavez Ravine at the end of July, but Clayton Kershaw will be pushing Christianity and faith on everyone. There are just way more pleasant places to eat a hot dog and drink a beer in L.A. that night (shameless plug for my friend’s bar in Eagle Rock called The Fable. Ask for Thom, tell him I sent you, don’t mind if he hits you with a fish. You’ll get a free beer after).

It seems Kershaw was a little touchy about the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence being re-invited to the Dodgers’ LGBTQ+ night, given that they make fun of religion. Apparently, that’s out of bounds for good ol’ Clayton, whose idea of fun is a room-temperature turkey sandwich from Subway, if you believe what you’ve been told by corporate America. So he urged the organization to let him announce his night of piousness earlier than planned, so that he could protect that fragile but vital contingent of Dodgers fans that are also zealots. No, not that one from Hollywood. Other ones.

Of course, what Kershaw is unaware of and certainly not ever going to learn, because a major tenet of American Christianity is that learnin’ is for the devil, is that even if The Sisters are mocking the Catholic church, certainly the molester-tastic Catholic Church deserves mocking and secondly, LGBTQ+ have faced decades or centuries of persecution based on Catholic and Christian teachings, even if it’s warped from that recently. Kershaw is the latest athlete bitching about their feelings being hurt while the LGBTQ community has to worry about things like being murdered for who they are and are being legislated out of existence. One can’t be surprised that a group like The Sisters might treat the church with some side-eyes and scorn, given the work they do and the people they work with.

Kershaw promotes Faith Night right after Pride Night debacle

To be clear, the Dodgers have had this Faith Night for a long time, this isn’t something that Kershaw is just inventing. However, his pushiness to have it announced in conjunction with the team’s LGBTQ+ with The Sisters night is yet another infuriating instance of a “both sides” argument that simply doesn’t exist.

Thanks to the Catholic and Christian church, whatever they may claim, there is a group of people who loudly, and at times violently, claim that LGBTQ+ are less than, undeserving of rights, or even undeserving of life. The other would just like to go about their lives in peace. These are not equal arguments, they’re not even arguments.

The Dodgers are more than welcome to have a Faith Night, and they do have a Jewish heritage night scheduled for August 30. No Islam or Buddhist night, strangely. If the team and Kershaw wanted to use that night to showcase how welcoming the Christian faith can be to all people, so much the better. But when Kershaw positions it as retaliation for what the Dodgers are planning for the LGBTQ+ evening, it’s the exact opposite. Which is probably, deep down, what Kershaw wants.

And of course, when there’s a first step in these, there tend to be others. A handful of Rays refusing to wear rainbow-emblazoned jerseys last summer only empowered several NHL teams and players to opt out of their pride nights. This won’t be the last time we hear about this from a baseball team or player.

Maybe we should show Kershaw too just how gay baseball is.

Follow Sam on Twitter @Felsgate.

What are the Florida Panthers, really?

The Florida Panthers are in the Stanley Cup finals

The NHL will be more than happy to hook their star to an NBA narrative, so while all the fans north of the border bitch about a Stanley Cup Final between the Florida Panthers and Vegas Golden Knights, the offices probably aren’t upset about getting linked through dual South Florida 8-seeds playing for a championship. The more shots of Jimmy Butler wearing a Matthew Tkachuk jersey, the better.

The easy-to-reach storyline, so naturally the one that most hockey observers will be grabbing, is that the Panthers making a coaching change after a Presidents’ Trophy campaign last year was a genius move that remade the team into a playoff-ready, defensive, grind-it-out swamp monster. But is that really the case? Well no, and we’ll get to why.

First, it’s probably best to once again underline that the NHL standings are warped and aren’t the full truth, thanks to their dumbass overtime and shootout rules. These are coin flips, gimmicks, and don’t tell us much other than who got a 3-on-1 rush at the right time for no reason other than funsies. Basically, when we separate out the playoff teams in April, all the league has really done is created a group of 16 that doesn’t differ all that much from each other. Thanks, salary cap.

Comparing last year’s Panthers to this year’s team

So when comparing the Panthers this year to last, yes, they finished with 30 points less overall. But they only had two fewer regulation wins this year. Last season, they won 16 games beyond the 60 minutes, far and away the most in the league. Yes, they had the most points, but they had the sixth-most regulation wins. On the flip side, their goal difference was massively better last season (+94 to +17), which can’t be ignored.

Digging in metrically, the narrative falls apart even more. The idea that the Panthers were too open last year as a sweet cheese, good-time boy review doing a dance interpretation of the O.K. Corral and are now a lockdown unit doesn’t hold up under any numbers. Last year, the Panthers gave up 2.46 expected goals against per 60 minutes at even strength. This year it’s 2.69. In the playoffs, they’re giving up 2.80 xGA, after last year’s 2.74. If you want to really get into the weeds, last year’s second-round pulverizing at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning was seen as proof that the Panthers were just too easy to play against, whereas their shutdown of the Bruins and Leafs was evidence that they “get” playoff hockey now. In those four games against the Bolts, they gave up 2.60 xGA. Against the Bruins this spring? 2.59. Against the Leafs? 2.58. Could it be the difference is Sergei Bobrovksy’s .935? Or maybe not having Andre Vasilevskiy throw a .981 at them? Couldn’t be, could it?

Throw in Matthew Takchuk shooting 18 percent for six weeks and you probably have the formula. Certainly swapping out last year’s leading scorer for Tkachuk took a fair amount of balls, though in a vacuum pretty much everyone would have told you Tkachuk is a better player than Jonathan Huberdeau. It just worked out so well.

The Panthers are just an example of hockey sequencing. They put up the same numbers for two seasons, but get fewer results than they did last year simply because the goals are in a different order than they were, with fewer of them coming after 60 minutes to skew the overall results. That won’t stop everyone throwing bouquets at Maurice should they get the four wins against Vegas in the next two weeks, and Maurice should get enough credit, I guess, for at least not getting in the way too much to prevent the Panthers from doing pretty much what they did last season. Maybe they do it in a different way, but it ends up the same. If this team was talented enough to be on top of the standings last year, then it’s certainly talented enough to be in the Final now.

What does it mean for the Stanley Cup Final?

What does that mean for the Final? The Panthers had 19 fewer points in the regular season than the Knights, but two more regulation wins in a far tougher division and conference. Both teams have depth, but the Panthers have the sharp ends that the Knights don’t have, with Tkachuk and Bobrovsky both playing the way they are. And maybe Maurice will figure out, which Dallas’s Pete Deboer didn’t, to try and break out of the defensive zone in another way other than up the boards. Certainly, with Brandon Montour, Aaron Ekblad, Gustav Forsling they can do more than that.

And should they, it’ll be called a miracle and an incredible run of a team that needed the Pittsburgh Penguins to lose to the Chicago Blackhawks at home in the last week of the season even to get into the playoffs. When really all it is is last year’s team getting to roll the dice again, because that’s what hockey is.

Follow Sam on Twitter @Felsgate.

The Celtics find an even better way to lose than just getting swept

It wasn’t even close

Remember the “Minneapolis Miracle?” You might, but if you don’t it’s when the Minnesota Vikings pulled out a last-second win in the divisional round over the Saints when the entire New Orleans secondary decided to reenact a Three Stooges routine. However, it doesn’t really get the play that, say, the Immaculate Reception or Tuck Rule might, because the Vikings went on to get utterly popped the following week in the NFC Championship game. It still means a lot to Vikings fans, but for the rest of us, it requires a little excavation in the memory files to call up. It’s a quirk, an outlier to the familiar story of the Vikings eating shit in January, a story we all know much better.

The Boston Celtics have one of those now.

Derrick White pulling the entire Celtics season, and some serious navel gazing this summer through the entire organization, out of the darkness at the very last possible moment in Game 6 is supposed to be the kind of foundational wonder that they write songs about for decades. There should be an oral history of it in five, 10 years. Maybe a mural somewhere in downtown Boston. Now, just a footnote, a (glaring) detail in the story of when this era of the Celtics changed. Maybe for the better in the long run, more likely for the worse. But it no longer really stands alone. If it does, it does so merely as an example of what the Celtics wasted.

No one’s going to feel sorry for C’s fans of course, who swaggered into the Eastern Conference Finals thinking they got a break seeing the 7th-turned-8th-seeded Heat, which should have taken place in the first round had the Heat not taken the night off against the Atlanta Hawks way back in the play-in. Then they watched the Green cough up two home games and quit in Game 3, only to have their hopes defibrillated back along with that swagger before Game 7, and then…well, this:

An NBA team still hasn’t come back from a 3-0 deficit

There’s a reason that a 3-0 comeback in the NBA hasn’t happened, because in a playoff basketball series what got you into that hole is real. It’s not a flash, it’s not a series of rolled sevens. In hockey, a goalie can catch fire or fall apart, and really only a few bounces have to go the trailing team’s way to get things to at least the “dicey” level. When the Philadelphia Flyers did it in 2010, an accomplishment that TNT forgot to mention to only further Flyers fans’ summer of discontent, they won three one-goal games. It’s only happened once in baseball, when the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees so ravaged each other’s pitching staffs that just about anything could happen.

In the NBA, Game 7s should look familiar, and this one did, aside from Jayson Tatum’s injury in the opening 15 seconds. It changed things, but only accentuated everything wrong with the Celtics in the first three games. They couldn’t make a three, they had too many braindead possessions, their coach went into vapor lock when adjustments were needed. Perhaps finding a way his team could not treat a zone defense like it was an alien life form or spending two to three quarters playing a drop coverage on screens that gave all of the Heat’s supporting cast all the time in the world to bury from the outside. Tatum’s lack of explosion severely limited his game, and Jaylen Brown apparently took this as a signal that only hero-ball from him would save the team, which turned his handling of the ball to be soundtracked with a whoopee cushion and his shot selection to look like a Pollock painting. It’s a lot of what they looked like in Game 6, but they got away with it once. They didn’t far more than they did though in this series, which is why they’ll be packing up today.

Boston Bruins, Celtics both lose Game 7s to No. 8 seeds

While it’ll never be enough to shut them up, Boston now becomes the first city to have teams lose Game 7s at home to an 8-seed in two different sports in the same spring (though again, the Heat are really the 7th seed but it’s better to consider them the 8 for this reason alone). And they did it in about as excruciating fashion as you can, as if losing a Game 7 at home wasn’t enough. The Bruins blew a 3-1 lead. The Celtics did just enough to get their fans believing twice, and wasted a truly epic, never-to-be-repeated moment. And it’s quite possible that this loss will break the Celtics’ brain. Certainly Brown gave them enough ammo to justify getting a little loopy with his eight turnovers when his team needed him to drive the bus.

Somebody check on Bill Simmons

Anyway, one more time:

Jerry Reinsdorf spends money on network, not his teams

Funny how the White Sox couldn’t afford the extra arm they needed in the rotation or the middle infielder with a bat as well as a right fielder, and yet…

The White Sox are 22-34, and haven’t won a series in the playoffs in 18 years.

Follow Sam on Twitter @Feslgate to tell him to stay out of White Sox business again.