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The Astros’ ALCS roster is out. Houston added reliever Chase De Jong for their matchup against Tampa Bay, giving them 14 pitchers and 14 position players. Dropped from the LDS round was outfielder Chas McCormick, who not only has not been used during the playoffs, but has yet to make his big-league debut.

Bradford Doolittle, ESPN Staff Writer6h ago


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Midseason-ish awards: Top players and unbelievable moments in a season like no other



The word “midseason” is almost useless this year in college football. Of the 127 teams endeavoring to play FBS football this fall, only 12 have played half of their intended schedule (13 if you include UMass having played its only scheduled game to this point), while another 50 have yet to get started.

Still, we are indeed at a sort of midpoint: seven weeks down, eight to go to before conference championship games. As the Big Ten and other conferences get underway, we might forget some of the odder moments of this, the oddest first half of a season ever. So let’s commemorate what has happened thus far as we look toward what happens next.

Things that actually happened in the first seven weeks of the season

K.J. Costello, Heisman front-runner. In Mike Leach’s first game as Mississippi State coach, Costello utterly torched LSU for 623 yards and five touchdowns on 60 passes in a 44-34 upset win. In the three games since, all losses, Costello has thrown 136 times for 644 yards, MSU’s offense has scored a total of 21 points, and Costello has gotten benched in favor of freshman Will Rogers. Oh yeah, and LSU also got torched for 586 yards and 45 points in a loss to Missouri.

Coastal Carolina and Central Arkansas, ESPN darlings. A thinner schedule of early-season games offered brand-building opportunities for smaller schools who could take advantage (and were willing to put up with obvious risks). Central Arkansas crafted an “anyone, anywhere” brand by setting up a 10-game schedule that included three FBS opponents, plus the season opener against Austin Peay and the Trey Lance Showcase Game against North Dakota State.

Coastal, meanwhile, has won twice on ESPN in prime time — against Campbell on a Friday night in mid-September and against Louisiana last Wednesday. The Chanticleers also cleaned Kansas’ clock on Fox Sports 1 and whipped Arkansas State on ESPN2, and they are unbeaten and ranked for the first time ever.

Tennessee held the longest winning streak in the country. At halftime in Week 6, the Volunteers were winners of eight games in a row — they hadn’t lost in nearly a full calendar year — and held a 21-17 lead over Georgia in Athens. In the six quarters that followed, they got outscored 61-7. Georgia surged past them, then they lost at home to Kentucky for the first time in 36 years.

The opponentless Houston Cougars. When the season is over, Houston will have played a run-of-the-mill nine games or so, with maybe a bowl game of some sort at the end as well. But never forget the utter ridiculousness the Coogs endured while trying to get on the field for the first time. Rice, Memphis, Baylor and North Texas all canceled or postponed. Houston finally kicked off on Oct. 8 against Tulane and almost immediately gave up a pair of defensive touchdowns before settling down and winning by 18.

The best teams of the first seven weeks

Preseason projections are part of my SP+ ratings for a reason: It makes them far more predictive. Priors are your friend, and I use them. But if I were deriving SP+ rankings only from what has happened so far in 2020, with no preseason assumptions of any kind, here’s your top 10:

1. Clemson
2. Cincinnati
3. Alabama
4. BYU
5. Air Force
6. Oklahoma State
7. Marshall
8. SMU
9. North Carolina
10. Notre Dame

Your top five offenses: Florida, Alabama, Virginia Tech, Memphis, BYU.

Your top five defenses: Cincinnati, Oklahoma State, Baylor, Marshall, Tulsa.

Like I said, that list probably wouldn’t make for great predictions going forward. But it’s a good way to commemorate just how incredibly some of these units have played to date.

Midseason awards

Here’s whom I would vote for in all major college football awards if the ballots were due today, sprinkling in a few sleepers who deserve mentions.

Heisman/Maxwell/Walter Camp (best player)

1. QB Trevor Lawrence (Clemson)
2. QB Mac Jones (Alabama)
3. RB Travis Etienne (Clemson)
Late-arriving threats: QB Justin Fields (Ohio State), QB Kedon Slovis (USC)

Lawrence has done nothing to tamp down even an ounce of the “sure-fire No. 1 NFL draft pick” hype this fall. Meanwhile, all Jones has done is average nearly 400 passing yards per game with a nearly perfect Total QBR rating. It’s not too late for a player like Fields or Slovis to get involved in this race, but the bar is absurdly high.

Davey O’Brien (best quarterback)

1. Lawrence (Clemson)
2. Jones (Alabama)
3. Grayson McCall (Coastal Carolina)
Late-arriving threats: Fields, Slovis

I want to call attention to what McCall has done so far. In a pretty run-heavy offense, he’s completed 68% of his passes at 15.8 yards per completion, with a 197.0 passer rating for the unbeaten Chants. Oh yeah, and he’s a redshirt freshman.

Doak Walker (best running back)

1. Etienne (Clemson)
2. Khalil Herbert (Virginia Tech)
3. Tyler Allgeier (BYU)
Late-arriving threats: Trey Sermon (Ohio State), Journey Brown (Penn State), CJ Verdell (Oregon), [insert Wisconsin running back here] (Wisconsin), Jaret Patterson (Buffalo)

Etienne’s versatility has been downright unfair this season, and Herbert has been an unforeseen catalyst in Blacksburg, but the competition is about to get a lot stiffer. The Big Ten does not lack for backs.

Biletnikoff (best receiver)

1. Jaylen Waddle (Alabama)
2. Elijah Moore (Ole Miss)
3. Reggie Roberson Jr. (SMU)
Late-arriving threats: Rashod Bateman (Minnesota), Rondale Moore (Purdue), Amon-Ra St. Brown (USC), Chris Olave (Ohio State), Khalil Shakir (Boise State)

I love a good long ball, and no one has been hitting home runs like Waddle this season. Waddle, DeVonta Smith and John Metchie III have given Bama yet another otherworldly receiving corps.

Roberson’s inclusion, by the way, is a nod to another injury-shortened season. In his past 13 complete games, he’s caught 74 passes for 1,423 yards and 11 touchdowns, but he’s seen two consecutive seasons cut short.

Mackey (best tight end)

1. Kyle Pitts (Florida)
2. Sean Dykes (Memphis)
3. Kenny Yeboah (Ole Miss)
Late-arriving threats: Pat Freiermuth (Penn State)

The tight end position is becoming a bigger position for innovation as offenses further try to create mismatches and take advantage of smaller, faster college football defenses. Pitts, Dykes and Yeboah have all enjoyed breakout performances, averaging nearly 100 yards and two touchdowns per game among them.

Outland (best interior lineman)

1. Ben Cleveland (Georgia)
2. Nico Ezidore (Texas State)
3. Clark Barrington (BYU)
Late-arriving threats: Wyatt Davis (Ohio State), Cole Van Lanen (Wisconsin), Alijah Vera-Tucker (USC), Nolan Laufenberg (Air Force)

I used three different criteria to choose my three nominees so far: the guy most impressive to my eyes (Cleveland), the most disruptive defensive tackle in the country so far (Ezidore has eight tackles for loss) and a guy on a great line who, per Sports Info Solutions data, hasn’t missed a block so far this season (Barrington).

Lawrence Taylor (best defensive end)

Yes, I’m making this award up, but yes, a Best DE award should exist by this point.

1. Patrick Jones II (Pitt)
2. Quincy Roche (Miami)
3. Victor Dimukeje (Duke)
Late-arriving threats: Kayvon Thibodeaux (Oregon), Aidan Hutchinson (Michigan), Shaka Toney (Penn State), Kwity Paye (Michigan)

The ACC has owned the edge rusher category so far this season — Pitt has two who could have made the top three. But we’ll see if Thibodeaux or a phalanx of Big Ten pass-rushers can crack the list.

Butkus (best linebacker)

1. Azeez Ojulari (Georgia)
2. Zaven Collins (Tulsa)
3. Max Richardson (Boston College)
Late-arriving threats: Hamilcar Rashed Jr. (Oregon State), Paddy Fisher (Northwestern), Devin Lloyd (Utah), James Patterson (Buffalo)

Ojulari is a stick of dynamite on every third down Georgia opponents face, and it feels as though Collins was in the backfield on every play of both games Tulsa has played so far.

Thorpe (best defensive back)

1. Patrick Surtain II (Alabama)
2. Eric Stokes (Georgia)
3. Asante Samuel Jr. (Florida State)
Late-arriving threats: Elijah Molden (Washington), Tiawan Mullen (Indiana), Mykael Wright (Oregon), Jalen Walker (Boise State)

Whatever problems Alabama’s defense has, Surtain isn’t the cause of them. The bar is high here, but while Washington lost prime defensive talent to opt-outs, Molden’s return gives the Huskies heft in pass defense.

Bednarik/Bronko Nagurski (best defensive player)

1. Ojulari
2. Surtain
3. Jones
Late-arriving threats: Thibodeaux, Hutchinson, Molden

Despite what Alabama did to Georgia’s defense, the Dawgs likely have the top D in the country. Therefore a Dawg gets to lead the way.

Meanwhile, I’m realizing that I didn’t list a single Clemson defender above even though the Tigers probably have by far the second-best D. That says a little bit about the by-committee approach they’ve gotten to employ in blowouts this season and a little about their utterly absurd depth. They are terrifying, and I couldn’t pick out their top defender if you made me.

Groza (best place-kicker)

1. Jose Borregales (Miami)
2. Evan McPherson (Florida)
3. Jake Oldroyd (BYU)
Late-arriving threats: Brandon Talton (Nevada), Jet Toner (Stanford), Blake Mazza (Washington State)

We live in boom times for kickers, friends. Amid all the special-teams disasters, we’ve already seen five field goals of 54-plus yards sail through the uprights, including one each from the three I listed above.

Ray Guy (best punter)

1. Jake Camarda (Georgia)
2. Pressley Harvin III (Georgia Tech)
3. Max Duffy (Kentucky)
Late-arriving threats: Drue Chrisman (Ohio State), Adam Korsak (Rutgers)

We must be in boom times for punters, too, because two guys have outpaced Kentucky’s cannon-legged Duffy so far. Camarda is averaging an unreal 50.7 yards per kick.

Paul Hornung (most versatile player)

1. Etienne
2. Ainias Smith (Texas A&M)
3. Deuce Vaughn (Kansas State)
Late-arriving threats: Ronnie Rivers (Fresno State), Demetric Felton (UCLA), Max Borghi (Washington State)

You might as well call this the Kenny Gainwell Award because I leaned on a very specific player type for this one: running backs who are scary as hell catching the ball. Along with tight ends, these types of players are a bit of a matchups cheat code at the moment.

Coach of the year

1. Kalani Sitake (BYU)
2. Justin Fuente (Virginia Tech)
3. Luke Fickell (Cincinnati)

After a disappointing 7-6 record last season, Sitake’s Cougars have been on an outright rampage in 2020, while Fuente’s Hokies are 3-1 despite massive issues with positive coronavirus tests that have hit even the quarterback position.

Broyles (best assistant coach)

1. Barry Odom (Arkansas)
2. Steve Sarkisian (Alabama)
3. Marcus Freeman (Cincinnati)

As I referenced on Sunday, SP+ isn’t as high on Arkansas as one might have expected so far — it’s hard to thrive long term on forcing perfectly timed turnovers and making fourth-down stops. But after averaging a defensive SP+ ranking of 73rd over the past five years, Odom’s Hogs are nearly in the top 50 already. That says something, as does the extreme buy-in you see from every player on that Arkansas two-deep. He deserves all the praise he’s gotten so far.

Closing thoughts on Alabama-Georgia

After writing what felt like one million words on it last week, I figured I should circle back and share some postgame thoughts on what was, rankingswise, the biggest game of the season to date: Alabama’s 41-24 victory over Georgia on Saturday.

1. Mac rediscovered his footwork

Sixty minutes is a long time, and not only because a 60-minute college football game commonly lasts 3½ hours or more. It offers good coaches plenty of times to make adjustments, and it gives important players plenty of time to either find, or lose, the plot.

Stetson Bennett‘s last touchdown pass of the evening, a 5-yard strike to Jermaine Burton with 23 seconds left in the first half to give Georgia a 24-17 lead, came with some red flags. He had already sailed three poor passes on the drive, but he had made up for it with a huge third-and-7 completion to George Pickens and the third-and-goal strike to Burton. He had begun to falter in the moment, but it appeared he had gathered himself.

At the moment Burton came down with the ball, Georgia led, and Bennett’s stat line was quite comparable to that of Alabama’s Mac Jones.

Passing stats, first 29:37 of the game:

  • Bennett: 12-for-20 for 165 yards, two touchdowns, one interception and one sack

  • Jones: 13-for-17 for 184 yards, two touchdowns, one interception and two sacks

  • Adjusted net yards per pass (ANY/A, which includes sacks, plus a 20-yard bonus for touchdowns and a 45-yard penalty for interceptions): Bennett 7.0, Jones 7.0

Then came the rest of the game.

Passing stats, last 30:23:

  • Bennett: 6-for-20 for 104 yards, two interceptions and a sack

  • Jones: 9-for-13 for 206 yards, two touchdowns and a sack

  • ANY/A: Jones 17.1, Bennett 0.6

Jones was spooked and harried by Georgia’s pass rush early in the game. Anytime the pocket began to crumble a bit around him, he lost his footwork and rushed throws. He was still able to complete passes because he’s got a very good arm and even better receivers, but he wasn’t stepping confidently into passes, especially on third down. But he completed a couple of passes to get Alabama into field goal range at the end of the first half, then ignited in the second, just as Bennett was falling out of sorts on the other side of the ball. You could say that after a bit of a delay, Jones met the moment, while the moment met Bennett.

2. Kirby Smart has one hell of a decision to make now

Bennett was never supposed to be Georgia’s starting quarterback this season. First, it appeared it would be Wake Forest transfer Jamie Newman, who ended up opting out for the season instead. Then we assumed it would be USC transfer JT Daniels, but he wasn’t cleared to play right away after a knee injury. In their absence, the job went to redshirt freshman D’Wan Mathis, who was a deer in headlights in the first half against Arkansas. Bennett, the walk-on turned junior college prospect turned starter, came in for Mathis and did what was asked of him with minimal mistakes.

In the marquee game of the young season, however, the mistakes came. He threw three picks and took two sacks, and while this obviously wasn’t all Bennett’s fault, Georgia was shut out in the second half of the game.

Bulldogs coach Smart now has to deal with the ultimate “ceiling vs. floor” debate. Against teams worse than Alabama, Bennett was able to come in and play pretty straightforward ball and, with help from an awesome special-teams unit, make sure to give an awesome defense good field position. He could continue to do that the rest of the season — Florida is the only remaining opponent in the SP+ top 20, and he could easily lead Georgia to a 9-1 record. But Bama would likely await in the SEC championship game, and there’s no real reason to think that Bennett will fare any better the second time. We might be just about done with the days of game-manager level quarterbacks leading teams to a national title, and Smart might have to take a risk on a higher-ceiling, lower-floor player, be it Daniels or Mathis (probably Daniels), if he wants to get from 9-1 to 10-1 and reach the College Football Playoff.

Projecting the Mountain West

My 2020 college football series will finally come to an end this week with previews of the Big Ten East and West divisions, but that’s not the only conference making its season debut this weekend. Out West, the Mountain West also gets rolling with six games on Saturday evening: three kicking off between 7 and 8 p.m. ET and another three between 9 and 10:30. I wrote a pair of MWC previews a decade ago in April — West division, Mountain division — and while obviously the information in there is a bit outdated (among other things, there won’t be divisional champions, and the conference title game will pit the two teams with the best conference records), I wanted to at least share updated SP+ projections before things got started.

A quick note: While each team has eight games scheduled, not every team has eight conference games. Boise State and San Diego State both play BYU, while Air Force has already played Navy and will also play Army. It’s weird, I know. But you can get a pretty clear idea of the pecking order from simply using average projected wins, and that’s what I’m going to do.

  • SP+ No. 35 Boise State: 6.0 average wins (34% chance of finishing with 0-1 losses)

  • No. 59 Air Force: 5.3 (15%)

  • No. 75 San Diego State: 4.7 (7%)

  • No. 83 Colorado State: 4.3 (4%)

  • No. 103 Fresno State: 4.2 (5%)

  • No. 90 Wyoming: 4.2 (4%)

  • No. 98 Hawai’i: 4.1 (3%)

  • No. 107 Nevada: 3.9 (3%)

  • No. 106 San Jose State: 3.6 (1%)

  • No. 104 Utah State: 3.4 (1%)

  • No. 122 New Mexico: 2.2 (0%)

  • No. 123 UNLV: 1.9 (0%)

Boise State is a clear favorite to reach the title game, while Air Force appears to have a leg up on the field for the second spot. But if either team slips, there’s a humongous crowd of teams waiting to pounce.


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Ultimate World Series viewers guide: What you need to know about Dodgers-Rays



I’m ready. Ready for Mookie Betts to play right field. Ready for Tyler Glasnow‘s fastball. Ready for Corey Seager‘s swing and Willy Adames‘ glove and Dustin May‘s hair and Ji-Man Choi‘s smile. Yes, ready for another trip with Clayton Kershaw in the World Series pressure cooker. We made it through the shortened season, through the controversial 16-team playoff bracket, through a losing — and controversial — team nearly making it here.

It’s going to be the strangest of World Series in one way: the first neutral site World Series, to be played at the Texas Rangers‘ new Globe Life Field. It is still the World Series, however, and we will have fans in stands. And after everything that has happened since March, we ended up with the two best teams in baseball playing for October glory. In fact, for only fourth time in the wild-card era (since 1995), the teams with the best record in each league will meet in the World Series.

The Los Angeles Dodgers are back for the third time in four seasons, the first team to do that since the New York Yankees in 2000, 2001 and 2003. It’s the 63rd instance in major league history that a team has reached three World Series in a four-year span — most of those overlapping Yankees teams — and only two teams among the group did not a win a World Series, the 1907-09 Tigers and 1911-13 Giants. The Dodgers will be the heavy favorite, but a few days ago, they were all but dead before rallying from a 3-1 National League Championship Series deficit to beat a tough Atlanta Braves team. Maybe that will ease the burden of expectations. It’s almost like free baseball.

The Tampa Bay Rays are back for the second time in franchise history and the first time since 2008. They opened the season ranking 28th in the majors in payroll. The only team to reach the World Series since 1998 with a lower ranking? The 2008 Rays. They are a team seemingly without stars playing a team full of them. The Dodgers traded for Betts in the offseason; the Rays traded for an obscure rookie outfielder from the St. Louis Cardinals named Randy Arozarena. The Dodgers’ NLCS roster included 12 players who have been All-Stars in their careers, for a total of 26 appearances. The Rays’ roster features four All-Stars with five appearances.

First to four wins takes home the trophy. Here’s a guide to the 2020 World Series:

What the Rays have on the line: The first World Series victory in franchise history and proof that a small-market team with a small payroll can overcome not only the mighty and rich Yankees and Boston Red Sox in their division (not to mention New York in the playoffs) but the best of the National League, as well. It is the ultimate reward for the franchise that kicked off the modern analytics movement — the Rays were an early adopter of the shift, for example — and it has baseball’s fifth-best overall record since 2008.

What the Dodgers have on the line: They have won eight straight division titles. They won 104 games in 2017, 106 games in 2019 and more than 70% of their games this regular season, with the shortened schedule perhaps denying them the opportunity to chase down the 2001 Seattle Mariners‘ and 1906 Chicago Cubs‘ record of 116 victories. They remain without a title, however, and this great era of Dodgers baseball will leave fans with an empty feeling unless L.A. wins a World Series.

And given everything about this season, getting here was not easy. “2017 happened, 2018 happened, we fell short. Now we are back,” Dodgers infielder Enrique Hernandez said. “The past is in the past. This one feels super special because it is in front of us and it is happening. I am not going to take anything away from the other two, but this one is extremely special; we were able to stay COVID-free throughout the whole season.

“We took care of business in the regular season, we took care of business against the Brewers, we took care of business against the Padres, we took care of business against the Braves. It was a little harder than we thought it was going to be, but I am glad we pulled it off. Being down 3-1 then coming back and winning in seven games, it’s something that I will never forget. It is special for sure.”

Player with the most on the line: We all know Kershaw’s story. He is one of the best pitchers of all time, 175-76 in the regular season, with a 2.43 ERA, three Cy Young Awards and five ERA titles. He is going to be in the Hall of Fame. In the postseason, however, he is 11-12 with a 4.31 ERA. In two World Series, he is 1-2 with a 5.40 ERA. He has had too many crushing moments along the way. At this point in his career, greatness is no longer expected or even required for the Dodgers to win. Just pitch well enough and win that ring.

Who is Randy Arozarena? The 25-year-old rookie outfielder for the Rays is the hottest hitter on the planet. Acquired from the Cardinals in the offseason, he missed the start of the season after a positive COVID-19 test, debuted on Aug. 30 and hit seven home runs in September, and he is now having a breakout postseason. In 14 games, he is hitting .382/.433/.855 with seven home runs and 14 runs scored. He is just the fourth player with at least seven homers in the postseason before the World Series, matching Daniel Murphy of the 2015 New York Mets and B.J. Upton of the 2008 Rays, and one short of Carlos Beltran’s eight for the 2004 Houston Astros. True, Arozarena had an extra round, but he didn’t hit any home runs the Wild Card Series against the Blue Jays. He homered three times against the Yankees in the American League Division Series and four times against the Astros in the AL Championship Series. His 47 total bases are already tied for second most in a single postseason, behind the 50 David Freese had for the 2011 Cardinals, the year he won MVP honors in both the NLCS and World Series.

“I think what Randy did was pretty miraculous,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said after the ALCS.

That almost feels like an understatement, especially when considering the rest of the Rays hit .183 in the series. Born in Cuba, Arozarena left the country five years ago on a small boat, landing in Mexico after an eight-hour ride across choppy waters. He found his way to the developmental academy of the Toros de Tijuana club, where he had to share cleats and batting gloves with another prospect. The Cardinals spotted him playing for the Toros’ version of a minor league team and signed him in 2016. He made his major league debut with the Cards in 2019.

“Everybody is just in awe every time he steps into the box,” Rays catcher Mike Zunino said.

Arozarena has hardly been a one-trick pony. For a young player, he has done a pretty good job of controlling the strike zone (although he doesn’t walk much). Five of his seven postseason home runs have come on fastballs, a testament to his bat speed, but he also has hit one off a slider and one off a curveball. Three came with two strikes. Four have gone to right-center and one to right, so he has displayed power to all fields. For what it’s worth, both Murphy and Upton went homerless in the World Series. (Beltran’s Astros failed to get there.)

Arozarena is the surprise, but here are five others who will play key roles:

Mookie Betts: With spectacular catches in Games 5, 6 and 7 of the NLCS, he cemented his legacy as one of the greatest defensive right fielders of all time. In fact, as good as the Dodgers are on offense, and as deep as the pitching staff is, their defense raises them to another level. They ranked second in the majors in defensive runs saved at plus-29 — and the Rays were fifth at plus-24. We should see plenty of great defense in this series.

Cody Bellinger: The 2019 NL MVP has struggled in the postseason in his career, but maybe his game-winning home run in Game 7 will spur him on to a big series. He is hitting .196 in 48 career playoff games but .250/.365/.545 this postseason.

Kenley Jansen: The longtime Dodgers closer was pretty solid in the regular season, but after a shaky appearance against the Padres in which his velocity was way down, manager Dave Roberts said Jansen was no longer an automatic call for the ninth inning. Indeed, he got demoted to mop-up duty in the 15-3 drubbing of Atlanta in Game 3 of the NLCS. But he was much sharper in Games 5 and 6, with two straight 1-2-3 appearances — although Roberts stuck with Julio Urias for the final three innings of Game 7. At some point, Jansen will likely have to close out a closer Dodgers lead.

Tyler Glasnow: He is going to get the ball in Game 1 for the Rays and is capable of dominating with his upper 90s heater and wipeout curveball. He does give up some home runs (six in 19⅓ innings in the postseason) and, oh, the Dodgers led the majors in home runs in the regular season and just tied a single-series playoff record with 16 homers.

Peter Fairbanks: Nick Anderson is the Rays’ most dominant reliever, but Cash has used him at any point in the game when a critical situation develops (and usually against the meat of the opponent’s order). So while Anderson has one save in the postseason and Diego Castillo has two, Fairbanks leads with three — after the rookie didn’t have one in the regular season. Fairbanks throws 100 mph with a funky over-the-top delivery, and the Rays picked him up last year from the Rangers after he had two Tommy John surgeries. Now he is closing out playoff games. Baseball is ridiculous.



Mark Texeira and Tim Kurkjian weigh in on the 2020 World Series matchup between the Rays and Dodgers.

Don’t expect any pitchers’ duels: We might see some low-scoring games, but don’t look for games in which both starting pitchers go deep into the game. Of the 47 postseason games played before the World Series, only four times did both starters pitch at least six innings. Only twice did a starter go more than seven innings — Kershaw and Trevor Bauer, both in the wild-card round when they were spinning shutouts.

The Rays, in particular, have a short leash with their starters. In their 14 games, Glasnow’s two six-inning outings were the longest. Only Blake Snell, with a 105-pitch, five-inning effort in the ALCS, topped 100 pitches. Given the quality and depth of both bullpens, expect quick hooks, even if the starter has pitched five strong innings. In other words, it will be a different style of play than last year’s World Series, when seven of the 14 starters went at least six innings and half went 100-plus pitches, as well.

Mr. Clutch: Charlie Morton — the rare free-agent signing for the Rays when he agreed to a two-year, $30 million contract before the 2019 season (with a 2021 option) — was the winning pitcher in Tampa Bay’s Game 7 of the ALCS, making him the first pitcher with three Game 7 wins in major league history. Morton also was the winning pitcher in the 2017 ALCS with the Astros (five scoreless innings) and the 2017 World Series (one run in four innings of relief). Toss in the 5⅔ scoreless innings against the Astros and that’s a 0.46 ERA in his Game 7 appearances. Guess how the Tampa Bay rotation likely lines up:

Game 1: Glasnow
Game 2: Snell
Game 3: Morton
Game 4: Ryan Yarbrough
Game 5: Glasnow
Game 6: Snell
Game 7: Morton

Morton finished third in the 2019 AL Cy Young voting, but Zunino said his Game 7 performance against the Astros was particularly noteworthy.

“This is the best I’ve seen Charlie in the time I’ve been able to catch him the past two years,” he said. “Had everything working, had a great mix. It was the game plan to keep a four-pitch mix. … The knowledge he brings with what he wants to accomplish. Seeing him do that on the biggest stage is a lot of fun.”

The Rays know if the series goes the distance they will have the right guy on the mound in Game 7.

Who do the Dodgers start? The Dodgers have five starting pitching options, with Kershaw lined up for Game 1. After that, it gets a little murky, although Roberts has five good starters. Urias threw 39 pitches in Game 7 of the NLCS (on three days’ rest). Tony Gonsolin pitched two innings and 41 pitches. May actually started Games 5 and 7, throwing 55 and then 18 pitches. Walker Buehler started Game 6 on Saturday, so if he started Game 2 on Wednesday, it would be on short rest. It’s an intriguing decision. If the Dodgers start Buehler on short rest, they can then get him and Urias two starts apiece in the series, with a rotation like this:

Game 1: Kershaw
Game 2: Buehler (short rest)
Game 3: Urias
Game 4: May/Gonsolin
Game 5: Kershaw
Game 6: Buehler
Game 7: Urias

Roberts also could turn Game 2 into a May/Gonsolin bullpen game, start Buehler in Game 3 with five days’ rest, push Kershaw back to Game 6 for an extra two days’ rest and have Urias available in relief in Game 7 like he was in the NLCS, with a rotation like this:

Game 1: Kershaw
Game 2: May/Gonsolin/bullpen game
Game 3: Buehler
Game 4: Urias
Game 5: May/Gonsolin/bullpen game
Game 6: Kershaw
Game 7: Buehler

The ballpark: So, it’s hard to call Globe Life Field a pitchers’ park after the Dodgers and Braves just combined for 25 home runs in seven games, but it is a big park, especially to the power alley in right-center. It certainly played as a tough home run park in the regular season, so that could be a key element.

This is especially true for the Rays, who don’t have the offensive depth of the Dodgers and have relied so much on the home run so far in the playoffs — 71.9% of their runs have come via the long ball (compared to just 41% in the regular season). The Rays just don’t have a long-sequence offense, and they led the majors in strikeouts, so they need to win low-scoring games in which they hit home runs. If the park takes some of that power away, it could be a short series.


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Jets still attracting Super Bowl bets … seriously



Money on the New York Jets to win the Super Bowl showed up last week at Las Vegas sportsbooks.

Petite in size, the sincerity behind these bets is questionable. They seem more like tricks than treats, and don’t have the hallmarks of a well-thought-out investment.

Plus the winless Jets just aren’t very good.

Still, last Tuesday at the Westgate SuperBook in Las Vegas, a customer parted ways with $40 for a ticket on the Jets to win the Super Bowl at 5,000-1 odds. Around the same time, across town, a pair of single-figure Super Bowl bets on the Jets were placed with MGM books — one for $5 and the other for $2, each at 1,000-1 odds.

Not every bet on the Jets this year has been tiny, though. Prior to the season, the SuperBook took a $500 bet on the Jets to win the Super Bowl at 200-1, and MGM counts three $100 bets on the Jets in its Super Bowl portfolio.

Despite last week’s support, the Jets remain at the bottom of the betting market. They have attracted the fewest bets and the least amount of money in MGM’s odds to win the Super Bowl, and they’re putting bookmakers in an unenviable position every week.

At DraftKings the Jets attracted barely 10% of the money bet on the point spread before their 24-0 loss to the Dolphins on Sunday.

“Every week, it’s the same thing,” Jeff Stoneback, director of race and sport for MGM in Nevada, said. “Unfortunately, we’re rooting for the Jets.”

The Jets are 0-6, and have yet to even cover the spread in a game. Furthermore, they’ve failed to cover the spread by an average of 11.3 points per game, by far the worst mark in the league.

Expectations of an 0-16 campaign are building. After a Thursday night loss to the Broncos in Week 4, bookmaker William Hill U.S. posted a proposition on “Will the Jets go 0-16?” The “Yes” opened at +1,500. The price was down to +600 ahead of Sunday’s game against the Dolphins. The action on the prop has been minimal, but 98% of the bets and 98% of the money is on “Yes.”

The Jets will host the Bills this coming week, before traveling to face the defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs on Nov. 1.

While we look forward to that showdown, here is this week’s edition of Notable Bets, our look at the betting action around the U.S.:


• Multiple sportsbooks said this Sunday was the best of the NFL season so far for the house. “The only significant loss we had was Bears-Panthers,” Stoneback said. “Patriots getting beat was a big one for us. Eagles covering against the Ravens and Falcons winning were also good.”

• “Best Sunday of the year to date,” John Murray, executive director at the Westgate SuperBook, told ESPN, pointing to the Broncos’ outright upset of the Patriots as the best result of the day for the book.

• Bettors had more success at DraftKings, which reported two giant winning parlays that cost the sportsbook $2.3 million.

One was a $2 million two-leg, money-line parlay featuring the Lions (-159) and Dolphins (-385). The Lions beat the Jaguars 34-16, and the Dolphins routed the Jets, netting the big bettor a $2.1 million profit.

The other was a $75,000 three-leg parlay on the Ravens money line, the Dolphins money line and the Steelers -3. The Ravens held off the Eagles 30-28, and the Steelers easily covered the spread in a 38-7 win over the Browns. The parlay paid $221,951.55.

On Sunday afternoon, as it became apparent that both parlay bets would hit, Johnny Avello, DraftKings sportsbook director, said his shop was “stuck a little.”

“It’s a huge bet, and, yeah, it’s nice to be in a lot of stats and have a lot of volume,” Avello told ESPN.

• John Sheeran, sportsbook director for FanDuel, said the Buccaneers’ upset of the Packers was bad for his shop but didn’t have many complaints on what he described as a “really good day” for the house.

• Bears rookie tight end Cole Kmet scored the first touchdown in Sunday’s game against the Panthers. Kmet was 100-1 to score the first TD at DraftKings, which reported taking a $100 bet on Kmet. The bettor won a net $10,000.

FanDuel had Kmet listed at 50-1 and reported taking a $200 bet at those odds.

• For the third straight week, more money was bet on college football at the Borgata than was bet on the NFL. “It’s never happened here prior to three weeks ago,” Tom Gable, sportsbook director at the Borgata, told ESPN. “The volume for NFL isn’t down, it’s just that much of an increase on college football that is causing it.”


• There were more bets placed and more money wagered on the Georgia-Alabama game on Saturday than any other college football game so far this season at DraftKings.

• Midway through the second quarter, with Georgia leading 17-10, a bettor on DraftKings placed an $881,600 wager on the Bulldogs on an alternate point spread of +7.5 (-139) odds. Alabama came back and won 41-24.

• Alabama closed as a consensus 6-point favorite. It was the 71st consecutive game in which the Crimson Tide were the betting favorite, the second-longest such streak in modern college football history. Alabama also owns the longest streak, at 72 games. Barring a significant event, the Crimson Tide will break that record on Oct. 31 against Mississippi State.

• The line dropped from -6 to as low as -4 after it was revealed Wednesday that Alabama coach Nick Saban had tested positive for the coronavirus. Sportsbook PointsBet reported taking money from sharp bettors on the Crimson Tide -4, and the line began to grow late in the week. Saban eventually was cleared to coach on the sideline.

Ed Salmons, veteran oddsmaker at the SuperBook, said in his opinion Saban was worth “zero” to the point spread, but the betting market thought otherwise.

“One of the guys who does move lines laid [Alabama] five yesterday, early in the morning,” Salmons told ESPN.

• Salmons estimated the Georgia-Alabama handle was five times greater than how much was bet on either the ALCS or NLCS baseball games on Saturday at his book.

• The Georgia-Alabama total opened at 49.5 at Circa Sports, the first Las Vegas sportsbook to post weekly college football numbers. It climbed to 58.5 during the week and closed around 58 at most shops.

• The largest bet FanDuel took on the Georgia-Alabama game was $64,000 on under 56.5 — it lost.

• Salmons said he has Alabama and Clemson power-rated as essentially the same teams, with Ohio State a point less because the Buckeyes have not played yet this season.

Other college football notes

• Clemson opened as a 45-point favorite over Syracuse at Las Vegas sportsbook Circa. At -45, it’s the largest point spread in an ACC game since Florida State was a 48-point favorite over Wake Forest in 2000.

• Other notable opening lines via Circa on Sunday:

Illinois at Wisconsin (-21, 59.5)
Notre Dame (-8, 48.5) at Pittsburgh
Penn State (-9, 57.5) at Indiana
Nebraska at Ohio State (-23, 71.5)
South Carolina at LSU (-7, 54.5)
Michigan (-2, 56.5) at Minnesota

• Most bets to win the national championship at the SuperBook:

1. Alabama
2. Ohio State
3. Florida
4. Georgia
5. LSU

Odds and ends

• New Jersey sportsbooks took $748.6 million in bets in September, the most in any month since the state launched its legal sports betting market in June 2018. New Jersey books won a net $45.1 million, $5.8 million of it on September football games.

The hold percentage on football — the portion of the total amount bet that the books keep — is a slim 3.4% for the year. In comparison, Nevada sportsbooks’ football hold has hovered around 5.5%.

• BetOnline.ag, a sportsbook based in Panama that is popular with American bettors but not licensed in the U.S., was taken offline by a reported ransomware attack that began last week and lasted through most of the weekend. “Valued customers, we are offline due to an aggressive cyber attack,” the company wrote on its Twitter feed Friday afternoon. “We’re taking every measure to resolve the issue and we will be fully operational again as soon as possible.”

Three questions …

(With Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling — the first installment of what will be a weekly Q&A with a prominent member of the sports betting industry)

Q: It’s been two and a half years since regulated sports betting began to spread across the U.S. What grade would you give the growing industry’s approach to responsible gaming, and why?

Whyte: An A for talking about responsible gambling but a C for effort. Far too many companies still only pay lip service to responsible gambling. The real problem is at the state level, where roughly half the states who legalized sports betting since May 2018 did not provide a single cent of their new sports betting tax revenue to prevent or treat gambling problems. And it’s hard for any gambling company to truly provide “responsible gambling” when the state government doesn’t provide any help for people who suffer from this often devastating disorder.

Q: Have you seen any indications of an increase in bettors who seek help and identify sports betting as their primary form of gambling?

Whyte: While calls, texts and chats to our National Problem Gambling Helpline are increasing, it’s still probably too soon for most new sports gambling problems to surface. People with gambling problems often persist in playing because they tell themselves they are “one bet away” from winning everything back.

Q: What would you like to see in terms of content from media outlets, many of which — including ESPN — have partnered with sports betting operators?

Whyte: There is a great opportunity for sports media and sports betting companies to help promote responsible gambling as part of the brand in a positive, even fun way. Avoid glamorizing gambling as a good way to make money, since most bettors will lose more than they win over time. And most importantly, promote that hope and help is available for problem gamblers and their families. You can call (800) 522-4700 or go to ncpgambling.org 24/7, it’s toll-free and confidential.


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