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From the hotel lobby to the ring: How the fight between Teofimo Lopez and Vasiliy Lomachenko came to be

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Teofimo Lopez Sr. was in a hotel lobby in New York City in December 2018. The world didn’t know it yet, but when he ran into Vasiliy Lomachenko — the two-time Olympic gold medalist, three-division world titlist and boxing’s pound-for-pound king — and extended his hand, Lopez’s plan for his son was already in motion.

Lomachenko stared at Lopez, and as the father explained to Mark Kriegel last year, that look sent a message.

I’m better than you. Your son is not at my level.

But Lopez Jr.’s success was telling a different story. After starting his professional career in 2016 by racking up some impressive wins, he promised to “take over” boxing and laid out his path on making that happen — by defeating Lomachenko.

The Lopez family has been calling out Lomachenko for the past two years, predicting victory. On Saturday night, predictions and callouts will yield to one of the must-see fights of 2020 as Lopez faces Lomachenko in Las Vegas. Here’s a look at how Lopez earned his shot against Lomachenko, and the knockouts and banter that paved the way.


Oct. 10, 2016: Top Rank signs Teofimo Lopez Jr. to a multiyear promotional contract.

“I think this kid is a real talent,” Top Rank founder and CEO Bob Arum tells ESPN at the time. “The [matchmakers] are really high on him. He’s a real strong kid and has a really big future as a professional. He’s a good fighter.”

Lopez, 19 at the time, is already comparing himself with some of the greats.

“I’m an entertainer — got to entertain,” Lopez says. “My style — I’m technical, very technical. I’m very smart when I’m in the ring, like Albert Einstein. I’m like a Sugar Ray [Leonard], Floyd Mayweather. I’m a boxer, but if the knockout comes, it comes.”


Feb. 1, 2018: Lopez Jr. introduces the slogan “The Takeover” on Instagram ahead of his fight on Feb. 3, 2018, against Juan Pablo Sanchez in Corpus Christi, Texas. Lopez went on to win an eight-round unanimous decision in his eighth pro fight.


May 12, 2018: Lopez continues The Takeover with a first-round KO of Vitor Freitas. Lopez celebrates the victory with the “Take the L” dance from Fortnite. The fight is on the Lomachenko-Jorge Linares undercard at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York and the talk about a possible fight between Lopez and Lomachenko begins.

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Teofimo Lopez Jr. lands a grazing right hand that sends Vitor Freitas to the canvas, and he uses the “Take the L” dance from Fortnite.

“I love this. I live for this,” Lopez says. “I told you guys that this is ‘The Takeover.’ I’ve been training hard and I’m always ready to put on a show for all the fans. I have the power to hurt people. I’m not here to play.”


July 14, 2018: Lopez scores another impressive TKO victory, this time against William Silva in Round 6.

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Teofimo Lopez throws a flurry of punches at William Silva in the sixth round, knocks him to the ground to improve to 10-0 and celebrates in style.

“Man, what can I say? I told you I was going to take over,” Lopez says during the postfight interview.

Lopez fractures his hand during the fight and undergoes surgery afterward.


Early December 2018: A couple of nights before Lopez is scheduled to fight Mason Menard at Madison Square Garden, Lopez Sr. tells Mark Kriegel about running into Lomachenko in the hallway of the hotel where both fighters are staying.

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Teofimo Lopez describes his mentality in the ring and backing up his father’s words.

“How you doing, Lomachenko?” Lopez Sr. says, offering his hand.

But then Lomachenko gives him that look.

Lopez Sr. starts screaming, cursing, making a scene.

“Yo, you ain’t gonna do nothing. We coming for you. F— you! Come Saturday we’re gonna steal the show!”

It upsets Teofimo when his father tells him. He can see Lomachenko, boxing royalty, disrespecting his father without having to say a word. It pisses him off, Lopez Jr. explains to Kriegel. Then again, his dad pisses him off, too.

“Why would you do that?” Teofimo says he thought. “Now I got to clean up your mess.”


Dec. 8, 2018: Fighting on the Lomachenko-Jose Pedraza undercard at the Hulu Theater, the elder Lopez tells Kriegel he is feeling the heat from Top Rank for insulting Lomachenko. Senior pulls his son aside before the walkout. “We gotta do something great,” he says. “You gotta look spectacular.”

Teofimo kisses his father on the cheek. “I got you, Dad. I’m always gonna have your back.”

Lopez scores an eye-opening first-round KO of Mason Menard in just 44 seconds. After the victory, he promises to win a world title in 2019.

“2019, it is ‘The Takeover,'” Lopez Jr. says. “‘The Takeover’ has begun. In 2019 you will see me with a strap that says world’s champion. We’re in the stage of my career where we can change boxing and bring it back. You all haven’t seen anything like me in a long time.”

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Teofimo Lopez knocks out Mason Menard with a brutal right hand then dons a Kyler Murray jersey and does the Heisman pose.

Says Lopez Sr.: “It was like God spoke to me again.”

Father and son watch the main event from a lounge in the Garden. Lomachenko — still recovering from shoulder surgery — goes the distance to beat Pedraza.

Teofimo turns to his father. “Dad,” he said, “You got in his head.”

Later in the month, ESPN names Teofimo its 2018 prospect of the year.


Feb. 2, 2019: Lopez Jr. continues his takeover with an impressive seventh-round knockout of Diego Magdaleno at the The Ford Center at The Star in Frisco, Texas.

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Teofimo Lopez takes it to Diego Magdaleno with a knockdown in the sixth round, and a crushing knockout in the seventh round to finish the fight.

“Teofimo Lopez, whether you hate him or you like him, you’re still going to watch him,” Lopez Jr. says. “What I’m doing right now is entertaining. [In] 2019, we’re ready right now [to fight for a world title]. We have to work in the gym. There’s always room for perfection.”


Feb 19, 2019: Lopez tells Max Kellerman that he wants to face the world titleholders.

“If [the fight with Lomachenko] happens, it happens,” the boxer says. “What we are looking for is a world title. Who has a world title right now, Lomachenko has a world title, Richard Commey, he has a world title, Mikey Garcia has a world title, but he’s at 147 right now. … We are here to fight the world champions, we are here to win the world title, it doesn’t matter who it is.”

Lopez also tells Kellerman that Lomachenko is predictable.

“I feel like [Lomachenko] does the same thing over and over again when it comes to footwork, moving to the same side. There’s three or four ways to beat Lomachenko. … But I can’t say.”


April 12, 2019: Lomachenko beats Anthony Crolla, and at the postfight news conference Lomachenko is asked who would be the most difficult to fight and in what order, between Garcia, Lopez Jr., and Luke Campbell.

Lomachenko says: “I think the [hardest] will be Campbell, second place is Mikey and … second Mikey,” ignoring Lopez completely.

After the fight, Lopez’s father told FightHype.com: “[Lomachenko’s performance was] terrible, terrible, to me. When we throw jabs, we throw jabs to kill you. Anybody that throws jabs like [Lomachenko throws], I don’t really like it. Everybody is looking for a great performance, and what you got to bring into a great performance, you better bring a thrill, you know, and everybody was just quiet throughout the whole performance. He knocked the dude out, but you got to go in there, not respect Lomachenko. You got to go in there and try to take the fight off him. … My son goes in there, you know, to whup your ass, he does it from the beginning. We are not gonna let Lomachenko just do anything like that.”

Asked about how they are going to get a fight with Lomachenko, Lopez Sr. says they are going to get a win by KO in a title fight and then go for Lomachenko to complete The Takeover.

“We are fighting in a co-main event on pay-per-view, which I don’t remember Lomachenko being in any pay-per-view card,” Lopez Sr. says. “My son only has 12 fights, and in his 13th fight we are in the co-main event of a big card, which is the [Terence] Crawford-[Amir] Khan fight in New York City, which is the best scenario, I mean, knock the guy out, in New York, like he’s always done. He’s been in New York five times already, five knockouts. It’s gonna be the sixth knockout in New York, and we are just gonna make it devastating and entertaining, like what everybody wants, you know.

“Lomachenko said he doesn’t want to fight my son unless he has a belt, so we are going to bring the belt, and then you know what you are gonna see? You are gonna see him drop to 130 because he’s scared of my son, and I know that already. … My son is going to take this guy [Lomachenko] out in less than three rounds.”


April 19, 2019: Lopez Jr. shows confidence ahead of his fight against Edis Tatli, telling ESPN’s Mark Kriegel he’s the best fighter in the world.

“You guys haven’t seen nothing yet.”

When asked who’s the best fighter in the world between himself, Crawford and Lomachenko, Lopez gives an emphatic, “Me, because I am. I’m just that great — people coming to see me.”

When Kriegel asks Lopez what is going to happen in the fight with Tatli, Lopez predicts what actually takes place.

“What you guys are gonna see is not just speed, power, but ring IQ,” he says. “That’s the whole thing, I’m a technician when I’m in there. It’s all about entertainment, man, watch the celebration, the Fortnite dances, everything coming together, and finishing with a back flip and calling it a night.”


April 20, 2019: Lopez demolishes Tatli in a fifth-round KO on the Crawford-Khan undercard, and two days after the fight he posts on Instagram: “We came, We saw, We conquered! #TheTakeover”

“I want a world title shot next. That’s what I want. We promised to take over the show, and once again, I took it over,” Lopez says after the fight. “I’m ready for [world titlist] Richard Commey or the [potentially vacant] WBC title. As long as it’s for a title, I am ready to go. No one can take my power.”


June 29, 2019: Knowing he needs to win a world title to solidify the idea of fighting Lomachenko, Lopez posts a photo of himself with then-potential opponent Commey with the caption, reading in part: “See you soon.”


July 16, 2019: Lopez and his father are guests on the 3 Knockdown Rule podcast, hosted by Mario Lopez and Steve Kim. Lopez Sr. calls Lomachenko “terrible” once again.

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Vasiliy Lomachenko and Teofimo Lopez were each raised very differently by their fathers.

“Everybody glorifies this guy, and that’s one thing that [Teofimo] doesn’t understand. The guy [Lomachenko] is terrible,” Lopez Sr. says. “We’re going to take this guy out in less than three rounds, I’ll say it right now.”

Lopez Jr. isn’t too complimentary of Lomachenko either.

“He had a huge amateur background, he has a huge amateur pedigree and all that stuff,” he says. “He paved the way. Don’t get me wrong. You can’t take that away. But it’s the fact that, did anybody really know him as much as they do now? No. It’s because we mentioned him and everything like that, and we’re hot now.”

Added Lopez Sr.: “He hasn’t done nothing.”

Lopez Jr. is days away from facing Masayoshi Nakatani, but he and his father keep going at Lomachenko, trying to get the fight done.

“People want to see this fight, and they call it a megafight,” Lopez Jr. says during the podcast, as if he’s talking directly to Lomachenko.

“My dude, you’ve been a two-time Olympic gold medalist, multiple weight division champion and all that, yet you still can’t get a pay-per-view fight?”


July 17, 2019: Two days before the Nakatani fight, Lopez Jr. shares with ESPN his three-fight plan, which includes a victory over Nakatani, a fight against Commey for the IBF lightweight title and then Lomachenko in a unification fight.

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Teofimo Lopez is one of boxing’s biggest rising stars, but it doesn’t come without an enormous amount of help from his trainer, his father, Teofimo Lopez Sr.

It ends up being a very accurate plan.

“What I see in my son is the best fighter that ever lived. That’s the way I see my son,” Lopez Sr tells ESPN. “I will never lie about my son. If my son sucks, he sucks and he wouldn’t be in this sport.”

Lopez Jr. understands what his father is trying to do and doesn’t see it as pressure.

“There’s times … I’m like, dang, he put me in this position,” Lopez Jr. says. “All right, I gotta back him up. … I’m not gonna make nobody make fun of my father.”


July 19, 2019: Lopez wins a unanimous decision over Nakatani, but he doesn’t look good in victory against the tall and lanky fighter. Is he ready for the top fighters at 135 pounds? Is he ready for a title shot?

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Masayoshi Nakatani hits Teofimo Lopez with a right hand punch, and Lopez answers with a punch of his own. For more Top Rank Boxing, sign up here for ESPN+ https://plus.espn.com/.

“I just need little tuneups. It’s part of the process. I’m thankful right now,” Lopez says after the fight. “It was my first main event. It was 12 rounds. Am I proud of it? No, but I’m proud that I showed everyone I could go 12 rounds.”

Lopez had earned a title shot against Commey, the IBF titleholder. The Takeover was a step closer.


Dec. 14, 2019: An incredible second-round TKO victory over Commey to win his first world title erases every doubt about Lopez’s talent.

One right hand puts Commey down. Lomachenko is next.

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Teofimo Lopez Jr. puts on a Joe Burrow jersey after defeating Richard Commey at MSG in December, similar to when Lopez sported a Kyler Murray jersey in his win the previous December.

“I’m at a loss for words right now. This is a dream come true,” Lopez says after the fight. “[Commey] is a bad man. His shot could’ve done the same to me if he hit me with that shot.

“You all know who I want to fight next — 2020 is going to be a big year. ‘The Takeover’ has arrived, and you haven’t seen anything yet.”

Lomachenko, who is ringside, tells ESPN reporter Bernardo Osuna after Lopez’s victory: “Now he’s a world champion. Welcome to my club. I see you in April.”


May 19, 2020: After extended discussions, it is clear that Lomachenko and Lopez have their eyes squarely on each other. There’s nobody else in the picture and both fighters state they are willing to fight even without fans.

“In talking with Lomachenko and Lopez, neither of them want an interim fight,” Arum said. “So we would plan to do that in September, with or without an audience.”

Lopez Sr. reiterates the desire to go for Lomachenko sooner rather than later.

“One hundred percent,” he says. “We don’t need no tuneups. We are focused with Lomachenko. That’s all we want is Lomachenko.”


July 22, 2020: Lopez Jr. records videos that are posted on Instagram and Twitter where he calls out Lomachenko and tells him to “bring my belts.”

Aug. 12, 2020: The Lomachenko-Lopez lightweight unification fight is officially announced for Oct. 17 on ESPN.


Aug. 13, 2020: Lopez Sr. predicts a third KO victory for his son, saying that the fight is going to make Teofimo “a superhero.”

It’s not going to even last three rounds,” Lopez Sr. tells ESPN after the fight is announced. “When that monster hits him with the first punch, you’re going to see a hurt dog without no legs. He’s done. The first punch is going to change the whole fight. He’s going to wish he was never in that ring.

“Two years ago, you remember when I started this, you know why? Because that’s what God put in my head. That’s what God put in my head and I know we had to beat him. And let me tell you something … there never had been nobody in the world predict a world championship [for Teofimo] in [just] 15 fights, and then fight Lomachenko in our 16th fight.

“This kid is from another planet, this kid is not normal,” he said of his son.

While Lopez Jr.’s purse for the fight is less because fans aren’t able to attend, Lopez Sr. convinced his son to take the fight, saying that not making it could have had a long-lasting negative impact on his career.

“I told him, ‘I’ll give you my percentage, bro’, I don’t care about money,” Lopez Sr. recalls. “This is what we did this s— for — for the glory. You can ask for anything you want after this.”

And a victory will go a long way for Lopez’s legacy as well.

“This is the fight that’s going to make my son a superhero,” Lopez Sr. says. “He’s going to be like Superman.”


Sept. 8, 2020: Lopez Jr. says on ESPN’s First Take that he plans to finish Lomachenko.

“Everything that this man does that they say, [making opponents quit], he’s decreasing. … He’s already on his way out, and it’s showing,” Lopez says. “Your body can only take so much, so much damage, and I guarantee you, we are going to put some damage on this man.”


Sept. 29, 2020: Lopez Sr. tells ESPN that through their talk they’ve been able to rattle Lomachenko and that his son will knock him out on Oct. 17.

“Lomachenko doesn’t know what is coming. He is very nervous. I know that we are going to win that fight before my son enters the ring, because that is my job — I have to get inside Lomachenko’s head,” Lopez Sr. says. “He has never spoken well of any boxer and now he says that my son has a high IQ in boxing, and before he did not say that. I know I’m in his head.

“And my son is not the same boxer who beat Commey — he is a boxer who believes more in himself. Destroying Commey, a person that no one has ever knocked out before, a strong boxer, good jaw, and the way we destroyed him gave my son more confidence, even though my son always has the confidence. Lomachenko would never have done that to Commey, ever. That fight would have been won by Lomachenko, of course, but he would have won on points — he would never have knocked him out the way my son did.

“My son got rid of Commey quickly and that’s what we are gonna do with Lomachenko, as well.

“I already predicted the fight’s not going six rounds, and that’s just the way it’s going to go,” the elder Lopez says. “We’ve been right all these times and we’re going to be right on this fight, too. There’s no way a 126-pounder is going to beat my son. It’s just impossible.

“[My son] is going to look way better than all the other fights he has fought. This guy Lomachenko, he’s going to make us look good, and I can’t wait. I told everybody the better the fighter is, the easier the fight it’s going to be for us.”


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1:28

Take a look back at Teofimo Lopez’s biggest wins as he fearlessly climbed the ranks and won the IBF lightweight championship.

Oct. 12, 2020: Lopez Jr. says no matter what his father says, he knows it is because of the confidence he has in him to deliver in the ring.

“I love my father,” Lopez Jr. tells ESPN, “but it isn’t about proving his prophecy. He talks whatever he wants to talk. He made this bigger than it needed to be — I think everyone needs to congratulate him on that part. But really what it is, it’s just that he knows what I’m all about. He talks what he talks, he’s very confident about it because he sees in me, what no one else sees in me, yet.”

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Way-too-early 2021 MLB Power Rankings: What’s next for Dodgers, Rays and all 30 teams

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We can only hope 2021 will be a more normal season, with 162 games and fans in the stands and hot dogs to eat and overpriced beer to drink. We don’t know what the state of things will be come April 1, when the 2021 season is scheduled to begin, but we can speculate on the state of the 30 franchises.

Yes, we’re back with our annual Way-Too-Early Power Rankings. There are a few obvious teams at the top, a handful at the bottom and a whole bunch in the middle. Throw in the difficulty of analyzing a 60-game season and the uncertainty of how the offseason will play out due to the financial losses of this season, and these are the most difficult rankings we have had to do. But we fearlessly move forward.

(Title odds for 2021 from Caesars Sportsbook by William Hill)

2020 record: 43-17
Won World Series
2021 title odds: 4-1

They’re reigning champs. They’ve won eight straight division titles. They have Mookie Betts signed for the long term. They have young starters such as Walker Buehler, Dustin May, Julio Urias and Tony Gonsolin to keep the rotation strong for years to come. They have players capable of better seasons (Cody Bellinger, Max Muncy, Gavin Lux). They have a good farm system. They have financial flexibility, with only Betts signed past 2022 and all those young players to help them keep the payroll in check. Justin Turner is a free agent, but he would be a nice DH option if the NL makes that permanent. We know they will be good. But we know it’s really all about October.


2020 record: 35-25
Lost NLCS to Dodgers
2021 title odds: 12-1

The offense gives them a high floor:Freddie Freeman, Ronald Acuna Jr., Ozzie Albies, Dansby Swanson, even Travis d’Arnaud and Adam Duvall raked in 2020. Marcell Ozuna is a free agent and it would be nice to bring him back, but rookie center fielder Cristian Pache is ready and he looks like he’ll be valuable on both sides of the ball. The rotation will see the return of Mike Soroka from his Achilles injury and a full season of Ian Anderson to back up Max Fried. Kyle Wright and Bryse Wilson have potential, and Atlanta will probably bring in a veteran starter on a one-year deal the way they did with Dallas Keuchel in 2019 and tried to do with Cole Hamels in 2020. The Braves will be favored to win a fourth straight division title even if they don’t do anything this offseason.


2020 record: 37-23
Lost Division Series to Dodgers
2021 title odds: 17-2

Sure, an argument can be made to put the Padres ahead of the Braves, but I think we have to first make sure Dinelson Lamet and Mike Clevinger are completely healthy in spring training. San Diego brings back essentially every significant player after running out the youngest lineup in the NL, with Jake Cronenworth and Trent Grisham looking like foundation additions alongside Fernando Tatis Jr. (All were acquired in trades; good job, A.J. Preller!) We’ll see if Eric Hosmer and Wil Myers can match their 2020 rate of production, but if Luis Patino and MacKenzie Gore become impact starters, the Padres are poised to make a multiyear run in challenging the Dodgers for NL West supremacy.


2020 record: 40-20
Lost World Series to Dodgers
2021 title odds: 10-1

The Rays won their first division title since 2010 and did it in quite remarkable fashion, with 12 different relievers recording a save and the pitching staff overcoming a slew of injuries along the way. They were able to pull that off because of the depth of their staff, but having expanded rosters over the 60-game season made it possible to rely so heavily on the bullpen. Of course, you can argue that pitching depth will be even more valuable over 162 games. The offense isn’t elite, although we can’t wait to see what Randy Arozarena will do over a full season or if super rookie Wander Franco is ready to make an impact at some point in 2021.


2020 record: 35-25
Lost Wild Card Series to A’s
2021 title odds: 12-1

Much like the Braves, the offensive firepower of the White Sox should give them a high floor. Even if you see some regression coming from Jose Abreu or Tim Anderson, Luis Robert and Yoan Moncada should improve and a full season of Nick Madrigal will help. Michael Kopech, who opted out of 2020, will hopefully be back, but he hasn’t pitched in two years, so finding another veteran arm to go with ace Lucas Giolito and Dallas Keuchel will be key. Closer Alex Colome is a free agent, but the White Sox have several power arms in their organization, including 2020 first-round pick Garrett Crochet, who could be a dominant reliever right away. Manager Rick Renteria and longtime pitching coach Don Cooper got the boot, with A.J. Hinch a possible replacement for Renteria. That would be an upgrade.


2020 record: 33-27
Lost Division Series to Rays
2021 title odds: 6-1

You can make an argument to put them a couple of spots higher, but not winning the AL East in 2020 points to some flaws. They simply can’t count on Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton being healthy for an entire season, plus DJ LeMahieu and Masahiro Tanaka are free agents, two important players to re-sign or replace. Of course, we know the Yankees will do something big, perhaps signing J.T. Realmuto and moving on from Gary Sanchez or trading for Francisco Lindor and shifting Gleyber Torres to second. Getting Luis Severino back from Tommy John surgery will be a big boost as well.


2020 record: 36-24
Lost Wild Card Series to Astros
2021 title odds: 14-1

The Twins didn’t do it quite like they did in 2019, when they bashed a record 307 home runs (although their 162-game pace for 2020 was still 259), as their team batting average dropped nearly 30 points, and they fell from second in the AL in runs to 10th. Still, they’ve established a foundation of success with three playoff appearances in four seasons. The big issue is they have a lot of free agents to replace or re-sign, starting with 40-year-old Nelson Cruz, but also Jake Odorizzi, Marwin Gonzalez, Rich Hill, Tyler Clippard, Trevor May and Homer Bailey. Those players were minor contributors, but with Eddie Rosario, Byron Buxton and Taylor Rogers getting more expensive in arbitration, the Twins may not be able to fill out the roster with minor free agents the way they’ve done of late. They need a healthy Josh Donaldson, especially if Cruz leaves, and they will have to discard the emotional baggage of 18 consecutive playoff losses to get revved up for 162 games just to get back to October again.


2020 record: 36-24
Lost Division Series to Houston
2021 title odds: 14-1

The A’s weren’t as impressive as they were in 2019 — Matt Olson morphed into an extreme “three true outcomes” slugger, Matt Chapman‘s OBP dipped to .276 and Marcus Semien declined from his third-place MVP performance. They still coasted to the AL West title though, and the division projects as being pretty soft, at least right now. Semien and closer Liam Hendriks are free agents as are several other key role players, so this ranking is not presented with a high degree of confidence. The A’s always seem to maximize their talent, and I do think the rotation will be much better, making up for some of the likely bullpen regression.


2020 record: 26-34
Tied for fourth in NL East
2021 title odds: 30-1

I feel like we need another National League team here, but let’s be honest: There is a wide gap between the NL’s top three teams and the block of mediocre teams in the middle. Let’s roll the dice on the Mets with new owner Steve Cohen to the rescue (once he gets formally approved). Let’s just say Mets fans are pumped about Cohen’s WAW (wins above Wilpon). There have already been reports about all the money he’ll sink into the franchise, not just on players but things like building out a more robust analytics staff. Aside from any splashy moves Cohen may make — trading for Nolan Arenado or Francisco Lindor? Signing J.T. Realmuto or Trevor Bauer? — there is a strong base of talent here. They ranked third in the majors in wOBA (behind the Braves and Dodgers) and fifth in the majors in pitcher strikeout rate. They should be better — a familiar refrain for Mets fans, unfortunately.


2020 record: 34-26
Lost Wild Card Series to Marlins
2021 title odds: 25-1

Everyone was down on the Cubs, especially after that sad two-and-out to the Marlins, but we do need to point out Chicago still won the NL Central despite Javier Baez (59 OPS+), Kris Bryant (73) and Kyle Schwarber (88) all producing well below an average major league hitter and Anthony Rizzo and Willson Contreras performing below their career norms. That continues a downward trend for this once-great offensive core, from second in the NL in runs in 2016 and 2017 to fourth in 2018, fifth in 2019 and 10th in 2020. Baez, Bryant, Schwarber and Rizzo are all free agents after 2021, but frankly, the trade value for Bryant and Schwarber — and even Baez, to a lesser extent — has cratered. Theo Epstein also hinted that 2021 will be his last season with the Cubs. Does this group get one last chance? In a weak division, with some bounce-back potential, the Cubs could be better than everyone believes. Or maybe the front office will just tear it all down.


2020 record: 29-31
Lost ALCS to Rays
2021 title odds: 20-1

It promises to be a busy winter for the Astros. George Springer, Michael Brantley and Josh Reddick are all free agents, while Carlos Correa, Lance McCullers Jr. and Zack Greinke are set to be free agents after 2021, as are Justin Verlander and Roberto Osuna, both of whom will likely miss the season following Tommy John surgery. They’ll need more from Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman (and don’t forget about Yordan Alvarez) but they could have a strong rotation if they keep McCullers and Greinke to go with Framber Valdez, Cristian Javier and Jose Urquidy. The outfield free-agent market is thin, so if Springer and Brantley sign elsewhere, the Astros may have to scramble to find help for Kyle Tucker.


2020 record: 35-25
Lost Wild Card Series to Yankees
2021 title odds: 20-1

We start with one of the biggest questions of the entire offseason: Will Cleveland trade Francisco Lindor? It seems weird to say this, but there isn’t an obvious fit, as most of the top teams are set at shortstop. It will be interesting to see if a team tries to pull the Mookie Betts maneuver: trade for Lindor, then sign him to a big extension before he hits free agency after the 2021 season. Aside from the Lindor issue, it’s going to be a similar Cleveland team as we’ve seen the past two years: enough starting pitching to be a playoff team, but an offense that may prevent them from getting there. Please, find some competent outfielders. Cleveland’s outfielders hit .196/.270/.304.


2020 record: 30-28
Lost Wild Card Series to Padres
2021 title odds: 30-1

In one sense, it’s harder to evaluate what the Cardinals did in 2020 than any other team, with them having to play 11 doubleheaders after the team’s COVID-19 outbreak early in the season. On the other hand, they were exactly what we thought they would be: below-average offense with no power, good defense, good bullpen, decent starting pitching. I just don’t how they’re going to get better, especially given that some of their pitching peripheral numbers don’t quite match the ERA figures. Look, as always, you can never discount the Cardinals. They haven’t had a losing season since 2007. The division is wide open. Jack Flaherty will be better. Dylan Carlson could give them an impact outfielder. The bullpen projects as a big strength.


2020 record: 26-34
Tied for fourth in NL East
2021 title odds: 30-1

No team had less incentive in 2020 than the Nationals, and once Stephen Strasburg went down, it kind of felt like the entire team went down with him. Juan Soto played at an MVP level for 47 games, leading the NL in batting average and the majors in OBP and slugging. It wasn’t a full season so I’m not saying it compares, but his 212 OPS+ was the best since Barry Bonds in 2004.

There are concerns in the starting rotation, however, beyond Strasburg’s nerve issue. Anibal Sanchez fell apart, Patrick Corbin got knocked around (85 hits in 65⅔ innings) and even Max Scherzer had his highest ERA since 2012.The real problem may have been the defense: The Nationals ranked last in the majors with minus-43 defensive runs saved. As always, depth is an issue and they need youngsters Carter Kieboom (no home runs in 99 at-bats) and Victor Robles (.608 OPS) to contribute at the plate. If Strasburg is healthy, don’t ignore the 2019 champs.


2020 record: 32-28
Lost Wild Card Series to Rays
2021 title odds: 50-1

The Blue Jays face a very interesting offseason after making the playoffs as a wild card and ranking third in the AL in runs. The offense potentially looks even better if you’re buying the breakouts of Teoscar Hernandez and Rowdy Tellez. Worth noting: The Jays hit much better at their temporary home in Buffalo, so we have to be careful about overrating the offense. Hyun-Jin Ryu was terrific (at least until his playoff start), but the rest of the rotation was so problematic that the Jays acquired Taijuan Walker, Robbie Ray and Ross Stripling for the stretch run. Walker and Ray are free agents, but Nate Pearson will help, and the Jays should have some money to spend in free agency.


2020 record: 28-32
Third in NL East
2021 title odds: 40-1

It’s hard to see the Phillies much better than the .500 team they’ve been the past three seasons, which led to general manager Matt Klentak being reassigned within the organization. They had two great starters in Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler and finished fourth in the NL in runs, but the bullpen (6.92 ERA, worst of all time) undermined all the positives. The Phillies allowed a .345 average on balls in play, and maybe that would drop over a full season, but it stands as the highest ever. This has been a multiyear problem. They were middle of the pack in BABIP allowed in 2019, but fifth-worst in 2018 and sixth-worst in 2017. They’ve been unable to fix the defense. Anyway, J.T. Realmuto and Didi Gregorius are free agents. The payroll would have been more than $200 million given a full season in 2020, so you wonder if there is room to re-sign Realmuto and fix the bullpen and replace/re-sign Gregorius and maybe add another starter.


2020 record: 26-34
Fourth in AL West
2021 title odds: 40-1

Billy Eppler is out as general manager after a five-year run that included no winning seasons. Yes, he inherited the bad Albert Pujols contract, but he also inherited Mike Trout and was never able to build a successful team around him, despite additions like Andrelton Simmons, Shohei Ohtani and Anthony Rendon. Simmons is a free agent, Pujols is finally down to his final season and Jared Walsh (.971 OPS, nine home runs in 99 at-bats, a low 13.9% strikeout rate) has to play. The immediate concerns are trying to turn Jo Adell into a major league hitter (.161, 55 strikeouts, seven walks in 132 PAs), figure out what happened to Ohtani (.190) and Justin Upton (.204) and — as always — address the pitching. Sounds like the same story as the past five years.


2020 record: 29-31
Lost Wild Card Series to Dodgers
2021 title odds: 50-1

This is a difficult team to read. The Brewers didn’t hit at all in 2020 (I think the NL must have stored its balls in Lake Michigan, because nobody could hit). Two-time batting champ and 2018 MVP Christian Yelich hit just .205, and I know it was just 58 games, but his strikeout rate went from 20.3% to 30.8%. Something doesn’t add up there.

They do have two great one-two combos in Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes in the rotation and Devin Williams and Josh Hader in the bullpen. Does Williams’ stunning breakout (53 K’s in 27 innings) make Hader trade bait? Burnes certainly looked like the real deal with his new cutter, but he’ll have to prove he can do it over 30 starts instead of 10. David Stearns is one of the more creative GMs around, although he’d probably like a do-over on the Trent Grisham/Zach Davies for Luis Urias/Eric Lauer deal.


2020 record: 24-36
Fifth in AL East
2021 title odds: 60-1

This was the hardest team to project. The pitching was so awful — 5.85 runs per game, the most for the franchise since 1932 — that it’s easy to assume it will be bad again in 2021. It was also bad in 2019 (5.11 runs per game), so we have a two-year track record. Maybe they get Chris Sale back at midseason and Eduardo Rodriguez returns from his COVID-related heart issue. There is a nice offensive core with Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, Alex Verdugo and Christian Vazquez (and J.D. Martinez if he bounces back). I’m not sure what Bobby Dalbec will be. I guess his upside is Joey Gallo, if that’s a good thing. More importantly, is Chaim Bloom playing the long game or will there be pressure to get the Red Sox immediately back into contender status?


2020 record: 31-29
Lost Wild Card Series to Braves
2021 title odds: 25-1

The Reds sneaked into the playoffs as a wild card with a late surge, but the team embarrassingly exited with two shutouts to the Braves, including a 13-inning defeat. The Reds have morphed into the most extreme example of a “three true outcomes” offense we’ve seen in this launch-angle era. They ranked fourth in the NL in home runs and first in walks, but hit a pathetic .212. The entire package added up to ranking just 13th in the NL in runs, then you dig deeper and realize they hit 55 home runs at home and 35 on the road, so much of their power was simply a result of their home park. It’s a bad offense, and I’m not sure it improves much in 2021. Trevor Bauer is a sure bet to sign elsewhere as a free agent, and we still don’t know if Nick Senzel is the solution in center field or an injury-prone role player.


2020 record: 31-29
Lost Division Series to Braves
2021 title odds: 60-1

It was a fun ride to their first postseason trip since 2003, but once you get past the starting trio of Sixto Sanchez, Sandy Alcantara and Pablo Lopez, holes remain. The pitching staff was next to last in the majors in strikeout rate, and the team’s top five relievers were all 30-something guys you can’t necessarily count on for 2021. There are no offensive stars as the lineup relied on stopgap veterans, while the young hitters still have trouble controlling the strike zone (and the young hitters aren’t really all that young). The minus-41 run differential is a little misleading as the Marlins had to use more players than any other team due to the COVID-19 outbreak, but I’m not sure I see another .500 season unless some of the young hitters suddenly develop into solid regulars.


2020 record: 29-31
Third in NL West
2021 title odds: 80-1

Call me skeptical. They went from the second-worst offense in the NL to a top-five offense — without making any significant additions. Brandon Belt with a 1.000 OPS? Mike Yastrzemski and Alex Dickerson over .900? Donovan Solano chasing a batting title? I smell a lot of regression coming on, and the Giants don’t have the rotation to back that up. They also had the oldest lineup in the league: Mauricio Dubon is the only returning regular who won’t be 30 or older in 2021. Maybe catcher Joey Bart makes an impact, but a 41 to 3 strikeout-to-walk rate suggests he’s not ready for prime time. Several of their big contracts come off the books after 2021 if you factor in buyouts, so look for the Giants to wait until that big 2021-22 free-agent class to start flipping over the roster.


2020 record: 27-33
Third in AL West
2021 title odds: 100-1

There were some nice positives in 2020: Kyle Lewis may win Rookie of the Year, Justus Sheffield was much improved, Marco Gonzales solidified himself as one of the most underrated starters in the majors, Dylan Moore turned into one of the best utility players as a power/speed combo. But there is still zero star power here, at least until Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodriguez arrive as potential All-Star outfielders, Kelenic in 2021 and Rodriguez probably in 2022. Jerry Dipoto will have to reconstruct a bullpen that was one of the worst in the league (5.92 ERA). The Mariners are on the rise and have other potential impact prospects, including pitchers Logan Gilbert and Emerson Hancock, but look for them to hold the course in 2021 and push forward in 2022.


2020 record: 26-34
Fourth in AL Central
2021 title odds: 150-1

The Royals have some interesting young pitchers in Brad Keller, Brady Singer and Kris Bubic, with Josh Staumont as a potential closer, but there are still huge gaps across the roster, especially on the offensive side of things. They need to figure out center field, second base and left field, and even Adalberto Mondesi Jr. now looks like just a placeholder at short until Bobby Witt Jr. arrives in a couple of years. This ranking could be selling the Royals a bit short, as young pitching can carry a team if it comes fast (and 2020 top pick Asa Lacy may not need much time in the minors), but they need to find some hitters.


2020 record: 25-35
Fifth in NL West
2021 title odds: 60-1

That was ugly, and the fans are turning on the team after a couple of years of trades (Paul Goldschmidt, Zack Greinke and the deadline deals this season) that don’t appear to have returned any front-line talent. Ketel Marte and Eduardo Escobar, so good in 2019, fell off, with Marte inexplicably deciding he no longer wanted to walk. Robbie Ray couldn’t throw strikes and was finally traded. Merrill Kelly hurt his shoulder. Madison Bumgarner didn’t win a game. The problem for 2021? The Diamondbacks had the second-oldest lineup in the NL (six of their top eight regulars were 29 or older). Bumgarner now looks like a bad $80 million gamble. They’re only a season removed from going 85-77, so there is rebound potential, but the Snakes are a mess at the moment.


2020 record: 25-35
Fourth in AL East
2021 title odds: 150-1

Don’t get me wrong, there were a lot of positives in 2020, especially after losing 108 games in 2019 and 115 in 2018. Anthony Santander had a small-sample breakout with the metrics to back it up. Ryan Mountcastle looks ready to join the lineup in 2021 and Trey Mancini will hopefully be back at full strength after finishing his chemo treatment in September. Keegan Akin and Dean Kremer could be arms to watch for the rotation.

They do have financial flexibility, especially as they get closer to the end of Chris Davis‘ deal, and with Adley Rutschman close to the majors and starters D.L. Hall and Grayson Rodriguez perhaps ready in 2022, the farm is better than it’s been in at least 10 years. But the base level of talent here remains pretty low.


2020 record: 26-34
Fourth in NL West
2021 title odds: 100-1

Right now, Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story are still on the roster. Will they be there come spring training? The relationship between Arenado and the Rockies is strained, making him a trade candidate this winter. He won’t be easy to trade, though: He didn’t have a good 2020 at the plate, ended the season on the IL, has a full no-trade clause and can opt out of his deal after 2021. If Arenado is traded, you could see the Rockies dealing Story as well since he’s a free agent after 2021. Mostly, this team just needs a makeover. They ranked eighth in the NL in runs, and for a Rockies team, that’s horrible. (They had finished below fifth just one other time in franchise history.)


2020 record: 23-35
Fifth in AL Central
2021 title odds: 200-1

Sometimes you just have to point out the obvious: Jeimer Candelario was the team’s best player in 2020 — a 26-year-old first baseman who hit .203 the year before. Look, Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal project as good starters at some point, but their struggles in limited action in 2020 suggest that may not be in 2021. Along with Spencer Turnbull and prospect Matt Manning, there is a rotation to dream on, but there is no offense, and Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene, their top position player prospects, are more on a 2022 timetable.


2020 record: 22-38
Fifth in AL West
2021 title odds: 100-1

The Rangers continue to go backward. They were bad in 2020 in a year they thought they could contend, they weren’t particularly young and the farm system has struggled to develop pitchers and turn toolsy position players into quality hitters. The offense had a brutal year — and not just because of the new park. They didn’t hit on the road either. It’s time to admit that Joey Gallo and Rougned Odor are never going to be the core of a championship lineup, and if Lance Lynn is traded — he’ll be a free agent after 2021 — the rotation will have a huge hole to fill.


2020 record: 19-41
Fifth in NL Central
2021 title odds: 300-1

Let’s see, a small-market team coming off the worst record in the sport, won’t spend any money in free agency, and whose three best players in 2019 were all terrible in 2020. The first step is to hope Josh Bell, Bryan Reynolds and Kevin Newman rebound, but with most of the organization’s top prospects still a ways off, the short-term outlook looks bleak. Heck, the long-term outlook isn’t exactly full of roses and puppies.

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Bryant, out 2 years, joins Ravens practice squad

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OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Dez Bryant is back in the NFL.

The Baltimore Ravens signed the three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver to their practice squad, the team announced Tuesday. Bryant has been out of the league for two years.

Bryant appeared to acknowledge the deal in a tweet Tuesday: “My emotions running high right now… I’m thankful…I can’t stop crying”

The biggest question is when Bryant will suit up for the Ravens. Baltimore’s wide receivers rank last in the NFL in receptions (58) and receiving yards (737).

Bryant, 31, could become a physical possession-type receiver for reigning NFL MVP Lamar Jackson and can complement the speed of Marquise Brown.

The addition of Bryant might lead to a high-profile reunion on Dec. 3, when the Ravens play host to the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday Night Football. Bryant starred for the Cowboys for eight seasons, totaling 531 receptions for 7,459 yards and a franchise-record 73 touchdown catches.

“Obviously, that’s kind of like an ‘OG’-type guy,” Ravens tight end Mark Andrews said when asked about Bryant on Monday. “He’s been around the league for a long, long time. He actually followed me on Twitter a year or two ago, so I’m excited to meet him, and I’m excited to [be] around him hopefully, and just learn.”

This marked Bryant’s second workout with Baltimore in two months. When Bryant left in August without a contract, he was told to improve his conditioning, a source said.

The Ravens are off to a fast start at 5-1, but their passing game ranks 31st in the NFL. It looks as if Jackson would benefit from another target on the outside because Brown is the only Baltimore wide receiver with more than 11 catches this season.

Bryant is attempting to become the second Pro Bowl wide receiver to miss two full seasons and then return to the NFL since the 1970 merger, according to Elias Sports Bureau research. Josh Gordon was the first.

Bryant hasn’t played in a game since December 2017.

In November 2018, Bryant signed a one-year, $1.25 million deal with the New Orleans Saints. But he tore an Achilles tendon during his first practice with the Saints and has been out of the NFL since.

Bryant’s 531 career receptions would be the most by any wide receiver before missing two full seasons and then returning to the NFL, according to Elias’ data.

To make room for Bryant, the Ravens waived safety Marcus Gilchrist from the practice squad.

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Augusta National to host College GameDay during Masters

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ESPN’s College GameDay Built By the Home Depot show has originated from dozens of college campuses across the country since 1993.

On Saturday, Nov. 14, the show will combine two of sport’s greatest traditions — college football and the Masters.

ESPN announced on Tuesday that College GameDay will originate from Augusta National Golf Club, which is hosting the postponed Masters Tournament next month, Nov. 12-15.

Top matchups that day are No. 9 Wisconsin at No. 13 Michigan and No. 2 Alabama at LSU.

“Any time College GameDay travels to a new destination, it’s special, and the opportunity to be on the grounds of Augusta National Golf Club during the Masters is extraordinary,” said Jimmy Pitaro, chairman, ESPN and Sports Content. “As this iconic event coincides with the college football season for the first time, we look forward to getting fans ready for a football Saturday while also showcasing the Masters and the greatest golfers in the world.”

Longtime ESPN hosts Rece Davis, Lee Corso, Kirk Herbstreit, Desmond Howard and others will broadcast from the par-3 course from 9 a.m. to noon ET.

In its 13th year at the Masters, ESPN will once again televise the first and second rounds, Nov. 12-13, from 1 to 5:30 p.m. There will also be expanded coverage on ESPN+, including exclusive practice-round coverage Nov. 10-11.

Golf fans will also be able to watch featured holes coverage on ESPN+ on Nos. 4, 5 and 6 in each of the four rounds of the Masters.

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