Taking too long? Close loading screen.
Connect with us


UFC bantamweights: How Saturday can shift the landscape of one of the most loaded divisions



With a key matchup between UFC men’s bantamweight contenders Marlon Moraes (23-6-1) and Cory Sandhagen (12-2) set to headline this weekend’s event on “Fight Island” in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, it feels like a good time to talk about one of the UFC’s most intriguing divisions.

As far as the promotion’s overall landscape goes, the 135-pound weight class has changed more than just about any division over the past year. There was a sudden retirement by the champion; a new champ taking his place within months; the emergence of new faces; an influx of familiar faces who are new to the division; and the emergence of a lightning-rod prospect who has drawn attention from the very top of the sport.

So, let’s take a look at some of the storylines at 135 pounds and discuss how Saturday’s result might impact them.

What’s on the line this weekend?

A title shot is at stake, possibly, if you’re Marlon Moraes.

Right now, the de facto No. 1 contender in this division is Aljamain Sterling, for good reason. Not only has Sterling won his past five fights — against good competition — he has done so in impressive fashion. Ask just about anyone who follows the sport closely, “Who is the most deserving men’s bantamweight title challenger?” The answer is Sterling.

Come Sunday morning, that answer might change for some. If Moraes wins, he’d be 6-1 in his past seven, with his only loss coming against the now-retired champion, Henry Cejudo. Moraes also knocked out Sterling in the first round of their fight in 2017 and was actually scheduled this past summer to fight Petr Yan, who is now champion, before the coronavirus pandemic shook up the schedule.

If Moraes wins impressively on Saturday, I think the UFC will book him in a title fight against Yan in late 2020 or early 2021. That would be a tough pill to swallow for Sterling, but that’s my guess.

Once the title fight is booked, how does the rest of the division shake out?



Frankie Edgar fights his way all 25 minutes vs. Pedro Munhoz to win via split decision, becoming the 11th fighter in UFC modern era history to win in three different weight classes.

You know who is the crucial puzzle piece to this question? Frankie Edgar. And I know that’s going to ruffle some feathers. Edgar has kind of become that guy — as beloved by the fan base as he is — where it feels like he’s getting a title shot every year, and the fans are tired of seeing it.

Regardless, Edgar made himself immediately relevant in this division when he beat Pedro Munhoz in a five-round main event in August. If Sterling gets passed up for a title shot, I think he would fight Edgar. And if Sandhagen were to win this weekend and Sterling gets his title shot, I believe Sandhagen would fight Edgar. So this fight on Saturday has major ramifications, and either way it goes, I believe Edgar’s immediate future will be impacted.

Is Cejudo still a factor in any of this?



Brett Okamoto and Ariel Helwani discuss Henry Cejudo’s retirement announcement, with Helwani not believing Cejudo is stepping away.

I don’t think so. Cejudo’s retirement in May was surprising, but it gets less surprising with every day that passes. It makes sense. Cejudo wasn’t motivated enough to stick around and fight guys like Yan, Sterling, Moraes (again), etc. The juice wasn’t worth the squeeze for him. Will he fight again? I still say yes. But he’s in a position where something really has to fall in his lap. An offer he can’t say no to. And as good and competitive as bantamweight is, there’s not a fight right now that brings Cejudo back. That could change at any moment. This sport moves quickly. But there’s nothing looming right now.

Who are the wild cards who could shake this division up over the next 12 months?



TJ Dillashaw says he has no excuses and explains the factors that led to his positive drug test for EPO.

First and foremost: TJ Dillashaw, the former champion who tested positive for EPO in January 2019 and returns to eligibility in January 2021. Dillashaw is a name and a world-class fighter. There’s going to be plenty of intrigue about his return — plenty of questions over whether he’ll be able to repair the damage he has done to his reputation. Dillashaw rejoining this weight division has the potential to shake things up massively.

Second: Merab Dvalishvili. He is near the top of the list of UFC fighters who have set themselves apart during these unique pandemic times of 2020. He’s already 3-0 this year, and he’s scheduled to fight Cody Stamann in December in Las Vegas. He’s a nightmarish wrestler, a perpetual ball of energy. He’s a potentially bad matchup for a lot of guys, and he wants to fight every weekend. That equals a dude who can shake things up.

Third, and we’ll make this a tie: Marlon Vera and Sean O’Malley. I know some will say, “O’Malley? Give Vera his credit! Don’t lump him in with O’Malley! He just beat O’Malley!” And yes, that’s true, but the truth is, O’Malley still has a lot of star power in this division, and that has not been undone by one loss. O’Malley is not going to disappear for the rest of 2020 and 2021. He’s going to get relevant, high-profile fights, and we’ll see what he does in them. And he’s probably going to keep doing his thing on social media and grabbing attention.

Vera is riding the momentum of that TKO win over O’Malley in August. Vera has never been hotter in his five years with the UFC, and I believe the UFC knows that and will take advantage of it. Vera is going to get a meaningful fight, and he’s going to have eyeballs on him when he does. If he wins his next one, he’ll break into title contention, and he has a personality that will resonate with fans.


Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Sources: Pacers to hire Bjorkgren as head coach



The Indiana Pacers have agreed to a deal to hire Toronto Raptors assistant Nate Bjorkgren as their head coach, sources tell ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

Bjorkgren, 45, has worked as an assistant under Nick Nurse in Toronto since July 2018 and will inherit a Pacers team that has reached the playoffs in each of the past five seasons.

The Pacers dismissed coach Nate McMillan earlier this year after consecutive sweeps in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.

McMillan reached the playoffs in each of his four years as Pacers coach.


Continue Reading


From Mookie Betts to the benchwarmers: Ranking every player in this World Series



Some years the World Series comes down to the most famous player on the roster, and some years it comes down to the least famous.

If we knew which it would be this year, we could narrow our attention to that one part of the field. But the nature of baseball is just the opposite: You have to watch them all, never knowing who’ll be up — in the pen or at the plate — when the Series is being decided.

Here is your guide to all 56 players on the Los Angeles Dodgers and Tampa Bay Rays in the 2020 World Series, organized by how prominently each should figure into his team’s hopes and plans. We’ll update as needed when teams announce their World Series rosters. Game 1 is Tuesday (8:09 p.m. ET, Fox) at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas.

1. Mookie Betts, RF, Dodgers

Betts and Mike Trout — let’s call them tied as the co-best players in the game — are remarkably similar in their all-around greatness, but they look like entirely different machines out there: Trout’s legs chew through dirt as he moves, forceful and low to the ground, while Betts bounces, floats, glides and flies, a hoverboard to Trout’s earth mover. This Casey Stengel quote about Tommy Henrich captures Betts in an understated way: “He’s a fine judge of a fly ball, he fields grounders like an infielder, he never makes a wrong throw, and if he comes back to the hotel at 3 in the morning when we’re on the road and says he’s been sitting up with a sick friend, he’s been sitting up with a sick friend.”

2. Corey Seager, SS, Dodgers

It’s hard to radically reorient one’s career trajectory on the basis of a 60-game season, or a one-month postseason, but Seager’s powering up this year — the proverbial doubles having turned into the proverbial homers — takes him out of last winter’s trade rumors and puts him on the edge of a Hall of Fame track. Of course, it’s not really the 60 games or the one-month postseason that have us convinced he’s one of the dozen best hitters in the game, so much as it’s the years of expectations (as the game’s best prospect), of precocious genius (as the 2016 Rookie of the Year), all of it preparing us to be knocked flat the moment he started putting baseballs over the fence with regularity.

3. Clayton Kershaw, SP, Dodgers

In 2017, with his body just starting to diminish, Kershaw began the process of developing a new pitching plan to accommodate his lower velocity: more pitches down in the zone, more sliders and way more sliders in hitters’ counts — always throwing strikes yet never giving in. With an extra tick of velocity this year, and perhaps the benefit of working with a personal catcher again, Kershaw had one of his finest seasons, and his 196 ERA+ in 2020 is higher than any that Sandy Koufax ever produced.

4. Walker Buehler, SP, Dodgers

Incredibly for a teammate of Clayton Kershaw, Buehler was the clear ace of the Dodgers one year ago, but this year his control went a little bit backward — his strike rate dropped from 68%, near the top of league leaderboards, to merely average at 64% — and hitters elevated him a little bit more. Those are relatively minor things, though, and the way he worked out of jams against the Braves on Saturday — by firing fastball after fastball right past them — shows that he’s still an ace, and the pressure of the Dodgers’ annual postseason hopes increasingly fall on him.

5. Tyler Glasnow, SP, Rays

Glasnow’s size + velo combination is as intimidating as any in the game, and his K/9 rate would have set the all-time record for a starter in a full season. But at the same time, as the saying goes, big league hitters can time a bullet. When Glasnow fell behind in counts, he threw the highest rate of fastballs of any starter in baseball, and with the benefit of predictability, batters hit him for a .279/.464/.541 line, which was among the league’s highest marks.

6. Cody Bellinger, CF, Dodgers

Hit perhaps the biggest October home run, made perhaps the biggest October catch, became perhaps the best October meme — pretty good developments in what most fans had seen as a failure of a season. Bellinger has always been a bit of an odd home run champion, as he’s not nearly as strong as many other sluggers — he’s never hit a ball measured over 450 feet — but he knows how to hit home runs, knows how to catch contact at just the right spot, and if he lost that precision for parts of the 2020 season, he’s terrifyingly capable of finding it against the Rays.

7. Charlie Morton, SP, Rays

You can tell Morton’s plan this year was to get ahead in counts, because he had the league’s highest zone rate on the first pitch of at-bats, by far the highest rate of his career. But he starts ABs with an almost perfect representation of his broad repertoire — 35% four-seamers, 20% curves, 10% cutters, 30% sinkers and a splitter or two for luck — so batters couldn’t get too aggressive sitting on first-pitch fastballs. As a result, Morton got the benefit of all those 0-1 counts while allowing only eight first-pitch hits.

8. Will Smith, C, Dodgers

Smith, in his first two years as a big leaguer, has a .363 OBP and a .570 slugging percentage; Mike Piazza, in his first two full seasons, at the same age (25), had a .370 OBP and a .553 slugging percentage. Not saying, just saying, and also noting that Smith’s walk rate went up 50% in his sophomore season, his strikeout rate dropped by about as much, and he had the fourth-lowest chase rate in the game.

9. Nick Anderson, RP, Rays

In theory, the Rays’ first pick for any high-leverage situation this week, from the third (maybe second?) inning through the ninth, will be Anderson, baseball’s best reliever since the Rays acquired him in the summer of 2019. But he was totally unrecognizable in the American League Championship Series, with a 56% strike rate (down from a league-best 74% in the regular season), an 18% chase rate (down from 41%), an 11% whiff rate (from 37%!) and a .389/.476/.556 opponents’ line, down from .091/.138/.182 — a very visible and very obvious degradation that, troublingly, showed up not just once but in all three of his LCS appearances.

10. Willy Adames, SS, Rays

The Rays have faced some high-profile shortstops this October — Bo Bichette, then Gleyber Torres, then Carlos Correa, now Corey Seager — and Adames, over the past two years, has more WAR than any of them. It will be interesting to see whether the Dodgers (who shift against righties as much as any team in baseball) will shift on Adames, as over the past two years he has a .398 wOBA with the shift on and .302 without a shift — roughly the difference between Fernando Tatis Jr.’s offense and Francisco Cervelli‘s.

11. Justin Turner, 3B, Dodgers

They say baseball is a game of failure, but Turner never seems to fail, and just when you start to think you’ve seen proof that he is, in fact, aging, he disproves it. His isolated power this year was the lowest it has been since his first season in blue — aha, you think, decline! — but he is also a better overall hitter now than he was then, better at making contact, better at pulling the ball in the air, has better plate discipline and, according to exit velocities, is actually just as powerful.

12. Blake Snell, SP, Rays

You might have heard this fact and you’ll probably hear it again, but it’s really a staggering detail: Snell, a borderline ace in most folks’ assessments, hasn’t completed six innings in a start since July 2019, 20 starts ago — and hasn’t gone beyond the sixth since May 2019, 30 starts ago. His average plate appearance lasts 4.30 pitches, the most in baseball.

13. Brandon Lowe, 2B/OF, Rays

By wOBA, Lowe was the 24th-best hitter in baseball this year through the end of the regular season, but he’s just 60th if you keep the meter running through the postseason, as he managed just four hits — two of them infield hits, one of those a bunt — in the division series and ALCS combined. Despite just average speed, he’s one of the league’s most opportunistic baserunners.

14. Randy Arozarena, LF, Rays

Near as I can tell, Arozarena is still eligible to win the Rookie of the Year award next year, after he’s already won the ALCS MVP award. He’s a fantastic reminder that there are different ways to become a legend; Mike Trout has four career total bases in the postseason, while Arozarena — who has scored 24.6% of the Rays’ run this fall — already has nine postseason games with at least that many.

15. Chris Taylor, UT, Dodgers

Taylor earns most of his credit, deservedly, for starting semi-regularly at three or four positions every year and playing excellent defense at all of them. Give him bonus credit, though, for this: When he doesn’t start, he’s still excellent, with a career .303/.370/.530 line as a pinch hitter against an even split of righties and lefties.

16. Max Muncy, 1B, Dodgers

Muncy’s eye keeps getting better — he had the eighth-lowest chase rate in baseball this year, tucked right between Juan Soto and Anthony Rendon — and he improved his two-strike approach too, making more contact when he had to stay alive. A short 60-game season is going to snag some number of good hitters in the small-sample-BABIP trap, and it was probably no reflection of Muncy that he stepped in it; he hit under .200 this year, but the Dodgers keep batting him cleanup for a reason.

17. Yandy Diaz, 3B, Rays

The ground-balliest ground ball hitter in the age of fly balls, Diaz is 3-for-24 with nine walks this postseason, and he still hasn’t hit a fly ball. That’s been it in a nutshell for him this year, as he resembles the strongest, most muscular hitters in the game but puts up the valuable-but-weird slash line (.307/.428/.386 this year) of, like, Willie Randolph.

18. Julio Urias, SP/RP, Dodgers

Urias could start Games 3 and 7 — or start one game and show up in relief in one or two more — or just relieve a bunch of times — or, in some other accumulation of appearances, be in a position to win two more games this month, which would make him the first pitcher ever to win six games in a single postseason. He’s fascinating to watch in relief because he doesn’t simplify his approach at all, working with the same four-pitch mix in the same rough proportions that he uses when he starts — he just gets sharper with all of it.

19. A.J. Pollock, LF, Dodgers

In a 60-game microseason, Pollock dang near set a career high in homers — though the Statcast data keeps interrupting with coughs that sound a lot like “fluke.” Pollock’s 35 postseason at-bats have produced merely one lousy extra-base hit, a double in the first game of the wild-card series — though that’s still vastly better than his 0-for-13, 11-strikeout performance in the 2019 National League Division Series.

20. Dustin May, SP/RP, Dodgers

Some 323 pitchers threw at least 20 innings this year, and May — he of the third-hardest fastball in the group — ranked 304th in swinging-strike rate. It’s a reminder that the pitches look different in the batter’s box than they do at home, and May’s squiggly two-seam fastball makes for great GIFs but isn’t actually a strikeout pitch — nor, at the moment, are May’s complementary pitches.

21. Peter Fairbanks, RP, Rays

The Rays’ popup relief aces have been incredible this year, a storyline that is a combination of predictable (the Rays always do this) and unpredictable (who?). Fairbanks’ story — two-time Tommy John survivor, undistinguished minor leaguer, acquired in mid-2019 and now the high-K closer in an ALCS Game 7 — is especially predictable/unpredictable. A look at last year’s Rays popup relief aces (Colin Poche, Oliver Drake, Emilio Pagan, Chaz Roe) shows that the turnover happens fast, as each of those pitchers was either hurt, ineffective or some combination thereof this year, a reminder to enjoy Fairbanks’ star turn while you can, right now.

22. Kevin Kiermaier, CF, Rays

The king of the hustle double, and as good defensively in center field as Andrelton Simmons is at shortstop and Nolan Arenado is at third base, Kiermaier is as fast now (13th-fastest sprint speed in the game) as he was in his mid-20s. He got hit by a 99 mph pitch in Game 3 of the ALCS, and when he came back for Game 7, his swing looked … not even a little bit right, so we’ll see.

23. Tony Gonsolin, SP/RP, Dodgers

The story we tell about this peak Dodgers run has been their depth — how they have had qualified major leaguers at all 25 (now 28) roster spots, enough good players to fill a bullpen and a bench with quality, variety and professionalism. But Gonsolin was that depth, just another pretty good swingman who couldn’t crack the 2019 postseason roster, and this year he pitched like a superstar, with a 2.31 ERA and the majors’ fifth-lowest FIP, reminding us that the Dodgers also develop their “depth” into stars more than any other team.

24. Joey Wendle, INF, Rays

We all struggle sometimes with the question of what winning a baseball game or series actually accomplishes, what it’s for, why we care, why they care, and I’ve come to believe a win’s value is largely in providing grace to the teammates who failed. Wendle, a quietly valuable and versatile member of the Rays’ infield over the past three years, hit an awful — awful — .143/.217/.143 in the ALCS, and he has the Rays’ lowest win probability added this postseason, but instead of carrying that burden of failure around with him for the rest of his life, he got to celebrate and put it immediately and entirely behind him, 100 percent absolved thanks to the clutch greatness of friends. What sanctification!

25. Diego Castillo, RP, Rays

Castillo is the hardest pitcher in baseball to hit a foul ball off of, especially when he throws his slider, which he did a career-high 65% of the time this year. Whether that’s a skill or a quirk is up to you, as is Castillo’s great ERA/bad FIP performance this year out of the Rays’ bullpen; I will say, by the eye test alone, the ERA looks more correct than the FIP.

26. Kenley Jansen, RP, Dodgers

If you’re mostly unattached to any rooting interest in this postseason, maybe adopt Jansen as one of your favorites: Only four pitchers in history have saved more games for one team than Jansen has with the Dodgers, and three of them — Troy Percival, Dennis Eckersley and Mariano Rivera — got to get the final out in a World Series victory. Jansen briefly lost the closer’s job this month, hasn’t been nearly as dominant in the past three years as he was in the eight before, and might not be the pitcher the Dodgers go to in a close Game 7 — Dustin May or Clayton Kershaw or Walker Buehler might be — but, whether Jansen has a right to that moment or not, he deserves it.

27. Enrique Hernandez, UT, Dodgers

The Dodgers, for their huge payrolls, have not had the Shiny New Toy syndrome so common among the richest owners in sports, and Hernandez is one of 11 Dodgers on this postseason roster who also was here in 2016 — the Rays’ roster, by contrast, has two. Hernandez has never had 500 plate appearances in a season, never started more than 63 games at a position in a season and certainly has never been anything like a star, but the Dodgers’ roster continuity has put him in a position to frequently be a hero, a cult favorite and the hitter of as many postseason home runs as Joe DiMaggio.

28. Austin Meadows, LF/DH, Rays

In 2019, only 23 batters hit a baseball harder than Meadows’ max exit velocity; in 2020, six different Austins — Romine, Dean, Riley, Nola, Slater, Hedges — did so. Meadows showed better plate discipline but simply swung through and got under way more pitches, the result being that the lefty batter hit right-handers about as well in 2020 as he’d hit lefties in 2019, and he hit lefties about as well in 2020 as pitchers hit in 2019.

29. Manuel Margot, OF, Rays

When a lefty starts for the other team, the Rays’ outfield — with Margot and Hunter Renfroe flanking Kiermaier — might be as good defensively as any since the 2014-15 Royals. Margot is probably just on a hot streak, rather than being a whole new ballplayer, but since Aug. 9 he is hitting .299/.359/.461, a star-level slash line when combined with his speed and defense, and about what those prospect hounds expected when they were talking him up as one of the 20 best prospects in the game five years ago.

30. Ryan Yarbrough, SP, Rays

It’s hard to think of two pitchers less alike than Yarbrough and the Mets’ gargantuan high-velocity reliever Dellin Betances, but there they were, snuggling next to each other with the third- and fourth-lowest exit velocities allowed this year. Yarbrough’s average pitch this postseason has been slower than any other pitcher’s — he topped 86 mph once — but, unlike the common assumption that bleh-stuff innings-eaters are chum to postseason offenses, he threw 10 solid innings to help get the Rays past the Yankees and Astros.

31. Edwin Rios, 3B/PH, Dodgers

OK, he’s not full-on Arozarena-ing or anything, but Rios — 26 years old and, until recently, no more anonymous than the Rays’ ALCS MVP was — has hit .260/.338/.634 in his 139 career plate appearances, and he’s slugging .667 in his small handful of ABs this postseason. Of course, you and I know all about him, but he might be the best bet to go from zero to famous with a single swing this postseason.

32. Jake McGee, RP, Dodgers

McGee throws one pitch — a four-seam fastball — and he throws it one place — in the strike zone — and he does those two things (throw fastballs, and throw pitches in the zone) more than any other pitcher in baseball. Yet, like other pitchers on the Dodgers’ staff, he will periodically take off his hat and peer into it to see what the scouting report on the hitter is, suggesting that, just as a “blue” sky might contain infinite shades, so too does McGee — who struck out 33 batters and walked only three in 20 excellent innings this year — actually contain complexity.

33. Michael Brosseau, 1B/2B, Rays

I don’t know how many hitless plate appearances the devil would have to force on him before Brosseau would turn down the deal, but an 0-for-10 ALCS was a microscopic price to pay for starring in perhaps the greatest moment in ALDS history. Unlike some of the Rays’ other platooners, Brosseau doesn’t look overmatched against right-handers, with fairly similar contact, plate discipline and batted ball profiles. He does elevate lefties better, as Aroldis Chapman can attest.

34. Blake Treinen, RP, Dodgers

From July 4, 2017, through April 24, 2019, Treinen threw 134 innings with an ERA of 1.14, striking out 11 batters per nine innings and holding batters to a .178/.247/.238 line. Since then, he has thrown 80 innings with a 5.20 ERA, fewer than eight strikeouts per nine, and a .261/.345/.423 opponents line, so hold your breath.

35. Brusdar Graterol, RP, Dodgers

He’s got a cool trick — he throws 100 mph with practically no effort, looking like a bank manager throwing out a ceremonial first pitch, or like a guy without a belt trying to keep his pants from falling down — but is he good? He throws a ton of strikes — we like that — but in the home run era, it’s hard to fully trust anybody with a strikeout rate as low as his, since all contact is terrifying.

36. Ji-Man Choi, 1B, Rays

Choi’s offensive dip this year looks even worse when you realize how absolutely he was protected from left-handers, as he had the platoon advantage a league-high 93% of the time. During those favorable situations, he hit only .240/.344/.423, a platoon line barely worth chasing, especially since Brosseau could probably produce something comparable against righties. But then, just when you start having these ungenerous thoughts, Choi gets unspeakably hot in the postseason and puts such questions temporarily out of mind.

37. Aaron Loup, RP, Rays

All his career, Loup did what funky lefties do: go after the left-handed hitters, pitch cautiously (or scared) to the righties. This year, he went after righties, throwing a career-high 60% of his pitches to them in the zone (up from 48%) and getting a career-high 70% strikes against them (up from 63%), the result being his best season since his rookie campaign in 2012.

38. Austin Barnes, C, Dodgers

A pitcher once told me that it’s not so much who your personal catcher is as much as that you have only one catcher to work with, somebody who is predictable, gets to know your rhythms, and provides the familiarity of routine. Barnes is just now emerging as Clayton Kershaw’s catcher — side note: Kershaw has been around long enough that Brad Ausmus caught him nine times — and if it’s too much to credit him specifically with Kershaw’s great bounce-back season, it also makes the Dodgers look wise for keeping such a steady backup catcher around.

39. Joc Pederson, OF, Dodgers

Everybody knew this was the wrong season to get off to a slow start — no time to correct the record — and Pederson was no worse this year than he was during the first two months of 2017 or the first two of 2018. He finished 10th in the majors in exit velocity and 10th from the bottom in BABIP.

40. Adam Kolarek, RP, Dodgers

Since the Dodgers acquired him in July 2019, Kolarek has allowed only 10 runs, but five of them have come this October. He held lefties to a .113/.137/.141 line in the regular season, and the Rays’ lineup — lefty-heavy, but strangely also lefty-mashing — should give him some chances at redemption.

41. Hunter Renfroe, RF, Rays

There are a lot of good hitters who mostly whiff or homer, and it can feel weird to hear people complain about it; when it works, it works, and why should a hitter do anything other than what works? I think the reason for the complaints is that we intuitively know just how bad these hitters are going to look when it stops working, when a slump or a bad season springs up, when age takes its toll, when a good pitching staff comes to town, or whatever. It looks like Hunter Renfroe hitting .156/.252/.393 as the Rays’ right fielder this year, and then it further looks like Renfroe going 3-for-15 with one dinger and nine K’s in October. It looks like being lost.

42. John Curtiss, RP, Rays

The Phillies and Angels had the worst and ninth-worst bullpen ERAs in baseball this year, while the Rays had the third best — and yet the former two both released Curtiss midseason last year, while the Rays somehow found room for him on this year’s postseason staff. Curtiss pounded the strike zone this year on his way to a 1.80 ERA, walking only three batters (plus four in October) and earning the seventh-highest swing rate in baseball. There’s a good chance he won’t be on the Rays’ staff this time next year, but the two GMs who released him last year have already lost their jobs, soooooo …

43. Victor Gonzalez, RP, Dodgers

Gonzalez, a 6-foot lefty with great peripherals in his rookie season, allowed exactly one run in July, exactly one in August, one in September and has allowed his one for October — and, ergo, is a mortal lock to throw nothing but scoreless innings this World Series (unless even more unforeseen circumstances push it into November). This should arguably push him higher on this list, but I defer to the assessments of the Dodgers, who know all this about him yet have used him mostly in lower-leverage situations.

44. Aaron Slegers, RP, Rays

In hitters’ counts against Slegers this year, batters hit .000/.176/.000 — but, then, a lot of weird statistical things happened in this short year, and there’s no reason to think Slegers would be unhittable on 3-1 but extremely hittable on 3-2. That said, he’s the second-tallest pitcher in major league history, he’s got some freaky angles going on, and despite mediocre velocity, he gets hitters to swing at everything while (according to Statcast) rarely squaring anything up.

45. Pedro Baez, RP, Dodgers

Baez signed with the Dodgers organization one year after Kershaw did, which I think fairly makes him — along with Kershaw — the face of the franchise. That’s a joke, of course, but while his reputation among Dodgers fans and casual October viewers alike is not super positive — an eighth-inning failure is easier to recall a half-decade later than a scoreless inning — he has made 28 postseason appearances, has a positive win probability added in those appearances, and hasn’t looked shaky at all this fall.

46. Jose Alvarado, RP, Rays

Alvarado’s fastball is thrilling, its swerving movement evoking the sudden jags of careless Etch-A-Sketching. Alas, he can’t control it at the moment, and (if a moment is about one second) he really hasn’t been able to control it for the past 47,304,000 moments.

47. Joe Kelly, RP, Dodgers

Every baseball player mixes good results with bad — e.g., “1-for-4” — which we assume is just the natural expression of probabilities but could actually mean that they’re all going through an endless and oppressive cycle of tiny slumps and tinier hot streaks, swiveling between great at baseball and terrible at baseball every few innings. I don’t really believe this about them, except when it comes to Joe Kelly, who is either really good or really bad at all times, but in such a self-interrupting sequence that it can never, ever be possible to know whether Joe Kelly is, at this current moment, good.

48. Dylan Floro, RP, Dodgers

In the old days, when there were 25-man rosters, Floro might well have been left off this World Series roster, as the Dodgers really use him only in the lowest-leverage spots. That would have robbed him of the chance to, perhaps, get revenge on the team that waived him in 2017.

49. Ryan Thompson, RP, Rays

Thompson does one thing and one thing only: He keeps the ball down. Every team used to have a reliever like this in the pen, somebody to bring in to get the double play in the seventh, but nowadays even the “keeps the ball down” guy is prone to allowing too many home runs, as Thompson did.

50. Mike Zunino, C, Rays

Zunino’s performance brings to mind an old and relatable quote from the Astros’ Doug Rader: “Everything is so damned different when you’re with a club up on top.” Zunino never walks (six all year, including the postseason) and rarely hits (.170 in 2020), but when you’re with a club on top, the hits you do get matter, and so Zunino has a .231 postseason OBP yet feels like he has been totally indispensable in at least four Rays victories.

51. Yoshi Tsutsugo, DH, Rays

About 8% of the pitches Tsutsugo saw this year were curveballs, while 23% of his hits came on the pitch. Take away the curves and he hit .171/.299/.343 as a major league rookie. Want to guess which pitch teams have thrown him only once this postseason?

52. Shane McClanahan, RP, Rays

A first-round pick in 2018, McClanahan would have spent a normal year pitching at Double-A for a couple of months and, if that went well, debuting in July in Tampa Bay. In this year, he made his major league debut in the ninth inning of a postseason game (albeit a blowout) against the Yankees, and he has since appeared twice more to fire 100 mph gas from the left side in (relatively) low leverage.

53. Matt Beaty, PH, Dodgers

Bat flips are fine, but action-guy wordplay is even better, which is why we should hope Beaty — a Snellville, Georgia, native who has one hit since August — somehow bats against Blake Snell. If he homers, he can scream, “Welcome to Snellville; Population: Me!” or some such.

54. Josh Fleming, SP/RP, Rays

Imagine going 5-0 with a 2.78 ERA, more innings per start in the regular season than your team’s Game 1 postseason starter, the sixth-best ground ball rate in baseball and a better WHIP than any other starter on the team, but then being left off the postseason roster entirely. Dear reader, this really happened to Fleming, a low-whiff-rate rookie who was determined to have little tactical value in a loaded bullpen — until the smooshed-together postseason schedule caught up to the Rays and forced them to call back Fleming to be their long man in the ALCS.

55. Alex Wood, RP, Dodgers

Wood is on hand just in case the Dodgers fall behind 7-0 or jump ahead 12-0 — and if they do both on back-to-back days, then Wood will pitch both days, as he did in the NLCS, throwing 40 pitches on a Tuesday and then 29 on Wednesday. It’s hard to believe Wood, a Dodgers stalwart from as far back as the Don Mattingly days, is only 29, having already seemingly spent his career.

56. Michael Perez, C, Rays

Neither Perez nor his playing-time rival, Zunino, has been on base even a quarter of the time this year, and starting Zunino — who just swings hard in case he hits it — is the teamwide version of “just swing hard in case you hit it.” But Zunino led the league with five passed balls this year, has a troubling five more in just 105 postseason innings, and for his career has allowed passed balls or wild pitches about 50% more often than Perez, so if things get fidgety, there could still be a path to playing time for Perez this week.


Continue Reading


Jones ‘not in feel-good mood’ about Dallas at 2-4



FRISCO, Texas — The Dallas Cowboys woke up Tuesday in first place in the NFC East, despite a 2-4 record following their 38-10 loss to the Arizona Cardinals.

That is not even enough to make the eternal optimist, owner and general manager Jerry Jones, truly happy.

“I’m not in a feel-good mood frankly that we’ve got manna from heaven being in the East,” Jones said on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas. “These things have a way of evening out as you go along. Certainly the NFC East is having its challenges now. … When you’re not playing better than we are, it’s hard for me to basically look at the end game, which is win the East, and get excited that we’re better. (That’s) ‘We may be slow, but we’re ahead of you,’ syndrome. We’ve got to get better to have the kind of season that makes sense for us.”

Dallas remains ahead of the Philadelphia Eagles (1-4-1), New York Giants (1-5) and Washington Football Team (1-5) in the woeful NFC East. The Cowboys’ next two games are against divisional rivals — at Washington on Sunday followed by a trip to Philadelphia on Nov. 1.

According to Elias, the Cowboys are the first team with a losing record to lead a division through Week 6 since the 1970 merger between the NFL and AFL. The 2015 Indianapolis Colts and the 1984 Pittsburgh Steelers led their divisions with 3-3 records through six weeks.

Despite the frustrations, Jones still believes in the roster, head coach Mike McCarthy — who has a 13-20-1 record in his last 34 games, and defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, whose unit is on pace to allow an NFL-record 581 points.

“What I do feel good about with the entire group is our ability,” Jones said. “We do have the ability and we have the talent to make adjustments with the personnel we have. We just haven’t done it. We will not have success until we take our personnel we got today and put it out there not giving ourselves a big hole to dig out of.”

The Cowboys have a league-worst minus-12 turnover ratio. Their 15 turnovers are the most through six games since 1960 when they were minus-15 in the inaugural year of the franchise. The Cowboys allowed 24 points off four turnovers in the loss to the Cardinals and have given up 84 points off turnovers this season.

The Cowboys have lost quarterback Dak Prescott (ankle), left tackle Tyron Smith (neck), right tackle La’el Collins and tight end Blake Jarwin (knee) for the season due to injuries. They lost projected starting defensive tackle Gerald McCoy to a torn quadriceps in the first padded practice and his replacement, Trysten Hill, to a torn ACL in Week 5 against the Giants.

Five other starters have been on injured reserve and returned or are in the process of potentially returning from injury. Pro Bowl right guard Zack Martin suffered a concussion in the first quarter Monday night against Arizona and did not return.

“We are dramatically different personnel-wise than we were in what we anticipated having,” Jones said. “I don’t need to go down through the list, but it’s a big one. Other teams in the NFL have dramatic personnel changes and it has impacted their record, but that is our game. That’s what we do.

“Availability is right there with ability when it comes to personnel. So the next question is, ‘OK, but what do you do?’ You adjust and you play with the personnel you got. You put your defensive plans in and offensive plans in and you adjust accordingly.”


Continue Reading