12

With the Astros, Morton changed his pitching — and his career

Morton, who will start Game 4 of the American League Championship Series for the Astros, their best defense against a 3-1 deficit in this series, is one of the top starters in baseball’s best rotation. He is 34 years old, and a little more than a year ago he stood on the mound in Dodger Stadium after getting the last out of the World Series. His deliberative nature seems to stem from two competing facts: 1) he still can’t quite believe his good fortune, and; 2) he hasn’t fully come to terms with how long it took to realize it.cheap nike nfl jerseys free shipping

Rare among athletes and even rarer among pitchers, Morton found his greatest professional success at a time when it was least expected. His career has been marked by a series of career-altering injuries — two hip surgeries, elbow surgery, hamstring and shoulder issues — and a lingering sense that his talent would remain forever unfinished.

“It’s kind of frustrating in a way,” he says. “I’ve always been told I have good stuff. I’ve always been told I could be really, really good, but I was always just average. And here I am, 34 going on 35, having figured a lot of things out, and I don’t know how much longer I want to play. And that’s fine. It’s fine, really it is. I’ve had a rewarding career. I’ve experienced a lot — a lot of ups and downs, and the downs have been as fulfilling to me as the good things.12

“I don’t regret the struggles. I’ll say this: It’s nice to know that if I reach my physical potential with the repertoire and methodology of the way I’m pitching, that I can be good. I can do the things I want to do, and I know that now.”

He was an All Star for the first time this season, and his 15-3 record gave him the best winning percentage in baseball. (Do wins matter? Your mileage may vary.) He had a career-best WAR of 3.2 and a career-best WHIP of 1.17. Along with Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, he was part of just the fifth trio in MLB history to each record 200 strikeouts.china nike nfl jerseys cheap

Despite all of that, there’s a chance Morton might decide to leave the game after this season to devote more time to his wife, Cindy, and their four children, the oldest of whom is 5. (They went boy-girl-boy-girl, like a good pitch sequence, and fellow Astros are astounded by the couple’s insistence on raising their children without outside help — in other words, no nanny — even though they can obviously afford it.) He will be one of the most desirable starters on the free-agent market this offseason, and this is his last great chance to sign a two- or three-year contract that sets up generations of his family for life.

His teammates tell him they understand if he’s ready to hang them up. Dallas Keuchel says, “I get it, and I respect him for it, but I tell him: ‘Man, you could be looking at $20 million a year.'” Keuchel places his palms in front of his body and raises them up and down — the scales of justice, in Keuchel’s hands, inevitably land on the side of the $20 million a year. But in deference to his friend, he says, “It’s a tough call.”

11

Inside Chris Taylor’s trip around the bases that ignited L.A.’s offense

Everyone around Chris Taylor was seemingly being ushered to one media obligation or another after the Dodgers defeated the Milwaukee Brewers 5-2 to take a 3-2 lead in the National League Championship Series and put themselves one win away from the World Series.nike nfl jerseys cheap paypal

Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw, third baseman Justin Turner and catcher Austin Barnes were going to the media conference room. Yasiel Puig, Max Muncy and Cody Bellinger were being taken to a backdrop in the center of the clubhouse for a scrum with reporters. Meanwhile, Taylor sat in front of his locker alone.

Taylor didn’t get much attention Wednesday, but he shifted the momentum of the game and perhaps the series with his at-bat to lead off the bottom of the fifth inning. The Brewers were up only 1-0 at the time, but there have been moments in this series where that has seemed like an insurmountable deficit for the Dodgers. Los Angeles had scored only two runs in the previous 27 innings and had struck out 38 times during that stretch.11

The Dodgers didn’t necessarily need a home run to get them out of their rut — they just needed to get someone on base and maybe, just maybe, they could find a way to advance him home.

Milwaukee relief pitcher Brandon Woodruff had come into the game for Wade Miley, who faced one batter in the first inning before heading to the dugout, and was dominating. It looked as if it would continue when he got two quick strikes on Taylor.

“I was leading off the inning and I had two strikes on me and I was just trying to ground out an at-bat, just find a way to get on,” Taylor said. “The ball kind of got in on me and luckily I found a hole.”cheap nike nfl jerseys free shipping

Taylor connected on a 97 mph four-seam fastball for an infield single and was able to take second on a throwing error by Milwaukee shortstop Orlando Arcia.

12

Suns’ Devin Booker outshines rookies with 19 points in 4th quarter

On a night that was supposed to be about two touted rookie debuts, it was a return that stole the show Wednesday in Phoenix.

Returning from a broken hand suffered late in the summer, Devin Booker shook off some early rust to showcase his star potential and the reason the Suns locked him up to a five-year maximum deal in July.nike nfl jerseys cheap china

“Every day in the summer, I worked hard for this day, for this season,” Booker said. “I knew going forward that the organization was there for us, that was going to be very special. With my contract also, it’s going to be a big year for me.”

Booker, who is still somehow only 21 years old, was molten lava hot in the fourth quarter, scoring 19 — on 6-of-6 shooting, including 4-of-4 from 3 — of his 35 points in the final frame as the Suns pulled away late against the Mavericks 121-100. Booker’s 35 points are the most by a Suns player in a season opener since Kevin Johnson had 39 in 1995.

“You’re just in that zone, man, trying to win the game,” Booker said. “My idea this year to get the most wins as possible and make the playoffs. We owe that to this city. It’s been a long drought for these fans. I know that comes with a lot of responsibility for me.”12

Booker even heard a few MVP chants as he was shooting free throws in the fourth quarter, though while appreciated, it was maybe a little too much.cheap nike nfl jerseys wholesale

“I heard ’em, man,” he said. “That’s love, man, but I wouldn’t take it that far. We still have to win a lot of games to do that.”

Deandre Ayton, the No. 1 overall draft pick this summer, said early on Wednesday his focus for his first professional game was to just win the opening tip, and then take it from there. He tried to normalize as much of the day as he could, planning out a simple routine that included a nap, talking to his husky, Rocky, and playing NBA 2K as the Suns against the Mavs.

He said he shut off the video game at halftime because he was losing, and he also lost the opening tip to DeAndre Jordan. But no bother, as he was solid in his debut, scoring 18 points on 8-of-11 shooting, with 10 rebounds and 6 assists, and an actual real-life win.

“I’ve been watching all summer. I knew he was something special,” Booker said of Ayton. “I think people are always nervous for your first game. It’s usually three trips down the court and then it just comes back to basketball. When you’re that talented and have the abilities he does, the game is just going to come to you.”

11

Lakers’ LeBron James: ‘Can approach every day like a champion’

As LeBron James embarks on his 16th season when the Los Angeles Lakers open their season against the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday, the three-time champion is imploring Luke Walton to keep him on the court.

“I’m always fresh,” James said after shootaround Thursday morning. “All my coaches want to figure out a way of how to lessen my minutes. I keep telling them I’m strong enough to play most minutes, but they won’t listen to me, so, it’s OK. I like it.”

Earlier this week, Walton said he would play James a “reasonable” amount of minutes this season. Last year, James led the league at 36.9 minutes per game.cheap nfl jerseys china nike

But that doesn’t mean Walton will keep James on the bench too often.11

“LeBron will play a lot of minutes, yes,” Walton said Thursday. “It will be a consistent theme for us this year.”

James will turn 34 in December and played sparingly in the preseason, but Walton said his star hasn’t shown any signs of aging.

“I told him … that his legs seem to be getting younger as training camp goes on,” Walton said. “It normally works the other way. But he’s jumping higher, he’s moving quicker the more we get out there and play. So it’s like I said: There’s one game tonight. We’re obviously excited to be playing regular-season games now, but he looks very good.”

Walton also commented on the mentality James has brought to the Lakers’ young core.

“He’s good,” Walton said. “He’s a pretty serious guy, but there’s moments of laughter and joy mixed in. But he’s got that locked-in look.”nike nfl jerseys cheap china

It would appear that for the first time in nearly a decade, James’ team isn’t considered a lock to compete for a championship. But that hasn’t affected his mental approach to the season and striving for a fourth ring.

“It’s just my goal. It’s always been my goal … maybe the last 10 or 11 years where I felt like it’s championships,” James said. “I want to win championships, and putting my mind into that and thinking about it. I think when you have championship habits, you have championship thoughts, and things come into fruition.

11

Joe Flacco reluctantly performs unusual batted-passes drill

“He’s standing there with a bag in his hand that goes up to 12 feet high, unrealistically high for anybody’s hands,” Flacco said. “[One time] I just threw the ball and hit the bag on purpose. It’s just like, ‘I get your point. We got it.’”

Flacco added, “I was kind of laughing at him and getting mad at him at the same time.”

Flacco has had 11 passes batted down in the first six games of the season, which are tied with Minnesota’s Kirk Cousins for most in the league, according to ESPN Stats & Information. They’re the only ones with more than seven deflected passes at the line this year.cheap nfl nike jersey

Flacco has had at least two passes knocked down at the line in four of his six games, including two in Sunday’s 21-0 win over the Tennessee Titans.11

“That’s something that’s a problem, because those are opportunities,” coach John Harbaugh said. “A lot of times, those guys are open, and those are chances to complete passes. That’s something that we’ve been working on the last couple of weeks. We still haven’t cleaned it up the way we want to, and we’re not happy about it. We need to clean that up.”

Should this be happening to one of the tallest quarterbacks in the NFL?cheap nike nfl jerseys wholesale

“Those guys that are in front of him are pretty tall, too, but [6-feet] Drew Brees, I don’t think, has a batted pass yet this year [Brees has one], to make that contrast,” Harbaugh said. “So it’s probably not as much about that as it is about other issues. It’s always a team effort. Anything like that is always a team effort, and we have to get better at it.”

This hasn’t been a major problem for Flacco throughout his career. Since entering the league in 2008, he has had 62 passes batted down at the line, which ranks 18th in the NFL.

In Flacco’s previous 10 NFL seasons, he never has ranked higher than 16th in any year in deflected passes.

“It is what it is, and it’s something we’ll continue to pay attention to as the year goes on,” Flacco said. “There are some that you can’t prevent, but at the same time, you have to look at it for what it is. There has to be a reason behind it. We have to correct it.”

10

Wait, wasn’t Derek Carr supposed to thrive under Jon Gruden?

Derek Carr stood at the podium, talking and motioning solely with his right hand as his left shoulder looked frozen in place. The Oakland Raiders’ $125 million quarterback kept his left hand in his pocket, almost as if to keep the arm and shoulder stationary, during his 11-minute media appearance.

Midway through the fourth quarter of Sunday’s 27-3 loss to the Seattle Seahawks — a game in which Carr was hit 10 times and sacked six times — Carr was pounded to the Wembley Stadium pitch especially hard as Seattle’s Jarran Reed drove Carr’s left shoulder into the ground.cheap nike nfl jerseys wholesale

On the flip side, though, Carr’s short passing distance has led to him having the lowest off-target rate in the league, 7.6 percent. ESPN Stats & Information defines “off target” as the percentage of passes over- or underthrown by a quarterback. And he is competing 71.7 percent of his passes thus far, after completing 58.1, 61.1, 63.8 and 62.7 percent in his first four seasons.

And therin lies an issue — Gruden wants Carr to be aggressive, but not reckless. Push the envelope, just not too far. Take your shots, but be smart about it.10

Sounds like the job description of any NFL QB, right? It’s just that the Carr-Gruden dynamic is so unique, with Gruden coming out of ESPN’s Monday Night Football booth after nine seasons to coach Carr in his decidedly old-school ways. Which make it look like, at times, Carr can’t get out of his own way. Almost as if Carr is playing to please his coach by overthinking things, rather than just, well, playing.cheap nfl nike jersey

Some of Carr’s issues, though, predate Gruden’s arrival. They actually started to rear their head under former offensive coordinator Todd Downing last season.

As ESPN Stats & Information found, Carr leads the NFL in interceptions on passes thrown at least 20 yards downfield with 10 since 2017. He only threw two picks on such throws in 2016. Since the start of last season, Carr has only completed 33.3 percent of passes thrown at least 20 yards downfield, compared to 49.0 in 2016. His yards-per-attempt average the past two seasons is 12.2 yards, when it was 16.7 yards two seasons ago on throws of at least 20 yards downfield.

2

Antoine Griezmann brace sees France rally past Germany in Nations League

Antoine Griezmann scored twice as France came back from a goal down to beat Germany 2-1 in the UEFA Nations League on Tuesday.

Germany manager Joachim Low admitted he was feeling pressure over his job following a 3-0 loss to the Netherlands on Saturday which left them bottom of their Nations League group.

An early goal from the penalty spot gave Germany the lead before 10 minutes when Toni Kroos rolled the ball home past Hugo Lloris after a questionable call for handball on France’s Presnel Kimpembe.

Germany should have been up two minutes later, but Leroy Sane misplaced a cross to Timo Werner on a lightning-fast counter-attack and Lloris was able to come out and cut off the pass.nfl nike jerseys for cheap

“We should not be disappointed tonight after such a performance,” said Loew after the match. “We were on the same level with the world champions and we should have scored a second goal in the first half. But the French have a lot of quality and scored two goals from just a handful of chances.”

Kylian Mbappe came closest to scoring an equaliser for France, but Griezmann’s ball over the top of the German defence was just out of the Paris Saint-Germain striker’s reach as the visitors took a 1-0 lead to the dressing room.2

Mbappe had another great chance go begging just after break when he poked a right-footed shot wide of Manuel Neuer’s goal after getting in behind the German defence.nike nfl jerseys wholesale cheap

France were back on level terms just after the hour mark when a well-marked Griezmann was able to redirect a perfect Lucas Hernandez cross over Neuer to make it 1-1.

And France would then take the lead with a controversial penalty of their own, as Griezmann left no doubt from the spot after Mats Hummels was whistled for a harsh foul on Blaise Matuidi in the box.

“This is the difference between a team with a lot of confidence and a team like Germany which lacks some confidence and is maybe not as efficient,” France coach Didier Deschamps told reporters.

“There is nothing better for my team, my players, than this. The best vitamin is victory and tonight we had a difficult game and won against a difficult team.”

The result means the Netherlands and France will be left to battle it out for top spot in League A’s Group 1 with the loss meaning Germany cannot reach the final.

1

Ex-Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger eyes January return to management

Arsene Wenger wants to return to management in January, saying he has received “enquiries from all over the world” and does not know whether it will be with a club or a national side.

The former Arsenal manager said he could even be tempted to return to Japan, where he managed before moving to the Premier League in 1996.

However, Wenger dismissed the idea he would join Bayern Munich and said the club should stick with under-fire coach Niko Kovac.cheap nike nfl jerseys wholesale

“Yes, it looks like it,” Wenger told Sport Bild when asked whether he is still planning to return to management. “I believe that [I’ll] start again on Jan. 1. I don’t know yet [where I’m headed]. I am rested, and I am ready to work again.”

“There are associations, national teams; it could be also [in] Japan,” Wenger said. “Thanks to my 22 years at Arsenal, I have big experience on different levels. There are enquiries from all over the world.”1

Wenger also said Mesut Ozil’s withdrawal from international football could be bad for his future.

Ozil decided to quit playing for Germany after the World Cup, saying he was subjected to racism following the team’s group-stage exit, and was widely criticised at home before the tournament over his decision to pose for a photo with Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.nfl nike jerseys for cheap

“I did not love it that he withdrew from the Germany team [because] the Germans respect what he achieved,” Wenger said. “A small bit of motivation disappears when you know that you don’t have to be ready for a World Cup, a European Championship. I love it when the players are as good as possible. He loses a bit if he does not play at an international level.”

6

Astros keep finding new ways to dominate

Major league batters are very good at hitting fastballs. They aren’t very good at hitting fastballs thrown by Astros pitchers. The Astros held batters to a .225 average on four-seam fastballs, the lowest rate in the majors. They also held batters to the lowest OBP and lowest wOBA on four-seam fastballs. If you include all fastballs, including two-seamers, the Astros rank first in lowest slugging percentage and lowest wOBA allowed. In fact, the four remaining playoff teams all rank among the top five in lowest wOBA allowed on fastballs.nfl cheap jerseys nike

As a staff, the Astros had the second-highest average four-seam fastball velocity at 94.8 mph, as well as the highest average spin rate. The Astros have constructed an entire staff of Tom Seavers. No wonder it’s one of the best team-pitching seasons we’ve ever seen. Houston’s ERA+ (adjusted ERA) of 130 — 30 percent better than league average — ranks sixth best in the divisional era, since 1969. (Last year’s Cleveland Indians staff actually ranks first at 138.) Via FanGraphs WAR, Houston’s staff ranks second since 1969 to the 2017 Indians and tied for third in adjusted ERA.

In one sense, modern analytics merely confirm age-old baseball theories with new data and specifics. The smart teams, however, find the best ways to apply that data and make their players better.6

So how did the Astros turn a so-so reliever on a bad team into one of the best relievers going? They noticed the spin rate on his curveball. Studies show that a high spin rate on breaking balls leads to more effective results. Among pitchers with at least 50 innings, Pressly’s average spin rate on his curveball ranks second in the majors, behind Garrett Richards.

With the Twins this season, Pressly threw his curveball 24.4 percent of the time; with the Astros, he has thrown it 36.9 percent of the time (while throwing fewer of his mid-90s fastballs and maintaining a similar rate with his slider). Batters are 2-for-34 against the curveball since he joined the Astros.nfl nike jerseys for cheap

“They’ve reiterated that my curveball’s probably one of the best in the league, so you should be able to use it more,” Pressley told The Athletic’s Jake Kaplan in September.

Cole has been a talented pitcher since the Pirates selected him first overall in 2011. He finished fourth in the 2015 National League Cy Young voting, but he had stagnated in Pittsburgh and had a 4.06 ERA in 2017. The Astros acquired him in the offseason — and promptly changed his approach.

The Pirates aren’t averse to analytics; heck, Travis Sawchik wrote an excellent book titled “Big Data Baseball” that outlined how analytics helped the Pirates end a 20-year streak of losing seasons and make the playoffs three seasons in a row. The Pirates, however, had a different philosophy: They linked two-seam fastballs and ground balls.

1

Knicks waive Joakim Noah, will clear cap space for 2019

After waiving Joakim Noah on Saturday, the New York Knicks will use the stretch provision on the remaining year of his contract to clear salary-cap space in an effort to pursue top free agents in the summer of 2019, league sources told ESPN.

Using the stretch provision reduces Noah’s cap hit of $19.3 million in 2019-20 to $6.4 million, saving the team $12.9 million toward the cap. Stretching his contract, though, will cost the Knicks $6.4 million in cap space in the summers of 2020 and 2021.

Next summer’s free-agent class includes Golden State forward Kevin Durant, Toronto forward Kawhi Leonard, Boston point guard Kyrie Irving and Minnesota guard/forward Jimmy Butler. Irving, however, said earlier this month that he plans to re-sign with the Celtics.cheap nfl nike jerseys from china

With the Noah contract stretched, New York is closer to having enough cap space for a max player.

If the Knicks, as expected, do not give Kristaps Porzingis a max rookie extension by Oct. 15, they project to have $31 million in room next summer. The room does not factor in the salary owed to their 2019 first-round pick or the free-agent hold of Enes Kanter, who is in the final year of his contract.1

The projected max contract next season for a player with seven to nine years of service is $32.7 million annually, and it is $38.15 million for a player with 10-plus years of service.

The Knicks will need to complete at least one more transaction to reduce their 2019-20 salary commitments in order to sign a free agent to a max contract.nfl cheap jerseys nike

The club had hoped to trade Noah without taking back much salary, which would have gotten them closer to having the cap space for a max free agent.

Dating back to last February, Knicks general manager Scott Perry had been attempting to move Noah, but he had been cautiously unwilling to include the necessary assets — a good young player or a future first-round pick or picks — to make Noah’s contract palatable to another team.

Noah will become an unrestricted free agent and be available to prospective teams after clearing waivers early next week. The Timberwolves have showed no interest in signing Noah, league sources said. Minnesota’s Tom Thibodeau coached Noah for five seasons when they were with the Chicago Bulls.