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Patriots stock up, stock down following Week 10 win vs. Browns: Mac Jones continues to ascend

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The New England Patriots made it four wins in a row on Sunday after blowing out the Cleveland Browns at Gillette Stadium, 45-7. This now has Bill Belichick’s team truly in the thick of the playoff race in the AFC and is arguably the hottest team in the NFL at the moment. Not only are the Patriots stacking up wins, but they are doing it in impressive fashion. The Browns were able to get on the board first with an opening touchdown drive, but after that the Patriots rolled, scoring 45 unanswered points while the defense shut down Cleveland’s offense for the bulk of the game. 

Next up, New England will have a short week as they’ll head down to Atlanta to face the Falcons in hope of keeping this streak alive. Before we truly dive into that matchup, let’s take a look back at this most recent win and take the temperature of where various players on the roster are at coming out of Week 10. 

The young quarterback continues to improve with each passing week. On Sunday, he put together his first three-touchdown performance of his career and made a number of high-level throws in the process. One of the more impressive on the day was his 23-yard strike to Kendrick Bourne for a touchdown in the second quarter. Jones was able to fit the ball in between two Browns defenders and put it in a spot where Bourne was able to make an astounding catch. 

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As has been the case for the bulk of the season, Jones was also extremely efficient with his throws, completing 19 of his 23 pass attempts on the day for 198 yards. The bulk of that came in the first half when Jones completed 13 of 15 for 134 yards. This was Jones’ fifth game with a passer rating over 100, which is first among first-round rookies from his draft class. 

Rhamondre Stevenson took the lion’s share of carries for the Patriots in Week 10 with starting running back Damien Harris out with a concussion. In his absence, the rookie totaled 100 yards rushing on 20 carries and two touchdowns. He also was a factor in the passing game, catching four of his five targets for 14 yards. What makes that performance even more impressive is that Stevenson had not practiced all week as he was in concussion protocol and was only cleared over the weekend. That ability to move the ball is obviously an encouraging sign for his prospects going forward with the Patriots, but what will likely earn him more playing time is his improved development in pass protection. He allowed no pressures on Sunday against the Browns. 

Stock down: Punt return

This was the only area that struggled for the Patriots in Week 10 and will be fixed once the club’s No. 1 punt returner Gunner Olszewski returns after missing Sunday’s game with a concussion. In his place, Jakobi Meyers took over punt return duties and while he didn’t make any game-altering mistakes, it wasn’t as efficient as it should have been. He fair caught one punt and allowed three others to roll out of bounds or down the field for the Browns to touch. Had he made the fair catch on some of those punts, New England would have been working with better field position. 

Stock up: Jakobi Meyers

Welcome to the end zone, Jakobi Meyers! At long last, the Patriots receiver finally scored his first career touchdown in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s win. Brian Hoyer hit Meyers on the right side of the field, and the third-year receiver was able to shed his defender and raced 11 yards for the score. This was a long time coming for Meyers as he had set an NFL record for most receiving yards to begin a career without scoring a touchdown. 

Immediately upon scoring, the entire Patriots sidelined raced to the end zone to celebrate with Meyers. 

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The entire defense was dominant for the Patriots on Sunday, but Kyle Dugger was the one who really sparked the blowout. The safety was able to jump out in front of a short throw by Baker Mayfield in the opening seconds of the second quarter and pick off the Browns quarterback while returning the ball 37 yards down the field. That immediately gave the Patriots the ball at the Cleveland 5-yard line and it took just five seconds for the offense to get into the end zone, courtesy of a Rhamondre Stevenson rush. 

Dugger finished his day with a team-high eight tackles to go along with that interception. 

The Mac Jones-Hunter Henry combination continues to be lethal for the Patriots over this winning streak. The duo connected for two more touchdowns in Sunday’s win over Cleveland, giving them seven on the season. These two sparking up this rapport has been vital to the team’s success over this winning streak as they’ve been able to execute in the red zone at a much more efficient degree. Over the last four weeks, New England owns a 73.6% conversation rate in the red zone compared to the 44.4% rate they had over the first six weeks. A large part of that is thanks to Henry coming alive. 

While Henry has made his money in the red area, the connection with Jones is popping up in the middle of the field as well. The rookie had one of his better throws of the day when targeting Henry in the third quarter on a sideline throw in coverage 

Henry’s career-high for touchdowns is eight which came back in his rookie season and he looks well on his way to shatter that mark in 2021. 

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2022 MLB Field of Dreams Game: TV channel, time, live stream, four things to know for Cubs-Reds in Iowa

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On Thursday, the Chicago Cubs and Cincinnati Reds will meet in Dyersville, Iowa, for the second edition of Major League Baseball’s Field of Dreams Game. The game is a living tribute to the iconic 1989 film “Field of Dreams” that starred Kevin Costner, James Earl Jones, Amy Madigan, and the late Ray Liotta that was in part an exploration of baseball nostalgia. 

While opinions vary on how effective the movie is, there’s no disputing that it’s one of the most discussed and recognizable baseball films ever made (it was also an Academy Award nominee for Best Picture). The film hinges on the decision made by Costner’s farmer character to carve a baseball diamond of his corn field — at great personal risk and expense — all because a mysterious whispering voice told him to: 

That field will be visited by the ghosts of long-ago baseball players and by a lost presence in Costner’s character’s life. But enough spoilers. 

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The dimensions of the movie field itself — now a prominent tourist destination in Iowa — aren’t such that a major-league game can be played on it, but a nearby field constructed for last year’s inaugural FoD Game between the New York Yankees and Chicago White Sox certainly captured the essence of things. People, there was lots of corn. Construction, however, will apparently prevent MLB from hosting a game in Iowa next year.

Now let’s set the scene for the second edition of the Field of Dreams Game by running down the essential things to know. 

How to watch the Field of Dreams Game

Where: Dyersville, Iowa | When: 7:15 p.m. ET on Thursday, Aug. 11
TV channel: Fox | Live stream: fuboTV (try for free)
Odds: Cubs -105; Reds -115; O/U: 9 (via Caesars Sportsbook)

Featured Game | Cincinnati Reds vs. Chicago Cubs

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Now for a few things to know about the 2022 edition. 

1. The Reds and Cubs will be wearing throwback uniforms

Given that the movie Field of Dreams draws heavily from the Deadball Era of more than a century ago, the two competing squads will be outfitted appropriately. It says here they’ll look pretty darn good. First up, the Cubs: 

And: 

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This is a bit of a mashup that works very well. The jersey and pants are from the Cubs’ pennant-winning campaign of 1929, and the hat is from the 1914 season. 

Now for the Reds: 

That ensemble was featured prominently during the 1914-20 period, and you may consider the Reds’ batting helmet to be the early favorite for “best thing going” when it comes to the uniforms of the 2022 FoD game. 

MLB has leaned into having mic’d-up conversations with players in the dugout and even on the field while the game is ongoing, and not surprisingly that’s going to be the case on Thursday night. The lucky/afflicted players for this game will be Reds first baseman Joey Votto and Cubs outfielder Ian Happ. They’ll be rocking the two-way mic at some point during the game. Given Votto’s engaging presence and sense of humor, he could be an ideal fit for this sort of thing. 

3. The ballpark will be the star

Much like last year, the specially constructed FoD ballpark will be the story of the night. As noted above, the field from the movie isn’t suitable for MLB competition, but the one that’s being used captures the same essence thanks to grace notes like the manual scoreboard and the 159 acres of surrounding 10-foot corn stalks. Adding to the ambience is the fine mesh seven-foot high green chain link fence that makes it look like, yes, they’re playing right in the middle of an Iowa cornfield. 

Also, each team will have a throwback logo carved into the corn just beyond the right-field wall. Regard: 

4. It’ll be hard to top last year’s edition

The first FoD game, unlike this year’s model, involved contenders and eventual playoff teams. As well, White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson provided one of the most memorable closing acts of the season against the Yankees:

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As well, MLB notes that last year’s game “delivered nearly six million viewers and marked the most-watched single regular season baseball game on any network since 1998.”

Given that the Reds and Cubs are both near the bottom of the National League Central standings and at most are competing for draft position in 2023, the stakes are obviously much lower. That said, the venue and the visuals are the real stars of the FoD game, and those will be in peak form once again. 



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Equipped with revamped slider, Mitch White brings versatility to Blue Jays

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MINNEAPOLIS — The moment Mitch White knew he needed to do something about his slider was right about here:


That was last May, when White — making only his sixth big-league appearance after winding a half-decade path up the Los Angeles Dodgers system — was trying to earn a save in the second game of a doubleheader at Wrigley Field.

White’s not a closer and has zero reservations about that fact. But it was extras (remember, doubleheaders were seven-inning games last season) and the bullpen was in a real bad way. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts was out of options. So, with a two-run lead and a baserunner starting the inning at second, out to the mound White went.

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It was going well until it wasn’t. White got a quick out on a groundball before winning a long battle with Tony Wolters, earning a strikeout with an inside curveball. But after falling behind Javy Baez, 1-0, White tried to dot his slider on the outside edge but missed, leaving it up and over for the Cubs second baseman, whose eyes lit up. Tie game.

“He got me pretty good,” White remembers. “And after that I was like, ‘my slider sucks. I need to figure this out.’”

At the time, White was throwing what’s called a bullet slider. Think of the one Michael Fulmer’s flummoxed hitters with this season. Tight, vertical, and firm, the pitch is thrown anywhere from the high-80’s to low-90’s, sacrificing movement for velocity. As a pitcher, you’re thinking not so much about manipulating the pitch, but moreso about throwing the hell out of it. As hard as you can. It worked for White over a lot of years at a lot of levels. But the hitters at the highest one are pretty good.

So, White went back to the lab with Dodgers assistant pitching coach Connor McGuiness to revisit a grip change they’d discussed in spring training. The inspiration came from Blake Treinen, the all-star Dodgers reliever who, in 2021, halted an odd, two-year slide in his results when he started throwing his slider with a spike grip like one would a curveball. The adjustment juiced the pitch’s horizontal movement, helped Treinen rediscover his elite form, and was so effective that the Dodgers started implementing it developmentally throughout their system.

White was one of the guys they thought it could work for. But it wasn’t until Baez’s bomb that he finally took the plunge and started throwing it. Suddenly, White’s slider was sweeping five inches further across the zone. He was getting more swings with it and missing more barrels. He finished 2021 with a 35.7 per cent whiff rate on the pitch, allowing a strong .204 wOBA against it (and a .170 xwOBA that suggests White deserved even better).

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That’s just one of the things that the Toronto Blue Jays have liked about White for some time, and one of the reasons why they sought to acquire him at last week’s trade deadline when the Dodgers, motivated to move White in his final option year ahead of an impending roster crunch next spring, made him available.

Another would be the 94-mph fastball with above-average spin that plays up off the rest of his repertoire and has gotten him outs consistently since his MLB debut. And then there’s the curveball, changeup, and two-seamer, rounding out a deep, still-developing repertoire that gives Toronto’s pitching department plenty to work with.

“We’re excited to have him. We’ve had discussions about him in the past — he’s someone that’s been on our radar for a while,” says Blue Jays pitching coach Pete Walker. “He has a very comfortable, easy delivery. The ball jumps out of his hand. I like the way he spins the ball a couple different ways. He spins it very well. And he’s still developing. The changeup’s effective, but it’s something I think we can continue to develop here. I think that’s a pitch that could be better for him in the future.

“He’s someone that we’ll continue to get to know. But just from seeing him on video, talking with him, watching him throw a side — he seems to have a good feel for what he’s doing. And that’s nice. To be successful at this level, you’ve got to know who you are and what makes you good.”

Part of that is White’s comfort in a variety of roles, something the Dodgers used to their advantage over the last two seasons. Los Angeles utilized him for one-inning relief, had him pitch bulk outings behind openers, and used him as a rotation fill-in for two-and-a-half months this season. And you can expect White to do something similar in Toronto, both pitching out of the club’s bullpen and covering a spot in its rotation when needed, assuming the role Ross Stripling held with the club out of spring training.

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And, look, you’re going to hear White compared to Stripling a lot. It’s almost too easy. A couple right-handed, control-and-command, kitchen-sink-throwing swingmen acquired at the trade deadline from the Los Angeles Dodgers. A pair of guys who could easily hold down back-end starting jobs on plenty of teams but, because the Dodgers are the Dodgers, often found themselves on the outside of a stacked rotation looking in. White assumed Stripling’s role in Toronto’s rotation, for crying out loud, when the incumbent ended up on the injured list this week. And he might just inherit it long-term if Stripling departs in free agency this winter.

But as far as comparisons go, Stripling’s not an undesirable one. We’ve all seen how valuable his versatility’s been to the Blue Jays this season and last. It’s not so easy oscillating between starting and relief throughout a major-league season, repeatedly reverting routines and amplifying demands on body and mind. It’s like asking a track athlete to compete in the 100m sprint one week and the 1,500m run the next, while excelling at both.

For his part, White has three different conditioning and arm care routines — one for when he’s pitching out of the bullpen, one for when he’s starting, and another for when he’s transitioning between the two. And he takes different approaches to attacking hitters depending on his role, as well.

“It’s about managing that arm health and taking care of everything — making sure you’re physically ready to go. And then beyond that, there’s the mental challenge of flipping a lineup over a couple times, understanding that you can’t always go with your plan A. You’ve got to mix it up,” White says. “And just through the experience of throwing more, you get comfortable feeling those things out. Feeling hitters a little more. Versus in the pen, where it’s like, ‘All right, I’m going to come at them with my best stuff. I don’t really need to get too cute. Just attack.’”

That’s why White’s continual work on his repertoire has been so key. He has to be two pitchers at once. And while he’s found what works as a reliever, leaning on a fastball that plays up in shorter stints and that sweeping slider, he’s still a work in progress at a starter. And the Blue Jays feel there’s more upside he can tap into as he continues making adjustments.

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While White’s fastball and slider are an effective combination against right-handers, he offers lefties a completely different look, utilizing curveballs and changeups to help neutralize the platoon advantage. The Blue Jays see some opportunities for White to improve those two pitches, his changeup in particular. And they believe his slider can be deployed against left-handed hitting, as well, provided he’s able to locate it in advantageous areas of the strike zone.

White’s obviously open to ideas. He’s already decided to experiment with some glove-side two-seamers — a new pitch White began implementing earlier this season — in his next bullpen after watching Alek Manoah and Jose Berrios using it to great effect against right-handed hitters. Stripling added a sinker himself this year and has used it effectively as a soft-contact generating weapon against right-handers. Don’t be surprised to see White start doing the same.

Advancing White’s approach will be an ongoing process, of course. The Blue Jays haven’t thrown too much at him yet, encouraging the 27-year-old to continue doing what he was doing to produce the 3.47 ERA he held over 10 starts with the Dodgers this season. But White’s open-minded and unafraid of trying new things, like with the slider he overhauled thanks to Treinen’s spike grip. And with the benefit of a full camp in Dunedin, Fla. next spring, a little tweak here, a little adjustment there, the evolution of Mitch While will continue.

“It’s interesting — a lot of pitchers are very different in the way that they approach the game. And you can learn something from everyone,” White says. “I learned a lot from Clayton [Kershaw.] He’s old school. He doesn’t love all the numbers and the Edgertronic and the Rapsodo and the technical side. So, I’d talk to him about approach and reading hitters and what his game plan is.

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“Then there’s a Tyler Anderson or a Tony Gonsolin — they’re more involved in pitch design, figuring out how to make my slider move a little bit more in this direction, that kind of stuff. Everyone’s a little different. And you can pick up little pieces from everyone.”

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Several NBA Analysts Share A Bold Clippers Prediction

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(Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

 

Going into the 2022-23 NBA season, the Los Angeles Clippers have plenty of reason for hope.

Coming off a dismal season during which they fell apart in the play-in tournament versus the New Orleans Pelicans, they’re expected to get superstar Kawhi Leonard and key scoring guard Norman Powell back from injury.

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As usual these days, they are expected to be in the running for a spot in the NBA Finals next summer.

As was the case three years ago when Leonard and Paul George first teamed up, some prominent members of the media are starting to drool all over the Clippers.

Tim Bontemps of ESPN said they’re “clearly the best team in the West,” while his colleague Bobby Marks piggybacked on his comment and said the Clippers are going to win 60 games.

The Clippers are certainly a force and could win it all, but let’s not get carried away.

In fact, more than any other title contender outside of the Brooklyn Nets, they have some real question marks.

 

Health

Leonard is coming off a partially torn ACL in his right knee, which is the type of injury that can rob an athlete of some of his viability.

Prior to the injury, which he sustained during the 2021 playoffs, he wasn’t exactly a picture of good health to begin with.

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Leonard missed 22 games in the 2018-19 season, 15 the year after and 20 in the 2020-21 campaign due to “load management” for multiple ailments, including what is believed to be quad tendinopathy.

During the 2019 playoffs, many commented that by the NBA Finals, it looked like he was playing on one good leg, due to what was believed to be a related tendon ailment.

Leonard has had such issues going back five years, and it drove a wedge between him and the management of the San Antonio Spurs during the 2017-18 season, which led to him being traded to the Toronto Raptors at the end of the year.

At age 31, Leonard seems to have more wear and tear than most NBA stars his age, and how good he will be this coming season is a fair question to ask.

How he will hold up through a long NBA season is another fair question to ask.

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In addition, George has also been injury-prone, as he has appeared in only 133 of a possible 226 contests during his three seasons in L.A.

 

The Clippers Have A Sizable Hole In Their Roster

Throughout the Leonard-George era, the Clippers have lacked a top-flight point guard who can dictate the tempo, set up his teammates and be a legitimate scoring threat.

After getting bought out by the Houston Rockets, John Wall signed with the Clippers, leading their fans to declare that they have their own version of a superteam.

In reality, Wall isn’t who he used to be when he made five straight All-Star teams not too long ago.

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Following a torn Achilles, he shot just 40.4 percent from the field and 31.7 percent from 3-point range in the 2020-21 season, and he didn’t play at all this past season after wanting out.

Such an injury all but ends the viability of most basketball players, and it seems unlikely Wall will regain anything close to his old form.

If he doesn’t, teams can sag off him defensively and watch him throw up brick after brick.

Without that top-flight point guard, the Clippers, more likely than not, will suffer another heart-wrenching playoff loss sometime in May or June of 2023.

The post Several NBA Analysts Share A Bold Clippers Prediction appeared first on The Cold Wire.

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