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The Steelers can still somehow make the playoffs, plus Caleb Williams is a historically great transfer recruit

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Happy Tuesday morning, folks. Week 17 is in the books. Let’s get right to all the news.

Good morning to everyone but especially to…

THE PITTSBURGH STEELERS (AND THEIR PLAYOFF CHANCES)

One down, one (potentially) to go.

The Pittsburgh Steelers kept their slight playoff hopes alive once again with a 26-14 win over the Browns, meaning Ben Roethlisberger will play at least one more meaningful game.

Like most of the Steelers’ wins this season, it wasn’t a particularly pretty brand of football:

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With the win, Mike Tomlin set an NFL record with 15 consecutive non-losing seasons to begin his coaching career. NFL reporter Bryan DeArdo was on hand to witness what was likely Roethlisberger’s final game at Heinz Field. Here’s his big takeaway:

  • DeArdo: “Defense, defense, defense. Roethlisberger may have been the man in the spotlight on Monday, playing what even he deemed his last game at Heinz Field, but this one belonged to the Steel City ‘D.’ With four sacks on a night Pittsburgh totaled nine, T.J. Watt … confirmed himself as Defensive Player of the Year front-runner and ensured Mayfield never felt comfortable in the pocket.”

Here’s what the Steelers need to see happen in Week 18 to make the postseason:

While it’s unlikely, the fact that this Steelers team even has a chance at making the playoffs is incredible and impressive. They’re 8-7-1 despite being outscored by 58 points this season overall. Last night was their first double-digit win of the season. But none of that matters now: They’ve given themselves a chance in Week 18, and we’ve seen plenty of times this season that anything can happen on any given Sunday.

Honorable mentions:

And not such a good morning for…

THE OKLAHOMA SOONERS

One of the top transfers ever has entered the portal: former Oklahoma quarterback Caleb Williams.

Williams, who took over for Spencer Rattler as the Sooners’ starter last year, threw 21 touchdowns and four interceptions as a true freshman and also ran for over 400 yards.

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It’s safe to say he’ll have no shortage of suitors, writes our college football expert Shehan Jeyarajah:

  • Jeyarajah: “The 247Sports transfer portal evaluators have already named Williams just the second perfect 1.000 transfer recruit in the nation… Alabama and Ohio State have strong quarterbacks coming back, but Clemson and Georgia could use upgrades. Notre Dame, Ole Miss and Michigan State are also top-10 squads that could be looking for options. Really, any school in the country that isn’t starting Bryce Young or C.J. Stroud should at least consider their options if Williams is on the table. He can swing a conference, or even national, title race.”

I’m 100 percent on board with that assessment. Williams has a cannon of an arm and is an excellent dual threat. If you need proof, watch him come off the bench and lead Oklahoma to a huge comeback win over Texas.

On the other side is a Sooner program that’s now lost its head coach and its superstar-in-the-making quarterback in just over a month. New coach Brent Venables and the Sooners were able to flip former UCF signal caller Dillon Gabriel from UCLA to Oklahoma on Monday night, and while I do like Gabriel a lot as a player, there are few — if any — players who can match Williams’ immense skill and upside. Williams did say he would consider returning to Oklahoma, but given the Gabriel addition, it doesn’t seem to be trending that way.

In the meantime, we’ll keep our eyes open for where Williams goes — and, in turn, who will almost certainly be getting a very big “Good Morning” in this newsletter.

Not so honorable mention:

  • Mike Zimmer might be on his way out as Vikings head coach, and he’s certainly not mincing words. With Minnesota eliminated from the playoff race, might Zimmer want to see what rookie QB Kellen Mond has to offer Sunday? “Not particularly,” Zimmer said. “I see him every day.”
  • Jimmy Butler suffered an ankle injury and had to be carried off the court last night during the Heat’s game against the Warriors. The Heat have dealt with a ton of injury and COVID-19 issues, and this would be a tough blow to a team already missing Bam Adebayo, among many others.

Latest twist in Antonio Brown‘s shocking mid-game exit saga 🏈

In case you somehow missed it on Sunday, Antonio Brown took off his jersey and jogged off the field in the third quarter, effectively quitting on his team in a way we have never seen before (and will likely never see again).

Now we have new information — or at least perhaps a new background story — regarding this bizarre episode.

  • Brown felt his injured ankle was too hurt for him to play and twice refused to enter the game after head coach Bruce Arians asked him to do so. Arians then told Brown to “get out,” and that was that.
  • Arians has strongly disputed this version of events, saying the ankle played no role in Brown’s sudden departure. Brown himself has not addressed the departure.
  • Immediately after the game, Arians said that Brown was no longer with the team, though he’s yet to be officially released.

Something tells me we haven’t heard the last of this story, and we may not for a while.

What you need to know with MLB negotiations looming ⚾


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The MLB lockout is officially into its second month and — wait… is that a light at the end of the tunnel?

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Well, not quite yet. While negotiations are expected to resume this month, there’s A LOT to wade through, writes MLB expert Dayn Perry. That includes:

  • Pay structure, especially for younger players
  • Tanking
  • The luxury tax

While owners prefer the status quo, the longer this lockout goes, the more power the players have, Perry writes:

  • Perry: “Should we get into the second week of February or thereabouts without a deal, then the possibility of a compromised spring training becomes a concern. This again plays into the leverage that players may have right now. Spring training games at sites in Arizona and Florida have become a profit center for teams, and they don’t want to lose those games. Players, meantime, don’t start getting checks until the regular season begins. So the prospect of a shortened spring training figures to increase pressure on the league side to get a deal done.”

The first Bracketology update of 2022 arrived just in time for a major upset 🏀


USATSI

With the calendar turning to a new year, college basketball action is heating up with conference action, and that means it’s Bracketology time. Our bracket expert Jerry Palm has eight Big 12 teams — including two No. 1 seeds — in his latest version.

But it was a Big Ten that made the headlines last night: No. 23 Wisconsin went to Mackey Arena and beat No. 3 Purdue, 74-69. If you don’t know the name Johnny Davis by now, you need to get acquainted. The star sophomore poured in a career-high 37 points, 27 of which came in the second half.

The Big Ten figures to be a tight race, and wins like these are really, really impressive.

What we’re watching Tuesday 📺

🏀 Oklahoma at No. 1 Baylor, 7 p.m. on ESPN2
🏀 No. 16 LSU at No. 21 Kentucky
, 7 p.m. on ESPN
🏀 Kings at Lakers
, 10:30 p.m. on NBA TV

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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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