WE'RE JUST FANS. WE DON'T FUCK AROUND HERE.
Last season, Toronto FC was without doubt the best team during the 2017 MLS regular season. Finishing on 69 points, Toronto FC finished a whopping 12 points (or four games) clear of the next best team – New York FC.
So what has happened since?
Over the course of a relatively productive offseason, the team lost a few ‘bit-part’ players like Armando Cooper, Benoit Cheyrou, and Steven Beitashour, however this alone is no reason for the team’s dramatic form slump to start the 2018 season.
Their star players, Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, Sebastian Giovinco, and first-choice goalkeeper Alex Bono all stayed at BMO Field, and coach Greg Vanney also remains at the helm. They then added Dutch defender Gregory Van Der Wiel, Brazilian Defender Auro, and former Spainish Under 20 midfielder Ager Aketxe to an already strong squad, and overall, it was widely acknowledged that the team had improved its playoff caliber roster.
The 2018 season however has started poorly – very poorly in fact. Just seven points from a possible 27 has Toronto FC sitting 10th in the Eastern Conference, already 10 points out of the final playoff spot.
Is it too early to write off Toronto FC? Of course. However if they can’t find a way to work things out quickly they will place themselves in serious danger of missing the playoff for the first time since 2014. That would be an absolute travesty given the strength of this team on paper.
The Toronto Raptors have done something that most people would never have thought would happen – they have fired their Head Coach who was recently named the Coaches Association Coach of the Year (and is a favourite to win the NBA Coach of the Year award), Dwane Casey.
The Raptors, under Casey’s tutelage, finished the 2017/18 regular season as the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference due to a franchise record 59 wins. However, looking back on Casey’s coaching career with the Raptors, this season wasn’t simply a flash-in-the-pan, it was something of the norm recently –
2011/12 Season: 23 wins, 43 losses (66 games) – missed playoffs
2012/13 Season: 34 wins, 48 losses (82 games) – missed playoffs
2013/14 Season: 48 wins, 34 losses (82 games) – lost in first round of playoffs
2014/15 Season: 49 wins, 33 losses (82 games) – lost in first round of playoffs
2015/16 Season: 56 wins, 26 losses (82 games) – lost in conference finals
2016/17 Season: 51 wins, 31 losses (82 games) – lost in conference semi-finals
2017/18 Season: 59 wins, 23 losses (82 games) – lost in conference semi-finals
Many people are saying that LeBron James is the cause of this crazy sacking – the Cleveland Cavaliers, led by James, bundled the Raptors out of the postseason in a cleansweep for the second consecutive year. In fact, the Cavaliers have been the reason the Toronto Raptors haven’t progressed to the NBA Finals in the last three seasons; knocking them out in each of those postseasons.
So is it Casey’s fault that they haven’t progressed? Is it LeBron James? Is it Raptors players going missing when they’re needed the most? The answer, a bit of everything from column A, B and C.
To kick things off, the Raptors had no direct match-up for James, no one that could contain him or restrict his movements on the court, his touches of the ball. You look at the Boston Celtics for example, they’ve got Marcus Smart and Marcus Morris who have both played on James throughout the season and have bodied him up well enough to throw him off his game slightly (slightly is enough of a difference-maker). The Raptors tried Serge Ibaka – too slow – they tried OG Anunoby – not strong enough – and they even had CJ Miles at times – too slow and not strong enough.
This is where Casey’s coaching could come into question – if no one player could hamper James, then what strategies could be put in place to make up for that? It didn’t look like there were too many in game changes or tactical surprises by the Raptors. Reports over the years and even recently have all said that Casey is a great coach, a great player developer and training coach but his in-game coaching shows little imagination – without being involved with the team, I can’t necessarily comment on that but if it’s true, could it have played a part? Absolutely.
What about players going missing?
Let’s compare the statistics for DeMar DeRozan from the series against the Washington Wizards to the series against the Cleveland Cavaliers –
Washington Series (4-2): 26.7ppg, 3.3rpg, 4.8apg – 10/26 from three, 34/42 free throws.
Cleveland Series (0-4): 16.8ppg, 4.0rpg, 2.8apg – 0/9 from three, 9/11 free throws.
The Cavaliers were able to stop DeRozan from getting to the free throw line and also restricted his number of shot attempts with their suffocating defense. As the lead scorer and main offensive threat for the Raptors, DeRozan not scoring certainly makes putting a winning score on the board that much harder.
That’s not to say that DeRozan is the main culprit – Serge Ibaka, CJ Miles, Jonas Valanciunas and others all had a down series – he is just the focal point being the leader and main threat on this team. Kyle Lowry had a good series against the Cavaliers but even he was in foul trouble early in a number of games, making things a little more difficult.
It’s clear, I think, that Casey has been made the scapegoat when the finger could be pointed in a number of different ways but what’s done is done, the Raptors have parted ways with their franchise leader in coaching wins.
What makes it even more crazy is the good words said by all within the Raptors – including President Masai Ujiri, Lowry and DeRozan – about how great Casey has been for the franchise, how he did nothing wrong as a coach and how great he was as a coach.
Even other coaches like the Boston Celtics Brad Stevens and Cleveland Cavaliers Ty Lue had nothing but praise for Casey. I think it’s safe to say that even though the Toronto Raptors aren’t in Dwane Casey’s future, there will be another team that signs him on before too long.
PITTSBURGH – Gazing skyward and exhaling a deep breath, Alex Ovechkin’s look of relief reflected the feelings of an entire franchise and its fans so desperate for success. Finally, the Washington Capitals had overcome arch-rival Pittsburgh Penguins to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in 20 years.
The way in which they disposed of the two-time defending Stanley Cup Champions was calm, clinical, and courageous. There was no Tom Wilson (suspension) and no Nicklas Backstrom (injury), however that didn’t phase Barry Trotz’s men who banded together and silenced a typically riotous Pittsburgh crowd.
Despite looking the better of the two teams in the opening period, the Capitals were unable to take an early lead. The Penguins appeared nervous, lacking speed and often unable to maintain possession of the puck, and looked every bit a team on the verge of elimination on home ice. The Capitals however were unable to capitalize despite creating numerous chances on Matt Murray who was proving to be exceptional in goal.
Early in the second though, Australian Nathan Walker, making his playoff debut, showed his highly regarded speed beating a pair of Penguins before setting up a perfect pass to Alex Chiasson who beat Murray short side. It was just the second goal of Chiasson’s NHL playoff career and the assist was Walker’s first point. It was a just reward for the fourth line who looked good for most of the night.
The goal seemed to spark life into the Pittsburgh faithful who’s voice lifted their team as the intensity lifted on the ice. The Penguins were pushing hard and 11:52 into the period, Kris Letang put an inconsistent series behind him by tying the game, beating Braden Holtby with a one-timer that deflected off of Chandler Stephenson’s stick. The Penguins would continue to push for the remainder of the period, however the safety of the second intermission was welcomed by the Capitals with the game still tied at one.
The final period was controlled by the Capitals from the get-go, however it was the performances of both Murray and Holtby which stole the show. The goal-tending duo were simply exceptional, stopping everything which came their way in what proved to be a highly entertaining, free flowing period. Credit must also be given to the officials who put the whistles away and let the boys play hockey – it was a real lesson to the NHL which needs to push this agenda strongly as the conference finals await.
Still tied at two at the end of regulation, the teams headed to overtime where the Capitals continued to dominate. Searching for a game and series winner, it was Evgeny Kuznetsov who stood up and played hero 5:27 in, after receiving the puck at center ice from Alex Ovechkin before racing down the ice and beating Murray to send Washington fans into hysterics.
The win marks the first time the Capitals have reached the conference finals since the 1997-98 season. In between, there had been 12 failed playoff campaigns where exits in the first (six) and second (six) round were all too familiar and always full of unrivaled heartache. Five of those failed campaigns were at the hands of the Penguins:
Speaking after the curse was broken, Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin said:
“Finally! We beat the Penguins. Thank God it’s happened. Move forward.”
The Capitals now face the highly-fancied Tampa Bay Lightning who after finishing the regular season with a 54-23-5 record, have easily disposed of the New Jersey Devils and Boston Bruins, each in five games. The series will mark the first time in Alex Ovechkin’s glorious career he’s appeared in the conference finals and despite most believing the Capitals will have a tough challenge ahead of them, he can take comfort in knowing his team has won eight of its last 10 games against top quality opposition.
Anything is possible. #ALLCAPS
With the 2018 baseball season now in full swing, the Delmarva Shorebirds have easily been one of the most promising teams in the Orioles’ organization, sitting atop the South Atlantic League with an impressive record of 20-8.
A main contributor to the team’s early success comes from none other than outfielder, Zach Jarrett. In 95 at bats, Jarrett is batting .305 with 7 home runs and a .579 slugging percentage. This places him in the upper echelon of all Single-A affiliate batters and has earned him the honor of being named an Orioles minor league co-player of the month for April.
Jarrett was not always a highly sought-after prospect though. Being the son and grandson of Hall of Fame NASCAR drivers Dale and Ned Jarrett, baseball did not seem to be in the genes. Falling all the way to the 28th round of the 2017 MLB draft, this Charlotte product had a very underwhelming stat line for Baltimore’s Short Season-A affiliate, Aberdeen. The organization still decided to call him up to Delmarva for the 2018 season, and that decision has more than paid off thus far.
This offensive weapon has tons of potential and seems to be improving every game. Although the season is young, the sky seems to be the limit for this kid and the Shorebirds as a whole. Keep an eye out for Zach Jarrett climbing his way up the Orioles’ system.
As the Baltimore Orioles slump to the worst record in the American League, a familiar face and much-loved figure from the Orioles’ last period of significant struggle, Nick Markakis, is experiencing completely different fortunes with the National League East leading Atlanta Braves.
The Braves, who are without doubt one of the most exciting young teams in all of baseball, are 19-11 and the 34-year-old veteran right fielder is hitting .336 with eight doubles, five home runs, and 23 RBI. In his 13th major league season and last of his current four-year contract, the left-handed hitter is showing no signs of slowing down despite injury concerns being a hotly debated subject during the 2014 offseason.
After a memorable American League East division-winning 2014 season in Baltimore, Markakis was quite vocal in his desire to re-sign with the Orioles and remain in the city he had grown to love throughout his entire major league career. After nine seasons, Baltimore had become a second home for the New York native, and in 2008 he and his family purchased a property in Monkton, an affluent community just a short 30 minute drive down the I-83. In addition to his on-field success with the team, his charitable work off-field also enhanced his high standing among fans. The Right Side Foundation, started by Nick and his wife Christina in May 2009, helps disadvantaged, sick, lonely, or grieving children throughout the state of Maryland and frequently draws much praise from leaders within the community who see first hand how much of a difference the Markakis family’s efforts make.
Despite his strong desire to remain though, the front office had other ideas.
Following the end of the 2014 playoff run at the hands of the Kansas City Royals, Markakis and the Orioles looked set to sign a four-year, $40 million deal in early November, however negotiations suddenly stalled. While never admitted by the Orioles front office, it was a widely-held belief that the organization was concerned by an MRI on his neck which showed a bulging disk. This is despite Markakis openly stating his neck wasn’t causing him discomfort, and that fact that he’d played 160 and 155 games in 2013 and 2014 respectively.
Ultimately a deal between the two parties was not forthcoming and just a few weeks later on December 3, Markakis agreed to a four-year, $44 million contract with the Atlanta Braves, much to the frustration of Orioles fans. To further rub salt into the wound, the ever-classy Markakis took out a two-page advert in the Baltimore Sun, thanking fans, the city, and the organization for his nine seasons with the club. Players of his caliber both on and off the field don’t come around often, and the Orioles had just let one slip away.
Speaking on the event in early 2015, the typically quiet Markakis surprised many and didn’t hold back:
“Don’t believe a word they say. It was all because of my neck. They can say what they want to make them look good. It’s all B.S.”
“It’s a weird feeling. It’s different. You don’t realize until you go through it. And I always thought I’d be coming back as an Oriole. But I’ve been through it all now and the business side I understand.”
More than three years have since passed and overall, the Orioles have enjoyed more success than the Braves, winning 81, 89, and 75 games respectively and reaching the postseason again in 2016. The rebuilding Braves meanwhile won just 67, 68, and 72 games respectively between 2015 and 2017.
When comparing the numbers between Markakis and the Orioles’ various right fielders used since he left though, it makes for truly fascinating reading.
Nick Markakis (Offensive), 2015 to Now
Orioles RF (Offensive), 2015 to Now
As the numbers indicate, Markakis’ offensive value is superior in most categories to what has been achieved by Orioles’ right fielders combined since 2015. The exceptions are home runs and runs scored, however one must also keep in mind that Markakis has played on a significantly weaker team where both RBI and run scoring opportunities have been less frequent. Also noteworthy is Markakis’ much higher on-base percentage which stems from drawing 80 more walks.
Defensively, the Orioles have never truly settled on a regular right fielder since Markakis left and in total, have tried 24 different options – most of which with minimal success. Now mostly forgotten, this has included Gerardo Parra, Alejandro De Aza, Chris Davis, Mark Trumbo, Joey Rickard, Nolan Reimold, Seth Smith, and Anthony Santander among others.
Nick Markakis (Defensive), 2015 to Now
Orioles RF (Defensive), 2015 to Now
Yet again the numbers tell a clear story of Markakis’ higher value and superior performance since 2015, especially in that defensive WAR category which must be particularly alarming for anyone within the Orioles organization.
While it’s easy to sit back and criticize the Orioles’ front office for the numerous lost opportunities in recent years which has contributed to the misery seen in 2018 (i.e. Nelson Cruz, Andrew Miller, etc.), the stability, consistency, and reliability of what Nick Markakis offered the ballclub has undoubtedly been missed. Further, his leadership on field, as well as he and his family’s charitable work off it, has also been a big loss to the ballclub and city in general.
With the Braves flying and clearly valuing Markakis’ consistent performance both in right field and at the plate, one would expect them not to make the same mistake the Orioles did by letting this underrated star walk at season’s end.
Ozzie Newsome is both a legendary player and General Manager, and he is further enhancing his reputation by making the absolute most of his last draft. He’s been wheelin’ and dealin’, and is doing a ton to create a positive future for this Ravens franchise.
Below you will find my review of his haul this past week – let’s get started…
Pick 25: Hayden Hurst (TE, South Carolina)
Weight: 250 pounds
40-yard dash: 4.67
His combine numbers speak for themselves. This guy is a physical specimen and the perfect style of tight end for this Ravens’ offense. Hurst came of out of high school and was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates to be a pitcher. After his baseball career fizzled out he decided to give it a try in college football. He walked on at the University of South Carolina and made an immediate impact, and even started a game his freshman year. In 2016 Hurst really came into his own breaking South Carolina records for receptions and yards from a TE. He continued his form by making all SEC honors last year. His size, speed and soft hands make him a mismatch for corners and linebackers. This is a good pick and typical of Ozzie to try to get the TE of the future in his last draft.
Pick 32: Lamar Jackson (QB, Louisville)
Weight: 216 pounds
Lamar Jackson is one of the most electrifying players coming out of this year’s draft. The Louisville QB has drawn comparisons to Michael Vick and has all the attributes to be must-watch television soon. He has top level arm strength, fast and as elusive as any player in the draft. The former Heisman winner is now the heir apparent to Joe Flacco. Jackson is more than likely going to sit behind Joe for a year or two then take over. It will be interesting to see if Jackson’s game translates to the next level given some of his struggles with reading defenses. This pick marks a key shift in the Ravens future and it will be fascinating to see how Harbaugh and this coaching staff grooms him.
Pick 83: Orlando Brown (OT, Oklahoma)
Weight: 345 pounds
40-yard dash: 5.85 seconds
Vertical: 19.5 inches
Bench Press: 14 reps
This guy is absolutely immense, the son of former Ravens tackle Orlando “Zeus” Brown has a very high upside. He was the star of the Oklahoma Offensive Line that helped Baker Mayfield with this year’s Heisman. Coming out of college he was touted as a guaranteed first round pick, but an extremely poor showing at the combine allowed him to fall Baltimore in the third round. I think this pick is absolute robbery. Despite his lack of athleticism, he proved that he can play his position at a very high level. He has the potential to be one of the best tackles in the league.
Pick 86: Mark Andrews (TE, Oklahoma)
Weight: 256 pounds
40-yard dash: 4.67 seconds
Vertical: 31 inchs
Bench Press: 17 reps
I really like this pick, because it plays into the type of TE that works well in a Ravens offense. At Oklahoma he was a production machine, last year he caught 62 passes for 958 yards and 8 touchdowns. His best comparison is to former Ravens TE Dennis Pitta. He is a pass catching tight end that has great hands and is an excellent route-runner. His main downside is that he doesn’t love blocking. Despite this expect him to make an immediate impact. It’s going to be interesting to see how him and Hurst develop together.
Pick 118: Anthony Averett (CB, Alabama)
Height: 5 ’11
Weight: 183 pounds
40-yard dash: 4.36 seconds
Vertical: 31.5 inches
Bench Press: 13 reps
The Ravens added another Alabama corner in Anthony Averett. He has good size and is really quick. He’s going to start out as a special teamer with a chance to develop into a very competent NFL corner. He’s raw and it is going to be interesting to see if the Ravens can help in develop out of some the bad tendencies he has in coverage.
Pick 122: Kenny Young (ILB, UCLA)
Weight: 236 pounds
40-yard dash: 4.6 seconds
Vertical: 36.0 inches
Bench Press: 23 reps
Young is a speedy linebacker that was extremely impressive at UCLA. He was a key part of their defense from the time he was a true freshman. He is a finesse player and there is going to be a learning curve at the next level. He’ll be a productive special teamer and could work his way into some packages in the Ravens defense this season
Pick 132: Jaleel Scott (WR, New Mexico State)
Weight: 218 pounds
40-yard dash: 4.56 seconds
Vertical: 34.5 inches
Bench Press: 16 reps
Jaleel Scott was a surprise to some being taken in the fourth round, but his size and hands are impressive. Although he lacks elite speed off the line of scrimmage he makes up for that with high level ball skills. He’ll have to add to his lanky frame a little bit but look for him to be a favorite deep target for Joe Flacco this upcoming season.
Pick 162: Jordan Lasley (WR, UCLA)
Weight: 203 pounds
40-yard dash: 4.5 seconds
Vertical: 34.5 inches
Bench Press: 8 reps
This is one of the more interesting picks in the draft this year from a Ravens stand point. He has a massive upside and showed it at UCLA, in 2017 he caught 69 passes for 1,264 yards and 9 touchdowns. His off the field troubles are in my opinion are a bit over played. He got caught with a fake ID and had some booze on him. The only thing different from him and every other college student in America is that he is a stud athlete thus he gets held to higher standard. The only real red flag is that he had a drop rate of 16%. Hopefully he can grow out of those catching yips and be a productive Raven in the near future.
Pick 190: Deshon Elliot (Safety, Texas)
Weight: 210 pounds
40-yard dash: 4.58 seconds
Vertical: 36 inches
Bench Press: 15 reps
Deshon Elliot was only a one-year starter at Texas and came out of nowhere to become a Jim Thorpe Award Finalist. He had 6 interceptions and two pick sixes this past season. His physical attributes will limit him at first. He seems to have an eye for the ball and should make an impact on special teams.
Pick 212: Greg Senat (OT, Wagner)
Weight: 302 pounds
40-yard dash: 5.38 seconds
Vertical: 26.0 inches
Bench Press: 19 reps
Initially a basketball player at Wagner he turned to Football his Senior year. Senat is a very good athlete but is extremely raw. He will have to fight for a roster spot, but his size and speed will mostly likely secure his spot in purple this off season.
Pick 215: Bradley Bozeman (C, Alabama)
Weight: 311 pounds
Bradley Bozeman was the starting center for this years stacked national championship winning Alabama team. His size is exactly what NFL scouts are looking for in a center. Despite his build he lacks the speed and size to be a starting Center in the NFL right now. He is going to have a hard time keeping up with NFL level nose tackles. Look for him to be a backup for the time being.
Pick 238: Zach Sieler (DE, Ferris State)
Weight: 290 pounds
This guy is an absolute beast. The only reason he fell to the last round of the draft was because of the lack of competition at Ferris State. He has a rare mix of size speed and strength that are going to help his transition at the next level. I think he is a steal and has potential to be an impact player down the road.
Extreme weather, new rules dividing opinion, exciting new talent bursting onto the scene – it’s sure been a fascinating first month of the 2018 MLB season hasn’t it? For many of the 30 teams, the first month of the season has been absolutely chaotic and there’s been no shortage of story lines to capture the attention of baseball fans all around the world.
Here’s 25 things I’ve learned/confirmed throughout the first month of the season…