Inside the Astros’ clubhouse for its quest to defend a title

His team lost its 65-day hold on first place roughly 19 hours earlier, and now Alex Bregman is being asked questions he’s not really hearing and definitely isn’t interested in answering. His level of disengagement is understandable, and kind of funny. It’s ballplayer-early in the morning, and his unfocused eyes are aimed somewhere in the middle distance. His politeness is in a pitched battle with his fierce desire to be doing almost anything else. We really should pick this up another time.cheap nfl jerseys nike china

The setting doesn’t help: the visitors clubhouse in Oakland, a low-ceilinged, low-tech, low-occupancy concrete fissure best known for its unreliable plumbing. There is Little League on the televisions that hang from the ceiling. Someone associated with the Houston Astros has decided that country singer Jamey Johnson — his voice an intravenous sedative, his lyrics an ongoing reminder of every tragic event in human history — is just the thing for a struggling team on a bleary Sunday morning. The once-unthinkable idea of a do-or-die wild-card game now looms. The apocalypse feels near.

Mid-answer, Bregman’s connections snap. He stops, apologizes and asks me what he was talking about. It honestly doesn’t even matter. Everything is grim.10

Meanwhile, a low-level commotion rises from across the room. Outfielder Jake Marisnick beckons loudly. “Bregs! Bregs! Get over here!”

Suddenly, Bregman is back, engaged, blinking into the sunlight. He grabs a $100 bill out of his locker and politely excuses himself to join his teammates around a high-top table in the center of the clubhouse. Everyone is moving toward the center of the cramped room, sliding past chairs, juking their way around tables, drunk-driving their bodies in a centripetal rush toward money. Someone has a deck of cards, and it’s time for a little team building — $100 apiece, high card wins the pot.new nike nfl jerseys for sale cheap

It’s loud in two languages. Jamey’s sorrows are back to being his alone. First place seems inevitable again. The goal now becomes total participation. Justin Verlander presents an impediment to this goal. He is not a regular on the gambling circuit, for one, and for another, he will be the starting pitcher in a little more than two hours, a fact that — in baseball’s quirky ecosystem — grants him total immunity from any form of pregame interaction. A bomb could be found ticking in the center of a clubhouse and guys would gather to discuss whether they should interrupt the starter’s solitude to deliver the evacuation order. Verlander walks purposely to his locker, one side of his headphone perched above his ear, pretending not to hear any of it. But then he reaches into his locker and heads for the table as Marisnick yells, “JV’s in! JV’s in!” Half of them begin bouncing in place. JV being in is a big deal.

Cubs’ stretch conundrum: Sorting out bullpen’s pecking order

Can a team win a World Series with a bullpen by committee? The Cubs might put that notion to a test, as they did in their dramatic, 7-4 win over the New York Mets on Monday.

After fill-in closer Pedro Strop allowed the first two men to reach in the ninth inning, Chicago manager Joe Maddon had seen enough. Strop handed the ball to Justin Wilson, who handed the ball to veteran Jesse Chavez after giving up a single. All Chavez did was strike out the final two batters with the bases loaded to preserve the victory, the Cubs’ sixth win in a row.cheap nike jerseys nfl

“Just breathe,” Chavez said after the game. “That’s the biggest thing. Try not to let the situation get to you. For me, having broken ribs before, twice, you kind of work on breathing programs. That helps out there. In all honesty, that has helped me a ton since that happened.”9

Chavez struck out Amed Rosario and Austin Jackson, allowing a sold-out Wrigley Field crowd to breathe again themselves. The righty finishing the job isn’t all that surprising; he has been great since being acquired from the Texas Rangers last month. The fact that he struck them both out, with a howling wind blowing toward the bleachers in center field, was very surprising.

“Our bullpen is a contact bullpen,” Maddon said. “We don’t blow people away — although we’re one of the best bullpens in baseball.”

In fact, the Cubs have made a concerted effort to bring some swing-and-miss stuff to the back end of the bullpen in recent times. Injured closer Brandon Morrow is the best example, as he had a 25.4 whiff percentage before going down with a biceps injury.cheap nfl jerseys nike china

But therein lies the Cubs’ problems. Morrow still isn’t sure when he’ll be back, and he is likely to pitch through discomfort when he does return. The idea of pitching in all seven game of a playoff series — as he did last season in the World Series with the Los Angeles Dodgers — seems impossible this time around. That’s if he even returns to any sort of reliable form.

Paul George on not meeting with Lakers: Didn’t want to waste their time

Nearly two months after declining meetings with other teams and staying with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Paul George said the Los Angeles Lakers were “pissed” they didn’t have the opportunity to make a pitch to him.cheap nfl nike jerseys free shipping

“L.A. was pissed at me,” he said on the Short Story Long podcast. “I didn’t give Magic [Johnson] a meeting, which I understand. But at that point, I knew I wanted to give it another shot [in Oklahoma City]. I didn’t want to prolong it and waste people’s time.”10

George was traded to the Thunder in July 2017 after informing the Indiana Pacers he wouldn’t re-sign with them in free agency after the 2017-18 season. Many expected George, a Los Angeles-area native, to leave Oklahoma City for the Lakers after the season, but George reached an agreement with the Thunder shortly after free agency opened on July 1.

He announced his decision at a house party in Oklahoma hosted by teammate Russell Westbrook. George also posted a photo that night of him and Westbrook on Instagram with the caption “Unfinished business.”

“Coming down to free agency, I didn’t want to waste any time,” George said on the podcast. “I wanted to give it another shot. I gave them one year. We played well against the best teams. I wanted to give it a real shot.”nfl cheap nike jerseys

The Thunder lost to the Jazz in six games in the first round of the playoffs. The Lakers, meanwhile, didn’t come away empty-handed in free agency, landing LeBron James in July.

Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward ready for camp, can go ‘full speed’

Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward will return to Boston next week and are expected to join their teammates in informal workouts as Celtics players begin pickup play in advance of the late-September start of training camp.

Irving and Hayward have been rehabbing this summer from follow-up procedures on the injuries that shortened their 2017-18 campaigns and prevented them from playing in Boston’s surge to the cusp of the NBA Finals.cheap nike jerseys nfl

Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge told ESPN on Monday that both Irving (knee) and Hayward (ankle) appear at full health and are ready for the new season.

“I don’t want to hype it up too much, but I’m saying that if our training camp were starting today that they would be here today going full speed,” Ainge said. “It’s not like they need an extra month. I think that they know they have an extra month, so they are sort of pacing themselves. They’re playing as if to build up to that opening day of training camp [Sept. 26].”

Celtics players have expressed excitement in starting 5-on-5 work after Boston brought back much of the same roster from last season’s squad that, even without Irving and Hayward, took the Cleveland Cavaliers to seven games in the Eastern Conference finals.9

“They’ll both be here within the next week or so; by the time Labor Day is over, they will all be playing 5-on-5,” Ainge said of Irving and Hayward. “I think it’s just a matter of, if they’re not playing 5-on-5 now, then it’s only because they want it more of a controlled environment, I guess. They’re doing everything — dunking the basketball off both legs and playing one-on-one live and jumping and cutting and defending. I’m excited for them.”

Ainge said the team will carefully ramp up activity for Irving and Hayward during camp and that the emergence of Boston’s younger players should ease the burden on the returning stars early in the new season.cheap nfl nike jerseys free shipping

But there’s an obvious excitement for the Celtics in having their team whole again for the first time since the 2017-18 opening night in Cleveland.

“I’m really excited about the upcoming season with [Irving and Hayward],” Ainge said. “Obviously, there’s a transition from rehabbing to playing one-on-one to playing 3-on-3 to 5-on-5 and then playing NBA basketball, so I don’t want to build up expectations too high. I think there will be a little bit of an adjustment once that last phase is made.

Tyrod Taylor turning out to be QB Browns were hoping for

Ohio — The Cleveland Browns hoped they found a leader for a franchise in desperate need of one when they made a trade with the Buffalo Bills for veteran quarterback Tyrod Taylor this offseason.

When asked what impressed him about training camp, Browns coach Hue Jackson singled out his new starting quarterback.

“I would be remiss if I did not say Tyrod Taylor and what he has done on this football team since the day that he walked in the building at practice, his leadership, how he has conducted himself here and trying to do everything he can to get this organization winning,” Jackson said.

The two-time Pro Bowler showed right away the kind of leader he was going to be. He coordinated a trip to California for some offensive players to meet following the June veteran minicamp so they could bond and work on team chemistry ahead of training camp.china nike nfl jerseys cheap

“I know the offseason, especially before training camp, is a time you can get around your family before you get back to the grind,” Taylor said. “But I thought it was necessary for us to get together especially with a new team and a new scheme.”

Gathering the offense together before training camp was something Taylor had learned from his time in Buffalo. Another thing Taylor brought was the ability to handle changes to the wide receiver group, something the Browns have had to deal with as the season approaches.6

Not only did the Browns lose Josh Gordon before training camp began (he has since returned after receiving help for his mental health), but they also traded Corey Coleman to Buffalo in the middle of training camp. But Taylor knew what to do because the Bills last season traded Sammy Watkins during training camp and also acquired Jordan Matthews on the same day.

“It is not something that you want to go through, but at the same time, it is the nature of the business,” Taylor said. “You understand that things happen. That is why we always say next guy up or next man up mentality and I think guys have stepped up to the opportunity, went out and competed and are still doing it.”

Taylor has shown leadership just by the way he conducts himself every day, and that’s a welcome sight for a franchise that has had 28 different starting quarterbacks since 1999 and traded all three of its QBs who played last season in DeShone Kizer, Cody Kessler and Kevin Hogan.cheap nfl nike jerseys from china

“Tyrod sets the bar for consistency, there is no doubt about it,” Browns quarterback coach Ken Zampese said. “There is no man more consistent than him when he gets here. The bar is set very high. It’s fantastic.”

Fantasy fallout: Are Adrian Peterson, Alfred Morris really back?

Two weeks ago, Adrian Peterson and Alfred Morris didn’t have jobs. This past weekend, they combined for 28 carries and 140 yards.

Welcome back to the NFL, fellas.

But should one still have a place on your fantasy roster?

Peterson clearly looks like the safer bet to play a significant role. Obviously, you could be skeptical about the 33-year-old, who has now been with three teams in less than a year. But as ESPN Washington Redskins reporter John Keim said after Peterson showed up last week and instantly gained 56 yards on 11 carries: “He looked better than the other Redskins’ [first- and second-down] backs, and that’s all that matters right now.”

“After watching Peterson in his preseason debut, it’s hard to imagine the Redskins starting anyone else,” said Keim, who projects that could mean about 15 carries a game or more. “The question will be how long he holds up under that sort of usage, but in the short term, he could be OK.”nike nfl jerseys cheap china

Peterson was on injured reserve with a minor neck injury last December. But for the most part, he has been a physical marvel throughout his 11-year career, so workload shouldn’t be a big concern. Remember, he had four games with 20-plus carries after he was traded from the New Orleans Saints to the Arizona Cardinals last season (including 26 carries for 134 yards in his debut and a whopping 37 carries for 159 yards three weeks later).5

The bigger concern with Peterson is that he has averaged just 3.1 yards per carry over the past two years — the third-lowest total among backs with at least 150 rushes. But Peterson pointed out that the Redskins’ offensive line will be better than the ones he played with in Arizona and with the 2016 Minnesota Vikings.

Morris, meanwhile, won’t be a leading man in San Francisco, where the 49ers spent big money on runner/receiver Jerick McKinnon in free agency. But the question is whether Morris can supplant promising second-year pro Matt Breida and get some base-down/goal-line work as the No. 2.china nike nfl jerseys cheap

Morris ran the ball 17 times for 84 yards Saturday while McKinnon, Breida and backup Joe Williams were all sidelined by injuries. Plus, he had a 17-yard run that was called back because of an illegal formation penalty.

Broncos need Class of 2018 to break cycle of recent draft failures

Those 2015-2017 draft classes — all on their rookie contracts — haven’t done their share of heavy lifting. It was apparent during last year’s 5-11 collapse and could be felt in the offseasons ahead as the Broncos try to find spots for new players.

“You always need your young guys to come in and contribute,” Broncos coach Vance Joseph said. “We have a lot of tough decisions to make, we have a lot of competitive [position] rooms. But those are good problems to have.”cheap nike nfl jerseys from china

The brightest glare is reserved for Paxton Lynch. The quarterback, whom the Broncos drafted in the first round in 2016, finds himself in a fight for his future. Lynch was twice beaten out by Trevor Siemian for the starting job the past two seasons and has been bumped to No. 3 on the depth chart behind Case Keenum and Chad Kelly.9

“I want to be the [starting] quarterback,” Lynch said after a 5-of-11 performance in the second preseason game. “I don’t want to be a backup and I definitely don’t want to be third-string quarterback. The cards have been dealt to this point in time and I’m not quitting.”

And Lynch is not alone as Shane Ray, 2015’s first-round pick, saw the team decline to pick up his fifth-year option this past offseason, something that was a slam dunk for players like Von Miller and Bradley Roby in previous years. And while the jury is still out on 2017’s first-round pick — tackle Garett Bolles — he is trying to make progress from a decidedly bumpy and penalty-filled rookie season.

Overall, after Siemian was traded to the Minnesota Vikings this past offseason, Ray, tight end Jeff Heuerman and guard Max Garcia are the only players who remain from the nine-player 2015 draft class. Heuerman is the only starter among the three after Bradley Chubb, the 2018 first round pick, took Ray’s starting spot.new nike nfl jerseys for sale cheap

Garcia won’t be a starter this season without an injury, but earlier this week, offense coordinator Bill Musgrave said: “Max has had, not a good, but a great camp. We’re trying to find a place for Max. … He’s really playing football at a high level.”

Play Dak and Zeke in preseason? That’s Jason Garrett’s dilemma

“It’s always a balancing act. It’s always has been about how much you play guys to get them ready for the season versus putting them in a situation where they expose themselves to injury,” Garrett said. “We believe it’s important to play guys at some point in the preseason to get them ready for regular-season action. We feel like they’re more compromised in the regular season if they don’t play at all in the preseason.”nfl nike jerseys cheap china

When the Cowboys learned of the Guillain-Barre syndrome diagnosis of Pro Bowl center Travis Frederick on Wednesday, they knew he was not going to play Sunday. They know Pro Bowl right guard Zack Martin will not play because of a bruised knee suffered in last week’s preseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Without those two, why risk playing Elliott and Prescott?8

Elliott did not play in either of the first two preseason games. The Cowboys have followed the same plan they used in the running back’s first two seasons, when he played only a handful of snaps in the third preseason game and shut it down until the regular season. LaDainian Tomlinson would not play in the preseason. As Emmitt Smith’s career went along, he did not play before the regular season, either.

“We’ll certainly take that into account when Jason decides who should be out there in terms of the risk/reward of what we get there,” executive vice president Stephen Jones said. “And as we’ve said, this is a long season and every player is looked at differently in terms of where he is health-wise.

“If a guy has got a strain, a groin strain or a hamstring or something like that, then we’re going to err on the side of being conservative. We got to get everybody, as much as we can, ready for that first game.”cheap nike nfl jerseys from china

Prescott has played 39 preseason snaps so far. He has completed 13 of 18 passes for 125 yards and two touchdown passes. Heading into the 2017 season, he played 49 snaps.

“It’s been good work for him. He seems comfortable and confident out here,” Garrett said. “He moved the ball in those four drives with the ones. We scored two touchdowns and kicked a field goal. He has been productive.”

He also has been sacked twice with his line mostly intact. Without Frederick and Martin, the Cowboys would go with Joe Looney and Kadeem Edwards at center and right guard.

In 2010, the Cowboys had Tony Romo play 10 snaps in the second preseason game with Robert Brewster as his right tackle. Brewster, a third-round pick in 2009, did not play his rookie year because of an injury and never played an offensive snap in a regular-season game before his release.

What would it mean if the Dodgers decided to re-sign Machado?

The widespread, undying belief that the Los Angeles Dodgers will be major players in free agency seems almost laughable. Thirteen nine-figure contracts have been given to free agents since Andrew Friedman became the club’s president of baseball operations in October 2014. None came from his Dodgers.

Leading up to the 2017 season, the Dodgers spent $80 million to retain the services of closer Kenley Jansen and rewarded third baseman Justin Turner with a four-year, $64 million deal. They previously allocated $48 million each for three middle-tier starting pitchers — Rich Hill, Brandon McCarthy and Scott Kazmir — and guaranteed Kenta Maeda a minimum of $25 million over the life of an eight-year contract.cheap nfl custom jerseys

The Dodgers will be back under the luxury-tax threshold, resetting that menacing, escalating repeater fee. And the best available free-agent options will be 26-year-old Manny Machado and 25-year-old Bryce Harper, both of whom reached the required six years of major league service at an uncommonly young age. If ever there is a time for this pragmatic group of Dodgers executives to splurge on free agency, this could be it.

Harper could simply replace perpetual trade candidate Yasiel Puig as the starting right fielder. Puig is arbitration-eligible after this season, and a free agent after 2019, factors that might contribute to the Dodgers finally trading him.

Keeping Machado would be a lot more complicated, even though it seems like the more likely outcome.7

The Dodgers unloaded five prospects to acquire Machado from the Baltimore Orioles on July 20 because they believed he could help them separate from a tight National League West over the final two months of the season. But the Dodgers also had a long-term view in mind, believing that having Machado on board for that time could give them a sizable advantage over other potential suitors in free agency.cheap nike nfl jerseys wholesale

They could sell him on L.A., sell him on winning, sell him on Dave Roberts and perhaps even sell him on mixing in a little time at third base with his preferred shortstop, because no team values versatility like the Dodgers.

Machado has been coy about what lies ahead, but we know this much: He’s going to sign a big contract, probably in the neighborhood of $300 million, and he wants to remain a full-time shortstop, an intention he has made abundantly clear this season. Bringing him back, then, would trigger a complicated set of circumstances that would affect several important Dodgers, including two core pieces, a key veteran leader and quite possibly the greatest pitcher in franchise history.

What Aaron Judge’s absence means for the rest of his season

Aaron Judge has willingly embraced his current role as the New York Yankees’ big-bodied hype man and cheerleader on the bench.

But he’s long past ready to retire from it.

When the right fielder was taken to a nearby hospital after taking a 94 mph fastball off the outside of his right wrist July 26, the belief was that he would have returned to the Yankees’ everyday lineup by now.cheap nike nfl jerseys paypal

So was the Yankees’ initial three-week prognosis for his return from a chip fracture unreasonable?

“It may have been optimistic, but it wasn’t unreasonable,” says Stephania Bell, ESPN’s injury analyst, a board-certified orthopedic clinical specialist.6

As Judge’s return from injury takes longer than originally expected, Bell offers this reminder to those feeling uneasy about the now-delayed comeback: “Sometimes things go at a different pace than what you’re hoping for. I’m not overly alarmed.”

If anything, Bell says she believes Yankees fans should embrace the cautious, steady approach their team has taken with the superstar’s recovery.

“Everybody in October — if they’re still playing and he’s playing well — will be very happy that they took their time here,” she says.

It’s important to note that Bell has not evaluated Judge, nor does she have detailed medical specifics of his injury. But her experience in the field can help in understanding some of what Judge probably has gone through since suffering his injury, and what he might have to look forward to when he returns.nike nfl jerseys cheap paypal

What complicates matters for the Yankees is the 11-10 record they have since Judge was hurt. Although that mark improved by a win with Friday night’s rain-shortened 7-5 victory over Toronto, the Yankees could still really use his bat near the top of the batting order as they push for a spot in the American League wild-card game, and hope for a miracle in the AL East standings.

In the 20 games they’ve played without Judge entering Friday night, the Yankees had hit a combined .237 with a .316 on-base percentage. They also scored just 4.8 runs per game in that span.

Before Judge was injured, New York had hit .254 with a .331 on-base percentage this season while scoring 5.2 runs per game. Clearly, the Yankees are now missing his presence.