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Real or Not? New pen problems could hurt Cubs, Braves

Let’s talk about National League bullpens. The Chicago Cubs announced that closer Brandon Morrow won’t pitch again this season or in the playoffs, as he has been slow to heal from a bone bruise in his pitching arm. Pedro Strop, who has served as Morrow’s replacement as closer the past two months, is also out for the rest of the regular season and maybe the playoffs after suffering a hamstring strain while batting last week. Jesse Rogers has the story on Morrow being shut down.cheap nike nfl jerseys wholesale

Plus, teams have proven you can win with bullpen issues. In 2006, the Cardinals lost closer Jason Isringhausen late in the season. Rookie Adam Wainwright took over and St. Louis won the World Series. The 2011 Cardinals had bullpen issues most of the season, but Jason Motte took over as closer down the stretch, the bullpen pitched well in October and that team won the World Series. Consider last year’s Astros. Ken Giles blew up early in the postseason and A.J. Hinch basically had to wing it in October and ended up relying on using starters in relief.5

Still, managers like to have some certainty in the pen. The Atlanta Braves are another playoff team that is scrambling a bit in the bullpen. The Cardinals led the Braves 2-1 in the eighth — Anibal Sanchez, one of the season’s big surprises, had another good start for the Braves — and then St. Louis broke the game open off the Atlanta bullpen with four runs in the eighth and two more in the ninth. Braves manager Brian Snitker paraded four relievers out in the eighth (Jonny Venters and Dan Winkler allowed all four batters they faced to reach) to no avail. Not all parades are fun.

That’s four straight losses for the Braves, although they still lead the NL East by 5.5 games over the Phillies. The Phillies won Tuesday but are 5-11 in September and 9-19 since the middle of August, so they don’t seem capable of making a late push. But the Braves haven’t buried them just yet and the teams have seven games left against each other. The Phillies are only four games over .500, yet remarkably they are still very much alive.cheap nfl nike jersey

The Braves’ bullpen has a 5.67 ERA in September, and the control issues that popped up Tuesday night have plagued them all month, as the relievers have more walks (49) than strikeouts (46).

It’s not a surprise that the Brewers, Rockies and Dodgers all have winning records in September — they rank 1-2-3 in the majors this month in bullpen ERA. The point here: With the NL playoff picture still up in the air and many starters tiring down the stretch (see some of the young guys on the Braves and Cardinals in particular), the best bullpens these final 10 games might deter

Brock Boeser overcomes personal, family hardships to star for Canucks

The summer of Brock Boeser took place at a 6,000-square-foot Minnesota lake house with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the water (and an inflatable trampoline volleyball court docked just outside). The Vancouver Canucks winger rented the place with three high school buddies, and before you begin wondering if this is some “Entourage”-esque setup, the 21-year-old clears things up.

“Come on, they’re my friends!” he said. “They’re not using me; everyone pays rent.”cheap nike nfl jerseys wholesale

In the mornings, Boeser drove 20 minutes to his parents’ house to have breakfast and play with Coolie, the Australian Cattle Dog mix the Boesers fell in love with — and adopted — at January’s NHL All-Star weekend. He’d then work out and spend afternoons lake surfing.6

Things might be good in Minnesota, but they’re just as pleasant in Vancouver, where Boeser has fallen in love with the city because “the fans are awesome, it’s beautiful, everyone is really active … and the sushi, the sushi is so good. They have it for us after games, and I only need a few pieces because I’m satisfied and move on.”

Boeser led the Canucks in scoring (29 goals and 55 points in just 62 contests), wooing just about everyone who saw him. Washington Capitals coach Barry Trotz compared Boeser’s release to Alex Ovechkin’s. Says Vancouver defenseman Erik Gudbranson: “His release is ridiculous, just ridiculous. The puck is on and off his stick in a split-second.”cheap nfl jerseys china nike

In January, Boeser raked in an impressive All-Star haul. As the first rookie to win MVP, he picked up $675,000 — more than two-thirds of his salary — in bonuses and prize money, plus a new car. That has led Boeser to enjoy the unexpected spoils of fame. He was taken aback when he found out somebody was selling a T-shirt featuring a collage of … his face.

“Just a bunch of pictures of me,” he said. “All over.” (Indeed, they retail for $24.99 and also come in tank-top form.)

Because of his platinum blond locks, Boeser is constantly being tagged on social media alongside photos of Prince Charming from “Shrek.” Then there are the even crazier perks, like filming a skit for the Canadian Juno music awards with singer Michael Buble.

How the ESPN Fantasy Soccer tier system works

Each week, you’ll select a Tier 1 and Tier 2 forward; a Tier 1, Tier 2 and Tier 3 midfielder; and a Tier 1 and Tier 2 defender, in addition to your goalkeeper. The best players available obviously will be in Tier 1. Tiers 2 and 3 will feature less heralded players, mostly from teams that are not championship contenders, testing your knowledge of the entire league.china nike nfl jerseys cheap

Makes sense, right? But remember, you’ll want to pick a new team of players every week — taking advantage of lopsided-looking matchups, for instance. When Manchester City plays Huddersfield Town, for example, you’ll probably want to stock up on City players.

But it’ll also be important to take a close look at the tiers each week, because there will be changes. Players could move up or down a tier, depending on their current form. Fulham midfielder Jean Michael Seri might have been a Tier 3 midfielder at the start of the season, since he plays for a newly promoted side. But Seri already has a goal and an assist, and is sixth in the league in passes completed, so he’s a Tier 2 midfielder this week.6

Players could change positions, too. West Ham’s Marko Arnautovic had generally played as a midfielder prior to last season, but he then was shifted to center forward over the course of the campaign. He’s playing at center forward again this season, so he’s a Tier 2 forward this week, rather than being listed among the midfielders.

As you’ll see, the tiers aren’t exhaustive — there are nine Tier 1 forwards available for selection in the Premier League this week, for instance. There will be more players available in the lower tiers, but not that many more. We want to give you plenty of options, but not overwhelm you.

And some players will be added or dropped from the game altogether due to injury, form, etc. Man City’s Kevin De Bruyne is expected to be out for at least a couple more months, but once he’s back, you can bet he’ll be a Tier 1 midfielder every week for the rest of the season, as long as he’s healthy.cheap nfl jerseys china nike

So, don’t forget to check your team, and the list of players in each tier, before every round of games begins. Because the tiers can be adjusted any given week, and that could really impact your results. Your team from the previous week will roll over automatically, but if one of your players changes tiers or drops out of the game altogether, you’ll be left with a blank spot and earn no points at that position.

Why goals and assists aren’t everything in ESPN Fantasy Soccer

The first weekend of fixtures since ESPN Fantasy Soccer launched is quickly approaching! Since our game allows you to pick new players each week, strategy is going to be very important. You can’t just study up for a draft at the start of the season, like with fantasy NFL, and ride that team all year long. You’ll probably get left in the dust.

We’ll all be learning about this game together, as the season unfolds. But certain lessons can be learned from studying the numbers from last season, nike nfl jerseys cheap china as if ESPN Fantasy Soccer had launched one year ago. And one of those lessons is, don’t just focus on goals and assists!5

It sounds simple, I know. But there will be a temptation to concentrate on those two categories when making your selections each week. And that’s natural. They offer the biggest rewards — 10 and 5 points, respectively — and they’re the easiest to spot, too.

But they’re also pretty hard to come by. Only nine Premier League players scored more than 12 goals last year, in a 38-game season. Think about that. Every other player in the league, at best, averaged less than a goal every three games.

And that number was only slightly higher in Spain. Thirteen La Liga players scored more than 12 goals last year, also in a 38-game season. And two of those players finished with exactly 13.

Assists are even less common than goals. Only nine Premier League players finished in double-digits in assists last season, and seven of those nine finished with 10 or 11. Kevin De Bruyne was the league leader with 16, and that’s just half the number of goals scored by Mohamed Salah.china nike nfl jerseys cheap

Only four La Liga players finished in double-digits in assists. Lionel Messi was tied for the league lead with 12, which is nearly a third of the number of goals he scored, 34.

Alvin Kamara somehow finds another gear to start Year 2

Sean Payton insisted this offseason that he didn’t want to simply double Alvin Kamara’s workload and overload the New Orleans Saints running back during Mark Ingram’s four-game suspension.

But then two things happened in Sunday’s 48-40 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Saints wound up having to play catch-up in a game that turned into a track meet. And, well, Kamara was so dynamic every time he touched the ball that it was impossible not to keep feeding him.

Kamara wound up with eight carries for 29 yards, nine catches for 112 yards, three touchdowns and a two-point conversion while playing a career-high 52 snaps.cheap nfl nike jersey

It’s also worth noting that all four of Kamara’s scores came inside the 10-yard line (a 5-yard run, a 1-yard run, a 7-yard reception and the two-point run). So it’s not as if he was replaced by a “short-yardage” back to ease the pounding.

Let’s be honest. As dazzling as Kamara was during his NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year campaign last season, it seemed as if it would be nearly impossible for him to sustain his production level in Year 2.5

No player in NFL history had ever matched Kamara’s 7.7 yards per offensive touch with at least 200 touches in a season. And now defenses know more about him — and he’ll be even more of a focal point in these first four weeks during Ingram’s suspension.

So what did Kamara do in Sunday’s season opener? He averaged 8.3 yards per offensive touch.

Kamara busted loose for gains of 35, 23 and 18 yards on first-half receptions, showing off his uncanny ability to make defenders miss in the open field.cheap nfl jerseys china nike

Last season, Kamara described that ability as going into “Matrix mode.” If possible, he said he can read the field and opposing defenses even better now.

“It’s Year 2, so it’s one of those things where I’m so much smarter than I was last year,” Kamara said. “So it’s a lot of things that I didn’t feel last year as far as coverage or the feel of a play, like the ins and outs of a play that I know now that’s just helping me be that much faster.”

After Game 1 offensive outburst, defense carries Storm to 2-0 lead

Seattle Storm coach Dan Hughes wouldn’t have minded if Breanna Stewart had made the two free throws with 16.9 seconds remaining in Game 2 of the WNBA Finals that could have given his team a more comfortable three-point lead. But he found it appropriate that the Storm’s hopes of victory Sunday hinged on stopping the Washington Mystics on a vital possession.nike nfl jerseys cheap china

“This is a team that’s grown defensively,” Hughes said postgame. “They have grown. All year, you watched the defensive numbers: better, better, better, better. I thought it was only poetic that some of these most important games are going to come down to a stop.”

Spoiler alert: Seattle got that stop, taking a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five series. Sue Bird stripped Kristi Toliver from behind — controversially so — and Natasha Howard won the ensuing jump ball, giving the Storm possession. After Alysha Clark split two free throws, the Mystics were left without a timeout and got only a desperation 60-foot attempt from Ariel Atkins at the buzzer, producing the final 75-73 margin.5

This was the kind of game past Storm teams, dependent on outscoring the opposition with efficient offense, would have had a difficult time winning. After Seattle’s offense clicked on all cylinders during a double-digit Game 1 victory on Friday, Washington was able to hold the Storm to 42 percent shooting Sunday, including 6-of-23 accuracy from 3-point range. The Seattle backcourt of Bird and Jewell Loyd shot a combined 8-of-27, missing six 3s apiece.

“We could score. That wasn’t a problem,” said Bird. “We had a problem getting the stops. And when we did get the stops, we had a problem getting the rebound. That’s been the tale of this season. That’s what’s been a part of the turnaround. So in some ways, it’s fitting that we won a game with our defense. Definitely says a lot about our team that we just kind of hung in there. It was a tough, gritty game.”cheap nfl nike jerseys from china

For one quarter, it looked as though despite adjustments by the Mystics, Game 2 might follow a similar script to Game 1. Behind 11 points in the first seven minutes from MVP Breanna Stewart, the Storm led by nine and looked on their way to another potent offensive outing.

Knee won’t limit what Aaron Rodgers does best: throw it quick

Then consider that Rodgers is the NFL’s master improviser, the quarterback who has thrown more touchdowns from outside the pocket than anyone else since 2009. And it’s not even close. He has 62 in 127 regular-season games, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. Coming into this season, Matt Ryan, who sits No. 2 on the list, had 35 in 16 more games.

That Rodgers might not have the kind of mobility needed to make big plays out of the pocket for a while — assuming he doesn’t miss any games because of the left knee injury he suffered in Sunday night’s season-opening win over the Chicago Bears — could seem problematic. It’s also a misnomer.4

“I’ve always thought he was at his best in the pocket and getting the ball out of his hands quickly,” a longtime NFL scout said Monday.

That’s exactly what Rodgers did in his post-injury return Sunday against the Bears. His only two passes from outside the pocket came before his second-quarter injury. Both fell incomplete.

His other 28 passes came from inside the pocket, according to ESPN Stats & Information data. He completed 28 of them for 286 yards and three touchdowns.

“Obviously being more of a statue back there, had to deal the ball on time and make sure we had guys getting open,” Rodgers said after the game. “I thought the protection was really good, and guys made plays.”

“They were doing nothing offensively the first couple of series because he was doing that old stuff — run around, try to extend plays,” the scout said. “I’ve seen it over the years when he was banged up and couldn’t run, he’d just carve people up in the pocket. When he’s just using his arm and getting the ball out quickly, I’m telling you the guy’s unique. He’s a much better quarterback when he’s getting the ball out quickly.”

To be sure, some of what makes Rodgers special is his ability to extend plays and improvise. It’s what he did in the 2016 playoff game against the Dallas Cowboys on the roll-out pass to Jared Cook in the final minute, for just one example.

Manchester United’s Diogo Dalot ready to repay Jose Mourinho for faith in him

Diogo Dalot stood in the tunnel at Old Trafford after his first 78 minutes in a Manchester United shirt.

There is an ice pack strapped to his right knee — “precaution,” he says with a smile — having played a game of football for the first time in more than five months.

Since his last appearance — a 2-0 win for Porto over Boavista in March — he has undergone knee surgery, joined United in a £19 million deal and been hailed as “the best young full-back in Europe” by Jose Mourinho.china nike nfl jerseys cheap

It has been a meteoric rise for a 19-year-old who has still only made eight senior appearances. “It has not been easy,” he tells ESPN FC when asked about how life has changed in the last few months.9

“It has felt like a dream. You have to be prepared mentally for these things and I think I have done that. I have prepared for all the challenges I could face and I think I’m ready.

“I have had my friends and my family to help me. They are the reason I have come so far so quickly and the reason why I am here.”

Dalot’s dad and sister were among the family members who flew to Michigan in the summer to watch the preseason game against Liverpool in the Big House even though they knew he would not play, walking around Ann Arbor with “Dalot 20” proudly plastered across their backs.cheap nfl nike jerseys from china

He has enlisted friends and relatives to help him settle in Manchester after jetting off to the United States almost immediately after signing with the club in June.

“I like to keep my family close,” he said. “I keep switching from friends, family and cousins so there are a lot of people here to help me. They go everywhere with me.

“It has been good. I’m settled. I like the city and I like the people. The people are nice. I think I’m a nice guy too so hopefully we match!”