D.C. Area A**hole Attempts To Be More Likable By Shaving

Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce “Bruce?” Harper has batted an abysmal .213 in 2018 for the underperforming 2nd-place Nats. An obvious solution to providing value for his team, that is paying him a whopping $21.65 million this season, would be to try to become more of a balanced hitter. Instead, Bruce here believes that all it takes is to go back to being clean-shaven, a common attribute among New York Yankees players I might add. One must ask, is Harper purposefully tanking this season so that the Yankees can justify a lower price tag for him in the offseason and thus saving more cap space to sign additional talent, guaranteeing a 2019 World Series title for the Bronx? It makes sense to me.

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Not to mention that just a few weeks ago, Bryce upset his local D.C. fans by sporting a Vegas Golden Knights jersey at the Stanley Cup against the hometown Capitals, yikes…

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Granted, Bruce is a Las Vegas native, but the Knights have been in existence for literally one season so it’s probably best not to rustle any feathers when the Nationals still have never even won a playoff series. All in all, don’t let this star’s lack of facial hair distract you from the fact that the Nats are currently 3 games behind the Atlanta Braves in the NL East.

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2018 NBA Mock Draft

On Thursday, June 21st, the NBA will be drafting another class of NBA prospects.

Many of the decisions made will be moves to help the future of the franchises. However, some teams may end up drafting players and trading them later on.

They may be traded to other teams who could use the help. Or even team’s who are trying to dump salaries to add Superstar players like Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and LeBron James.

Last year, we saw the Bulls trade Jimmy Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves on draft night.

What moves could we see this year? Maybe Kawhi to the Lakers on draft night does happen? How does that change the Lakers draft?

I’ll have another article explaining what needs to be done with the Lakers to make what everyone wants to happen.

But as of now, no moves have been made to help or change the order of this year’s draft. So let’s treat it as if no moves were to happen and see where each of these prospects land?

For the first time in franchise history, the Phoenix Suns have the No. 1 overall pick and have been rumored to wanting to trade down and add another pick later in the draft. But this mock is assuming no moves or changes happen, so with the first pick in the 2018 NBA Draft…

With this pick, the Suns select their new franchise center. Assuming that Tyson Chandler’s days as an NBA player are numbered. The Suns will draft a center and hope the Chandler could be a mentor to the young rookie as he joins the Suns team who is looking to build around their shooting guard Devin Booker. Having this pick will help Chandler get more experience as a players coach and even help Booker get more shoots.

1. Phoenix Suns select Deandre Ayton: C – Arizona

The Sacramento Kings pick shouldn’t come as no surprise either since they are known for drafting foreign players. Plus they could use the help with shooting and De’Aaron Fox could benefit from having another young guard play beside him in the court who could stretch the floor and create his own shot.

2. Sacramento Kings select Luka Doncic: PG/SG – Slovenia

The Atlanta Hawks are still looking to replace Al Horford and Paul Millsap. John Collins seems to be coming along, but with the third pick, they will be adding more help for Collins.

3. Atlanta Hawks select Marvin Bagley III: PF- Duke

The Memphis Grizzlies are another team that has been talking about moving a current piece on their roster. That piece is Chandler Parsons and whether or not he gets moved the Grizzlies pick at four should still be the same despite the player missing out on almost the whole season of career ball.

4. Memphis Grizzlies select Michael Porter Jr.: SF- Missouri

The Dallas Mavericks could try to sneak in and grab Doncic or hope that he falls to them. But with Dirk Nowitzki likely entering his final season, they could look for another piece to help Harrison Barnes, Dwight Powell, and Dennis Smith Jr. That’s what they plan to do with the fifth pick.

5. Dallas Mavericks select Jaren Jackson: PF/C – Michigan State

The Orlando Magic’s pick should be evident to all. They may try to move a few players, but selecting a point guard at six is where the Magic need to go. Hopefully, they won’t have to trade this one away after three seasons of waiting.

6. Orlando Magic select Trae Young: PG – Oklahoma

The Chicago will have the 7th pick again this year and we expect them to add help for last year’s pick, Lauri Markkanen. They also could use a proven shooter that could help their guards create more shots.

7. Chicago Bulls select Mikal Bridges: SG/SF – Villanova

The Nets pick that once belonged to the Celtics now belongs to Cleveland. This pick is the most crucial for the entire draft because it is a pick that the Cavaliers hope the King likes. At the same time, they need to like him too, and he’s shown a lot of growth at Kentucky under Coach Calipari and will continue to do so in the NBA.

8. Cleveland Cavaliers (via Nets) select Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: PG/SG – Kentucky

Knicks are building around Kristap Porzingis, and even though they may have three centers on the team, this pick makes the most sense. We could expect to see two of the three current centers move to another team and help create cap space for a possible coach-player reunion (Fizdale and LeBron). Let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet though. Let the Knicks pick the right guy with the ninth pick.

9. New York Knicks select Mohamed Bamba: C- Texas

The process isn’t over yet. Although the Sixers made it to the playoffs as the third seed in the East, there is still more room to add some scoring on the team because we know that isn’t coming from Ben Simmons. Maybe Joel Embiid and Markelle Fultz could add a bit more, but lets nothing like drafting a great shooter to a young team.

10. Philadelphia 76ers (via Lakers) select Lonnie Walker IV: SG – Miami

The Hornets failed to make playoffs last year and look to rebound. Speaking of rebounding, that is one thing every team could use more of. For the Hornets, this pick is for the future, and we could honestly see them in the lottery section of the draft for the next few years as they approach some tough decisions with some star players. But the selection at 11 should help ease the decisions.

11. Charlotte Hornets select Miles Bridges: SF/PF – Michigan State

The pick that the Clippers got from the Blake Griffin trade would be used to help find his replacement. But they have their own pick to follow and that could be a replacement for Chris Paul.

With big question marks on the head coach and veteran players like DeAndre Jordan and Lou Williams, these picks could benefit the Clippers as they won’t fall too far in the standings. That is of course if Doc Rivers plays the right personnel on the court.

12 and 13. Los Angeles Clippers (via Pistons) select Collin Sexton: PG – Alabama and Wendell Carter: C – Duke

In a draft that seems to be forward heavy, the Denver Nuggets plan to join in on the fun. With Paul Millsap’s age and Kenneth Faried decreasing efforts, this pick could help them find more wins and make the playoffs. Wilson Chandler should also be looking to be moved, so adding a young forward from Kentucky isn’t a bad idea.

14. Denver Nuggets select Kevin Knox: SF/PF – Kentucky

Let’s admit it, the Washington Wizards aren’t the same wizards we have seen in recent years. As they get older, they seem to be getting further and further away from the top of the East. They also keep getting injured, and we haven’t seen what John Wall and Bradley Beal can do together for a full season. Hopefully, this pick will help take the pressure off the Wizards backcourt, and they can be the Wizards team that is worth watching.

15. Washington Wizards select Khyri Thomas: SG – Creighton

After taking Ayton with the No. 1 overall pick, the Suns are back on the clock. This time they address the issue in the backcourt. Sun’s traded long-time point guard, Eric Bledsoe to the Milwaukee Bucks and left the team in the hands of Tyler Ulis. Ulis did what he could, but didn’t help the team fill the void that Devin Booker left while he was battling injury. This pick will help Ulis and Booker both get a break as they learn to trust the new rookies.

16. Phoenix Suns (via Heat) select Aaron Holiday: PG- UCLA

With Bledsoe on the Bucks, they don’t need to worry too much on point guard position. Let’s be honest, he’s a temporary fix anyway. Malcolm Brogdon is the team’s future. Brogdon will be part of the long-term plan for the Bucks along with their All-Star, Giannis Antetokounmpo. Their pick here could be a part of that plan too. He wouldn’t be asked to do so much right away, but he could at least ease himself into the starting role to replace Khris Middleton in a few seasons.

17. Milwaukee Bucks select Zhaire Smith: SG – Texas Tech

If the San Antonio Spurs were to move Kawhi, they might have more than just this pick to work with. But we know that the biggest need will be a big man in the middle. Pau Gasol isn’t the same player he was with the Los Angeles Lakers, and LaMarcus Aldridge isn’t a center. Despite the new NBA not having any true centers, their pick could be an important piece for the transition that the Spurs are about to face regardless of what Leonard does.

18. San Antonio Spurs select Robert Williams: C – Texas A&M

The Hawks second pick of the night is another need for the team. After drafting Bagley to help John Collins, the Hawks look to find a piece to work with Dennis Schroder. Or he could be Schroder’s replacement. Under the new head coach, all the positions are available, and it wouldn’t be any surprise if Hawks planned to trade this pick or even Schroder for more picks, but this would work as the Hawks look to find more shooting.

19. Atlanta Hawks (via Timberwolves) select Troy Brown: PG/SG – Oregon

What’s the one thing that the Minnesota Timberwolves missed last year? They had Karl Anthony-Towns, Jimmy Butler, and Andrew Wiggins all together on the same team. They also added Jeff Teague and Derrick Rose. But yet, they still seemed to lack in three-point shooting. With this pick, the Timberwolves could stretch the floor even more. Imagine Butler setting up the rookie for threes.

20. Minnesota Timberwolves (via Thunder) select Gary Trent Jr.: SG – Duke

Last year the Utah Jazz found the best possible player in the draft. This year they look to do the same as they pick what they believe is the piece they need to help Donovan Mitchell and Joe Ingles in the rotation. The more depth for the Jazz the better it is for their playoff hopes as the players will be more prepared for the future of the franchise.

21. Utah Jazz select Melvin Frazier: SF-Tulane

Bulls got this pick by trading Nikola Mirotic to the Pelicans and with the pick, they could look to find his replacement. Okay, maybe not his replacement because that’s what Lauri Markkanen has done, but the Bulls could use help at the forward position. The Bulls previously drafted Mikal Bridges to add to their guard depth and hopefully, he and this pick can help the Bulls became a playoff team again!

22. Chicago Bulls (via Pelicans) select Keita Bates-Diop: SF/PF – Ohio State

The Indiana Pacers surprised many when they made it to the playoffs and took the Cleveland Cavaliers to a game seven in the first round. Most of that is due in part to the emergence of Victor Oladipo. Oladipo could have used a bit more help in the backcourt from a young, talent guard. Darren Collison and Corey Joseph are talented guards that helped the Pacers get there, but they may not be with the Pacers past this next season. Drafting a point guard with pure talent and versatility is what the Pacers need to remain in the playoff picture for many years to come.

23. Indiana Pacers select Elie Okobo: PG- Pau-Orthez

The Blazers went from being the third best team in the western conference to being swept in the first round by the six seeded New Orleans Pelicans. It’s as if the dynamic duo guards of C.J. McCollum and Damien Lillard just simply run out of energy during the playoffs. This pick could help them off the bench. That will allow the Blazers to focus on more important moves like resigning Jusuf Nurkic. This pick will have an important role off the bench of the Blazers.

24. Portland Trail Blazers select Donte DiVincenzo: PG/SG – Villanova

The Lakers original first-round pick went to the Sixers, so they gained this one from the Cavaliers when they traded Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. This pick like the Cavaliers earlier pick could ultimately mean nothing if the Lakers do somehow get the superstars everyone wants them to see. If the Lakers were to miss out or pass on their opportunity with the max players, this pick will help them add depth to the shooting guard position. The Lakers could also try to use this pick to trade up or down in the draft and maybe even trade Luol Deng’s unwanted contract. Whether or not that happens is what we wait for, but this pick will still give the Lakers more versatility amongst the guards.

25. Los Angeles Lakers (via Cavs) select Kevin Huerter: SG – Maryland

After the Sixers drafted Lonnie Walker IV to help with the shooting, they look to find another forward to add to their depth and this pick is a very impactful as what they have. This pick could comfortably fit in well with the process and help them make it to the playoffs for many more years to come.

26. Philadelphia 76ers select Jacob Evans: SF- Cincinnati

Okay, let’s get deep into the depth charts of the Boston Celtics. They are one of the teams that have a lot to offer to get another superstar on their roster. They made it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals without their two all-star players (Kyrie Irving and Gordan Hayward). This pick will help the Celtics add depth to the power forward and center position. With the Celtics having to figure out what to do with the Aron Baynes and Greg Monroe, this pick could be essential in their decision.

27. Boston Celtics select Mitchell Robinson: C- Chalmette HS

Okay, the Warriors have won the NBA title for the third time in four years, do they really need to add anyone else to the roster. Last year they landed Jordan Bell who played a surprising role in the team’s rotation. This pick could actually be just as useful. Or maybe they don’t worry about it too much as they focus on keeping Kevin Durant and adding one of the other superstars like LeBron James. This pick will still be critical to the Warriors franchise though.

28. Golden State Warriors select Omari Spellman: PF – Villanova

Wait, What? The Nets have a late first round pick? That’s the first time in who knows how long? But this pick ends to be an impactful one, and it will help the Nets in whatever their plans are. They could use some more extra shooting that this pick could offer the team provide for this team.

29. Brooklyn Nets (via Raptors) selects Josh Okogie: SG/SF – Georgia Tech

The Hawks have their third pick in the first round. They have already adding Marvin Bagley and Troy Brown to their young roster. This pick could be another piece to work with Schroder. This pick and Brown plan to work side and side and show that they can bring the Hawks back to the top of their division in hopes of having a playoff run soon.

30. Atlanta Hawks (via Rockets) select Hamidou Diallo: SG – Kentucky

Notable Teams without a first round pick:

Houston Rockets

Toronto Raptors

Oklahoma City Thunder

Miami Heat

New Orleans Pelicans

Detriot Pistons

What’s your Mock Draft look like? Don’t forget to comment with your opinions about who you got going where?

Featured Image: Photo Courtesy of Sporting News

Preview Of The 2018 FIFA World Cup

Every four years, we as sports fans get to see the best athletes in the world represent their countries in one of the biggest tournaments of their careers.

The 2018 FIFA World Cup is the 21st FIFA World Cup, and it takes place in Russia starting from June 14 to July 15.

It is the highest honors for the athletes as individuals to play for the country that believes in them.

It’s also great as a fan to watch all the different countries compete for the World Cup.

And every year it’s different countries and players who surprise us. This year we have already been surprised by some of the teams who are in and out of the World Cup.

There are a total of 32 national teams who qualify for the competition. Of the 32 teams, 20 will be making it back to the tournament following the last World Cup in 2014.

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Photo Courtesy Of Flash Point

The defending champions, Germany,  will be making their return to the World Cup as they look to repeat as champions.

Russia qualifies automatically as the host team.

Iceland and Panama will both be making their first appearances at a FIFA World Cup.

Egypt returns to the World Cup after a 28-year absence.

Morocco returns after a 20-year absence.

Peru returns after a 36-year absence.

Senegal returns for the second time after being eliminated in the quarter-finals in 2002.

Saudi Arabia, Sweden, Poland, and Tunisia qualified for the first time since 2006.

Serbia and Denmark return to the World Cup stage after missing it in 2014.

FIFA Teams not
Photo Courtesy of Youtube

Of those teams out of the World Cup are four-time champions, Italy. This is the first time they have failed to qualify since 1958.

The three-time runner-up, the Netherlands, failed to qualify for the first time since 2002.

The United States failed to qualify for the first time since 1986.

Other Nations who failed to qualify from the last World Cup are Cameroon, Chile, Greece, Ecuador, Honduras, New Zealand, Ghana and Ivory Coast.

Each of these teams has been in and out of the World Cup qualifies for the past two to three tournaments.

This time around we will get to see different teams in different groups.

Here’s what the groups look like:

France 24
Photo Courtesy Of France 24

As you look at the group stage, you probably wondering who’s going to make it to the Knockout Stage. Let’s pick the best two teams in each group.

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Photo Courtesy of Evening Standard

Group A is fascinating because it has the host city, Russia and the upcoming Egypt team led by Mohammed Salah. At least we hope that Salah is cleared to play in the World Cup after the injury he suffered in the UEFA Champions Cup.

I personally believe that Salah will be the best player in this group. Yes, even better than Uruguay’s Luis Suarez and Edison Cavani.

Of course, we can’t count out Uruguay that easily.  Though Salah may be the best player in that group.  Uruguay is the best team and should finish ahead of Egypt and Russia.

Can Stock Photo
Photo Courtesy of Can Stock Photo

Group B is one that everyone’s eyes will be on as two of the favorites are in the same group together (Portugal and Spain).

But will Spain collapse and miss the Knockout Stage again for the second straight World Cup? If that happens then, the field is left wide open for Morroco or Iran to take. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Morroco did make it though.

Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo looks to continue his excellent run of three straight UEFA titles in hopes to turn it into an International Cup title for the first time in his countries history of FIFA.

Vector Stock
Photo Courtesy of Vector Stock

How about Group C? France looks to be the favorite to come out of that group. But who will lead them there? Is Paul Pogba ready to lead his country or will it be Antoine Griezmann or Olivier Giroud?

How will Peru fair after finally making it back to the World Cup? Can Australia’s Tim Cahill finally get them past the Knockout Stage? A surprise win over France would definitely help their case. But many are looking at Denmark as the next team to advance.

Evening Standard
Photo Courtesy Of Evening Standard
This group is this year’s group of death and when see the teams play you will see why! This is going to be a great test of Lionel Messi and Argentia as they look to make it back to Finals of the world cup. Messi will once again be joined by his countrymen Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain, and Angel Di Maria.
Can their defense held steady and make the push to the finals again? Who will join them?
Croatia has the best chance with a solid defense and two of their leading players playing with or against Messi in La Liga, Ivan Rakitic (Barcelona) and Luka Modric (Real Madrid).
How about Iceland though, they are making their first-ever appearances in the FIFA World Cup. I know I’ll be interested in how they fare against some of the top countries in history.
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Photo Courtesy of Vector Stock

Brazil is the favorite here! At least we would hope so.  In the last World Cup, we all saw Brazilian winger, Neymar, injured his back.  As a result, they lost their next match 8-1 against Germany.  Not saying that Neymar could’ve helped on defense,  but the whole team was disorientated.

Brazil should quickly move to the Knockout Stage,  but can Costa Rica and Serbia join.  Or will Switzerland find a way to make it?

Serbia’s tough, experienced defensive front led by Branislav Ivanovic and Aleksander Kolarov could help them make it to the knockout stages despite not putting up as many points as expected.

Play Pro
Photo Courtesy of Play Pro

Does anyone have a real chance against Germany? They are the most complete team and my favorite to win it all again this time around.

Could we see Mexico’s Javier Hernandez and Andres Guardado led their team to the Knockouts or do we see an aging Sweden team took their chance?

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Photo Courtesy of Free Pik

Belgium has a big chance to make it far in the World Cup with their robust and tight defense. Defensive captain, Vincent Company looks to help Belgium in their run.  Of course,  it will take the legs of Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard and get some points on the pitch.

Can England make it out of Group Stages alive? Harry Kane, Danny Welbeck,  and Raheem Sterling look to take England to the next level this time.  But the biggest question is the young defense. That may cause issues for England in the World Cup.

With that issue,  Panama and Tunisia could possibly make a run for the Knockout Stage.

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Photo Courtesy of Stretford End Arising

Wondering what heroics Colombia’s James Rodriguez has this year? What can he and teammate Radamel Falcao do to make it to the Knockout stage?

Poland will look to slow down Columbia as their star Robert Lewandoski leads them.

Lewandoski and Rodriguez are teammates on Germany’s Bayern Munich team, so that should be a fun face off for the Group Stages.

Could we see both or one of these players face their other club teammates? Let’s keep watching and find out.

Because you know Japan’s Keisuke Honda won’t give up his chance for what could be his last possibly World Cup.

Senegal will also be looking to make a push for the Knockout stage.

But what do you think will really happen? Who’s your favorite country to cheer for?

Make a prediction of the two teams coming out of the group stage and see where they fall and who they play in the knockouts.

Below is a link where you could predict it all.

https://www.fifa.com/worldcup/news/take-the-fifa-world-cup-bracket-challenge?cid=go-po_post-bracket-challenge_20180606_en

From the group stages to the finals, keep who you got and share it here.

Also don’t forget to follow us on Twitter at factfictfant and subscribe, share, and comment.

Featured Image: Photo Courtesy of Research Snipers

NBA Playoff Recap And Predictions For The Finals

We are finally here! After having both Conference Championships go to game seven for the first time since 1979.

The two teams we thought would have made it, did.

But they each had very different road to the finals.

This year will be the fourth straight year that we see the Golden State Warriors face the Cleveland Cavaliers.

This has to be the most intriguing one of them all.

Yes out of all the other Finals matchups, this is one biggest one to watch.

It contains two of the most prominent free agents in the upcoming offseason, Warriors’ Kevin Durant, and Cavaliers’ LeBron James.

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Cleveland Cavaliers
Photo Courtesy of USA Today

So you see how vital this Finals match up is for the NBA. We could see one or both of them not be with their current teams.

Each of them has their own legacy.

Durant joined forces with the Golden State Warriors after they blew a 3-1 series lead to LeBron and the Cavs. Warriors did win it the year prior.

Durant came to Golden State to win a title, and that he did as he led the Warriors to a 4-1 series win in the 2017 NBA Finals against LeBron’s Cavs.

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Photo Courtesy of NY Daily News

Durant has continued where he left off as he and teammate, Steph Curry, lead the Warriors to the Playoffs.

Durant kept the Warriors in the race to the Finals while Curry was nursing an injury.

Curry returned for the second round of the playoffs against the New Orleans Pelicans and showed no mercy.

In the West Conference Finals, Curry and Durant went head-to-head with Houston Rockets’ Chris Paul and James Harden.

The Warriors stole game one in Houston and then blew them out by 46 points in game three only to have to fight back and win games six and seven to make it back to the Finals.

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Photo Courtesy of Pinterest

Rockets jumped out to an early lead in the first half of each of those games until the Splash Brothers, Curry and Klay Thompson, decided to splash three-pointers all over the Rockets in the second half especially in the third quarter.

Warriors went from being down by double digits at the half to being up by double digits heading into the fourth.

Let’s not forget that the Warriors played most of the series without their sixth man, Andre Iguodala.

We expect to see Iguodala back for the NBA Finals, the question is when he’ll return.

Iguodala is one of the most significant pieces to the Warriors success, including an NBA Finals MVP in 2015.

Speaking of Iguodala and the Finals, he has been one of the key players to defend LeBron James.

They have both had their battles back and forth and will look to continue it this time around.

Remember the epic block that James had on Iguodala down the stretch of the game in game seven of the 2016 NBA Finals. If not, see it below!

James and Cavaliers gave it all they had to came back from the 3-1 series deficit, and they became the first team in NBA history to do so.

To see the final 3:39 of Game 7 including James block and his emotional postgame speech, watch the video below.

James’ finished the game with a triple-double, becoming the third player in NBA history to get a triple-double in a game 7 of an NBA Finals.

In the 2017 NBA Finals, James passed Magic for most triple-doubles in the Finals with nine (Magic had eight). He also averaged a triple-double in the Finals becoming the first player in NBA history to do so despite losing to Durant and the Warriors.

See what I’m trying to tell you is that James may be 3-8 in NBA Finals, but he is proving that he is genuinely the G.O.A.T.

This year was the biggest test for James and the Cavaliers because they weren’t the same team that went to the Finals a year ago. Yet, James lead them to their fourth straight finals (his 8th).

James and the Cavaliers went from trading Kyrie Irving for Jae Crowder and Isaiah Thomas while adding Derrick Rose and Dwyane Wade to trading all of them away for George Hill, Rodney Hood, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr.

The 94 feet report
Photo Courtesy of The 94 Feet Report

Yes, that’s what I said too. What are the Cavaliers thinking? But as the second half of the season went on, the Cavaliers landed the fourth seed in the playoffs and took on the young Indiana Pacers team who were led by Victor Oladipo and forced the Cavaliers to win in seven games.

It was then when you realize that the King is back and wasn’t playing any more games.

Okay, he was playing games, but he wasn’t letting Toronto sneak by him as the Cavaliers sweep the Raptors in four games.

This only set him up to face the Boston Celtics and former teammate Kyrie Irving. At least it would’ve been great to see that happen.

Unfortunately, Kyrie Irving and new teammate Gordon Hayward missed the entirety of the NBA playoffs, and yet, the Celtics managed to make it to a game seven of the Eastern Conference Finals against the best player in the world.

Let’s just say that the Celtics players and head coach Brad Stevens deserve respect for the fight that they gave LeBron James. The Celtics went 10-0 at home in the playoffs until they lost to the Cavaliers in game seven.

But they will return, and they will be stronger than ever, until than James will continue to set playoff records.

The Smoking Musket
Photo Courtesy of The Smoking Musket

The next record that LeBron should have his mind on is the most 40 + points in a single postseason. He is currently tied with Michael Jordan with seven and has at least four more games left to past Jerry West (8).

The interesting thing about it is the age at which Jordan and West did (each being 26) and James looking to do it at the age of 33.

Can we see LeBron James and his inexperienced Cavaliers beat the defending champions in a seven-game series? Will LeBron have to average 40+ points and get triple doubles every game to do so? How about playing him all 48 minutes again? Is that what it’s going to take James to win against the Golden State Warriors?

James won’t have Dwayne Wade or Kyrie Irving on his team this time but does Kevin Love and J.R. Smith have what it takes to give James a break? Will Hill and Clarkson actually be active point guards against Steph Curry? How about Klay? Who will be guarding Draymond?

Let’s face it, James and the Cavaliers are in the toughest situation when it comes to having a chance to win a title against the Warriors. Many people think it should be a clean sweep and the Cavaliers will be left with facing their future without LeBron.

But I want to know what you think?

Does LeBron have enough left in him to lead the Cavaliers against the Warriors again?

Or is Durant, Curry, Thompson, and Green just a bit too much for one man to handle by himself?

Let us know here at Factfictfant what you think the results will be!

Also, don’t forget to subscribe and follow us on Twitter @Factfictfant

Featured Image: Photo Courtesy of NBC Sports

The Golden Knight Effect: A Look at Recent Expansion Teams

For the 1967-68 season, the National Hockey League doubled its number of teams. The teams that are today fondly called The Original Six–Detroit Red WingsChicago Black Hawks*New York RangersBoston BruinsMontreal Canadiens, and Toronto Maple Leafs–were joined by six new teams**.

*They weren’t the Blackhawks until 1986.

**One of the new teams, the Oakland Seals, is the last major North American professional sports team (outside of Major League Soccer) to contract.

To ensure the new teams’ fans kept interest, the NHL placed the six original teams in one conference and the newbies in another, thus ensuring that one of the expansion teams would make the Stanley Cup finals.

And so the St. Louis Blues made the first of three consecutive trips to the Stanley Cup in the team’s inaugural season.

Against the Canadiens that first season, the Blues were swept.

Against the Canadiens the following season, the Blues were swept.

Against the Bruins the third season, the Blues were swept.

And the St. Louis Blues have not returned to the Stanley Cup since.

***

Now, fifty years later, after only one game, the Vegas Golden Knights already have more wins in the Stanley Cup finals than the Blues. The Blues just wrapped the franchise’s 50th season. Vegas just wrapped their first.

And this time, an expansion team playing for Lord Stanley’s Cup is no gimmick. The Golden Knights were not dumped into a conference that had only a bunch of other new teams to make sure that one of them made it to the finals. No, this time, the Golden Knights toppled veteran, proven teams such as the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks.

In 2018–unlike 1968–the expansion team playing for the league’s title is legit.

Make no mistake: what Vegas is doing is unprecedented. No team has won a league championship in major North American sports* history in its first year. Hell, no team has even made it that far. And from looking at the number of teams discussed below, only one recent expansion team** has ever won a championship after starting operations with an expansion draft***.

*Leagues examined: MLB, NBA, NFL, NHL, MLS.

**From 1995 until 2018.

***This excludes the Baltimore Ravens, who, while viewed as an expansion team, did not begin operations with an expansion draft.

Now, to really appreciate what the Golden Knights have accomplished, let’s take a look at recent expansion teams in the MLB, NBA, NFL, NHL and MLS, how each fared that initial season, and how each has fared in the years since.

Major League Baseball

Arizona Diamondbacks, 1998

Tampa Bay Devil Rays, 1998

Neither the Diamondbacks nor the Devil Rays did much in 1998: Arizona went 65-97 while Tampa Bay went 63-99. Beginning the following season, the organizations would diverge on strikingly different paths.

In the desert, the Diamondbacks, boosted by the free agent signing of Randy Johnson, won 100 games, winning the National League West by a whopping 14 games over the Giants. That year, however, ended with a quick playoff exit. But in 2001, just the team’s fourth season of existence, the Diamondbacks defeated the New York Yankees in the World Series.

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Getty Images

On the bay, the Devil Rays would go on to post losing seasons every year through 2007. At that point, Tampa Bay dropped the “Devil” from the team nickname, and promptly won the pennant in 2008 before falling to the Phillies in the World Series.

National Basketball Association

Vancouver Grizzlies, 1995-1996

Toronto Raptors, 1995-1996

Charlotte Bobcats, 2004-2005

The NBA’s venture into Canada, beginning in 1995-1996, didn’t start well. That first year, the Grizzlies managed only a 15-67 record while the Raptors didn’t fare much better, going 21-61. While the Raptors would make the playoffs in the 1999-2000 season, the Grizzlies wouldn’t reach the post-season until 2003-2004. And by that point, the franchise was in its third year in Memphis, Tennessee.

Just shy of a decade later, the Charlotte Bobcats came into existence, managing an 18-64 record. The team would finally post a winning record in 2009-2010, but this Charlotte organization–re-branded as the Hornets before 2014-2015–still has yet to make it out of the first round of the playoffs.

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Kareem Rush of the Charlotte Bobcats; Getty Images

National Football League

Carolina Panthers, 1995

Jacksonville Jaguars, 1995

Cleveland Browns, 1999

Houston Texans, 2002

The Panthers and the Jaguars both made the playoffs in their second seasons, in 1996, both losing their respective Conference Championship games. Jacksonville would go on to make the playoffs for the next three years while Carolina wouldn’t return to the post-season until 2003, when they made their first of two Super Bowls.

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Mark Brunell, QB of the Early Jaguars Teams; Sporting News

Things haven’t gone so well for the other two expansion teams. While the Browns have a storied history, their owner moved the team to Baltimore after the 1995 season, and Cleveland was without football until 1999. That year, the Browns went 2-14. Since then, Cleveland has posted only two winning seasons (2002 and 2007), reaching the playoffs only once (2002).

The Houston Texans began 4-12 in 2002, bottomed out at 2-14 in 2005, and finally posted a winning record in 2009. The franchise’s first playoff berth came in 2011, and three more have followed.

Alas, between these four teams, there are zero Super Bowl titles.

National Hockey League

Nashville Predators, 1998-1999

Atlanta Thrashers, 1999-2000

Minnesota Wild, 2000-2001

Columbus Blue Jackets, 2000-2001

Before the Golden Knights, the previous four NHL expansion teams all suffered horrible first years. Among these four, the Blue Jackets fared the best, posting 71 points on a 28-39-9-6 record. Unsurprisingly, the Atlanta Thrashers (now the second incarnation of the Winnipeg Jets) did the worst, managing only 14 wins and 39 points in 1999-2000.

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An Extinct Species: The Atlanta Thrasher; Wikipedia

Until recently, none of these teams had done much since their creations. But last year, the Predators made the Stanley Cup finals while the Thrashers/Jets lost in the Western Conference Finals this year to–wait for it–the Golden Knights.

Though the team hasn’t done much once in the playoffs, the Wild have made it to the post-season six straight years. In Ohio, the Blue Jackets reached the playoffs for consecutive seasons for the first time in franchise history.

Major League Soccer

Orlando City SC, 2015

NYCFC, 2015

Minnesota United, 2017

Atlanta United, 2017

LAFC, 2018

The MLS is exploding, having added numerous teams in recent years. For the sake of this article, only the most recent five are being examined.

Of those five, Orlando City SC has done the worst, having never made the MLS playoffs. Minnesota is close behind, missing out last year, and not projected to make it this season, either.

NYCFC‘s first season was a disappointment, but the team rebounded with a winning record in 2016, reaching the playoffs. Currently, the squad is only one point behind the Eastern Conference leaders.

Atlanta, on the other hand, reached the post-season in its first season, losing in the Knockout Round on penalty kicks to Columbus. This year, as of the writing of this article, Atlanta is atop the Eastern Conference standings, and is the front-runner for the Supporters’ Shield.

Then there is the other expansion team currently looking to the make the playoffs in 2018. LAFC is 6-3-3, good for 21 points and sole possession of 2nd place in the Western Conference. While the season is still young, it just may be that the Vegas Golden Knights won’t be the only expansion team in 2018 to make its league’s championship.

***

Before the Vegas Golden Knights, the Arizona Diamondbacks were the gold standard for expansion teams: draft smart, add a superstar early, and win fairly early. But if Vegas can win three more games against the Washington Capitals, then everything changes. Suddenly, fans in cities that are about to get a team in any league will be pining for ownership to make smart front-office hires, hire the best available coaches, and be ready to pony up the cash from Day One. No longer are teams like the Vancouver Grizzlies or Tampa Bay Devil Rays acceptable. Teams will be expected to compete from the time before they’re even named!

And that is excellent. In the age of tearing-it-down-to-nothing, nothing is better than expecting greatness and competition from the start.

Here’s to the Vegas Golden Knights. Even if they fall to Washington, they’ve forever changed how expansion (and re-building) teams will be viewed.

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Las Vegas Review-Journal

NFL’s Anthem Policy and How We Got Here…

One of the most controversial issues in the National Football League over the past few seasons has been the protest against the National Anthem.

All it took was one NFL player to spark one of the biggest protests in the history of sports.

That one player is former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

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Photo Courtesy of Downtrend

Kaepernick was protesting police brutality and racial inequality which is utterly perfect for him to do as an American who is using his right to freedom of speech to the fullest.

Do you see it as a controversial topic?

What if I told you he did his protesting by taking a knee during the United States National Anthem.

Have you changed your opinion now? Or maybe you have mixed reactions?

Several people called Kaepernick’s protests unpatriotic and disrespectful of the U.S. flag, the national anthem, the police, and the military.

But what you do think?

Throughout the 2016 season, other NFL athletes engaged in their own silent protest.

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Photo Courtesy of Odyssey

As the number of athletes who continued to protest went up, the President of the United States had a message for all the NFL owners.

That message only sparked an even more significant protest amongst all 32 teams in the league. President Donald Trump called for owners to fire the protesting players.

Owners and teams reacted by having a widespread protest of over 200 players who either raised a fist, sat in the locker room or knelt.

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Photo Courtesy of Twitter

If you have ever been to a live sporting event, you know it is a tradition in the United States to play The Star-Spangled Banner, the national anthem, before the game starts.

But the controversy started in 2009 when the NFL mandated that all players must be on the field for the playing of the national anthem.

NFL stated that “players are encouraged but not required to stand during the playing of the National Anthem.” However, the NFL game operations manual reads that players “should stand” for the anthem.

But after everything that has gone wrong with the protesting in the NFL, the Commissioner Roger Goodell and other NFL owners had to make changes again.

The change that we have all recently been aware of with the National Anthem and the NFL’s new policy.

Read about it below!

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Photo Courtesy of Me.me

President Trump says the NFL “did the right thing” by implementing a new policy requiring players and league personnel on the sidelines to stand during the national anthem before games. He still doesn’t think that players should be staying in locker rooms. Trump continued to add that the players shouldn’t be playing if they didn’t stand proudly for the national anthem. He even went on to say that they shouldn’t be in the country.

Let’s not forget that it is Trump’s comments last September that sparked the biggest protest in the NFL.

Let us know what you think about the new NFL policy on the national anthem. Will it make a difference or will we see more players start staying in the locker room?

Whatever their decision is, we’ll be ready for an exciting start to every NFL game this season.

If you liked this article, you could read more like it. All you have to do is subscribe and follow us on Twitter @factfictfant

Featured Image: Photo Courtesy of Youtube

2018 Stanley Cup Finals Preview

Wow. We hockey fans were treated to some truly epic games last round, as the Vegas Golden Knights grounded the Jets, while the Capitals went through a roller coaster of emotions on their way to halting the Lightning and their juggernaut squad. With the Finals beginning tonight, (8:00 PM Eastern time) in Las Vegas (Still so weird to say), will it be the upstart Knights or long waiting Caps who come out on top of what has been an absolutely insane post-season?

How the Capitals Will Win:

For the Capitals to earn their first ever Stanley Cup, they must stick to what made them victorious against the Lightning. That means relying on their superstars, superb goaltending, and probably most importantly, playing their patented physical game while staying out of the box.

The Caps have been able to rely on their studs all playoffs long, but have also benefitted from some offense from unexpected sources. Ovi and Kuznetsov are mesmerizing out there, scoring seemingly at will and Tom Wilson’s presence gives them plenty of room to do their thing. It was Wilson’s crushing hit on Kunitz in the first minute of Game 7 against Tampa that forced the turnover and led to the Caps first goal. The Caps second line has also been firing on all cylinders, with Oshie and Backstrom creating opportunities on every shift. Between these two star-studded lines, Vegas will be attacked from all angles. Throw in contributions from Eller, Burakovsky, Smith-Pelly, Carlson, and Orlov, and the Caps can get goals from just about anybody.

The big question for the Caps will be if they can keep the puck out of their own net. Braden Holtby has not allowing a goal since Game 5 versus the Lightning. He has remained calm during broken plays, relied on his positioning to make the key saves, and above all else, gotten some great puck luck. In Game 7, it felt like the Lightning couldn’t buy a bounce. All the credit to Holtby though. After sitting on the bench to start these Playoffs, he has regained his starting job and been a key reason for the Capitals’ success.

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Stars and Sticks

Lastly, the Caps will need to stay out of the box. Two potential culprits to look out for are Lars Eller and Tom Wilson. Wilson has never been a stranger to crossing the line between legal physicality and downright dirty play. If he manages to play smart, he can be a real contributor in the Cup Finals. But if he spends too much time getting to know the penalty box operators, and the Caps find themselves constantly backed up in their own zone by the high-energy Knights, he could be a major player in their downfall. Lars Eller on the other hand, is prone to taking the kind of penalties that make fans want to throw their beer at the screen. No man gets his stick stuck in an opposing player’s equipment with the refs watching more than Eller. Despite his penchant for penalties, Eller has made a real impact in these Playoffs, particularly when filling in for an injured Backstrom. If he maintains his high-level play next round and can stay out of the box, the Caps may bring Lord Stanley to D.C for the first time in franchise history.

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Zimbio

How the Golden Knights Will Win:

True to their location, the Golden Knights play a style befitting the Wild Wild West. This squad is not afraid to take chances at both ends of the ice and it has served them well all season. Defensemen are not afraid to pinch and forwards are not afraid take those extra chances in the offensive zone. There is no better reason for this confidence than goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who has been about as reliable as they come this post-season. All of this has combined to create a team that rolls four lines every night and leaves it all out on the ice, regardless of the outcome. It’s hard to believe this is the same team that most pegged to finish in the basement of the Pacific division this season. These “Golden Misfits,” as Ryan Reaves calls them, just feel destined for something special.

If Vegas wins the Cup (and maybe even if they lose…Giguere anyone?), Fleury will be the obvious choice to win the Conn Smythe Trophy, awarded to the Playoff MVP. He is by far the biggest reason for this expansion team’s unimaginable cup run. Fleury has been magnificent, playing probably the best hockey of his professional career. He has stolen games in each series, against the Sharks, Kings, and Jets. It will be interesting to see how the Capitals attack Fleury, seeing as they have years of first-hand experience against him while Fleury was with the Penguins.

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Yahoo Canada Sports

In trying to keep up with the Caps, the Golden Knights will be relying on their top line of Smith, Karlsson, and Marchessault, a strategy that has served them well in these playoffs so far. Further, big game James Neal and his past cup experience will no doubt be something the Knights count on in this series. Two key players to keep an eye on this series for Vegas are Ryan Reaves and Nate Schmidt. Reaves is an experienced grinder and self proclaimed toughest guy in the league. Although he did not see action until Game 6 of the Sharks series, he has since made his presence known, dishing out jarring hits and even scoring the Conference Finals winning goal. The Knights will need him to act as a spark plug to get them going, and to counteract the Caps’ Tom Wilson. Further Schmidt, who the Caps left unprotected last season, has emerged as the top defenseman on the Golden Knights, not to mention one of the best defenseman throughout these playoffs, will surely be looking for some revenge against the team that let him walk. Expect him to take his game to another level, making the Caps feel miserable for letting him go.

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Sportsnet

Who Will Win:

In a series that SNL’s Stefon would say “Has Everything,” the real winner is the fans as we have the pleasure of capping off a great post-season with an exciting newcomer vs. grizzled vet storyline. The series will be back and forth from the opening face-off, but when the dust clears and everything is said and done, Washington will emerge victorious. In six games, Ovi will silence his doubters (at least until the Fall), capturing not only the Stanley Cup, but the Conn Smythe Trophy. The victory will be long overdue. And, let’s be honest. Vegas can wait.

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Pinterest

Photo courtesy: CBC.ca

History of the UEFA Champions Cup and Who’s In

It’s that time of year again! The time where we spend one Saturday afternoon in May to watch a new UEFA Champion get crowned.

This year it will be Saturday, May 26 and we have the two time reigning Champs, Real Madrid. Madrid is from the Spanish La Liga league. Their opponent,  Liverpool is from the English Premier League.

Madrid is looking to become the champion for the third straight year. Liverpool is just another roadblock in the way for Madrid to do so.

Before we talk more about how Madrid is looking to make history again,  let’s get some background on how these teams got here.

The UEFA Champions League is a football competition held seasonally and the top four teams in each of the UEFA associated leagues could qualify.

Like all sports, a tournament/playoff is set to decide who makes it to the championship game. For the UEFA Champions League, there are 32 teams in group stages. Each group is broken into eight competition, and each has four teams.

Each team plays each other twice in the group stages and the top two teams of each group will be randomized into the round of 16.

In fact, every round of play until the final two teams are determined is randomized.

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Photo Courtesy of telegraph.co.uk

Since UEFA was founded in 1955, twenty clubs have won the Champions League Cup.  Real Madrid has won the most times (12). Madrid winning back-to-back is no surprise to the Spanish club. They won it five times from 1956 to 1960 and never planned to stop competing for more.

Of the 12, three have been in the last four years and twice against league rival,  Atletico Madrid.

In 2013-14, Real’s Sergio Ramos scored late to tie the game 1-1 and send it into extra time.  It was then when Real scored three goals in a 10-minute span and took a 4-1 victory to win their 10th title.

Real Madrid faced Atletico again in 2015-16, they again were tied 1-1 and went to penalties where Real won 5-3 on kicks and was lead by Cristiano Ronaldo with 16 goals in the tournament; he was the top scorer of the tournament that year.

Ronaldo was also the top scorer of last year’s UEFA Champions League as he is this year.  Last year,  he led Real Madrid against Italy’s Juventus 4-1. Ronaldo scored two of the four goals and didn’t stop there.

Pinterest
Photo Courtesy of Pinterest

Their opponent hasn’t been as successful,  but have still won five UEFA Championship titles.

Liverpool’s last title was in 2004-05 when they beat Italy’s Milan on penalties. Liverpool’s captain Steven Gerrard led them back from a 3-0 deficit at half-time.

Ironically,  Liverpool’s third title came in 1980-81 when they defeated Real Madrid 1-0. It was Liverpool’s Alan Kennedy who scored in the 82 minute to put The Red in front. That year Liverpool was led by Terry McDermott and Graeme Souness with six goals each throughout the tournament (best by any player in the tournament).

This year Ronaldo again is the top scorer with 15 goals. Liverpool has three players in the top four in scoring. Liverpool teammates Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Saleh each have 10, and Sadio Mané had nine.

It’s Ronaldo, Ramos, and the experienced Real Madrid team versus the exciting young Liverpool team who will never walk alone!

Real Madrid has won 12 out of 15 UEFA Finals and looking to add a 13th. Liverpool has won 5 out of 7 UEFA Finals and could add their 6th.

Who do you think will win? My pick is Liverpool, and it will be the best ending to a great season like what Liverpool had.

Let us know who you will be cheering for on Saturday!

For those soccer/ Futbol fans, we promise to give you more articles to read about during the World Cup this summer! Even if your great country of USA is not in it this year.

Also, don’t forget to follow us on Twitter @Factfictfant and subscribe to our page!

Featured Image: Photo Courtesy of Esatour

Meet the new Mets, same as the old Mets

On July 24th, 2015, the Mets faced Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers with the following lineup:

Curtis Granderson

Ruben Tejada

Wilmer Flores

John Mayberry Jr.

Eric Campbell

Lucas Duda

Juan Lagares

Anthony Recker

Bartolo Colon 

Predictably, the Mets lost 3-0 as Kershaw pitched a complete game with 11k’s. What followed provided hope for the future of the franchise. The trade for Yoenis Cespedes sparked an NL East title run, followed by a defeat of the Dodgers and Cubs in the playoffs, only to fall short to Kansas City in the World Series.

But the future was bright, as the Mets had the 5 aces, and a young star in Michael Conforto. However, as usual with the Mets that hope didn’t last long. The following 2 years of the Terry Collins era brought disappointment, as 2016 ended in a wild card loss to San Francisco, and 2017 brought consistent injuries and underperformance, including Matt Harvey, Yoenis Cespedes, Michael Conforto, Noah Syndergaard, and Steven Matz. This eventually led to a disaster of a season and a 4th place finish in the NL East.

Ownership decided it was time for a new direction. After 2017, the Mets parted ways with manager Terry Collins and head trainer Ray Ramirez. New manager Mickey Callaway brought hope to the fans, calling the pitching staff “the best group of arms he’s ever seen”. Yoenis Cespedes promised more yoga, less golf, and more water in his mission to stay healthy. Michael Conforto was ahead of schedule from his shoulder surgery and said he felt great. Jay Bruce resigned with the team after being traded to Cleveland last year, and Todd Frazier hopped over from the Bronx to be the third baseman in Queens.

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Image courtesy of NY Daily News 

After an 11-1 start this year, it looked and felt different. The team was getting contributions from everyone offensively. The “5 aces” pitched in a row for the first time ever. There was an energy with this team that made it feel like this team was special and headed for a monster year. However, with the Mets, it’s always too good to be true.

Since then, the Mets are 9-18, in 4th place in the NL East, and heading in a direction that seems like 2018 is going to be just like 2017. The new regime is following a pattern that is eerily similar to the old regime. Matt Harvey, after refusing an assignment to AAA after being removed from the rotation, was traded to Cincinnati. Zack Wheeler looks disastrous, Todd Frazier is hurt, and Michael Conforto and his .200 average make it glaringly obvious he was rushed back from his surgery too soon. Catcher Kevin Plawecki is out for the foreseeable future, while catcher Travis Darnaud is out for the year with a torn UCL. In addition, the Mets misdiagnosed Yoenis Cespedes hip strain, and essentially played a man down with Cespedes on the bench for a week before finally putting him on the DL. And how could we forget batting out of order in Cincinnati last week?

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Image courtesy of USA Today

Yesterday against Toronto, the Mets faced the Blue Jays with the following lineup

Juan Lagares

Asdrubal Cabrera

Wilmer Flores

Michael Conforto

Philip Evans

Luis Guillorme

Jose Lobaton

Zack Wheeler

Amed Rosario

A lineup that sparked bad memories of that July game in 2015 ended in the same predictable result as the Mets lost 12-1 to the Blue Jays, falling to 20-19 on the year.

A franchise built on pitching currently has a 4.30 ERA, which is 16th in Major League Baseball. Jason Vargas, who was supposed to solidify the back end of the rotation, has a 13.5 ERA. An offense, built on power, has Todd Frazier and Yoenis Cespedes on the DL, Michael Conforto hitting .200, and Jay Bruce having 2 home runs in mid may.

Yes, its early. Just like in 2015, there is still time to turn it around. However, the honeymoon for Mickey Callaway is long over as the comparisons to the Terry Collins era are starting to get louder. The heat is getting turned up on Sandy Alderson to make moves. The Mets need to turn this around quickly and prove that they are better than this. If they cant soon, the Mets will need to decide what direction they want to head in. If it’s determined that this core cant compete, it may be time to break it up while they still can get great returns.

The fans still want to believe, and even a mild hot streak in the next month will ease some concerns. However, it needs to happen before they make the fall below .500 because otherwise it’s going to be another long year in Queens as usual.

They’re not stopping here: One year removed from World Series title, Astros using advanced analytics when it comes to scouting out baseballs now

In 2014, several writers at Sports Illustrated came together for an article mentioning how they were using analytics that went beyond the Oakland Athletics’ moneyball tactics in order to draft and develop players in the best way imaginable. Within this process, the organization was taking a chance, hiring people that weren’t even baseball people, but scientists. These included NASA aeronautics scientist Sig Mejdal. The Astros’ general manager, Jeff Luhnow, was a chemical engineering and economics major at Penn University, and designed suits that protected soldiers from warfare before joining the St. Louis Cardinals’ front office in 2005. They have analytics experts called “The Nerd Cave” which gathered all kinds of information and then some about their players. And in this current state, a little over 6 months removed from their first World Series title in franchise history, we are watching the Houston Astros pitching staff just flat out dominate. So maybe these scientists and analytics experts have been scouting out the baseballs too? No Trevor Bauer, they aren’t juiced. There is nothing on their hands. The balls are just analytically proven to work, to a science, more than the baseballs of any other starting rotation. Here’s how they did it.

Spin Rate:

The exact thing that Trevor Bauer is accusing them of rigging: spin rate. While that may be true, your source is one who injured himself with a drone during the postseason in 2016. So I will give a much more creative theory: Before spin rate was even a thing, the analytics group drafted the balls accordingly all throughout spring training. While the managers and coaches dealt with player development, the scientists were dealing with ball development, testing which baseballs would spin more than others and what pitches would be the best for the baseball. Some balls are better for Justin Verlander’s breaking ball. Others are better for the big drop of the Dallas Keuchel curveball. Throughout the game and throughout the season, the Astros just have to find the right one. So the next step is activating them during the game. Unlike other teams, the Astros have the baseball bucket sorted out based on who the starting pitcher is. Does he have a 2-seam fastball? Does he have a slider? How does it break? What are the percentages of it breaking to particular parts of the strike zone? What kind of pitches does one particular team struggle against? All these numbers and questions come in to selecting the right kind of baseballs for the right kind of starting pitcher. And within the game, the management is the same. Being that the umpires can’t rig the game, the Astros figure out which baseball is which. If they want to get a strikeout but have the wrong baseball, they throw a pitch where the guy is guaranteed to foul it off. And then when they get their particular ball, then they deliver the knockout blow. Gerrit Cole, more of a soft thrower, can’t be second in strikeouts for nothing. He knows how to spin the ball and which ball is the perfect chance of giving him the rate he is looking for, as have other overperformers Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers. The Astros popularized spin rate before it was a major thing, and these scientists tested these balls in space and are now showing you why.

Percentage Rates

When you don’t get strikeouts, you have to get outs in other kinds of ways. And that’s where these percentages come in. Line drive percentage, pop up percentage, ground ball percentages, and more.  And like I was saying above with spin rate, the Astros scientists have developed baseballs that have these purposes as well. They have done this in two ways with statistics unknown to the rest of the league: wear rate and skip rate. The Houston Astros have analytically constructed which baseballs would spawn higher pop up percentages. Against teams that have more powerful hitters that tend to do more uppercut swings, a baseball that has been hit more often has a chance to spawn a pop-up as a result. While wear rate numbers are low, as it is next to impossible to fully unravel a baseball down to its weaving, a baseball that has been struck 9 times already without being replaced is something worth looking at when coming to this new wave of analytics. In terms of ground ball percentage, the Houston Astros use skip rate to determine how a ball will hop off the bat, leading to very little errors and very efficient first-pitch outs for their pitchers. Originally tested on the moon by NASA in anti-gravity conditions, the baseballs have been tested at Minute Maid Park as well as in pre-game drills on the road as well to determine the range of just how high and how sharp the balls will bounce. While this statistic doesn’t take away anything from the raw talent of the Astros infield defense, particularly up the middle, it has always been something that has been experimented with these infielders since they were in Class-A ball, most recently with Alex Bregman in 2016. While this stat is harder to evaluate on a game-to-game basis for these scientists, talent alone can’t be the only reason the team is second best in the majors with just 14 errors. And it’s these pitchers that pitch to the perfect spot to give their infielders that ground ball chance that they were looking for, whether it is through the shift or in a regular infield alignment, or whatever the hell they did to Joey Gallo this past weekend.

Wind testing

Where meteorology and baseball come together is through the study of the wind when the Astros play games on the road. These scientists developed how the baseballs reacted to particular wind conditions, and through the player development process, also give them different tests. This included testing Minute Maid Park with the roof open back when Tal’s Hill still existed. Why they ever got rid of that unique feature is still beyond me. The wind can impact how pitches move, how line drives and fly balls are struck, and what kinds of direction and speed those balls can be hit in. This is just another attribute to the Astros’ great pitching and defense, especially doing as well as they have on the road this season, during an April that featured a lot of colder games and ones with heavy amounts of wind. And come time October against some of the best offenses in the American League, they can use these tests to help the range of their defenders and the anticipation of where the ball will be hit. Because after all, meteorologists and NASA engineers would know how mother nature is going to impact the baseball game in any given circumstances, and the Nerd Cave can evaluate accordingly like this as well with the extensive numbers they have based on weather reports.

Baseball has been a tradition that has lasted for over 130 years, and we’ve seen teams and leagues that have constantly broken the trend. But a super-involved analytics department investigating the baseballs that give them a success to win and pitch on a historical pace? Sounds like the works of the number crunchers and third-level statisticians and scientists the Houston Astros have had working there for the last 5 years. And no Trevor Bauer, your theory of how they are cheating to gain better spin rate and more strikeouts is wrong. Advanced analytics will tell you that everything here is much more likely to why the Astros lead in almost every pitching category imaginable with a veteran journeyman and a former All-Star who posted 4+ ERA seasons the last two years.

NBA Playoff Predictions – Conference Finals

Was there anything surprising about how the Conference Semi-Finals actually went?

All season long it’s always been four teams who everyone could imagine to be in the Conference Finals. And here we are looking at those teams.

If you’ve been following along since NBA Playoff Predictions, you would have seen that I predicted each round of the playoffs as the standings stood at the all-star break.

Even though I picked Oklahoma City Thunder to beat the Golden State Warriors, it didn’t happen, nor would it have happened.

Both the Houston Rockets and Warriors have been the top teams in the league all season long.

Rockets eliminated the Utah Jazz in five games behind the 41 point performance by Chris Paul. Paul become the first player in NBA history to score 40 + points, 10 + assists, and no turnovers.

That’s what it takes for Paul to make it to the Conference Finals for the first time in his career. He’s also proving that he may not be a fraud like I claimed he was after joining the Rockets. Read it here.

The Warriors are back to full health with the return of Steph Curry and they will not slow down. They are the defending champions and they don’t look like they are ready to stop winning yet.

Speaking of stop winning, the Eastern Conference has turned into the LeBron James feast.

After battling through a tough seven game series in round one vs. the Indiana Pacers, James turned his team around and put a whooping on the Toronto Raptors and took a sweep. This is the third straight year James and the Cleveland Cavaliers have eliminated Toronto.

This was the worst of all for Toronto as they were the no. 1 seed in the East, but LeBron is the King and he’s not ready to give up his throne yet.

Maybe Boston could be the team to beat LeBron, but without Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward that may be tougher than the last matchups, the Celtics have faced in the playoffs.

Now it’s on to my predictions of the Conference Finals. If you’ve been keeping up with my articles, you would’ve seen that I did not have the Celtics getting past the Philadelphia 76ers, but they did. I also didn’t have LeBron embarrassing the Raptors the way he did.

But that sets us up for a rematch of last years Eastern Conference Finals.

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Photo Courtesy Of USA Today

2. Boston Celtics vs. 4. Cleveland Cavaliers

Winner: Cavaliers in 6

Historically, Boston has had more success when it comes to most overall wins and NBA Championships. They are currently at 17 and have been searching for No. 18, but LeBron has been in the Celtics way of finding the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Just like Toronto, Boston has been eliminated by LeBron James’ Cavaliers in each of the past two seasons.

James will not stop until he gets what he wants. We already know what that is…. The Larry O’Brien Trophy for the fourth time.

In order for him to get that, he’ll have to get past Al Horford, Terry Rozier III and the Boston Celtics. We could expect that to happen especially with James’ former teammate, Kyrie Irving, not in the Celtics lineup.

Of course, it’s going to take more than just LeBron to win a series, so let’s look for J.R. Smith and Kevin Love to continue their performances.

And for the Western Conference:

Houston Chronicle - KDvJH
Photo Courtesy of Houston Chronicle

1.Houston Rockets vs. 2. Golden State Warriors

Winner: Houston in 7

Let’s make things interesting a bit. We have the best team in the NBA this season versus the best team in the NBA over the last four seasons. As much as everyone wants to see the Warriors win another title, it’s time for a change.

In order for the Rockets to win, they will need everyone to have the best seven games of their careers.

The biggest impact player for the Rockets will be center Clint Capela. Although Houston won both the previous rounds in five games, Capela was able to keep Minnesota’s Karl Anthony Towns and Utah’s Rudy Gobert under control so they couldn’t really get anything going.

The Warriors don’t have an offensive threat at the Center position, but if they plan to use Andre Iguodala in the starting lineup that would force Capela to be defending Draymond Green most of the series.

It’s really tough to pick a winner between these two because we know what each team is capable of.

Houston’s Trevor Ariza will also be playing a big role on the defensive side to slow down Warriors’ Kevin Durant.

But all eyes will be on the guard matchup. You have the beard and CP3 versus the Splash brothers. Who will get the upper hand in this series. Chris Paul and James Harden have never made it this far in the playoffs before, so they may just seem to be more hungrier for it this year.

Let me know what you think about my playoff predictions for the Conference Final round. If you think the series may be shorter or longer. Even if the winners are different.

Also, stay tuned for another playoff prediction for the NBA finals in a few weeks as we find out the results.

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Featured Image: Photo Courtesy of Fox Sports