Greetings my sports compadres, it's Chris Bengel back again to give you the rundown of all of the happenings in the sports world. Despite the fact that there were not many sporting events happening last night, we still have plenty going on.
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Major League Baseball was expected to return on Thursday, but the New York Yankees had COVID-19 issues that forced the game to be postponed. I still don't understand why the league chose to schedule just one single game on Thursday rather than have a full state on Friday when every other team returns. On the other hand, it would've been great to have some baseball with the NBA Finals being off for Thursday and Friday night.
Anyway, I'm done complaining, so let's get to the sports news.
📰 What you need to know
1. Bold predictions for second half of MLB season ⚾
As I just explained, Major League Baseball will return from its All-Star break tonight. We certainly saw a large amount of excitement throughout the first half of the regular season. Most of all, it's great to have a fairly normal baseball season back after last season.
It's also been fantastic to see the blossoming of young talent around the league. Los Angeles Angels two-way star Shohei Ohtani has been one of the most exhilarating stories that this generation has ever seen. We're seeing a modern-day Babe Ruth of sorts with Ohtani leading the league with 33 home runs and also excelling on the mound. The Angels have always been a team of interest for me due to Mike Trout and my South Jersey roots. However, Ohtani has me wanting to watch every single Angels game that's being televised because you're most likely going to see something amazing.
So what's in store for us between now and the end of September? CBS Sports MLB scribe Mike Axisa forecasted the second half of the 2021 MLB season and gave some bold predictions for the remainder of the campaign.
- Ohtani and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. will both hit 50 home runs: "I'm more worried about Ohtani getting to 50 homers than I am Vlad Jr. Worried isn't the right word, really. I just think Ohtani will have a harder time, for two reasons. One: fatigue. It is a long season and all that pitching and all that hitting will take a toll, even on a player as young (27) and as strong as Ohtani. It wouldn't be the most surprising thing to see him hit a wall late in the year, or even get fewer at-bats to rest, which would also cut into his home run total."
- Eloy Jimenez will have 15-plus home runs: "And they need him too. They're sitting pretty in the standings, no doubt, but White Sox outfielders have hit an unremarkable .246/.316/.426 (103 OPS+) this season, and their DHs have hit .265/.335/.421 (99 OPS+). They are 24th in baseball with 92 home runs. It is a testament to their lineup that they're third in baseball with 5.12 runs per game. Still, there's room for improvement."
- Mets will trade for Kris Bryant: "With all due respect to Jonathan Villar and the currently injured JD Davis, the Mets have a glaring need at third base, and also a glaring need for a righty bat to balance their lefty-heavy lineup. Bryant would address both needs. New York could build a package around shortstop prospect Ronny Mauricio, though they might not even have to part with that much to get rental Bryant."
2. The British Open leaderboard heading into the weekend ⛳
If you watched Round 1 of the Open Championship in its entirety, chances are you either napped or had a lot of coffee since the tournament teed off around 1:30 a.m. I couldn't hang for the entirety, but I turned it on for a bit last night because this is something that needs to be savored. After being spoiled with six major championships over the past calendar year, we don't get another one until The Masters take place in April 2022.
One of the biggest storylines of Round 1 was the emergence of Jordan Speith. Speith shot a 65 at Royal St. George's on Thursday and currently sits one stroke behind Louis Oosthuizen atop the leaderboard. The 27 year old collected birdies on the No. 15 and 16 holes to finish on an extremely positive note. Speith has captured three major championships in his career and his last one came at The Open Championship in 2017.
Our golf expert Kyle Porter put a nice bow on Round 1 with some takeaways:
- Can Oosthuizen hold on?: "We've been here before with Oosthuizen -- often, actually ... Oosthuizen called his round on Thursday 'perfect,' and now he's faced with the unenviable task of trying to stave off the thoroughbreds behind him for 54 more holes."
- DeChambeau criticizes his driver: "Where do we begin? Bryson DeChambeau hit 29% of fairways, labored to a 1-over 71 and then pinned the performance on his equipment, not only saying that his driver 'sucks' but that it needs to be better at correcting his mis-hits. Somehow, he's a few shots from being back in the mix here, but as Andy Johnson pointed out, Opens do not set up well for what he does best, mostly because of their unpredictability."
- Koepka stays under par: "Four-time major winner Brooks Koepka shot a stealthy 69, and it was a minor miracle he kept it under par after how poorly he drove it on the first few holes. The 69 is right on track for him as he tries to make good on his vow that he will be close to the final pairing on Sunday afternoon. Friday will be telling. If we get something 67 or better, it's going to be game on to the finish line."
3. Red Sox-Yankees game postponed; Aaron Judge placed in COVID-19 protocol ⚾
As I previously mentioned, the Red Sox and Yankees were supposed to resume the 2021 season on Thursday. However, the Yankees had COVID-19 issues in their locker room with three players testing positive, according to general manager Brian Cashman.
- Reliever Jonathan Loaisiga was placed on the COVID-19 list prior to the All-Star break
- Pitchers Nestor Cortes Jr. and Wandy Peralta were placed on the COVID-19 list prior to Thursday's game
- Cashman did reveal that all three of those players were vaccinated before testing positive
- In addition, there are three pending cases involving Aaron Judge, Gio Urshela, and Kyle Higashioka, according to ESPN's Buster Olney
The situation is so serious that Boston Red Sox third baseman Rafael Devers didn't conduct interviews yesterday because he was around Judge at this week's All-Star Game.
It's unclear if there will be future postponements in this weekend' series between the Red Sox and Yankees. Entering the series, the Red Sox have won all six games between the American League East rivals.
4. Braves acquire Joc Pederson from Cubs ⚾
One of the most interesting storylines leading up to the trade deadline is what kind of fire sale the Chicago Cubs are going to have. Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, and Craig Kimbrel are all likely candidates to be dealt since they can all be free agents following the 2021 season. The Cubs could be in for a lengthy rebuild depending on what kind of return they get on these star players.
The club began selling their assets on Thursday as they traded outfielder Joc Pederson to the Atlanta Braves in exchange for first base prospect Bryce Ball. The move comes just days after the Braves lost star outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr. for the season due to a torn ACL.
The Braves obviously need to replace Acuna's bat in the lineup and Pederson is a low-risk option to try and do that. The veteran outfielder is currently hitting .230/.300/.418 with 11 home runs this season. Pederson does have a significant amount of pop and figures to slot right into the middle of Atlanta's lineup.
Let's go back to Axisa, who took a closer look at why each side decided to make the trade.
- Why the Braves made the trade: "The Braves are currently without Acuña and also Marcell Ozuna, who is out with a finger injury and is awaiting an investigation under MLB's domestic violence policy. Following the Acuña injury, Atlanta was looking at some combination of Ehire Adrianza, Abraham Almonte, Orlando Arcia, Guillermo Heredia, and Ender Inciarte in the outfield."
- What the Cubs are getting: "Ball, 23, is hitting .207/.354/.396 with six home runs in 53 High Class-A games this season. Our R.J. Anderson listed him as a prospect to know in Atlanta's system coming into the season, saying 'his ability to walk and bop should give him a chance at a big-league future, and perhaps a notable one at that.'"
The Braves are attempting to stay in the National League East race, which the New York Mets currently lead by 3.5 games over the Philadelphia Phillies and four games over Atlanta. Considering that the Mets are the only team over the .500 mark, the division race is still wide-open for the majority of the teams.
With Acuna slated to miss the rest of the year, Pederson is an intriguing band aid, but it's most likely going to be an uphill battle for Atlanta to stay competitive in the NL East.
📝 Odds & Ends
- WNBA and Australian national team star Liz Cambage could miss the Olympics after being involved in an altercation at a scrimmage
- The United States men's basketball team announced Thursday that Washington Wizards star guard Bradley Beal will miss the Tokyo Olympics due to COVID-19 health and safety protocols. Team USA is currently looking for a player to replace Beal on the roster
- According to Shams Charania of The Athletic, Denver Nuggets assistant coach Wes Unseld Jr. has emerged as the frontrunner for the Washington Wizards head coaching job. Milwaukee Bucks assistants Darvin Ham and Charles Lee are also finalists for the position.
📺 What to watch this weekend
⚾ Red Sox vs. Yankees, 7:05 p.m. I NYY -110 | TV: MLB.TV
⚾ Astros vs. White Sox, 8:10 p.m. I CHI +120 | TV: MLB.TV
🏀 Bucks vs. Suns, 9 p.m. | PHO -165 | TV: ABC
🏌 The Open Championship, 7 a.m. | TV: NBC
🥇 Best thing I saw on the internet
Sports have been in the process of being more inclusive in recent years. According to the New York Times, five women will serve as the on-air broadcast team for the July 20 game between the Baltimore Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays. This will be the first time that there will be an all-women broadcast team for a Major League Baseball game. It truly is awesome to see women being the focal point of a broadcast of a professional sporting event. I truly hope that we get to the point where an all-women broadcast crew is the norm.