Happy Wednesday! I hope you found a valuable way to spend your night without any playoff hockey or playoff basketball in action last night. Maybe you opted for playoff baseball (which we'll discuss in a second) or elected to check out the presidential debate (which we'll pretend never happened, for the sake of everyone) but, in any case, today brings a little more action... and hopefully a lot less yelling over one another.
Not only do we have ALL the playoff baseball today but the NBA Finals are also here. We're going to jump into both of those things (and more) here shortly. Pour yourself some coffee and please don't judge me for a lack of jokes this morning. Not only is my brain just totally scrambled from yesterday's nonsense, but there's a new season of "Warzone" calling my name and I can't focus on jokes when I need to mentally prepare for all the gulags I'm about to enter.
📰 What you need to know
1. Playoff baseball craziness is underway ⚾
It's not quite October yet but we've already got playoff baseball on our hands. With an expanded postseason this year, MLB's Wild Card round officially got underway yesterday and we got four American League games to kick things off. I'll be honest, they weren't the most riveting games I've ever seen but we had no playoff basketball and no playoff hockey so... we'll take what we can get.
If you happened to miss any of the action, our baseball crew has you covered. Here's what went down on the opening day of the playoffs:
- Twins lose 17th straight playoff game: In one of the more astonishing streaks in all of sports, the Minnesota Twins still haven't won a playoff game since 2004. The Astros scored three runs in the ninth inning to win 4-1 (More takeaways here)
- Gerrit Cole, Yankees overpower Indians: We thought we'd be getting a top-notch battle of the aces in Cleveland on Tuesday but the Yankees ended up streamrolling Shane Bieber, tagging him for seven runs in less than five innings. On the other end, Cole pitched great (More takeaways here)
- Blake Snell dominates vs. Jays: Snell took a no-hitter into the sixth inning and struck out nine Toronto batters. He gave up one hit in 5 2/3 innings (on only 82 pitches) before being yanked as the Rays went on to win 3-1 (More takeaways here)
- Lucas Giolito almost makes history in playoff debut: Giolito took a perfect game into the seventh inning in his first playoff start (and the White Sox's first playoff game since 2008) and ended up surrendering just one run on two hits over seven innings in Chicago's 4-1 win. Giolito is the first pitcher to be perfect through six innings of a playoff game since Mike Mussina did it against the Red Sox in 2004. (More takeaways here)
Again, the games weren't incredible from an entertainment standpoint but this playoff format has the potential to get pretty wild. I love that we're getting more teams involved in the mix and the action should ramp up today with eight (!) games on the slate, so buckle up. Plus, the best-of-three means that some teams have their backs up against the wall already... talk about very little room for error.
In any case, the Twins are sad, huh?
2. Our experts make NBA Finals predictions 🏀
If baseball's not quite your thing, you can celebrate the fact that the NBA Finals will begin tonight down in the Disney bubble. We've got the Lakers and Heat vying for the 2020 title and the biggest storyline revolves around LeBron James trying to add to his crowded trophy case and build on an already-established legacy as one of the greatest to ever play the game.
On the other side, his former team in Miami will be looking to pull off the upset, and they've got their work cut out for them. Not many expected the Heat to be representing the Eastern Conference but, in any case, they've made a believer out of at least one of our NBA scribes. James Herbert is the only member of our NBA crew to side with Miami with his Finals pick. His reasoning:
- Herbert: "If the Lakers can force turnovers, get out in transition, get to the line and bully the Heat on the glass, then they can win the title. I'm picking Miami because I'm not sure Los Angeles can continue to do all of that in this matchup. On offense, the Heat are similar to the Denver Nuggets -- who scored at a top-five rate against the Lakers -- but are armed with more playmakers on the perimeter. The bigger difference is on defense, where Miami is much more versatile than Los Angeles' last opponent, largely because of Bam Adebayo."
You can find our entire crew's predictions and analysis right here ahead of tip-off. As for myself? Well, I think it's got potential to be a really entertaining series but I'm not crazy enough to pick against LeBron. I know I'm just a bitter Boston fan, but I still feel like the Celtics were the better team for a good portion of the Eastern Conference Finals and could have beat the Heat if they didn't throw up all over themselves late in games. I don't see that happening with a more experienced, more talented Lakers team that has a legitimate presence in the paint, but I suppose we'll see!
Our Sam Quinn also has highlighted five pressing questions facing each team heading into the final round, and the answers to those questions will certainly go a long way toward determining who is crowned NBA champion this year.
3. Rangers expected to buy out Henrik Lundqvist 🏒
In case you were wondering if 2020 could get any stranger, Henrik Lundqvist may soon be playing hockey for a team not named the New York Rangers. That's because the Rangers are expected to buy out the final year of Lundqvist's contract today, making him an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career.
- Lundqvist has spent the first 15 seasons of his career with the Rangers after being selected in the seventh round of the 2000 draft
- He holds Rangers franchise records with 459 victories (sixth-most in NHL history), 64 shutouts and 61 postseason wins
- In 887 career games played, Lundqvist boasts a 2.43 GAA and a .918 save percentage
- He won a Vezina Trophy as the league's best goaltender in 2011-2012 and was named a finalist four additional times
Hank's departure marks the end of an era in New York, and it's a bit of a sad, unceremonious end for a guy who has meant so much to the franchise over the past decade-and-a-half. He never got to hoist the Cup in New York but that shouldn't be held against him, especially since he posted great playoff numbers behind a lot of bad defensive Rangers teams.
As weird and as sad as this split may seem, it could be the best-case scenario for both sides. The Rangers are building towards the future and Lundqvist no longer fits in their plans, so buying him out not only frees up some cap space but also paves a clearer path for Igor Shesterkin to lead the team. And on Lundqvist's end, this presents an opportunity for him to choose his next destination and perhaps 1) get more playing time, and/or 2) chase a Stanley Cup on a contending team.
Either way, there's no questioning that Hank's legacy in New York is cemented regardless of the way things have ended. He's one of the most iconic (and most handsome!) faces in franchise history and his No. 30 jersey is going to be hanging in the rafters of Madison Square Garden soon.
4. How Steelers vs. Titans matchup could be rescheduled 🏈
It took three weeks but the first significant COVID-19 outbreak has infiltrated the NFL, as the Tennessee Titans were forced to suspend all in-person club activities due to eight new positive COVID-19 tests yesterday. That news has created some chaos within the NFL, as the Minnesota Vikings have also had to suspend operations due to the fact that they played the Titans a few days ago.
The NFL is still trying to navigate this situation as best they can, and the status of this weekend's Steelers-Titans game remains up in the air. We're not totally sure how much this development is going to affect the set schedule but it won't necessarily destroy the NFL's plans. In order to ease the headache, our NFL crew has come up with a creative solution that'll help the league reschedule this weekend's game if that becomes necessary.
However, it seems like both teams are intent on playing through this outbreak if that's possible. Titans coaches have reportedly told players they may have to go without practice until Saturday, when the team could potentially conduct a simple walk-through before playing on Sunday. Blazing through the week with no practice would be a real tough break from Tennessee's standpoint, and they could end up screwed for Sunday's contest against Pittsburgh. There's no reason to give up hope to this unfortunate development, but how the teams and league respond to this situation may do a lot to speak for the league's preparedness amid the pandemic.
📝 Odds & Ends
- Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has reached out to find Delonte West and help him enter a Florida rehab facility
- The Texans aren't going to sign Earl Thomas after all
- College basketball's biggest question: Will daily testing allow avoidance of contact-tracing quarantine rules?
📺 What to watch tonight
⚾ Cardinals vs. Padres, 5:08 p.m. | SDP - 157 | TV: ESPN 2
⚾ Yankees vs. Indians, 7:08 p.m. | CLE +115 | TV: ESPN
🏀 Lakers vs. Heat, 9 p.m. | LAL -185 | TV: ABC
⚾ Brewers vs. Dodgers, 10:08 p.m. | LAD -245 | TV: ESPN
📝 Top scores from last night
Aaron Judge crushed a two-run blast on Shane Bieber's fourth pitch and Gerrit Cole struck out a whopping 13 in his playoff debut in pinstripes as the Yankees earned a resounding 12-3 win over the Cleveland Indians.
💵 Winning Wagers: NYY -120, Over (6.5)
Tampa Bay's pitching dominated as Blake Snell started and gave up one hit while the bullpen surrendered just one win.
💵 Winning Wagers: TB -191, Under (7.5)