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The Chargers Keep Trying to Charge Past the Los Angeles Backlash

| Sports | 55 mins ago

To say the Chargers are having a rough start in their new home of Los Angeles would be an understatement. The latest lowlight in an offseason full of them, saw Los Angeles’ second football team in as many seasons, be outsold by the LA Galaxy.

The StubHub Center, which seats 27,000 spectators, filled just 21,054 chairs during the Chargers’ preseason home opener against the Seattle Seahawks on August 13. The night before, 25,667 soccer fans came to Carson to watch the Galaxy take on NYC FC.

For the average ticket price of $135.99, Chargers faithful were able to watch the home team get trounced 48-17 at the hands of Seattle. Even though the preseason has little bearing on how the regular season will play out, such a defeat is not the statement the Chargers were looking to make in their first game in Los Angeles.

To add insult to injury, San Diego Union-Tribune sports columnist Kevin Acee tweeted less than complimentary remarks about the size of the locker rooms at the StubHub Center.

“#Chargers locker room at StubHub makes rest of stadium look oversized. If you played at a large high school, you probably dressed in bigger.”

Compile this with the new Chargers logo debacle back in January (for those who don’t remember, it originally looked liked the Dodgers’ logo made of lightning bolts), and it becomes clear that there have been a series of setbacks in the Chargers’ attempt to win over Los Angeles.

The ultimate remedy for a fickle fanbase is to win. When the starters took the field to open the match against the Seahawks, the result was a 75-yard march to the end zone, capped off with a 5-yard touchdown pass from Philip Rivers to Antonio Gates.

This classic connection teaming up for another score shows the potential for success the Chargers have. They are a team that is not lacking in talent, however, injuries have quickly befallen their younger prospects.

Forrest Lamp, an offensive lineman taken by Los Angeles in the second round, was lost for the season to a torn ACL. Lamp looked poised to crack the starting lineup for the regular season opener before being ruled out for the year on August 2.

The Chargers will also be without their blossoming middle linebacker Denzel Perryman for 6-8 weeks, as he recovers from an ankle injury sustained in the loss to Seattle. Perryman was third on the team in tackles, with 72. He also accounted for two sacks, six tackles for a loss, and an interception.

One of the biggest blows that came earlier in the offseason was the loss of first round draft pick Mike Williams to a herniated disk. The timetable for his recovery has him potentially returning to the field in October, which is a sigh of relief for the Chargers, as there had been talks of Williams being out for the year.

The road to a winning season seems ever longer when looking at the Chargers’ schedule. Although they have moved cities, Los Angeles will still be playing in the ultra-competitive AFC Western Conference. This means they will face the Oakland Raiders, Kansas City Chiefs and Denver Broncos two times apiece this season.

They will also square off against the NFC and AFC Eastern Conferences, which entails matchups against the Philadelphia Eagles, New York Giants, Washington Redskins, Dallas Cowboys, the Jay Cutler-led Miami Dolphins, and reigning Super Bowl champion New England Patriots in Foxborough.

Despite the overwhelming factors facing the Chargers, there is little reason to fret. Rivers will have Gates, a healthy Keenan Allen, and an eventually healthy Williams to throw to. Melvin Gordon will be taking his assumed spot as starting running back, and will look to build on a stellar sophomore season in which he ran for 997 yards and 10 touchdowns.

The loss of Perryman does hurt the defense, but he will be back manning the middle of the field, and will have beside him Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram, and Casey Hayward. Bosa led all rookies in sacks, with 10.5. Ingram led the Chargers in forced fumbles, with four. And Hayward led the NFL in interceptions, with seven, one of which he returned for a touchdown.

So far, the Chargers’ start in LA has been subpar, but they have an entire season to right the ship. The odds of them making the playoffs seem slim now, but the city will fall in love with a team that is willing to fight against the adversity.

The Chargers have, and will continue to, face plenty of it. Results may not be immediate, but the team will come out stronger for their struggles, and can easily become a group that makes the city of Los Angeles proud.

Female Athlete of the Week – Mariah Lopez

| SC Living, Sports | August 10, 2017

A former student at Saugus High School, Mariah Lopez pitched for Team USA at the World Softball Confederation Junior Women’s World Championship last week. She was pivotal in the Americans’ gold medal run, pitching 7 1/3 innings, striking out 16 batters, and walking none. USA outscored their opponents 99-9 for the tournament, and went 9-0 to take home first place.

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Male Athlete of the Week – Kai Caranto

| SC Living, Sports | August 10, 2017

Former Santa Clarita resident Kai Caranto is a member of the USA Baseball 12U National Team. Last week he hit a three-run home run against Chinese Taipei in the U-12 World Cup title game on Sunday. The homer was part of a 7-2 victory over the Chinese team. Caranto also pitched two scoreless innings, and allowed just two hits to close out the game.

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Los Angeles Dodgers Enjoy a Stellar July

| Sports | August 10, 2017

July was a memorable month for The Blue Crew. The Los Angeles Dodgers finished with a record of 74-31, and separated themselves from both the tightly contested National League West Conference, as well as the entirety of the major leagues.

That’s what happens when a team drops just three matches in a month. The Dodgers took advantage of an easy stretch of games, with their strongest competition coming against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Los Angeles swept Arizona in that series.

When discussing the Dodgers’ success, it is always best to first look to the pitching mound. It was quite a July for Rich Hill and Clayton Kershaw, as the duo combined to go 7-0, with Hill tallying four wins, and Kershaw collecting three. More impressive than their win count were the ERAs both posted. Kershaw, as usual, led the way in this category, posting an ERA of 0.72. For the month, he allowed just 15 hits, two earned runs, and one home run in 25 innings pitched.

Hill was not to be outdone by Los Angeles’ ace. Hill had an ERA of 1.45, with 19 hits, five earned runs, and two home runs in 31 innings pitched. He also struck out 40 hitters in the five games he started, an average of eight batters per game.

Just when Los Angeles’ pitching couldn’t seem scarier, they were able to add Texas Rangers ace, Yu Darvish, to the mix. The Dodgers had to part ways with second baseman/outfielder Willie Calhoun, pitcher A.J. Alexey, and infielder Brendon Davis to get the deal done. The results so far have been promising. In his first game in blue, Darvish pitched seven innings, allowed just three hits, and struck out 10 batters in a 6-0 win over the New York Mets on August 5.

The Dodgers’ pitching unit was supported by the team’s big bats. Left fielder Chris Taylor led the way with 37 hits at 94 at bats, leading to a stellar batting average of .394. His 15 RBIs were also the most by a Los Angeles batter for the month.

NL Rookie of the Year candidate Cody Bellinger cooled off a bit in this stretch of games, but still notched solid numbers that prove his talent is well beyond his years. He hit four home runs and had 13 RBIs on 21 hits. Corey Seager, last year’s NL Rookie of the Year, demonstrated his continuing strong play at the plate, leading the team with six home runs on a .333 batting average.

Despite these healthy hitting stats, the Dodgers had a down July on offense. They came in 22nd in the MLB for runs scored with 107. Their 601 total runs trail only the Houston Astros’ 656, so for Los Angeles to be nowhere near the top of this category comes as a surprise. They also had just 105 RBIs, another shocker, as they are in 5th place overall in the majors, with 534.

When the offense is slow, the Dodgers are lucky that they can rely on their defense. They allowed their opponents to score 69 times in the 23 games they played in July, which is an average of three points per game.

Bellinger broke the hearts of a lot of opposing offenses, especially in a 5-4 win over the Atlanta Braves on July 23. In this match, Bellinger had 14 putouts on 14 chances. His fielding had no flaws the entire month, as he committed not a single error.

Yasmani Grandal has already staked his claim as Los Angeles’ best defender, and his play in July cemented that. Although he had two errors, he had 127 putouts and eight assists on 137 chances. For the season, he has a fielding percentage of .994, same as Bellinger.

These two lead the way for a Dodgers defense that has allowed for a total of 365 runs scored against them. Their runs-scored-to-runs-allowed differential of plus-204 is far and away the best in the league. It also shows just how balanced a team Los Angeles really is.

Their pitching makes it hard for batters to even get a hit, and when they do, the defense nixes the play before it can become a threat. And if the opposition finds a way to score, the Dodgers rarely struggle to answer back before tacking on even more points.

This is the way they won July, and the reason they will continue to dominate through the remainder of the regular season. Fans have had their hopes dashed in the playoffs many a time, but this rendition of the Dodgers finally seems to be the one that can take it the distance.

They’re not out of the woods yet, as they still must face the Diamondbacks, as well as the Colorado Rockies a few more times this season, and even then, they still have the Washington Nationals and World Series winners Chicago Cubs to contend with.

However, Dodgers baseball is must watch TV, and Los Angeles has every reason to be excited. July is just a microcosm of what this team is capable of, and if their opponents fail to figure them out, the streets of L.A. will be filled with fans celebrating their team’s World Series title.

Los Angeles Clippers are Keeping Pace in an Ever-Evolving NBA

| Sports | July 27, 2017

In the blink of an eye, the Los Angeles Clippers have become a brand new team. No longer will the likes of Chris Paul, JJ Redick, Jamal Crawford and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute grace the hardwood of Staples Center. In their stead steps a motley crew of high caliber players, who may lack the name power of Paul and Redick, but give the Clippers a chance to contend in the incredibly stacked Western Conference.

The first domino to fall in the Rube Goldberg machine that ultimately created the present day Clippers was the trade that sent Paul to the Houston Rockets. To pair Paul with James Harden, Houston had to part ways with Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams, Sam Dekker, Montrezl Harrell, Darrun Hilliard, DeAndre Liggins, Kyle Wiltjer, a protected first-round pick next season, and cash consideration.

Of this treasure trove, Beverley and Williams are the two players that will have the most immediate impact. Beverley will slide into the starting shooting guard role left vacant after Redick departed to Philadelphia on a one-year, $23 million contract. The two could not be more different as players. Beverley is a defensive ace, who can look down any opposing wing player. Redick, on the other hand, is an offensive threat whose three-pointers can instantly change the tone of a game.

Williams should take up the offensive mantle as Los Angeles’ sixth man. Most Angelenos will remember Williams from his stint with the Lakers, where he averaged 18.6 points off the bench in 2016-2017, before being traded to Houston. Some are scratching their heads and thinking, “What about Jamal Crawford?” Well, there’s a story behind that.

The Clippers said goodbye to Mbah a Moute — who has also joined the Rockets — in search of a more offensive-oriented small forward. They set their sights on Danilo Gallinari of the Denver Nuggets. To afford Gallinari’s three-year, $65 million price tag, Los Angeles had to facilitate a sign-and-trade deal that sent Houston’s first-round pick from the Paul deal, Diamond Stone, and Crawford to the Atlanta Hawks.

Crawford was then immediately bought out of his contract with Atlanta, after which, he signed with the Minnesota Timberwolves, a budding super team of their own. The loss of Crawford is a hard pill for nostalgic fans to swallow, but anyone unacquainted with Gallinari will love what he brings to the court when they see him play.
Gallinari averaged 18 points per game last season, shooting 39 percent from three-point territory. With Blake Griffin’s improved long-ball, the Clippers have a forward duo that is suited for the present-day NBA.

Okay, so that covers Paul’s, Redick’s, Crawford’s, and Mbah a Moute’s departures. But wait, what about the person replacing Paul as the team’s starting point guard? This is where the Clippers threw a curve ball. Instead of trading for a big name NBA player, Los Angeles looked overseas to Serbian phenom Milos Teodosic.

Teodosic is not a household name in America, but with CSKA Moscow in the Euroleague, he put up 16 points on 38 percent from three, and 6.8 assists per game. Teodosic is a precision passer, a trait that pairs well with Deandre Jordan. Expect the same amount of rim-shattering slam dunks from Los Angeles’ big man with Teodosic passing him the ball.

The only area in which he falters is on defense, where he allowed 113 points per 100 possessions. Fortunately, Beverley will be able to mask any defensive inefficiencies Teodosic displays, and Teodosic can account for Beverley’s less-than-stellar offense.

That’s the Clippers’ offseason in a nutshell. It’s bittersweet, as Los Angeles has to say goodbye to a team that captured our hearts with Lob City, before becoming a perennial title contender. This is the current state of the NBA, however. With the juggernaut that is the Golden State Warriors, teams that sit idly by are destined to be destroyed as the Warriors sweep their way into the NBA Finals.

That isn’t to say these major moves put the Clippers into championship consideration. However, they are now more suited for the three-point focused NBA. For better or worse, this is your 2017-2018 Los Angeles Clippers; fresh faces ready to fight against a sea of super teams.

Roger Federer Finds His Footing After a Five-Year Fall

| Sports | July 20, 2017

Roger Federer’s reign as the world’s top tennis player seemed to be long over. The likes of Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, and Andy Murray had all but supplanted Federer as king of the sport.

Then came the year 2017.

It started with a hard fought battle between Federer and Nadal in the final round of the Australian open. Federer came out on top 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3. That tipped the scales slightly toward the Swiss sensation, but would be viewed as a fluke if he didn’t replicate these results at Wimbledon.

Federer didn’t just win Wimbledon, he dominated, never dropping a set on the way to a 6-3, 6-1, 6-4 victory over Marin Cilic (7). He collected his eighth championship at the Grand Slam tournament, and at 35 years old, became the oldest player in the Open era to win at the All England Club.

The win gives Federer 19 Grand Slam titles, widening the gap between him and Nadal. Although Federer leads all men in Grand Slam championships, he is still tied with Helen Wills, and trails Steffi Graf (22), Serena Williams (23), and Margaret Court (24) in the trophy count. Federer should be past his prime at this point, but the record still appears to be in his grasp.

Djokovic seems to have suddenly exited his prime, a possibility that might be explained by a right elbow injury that has been hampering him for over a year and a half. The ailment may cause Djokovic to take time off of the tour, leaving the door open for Federer to take home more Grand Slam titles. Williams will also not have the chance to separate herself from Federer, as her pregnancy has prevented her from continuing on the tour.

The U.S. Open begins August 28 and will be Federer’s next proving ground. This gives Djokovic time to heal in the hopes of playing, although he surely won’t rush his recovery. If he is unable to go, Federer still has to contend with Nadal, Murray, Stan Wawrinka, and Cilic, who will be motivated by his defeat at Wimbledon.

Federer has proven that his comeback is legitimate, which means he will have a target on his back at every tournament where he competes. He will be facing each player at their very best, and it is difficult to say he will come out on top every time. However, if he does get the better of his foes, Federer may find himself at the top of ATP rankings, a spot he hasn’t been in since October 29, 2012.

Doing so will be no easy feat. He will have to make the finals of each ATP World Tour Masters 1000, along with every final of the remaining Grand Slam tournaments. On top of that, he will have to hope Murray and Nadal don’t make it to the final round with him. If they do, Federer has to be the victor for him to have a shot at number one.

Everything will have to go right for this to happen, so it is unfair to expect Federer to be the ATP’s leader in 2017. His recent success has him third overall, which is a good foundation to build upon.

We are currently witnessing arguably the greatest group of athletes among all professional sports. Tom Brady’s fifth Super Bowl victory has unanimously cemented him as the NFL’s best player. LeBron James is chasing Michael Jordan for this title in the NBA.

Federer is in the conversation for Tennis’ all-time greatest, a title he appeared nowhere near in recent history. If he continues his current comeback tour, and finds a way to eventually win Grand Slam title number 25, the conversation will be over. Federer will be the greatest tennis player of all time, and won’t be unseated from that throne for a long, long time.

Athlete of the Week – Trevor Bauer

| SC Living, Sports | July 8, 2017

Former William S. Hart High School pitcher Trevor Bauer now plays for the Cleveland Indians. Last week the Santa Clarita native pitched 6.1 innings, struck out three batters, and allowed just one earned run, in the Indians’ 5-3 win over Texas. With the victory, Bauer has 7 wins for the season.

Described by Hart High baseball coach Jim Ozella as “one of the most decorated and dedicated student-athletes to play at Hart High School,” Trevor’s academic skills enabled him to leave Hart early, following an All-CIF junior year, to pitch at UCLA. His junior year of college he was named Pitcher of the Year for the Bruins and selected by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the MLB first round.

Athletes of the Week – Deyna Castellanos

| SC Living, Sports | July 7, 2017

Santa Clarita Blue Heat player Deyna Castellanos scored the Blue Heat’s lone goal in the 62’ of a 1-0 victory over Real Salt Lake Women two weeks ago. The win kept a winning streak going for the undefeated Santa Clarita team and gave them a five-point lead for first place in the United Women’s Soccer West Conference. On July 1 the Santa Clarita Blue Heat beat the Calgary Foothills to become UWS West Conference champions.

“Deyna, once again, showed how much of an offensive threat she is to other defenses,” said Blue Heat Coach Guilherme Mitrovitch. “She scored off a nice cross from Carolina. She continues to be a constant threat, not just through her shots and 1-vs-1’s, but also with her vision and passes.”

Free Agent Fits for the Los Angeles Lakers

| Sports | June 30, 2017

The NBA free agency period begins on July 1st, and already, rumors of the Lakers trading for Paul George are beginning to swirl.

George has stated that he will leave the Indiana Pacers in free agency after next season to join Los Angeles, prompting Indiana to swiftly look for trade partners for the disgruntled small forward.

If Los Angeles were to trade for George, they would likely have to bring in a third team, as the Lakers are low on assets that would help the Pacers rebuild. Los Angeles’ most valuable trade asset, D’Angelo Russell, has already been dealt to the Brooklyn Nets with Timofey Mozgov, in exchange for center Brook Lopez.

Since George has a strong desire to join the Lakers, it may be unwise for the team to make sacrifices to bring him in a year early. Although Los Angeles added promising players in Lopez and newly drafted point guard Lonzo Ball, bringing in George at this junction will make them a fringe playoff team at best. This is not a desirable position for a team that is still rebuilding.

The 2017-2018 Season will be another down year for a Lakers franchise that has seen many recently. Ball will be the bright spot of the squad, and his ability to make his teammates better will make for entertaining basketball.

That being said, Los Angeles should make some moves in free agency, albeit small ones, to fill holes that recent departures have created. Aside from trading Russell, shooting guard Nick Young has opted out of his contract, making him a free agent. This move depletes the Lakers’ shooting guard depth, making this priority number one when free agency opens.

There are some big names in the market at this position. JJ Redick and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope are two of the stronger options, but carry a hefty price tag that the Lakers won’t be able to afford if they want to have enough money for George next year.

This makes Justin Holiday, brother of UCLA point guards Jrue and Aaron, Los Angeles’ perfect prospect. Holiday had a breakout season with the Knicks, averaging a career high 7.7 points with his best shooting percentage of .433.

Holiday put these numbers up in just 20 minutes per game off the bench. In fact, Holiday has never been a consistent starter in the NBA, but showed he deserves the chance with his solid play in New York. His stats per 36 minutes would’ve had him averaging 13.8 points per game with 4.9 rebounds.

These promising numbers project Holiday can be an efficient, but not flashy, starter. This is the type of player the Lakers should pursue in free agency. His major flaw, however, is defense. Holiday allowed 111 points per 100 possessions, the most in his career. Still, he made just slightly over $1 million last season, a figure that won’t escalate too much, despite his career year.

Rebounding is another area of concern for Los Angeles. As a team, they collected just 43.5 rebounds per game, leaving them at 17th in the league. Lopez is slotted to be the team’s starting center, but struggles in getting rebounds. He averaged only 5.4 per game, and only accounted for 9 percent of all rebounds that occurred with him on the court.

The Lakers can’t rely on Julius Randle to be the only consistent rebounder, and must seek help in this department. This would make Alan Williams a strong addition to the roster. Williams played power forward for the Phoenix Suns last season and, like Holiday, had a breakout year.

Williams tallied 15 double-doubles for the season, which would have been good for second on Los Angeles behind Randle’s 18. Williams averaged a total of 6.2 rebounds per game and collected 22 percent of all rebounds available in that time. Per 36 minutes, Williams projected to average 10 rebounds per game, with 17.6 points to go along with them.

Like Holiday, Williams struggles with defense at times. He is also undersized for a power forward, at 6 feet, 8 inches, and doesn’t shoot the 3-pointer, making for poor floor spacing. Because of these factors, he wouldn’t start for the Lakers, but he would instantly be their best rebounder off the bench. Williams earned less than $1 million last season, and will be in Los Angeles’ price range.

The Lakers are a proud and storied franchise, so watching them struggle for so long comes as a surprise. There is a light at the end of the tunnel if George stays true to his word. In the meantime, Los Angeles should be making every move to ensure entertaining basketball. The rebuild may be over soon, so fans should sit back and enjoy the process until then.

Dodgers Can Catch Colorado With a Series Win This Weekend

| Sports | June 22, 2017

In the span of 10 games from June 7-June 18, the Dodgers swept the Cincinnati Reds twice, and won a series against the World Series runner-up Cleveland Indians. Los Angeles won nine of their 10 games in that successful stretch of the schedule. More importantly, they placed themselves in prime position to pounce on the Colorado Rockies.

The National League (NL) Western Conference-leading Rockies sit only a half game ahead of the Dodgers as the two are set to meet for a weekend series in Los Angeles. Colorado also found success in the same span of games, winning nine of their 12 matches in that time.

The last time the Dodgers faced the Rockies, they split a four game series in Colorado. Los Angeles looks to jump out of the gate by starting their only undefeated pitcher, Alex Wood. The first time Wood faced the Rockies, he fanned 10 batters in a 4-0 shutout. Since then, he has allowed only three runs in three wins, posting an ERA of 1.90.

As good as Wood has been, Clayton Kershaw has been the Dodgers’ shining star, a role the ace pitcher has been in throughout his entire Los Angeles career. He allowed just two earned runs and no home runs in the Dodgers’ 6-2 win over Colorado on May 12. Kershaw finished their successful 10-game stretch with an ERA of 2.23. The nine wins he has amassed in that time leads the team.

The combination of Wood, Kershaw, and Brandon McCarthy will have to find a way to slow down the Colorado batters. Both Mark Reynolds and Nolan Arenado had a total of 55 RBIs after their 12-game span. Charlie Blackmon was only one behind with 54. With this much production, it’s no surprise the Rockies are second in the NL in both hits (679), and runs scored (383).

Fortunately for Los Angeles, their ability to stop runners from scoring is one of their best traits. After their last game with the Reds, the Dodgers had only allowed 250 runners to score, the highest mark in the NL. Catcher Yasmani Grandal leads the way on defense, with 498 putouts as of June 18.

Los Angeles’ offense has been orchestrated by rookie phenom Cody Bellinger. He leads the team in both RBIs, at 43, and home runs, at 19. With the success has come some errors, as Bellinger has also tallied the most strikeouts with 64. Bellinger’s breakout, along with the rest of the Dodgers’ batters has allowed the team to total 592 hits and 348 runs.

Colorado’s defense is built to take on an offense as potent as Los Angeles. The Rockies lead the NL in fielding percentage (.989) and come in third in putouts (1,930). Reynolds proves to be a threat on defense as well as offense, leading the Rockies with a .997 fielding percentage, as well as 568 putouts.

The Dodgers will also have to face the Rockies’ best pitchers in this series. Los Angeles will first see Kyle Freeland, who leads Colorado in ERA with 3.42. Then comes Tyler Chatwood, who has recorded 74 strikeouts, leading the Rockies in this category. The Dodgers end the series against German Marquez, who has allowed just 25 earned runs and only six home runs in 10 starts.

Los Angeles and Colorado are two teams that have very few flaws. Both are likely to make the NL Playoffs, so they are jockeying for the NL West crown to assure home field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Dodgers can take a big step in this goal with a regular season win this weekend against the Rockies.

Baseball fans only have three more opportunities to see these two powerhouses go head to head in the regular season. It’s a matchup that should be must-see TV. When the postseason rolls around, it’s very likely we will see either Los Angeles host Colorado in the divisional round, or vice versa. This weekend will go a long way in deciding who hosts who.

The French Open Offers Twists and Turns to Tennis

| Sports | June 15, 2017

Spectators have seen surprising finishes from recent championship games this past season. The Chicago Cubs kicked it off by overcoming a 3-1 deficit against the Cleveland Indians to win the World Series for the first time since 1908. The New England Patriots followed suit, coming back to defeat the Atlanta Falcons 34-28, after trailing 28-3 in the third quarter.

Tennis fans were treated to a similar set of shocking outcomes with this year’s French Open. The women’s singles saw an upset right out of the gate when top-seeded Angelique Kerber was ousted in the round of 128, losing 6-2, 6-2 to unseeded Ekaterina Makarova.

This left the door wide open for any female tennis player to take the French Open title. So, Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia decided to do just that. The 20-year-old’s road to the championship wasn’t easy. She faced Caroline Wozniacki (11) in the quarterfinals, winning 4-6, 6-2, 6-2. Ostapenko eventually had to take on Simona Halep (3) in the final round, taking a 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 victory.

Ostapenko made history in several ways with her win. She became the first unseeded player to take home the French Open title since 1933, and the first Latvian player to ever win a major tournament. She also jumped 35 spots in the WTA rankings, where she now sits at 12.

As Serena Williams sits out the rest of the year due to her pregnancy, the WTA leaderboard is becoming a free-for-all for first place. Kerber remains at the top, despite her first round loss. Halep, meanwhile, was rewarded for her trip to the finals with a two-spot jump, where she is now second.

Wimbledon, which begins July 3, will serve as a stage for more potential upsets in the women’s bracket. Ostapenko will no longer be the underdog, and will have to prove her French Open win was more than a fluke. Undoubtedly, she will be facing every players’ best game when she takes the court. If she can make noise at Wimbledon, it will cement her place as tennis’ rising star.

The men’s side of the French Open had a more predictable champion. Rafael Nadal (4) took home his 15th Grand Slam singles title by defeating Stan Wawrinka (3) 6-2, 6-3, 6-1. The rounds before the championship, however, provided many twists and turns.

Wawrinka made it to the final round by defeating top-seeded Andy Murray in five sets in the semi-finals. Novak Djokovic’s (2) Grand Slam slump continued in the quarterfinals, where he lost 7-6, 6-3, 6-0 to Dominic Thiem (6). Djokovic’s last Grand Slam win came at last year’s French Open, where he defeated Murray.

Djokovic’s recent play begs the question, “Is he no longer in his prime?” The concern began in the 2016 Rio Olympics, where he lost in the first round to eventual silver medalist Juan Martin del Potro. This excusable loss was followed by a second-round ousting in the Australian Open to unseeded Denis Istomin, a defeat for Djokovic that is much harder to explain.

All of the chatter of a decline could’ve been silenced if Djokovic had been able to pull off a win at the French Open. His loss to Thiem only served to make the discussion louder and more plausible. Djokovic falls to fourth place in the ATP rankings and needs a solid showing at Wimbledon to dispel any notion that he is no longer the best men’s tennis player in the world.

Nadal’s French Open victory allowed him to slide in to second place in the ATP, a position he hasn’t been in since October 6, 2014. Murray still sits atop the leaderboard with 9,890 points, a full 2,605 points ahead of Nadal.

A win at Wimbledon will only give Nadal 2,000 more points, so it will be impossible for him to catch Murray in the near future. If he can overcome his opponents throughout the rest of the year, however, Nadal will find himself atop the ATP for the first time since June 23, 2014.

It is a tumultuous time in tennis, much to the delight of the sports’ fans. With tournament outcomes so uncertain for both men and women, it is impossible to predict who will be left standing after the final round of Wimbledon. The excitement mounts as everyone waits to see what surprises the tennis season serves up next.

Los Angeles Angels Have an Astronomical Test in Houston

| Sports | June 8, 2017

The Los Angeles Angels had 600 reasons to celebrate last Saturday night. Designated hitter Albert Pujols crushed a pitch from Minnesota’s Ervin Santana, making Pujols just the ninth major leaguer to ever hit 600 home runs.

The historic night ended in a 7-2 victory for Los Angeles. However, they dropped the regular season series to the Twins three games to one, bringing the Angels’s overall record to 29-31. The team has lost six of their last 10 games, but still sit in second place in the American League (A.L.) West Conference.

This would appear to be an ideal situation for Los Angeles, if not for the fact that the Houston Astros are 14 games ahead of them in the standings. This is a tough deficit to overcome, even though the season is still young.

The climb up this mountain begins Friday night, when Los Angeles travels to Houston in the final regular season series between the two clubs before the All-Star Break. Past matchups indicate that this may be a rough three games for the Angels. They have taken just two games against the Astros in seven meetings.

To make matter worse, Los Angeles will have to take on Houston without the aid of current A.L. MVP Mike Trout, who suffered his first major injury after tearing a ligament in his left thumb against the Miami Marlins on May 28. He is expected to miss six to eight weeks.

In Trout’s stead steps Shane Robinson, who was playing for Triple-A Salt Lake before Trout’s injury. In his first three games, Robinson has recorded just one hit and a .167 batting average. The Angels have lost four of seven games in a week since Trout went down.

So what does Los Angeles need to do to start chipping away at Houston’s astronomical lead? It starts with Mr. 600. Pujols has hit at an above average rate, especially for a 37-year-old slugger, coming in third in the A.L. in RBIs with 42.

If Houston has one weakness, it’s in their fielding. They are currently tied with the sixth most errors in the A.L. with 37 — a stat they share with the Angels — and have the sixth lowest fielding percentage with .983.

Although Trout leads the Angels in many batting statistics, they still have players, aside from him and Pujols, who can deliver the kinds of hits necessary to defeat the Astros. Shortstop Andrelton Simmons comes in second on the team in doubles with 10, at a batting average of .267. Left-fielder Ben Revere is tied with Trout in triples with two.

The more the Angels can keep the ball in the field of play, the higher the likelihood of Houston committing an error. Their efforts to do so are boosted, because they will not have to face the Astro’s ace pitcher Dallas Keuchel. He leads the A.L. in ERA with 1.67, and wins with nine, but is not scheduled to pitch in the three-game series against Los Angeles.

The Angels’s pitching staff, however, will have to go up against a Houston team that leads the A.L. in runs with 319, home runs with 92, and RBIs with 300. Their depth chart boasts Jose Altuve, George Springer and Carlos Correa. Each player leads the team in a different batting category, Altuve in batting average with .326, Springer in home runs with 16, and Correa in RBIs with 39.

This diversity of talent could spell trouble for Los Angeles’s pitchers. Matt Shoemaker will make the first start of the series against Houston on Friday night, and is tied for the team lead in wins with five. His 4.12 ERA is a weakness that the Astros will look to exploit, but he has recorded more strikeouts (63) than hits (60), so Shoemaker has the ability to make batters miss.

The Angels need to take this regular season series, not only to cut into Houston’s 14-game lead, but to prove they can play against the MLB’s toughest competition. The only way Los Angeles will be able to make a playoff push at any point this season is if they can join the ranks of the league’s top teams. This series against Houston will be the perfect test to see if the Angels can do just that.

Male Athlete of the Week – Michael Sexton

| Sports | June 2, 2017

A senior at The Master’s University, Michael Sexton is a standout third baseman for TMU’s baseball team. Last week, he went 3-5 with 4 RBIs and scored a home run as the Mustangs defeated Keiser University 9-2 in the NAIA Baseball World Series. For the season, Sexton has 17 home runs and 64 RBIs to lead the team in both categories.

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Cody Bellinger’s Big Bat Begets Bright Future

| Sports | June 2, 2017

Spring has just sprung, and already the Los Angeles Dodgers have found early success in the 2017 season. They are keeping pace in the ultra-competitive National League (N.L.) Western Conference, posting a record of 31-20 after sweeping last season’s World Series Champions in the Chicago Cubs. Third baseman Justin Turner leads the N.L. in batting average at .379, while Clayton Kershaw has collected the most wins at seven, and is second in ERA with a 2.37.

What has come as a surprise in this treasure-trove of triumphs is the immediate impact rookie left-fielder Cody Bellinger has made for Los Angeles. Since making his first start on April 25, Bellinger has batted his way to the top of multiple statistical categories, despite playing fewer games than most of his first-year contemporaries.

With just 118 at-bats, Bellinger has amassed 11 home runs, 29 RBIs, and a slugging percentage of .951. These figures lead all N.L. rookies, and can only be topped by New York Yankees first-year phenom Aaron Judge. Most see Judge as a lock for American League Rookie of the Year, and the time has come to put Bellinger in the same category in the N.L.

At this point, his closest competition for the award resides in San Diego. Hunter Renfroe of the Padres has put up similar stats to Bellinger, knocking 10 pitches out of the park and recording 24 RBIs. However, Renfroe has been unable to generate the same power as his Los Angeles counterpart, hitting with a slugging percentage of just .753.

Another factor that tips the scales towards Bellinger is how his stats have turned into wins for the Dodgers. His “wins above replacement,” a stat that calculates how many wins a player accounts for above a replacement player, is a whopping 1.4. This is a full game higher than Renfroe’s 0.3, whose Padres are in the N.L. West basement with an overall record of 19-33, after going 1-2 in a regular season series against the Washington Nationals.

Fielding further distances the two players. Bellinger has made the most of the 112 chances that have come his way, putting out 106 batters, assisting on four putouts, and committing only two errors on his way to a fielding percentage of .98. Renfroe is by no means a slouch on defense, putting out 85 battles on 97 chances, assisting on five putouts, but committing seven errors for a fielding percentage of .93.

It is fitting that Bellinger could possibly be following fellow Dodgers player Corey Seager as N.L. Rookie of the Year, as Los Angeles is the last team to produce back-to-back award winners, tallying five from 1992-1996. At 21, Bellinger would be the youngest of the most recent Dodgers’ Rookies of the Year, to win the award.

With the emergence of Bellinger, Los Angeles looks to have shored up any flaws in their starting lineup. The top of their depth chart boasts Seager, Turner, Joc Pederson, Yasiel Puig, Adrian Gonzalez, Chase Utley, and Yasmani Grandal. This lineup has allowed the Dodgers to score 261 total runs, good for third in the MLB, while allowing just 179 runs to be scored against them. Their run differential of +82 is the best in the nation.

Los Angeles will have to continue to battle its way in the N.L. West, where the top three teams have more than 30 wins each, to prove that they are true contenders for the World Series this season. They have just two more regular season series remaining against the Colorado Rockies, giving them just a few more chances to overtake the N.L.’s top team.

There’s plenty of time before the end of the regular season, so it’s impossible to predict if Bellinger can keep up his early success. If he can go the distance and help the Dodgers reach the postseason, he not only cements himself as bona-fide N.L. Rookie of the Year, but will also be seen as the sport’s next emerging star, and possibly the last piece to Los Angeles’s World Series puzzle.

Female Athlete of the Week – Abby Sweet

| Sports | June 1, 2017

A new graduate of William S. Hart High School, Abby Sweet recently helped her school’s softball team make it to the CIF semifinals. She hit a walk-off home run in the bottom of the seventh inning in the Indians’ 9-8 win over Patriot High School of Riverside last week. The victory moved Hart into the semifinals of the CIF-Southern Section Division 3 tournament for the first time since 2009.

As a sophomore Abby committed to the University of Notre Dame. “She is a great player and teammate,” said Hart High softball coach Stephen Calendo. “It’s been a fantastic four years at Hart and she will be missed.”

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Male Athlete of the Week – Sam Stulman

| Sports | May 26, 2017

A junior in high school and pitcher for the Albert Einstein Academy baseball team, Sam Stulman struck out six batters in five innings in the first round of the CIF Southern Section Division 7 Playoffs last week. He also hit two RBIs in the game, helping the Rockets beat Shalhevet of Los Angeles 13-3. Albert Einstein Academy advanced to take on Coast Union of Cambria this week.

“Sam Stulman has been our leader on and off the field for the last couple of seasons,” said Albert Einstein Academy baseball coach Marcelo C. Imbert. “He’s remained humble and coachable, and it’s great to see his hard work paying off. It’s been my honor and pleasure to watch him grow as a true student athlete and young adult.”

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Ike Anigbogu: UCLA’s Forgotten Freshman

| Sports | May 25, 2017

From the onset of the 2016-17 NCAA men’s basketball season, there was much ado made about UCLA’s freshman class. There was Lonzo Ball, the L.A. Native destined for the NBA, and TJ Leaf, the once Arizona commit, who spurned the Wildcats to play in Westwood.

Then there was Ike Anigbogu, a highly touted freshman who got lost in the shuffle, partly due to the hype of the other two recruits, as well as a knee injury that forced him to miss the beginning of the college season.

After finally making his way to the court, Anigbogu displayed a defensive efficiency well beyond his years. Against Michigan on December 10, Anigbogu locked down the paint with four blocks while going 3-4 from the field for six points. The following game against UC Santa Barbara saw Anigbogu tally another four blocks, and by that time it was clear that his defensive prowess would land him in the pros.

What came as an unexpected twist, however, is how soon Anigbogu declared for the NBA Draft. A repeated mantra from both media personalities and fans alike was that Anigbogu would need another year in college to polish his offensive game, despite having NBA-ready defense.

Well, on April 20, with the hiring of agent Jason Glushon, Anigbogu passed the point of no return in the draft process. With the big man now decidedly NBA bound, figuring out which team will take a chance on a project player is the next step.

There truly is no consensus as to where Anigbogu will land. Mock drafts have him going anywhere between the mid-first round to early in the second. With his skill on the defensive side of the ball, it is easy to see why a team would take a chance on such a tantalizing prospect. For the season, Anigbogu averaged 1.2 blocks per game, and led the Bruins in blocked shot percentage, swatting 8.8 percent of the shots he faced while on the floor.

While his four rebounds per game leave a lot to be desired from a player that stands at 6 feet, 10 inches and projects to play forward and center at the next level, he did grab 16.8 percent of all available rebounds when on the court, second only to Thomas Welsh for UCLA. The efficient defense Anigbogu displayed translated to a defensive rating of 98 points per 100 possessions for opposing offenses. Again, only Welsh had the numbers to match Anigbogu in this category.

A team that is in desperate need of shot blocking is the Detroit Pistons, who Anigbogu met with on Tuesday. The Pistons were second to last in the league in total blocks per game, with 3.8. Detroit’s bench, where Anigbogu would undoubtedly find himself if selected by the Pistons, tallied only 1.6 blocks per game all season. Anigbogu’s presence would immediately address that area of need, and with the 12 pick in the first round, Detroit is in a prime position to select him.

The only cause for pause is if the Pistons decide to fix their glaring need for second unit scoring. Their bench averaged just 33.3 points per game, good for 19th in the NBA. The team as a whole averaged only 101.3 points, leaving them in 26th. Anigbogu’s raw offensive abilities are not what Detroit needs to solve this problem. He averaged just 4.7 points per game, which is redeemed by the fact he did so with a true shooting percentage of 56 percent.

Taking and making smart shots is a strength in Anigbogu’s offensive arsenal, however, holding onto the ball is a weakness he must fix. Although his 0.8 turnovers per game is only the sixth most for UCLA, he accounted for 16.8 percent of all turnovers that occurred with him on the court. Of the eight players that averaged more than 10 minutes per game, only three accounted for a higher percentage of turnovers.

Another flaw that requires remedy is his knack for committing fouls. He is tied with Welsh and Leaf for most fouls per game on the Bruins, with 2.5, but he did so while averaging just 13 minutes per game. For the season, Anigbogu posted a blocks-per-foul ratio of .48, meaning he averaged less than half a block to every personal foul he committed.

Detroit’s bench is one of the best in avoiding fouls, coming in third in the NBA with just 7.1 personal fouls committed per game. They would have to decide if bringing in Anigbogu to shore up their defensive front would be worth the risk of his growing pains setting back a somewhat strong second unit.

Of course, there are many teams in need of a defensive-minded center, one of which would allow Anigbogu to stay in Los Angeles, and more likely than not, playing alongside Ball yet again. The Lakers own the 28th pick in the draft, a spot Anigbogu could realistically wind up. Their bench unit, which averages 1.9 blocks per game, has a similarly sized player in Tarik Black, who stands at 6 feet, 9 inches and 250 pounds. However, Black is a lackluster shot blocker, rejecting only 0.6 shots per game, and accounting for just 3 percent of all blocks available during his 16 minutes per game.

Anigbogu has taken a big risk declaring for the NBA Draft, despite being seen as a raw talent, but just as this decision leaves a lot to chance, returning to college would’ve done just the same. There’s always the possibility of a poor sophomore season or injury derailing his dream, so making a leap of faith into the pros while his stock is high makes the most sense.

From starting out as the forgotten third freshman in UCLA’s highly touted 2016 recruiting class, to becoming a possible first round draft choice, Anigbogu has overcome the early obstacles of his career. Where his career continues is anyone’s guess, so let the speculation continue until June 22.

Female Athlete of the Week – Gabby Sanchez

| Sports | May 25, 2017

A junior at Canyon High School, Gabby Sanchez has already broken records for the Cowboys as a discus thrower, plus she’s the track and field team’s top scholar athlete with a 5.0 GPA. Last week, Gabby qualified for the CIF Masters Meet with a discus throw of 137 feet, 5 inches at the CIF-Southern Section Division 2 Finals at Cerritos College in Norwalk. She also ranks sixth on Canyon’s All Time List for shot put.

Gabby was named the varsity girls’ basketball team’s “Defensive Player of the Year,” and was named to the first team in the Foothill League. The Canyon girls’ basketball team finished as runner-up in the CIF Championship game for the last two consecutive seasons.

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Female Athlete – Melanie Abzun

| Sports | May 12, 2017

College of the Canyons sophomore center fielder Melanie Abzun played a key role in the Cougars’ 2-0 series sweep over Southwestern College in the opening round of the California Community College Athletic Association (CCCAA) Southern California Regional Playoffs last weekend. COC defeated the Jaguars 4-3 in game one and 10 -5 in the series finale, with Abzun finishing the series 3-for-7 with two home runs, four runs, three RBIs and two walks to help No. 9 seed Canyons advance to this weekend’s CCCAA Super Regional.

“Mel has been a great competitor all season long,” said COC head coach John Wissmath. “She continues to make solid plays in the outfield and impress us with her bat.”

COC will begin the weekend with a matchup vs. No. 1 Cypress College at 1 p.m. on Friday.

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Male Athlete of the Week – Sam Pica

| Sports | May 11, 2017

In his last year on Valencia High School’s track and field team, Sam Pica set a new league and meet record at College of the Canyons last week when he completed the 400 meter in 48.08 seconds. Sam also set a new personal and school record, jumping 22 feet, 11 inches in the long jump. And in a third win, Sam served as the anchor for Valencia’s first place 4×400 relay team, and was on the first place 4×100 relay team.

“Sam is an amazing athlete who set five Valencia High School records this year and the Foothill League record in the 400,” said Valencia track and field coach Jeff Gilkey. “He is a wonderful young man who raises the spirits of his teammates and the level of competition in any event. Sam is heading to UC Santa Barbara next year and is considering competing in the decathlon.”

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The Dodgers Face the Rockies in the Fight for First Place

| Sports | May 11, 2017

The season is young, but the Los Angeles Dodgers have the chance to make a statement when they take on the Colorado Rockies in a four-game series starting Thursday. The Dodgers can snatch first place in the National League (NL) West Conference with a series win, potentially setting them up for a better postseason position as the year progresses.

Los Angeles’ success comes as somewhat of a surprise, seeing how the team has been decimated by injuries. First baseman Adrian Gonzalez was placed on the 15-day disabled list for the first time in his career due to right elbow soreness, right fielder Andre Ethier’s timetable to return from a herniated disc is still unknown, and their pitching staff has been without Rich Hill since April 18 (finger blisters) and Hyun-Jin Ryu since May 1 (left-hip contusion).

From the ashes of adversity have risen stellar rookies who have received a shot to show what they can do in the major leagues, and have made the most of their chances. Twenty-year-old Julio Urias of Mexico joined the Dodgers’ starting pitching staff on April 27, and has since allowed just one run on his way to a 0.84 ERA.

Cody Bellinger was given the start at first base as a result of Gonzalez’s injury, hitting three home runs and nine RBIs in a two-game series against the San Diego Padres, a performance that garnered Bellinger the NL Player of the Week award. For the season, he is third among all rookies with a batting average of .326 and tied for third in home runs with five.

The Dodgers have also been fortunate for the continued consistency of ace pitcher Clayton Kershaw. Seven starts into the season, Kershaw has recorded five wins with an ERA of 2.40, both good for third in the NL, and his 53 strikeouts put him in second place among all NL pitchers. He starts the first game of the series against the Rockies, a team that has handed him one of his two losses, but also gave him his highest strikeout total of the season, with 10, in Los Angeles’ 4-2 victory on April 19.

Both the Rockies and the Dodgers can score in droves, exemplified by the fact that Los Angeles is third in the NL in total runs at 159, while Colorado comes in eighth, with 152. With scoring potential of both squads sky-high, Los Angeles will need to clamp down on defense to win. This is easier said than done, as they don’t always demonstrate discipline on this end of the field. The Dodgers have the seventh most errors in the NL, with 23, while Colorado is tied with the fourth least, with 17, and has the fourth best fielding percentage, at .986.

The Rockies are far and away the better team in regards to fielding, but Los Angeles’ pitching outpaces their Colorado counterparts. The Dodgers lead not only the NL, but the entire MLB in combined ERA, at 3.25, and total runs allowed, at 110. The Rockies come in 19th for combined ERA at 4.27 and 16th for total runs allowed, at 145. Los Angeles’ prime pitching will help mask their fielding flaws, except for the fact that they face two excellent offensive players in Mark Reynolds and Charlie Blackmon.

The Colorado duo don’t boast stellar batting averages, with Reynolds coming in 14th in the NL at .325 and Blackmon sitting at 18th, with .313, but both have a knack for hitting homers and brining in runners. Reynolds is tied for third with 11 home runs, and both have tallied 26 RBIs, sixth most in the NL.

Los Angeles doesn’t take the backseat when it comes to batting, however. Justin Turner is third in the NL with a batting average of .376. As a team, the Dodgers are in sixth in batting average with a combined .256. This, paired with their 146 RBIs, are both one spot higher than the Rockies (.255 combined batting average, 145 total RBIs).

The bottom line to all of these facts and figures is that both teams are evenly matched, making it hard to predict who will be sitting in first place in the NL West after the weekend’s dust clears. The skill that the Arizona Diamondbacks have demonstrated all season, along with the logjam between the St. Louis Cardinals, Cincinatti Reds, and Chicago Cubs for first place in the NL Central, means that neither Los Angeles nor Colorado are assured a playoff spot come season’s end. So, although this series may seem trivial in the grand scheme of 2017, it may possess more postseason implications than meets the eye.

Salary Cap Constrictions Mean Anything but Clear Sailing for the Clippers

| Sports | May 4, 2017

Since the 2011-12 NBA season, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin helped change the perception of the Los Angeles Clippers, turning the perennial joke of the NBA into a top-5 team in the always competitive Western Conference. The duo was further aided by the emergence of center Deandre Jordan and the signing of sharpshooter JJ Redick in the 2013-14 season.

 

However, another early playoff exit for the Clippers this season may also signal an end to the team’s current make-up. This is because Los Angeles finds itself $24,760,946 over the NBA’s upcoming salary cap, and will need to make tough decisions on who they can afford to keep, and which free agents they can bring in with their current financial situation.

 

Their salary landscape will change when individuals with player options in their contracts decide whether or not to opt-out and become free agents after the NBA Finals. For the Clippers, the two most notable players with this option are Paul and Griffin.

 

Los Angeles fans fearful of losing Paul in free agency have very little to fret over. This is because the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, or CBA, created the Designated Player Veteran Exception, a clause that allows for what has been coined the “super max” contract. It should be noted that Paul, as the President of the NBA Players Association, spearheaded this provision, and is eligible to receive it.

 

This means, if Paul opts out of the final year of his contract, it will allow for him to sign a five-year extension with the Clippers for 35 percent of the the team’s salary cap. For Paul, the outcome will be a five-year $210 million guaranteed contract, a whole lot of cheddar to incentivize him to stay.

 

With Paul more than likely back in the fold, let’s turn to Blake Griffin. He has served as the face of the franchise since entering the league, but has rarely stayed healthy for an entire season. The toe injury Griffin suffered in game 3 of the Clippers’ series against the Utah Jazz was a deciding factor in Los Angeles’ first-round ousting.

 

The Clippers have to decide if it is worth it for them to re-sign a possibly injury-prone player to a max contract which, for Griffin, will come out to five years and $175 million. The free-agency pool of power forwards seems to be quite shallow in 2017, making the choice obvious for Los Angeles; roll the dice and pay Griffin.

 

Due to the projected $35,000,000 and $30,000,000 reserved for Paul and Griffin, the $22,642,350 owed to Jordan, and the $31,953,248 the Clippers inexplicably have tied up in Jamal Crawford, Austin Rivers, and Wesley Johnson, the team will be looking at combined salaries of $119,595,598, which is well above the $102,000,000 salary cap for the 2017-18 season.

 

This is bad news for JJ Redick, who will be entering free agency looking for one last huge deal before his career reaches its end. The 32-year-old shooting guard is expected to earn anywhere from $15-$20 million per season, an amount that may be too rich for the Clippers’ blood, even with ex-Microsoft CEO and current owner Steve Ballmer controlling the purse strings.

 

A solution to this situation may come in the form of a sign-and-trade, sending Redick, once he signs a new contract, and Austin Rivers to the New York Knicks for Carmelo Anthony. This would replace the nearly $30,000,000 that would be owed to Redick and Rivers, and replace it with the $26,243,760 allotted to Anthony. Whether Los Angeles keeps Redick, or replaces him with Anthony, the team looks to be spending well into the luxury tax. This means that, when it comes to signing other free agents, the Clippers won’t make many big splashes.

 

If Anthony ends up in Los Angeles, it will assuredly cement him as the team’s starting small forward, meaning incumbent starter Luc Richard Mbah a Moute will opt out, clearing up $2,302,135 in the cap. This scenario also means the Clippers will be looking for a new starting shooting guard, with very little money to do so.

 

The amount of scoring that will come from Paul, Griffin, and Anthony means that Los Angeles would be able to use this vacancy to sign a defensive-minded guard. If that is the case, 13-year veteran Tony Allen should be high on the team’s list. If Allen is not re-signed by the Memphis Grizzlies, Los Angeles would be wise to offer him a mid-level exception, or MLE, contract of $3.2 million a year.

 

Allen’s defensive prowess may be able to net him more than that in the free agency market. However, he will be turning 36, and teams might shy away from paying a player near the end of his career more than the MLE.

 

If the Clippers are to sign Redick to a substantial salary, they will have under $20,000,000 to play with before reaching the luxury tax threshold. Their goal in this situation should be to either find a more suitable starting small forward than Mbah a Moute, or sign a productive backup power forward to help alleviate Griffin’s workload, which will hopefully keep him healthy.

 

Seeing as the best option to replace Mbah a Moute in the current small-forward free agent market is Thabo Sefalosha, another defensive forward who serves the same purpose as Mbah a Moute but at a higher cost, a power forward is the best choice for the Clippers.

 

Patrick Patterson, who currently comes off the bench for the Toronto Raptors, would serve nicely in the same role for Los Angeles. Defensively, he boasts a defensive rating of 108 points per 100 possessions for opposing offenses. On offense, despite only scoring 6.9 points per game, Patterson has an offensive rating of 115.2 points per 100 possessions.

 

On the Clippers, he would see an increase in playing time, which would more than likely lead to higher points per game. Patterson’s average annual value is only $6,000,000, meaning Los Angeles would be able to sign him and stay under the luxury tax threshold.

 

The last option Los Angeles has in the free-agency game is to not re-sign Redick or trade for Anthony, and to save money to make one more large signing to try and improve the team. This could come in the form of throwing a large contract at restricted free agents such as Otto Porter Jr. (Washington Wizards), Tim Hardaway Jr. (Atlanta Hawks), or Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (Detroit Pistons), and force their current teams to have to match the Clippers’ offer, or lose the player.

 

The future for the Clippers is shrouded in uncertainty, a scary situation for a squad so close to championship contention. In times like these, it is best to look at the positives, and hope that any move they make is the key the Clippers need to take home the NBA crown.

 

 

Touting Trout as the ‘Way Too Early’ MVP

| Sports | April 27, 2017

For the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, there was not much to cheer about when the 2016 MLB season ended. The team finished with a record of 74-88 and missed out on the playoffs for a second straight season. The lone bright spot amongst the disappointment was Mike Trout, the six-year center fielder, who took home his second American League MVP Award.

What allowed Trout to take home the trophy as a member of a team with a losing record — the first to accomplish this feat since Alex Rodriguez in 2003 with the Texas Rangers — was by posting a win above replacement (WAR) of 10.6. This statistic represents the number of wins a player adds to their team above what a replacement player would. Trout’s 10.6 wins was the second most in MLB history for a player on a losing team.

Flash forward to the 2017 MLB season, and the Angels appear to be in the same situation they found themselves in last year. They currently sit in fourth place of the AL West Conference, and have a record of 8-12 through their first 20 games. What differs from last season, however, is that Trout is off to a faster start than the one that eventually garnered him MVP honors in 2016.

Again, Trout sits atop the MLB standings in WAR with 1.9. Aside from leading the league in this category, Trout comes in fourth place in the AL in batting average, hitting 35 percent of the pitches tossed his way. After 20 games last year, his batting average was 30 percent in a season where he finished hitting 32 percent.

Trout’s higher hit tally has caused an increase in the RBIs he’s accounted for as well. This time last year, he batted in just nine runners, compared to the first 20 games of 2017, where Trout has brought in 14 runners. His home runs, while not vastly different, have improved from four last season to five this season.

A factor that can be used to explain Trout’s improved performance is power. He is hitting pitches with strength never before seen in his career, posting a slugging percentage of 68 percent. The formula for slugging percentage is (1B + 2x2B + 3x3b + 4xHR)/At Bats, which, in terms non-math majors can understand, takes into account the outcome of a hit and gives more weight for further distances.

The strength Trout is hitting the ball is a substantial increase from his career high (59 percent in 2015), and ranks him number one in the AL and seventh overall in the MLB. Through the same span of games in 2016, Trout’s slugging percentage was just 53 percent.

Defensively, Trout is on par with last year. His defensive chances have dropped from 67 to 53, and in turn, the number of putouts have dropped from 65 to 51. This time last year, Trout also accounted for two assists and no errors, whereas in 2017 he has one apiece.

Seeing as the season has just begun, it is way too early to tell who will win the AL MVP this season. Still, that won’t stop one from speculating if Trout can take home the award again this year. If he is to do it, he’d be the first player to earn back-to-back MVP honors since Miguel Cabrera for the Detroit Tigers in the 2012 and 2013 seasons.

Trout’s first obstacle in his hunt for consecutive MVPs comes from opposition in the AL Western Conference. Khris Davis of the Oakland A’s leads the AL in home runs, with seven. Trout takes the battle WAR with ease — Davis posts only 0.8 in this category — but both are neck and neck in RBIs and slugging percentage. Davis’ 12 runners batted in sits just two behind Trout’s 14, and Davis’ slugging percentage of 65 percent is second in the AL to Trout.

The other hurdle Trout must overcome is the Angels’ losing record. True, Trout was able to win AL MVP under this circumstance last year, but winning it again, despite a poor team performance, will take a lot of generosity from the voters. As a reminder, the last time it happened was 13 seasons before Trout accomplished it.

The A’s are in second place in the AL Western Conference this season, a sight for sore eye to Oakland fans who had to endure a 69-93 record in 2016. The quick turnaround has the A’s one spot out of the wildcard, which doesn’t mean much this early in the schedule. However, if they are to keep up their winning ways, and Davis’ strong start propels the A’s into the playoffs, it would be hard to justify touting Trout as the MVP.

With 162 games in a season, there are almost infinite possibilities of what can occur. Because of this, the MVP puzzle won’t take shape until further down the line. Angels supporters have enough on their plates hoping their team pulls out of the struggles of the past two seasons, without worrying if Trout will be named the AL’s MVP. It’s better to just bask in the abilities of one of the franchise’s all-time greats playing in his prime.

A Surprising Scarcity of NFL First Round Selections for UCLA and USC

| Sports | April 21, 2017

The NFL Draft is less than a week away, and by now the media is saturated with names of top-prospects expected to be selected before the end of the first round. For UCLA and USC fans, there has been a surprising silence when it comes to pre-draft hype, as both schools boast only one player with first-round potential.

Takkarist McKinley, a linebacker for the Bruins, and Adoree’ Jackson, a cornerback for the Trojans, had phenomenal 2016 seasons, but are expected to fall to late in the opening round or early in the second round of the draft. An examination of their strengths and weakness, however, provides context for their projected draft placement.

Takkarist McKinley

McKinley has exceptional speed for a defensive lineman that measures 6-foot-2 and 250 pounds. At the NFL Draft Combine, he ran a 4.59 40-yard dash, which ranked third for players in his position.

Although the 40-yard dash doesn’t give scouts a representation of a prospect’s speed when in full pads, McKinley’s senior season stats back up his 40-yard time. His 10 sacks, good for third in the PAC-12, demonstrate an ability to quickly get to the quarterback. Furthermore, his 18 tackles for a loss, second in the PAC-12, shows McKinley was able to get through the offensive line in both pass and run situations, and disrupt a play before it could happen.

Getting to the quarterback wasn’t the only way McKinley made an impact on pass plays. His six pass breakups had him tied for second on UCLA. Aside from demonstrating a high football IQ, the ability to break up passes also relies on a player’s ability to jump, as they occasionally have to reach the ball at a high point to ensure it doesn’t reach the intended receiver. At the Combine, McKinley proved to be one of the best jumpers in his position, posting a 33-inch vertical jump (tied for 10th amongst defensive linemen), and a 10-foot, 2-inch broad jump (tied for 12th).

Where McKinley falters as a defensive lineman, however, is in strength. In the bench press portion of the Combine, he was able do 24 reps at the NFL regulation 225 pounds. While this feat is definitely impressive — especially to one who just has to write or read about it — McKinley’s results leaves him out of the top 15 at his position.

This weakness in McKinley’s game hurt his tackling ability throughout the season, as he was able to muster just 61 total tackles, averaging out to 5.5 per game. The amount of tackles McKinley tallied left him tied for 34th in the nation. His strength did come in handy, however, in forcing fumbles. For the year, his three forced fumbles were third best in the NCAA.

CBS Sports’ Mock Draft predicts McKinley will fall to either the Seattle Seahawks (26th pick), the Dallas Cowboys (28th pick), or the New Orleans Saints (32nd pick). For Seattle, adding McKinley would be a move more focused on the future, especially with players like K.J. Wright, Michael Bennett, and the NFL’s leading tackler, Bobby Wagner, in the fold.

Dallas and New Orleans selecting McKinley gives him the best opportunity to start in the opening week. The Saints allowed opposing offenses to rack up 375 yards per game, including a league-worst 273.8 pass yards per game. The Cowboys’ 344 yards per game was in the middle of pack at 19th in the NFL, but when it came to collecting sacks, Benson Mayowa led the team with just six. These are both areas in which McKinley can make an immediate impact, making it much more likely he finds himself with one of these squads.

Adoree’ Jackson

Just two pundits on CBS Sports’ Mock Draft predicts Jackson will find his way into the first round, a surprising result for a player that tallied two kickoff return touchdowns and two punt return touchdowns, while also leading USC with five interceptions and 11 pass breakups. However, the 2017 NFL Draft is becoming known for the strength of its cornerback prospects, making Jackson’s stellar stats look somewhat less significant.

As demonstrated by Jackson’s knack for taking kickoffs and punts to the house, he is incredibly fast, which was further proven by his 40-yard dash time at the Combine, where he posted a 4.42, putting him in a tie for ninth place among defensive backs.

Jackson continued to have a strong Combine, posting a 36-inch vertical jump (tied for 13th in his position), while also jumping 10 feet, 2 inches in the broad jump. The results in these categories, along with his 40-yard dash, are what allow Jackson to stay in step with a team’s number one receiver, and make a play on the ball before the offense can.

A knock against Jackson, however, is his size. At 5 feet,10 inches, teams feel he won’t be able to lock down NFL receivers as well as he did in college. The concern has some merit, but fails to take into account that Chargers’ cornerback Casey Hayward led the NFL in interceptions standing at 5-foot-11.The most interceptions a 5-foot, 10-inch player had in the 2016-2017 season was four, accomplished by 11-year veteran Brent Grimes of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The highest Jackson is predicted to go is to the Dallas Cowboys with the 28th pick. The Cowboys are in desperate need for a starting cornerback, as the team was able to corral just nine total interceptions, which was tied for 27th in the NFL. This struggling secondary was dealt another blow in the offseason, losing Morris Claiborne to the Jets, Brandon Carr to the Ravens, and Barry Church to the Jaguars.

The Steelers are also predicted to make a play for Jackson in the last stages of the first round, where Pittsburgh has the 30th overall selection. The Steelers showed a little more promise in the interception category, tallying 13 for the year, but six were split between Ryan Shazier, a linebacker, and cornerback Artie Burns. Only Lawrence Timmons, another linebacker, had more than one interception outside of Shazier and Burns.

Either team will benefit from Jackson’s ballhawking abilities, and seeing as neither Dallas nor Pittsburgh scored on kickoffs or punts, Jackson’s return skills will make him the instant return-specialist.

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