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Friday, May 25, 2018

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10 NFL teams that could be poised for a big turnaround

Case Keenum

While free agent talent remains on the market, the bulk of NFL roster movement is already completed. Teams have signed, traded for, and drafted new players. Now with OTAs in progress, coaches are getting a clear idea of what their teams will look like in 2018.

Quick NFL turnarounds aren’t unprecedented. A few smart moves and a good draft can turn a non-playoff team into a contender quickly in this league. With that in mind, here are some teams that struggled in 2017 but appear poised for a turnaround in the 2018 season.

1) Denver Broncos

The Broncos went from expected Super Bowl contender to last-place team in 2017, thanks in part to an unsettled quarterback situation that was never adequately addressed. With Case Keenum in the fold, that should change in 2018, as he led the Minnesota Vikings to the NFC Championship game last season. The Broncos also added Bradley Chubb to their defense via the draft, and he should make an early impact alongside Von Miller. Don’t expect to see Denver finish last again.

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Trevor Bauer: I have no problem with Gerrit Cole

Trevor Bauer

Trevor Bauer says that he has no problem with Gerrit Cole, contrary to some of the information that’s being written about them.

Bauer and Cole are set to square off against each other on Sunday when the Cleveland Indians and Houston Astros meet. The two were teammates at UCLA and had enormous success in college before going Nos. 1 and 3 overall in the 2011 MLB Draft. Now that they’re set to meet on Sunday, stories about their relationship are being published.

On Thursday, USA Today wrote a piece about them. The first sentence said the two “can’t stand each other.”

Bauer says that’s not the case.

“I have no problem with Gerrit,” Bauer said, as published by MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian. “We had a rocky relationship in college, because he told me that I had no future in baseball and he insulted my work ethic as a freshman. I don’t take kindly to those couple things, so we had our issues. And I have, I don’t know, those feelings have long since faded. Right now, it’s cool to see him having success. He’s done a lot of hard work. He’s changed his mechanics around. He’s changed his pitch repertoire and how he uses it and his attack plan and stuff like that, and he’s having a ton of success with it. And it’s good to see, because it’s good for him, it’s good for me, it’s good for the tapestry of our lives.”

Bauer went on to say that he hopes Cole continues to have success in MLB and that they trade Cy Young Awards. And as far as the accusation that they can’t stand each other and won’t talk to each other, Bauer disproved that. He says the two talked at an alumni game this year and their conversation was “pleasant.”

For their careers at UCLA, Bauer was 34–8 with a 2.36 ERA and 11.1 strikeouts per nine innings. Cole went 21-20 with a 3.38 ERA and 10.5 strikeouts per nine innings. Though Bauer had better numbers in college and won the Golden Spikes Award as a junior, Cole still went No. 1 overall in the draft to Pittsburgh. Both have been successful in the pros, though one could argue that Cole has been a little more successful to date.

Some would also argue that Bauer’s comments about the Astros stemmed from bitter fillings towards Cole.

Mariners acquire Denard Span, Alex Colome in trade with Rays

Denard Span

You knew that Trader Jerry couldn’t sit there quietly for too long without making a trade.

Dipoto, the Seattle Mariners GM, has a reputation for frequently making deals. On Friday he traded with the Tampa Bay Rays to acquire Denard Span and Alex Colome. According to the Seattle Times’ Ryan Divish, Andrew Moore and Tommy Romero are going to the Rays in return.

Colome has served as the Rays’ closer since 2016. He is 2-5 with 11 saves and a 4.15 ERA this season. He does have 23 strikeouts in 21.2 innings. Span is batting just .238 this season with seven doubles, four home runs and six stolen bases.

Span will give the Mariners a center fielder, which is something they need now that they’re moving Dee Gordon back to second base in response to Robinson Cano’s suspension.

Moore, 23, is in Double-A this season. The pitcher went 1-5 with a 5.34 ERA in 11 games last season with the Mariners. Romero, 20, is 3-3 with a 2.45 ERA in Single-A this season.

Danny Green: Kawhi Leonard wants to remain with Spurs

Kawhi Leonard

Kawhi Leonard’s future with the San Antonio Spurs remains murky, but one of his teammates claims that he’s heard directly from the man himself.

Spurs swingman Danny Green said that the team hadn’t had issues with how Leonard chose to handle his injury, and added that Leonard himself said that he wants to remain with the Spurs.

“I think he wants to be in San Antonio,” Green told ESPN’s Get Up on Friday. “He’s let me know verbally that he wanted to be there, so we’ll see what happens.”

It is entirely possible that there’s not much to the rumors of Leonard’s departure. The Spurs seem to want to keep him, and the interest appears to be mutual, though Leonard could just be saying something to placate his teammates. Only time will tell.

Andy Reid not concerned with Patrick Mahomes’s shaky practices

Patrick Mahomes

The Kansas City Chiefs aren’t sweating the fact that quarterback Patrick Mahomes is looking a little bit shaky in offseason practices.

Mahomes and the offense had a bad day on Thursday, with the second-year quarterback going 4-of-15 with an interception during 11-on-11 drills and 7-of-12 with another pick during seven-on-seven.

For coach Andy Reid, this isn’t a problem, admitting that he and the coaching staff are intentionally putting a lot of his plate at this early juncture.

“I want him to be exposed to things,” Reid said, via Adam Teicher of ESPN. “That’s what you do. You work with it and kind of put your personality on these different things, try to find the things that he’s best at and work the offense around him, like we did with Alex [Smith]. We worked the offense around Alex, built it around him. Now, it’s this kid’s turn, and you’ve got to kind of feel that part out. He’s going to keep firing, and that’s all we want — learning. It’s a great time for that. That’s what this is all about here.”

“He’s just got to do it. He’s got to practice and work through it and massage each play and see how it works against different coverages. He’s so willing. That’s the part you appreciate.”

Chiefs players and coaches still appear to have all the confidence in the world in Mahomes, and they kind of have to, given he’s their quarterback with no alternative. It’s early, and hiccups are to be expected.

Astros troll Indians’ Mike Clevinger after win

Minute Maid Park Houston

The back-and-forth between the Houston Astros and the Cleveland Indians continues.

The two teams are currently playing a four-game series, and the pot has been brewing for some time now. Last week, Indians pitcher Mike Clevinger took a shot at the Astros vaunted offense and said that they were “not that special.”

As fate had it, Clevinger started in Thursday’s series opener against the Astros, and the defending champions jumped all over him for five earned runs on seven hits in an eventual 8-2 win over the Indians.

Speaking with reporters afterwards, several Astros players trolled Clevinger with multiple callbacks to those “special” comments that he made. Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle shared their remarks.

“We got a special team,” said pitcher Charlie Morton, who got the victory over Clevinger. “That win, for me, and being on the field for that game right there, with how it was just a complete team win is really rewarding for me. … For me, it was a special game to be a part of with the group.”

“Just a good feeling to put a couple more runs up there,” chimed in outfielder Jake Marisnick. “This is a special team.”

“That’s one of the things that this offense does a very good job of, swinging at pitches to hit,” added infielder Alex Bregman, who homered and drove in four in the win. “When we did tonight, we drove in runs and it was special to see.”

The fantastic troll job is the latest chapter in a longstanding feud this season between the Astros and the Indians. Their respective managers recently even had to reach out to one another to clear the air, but it is clear that the players still don’t care much for each other.

Damian Lillard calls out ‘clown’ Blazers writer over report

Damian Lillard

Damian Lillard is going after a local Portland writer over a recent report.

John Canzano of The Oregonian reported on Thursday that the Blazers guard, who just earned First Team All-NBA honors, requested a follow-up meeting with team owner Paul Allen. Canzano quoted a league source in his report.

On Friday, Lillard himself took an opportunity to respond, tweeting out a link to the story and attacking the credibility of the “clown” Canzano.

Lillard, 27, averaged 26.9 points (a career-high) and 6.6 assists per game this season, leading the Blazers to the No. 3 seed in the West. However, they were disappointingly swept by the New Orleans Pelicans in the first round.

While the Lillard has every right to be frustrated, it does not sound like things have quite escalated to the point where he is calling for additional meetings with ownership. Interestingly enough though, the All-Star guard is not the first Blazer to call out a member of the Portland media in the last month.

Theo Epstein throws cold water on Manny Machado trade rumors

Manny Machado

It seems likely that the Baltimore Orioles are going to deal Manny Machado before the trade deadline this season, and the Chicago Cubs continue to be mentioned as one of the most likely suitors for the All-Star third baseman. If they are pursuing Machado, their president doesn’t want anyone to know it.

Cubs executive Theo Epstein was asked about the Machado trade rumors on Friday, and he insisted the team is not engaging in trade talks with any teams as of now.

Of course, the trade deadline is still more than a month away. Plenty can change during that span, and Epstein would never openly admit that his team is pursuing a certain player.

The Cubs are one of a handful of teams that could afford to sign Machado to the massive contract he’s going to land this winter. The 25-year-old has picked a great time to have one of his best seasons, as he is hitting .335 with 15 home runs, 44 RBI and an OPS of 1.043. He’s on pace to set career highs across the board.

Chicago is not the only potential suitor for Machado, and Epstein would never tip his hand even if they were the front-runner to land him.

SEC coach rips Auburn for giving Gus Malzahn so much money

Gus Malzahn

Gus Malzahn has been the head coach at Auburn since 2013, and the school was pleased enough in what he has accomplished to give him a massive extension last season. As far as one rival coach is concerned, that was a big mistake.

Lindy’s Sports annual college football preview was released this week, and it’s loaded with hot takes from anonymous coaches. One of those coaches decided to take aim at Malzahn, ripping Auburn for rewarding him for “mediocrity.”

“Auburn is paying Gus Malzahn $50 million [Malzahn’s seven-year contract pays him $49 million], and he underachieved again,” the coach said, via Jordan D. Hill of The Ledger-Enquirer. “If Nick Saban had Auburn’s talent, he’d have won national championships the last two years. Auburn had the best front seven in college ball last year, but the offense sometimes disappears.”

The coach went on to criticize Malzahn for micromanaging Auburn’s offense.

“If Gus would leave (offensive coordinator) Chip Lindsey alone, Auburn would be more explosive,” he said. “Instead, they lost to Central Florida (in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl) and got the crap kicked out of them by Georgia in the SEC championship game after beating Georgia a few weeks before. And they give him a new contract? For what? Mediocrity?”

It’s unclear if that enthusiastic SEC coach is the same one who trashed former Tennessee coach Butch Jones, but either way it’s a scorching hot take. Malzahn has only won one bowl game in his five seasons with the Tigers, but consistency is important when building a college football program. It makes sense that Auburn is putting its trust in him.

Dave Dombrowski explains Red Sox reasons for releasing Hanley Ramirez

The Boston Red Sox made the somewhat surprising decision to designate Hanley Ramirez for assignment on Friday, and the choice apparently came from the clubhouse.

Red Sox president Dave Dombrowski said that Mitch Moreland’s superior defense made him preferable to Ramirez, and it was manager Alex Cora’s idea to make the move in order to get Dustin Pedroia back on the active roster.

Dombrowski is passing the buck here, pretty clearly saying this was up to Cora. The Red Sox will have a week to trade or release him, and since no team will want to pick up the $15 million he’s owed for the rest of the year, he’ll almost certainly be cut.

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