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#pounditThursday, August 13, 2020

Stories by Grey Papke:

Report: MLB in ‘serious talks’ about two-city postseason bubble

Rob Manfred

Major League Baseball’s considerations of creating a bubble for postseason games are apparently growing more serious.

Jon Heyman of MLB Network reported Wednesday that the league is in “serious talks” about a possible playoff bubble. The league is said to prefer a two-city bubble, with California, Texas, and Chicago-Milwaukee under consideration as potential sites.

The consideration of a bubble was reported Tuesday, but it certainly sounds like it’s gaining momentum within the league.

One issue that the league will have to face is October weather. That’s likely why places like New York aren’t under consideration, and why Chicago’s two outdoor stadiums may prove challenging. Southern California would likely be the best option for the league if possible, as the weather is nice and two stadiums in Los Angeles and a third in San Diego provide ample options.

The league had initially decided against a bubble for the season, and top players were opposed to that idea. That’s not changing. A postseason bubble would be more feasible with fewer teams needing to be accommodated and a shorter period of time that players would be required to be away from family.

Joe Kelly has suspension reduced to five games for throwing at Astros

Joe Kelly

Joe Kelly’s suspension for his actions against the Houston Astros last month has been reduced.

MLB announced Wednesday that Kelly’s suspension has been reduced from eight games to five for throwing at Astros hitters and taunting Carlos Correa during a July 28 game.

Kelly’s initial eight-game suspension represented nearly a fifth of the shortened schedule, and was criticized as unnecessarily harsh by some within the game. At the time, the league justified it by noting that Kelly was a repeat offender and also provoked a bench-clearing incident that violated social distancing protocols.

Kelly is currently on the injured list with right shoulder inflammation. He will not begin serving his suspension until he is activated by the Dodgers.

Ohio State no longer pursuing options to play college football in fall

Ryan Day

One Big Ten school that was absolutely intent on playing college football in the fall appears to be giving up on that dream.

Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said Wednesday that, after initial exploration, the Buckeyes will no longer pursue avenues to play football in the fall despite the Big Ten’s cancellation of fall sports. Smith said the school will instead turn all its attention toward preparation for a spring season.

One has to wonder if other schools who are exploring similar avenues might soon come to the same conclusion. The Nebraska Cornhuskers have made clear that they are looking at other options to play. However, Ohio State coach Ryan Day floated a conference switch as well, and it’s clearly been discovered that it just isn’t a feasible option.

Day has seemingly come to terms with that and is now pushing for a season beginning in January. We’ll see if he and Smith start pushing the Big Ten on such a scenario now that they’ve accepted that fall is out of the question.

Giannis Antetokounmpo receives one-game suspension for headbutt

Giannis Antetokounmpo headbutt

Giannis Antetokounmpo’s headbutt on Moe Wagner will ultimately cost him the final seeding game of the season.

Antetokounmpo will receive a one-game suspension for headbutting Wagner, as first reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. That means he’ll sit out the Milwaukee Bucks’ game against the Memphis Grizzlies on Thursday.

Antetokounmpo’s absence could impact the Western Conference playoff race. The Grizzlies will need to beat the Bucks in order to qualify for the play-in game as either the eighth or ninth seed. Antetokounmpo’s absence for Milwaukee could be significantly beneficial for the Grizzlies in that scenario.

The MVP candidate chalked his actions up to frustration after Tuesday’s game, which saw him ejected for the headbutt. It will cost him an extra game as well, but the good news for Antetokounmpo is it’s a functionally meaningless contest from Milwaukee’s point of view.

Report: Justin Verlander hopes to begin throwing again next week

Justin Verlander

Justin Verlander still hopes to return this season, and he intends to take the first steps toward doing so next week.

According to Brian McTaggart of MLB.com, Verlander aims to begin throwing a baseball next week, and has been making “excellent” progress in his recovery from a right forearm strain.

Initial reports indicated that Verlander would likely be out for the season with the arm injury, but he immediately disputed those reports and stated his intention to return before the season ended. The 36-year-old is clearly making progress in his rehab if he’s set to receive clearance to begin throwing.

Verlander is the reigning AL Cy Young winner, posting a 2.58 ERA and 300 strikeouts in 2019. There may be a sense of urgency for the Astros to get him back, as the team has lost six of the last seven games.

Russell Westbrook has strained quad, will be re-evaluated before playoffs

The Houston Rockets are dealing with a potentially significant injury just ahead of the NBA Playoffs.

Guard Russell Westbrook underwent an MRI and was diagnosed with a strained quadriceps muscle in his right leg. He will not play in the final two seeding games, and his status will be re-evaluated ahead of the postseason.

The Rockets will not want to see Westbrook hobbled during the postseason and will take precautions accordingly. The hope is that this won’t prove serious and he’ll have no issues in the playoffs, but it significantly changes the Rockets’ outlook if he’s not 100 percent.

Westbrook is averaging 27.2 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 7.0 assists per game in his first season with Houston.

Report: George Kittle and 49ers ‘making progress’ on contract extension

It appears that George Kittle and the San Francisco 49ers may be moving out of their contractual stalemate.

According to Michael Silver of NFL Network, Kittle and the 49ers are “making progress” in contract talks on a deal that would make Kittle the highest-paid tight end in NFL history.

The report comes in light of an SI Now report that Kittle had already agreed to a record-breaking extension. Kittle himself publicly dismissed the report as false.

Last we heard, Kittle and the Niners weren’t on the same page. While the organization is willing to pay up to keep the star tight end happy, the indication was that Kittle essentially wanted to be paid like a star receiver. It appears that gap may be bridged soon.

Kittle caught five touchdowns and racked up 1,053 yards receiving in 2019, the second consecutive 1,000-yard receiving season for the 26-year-old.

Deion Sanders’ coaching ambitions supported by Barstool Sports

Deion Sanders

Deion Sanders still has his eyes on coaching football, and Barstool Sports’ support of that ambition was a factor in why they were able to land him.

According to Andrew Marchand of the New York Post, Sanders’ agreement with Barstool comes with a promise from the company that it will support his efforts to find a college football coaching job. This was confirmed by Constance Schwartz, Sanders’ representative.

“You are not wrong on coaching in the future and Barstool is very supportive of that,” Schwartz told Marchand. “He is coaching now, but, as you said in your article yesterday, he still has aspirations to coach at the college level and Barstool is fully on-board for that.”

Sanders has made no secret of his desire to coach a college football team. He openly tried to land the job at his alma mater Florida State and has said he intends to have a job in the sport by 2021. If that works out, Sanders’ stay with Barstool could be a fairly brief one, but the company appears to be comfortable with that scenario.