2017 MLB spring training: Five storylines to watch

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It’s that time of year again as baseball heads south to the warmth of Arizona and Florida to prepare for a new season that begins with a fresh slate.

As the first of many spring training games begin this Friday ahead of the 2017 season, there are still plenty of question marks surrounding this year’s expected contenders.

Steven Stamkos Elite Jersey It was so outstanding because after we quit playing ball, nobody knew anything about the league,” the Palm Springs, Calif., resident said. After the league (folded), we were supposed to go home and put on our aprons and wash the dishes.

We couldn’t do anything. And then when the movie came out, it brought back women to be able to do what we wanted to do — and that was play ball and enjoy our lives.

MORE: The untold story of a groundbreaking baseball documentary

Davis was the center of attention again Sunday, as if she were Dottie Hinson all over again. She grounded out in her only at-bat, but this whole thing was her doing. The reunion game capped the weeklong Bentonville Film Festival, an event she co-founded to promote diversity and gender equality in film.

Aisha Tyler, who is in town to promote her movie directorial debut, Axis, came to the game in part to grab a hot dog and check out the scene.

Who isn’t a fan of ‘A League of Their Own’? Tyler said. What a sensational collection of actors. And such an important story.

Daniel Brown covers sports for The San Jose Mercury News and has seen A League of Their Own more than 50 times.

Stieb said he wasn’t that surprised with the outcome.

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Dave Stieb on Hall of Fame: ‘I surely did not deserve to be just wiped off the map’

Who he was: Dave Stieb made his only appearance on the writers’ ballot for the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2004.

A case can be made with sabermetrics that Stieb — not Jack Morris — was the best pitcher of the 1980s and would be a worthy addition to Cooperstown. But by traditional measures, the former Toronto Blue Jays ace might have looked far short of a plaque, with sciatica and other ailments chasing Stieb away from the game in his mid-30s and limiting him to 176 wins. Stieb drew just 1.4 percent, or seven votes, of 506 votes cast in 2004 — and that was that.

On one hand, Stieb said he wasn’t that surprised with the outcome.

I said right off the bat, ‘I don’t belong in the Hall of Fame, I did not win enough games and so forth,’ Stieb told Sporting News in a recent phone interview from Reno, Nev., where he does land development work.
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Joe Torre told me that of all his sound bites in the documentary — the arguments, the ranting, the coaching — the clip that seems to have gotten the most attention through the years is a comment about needing a haircut. In the clip, Torre, fidgeting with his hat, rubs his hand through his hair and tells Gibson that he’ll wait to get a haircut until he’s in St. Louis. Here you are in the middle of a game and I’m talking about getting a haircut somewhere, Torre said. People kept reminding me of that one.

The Jaguars didn’t pick up Blake Bortles’ fifth-year option

Chubb is a name to know. He has plenty of NFL fans and may have been a late first-rounder this year. He’ll emerge as a Mario Williams-level talent this year if he’s healthy.

The Jaguars didn’t pick up Blake Bortles’ fifth-year option, and their future quarterback isn’t on the roster. Allen is a wildly under-developed gunslinger, and whether or not he’ll develop in 2017 remains to be seen. But the upside is there.

An underrated factor in Prescott’s immediate explosion was the fact that it came unexpectedly. He wasn’t just the No. 2 before training camp; he was tabbed as a developmental No. 3 behind both Romo and Kellen Moore. Prescott came out relaxed and had an excellent preseason. That cool confidence was a natural carryover in his quick double promotion.

This year, everyone is looking for the “next big step” toward elite status, not just efficient play off a strong running game. Prescott was broken in well, reined in at first to keep him from getting rattled as a rookie. As the Cowboys throw more from their playbook at him, opponents will dig deeper to find ways to thwart him.

In his weekly column at MMQB.com, Peter King broke down the current state of the most important position in the NFL, and not surprisingly, much of it was laughable. (The first name he listed: Tom Savage, Texans.)

But he added this about Kaepernick: He “has bought a place in downtown Manhattan and lives in the big city fairly anonymously.” Some around the 49ers, King added, believe he “might actually rather do social justice work full-time than play quarterback.” In a league with so many dire circumstances at the position, he wrote, “it’s crazy that a quarterback who four years ago was coming off a Super Bowl appearance and looked to be a long-term answer has no team now and no hot NFL prospects that anyone can see.”

The last couple of weeks in the life of the Kaepernick, the NFL and this country might put it all into perspective.nike_cardinals_309

You can make a very good case that Betances has been the best

Elite Kids Antwon Blake Jersey A speedy centerfielder of the 1910s, some called Poles the black Ty Cobb. Negro League historian John Holway wrote, We can only guess what (Poles) might have hit in the major leagues. The hints we do have are eye-popping, to say the least. In ten games against the best white big leaguers of his day, Poles came to bat an estimated 41 times and drilled 25 hits for an average of .610!

No less an authority on black baseball than Buck O’Neil considered Allen a first-ballot Hall of Famer, Negro League Baseball Museum President Bob Kendrick tweeted a few years ago. The website CooperstownExpert.com also noted that O’Neil included Allen on his all-time Negro League All Star team.

It’s just mind-boggling. Listen to Betances again. He was going to let it go until Levine opened his mouth.

Here’s the thing: You can make a very good case that Betances has been the best, most reliable reliever in baseball since the 2014 season. He’s made the All-Star team three years in a row, which is just stunning for a non-closing reliever, and proves others in baseball recognize his worth.
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Over those three years, Betances is first among relievers in innings pitched (247) and first in strikeouts (392). He’s top five among relievers with at least 150 innings in ERA (1.93), fielding-independent pitching (1.97), batting average against (.168), hits per nine innings (5.28) opponents OPS (.507) and OPS+ (41).

Chicago could have won it in the ninth inning, too. The Cubs had runners at first and second with one out, but Phillies reliever Jeanmar Gomez caught Ben Zobrist sleeping at second and picked him off. Kris Bryant singled, which would have scored Zobrist had he still been on base. Anthony Rizzo then grounded out to end the inning.

Kyle Schwarber might be batting leadoff for Cubs this season

The Cubs can seemingly do no wrong at this point, but manager Joe Maddon has a risky trick up his sleeve.

Maddon is interested in trying out Kyle Schwarber as the team’s leadoff hitter this season, after losing Dexter Fowler to the Cardinals.

Joe Schobert Kids Jersey Schwarber returned to the team late in the postseason last fall after missing almost the entire season with a severe knee injury. The lingering effects, and risk of a re-injury, will likely force Schwarber to miss some games this season for rest purposes.

Limited Youth Coby Fleener Jersey Twins ace Ervin Santana spun a gem to beat the Indians, 1-0. Santana tossed seven scoreless innings with just two hits and four strikeouts to improve to 6-1 on the season with a miniscule 1.50 ERA. Santana is the first pitcher to allow one or fewer runs in seven starts in his team’s first 32 games since Fernando Valenzuela in 1981.

Brewers outfielder Hernan Perez went 3 for 4 with a solo home run and a walk in a 7-4 win against the injury-plagued Mets. Perez plays a multitude of positions, but he helped Milwaukee in the outfield Friday.

Pirates rookie Tyler Glasnow had another rough outing in his disappointing season while losing 11-4 to the Diamondbacks. Glasnow was lit up for seven earned runs off of seven hits and two home runs in 2 1/3 innings, and now has a 7.98 ERA for the season.

Cubs (18-17) at Cardinals (19-15) 4:05 p.m. ET 鈥?Chicago busted out of a slump to snap the Cardinals’ six-game win streak. The Cubs will try to keep it going with Jon Lester (1-1, 3.27 ERA) on the mound, while the Cardinals will counter with Carlos Martinez (2-3, 3.86 ERA) in a battle between opening-day starters.

NFL free agency: Chargers, LT Russell Okung reportedly agree to 4-year deal

I took a lot from those guys, just picking their brain and seeing how they handle things on and off the field, said Burdi, who turned 22 during spring training. A lot more of the mental side, and not overdoing stuff because I’m fresh off the college season. So the way I treated my body and did things then is different from how I need to treat it now. Learning how those guys make it through 162 games, nearly 200 days, is something I took to heart. It’s definitely an experience I won’t forget.

And when he struck out Salvador Perez, Kansas City’s four-time All-Star catcher, during a spring game, that was a memory he won’t soon forget.

I remember watching the 2014 World Series, and me and my buddies were all talking in the dorm, saying how good Perez is, and how well he manages the game and just what a great leader he was, and to hear he was coming up to the plate against me was just a really cool experience, Burdi said. Definitely something that, going into spring training, you really don’t think about. But once it happens, it’s pretty surreal.

Russell Okung, who played under a $5 million, non-guaranteed deal last season in Denver, has agreed to a far more lucrative free agent contract to join the Chargers.

Authentic Womens Adam Joseph Duhe Jersey According to ESPN’s Josina Anderson, Okung and the Chargers on Thursday agreed to a 4-year, $53 million deal, with $25 million guaranteed. And Okung doesn’t have to share a cut with an agent — he represents himself in contract negotiations.
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The 6-5 left tackle, a former Pro Bowler, provides an immediate upgrade to the Chargers’ offensive line protecting Philip Rivers’ blind side.

Okung, who played the first six seasons of his career in Seattle, played all 16 games in his only season with the Broncos last year, but the team declined to pick up his contract after the season.

Aaron Hernandez suicide: Judge erases murder conviction

A judge in Massachusetts on Tuesday vacated Aaron Hernandez’s conviction in the 2013 murder of Odin L. Lloyd, following the state’s legal precedent that erases convictions if a defendant dies before all appeal possibilities are exhausted.

“The longstanding rule is … abating the entire prosecution as if it never happened,” Superior Court Judge E. Susan Garsh said late Tuesday morning (via WBZ TV). “This court is compelled to follow binding precedent.”

The Bristol (Mass.) district attorney’s office had urged Garsh to uphold the conviction because he made the deliberate choice to commit suicide while the case was under appeal, The Boston Globe reported.

However, Hernandez’s appellate attorneys filed paperwork Tuesday asking the judge to ignore how he died.

“The fact of Hernandez’s death is not in dispute, and the purported manner of death and description of how the injury occurred are both irrelevant to any issue … that this Court must decide,’’ Hernandez’s attorneys, John M. Thompson and Linda J. Thompson, wrote in papers filed Tuesday.

District attorney Thomas M. Quinn III’s office last week released Hernandez’s suicide note to longtime fiancee Shayanna Jenkins-Hernandez in which he not only wrote “I told you what was coming indirectly,” apparently a reference to his suicide, but also closed with a parenthetical “You’re Rich.”

That led to speculation that Hernandez realized his death while his conviction was under appeal could lead to his estate receiving a windfall payment owed if he is legally declared an innocent man.

Garsh’s ruling in the case reportedly could mean as much as $6 million could be owed Hernandez’s estate, currently worth zero dollars, an attorney for Lloyd’s family told TMZ.com.
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Grossman was buried behind Chris Chandler and Kordell Stewart before he got a chance to start in Week 17.

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I knocked Denver’s draft because I felt the Broncos reached on a few picks. Conversely, Chris Burke of SI praised the Broncos for picking off several needs. They started by getting the offensive tackle they needed in the first round, but was Garett Bolles the right one? The selection of tight end Jake Butt in the fifth round was liked by many.

The Detroit draft didn’t excite some because the Lions didn’t get a pass rusher that was perceived as being a high need in the Motor City. Most credited the team for taking Florida linebacker Jarrad Davis in the first round, though.

Melvin Ingram Game Jersey What Westbrook did, however, is pretty indicative of the Thunder’s season as a whole. Russ hopped in to bat down the idea that his stardom is divisive, but in doing so, proved that he is the star, and that he often controls what happens both on and off the court while everyone else watches.

Adams didn’t appear to want to say much, given that when he had a chance to answer, he just pointed at Russ. But Russ didn’t initially give him the agency to field the question himself.

Boller frustrated the Ravens with his lack of efficiency, consistency and durability. He never matched the mental aspects with his obvious physical talent, and a turf toe added to his woes in 2005.

As a rookie, Grossman was buried behind Chris Chandler and Kordell Stewart before he got a chance to start in Week 17. New coach Lovie Smith anointed Grossman the starter going into the QB’s second season.

It took five minutes for the Spurs to put away the Grizzlies

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Isaiah Thomas gave his little sister’s eulogy on Saturday. He led the Celtics to playoff victory in a wild game on Sunday. He had massive oral surgery on Monday. He led the Celtics to a playoff victory in a wild game on Tuesday. This guy is simply amazing. He had Kobe freaking Bryant making declarations on Twitter.

I.T. dropped 29 of his 53 points in the fourth quarter and overtime of a super competitive, thrilling win over the Wizards to go up 2-0. Afterward, he revealed that Chyna, his sister who died in a tragic car accident a couple of weeks ago, would have turned 23 on Tuesday.

Paul Flannery writes about the moments that sustain Isaiah in this time of immense pain: emotional and physical. Go read it.

It was the final five minutes of the game, sure. But it was still only five minutes. The game ended with both coaches emptying their benches, but we got there in a much different fashion than normal.

Y.A. Tittle Jersey The difference in Tuesday’s game from a normal, run-of-the-mill blowout is how we got there. Only two and a half minutes prior, Memphis was surging and cut San Antonio’s lead to 102-97. Then, the Spurs rattled off a 12-0 run that effectively ended the game and triggered both coach’s closing lineups, one that sent the Memphis stars headed to the bench with their backs to the wall, and San Antonio’s contemplating the importance of finishing this series off in Memphis in Game 6.
After the Grizzlies fought back to tie the series at two games apiece, the Spurs now have a strong 3-2 lead heading back to Memphis. The good news for the Grizzlies is that they’ll be at home for Game 6 where they’ve won the past two games. The bad news is, is that Game 7 is back in San Antonio. The first team to win a road game wins this series.

NBA playoff odds 2017, Bulls vs. Celtics: Boston home favorite in pivotal Game 5

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The road team is 4-0 straight up and against the spread through the first four games of this series between the Chicago Bulls and Boston Celtics. The Celtics hope to buck that trend with a win at home on Wednesday night.

Youth Jack Ham Jersey Boston is an 8-point home favorite in Game 5 at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com. In the first two games of this series, the Celtics lost outright as a 6.5-point favorite in Game 1 and a 7.5-point favorite in Game 2.

After blowing Oklahoma City away in a 118-87 victory in Game 1, the Rockets were tested a lot harder in Game 2. The Thunder jumped out to a 16-4 lead in the game and held a 68-62 lead at the end of the first half, but Houston turned things around and edged out a 115-111 win at home behind a 35-point night from James Harden.

Russell Westbrook did what he does best in Game 2, carrying the offense with 51 points while adding 10 rebounds and 13 assists. The Thunder scored 68 points in the first half, but were held to just 21 points in the third quarter and 22 points in the fourth quarter.

Now Oklahoma City will try to turn the series around at home, where it is 28-13 SU and 26-15 ATS. In their last seven games as a home favorite of seven points or less, the Thunder are 5-2 SU and ATS.

Friday night’s total is set at 224 points. The UNDER is 3-0 in Houston’s last three games in Oklahoma City.

After a dud of a game in Game 1, Game 2 provided the excitement that fans and bettors were expecting from this series with Harden and Westbrook going toe to toe all night long. With the home crowd in Oklahoma City behind them, look for the Thunder to put up a strong fight again in Game 3.