The biggest April-to-May OPS increases since 2002 2Chase AndersonBrewers11878-40 Less than a month into the season, the Toronto Blue Jays seemed as good as dead. Toronto had 17 losses against only six victories (the worst record in baseball), was getting outscored by 1.1 runs per game and found itself threatening franchise records for April offensive futility. The Jays had enjoyed a handful of good seasons in recent years, but with such putrid stats — and the second-oldest roster in baseball — the party appeared to be coming to an ugly, abrupt conclusion.Then, just like that, the Jays started winning ballgames again. It started with two straight victories to close out April, followed by a .500 record in the first week of May. (Baby steps!) Then they got legitimately hot: Seven wins in an eight-game span as the month neared its midway point. And, after another brief mid-month hiccup (losing five of six), eight wins over the final nine games of May. Toronto was hitting again, pitching pretty well and clawing its way back into an absurdly stacked division race.Baseball can be a strange sport in that way, with hot and cold streaks coming and going without warning. So when a team has such a mercurial start to a season, how do we know which version is the genuine article? Toronto is hoping it’s the one from May, and history has good news — that’s more likely than it being the awful edition that showed up in April. But even so, one poor month may have buried the Jays in too deep a hole to escape.It’s hard to be much colder than Toronto’s hitters were in April. Out of the 480 MLB team-seasons since 2002,1The earliest season of monthly splits in FanGraphs’ splits leaderboard tool. the Blue Jays’ .645 April on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) ranked 30th worst; it also represented the seventh-biggest April dip from a team’s previous full-season OPS, down 110 points as it was from Toronto’s .755 OPS showing at the plate in 2016. Although perennial-MVP-candidate third baseman Josh Donaldson was in and out of the lineup with a leg injury, his absence wasn’t the only explanation for Toronto’s struggles. Starting shortstop Troy Tulowitzki hit poorly when healthy,2Only adding to his disappointing record since donning a Jays uniform two years ago. aging sluggers Jose Bautista and Kendrys Morales looked well past their primes and second baseman Devon Travis was the worst regular batter in baseball.The Jays’ improvement at the plate in May was even more remarkable than their April slump. Since 2002, only two teams — the 2015 Texas Rangers and 2003 Detroit Tigers — improved their OPS as much from May to April as this year’s Jays did.3For all the good it did those Tigers; they still finished with 43 wins, the second-fewest of any team in the 162-game era. And it was their worst hitters from April who caught fire most when the calendar flipped: Bautista’s OPS leapt from .554 to 1.055, Morales’s from .667 to .930 and, most remarkably, Travis’s from .388 to 1.019 (!). Only the surging Houston Astros had a better month at the plate than Toronto did in May. 14Michael FulmerTigers8869-19 22003Tigers.512.688+.177 52010Reds.713.873+.161 5James PaxtonMariners6734-33 42007Tigers.727.888+.161 The most improved pitchers of 2017 62004Yankees.723.877+.153 82002Angels.684.836+.152 15Ivan NovaPirates✓9678-18 YEARTEAMAPRILMAYDIFFERENCE 102012Phillies.640.776+.136 Source: FanGraphs 12Sonny GrayAthletics11291-21 8Josh TomlinIndians11488-26 ON-BASE PLUS SLUGGING AVERAGE 10Jeff SamardzijaGiants9873-25 9Zack GreinkeDiamondbacks9974-25 32017Blue Jays.645.809+.164 3Taijuan WalkerDiamondbacks✓12081-39 Nelson was awful last season, but he’s striking out more than two extra batters per nine innings this year — and walking two fewer — in part by ditching his lousy sinker. For his part, Anderson was nearly as bad as Nelson last year; his 2017 tonic has been a drastic reduction in homers allowed, from 1.7 per 9 to 0.7.Needless to say, neither is likely to be so lights-out going forward. But of the two, Nelson seems more likely to hold on to his gains (he has the better peripherals and is allowing softer contact). And for now, the Brewers have two of the best pitchers in baseball — completely out of the blue. It’s one of the biggest reasons why the Brew Crew are above .500 and a game up on the Cubs for the top slot in the NL Central, after being projected in preseason for a fourth-place finish. Just call them the anti-Mets.Check out our latest MLB predictions. 72005Pirates.650.803+.153 92004Expos.552.691+.139 12015Rangers.611.797+.186 1Jimmy NelsonBrewers11970-49 6Luis PerdomoPadres11891-27 11Dallas KeuchelAstros9271-21 Includes pitchers with a minimum 100 innings per 162 team games in both seasons. Stats for 2017 through June 5.Source: FanGraphs 13Sean ManaeaAthletics9877-21 7Chris ArcherRays9266-26 When a previously solid hitting team (such as the Blue Jays, whose 2016 OPS was 1 percent better than average) suffers a poor April and bounces back in May, they usually deserve the benefit of the doubt. In a regression predicting each team’s rest-of-season performance based on its OPS in the first two months and its OPS the previous year4Again, using data since 2002., April is the least predictive. Performance in May and the previous year combined to carry about three times as much relative importance5According to the “lmg” (Lindeman, Merenda and Gold) function in R’s “relaimpo” package.. Also of particular note for an elderly roster such as the Toronto’s: Age was not significant in the prediction after controlling for a team’s various OPS splits.This isn’t to say a poor April means nothing. The Jays’ projected rest-of-season OPS would be 14 points higher if they’d hit in April like they did in 2016 as a whole. (That’s the difference between having the fifth-best offense in MLB and merely the 10th best.) But in conjunction with the lineup’s May recovery, it was more a blip on the radar than a sign of impending collapse.Now for the bad news, Toronto. A poor April record can sink a team’s playoff chances, even if it doesn’t represent their true talent level. Since MLB added the extra wild card in 2012, the worst April record by an eventual postseason team was 7-14 (.333), by the 2015 Texas Rangers. By comparison, Toronto’s April record was a full game worse, at 8-17 (.320). Of course, some of that is chalked up to the fact that teams with playoff-caliber talent don’t tend to suffer such rough starts, but it also speaks to the challenge posed by falling so far down the standings, so quickly. Even if every game were a coin-flip from May onward, the Jays’ April record dropped their playoff odds from 33 percent in preseason to 10 percent after one month.They’ve since risen to 21 percent under “coin flip mode” — or higher, if you account for the talent on Toronto’s roster. But any way you cut it, a team that boasts one of baseball’s top 10 or so most talented rosters will probably find itself outside the playoffs at season’s end. And if that does happen, they can look back and blame it the extra month of spring training that Toronto decided to take in 2017.Milwaukee’s dynamic duoEarlier this week, we detailed the horror show in Queens, formerly known as the Mets’ pitching staff. The Mets entered the season with several pitchers who they thought were aces, only to see a historic decline in 2017. The Milwaukee Brewers are enjoying the opposite scenario: Several pitchers who looked like liabilities before the season have transformed into elite starters (for now).Specifically, each of the two hurlers who’ve reduced their fielding independent pitching (FIP)6Relative to the league, so using FIP-. most between 2016 and ’17 wear Milwaukee uniforms: Jimmy Nelson and Chase Anderson. (These numbers are through the games of June 5; Nelson and Anderson have both made — and won — starts since.) PITCHERTEAMNEW TEAM?20162017DIFF. FIELDING INDEPENDENT PITCHING MINUS 4Chris SaleRed Sox✓7943-36
gfoster (Geoff Foster, sports editor): Week 15 in the NFL is almost over, and we are here to discuss the key takeaways from the weekend and how the playoff picture is shaping up. Most broadly, a pair of playoff-bound teams that looked shaky a week ago (Patriots and Rams) continued to look off their game, while a couple of teams that were gaining steam (Cowboys and Seahawks) cooled off. Add it all up and the league’s hierarchy is still murky.Let’s start with the reigning champions Eagles. They start the quarterback who won them the Super Bowl last February, Nick Foles, and look what happens: They look like the team that won the Super Bowl. What do you make of this?neil (Neil Paine, senior sports writer): Obviously Foles >>>> Carson Wentz.(Heh.)I do think the Eagles had underachieved to this point and were better than their record indicated. I didn’t expect the Eagles to go into L.A. with Foles and knock off the Rams, though.sara.ziegler (Sara Ziegler, assistant sports editor): With the Cowboys losing, the Eagles have a shot, right?neil: The Eagles’ playoff odds are up to 37 percent, Sara — so there’s a shot. But it’s going to be an interesting game vs. Houston, to say the least.Salfino (Michael Salfino, contributor): I wonder if it’s the Eagles or whether it’s that for three games now, teams have seemed to figure out how to play the Rams. You rarely see a good team thwarted three straight weeks. I’m shocked that they have not been able to respond to Aaron Donald being double-teamed (duh!) and defenses pretty much ignoring play-action and playing softer zones.neil: That’s a great point. We were worried about the Rams last week. And now this happens. Has the shine come off Sean McVay and friends?Salfino: I would have bet a lot of money that the Rams would just roll it up on the undermanned Eagles defense, and instead they really struggled. Jared Goff was pressured almost as badly as against the Bears.gfoster: Goff also may not be a good quarterback. (Pretty sure I said this last week.) That’s seven interceptions in three weeks, after being picked off just six times in 11 games. He can’t seem to adjust or make plays with the pressure in his face.Turns out “Jeff Fisher Goff” wasn’t an illusion.Salfino: As for the Eagles, the two losses against Dallas and the tiebreakers seems lethal in the division, but that wild card is very much in play.You wonder if the Vikings have figured out a winning formula by turning their $84 million QB into a game manager.sara.ziegler: “The Vikings have figured out a winning formula” is not a thing.That will never be a thing.gfoster: The Vikings are back.sara.ziegler: Stop.neil: It does seem like it’s going to come down to Minnesota and Philly — with maybe some of that changing based on what Carolina does tonight.(I guess Washington also won with Josh Johnson on Sunday.)Salfino: The Vikings passed 34 percent of the time Sunday, when they were 66 percent pass previously. And even in the first half, if you want to throw out the game total because of the blowout, the Vikings were only 42 percent pass. Mike Zimmer has put the team into the DeLorean. This is not 2018 football. But maybe it’s their best chance since Kirk Cousins seemed so mechanical and was playing so inefficiently.sara.ziegler: You could see the effect of the new play-calling almost immediately for the Vikings. Through Week 14, they had rushed on first down only 41 percent of the time. On Sunday, that was up to 79 percent.Salfino: Dalvin Cook is really good, but the strength of the team is the wide receivers. While running could work against the Dolphins, who are 26th in yards allowed per rush, can it work against better competition?neil: The Vikings are fascinating to me. They had the single worst loss of the season and have generally underachieved relative to expectations. I want to write about this, but Cousins has basically matched most of Case Keenum’s output from last year — and Keenum’s Denver performance is making them look smart for moving on anyway — and the receivers (Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs) are more productive than ever. But their offense is somehow down according to holistic metrics such as SRS. Yet they still probably will make the playoffs — and could be a tough out for somebody.gfoster: Where is Thielen though? He was the best receiver in football for the first half of the season, and now he’s a glorified Quincy Enunwa out there.sara.ziegler: Maybe whatever Bill Belichick yelled at Thielen in Foxboro has really stuck with him.Salfino: I would not want to play the Vikings if Cousins is hot like in a few games this year — think of the game at Los Angeles. Their defense can be tough, too. They’re first in sack rate. But I feel better about playing them if they insist on playing small ball.gfoster: Thielen only received two targets yesterday, but part of that was game flow.Salfino: Thielen’s problem yesterday is that when your passing volume gets cut in half, you’re going to suffer. But only two targets (he caught both) is just terrible market share as well. He should be 25 to 30 percent of attempts, not 10 percent.Minnesota basically has built a pass-oriented offense but now wants to run. It’s weird.gfoster: OK, let’s talk about the Patriots. They will not win at least 12 games for the first time since 2009. That alone is absurd in a league where teams routinely go from making the playoffs to drafting in the top 5, season to season. But after the loss to Pittsburgh, it’s definitely clear these Patriots are just off, right?sara.ziegler: Love that both of the embattled Pennsylvania teams pulled off big upsets Sunday.Salfino: The Pittsburgh win feels like an upset, but at home against these Patriots and not-really Tom Brady? Pittsburgh seems so much better than the Patriots. New England has to grind it out now. They have no explosion unless Chris Hogan is running a route with no defender within 19 yards of him or whatever it was.neil: For several weeks now, Brady has made some inexplicably bad red-zone decisions. Clearly it is time to intensify those “Tom is losing it” takes (only to see him turn it around in the playoffs).sara.ziegler: Though I remain unconvinced that Pittsburgh is all that good.Didn’t we all think Brady was going to lead that winning drive at the end of the game?Still surprised he didn’t, tbh.Salfino: Consecutive December losses for the first time since the Jets won the AFC East (2002).gfoster: The late holding penalty — when they were second and five from the Pittsburgh 11 yard line — probably cost them the game.Salfino: What do you guys think about fourth-quarter Tom? People point to the four TDs and five picks in the fourth quarter this year. But his yards per attempt is nearly 10.Is Gronk going to retire? When you are invisible against the Steelers, who could not cover Jared Cook last week, maybe the circus has left town.neil: Sara, you and I were Slacking during that game, and it seemed like everything was going according to our imaginary script — Steelers lead until the very end, before the Pats storm back and break their hearts. And yet…sara.ziegler: Yeah, the Pats couldn’t quite finish that script. But why? What’s different this year?Salfino: It’s just a lack of playmakers on the Patriots. Josh Gordon is not Josh Gordon. Gronk is not Gronk. Brady is not really Brady anymore — he’s like a top 10ish QB but no one would think he was top two or three.gfoster: But James White and Julian Edelman are the same. Just those two alone, was enough to win a Super Bowl a couple years ago?sara.ziegler: And Gordon certainly gave them a boost earlier in the season.They usually can ride the hot hand, but it doesn’t seem like anyone is able to be the hot hand right now.neil: And the Pats usually get an edge at the margins. On Sunday, they won the turnover battle but were only +1. Also went 3 for 10 on third down (3 for 11 if you wanna include that failed fourth-down conversion) and had that brutal red-zone mistake.Salfino: Maybe 41-year-old Brady is much different from 39-year-old Brady. Plus Edelman is old for a WR and coming off a major injury. He probably isn’t the same player either. White can be mixed in but can’t be central to your offense.It’s tough to say, but Brady was chucking and ducking yesterday.sara.ziegler: It’s weird to me, too, how they use some weapons so sparingly.Cordarrelle Patterson was so effective against Green Bay in Week 9. But he’s barely been heard from since.gfoster: Let’s talk about the Chiefs’ collapse against the Chargers. Is Los Angeles (it always sounds so wrong) now the team to beat in the AFC?neil: I love watching Philip Rivers lead a desperation drive.I imagine it’s the same as it was watching Dan Marino in the ’90s.My inclination is to not read too much into that result because K.C. dominated most of the game. But maybe that’s wrong.sara.ziegler: Yeah, I think the Chiefs just took their foot off the gas.neil: The three K.C. losses have come by a total of 7 points.gfoster: I also love the zero hesitation on going for two to win the game. I can think of about a dozen coaches who would have been too chicken to do it.Mainly Bill “Let’s Punt” O’Brien.sara.ziegler: Did that play into Kansas City’s approach, too? Like, “Oh, the worst that can happen is a tie here, so we’re fine.”Salfino: The 2-point conversion was obvious to me. Textbook. When you are a big underdog on the road, you go for the win on one play. That’s defined all the teams that have done it except one: the Panthers earlier this year.neil: San Diego — er, L.A. — probably knew that was their best shot. On the road against that team, odds were against them if they extended the game.Salfino: Rivers is so deadly still. Has not lost anything. They have pass rush, a running game assuming Melvin Gordon can come back, a good secondary and Philip Rivers. They are deadly. K.C. has the tiebreaker with the better divisional record.I can’t believe the Chargers can win 13 games and be a wild-card team.gfoster: You also can’t really blame the loss of Kareem Hunt. Damien Williams was the best player on the field.Salfino: Williams is a generational talent though at running back.gfoster: Not to mention Darrel Williams.sara.ziegler: There were SO MANY Williamses on the field in that game.neil: I can’t wait for the NFL version of that failed NBA trade where nobody knew which player with the same last name was included.sara.ziegler: LOLOLneil: That will happen with a “Williams” someday.gfoster: Do the Chiefs also have to have a doppelganger for their lead running back? Remember when they had Kareem Hunt and Akeem Hunt.It’s like the double Queen Amidala has in “The Phantom Menace.”neil: LOL.I can’t believe you made a “Phantom Menace” reference.sara.ziegler: (Geoff was watching the “Star Wars” marathon this weekend too, apparently.)gfoster: Speaking of phantom menaces (wait for it…), is it time to take Andrew Luck and the Colts seriously in the AFC?Salfino: I’m very disappointed that the Colts may not make the playoffs. What’s their chance currently?neil: Only 34 percent.(Which surprises me.)gfoster: I think they will make it. They’ve quietly won seven of eight, with the only loss being that strange no-show against Jacksonville.neil: But it is a numbers game in the AFC.gfoster: And they host the Giants next week, so…sara.ziegler: And then they finish with the Titans.neil: Gotta keep pace with Tennessee in terms of shutting out Eli Manning.Salfino: It’s tough when you start 1-5. They have Luck, a running game now with Marlon Mack and a defense that just shut out the Cowboys. One possible explanation is that Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus came over from Jason Garrett’s 2017 staff and clearly knew Dallas well.sara.ziegler: Oh, that’s a good point.I always wonder how much that kind of familiarity helps in specific games.gfoster: Before the season, people were saying the Colts defense could be the worst in the league, particularly the run defense that bottled up Ezekiel Elliott yesterday.Salfino: The Colts are actually sixth in rushing efficiency allowed.As for Eli, it’s kind of funny that, on the day where there’s a report that the Giants are going to have Eli back in 2019, he gets goose-egged.neil: Eli has been teetering on that edge for weeks now. Whenever it looks like he’ll definitely lose his starting job, he plays better. Whenever it looks like he’ll keep it, he plays worse.sara.ziegler: I believe my exact words on Sunday were, “Did Ian Rapoport just doom Eli to a Peterman-like effort today?”Salfino: Eli does just enough to keep the believers in his camp and just enough to provide fodder for the haters. He’s middling it.The big problem yesterday for the Cowboys is that nothing was easy in the passing game. That was shocking after the explosion against the Eagles where they seemed to have turned the corner offensively.neil: Yep. Dak Prescott followed up three straight 100+ QB rating games with … a 64.7.gfoster: Marlon Mack’s emergence might mean they don’t break the bank to get Le’Veon Bell this offseason.neil: Marlon Mack ran through that Cowboys defense like Boga the varactyl on Utapau.sara.ziegler: OMG, Neil.neil: Hahaha.gfoster: Listen, readers, all our “Star Wars” references are strictly Episodes I-III.neil: Are there any other episodes???Salfino: The Bell thing is fascinating. The Jets are the top-rumored team. The Colts and Texans definitely have the money. But the Texans have other franchise-level players and Jadeveon Clowney to sign and the Colts have Mack.gfoster: Is that a good move for the Jets?sara.ziegler: A combo of Broadway Sam-Le’Veon Bell would be pretty fun to watch.gfoster: The answer to “Is that a good move for the Jets?” is always no, by the way.sara.ziegler: LOLSalfino: The Jets have so much money that I’m coming around to it. You have to spend it someway. On paper, it’s stupid. But I like that he stopped his mileage. I know we wrote about maximizing earnings and the injury risk he would have assumed. But maybe Bell wanted to avoid the single-trial disastrous outcome (a catastrophic injury).neil: The offseason carousel in general should be fun next year. At QB, Joe Flacco is leaving Baltimore, it was reported, with Lamar Jackson’s emergence. Eli might be out of a job (yet also available!!!). The 49ers will have two legitimate QBs with Nick Mullens being good. (I think??)Salfino: I think Bell would provide for at least two years something really easy for Sam Darnold in the passing game.gfoster: Darnold has been put in a position to fail. The play-calling is so conservative, the skill position players around him are so bad, he has no time.Salfino: Darnold is not failing now. He had the in-season reset with the time off and is overcoming those handicaps, seemingly.gfoster: They are 4-10.That’s failing.neil: Darnold had a 100.0 QB rating Saturday!Salfino: Geoff, the Jets’ tank on Saturday was as elegant as a Noel Coward dinner party. Jason Myers missing the extra points was the plot twist no one saw coming.sara.ziegler: “Elegant as a Noel Coward dinner party” is the best turn of phrase ever used about the Jets.gfoster: Speaking of Mullens, is he a starter in this league??Salfino: Mullens started 44 college games. And he’s in a Kyle Shanahan system. I think there are two questions with Mullens: Is he good, and does he prove that system/coaching makes the quarterback more than the tools that are traditionally scouted?neil: Whether coaching or not, Mullens has played the best of any rookie this season: But to your point, Mike, it is definitely tough to disentangle from Shanahan.But should that change what we think of Jimmy Garoppolo as well?gfoster: I just don’t know if a team is willing to make a trade and commit to him as a starter. This is the Brock Osweiler conundrum.neil: Mullens has been much better than Osweiler was, for what it’s worth.sara.ziegler: And he has the Brett Favre seal of approval.neil: (And Osweiler was on a team that won the Super Bowl.)Salfino: Mullens is 6-foot-1. I think people are going to look at him as a fluke. A guy like Mullens with no real pedigree (other, ironically, than NFL performance) will never have a long enough leash to make it as a starter.gfoster: So he’s in “very good backup” land along with Ryan Fitzpatrick.neil: I still don’t know that he’s necessarily a backup in a world where Flacco and Eli probably get additional starting shots next season.Salfino: I think Mullens is going to be in the Dave Krieg, Tyrod Taylor, Jeff Garcia, Case Keenum, undersized, “not a real QB” camp — not the Drew Brees and Russell Wilson camp.Also he’s not a free agent. Are you trading a second-round pick for Mullens?neil: True. The Niners at least have time to make a decision there. They still have him under contract for 2019. Besides, I’ve long been a fan of the “strategically pump up the trade value of your backup QB” plan to team management, as my friend Doug Drinen laid out in this old post about Falcons-era Matt Schaub.gfoster: The Browns, meanwhile, are keeping the dream alive.Salfino: What is the Browns’ playoff probability?They’re basically eliminated right?sara.ziegler: They’re at a less than 1 percent chance, according to our model.neil: The Steelers’ win kept the Browns from being mathematically eliminated.sara.ziegler: So you’re saying there’s a chance…neil: “The Indianapolis Colts and Tennessee Titans would need to lose in Week 16 then tie in Week 17. It would be a three-way tie between the Colts, Titans and Browns. Cleveland would hold the tiebreaker. The Browns can also win the AFC North if the Steelers lose out, the Browns win out and the Los Angeles Chargers beat the Ravens next week.”LOL.sara.ziegler: I mean, that’s not the most unlikely thing to have happened in the NFL.Salfino: Based on our prior research, it seems like Gregg Williams is 100 percent coming back? 80 percent? What number do we put on a winning interim coach with this large a sample?I think it’s madness to hire Williams, BTW. New offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens should get the job first.neil: It does seem like it will be very difficult to resist the urge to bring him back on the basis of their post-Hue Jackson performance.(Even if, as we wrote about, Williams hasn’t really had very much to do with it.)Salfino: I think the nightmare scenario for Cleveland fans and Baker Mayfield is that Williams gets the job and Kitchens gets an offer to be the head coach of the Jets.neil: (Aside from, like, not being Hue Jackson.)Salfino: Damien Woody asked on Saturday if the Browns had top-15 talent. I thought it was an interesting question.gfoster: Their defense has so much talent. Denzel Ward, their awesome rookie corner, didn’t even play against Denver. Jabrill Peppers had a star-turning performance on Saturday with the INT in the end zone and the game-winning sack.Salfino: You and “Star Wars” and Michigan, Geoff…..gfoster: What, is that where Peppers went?I don’t remember.neil: Hah.Salfino: Ha ha ha.neil: All I know is that Browns have now won two more games this season than the previous three combined. For this franchise, that is something special, playoffs or not.sara.ziegler: Maybe the Browns’ chaos is behind them.(Or maybe not.)neil: I doubt it. But hey, if the Rebels could hold off the First Order at the resistance outpost on Crait, anything is possible.sara.ziegler: OMGgfoster: The Broncos, meanwhile, are gross. Vance Joseph needs to go. That was really timid coaching.Salfino: Joseph is all the bad things about a defensive-minded head coach.gfoster: Let’s end with our Week 15 Super Bowl predictions. I’m not changing mine from last week. Saints vs. Chargers. It helps that the Saints play tonight.Salfino: Saints — but man am I worried about their offense even though their defense now is underrated — and … Steelers. I think they beat the Chargers in the wild-card round, and you know the Chiefs are dying to lose their first playoff game. Thursday night was a preview.sara.ziegler: I’m starting to come around on the Bears, which is not a thing I thought I would say this season.neil: Wow, especially as a Vikings fan.sara.ziegler: SERIOUSLYI hate myself right now.So … Bears-Chiefs.neil: I’m sticking with Saints-Chiefs. Mainly because of how entertaining that game would be. Something has to compensate for a halftime show consisting of Maroon 5 + random people found busking at subway stations.sara.ziegler: HahahahahaCheck out our latest NFL predictions.
Video games are intriguing to some and confusing to others, but when it comes to “NCAA Basketball 10” by EA Sports, one thing is for certain: The Buckeyes are in the game, and look good.In “NCAA Basketball 10,” the Ohio State men’s basketball team is given an overall grade of an A-, putting them near the top of all the teams in the game. Only an A grade is better, and it’s reserved for teams highly ranked in the preseason polls, including Kansas, Michigan State and Texas. Besides the Spartans, the only other Big Ten school that is given a higher grade is Purdue, also highly ranked in the preseason polls. Connor Dougan, head producer for the game, revealed that game grades are based on a scouting report given to EA by a company called Blue Ribbon, who they have a partnership with. Each year, Blue Ribbon writes an extensive review of each college basketball team in the nation by gathering information through sportswriters and scouts that cover college basketball. EA’s portrayal of the Buckeyes comes largely from this review. Evan Turner, arguably the Bucks best player in real life, is the top-rated Buckeye in the game. He is given an overall rating of 87 and also tops other rating categories such as field goal shooting (80), rebounding (91) and passing (97). Ratings range from 1 at the lowest to 100. The in-game starting five is the same starting five coach Thad Matta normally sends onto to the court, with the only difference being the position that they play. Dallas Lauderdale (79 overall) is at center, Turner and David Lighty (75) at forward, William Buford (78) and Jon Diebler (81) are at guard. After the cut-off point for in-game rosters, Matta asked Turner to handle the point guard duties, so Diebler is generally handling the ball most of the time in the game. Buford is OSU’s highest-rated 3-point shooter at 78 and free throw shooter at 85. Lauderdale is OSU’s highest rated shot blocker at 92 and defender at 89. Diebler, the Buckeyes’ most prolific 3-point marksman, is given a rating of 76 from behind the arc.There are 3 separate categories that each team receives a grade on and grades range from D (the lowest) to A (the highest). Categories are overall, offense and defense. Offensively, the digital hardwood Bucks are given an A- and primarily run a half-court set. On the other side of the ball, they received an A- as well.In comparison nationally, the Buckeyes are ranked No. 16 in the game, while Kansas, Michigan State and Texas take the top three spots in that order. Each squad is given all A’s across the board. Other meaningful non-conference games Ohio State has this season include West Virginia and Butler. Based solely on how teams are represented in “NCAA Basketball 10,” the Buckeyes should be victorious against Butler, which has a B+ in each category. On the other hand, the matchup with West Virginia could be a difficult task, considering the Mountaineers are given an A overall and the Buckeyes lost to North Carolina (also an A) in the 2K Sports Classic benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer.What about that team up north? They are given an A- overall, similar to Ohio State, but ranked No. 22, thus, giving Matta’s squad the upper hand.
There’s no arguing that the NBA lockout is a genuine disservice to the fans, and especially to the ordinary people who are out of work because of it. Good seldom comes from labor stoppages in any sport. The Cleveland Cavaliers and their fans may just be the rare beneficiaries. With every cancelled game comes one less guaranteed loss. Any impact the new Collective Bargaining Agreement potentially makes extends well beyond this year’s Cavaliers team. Dan Gilbert, like all the other wealthy owners who are trying to extort every last penny from the players, doesn’t have a dire need for money. Even though they are in a small market, the Wine and Gold did extremely well financially during the LeBron James era. Even without “the gutless one,” Forbes still ranked the Cavs as the 15th most valuable franchise in the NBA. The new CBA should ensure their financial stability as well. What remains to be seen are potentially the most exciting of possibilities: the likely changes to the salary cap system. A hard cap would restrict big market teams from spending gobs of money and create more parity, a word not generally associated with the NBA. Likewise, installing a harsher luxury tax would serve a similar purpose, even if team salaries above a certain threshold aren’t expressly prohibited. It would’ve been generous of the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association if they quit their posturing months ago, and had the same sort of urgency in their negotiating tactics throughout the entire process as they did in the last two weeks. Since we’ve reached the point where the NBA has already canceled games, it’s best for the Cavaliers if the owners continue their tough stance. Particularly when it comes to what they call “system issues,” making it easier for small-market teams to compete. Even in the old system, the small-market San Antonio Spurs have been among the NBA’s elite for years. They drafted well, made shrewd acquisitions otherwise, and, most importantly, kept Tim Duncan in town. Unfortunately, James wasn’t blessed with Duncan’s loyalty. If the owners get their way, the new CBA will make it easier for teams to keep their star players. It would come two years too late for the Cavs. Still, if they ever acquire a star player again, their chances of keeping him long-term will be higher. Their only hope is to build through the draft and then keep these players. No marquee free agent is looking to come to the place that “leads the nation in drifters.” Even when they had James, the “stud” free agent Gilbert recruited was Larry Hughes. That was his first step in sabotaging the team. The worst-case scenario would be the a cancellation of the entire 2011-12 NBA season. That’s almost the best-case scenario for the Cavs, who could be guaranteed another top-five pick. Generally, no fan of basketball wants to see an entire slate of games wiped out. In my world, though, I put the Cavaliers’ interests ahead of the rest of the NBA’s. The more missed games, the merrier
No. 1 Myles Martin of Ohio State scores a single leg takedown on Mason Manville of Penn State in the 184-pound bout of the Ohio State-Penn State dual. Martin won the bout by major decision, 18-6. Ohio State lost the dual against Penn State 28-9. Credit: Sal Marandino | For The LanternOhio State senior Myles Martin, the No. 1 wrestler in the country at 184 pounds, remained undefeated with a pivotal win to seal the team victory on senior day for the Buckeyes.The No. 6 Ohio State wrestling team (11-2, 7-2 Big Ten) defeated No. 7 Nebraska (11-5, 5-4 Big Ten) 21-12 on Sunday. In a highly anticipated match, Martin won by decision 12-5 against Nebraska fourth-ranked redshirt sophomore Taylor Venz.Ohio State head coach Tom Ryan was happy with the physicality the team showed against Nebraska.“The biggest [issue] with the [Buckeyes] is grittiness and toughness,” Ryan said. “Overall there was progress.”Ohio State finished the duel with six wins in 10 bouts against the Cornhuskers.Ohio State redshirt junior Kollin Moore, the No. 2 wrestler in the country at 197 pounds, won by sudden victory, improving his record to 15-1. The home crowd went into an uproar as Moore took down Nebraska 11th-ranked redshirt sophomore Eric Schultz, in overtime to win 7-5 giving the Buckeyes a 18-12 lead going into the final bout.Ohio State redshirt senior Micah Jordan, the No. 3 wrestler in the country at 149 pounds, won his last home match in big fashion. Jordan won by technical fall 22-7 over Nebraska redshirt junior Jordan Shearer. Moore said Jordan’s big-time victory was well deserved on senior night in front of a home crowd.“I love watching him wrestle. He just hits some really slick stuff and is always attacking,” Moore said. “To see him win and go out with a good dominant win like that was awesome.”Ohio State redshirt freshman Chase Singletary, the No. 18 wrestler in the country at heavyweight, pulled off the upset against Nebraska seventh-ranked redshirt junior David Jensen, as time expired in the third period to win 7-5.Singletary took contact to the face that resulted in blood time, but he said that gave him what he needed to pull off the upset.“I felt amped, when you are in a tough match and you feel blood it just gets me going a little bit,” Singletary said. “I don’t know why but it was fun.”Ohio State senior Joey McKenna, the No. 3 wrestler in the country at 141 pounds, won his final home match of his career. McKenna won by decision 7-3 over Nebraska redshirt sophomore Chad Red.After the Buckeyes fell to a 3-0 deficit, Ohio State junior Luke Pletcher, the No. 6 wrestler in the country at 133 pounds, put the Buckeyes on the board. Pletcher won by major decision 13-4 over Nebraska true freshman Jevon Parrish.Ohio State true freshman Malik Heinselman, lost by decision 8-5 to Nebraska redshirt sophomore Zeke Moisey, No. 14 wrestler in the country at 125 pounds.Despite Heinselman losing his match Ryan was very impressed with the true freshman.“I was really happy with [Heinselman] overall,” Ryan said. “He really out wrestled [Moisey] most of the match.”Ohio State senior Te’Shan Campbell, lost a hard-fought battle by decision 4-2 to Nebraska junior Isaiah White, No. 6 wrestler in the country at 165 pounds, improving his record to 15-5. Nebraska redshirt senior Tyler Berger, No. 2 wrestler in the country at 157 pounds, improved to 21-2 on the season. Berger won by decision 10-5 over Ohio State eighth-ranked redshirt junior Ke-Shawn Hayes.No. 6 Ohio State will take on No. 9 Cornell at 6:30 p.m. on Friday in Ithaca, New York.
A teenager on his way to work was one of seven people killed in the Croydon tram crash, it has emerged as the driver arrested over the tragedy is bailed by police.Dane Chinnery, 19, died after the two-car tram came off the rails and flipped onto its side while travelling at a “significantly higher speed than is permitted”. Martin Bamford, 30, from Croydon, said he recalled the tram “speeding up”, adding: “Everyone just literally went flying.”Speaking outside Croydon University Hospital, where he was being treated for fractured or broken ribs, he said people were screaming and there was “blood everywhere”, describing the scene as “like something out of a film”. The tram was operating from New Addington to Wimbledon via Croydon when the accident happened at 6.10am.Scenes in the wake of the crash were described as “total carnage” and “like something out of a film” after the two-carriage tram tipped over in heavy rain next to an underpass.Survivors rescued from the wreckage said they recalled the tram failing to brake in its usual place at a bend on the track after speeding up. One said the driver told them he thought he had “blacked out”. Asked what he had seen, Mr Bamford added: “There was a woman that was on top of me … I don’t think she made it at all. She wasn’t responsive. There was blood everywhere.”Asked about the driver, he said: “I asked him if he was okay. He said ‘yeah’. I said to him ‘what happened?’ He said he thinks he blacked out.”The 42-year-old man, from Beckenham, was arrested on suspicion of manslaughter and taken into custody for questioning. His friend Sid Richardson told the Croydon Advertiser: “Dane was a young gentleman who made friends not enemies, peace not war and created love where there was hate.”The way he lived is a life lesson to many of us that knew Dane.”London mayor Sadiq Khan, who visited the scene on Wednesday, warned the death toll “may well increase”. Tram crash victim Martin Bamford outside Croydon University HospitalCredit:Catherine Wylie/PA Investigators are probing if the driver might have fallen asleep amid suggestions the vehicle failed to brake before taking a corner at speed.With six other deaths confirmed so far and 51 other passengers injured, the crash in south London during the Wednesday morning rush-hour was the first fatal tram crash in Britain for nearly 60 years. British Transport Police(BTP) said forensics teams are expected to stay at the crash site until Thursday evening at the earliest and identifying the dead might be a “complex and lengthy process”.A spokesman said: “A 42-year-old man arrested in connection with a derailment in Croydon yesterday has been released on police bail.”The man from Beckenham has been bailed until May while investigations continue at the scene and officers work to establish the circumstances of the incident.” Dane Chinnery, a Crystal Palace fan, was killed while on his way to work at a flood response firmCredit:Facebook Royal Navy veteran Kevin Snow, 57, was on his way to work in central London when the busy service overturned.The father of seven, from Barnsley, south Yorkshire, said the service, which he had been using regularly while working in London, failed to slow down at its usual point coming out of a tunnel between the Lloyd Park and Sandilands stops. Initial findings of the RAIB show that the tram came off the tracks as it was negotiating a “sharp, left-hand curve” with a speed limit of 12mph.An RAIB spokesman said: “Initial indications suggest that the tram was travelling at a significantly higher speed than is permitted.”The last known death of a tram passenger in an accident is believed to have been in 1959. Two passengers and the driver died after a tram collided with a lorry and caught fire in Glasgow.The Croydon derailment is the biggest loss of life on the British tram system since 1917, when a tram running down a hill in Dover killed 11. The tragedy is being probed by BTP and the Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB).BTP assistant chief constable Robin Smith said officers were investigating if the driver of the Wimbledon-bound tram fell asleep at the wheel, alongside “a number of factors”. The scene after the tram overturned, leading to the deaths of seven peopleCredit:Steve Parsons/PA The tram reportedly slid for up to 10 seconds before coming to a haltCredit:RAIB/PA Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily Front Page newsletter and new audio briefings. Investigators at the scene of the Croydon tram crashCredit:Jim Bennett for The Telegraph Rescuers at the scene of the disaster on Wednesday morningCredit:Steve Parsons/PA Mr Chinnery was from Addington, an area in the south-east of the borough of Croydon. When the train derailed at about 6.10am, he was on his way to work at Hydro Cleansing Ltd, a Croydon flood response firm.Said to be a keen football fan who followed Crystal Palace, Mr Chinnery had previously attended Addington High School. He said: “Usually as you come out the tunnel you feel the brakes, but I didn’t seem to at all. I thought, he should be braking in a minute.”The next thing I knew we were on our side. Everyone was screaming and shouting, a lot of people were injured – lots couldn’t move.”He said the tram slid for between eight and 10 seconds before coming to a halt.
Ms Danczuk gave evidence in the trialCredit:Andrew Crowley Karen Danczuk is estranged from her husband SimonCredit:Andrew Crowley “Now I’ve got children of my own that makes me feel sick. I was living in a hell-hole — there was no love in my house. It wasn’t a normal household.”She told a jury she was regularly molested in the family home between the ages of six or seven until she was 15 or 16 by Michael Burke.She told the court: “Most people remember their first time having sex with somebody they love.”Whereas my first time of having sex was with my brother. It’s horrible. Even now I can’t sleep naked. I can’t even cuddle in bed.”I will never love properly, I will never be able to let someone in. It’s horrible.” She was cross-examined over two days by Nigel Power QC, defending her brother, who queried why she went first to the papers before the police, asked if money was her motivation and accused her of “attention seeking”.She said: “To this day I have grown up and fought my whole life to change my childhood. I decided I would come forward, that was my choice.”Before I ever became famous I was seeking help, before I ever knew I would end up in the public eye.”This idea that it is just attention, this has ruined my life. I have had a horrendous life, it’s a fact. This is why I have had help from doctors because it’s a fact. Days when you have, being dead makes more sense than being alive.”I think I finally felt ready to face it, I’m ready to see this through, he can’t get away with what he did.”My life has been hell for what he’s done, I don’t want anything, I want closure.”Burke had claimed he was the victim of a “conspiracy” and said the allegations were “wholly made up”. Karen Danczuk, the former Labour councillor and ex-wife of MP Simon Danczuk, has spoken out about being raped by her own brother as a child.The 33-year-old said Michael Burke, 38, “robbed me of my childhood”.Burke was convicted yesterday of raping her three times when she was between the ages of nine and 11.He was also convicted of rape against two other victims at Manchester Crown Court. Ms Danczuk told The Sun that he had sneaked into her bedroom climbed into bed with her when she was a child. “I would always pretend to be asleep and lie with my back to him, facing the wall. I was terrified and confused but I didn’t know what else to do,” she said. It started out like it was a game, it was not so much an attack, it was, like, innocent My life has been hell for what he’s done, I don’t want anything, I want closureKaren Danczuk The mother of two boys aged six and eight, told of her unconventional and unhappy childhood, growing up in a terraced house in Middleton, near Rochdale.One of five children, her mother Sue moved in her boyfriend while her father still lived at the house but had split from his wife.Ms Danczuk said she was a “quiet” child who was “heavily bullied”.She wept and covered her face in the filmed police interview, played to the jury, telling the officer: “I just had flashbacks of the first time.”I kept telling myself, don’t cry, don’t give him any more tears.”It started out like it was a game, it was not so much an attack, it was, like, innocent.”It was a game of hide and seek, think I was about six or seven. He would always take me into his bed. He would lie next to me, we would be under the bed covers for ages. The first time he was literally on top of me naked.”It was a slow process. That kind of went on for some time, the hide under the bed covers stuff carried on. It still haunts me now.” She said the abuse progressed to rape, aged 11, on a weekly basis, usually on a Sunday evening which was “bath night” and continued until she was 16, she said.One day she was doing the dishes at home and Michael was drying. She told him: “Stop it. Stop touching me.”By then it had “ruined” her schooling, with her leaving education with “crap” qualifications, she said.The first person she told was a clinical psychologist at Nye Bevan House in Rochdale in 2009 after she felt suicidal and depressed.Although the physical abuse was over, the mental torment continued although Ms Danczuk said she was “much better” following therapy.”I can’t trust anyone like, even my husband,” she said. “I don’t let anyone in, I just can’t give 100 per cent.”She added: “My anxiety, I have suffered with depression and anxiety through the majority of my adult life.”I can’t love anyone. It sounds terrible. I’m just waiting every single time for someone to hurt me. It’s just been horrible.” Ms Danczuk has split from MP Simon DanczukCredit:MCPIX/REX/Shutterstock Her sexual abuse can be reported for the first time after Ms Danczuk waived her right to anonymity by speaking publicly after her brother’s conviction.Burke, 38, a “controlling and violent” man, denied 15 counts of rape, one attempted rape and one indecent assault against his sister and two other women, spanning an 18-year period from 1992 to 2010.But, following a three-week trial on Wednesday, the jury found him guilty of eight counts of rape and another serious sexual offence against three different women, including three counts of rape against his sister between 1992-1994.He was cleared of nine other serious sexual offences.Ms Danczuk initially revealed publicly she had been abused, without naming her attacker, in an interview in The Sun in February last year.Two other victims came forward shortly afterwards. Neither can be named.During the trial Ms Danczuk gave evidence from behind a curtain around the witness box, shielding her from the dock where her tormentor sat, often shaking his head in denial. Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily Front Page newsletter and new audio briefings.
While the world’s eyes have been turned to Salisbury, the two people at the centre of the nerve agent attack have lain unaware, surrounded only by medical staff in chemical protection suits and breathing apparatus. The picture of comatosed Russian double agent Sergei Skripal’s life that has emerged in the last three weeks has been a relatively lonely one, far from his native Russia, his wife dead and their 43-year-old son Alexander dying last July, apparently from liver failure. Yulia, who was visiting her father and is also unconscious and in a critical but stable condition in Salisbury District Hospital lived briefly in the UK in 2014 – but spent most of her time in Moscow, returning only…
Mr Cain told the court: “I wanted to turn my boat around to leave, but I had only turned 90 degrees when the ferry hit me. Mr Cain, who wore a cast on his hand for five weeks, alleges that Jarvis left the ferry without checking on his well being.The trial continues. Stuart Cain said he feared for his life after being hit by the ferryCredit:BNPS A ferry captain used his 118-tonne vessel to crush a dinghy and injure its driver after a parking row erupted in Poole Harbour, a court has heard.Oliver Jarvis was carrying passengers back from Brownsea Island, Dorset, on board the 50ft-long Maid of Poole when he found he was unable to moor in his usual space on September 17 2017.It was being occupied by a small rigid inflatable boat (RIB), owned by Stuart Cain, a video production company director, who had disembarked to get fish and chips with two friends.The 35-year-old ferry master sounded his horn as he tried to guide his vessel towards its berth, yelling at Mr Cain, 52, to move his boat, Bournemouth Crown Court heard.But once Mr Cain jumped into the dinghy, he heard the ferry’s engine restart and found himself fearing for his life as he was allegedly rammed into the harbour wall.The businessman suffered a badly bruised hand and whiplash injuries, while his 12ft-long dinghy was left damaged, a jury heard.Jarvis, of Lagland Court, Poole, is accused of causing damage to a ship and operating a vessel in a way that could cause injury or destruction, charges which carry a maximum two year jail sentence and an unlimited fine. He denies the allegations. “That’s the point things changed, I realised I was in quite a dangerous position. I could hear a lot of engine noise and a lot of churning water and I was in a hole between two boats.”I basically fought for my life to get out of there. I took physical action, trying to fend his ferry off, I physically pushed it away.”That was the only defence I had at the time. It had a small impact, enough for me to drop my engine into the water and get it started.”His hand was all the while being crushed between the ferry and his engine, but he managed to wriggle it free and was hit again as he tried to open up the throttle, the court was told. Oliver Jarvis, 35, denies the allegations against himCredit:BNPS “Because I was under power I basically shot out the back,” he said.”It was an instinctive reaction but I think that’s probably what saved my life.”The Maritime and Coastguard Agency, the prosecuting agency, said the episode lasted between 10 and 15 seconds.The court heard Mr Cain’s small boat weighed just 170lbs and can carry three people. The Maid of Poole weighs 118 tonnes and can carry 186 passengers. Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily Front Page newsletter and new audio briefings.
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex in MoroccoCredit:WireImage The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, meanwhile, will retain their established Kensington Palace team, working independently to support the Queen in her duties as part of the “Team Windsor”.The Sussexes communications team, which will be funded by the public purse via the Sovereign Grant, will report to the Queen’s communications secretary Donal McCabe.The Royal Foundation, which has until now been shared by the Cambridges and Sussexes working together, is likely to be restructured, with a source saying the Kensington Palace split would “of course have implications for how they manage their charitable and philanthropic activity into the future”. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Duke and Duchess of Sussex are to split their householdsCredit:Richard Pohle On Thursday, it was announced that they will be advised by Sara Latham, who has been appointed as their head of communications.Described as “chic and superbly connected”, Ms Latham is a major political player, mixing professionally with the Clintons and Obamas, working with Tony Blair, and mentioned in society pages for attending and hosting events for some of the world’s most high-powered women. The Duke and Duchess will now form a new household under the guidance of Samantha Cohen, a longstanding senior royal aide who has been standing in as interim private secretary since last year.It is also likely that the couple will seek a replacement for Amy Pickerill, the couple’s assistant private secretary, who has been considered as the Duchess’ right-hand-woman and will also depart the household once the baby has arrived. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are to bring in their own team to shape their future work in the Royal Family, as they build a new Sussex brand on a global platform.The couple, who are due to become parents next month, now need to fill key positions in their household after officially splitting from Kensington Palace.Based at Buckingham Palace, under the Queen’s own staff, the Duke and Duchess are seeking aides including a permanent private secretary to shape their working futures.They have already embraced a markedly different style to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, becoming known for their rousing speeches, language of empowerment and inspiration, and tactile public appearances.Their recent appearances, in front of cheering teenagers and on a panel for International Women’s Day, have suggested they hope to build a profile as global philanthropists, speaking of “humanitarian issues” and feminism to Commonwealth youth.