Monday, August 3, 2020

TKJ's Top 10: MLB rankings: 8-3-20

Here's my latest Top 10 MLB teams:

1. New York Yankees - (7-1): There's no question they are the best team in baseball. The only thing that can stop them is COVID-19.

2. L.A. Dodgers - (7-3): The Dodgers are still the top team in the National League and I don't think they are playing their best yet.

3. Chicago Cubs +5 (7-2): The Cubs haven't played the toughest schedule (plenty of games against the Pirates), but that offense is for real. They will have to fix that closer situation at some point.

4. Atlanta Braves - (7-3): The Braves are still loaded. The offense is great, the pitching is solid. Don't count this team out as far as winning the NL.

5. Minnesota Twins - (7-2): The Twins took 3 of 4 from the Indians. They look like the biggest threat to the Yankees at this point in the AL.

6. Houston Astros - (5-4): The Astros are the defending AL champs for a reason. The offense is still great. However, the pitching is a mess. If they can find a way to fix that they are still a big contender in the AL.

7. Cleveland Indians +3 (5-4): The Indians starting pitching is for real, but they lost 3 out of 4 to the Twins. The offense needs to improve.

8. Colorado Rockies: NR (6-2) The Rockies look to be for real. They just took 2 of 3 from the Padres. That offense is definitely strong, the question mark will be the pitching.

9. San Diego Padres -6 (6-4): The Padres have lost 3 of their last 4, but I still have faith in this young squad.

10. Baltimore Orioles NR (5-3): I can't believe my eyes. I have the Orioles in my top 10? Clearly, it's still early. But the O's just swept the Rays, that has to mean something.



Yankees Nation: Yanks continue to roll

Will the Yankees ever lose again?

There are times I'm starting to wonder. The Yankees (7-1) look as strong as ever. They went undefeated last week and Aaron Judge is on fire!

The pitching has been solid. Paxton still needs to improve and losing Kahnle going down for the season isn't great. Still the Yankees should be fine.

The offense looks almost unstoppable. Chapman should be back very very soon. The future's so bright we gotta wear shades.

The Yankees are wining blowouts, they are winning close games. They have it all right now.

There's no reason to think the Yankees won't keep things going on this very busy week. We've got 4 with the Phillies and 4 with the Rays. Hopefully we'll get them all in and extend the win streak even further.

Let's keep this train going Yankees and keep steamrolling everyone in sight.

Until next time, Go Yankees! 

DV Nation: DV thrashes Rus in Palermo first round

DV started off her new season in fine fashion. 

She beat Rus 6-1, 6-2 to advance to the second round in Palermo. DV plays Cocciaretto in her next match.

"I'm definitely a little bit surprised, especially because it was really tricky conditions," DV said. "It was very windy. So the ball was spinning a lot, was a little bit all over the court. But I'm definitely happy that I didn't forget how to play tennis, how to play matches, how to win. It's a huge relief. So I'm really happy right now."

DV had four aces and 4 DF's. She served at 56 percent first serves. She won 77 percent of her first serves and 46 percent on second serves. She was 6-for-13 on break points. She won 8 games in a row at one point and 9 points in a row at one point. She saved 3 of-4 break points.  

"Physically I'm probably more ready than ever. I'm really impressed with my runnings today. I have to look at that one point with the drop shot that I got - that was crazy. I thought I was moving really well. We did a couple of really tough weeks in Monaco, so I was definitely expecting to be fit. Tennis-wise I've been also practicing great, but you literally haven't played a match in five months and it's the first time for me, because I've never had like a big injury. So I really didn't know what to expect and he was like don't expect to play perfect, to fight every point and just try to be competitive and do your thing."

DV actually trailed 1-0 in the first set, before winning the last six games. She raced out to a 2-0 lead in the opening set and cruised to the one-hour 17-minute victory. 

"I really enjoyed playing clay the last couple of years. Clay and I were not such good friends before that. The last couple of years it's been a lot better. I've been practicing on clay through this whole period, because in Croatia we have more clay courts than hard courts. So I grew up playing on clay as well. But I don't think that made a huge difference today because in my mind I wanted to play just this tournament to get a couple matches, but then we're back on hard, back on clay. The surface change is not really a huge problem for me the last couple of years, which is great."

Great job DV! Let's get this title!

Saturday, August 1, 2020

TKJ's picks: DV will take title in Palermo

It's back! Oh how I missed it!

Tennis is back with the first tournament of the year since the pandemic in Palermo. I am back writing blogs, including tennis. I will try to make picks each week and hopefully day starting this week.

Obviously, I'm going to pick DV to win in Palermo. She is the 6 seed and quite honestly can beat any of these girls. I like her to play D.Y. in the final, in what would be a great matchup.

I've got DV beating Kontaveit in the quarters then Martic in the semis. I'll take D.Y. over Vondrousova in the quarters. Then I've got D.Y. over Sakkari in the semis. 

In the final I'll take DV over D.Y. 6-4, 6-3. 

DV Nation: DV back in action in Palermo, ready to win

DV returns this week!

She is playing in the first official tennis tournament since the pandemic in Palermo. 

It's great to have my favorite women's player back on court and ready to win another title! DV is the No. 6 seed and will play Rus in the first round and either Hercog or Cocciaretto in the second round. DV is scheduled to play Kontaveit in the quarters. 

It is on clay, not DV's best surface but she'll get it done! Martic is the top seed and Vondrousova is the 2 seed but DV can beat any of them.

DV is no longer coached by Torben, but that's OK she'll be fine. Torben was great for her, but honestly I think it was time for her to move on from him. This will be a short season, but hopefully DV can make the most of it and do some big things.

I'm excited to see her play again. Let's go DV! 

Tampa Bay Nation: Rays off to wobbly start

Tampa Bay sports is about to get going in a big way.

Yes, the Bucs are getting started at training camp. The Lightning are about to get the postseason started and hopefully win another championship.

Then of course, there's the Rays. After last weekend I really thought the Rays were picking up where they had left off last season. They took 2 of 3 from the Jays and then they won the first two against the Braves.

However, they have since lost 3 in a row (and are 4-4), including a bad one to the O's. That can't happen if you want to win a championship. The magic from last year isn't there right now, but hopefully they can get it back. The bullpen needs to do better. 

Choi is only hitting .200, Diaz .095 and Kiermaier .160. All three have to improve and get the offense going like it's capable.

As for the Lightning it's all about redemption. The 'Ning were the faves last year and were swept in the first round. Now it's their time to show who the best team is.

Until next time, go Rays! Go Lightning!

Celtics Nation: Celtics need to bounce back from defeat

OK, Celtics fans, Friday was a tough loss (119-112 to Milwaukee). We played a good team but still that was a winnable game.

It obviously hurts that Kemba only played 19 minutes, and hopefully he will be at full strength come playoff time. 

Jayson has to play better - 5 points - isn't going to get it done. You're better than that Jay and I know he will be better on Sunday. Jaylen Brown was great and Marcus and Wanamaker off the bench were also big positives.

Sunday is a must-win type game to me. I don't think Boston is going to catch Toronto for second and really it doesn't matter since there is no home court now. I'm not afraid of anybody in the first round. 

However, the Celtics need to stay in front of a surging Miami team and keep from falling to the 4 spot. The most important thing is the Celtics need to get this win over Portland and get some momentum before the playoffs.

They should beat Portland, but it won't be easy. The Blazers are playing well. If the Celtics play their game they will be fine. Let's get this! 

Until next time, Go Celtics!  

Sunday, July 26, 2020

TKJ's Top 10: MLB rankings: 7-26-20

Here's my rankings through the first weekend of baseball season:

1. New York Yankees (2-1): The favorites in my unbiased (LOL) opinion.

2. Los Angeles Dodgers (2-1): This team is loaded. Not going to lie they scare me (just a little).

3. San Diego Padres (2-1): The Padres impressed me more than any other team I saw this weekend not named the Yankees or Dodgers. They are young and talented. The only liability will be the pitching.

4. Atlanta Braves (2-1): The Braves beatdown over the Mets on Sunday was impressive.

5. Minnesota Twins (2-1): The Twins have plenty of talent and pitching and they could be ready to make some big noise.

6. Houston Astros (2-1): They would have been higher, but without Verlander I'm not sure what to expect from them moving forward.

7. St. Louis Cardinals (2-1): Another team headed for big things, Not as talented as the teams that won it all, but in a year with a crazy postseason I wouldn't count them out.

8. Chicago Cubs (2-1): The Cubs still have enough firepower on offense and solid pitching to do big things this season.

9. Tampa Bay Rays (2-1): A darkhorse team this season, building off of last year's momentum. They do just enough to win games and that's what matters most.

10. Cleveland Indians (2-1): The offense needs improvement, but their trio of starters on the mound can go toe-to-toe with anybody.

Until next time, Go Yankees!

Yankees Nation: Yankees take 2 of 3 from Nationals

The Yankees picked up a huge win Sunday to take 2 of 3 from the Nationals.

Loaisiga and Hale went a combined four innings and only trailed 2-0 as they turned it over to the heart of the bullpen. I knew going into the game if Loaisiga could just keep it close, the bullpen would give the Yankees a chance and they did.

If the Yankees win it all this year it will be because of how great the bullpen is. The offense finally got Corbin out of the game and then won the game against the Nats' bullpen. Gleyber came up big for the Yankees and my fantasy baseball team and led the Yanks to the 3-2 win.

The Yankees are in first place! The key to every series is to win it. So that's one down! Now it's on to Philly. We need to win at least 3 of 4 (the last two are in N.Y.) against the Phillies and keep it rolling.

The offense is going to be fine. The bullpen is going to be fine. The key as usual for the Yankees is starting pitching has to be better. Paxton has to be better than he was on Saturday. It will help to get Tanaka back, but if the starting pitching can improve and be good this year the Yankees have a great chance to win it all.

Until next time, Go Yankees!

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Yankees Nation: Yankees take opener over Nats, 4-1, in rain shortened game.

The Yankees win their opener 4-1 and looked great in a rain-shortened game, which was stopped in the sixth. 

One down, 59 more to go, right?

Gerrit Cole looked solid, Staunton hit a 2-run bomb, Judge was his usual great self. I know it's only one game, but the Yankees look like champs to me.

Let's keep it going, Saturday. 

Until next time, Go Yankees!  

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Yankees Nation: Fearless predictions: Yankees beat Dodgers in World Series

Baseball is back and that means it's time to make some fearless predictions. 

With the shortened season anything can happen, but I'm not going to stray too far from my original picks for the season.

The Yankees will dominate (shocking that I would say that, I know) this season. I don't care if it's 10 games or 1,000 games or 60 games - they are the best team in baseball. They have looked great in preseason.

I've got the Yankees in the AL East, the Twins in the AL Central and the Astros in the AL West. I'll take the Tampa Bay Rays and the Oakland A's for the wildcards.

The Yankees will beat the Rays and the  Astros will knock off the Twins, setting up the rematch from last year's ALCS. This time the Yankees will take it and go to the World Series.

In the NL, I'll take the Braves in the NL East, the Cardinals in the NL Central and the Dodgers in the NL West. The Nationals and the Brewers are the wildcards. 

Then the Dodgers, who have also looked great in preseason, will beat the Nationals, the Cardinals will top the Braves with the Dodgers getting back to the World Series after beating the Cards.

In the World Series the Yankees will win their 28th championship in 6 games over the Dodgers (Is it the 70's again?). Book it!

Until next time, Go Yankees! 

Monday, July 20, 2020

Yankees Nation: Baseball and the Yankees are back!

Baseball is back!

The last few days have been amazing, just watching the New York Yankees back on the field beating teams (well, one team - the Mets) to a pulp. I don't think I truly realized how much I missed the main sports until the last few days. It's like life is great again! No matter what else is going on I have sports to lean on and help me through this pandemic. 

It also helps that the Yankees have looked great in their first two exhibition games. They beat the Mets by a combined 15-3 score in two games. I think it's going to be a great season and nothing will make me feel better than seeing them win Championship No. 28.

In Sunday's win, Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Gary Sanchez each homered, with Judge taking two out of the park.

The lack of fans doesn't bother me at all, and I like the simulated crowd noise. It sounds real.

The Yankees' offense is off to a great start and the pitching should be fine. With Gerrit Cole, James Paxton and Masahiro Tanaka leading the way it should be a great 60-game season for the Yanks.

They start the regular season off on Thursday at the Washington Nationals and have three games in four days with the Nats. Then they play at Philadelphia for two and then have two at home with the Phillies. Then Boston comes to town for three games and there's nothing like the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry.

It's a tough schedule to start with, but I know the Yankees will be fine. They have the talent to win it all!

I will try to give updates/thoughts at least once a week. Hopefully they will be full of lots of joy as the Yankees dominate like they should. 

Until next time, Go Yankees!

Saturday, July 18, 2020

DWB Nation: Kara Lawson perfect choice for DWB!

Last week was a big one for DWB! 

Kara Lawson was named the new head coach for Duke Women's Basketball and I don't think they could have made a better choice. 

Kara is smart, experienced, has a great personality, passionate - she is everything you can want from a head coach. I know my Boston Celtics were sorry to see her leave, but we're happy for her. I am very excited for what this means for my favorite program in the world. 

She has already reached out to former players and had a zoom chat with them. You can tell she has great ideas. She has an understanding of what it takes to win and she knows Duke belongs at the top of the women's game just like it was when she played at Tennessee. 

To me one of the most important things about Kara is - she's a winner. It's what she's done at everything in basketball and I know DWB is in good hands. I'm looking forward to the upcoming season and going through the process of watching the program grow into a powerhouse again. I became a DWB fan in 1999 after they beat Tennessee in the Elite Eight. Soon after that I became a season-ticket holder and stayed that way until a few years ago. I've already ordered season tickets again and can't wait to be back in Cameron Indoor Stadium again! 
I can remember big games there against Connecticut, Tennessee and North Carolina where there were sellouts and the place was rocking just like for the men's games. I have no doubt it will be that way again soon! There's no feeling quite like CIS when it's full and the place is rocking. It gets so hot you can barely breathe. It's the best atmosphere in all of sports. 

I'm sure Kara will bring in some big-time recruits and get us back to the top soon. After a long absence it's where we want to be and where we belong! 

On a programming note, I will have more blogs soon. With sports coming back in full-force I will have different blogs for different sports, but all of it can be found here on this site. For DWB Nation, I plan to have previews on the games, recaps, Players of the Week and much more as the season goes on. I can't wait for the great things that are coming to DWB! 

 Go Duke!

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Even now, Sports teaches us lessons

It's been said many times that you don't know what you got until it's gone. I've realized that more than ever these last two weeks.

Self-isolation, social distancing -- no problem. I'm an introvert, a loner, I've been practicing for those things my whole life, but usually I'm watching sports while I'm doing it.

It's also been said many times that sports teaches us life lessons and that is still the case even as the COVID-19 pandemic has cut sports out of the world.

Ever since I can remember I've been a sports fan. Even when I was 4 or 5 I knew every member of the Washington Redskins and all their stats (at least that's what I've been told). Yes, I was a Redskins' fan when I was younger (I didn't know any better back then).

I like to think that sports is the love of my life. Sports has meant so much to my life, but even as recently as this past fall there were times when I stopped watching. I went the entire month of October without watching a single college or pro football game. There are times when I get burned out and need to take a break.

Of course, even then I still have high school football to cover and watch. There's never a time when sports hasn't been a part of my life in some way or another. I've wondered before what life would be like without sports and now, unfortunately, we are all finding out.

There's no question it's been tough as I'm sure it has been for many. With too much time on my hands I've found myself thinking about the past. I've watched videos of past games and matches on YouTube. This way I control what games from the past I can watch.

Watching the reruns many memories came back to me and the passion and excitement I had for the games. Somewhere along the way, I've lost some of that passion and I'm taking this time away from sports to recapture it.

I realize that I'm so blessed to be able to do what I do for a living and the way my life has been connected by sports.

Some of the videos that I have been watching have been of my beloved New York Yankees. The good times and the bad.

I can still remember watching live and seeing Mariano Rivera give up the walk-off hit by Luis Gonzalez to lose Game 7 of the 2001 World Series to the Arizona Diamondbacks. I was at work and can remember throwing my hat clear across the floor in anger.

I can also remember watching the Yankees come back from 2-0 down to beat the Atlanta Braves in the 1996 World Series. The joy of doing that for the first time since the 70's was amazing.

Some of the videos I've been watching have been of (my favorite athlete of all-time) lJennifer Capriati tennis matches. Some might know that I was a Maria Sharapova fan, but before there was Maria there was Jennifer.

I can remember skipping class in college just so I could watch her matches (maybe that explains why I didn't do so well in college). I can remember that feeling, that knot in my stomach before a big match.

I can remember the shock and sadness I felt when the news broke that she had been arrested for drugs in 1994. I can also remember crying and the joy I felt as she won her first grand slam title eight years later. To me her story is still the greatest comeback story ever.

It was yet another example of how sports teaches us lessons, especially about overcoming adversity.

The point is I had so many emotions because I was so invested and so passionate about it.

Then there's Duke Basketball, more importantly Duke Women's Basketball. I have been a DWB fan since the late 90's when they beat Tennessee and went to the National Championship game.

Again, I have been so invested in the program and I've seen highs and lows, joy and sorrow. That's just what makes sports -- sports.

I was there in 2006 for the Final Four when DWB beat LSU in the semis. Many of the players were staying on the same floor in the same hotel as me (I promise I bribed no one). I can still remember hearing the excitement, the pure joy they had after winning in the semis. The yelling in the hallways.

Two days later, after a heartbreaking overtime loss to Maryland, the hallway was very different. I can remember players in the hallway crying and I thought to myself how different the emotions can be from one outcome to the next. As the saying goes, the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.

In the end it's sports being sports and that's why we love them so much. The players moved on and they learned from the loss, yet another life lesson from sports.

My job has given so much joy and I've learned so much more about sports. I consider myself to have the greatest job in the world, because my job is sports.

I've been so fortunate to have been at so many big events whether through the job or personally. I've been to Daytona International Speedway races twice. I've covered other NASCAR races, covered the NFL, MLB, several professional tennis tournaments, professional golf tournaments, Virginia basketball and football, Virginia Tech basketball and football.

I've been lucky enough to talk to many superstar athletes such as Tiger Woods, Roger Federer, Andre Agassi, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and many others.

Then there's high school sports. For the last 25 years I've been lucky enough to cover high school sports in the area. I've seen state championship teams, even some that had dynasties, teams that came up a little short in the most heartbreaking of ways, teams that did not have good records, teams that had average records.

But the reality is the wins and losses have never been important -- it's those lessons that are learned. It's the passion and excitement that we have for the games. It's giving everything you got and knowing that you tried your best -- win or lose. It's finding out that you could do more than you thought and overcoming any adversity that life throws at you.

My heart breaks for all the seniors who lost their spring season to the COVID-19 pandemic. I know it's tough, but I also know that they will find their way and overcome this adversity just like our country and the world will.

One of the highlights of these last few weeks has been taking part in my league's fantasy baseball draft. For the first time in 18 years, I'm in a fantasy league that started in The Northern Virginia Daily's offices. It started in 1989 in the NVD conference room and this will be the 31st year for it. I was in it for three years from 2000-2002.

The members are either former NVD sports staff or freelance writers or kids of former NVD writers and three doctors. The draft was safe and we took all the necessary precautions. It was nice to get away for a little bit and talk sports and not think about COVID-19. We said a prayer before the draft and to me the best part was getting together with friends and sharing in a common bond during a tough time. Sports brought us together just like to does so often even in the tough times.

I know there's a dark cloud hanging over the world right now. However, just remember that two or three months out of your life isn't really that long. We will make it through, just like sports has taught us in the past. We will overcome this adversity.

Sports will be back. When it comes back we should all remember this time and how it felt without sports. Don't take it for granted like I have in the past. If you get to play enjoy every second. If you like to watch enjoy the moments and remember that at any time it is possible to lose sports again. Remember to appreciate every moment that you have. Yet another lesson that sports has taught me.