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After a long summer and NBA offseason, we can finally see light at the end of the tunnel. NBA training camp is less than two weeks away!

The Washington Wizards announced on Tuesday that training camp will begin on Tuesday, Oct. 1 through Saturday, Oct. 5 at the Medstar Wizards Performance Center in Congress Heights.

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The Wizards’ Annual Media Day will be on Monday, Sept, 30. At that time, we will get to ask the players questions about their offseason routines and where they went on vacation during the summer. But most importantly, we will ask them about their goals for the 2019-20 season. The Wizards aren’t expected to win many games, but that doesn’t mean that this season will be dreadful.

That wasn’t all the news surrounding the Wizards however.

On Tuesday, Fred Katz of The Athletic also reported that Justin Anderson signed a non-guaranteed contract. The deal is presumed to be for training camp.

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Fred Katz

@FredKatz
Justin Anderson has finalized a non-guaranteed contract with the Wizards, sources tell The Athletic.

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Anderson has played four NBA seasons, most recently with the Atlanta Hawks where he averaged 3.7 points per game in the 2018-19 season. He is from the Mid-Atlantic region, where he went to Montrose Christian School in Rockville, Md. and played college basketball at Virginia from 2012-15. Anderson was the 21st pick to the Dallas Mavericks in the 2015 NBA Draft.

UPDATE on Sept. 18 — The Wizards have also signed Chris Chiozza, according to Chase Hughes of NBC Sports Washington.
Chase Hughes

@ChaseHughesNBCS
The Wizards have added PG Chris Chiozza as a camp invite, I’m told. He played for Wiz & Rockets last yr.

But aside from him, no plans to bring in reinforcements, per source. They’ll roll w/ Smith, Robinson, McRae & Brown. Beal will also see time on-ball. More soon @NBCSWizards

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Chiozza was on last season’s training camp squad and played for the Capital City Go-Go where he averaged 13.2 points and 7.7 assists per game as one of their key players. He returned to the NBA after the G-League season playing seven games for the Houston Rockets.

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Washington Wizards guard Isaiah Thomas will miss six to eight weeks after undergoing surgery on his thumb, the team announced Wednesday.

“This was an unfortunate setback for Isaiah, but with his resolve and the top care he will receive from our medical team, we expect him to make a full recovery,” general manager Tommy Sheppard said. “In the meantime, he will continue to mentor our young guards and have a positive impact on the team as we start training camp.”

The Athletic’s Fred Katz reported Thomas injured the thumb Monday while playing a pickup game. He added the timing of the guard’s recovery could allow him to enjoy a reunion with the Boston Celtics on Nov. 13.

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Fred Katz

@FredKatz
Six-to-eight weeks, literally interpreted, means expect a return to the court some time between Oct. 30 and Nov. 13, which would push right up against the Wizards’ trip to Boston. They play the Celtics on Nov. 13. https://twitter.com/FredKatz/status/1174362658268729345 …

Fred Katz

@FredKatz
Isaiah Thomas underwent surgery to repair a rupture of a ligament in his thumb today, the Wizards announce. He’s expected to miss six-to-eight weeks.

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Any physical setback for Thomas is worrisome considering the hip injury he suffered while playing for the Celtics. Boston shut him down in the 2017 Eastern Conference Finals, and he required surgery and struggled to replicate past numbers during the 2017-18 campaign as a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Los Angeles Lakers.

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The two-time All-Star averaged 15.2 points and 4.8 assists per game while shooting 37.3 percent from the field and 29.3 percent from deep that season after posting 28.9 points and 5.9 assists a night while shooting 46.3 percent from the field and 37.9 percent from three-point range the prior campaign in Boston.

He wasn’t much of a factor on the Denver Nuggets last season either and posted 8.1 points and 1.9 assists per game in just 12 contests after sitting out into February as he recovered from hip surgery.

Washington added Thomas for point guard depth considering John Wall has injury concerns of his own. Now, the team will be without him when it opens the regular season Oct. 23 against the Dallas Mavericks.

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Don’t sleep on the undrafted Josh Reaves this season because he brings strong defense and a position-less skill set to the Dallas Mavericks in 2019-20
With three and D players in high demand, the Dallas Mavericks signed undrafted free agent Josh Reaves this summer with little hesitation. Reaves, last year’s NCAA defensive player of the year, hopes that his focus on steals can earn him minutes in the Mavericks rotation.

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The era of position-less basketball is here, so the 6’5″ Reaves could be a great addition because of his ability to guard multiple positions. Reaves also has a record setting knack for playing passing lanes for steals which should fit well in the Dallas Mavericks zone heavy defensive scheme. Reaves is a smart defender and a hard worker that hopes to make a name for himself in the NBA.

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Like my guy Aristotle said, ” knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom. “. One thing I’ve noticed about Josh Reaves is that he knows his strengths on the basketball court. When watching Reaves play, and listening to his interviews it’s apparent that he knows steals for run-out dunks is what makes him special.

Reaves, who set Penn State’s school record With 250 steals, credits his great anticipation to his brother throwing things at him growing up. All the years of training turned Reaves into a defensive stand out in college. As a four year player for Pat Chambers’ Nittany Lions, Reaves lead the team in steals for three straight seasons and was named to two Big 10 all defensive teams averaging 2.5 steals per game as a senior.

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After going undrafted, Josh Reaves was signed to a two-way contract with the Dallas Mavericks. Reaves played extremely well for the Mavs during summer league averaging 12.6 points, 4.8 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.0 block in 23.5 minutes. Decent numbers, but Reaves’ hustle, and understanding of what offenses want to do is what made him stand out.

Reaves seems to always be in the right place. With a 6’7” wingspan, above average athleticism, and elite anticipation, no pass is safe around him. Once Josh makes the steal it’s pretty much light’s out. His speed and quickness off the ground are hard to match. Reaves also displayed great decision making and play making ability with a few pinpoint dime drops over the summer.

Dallas Mavericks forward Justin Jackson is looking to break out in his third year. Here are five bold predictions for the forward this season.
The Dallas Mavericks traded for Justin Jackson at the deadline last season. He was not the focal point of the deal. The Mavs shipped Harrison Barnes to Sacramento to keep him from opting into a $25 million player option he had for the 2019-2020 season. Adding a young talented asset like Jackson was a bonus for Dallas.

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The 24-year-old had an up and down 29 games for the Mavericks last season. He played under six minutes six times but also had 13 contests earning more than 20 minutes. Jacksons started the final 11 games of the year. Over that stretch, he averaged 12.7 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 1.8 assists in 25.9 minutes per game while shooting 53.8 percent from the field. The forward also hit 38.6 percent on his 3-point attempts.

Mavericks fans are excited about Jackson’s play after the way he ended last season. The forward is a hard worker that should continue to improve. He made getting better on the defensive end a priority this summer. Dallas needs quality role players around Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis. The former Tar Heel has the potential.

RELATED STORY: 5 bold predictions for Delon Wright’s season
The Mavs have one spot in their starting lineup open. Jackson figures to be in competition with Tim Hardaway Jr. and Dorian Finney-Smith for the role during training camp. Will his late-season improvements continue? Can he grab that starting nod?

Here is a look at five bold predictions for Justin Jackson in the upcoming season.

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Reaves’ biggest weakness is outside shooting. He’s not Rajon Rondo from three, but it definitely needs work. The problems with Reaves shooting mechanics go from the ground up. Meaning without serious changes to his shot he’ll continue to struggle to shoot consistently from behind the arc. Reaves doesn’t plant his feet well when shooting. Because he fails to set a good base he’s forced to adjust the rest of his shot differently every time .

This might seem like an easy fix, but because so much of your shot is muscle memory, bad habits are hard to break. If Josh Reaves is willing to work as hard on his jumper as he has on being a great defender, the Dallas Mavericks may have found themselves a future all-defensive player. The Mavs are a team full of guys with similar builds to Reaves, which might hinder his development.

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NEXT: This Mavs addition is more than your normal 3-and-D guard
Hopefully he can use his time in the G league to develop a consistent offense so that he can earn the minutes necessary to show off his stellar defense.

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A nation of Miami Dolphins fans went to bed Tuesday evening believing their NFL team is pretty much done with the dismantling. And now it will sit on its mountain of accumulated future draft picks and salary cap space through many 2019 losses before beginning a grand rebuild next spring.

And that’s exactly what is going to happen.

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The Dolphins have not only blown up their roster but actually nuked it with the recent blockbuster moves of trading 2018 first-round draft pick Minkah Fitzpatrick and 2016 first-round draft pick Laremy Tunsil.

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Fitzpatrick remains Dolphins ‘right now’ QB but the
inevitable change to Rosen is coming

And if this is all part of the master plan, fans are going to think, then we can’t wait for the rest of the scheme to unfold.

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Except, well, this was not the plan.

Not really.

When the Dolphins fired Adam Gase and Mike Tannenbaum and reset the franchise under former and current general manager Chris Grier last December, sources within the team admit there was no plan to jettison Tunsil. Or Fitzpatrick. Or cut Kiko Alonso. Or T.J. McDonald.

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The Dolphins were going to make their longest-tenured player John Denney compete for his job in training camp, but there was no advance stratagem to cut him six days before the season opener.

There was no plan to trade for a starting right tackle the week before the opener. There was no plan to trade for a starting right guard the week before the opener.

And there was certainly no plan to “tank,” according to people within the organization.

In fact, if you ask any member of the Dolphins brain trust about tanking, the push back now — even after trading Tunsil, Fitzpatrick and starting the season in historically overmatched fashion — is unflinching:

“We’re not tanking,” I was told in recent days, repeating a message privately that has been echoed publicly multiple times by coach Brian Flores and Grier.

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So what happened?

How did the Dolphins arrive at this place that resembles a dystopian hellscape where the 2019 season can go to die? How did we get from “we’re not tanking” to what looks curiously like, well, tanking?

Apparently it happened by happenstance.

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“I would say [it was] very unexpected as far as the Laremy and Minkah situations,” Grier said Tuesday. “You can’t prepare for that. I’m not going to sit up here and lie about it.

“But for us the opportunities were kind of unique with a little bit of the historic haul for [Tunsil] and Kenny [Stills], with what we’re getting. So I think for us, [the idea was] to strike on this opportunity — because we know as the team was built right now, it wasn’t going to win a Super Bowl …”

… Or many games for that matter.

The Dolphins are a terrible team without Stills and Tunsil and Alonso and McDonald and Fitzpatrick and the other guys the club was committed to in the past. But they weren’t going to be much better with those guys.

So, it seems, the idea became why not do this now?

And it began when the coaching staff that insists it loved Fitzpatrick and valued him and thought highly of him, privately couldn’t really find a comfort level with the player. That was the case before training camp began. And it manifested throughout August as coaches couldn’t settle on a role for the player.

So they gave him multiple roles.

And Fitzpatrick didn’t like that idea because he wanted to prepare his body and mind for one or two jobs and wanted to go do those exceedingly well. Except the coaches couldn’t agree with him on what those jobs should be.

So there was a significant disagreement between the player and the coaches.

And neither side was willing to yield.

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And neither owner Stephen Ross nor Grier could mediate an understanding.

“Myself, Brian, and Steve — we had multiple conversations with him, saying we wanted him here and viewed him as a core piece and wanted him here,” Grier said. “The kid just felt it was time for him to move, and we told him what the value was.

“We told teams we had multiple offers, and we felt that the Pittsburgh one was the one best for the organization.”

So the plan was never really to jettison Fitzpatrick to the Pittsburgh Steelers for a first-round pick and an exchange of other picks. That was forced upon the Dolphins by Fitzpatrick.

The plan was never really to jettison Alonso, either, by the way. The team brought him to training camp, and he was a starter on the first day. And then something funny happened on the way to the regular season.

Alonso hated the Miami coaching staff. Coaches wanted Alonso to prepare to play multiple positions including edge rusher. And Alonso disagreed.

And after that disagreement Alonso curiously found himself on second team. And then Alonso curiously got injured and kind of stayed that way for weeks until he got traded.

MIAMI—After giving up 43 points in a shut-out game this past weekend, local Dolphins fan Derrick Gomez confirmed Wednesday that he was beginning to think that Miami head coach Brian Flores was not the main driving force behind the New England Patriots’ years of success. “It seemed like a big win for us, at first, getting the guy we assumed was responsible for all those titles, but I’m starting to wonder if he’s not the once-in-a-generation coaching genius I thought he was,” said Gomez, who had assumed that hiring Flores would be the start of a 15-year Dolphins dynasty. “You get someone with that pedigree of being a linebackers coach for a championship team and you think you’ve got a sure thing. I was so excited to think it was all happening, that we got the big dog, Brian Flores, but now I don’t know. I’m just starting to question whether he had anything to do with Tom Brady’s on-field dominance at all.” At press time, Gomez had cursed himself for not realizing that the Lions had lucked out by landing the real architect behind New England’s success in Matt Patricia.

Yeah, it happens.

So none of this was planned. It just … happened.

The plan was also never to trade Tunsil. That was forced upon the Dolphins by the Houston Texans.

The Texans had a problem in August and that was they didn’t want Jadeveon Clowney on their team even though they placed the franchise tag on the player. So that team began to shop the pass rusher.

And because the Dolphins lack a good pass rusher and, again, because they don’t consider themselves to be tanking, they were interested in Clowney. He could help them win games in 2019, they figured.

The problem for Miami was it wasn’t going to yield a high pick for Clowney because Miami wants to collect as many picks as possible to ensure a chance to draft a quarterback in 2020.

And let this be known once and for all: The Miami Dolphins will draft a quarterback in the first round of the 2020 draft.

The Miami Dolphins will draft a quarterback in the first round of the 2020 draft.

The Miami Dolphins will draft a quarterback in the first round of the 2020 draft.

I wrote it here. And here. Weeks ago.

And maybe somebody will begin to understand its a virtual certainty if I write it hundreds more times between now and April. It’s written in stone and no amount of good play by Ryan Fitzpatrick or Josh Rosen this season is going to change that, according to multiple sources.

Anyway, when the Dolphins made it clear they’re not giving up anything resembling a first-rounder for Clowney the issue passed for a little while. But the Texans were shopping Clowney with a purpose.

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And that was to find an blindside protector for quarterback Deshaun Watson. And the Texans set their sights on Tunsil.

And then this happened…

Houston: How about Clowney for Tunsil?

Miami: Nope.

Houston: How about Clowney and a first-round pick for Tunsil?

Miami: Nope.

Houston: How about Clowney, a first-round pick and other draft considerations for Tunsil?

Miami was interested enough to meet with Clowney. But Clowney, who was training in South Florida and loves it here, wasn’t keen on playing for the Dolphins because he understands they’re not a good team. And he wanted to be on a good team.

So the trade died. And the Texans sent Clowney to the Seattle Seahawks.

But the trade that died came back like some regenerated monster because Texans coach Dr. Frankenstein really, really wanted Tunsil. And so the teams engaged some more. And that went something like this, per sources:

Houston: How about a first- and a second-round pick for Tunsil?

Dolphins: Nope.

Houston: How about a first and a second and other considerations for Tunsil and other considerations?

Dolphins: Nope.

Houston: How about two firsts and a second for Tunsil and presumably Stills and other considerations?

Dolphins: How about two firsts, and a second and you send us your starting left tackle, too?

Houston: Yes.

“That was one where we got a phone call and they kept pursuing us,” Grier said. “Multiple, multiple times, we talked and kept telling them ‘no’ and what it would take and they came and offered it.”

When the deal was finally struck, Grier called Tunsil to his office to tell him of the news and bid him farewell. Tunsil was initially not pleased, but the general manager showed Tunsil the bones of the trade and the offensive lineman was impressed.

“Laremy walked in my office and saw it on the board and goes, ‘I would trade me for that,’ Grier said.

Tunsil hugged Grier and got on a private Texans jet with Stills bound for Houston.

“But seriously,” Grier said, “we were not trying to do it.”

And that’s the theme of this dismantling. It has happened. But it wasn’t drawn up this way.

And where it will lead? Anyone who says they know how it will proceed is joking. Because things can happen to alter course.

As they already have.

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The Bulls need help on the wing. They seemingly struck gold in Otto Porter, who the Wizards dumped at last year’s trade deadline in the wake of John Wall’s season-ending Achilles tear. And they have draft capital invested in first-round pick Chandler Hutchison, who after breaking his toe 44 games into his rookie season suffered a hamstring strain last month that cut his offseason workouts short.

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Past those two, the wing situation is murky. “Position-less basketball” is the league’s favorite new buzzword, but Adam Mokoka, Denzel Valentine, Zach LaVine and Shaq Harrison are more on the shooting guard side of things and would make for a rather small defensive lineup if two of them shared the floor.

Significant help isn’t on the way. The Bulls couldn’t have addressed all their needs this offseason, and they valued point guard (Coby White, Tomas Satoransky) and frontcourt (Daniel Gafford, Thaddeus Young, Luke Kornet) depth over improvement and/or numbers on the wing. It’s September 18, and any difference makers have found teams as training camp nears.

But maybe the Bulls can find a smidgen of help on the free-agency wire. According to Stadium’s Shams Charania, Iman Shumpert couldn’t come to an agreement with the Houston Rockets after “months of discussion” between the two sides.

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Shams Charania

@ShamsCharania
After months of discussions, free agent Iman Shumpert has decided to decline the Rockets’ contract offer, sources tell @TheAthleticNBA @Stadium. Shumpert will not attend team minicamp this week in Las Vegas.

Shaun Livingston recently announced his retirement from the NBA. Can former Chicago Bulls guard Derrick Rose follow his successful path?
NBA history is riddled with devastating injuries to star players. It’s the most disappointing part of the sport, but it’s the reality that we live in.

One player that knows all too much about career-altering injuries is Shaun Livingston. Young fans will remember Livingston as one of the most important bench players of the last half-decade. Older fans will remember him as the youngster with unlimited potential who suffered multiple injuries (including a catastrophic knee injury) early in his career.

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Livingston was drafted fourth overall by the Los Angeles Clippers in the 2004 NBA Draft. As a 6’7″ point guard, his potential was sky-high. Because of his horrendous luck with injuries, though, his career took a different turn. The pinnacle of Shaun’s career was his time with the Warriors, where he played in 367 games and helped them win three championships.

Now that Shaun is retiring, it’s time to look at who the next player might be to follow his mold. Former Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose is the first guy that comes to mind.

Bulls fans are well aware of the troubled injury history that Rose has. But now, as D-Rose heads into the twilight of his career, it may be time for him to do what Livingston did.
Before free agency began this past summer, I was hoping Rose would sign with a contender. I wanted him to follow in Livingston’s footsteps. Unfortunately, he ended up in Detroit as a member of the Pistons – a fringe playoff team in the weak Eastern Conference.

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For that reason alone, it looks like the Shaun Livingston path isn’t one Rose will travel down in the near future. Livingston joined an up-and-coming Warriors team in 2014, and I definitely wouldn’t use the term “up-and-coming” to describe the Pistons team that Rose joined. Maybe in two years (when Rose becomes an unrestricted free agent again), he can sign with the next up-and-coming team on the brink of winning a championship or two.

The bad news for Rose is the longer he waits to join a contender, the less likely it is that he’ll win a championship. For a player that relies on speed and athleticism, youth is everything. Livingston joined the Warriors as a 28-year-old who used his size and soft touch to remain relevant. Rose will turn 31 in October and doesn’t have that same old-man-game that Livingston had.

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NEXT: Otto Porter Jr.’s ceiling for 2019-20
For now, it looks like a championship is out of the picture for Derrick Rose. But if he decides to follow in Shaun Livingston’s footsteps, he may eventually win that elusive ring.

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So Shumpert needs a new home. He’s still just 29 years old but has carved out a role as a veteran presence, having played for four different teams in eight seasons. He has appeared in 79 playoff games, including playing a key role off the bench for the 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers. Last season he spent 42 games with the Sacramento Kings before being shipped to the Houston Rockets in February. He played 20 games in Houston, averaging 19.1 minutes, and played in eight of the Rockets’ 11 postseason games. He took on an increased role in Round 2 against the Warriors, averaging 15.4 minutes.

But the Rockets, for whatever reason, are moving on. Shumpert wasn’t all that impressive in Houston, averaging 4.6 points on 34.6% shooting (and, more importantly, 29.6% from beyond the arc) in 19.1 minutes. He was a fourth or fifth option on the iso-heavy Rockets, so his per-game numbers were never going to flourish, but the Rockets are clearly looking for better 3-point shooting off the bench.

Shumpert isn’t a perfect fit, but perhaps the Bulls will consider adding the Oak Park, Ill., native.

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Shumpert didn’t give the Rockets much, but he was solid in Sacramento’s uptempo offense, something the Bulls are attempting to partially recreate this season. Shumpert averaged 8.9 points on 38.2% shooting and 36.6% from beyond the arc with the Kings, and added 3.1 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.1 steals in 26.2 minutes. More importantly, Shumpert was a key veteran presence for a young Kings team that made a significant jump from 27 to 39 wins last season. At the time of the Kings-Rockets trade, the Kings were 28-25 and in the hunt for the No. 8 seed in the West.

His experience would play well in the Bulls locker room. The Bulls roster has three players with playoff experience (Porter, Young, Satoransky) totaling 98 games. Shumpert alone has 79 playoff games under his belt – more than any of those three – and reached the mountaintop in 2016 with LeBron James and the Cavs. It’s tough to replicate three NBA Finals appearances and a ring.

Though he stands just 6-foot-5, Shumpert has always played bigger. In fact, he played 75% of his minutes at small forward between the Kings and Rockets last season. If nothing else than a stabilizing locker room presence and experienced teacher, Shumpert could push Hutchison for minutes. Again, the Bulls wouldn’t be bringing in Shumpert as a significant difference maker who moves the needle at the bottom of the Eastern Conference playoff race. But the Bulls also have the NBA’s second youngest roster. A group like that can never have enough veterans, and Shumpert having a track record of helping in Sacramento – as well as filling a need on the wing – would make him an excellent fit in Chicago.

He also played in Houston under assistant Roy Rogers, who joined Jim Boylen’s staff this summer, so there’s familiarity. Chicago homecomings haven’t exactly gone well the last handful of seasons, but Shumpert would be a low-risk option that could help push the rebuild forward.

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Pose a Rockies — or MLB — related question for the Rockies Mailbag.

With the current situation going on with Altitude TV (with the Nuggets and Avalanche) and reports that AT&T is looking to sell its regional sports networks, do you believe the Rockies are monitoring it and looking at other potential options for its next TV deal and whether they go into the streaming side? And what other option could they have if AT&T SportsNet and Altitude are not viable TV station options?

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Brandon, those are excellent questions, to which I don’t have a concrete answer for you. Here’s what I do know:

AT&T SportsNet has the Rockies contract through next season (2020).
Bids for the new contract began mid-summer.
There have been national reports that AT&T is open to selling its four regional sports networks, so that could make a huge difference in Rockies television.
I was told that Altitude was interested in bidding for the Rockies, but I have not heard the status of that.
But you’re correct in that the TV landscape is changing rapidly with streaming services and so many ways to watch live sports. Stay tuned.

Please provide any updates you can on Riley Pint and Mike Nikorak.

— Bill Beard, Highlands Ranch

Bill, I wrote about Riley Pint in my last mailbag but I’ll repeat it here.
The right-hander, the fourth overall draft pick in 2016 out of Overland Park High School (Kansas), missed almost all of the 2018 season with forearm stiffness and a strained oblique. He was injured for most of this season, too, and pitched just 17 2/3 innings a Class-A Asheville (mostly out of the bullepen). He’s 6-foot-4 and can throw 100 mph, but his lack of control has become a major issue. Over those 17 2/3 innings, he walked 31 batters and hit six. He’s averaged 11.7 strikeouts per nine innings, but that’s overshadowed by his control issues. Right now he’s a long, long way from his big-league debut.

Nikorak, a hard-throwing right-hander out of Stroudsburg (Pa.) High School, was selected by the Rockies in first round (27th overall) of 2015 draft. He missed all of the 2017 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery and pitched only a few innings for short-season Boise at the end of 2018.

He began this season pitching for Asheville, but the season was cut short in May due to injury. In 15 appearances (no starts) he posted an 8.03 ERA over 12 1/3 innings with a walk rate of 11.69 per nine innings. Obviously, he’s years away from joining the Rockies.

We hear a lot about the physical toll playing at altitude exerts on Rockies players. Yet I don’t seem to hear or read the same story when it comes to the Broncos, Avalanche or Nuggets. Am I just not paying attention or is the difference the far greater number of games baseball plays compared to the other major sports?

— Dave, Fort Collins

Dave, let me first say that the effect of playing at 5,280 feet are real. Every Rockies player I have talked to about the subject -– from Todd Helton to Jeff Francis to Nolan Arenado and Charlie Blackmon -– has told me that aches, pains and lack of quality sleep are part of playing at altitude. So yes, a 162-game season (81 home games), plus spring training, takes its toll. Second baseman Ryan McMahon, for instance began the season weighing 210 pounds and he’s down to 192.

The Nuggets (82 games) and Avalanche (82 games) play a lot of games, too. And it can certainly be argued that they play a more physically demanding sport. The Broncos, of course, play 16 games.

I imagine athletes from the NBA, NHL and NFL have stories about altitude over a long season, but I think the Rockies get a lot of attention about the subject because altitude affects the outcome of the games so much. Plus, the length of games at Coors Field (sometimes approaching four hours) makes for a lot of time on the players’ feet. It wears on them.

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Why is (general manager) Jeff Bridich not being held accountable by owner Dick Monfort? Between his numerous, poor free agent signings and the overall lack of pitching prospects within the organization, how can he still be worthy of upper-management confidence? I love baseball and am a true Rockies fan, but I simply don’t see winning as a priority within this franchise. The Coors Field “experience” with The Rooftop and McGregor Square all seem to be more important than winning. I simply don’t get it! Can you explain? Thanks.

— Mark, Centennial

Mark, the media rarely gets to talk to Monfort, so it’s difficult for me to judge his feelings about Bridich. I would assume Monfort is unhappy with what’s gone on this season, and also with the idea that the pitching cupboard is pretty bare in the minors right now.

But I do know that Monfort is intensely loyal (maybe to a fault as he admitted to me in the past), and I would imagine that the Rockies’ playoff appearances in 2017-18 has bought Bridich some time. I know that’s not what you want to hear, but I think it’s the truth.

I have no problem with The Rooftop or McGregor Square. I think both help enhance the ballpark and LoDo experience. I think Monfort and his office have done an excellent job in regard to the ballpark experience.

Having said all of that, I understand hardcore Rockies fans’ frustration. The product on the field this season has been poor. Hopefully Bridich will address the media soon and we can ask him questions about what’s going on with the team.

Hey Patrick, you can tell Arenado seems frustrated right now with the state of the team. Also noticed how jacked up he gets playing at Dodgers Stadium and what he considers the best teams. Do you see him opting out of his deal?

If the answer is yes, the Rockies might have to consider trading him in 2021 to get something for him. Does he have a no-trade clause in his contract? Thanks.

— Mick, Byers

Mick, I have heard some fans say that Arenado regrets signing the contract, but I don’t think that’s true. Arenado and his agent had a certain contract number in mind and Rockies came through. And don’t forget that he’ll make $35 million next season.

And yes, Arenado has a full no-trade clause, so he controls his destiny.

Will he opt out after 2021? I honestly don’t know. If the Rockies continue to lose, then I do think he’s gone. But remember, injuries, money, the overall landscape of baseball and a new CBA will all factor into his decision.

Is Arenado frustrated with the Rockies’ record and overall play this season? Absolutely, but he told me recently that he’s come to realize that he can’t lift the team all by himself. I think his bad performance in July was due, in part, because he was stressing over the team’s awful play.

Lately, I think we’ve seen him freed up a bit. He realizes that the best thing he can do is play well and lead by example. Fretting over the direction of the team was not productive for him, so he cut loose some of that baggage.

Why in God’s name would we put Wade Davis to pitch in the ninth inning against the Cardinals on Thursday while we still had a chance to win? Honestly sometimes it looks like we’re throwing the game.

— Carole, Boulder

Carole, you know that manager Bud Black is not trying to throw the game, right? But this is a weird time of year. The Rockies have been out of playoff contention for more than a month now, so there is a lot of experimenting going on. That’s why we’re seeing Jairo Diaz and Carlos Estevez getting some much action at the end of games. The Rockies want to see how they react.

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The same goes for Davis. The Rockies owe him a lot of money ($17 million next year) and they need to know what they have in the right-hander. It’s frustrating, I know, but it’s the reality of September for a losing team.

Patrick, I was looking at some memorabilia I have in my office and got me thinking if you have anything cool, or special that you have on display. Keep up the good work.

— Tom, Highlands Ranch

Tom, thanks for the compliment. I’m sitting in my home office right now and here’s what I see:

My wife, Nancy, put together an amazing, framed display of a story I did on the Rockies’ Rocktober Streak in 2007. It’s got all sorts of World Series memorabilia within the display.
A bunch of bobbleheads, including the new one of German Marquez, which is maybe the best one yet.
A framed photo of Nancy and Tulo posing together during spring training in Tucson back in 2008.
A framed photo of me speaking at the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2017 when I was president of the BBWAA.
A number of baseballs that I picked up in the press box after I was nearly hit while covering games at Coors Field. I date those and put the name of the player on them. Included is one from Tulo, who nearly hit me with a ball of his bat. After the game, I said, “Tulo, did you see that your foul ball nearly hit me?” He quipped: “Yeah, but I was aiming for (Mark) Kiszla.” True story.
More baseball books than I will ever read.
A binder with most of the baseball cards printed in Todd Helton’s career.

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A framed photo of Helton being colorful during a photo session near the end of his career.
Patrick, I read your columns and articles regularly, because you are fairly direct about management’s and players’ shortcomings and you don’t shy away too much from making criticisms of Bridich. Could you please write a column on how your relations with your sources affect your writing? I think that would interest many of us who follow the Rockies.

As any moviegoer knows, coming attractions can be misleading. The same goes for September baseball for losing teams such as the Rockies.

In their 7-4 loss to the New York Mets on Wednesday, Colorado flashed some enticing potential, but ultimately, the same old bugaboo reared its ugly head. Namely, the bullpen’s inability to put a game away. In other words, it was a bad sequel.

Colorado led 4-3 entering the ninth inning, but New York scored four runs on three walks and three hits off relievers Jairo Diaz and Joe Harvey. The key hits were delivered by pinch-hitter J.D. Davis, Brandon Nimmo and Todd Frazier. Pete Alonso earned an RBI by drawing a bases-loaded walk from Harvey. Diaz was charged with a blown save and a loss.

“(Jairo) just couldn’t seem to get his fastball and slider in good spots in the ninth inning,” Colorado manager Bud Black said.

As for his decision to go with Harvey, Black said: “We tried to bring a guy in who had some power to him and had some velocity against Alonso.”

In the waning days of the season, Black is mixing and matching relievers to see how they respond to late-game situations.

“These are growing pains for some of our younger-service-time players,” he said.

Colorado finished its penultimate homestand with a 6-3 record, though it ended on a sour note. The Rockies are 40-38 at home this season.

Some snippets from Wednesday’s matinee at Coors Field:

— Right-hander Jeff Hoffman, perhaps the biggest enigma in the rotation mix, limited the Mets to two runs on five hits over 5⅓ innings.

— Versatile rookie Garrett Hampson, starting at second base, flashed his speed and stole two bases. He has 11 thefts this season. He hit 1-for-4 on Wednesday and finished the homestand 12-for-27 (.444) with eight runs, one triple and one home run.

— Rookie outfielder Sam Hilliard slugged two solo home runs for his first multi-homer game and now has four blasts in 18 major-league games.

If Hoffman can harness his talent, he could be a huge asset to Colorado’s rotation next season. The right-hander relied heavily on his 92-94 mph fastball, mixing it in with some changeups to keep the Mets off-balance on a day when his curveball was not sharp.

“My curveball was probably the worst it’s been this year, and I couldn’t really find a release point,” Hoffman said.

His ability to make in-game adjustments and rely on his fastball and changeup was a step forward.

“That means that hopefully I’m growing a little bit,” he said. “I don’t know if that would have happened a year ago or maybe even a few months ago. To me, that means that the work we are putting in is in the right place.”

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Hoffman’s two big mistakes ended up in the seats. Jeff McNeil hit a curveball to right field for a solo homer in the first inning. Alonso slugged his 49th homer, a solo blast to left in the sixth, on Hoffman’s hanging curveball.

In his previous start, Hoffman issued a career-high six walks (one intentional). Wednesday, he walked only one, given up a free pass to Todd Frazier in the sixth inning, the final batter he faced.

Mets right-hander Noah Syndergaard, pitching for the first time at Coors Field, gave up four runs 10 hits over 5⅔ innings. Hilliard showed some patience vs. Syndergaard.

“It’s coming with repetition and I’m starting to feel more comfortable,” Hilliard said. “I’m trying to be stubborn up there and look for my pitch.”

Tom, “sources” can be tricky, but they are necessary to my reporting. There have been many times through the years that players want to send a message to the front office or the fans, yet they don’t want to be quoted.

Of course it works the other way, too. Jeff Bridich or even media-friendly manager Bud Black won’t speak the whole truth, at least not on the record. As a reporter, I have to ask “background” questions to find out what’s really gone on.

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For example, if a player is on a terrific run statistically but has not really proven himself, I can go to Black and ask him, off the record, to critique that player. On camera and in stories, Black will almost always try to put a positive spin on things — it’s his way of publicly protecting his players -– but I can get a more truthful evaluation behind the scenes. Black is very good about that.

Let me add one more thing. I know fans criticize writers when we don’t “blast” players. Truth is, when you cover a big-league team, you can’t do that. I can be critical and tell the truth and voice my views from time to time, but if I start ripping the players constantly, I soon won’t have anyone to talk to in the clubhouse.

You have to remember that the clubhouse is their sanctuary and teammates treat each other like brothers. If players start believing all I do is write negative stories or if I betray the trust of one player, that news spreads quickly. Pretty soon, I wouldn’t have any sources left. Plus, there are already plenty of players who would prefer that reporters go away entirely. I think that feeling is becoming more and more prevalent.

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Seven miles north of Fenway Park, Rusney Castillo slides into the driver’s seat of his rented black Maserati Ghibli. It’s 7 1/2 hours before first pitch, but Castillo has learned the rhythms of game days in the U.S. after the Red Sox signed him to a seven-year, $72.5 million deal in 2014. Playing for his hometown Ciego de Ávila Tigres of the Cuban league, the outfielder would show up an hour before the game. Now he tries to beat his teammates to the park.

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Dressed head to toe in Nike gear and wearing a gold chain with his diamond-encrusted initials, he wheels from the garage of his apartment building onto Route 1 toward Boston. Then, 10 minutes later, he drives past the exit for Fenway Park.

If he made less money, perhaps Castillo would turn off there. But due to a rule that confuses even Castillo, the Red Sox are paying him so much that he can’t play for them. So he continues along I-93 and then I-95 on his 50-mile commute to Pawtucket, R.I., home of the Triple A Red Sox. The highest-paid player in the minor leagues has made this drive more than 200 times, over five years. He knows he will make it another 70 or so in 2020, the final year of his contract. But he keeps his three-bedroom apartment in Boston because he believes that he belongs there—and that someday he will play there.

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In August, Castillo won his second straight PawSox MVP award. In the four seasons since his last demotion, he has batted .294 and slugged .429. Manager Billy McMillon regularly advocates for the 32-year-old Castillo when he speaks to the player development officials. But no matter how well he performs, he will remain at McCoy Stadium, ensnared by a tax loophole no one could have foreseen. Through an interpreter Castillo explains matter-of-factly, “Anybody can [hope to] be called up but me.”

When the Red Sox signed Castillo to the richest contract ever for a Cuban free agent, then-GM Ben Cherington thought he would be their centerfielder of the future. But the excellent contact skills and good power Castillo had shown in 323 games with the Tigres failed to translate. He put together an OPS of just .679 in 99 games over parts of three MLB seasons as other outfielders became fixtures at Fenway: 2011 first-round pick Jackie Bradley Jr. in centerfield, ’11 fifth-rounder Mookie Betts in right and ’15 first-rounder Andrew Benintendi in left.

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In June 2016, Boston outrighted Castillo to Triple A, a move that also helped the team’s bottom line: Under terms of the collective bargaining agreement, only the salaries of players on the 40-man roster counted toward the luxury tax. By removing Castillo’s $10.5 million from that total and keeping him down for the season, the Red Sox, who were over the tax threshold and facing a 30% penalty, saved roughly $3 million.

Five months later MLB and the players’ association agreed on a new CBA. Under those terms once a player is added to the 40-man roster his salary counts for luxury-tax purposes, even if he is taken off the 40-man again. Team owners wanted this to lower potential tax bills; the union’s primary concern was making sure its major league members got paid. But the change proved crushing to Castillo, the rare minor leaguer making big bucks. By keeping him down, the Sox cut his eight-figure salary from luxury-tax consideration. If they had promoted him this year, they would have to pay around $7 million in taxes. They could face a similar bill for bringing him up in 2020.
Boston doesn’t want to take that sort of financial hit for a part-time outfielder. (In a statement the Red Sox said Castillo “remains under contract, and we look forward to having him in the organization in 2020.”) And no other team wants to pay him eight figures either, so if the Red Sox did trade him they would surely have to pick up a large portion of his salary . . . on which they would also have to pay a luxury tax. So Castillo lives in a bizarre world in which every year Boston invites him to big league spring training camp in Fort Myers, Fla.; every year he excels there; and every year he gets sent back to minor league camp.

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San Francisco Giants rookie Mike Yastrzemski made an emotional return to his home state of Massachusetts on Tuesday, playing his first MLB game at Boston’s Fenway Park. The name should be familiar to you: Yastrzemski is the grandson of Red Sox legend Carl Yastrzemski.

In the top of the fourth inning, Mike Yastrzemski authored a special moment his family and friends will never forget.

With the Giants leading 4-1, Yastrzemski launched a home run to straightaway center field at Fenway, where his grandfather hit 237 home runs in his Hall of Fame career. It was the 20th homer of the season for the 29-year-old.
MLB

@MLB
A Yastrzemski just homered at Fenway.

Can you believe it?

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Yastrzemski actually received a standing ovation prior to his first at-bat in the third inning by a Boston crowd surely showing their appreciate for the family of “Yaz,” who is on the short list for greatest players to ever suit up for the Red Sox.

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“The crowd reactions all night were incredible,” Mike told reporters after the game. “I can’t thank them enough for being supportive and showing me some love when I’m on the opposing team. It’s unheard of, and it was really special.”
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For the first time in 36 years, Yaz steps to the plate at Fenway.

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Carl Yastrzemski played 23 seasons for the Red Sox from 1961-83. He was an 18-time All-Star who won the 1967 MVP, when he hit for baseball’s “Triple Crown.” He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1989, the year before his grandson was born.

“It had to be a great night for a lot of Red Sox fans to see a Yastrzemski out there,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “I’m sure it reminded them of some of the great memories they have. It was pretty cool.”
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Yaz & Yaz

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For Mike Yastrzemski, it was an incredible moment to cap a breakthrough year. He made his first big league appearance in May after bouncing around the minor leagues after getting drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in 2013 following his college baseball career at Vanderbilt.

“I got to walk in here by myself when I got to the field,” he said. “There was a lot of memories of being in the stands. Being in the stands for the World Series, being in the stands for the ’99 Home Run Derby, the All-Star Game, being with family at games. Those things overwhelm you more than actually playing here.”

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Rusney Castillo stands in a dusty dugout in Pawtucket, wearing a shirt that says boston. While he understands his predicament, he continues to believe that he is just one good stretch away from a return to Fenway. He glues himself to MLB Network in his three-bedroom apartment and compiles makeshift scouting reports on his future opponents. He refuses to move to Rhode Island, much to the chagrin of his business manager and roommate, Hector Ramos, who often complains, “Too much driving.” Castillo says Ramos will appreciate the short commute when Castillo is eventually promoted.
Sometimes he wonders how different his life would be if he made less, but he does not want to try to renegotiate his deal. He has a wife and four-year-old daughter who spend most of the year in Miami, and a seven-year-old son who lives with his mother in Cuba. This wealth means they and their children and their children’s children will never go hungry, as he sometimes did as a boy growing up in Ciego de Ávila. He defected in 2013 with two goals: To strike it rich and to play in the major leagues. It is a bitter irony that the first now precludes the second.

He never shows that frustration, the people around him say. PawSox coach Bruce Crabbe, who has worked with Castillo since his 2016 demotion, marvels that Castillo is the first in the batting cage, the first on the field. “He doesn’t have to do a darn thing, but he still does the same things he’s done since Day One,” says Crabbe. “Probably more. There are more gadgets.”
Those gadgets for training—the halved bat whose pieces are connected by a chain, the inflatable platform on which he sometimes stands while in the batting cage—also got the attention of third baseman Michael Chavis, who opened the season in Triple A before being called up in April. Last month he sprained his left AC joint and a rehab assignment brought him back to Pawtucket, where he found himself even more impressed by Castillo.

“He shouldn’t be here,” says Chavis. “He’s a big leaguer.”

Castillo celebrates just as loudly as anyone else when a PawSox player receives the call that will change his life. He knows how much that dream means. He still dreams it.

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The New York Jets signed quarterback David Fales to back up Luke Falk for Sunday’s game against the New England Patriots, the team announced.

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The Jets (0-2) have been left to scramble at the quarterback position with starter Sam Darnold sidelined with mononucleosis. He missed Monday’s 23-3 loss to the Cleveland Browns and will miss Sunday’s game at New England as well. He said Tuesday during his weekly spot on ESPN New York’s The Michael Kay Show that he is feeling better and his goal is to return for the Jets’ Week 5 game against the Philadelphia Eagles. The Jets have a bye in Week 4.

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The New York Jets signed quarterback David Fales to back up Luke Falk for Sunday’s game against the New England Patriots, the team announced.

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The Jets (0-2) have been left to scramble at the quarterback position with starter Sam Darnold sidelined with mononucleosis. He missed Monday’s 23-3 loss to the Cleveland Browns and will miss Sunday’s game at New England as well. He said Tuesday during his weekly spot on ESPN New York’s The Michael Kay Show that he is feeling better and his goal is to return for the Jets’ Week 5 game against the Philadelphia Eagles. The Jets have a bye in Week 4.

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Jets’ Darnold feeling better; goal is Week 5 return

Jets’ Siemian lost for season; Darnold ‘better’
Trevor Siemian started Monday night’s game but was lost for the season when he suffered torn ligaments in his left ankle on a late hit by the Browns’ Myles Garrett. Falk, who had been elevated from the practice squad before that game, went 20-for-25 passing for 198 yards in relief and will start against the Patriots.

Siemian was placed on injured reserve Wednesday, which opened the spot on the active roster for Fales.

Fales, as well as Falk, played for Jets coach Adam Gase in Miami and are familiar with his offense. Fales last played in a regular-season game in 2017 with the Dolphins; he is 31-for-48 passing for 287 yards with one touchdown and one interception in three games in his career.

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Jets’ Siemian lost for season; Darnold ‘better’
Trevor Siemian started Monday night’s game but was lost for the season when he suffered torn ligaments in his left ankle on a late hit by the Browns’ Myles Garrett. Falk, who had been elevated from the practice squad before that game, went 20-for-25 passing for 198 yards in relief and will start against the Patriots.

Siemian was placed on injured reserve Wednesday, which opened the spot on the active roster for Fales.

Fales, as well as Falk, played for Jets coach Adam Gase in Miami and are familiar with his offense. Fales last played in a regular-season game in 2017 with the Dolphins; he is 31-for-48 passing for 287 yards with one touchdown and one interception in three games in his career.

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It was a momentous Wednesday night for round numbers at Minute Maid Park.

Three hundred strikeouts for Gerrit Cole, the first Astros pitcher to achieve that feat since Mike Scott in 1986.

Thirty home runs for Yuli Gurriel, the third man to 30 for an Astros team that continues to extend its franchise record for long balls.

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One hundred wins for the Astros, who clinched a playoff berth and reduced their magic number to two to clinch the American League West title in a 3-2 win over the Rangers.

For good measure, the win also gave the Astros a 9-0 record at home against the Rangers, who have been transformed from tormentors to marks in the Astros’ remarkable turnaround from three consecutive 100-loss seasons (2011-13) to three straight 100-win campaigns.
The Astros joined the Yankees (2002-04), Braves (1997-99), Orioles (1969-71), Cardinals (1942-44) and Philadelphia Athletics (1929-31) as the only MLB teams to win 100 games in three consecutive seasons.

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This signature win came in characteristic fashion for the 2019 Astros: overwhelming pitching, courtesy of Cole, who struck out nine in seven innings to run his season total to 302, and relentless power, with home runs from Gurriel and Jose Altuve to account for all three Houston runs.

Cole, who is 14-0 over his past 20 starts and has not lost since May 27, allowed six hits in eight innings and struck out 10 with one walk.

Rangers designated hitter Shin Soo-Choo was Cole’s eighth strikeout victim of the night and his 300th of the year to end the sixth inning. He added two more before giving way to closer Roberto Osuna in the ninth inning.

As the Minute Maid Park crowd rose to its feet to salute Cole as he reached 300, the righthander raised his gloved left hand in salute to each corner of the ballpark and tapped his right hand to his chest as he walked into the dugout.

For the second straight night, a member of one of the best pitching tandems in all baseball history overcame poor run support to get the Astros even closer to a playoff berth.

Tonight Gerrit Cole completed eight innings, allowed just two runs with six hits and a walk, and fanned ten Mall Cops. He surpassed 300 strikeouts, the only pitcher in the majors to break that threshold, and the first Astro since Mike Scott in 1986.

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Cole has thrown seven games in a row with 10 Ks or more, and a total of 19 for the season. He has now gone 20 games in a row without a loss, winning 14 of those games. During that streak he has had a 1.85 ERA, a WHIP of 0.82, and a phenomenal K% 40.3%. With that overpowering dominance, his BB% is only 5.9%, striking out almost 7 Xs as many batters as he has walked.
Rob Friedman
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Gerrit Cole, 99mph Fastball (foul) and 90mph back foot Slider (swinging K), Overlay with Tails.

Unfair.

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Here’s Cole acknowledging the fans after strikeout number 300.
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@astros
Witness history. @GerritCole45 x 300#TakeItBack

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The Astros were outhit by the Rangers 7-6, and left the bases loaded twice, but they got enough big hits to pull it out and hang on.

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Yuli Gurriel hit a two-run homer behind Yordan Alvarez’ single in the fifth to break a scoreless tie. It was his thirtieth home run, joining Alex Bregman and George Springer in the 30 club for the Astros. This is only the second Astros team to have three 30 home run players in a season.
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Add @el_yuly10 to the 30 HR club! #TakeItBack

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Jose Altuve’s home run in the 7th, a 400 foot+ monster to the opposite field, his 29th, leaves the Astros just one home run short of having a record four 30+ home run hitters.
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ASTROS SWEEP THE RANGERS!

I don’t care what the records are.
I don’t care it was a 2 game series.
That is fun to say.
You know what?
I’m gonna say it again.

ASTROS SWEEP THE RANGERS!
ASTROS SWEEP THE RANGERS!
ASTROS SWEEP THE RANGERS!#Astros Post Game is starting right now!

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But more importantly, the Astros won their 100th game tonight, their 3rd season in a row to reach that level. Only five other teams have had that many consecutive 100 game seasons.

Furthermore, the Astros clinched at least a Wild-Card berth, and their magic number to clinch the AL West is only two games. With a Yankees loss tonight, the Astros are now one game ahead of the Yankees for home field advantage throughout the AL playoffs. They are also a game and a half in front of the Dodgers.

The Astros are off tomorrow, before taking on the Angels for three games this weekend.

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The Rangers, however, did not go down quietly. Trailing 2-0, Willie Calhoun singled in the seventh, went to third on a base hit by Danny Santana and scored on Astros catcher Martin Maldonado’s throwing error as Santana stole second. Cole, however, retired Nick Solak on a groundout and Roughned Odor on a fly out to end the inning.

Altuve’s seventh-inning home run gave Houston a 3-1 lead, but the Rangers got the run back on Ronald Guzman’s leadoff homer in the top of the eighth.

Cole allowed a one-out single to Jose Trevino and walked Choo but struck out Elvis Andrus and retired Calhoun on a liner to right to quell the threat and wrap up his night.

Osuna allowed a hit and a walk in the ninth but struck out Odor and got Guzman to hit into a double play to end the game.

The Astros had baserunners in each of the first five innings and loaded the bases in the second and third but came up empty each time against lefthander Kolby Allard (4-1), who walked four through five innings with no consequences.

In the second, Gurriel walked with two out and went to third when Rangers third baseman Solak overthrew second attempting to force Gurriel on a grounder by Aledmys Diaz. Maldonado walked to load the bases, but George Springer grounded out to end the inning.

In the third, Michael Brantley, who drew a first-inning walk, was hit by a pitch with one out and moved up a base on an Alex Bregman base hit. Gurriel reached with two out when Solak couldn’t handle his sharply hit grounder to third, but Kyle Tucker flied out to end the inning.

The Astros finally broke through in the fifth with a two-out base hit by Yordan Alvarez and Gurriel’s home run into the Crawford Boxes.

While the Astros struggled at the plate, their defense again came through for Cole in the early innings.

Tucker, who got the start in right field, leaped at the wall to take a home run away from Scott Heineman in the third inning.

In the fourth, Tucker tracked down Calhoun’s base hit down the first base line as it bounced off the right field wall, uncorking a high throw that shortstop Bregman dragged down in time to tag out Calhoun.

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The Houston Astros hit three home runs. The Texas Rangers hit one home run. That’s just about that.

Player of the Game: Nomar Mazara was the man who hit the dong to prevent the Rangers from suffering the dubious dishonor of being shutout.

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Up Next: The Rangers finish off their season slate against Houston with one more game against the Astros in this brief two-game set. RHP Gerrit Cole will pitch for Houston against LHP Kolby Allard for Texas. Wednesday’s first pitch from Minute Maid Park is scheduled for 7:10 pm CT.

Texas Rangers rookie Nick Solak had a big series against the Tampa Bay Rays, who traded him in July. BY JEFF WILSON
September baseball has earned a reputation for being one of the two worst months to evaluate big-league talent. The other is March, when spring-training rosters aren’t all that different than the bloated September rosters.

Expanded final-month rosters end after this season, with a maximum of 28 players available for September games beginning in 2020.

Good for September.

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But the silliest MLB rule has two more weeks of shelf life at an unfortunate times for teams like the Texas Rangers, who are using the final month to begin tryouts for next season.

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As the Rangers have said, they are grateful to have a string of contenders in opposing dugouts to close the season. Those teams are playing for something and playing their best players to get that something.

In the process they are giving young Rangers players a good test and Rangers coaches and scouts a little better September evaluation than if the schedule were full of Seattle Mariners, Kansas City Royals and Baltimore Orioles.

Manager Chris Woodward, though, has made it clear that no young player will win a spot on the Opening Day roster based on this month. March will mean something, depending on how the Rangers add to the roster in November, December, January and February.
Of all the rookies who have received a chance to audition this month, some of whom were called up in August, only a few look to be headed to Seattle for the March 26 season opener.

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SAFE BETS
Jose Trevino: The Rangers have given Trevino the majority of the games behind the plate this month, and he will get an extended stretch to open the upcoming road trip with Jeff Mathis dealing with back stiffness.

With the exception of Saturday’s issues with Mike Minor, Trevino has shown the Rangers that he works well with pitchers and has lived up to his reputation as a premium defender.

Trevino, who was recalled Aug. 2, has also shown more with the bat than expected and will take a four-game hitting streak into Tuesday’s game at Houston against Cy Young front-runner Justin Verlander.

The Rangers need a catcher to pair with Mathis next season. Trevino has the clear edge.

Emmanuel Clase: Clase was never really eased into the major leagues, getting high-leverage situations almost from the moment he was promoted Aug. 2.

It’s not hard for Woodward to do that with a pitcher who throws 101 mph.

Clase has encountered some bumps in his six weeks in the majors, but the Rangers have continued to use him with games on the line and he has mostly been successful.

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He has things to improve. He’s not really a strikeout pitcher despite his velocity, and he might be asked to throw more four-seam fastballs next season and tweak his slider.

But he should be in the bullpen to start next season.

Kolby Allard: Only two rotation spots are locked down for 2020, and the Rangers will be adding at least one veteran starter in the off-season. Allard has impressed since his first Rangers start last month and has won over the coaching staff with the way he competes.

He can pitch, too.

Allard also has an edge on fellow left-handers Joe Palumbo and Brock Burke because the innings he pitched in the minors. Allard threw 115 at Triple A this season and has 37 1/3 more with the Rangers with two more starts remaining.

Burke and Palumbo both dealt with injuries this season and might not finish with 100 innings.

Allard is looking good for 2020.

NEEDS HELP
Nick Solak: How is it possible that the best of the Rangers’ rookies the past month isn’t a safe bet for next Opening Day? Here’s how:

The Rangers have Rougned Odor and his contract at second base, Solak’s prime position. The expectation is they will attempt to sign a third baseman, where Solak is getting his feet wet, even if on a short-term deal until first-rounder Josh Jung is ready.

That would leave Danny Santana and/or Isiah Kiner-Falefa as the utility infielder. Santana can also play all three outfield spots.

That would leave Solak without regular playing time, even though he can also play in the outfield. He can’t be the utility infielder without proving he can play shortstop, and he has never played there since turning pro.

He would be better served getting everyday at-bats at Triple A Nashville than getting buried on the Rangers’ bench as the 25th or 26th player.

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But … if the Rangers do not sign a third baseman and if they do not sign a right-handed-hitting corner outfielder (Hunter Pence), there would be enough at-bats to keep Solak sharp.

There’s also this novel concept: Put the best players on the Opening Day roster and figure out how to get them all playing time.

Brock Burke/Joe Palumbo: They’re not the same pitchers, but they’re both left-handed and in the same situation.

As pointed out above, injuries have limited their workloads this season, and that will be a concern as the Rangers weigh their status for 2020.

There will be another numbers game at play, too.

The Rangers have three rotation spots to fill entering the off-season. One of those will to go a veteran right-hander. If Allard gets a spot, that leaves Burke and Palumbo fighting for the last spot.

There also could be a spring surprise, which seems to be the case each year with the Rangers, that makes it tough for Burke and Palumbo.

They will have hurdles to clear, especially on a team that values starting pitching depth in the minors but never seems to have enough of it.

Jonathan Hernandez: The new rule that will push the active roster from 25 to 26 players will likely mean that an eighth reliever is carried.

Looking at the 2020 bullpen, Jose Leclerc, Rafael Montero and Jesse Chavez have spots locked up. Clase and Brett Martin should be in there. The Rangers will be enticed to exercise their option on Shawn Kelley.

That would leave two spots and the need for them to be filled by multi-innings relievers. Hernandez would be a strong candidate.

However, the Rangers are still deciding whether they should give him another chance at starting games. The decision to move him to the bullpen was based in part on seeing if he could find better mechanics that would give him better success as a starter.

If he goes the starter route, he will be ticketed for the minor leagues. If not, he’s got a shot at a bullpen spot.

Scott Heineman: His biggest strength is that he is versatile. He can play all three outfield spots capably, and he has started playing first base.

His next biggest strength is that he bats right-handed. The Rangers have a glut of lefty-hitting outfielders, and first baseman Ronald Guzman also bats from the left side.

Woodward is not a fan of platoons, but he is a fan of data. Some of that plainly states that some hitters don’t do well against certain pitchers, and almost forces a manager to react.

This season, Woodward’s first, allowed some leeway for players to acclimate themselves to the new data and swing changes that were asked of them for the first time.

The kid gloves will come off in Woodward’s second season, when regulars must produce or risk losing playing time. That could benefit players like Heineman.

Of course, the Rangers will look at right-handed bats during the off-season and might find a veteran one they simply like more.

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According to video released by Joe Smith of The Athletic, Tampa Bay Lightning GM Julien BriseBois spoke to fans Sunday and noted he is “very optimistic” about getting Brayden Point re-signed.

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Tampa Bay Lightning, forward, Brayden Point
Lightning forward Brayden Point (Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports)
He said he didn’t believe there was a reason to panic, that things have been cordial, there is an ongoing dialogue and both sides really want to make it work in Tampa.

According to Luke Fox of Sportsnet, Point’s agent, Gerry Johannson has said that Point is open to a variety of contract terms, anything from a two-year bridge deal to a five-year Matthews-type deal to an eight-year lockup.

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Related: Ranking NHL Teams By Forwards

The Latest on Mikko Rantanen
Finding ways to save money when it comes to Mikko Rantanen is not something GM Joe Sakic is concerned with thanks to a ton of cap space in Colorado. “It’s not something we’re worried about. He’s going to be here a long time,” Sakic said.

Colorado Avalanche Executive Vice President Joe Sakic
Colorado Avalanche Executive Vice President Joe Sakic (Photo by RJ Sangosti / The Denver Post via Getty Images)

What appears to be more the concern is if Rantanen signs for a high-priced deal that is well beyond what Nathan McKinnon is making. While McKinnon is a steal of a deal in the NHL, if you sign Rantanen for $10.5 million, the concern out of Colorado is, are you really ok with indirectly asserting that Rantanen is 40 percent more valuable?

The players on the Avalanche know this is a tough spot for Rantanen because he wants to be in Colorado but has to get fair value for the production he’s been providing the team. Captain Gabriel Landeskog told the Denver Post Sunday. “As much as he’d like to be here, he can’t go out and sign an eight-year deal at $1 million a year just to be nice.”

Rantanen’s absence doesn’t seem to be a distraction though. Mike Chambers of the Denver Post writes:

Rantanen, 22, has missed the first three days of Avalanche training camp, including Friday and Saturday’s on-ice sessions, because he doesn’t have a contract as a restricted free agent coming out of the three-year, entry-level deal. But he’s the last guy who would ever disrupt the Avs’ locker room over a salary dispute.

source – ‘Chambers: Mikko Rantanen’s agents might have him locked up and gagged during contract negotiations’ – Mike Chambers – Denver Post – 09/15/2019
Related: 7 Biggest NHL Players in Today’s Game

Matthew Tkachuk Wants a Five-Year Deal
If what Tkachuk said in February still holds true today. Fox reports that Tkachuk is looking for a five-year deal out of the Calgary Flames similar to the one Auston Matthews signed.

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Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk
Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk (Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports)
GM Brad Treliving has confidence that he will get his player signed but it will likely end with Tkachuk becoming the Flames’ highest-paid player. That means, because of limited cap space, Treliving has reportedly entertaining trade offers for roster players like Michael Frolik and T.J. Brodie.
Treliving noted that the Marner contract would not impact the Tkachuk talks.

Related: Oilers News and Rumors: Bouchard, Neal, Cuts, More

Patrick Laine Goes to Switzerland
Laine is currently training in Switzerland with SC Bern as his agent and Winnipeg Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff try to find a contract solution. The Jets are rumored to have offered a bridge deal of three years at around $5 million per season. Laine said of his decision, “Obviously a great organization and great city, so it was an easy choice to come here.”

Patrik Laine Winnipeg Jets
Patrik Laine, Winnipeg Jets (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)
Speculation is that Laine is not opposed to a shorter-term deal banking on the fact that two or three strong years will set him up to hit a home run on the next deal.

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It was the shot heard ’round the hockey world, a Patrik Laine howitzer that rattled off the bar in Finland and clanged down Portage Avenue past the Perimeter, all the way to the Iceplex.

The Finnish forward may still be without a contract, but he made his presence felt at Jets training camp on Tuesday.

That’s what happens when you throw some shade on your teammates and coaches, as Laine did in an interview with a Finnish reporter.

The high-scoring winger, a restricted free agent embroiled in a contract stalemate with the Jets, suggested he’d be used differently and likely be more productive if he were with another team and had better linemates.

“When you’re having contract negotiations, one thing always is who are you playing with,” Laine told the newspaper Iltalehti. “With the merits I have, somewhere else I’d have an opportunity to play with the best players. Everybody who understands hockey knows that.

“There are top lines and then there is our line. But I play with the guys I’m told to play.”

Laine’s comments indicate he’s not thrilled with how head coach Paul Maurice employs him on the Jets second line with Bryan Little as his centre.

It doesn’t reflect well on Little, either.

Maurice did his best to shrug it all off to just a young, talented player wanting more ice time and a bigger role.

“Here, over the last two years, we’ve had three really, really young players,” Maurice said, referring to Laine, Kyle Connor and Nik Ehlers. “We can all do the math on that. That means two of them are going to be on one line and one’s going to be on the other. And he would be 100 percent right… there’s nine other forwards that wouldn’t mind playing a little left wing on that line. I get that. Everybody wants it.

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“I’ll use my driver’s license analogy: nobody gets the keys at 14.”

Laine is coming off a season that saw his goal total dip from 44 to 30. He scored 18 of them in 12 games in November, and had long slumps after that.

Maurice tried to give him a boost with a brief stint on the top line with Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele, beginning in late February. He also dropped Laine down to a fourth line for a time.

So this topic isn’t new.

Neither is the notion of Little and Laine being a less-than-ideal match. The Jets have spent the last two trade deadlines paying steep prices for second-line centres.

The one thing that is new: Laine usually just blames himself.

“I can handle the shade,” Maurice said. “That part’s not going to bother me a whole hell of a lot. The individual experience is secondary to the team experience.”

The captain of that team found himself fielding difficult questions about a teammate he’d rather be passing pucks to on the power play, if not as a regular linemate.

“He spends a good deal of time with that top unit on the power play,” Wheeler said of the 21-year-old Laine. “He’s a young kid that’s had a lot of success in three years. He’s definitely not doing it by himself, I can guarantee you that. It’s a great trait to have to want more ice time, more playing time. Those are all good things.”

Wheeler read mostly from his coach’s play book, and suggested Laine’s comments might have been borne out of frustration of being on the sidelines.

At one point he said Laine is still “growing up, on and off the ice.”

Wheeler acknowledged his job as captain includes helping players accept their roles and buy in to the team concept.

But he brushed aside the notion this could make his job harder, or that he had to reach out to Laine.

“It’s a non-issue today,” Wheeler said. “None whatsoever. I’m sure there’s parts of that that are not exactly how he meant it and blown out of proportion. Just knowing Patty it’s not something where he’s trying to get his name in the newspaper. It’s not a big deal. We’ll wake up tomorrow with new headlines.

“This is just something I’ve become accustomed to doing around here.”

Through five days, there’s been no shortage of headlines.

The stir caused by Laine, amid his and Connor’s ongoing contract impasses, is just the latest in a training camp news cycle that’s included Wheeler’s own acknowledgement of the personal toll last season took on him, a car crash sidelining up-and-comers Sami Niku and Kristian Vesalainen for three days and the unexpected personal leave of absence for Dustin Byfuglien.

“What’s that quote about rough seas making a good sailor?” Maurice said. “Something like that. But I haven’t felt it in the room. It’s been good, guys are working their asses off. Players got a little bit of turbulence, maybe, outside the jet. But inside the jet it’s good.”

That may be. We’re not allowed in, after all.

But eventually the team’s got to step out and play. And then we’ll find out if everything’s good, like they say.

Just like we found out last spring.