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28.06.2018 01:25
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You cant huck a paper airplane in Wrigley Field without hitting something the Cubs are the best at. They have the National Leagues best offense (by OPS+), the NLs best pitching (by ERA+), the NLs defending Manager of the Year and, since the trade deadline, arguably the NLs best bullpen. Their baserunning -- well, their baserunning is only average, which is hardly enough for the Giants to build a battle plan around.To really appreciate the Cubs, though, background all those bests and focus on their defense. This will not be easy. Most great defense is of the slow-and-steady-wins-the-race variety, a ragout of positioning, lineup decisions, first steps and fundamentals. Its body awareness, its balance, its torque, its internal clock. Its not a screaming liner, and its not 98 mph. Its the left fielder who takes two steps to his left before the pitch is thrown. Its cutting sodium from your diet. Its changing your oil on schedule. Its starting your 401(k) right out of college. It adds up.The Cubs have converted 74.5 percent of balls in play into outs this year, which is what Baseball Prospectus calls Defensive Efficiency. (Rephrased: Opponents are hitting .255 on balls put in play against the Cubs.) Thats not just the best in baseball this year. Adjusted for era, it might be the greatest defensive season ever, with the gap between the Cubs and the second-best team this year topping the spread between the next best and the 27th best.1. Cubs, .745 2. Blue Jays, .717 ... 27. Mets, .692Its been 34 years since a team converted balls in play at a higher clip than the Cubs, and that was when the league as a whole hit 15 to 20 points lower on balls in play than modern players do. No team since at least 1950 has converted a higher percentage of outs, relative to the rest of the league, than the Cubs just did:It doesnt matter how you hit it. The Cubs -- a team with only one Gold Glove winner on the roster, a team that shifts less than any in baseball -- are better than any other club at converting ground balls into outs (80.1 percent), the best at converting fly balls into outs (94.1 percent) and the best at converting line drives into outs (43.5 percent). They do this despite allowing an exit velocity that is almost exactly league average, and an exit velocity on grounders that is harder than league average. They have allowed roughly 110 fewer base hits than they would have if they had the Blue Jays defense -- if they had, in other words, merely the best defense in the American League.But, again, we run into an appreciation problem. Some of these 110 were this.But many -- most -- will look to us out here like routine baseball. To appreciate what the Cubs do, then, we must understand what well see in even the most banal highlights.Anthony Rizzos FootworkIf you know one thing about Rizzo as a ballplayer, its that hes a great slugger. If you know a second, it might be that he crowds the plate like nobody else, crowding into the territory that a pitcher would normally consider his own -- and suffering the bruises for it. If you know a third thing, it might be that he spends so much time in the stands that he should count toward paid admission, making terrifying plays like this one, or this one, or (hold me) this one. Rizzo is brilliant, but hes also fearless.Heres a fourth thing: Since 2014, no National Leaguer has handled more difficult throws than Rizzo, according to Baseball Info Solutions. He has saved his infielders 98 times, shy of only the Royals Gold Glover Eric Hosmer. We might credit it to the same fearlessness he shows toward inside fastballs and awkward landings.If youre watching the highlight embedded above -- a fairly unremarkable play (especially on his end) from last years National League Championship Series -- watch his back foot closely at the 0:37 mark:This is not how first basemen are taught to do it. Most will wedge their foot up against the flat face of the bag, peeling off just a sliver of the white canvas. The Milwaukee Brewers Major League Baseball Manual (published in 1982) teaches first basemen to prop the back foot right up on the edge of one corner. See, for example, Joey Votto:or Eric Hosmer:Rizzo does it differently. He puts his foot all the way up on the pillow, maximizing the surface-to-surface contact.Watch him play first base for long and youll see that he considers the bag his property, just as he considers the inside corner and the first two rows of the Club Box his property. Instead of stretching for errant throws, he repositions his feet and reorients his body so that he can square the ball up, even at what sometimes seems to be incredible peril and total disrespect for the baserunner:Theres a reason first basemen dont do it this way. Believe me from experience, says Tommy Lyons, a first baseman who plays independent-league ball, a cleat to the cankle, or Achilles, is no joke. But there might also be a reason to do it: With a firm position on the bag, Rizzo has more room to move without losing contact with the base, an especially useful consideration now that replay reviews ensure the slightest disconnection will be noticed.Javier Baezs HuntingIn early September, Jesse Rogers wrote about Baezs tagging swagger, especially at second base:Baez said he learned a long time ago how to apply the quick tag. It began as simply waiting as long as possible before reacting to the ball in order to deke the runner. A quick catch and then tag was needed to complete the play. Soon enough, it became part of his DNA as a ballplayer.When I was little in Puerto Rico, they showed me how to get early to the bag and act like nothing was coming, then at the last minute, catch and tag, Baez said with a smile. It kind of forced me to be quick at the last second ... I just kept working at it and kept getting better and better at it.Theres nothing all that special about the tag in the highlight we embedded, but I love the force Baez uses. I love how he pursues the runner and almost spears him with the glove, knocking him all to pieces and having to go pick him up. Heck, Ill just say it: I love it as metaphor.Baez, more than anybody youll see this October, hunts after outs. There was a play this season where Baez was not assigned to cover second base on a stolen base attempt. The catchers throw was awful, so bad that Baez, backing the play up, couldnt get to it, and it went into center field. As the baserunner, Keon Broxton, got up and started to go to third, glancing to find the ball, Baez deked as though he had the ball. Its not uncommon to see middle infielders deke baserunners in situations like this, but Baez sales job was extraordinary: He smacked his glove, spun his whole body around, arm raised and cocked and ready to throw; he even started to run at the baserunner. It didnt work! Broxton saw the ball in center field and advanced to third. But Baez does that sort of thing all the time, cutting angles and anticipating daylight where he can steal an out.Indeed, its not even the quickness that most stands out to me about his tags. Well, maybe it is. But not exclusively that. Baez often doesnt do what you expect from the guy covering second base on a stolen base attempt -- he doesnt wait for the throw, catch it and lay it down in front of the bag where the runners fingers are stretching for safety. Rather, Baez reaches out in front of the bag to catch it and then drops the tag on the body or the head of the baserunner. He shaves a few feet off the catchers throw and he gives himself a bigger target to slam a tag onto. He puts himself in position to tag the most elevated part of the baserunners body, which is usually up the baseline -- where a foot-first sliders torso and head are, or where a headfirst-divers shoulders are elevated or his legs kicked up in the air. Like in this play, maybe my favorite Baez tag: Jonathan Villar is safe, by plenty, but you can see how Baez is 1) pulling the tag down before hes even caught it, 2) swiping it toward Villars rib cage, rather than putting it down in front of the bag and 3) taking that step forward so that his feet are now directly in front of the bag, blocking Villars hands from a direct path to second.Baez might be the most important part of the Cubs defense, moreso even than the Gold Glove-caliber shortstop Addison Russell. He is a superutility player who is not just passable but exceptional wherever he goes, which has led Cubs manager Joe Maddon to create what is essentially a defensive platoon -- a platoon based not on who is pitching for the other team, but who is pitching for the Cubs. Maddon puts Baez wherever he thinks the ball is going to be hit most often. So when Jon Lester starts Game 1 of the NLDS, theres a decent chance that Baez will be at third. Lester, the lone lefty in the Cubs rotation, faces nearly 80 percent right-handed batters, compared to 50 to 60 percent for the rest of the Cubs starters. Almost all batters tend to pull their ground balls, and thats especially true of right-handers facing Lester:Add to that Lesters trouble throwing to bases, which makes teams more likely to bunt against him, and which requires the third baseman to cover more ground. When Lester is on the mound, then, the question Maddon asks himself -- Where is Baez more likely to be hit to? -- is easy to answer.The straight-up defenseIn 2010, the Tampa Bay Rays?-- then managed by Maddon -- shifted more often than any other team, accounting for about 10 percent of all the shifts (on balls in play) in the majors, according to Baseball Info Solutions. In 2011, they led the majors again, and in 2012, and in 2013 Maddons Rays were second, just 40 shifts behind the Orioles.This year, with the Cubs, Maddon called for fewer shifts than any other manager, 50 fewer than the 29th-place Miami Marlins and almost 1,500 fewer than the Houston Astros. The Cubs accounted for just 1.4 percent of all shifts across the majors.So what changed Maddons mind about this seemingly progressive tactic? Maybe nothing. With the exception of 2014, when the Rays nearly doubled their shift frequency, Maddons teams have been fairly steady from year to year. Its the league that has changed around him:Maddon has been asked why he doesnt shift as much as he used to, and he usually doesnt say but I do. Why give away your strategies, after all. Instead, he offers answers that are not very convincing. For instance: He also said that while many lefties hit the ball in the air to right field, ground balls go to the left side, which makes shifting more dangerous. This is pretty much exactly wrong. Most hitters pull grounders and go to the opposite field on fly balls. But Maddons boss, president of baseball operations Theo Epstein, offered an explanation that does make some sense: When you shift you risk turning hitters into better hitters than they otherwise would be. Youre opening up holes and encouraging good hitters to use the whole field. That is, by incentivizing hitters not to pull the ball, shifting defenses convince hitters to actually do the thing a lifetime of coaches have been telling them to do: stay back and use the whole field. (For a great case study on this, see Mike Moustakas, whose offensive breakout came when he started trying to thwart the shift -- not because he was hitting ground balls through vacated infield holes, but because he started banging hard line drives into left field.) Russell Carleton at Baseball Prospectus has found that, in aggregate, the leagues tens of thousands of shifts produce only a modest benefit, once all offensive outcomes are included in the results.So: Imagine you have 1,000 scratchers, and you know that in the aggregate they are going to win you $1,000. Does that mean each of them is going to be worth a buck? Of course not. A few will win a lot, a bunch will win a little, and the rest -- maybe most -- are going to be losers. If teams are putting on tens of thousands of shifts, and saving only a few dozen hits a year, it suggests that the most shiftable hitters -- your David Ortizes and your Ryan Howards -- really do produce fewer hits, but that the profit from the tactic tapers off. It suggests that teams might be overfitting the strategy, applying it to hitters for whom theres little point -- or worse. Teams, at least, that arent the Cubs.The Cubs do pretty well when they dont shift, which isnt surprising. They have Rizzos footwork, they have Baez hunting for outs and they have about a dozen other areas of defensive excellence, so theyre just good at making outs. While the leagues batters hit .299 against non-shifted defenses this year, they hit just .261 against the Cubs straight-up formation. While the league had a .797 OPS when there was no shift on generally, they had a .714 OPS when the Cubs didnt shift. Thirty-eight points of batting average, 83 points of OPS -- pretty good.But the Cubs do extraordinarily well when they do shift. The leagues .299 batting average against the shift drops all the way to .252 against the Cubs shift, and its .842 OPS (remember, better hitters are more likely to be shifted against) drops to .707 against the Cubs. Forty-seven points of batting average, 135 points of OPS. The Cubs defense is either extremely well-suited to shifts, or the Cubs field staff is extremely good at deciding which batters to shift, and when.In a sense, its the most banal highlight imaginable -- a ground ball fielded because the infield was lined up the same way Chance, Evers and Tinker did a century ago. But it doesnt take one of Maddons dress-up days for the Cubs to be worth watching closely. Cheap Rams Jerseys Authentic . 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There was no hesitation from the 40th-ranked Pospisil, from Vernon, B.C., who admitted that he cut back on his training sessions over the last few days to conserve energy as the long ATP season finishes next week at the Paris Masters. Cheap Travin Howard Jersey . DAmigo scored twice in regulation and added the shootout winner as the Toronto Marlies edged the San Antonio Rampage 5-4 in American Hockey League action. Cheap Brian Allen Jersey . "Trying to breathe," he said with a grin. Bernier stopped 42 of 43 shots on Monday night, including all 22 in a hectic middle frame, his heroic performance propelling the Leafs toward an undue point in their final game before the Christmas break. Only eight teams remain in the NCAA tournament. And, wouldnt you know it, each quarterfinal is between a team seeking its first College Cup appearance and a team seeking to return there.Heres what you missed from the second and third rounds.Stress tests for No. 1 seedsPlaying as a No. 1 seed on its home field, a week after piling up seven goals in a first-round romp, South Carolina led its second- and third-round games for a total of just over 38 minutes. Which means it didnt have that luxury for nearly 142 minutes. The Gamecocks didnt score a goal in the run of play, beating Colorado and fourth-seeded BYU by matching 1-0 scores on the strength of second-half penalty kicks.They endured. They defended. They survived. Barely.And that was the easiest weekend a No. 1 seed had in the NCAA tournament.It wasnt quite anarchy, but the second and third rounds were distinctly anti-establishment. After five consecutive seasons in which all No. 1 seeds reached the quarterfinals, a perfect 20-for-20, no favorite was safe this year. By the time it was over, only South Carolina and West Virginia remained -- and the Mountaineers only after sweating out a penalty shootout in Morgantown, West Virginia.When Utah upset third-seeded Florida State on a busy Friday of second-round games, it had a chance to be the story of the weekend. It was barely the story of the afternoon, eclipsed when Santa Clara stunned No. 1 Stanford in overtime that night. The Bay Area neighbors have played in four of the past eight NCAA tournaments, in addition to an annual regular-season game. And against the familiar foe, Stanford couldnt find a goal with any of its 31 shots. Barely a minute after Santa Clara goalkeeper Melissa Lowder made the last of 14 saves, Jenna Holtz scored the winner that eliminated a No. 1 seed in the second round for the first time since 2010.Florida, a surprise No. 1 seed when the bracket was announced, rallied from a goal down to beat Wisconsin in overtime in the second round, only to find itself down two goals and a player against No. 4 Auburn on Sunday. The Gators cut that deficit in half, but Kristen Dodsons beautiful chip sealed Auburns 3-1 win.Then there was West Virginia, which endured not just four overtime periods and a penalty shootout on the weekend but a snow-covered field for its third-round game against No. 4 UCLA (which surely enjoyed the conditions even less).Mountaineers forward Michaela Abam bailed her team out with an overtime winner against Ohio State in the second round, but it wasnt until Canadian Olympic and World Cup medalist Kadeisha Buchanan converted a penalty kick in the fifth and final round of the shootout against UCLA that the Mountaineers could plan for next week.In all, No. 1 seeds played seven games and scored just one more goal than they allowed. They led for barely 50 out of their nearly 700 total minutes on the field. Two survived. Two did not.And we arent likely to see another weekend quite like it for a long time.The biggest loss wasnt on the scoreboardNo matter your rooting interest, there is something sad about seeing seniors like BYUs Ashley Hatch, Floridas Savannah Jordan, Wisconsins Rose Lavelle and Virginias Alexis Shaffer walk off the field for the final time as collegians. It is also expected. It is part of the tournament.More painful for its unexpectedness was seeing Stanford junior All-American Andi Sullivan carried off the field with an apparent knee injury before the conclusion of Stanfords loss.On Monday, Stanford confirmed Sullivan had suffered a torn ACL in her left knee.The optics in the moment were universally sobering. Sullivans scream of pain as she fell was audible even on the web stream of the game. The nearest Santa Clara player immediately put her hands to her face. And though the injury occurred near the sideline, Sullivans full weight was completely supported between two people as she was carried off. UCLA coach Amanda Cromwell tweeted what most fans all too familiar with the plague of knee injuries in womens soccer would have thought upon seeing it.Sullivan -- who tweeted the message struck down but not destroyed a day after the game -- has a bright future ahead.But its a shame she has to spend the months before her senior season working back to this point instead of working to solidify a place with the United States womens national team that could find her in the lineup for the 2019 FIFA Womens World Cup.Those who forget history ...North Carolina and Santa Clara have 173 wins in the NCAA tournament between them. The other six programs represented in the quarterfinals have a combined 94 tournament wins.As strange as it is to write this about perhaps the most successful dynasty in college sports, North Carolina ended a quarterfinal drought with its wins this week over Kansas and No. 3 Clemson. Well, a drought by North Carolina standards. The Tar Heels didnt make it past the third round in either of the past two tournaments (even exiting in the second round a year ago). The NCAA tournament began in 1982. Pick a measure -- leap days, Olympics, solar eclipses -- and there have probably been more of them since 1982 than Elite Eights without the Tar Heels.The longer drought belonged to Santa Clara, in the quarterfinals for the first time since 2004. That was also the last of 10 times the Broncos reached the College Cup, including a national championship in 2001. Should Santa Clara make it back home to San Jose this year, it will be the first sschool other than North Carolina to reach the College Cup in each of four decades.ddddddddddddLike West Coast Conference rival Portland, Santa Clara has seen the tide of the sport turn against it -- from the micro of dubious treatment at the hands of the selection committee to the macro of more and more power conference schools putting more and more money into the sport. That the Broncos had to pull off one of the biggest upsets in recent memory and withstand 49 total shots over the weekends two games just to get here tells a story of its own for the program that produced Brandi Chastain, Leslie Osborne and Aly Wagner among its stars. (Not that the pipeline is dry with Julie Johnston and Sofia Huerta among notable active alums.)But there is institutional memory in longtime coach Jerry Smiths program, not to mention hands-on experience against what is annually one of the nations best schedules. For players like fifth-year seniors Brittany Ambrose and Julie Vass and senior Jordan Jesolva, the scorers against NC State, this is a chance to show soccer at Santa Clara can still be living history.Unfamiliar territory for Georgetown and AuburnJust in time for Thanksgiving, Georgetowns Rachel Corboz earned what most siblings hope to bring to the holiday table: bragging rights. Although by doing so, Corboz ensured she and the rest of her teammates wont be available for the full culinary indulgence Thursday. They have a quarterfinal against Santa Clara to play two days later.After wins over Rutgers and No. 3 Virginia this past weekend, duplicating the regular-season results most directly responsible for its No. 2 seed, Georgetown will play a quarterfinal for the second time in program history. And as the Hoyas seek their College Cup debut, that game will be played at home. Corboz is far from finished, but even getting to this point makes clear that she has a place in program history separate and distinct from older sister Daphne, with whom she played her first two seasons and who remains Georgetowns all-time leader in goals.The opening goal against Virginia came after Corboz yielded to the conditions on a day when the wind bowed corner flags and made it difficult to set the ball for free kicks. Her short corner started a sequence that ended in a Virginia own goal. But after Virginias Alissa Gorzak hit the post late, neither the Cavaliers nor Mother Nature could stop the goal that sealed matters, a free kick from 20 yards that Corboz powered through the wind for her 11th goal of the season. That after she recorded her 15th and 16th assists of the season in the win over Rutgers.There is something about Auburn earning its first quarterfinal trip at the expense of Florida, so long the SEC equivalent of an older sibling, that Corboz could appreciate. Especially since it meant beating the Gators twice this season in Gainesville, Florida. One of the best teams in the country since Labor Day, Auburn can also lay claim to the most impressive march to the fourth round. Against three quality opponents, Connecticut and Florida this past week, the Tigers piled up 11 goals through the first three rounds.What awaits in the quarterfinals?No. 4 Auburn at No. 2 USC: It took until now to mention USC, which survived a penalty shootout in the second round against Texas A&M and then beat Utah 1-0 in a Pac-12 rematch. It wasnt a dominant showing, but it was enough to not just survive but to stay at home for this game. That is a luxury even the USC national championship team of 2007 didnt have in the quarterfinals. Of concern for the Tigers is Dodsons status. She had to be helped from the field shortly after her goal and had her right shoulder tightly wrapped as the game concluded.No. 3 Duke at No. 1 West Virginia: Duke coach Robbie Church was blunt in assessing the teams failings in a 3-1 loss at home against West Virginia in September, a performance that in some ways set the tone for an inconsistent season. Yet while the Blue Devils werent immune to the drama this past week, waiting until late to put away Illinois State in the second round, the level of play has been strong throughout the first three rounds. The counterattack that worked so well last postseason might again be called on against a West Virginia attack that was much more impressive this past week than its close calls suggest.No. 2 North Carolina at No. 1 South Carolina: Both North Carolina game-winning goals this past week came from substitutes, Madison Schultz against Kansas and Dorian Bailey against Clemson. That should not be a surprise. Beginning with Schultzs winner in the regular-season finale, eight of North Carolinas 12 most recent goals have come from substitutes. No one uses a bench to greater effect than Anson Dorrance. Can South Carolina, perhaps through star Savannah McCaskill, break the high pressure before the waves of Tar Heels reserves get involved?Santa Clara at No. 2 Georgetown: Its not as if the Broncos will panic if they find themselves absorbing shots and ceding possession in search of another upset. Holiday-week travel and a chilly long-range forecast may be bigger concerns than that for the visitors from the Bay Area. But at some point, there has to be a correlation between goals and opportunities. And having allowed one goal in the past month, Georgetowns defense isnt giving up many of either. Cheap NFL Womens Jerseys Cheap Stitched Jerseys Cheap Jerseys Free Shipping Discount NFL Jerseys Wholesale NFL Hoodies Cheap Jerseys Throwback Cheap Jerseys Throwback ' ' '

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