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What you need to know about Olympics Softball & Baseball

July 21, 2021
What you need to know about Olympics Softball & Baseball

⚙️How it works: Women’s softball and men’s baseball are returning to the world stage after being nixxed from the 2012 and 2016 Games. 

  • Softball: Six teams (Australia, Canada, Italy, Japan, Mexico and the United States) play each other once in the group stage, with the top two moving on to the gold medal game and the next two, playing in the bronze medal game. Nice and simple.
  • Baseball: Like softball, six teams will compete, starting with a round robin within two, three-team groups. That said, organizers have introduced a slightly confusing and modified double-elimination bracket, so if you’re a visual learner, click here.

👀Who to watch: As two-time reigning softball world champs with a world No. 1 ranking, Team USA is the overwhelming favorite to win gold. 

  • With major leaguers ineligible to compete, Team USA baseball is world No. 4, so while we’ll be cheering them on, we’ll keep a close eye on No. 1 Japan just in case.

👀Who to watch:  As the two-time reigning softball world champs with a world No. 1 ranking, Team USA is the overwhelming favorite to win gold. However, Team Canada has a solid third place ranking and has promised to “put on a show” for us fans at home.

  • No Canadian representation in baseball, so we’ll keep our eyes on world No. 4 USA and No. 1 Japan instead.

⏰When to watch: 

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Sports Quick Hits: July 12th, 2021

July 12, 2021
Source: Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog
Source: Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

🏀Basketball: Team Canada’s Kia Nurse is getting ready for the upcoming Olympics the best way she knows how: by killing it in the WNBA. Last night, the Phoenix Mercury star recorded 28 points and a career-high seven 3-pointers. Unfortunately it wasn’t enough for a win, with the Mercury falling 82–75 to the Seattle Storm.

  • The Mercury’s NBA counterpart, the Phoenix Suns, didn’t fare any better either, losing last night’s Game 3 of the NBA Finals 120–100 to the Milwaukee Bucks. 

⚾️MLB: While the FBI prepares the city of Denver for a safe All-Star Game, the Toronto Blue Jays are sending their four All-Stars off in style. Bo Bichette and Teoscar Hernandez each recorded a hit in yesterday’s 3–1 win over the Tampa Bay Rays, which was a no-hitter until the seventh inning. 

  • Most of the Jays are on a break until Friday, with Bichette, Hernandez, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Marcus Semien playing in tomorrow night’s All-Star Game. But first, don’t miss tonight’s Home Run Derby at 8 p.m. ET on Sportsnet.

🚵‍♂️Tour de France: Movin’ on up! Ottawa native Mike Woods earned his first-ever King of the Mountains honor and the chance to don the prestigious (and fashionable) polka dot jersey after Stage 14 of the Tour de France on Saturday. With seven stages left in cycling’s biggest event, Woods sits second in the overall climber rankings. Keep climbing, Mike. 

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Sports Quick Hits: June 28th, 2021

June 28, 2021
Source: John Bazemore/AP
Source: John Bazemore/AP

⛳️Golf: Whoa, Nelly! The 22-year-old American won her first major yesterday, the Women’s PGA Championship, with a 19-under-par final score, three strokes ahead of runner-up Lizette Salas. With the win, Korda also claims the World No. 1 spot previously held by Jin Young Ko who won two majors in 2019.

  • Meanwhile, at the Travelers Championship, Harris English and Kramer Hickok faced off in the PGA TOUR’s second-longest playoff in its history, with English claiming victory in the eighth extra hole. 

⚾️Baseball: Five Toronto Blue Jays have been named MLB All-Star finalists, including MLB home runs and RBI leader (!!!), first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and Marcus Semien, who’s leading the vote for second base. 

  • Bo Bichette, Randal Grichuk and Teoscar Hernández are also in the mix, and starting today at noon ET, you can vote for your faves at MLB.com.

🏎Racing: The W Series kicked off on Saturday at the Red Bull Ring in Austria (check out our Special Edition newsletter for all the details) and Alice Powell of England took the season’s first win. A day later, Max Verstappen won F1’s Styrian Grand Prix. 

  • The W Series and F1 return to the Red Bull Ring for the second of a double-header this weekend. 

The MLB has a problem

June 20, 2021
SOURCE: ASSOCIATED PRESS
SOURCE: ASSOCIATED PRESS

QUOTE OF THE DAY

I reckon I tried everything on the old apple, but salt and pepper and chocolate sauce topping.

— Hall of Fame pitcher Gaylord Perry, who was notorious for doctoring baseballs and throwing a spitball. Appetizing.

🚨 History of cheating

SOURCE: DAVID ZALUBOWSKI/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Before we dive into baseball’s latest scandal, which involves pitchers using sticky substances to improve their game, here’s a little background on some of the sport’s biggest controversies over the years:

Black Sox scandal: The 1919 Black Sox scandal was one of the first controversies to rock the baseball world. Eight members of the Chicago White Sox conspired to throw (no pun intended) the 1919 World Series in exchange for money from a gambling syndicate.

  • The players were indicted for conspiracy in October 1920, but were ultimately found not guilty after the paper records of the case mysteriously disappeared. Drama.
  • Baseball’s newly appointed commissioner, Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, had the final say, and permanently banned the eight involved players from the sport in August 1921.

Steroids: Today’s scandal has drawn comparisons to the steroid era of the ’90s and early 2000s, and for good reason. Now-retired baseball star Jose Canseco, who admits to having used performance-enhancing drugs (PED) himself, estimated that as many as 80% of playersused steroids.

  • Many notable records were set during the steroid era, including Barry Bonds’ record for most career home runs, which will forever be tainted by an asterisk.
  • We could (and probably will) write a whole newsletter on the impact of PEDs in sports. The MLB's steroid era left many fans frustrated and resulted in a huge drop in viewership. It’s a stain the league is still trying to wipe clean.

Sign-stealing: The act of observing and relaying the opposing team’s non-verbal gestures (aka signs) is frowned upon by baseball purists, though some instances of sign-stealing, such as when a player on base relays pitch locations to the batter, are technically legal.

⚾️ Today’s controversy

SOURCE: GREGORY BULL/ASSOCIATED PRESS

The 2021 pitching scandal revolves around pitchers using “foreign substances” to improve their grip on the ball. The enhanced grip enables pitchers to increase the spin and movement on their throw, making the ball harder to hit. Trouble is, those foreign substances are banned from baseball, and have been for over 100 years.

  • Baseball first implemented a foreign substances ban in 1920 in response to pitchers throwing a spitball. Yes, it’s as gross as it sounds.
  • But there were loopholes even back then, as 17 pitchers who relied on the spitball were “grandfathered” in, and could still use the pitch despite the ban. Rules are meant to be broken...except when they’re not?

Fast-forward to today, and spit has been swapped for everything from sunscreen and Vaseline to more advanced products like the super sticky Spider Tack, a chemical product developed to help weightlifters improve their grip on lifting stones.

  • To be fair, some hitters are actually okay with pitchers using certain grip enhancers, such as the commonly used (and not illegal) rosin. The improved grip helps ensure pitchers won’t lose control and hit a batter with a 95 mph+ pitch.
  • But most believe the advanced products have gone too far. Combine that with dismal batting averages this season, cameras capturing pitchers’ every move and unprecedented increases in spin rate, and this mess is impossible to ignore.

💔 The breaking point

As we mentioned, the foreign substances rule has been around since 1920, but has rarely been enforced. Previously, umpires would wait for a manager to ask that an opposing pitcher be checked. But managers wouldn’t flag their opponents since their pitchers would also be checked and likely caught cheating too.

  • Last month, four minor leaguers were ejected and suspended for 10 games after being caught using foreign substances, but the last time major leaguers were penalized was back in 2015.

The use of foreign substances notably garnered attention in 2017 when a ball mysteriously stuck to St. Louis Cardinal Yadier Molina’s chest protector. It came up again in 2018 when then-Cincinnati Reds pitcher Trevor Bauer called out the Astros (we’ve since learned Bauer may need to take a look in the mirror). However, nothing changed...until now.

The MLB has been investigating the use of foreign substances since the season began in April. Following talks of a crackdown at a June 3rd owners’ meeting, Yankees pitcher and three-time All Star Gerrit Cole stammered through an answer when asked if he had ever used Spider Tack. Aca-awkward.

  • The impending consequences immediately translated on the field. There’s been a dramatic reduction in spin rate and an increase in batting average since that June 3rd meeting. Hmm...

🔎 The enforcement

SOURCE: MARK J. TERRILL/AP PHOTO

Enforcement of the MLB’s longtime foreign substance rule begins in earnest tomorrow. Umpires will inspect players as they come off the field ahead of TV commercial breaks. Starting pitchers will be checked multiple times per game while relievers will be inspected at least once.

  • But hurlers aren’t the only ones who will be investigated. Catchers will be regularly inspected while other position players will be subjected to random checks.

As for punishment, pitchers caught using foreign substances will be ejected from the game and suspended for 10 days…with pay. *eye roll* Position players will only be ejected if they’re caught using a substance to help a pitcher, and the pitcher will also be held responsible. And there’ll be increasingly harsher punishments for repeat offenders.

➡️ What’s next

SOURCE: USATSI

Cracking down on foreign substances is a small stepin tackling the many problems in the MLB, but, as seen recently with Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Tyler Glasnow, the midseason implementation of this change will likely lead to other unforeseen issues, like pitcher injury.

  • It serves as a reminder that the MLB has a history of responding far too late and ignoring players when it comes to making necessary changes to the game.
  • Tomorrow marks the beginning of a new era in baseball, and with the sport’s Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) set to expire at the end of this year, this conversation is far from over.
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Sports Quick Hits: Monday June 14th, 2021

June 14, 2021
Source: Darren Abate/AP
Source: Darren Abate/AP

🏀NBA: Sure, playoffs are cool, but the NBA action we’re excited about is behind the bench. The Portland Trail Blazers and Orlando Magic are both searching for new head coaches, and not one, but two women — San Antonio Spurs assistant Becky Hammon and University of South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley — are in contention. About damn time.

⚽️Soccer: Though world No. 8 CanWNT delivered a disappointing 0–0 performance against No. 27 Czech Republic on Friday (just a day before what should be a national holiday: Christine Sinclair’s birthday, who’s now 38), coach Bev Priestman expects a more energized showing against a tough No .7 Brazilian squad today at 3 p.m. ET. 

⚾️MLB: The Toronto Blue Jays 18-4 win over the Boston Red Sox yesterday looked more like a football score than baseball, with the Jays hitting eight home runs, the most ever by any visiting team at the Sox’ 109-year-old Fenway Park. Watch them close out the series at 7:10 p.m. ET tonight. Do we hear nine?