Axios Sports

A large foam finger.

October 02, 2020

🎉 Happy Friday! Let's sports.

Today's word count: 1,736 words (7 minutes).

1 big thing: ⚾️ 10 MLB teams remain

MLB bracket
Courtesy: MLB

After three days of Wild Card baseball, 10 teams are still alive, Axios' Jeff Tracy writes.

  • The ALDS begins Monday: Yankees vs. Rays (San Diego); Astros vs. A's (L.A.)
  • The NLDS begins Tuesday: Braves vs. Cubs/Marlins (Houston); Dodgers vs. Cardinals/Padres (Arlington, Texas)

Thursday's scores:

  • Braves 5, Reds 0 (ATL wins 2-0): The Reds set a new MLB record with 22 consecutive scoreless innings to begin (and end) their postseason, while the Braves won their first playoff series in 19 years.
  • Athletics 6, White Sox 4 (OAK wins 2-0): The A's dug themselves out of an early hole and won their first playoff series since the 2006 ALDS.
  • Padres 11, Cardinals 9 (series tied 1-1): Fernando Tatís Jr. and Wil Myers became just the second teammates in postseason history to each hit a pair of homers, joining Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth in the 1932 World Series. Fun fact: One of Ruth's two homers that game was the called shot.
  • Dodgers 3, Brewers 0 (LAD wins 2-0): The Dodgers took care of business behind the best postseason start of Clayton Kershaw's career (8 IP, 13 K, 3 H).

Today's slate:

  • 2pm ET (ABC): Marlins at Cubs (MIA leads 1-0)
  • 10pm (ESPN): Cardinals at Padres (tied 1-1)

Bonus: 📸 Pic du jour

Twitter screenshot
Screenshot: @MLB (Twitter)

Bat flip city.

2. 🏒 Interview: Gary Bettman

Gary Bettman

Photo: Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images

The NHL was the first major North American sports league to complete its 2020 season, meaning it's now the first to enter the offseason — and set its sights on next year's campaign.

  • The draft takes place next Tuesday and Wednesday (mock draft).
  • Free agency opens next Friday (top players).

What's next: There's obviously some time pressure for the NHL to figure out next season's schedule, but if this summer was any indication, expect the league to be patient in addressing the specifics.

  • "When we announced the return to play format in May, some suggested I should have also announced where we were going to play," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman told me on a call last week.
  • "But I intentionally didn't do that because we were continuing to study the path of the virus. We only made the decision when we absolutely had to."

🎙 More from Bettman:

  • When will next season start? "Our goal is to play a full regular season and playoffs starting in late December or early January, probably. But just like this year, timing may not be completely within our control."
  • Will you use a bubble format again? "I don't believe we can do what we did this time and have the players in a bubble for six months. That's just not practical, and it would be inappropriate to even ask players to do that."
  • Will there be fans at games? "Obviously we want our fans back in the buildings as soon as it's safe and appropriate, but that's not a decision we get to make. It's the government health officials who get to make that decision."
  • What major factors are you weighing? "First off, tell me whether or not we can put people in the building. That's number one. Two, where COVID's going to be, in general and in the specific places we may want to play. Three, tell me what our access is going to be to cross the Canada-U.S. border."

3. ⚽️ Barcelona signs American Sergiño Dest

Sergino Dest
Screenshot: @FCBarcelona (Twitter)

Sergiño Dest, a 19-year-old defender capped three times by the USMNT, has joined Barcelona on a five-year deal after completing his transfer from Ajax.

Why it matters: Dest, who was born in the Netherlands, is the first American to join Barcelona's top squad. But he's just the latest young U.S. international to make a high-profile move to a major European power.

Others include:

  • Chelsea: Christian Pulisic, 21
  • Juventus: Weston McKennie, 22
  • Borussia Dortmund: Giovanni Reyna, 17
  • Bayern Munich: Chris Richards, 20
  • Manchester City: Zack Steffen, 25
  • RB Leipzig: Tyler Adams, 21

What to watch: 19-year-old Konrad de la Fuente was just called up to Barcelona's first team, meaning two Americans could soon be playing alongside Lionel Messi.

"When we used to play, you'd line up against [Francesco] Totti or Ronaldo or Christian Vieri, and you want their uniforms after the game. Now we have guys playing with these guys. ... That's how you start winning consistently."
— USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter, via Sirius XM

Coming next week: The Development Academy generation

4. 🏀 WNBA Finals preview: Storm vs. Aces

WNBA tip-off
Photo: Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

The WNBA Finals tip off tonight (7pm ET, ESPN2), with the No. 1 seed Aces facing the No. 2 seed Storm in a best-of-five series, Jeff writes.

  • Where things stand: Today marks day 88 in the "Wubble," and though it got off to a rocky start, the WNBA has staged three months of nearly uninterrupted basketball — and drawn a record number of viewers.
  • By the numbers: 68% increase in regular season TV viewership; 0 positive COVID-19 tests; 144 games (132 regular season, 12 playoff).

How it works: The bubble is actually more of a "bubble-plus," with IMG Academy serving as the hub but a separate venue hosting the games.

  • IMG Academy: This athletics-focused boarding school is where players have lived, eaten and trained. There were three on-campus lodging options, and all teams shared the four-court gym for their practices. But with IMG building a new basketball arena, they needed a partner to handle the actual games.
  • Feld Entertainment Studios: This live-show production company — which hosts events like Disney on Ice and provides rehearsal space for musicians — is 10 miles from IMG. Two courts were constructed in the enormous studio space, and teams have made the ~20-minute drive for every game.
Google Maps screenshot
Screenshot: Google Maps

Finals notes:

  • Head-to-head: Vegas and Seattle both went 18-4 in the regular season, but the Aces got the top seed thanks to a 2-0 head-to-head record.
  • Finals history: The Aces have made the Finals once, losing in 2008 when they were the San Antonio Silver Stars. The Storm are 3-0 (2004, 2010, 2018).
  • Storm roster: Their depth and continuity are staggering, as they've not only retained the same starting five since 2018, but got both future Hall of Famer Sue Bird and 2018 MVP Breanna Stewart back from their 2019 injuries.
  • Aces roster: Led by league MVP A'ja Wilson and veteran Angel McCoughtry, Vegas play a unique style, taking just 11.5 threes per game (fewest in the WNBA), but 23.4 free throws (most).
  • Stat to know: This series features five former No. 1 picks: McCoughtry, Wilson and Jackie Young for the Aces; Stewart and Jewell Loyd for the Storm.

Go deeper: Finals preview and predictions (ESPN)

5. 🏈 Saturday's college football slate

Spongebob Squarepants Popcorn GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

This is the weekend you've been waiting for in college football, with plenty of ranked action and two big-time SEC matchups: Texas A&M at Alabama and Auburn at Georgia.

Early games (12pm ET):

  • South Carolina at No. 3 Florida (-17.5)
  • TCU at No. 9 Texas (-12)
  • Missouri at No. 21 Tennessee (-12)
  • NC State at No. 24 Pittsburgh (-14)

Afternoon games (3:30pm):

  • No. 13 Texas A&M at No. 2 Alabama (-17.5)
  • No. 12 UNC (-14) at Boston College
  • South Florida at No. 15 Cincinnati (-21)
  • No. 17 Oklahoma State (-22.5) at Kansas

Late games (7:30pm/8pm):

  • No. 7 Auburn at No. 4 Georgia (-6.5)
  • Tulsa at No. 11 UCF (-21)
  • Arkansas at No. 16 Miss. State (-17)
  • No. 18 Oklahoma (-7) at Iowa State
  • No. 20 LSU (-21) at Vanderbilt
  • Virginia at No. 1 Clemson (-28.5)
Trey Lance
North Dakota State QB Trey Lance runs with the ball. Photo: Justin Tafoya/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

Meanwhile, in the FCS: This week is the biggest burst of FCS football in 2020, with seven matchups, including three against FBS opponents.

  • North Dakota State, which has won eight FCS national titles in the last decade, will play Central Arkansas at the Fargodome (3:30pm ET, ESPN+).
  • Then, after what could be a showcase for QB Trey Lance — a projected top-10 pick in the 2021 NFL draft — the Bison will join almost every other FCS program and not play again until at least February.

Go deeper: Who is Trey Lance? Meet the NFL draft darling playing only once this fall (ESPN)

6. 📊 By the numbers

Chart: Axios Visuals
Chart: Axios Visuals
  • 🏀 21 out of 30: The past nine NBA champions all ranked in the top 11 of the league in regular-season three-point percentage, including five in the top three. This year's Lakers, up 1-0 on the Heat and the favorite to win the title, ranked 21st out of 30.
  • 🏀 90+ wins: Doc Rivers will be the next coach of the 76ers, bringing much-needed postseason experience to Philadelphia. He's one of just seven coaches with 90+ playoff wins, joining Phil Jackson, Pat Riley, Gregg Popovich, Larry Brown, Red Auerbach and Jerry Sloan.
  • 🏇 6 years: Swiss Skydiver will be the first filly (female horse) to run the Preakness since 2014, and the 55th overall since 1873's inaugural race. She has the third-best odds (6-1) among the 11-horse field and would be the first filly to win a Triple Crown race since Rachel Alexandra at the 2009 Preakness.
  • 🏈 +7: The Patriots are seven-point underdogs against the Chiefs, just the third time since the 2002 Super Bowl (when they beat the Rams as 14-point dogs) that New England has been on the wrong side of a spread that large.
Sports GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

7. Oct. 2, 1977: ✋ The first high five

High five
Courtesy: ESPN

43 years ago today, Dodgers slugger Dusty Baker and teammate Glenn Burke invented the high five.

The backstory: The year was 1977, and on the final day of the season, the Dodgers were one Dusty Baker HR shy of becoming the first team ever with four 30-HR mashers.

  • In the sixth inning, Dusty put one over the center field fence, and as he rounded third he noticed excited rookie Glenn Burke waiting in the on-deck circle with his hand cocked back high above his head.
  • "It wasn't necessarily that [Burke] had innovated something so much as that he was so overwhelmed with joy and pride in what Dusty Baker had just done that the high five came out of him," said journalist Jon Mooallem.
  • When Burke hit his first career dinger in the very next-at bat, Dusty returned the favor by high-fiving him outside the dugout, and the celebration stuck.

The big picture: Burke, who was baseball's first openly gay player, sadly died from AIDS-related complications in 1995. But his spirit lives on.

"Think about the feeling you get when you give someone a high five. I had that feeling before everybody else."
— Glenn Burke

🎬 Go deeper: 30 for 30 Shorts: "The High Five" (ESPN)

8. 🏀 NBA all-time rosters

Player data from Basketball Reference; Graphic: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios
Player data from Basketball Reference; Graphic: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Remember when we ranked the NBA's all-time rosters? We finally put them all in one place. Please enjoy.

Tonight's Game 2: Lakers (No. 1 all-time roster) vs. Heat (No. 8)

9. ⚾️🏒 MLB/NHL trivia

Rays roster

Photo: Mike Carlson/MLB Photos via Getty Images

If the Rays run the table, it will mark the first time since 1933 that teams from the same city won the Stanley Cup and World Series in the same calendar year.

  • Question: Which two teams won in 1933?
  • Hint: One of the teams is now based on the West Coast.

Answer at the bottom.

10. 🎥 Thursday's top plays

Soccer goalie save

Arsenal goalkeeper Bernd Leno makes a save during the Carabao Cup fourth round match against Liverpool. Photo: Peter Byrne/PA Images via Getty Images

Enjoy the weekend,

Kendall "Pray for the Jets" Baker

Trivia answer: New York Rangers and Giants (now in San Francisco)