👋 Good morning! Let's sports.
- 📺 Happening now: ESPN is turning ESPN2 into ESPN8: The Ocho for the day, where they will broadcast all kinds of quirky sports (some of which they told me they discovered in Axios Sports). More info below.
- 🏀 Random thought: Should college basketball adopt a Top 35 instead of a Top 25? College football has 130 FBS teams, so the Top 25 covers 20% of them. College basketball has 351 teams, so it covers just 7%.
Today's word count: 1,315 words (5 mins)
1 big thing: ⚾️ MLB snapshot
- Snapshot: The Astros and Yankees have pulled away in their respective divisions, while the Twins and Indians battle it out for AL Central supremacy. Meanwhile, the defending champion Red Sox are running out of time in the wild card hunt.
- Playoff odds: Astros (100%), Yankees (99.9%), Twins (98.4%), Indians (79.6%), Rays (71.8%), Athletics (35.5%), Red Sox (14.6%), Rangers (0.2%), Angels (0.1%), six teams (0%)
- Fun fact: The Twins (currently at 223) are on pace for 316 home runs, which would obliterate the MLB record of 267 set by the 2018 Yankees.
- Snapshot: Welcome to the NL wild card mosh pit where teams like the Reds and Giants — long thought to be dead — are still alive. And teams like the Mets — who were mocked at the trade deadline (as is tradition) for being buyers, not sellers — are suddenly playoff contenders.
- Playoff odds: Dodgers (100%), Braves (98.7%), Cubs (86.2%), Nationals (78.1%), Mets (37.3%), Cardinals (34.9%), Brewers (25.7%), Phillies (19.5%), Diamondbacks (8.9%), Reds (8%), Giants (1.4%), Rockies (0.8%), Padres (0.7%), two teams (0%)
- Fun fact: The Nationals and Phillies are on pace to make the playoffs with the worst wild card records ever.
- AL MVP: Angels' Mike Trout — who turns 28 years old today, yay Mike! — leads the AL in on-base percentage (.437), slugging percentage (.659), HR (37), RBI (88) and walks (86). It's not fair.
- AL Cy Young: Like Trout, Astros ace Justin Verlander also leads the league in multiple categories, including wins (15), ERA (2.68), IP (157.2) and WHIP (0.81).
- NL MVP: The two frontrunners, Brewers' Christian Yelich and Dodgers' Cody Bellinger, have remarkably similar stats. Yeli: .336 BA, .428 OBP, 39 HR, 84 RBI ... Belli: .325 BA, .426 OBP, 37 HR, 88 RBI.
- NL Cy Young: It's a two-man race between the Dodgers' Hyun-Jin Ryu (11-2, 1.53 ERA, 117 K) and the Nationals' Max Scherzer (9-5, 2.41 ERA, 189 K), both of whom are currently on the injured list.
2. 🏀 Picture day for USA Basketball
There has been plenty of talk about who isn't at Team USA training camp in preparation for the FIBA World Cup, but the attention has finally shifted to the players who are.
Depth chart (according to me):
- PG: Kemba Walker, De'Aaron Fox, Kyle Lowry
- SG: Donovan Mitchell, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart
- SF: Khris Middleton, Kyle Kuzma, Joe Harris
- PF: Jayson Tatum, Harrison Barnes, PJ Tucker, Thaddeus Young
- C: Myles Turner, Brook Lopez, Bam Adebayo, Mason Plumlee
What's next: Head coach Gregg Popovich has until Aug. 17 to finalize his 12-man roster ahead of the World Cup, which begins in China on Aug. 31.
Go deeper: USA Basketball's 16-year curse (Axios)
3. 🏈 Don't bet on Heisman favorites
Here are the top five Heisman favorites, per Westgate (unsurprisingly all QBs):
- Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama (11/4 odds)
- Trevor Lawrence, Clemson (11/4)
- Jalen Hurts, Oklahoma (10/1)
- Justin Fields, Ohio State (10/1)
- Adrian Martinez, Nebraska (10/1)
And here's why you shouldn't bet on them to win it:
- In the past decade, according to Sports Odds History, only one of the 10 preseason Heisman favorites actually won it: Marcus Mariota in 2014.
- Five of the past 10 winners started with odds of 100-1 or longer and four weren't even on the preseason odds board: Mark Ingram in 2009, Cam Newton in 2010, Johnny Manziel in 2012 and Jameis Winston in 2013.
4. 🏒 The Senators are taking a discount in 2020
Professional sports teams rebuild themselves all the time, but the Ottawa Senators are taking things a step further heading into next season, writes Axios' Michael Sykes.
What's happening: The Senators are absorbing bad deals in exchange for draft picks — and they're doing it to such a degree that one writer believes the team is "violating the spirit of the CBA."
By the numbers: The Senators have a projected cap number of $65.8 million, which is just above next season's lower limit of $60.2 million. But if you look closer, they're paying far less than that, per ESPN's Greg Wyshynski.
- Insurance will cover $10.1 million of the $15.3 million being paid to three injured players — Ryan Callahan, Marian Gaborik and Clark MacArthur — and the salaries of multiple other players are being partially paid by their former teams.
- Add it all up and Ottawa's actual salary expense will be just $47.5 million, per Cap Friendly. And don't forget: Other teams will cover a portion of that via revenue sharing.
P.S. ... In other NHL news, billionaire Alex Meruelo has officially taken over as majority owner of the Arizona Coyotes, becoming the first Hispanic owner in league history.
5. 📺 ESPN+ in bundle with Disney+ and Hulu
Disney CEO Bob Iger finally announced details for the long-awaited Disney streaming bundle that executives have been teasing for months, Axios' Sara Fischer reports.
- For $12.99 monthly, consumers can access Disney+, ESPN+ and the ad-supported version of Hulu. The deal will be available when Disney+ launches on Nov. 12.
- The combined package will be cheaper than Netflix's premium package, which is $13.99 a month.
6. August 7, 2007: ⚾️ Bonds hits No. 756
12 years ago today, Barry Bonds blasted home run No. 756 to move past Hank Aaron for first place on the all-time list.
The backdrop: Former commissioner Bud Selig spent 16 days "hopscotching around the country" to see Bonds break the record — an experience he called miserable in his new book given Barry's connection to steroids.
"The summer of 2007 was unpleasant for me, and when I look back, that's putting it mildly. … Everyone who knew me knew I was unhappy. They could see it on my face, in my lack of enthusiasm."
"[When] he tied Henry's record … I didn't go to the clubhouse to congratulate him afterward. I just couldn't bring myself to look him in the eyes and act happy about what he'd done."
"When Barry hit No. 756 at AT&T Park three days later … I was in New York at a baseball meeting, watching the game on TV. I had planned to fly back to San Francisco the next day, but finally Barry did something I liked. He saved me one trip. It was the least he could do."— Excerpt from Bud Selig's "For the Good of the Game," via SI
7. 🏈 NFL trivia
Joe Montana and Kurt Warner are two of the three players who hold the NFL record for touchdowns thrown in a single postseason (11).
- Question: Who is the third player?
- Hint: He's an active player in the AFC (not Brady).
Answer at the bottom.
8. The Ocho ... is happening on ESPN2 today!
A few readers have asked me what "The Ocho" means. So first, to answer that: It's inspired by a fictional channel from the 2004 movie "DodgeBall."
"At the time I was writing 'DodgeBall,' ESPN2 had recently started and they were calling it 'The Deuce' and I found that particularly funny. … Where would ESPN broadcast something as ridiculous as dodgeball? It couldn't be on ESPN 3, 4, 5, 6 or 7 … it had to be ESPN 8. And then it had to be 'The Ocho.'"— Writer/director Rawson Marshall Thurber tells ESPN
15 years later, I'm doing my best to keep "The Ocho" alive and so is ESPN, which recently began turning ESPN2 into ESPN8: The Ocho for one day each year.
- In speaking with their team last night, it sounds like this year's edition will feature a lot more original content than in years past (as opposed to repurposed video). Should be fun.
What to watch (all times ET):
- 8am: Professional Arm Wrestling Championship
- 12pm: 2019 U.S. Pizza Team Trials
- 1pm: 46th Annual Cherry Pit Spitting Championship
- 3pm: European TramDriver Championship
- 5pm: Lawn Mower Racing
- 8pm: World Cornhole Championship
- 9pm: America’s Dodgeball Continental Cup: USA vs. Canada
- 10pm: "DodgeBall: A True Underdog Story"
9. 📚 Good reads
🏈 Five Ways To Improve Your Fantasy League In 2019 (The Ringer)
"Tens of millions of Americans play fantasy football each year, dedicating hours upon hours to building the best team. And yet few of us put much thought into seriously altering the settings of our leagues."
⚾️ Tony Gwynn's Legacy Is Stronger Than Ever (FiveThirtyEight)
"Many words have been spilled lamenting changes to baseball since Gwynn collected hit No. 3,000, particularly when it comes to the loss of similar contact-hitting virtuosos. But Gwynn's larger legacy is as strong as ever."
🏀 Why Kids Want To Be James Harden (WSJ)
"The stepback 3-pointer is the next big thing in youth basketball. The players love it. And their coaches hate it."