Sep 4, 2019

Axios Sports

By Kendall Baker
Kendall Baker

๐Ÿ‘‹ Good morning! Let's sports.

  • ๐ŸŽพ Dimitrov shocks Federer: 78th-ranked Grigor Dimitrov upset Roger Federer 3-6, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4, 6-2 before a stunned crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium last night. (The other G.O.A.T. won her match easily.)
  • ๐Ÿˆ Goff gets paid: The Rams signed QB Jared Goff to a 4-year, $134 million extension that includes an NFL-record $110 million guaranteed, per ESPN's Adam Schefter.
  • โšพ๏ธ Stat of the day: Last season, 3,652 home runs were hit in Triple-A baseball. This season, Triple-A switched to MLB baseballs and that number skyrocketed to 5,749(!!!). The balls definitely aren't juiced though.

Today's word count: 1,685 words (6 minutes)

1 big thing: โšพ๏ธ MLB's pace of play efforts proving futile
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Data: Baseball Reference; Chart: Axios Visuals
"First came a limit on mound visits. Then, shortened breaks between innings. Next year, pitchers will be forced to face at least three batters [to] reduce pitching changes, and some day, Major League Baseball may yet foist a pitch clock on its timeless game."

Driving the news: As the regular season nears its conclusion, MLB's pace of play initiatives โ€” designed to speed up a sport that won't stop slowing down โ€” "look more and more like acts of futility," writes USA Today's Gabe Lacques.

By the numbers: The average time of a 9-inning game is back up to 3 hours and 5 minutes, equaling the record-high from 2017.

  • It dropped to 3 hours flat last year after MLB limited teams to 6 mound visits per game, but this season's spike in home runs โ€” which are time-consuming โ€” has moved the needle back in the opposite direction.

More importantly, MLB hitters are seeing an average of 3.92 pitches per plate appearance this year, the highest mark in the 21 seasons the stat has been tracked.

  • "[F]ive years ago, pitching staffs had contact guys, sinker-slider guys. They wanted the ball put into play. Now ... it's pitch to the top of the zone with fastballs, with as much velocity as you hope a guy has, and put you away with breaking balls," Marlins IF Neil Walker told USA Today.
  • "You see a lot more at-bats deeper into counts, a lot more at-bats that end with strikeouts or walks, a lot more foul balls. That goes hand-in-hand with what we're seeing in regard to time and pace of play."

The bottom line: In 1950, your average baseball game took 2 hours and 19 minutes. In 2019, it takes that same amount of time ... plus last night's episode of "Hard Knocks."

  • That's less than ideal, especially when it comes to attracting a younger audience. And the scariest part for MLB is that there's no obvious solution to the problem.
2. ๐Ÿ€ Checking in on the 2019 FIBA World Cup

Photo: Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

Team U.S.-meh barely survived against Turkey in the first round of the FIBA Basketball World Cup in China โ€” a friendly reminder that the mighty Americans are not so mighty this year. Which, in my opinion, makes this fun!!! Nothing easy!!!

What's happening: Group-stage games are happening as I write this, so these records will change by the time some of you read this. Sorry!!! Take it up with Sir Sandford Fleming, the inventor of time zones.

  • Group A: Poland (3-0), China (1-1), Venezuela (1-1). Ivory Coast (0-3)
  • Group B: Argentina (2-0), Russia (2-0), Nigeria (1-2), South Korea (0-3)
  • Group C: Spain (2-0), Puerto Rico (2-1), Tunisia (1-2), Iran (0-2)
  • Group D: Serbia (2-0), Italy (2-0), Angola (1-2), Philippines (0-3)
  • Group E: USA (2-0), Turkey (1-1), Czech Republic (1-1), Japan (0-2)
  • Group F: Brazil (2-0), Greece (1-1), New Zealand (1-1), Montenegro (0-2)
  • Group G: France (2-0), Dominican Republic (2-0), Germany (0-2), Jordan (0-2)
  • Group H: Lithuania (2-0), Australia (2-0), Canada (0-2), Senegal (0-2)

Top 30 NBA players: Over 50 current NBA players are expected to play in the tournament. Here are the top 30, ranked:

  • 1-10: 1. Giannis Antetokounmpo (Greece), 2. Nikola Jokic (Serbia), 3. Rudy Gobert (France), 4. Kemba Walker (USA), 5. Donovan Mitchell (USA), 6. Nikola Vucevic (Montenegro), 7. Marc Gasol (Spain), 8. Khris Middleton (USA), 9. Jayson Tatum (USA), 10. Danilo Gallinari (Italy)
  • 11-20: 11. Jaylen Brown (USA), 12. Joe Ingles (Australia), 13. Myles Turner (USA), 14. Domantas Sabonis (Lithuania), 15. Dennis Schroder (Germany), 16. Evan Fournier (France), 17. Bogdan Bogdanovic (Serbia), 18. Marcus Smart (USA), 19. Ricky Rubio (Spain), 20. Harrison Barnes (USA)
  • 21-30: 21. Patty Mills (Australia), 22. Brook Lopez (USA), 23. Cedi Osman (Turkey), 24. Al-Farouq Aminu (Nigeria), 25. Tomas Satoransky (Czech Republic), 26. Jonas Valanciunas (Lithuania), 27. Joe Harris (USA), 28. Nemanja Bjelica (Serbia), 29. Ersan Ilyasova (Turkey), 30. Derrick White (USA)

Go deeper: Giannis was held in check by Brazil's unique defensive strategy, but would it work in the NBA? (CBS Sports)

3. ๐ŸŽพ U.S. tennis future: Bright for women, bleak for men

Andy Roddick after winning the 2003 U.S. Open, the last time a U.S. male tennis player won a major title. Photo: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

American women have dominated tennis for decades, with Serena Williams closing in on her record-tying 24th Grand Slam title and Madison Keys and Sloane Stephens joining her in the top 10 of the world rankings.

  • On top of that, a whopping 7 U.S. teens are ranked in the top 300, by far the most of any country: Amanda Anisimova (24), Whitney Osuigwe (109), Catherine McNally (121), Coco Gauff (140), Ann Li (157), Hailey Baptiste (268) and Claire Liu (287).
  • Overall, American women's tennis remains in extremely capable hands, and the future looks just as bright, if not brighter.

As for the men, not so much: Andy Roddick was the last American man to win a major title, and that happened in 2003 โ€” the same year "Finding Nemo" came out and Carmelo Anthony led Syracuse to the national title. Think about that.

  • There is currently just one American, 34-year-old John Isner, in the world top 15, and the only other top-50 guys are 21-year-old Taylor Fritz (28), 22-year-old Reilly Opelka (42), 21-year-old Francis Tiafoe (45) and 31-year-old Sam Querrey (46).
  • None of those players have ever made a Grand Slam final, and only Isner (2019 Wimbledon) and Querrey (2017 Wimbledon) have made a semifinal. And, while there are some exciting teens on the rise, there's no male version of Gauff โ€” a true phenom destined for greatness.

P.S. ... It's worth noting that this Grand Slam drought for U.S. men has occurred during a truly remarkable era for men's tennis.

  • Since 2006, all 55 majors have been won by 7 men (Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka, Juan Martรญn del Potro and Marin Cilic), so Isner and friends certainly haven't had it easy.
4. ๐Ÿˆ AP Poll, Week 2: Auburn enters top 10
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Data: AP; Chart: Axios Visuals

The Top 25 went 23-0 against unranked teams in Week 1, leaving the rankings mostly unchanged.

  • The Tide won't stop rolling: Alabama is ranked in the top 5 for the 56th consecutive week, dating back to Nov. 8, 2015. That breaks a tie with Miami, which went 55 straight weeks in the top 5 from Oct. 8, 2000โ€“Oct. 26, 2003. Ken Dorsey was legit.
  • Woah, that's weird: Boise State moved into the rankings this week, but weirdly, no team fell out. Instead, there was a tie at No. 25 between Nebraska and Iowa State โ€” the first time that's happened since 2012.
  • Biggest riser: Auburn jumped up 6 spots from No. 16 to No. 10, giving the SEC 4 teams in the top 10 and 6 teams in the top 12.

Coming up: This weekend's slate features some intriguing ranked-on-ranked action.

  • (12) Texas A&M at (1) Clemson
  • (6) LSU at (9) Texas
5. ๐Ÿ“š Good reads

Rose Lavelle. Photo: Michael Regan/FIFA via Getty Images

โšฝ๏ธ Rose Lavelle Is Not From Around Here (Haley O'Shaughnessy, The Ringer)

"She is the future of the [USWNT], she is the pride of Cincinnati, and she has become a minor phenomenon on social media. But Lavelle's game is anything but local. How did this Midwestern midfielder learn to play like she was from Barcelona?"

๐Ÿˆ Everything Andrew Luck Was, Is And Will Be (Conor Orr, SI)

"Everyone knows Andrew Luck was one of the sport's most cerebral stars. But conversations with those who know him from endeavors off the field โ€” authors, academics, architects โ€” paint a fuller picture of a man who is, and always was, fascinated by many things outside the sport that made him famous."

๐Ÿ€ The End Of Jeremy Lin: An Ode To The Great Asian-American Sporting Icon (William Lou, Yahoo Sports)

"The story with Jeremy was always about race and identity. There just aren't many examples of Asian-Americans thriving in the four major North American sports, and so that was always a point of fascination. Asians showed up in droves because who else did we have?"
6. Sept. 4, 1972: ๐Ÿฅ‡ Spitz earns lucky No. 7
Mark Spitz with 5 of his 7 gold medals. Photo: AFP via Getty Images

47 years ago today, Mark Spitz became the first Olympian to win 7 gold medals in a single Olympics โ€” and he won them all in world record time.

Between the lines: Despite setting world records in his first 6 events, the 22-year-old Spitz was hesitant to participate in his 7th and final race due to a fear of failure. (Athletes ... they're just like us.)

"I know I say I don't want to swim before every event but this time I'm serious. If I swim six and win six, I'll be a hero. If I swim seven and win six, I'll be a failure."
โ€” Mark Spitz, per Bleacher Report

The big picture: Spitz's record stood for 36 years before fellow American Michael Phelps won 8 golds at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

Go deeper: Mark Spitz dominates the 1972 Olympics (YouTube)

7. ๐Ÿ’ NHL trivia

Hard-hitting defenseman Niklas Kronwall announced his retirement yesterday after 15 seasons with the Red Wings.

  • Question: With Kronwall retiring, there are now just 6 active NHL players who are members of the illustrious Triple Gold Club (Olympic gold medal, World Championship gold medal and Stanley Cup). Can you name all 6?
  • Hint: Their initials are E.S., J.T., S.C., C.P., P.B. and J.B.

Answer at the bottom.

8. The Ocho: ๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ญ Swiss folk wrestling

Photo: Philipp Schmidli/Getty Images

34-year-old Christian Stucky recently won the national title in "schwingen," a style of folk wrestling native to Switzerland. His prize: A bull.

  • How it works: Matches take place in a ring covered in sawdust, and fighters try to throw their opponents onto their backs by grabbing onto specially designed shorts.
  • Watch: Meet some swiss wrestlers (YouTube)

The setting: Stucky won the championship during "Schwingfest," a 3-day festival that doubles as the country's biggest sporting event. Athletes also competed in Hornussen, a quirky combination of golf and baseball that we covered in April.

  • Did I mention they built the biggest temporary stadium in the world to host the festivities? Quite the backdrop...
Screenshot: @esaf2019zug (IG)
Bonus: ๐ŸŸ NFL stadiums, ranked
Courtesy: SeatGeek

Ticket marketplace SeatGeek surveyed 3,200 NFL fans about their local stadium's atmosphere, food and bathrooms, then ranked them based on the results.


  • Best 2: Lambeau Field (Packers), Arrowhead Stadium (Chiefs)
  • Worst 2: FedEx Field (Redskins), Paul Brown Stadium (Bengals)


  • Best 2: Mercedes-Benz Stadium (Falcons), Lambeau Field (Packers)
  • Worst 2: FedEx Field (Redskins), L.A. Memorial Coliseum (Rams)


  • Best 2: Mercedes-Benz Stadium (Falcons), Lucas Oil Stadium (Colts)
  • Worst 2: RingCentral Coliseum (Raiders), L.A. Memorial Coliseum (Rams)

View all stadium guides.

Kendall Baker

See you tomorrow,

Kendall "Belichick and Saban are cinematic gold" Baker

Trivia answer: Eric Staal, Jonathan Toews, Sidney Crosby, Corey Perry, Patrice Bergeron and Jay Bouwmeester