Previously on "The Warriors and the Rockets" ...

I mean, what didn't happen in the Golden State Warriors' Game 3 evisceration of the Houston Rockets at Toyota Center? After two hyper-competitive games in which the Rockets may have come away with a 2-0 lead against any other team, the Warriors traveled to hostile territory and handed their opponents one of the most thorough beatdowns of the postseason so far, a 110-75 blowout in which they reestablished their status as title favorites. Houston went home with confidence that it could extend the series — it now looks likely that they will head out on summer vacation fairly soon.

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As usual, the star for Golden State was Stephen Curry, who has looked even more sensational in the playoffs than he did during a deserving MVP campaign. In addition to breaking Reggie Miller's record for three-pointers made in a single postseason (in nine fewer games), Curry put up 40 points on 19 field-goal attempts, many of which were spectacular:

At the other end, the Warriors found James Harden substantially less aggressive than in the previous two games. He finished with 17 points on just 3-of-16 shooting from the field (and 10-of-11 from the line), a mark of both Golden State's improved defense (with Harrison Barnes stepping into the role of primary defender) and the superstar's decreased ability to knock down tough mid-range jumpers. Houston depended on Harden's scoring in Games 1 and 2, so they understandably suffered without a superb showing from their best player. Nevertheless, the total effort from the Rockets was not impressive given the stakes and their prior form in the series. The Warriors played a complete game and likely would have won regardless, but the Rockets did not play like a team with full understanding of the urgency of the moment.

Three Things to Look for in Game 4

Houston's resilience

The only good news for the Rockets right now is that they were in a similarly dire situation roughly two weeks ago. Down 3-1 to the appreciably better Los Angeles Clippers, Houston pulled off three straight wins, including two at home and an instantly legendary second-half comeback on the road to move on to face Golden State. If nothing else, head coach Kevin McHale can point to that success as proof that the Rockets have what it takes to erase a serious deficit in a series.

This challenge will be much harder, primarily because the Warriors are a better team than the Clippers, are up 3-0 instead of 3-1, and have two games left at home no matter what happens in Game 4. Plus, the Rockets were so ineffectual in Game 3 that Dwight Howard, an elite center who was out-muscled for a rebound by Stephen Curry, took it upon himself to call out everyone in the arena for a lack of effort:

All of which is to say that the Rockets will need to dig themselves out of a sizable hole to win Game 4, let alone the series. Yet the available evidence suggests that the Rockets do their best when they appear at their most desperate. Making it to the conference finals required dealing with several major and ongoing injuries, a failure to take advantage of an injury to Chris Paul, and a near-elimination. At every juncture, the Rockets came out on the other side stronger, even if took a bit longer than hoped.

It would be silly to predict that Houston will come back to give Golden State a serious challenge, because they have only really looked good in this series with Harden scoring 30 points on very tough, not sustainably convertible looks from the field. On the other hand, the Rockets beat the Clippers in Game 6 because Corey Brewer and Josh Smith combined for 29 points in a quarter. It could take another improbable performance (or four) for Houston to get back into this series, but that's been their livelihood at times this postseason.

The Warriors' will

Coming into the playoffs, everyone knew that the Warriors had the sport's best outside shooter, a terrific motion offense, and the best defense in the NBA. What we didn't really know was whether a team with zero players with prior NBA Finals experience had what is usually defined as championship form, i.e. the ability to fight through adversity and frustrations to beat a challenging opponent four times in a series. While Golden State still hasn't faced an elimination game, coming back from a 2-1 deficit to dominate the Memphis Grizzlies three straight times (and twice on the road) qualified as a sign of their focus and determination.

Game 3 was more impressive than even that. After the game, Stephen Curry told ESPN's Doris Burke that the Warriors considered themselves the desperate team on Saturday because of their desire to build on their preexisting lead:

From an outsider's perspective, it's a somewhat illogical statement — the Warriors definitely didn't need to win to maintain the upper hand over the Rockets. But the best teams often take completely unreasonable stances on their status within the league, most obviously when clear favorites believe that the general public doesn't respect them. Given the results, it seems apparent that the Warriors are not likely to fail to take any playoff game seriously. After all, this is a team that expressed a desire to improve after a 35-point win.

Of course, the reality of playing on the road while up 3-0 could prove to lessen their edge just a bit. Pay attention to Golden State's energy level to start Game 4, because it could dictate if they get a long rest before the start of the next round.

Is there any way to defend Stephen Curry?

The Rockets have not done an especially good job on Curry in this series, often simply losing him off the ball or helping to the wrong player for reasons unknown. There are no explanations for such lapses, because Curry is the best shooter in the world. But the Rockets have proven unable to stop him even when their defensive plan is carried out effectively. Jason Terry was never likely to handle Curry one-on-one, but various others have failed at the task, too. When big men switch onto him, it's a disaster. It's not even clear if the Rockets have any options left.

If they do, they're likely to require leaving certain players open, a big risk when defending a team that usually plays at least three capable shooters alongside Curry. While Houston will surely lament not having Patrick Beverley available for this series, the truth could be that there is no good way to guard Curry. Given his ability to pull up from anywhere inside of 30 feet, it's possible there is no defensive scheme to contain him.

Where does that leave a team like the Rockets? As the Grizzlies showed in their two conference semis wins, the best defense on Curry may be to slow the game down during offensive possessions and hope that they end up in enough buckets to allow the defense to set. The Rockets like to play a lot of possessions, but they often look at their best when that involves getting to the line instead of firing open shots early in the shot clock. If nothing else, free throws help break up the flow of the game.

Curry was excellent against the Grizzlies over the course of the series, but he was not the gleaming fireball he has been against the Rockets. At this point, Houston will take anything less than that. Perhaps it's in their best interest to focus on how put themselves in the best position to defend Curry and not how to defend him directly. Because they haven't shown any ability to get that job done.

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Eric Freeman is a writer for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at efreeman_ysports@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Eric Freeman
Posted: May 25, 2015, 7:33 am

Game 3 of the 2015 Eastern Conference finals will not be remembered as an especially well played example of NBA basketball. Over 53 minutes, the Cleveland Cavaliers and Atlanta Hawks handed each other many opportunities to win, with either team only intermittently taking advantage. The Hawks saw their best player ejected under controversial circumstances. Each team came into the game without an All-Star. For these and many more reasons, these squads offered decidedly less than what we hope to see from title contenders.

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We should be thankful for LeBron James, a player so great that he can provide a handful of transcendent moments even amidst such dreck. After starting the night shooting 0-of-10 from the field, James finished with 37 points (14-of-37 FG, 8-of-10 FT), 18 rebounds, 13 assists, and three steals for his 12th career playoff triple-double (passing Jason Kidd for second on the all-time list). As usual, LeBron did a lot of everything, though not always efficiently, as the Cavs pulled out a 114-111 overtime win to move up 3-0 in the series. They can now finish off the sweep in Tuesday's Game 4 for the franchise's first NBA Finals appearance since 2007.

He also came up big when his team needed him most. Despite tweaking his ankle early in the extra period, James never left the court and stuck around for five points in the final minute. The first bucket came with 36 seconds on the clock and the Hawks just having taken a 111-109 lead on a Jeff Teague three-pointer with 55 ticks left. James missed a mid-range shot that would have tied, but Tristan Thompson was there for his seventh rebound and passed back out to his teammate on the perimeter. LeBron sent Paul Millsap past him with a pump fake and nailed the go-ahead three:

LeBron made a defensive impact on the next play by challenging a Teague layup and forcing a miss too hard off the glass. At the other end, he put up this lay-in for a three-point lead:

With one possession left to keep themselves out of a 3-0 hole, the Hawks ended up going to an unlikely option. Third-string point guard Shelvin Mack, who had played all of 47 minutes this postseason prior to Game 4, missed two tough threes to seal the result:

Hawks skeptics have pointed to the team's lack of a top-level superstar as one reason they were never really a championship contender, but this game almost served as a parody of that argument. With Kyle Korver ruled out for the remainder of the playoffs after Game 2, Al Horford ejected right before halftime for elbowing Cavs irritant Matthew Dellavedova, and increasingly ineffective backup point guard Dennis Schröder benched after just three minutes, the Hawks trotted out Mack, backup center Mike Muscala, and little-used reserve wing Mike Scott for key stretches of Game 3. While Mack's attempts at tying the game may have seemed ridiculous in the context of their 60-win regular season, they were acceptable in the context of Sunday night. Mack was actually one of Atlanta's better players, putting up 13 points (5-of-10 FG) and three assists in 28 minutes.

Nevertheless, it says something about the state of the Hawks that they had to rely on Mack at all. Even when things went well for them in Game 3, the broader dynamics of the matchup suggested that they were fighting an uphill battle to take the win.

It started in the first quarter, which Atlanta won 24-21 in a solid showing. However, the course of those 12 screamed that the three-point lead was not likely to last long. LeBron shot 0-of-9 for the worst shooting quarter of his career, the Cavs shot 6-of-27 from the field (salvaged by a 4-of-9 mark from deep) while getting zero second-chance points off nine offensive rebounds, and the Hawks turned it over zero times. Given those numbers, the Hawks should have built a greater advantage instead of the one-possession lead they held.

To their credit, they played the Cavs essentially even in the second quarter before Horford's ejection. Reasonable minds can differ as to whether he really had to be removed from the game, but the decision appeared to have saddled the Hawks with a forthcoming loss right then and there. He had put up 14 points on 7-of-10 shooting as the team's primary offensive option and appeared to be the only guy capable of both protecting the rim and rebounding enough to avoid giving Cleveland more second chances.

LeBron's performance in the third quarter made it clear that the Hawks missed Horford's interior presence. James went for 15 of his 37 points in the period, continually making it to the rim in the process. This empathic dunk was the clear highlight:

Despite his excellence, the Cavs entered the fourth with a relatively minor 81-76 advantage. That's largely because the Cavaliers have no quality options for shot creation apart from LeBron, whether via his own shooting or a kick-out to a three-point shooter like Iman Shumpert (15 points on 4-of-8 from deep), Dellavedova (17 on 4-of-9), or J.R. Smith (17 on 3-of-9, although many of those were off the dribble). With Kyrie Irving sidelined for a second-consecutive game and hobbled when he plays, the Cavs are nearly fully dependent on one player for their points. They're just lucky enough that the player is the best of his generation.

The Hawks are not so fortunate, although they cobbled together enough offense to stick with the Cavaliers right up until the final minutes of Game 3. After Horford's ejection, the Hawks depended on point guard Jeff Teague (30 points on 9-of-23 FG and 9-of-9 FT) and Paul Millsap (22 points on 5-of-11 FG and 11-of-11 FT). Neither has risen to their All-Star form with much consistency this postseason, but Teague attacked with an aggression that has been lacking in this series despite an apparent matchup advantage. The end product wasn't always there, but he was instrumental in helping the Hawks fight back from a 10-point fourth quarter deficit to force overtime. They just didn't do enough to get the necessary result.

That's no consolation for a team that needs four straight wins to stave off vacation. For all they did right in Game 3, the Hawks didn't have enough to best the Cavs. This was not one of LeBron's better games, and this veritable one-man show is certainly not what he and the rest of the franchise envisioned when they put together this roster. But they have so far met each one of their goals, no matter how halting the progress has been. With one more win, they'll have matched the heights of LeBron's first tenure with the franchise. A grueling ascent still gets you to the top.

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Eric Freeman is a writer for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at efreeman_ysports@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Eric Freeman
Posted: May 25, 2015, 6:02 am

Carlos Carrasco has an ugly 4.74 ERA, and I don’t want to point to his .351 BABIP as an automatic mark due for regression, because Cleveland’s defense is bad. However, getting Yan Gomes back should be a big help, and everything else here screams a pitcher who looks like a dominant ace (his 22.3 K-BB% ranks seventh best in baseball, while his 12.3 SwStr% is also top-10). Carrasco had a 1.72 ERA and 0.90 WHIP over 78.2 innings after the All-Star break last year, and his peripherals look even better in 2015 despite him having to deal with taking a line drive off his head early on. Carrasco could easily be a top-five fantasy starter from here on out, so try to buy him low in your fantasy league.

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Entering May 15, Ryan Braun’s OPS sat at .742, which was a career low by a wide margin (his career worst was .777 last season, but a thumb injury that was corrected by surgery over the offseason was to blame). He’s since raised that to .872 over 10 games, thanks to five homers over that span. Braun is now quietly on pace to finish with a .270-96-41-125-15 line. I said I was worried about his power earlier this year, which was clearly wrong and yet another reason for me not to attempt scouting. Braun may very well get hurt again, but he’s back to hitting like a star right now.

Headlines of the Week: Carbon Monoxide Leak Kills Couple Having Sex In Car...Man Swallows Hamster In Front Of Children ‘To Show How Dear Life Is’...Yellowstone Supervolcano Much Bigger Than Thought...Dad Unknowingly Impregnated Daughter, Who Worries How To Tell Their Son His Grandfather Is His Father...Pilot Says Passenger’s Annoying Cough Made Him Forget To Put Landing Gear Down, Resulting in Crash Landing...Chinese Restaurant Discounts Women Wearing Miniskirts – With Shorter Dresses Earning Cheaper Meals...Nintendo Hires Bowser As New VP Of Sales.

Quick Hits: Kendrys Morales has 15 doubles and 37 RBI over 43 games, even adding 32 runs scored. He’s easily been one of the best fantasy bargains so far, and I for one definitely didn’t see this coming...I’m at a loss when it comes to Stephen Strasburg. I own him in multiple leagues, so maybe I’m irrational when I want to say “buy low.” The velocity is fine, and it’s easy to say his .390 BABIP is going to regress (it’s the highest among all starting pitchers in MLB), but his 7.2 SwStr% is well below his career mark (11.0%) and actually quite worrisome...Rusney Castillo should approach something like 15/15 from here on out and needs to be owned in all leagues...Josh Hamilton is owned in fewer than 50% of Yahoo leagues? Please change that ASAP...This play by Joey Votto was pretty ridiculous...He’ll probably get hurt soon, but Brett Anderson is currently owned in fewer than 10% of Yahoo leagues, which seems bizarre. He has a 31:9 K:BB ratio with a 3.33 GB/FB rate while allowing few line drives and pitching for a Dodgers offense that’s been terrific. Anderson’s 66.7 GB% is the highest in all of baseball. I’d add him if he’s available in your league...Since 2013, Madison Bumgarner has as many homers (five) as Joe Mauer in 529 fewer at bats.

Police Blotter: Man Falls Asleep While Robbing Home..23-Year-Old Florida Man’s Driver’s License Suspended 26 Times...Ex-Con Arrested, Jailed For Listerine Battery On Her 70-Year-Old Father...Man Convicted Of Killing Chandra Levy Is Likely To Get A New Trial...Suspect in D.C. Murders Identified From DNA Left On Dominos Pizza Crust.

Quick Hits Part Deux: Since last season, CC Sabathia has a strong 4.5:1 K:BB ratio. Unfortunately, he’s also allowed a whopping 18 homers over 100.1 innings. It would be quite a stretch to call this poor luck. Although it’s impressive he’s managed to still miss bats with such diminished stuff, Sabathia can safely remain on waiver wires...Speaking of former stars no longer performing, how bad has Robinson Cano been? He has one home run on the year and has been caught on three of his four SB attempts. He’s on pace to finish with 41 RBI over 656 at bats while batting third in the lineup. I guess that’s what happens when you hit .179/.250/.205 with RISP...Jake Odorizzi has been given the worst run support (1.89 runs) in MLB this season, while Nick Martinez has received the best (7.67)...Shin-soo Choo still hasn’t attempted a steal this season, but at least his bat has shown life this month, when he’s homered five times...Ryan Zimmerman has the third-most walk-off homers in NL-history, which is pretty crazy considering he’s 31 years old with fewer than 200 home runs in his career...Billy Burns is fast and has a lot of stolen base potential, especially now locked into a regular role in Oakland with Coco Crisp again on the DL. Burns has five steals over the last seven games, so it’s a bit unclear why he’s owned in fewer than five percent of Yahoo Leagues. He had 54 steals in the minors last year over just 473 ABs. I spent $66 on Burns in a high stakes NFBC league, so I’m putting my money where my mouth is.

Song of the Week: Nirvana – “Where Did You Sleep Last Night.” 

Longread of the Week: Pam And Tommy: The Untold Story Of The World’s Most Infamous Sex Tape.

Quick Hits Part Tres: Prince Fielder has six homers and 16 RBI over the last dozen games, and he’s also leading the American League with a .351 batting average. He sure looks like he’s back to being a star while half of his long balls this season have come against southpaws. Fielder has more homers (295) than doubles (286) during his career...From May 5-22, Dee Gordon didn’t steal a base, attempting just one over that span. He has five stolen bases over his last three games since then and owns a .376 BA that easily leads major league baseball...Mark Teixeira has more walks than strikeouts and is on pace to finish with 49 home runs...Cameron Maybin has four homers, six steals and a .355 OBP over 105 at bats and has recently been moved into the No. 2 spot in Atlanta’s order. He will be worth using even in shallower mixed leagues until his next injury strikes...Petco Park Has Been A Launching Pad...Brandon Crawford leads all shortstops with a 151 wRC+ and is very good defensively, meaning he’s been one of the more valuable players in baseball this year...Gerrit Cole hasn’t allowed more than three runs in any start this year, has an average FB velocity of 95.6 mph that ranks top-five in baseball and is combining a 10.8 SwStr% with a 2.42 GB/FB ratio. In other words, if a draft were held today, he’d be worth a third round pick.

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Author: Dalton Del Don
Posted: May 25, 2015, 5:09 am

Take a look around the league with Big League Stew's daily wrap up. We'll hit on all of the biggest moments from the day that you may have missed, while providing highlights, photos and interesting stats.

Looks like Texas Rangers first baseman Prince Fielder is back. The 31-year-old came into the year with major questions after undergoing neck surgery last season, but he's been able to quiet the doubters thus far.

He put those skills on display on the national level Sunday night against the New York Yankees. Fielder picked up three hits during the contest, leading Texas to the 5-2 win. Fielder hit a double and two singles, finishing 3 for 5, with two RBI.

That stat line seems pretty familiar to Prince this season. Over 193 plate appearances, he's hitting an impressive .360/.415/.554. 

Some of the batting average is due to luck, but Fielder deserves credit for returning to form. He's been able to cut his strikeout rate to a career-low 11.1 percent. While his walk rate is also at a career-low, he's shown the ability to take walks at a high pace in the past. Also, his low walk rate is hardly a concern if he continues producing like this.

While Fielder is swinging a bit more, he's also making contact at a career-high 85.6 percent. It appears he's traded some patience for contact, and it's been working. The biggest positive is that his aggressive approach hasn't limited his power just yet. His home run rate of 14.5 percent is slightly low compared to his career-rate, so there's a chance it will rise moving forward. Then again, perhaps this new version of Prince isn't as dependent on the long ball. 

For now, whatever he's doing is working. Though the Rangers are just 21-23, Fielder's revival has been an encouraging sign for the franchise.

PIRATES' PITCHING PUTS METS IN PRECARIOUS POSITION

The Pittsburgh Pirates managed to complete the sweep over the New York Mets on Sunday. Francisco Liriano led the way during the 9-1 victory.

Actually, all three of the Pirates starters dominated during the series. Gerrit Cole struck out 10 while nearly tossing a complete game Friday, A.J. Burnett followed that up with a 10 strikeout performance Saturday and Liriano added an incredible 12 strikeouts during Sunday's game.

It was the first time since 1969 that a trio of Pirates starters struck out double-digit batters in three straight games. Burnett, Cole and Liriano struck out 32 Mets over 21 1/3 innings during the sweep. 

With the win, the Pirates are just one game under .500. They trail the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Central by 3.0 games.

MICHAEL WACHA REMAINS PERFECT

St. Louis Cardinals starter Michael Wacha may never lose another game. The 23-year-old improved to 7-0 after Sunday's 6-1 win over the Kansas City Royals.

Wacha has been operating with a slightly altered approach this year, but it seems to have worked out thus far. The right-handers strikeout rate has dropped quite a bit, but he's been able to balance that by picking up more grounders. 

Wacha's .231 BABIP suggests regression could be coming, however, so there may come a time where he'll need to reach back and start picking up more strikeouts. 

For now, though, all appears to be right. The Cardinals have been able to remain at the top despite losing Adam Wainwright for the season, and Wacha's emergence has been a big part of it. 

Wacha tossed just 107 innings last season due to shoulder issues, so the club may want to limit his usage moving forward. Based on how he's going now, it's going to be incredibly tough to take him out of the rotation at any point.

HOT IN CLEVELAND

Don't look now, but the Cleveland Indians are starting to get hot. The franchise picked up its sixth-straight win with a 5-2 victory over the Cincinnati Reds.

Since their 7-14 start in April, the club has improved to 13-9 during May. Despite the recent winning streak, the team remains eight games out of first in the American League Central. 

The rotation has been a big part of the recent surge.

The Indians have four of the 12 best starting pitchers in the American League by FIP this season http://t.co/pq97rL0hD5

— August Fagerstrom (@AugustF_MLB) May 24, 2015

On top of that, catcher Yan Gomes just returned from a knee injury Sunday. He'll not only provide a strong upgrade on offense, but he's also considered a useful defensive asset. 

While Cleveland still has a long way to go before they are considered contenders, they are finally starting to perform like many expected in the preseason.

Want to see more from Sunday's slate of games? Check out our scoreboard.

Author: Chris Cwik
Posted: May 25, 2015, 4:43 am

NEW YORK — Steven Stamkos stood at the podium after Game 5 with a relaxed look on his face. Gone are the days when speculation was rife that he was injured, contributing to his goal drought in Tampa’s first eight games of the postseason.

Stamkos wasn’t hurt, as he contended during Round 1 into Round 2. But even a multiple Rocket Richard Trophy winner can go through battles with confidence. And while it certainly helped that the Lightning came back in their series against the Detroit Red Wings, it feels good for the Tampa captain to know he’s contributing in victories now.

The Lightning won Game 5 against the New York Rangers 2-0 Sunday night, putting them a win away from advancing to their first Stanley Cup Final since 2004. Stamkos scored a power play goal late in the second period to put Tampa up 2-0 and put the game effectively out of reach given the Rangers’ inability to breach Ben Bishop, who made 26 saves.

Stamkos has now scored in four consecutive games, tying a team playoff record set by Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier. The goals have started coming since Game 2 of Round 2 against the Montreal Canadiens. Since that 6-2 win Stamkos has 7 goals in 10 games and 14 points over that stretch. 

The jump in production coincided with a move to the wing, a move that Tampa head coach Jon Cooper said he made so Stamkos didn’t exert too much energy in the defensive zone. 

“I'm definitely more confident now than I was the first eight games, no question,” Stamkos said. “But I think for me it was a great adversity test. Our team was winning, which was great. The depth has prevailed all season for our team. But I knew I was playing the right way. When you play the right way, things are going to start going your way.”

While the “Triplets" line of Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov has garnered much of the attention, Stamkos, Valtteri Filppula and Alex KIllorn have done damage themselves. Despite their lack of a catchy nickname — “I don’t think we need a nickname,” says Filppula — they’ve provided another threat the Rangers have failed to contain.

“Whenever good things happen you get confidence and you get more comfortable and you trust what you’re doing,” said Filppula, “it’s going to get results. I think that that’s a good sign.”

Both head coaches have talked about needing their big names to step up at this stage of the season. New York got that from St. Louis and Rick Nash in Game 4, but have missed them for the most part. Meanwhile, Cooper has watched his go-to guys lead the charge, and in Stamkos’ case, it’s been timely. 

“The one thing with Stammer, you look at his seven goals, he's not getting the sixth goal in a 6-2 game,” Cooper said. “He's getting the go-ahead goal or the one that you build off. It was only a matter of time. You can't keep him down forever. He was responsible on both ends of the ice.”

Stamkos and Victor Hedman are the only Lightning players who remain from that 2011 team that lost 1-0 in Game 7 of the East Final to the Boston Bruins. Four year later, Stamkos is now the leader of the Lightning and Hedman has evolved into one of the NHL’s top defensemen. They know how close they are to advancing to the the final stage of the season, but they also understand the Rangers have been coming back in series all postseason. 

“We're going to get some rest. We're going to regroup,” Stamkos said. “We’re going to watch the film, watch the things that we did well, and obviously try to do it again.”

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Sean Leahy is the associate editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Sean_Leahy

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Author: Sean Leahy
Posted: May 25, 2015, 4:28 am

No. 1 Star: Ben Bishop, Tampa Bay Lightning 

The Lightning goalie made 26 saves for the shutout, as Tampa defeated the Rangers 2-0 in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Final, taking a 3-2 series lead.

No. 2 Star: Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning

Stamkos scored a goal for the fourth straight game and added an assist on Valtteri Filppula’s goal. He now has seven points in his last four games.

No. 3 Star: Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers

The Rangers goalie made 20 saves in the loss, doing what he could as his offense dried up.

Honorable Mention: Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov had the assists on Stamkos’s goal. Anton Stralman had the big pass to set up the Filppula goal.    

Did You Know? Bishopimproved to 11-2-0 with 3 shutouts in 13 career decisions vs. the Rangers.

Dishonorable Mention: The Rangers were 0-for-4 on the power play despite having scored two goals on the man advantage in each of the previous three games. … Marc Staal took two minor penalties and was a minus-1.

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Author: Greg Wyshynski
Posted: May 25, 2015, 4:27 am

NEW YORK – After shutting out the New York Rangers in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Final, Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Ben Bishop was asked about a significantly more painful moment before the Sunday night contest at MSG. 

Did he take a puck to a “delicate region” during warm-ups?

“You hit the nail on the head there,” he told Scott Oake of Hockey Night In Canada, as millions of fans wince simultaneously.

Bishop took a Nikita Nesterov shot to the lower extremities, crumpled to the ice and left warm-ups. What di Nesterov say after seeing Bishop in pain? "Sorry bro."

“His close ones, that he’s close to in life, were probably a little nervous,” said coach Jon Cooper.

But his starting the pivotal game was in never in doubt, and Bishop shut out a Rangers team that hung 10 goals on him in the last two games. Which naturally means someone else will have to smack a puck at his under carriage before Game 6, because hockey is nothing if not a superstitious sport.

Then again, that might mean someone with a harder shot takes him out. As Anton Stralman said after hearing is was Nesterov that injured Bishop in warmups: "Oh, it was a muffin. That's fine."

Beyond Bishop’s warm-up mishap, the Lightning were dealing with another awkwardly stomach churning issue on their bench.

The Lightning dressed seven defensemen, and good thing they did: Braydon Coburn was limited to 5:43 in the game, and didn’t see a shift after the first period.

Injury? Discipline?

No, said Cooper, although he wouldn't completely confirm that Coburn was sick. 

Like, really sick.

Like get the mop. 

“I don't know what TV cameras picked stuff up. We had issues on the bench, so I've got to find out more of what's going on,” said Cooper.  

“Yeah … don't walk on our bench, OK? That's what I'm going to say.”

Let it never be said Jon Cooper can’t paint a picture with his words.

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Author: Greg Wyshynski
Posted: May 25, 2015, 4:05 am

The best day in auto racing ended with a little fuel stretching.

Carl Edwards took the lead with 18 laps to go thanks to a late pit stop and made it over 60 laps on his last tank of gas to win Sunday night's Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Edwards was not a factor near the front of the field late in the race but he and crew chief Darian Grubb made the decision to pit for fuel on lap 338 during the race's final caution flag for Ricky Stenhouse Jr.'s brush with the wall.

Most of the cars in the top 10 stayed out during the yellow flag, meaning they'd have to pit once more before the race was over. If there was another caution flag, the cars that didn't pit would be in good shape. Likely everyone else would head to pit road for fresh tires too, meaning the entire field would be back on the same pit cycle.

But the race stayed green. As the laps wound down, the top cars that stayed out were forced to pit. Edwards was the first of the cars that tried to stretch their tanks of gas and he beat Greg Biffle and Dale Earnhardt Jr. to the finish line easily.

"Well I mean, that's what made the race for us," Edwards said of the decision to pit under yellow. "Darian does such a good job and ever since Tony [Stewart] and I battled for that championship, I've wanted to work with him. And now I can. That's what he does on the box, he takes a mediocre day like that and he puts us in a good position."

When Edwards lost the 2011 Sprint Cup Series title to Tony Stewart via a tiebreaker, Grubb was Stewart's crew chief. He parted ways with Stewart at the end of that season and went to Joe Gibbs Racing, where he was paired with Denny Hamlin. When Edwards joined JGR before the 2015 season, a crew chief switch among three of JGR's teams put Edwards and Grubb together.

Edwards' former Roush teammate Matt Kenseth joined JGR in 2013 and won seven races in his first season with the team. Unlike what happened with Edwards' gas supply, it's not a stretch to say that Kenseth's immediate success inflated expectations for Edwards in his first year with the team.

And until Sunday, Edwards hadn't been exceptional. Through the first 11 races he was 18th in the points standings and had one top-10 finish. His 20.5 average finish entering the 600 was his worst career average finish.

Now, he's all but guaranteed a berth in NASCAR's Chase. A Chase berth doesn't automatically make a season a success; especially for a driver with championship ambitions like Edwards. But with a goal likely achieved during what's otherwise been a disappointing season, Edwards and the No. 19 team can now prep for the postseason rather than worry about simply qualifying for it.

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Nick Bromberg is the editor of From The Marbles on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Nick Bromberg
Posted: May 25, 2015, 2:54 am

NEW YORK – The Tampa Bay Lightning finally shut down the New York Rangers’ offense, got another star performance from Steven Stamkos and are now one win away from playing for the Stanley Cup for the first time since winning it in 2004.

The Bolts won Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Final, 2-0, on Sunday night at MSG, taking a 3-2 series lead. Goalie Ben Bishop, who had surrendered 10 goals in his last two games, rebounded with a strong 26- save effort. Part of that effort was as the last line of defense on a penalty kill that shutout the Rangers on four power plays, after New York had entered the game red hot with the man advantage.

Stamkos has a goal and an assist, giving the captain seven points in his last four games.

Yet for the most part, the Lightning played a sloppy and ineffective game before finally breaking through with the game’s first goal at 13:29 of the second period. They were getting outshot, turning the puck over in their own zone. They handed the Rangers four power plays, including two in a 4:32 span; but they managed to kill them all despite New York’s man advantage having gone four for its last eight.

But that was all a distant memory after Anton Stralman connected on a Hail Mary pass to Steven Stamkos into the Rangers’ zone, who then fed the puck to Valtteri Filppula for blast past Henrik Lundqvist and the 1-0 lead. It was his third goal of the playoffs. 

Then Rangers defenseman Marc Staal went off for tripping at 17:04, and the Lightning had a golden chance to extend their lead heading into the third period.

They capitalized, in spectacular fashion.

Ondrej Palat did yeoman’s work keeping the puck alive in the zone before sending a cross-ice backhand pass to his linemate Nikita Kucherov and then cutting to the slot. Kucherov saw that, and passed back to Palat after taking a few strides towards the net. Palat drew Dan Girardi from the front of the net, leaving Stamkos alone. Palat hit him with a pass, and he had the hockey equivalent of an alley-oop dunk for a 2-0 lead at 18:22 of the second.

It was Stamkos’s seventh of the postseason, and the fourth straight game he tallied a goal.

The Lightning were 7-0-0 in the playoffs when leading after two periods. They were 33-0-2 in the regular season. That trend held in the third, as the Rangers couldn't solve Bishop. 

The Rangers, the reigning Eastern Conference champs, face elimination on Tuesday night. And it won’t be easy eliminating them: Lundqvist is 14-3 since 2012 when the Rangers face elimination in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

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Author: Greg Wyshynski
Posted: May 25, 2015, 2:33 am

Already having lost both of their opening home games to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Atlanta Hawks suffered another major blow late in the second quarter of Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals at Quicken Loans Arena.

[Follow Dunks Don't Lie on Tumblr: The best slams from all of basketball]

With 34 seconds remaining in the first half, Hawks All-Star center Al Horford struck Cavs guard Matthew Dellavedova with an elbow after the two tangled and tussled for a rebound. Replays showed that Dellavedova had fallen into Horford's leg, thereby risking injury, and Horford appears to have retaliated for what he perceived as a dirty play.

Dellavedova was handed a technical foul (although not clearly for his fall), but Horford received a flagrant-2 foul, triggering an automatic ejection. Take a look at the incident here:

The NBA explained the call on Twitter:

Explanation (1/3): 34.3 seconds left/Q2: Horford threw an unnecessary and excessive forearm/elbow to Dellavedova, making contact.....

— NBA Official (@NBAOfficial) May 25, 2015

Explanation (2/3): 34.3 seconds left/Q2: ... Above the shoulders, therefore a Flagrant 2 foul was called on Horford...

— NBA Official (@NBAOfficial) May 25, 2015

Explanation (3/3): 34.3 seconds left/Q2: ... Who was ejected from the game, and Dellavedova received a technical.

— NBA Official (@NBAOfficial) May 25, 2015

The referees' decision was immediately controversial, primarily due to Dellavedova's growing reputation as a pest and instigator. In Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, he trapped the leg of Chicago Bulls forward Taj Gibson, which caused the big man to kick at him as he attempted to get up, which in turn got referees to eject Gibson. More important to the context of the Horford incident, Dellavedova seemingly inadvertently rolled into Hawks wing Kyle Korver in Game 2, causing a high ankle sprain that will keep Korver out of the rest of the postseason.

There's not a ton of evidence that Dellavedova is intentionally doing these things, but he certainly doesn't seem to be a player who consciously avoids putting others in danger.

On the other hand, it's difficult to explain away loading up and elbowing an opponent. If Dellavedova is a pest, then Horford allowed him to be successful with this move. Officials have been fairly consistent in ejecting players for non-basketball actions like this one, so the ejection cannot come as much of a surprise even if there appears to be some reason behind what Horford did. It's more difficult to explain why Dellavedova was given a technical foul without further punishment because he would not seem to deserve any punishment if he didn't fall into Horford on purpose.

Regardless of the justness of the resolution, Horford's ejection put the Hawks in serious jeopardy of falling behind 3-0 in the series. Up 49-48 at halftime, Atlanta had to move forward without its most consistent postseason performer at both ends. Horford is essential to the Hawks' system and had a first-half high 14 points on 7-of-10 shooting.

However, Atlanta exceeded expectations and had a chance to win on the final possession of regulation when Jeff Teague missed a buzzer-beating three-pointer to send the game to overtime. The Hawks led late but succumbed to five points by LeBron James in the final minute as the Cavs won 114-111. They now have the chance to eliminate the Hawks in Tuesday's Game 4 in Cleveland.

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Eric Freeman is a writer for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at efreeman_ysports@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Eric Freeman
Posted: May 25, 2015, 2:14 am

Will the New York Rangers postseason be like “Aquaman” or more like “Medellin” as either turned out in the television show “Entourage?”

New York’s last two games have become intrinsically linked with the former HBO series that aired from 2004-11 and the film, which is set to debut June 3. Oh, and there’s Kevin Dillon who plays “Johnny Chase” and “Entourage” creator Doug Ellin at Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Final at Madison Square Garden, Via the New York Daily News. OK, Ellin is totally repping Tequila Avion in that photo. Nice ... 

Why is this all such a big deal? Because Rangers forward Rick Nash held an advanced screening of the movie for the team the night before its 5-1 Game 4 drubbing of Tampa at Amalie Arena which knotted the series at 2-2. In that contest Nash, who had been a playoff goat, scored two goals and added one assist.

So if the Rangers beat the Lightning their ‘VICTORY!’ will happen because of “Entourage” right? 

Not really, but it would be a nice story. And by nice I mean, coincidental more than anything, but still funny, and totally bro-tastic, because “Entourage” was the quintessential ‘bro’ type television show. 

Nash has a connection with Ellin according to the Daily News. One of Ellin’s childhood friends works with Nash’s wife Jessica.

 "I'm a diehard Islander fan and have been my whole life, but Jessica and Rick have been really good to us and Ryan McDonagh has, too," Ellin said. "Kevin Dillon and Jerry Ferrara (who plays Turtle) are big Rangers fans, and we've always had these huge spirited debates. But it's New York and I'm enjoying it. It's great.

"I've had some interesting times at this arena through the years," he added. "I wore my (Denis) Potvin (Islanders) jersey here when I was 10 years old and I got to get stuff thrown at me. So hockey has been in my blood for a long time. I'm making some peace with the Rangers right now, and it's OK, I like it."

This creates an interesting dynamic because Kevin Connolly, who plays the character Eric Murphy on the show/movie, is a massive Islanders fan. This whole “Entourage” thing with the Rangers has turned into somewhat of a marketing success – giving the film free publicity. And Ferrara has bought in to a major degree as well, tweeting about the Rangers, engaging certain Yahoo bloggers on Twitter and retweeting them. Thanks Jerry!

But Connolly did not want to go to Game 5, per Ellin in the story, because he thought the Rangers fans would “kill” him.

And the Rangers organization has totally bought in. Per the piece, they played the song “Superhero” by Jane’s Addiction during warmups, which is the opening credits song for the television show. 

We may have been too hard on the Rangers by saying a loss to Tampa could make their playoff “Medellin-like.” Making the Eastern Conference Final puts it more in the middle between a flop and success – kinda like “Head On.”

Then again, we’ve never seen these fictional movies, but always dreamed of how they turned out.

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Josh Cooper is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @joshuacooper

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Author: Josh Cooper
Posted: May 25, 2015, 1:56 am

(Getty Images)The Casey McGehee era in San Francisco has come to an end. The Giants designated the veteran third baseman for assignment Sunday morning.

[Woah, The Stew has a podcast now?! Yep, you should listen.]

The club didn't wait all that long to make the move. McGehee played in just 35 games with the team after being acquired during the offseason. The 32-year-old hit just .200/.254/.282 over 118 plate appearances.

The team will now have 10 days to trade, waive or outright McGehee. Any team can put in a claim for McGehee on waivers, but it's assumed his $4.8 million salary will scare clubs away. 

McGehee has not decided whether he would accept an assignment to Triple-A, according to Andrew Baggarly of the Mercury News. 

“That’s not a decision I feel I’m capable of making in 10 minutes,” McGehee said. “There’s other people involved, my family. When I’m here I try to play for the team and do what the team asks, but as far as life, you’ve got another team you’ve got to consider and that’s your wife and your kids.

“I told (Bruce Bochy) and Bobby both, there’s a lot of good here. It’s obvious the team’s playing good, it’s a great organization, it’s home, pretty much, for me. There’s a lot of good here. So I’ve got some things to think about.”
With McGehee out of the picture, the club will roll with rookie Matt Duffy at third. McGehee met with Duffy after he had been given the news, and told the rookie that he shouldn't feel conflicted about the situation. 
“I just want Duff to make sure he has nothing to feel bad about,” McGehee said. “He’s doing his job, he’s doing it really well, and you know, the rest of it I’ll leave between us. But basically I wanted to make sure that he knew he has absolutely nothing to feel bad about. He should be proud that he’s forced the issue to the point where you’ve got to get him on the field, and that’s what his job is. That’s what he’s supposed to do.”
The 24-year-old Duffy has hit .299/.330/.402 over 105 plate appearances thus far. 
McGehee told reporters he did not believe he had played his final major-league game, though it's unclear where or when that will happen. If this is the end of the line for McGehee, it would end one of the more unique careers in the game.
After being claimed off waivers by the Milwaukee Brewers, McGehee developed into a solid third baseman for two seasons. His production dropped in 2011, and he became a part-time player in 2012. Following the 2012 season, McGehee left for Japan.
He was fantastic overseas, hitting .292/.376/.515. His performance earned him a shot with the Miami Marlins, where he posted a solid comeback season in 2014. Following Pablo Sandoval's departure, San Franciso acquired McGehee to be their starting third baseman in December. 
Clearly, the move didn't work out. After a slow start, the Giants have managed to claw their way back into the National League West race. While it's rare to see a team part ways with a veteran this soon into the season, this is a team that has earned some trust over the past couple years.

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McGehee is a great story, and seems like a great teammate, but he wasn't giving San Francisco the production they were seeking. McGehee has already played his way out of the league once. It's unclear whether he'll get a third chance now.

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Chris Cwik is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at christophercwik@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Chris_Cwik

Author: Chris Cwik
Posted: May 25, 2015, 1:55 am

Kyle Kirchhoff, an assistant football coach at College of DuPage and a former player at Division III Loras College, fell from a catwalk at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago on Friday and died. He was 24.

He was attending a Chevelle concert at the venue. According to the Chicago Tribune, he landed on two protruding pieces of metal.

The paper said he and two friends were on the second-floor balcony and went through a door. From the Tribune:

Two of the three found their way to a catwalk where they were able to watch the show, and after a short while, they noticed Kirchhoff wasn't with them. When they searched for him, they found his body. He had apparently fallen about 6 to 8 feet onto two metal rods, the source said.

Kirchhoff suffered two wounds to his chest and was taken to Weiss Memorial Hospital where he was pronounced dead at 10:54 p.m., according to the Cook County medical examiner's office and police.

The concert was stopped after the body was found. Aragon Ballroom could not be reached for comment on Kirchhoff’s death.

"Duhawk football has lost a great friend and teammate," Loras College coach Steve Helminiak said in a statement. "Kyle was loved by his teammates and coaches alike, his impact on and off the field will be missed but not forgotten."

"Kyle's love of life and football was infectious to all who were fortunate to have known him. Our thoughts and prayers are with Kyle's family as they mourn during this very difficult time."

College of DuPage is a community college in Glen Ellyn, Ill. Kirchhoff coached the defensive line there, a position he played at Loras.

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Nick Bromberg is the editor of From The Marbles on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Nick Bromberg
Posted: May 25, 2015, 1:38 am

For 35 years, John Amirante was an institution at New York Rangers games. The lifelong Rangers fan belted the national anthem at home games, his voice cutting through the bellowing cheers from the crowd during the pregame performances. 

Now 80 years old, Amirante had his work scaled back this season dramatically, and as part of that deal it appeared that Game 2 of their first-round series against Pittsburgh would be the last time he’d sing the anthem at MSG. 

But then there was a groundswell of affection and support from Rangers fans, and the team vowed he’d return again in the postseason for another performance.

From Newsday:

The team had invited him to sing earlier in the playoffs for Game 7 against the Capitals, but he had to pass because of a case of bronchitis that since has cleared.

"You bet I'm excited to be back," Amirante said before the game. "This is bringing back memories of '94 . . . I'm just very excited to be back here and appreciative.

"I thank all the fans for their support, believe me. Fantastic people."

Before Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Sunday, the announcement was made: John Amirante would be singing the national anthem.

The Garden erupted, louder than it’s been on many occasions during the postseason. Out walked Amirante in his trademark blue jacket and, um, buoyant dark hair.

The anthem that followed was heartfelt and energetic – a reminder of how Amirante has electrified the Garden crowd like few others have for the last three decades. 

s/t Blueshirt Banter

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Author: Greg Wyshynski
Posted: May 25, 2015, 1:03 am

New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter made his triumphant return to Yankee Stadium on Sunday. Jeter wasn't just there to enjoy the game, however, he came to support former teammate Bernie Williams.

[Woah, The Stew has a podcast now?! Yep, you should listen.]

The club retired Williams' number prior to the contest, and enshrined him in Monument Park. Williams has not played in the majors during the last nine season, but formerly retired earlier this season. The franchise has not allowed another player to wear No. 51 since Williams left in 2006. The team will also wear a commemorative patch on their jerseys in honor of Williams. 

For Jeter, it was the first time he had appeared at Yankee Stadium since his retirement. 

Derek Jeter is on hand for #BernieDay celebrations! pic.twitter.com/U9RU53DUAy

— Yankees PR Dept. (@YankeesPR) May 24, 2015

The former shortstop was joined by a number of his teammates, including Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera.

Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera, grinning from ear to ear on #BernieDay. pic.twitter.com/rb10FKRAgX

— New York Yankees (@Yankees) May 24, 2015

Earlier this season, Jeter made it clear that he's enjoying his retirement, and has no regrets about walking away from the game. 

For the most part, he's managed to keep a pretty low profile after leaving the game. Jeter popped up at a charity event in Japan to support former teammate Hideki Matsui, but, other than that, he's stayed out of the spotlight. 

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In that sense, it was probably great for the fans to see the captain on the field once again. Despite his popularity, Jeter never pursued attention as a player. Considering that, it's not really a surprise that his life away from the game has remained quiet.

Though he's settled in to a mostly carefree life post-baseball, Jeter will always have a place at Yankee Stadium. While it doesn't appear he has any interest to get back into the game, Jeter will always remain a beloved figure in New York when he does show up for future Yankees events.

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Chris Cwik is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at christophercwik@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Chris_Cwik

Author: Chris Cwik
Posted: May 25, 2015, 12:55 am

Earlier this postseason, a New York Rangers fan decided he needed a haircut in a very specific way: A little off the sides and Chris Kreider shaved into the back.

As far as player-faces-shaved-into-head haircuts go, it was pretty cool.

Joe Barajas, otherwise known as “Joe the Barber,” is the man behind these unique haircuts. On Sunday, before Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Final between the Rangers and Tampa Bay Lightning, he was at it again, this time using Henrik Lundqvist.

The @ThatJoeBarber #NYR @HLundqvist30 portrait is complete! pic.twitter.com/imguokvJYQ

— New York Rangers (@NYRangers) May 24, 2015

“It’s like getting a tattoo but it grows out and you go about your business," said Barajas, who owns a barber shop in San Antonio, to ABC News. "A lot of people love to express themselves with their hair."

There's only one Henrik Lundqvist, so this might be the closest one gets to trying to encapsulate the handsomeness of the Rangers netminder.

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Sean Leahy is the associate editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Sean_Leahy

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Author: Sean Leahy
Posted: May 24, 2015, 11:19 pm

One of the biggest questions entering Sunday's Indianapolis 500 was if the trend of cars flipping over during accidents would continue.

A car flipped over three different times in practice crashes ahead of the race and while James Hinchcliffe's car didn't flip completely over on Monday, it did get airborne.

Thankfully, no cars got airborne during Sunday's race, though there were still some nasty crashes.

The biggest crash was the race's final incident, when Sebastian Saavedra, Jack Hawksworth and Stefano Coletti crashed off turn 4. Hawskworth and Saavedra touched while two-wide in the corner and both cars went spinning. Coletti had nowhere to go and smashed into Saavedra's car.

Coletti and Hawksworth got out of their cars under their own power and were checked and released from the infield care center. Saavedra was carried to a nearby safety vehicle by safety workers.

Saavedra checked for a contusion to his right foot. Will need to be re-evaluated before he is cleared to drive. #Indy500

— INDYCAR on NBCSN (@IndyCaronNBCSN) May 24, 2015

The crash that most resembled the ones where cars flipped over in practice was Tony Kanaan's. Shortly after pitting just past the three-quarters mark of the 200 lap race, Kanaan's car wobbled in turn 3 and the back end slammed into the outside wall. Helio Castroneves, Josef Newgarden and Ed Carpenter all had similar incidents in turn 2 the week prior and their three cars flipped over.

Though Hinchcliffe didn't take a tumble, he suffered lower body soft tissue injuries when he was impaled by suspension parts upon impact with the wall. He missed the race and was replaced by Ryan Briscoe.

Kanaan's stayed pinned to the ground and he got out of his car shortly after the wreck. He was checked and released from the infield care center and remarked that he was thankful no one had flipped over during the race.

Sunday's race didn't even complete a lap before the first crash of the day happened. Takuma Sato was on the outside three-wide in turn one. As he attempted to pass Sage Karam there was simply not enough room for both cars on the exit of the corner and they both hit the wall.

While Sato was able to continue laps down, Karam's day was over.

In addition to Saavedra's reported foot contusion, two crewmembers for Dale Coyne Racing's No. 18 car were hit by a car on pit road. One was taken to a nearby hospital.

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Nick Bromberg is the editor of From The Marbles on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Nick Bromberg
Posted: May 24, 2015, 8:41 pm

The San Francisco Giants and Colorado Rockies had a long day at the ballpark on Saturday. The division rivals met up for a day/night doubleheader that was scheduled to begin at 2:10 and 7:10 pm respectively in Denver, but ended up way behind schedule thanks to extensive weather delays before both games.

It was a taxing day for the players, and in many ways it was both a taxing and confusing day for the fans as the game times were changed. In fact, at one point the gates were actually opening for the night game while the afternoon game was still ongoing.

Mother Nature can be cruel sometimes, especially in the Rocky Mountain area. However, for one fan who braved the elements and stuck around for the second game, the wait was worth it.

His moment of glory happened In the fourth inning when Colorado's Ben Paulsen pulled a foul ball into the scarce gathering along the right field line. Our fan was in the perfect spot to make a play on the ball, but couldn't make the clean catch because he was wearing winter gloves instead of a baseball glove.

Initially, there was much disappointment. However, it was quickly discovered that his jacket saved the day. After bouncing off his hand, it landed perfectly in the pouch.

[Woah, The Stew has a podcast now?! Yep, you should listen.]

Seriously. Look again. There's probably a joke here about all the Rockies success being accidental, but that's assuming he's a Rockies fan. Either way, that's a fan catch for the ages and another reminder that baseball souvenirs are totally random and you should not feel bad for never catching one.

By the way, the Giants and Rockies ended up splitting the games. San Francisco won the opener 10-8 to extend its winning streak to eight, but Colorado rebounded in the nightcap to win 5-3. 

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: May 24, 2015, 8:29 pm

Juan Pablo Montoya celebrates after winning the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500. (AP)Juan Pablo Montoya won Sunday's Indianapolis 500 after a thrilling 15-lap dash to the finish.

The final segment of the race featured multiple lead changes among three drivers: Montoya, Will Power and Scott Dixon. As one car would go to the lead, the two cars behind would catch up via the draft a lap or so later and make a move to the front. It was a seemingly endless and incredibly enjoyable cycle.

The winning move came when Montoya got around both Power and Dixon with three laps to go. Montoya was third and slipped past Dixon with an insane outside move entering Turn 3. He kept the run going and got into Power's wake through Turn 4 and passed the 2014 IndyCar Series champion down the frontstretch.

"This is what racing in IndyCar is all about," Montoya said. "Awesome racing all the way down to the wire."

The last 15 laps were set up by a vicious crash involving Sebastian Saavedra, Jack Hawksworth and Stefano Coletti. Hawksworth and Saavedra made contact in Turn 4 and Coletti slammed into Saavedra, who had just hit the wall. Saavedra was carried to a nearby safety vehicle after he was extricated from the car and his right shoe appeared to be off his foot.

The win is Montoya's second career Indianapolis 500 victory and the 16th for team owner Roger Penske. Montoya won the race in 2000 while driving for Chip Ganassi and becomes the first driver to win the 500 with both Ganassi and Penske, the two most powerful owners in the IndyCar Series.

It's also the first time Penske has won both the Daytona 500 and Indy 500 in the same year, with Joey Logano having won in Daytona back in February. Ganassi had previously won both in the same season in 2010, via Jamie McMurray in Daytona and Dixon in Indy.

Power finished second, while Ganassi driver Charlie Kimball snuck around Dixon for third following Montoya's pass.

It's the crowning moment for Montoya in his return to open-wheel racing after a stint in NASCAR. Montoya, also a seven-time winner in Formula 1, drove for seven seasons with Ganassi in NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series from 2007-2013. He parted ways with the team after the '13 season and joined Penske for the 2014 IndyCar season. He's one of three drivers – in addition to Mario Andretti and Dan Gurney – to win in American open-wheel, Formula 1 and NASCAR's top level.

Montoya's Sunday got off to an inauspicious start. While the race was under caution for a first-lap crash involving Takuma Sato, Sage Karam and others, Montoya was hit from behind by Simona de Silvestro. The impact damaged the right-rear tire cover on Montoya's car and he ended up pitting three times during the caution to have the piece repaired and other adjustments to his car made.

Montoya restarted in 30th, patiently picking up spots and, thanks to a well-timed caution in the middle of the race, got back near the front of the field, a place he stayed for the duration of the race.

"Montoya, coming all the way from the back," Penske said. "I'll tell you, you give that guy the bit and put it in his mouth, as you know, he doesn't give up."

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Nick Bromberg is the editor of From The Marbles on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Nick Bromberg
Posted: May 24, 2015, 7:40 pm

LAS VEGAS – UFC flyweight Joseph Benavidez is in fighter purgatory. He is, by all accounts, one of the 125-pound division’s very best talents and is 10-2 in his last 12 fights.

The problem is, those two losses came against champion Demetrious Johnson.Joseph Benavidez celebrates after defeating John Moraga at UFC 187. (AP)

After a wildly entertaining unanimous decision victory over John Moraga at UFC 187 on Saturday, Benavidez – the No. 2 ranked challenger in the division – inched that much closer to a third fight with Mighty Mouse.

Unfortunately, given Benavidez’s two performances against the champ – the last coming in 2013 via devastating first-round knockout – there aren’t that many people banging down the doors at UFC HQ demanding to see that trilogy.

And Joe Benavidez gets that.

“Well, I’m a realist,” admitted Benavidez at the UFC 187 post-fight press conference, “so, I know that logically it doesn’t make sense for me to go for the title right away. I believe in my skill 100 percent, that I can go out there and beat Demetrious Johnson and give him the best fight there is. But I also know I’m not crazy. I lost to him twice. I know that’s not how it works; Dodson’s only fought him once.”

John Dodson, the flyweight division’s No. 1 contender was sitting directly to the left of Benavidez at the UFC 187 post-fight dais and perked up when his name is called. On Saturday, Dodson had a fine performance himself, dispatching No. 9 ranked Zach Makovsky via unanimous decision. It’s a fight that most think will put Dodson next in line for Johnson, and it’s as Benavidez said: Dodson has only lost to Johnson once.

Dodson's first fight with Johnson in Jan. 2013 was an outstanding one. It won Fight of the Night and it was a fight where Dodson thought he was the rightful winner, despite what the official scorecard read. And when the rematch does happen, Dodson will be ready the second time around, “Yeah, it’s a no-brainer for me,” said Dodson when asked if he thought he was next in line. “I always still want to beat up Demetrious Johnson. I want to knock him out.

“I thought I won the first time, me and him faced each other and I believe this next time we come around, the outcome is gonna be way different. I’m still going to go out there and beat him up and get a clearer victory by knocking him out.”

John Moraga, bottom, takes down Joseph Benavidez during their flyweight fight. (AP)One person who might be cheering for a Dodson KO is Joseph Benavidez.

The reality is that no one wants to see Demetrious Johnson vs. Joseph Benavidez III, but everyone would be intrigued with Benavidez vs. Dodson I.

“If Dodson wins, that is probably going to expedite my journey to the title faster,” admitted Benavidez. “It’s just taking the positives of both options. So, if Dodson wins, that’d be cool; they’d probably give me a title shot right away. But with Demetrious, it would be that much more sweeter to work my way over there and beat him.”

So, is Joseph Benavidez a John Dodson fan?

“Uh, not quite,” said Benavidez.

Dodson, never short on words or a snappy delivery, shot back with a smirk: “Dude, that hurts my feelings.”

Not as much as losing to Demetrious Johnson does – and there has been plenty of that going around.

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Author: Ryan McKinnell
Posted: May 24, 2015, 6:49 pm

Two crew members were hit by a car on pit road during Sunday's Indianapolis 500.

As James Davison was exiting his pit stall after the halfway point of the race, his teammate, Pippa Mann, was in the left lane on pit road. There was no room for Davison and after the two cars collided, he hit the crew members from Tristan Vautier's team. All three cars drive for Dale Coyne Racing.

It looked like an especially gnarly hit for the crew member on the left side of the screen. Teams are supposed to watch for other cars coming down pit road to attempt to prevent these types of situations. One crew member was checked and released, while the other was taken to a nearby hospital.

Daniel Jang, the other Coyne crew member, has been transported to Methodist for further evaluation. Right ankle injury #Indy500

— INDYCAR on NBCSN (@IndyCaronNBCSN) May 24, 2015

Greg Senerius, Coyne crew member, checked, cleared and released. #Indy500

— INDYCAR on NBCSN (@IndyCaronNBCSN) May 24, 2015

The Coyne cars weren't factors for the race win and Davison's car was damaged enough that his race was over after the incident.

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Nick Bromberg is the editor of From The Marbles on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Nick Bromberg
Posted: May 24, 2015, 6:25 pm

Your browser does not support iframes. When Memorial Day arrives on Monday, it will take on an extra-special meaning for St. Louis Cardinals right-hander Mitch Harris.

When the Cardinals line up to face the Arizona Diamondbacks at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Harris will proudly wear the uniform of the first and only professional baseball team he's represented, while reflecting on his time in another cherished uniform representing the United States Naval Academy.

After being drafted by St. Louis in 13th round of the 2008 draft, Harris had to put those baseball dreams on hold until 2013 as he fulfilled his five-year term after graduating from Navy. But all the while Harris knew he had a commitment to himself to continue working hard to keep the baseball door open. To stay sharp he'd play catch on the flight deck with one of the ship's cooks during his downtime.

It wasn't the same as throwing a bullpen session in college or the minor leagues, but it allowed him to work on his mechanics and take off with some momentum and comfort when he returned to the Cardinals.

Amazingly, the hard work paid off. After two years in the minors, Harris debuted for St. Louis on April 26 during a game at Miller Park in Milwaukee. He had the unenviable task of replacing an injured Adam Wainwright that night, but handled his task with poise and effectiveness.

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He also made history that night, becoming the first Navy graduate to appear in MLB since Nemo Gaines in 1921.

Harris' story is truly remarkable, and we've really only covered the outline here. Thanks to MLB Network and its most recent special feature, we've all been afforded the opportunity to learn more about the decisions Harris faced and the sacrifices he's made on multiple levels to balance his commitments with his dream.

It's a timely feature that will be airing during MLB Network programming on Sunday and again on Memorial Day, but if you have a few minutes right now, we strongly encourage you to click the video above and check it out.

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: May 24, 2015, 6:11 pm

Three weeks after he left to become the new coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder, former Florida coach Billy Donovan found a unique way to express how much his two decades in Gainesville meant to him.

He and his wife took out a full-page ad in Sunday's Gainesville Sun to say goodbye to Gators fans and thank them for their understanding and support.

BillyD & wife Christine say goodbye to #Gators via full-page ad in Gainesville Sun. Class act. Hardly a surprise. pic.twitter.com/mx1O80gwZD

— Chris Harry (@GatorZoneChris) May 24, 2015

One reason saying goodbye was tough for Donovan is because he has so many good memories from his Florida tenure. He built a program that had previously only been to five NCAA tournaments into a national power, winning two national titles, reaching four Final Fours and advancing to the Elite Eight seven times.

Credit Donovan for a great gesture that will surely further solidify the affection Florida fans have for him. Here's the full text of the message from Donovan and his wife:

“GOODBYE” is so difficult, especially after having spent two decades in this community. (And as you’ve seen before, leaving you all has never been easy for us!)

"The University of Florida and Gainesville embraced us from the day we arrived so long ago, and we have grown to love not only this local community that has so loved us, but all of Gator Nation — from Crescent Beach to Cedar Key, from Miami to New York, from Jacksonville to San Fransisco, to all over the nation and globe.

"We are so grateful to Jeremy Foley, staff and leaders at the University of Florida, along with scores of players and coaches who have become part of our family. And, of course, the Rowdy Reptiles.

We leave with hearts full of love and cherished memories of euphoria and heartbreak — on and off the court — shared at every step with our Gator family.

We are excited for all that Mike White brings as he puts his own unique mark on Florida basketball…Fannnnntastic!

And so, rather than goodbye, …until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of his hand.

— Billy and Christine Donovan

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: May 24, 2015, 4:51 pm

Don't you ever get in the way of Mari Hulman George giving the command at the Indianapolis 500.

As the Chairperson of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, she's traditionally given the command for drivers to start their engines for the iconic race.

Sunday, she was escorted to the stage by a woman in a white dress who wanted to help. Hulman George, 80, didn't want it.

Look at that death glare.

We're working to identify the woman who got the look from Hulman George, though Deadspin identifies her as Nancy George, Mari's daughter. We're guessing there was a discussion after they exited the stage.

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Nick Bromberg is the editor of From The Marbles on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Nick Bromberg
Posted: May 24, 2015, 4:34 pm

Happy Indy 500 day! Follow along as experts bring you the latest from the track, with live updates, photos, analysis and more.

Author: Yahoo Sports Staff
Posted: May 24, 2015, 4:32 pm

The Houston Astros entered play on Saturday with the third highest winning percentage in MLB. Third!

Needless to say, they've been the biggest and/or most pleasant surprise in the entire league, and they've done it by doing everything well. That includes hitting a league-leading 62 home runs, a pitching staff that ranks top 10 in ERA (3.50) and of course, playing excellent defense.

In Saturday's 3-2 win against the Detroit Tigers, it was the latter two that shined the most. Rookie Lance McCullers allowed just two runs on six hits over six sharp innings in his second career start, but it wouldn't have been possible without one nifty defensive play in the fifth inning that resulted in three quick outs.

That's right, the Astros turned a triple play. The franchise's first since 2004.

Detroit actually plated a temporary go-ahead run in the inning after James McCann led off with a double and then came around to score after Jose Iglesias' infield single and a throwing error that allowed Anthony Gose to reach. Obviously they were poised to do much more damage and potentially blow the game open when Ian Kinsler stepped in.

Kinsler, who's still without a home run this season but has managed a solid .295/.367/.382 battling line, worked himself into a 2-1 count but couldn't take advantage. He hit a soft chopper to third baseman Jonathan Villar, who stepped on third to start the smooth 5-4-3, around the horn triple play.

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There's really nothing fancy to play up. It was about as routine as a triple play can be, but credit the Astros nonetheless for getting the optimum result at the absolute best time.

It was definitely a turning point in the game. After holding the deficit at one run, Houston's offense immediately responded with two runs in the next half inning to take a 3-2 lead. Jason Castro and Marwin Gonzalez each delivered RBI singles in the inning, and then McCullers and three Astros took it from there. In fact, the Tigers never had another baserunner following the triple play.

With the win, the Astros improved to 28-16 overall, good enough for a 5 1/2 game lead over the Angels in the AL West. Houston is also an MLB-best 11-4 record in one-run games this season after going 17-28 in such contests last season. That mark was second worst in MLB.

Indeed, everything has turned around in Houston, and with each victory the team's staying power looks even stronger.

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: May 24, 2015, 4:27 pm

Ah, the weather. Hey, the lineups. Daily Fantasy is ready to go, a full slate (hopefully) waiting for us.

I'm not going to give you superstars to play; you can talk yourself into Mike Trout and Anthony Rizzo. You don't need any expert help there, right? You know they're pretty good, don't you? 

Players to Buy

Mike Napoli, 1B, vs. LAA (Santiago), $2700: For a while, it was a nightmare. Lately, it’s a dream. Napoli is on a 7-for-18 binge over his last five games, with four homers, and he’s a career .276/.389/.521 man against lefties. A lot of pundits scoff at the theory of a hot hand, but there are Stanford Academics who present the other side. You decide what you want to do; in the meantime, give me Napoli at this giveaway price. Xander Bogaerts ($2300) also looks like a reasonable play, especially in the No. 5 slot.

Erick Aybar, SS, at BOS (Miley), $2600: He’s parked in the leadoff spot and hitting .324 against lefties, and you know he’ll put the ball in play against Wade Miley.

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Anthony Gose, OF, vs. HOU (Hernandez), $3000: Leadoff spot, mediocre opponent (and a slow delivering one), platoon advantage, all sounds good to me. Gose is a .339/.367/.487 hitter against righties this year.

Yankees left-handers, vs. TEX (Gallardo): Lefty swingers have a .480 slugging percentage against Yo Gabba Gabba, and Yankee Stadium is often a cushy spot for those wielding that platoon advantage. We don’t have the New York lineup because it’s the night game, but you know who their primary guys are - and big names usually get the call in front of a National Audience. Brett Gardner, Mark Teixeira, Brian McCann (rested Saturday), they all look good to me. Should be a fun night in The Bronx. 

Jason Hammel, SP, at ARZ (Hellickson), $8800: He's no longer a cheap play in Fan Duel, though you do save $1400 from the Sonny Gray Real Estate price. Hammel has spiked his slider usage in the last two years, and it's helped turn him into a dynamite No. 3 for the Cubs. Take a bow, pitching coach Chris Bosio. 

Mike Foltynewicz, vs. MIL (Nelson), $6900: The Brewers are third in strikeout rate and Folty is a strikeout pitcher (better than one whiff per inning). Lame-duck Turner Field has been a mild help to pitchers over the last three seasons.

Seth Smith, OF, at TOR (Sanchez), $2200: We love those cheap platoon options at the top of the order (Smith is actually hitting second), and the Rogers Centre is a fun place to take your hacks.

Players to Fade

Hanley Ramirez, OF, vs. LAA (Santiago), $3400: It’s adorable when some pundits talk about Hanley’s home-run drought. Hosers, the guy is in an offensive drought. Ramirez has a .554 OPS in May, with zero RBIs. There’s been speculation that he’s playing hurt. I need to see a show of faith before I dial him up.

Robinson Cano, 2B, at TOR (Sanchez), $2800: Man, that price is so tempting. But until Cano starts lifting the ball again, I can’t fall into this rabbit hole. He’s once again hitting ground balls over half the time, and his infield pops have spiked as well. Something doesn’t add up here.

Michael Wacha, SP, at KC, $8500: I'm a Wacha guy generally, but he's modest with strikeouts and the Royals put ball in play. Seasonal yes, #DFS Sunday, no. There’s also rain in the forecast to worry about.

Risk-Reward Play

Giants and Rockies: Thunderstorms are once again in the forecast in Colorado, which means I have to reluctantly steer away from their hitters. Such a shame (I see you, Chad Bettis), but I’ll respect the bagel risk. If you are willing to toss the dice, make sure it’s in a tournament format, not in a 50-50 game...

Author: Scott Pianowski
Posted: May 24, 2015, 4:25 pm

Keith Yandle isn’t what you’d call a defensive stopper. There are times he doesn’t exactly play what you’d call “defense.”

But luckily, the New York Rangers’ Eastern Conference Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning has produced 25 goals in the last three games, which means this is a decidedly more comfortable style for Keith Yandle than the one that had him looking out of place for the last several weeks.

“I think in this series I've felt probably at my best and most comfortable, and I kind of feel like it's coming together,” said Yandle on Saturday, ahead of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Final on Sunday night.

“I think against a team like this we know everyone has to be a key part and a big part of our offense.  To get chances everyone has to be able to make them play. I think for me it's just using my legs and trying to get up in the play as much as possible.”

Yandle had a goal and two assists in the Rangers’ 5-1 rout in Game 4, to go along with two helpers in Game 3. He previously had two points in his last 11 games.

Two of this points in the last two games have come on the power play, which has scored on four of its last eight chances.

But Yandle’s also been better at even strength, despite the Lightning getting the last change and the matchups they want against Yandle’s pairing. He was a plus-8.68 corsi relative in Game 3 at 5-on-5 and a plus-14.03 in Game 4.

“It's the best I've seen him play so far with the puck. How to beat the forecheck, when to jump up in the attack. It's the best  I've seen him play with that so far. I've seen him play really good with Phoenix before. It takes players a little adjustment time He's playing really well.”

Question is: Has Yandle found his groove with the Rangers, or is his groove 25 combined goals scored in three games?

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Author: Greg Wyshynski
Posted: May 24, 2015, 3:52 pm
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The greatest day in racing started with a surprise in Formula 1.

Nico Rosberg won his third-straight Monaco Grand Prix after Lewis Hamilton, who dominated the race after starting on the pole position, pitted for a second time.

Rosberg and Hamilton are teammates and have been the season's dominant duo for Mercedes. They were running 1-2 when the safety car came out for a crash involving Romain Grosjean and Max Verstappen. Verstappen slammed incredibly hard into the foam barriers on the outside of turn one.

Hamilton had a lead of over 20 seconds at the time of the crash. A full-course caution was issued and his team, apparently thinking he had enough time to pit and rejoin the race in first thanks to the massive lead, called Hamilton into the pits.

He exited the pits in third, behind Rosberg and Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel. When the race restarted with less than ten laps to go, the top three stayed the same. Hamilton, despite having fresher tires than both Rosberg and Vettel, couldn't get around Vettel to make a charge at his teammate. Rosberg ended up winning easily.

Rosberg is the first driver to win three-straight Monaco races since Ayrton Senna won five in a row from 1989-1993. With 168 of the day's 1,268 scheduled miles complete, it's now time to turn our attention to the Indianapolis 500.

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Nick Bromberg is the editor of From The Marbles on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Nick Bromberg
Posted: May 24, 2015, 2:33 pm

The Tennessee Titans' draft was fascinating.

They had a conviction in quarterback Marcus Mariota and took him with the second overall pick in the NFL draft. I won't knock them for that, and for the most part I like Mariota. But the rest of their draft showed they want to play a certain way that you don't necessarily think of when you think of Mariota.

Mariota comes from a spread shotgun offense at Oregon. There has been a lot of talk of how coach Ken Whisenhunt and his staff will incorporate some spread concepts for Mariota, and they likely will, but they don't appear to be trying to build a spread-based offense over the long haul. Two of the Titans' picks tell us that.

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With the second pick of the third round, Tennessee chose 335-pound guard Jeremiah Poutasi out of Utah. He could end up at right tackle or guard in the NFL, but he's big and physical way more than he's athletic. He's not the type of player you picture fitting with a spread zone-based team. It was a sign the Titans want a power-running offense.

Their second of two fourth-round picks left little doubt about that. They took 254-pound fullback Jalston Fowler out of Alabama. That was an interesting pick, and I don't think it's a bad idea. If you draft a fullback — and this was a valuable fourth-round pick they used on a fullback — you're going to line up with two backs at times. Sure, they'll go three-wide at times and do some things Mariota did in college, but they want to be a power-running team in which the quarterback lines up under center with two backs behind him. Also running back David Cobb, the team's fifth-round pick out of Minnesota, is more of a gap scheme runner (power, counter). This wasn't a draft to build an offense to cater to Mariota; Mariota will have to transition to what the Titans run.

This is the right approach. At some point you need to teach Mariota to be an NFL pocket quarterback if you want sustained success. Scheme supremacy works in college, but it doesn't always work in the NFL. At some point you're going to have to be an NFL quarterback. And Mariota can do that. He showed some good signs of being a progression reader as a passer, although that wasn't a foundation of Oregon's passing game, and threw with consistent velocity and accuracy, especially at the intermediate levels. There are some things he'll have to prove he can do, like passing from a muddied pocket, making tight-window throws and anticipation throws, but he has good skills.

Mariota will do some things we saw him do at Oregon, especially early on as he makes a challenging transition to the NFL. But the Titans are going to stick with what they want to be, which is a conventional power-running NFL offense. Their draft told us that's what they want to do. Mariota will have to adjust and learn to fit that, and become a traditional NFL pocket quarterback. In the long run, that's the best way to go.

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NFL analyst and NFL Films senior producer Greg Cosell watches as much NFL game film as anyone. Throughout the season, Cosell will join Shutdown Corner to share his observations on the teams, schemes and personnel from around the league.

Author: Greg Cosell
Posted: May 24, 2015, 1:44 pm

The influx of talent from Cuba has been increasing rapidly in recent months and that continues with a player who many scouts believe was the best pitching prospect remaining on the island. 

Norge Luis Ruiz, a 21-year-old right-hander, is headed to America according to MLB.com's Jesse Sanchez with the intention of signing a big league contract.

Sources tell me top Cuban RHP prospect Norge Luis Ruiz, 21, has left the island and will be seeking a Major League contract. #Cuba

— Jesse Sanchez (@JesseSanchezMLB) May 22, 2015

In a subscription-only post less than one month ago, Baseball America's Ben Badler rated Ruiz the top pitcher in Cuba and its eighth best prospect overall. The early belief is Ruiz's stuff could translate to a mid-rotation pitcher in MLB, though obviously at 21 there's still room for development and improvement. 

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In 264 innings covering 38 starts and four relief appearances in Cuba, Ruiz posted a 17-11 record with a 2.25 ERA. He hasn't been overpowering with only 164 strikeouts, and he's walked a batter every three innings, but he's still been effective.

A big reason? He's only allowed 10 home runs. Different level of competition of course, but that's always encouraging. 

Badler has more on the time frame in which Ruiz could sign: 

While Ruiz will be subject to the international bonus pools, he’s old enough that he won’t be subject to to Major League Baseball’s registration rules, which means he should be able to sign during the upcoming 2015-16 international signing period once he establishes residency and applies for the commissioner’s office for free agency. Since Ruiz will be subject to the bonus pools, he will not be able to sign a major league contract, which means that he will have to sign a minor league contract with all of the money put into his signing bonus, as was the case with Red Sox second baseman Yoan Moncada, Diamondbacks righthander Yoan Lopez and Angels shortstop Roberto Baldoquin.

That means the Angels, Diamondbacks, Rays, Red Sox and Yankees almost certainly won't be in the running to sign Ruiz because they've exceeded their bonus pool limits for 2014-15. As a result, they won't be able to offer pool-eligible players more than $300,000 for two full years beginning July 2. Obviously, that won't be enough to sign Ruiz, and there's no reason for him to wait two years, so the bidding will be open among the 25 remaining teams.

There's no early word on which teams might be interested, but Ruiz's market should be established quickly once he starts scheduling workouts.

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: May 24, 2015, 7:52 am

Take a look around the league with Big League Stew's daily wrap up. We'll hit on all of the biggest moments from the day that you may have missed, while providing highlights, photos and interesting stats.

How's this for a pitching performance? Los Angeles Dodgers starter Mike Bolsinger allowed a leadoff single to San Diego's Yangervis Solarte in the first inning, and that was it for the evening.

Bolsinger, who's been thrust into action following injuries to Hyun-jin Ryu and Brandon McCarthy, recovered to induce a ground ball double play from Cory Spangenberg and strike out Matt Kemp to end the first inning. From there, he retired the next 21 batters in succession until being lifted following the eighth inning.

Kenley Jansen pitched the ninth and continued the roll, setting down all three batters he faced to wrap up the 2-0 victory.

Though not a perfect game, it's pretty much the most efficient game a pitching staff can throw. The Dodgers faced the minimum 27 batters and needed exactly 100 pitches to go the distance. Bolsinger ended up with eight strikeouts over his eight innings while lowering his ERA to 0.71 over four starts. He's currently on an 18 2/3 scoreless innings streak.

Offensively, the Dodgers had all they needed one batter into the game. Joc Pederson, who hit the game-winning homer in Friday's win, launched a leadoff blast on Saturday. Howie Kendrick also homered off Dan Haren.

As for the Padres, it's the eighth time their revamped offense has been shutout this season and the sixth time in their past 18 games.

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ANTHONY RIZZO PLAYS HERO WITH HOME RUN, SIX RBIS

After a difficult loss in 13 innings on Friday, the Chicago Cubs turned to the rock in the middle of their batting order for guidance on Saturday. Anthony Rizzo answered the call, driving in a career-high six runs in Chicago's 9-6 win.

Rizzo did all of his damage with two big swings. In the fifth, he cleared the bases with a ringing double off Rubby De La Rosa. He then provided the difference for the Cubs with a go-ahead three-run homer off Enrique Burgos in the ninth.

The Cubs bailed out Jake Arrieta, who experienced a rare difficult start on Saturday. Arrieta allowed six runs (three earned) on seven hits in six innings. They pulled even following his exit on Jorge Soler's two-run double. Ediwn Jackson, James Russell, Jason Motte and Pedro Strop combined for three innings of hitless relief to secure the win.

With the victory, Chicago gained another game on the St. Louis Cardinals, who lost 3-2 in a rain-shortened game in Kansas City. The Cubs sit 2 1/2 back headed into Sunday.

MATT HARVEY ROUGHED UP IN PITTSBURGH

Even baseball's "Dark Knight" is due for a dark day every now and then. On Saturday, Matt Harvey experienced his against the Pittsburgh Pirates, allowing a season-high seven runs in a season-low four innings as the Mets fell 8-2

Harvey was done in by the long ball early, allowing a two-run homer to Andrew McCutchen in the first and a solo blast to Pedro Alvarez in the second. The Pirates continued pecking away in the fourth, sending eight batters to the plate and scoring four times. Opposing starter A.J. Burnett even contributed a sacrifice fly, which further cements this as an off day for Harvey.

Speaking of Burnett, he was outstanding, allowing just one run on five hits through seven frames. He struck out a season-high 10 while lowering his ERA to an astonishing 1.37.

Pittsburgh will go for the three-game series sweep on Sunday as they inch closer to .500 at 20-22. The Mets fell to 24-20, but remained a game and a half behind Washington.

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COLE HAMELS CRUISES AS STEPHEN STRASBURG STRUGGLES AGAIN

It was a tale of two pitchers in Washington. Phillies ace Cole Hamels, who still figures to be traded prior to the July 31 trade deadline, was outstanding again. Meanwhile, Stephen Strasburg, who may need a change of scenary to get on track, continued to scuffle as the Phillies knocked him around in their 8-1 victory

For Hamels, it was his fourth consecutive win in as many starts and his fifth in six outings. He pitched eight innings, allowing one run on five hits. The 31-year-old left-hander's stock continues to rise as his ERA lowered under 3.00 for the first time all season. He's at 2.98 with a home matchup against Colorado awaiting next weekend.

For Strasburg, well, there's not much good to say. He was tagged for six runs (five earned) in 3 2/3 innings. His defense didn't help, committing four errors during his abbreviated outing, but he wasn't fooling many batters on this afternoon. Strasburg has now failed to complete four innings in three of his last four outings. He hasn't completed six since April 25 in Miami.

Something's definitely off, and it's up to Strasburg and the Nationals to figure it out quickly.

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: May 24, 2015, 7:00 am

Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman went all in at the trade deadline. He made some odd moves (Kimmo Timonen) and a few that made sense.

Of the latter, he acquired Antoine Vermette to sure up the 'Hawks down the middle. Perhaps in preparation for a series like the one he's playing in now against Anaheim's two Ryans.

In order to get pending UFA from the Arizona Coyotes, Bowman had to pay a steep, steep price. Chicago parted with their 2015 first round pick and heralded prospect pick Klas Dalbeck. In return, they received a prized rental center who had 35 points in 63 games with the fledgling Coyotes.

Instead of lighting up the Blackhawks, Vermette sputtered recording only 3 assists in 19 games. His lack of offense bled into the playoffs with 2-points through 10 games played.

Following the marathon triple overtime Game 2, where Vermette played 21:14, the lowest time on ice of the forwards, he learned he would be scratched for Game 3. Naturally he was not thrilled with the decision and his emotion took over.

From Mark Potash of the Chicago Sun-Times:

“I thought I had a good game. I was playing well. So it came as a surprise and disappointment,” the 32-year-old Vermette said. “I’m not going to lie — I was not happy with that. But my job is to be ready whenever I have a chance to be in the lineup — and that’s what I’m going to do.”

Asked if he felt tired after the triple-overtime victory in Game 2, Vermette’s curt response said it all: “Nope.”

The 'Hawks dropped Game 3 and Vermette found himself back in the lineup the next game. And just like the storyline of a cheesy movie, he went from zero to hero in Game 4; scoring the game winning goal in double-OT to even the series against the Ducks.

In his post game press conference, head coach Joel Quenneville acknowledged Vermette's frustration and later success, "... You can understand where he was at.  Very disappointed. He's a great pro. Stayed with it ... I'm glad he finished it for us. That was a huge goal for us. Huge, goal, huge."

As for Vermette, he deflected the story from him to the team, "... at this time of the year, you don't want to make an individual or a personal story. The main focus is about the team's success. That's all that matters. I'm glad we won tonight ... The emotion [of being scratched], it's not a pleasant one. As a proud competitor, like anybody else on this team, you want to be part of the team. You think you can help the team. I think that's a natural emotion to get. At the same time very supportive of the group. Hopeful we get a couple more wins here."

Emotion. The thing that brought him headlines when he was scratched, became something he reveled in after Game 4.

"Emotion, in the corner, it was pretty fun. This is a fun group. We had a good celebration. Hopefully we can do that again."

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Jen Neale is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email her at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow her on Twitter! Follow @MsJenNeale_PD.

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Author: Jen Neale
Posted: May 24, 2015, 6:39 am

Stephen Curry stares down the crowd after drilling a corner 3. (Bob Levey/Getty Images)They'd have preferred winning, of course, but after losing the first two games of the Western Conference finals on the road by a combined five points, the Houston Rockets headed back home feeling like they could hang with the big, bad Golden State Warriors.

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"We had plenty of opportunities to win both of the games," said Rockets star James Harden after a brilliant Game 2 — 38 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists, three steals and a block — that ended on a sour note with a final-play turnover that sealed a 99-98 Golden State win. "So we have all the confidence in the world."

It's difficult to imagine that still being the case after Game 3.

The Warriors absolutely decimated Houston on Saturday night, hammering the Rockets 115-80 to take a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven Western finals. This marks the first three-game losing streak of the Rockets' season ... which makes sense, because this is the first time they've had to play this Warriors team in three straight games.

Despite entering Saturday with a two-game series edge, the Warriors played like a team unwaveringly committed to the task of stepping on its opponent's neck and completely dedicated to eliminating the developing sense that Houston could perhaps play on their level.

The Rockets' last lead was 7-4, after a Jason Terry runner with 9:19 remaining in the first quarter. Golden State never trailed after Dwight Howard goaltended an Andrew Bogut hook shot with 7:44 left in the opening frame. That was it.

The Warriors closed the quarter on a 19-9 run and led 30-18 after the first despite missing seven of their nine 3-point tries and getting only three first-quarter points from superstar Stephen Curry. Houston never got within double figures over the final 2 1/2 quarters, and didn't get within 20 in the final 18 minutes.

"We were as desperate as they are, to increase our lead," Curry told ESPN's Doris Burke after the game. "That's what you saw in the first half, especially, with the energy and effort and focus that we came out with. We were able to sustain it for 48 minutes, so it's a great way to start a road trip."

The Rockets are now the 117th team in NBA history to face an 0-3 deficit in an NBA playoff series. Three have forced a Game 7. None have won.

What began in Oakland as a thrilling duel between the top two finishers in 2014-15 Most Valuable Player voting became a convincing coronation for the man who topped the ballot.

Stephen Curry reduced the Rockets to rubble on Saturday, punishing Houston defenders every time they lost track of him — which, considering he's the best shooter in the world, was staggeringly often — en route to 40 points (his second 40-point game of this postseason) on 12-for-19 shooting from the field, a scorching 7-for-9 mark from 3-point land and a 9-for-10 night at the foul line.

Curry set a new record for most made 3-pointers in a single postseason in the second quarter, then added five more bombs to go with seven assists, five rebounds, two steals and a block in 35 minutes of work. He snuffed out Houston's hope late in the first half, responding to the Rockets drawing within nine by leading a 24-8 run over the final six minutes — he scored or assisted on 20 of the 24 points — to send Golden State into the locker room with a 25-point lead at intermission.

Then, he effectively ended Game 3 with a third-quarter barrage that saw him score 19 points on 7-for-10 shooting, humbling Houston by knifing through the lane and finishing with lefty scoops high off the glass:

... and with "Iceman"-evoking finger rolls:

... and, of course, by roasting the Rockets from beyond the arc, making all four of his triples in the frame and making sure to let the Houston faithful in the front row know all about it:

ESPN.com's Tom Haberstroh highlighted it recently, but boy, Steph sure loves that left corner:

Stephen Curry has made 91% of the 3-pointers he's attempted from the left corner this postseason.

— Synergy Sports Tech (@SynergySST) May 24, 2015

It was the kind of leave-no-doubt performance that the Warriors authored time and again during a 67-15 season that saw them become just the eighth team in NBA history to outscore their opponents by more than 10 points per game over the course of a full campaign. This is part of the reason why Curry only played in the fourth quarter in 60 of his 80 regular-season appearances ... but, because this is the playoffs, Curry came back out for 4 1/2 fourth-quarter minutes, making one last triple to give him an even 40 before calling it a night.

Curry's high-scoring counterpart got off early on Saturday, too, but for precisely the opposite reason.

James Harden saw even more blue jerseys than usual on Saturday. (Bob Levey/Getty Images)After averaging 33 points per game on 58.5 percent shooting through the first two games of this series, Harden couldn't get on track on Saturday, missing 13 of his 16 shots in a 17-point performance that came courtesy of a 10-for-11 mark at the line, and that included zero fourth-quarter minutes, with the game already out of reach. The two-time All-NBA First Team shooting guard never seemed to get comfortable against an array of Warriors defenders.

The bigger and stronger Harrison Barnes got the call from the start, in a change from Games 1 and 2, which saw Klay Thompson take the assignment. Later, reserve swingman Andre Iguodala and Thompson picked up Harden for stretches, too, as did power forward Draymond Green on switches.

Plus, Warriors coach Steve Kerr and defensive coordinator Ron Adams — formerly Tom Thibodeau's top lieutenant with the Chicago Bulls — started throwing a Thibs-style strong-side overload zone at Harden when he isolated on the wing, sliding a big man over behind the primary defender to make Harden see multiple bodies whenever he loaded up with intentions to attacking the rim.

With Harden hemmed up and hesitant, the Rockets never got off the launchpad. Howard tried to match the Warriors' energy and effort early, pounding the glass and attacking the rim:

... but he was often fighting alone, as his teammates combined to shoot 7-for-33 in the first half. Kevin McHale's club shot just 33.7 percent from the field for the game, missing 20 of its 25 3-point tries and failing to crack 20 points in three of the four quarters. The Warriors continued to take away on-balance, in-rhythm 3s and dared Harden and company to keep making floaters and midrange jumpers at a high clip. They couldn't, and the rout was on.

But while Howard was one of the few Rockets who seemed locked in and uninterested in falling into an 0-3 hole, he did get caught slipping on one second-quarter possession, allowing the 6-foot-3 Curry to sneak in front of him off the baseline and box him out for an offensive rebound:

As Houston struggled, the Warriors' O seemed remarkably comfortable from the opening tip, with the ball movement that's been Golden State's calling card all year looking crisp. Golden State dished nine assists on 12 field goals without a turnover in the opening quarter, finishing with 26 helpers against 14 cough-ups; nearly as important, those turnovers resulted in just eight Rockets points, thanks to committed and attentive transition defense by Kerr's crew.

Green kept up his tremendous jack-of-all-trades playmaking, scoring 17 points on 8-for-16 shooting with 13 rebounds, five assists, a steal and a block. Largely freed from the Harden assignment, Thompson got himself going a bit, scoring 17 points on 6-for-16 shooting while adding five assists against one turnover in a nice floor game.

Bogut took advantage of Houston's lacking help-the-helper work whenever Howard had to step up to try to contain dribble penetration, scoring 10 points in the first quarter and finishing with 12 points, 12 boards, an assist and a block before fouling out after 20 1/2 minutes. His backup, former starter Festus Ezeli, was strong in his stead, chipping in 10 points and six rebounds in 18 minutes off the Warriors' bench.

Through two games in this series, the Rockets looked like they could run with the Warriors. The thing is, through two games, we hadn't seen these Warriors. This is a deep, talented, athletic, skilled and nasty group that brings napalm to knifefights, and incinerates you with a smile behind bucket after bucket from its baby-faced assassin.

"You know, everybody on that team has confidence to come out here and try to make plays, myself included," Curry told Burke. "If you get stops and get a flow, a rhythm, to the game, things start to happen ... you know, it's fun out there."

No other NBA team has fun quite like these Golden State Warriors. And the way it looks right now, it's awful tough to envision any opponent left stopping them from having it.

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Dan Devine is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at devine@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Dan Devine
Posted: May 24, 2015, 5:41 am

No. 1 Star: Antoine Vermette, Chicago Blackhawks

Vermette was displeased after being healthy-scratched in Game 3. In Game 4, he made sure Joel Quenneville would not make the same mistake again. Vermette was 14-6 on the face-off dot. Oh, and scored the game winner in double-overtime to even the series at two games each.

No. 2 Star: Brandon Saad, Chicago Blackhawks

After a career high season in points, Saad had been relatively non-existent on the score sheet in the playoffs with only 3 goals total prior to Game 4. Saad doubled his playoff point total with a 3-point night. He scored a short-handed goal and 2 assists in the Blackhawks win.

No. 3 Star: Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks

In the much discussed match-up between Toews and Ryan Kesler, Toews appeared to get the upper-hand on his counterpart. He had a goal and an assist, in addition to winning 65% of draws, many against Kesler (31%).

Honorable Mention: Duncan Keith is a robot. The defenseman played 40:39 and led Chicago in shots on goal with 7 ... Freddie Andersen made 35 saves and Corey Crawford had 47 ... Patrick Sharp and Andrew Shaw led the 'Hawks with 9 hits each ... Matt Beleskey topped the Ducks in SOG with 8. He scored 1 goal.

Did You Know: The Ducks scored 3 goals in 37 seconds in the third period. This is the second fastest 3 goal stint in Stanley Cup playoff history. The fastest team was the 1979 Toronto Maple Leafs.

Bonus DYK: The third goal by the aforementioned Leafs was assisted by ... wait for it ... Joel Quenneville. FULL CIRCLE!

Dishonorable Mention: Leading their respective teams in giveaways: Simon Despres (4) and Niklas Hjalmarsson (6) ... Kimmo Timonen played 10:15, registering no points, 2 hits and 1 giveaway ... In the first OT, Anaheim had 17 SOG to Chicago's 5 ... Anaheim continues to play with fire, penalty-wise. They gave Chicago 4 PP opportunities, and they converted on one.

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Jen Neale is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email her at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow her on Twitter! Follow @MsJenNeale_PD.

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Author: Jen Neale
Posted: May 24, 2015, 5:29 am

Baltimore Orioles left-hander Brian Matusz was ejected in the 12th inning of Saturday's 1-0 loss to the Miami Marlins after umpires discovered a foreign substance on his non-throwing arm.

Matusz was in his first inning of work and had already retired Justin Bour and J.T. Realmuto when new Marlins manager Dan Jennings emerged from the dugout to request that Matusz's right arm be checked for the substance. Home plate umpire Jordan Baker and crew chief Paul Emmel complied and quickly discovered the substance. Matusz was immediately ejected.

It's the exact scenario that played out with Milwaukee Brewers reliever Will Smith on Thursday, which makes it all the more baffling that Matusz would carelessly leave the substance on his arm. Smith was levied an eight-game suspension, so it's safe to assume Matusz's impending punishment will follow suit.

[Woah, The Stew has a podcast now?! Yep, you should listen.]

As Yahoo's Jeff Passan documented last season when New York Yankees right-hander Michael Pineda was suspended for having a glob of pine tar on his hand, it's not uncommon for pitchers to use pine tar or a mix of sunscreen and rosin to help them achieve a better grip. Though illegal, opposing teams routinely dismiss it because they also prefer the pitcher to have a solid grip. 

It's only on the rare occasion when the substance is visible that teams seem to make a fuss about it, and even then it's a rarity. But now that we've seen it twice in one week, perhaps pitchers will have to refine their foreign substance routines.  

Glad to see the age of Performance Enhancing Sunscreen is upon us. Just make the stuff legal so we're spared the faux morality of it all.

— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) May 24, 2015

Fact: Almost every pitcher uses something "illegal" for grip. Fact: Almost every hitter is OK w/ that. Opinion: Managers should let it go.

— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) May 24, 2015

Another factor in play here might be desperation on the part of Jennings, who had gone winless through his first five games as Marlins manager. Maybe it's a little, "look at me, I've got my finger on the pulse on this game" to show fans he's capable of handling the job. 

(Getty Images)

If so, he got the fans' attention alright, but he also got the attention of the Orioles and Matusz. 

"I have my own personal opinions about the issue but right now with emotions running high, we're going to let this settle and address questions at a later time," Matusz said to MASN Sports.

Brewers manager Craig Counsell said the best redemption against the Braves would be getting a victory, which they did on Friday. Not to suggest the Orioles will go a different route, but it will be interesting to see what happens in Sunday's series finale. 

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: May 24, 2015, 5:10 am

Antoine Vermette went from a healthy scratch in Game 3 to the double-overtime hero of Game 4 in the Western Conference Final.

The Chicago Blackhawks forward netted his second goal of the playoffs at 5:37 of double-OT to win a wild battle with the Anaheim Ducks, 5-4, on Saturday night, to even the series at 2-2. Game 5 is scheduled for Monday night in Anaheim. 

“It’s not the ideal situation. You make sure you come prepared, keep a good attitude,” said Vermette, who was held out of Game 3 by coach Joel Quenneville.

The game-winning play began with Vermette keeping the puck in the attacking zone, and sending it deep behind the net to Patrick Sharp. All five Ducks converged around the goal, watching Sharp; that left Vermette wide open in the slot to receive his pass from behind the net.

His shot was blocked in front of the crease by a diving Rickard Rakell, but it rebounded to Vermette who beat Fredrik Andersen (35 saves) at 5:37 of the second overtime.

Game 4 continued the teams’ brutal physical play, as they combined for 112 hits. The personal war between centers Jonathan Toews of Chicago and Ryan Kesler of Vancouver escalated. And for the second time in the series, they needed multiple overtimes to decide things.

The Blackhawks struck first with a shorthanded goal.

With Brent Seabrook in the box on a slashing call, Saad grabbed the puck in the defense zone and began skating out. Suddenly, he was sprung for a breakaway when Ducks defenseman Francois Beauchemin was tripped up with referee Chris Rooney. He motored past Ryan Kesler, protecting the puck with his skate as the Ducks center sprawled to knock the it away, and snapped a shot past Andersen for the shorthanded goal at 19:13 of the first.

Beauchemin atoned for that unintentional mishap in the second period to set up Kyle Palmieri for the equalizer. 

The Blackhawks were gassed as the Ducks had taken over play, at one point taking nine consecutive shots on goal. Niklas Hjalmarsson attempted to clear, but it was stopped by Beauchemin at the blue line. The interception created a cushion in the Chicago defense, where he found Palmieri. He had the time to snap a shot that appeared to deflect off of teammate Emerson Etem for the 1-1 tie at 18:14 of the second.

In the third period, it was Chicago’s Duncan Keith that made a brilliant play to keep the puck in the Anaheim Ducks zone, and passed it on the left wing boards to Saad. He immediately made a nasty little kick-pass over to Marian Hossa with this right skate. He fed Toews to the right of the Anaheim goal. He waited out Andersen and popped home the puck with a high shot to make it 2-1 at 2:38.

Brent Seabrook converted to make it a 3-1 game in a great forechecking shift from Hossa, Toews and Saad, who had the primary assist on the goal at 7:38.

Then came the Anaheim shooting gallery.

Kesler went to the net, banging his stick on the ice asking for the puck. It was Jakob Silfverberg that found him, as Kesler snapped the puck past Corey Crawford to cut the lead to 3-2 at 8:42.

Then it was Matt Beleskey, making a mockery of the Blackhawks’ deadline acquisitions to tie the game. He stripped Vermette of the puck, and then scored around Kimmo Timonen to knot the game at 3-3 at 9:05 of the third period. It was his sixth of the playoffs.

Fourteen seconds later, Corey Perry scored his ninth of the postseason, sneaking behind Duncan Keith to collect the rebound of a Ryan Getzlaf shot and tuck it past Crawford for the 4-3 lead.

Three goals, 37 seconds. The second-fastest offensive outburst in NHL playoff history, second only to the 1979 Toronto Maple Leafs scoring three in 23 seconds against the Atlanta Flames in a 7-4 win.

(Of course, Bill Mosienko of the Chicago Blackhawks once scored a hat trick in 21 seconds during the regular season, a long-standing NHL record set in 1952.)

But the Blackhawks would force overtime on a power-play goal by Patrick Kane, also his ninth, tucking the puck through Anderson’s pads on a perfect Brad Richards feed at the side of the net at 12:39.

The first overtime featured some heart-stopping close calls. Andrew Shaw hit the post. Andersen stopped a Patrick Sharp breakaway. Crawford had a moment in which he nearly knocked the puck into his own net.

The second overtime was much less chaotic, and significantly shorter, thanks to an unlikely hero in Vermette.

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Author: Greg Wyshynski
Posted: May 24, 2015, 4:31 am

Donald Cerrone lands a kick to John Makdessi that ended their fight. (AP)LAS VEGAS – Donald Cerrone assured anyone and everyone who would listen that he wasn’t taking his UFC 187 late-replacement bout against John Makdessi lightly.

If Makdessi’s broken jaw is any indication of Cerrone’s desire, then “not taking it lightly” may just be the understatement of the year.

Cerrone dissected Makdessi with kicks to the legs and body for the entirety of their bout. When it was time for the “Cowboy” to send his fans home happy, at 4:44 of Round 2 to be exact, he went high with a kick to Makdessi’s jaw, breaking it. His opponent quickly retreated, waving off the action as Cerrone closed in for the finish.

“I think I might finally get this title shot by default, huh?” Cerrone said post-fight after his eighth consecutive victory inside the Octagon. “I’m upset with my performance, but I always am. I don’t know what’s next. My manager probably won’t let me take another fight before I get a title shot so I guess we’ll just wait and see.”

The win marked Cerrone’s sixth outing since the beginning of 2014 and caps off one of the most impressive runs of activity (and dominance) in recent memory and a title shot is all but assured. Rather than waiting on the sidelines, hoping for a title shot to materialize, Cerrone took the fight with Makdessi after top contender Khabib Nurmagomedov bowed out due to injury last month.

The choice to fight is the only option for Cerrone. He is a fighter who admittedly performs when active – when he has less time to sit around and eat, as he says. Also, with more fights come more options, especially when you win.

Donald Cerrone gestures after defeating John Makdessi. (AP)“That’s who I am, I never paint myself into a corner,” he said when asked about his propensity for taking fights at the drop of a hat.

Cerrone admitted that the late replacement and the questions surrounding his dedication played on his mind. He also elaborated on the finish that will surely go down in a UFC highlight reel, or two, for years to come.

“I had no idea what happened, I thought maybe I poked him in the eye or something. I was blown away. I should’ve wrestled him more but he made that comment about how good strikers always turn into wrestlers when they face another good striker; that was in my head a little bit.”

Never content, and always honest – just some of the traits that make Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone one of the most unanimously beloved fighters on the UFC roster today.

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Author: Ryan McKinnell
Posted: May 24, 2015, 3:59 am
Andrei Arlovski (R) and Travis Browne trade blows at UFC 187. (AP)

LAS VEGAS – For being former roommates, Andrei Arlovski and Travis Browne fought like bitter enemies on Saturday night at UFC 187. The fight didn’t even make it out of the first round as former heavyweight champion Arlovski scored a first-round TKO over Browne and took one step closer to a career resurgence that just a few years prior seemed unthinkable.

Arlovski has now rattled off three consecutive victories since his return to the UFC, toppling foes Brendan Schaub, Antonio “Bigfoot” Sivla, and now his former teammate at Jackson-Winklejohn in Browne.

In what many will remember as one of the most action-packed rounds in heavyweight history, both fighters exchanged powerful flurries from the pocket. Arlovski kicked off the action, pressuring Browne against the cage and landing accurate power combos as Browne found himself on wobbly legs.

Midway through the opening round Browne mustered a thudding shot of his own that floored Arlovski, but the 36 year old found his composure and rose from his feet.

It didn’t take long for Arlovski to shake off any cobwebs and get right back in the pocket with Browne. He continued to use the flurry punching that worked so well earlier in the round and eventually found space for an accurate straight right.

Andrei Arlovski (R) and Travis Browne engage during their heavyweight fight. (AP) Arlovski recognized the potency of his straight right and fired off a succession of devastating follow-ups. Browne once again found himself in trouble as he attempted a retreat. But Arlovski showed no mercy and finished Browne off with repeated blows, as the referee stepped in at 4:41 of Round 1.

“It’s not going to affect our friendship,” Arlovski said post-fight, “I love him like a brother.”

Making the Fight of The Year candidate that much more impressive was the post-fight revelation that Arlovski was dealing with a pretty serious injury heading into the fight. That, coupled with the mid-round blows by Browne, had Arlovski on the verge of quitting.

“Man, I was tired. I almost quit,” admitted Arlovski. “There were so many punches being thrown and I was so tired. I am injured, I hurt my leg during my last workout on Thursday. We finished up training and I told my coach I wanted to go one more round just to test my reactions. We were moving around and he kicked me on the inside of my shin and I got a little cocky and started dancing around and I felt something in my leg. I thought my coach kicked me again so I asked him, but he said no. I really don’t know how it happened, but the UFC doctors were there right away and they took care of me. I’m really grateful for the care they gave me.”

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Author: Ryan McKinnell
Posted: May 24, 2015, 3:32 am

 

In the third period of their Western Conference Final Game 4 against the Anaheim Ducks, the Chicago Blackhawks were feeling, well, ducky.

They had extended out to a 3-1 lead, and it looked like the Blackhawks would cruise to a win on home ice.

Then the Anaheim Ducks embarked on the second-fastest three goals scored in a Stanley Cup Playoff game in NHL history.

Center Ryan Kesler went to the net, banging his stick on the ice asking for the puck. It was Jakob Silfverberg that eventually found him, as Kesler snapped the puck past Chicago goalie Corey Crawford to cut the lead to 3-2 at 8:42.

Then it was Matt Beleskey, making a mockery of the Blackhawks’ trade deadline acquisitions to tie the game. He stripped Antoine Vermette of the puck, and then scored around Kimmo Timonen to knot the game at 3-3 at 9:05 of the third period. It was his sixth of the playoffs.

Fourteen seconds later, Ducks star Corey Perry scored his ninth of the postseason, sneaking behind Duncan Keith to collect the rebound of a Ryan Getzlaf shot and tuck it past Crawford for the 4-3 lead.

Three goals, 37 seconds. The second-fastest offensive outburst in NHL playoff history, second only to the 1979 Toronto Maple Leafs scoring three in 23 seconds against the Atlanta Flames in a 7-4 win.

One of the players in that game for the Leafs? Current Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville, who assisted on the third of the three goals.

So at least he knows these things happen. 

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Author: Greg Wyshynski
Posted: May 24, 2015, 3:31 am

(AP)The Texas Rangers have set a time and a place for Josh Hamilton's return.

Speaking on Saturday night, general manager Jon Daniels confirmed that Hamilton will be activated and available for duty when they meet the Cleveland Indians on Monday at Progressive Field. Hamilton is scheduled to fly into Cleveland on Sunday where his teammates will meet him following their Sunday night game against the New York Yankees.

Hamilton was scheduled to play one final rehab game for the Triple-A Round Rock Express on Saturday night. That game was postponed by rain, but the Rangers elected to stick to their plan to activate Hamilton on Monday, citing that he'd proven himself to be ready physically.

Jon Daniels on Hamilton: "Josh is physically and game ready to get started." Triple A Round Rock was rained out Saturday.

— Jeff Wilson (@JeffWilson_FWST) May 24, 2015

Hamilton finishes his 12-game rehab stint with a .364/.391/.545 batting line between Round Rock and Double-A Frisco. He homered in his final game with Frisco on Wednesday and delivered five doubles in 44-at bats. He struck out 10 times.

Hamilton was traded back to the Rangers on April 26 after a falling out with the Los Angeles Angels over his admitted relapse involving drugs and alcohol. He'll play his first game back in Arlington on Thursday against the Boston Red Sox. 

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An independent arbitrator decided Hamilton should not be suspended after the commissioner's office and the player's union were deadlocked on disciplinary action for a violation to MLB's drug-treatment program. That means Hamilton has been eligible to play all season, but he was also recovering from February shoulder surgery.

He's healthy now though, and he's expected to earn regular playing time in left field, where the Rangers have mixed and matched with five different players this season. 

Big League Stew will be following Hamilton's return closely, so be sure to check back for updates leading up to and during his return. 

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: May 24, 2015, 3:09 am

 

Sometimes the best passes in hockey aren’t made with one’s stick.

Witness Brandon Saad of the Chicago Blackhawks making a glorious kick-pass to Marian Hossa that eventually led to Jonathan Toews’ goal in Game 4 of the Western Conference Final.

In the third period, Duncan Keith made a brilliant play to keep the puck in the Anaheim Ducks zone, and passed it on the left wing boards to Saad. He immediately kicked it over with this right skate to Hossa, who fed Toews to the right of the Anaheim goal, patiently waiting before scoring the goal at 2:38.

Here's another look:

another look at Toews goal, including Saad kicking puck to Hossa http://t.co/U0nP4rPC8s

— Stephanie Vail (@myregularface) May 24, 2015

Saad earlier had a great shorthanded breakaway goal for the game’s first tally.

Best kick-pass of the postseason? Well, most effective. But it’s still hard to beat Tyler Johnson of the Tampa Bay Lightning throwing a check and kicked the puck to Steven Stamkos without a stick in Game 2. That was greasy.  

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Author: Greg Wyshynski
Posted: May 24, 2015, 2:49 am

Stephen Curry added another record to his illustrious Most Valuable Player-winning season with this 3-point make with 4:32 remaining in the second quarter of Game 3 of the Western Conference finals between the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets:

[Follow Dunks Don't Lie on Tumblr: The best slams from all of basketball]

That triple was Curry's 59th of this postseason, an NBA record for most 3-point makes in a single playoff run. Hall of Fame sharpshooter Reggie Miller had the previous mark, with 58 during the Indiana Pacers' march to the NBA Finals in 2000.

Miller needed 22 games and 147 attempts to set his record. Curry needed 13 games and 138 attempts.

It was Curry's second 3-pointer of Game 3, and it was an absolute bomb — Rockets defender Jason Terry gave too much ground as Curry stepped toward a screen, so Steph just pulled up from 29 feet away and splashed the jumper. It's just ... I mean, what do you do about that?

Earlier this season, Curry broke the NBA record for made 3-pointers in a single season — a record he already owned. He reached 1,000 made triples faster than any other player in league history. And now, he's got the single-postseason 3-point crown, too, firing up more than 11 3-pointers per playoff game to this point — a number that seems absurd until you realize that, given his accuracy, it'd be crazy not to let it fly that often. With all due respect to "The Grindfather," we've never seen anything like this; when it comes to long-range shooting, the record books are little more than a blank page on which Stephen Curry's writing new stories each and every time he takes the floor.

Curry added five more long bombs after his record-setter, finishing 7-for-9 from 3-point land in a virtuoso 40-point, seven-assist, five-rebound performance as the Warriors demolished the Rockets on Saturday, 115-80,  to take a 3-0 lead over Houston in the best-of-seven series.

If the Warriors can finish off the Rockets and advance to the NBA Finals for the first time since 1975, Curry — who is now averaging 29.9 points, 6.6 assists, 5.0 rebounds and 1.8 steals per game in these playoffs — will have the chance to get the record he really wants. From Sam Amick of USA TODAY:

"You know what mark I want?" he said just before walking away. "Danny Green's."
That would be San Antonio Spurs guard Danny Green, of course, who broke Ray Allen's record for most three-pointers made in an NBA Finals (27) two years ago while the Warriors watched from home.

If Curry keeps up his torrid pace and the Rockets can't find an awful lot of answers very, very quickly, the Warriors won't be watching this June. They'll be hosting, welcoming either the Cleveland Cavaliers or the Atlanta Hawks to the not-so-friendly confines of Oracle Arena for a date with both destiny and the game's preeminent flamethrower.

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Dan Devine is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at devine@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Dan Devine
Posted: May 24, 2015, 2:32 am

As of Friday, New York Mets third baseman David Wright appeared to be nearing a rehab assignment as he worked his way back from a strained right hamstring suffered in April.

However, as learned on Saturday, the concern has now shifted to his ailing back and a condition that could potentially threaten or at least shorten his career. 

According to MLB.com's Anthony DiComo, Wright has been diagnosed with spinal stenosis, which means he has a narrowing of the spinal column.

The #Mets have diagnosed David Wright with stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal column. They believe he will heal, but it will take time.

— Anthony DiComo (@AnthonyDiComo) May 23, 2015

The Mets are obviously approaching this with optimism, but one can't ignore the fact that spinal stenosis played a role in Lenny Dykstra's retirement from MLB in 1998 and also led to New York Giants running back David Wilson retiring during training camp in 2014. 

Different times in history, different sports and perhaps different circumstances related to the injury, but still not a promising precedent for the Mets captain.

Wright missed two months in 2011 with a stress fracture in his lower back. Doctors in New York dismissed a repeat of that injury when he visited them earlier this month. A potential disk issue was ruled out as well. 

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At this point, Wright's condition will require rest. Right now, the Mets plan to shut him down from baseball activities for one week in hopes that the rest and the continuation of back-strengthening exercises will get him on the right track.

"He's still experiencing some lower-back tightness," assistant GM John Ricco said. "It's at the point where we're going to stop the on-field stuff for a week, continue with a program of core strengthening and basically back-stabilization exercises. They hope that will alleviate what he's feeling.

"When I talked to David, he said that when they initially put him on some medication, he got a lot of relief. But that's kind of plateaued. It hasn't been knocked out completely. So the doctor said that to try to give that a chance to happen we want to back off the running and just get him doing these exercises for another week and see where we are at that point."

The new diagnosis leaves Wright without any type of timetable for his return. It's essentially a day-to-day and week-to-week situation that the team must delicately manage to avoid another setback. It's probably too early to say Wright's season or anything beyond that is in jeopardy, but these next few weeks figure to be critical in determining that status.

Wright’s prognosis hinges on severity. Here’s a good sign: it sounds like the pain level Wright has is something he could play through...

— Marc Carig (@MarcCarig) May 24, 2015

… in really bad cases, the condition makes it painful to stand up or even walk. Clearly, Wright not near that extreme.

— Marc Carig (@MarcCarig) May 24, 2015

Without Wright, the Mets will continue rolling with Eric Campbell at third base. An upgrade could be necessary however if Wright doesn't show improvement, as Campbell has managed just a .197/.323/.303 battling line over 24 games. If the Mets plan on contending, they will definitely need better production from that position, and right now there's no sure bet on the roster.

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: May 24, 2015, 1:50 am

Previously, on "The Hawks and The Cavaliers" ...

Sing it, Terrance:

OK, fine. There was other stuff.

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The Cleveland Cavaliers' defense continued to short-circuit the Atlanta Hawks' offense. The Cavs mostly kept the Hawks' starters whisper-quiet, holding Mike Budenholzer's club to 41.8 percent shooting from the floor, a 6-for-26 mark from 3-point range, and a rate of offensive efficiency (92.4 points per 100 possessions) comfortably below the woeful Philadelphia 76ers' dead-last regular-season mark.

Tristan Thompson repeatedly beat Atlanta's lackadaisical boxouts, grabbing 16 boards, five of which came on the offensive glass. The soon-to-be restricted free agent vacuumed up more than 21 percent of available misses while he was on the court, which would've been the NBA's fourth-best rebounding rate this season.

Cleveland's supplementary wings, who figured to be especially important with All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving ruled out due to left knee tendinitis, came through. After contributing just four points on 1-for-16 shooting in the Cavs' Game 1 win, Matthew Dellavedova, Iman Shumpert and James Jones bounced back in a big way, combining for 36 points on 13-for-29 shooting, including a 9-for-18 mark from downtown.

Mostly, though, it was LeBron James, who can do absolutely everything and who absolutely did. The four-time MVP turned in a 30-point, 11-assist, nine-rebound masterpiece in a 94-82 win that gave Cleveland a 2-0 lead in the Eastern Conference finals, and a chance to close out the Hawks in Ohio.

Three Things to Look For in Game 3

The Cavs' suffocating defense

Timofey Mozgov rejects Pero Antic. (Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images)Cleveland's 20th-out-of-30 regular-season finish in points allowed per possession is a little misleading. That includes the rougher-than-rawhide 19-20 start, during which the rebuilt Cavs were trying to build a credible defense with one capable defensive big (who went down before Christmas) while fielding a wing rotation consisting of past-their-prime vets or not-ready-for-prime-time players and operating with a version of LeBron stuck on "chill mode" or, worse, without him.

After Jan. 13 — when LeBron returned after two weeks away, the first time he played alongside midseason acquisitions J.R. Smith and Timofey Mozgov — the Cavs ranked 15th among 30 NBA teams, allowing 102.5 points per 100 possessions. After Jan. 23 — when Shumpert debuted after missing nearly six weeks with a separated right shoulder — Cleveland ranked a downright respectable 12th, allowing 101.5 points-per-100.

They've continued that improvement in the postseason, choking out the Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls and Hawks to the tune of 98.1 points-per-100 through 12 playoff games, the No. 1 defensive efficiency mark in the 2015 playoffs. There's some Eastern Conference distortion to that number — the top four teams in postseason defensive rating all hail from the East; it's harder to stop most Western playoff teams — but it's still nothing to sneeze at, and still indicative of how big a difference Cleveland's midstream additions and adjustments have made.

Opponents are scoring a microscopic 90.9 points-per-100 when Mozgov's on the floor this postseason, and shooting just 38.3 percent from the field when the massive, charismatic and stylish Russian is on the court. He's made life miserable on opposing drivers and post players, holding them to a 37.2 percent mark when he's defending the rim, per NBA.com's SportVU player-tracking data.

For all the concerns about how Cleveland's offense would suffer from replacing the floor-spacing Kevin Love with the interior-bound Thompson alongside Mozgov — justifiable concerns, as lineups featuring that pairing have scored just 99.8 points-per-100 in the playoffs, miles below Cleveland's full-postseason average of 107.4-per-100 — the Cavs' D has been airtight when Mozgov and Thompson share the floor.

Thompson's quickness and athleticism have helped tighten up the Cavs' pick-and-roll defense, given head coach David Blatt a superior option for recovering out to pick-and-pop shooters and added a second energetic rim protector to the mix. With Mozgov and Thompson sharing the floor, the Cavs have held postseason opponents to just 90.3 points-per-100 in 157 total minutes.

Iman Shumpert went everywhere Kyle Korver did in Games 1 and 2. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)Shumpert's been exactly what general manager David Griffin had hoped for — a committed and tenacious defender with the agility, quickness and active hands necessary to take on Cleveland's toughest wing assignments. He helped limit Celtics sparkplug Isaiah Thomas to 33.3 percent shooting in Round 1, helped hector Bulls star Derrick Rose into 38.5 percent shooting in Round 2, and has stayed attached to Hawks sharpshooter Kyle Korver off the ball, with the bellwether of Budenholzer's offense taking just 16 shots in two games.

Shumpert's holding the men he's guarding to just 26.5 percent from 3-point range in the playoffs, per SportVU, and doing stellar work off the ball in ways that don't show up on even the advanced stat sheet. His work drew a post-Game 2 rave from LeBron: "Look at those All‑Defensive teams, and — obviously he has a small window with us — but he will be on the All‑Defensive team in this league very soon."

Now that Korver will miss the rest of the postseason after sustaining a high right ankle sprain late in the third quarter of Game 2, Blatt will have the option of deploying Shumpert on Hawks point guard Jeff Teague, or whichever Atlanta wing gets hot ... if that ever happens again, that is.

Where does Atlanta turn for points?

DeMarre Carroll came back from the left knee sprain he suffered in Game 1, but clearly struggled to find both the lift on his jumper and the bursts of quickness needed to slash and cut off the ball, scoring just six points on 2-for-6 shooting in 34 minutes. That's a problem, because he entered Round 3 as the Hawks' leading postseason scorer ... which was, in itself, something of a problem, since Carroll was getting buckets in large part because Atlanta's opponents had successfully limited the Hawks' four All-Stars. That's held true through two conference finals games.

Teague has seemed rattled by the Cavs going underneath high ball screens on him, giving him acres of space to shoot. He's shooting 40 percent from the floor and 25 percent from 3-point range through two games, and has attempted just four free throws in 70 minutes in this series. He's not the only Hawk failing to cash in on clean looks, though, as Atlanta shot just 23.3 percent on open jumpers in Game 2.

Jeff Teague looks for answers. (Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports)With Cleveland's bigs hanging back rather than hedging hard on the pick-and-roll, there's been precious little room on the interior for Paul Millsap and Al Horford to go to work. Millsap's looked disconnected and overwhelmed, unable to create separation from Thompson and shooting just 5-for-19 from the floor through two games.

Horford's been better, shooting 65 percent in the series, but the Cavs' scheme has aimed to make it much more difficult for him to get the ball; he's taken half as many shots (20) as Teague (40). The Hawks have hurt their own cause there, at times failing to find Horford on possessions where he's had a smaller defender, like Jones, checking him down low on a switch. Atlanta desperately needs to find ways to get Horford more involved earlier and more often; he is their best player, and he can hurt Mozgov both inside and out if given the opportunity. (Provided, of course, he's in working order after suffering a quad injury late in Game 2.)

Korver's absence complicates matters even further. Yes, the sweet-shooting swingman has struggled to find airspace and rhythm this postseason, seeing his field-goal and 3-point shooting marks plummet from 48.7 percent and 49.2 percent, respectively, during the regular season to 39.1 percent and 35.5 percent during the playoffs. But the threat that he could bust loose at any point mattered, as did the fact that the opposition had to devote its top wing defender to tracking him all over the floor; the Hawks have scored 6.7 fewer points per 100 possessions with Korver off the court this postseason, according to NBA.com's stat tool.

Continuity matters, too, and with Korver gone, the Hawks lose an awful lot of that. Atlanta's top seven postseason lineups have all featured Korver, and Budenholzer's got one five-man unit without Korver that's played more than 10 minutes and outscored the opposition during the playoffs — Millsap, Carroll and the incredibly dangerous reserve trio of Kent Bazemore, Pero Antic and Dennis Schröder, which has topped opponents by five total points in a whopping 29 minutes of postseason floor time.

We'll likely see Bazemore, who provides activity, athleticism and defensive intensity on the wing, replace Korver in the Hawks' starting lineup in Game 3. He has shared the floor with the other four Atlanta starters for 67 minutes in 26 combined regular- and postseason games. The group's been outscored by five points in that limited run. He shot a respectable 36.4 percent from 3-point land during the regular season, but he's just 4-for-21 (19 percent) from deep during the playoffs.

It seems unlikely that Bazemore will draw the same type of defensive attention that Cleveland's paid to Korver; that, in turns, ought to mean a more tightly packed interior, with fewer driving lanes for Teague and Schröder, and more congestion between Millsap, Horford and the basket every time they turn and face up. The Hawks have thrived with a pace-and-space attack all year; now, wounded and reeling, they'll have to hope their three remaining All-Stars — Teague and Millsap, especially — can find a way out of the mud in time to avoid an 0-3 hole.

Will/should Kyrie play?

Irving scarcely looked like himself in Game 1, seeming unable to explode off his ailing wheels on offense and looking like a liability on the other end. (The few times that Teague's seemed to show life in this series, it's been when he could blow past Irving at the point of attack.)

Will Kyrie Irving keep watching from the bench? (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)That was especially concerning, because Irving had a full five days off between closing out Chicago and kicking off the conference finals to get right. If he couldn't get back to something approximating healthy after all that rest and treatment, then how could he with shorter windows through the balance of the series?

After the Cavs dominated Game 2 without him, though, the thought process changed. All Cleveland needs to do is win two more games in five tries — with three of the five coming at Quicken Loans Arena, where the Cavs are 24-2 since Jan. 15 — to advance to the NBA Finals, which will begin on June 4, no matter how quickly either conference final concludes. With Dellavedova stifling Teague — the Aussie's held the Atlanta triggerman to 0-for-9 shooting, according to Vantage Sports — and James clearly capable of orchestrating the offense, why not keep Kyrie in street clothes, see how things go in Game 3, and maybe buy him as much as two weeks of downtime to get ready for the championship push?

The answer, as Blatt sees it, is that the Cavs still have two more games to win, and even with the Hawks hurting, that's no sure thing.

“He’s a big part of the team and this series is not finished,” Blatt said Saturday, according to Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal.

With it remaining unclear whether rest, even two weeks' worth, would solve Irving's woes, Kyrie stuck around after the Cavs' Saturday film session to get some shots up, reportedly wearing a brace on his left knee during the brief workout. The Cavs might not need him to get by at this point, but if he's able to go, the Hawks will have an even steeper hill to climb to make this a series.

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Dan Devine is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at devine@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Dan Devine
Posted: May 24, 2015, 1:32 am

It might be premature to say the wheels have come off the New York Yankees, but the evidence during their current five-game losing streak certainly hasn't been encouraging.

After dropping the series finale in Kansas City and being swept by the Nationals in a quick two-game series to begin the week, the Yankees returned home for a weekend series against the Texas Rangers and have promptly dropped the first two, including Saturday's lopsided 15-4 loss. 

Looking back to Friday, if you look strictly at the 10-9 final, the takeaway might be that New York continued battling offensively and nearly pulled off a dramatic victory. While it's true the offense was resilient, it's their overall play and the circumstances that hover over their play that are most troubling.

With Masahiro Tanaka and Ivan Nova already out injured, Chase Whitley headed for Tommy John surgery and CC Sabathia struggling to find his footing, the starting rotation is a mixed and matched group with only one consistent source of production this season: Michael Pineda.

But even that truth is wearing thin now after Pineda was roughed up for five runs on May 15 in Kansas City and seven runs (four earned) on Friday.

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The circumstances are such that there's really no margin for error for New York on offense and especially on defense, which unfortunately is where they've suffered a letdown this weekend.

In the Rangers seven-run third inning on Friday, they were aided by errors from Pineda and shortstop Didi Gregorius. Amazingly, on Saturday, Texas topped that third inning output by scoring 10 runs, with six coming against CC Sabathia.

(Getty Images)
Though all 10 runs were earned, it was New York's defense that again helped set the stage as Gregorius made an ill-advised behind-the-back flip that led to a no play. Later in the frame, right fielder Carlos Beltran watched a ball skip right between his legs, allowing Shin-soo Choo to score from first base. 

Here's a scary assessment of the two-day damage in the third innings alone. 

#Yankees have scored 17 3d-inning runs all this year or as many as they have surrendered in the last 2 days to the #Rangers

— Joel Sherman (@Joelsherman1) May 23, 2015

Ouch.

Losing five straight games is one thing. Honestly, just about every team will have that type of stretch this season regardless of talent level. But the injuries now coupled with sloppy play raises some red flags for New York, especially now with Tampa Bay playing well and others in their tight division hanging around .500. The Yankees are now 22-21, one and one-half game behind those same Rays. 

The injuries they can do little about except wait, which in Tanaka's case hopefully won't be long now that he's off on a rehab assignment. Fundamentally, however, Sunday might be a good day to hit the reset button and focus on one pitch at a time and one at-bat at a time both at the plate and in the field.

It's cliched, yes, but that doesn't mean the sentiment is flawed or can't be applied to the Yankees. 

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: May 23, 2015, 11:24 pm

Meanwhile in Missouri: A sinkhole has attacked a golf course - http://t.co/CgReHsi5F9 via @pberryNL pic.twitter.com/xWEspqTaqL

— Nick Penzenstadler (@npenzenstadler) May 22, 2015

There's a new design feature on the Top of the Rock Golf Course, which hosts the Champions Tour's Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf in Branson, Missou.: four big sinkholes.

The biggest sinkhole, which is reportedly still growing and is 60 feet by 80 feet and 35 feet deep, formed around 6:30 a.m. on Friday between the practice tee and a pond near the entrance to the property.

Sinkholes are not particularly uncommon in the Ozarks, where Top of the Rock is located, according to the Springfield News-Leader. The Big Cedar Lodge, which owns the course, is working with engineers to figure out how, if at all, they'll fill the hole. It could take up to two weeks to replace the sunk-in earth. The good news for the facility is that the sinkhole won't impact tee times, but it does create a new hazard.

Author: Ryan Ballengee
Posted: May 23, 2015, 9:54 pm

Miguel Angel Jimenez set a new European Tour record on Saturday, making his 10th career hole-in-one to break a tie with Colin Montgomerie.

The Spaniard made the ace in the third round of the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth Club in England, using a 9-iron from 148 yards at the par-3 second.

"My irons, they are like darts. It's nice to have the record,"Jimenez said after a 4-under 68 leaves him four shots behind joint 54-hole leaders Francesco Molinari and Byeong-hun An.

This is Jimenez's third ace of the year, following up on holes-in-one at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship in January and last week's Open de Espana.

So what's the 51-year-old's secret?

"The main thing is I've got the right club in my hand and make a good swing," Jimenez said.

However, Jimenez didn't have the shot of the day. That went to Tommy Fleetwood, who made an albatross on the par-5 fourth hole. 

Fleetwood shot 7-under 65 to pull a shot ahead of Jimenez and within striking distance heading into the final round.


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Author: Ryan Ballengee
Posted: May 23, 2015, 9:33 pm

Apparently, Bryan Price had something better to do than stick around at Progressive Field in Cleveland. The Cincinnati Reds manager was actually ejected from Saturday's afternoon game against the Cleveland Indians before the first pitch was even thrown.

Price was given the heave-ho by crew chief Jim Reynolds as the lineup cards were being exchanged at home plate. The two engaged in a heated exchange that continued even as the Indians players took the field. Growing tired of the confrontation, Reynolds threw out Price on the spot and the game began with Jay Bell serving as Cincinnati's skipper.

It wasn't immediately clear what led Price to confront the umpires, though there's speculation that issues with Friday's home plate umpire Manny Gonzalez may have carried over. We'll know more once Price meets with the media following Saturday's game.

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The ejection was Price's second of the season.

Of course, he made bigger news earlier this season when he went on a profanity-laced tirade against the Cincinnati media. We don't think Saturday's tirade left enough time for 77 f-bombs, but we also don't think Reynolds would have the patience to endure more than one or two.

If nothing else, perhaps Price was attempting a fire under his squad. Unfortunately, it didn't work. After jumping out to an early lead, they dropped their seventh straight 2-1 to Corey Kluber and the Indians.  

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: May 23, 2015, 9:06 pm

Just when you thought it was safe to party at Coors Field on a Friday night, Brandon Belt of the San Francisco Giants is here to crash it. Or at the very least make you reconsider your choices in life.

During Friday's wild 11-8 victory against the Rockies, Belt unloaded on a Kyle Kendrick offering and sent a towering, almost majestic blast to the upper deck in right field, just a few rows short of the relatively new party deck.

It's an area of Coors Field that a scarce few have reached in its 20-year history, though that list is now populated by three Giants. In addition to Belt, Barry Bonds and, wait for this one, Nate Schierholtz have also reached that section. 

Brandon Belt's home run, at 475 feet, was the longest at Coors Field since Milton Bradley hit one 479 feet in 2004 for the Dodgers.

— Nick Groke (@nickgroke) May 23, 2015

As always, the distance is up for some debate. According to MLB's statcast data, it traveled 475 feet, which would easily rank among the longest home runs hit in MLB this season along with Alex Rodriguez and Giancarlo Stanton. ESPN's Hit Tracker estimated a more conservative 437 feet of true distance, which wouldn't even crack their top 25. 

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Either way, it was a monumental blast for a guy who isn't necessarily viewed as a home run hitter. In fact, Belt didn't hit his first this season until May 15 in Cincinnati. Oddly enough, he homered in all three games during that series, and then again on Friday making it four straight games. His career high was 17 in 2013.

Overall, Belt is off to the best start of his career offensively, hitting .317/.391/.520 across the board. The Giants would gladly take those numbers and another dozen homers from Belt between now and the first week of October.

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: May 23, 2015, 8:12 pm

What was at one point a dream season – four All-Stars, the Eastern Conference’s best record , home court advantage against LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference finals – has been shot to bits within four days’ time.

Not only are the Atlanta Hawks down 2-0 to those Cavaliers, but the team’s resident All-Star sharpshooter has taken a fall:

BREAKING: Kyle Korver is OUT for the remainder of the playoffs with ankle injury.

— Chris Vivlamore (@CVivlamoreAJC) May 23, 2015

The All-Star took x-rays following the game which showed no sign of a broken bone in his right leg, but it was eventually discovered that Korver suffered a severe high right ankle sprain when Cleveland’s Matthew Dellavedova rolled into him while chasing down a loose ball:

Kyle missed all of the fourth quarter with the injury.

Korver has struggled during the postseason. He’s made just 35.5 percent of his three-pointers during the playoffs after an absurd regular season that saw him hit 49 percent of his looks from long range. Kyle has shot just 39 percent overall while struggling to lurch free of playoff-styled defense intent on stopping the game’s most dangerous three-point shooter (via Tom Haberstroh) from acquiring good looks. His substandard play, relative to his All-Star-level brilliance from the regular season, is a huge part of the reason why Atlanta struggled to dispatch both Brooklyn and Washington before dropping two home games to the Cavaliers in the Conference finals.

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Fellow Hawks swingman DeMarre Carroll gutted through a left knee bruise and made it through 33 minutes in Game 2, but he also missed four of six shots and added just six points after entering the series as Atlanta’s top postseason scorer. The team’s depth at that position is also lacking due to the absence of Thabo Sefolosha, whose broken right fibula was allegedly caused at the needless hand of the NYPD.

The Hawks can go big in Korver’s absence, bringing perimeter-orientated Mike Scott off the pine or Austin Daye out of the mothballs, but this is a crucial blow for a team charged with winning two games in Cleveland just to get back to where it was entering Wednesday evening.

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Kelly Dwyer is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at KDonhoops@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @KDonhoops

Author: Kelly Dwyer
Posted: May 23, 2015, 7:04 pm

Before Anaheim's Western Conference Final series with the Blackhawks, the Ducks were seen as a pretty good team and an even match for Chicago. 

Now, after three games in the Western Conference Final and a 2-1 series lead, one has to wonder if the Ducks were underrated going into this match up.

Anaheim is 10-2 in these playoffs. One loss was against Calgary, and came off a fluky set of events that led to an OT winner. Anaheim’s other defeat was in triple overtime against the Blackhawks in Game 2 that was a post or two from a Ducks win.

Twelve games two losses, and it took extra sessions to beat Anaheim, which goes into Game 4 at Chicago up 2-1 in its series.

It doesn’t take a ton of advanced metrics to know that’s pretty good. Though we will get into some of the advanced stuff further down in the story. 

“The will on this team, I've said all year from day one, you could see it in training camp, you could see it in the pre-season games,” Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau said. “You guys would talk to me and say there's a different aura about this group. We haven't won anything, but there is a resiliency that's as good as most.”

Center Ryan Getzlaf and winger Corey Perry are both tied for the second-most points this playoff with 16. Second-line winger Jakob Silfverberg has turned into a two-way threat with 13 points in 12 games. 

Frederik Andersen has a 1.75 goals against average and .935 save percentage. After that triple overtime letdown against Chicago, he came back with 27 saves on 28 Blackhawks shots on goal. When he has been beaten this postseason, rarely has it looked bad.

The Ducks lead the playoffs with 3.58 goals per-game. They’ve allowed a postseason best 1.92 goals per-game.

Their CF% is 51.91 per Natural Stat Trick. Their SAT close is plus-47 according to the NHL's enhanced stats site.

Why is this? Size? Strength? Speed? Depth? Probably all of the above.

“I think we got bigger this year. Our depth got stronger. Our D got bigger. They're a little bit harder to play against in our zone and throughout the series,” Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf said.

There are so many reasons why this Ducks team is tough, beyond the aforementioned facts. 

They’re healthy, and they can confidently roll four lines, which is a huge advantage this deep in the playoffs.

Plus, coach Bruce Boudreau has players on his bench he can use if he wants to change the look on his bottom pairs or forwards. Jiri Sekac has been excellent this series, after sitting out the first two rounds of the playoffs. 

If any of Boudreau’s D get hurt, he can counter with James Wisniewski, who has yet to play this playoff. 

Who knew the Ducks were this good besides themselves? Having talent is one thing, having the right mindset to win in the playoffs is another. So many teams are even. Though the Ducks had better personnel than the Calgary Flames, a bounce or two could have changed that second-round series. Winnipeg was a sexy upset pick to beat the Ducks in the first-round, but was swept. 

The Blackhawks are a veteran group that’s won two Stanley Cups since 2010. They know a good team when they see one, and they know going back to Anaheim down 3-1 could spell catastrophe for their playoff run. 

“We've done it in the past before. It's never a situation you want to be in, especially with a team like Anaheim, the caliber they have on that team. They're a deep team, they're deadly,” Chicago forward Brandon Saad said. “We don't want to get in a position where we have to fight and crawl out of a hole. We want to even it up and score on home ice here.”

Granted, all teams are prone to stinkers, even in the playoffs. The Ducks included. A horrible loss in Game 4 on Saturday at United Center and the complexion of the series changes again. But that’s just the nature of the postseason. At this moment, few teams have played better this postseason than Anaheim.

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Josh Cooper is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @joshuacooper

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Author: Josh Cooper
Posted: May 23, 2015, 7:02 pm

On Wednesday, we learned that Los Angeles Dodgers left-hander Hyun-jin Ryu — the team's No. 3 starter the past two seasons behind Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke — would be facing surgery on his ailing left shoulder and would likely miss the remainder of the 2015.

The news didn't come as a total shock to the general public. Ryu had been dealing with shoulder issues dating back to spring training with little to no consistent improvement. However, as we learned from Ryu himself on Friday, it came as no surprise at all to the Dodgers, because former general manager Ned Colletti actually signed Ryu in late 2012 already knowing he had a torn labrum.

That revelation sent shockwaves through Dodger Stadium that carried over into the social media realm throughout the Dodgers' 2-1 victory over the Padres. As many have noted, Colletti's willingness to sign Ryu for six years and $36 million, plus the $26 million posting fee, despite knowing the nature of his injury mirrors his decision to sign Jason Schmidt to a three-year deal worth $47 million guaranteed following the 2006 season.

Of course, the Ryu signing has already proven more productive. In two seasons, the now 28-year-old left-hander has made 56 starts and won 28 games while posting a 3.17 ERA in 344 innings.

Schmidt lasted just six starts in 2007 before undergoing shoulder surgery. He returned for four starts in 2009 but wasn't the same pitcher. He walked away for good after just four starts, meaning he pitched only 41 total innings for Los Angeles in three seasons and won just three games.

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Colletti, who was the man behind both signings, was not available for comment to the Los Angeles media. He remains with the Dodgers as a senior adviser to team president Andrew Friedman. 

Speaking through an interpreter on Friday, Ryu made it clear that it was his decision to continue pitching even though he was rarely without pain.

"I can't really pick a certain date [when I pitched pain free], but there were certain times without pain," Ryu said.

The possibility of surgery never really weighed on Ryu's mind, but the Dodgers had to know the likelihood was nearing with each start and each temporary setback he'd suffered. Now they'll have to hope Ryu can make a full and effective recovery, which is never guaranteed when a pitcher's shoulder is in question.

With Brandon McCarthy, who signed a four-year, $42 million deal in the offseason, out until mid-2016 following Tommy John surgery, and Greinke likely heading into free agency this winter, the Dodgers might need Ryu more than ever come April. 

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: May 23, 2015, 6:25 pm

Previously, on The Warriors and the Rockets …

Your Rockets gave you a game, they did they did.

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Houston could have bowed down during what tends to be a typical Game 2 blowout. The team was down 17 points during the second quarter in what looked like an expected, homespun one-sided win from a team already up 1-0. Golden State ran out early to what seemed less like an insurmountable point lead and more like an insurmountable advantage prior to an inspired Houston run in the second quarter which helped turn this mess into a 55-all affair heading into halftime.

Golden State eventually prevailed, by a mere point at 99-98, but it took a James Harden stumble in the final seconds to find a way toward the final buzzer. Harden failed to split an impromptu double team sent his way by Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson in the game’s final play, losing the ball and the game in the process. Rox coach Kevin McHale was criticized by some for failing to secure a timeout in the contest’s waning seconds, but his hands-off approach was the correct one – who on God’s green earth would you trust more to attack a retreating defense more than James Harden in the game’s closing moments?

Stephen Curry, perhaps.

The league’s MVP registered 31 points on just 21 shots in Game 2, he turned the ball over six times but he was also the impetus behind most of Golden State’s breakaways. He paired with fellow W’s mainstay Andrew Bogut to create that early Houston deficit, Bogut managed to hit 7-9 shots for 14 points while offering eight boards and four assists alongside five blocks in only 30 minutes.

Bogut’s pivotman counterpart, the hobbled Dwight Howard, gutted through an obviously pained and sprained left knee to put up 19 points and 17 rebounds in the loss. Howard didn’t look good, this clearly was a game he should have sat out, but instead of staying home the Rockets big man slid that bum left leg around the court for 40 minutes that he should be proud of.

Harden, meanwhile, merely led two significant Rockets comebacks while finishing with 38 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists, three steals, and just two turnovers in spite of basically dominating the rock for nearly 41 minutes. He was brilliant, outplaying the league’s MVP on his home court while keeping what could have been a lacking Rockets crew in the game until the final, unfortunate, seconds.

Three Things to Look For in Game 3

James Harden at his familiar spot. (Getty Images)

Warriors Minding Their Manners

Golden State was a funny bunch to start the season. That league-best defense was there from the beginning, but the team’s offense (despite its reputation as a thrash outfit full of flotsam and jetsam and endless three-pointers) needed a while to steady itself. The points were there, to be sure, but the team turned the ball over incessantly and the efficiency took a while to rise to expected ranks.

GSW turned the ball over just 12 times in Game 1, a marvelous mark considering its 110 point-mark in the win. Stephen Curry contributed five of those miscues, and he kept up that sloppiness in Game 2 on his way toward six turnovers. Now, 11 cough-ups in two high-possession contests, considering how much Curry has to wrangle the ball, is borderline expected.

It’s still inexcusable. We understand why Stephen was turning it over so much, but MVPs have to stop at some point.

The Warriors turned it over 16 times in Game 2, and those missteps were a huge reason why the Rockets were able to come back from a 17-point disadvantage in the second quarter to tie things up. Houston was a top-five team when it came to causing turnovers in the regular season, and Golden State improved to the ranks of the mediocre as the 82-game slog moved on when it came to taking care of the ball. That much is in place – to a tone, these two are playing as they will.

What’s going to be telling is how the expected champions take care of the ball in the face of Houston’s rowdy home crowd. Golden State can’t have the heart of a champignon.

Josh Smith Defying Stereotypes

If you bother to walk over to your Twitter machine during games, or pause your contest in order to find relief in the ability to fast-forward through all those insipid light beer ads, you may have noticed a rather strident social media theme:

Josh Smith is ruining this game for everyone.

The Rockets have counted on Smith’s contributions as gravy since they signed him just before the midseason mark. Smith wasn’t some free agent prize, a haggled-about eight-figure earner that Houston had to outbid Dallas for. No, this was a guy that Detroit paid to go away, and though he played solid enough basketball against the Warriors in Game 1, his decision-making in the second contest had fans with no rooting interest bashing their heads against the blinds.

Smith missed 12 of 17 shots, he managed just one rebound in 21 minutes, and he was the only Rocket starter with a negative (-9, in less than half a game) plus/minus. Relying on him to respond in front of the home fans is a bit of a stretch, as he’s only known Houston’s court as a salve since winter, and he’ll have to act as that needed X-factor as Golden State readies to act the spoiler away from the Bay Area.

The Indefatigable James Harden

James Harden, famously, doesn’t bother with midrange two-point shots. It’s either threes or lay-ins or dunks or, infamously, free throws, if you wouldn’t mind.

In this series? He’s destroying you on midrange two-point shots. He’s one of the guys that gets to shoot those. A mix of elegance and function, usage pairing with efficiency, and do what you’d like.

He’s shot “just” 16 free throws in this series thus far, making 14, hardly wasting anyone’s time. He’s dove into picks, and he’s spun away from them. He’s pushed, prodded, but also pulled back and made you look a bit silly. His 33-point, 10.5 rebound, nine-assist averages over the first two games remind of Michael Jordan in his “come on, Scottie, get your [stuff] together” early days. He’s been absolutely brilliant and the prime reason why Houston absolutely had a chance to win both games in the Bay.

Whether any of this is sustainable is up to Harden’s legs.

It’s been a long season, and we’re heading toward June. James’ teammates aren’t handing him much help as he yo-yos from possession to possession while dragging his red uniforms with him. It’s more than possible that a spirited Houston crowd and the ease of the home whistle will help slow things down and keep him at the free throw line for most of Game 3 and beyond, but that’s never something to count on.

Harden has played brilliantly in this series, and yet the Rockets still have an egg in their Western Conference finals avatar. How long can he keep this superhuman play up?

I can’t wait to find out.

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Kelly Dwyer is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at KDonhoops@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @KDonhoops

Author: Kelly Dwyer
Posted: May 23, 2015, 5:12 pm

Randy Moss obviously took a friendship forged with a young fan early in his career pretty seriously. That's why he was at her high school graduation this week.

Moss reportedly promised Kassi Spier, who he reportedly met during his rookie year of 1998 at an autograph signing, that he'd be at her high-school graduation. Spier, who according to the Forum of Fargo-Moorhead battled leukemia when she was young and was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2013, graduated from Pelican Rapids High School in Minnesota. On Friday, Spier was one of 72 graduates to walk across the stage, according to the Pelican Rapids Press, and Moss handed Spier her diploma.

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“She’s had many struggles in her life, and he’s been there for her,” Pelican Rapids Public School District Superintendent Deb Wanek told the Forum. “He told her he’d be at her high school graduation.”

Moss is a legend in Minnesota from his days with the Vikings. He was also a controversial figure at times through his football career, but he clearly has a soft side. A 2003 story by the Associated Press, via the Forum, detailed his friendship with Spier. She would follow him to lunch during training camp that year with Moss holding her hand. It said that in 2000 Moss visited Spier, then 4 years old, at the Mayo Clinic after her leukemia diagnosis and cried when he had to leave.

It's obviously a friendship that means a lot to both of them, enough that Moss made sure to be there for a huge accomplishment in Spier's life.

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Frank Schwab is the editor of Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at shutdowncorner@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @YahooSchwab

Author: Frank Schwab
Posted: May 23, 2015, 5:07 pm

 

One of the more unusual and admittedly entertaining moments during the 2013 postseason occurred when Scott Van Slyke of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Joe Kelly, then of the St. Louis Cardinals, engaged in a standoff immediately following the national anthem at NLCS Game 6.

The staredown, as it were, played out for several minutes, including a national television commercial break and pregame warmups, and seemed poised to continue through the game's first pitch before home plate umpire Greg Gibson interjected and ordered both players to the dugout.

For a one time only event, it was harmless and good for a laugh. But we can't say it's a one time only event, because It was brought back by Aaron Barrett of the Washington Nationals and Brandon Barnes of the Colorado Rockies in 2014. And now it's back in 2015 too, thanks to Barrett and a group of Philadelphia Phillies. 

Actually, the Phillies were involved in perhaps what should be considered a practice run on Thursday in Colorado, and then again with Barrett's Nationals on Friday, and this one was epic.

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Here's how James Wagner of the Washington Post described it.

Aaron Barrett is doing an anthem standoff with three Phillies.

— James Wagner (@JamesWagnerWP) May 22, 2015

Nats have taken the field with Harang (in catcher's gear from waist up) and Barrett (with a helmet) still on the field. Game about to begin.

— James Wagner (@JamesWagnerWP) May 22, 2015

The umps do not like this. But game is about to begin with Harang and Barrett still on the field. Scherzer doesn't seem pleased.

— James Wagner (@JamesWagnerWP) May 22, 2015

It's all fun and games until someone irritates Max Scherzer.

Harang loses and Barrett wins. Both were on the field as Scherzer threw his first pitch!

— James Wagner (@JamesWagnerWP) May 22, 2015

Good news for Barrett. By the time the game ended, Scherzer was in a much better mood after the Nationals extended their season-best winning streak to six with a 2-1 victory.  

Scherzer said to Barrett after the game: "We win in this clubhouse. If that means you have to win the national anthem standoff, go ahead."

— James Wagner (@JamesWagnerWP) May 23, 2015

As for Barrett, he's 2-0 in standoffs and 3-0 as a reliever in 70 appearances.

Anatomy of an anthem standoff victory. @aaronbarrett30, victorious again! pic.twitter.com/tUq9O6y6AG

— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) May 22, 2015

Again, this is all in good fun, but the act does run the risk of wearing thin quickly if overused and obviously if it threatens to interrupt play. We strongly encourage those involved to exercise good judgment going forward so this practice doesn't veer toward overdone and unwelcome.  

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: May 23, 2015, 4:41 pm
In the recent past, the NHL has seen a few tragic tipping points for head injuries and player safety. 

Enforcer Derek Boogaard’s overdose death was one, which initially led to the question of hockey players taking prescription pills. When it was found his young brain had Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative disease linked to head trauma for which there is no known cure, this created another wrinkle and questions about fighting’s place in the game – a query that still lingers.

The passing of former Blackhawks defenseman Steve Montador was the most recent hockey tragedy. His death, and subsequent findings of CTE in his brain, have led to more questions about how the NHL and NHLPA protect their players in this dangerous game.

Daniel Carcillo’s heartfelt video on Players’ Tribune brought up questions about post-retirement preparedness for players by the NHL and the NHLPA. 

A lawsuit by 60 former NHL players has made us wonder if the NHL or hockey culture is to blame for head injuries amongst some of the game’s top players. 

When NHL commissioner Gary Bettman met with reporters in Chicago on Thursday night, he was asked about Montador, head injuries and how they contribute to CTE, he said via CBS Chicago:

“From a medical science standpoint, there is no evidence yet that one necessarily leads to the other…”

“I know there are a lot of theories, but if you ask people who study it, they tell you there is no statistical correlation that can definitively make that conclusion.”

This struck a nerve with Chris Nowinski, the co-founder and executive director of the Sports Legacy Institute a “non-profit organization dedicated to solving the sports concussion crisis through education, policy, and research.”

He quickly fired back at Bettman on Twitter for his comments and made a poignant statement in 140 characters or less. 

Nowinski also works with Boston University CTE Center.

“The people who are actually doing the work on CTE are far more convinced than people who are lobbing grenades from the sidelines,” Nowinski told Puck Daddy. 

Contact is always present in hockey. Some believe the hits and crashes (and for a few the fights) are part of what make the game great. Others believe it can still be a fantastic product without the rough stuff. 

It’s a business, it’s trying to make money, but it also needs to protect its players. Montador’s death has made this apparent. The league has made strides with the Department of Player Safety. But when the commissioner makes a comment like that, it could bring some level of confusion.

We chatted with Nowinski over the phone and brought up a number of topics including Bettman’s words, why they struck a nerve and how the NHL (and NHLPA) can do more for their players.

Q: What led to you tweeting about the commissioner’s comments?

NOWINSKI: You get tired of the clever lawyer-speak that completely misleads the average person, which is why I sort of hedged what I said. Basically everything the commissioner said was sort of meant to create confusion. 

A lot of folks in professional sports like to use the words ‘no evidence’ and like to say ‘there’s no evidence from a medical or scientific standpoint’ but then they create a straw man statement that no one is making, and so you get frustrated because when they say there’s no evidence that one 'necessarily leads to the other,’ no one is saying that one necessarily leads to the other in all cases. The same thing goes for smoking. It doesn’t ‘necessarily’ lead to lung cancer, so people will remember ‘no medical or scientific evidence.’

But that’s just not true. We have plenty of medical and scientific evidence that brain trauma leads to CTE. In fact the experts from the Department of Defense and the National Institute of Health are both on record saying they personally believe that CTE is caused by brain trauma. That’s not known by the average person, and he (Bettman) made another claim just like that. I know there are a lot of theories where people study it and say there is no physical correlation that can definitively make that conclusion. And that is also true, but there’s no statistical correlation, again, for most diseases that have been studied far longer. We can’t diagnose in living people so we can’t make a physical correlation for how many people are living with this right now.

Again, that doesn’t mean there’s not a very, very large base of evidence that connects concussions to CTE and brain trauma to CTE and the experts believe it’s causing CTE. 

When the commissioner says this, does it hurt the ability to become more vigilant and aware of head injuries and long-term effects?

It certainly sends a confusing message to all the players and everybody involved in the efforts to make the game safer because why would we make the game safer if there’s no medical or scientific evidence that there’s real long-term problems? 

There have been some tipping points that have led to more awareness. Derek Boogaard’s death was one, but that more seemed to involve enforcers. Steve Montador’s death seems to be another. Why has Montador’s death pushed awareness to a new level?

It’s difficult to know. I think Steve was well liked and respected. A lot of players in the league now played with him. His brain was studied by a different group than ours, so no one can make the claim that it’s just BU finding CTE … So we’re starting to see a trend. 

One of the issues brought up with his death was post-playing transition to the real world after suffering head injuries. Do some players fear CTE without knowing all the facts about it, and does this lead to increased anxiety and other mental problems involved with fear of CTE?

That’s a good question, and I think it speaks to the need to continue to educate players with what we know when we know it.

For example, I dealt with post-concussion syndrome for many years, and really still do from my concussions. But thinking of them as post-concussion syndrome at the beginning helped me appreciate that I would eventually feel better. If I had categorized them in my early 20s that it was CTE, I may have been more concerned that I wouldn’t start to feel better. But I was properly educated in my early 20s that it was post-concussion syndrome. But you have to remember the reason why, specifically I got into this, was because of a series of suicides by players before they ever knew the word CTE who were young, including Andre Waters and Terry Long, Chris Benoit, three of the first five cases diagnosed.

It’s always very important to try to message CTE accurately, but it’s also very important for athletes to … not go too far one way or the other. When athletes were in the dark about CTE, they thought the symptoms they felt were unexplained or had to do with their character, and some of them took their lives. Now that we have CTE awareness, some may be overly concerned or drawing conclusions that are appropriate.

But it’s important we have a conversation about this and to continue to try to do our best to be accurate about what we know, and that sort of … that’s partially why I sent the tweet out last night, because I didn’t think what the commissioner said accurately reflected the state of the science.

How much blame can we heap on hockey culture versus NHL rules in regards to head injury prevention?

Well, it’s a hard question to answer. I think every sports culture needs to continue to evolve around concussions. And all sports cultures will take time. We also have to appreciate at the professional level there’s a lot of money riding on decisions to report concussions and therefore there will always be incentive to not report a concussion. That’s not culture, that’s financial.

On the other side, every sport also can continue to change its rules and adapt how the game is played to continue to lower the risk. It’s hard to say in what sport, which is having more of an effect. 

How much does a players association need to be held accountable, such as with hockey and the NHLPA or in the NFL, with the NFLPA?

I don’t have the insight into the NHL Players’ Association. 

I know a lot of the changes we give the NFL ‘credit’ for have been driven by the Players Association. They’re very aggressively trying to create a safer work environment for the players and I think they’ve succeeded in a lot of ways. 

Overall, does the NHL do enough to curb head injuries? In your estimation what more does it need to do?

There’s no question that some of the moves that have been made have made the game safer. I think back to the first time I saw Brendan Shanahan giving the explanation for a suspension for an intentional hit to the head and I thought ‘this is huge progress.’ That being said there’s still going to be … there’s always room for improvement and we haven’t tackled the issue of fighting in the NHL. It’s still a huge source of brain injuries for the athletes, and it’s hard to still make the case it’s necessary. From a sports perspective, it might be more of an entertainment question. I think it’s worth mentioning one of the larger strides taking place in hockey that’s different than football is youth hockey has gotten safer in the United States, especially with USA Hockey’s change at the age of introduction of checking. In theory, that pays dividends all the way down the line to the pros that you have athletes coming in with fewer concussions historically. That hasn’t happened in football. The NFL has taken the opposite approach. They sort of doubled down the idea that it’s good for 5-year-olds to be hit in the head hundreds of times every year, so in their perfect world, their players are going to be coming in with more historical concussions because they’re trying to convince us tackle football is safe for 5-year-olds brains, when most concussion experts would disagree with that statement. I think that’s an interesting way to look at the sports.

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Josh Cooper is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @joshuacooper

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Author: Josh Cooper
Posted: May 23, 2015, 3:21 pm

Unlike many analytics gurus, John Chayka has an Internet Hockey Database player page. It’s not exactly a storied career – 101 games with the Woodstock Slammers of the junior Maritime Hockey League – but it’s something. 

Perhaps that made the world safe for a guy with no previous front office experience to land an assistant general manager gig with in NHL: He’s not just a stats nerd, he’s a former jock that became a stats nerd!

According to Aaron Ward of TSN, Chayka has been hired by the Arizona Coyotes as their new AGM to general manager Don Maloney.

Chayka is co-founder of Stathletes, a Canadian firm that uses video analysis to offer a complete picture of a player’s game and has “over 100-times the statistical resolution of typical tracking methods.”

Thus continues the trend of struggling teams adding bright young minds with an affinity for analytics. The most dramatic example remains Kyle Dubas of the Toronto Maple Leafs, the former Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds general manager who was hired at 28 to work as an assistant GM in the NHL. But other teams have added analytics smarties, including Tyler Dellow with the Edmonton Oilers and Sunny Mehta with the New Jersey Devils.

The Coyotes seem like a franchise ripe for a “money puck” approach. They have an innovative general manager. They have a young core of players coming up that’ll need to be augmented by effective, cheap veterans. And, well, we don’t know if you’ve heard this but the team does lose a dollar or two annually.

Speaking of young players: Shane Doan is 13 years older than John Chayka. When they meet, it’s totally that scene between James Bond and ‘Q’ in SKYFALL in the art museum. 

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Author: Greg Wyshynski
Posted: May 23, 2015, 2:34 pm

Here are your outfielder Shuffle Up prices. We're trying to figure how the players will perform from here on out. What's happened to this point is an audition, nothing past that. 

Assume a 5x5 scoring system, as always. Players at the same prices are considered even. I reserve the right to tweak the list on the weekend. And I'll add commentary at some point this weekend. 

When I do these lists, they're composed completely from scratch. I don't care where I ranked everyone in March. I'm not one of those rankers who moves a handful of guys and calls it a day. 

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You're going to have some disagreements, and that's good. That's why we have a game and why it's fun. I look at someone else's list and I see things I don't understand, too. If you did a list, you'd encounter the same thing. That's how these things work. 

Remember, a player doesn't gain or lose bonus value just because you like him; you drafted him; you saw him at the driving range; he wouldn't sign an autograph for your nephew; whatever. Try not to get personal about the stock, Gekko told us that. We just want the numbers. (And no, I don't hate your favorite team.)

The injury ranks are for courtesy. I will not debate them. If you're a better doctor than I am, that's fine. I'm generally very cautious with hurt players and it's served me well over the years, but you are welcome to play differently. 

I didn't rank players in the minors. I also skipped the shortstops who carry OF eligibility (Hanley, for one), since no one would use them here. Ditto for Stephen Vogt, Oakland's fun catcher. 

$31 Mike Trout
$31 Bryce Harper
$28 Giancarlo Stanton
$28 Michael Brantley
$28 Justin Upton
$26 Nelson Cruz
$25 Carlos Gomez
$23 Adam Jones
$23 Starling Marte
$22 Andrew McCutchen
$22 Ryan Braun
$20 Josh Reddick
$20 Jose Bautista
$18 Hunter Pence
$18 Brett Gardner
$18 A.J. Pollock
$17 Matt Holliday
$17 George Springer
$16 Billy Hamilton
$16 J.D. Martinez
$16 Lorenzo Cain
$16 Charlie Blackmon
$16 Dexter Fowler
$15 Yoenis Cespedes
$15 Joc Pederson
$15 Mookie Betts


What's become of Kemp? (Getty Images)

$13 Matt Kemp
$13 Alex Gordon
$12 Jason Heyward
$12 Carlos Gonzalez
$12 Torii Hunter
$12 Kole Calhoun
$11 Jay Bruce
$10 Chris Carter
$10 Mark Trumbo
$10 Ryan Zimmerman
$10 Denard Span
$10 Jacob Marisnick
$10 Avisail Garcia
$10 Rusney Castillo
$9 Brandon Moss
$9 Marcell Ozuna
$9 Josh Harrison
$9 Gregory Polanco
$9 Curtis Granderson
$8 Norichika Aoki
$8 Jorge Soler
$8 Melky Cabrera
$7 Andre Ethier
$7 Steven Souza
$7 Ender Inciarte
$7 Angel Pagan
$6 Cameron Maybin
$6 Shin-Soo Choo
$6 Anthony Gose
$6 Rajai Davis
$6 Yasmany Tomas
$6 Christian Yelich
$5 Ben Revere
$5 Delino DeShields
$5 Billy Burns
$4 Michael Cuddyer
$4 Steve Pearce
$4 Marlon Byrd
$4 Kevin Pillar
$4 Carlos Beltran
$3 Leonys Martin
$3 Adam Eaton
$3 Michael Taylor
$3 Colby Rasmus
$3 David DeJesus
$3 Odubel Herrera
$3 Mark Canha
$2 Kevin Kiermaier
$2 Peter Bourjos
$2 Chris Young
$2 Nick Markakis
$2 David Peralta
$2 Darin Ruf
$2 Will Venable
$2 Juan Lagares
$2 Gerardo Parra
$2 Brandon Guyer
$2 Scott Van Slyke
$2 Seth Smith
$1 Khris Davis
$1 Michael Morse
$1 Brock Holt
$1 Alejandro de Aza
$1 Gregor Blanco
$1 Ichiro Suzuki
$0 Travis Snider
$0 Michael Saunders
$0 Ryan Raburn
$0 Justin Maxwell
$0 Michael Bourn
$0 David Murphy
$0 Delmon Young
$0 Jon Jay
$0 Randal Grichuk
$0 Shane Victorino
$0 Grady Sizemore
$0 Jeff Francoeur
$0 Jonny Gomes

Courtesy Injury Ranks
$15 *Corey Dickerson
$15 *Jacoby Ellsbury
$14 *Yasiel Puig
$12 *Wil Myers
$7 *Ben Zobrist
$6 *Jayson Werth
$6 *Alex Rios
$5 *Josh Hamilton
$4 *Desmond Jennings
$2 *Oswaldo Arcia
$2 *Austin Jackson
$1 *Kelly Johnson
$1 *Coco Crisp
$1 *Carl Crawford

Author: Scott Pianowski
Posted: May 23, 2015, 11:04 am

Here are 10 DFS recommendations for Saturday but be sure to double-check the weather and lineups before first pitch approaches.

Michael Bolsinger, SP, vs. SD (Kennedy), $6400 at FanDuel: Normally I’m all about recommending the best starting pitching option, who’s usually the most expensive. And I have no problem if you go with Corey Kluber (et al) but realize Bolsinger pitches for a team that’s tied for the third most favored Saturday, yet there are 23 pitchers pricier. It’s safe to say Bolsinger’s 1.04 ERA is probably (and by probably I mean certainly) going to rise, but he’s inducing a bunch of ground balls with an elite offense backing him up and is so cheap you can load up on hitters.

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Russell Martin, C. vs. Sea (Paxton), $3500: He’s been an elite hitter since the beginning of last season, and that’s not even counting for him playing the thinnest position. Martin is batting .414/.500/.655 against LHP this season while posting a 1.131 OPS at home, so he sure looks like a must start in DFS at this price.

Adam LaRoche, 1B, vs. Min (May), $2800: He has four homers over 87 ABs against RHP this year and only Coors Field has increased run scoring more than U.S. Cellular Field over the past three seasons. Trevor May has yielded a .344 BAA when facing lefties, and LaRoche is cheap.

Jose Altuve, 2B, at Det (Lobstein), $4100: Altuve isn’t cheap but he plays a thin position and has hit .396/.491/.521 against southpaws this season.

Dustin Pedroia, 2B, vs. LAA (Wilson), $3000: If you prefer to spend your money other than Altuve on second base, look toward Pedroia, who has 10 hits over 24 career at bats versus C.J. Wilson. He also has a career .855 OPS at Fenway Park. 

Alexei Ramirez, SS, vs. Min (May), $2300: He was the No. 4 ranked fantasy shortstop last year and is priced closely to as low as it gets regardless of position here. Ramirez owns a .742 OPS at home during his career.

Josh Donaldson, 3B, vs. Sea (Paxton), $3900: This seems like a good spot to spend money, as Donaldson is batting .455/.472/.788 against lefties this season and has a 1.078 OPS at home.

Andre Ethier, OF, vs. SD (Kennedy), $2600: He’s cheap, has five homers over 95 ABs against RHP this season and owns a .361/.425/.694 career line against Ian Kennedy. Ethier is only a very good bargain opposed to an amazing one because he bats lower in a Dodgers’ lineup that’s so far been historically good in 2015.

Carlos Gonzalez, OF, vs. SF (Heston) $3200: It continues to be difficult not to recommend CarGo at this price. Brandon Barnes and Joe Panik are other options to take advantage of Saturday if possible, but during a scheduled double header, realize weather looks to again be an issue in Colorado.

Freddie Freeman, 1B, vs. Mil (Fiers), $3400: He’s batting .310 against right-handed pitchers this season, hits in the middle of the lineup and is at home Saturday yet there are 12 first basemen more expensive than Freeman.

Follow Dalton Del Don on Twitter. 

Author: Dalton Del Don
Posted: May 23, 2015, 7:00 am

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