by Kurtis Seaboldt
The lead was 18 after one quarter. It was 31 at the half. After three quarters the lead was 40. The Cleveland Cavaliers put a beating on the Toronto Raptors Wednesday night. Their 116-78 win tied for the fifth-largest margin of victory ever recorded in a Conference Finals game.
It was an epic destruction. In fact, to find the last time a team won a Conference Finals game by at least 30 points you have to go all the way back to… last week. The same Cavs beat the same Raptors in the same Quicken Loans Arena, 115-84, in what was then the 14th-largest margin of victory ever in a Conference Finals game.
Things have been much closer on the Western Conference side. Well, maybe not much closer. The Thunder beat the defending champion Warriors by 28 and 24 in a three-day span earlier this week. It’s not a new trend. Well, not entirely new. It has been present all through this year’s NBA Playoffs.
There have been 76 games played since the playoffs began back on April 16, a day that saw Oklahoma City thump Dallas by 38 and saw Golden State hammer Houston by 26. Seventeen games (22%) have been decided by at least 25 points. Nearly one out of every four games has been decided by 25 or more.
For perspective consider this: In the previous three playoff seasons, there were only 16 games decided by 25 points or more. There have been 8 games in this year’s playoffs decided by at least 30 points, the most in a single year in NBA history. There were only two in 2014. Two. The Cavs have that many through five games of this series alone.
And there really is no concrete explanation for it. The best theory I’ve heard comes from Soren Petro. He says the NBA has become much more of a jump-shooting league and when those shots don’t fall for one team on a given night, it leads to a blowout. That makes a lot of sense. It's really the only plausible explanation that I've heard.
The only issue I have with that theory is that it didn’t happen in the regular season. In fact, there were fewer 25-point wins in the 2015-16 regular season (82) than there was in any season since 2011-12. There were 94 last year, 87 and 86 the two years before that.
So, what gives? I’m not really sure. The old joke about the NBA was that nothing matters except for the last two minutes. This spring, it has been the least exciting two minutes in sports.
By Kurtis Seaboldt
Four days from now, the 2016 Major League Baseball season will commence at Kauffman Stadium and the Royals will officially begin defense of their World Series title against the team they defeated for it, the New York Mets.
Appropriately, the man who will take the ball for the Royals is the same man who took the ball in the last game these two teams played in last year’s Fall Classic, Edison Volquez.
The 32-year old right-hander enters his 12th big league season as the club’s #1 starter. Forget Yordano Ventura’s catchy nickname; Volquez is this team’s ace, and rightly so. He led the club in innings pitched and ERA and tied Ventura for the club lead in wins.
The Royals know what they have in Volquez. But what else do they know?
Ventura is coming off of what was, as a whole, the worst season of his short career. His 13-8 record was fine but his ERA jumped from 3.20 in 2014 to 4.08. However, a look at his 2015 game log is encouraging. On August 6, he had an ERA of 5.29 and a record of 6-7. Over his last eleven starts, Ventura was 7-1 with an ERA of 2.38 with 81 strikeouts in 68 innings. His 6.43 ERA in the post-season was an eyesore that got covered up with a championship.
You’d like to think that the shenanigans of last year are a thing of the past but the Royals have basically shown that they aren’t quite sure themselves by removing him from a potentially heated confrontation with the Mets in the opening series. Which Ventura shows up in 2016?
Ian Kennedy is an innings eater. That’s about all the Royals know about him at the moment. He averaged 194 innings over his last six seasons and made at least 30 starts in each of them. Some of his numbers from 2015 show signs of promise. He was just 9-15 and had a 4.28 ERA but his WHIP was decent, his BB/9 was pretty good and his K/9 was the best of his career, a career that includes a 21-win season.
Dayton Moore and pitching coach Dave Eiland have done a very good job of taking pitchers like Kennedy and getting them back on track. But which Kennedy shows up in 2016?
Chris Young was one of the best stories in baseball last season. Signed during spring training, all Young did was go 11-6 with a 3.06 ERA. But he’s only thrown more than 125 innings once since 2007. He’ll be 37 on May 25. How much can he give the Royals in 2016?
Kris Medlen may have been an even better story last season. Coming off of his second Tommy John surgery, he had not pitched in the majors since 2013. He didn’t pitch for the Royals until July 20 but was huge in the second half, first as a bullpen guy and then as a starter. But, he pitched just 58 innings last season. How many can he pitch in 2016?
Veteran Chien-Ming Wang apparently found the Fountain of Youth in Texas and is suddenly throwing in the mid-90’s. Again, he fits the bill as a Moore-Eiland reclamation project but there is nothing to show but promise at this point.
With the exception of right field, the Royals are set around the diamond, as set as they’ve been in three decades. The bench has a good mix. The end of the bullpen looks as loaded as ever. But their rotation has a lot of questions to answer. Let’s hope the answers are good ones.
By Kurtis Seaboldt
A year ago, Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas arrived at the club’s spring training home in Surprise, Arizona, with a new approach to hitting. Some time next week, he will return there with something else: A new contract.
The two are not unrelated.
The Royals avoided arbitration with Moustakas late Thursday by inking him to a two-year deal reportedly worth $14.3 million. He will earn $5.6 million in 2016 and $8.7 million in 2017. His ability to duplicate the break out season that earned him this new deal would greatly aid the Royals’ ability to duplicate their World Championship.
I think he can do it.
Moustakas exploded onto the national scene during the Royals’ amazing 2014 postseason run, bombing five home runs. Many hoped that was a sign of things to come in 2015. Then Moustakas showed up in the desert and talked about going the other way. It seemed odd because, in the view of most observers, he was willfully sacrificing what he could be (a power hitter) for something he had little chance of becoming (an opposite fielder hitter with pop). Then he began rifling singles and doubles into left and left center.
He continued this transformation – almost unheard of at this stage of a players’ career – into the regular season. He hit .356 in April and on June 24, he was still sitting at .328. Then came what would charitably be called a swoon. He was named to his first All-Star Game but he took a 13-game slash line of .128/.222/.149/.371 with him on the plane to Cincinnati. The bloom was off the rose.
It was simply, really. He had made an adjustment and it took the league a couple of months to counter. By late-June, they had. He needed to counter, as well, and he did. Boy, did he ever.
After a 45-game stretch in which he hit just .176 and saw his season average drop to .269, Moustakas regained his footing. Over the last 37 games, Moustakas’ slash line was .328/.378/.642/1.021. His numbers fell off during the postseason but the sample size is small.
Mike Moustakas turned 27 last September which means that he’ll be 27 on Opening Day. That is the age where many players have a breakout season when it comes to power. He could stand to get in better shape but that’s the only issue I have with him. He plays great defense. He is a leader in the clubhouse. And he has already shown the confidence to completely blow up everything he had done in his career and remake himself as a player.
He may only be here for two more years and it appears more than ever that the Royals are throwing everything into 2016 and 2017. Mike Moustakas will clearly play a very big role in how well that plan goes. I think he has what it takes to come up big.
By Kurtis Seaboldt
A week from Sunday the Carolina Panthers and the Denver Broncos will meet in Super Bowl 50. Thusly, I will present you the All-Super Bowl Team. I tried to put it together the way a real NFL team is put together – 53 players.
They are not necessarily the best players in NFL history; they are the best players in the Super Bowl and, by that, I mean those who played the best – or at least had the largest impact – on Super Bowl history. I didn’t merely pick the players who accumulated the most yards or touchdowns, either.
So here goes (STARTER in BOLD FACE):
QB: JOE MONTANA, Tom Brady, Terry Bradshaw
Montana started four for the 49ers (XVI, XIX, XXIII, XXIV), threw 11 touchdowns without an interception and authored one of the great drives in the history of the game against the Bengals in SB XXIII. Brady started in six for the Patriots (XXXVI, XXXVIII, XXXIX, XLII, XLVI, XLIX), winning four. Bradshaw started and won four for the Steelers (IX, X, XIII, XIV). Montana (XVI, XIX, XXIV) and Brady (XXXVI, XXXVIII, XLIX) are three-time MVP’s; Bradshaw won the award twice (XIII, XIV).
RB: LARRY CSONKA, EMMITT SMITH, Terrell Davis, Franco Harris
Csonka started three for the Dolphins (VI, VII, VIII), winning two and averaging 5.21 yards per carry. Smith started and won three for he Cowboys (XXVII, XXVIII, XXX) and had the greatest single drive a running back has had in a Super Bowl against the Bills in SB XXVIII. Davis started and won two for the Broncos (XXXII, XXXIII) and also had a pair of 100-yard game, including 157 against the Packers in SB XXXII. Harris started and won four for the Steelers (IX, X, XIII, XIV). He averaged less than four yards a carry but is the career Super Bowl rushing leader.
FB: TOM RATHMAN
Rathman started and won two for the 49ers (XXIII, XXIV).
WR: JERRY RICE, LYNN SWANN, John Stallworth, Ricky Sanders, Desmond Howard
Rice started and won three for the 49ers (XXIII, XXIV, XXIX) and started one for the Raiders (XXXVII). His MVP performance in SB XXIII (215 yards) would rank 12th on the career yards list. Swann and Stallworth both started and won four for the Steelers (IX, X, XIII, XIV). Swann was the MVP of SB X and averaged well over 20 yards per catch, as did Stallworth. Both caught three TD’s. Sanders started and won two for the Redskins (XXII, XXVI) and averaged 23.4 yards per catch. His 193 yards against the Broncos in SB XXII was a record until Rice broke it the next year. Howard was the MVP of SB XXXI for the Packers and will be my punt and kickoff returner.
TE: JAY NOVACEK, Dan Ross, John Mackey
Novacek started and won three for the Cowboys (XXVII, XXVIII, XXX) and just beats out Ross, whose 11-catch, 104-yard, two-touchdown day kept the Bengals in SB XVI against the 49ers. Mackey started in two for the Colts (III, V), winning one. His twice-tipped, 75-yard TD in SB V is the longest reception in Super Bowl history for a tight end.
T: JOHN KOLB, JOE JACOBY, Matt Light
Kolb started and won four with the Steelers (IX, X, XIII, XIV). Jacoby started four for the Redskins (XVII, XVIII, XXII, XXVI), winning three. Light started five for the Patriots (XXXVI, XXXVIII, XXXIX, XLII, XLVI), winning three.
G: BOB KUECHENBERG, GENE UPSHAW, Larry Little
Kuechenberg started four for the Dolphins (VI, VII, VIII, XVII), winning two. Upshaw started three for the Raiders (II, XI, XV), winning two. Little started three for the Dolphins (VI, VII, VIII), winning two. There were a lot of guys I could have chosen after Kuechenberg. I chose Upshaw and Little. So there.
C: JIM LANGER, Bill Curry
Langer started three for the Dolphins (VI, VII, VIII) winning two. Curry started one for the Packers (I) and two for the Colts (III, V), winning two overall.
DE: HARVEY MARTIN, RICHARD DENT, L.C. Greenwood, Charles Haley, Reggie White, Bruce Smith
Martin played in three for the Cowboys (X, XII, XIII) winning one and was named Co-MVP (with Randy White) in SB XII. Dent started in one for the Bears (XX) won MVP honors. Greenwood started and won four for the Steelers (IX, X, XIII, XIV). Haley started and won two with the 49ers (XXIII, XXIV) and three with the Cowboys (XXVII, XXVIII, XXX), although he was a linebacker with the 49ers. He had to go somewhere. White started two for the Packers (XXXI, XXXII), winning one. He had one of the great games ever for a DE in SB XXXI against the Patriots. Smith started in four for the Bills (XXV, XXVI, XXVII, XXVIII) and got a safety (XXV).
DT: JOE GREENE, RANDY WHITE, Alan Page, Vince Wilfork
Greene started and won four for the Steelers (IX, X, XIII, XIV). White started two for the Cowboys (XII, XIII), winning one. He was named Co-MVP (with Harvey Martin) in SB XII, Page started four for the Vikings (IV, VIII, IX, XI). Wilfork started four for the Patriots (XXXIX, XLII, XLVI, XLIX), winning two.
LB: ROD MARTIN, BILL ROMANOWSKI, Jack Lambert, Ted Hendricks, Chuck Howley, Ray Lewis
Martin started and won two for the Raiders (XV, XVIII) and picked off a Super Bowl-record three passes in SB XV. Romanowski started four and played in five for the 49ers (XXIII, XXIV), Broncos (XXXII, XXXIII) and Raiders (XXXVII), winning four. Lambert started and won four for the Steelers (IX, X, XIII, XIV) and had 14 tackles in SB X. Hendricks started and won one for the Colts (V) and three for the Raiders (XI, XV, XVIII). Howley started in two for the Cowboys (V, VI) and was the MVP in a losing cause for in SB V. Lewis started and won two for the Ravens (XXXV, XLVII) and was the MVP in SB XXXV.
CB: HERB ADDERLEY, TY LAW, Darrell Green, Randy Beverly, Willie Brown
Adderly started in four (I, II for the Packers; V, VI for the Cowboys), winning two. He had a pick-six for the Packers against the Raiders in SB II. Law started four for the Patriots (XXXI, XXXVI, XXXVIII, XXXIX), winning three. His pick-six against the Rams turned the game in the Patriots’ direction in SB XXXVI. Green started three for the Redskins (XVIII, XXII, XXVI), winning two. Beverly picked off two passes in the Jets’ win in SB III. Brown started two for the Raiders (II, XI) and had a pick-six against the Vikings in SB XI. Old Man Willie.
S: JAKE SCOTT, DWIGHT SMITH, Charlie Waters, Mike Wagner, Ronnie Lott
Scott started three for the Dolphins (VI, VII, VIII) and was the MVP of SB VII. Smith had two pick-sixes for the Buccaneers in SB XXXVII. Waters started in five for the Cowboys (V, VI, X, XII, XIII), winning two. Wagner started and won four for the Steelers (IX, X, XIII, XIV) and had two interceptions. Lott started and won four for the 49ers (XVI, XIX, XXIII, XXIV), though the first two were at CB. Again, he had to go somewhere.
K: ADAM VINATIERI
Vinatieri kicked in four for the Patriots (XXXI, XXXVI, XXXVIII, XXXIX) and one for the Colts (XLI). He is the career leader in FG’s made and PAT’s made.
P: JERREL WILSON
Wilson punted in two for the Chiefs (I, IV) and is the career leader in punting average (46.5).
LS: KENDALL GAMMON
Gammon snapped in one for the Steelers (XXX) and is the greatest long-snapper in NFL history.
HEAD COACH: CHUCK NOLL
Only one head coach won four without a loss. And it's Chuck Noll
by Kurtis Seaboldt
A Columbia, Missouri, radio station this week decided to mark the end of the Gary Pinkel Era at Mizzou by putting together an All-Pinkel Team. They even came up with a two-deep chart. I couldn’t really quarrel with any of the selections, even the omission of Kony Ealy and a top ten NFL draft pick in Blaine Gabbert. It was a good read and it reminded me, once again, the impact Pinkel had on the Tigers football program.
After their second straight Big 12 North title in 2008, I wrote a column about the steps the team had taken under Pinkel: winning games, winning big games, playing for titles and, finally, putting players in the NFL, especially the heavily-watched-by-top-recruits first round.
As it turns out, he wasn’t close to being done.
Forty-one players brought to Columbia by Pinkel have played in the NFL. Thirty have been drafted, half of those coming in the last four drafts. The last seven drafts saw seven Missouri Tigers taken in the first round. The previous six head coaches – going all the way back to Dan Devine – combined for ten. Not only did Gary Pinkel win more games than any other Missouri head coach (118), he won more than the previous four coaches combined (106).
Did things break well for Pinkel in his time at Mizzou? Sure. His best seasons in the Big 12 coincided with the slippage of Kansas State and Nebraska. His best seasons in the SEC happened during lulls at Florida and Tennessee and he faced the SEC West’s big three – Alabama, LSU, Auburn – only once in the regular season.
Each of his four division winners was overmatched in the conference championship game, losing by an average of 27 points. But three of the four teams that beat Missouri were ranked either #1 or #2 in the nation the week after the game. What does that mean? It means that Missouri wasn’t up to the challenge of the very best teams in the country.
But think of where that bar is in comparison to where it was when Pinkel arrived in Columbia 14 years ago. In the course of finding their way in the monstrous SEC, they found their way into the conference title game twice in their first three years. No apologies are required for that.
Watching Pinkel’s last team – the last team he will ever coach – was difficult for Missouri fans or just fans of good football. The Tigers were bad in his last home game and they were even worse in his last game on any field. There is an outside chance that the Tigers could still make one of college football’s 718 bowl games but I don’t know of a fan that wants that to happen. They want to get 2015 behind them as fast as possible. So do I.
But what will 2016 bring?
At this point, the school doesn’t have a chancellor or a president. The last president was ousted in a coup that was aided by the players. The athletic director has been on the job less than a year. It’s hard to imagine that combination not having an impact on the current search to find the next head coach. Whoever takes the job will be stepping onto what could be a shaky limb but there is little doubt that the job of Missouri head football coach is a much better one than it was in 2001. It’s not a program in need of a rebuild because it was already built. And it was maintained.
Losing six of their last seven was ugly but it says a lot about where the program is that limping to a 5-7 record is considered a major disappointment. Gary Pinkel didn’t win a national championship or even a conference championship. But he completely transformed the image of Missouri football. That’s a mighty fine legacy.
by Kurtis Seaboldt
It was one of the greatest single-season turnarounds in NFL history. In his first year as head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs, Andy Reid took a team that finished 2-14 the previous season and won 11 games.
The Chiefs were the 34th team since 2000 to follow a 10-loss season with a 10-win season. That was the good news. The bad news heading into 2014 was what tends to happen to teams that go from 10 losses to 10 wins in one season.
Heading into 2014, the previous 31 teams to make such a leap had fallen back significantly in Year Three. Those 31 teams had an average record of 5-11 in their 10-loss season and 11-5 in their 10-win season. Their average record in Year Three was just 7-9.
But there is an interesting distinction within those Year Three teams and here is where the history mentioned in the title portends a good 2015 for the Chiefs. Even though the average Year Three team only won seven games, the individual win totals are all over the map, from three wins (2013 Redskins) to 13 (2006 Bears).
Nine of the 31 teams won four or fewer games in Year Three, a huge drop off from their 10-win season. But nine other teams won at least 10 games in Year Three and 12 teams had winning records, including the Chiefs at 9-7. And that Year Three performance is where the teams separate a little bit going forward.
The 19 teams that were 8-8 or worse in Year Three had an average record of 8-8 in Year Four, with just seven of the 19 (37%) making the playoffs. The 12 teams that had winning records in Year Three (as the Chiefs did last year) had an average record of 11-5 in Year Four, with eight of the 12 (67%) making the playoffs.
The Chiefs – and the other Year Three winners from 2014, the Eagles and Cardinals – appear poised to keep that trend going.
It’s a small sample size but three teams were exactly 9-7 in Year Three. The 2002 Patriots went 14-2 and won the Super Bowl in 2003. The 2005 Chargers went 14-2 in 2006. The 2009 Falcons went 13-3 in 2010.
Again, a small and very specific sample size but, as the late Fred White was fond of saying, “If ya wanna dream a little”.