KICKING OFF WITH THOUGHTS ON THE BILLS…
It was good to see the Buffalo Bills beat host Carolina Friday night, but I was surprised they didn’t win by more than 20-18 with an extra week of practice and a game under their belts.
Quarterback EJ Manuel wasn’t sharp but he wasn’t dull, either. A TD now and then in the red zone would be a plus.
Buffalo has impressive depth at running back and wide receiver. If Manuel and the OL play only average, the Bills should have one of the NFL’s most-entertaining and most-productive offenses.
For one game, at least, Buffalo’s rush defense was solid against the Panthers. Hard-nosed linebacker Brandon Spikes is looking like a terrific addition – for his ruggedness and spirit.
For the first time in a long time, the Bills will be fun to watch on both sides of the football.
TWO HUGE MISTAKES…SADLY ONE WAS FATAL
Auto racers Kevin Ward Jr. and Tony Stewart both made huge mistakes Saturday night at Canandaigua Motorsports Park.
Ward, a promising 20-year-old driver with dreams of attaining veteran Tony Stewart’s success in NASCAR, ventured onto the dirt track to confront Stewart after a bumping incident during a race. Walking in dark clothing onto a race track with relatively poor lighting – even with the race under caution -- was not the prudent move. He paid for his recklessness with his life.
Stewart’s mistake wasn’t competing in Canandaigua on the eve of the NASCAR race at Watkins Glen. He loves to race and often drives at dirt tracks, delighting fans and lifting the competitive juices of the drivers running against him. NASCAR is Stewart’s business and ticket to fame and fortune. He drives at dirt tracks because it is a hobby and it was fun – before Saturday night.
Stewart’s huge mistake was not withdrawing on the spot from the next day’s race at Watkins Glen. Stewart hasn’t won yet this year on the NASCAR circuit. He needs a victory and was among the favorites to win at the Glen. But the unfortunate “business-as-usual” comment out of his camp was callous and stupid. He shouldn’t have had to sleep on it before deciding not to race.
HOW FRUSTRATED MUST RICKIE FOWLER BE?
The best and richest golfer in the year’s four PGA major tournaments was Rory McIlroy. No doubt about it. But Rickie Fowler can tell his grandkids someday that he shot a combined 5 shots lower than McIroy in those events (1,108 to 1,113) and was 32 under par to McIlroy’s 27.
Fowler fired 10 out of 16 major rounds in the 60s. McIlroy had 9 rounds in the 60s.
Fowler finished t5th, t2nd, t2nd and t3rd in the four majors. McIlroy was t8th, t23rd, WIN and WIN.
Fowler earned $2,497,240. McIlroy earned $3,779,755.50.
The bottom line: Fowler is very good but won’t be considered great until he wins his first major. I believe he’s too talented to become the second coming of Sergio Garcia.
RATTLERS WON’T TAKE THE OHIO MACHINE LIGHTLY
The surprising Rochester Rattlers wound up winning the Major League Lacrosse regular-season title with a 10-4 record.
The Rattlers will host the Ohio Machine on Saturday at 3 p.m. at Aquinas’ Wegmans Stadium. A stadium packed with enthusiastic fans would look great on national TV (CBS Sports Network).
The Rattlers won’t be overconfident against Ohio. They were 0-2 against the Machine and 10-2 against the rest of MLL. Rochester lost at Ohio June 14 (18-13) and home Aug. 23 (17-15). The Machine were 6-6 against the rest of the league.
Ohio lead the MLL in goals (200). Rochester and Denver tied for second with 188 goals.
Ohio also had the MLL’s best overall special teams this regular season: 1st on the power play and 2nd in penalty killing. The Rattlers ranked 6th on the power play and 3rd in penalty killing.
Rochester also has a few edges: MLL’s best defense (allowed a league-low 161 goals) and best goal differential (+17). Ohio allowed 189 goals and was +11.
A scheduling conflict could hurt the Rattlers. They were 6-1 at Sahlen’s Stadium (they also were the only team in the eight-team MLL with a winning road record). The four semifinalist were a combined 23-5 at home (Rochester, Denver and New York Lizards each 6-1; Ohio 5-2) and 13-15 on the road (Rochester 4-3; Denver, New York and Ohio each 3-4).
MIGUEL CABRERA IS A LONG SHOT FOR THIRD STRAIGHT MVP AWARD
It is too early to dismiss Detroit Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera’s hopes of winning a third straight American League Most Valuable Player Award but he’s probably looking up at Mike Trout (Angels), Robinson Cano (Seattle) and maybe Jose Abreu (White Sox) right now.
Only one player has won more than two straight MVP awards: The PED version of Barry Bonds (2001, 2002, 2003 and 2004 with San Francisco).
The pre-PED version of Barry Bonds also won back-to-back MVP awards in 1992 and 1993.
Twelve other players won two straight MVP awards: Jimmie Foxx, Hal Newhouser, Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle, Ernie Banks, Roger Maris, Joe Morgan, Mike Schmidt, Dale Murphy, Frank Thomas, Albert Pujols and Cabrera.
BYRON BUXTON STILL RATED BASEBALL’S TOP PROSPECT
Injuries to one-of-these-days future Red Wing (we hope) center fielder Byron Buxton’s left wrist have all but wasted his 2014 season but have not damaged his status as baseball’s top prospect.
MLB.com, Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus all have Buxton No. 1 in their latest rankings. ESPN’s Keith Law dropped him to No. 2, behind Kris Bryant (Cubs).
From milb.com: “Buxton remains the headliner in three of the four groups, even though he missed most of the first half of the season with a left wrist injury. Despite the lack of playing time, that still comes as no big surprise given Buxton’s profile. Outfielders with five potential plus tools like the ones Buxton possesses are so rare that it’s nearly impossible to say anyone in the minors right now has a higher ceiling. That kind of thing tends to get rewarded here.”
In 29 games for the Fort Myers Miracle of the Advanced-A Florida State League, Buxton is hitting .237 (28-for-118), with 4 doubles, 2 triples, 3 HRs, 13 RBI, 10 walks, 32 strikeouts and 6-for-8 stolen bases.
EUROPE EARLY FAVORITE TO WIN RYDER CUP
All things considered – including the problems of Tiger Woods and Dustin Johnson, and assorted injuries (Matt Kuchar and Jason Dufner) – it is no surprise that the United States is the early underdog in the Ryder Cup Sept. 26-28 in Scotland.
Also, the potential European team appears loaded, featuring Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia, Martin Kaymer, Henrik Stenson, Ian Poulter, Lee Westwood, etc.
English legal bookie Paddy Power lists Europe 4-to-7 (bet $7 to win $4), USA 7-to-4 (bet $4 to win $7) and 10-to-1 odds on a tie.
The six veteran automatic qualifiers for the U.S. team have the following Ryder Cup records: Bubba Watson 3-5-0; Rickie Fowler 0-1-2; Jim Furyk 9-17-4; Phil Mickelson 14-18-6; Matt Kuchar 3-2-2; Zach Johnson 6-4-1 (combined record 35-47-15)…The other three qualifiers are rookies Jimmy Walker, Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed.
CAN’T DISMISS RHINOS PLAYOFF HOPES
The Rochester Rhinos are an interesting soccer team. Not great. But interesting – it you don’t mind watching low-scoring games.
The USL PRO league has 14 teams. The Rhinos couldn’t be more average. Their record is 8-8-7 with 5 games left in the regular season. They ‘re the second-toughest team to score against (allowed only 17 goals in 23 games). That makes them a probable playoff team (eight teams make it) that no opponent would look forward to playing. But they also have the worst offensive numbers (a league-fewest 19 goals in 23 games). They’re a frustrating team to play against if you’re an opponent and often frustrating to watch if you’re a fan.
The Rhinos have been involved in 17 shutouts – 7 shutout wins, shut out in 6 of their 8 losses, and 4 scoreless draws.
They’re a hard-working, extremely well-coached minor-league soccer team. Unfortunately, they probably don’t have enough scoring punch to survive for long in the playoffs – assuming they get there. I’d love to see them prove me wrong.
I’m wondering if Rory McIlroy (4 majors) has a better chance to pass Tiger Woods’ 14 majors than Tiger has to pass Jack Nicklaus (18).
Failing to retain second baseman Robinson Cano figures to cost the New York Yankees a playoff berth. Meanwhile, his Seattle Mariners have a better chance to make the postseason than his former team. Who could’ve thought that?
The Detroit Tigers have assembled an amazing five-man starting rotation but the team’s championship hopes will be sabotaged by a brutal bullpen. Will the Tigers be able to upgrade via waiver trades? Almost anything would be an improvement over Phil Coke, Joba Chamberlain and Joe Nathan. Al Alburquerque is OK in small doses.
The Red Wings continue to lead the 14-team International League with a 3.45 earned-run average. They also trail only Durham in striking out opposing hitters. They rank 5th in batting average (.267) and have outscored opponents 537 to 464 (+73). The return of Chris Colabello from Minnesota figures to be huge down the stretch.
UFC 178, Sept. 27, at Las Vegas: main event, UFC light heavyweight championship, Jon “Bones” Jones bet $210 to win $100…undefeated challenger Daniel Cormier bet $100 to win $160.
Melky Cabrera on Sunday became the first player to reach base safely in a MLB game since Rod Carew in 1972. Almost as amazing, Cabrera failed to score a run in Toronto’s 6-5, 19-inning victory over Detroit.