Matthews: Justify Remains Perfect

posted by Bob Matthews - 

JUSTIFY REMAINS PERFECT...BUT HE LOOKS VULNERABLE

Justify is 5-for-5 lifetime and two-thirds of the way to the Triple Crown.

Good for him, but after picking him to win the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes, I’m jumping off the bandwagon.

Justify easily won the Kentucky Derby but his follow-up victory in the Preakness last Saturday was far from a dominant performance.

He won the prolonged two-horse battle for the lead over Good Magic but long shots Bravazo and Tenfold were closing on the outside in the deep stretch and ran out of ground. They appeared to have more in their tanks at the end of the race.

One of the few knocks on Justify entering the Preakness was that it was his first career start coming off a layoff of only two weeks. He held on gamely to win the race and didn’t appear to be exhausted at the finish line -- but Bravazo and Tenfold looked fresher in the final strides.

I don’t believe Justify scared off much of the potential competition for the Belmont Stakes in three weeks. The “Test of Champions” is a 1 ½-mile marathon and I expect the connections of Bravazo and Tenfold to be leading the parade to the entry box. The other challengers could include Audible, who closed strongly to finish third in the Kentucky Derby and skipped the Preakness.

I’m not demeaning Justify. He’s a very nice colt. But he didn’t run like your typical 1-to-5 favorite in the Preakness. His Beyer speed figure of 97 was the first time in his career he was less than 101.

I’m sure Justify will be the favorite to complete his Triple Crown – it would be only the 13th in history -- but I thought he looked vulnerable for the first time in his career in the Preakness. I believe he’ll be facing a relatively large and contentious field and my early hunch is that he’ll be beaten.

THE YANKEES ARE FLEXING THEIR MUSCLES

The New York Yankees combined for nine home runs in victories Saturday and Sunday at the Kansas City Royals. The Yankees have 63 HRs in 43 games and are on pace for 237 HRs this season. The team record is 245 HRs in 2012. The current big boppers figure to get hotter rather than colder. The Yankees are 21-4 since they were 9-9 on April 20.

First baseman Greg Byrd is almost ready to play – who knows for how long? A healthy Byrd batting left-handed between right-handed sluggers Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton would make the lineup even more intimidating. But might the Yankees send Byrd to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre? Tyler Austin is doing a good job -- .261 (24-for-92), with 6 doubles, 8 HRs, 23 RBI and a .910 OPS in 26 games -- but he’s another right-handed bat in a New York lineup needing more punch from the left side.

The Yankees likely will pad their HR count Monday night when they face Bartolo Colon in Texas.  The amazing Colon, who turns 45 on Thursday, has an impressive pitching line this season: 2-1 record; 2.82 earned-run average; 0.84 WHIP; .212 batting average against; 51 innings; 39 hits; only 4 walks; 32 strikeouts. His only negative number is 9 HRs allowed.

The Yankees trail AL East rival Boston in runs (248 to 244) and HRs (65 to 63) but the Red Sox have played 3 more games (46 to 43).

COULD VLAD GUERRERO JR. AND NICK GORDON PLAY HERE THIS WEEK?

If Rochester fans are fortunate, two of baseball’s top prospects will be playing in the five-game series between the Buffalo Bisons and the Red Wings Friday through Memorial Day at Frontier Field.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who turned 19 in March, is tearing up the Double-A Southern League with the New Hampshire Fisher Cats. In 39 games, he’s hitting .421 (64-for-152), with 35 runs, 16 doubles, 1 triple, 8 HRs, 45 RBI, 16 walks, only 15 strikeouts, .472 on-base percentage, .697 slugging percentage and 1.069 OPS (on-base percentage + slugging percentage). He’s a third baseman.

Toronto fans and media are wondering when he’ll be promoted to the Blue Jays. A stop in Buffalo seems more likely. The Blue Jays don’t want to rush him but what more does he have to prove in New Hampshire?

The Minnesota Twins surprisingly assigned 22-year-old middle infielder Nick Gordon back to Double-A Chattanooga – where he had a solid 2017 season -- instead of to Rochester to start this season. He supposedly is closer to the majors as a hitter than as a fielder, but is playing shortstop at Triple-A that much different than playing at Double-A?

Gordon, the fifth overall pick in the 2014 June amateur draft, is hitting .333 (51-for-172) in 40 games at Chattanooga, with 21 runs, 10 doubles, 3 triples, 4 HRs, 19 RBI, 6-for-8 stolen bases, 14 walks, 25 Ks and a .900 OPS (on-base percentage + Slugging percentage).

Needless to say, the Bisons and Red Wings could use the booming bats of Guerrero and Gordon – the sooner the better. Buffalo (135 runs) and Rochester (138 runs) rank 14th and 13th in runs scored in the 14-team International League.

VIEWING TIP FOR EVEN NON-SOCCER FANS

The UEFA Champions League Final Saturday between Real Madrid and Liverpool FC will be a great watch for all soccer fans – and fans of sports in general – heading into the World Cup.

Real Madrid, featuring Cristiano Ronaldo, will be seeking a third straight European crown and its 13th overall. Liverpool, featuring Egyptian star Mohamed Salah, has won five titles, most recently in 2005.

The site is Olimpiyskiy Stadium in Kiev, Ukraine, with a foootball capacity of 63,000.

Real Madrid (bet $11 to win $8) is the favorite. Liverpool is 11-to-10 (bet $10 to win $11).

Game time is 2:45 p.m., on FOX Sports. Tune it. You’ll probably be glad you did.

SPRAYING HITS TO ALL FIELDS

Surprisingly, the National League leads the American League 39-21 in interleague play so far in 2018. The AL has won the interleague series the past 14 years in a row and has a 2,911 to 2,613 advantage since interleague play began in 1997.

The Houston Astros so-far amazing starting rotation has an amazing 2.25 ERA, is holding opponents to a .186 batting average and is averaging 10.55 strikeouts per nine innings.

Los Angeles Angels pitcher-hitter Shohei Ohtani says he is honored to be mentioned as a candidate for the Home Run Derby July 16 in Washington. He’s batting .321 (27-for-84) with 6 HRs and 17 RBI. As a pitcher, he’s 4-1 with a 3.35 ERA. In 40 1/3 innings, he has allowed only 29 hits and struck out 52.

According to ESPN, the Yankees on Sunday had their first starting lineup with every player under 29 years old since September 26, 1970.

J.D. Martinez and Mookie Betts are the first Red Sox teammates to have 15 or more HRs in the first 50 games of a season.

Baltimore outfielder Adam Jones last week won the bidding to purchase the property and mansion built outside Baltimore by former Orioles star Cal Ripken Jr. It includes 6 bedrooms, 10 full bathrooms, a swimming pool, an in-home theater, a batting cage and a full-sized baseball diamond and locker room designed by Cal. Jones outdid seven others. The price was not disclosed.

Here’s an oddity: The AL West is a combined 56-63 (-7) at home and 70-47 (+23) on the road.

Best run differentials: Houston +98...Yankees +76...Boston +75...Cubs +72...Atlanta +65.

Worst run differentials: Miami -88...Kansas City -84...Baltimore -68.

Fun holiday weekend homestand coming up for the Yankees: Los Angeles Angels Friday through Sunday, and Houston Astros Memorial Day through Wednesday, May 30.

SHORT SHOTS

The WNBA expansion Las Vegas Aces probably won’t be as successful right away as the Stanley Cup Finals-bound NHL Vegas Golden Knights. The Aces lost 101-65 Sunday to the host Connecticut Sun in the season-opener for both teams. It was the widest gap – 36 points – in a season-opening game for any WNBA team ever.

My dream NCAA Division III championship matchup – RIT versus my alma mater Gettysburg College – turned into a nightmare Sunday in the semifinals. Top seed in the North (RIT) and top seed in the South (Gettysburg) both lost at home: RIT 19-18 to Wesleyan University and Gettysburg 8-7 to defending champion Salisbury. The Tigers finished 21-1 and the Bullets were 19-3.

The Boston Celtics lead the Cleveland Cavaliers 2-1 in their best-of-seven NBA Eastern Conference semifinal series but the host Cavs are 6 ½ favorites for Monday night’s Game 4. Here’s why: the Celtics in these playoffs are 9-0 at home (+77 in points) but only 1-6 (-75 in points) on the road.

Entering Monday night, playoff home teams in the NBA are 49-22 and playoff road teams in the NHL are 41-36 (including 34-20 in the last 54 games).

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO...

Monday, May 21Matt Wieters (32)...Eddie Royal (32)...Andrew Miller (33)...Josh Hamilton (37)...Craig Anderson (38)...Ricky Williams (41)...Dorsey Levens (48)...Kent Hrbek (58)...Jim Ritcher (60)...Bobby Cox (77). Mr. T (66) and Al Franken (67) are invited to the birthday party.

Tuesday, May 22

Lauri Markkanen (21)...Novak Djokovic (31)...Julian Edelman (32)...Apolo Anton Ohno (36)...Daniel Bryan (37)...Dre’ Bly (41)...Jose Mesa (52)...Jim Playfair (54)...Jeff Bryant (58)...Tommy John (75).

ON THIS DATE IN SPORTS...

May 21

127 years ago (1891), boxers Jim Corbett and Peter Jackson fought to a 61-round draw...114 years ago (1904), FIFA was formed in Paris...88 years ago (1930), Babe Ruth hit three consecutive home runs...75 years ago (1943), the White Sox beat the Washington Senators in 89 minutes, the record-fastest nine-inning game in MLB history...66 years ago (1952), the Brooklyn Dodgers scored 15 runs in the first inning of a 19-1 win over the Cincinnati Reds...52 years ago (1966), Muhammad Ali TKOd Henry Cooper in 6 for the heavyweight boxing title...41 years ago (1977), Jean Cruguet rode Seattle Slew to victory in the 102nd Preakness Stakes...40 years ago (1978), Nancy Lopez won the LPGA Coca-Cola Classic...22 years ago (1996), Boston’s Roger Clemens beat the Yankees for his 200th MLB victory.

May 22

107 years ago (1911), Boston Braves pitcher Cliff Curtis lost his 23rd straight game...55 years ago (1963), Mickey Mantle hit a home run off the façade at Yankee Stadium...24 years ago (1994), Toronto’s new NBA franchise unveiled the logo and name Raptors...15 years ago (2003), Annika Sorenstam became the first woman in 58 years to play in a PGA Tour event; she received a sponsor’s exemption for the Colonial in Fort Worth, Tex.; she shot 71-74 and missed the cut; she tied for 96th and beat 11 men)...14 years ago (2004), the Tampa Bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup 4-3 over the Philadelphia Flyers.

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