PRAGUE (AP) — Czech Republic striker Patrik Schick has recovered from an ankle injury in time to face England in their 2020 European Championship qualifier.
Schick was included in the squad announced Tuesday. He has yet to play a game for Bundesliga team Leipzig, where the 23-year-old moved recently on loan from Roma.
Schick has scored four goals in five qualifying games and will be a welcome presence for the hosts at the Group A game in Prague on Oct. 11. England routed the Czech Republic 5-0 at Wembley Stadium in March in their group opener.
The Czechs are second in the table with nine points and three games to play. England, which has a game in hand, tops the group with 12 points.
Bulgaria, Kosovo and Montenegro are also in the group.
Goalkeepers: Ondrej Kolar (Slavia Prague), Jiri Pavlenka (Werder Bremen), Tomas Vaclik (Sevilla).
Defenders: Jan Boril (Slavia Prague), Jakub Brabec (Viktoria Plzen), Vladimir Coufal (Slavia Prague), Ondrej Celustka (Antalyaspor), David Hovorka (Slavia Prague), Pavel Kaderabek (Hoffenheim), Ondrej Kudela (Slavia Prague), Filip Novak (Trabzonspor).
Midfielders: Vladimir Darida (Hertha Berlin), Josef Husbauer (Slavia Prague), Jakub Jankto (Sampdoria), Jan Kopic (Viktoria Plzen), Alex Kral (Spartak Moscow), Ladislav Krejci (Bologna), Lukas Masopust (Slavia Prague), David Pavelka (Kasimpasa), Tomas Soucek (Slavia Prague).
Forwards: Michal Krmencik (Viktoria Plzen), Patrik Schick (Roma).
More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
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Like any good television pilot, the first month of college football featured enough twists and turns to leave viewers anticipating what shocking revelations await as the season winds toward its inevitably chaotic conclusion.
Will Clemson rebound from last week’s scrape with North Carolina to defend its national championship? Can Alabama maintain its torrid offensive pace? Is there an underdog lurking in the wings, waiting to pounce upon the established powers atop the Amway Coaches Poll? Tune in next Saturday, as this season of the Bowl Subdivision continues!
Next comes October, and with it the true start of conference play. This weekend brings us No. 14 Iowa at No. 19 Michigan, in a game that will decide whether the Wolverines remain in the College Football Playoff hunt, and a matchup of unbeaten rivals from the SEC in No. 7 Auburn and No. 8 Florida. November brings the release of the Playoff rankings, along with a series of games with seismic postseason implications.
Ohio State running back J.K. Dobbins breaks away from Nebraska Cornhuskers Lamar Jackson during the first half at Memorial Stadium. (Photo: Bruce Thorson, USA TODAY Sports)
August and September can held provide a road map for how the season may unfold. Here are the lessons from college football’s first month: what we learned, what we know and what to expect.
The top six has played to form
No surprises here: In some order or another, the projected top six teams from the preseason have held serve through one month. No. 2 Clemson has four wins against Power Five opponents, the most of any team in the FBS. No. 1 Alabama’s offense, led by an outstanding start from quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, has been as potent as any in program history. No. 3 Georgia has a resume-building win against No. 10 Notre Dame.
No. 4 Oklahoma has been driven by the play of former Alabama transfer Jalen Hurts, who has put up video game-like numbers through his four starts; Hurts’ performance stands out even when compared to his two Heisman Trophy-winning predecessors, Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray. No. 5 Ohio State — see below for more on the impressive Buckeyes — has hit the ground sprinting under coach Ryan Day. And No. 6 LSU has found something unexpected: an offense capable of utilizing the Tigers’ wealth of skill talent.
POWER RANKINGS: ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC
RE-RANK: Alabama and Ohio State at No. 1 and No. 2 ahead of Clemson
WINNERS AND LOSERS: Highs and lows from Week 5 in college football
Chaos may ensue; this is college football, after all. But after one month, it’s a safe bet to assume teams from this group constitute at least half of the four teams in this year’s national semifinals. Half may be selling it short.
It’s the year of the quarterback … again
Tagovailoa. Hurts. Ohio State sophomore Justin Fields. Georgia junior Jake Fromm. LSU senior Joe Burrow. Texas junior Sam Ehlinger. Alone, these six quarterbacks have combined to throw for 7,650 yards with 86 touchdowns against four touchdowns while completing 75.4 percent of their attempts. Across the FBS, teams are averaging 243.4 passing yards per game and 7.6 yards per attempt while completing 62.4 percent of attempts. Each would represent a new FBS season record. Yeah, quarterbacks are better than ever in college football, and more central to offensive success than ever before. And the best of the best are putting together seasons for the record books.
Everyone is chasing the SEC … again
Others are giving chase. The Big Ten is solid. The Big 12 is deep. The ACC has Clemson. (OK, so the ACC as a whole isn’t in the conversation.) The Pac-12 is balanced. But everyone is still chasing the SEC, which has five teams in the top eight of the current Amway Coaches Poll and six teams in the Top 25. While the league will soon cannibalize itself — beginning with one of Auburn and Florida losing this weekend — the SEC has been the best conference in the country, and seems destined to have at least three teams head into November at the forefront of the playoff conversation. Prepare for this question to swamp your television and your Twitter feed: Can the SEC get two teams into the playoff?
Auburn running back JaTarvious Whitlow against the Mississippi State defense during their game in 2018. (Photo: Matt Bush, USA TODAY Sports)
The Heisman race has taken shape
Quarterbacks have taken the early lead, to no surprise. Tagovailoa, Hurts and Burrow have been the top three in the USA TODAY Sports Heisman survey, with Tagovailoa and Hurts alternating turns in the top spot. Fields has been knocking on the door. At this point, look for these passers to drive the Heisman chatter in October. Two underdog candidates to consider: Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor continues his assault on school, conference and national records, while Oklahoma State running back Chuba Hubbard leads the country in carries, rushing yards, touchdowns and yards per game.
There’s a heated Group of Five race
No. 19 Central Florida’s loss to Pittsburgh shook up the race for an access-bowl bid to the New Year’s Six. For now, the road goes through No. 15 Boise State. But there are others to monitor in a crowded field. The American has a second ranked team in No. 23 Memphis and a third knocking on the door in 5-0 SMU. Cincinnati sits at 3-1 with its lone defeat coming to Ohio State. Appalachian State is unbeaten under new coach Eli Drinkwitz. And the Mountain West touts another trio of impressive contenders in Hawaii, Utah State and San Diego State.
The Pac-12 is better than you think
It hasn’t been that bad, even if no Pac-12 team leaves September unbeaten. The conference is 7-4 against the rest of the Power Five, including Notre Dame and Brigham Young. No. 16 Washington suffered a potential catastrophic misstep in a loss to California but seems capable of playing with any team in the country. No. 13 Oregon and No. 17 Utah have time to overcome early-season setbacks. In all, seven Pac-12 teams have just one loss, including pleasant surprises in Arizona, Colorado and Arizona State.
There’s nothing wrong with Clemson
To repeat: There’s nothing wrong with Clemson. In the past, in fact, the Tigers have lost in the sort of games seen Saturday against North Carolina — think about recent one-possession contests against Pittsburgh and Syracuse. While there has been some national hand-wringing over Trevor Lawrence, already anointed the next great quarterback, much of that stems from the supersize expectations heaped on his plate entering his sophomore season. Besides, consider this: If the Tigers’ biggest perceived worry is Lawrence, doesn’t that say something about this team’s current production and future potential?
Ohio State has been ridiculously good
Fields has been a revelation since transferring from Georgia. Running back J.K. Dobbins has regained his freshman form after a sluggish sophomore season. The offense has identified five reliable targets in the passing game. But what has refashioned the Buckeyes into a Big Ten-devouring juggernaut under coach Ryan Day is the significant improvement play on defense: Ohio State’s defense, a disaster a year ago, has played as well as any unit in the country.
While the list of opponents is overly daunting — though it does include two conference opponents, the latest Nebraska — Ohio State is allowing just 3.5 yards per play, good for second in the country. The run defense is giving up 2.4 yards per carry and has allowed just 121 rushing yards in the first half through five games, including minus-17 yards in the second quarter. The Buckeyes have allowed two touchdown passes against seven interceptions. It’s this improvement on defense that makes facing Ohio State such an intimidating proposition for the rest of the Big Ten.
Taking stock of first-year coaches
There are 25 first-year head coaches in the FBS, not counting the two coaches — Ryan Day and Coastal Carolina’s Jamey Chadwell — who previously held the same position in a temporary role. (Day coached the first three games of last season and Chadwell was the Chanticleers’ interim coach in 2017.) Of those 25, eight have a winning record through September, with Drinkwitz the only new coach with an undefeated record; six are sitting at 2-2, including Maryland’s Mike Locksley and Miami (Fla.) coach Manny Diaz; and 11 have a losing record, with Akron’s Tom Arth the only first-year coach still in search of his first win. (It may be a little while for the Zips.)
In all, the 25 first-year coach are 53-57. Mack Brown is a highly competitive 2-3 in his first year back at North Carolina. Kansas State coach Chris Klieman, formerly of powerhouse North Dakota State, is 3-1 with a nice road win against Mississippi State. Mel Tucker is 3-1 at Colorado, giving early reason to be optimistic about the Buffaloes’ strong offseason hire. Former LSU coach Les Miles is 2-3 at Kansas, which is impressive given the Jayhawks’ decade-long trudge through the wilderness. Miles led KU to a 48-24 win at Boston College for its first road win against a Power Five opponent since 2008.
LeBron James had a front-row seat as California governor Gavin Newsom signed CA-SB206 into state law on HBO’s “The Shop.” The law, which will go into effect in 2023, gives college athletes the right to profit off their name and likeness.
The bill’s signing into law set up a long battle with the NCAA, but in the meantime, it was a major step against the NCAA’s philosophy of profiting off unpaid college athletes in the name of “amateurism.”
Speaking to reporters on Monday, LeBron explained what it would have been like had he attended Ohio State instead of going to the NBA out of high school. The structure that is currently taking advantage of thousands of college athletes would have reaped the benefits of LeBron James’ time in college.
“That ’23’ jersey would’ve been sold all over the place without my name on the back …”
LeBron explains what it would’ve been like if he went to college, and why the Fair Pay to Play Act is personal to him. (via @mcten) pic.twitter.com/Mmqp8N5EmH
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) September 30, 2019
“For sure I would have been one of those kids if I would have went off to Ohio State or if I went off to any one of these big-time colleges where pretty much that 23 jersey would have got sold all over the place without my name on the back. But everybody would’ve known the likeness. My body would have been on the NCAA basketball game, 2004. The Schottenstein Center would have been sold out every single night if I was there. Coming from just me and my mom, we didn’t have anything. We wouldn’t have been able to benefit at all from it. And the university would’ve been able to capitalize on everything that I would’ve been there for that year or two or whatever.
“I understand what those kids are going through. I feel for those kids who’ve been going through it for so long. So, that’s why it was personal to me.”
And there’s no denying what LeBron said there.
If you just look at Zion Williamson’s experience at Duke, it was a heavily commercialized year that generated millions for Duke, Nike and the NCAA. When Williamson’s sneaker exploded during the North Carolina game, Nike’s stock even took a hit the following day. Yet, Williamson couldn’t profit until he left Duke.
It’s a landscape that has always been unfair for college athletes. LeBron knows that — as does California.
Follow For The Win’s Andrew Joseph on Twitter @AndyJ0seph.
Track coach Alberto Salazar, who trained four-time Olympic champion Mo Farah and a number of other top runners, has been given a four-year ban in a case pursued by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.
USADA said in a news release Monday that an arbitration panel decided on a four-year ban for Salazar and endocrinologist Jeffrey Brown for, among other violations, possessing and trafficking testosterone while working at the Nike Oregon Project (NOP), where they trained top runners.
Brown did consulting work for the NOP and was a personal physician for some of the runners.
A four-year USADA investigation began after a BBC report that detailed some of Salazar’s practices, which included infusions of a legal supplement called L-carnitine that is supposed to enhance athletic performance.
Oregon project coach Alberto Salazar (right) and Galen Rupp during training session ahead of the 2015 IAAF World Championships in Athletics. (Photo: Kirby Lee, USA TODAY Sports)
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The BBC said marathoner Kara Goucher and a former NOP coach, Steve Magness, were among the witnesses who provided evidence for the case. USADA said it received information from 30 witnesses.
UK Athletics had done its own investigation into Salazar and given Farah, who runs for Britain, the OK to continue working with him. Farah parted ways with Salazar in 2017, saying he wanted to move back home.
Salazar also coached 2012 Olympic silver medalist Galen Rupp. Salazar, Rupp and Farah have, in the past, strongly denied any wrongdoing.
USADA said it relied on more than 2,000 exhibits between the two cases and that proceedings included nearly 5,800 pages of transcripts.
“The athletes in these cases found the courage to speak out and ultimately exposed the truth,” USADA CEO Travis Tygart said. “While acting in connection with the Nike Oregon Project, Mr. Salazar and Dr. Brown demonstrated that winning was more important than the health and well-being of the athletes they were sworn to protect.”
In response to the four-year ban, Salazar released a statement Monday night:
“I am shocked by the outcome today. Throughout this six-year investigation my athletes and I have endured unjust, unethical and highly damaging treatment from USADA. This is demonstrated by the misleading statement released by Travis Tygart stating that we put winning ahead of athlete safety. This is completely false and contrary to the findings of the arbitrators, who even wrote about the care I took in complying with the World Anti-Doping code:
“The Panel notes that the Respondent does not appear to have been motivated by any bad intention to commit the violations the Panel found. In fact, the Panel was struck by the amount of care generally taken by Respondent to ensure that whatever new technique or method or substance he was going to try was lawful under the World Anti-Doping Code, with USADA’s witness characterizing him as the coach they heard from the most with respect to trying to ensure that he was complying with his obligations.
“I have always ensured the WADA code is strictly followed. The Oregon Project has never and will never permit doping. I will appeal and look forward to this unfair and protracted process reaching the conclusion I know to be true. I will not be commenting further at this time.”
SAN FRANCISCO — Their arena looks completely different. So does the Golden State Warriors’ entire roster. And in some way, the Warriors’ cosmetic and identity shift could capture their 2019-20 season.
“The new building is almost a metaphor for how we can approach the season,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “We’ve got a chance to reset some things. Anything we feel like could improve our team, it’s a great opportunity to start fresh on some things.”
Oh, the irony. The Warriors open their first season at Chase Center, hoping the revamped and modern $1.5 billion privately-financed arena will finally match the swagger of a star-laden roster that produced three NBA championships in five seasons. Instead, the Warriors lost so many pieces of that championship foundation, including their top scorer via free agency (Kevin Durant), their top reserve for cost-cutting reasons (Andre Iguodala) and a dependable locker room leader to retirement (Shaun Livingston). The Warriors instead field a roster riddled with potential and question marks that captures the underdog mentality that defined Oracle Arena before the Warriors’ recent dynastic run.
“I’ve just been thinking about how this building is going to create an opportunity for us to kind of walk into a new era,” Warriors guard Stephen Curry said. “For all the new guys, we are going to be a different team and to embrace that. This building gives us an opportunity to create something new and create something special.”
The Warriors believe they constructed something special at Chase Center with luxury suites, modern seating and a sleek scoreboard in downtown San Francisco. Even if traffic and costs might keep the fans that made Oracle Arena one of the loudest NBA venues out, the Warriors believe their new building will have enough bells and whistles to have an inviting atmosphere.
That mostly depends on how the Warriors play. Unlike the past five years, the Warriors are no longer considered the inevitable favorites to win an NBA championship.
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Without Durant, the Warriors will have a handful of role players in Alfonzo McKinnie, Glenn Robinson III and Alec Burks competing for minutes at the wing spot. With Klay Thompson sidelined for at least 55 games through the NBA All-Star break because of a surgically repaired left knee, the Warriors will lack one of their most dependable shooters and perimeter defenders for over half of the season. With center Willie Cauley-Stein ruled out of training camp because of a strained left foot, the Warriors only have Kevon Looney, Omari Spellman and Alen Smailagic as available centers.
Still, the Warriors scoff at any conclusion that this means they will suddenly compete for ping-pong balls in May instead of NBA trophies in June.
“I don’t really pay as much attention as I used to because I realize how many people don’t know what the hell they’re talking about when you start talking about basketball,” Warriors forward Draymond Green said. “Basketball is kind of a sport that everybody thinks they know. You hardly ever just see people like randomly thinking they know football because there’s too much going on. You don’t know what the hell is going on out there for real. Everybody thinks they know basketball. Most of the time you listen to somebody who doesn’t have a clue, how in the hell am I going to let that motivate me at this point? I really don’t. I’ve got my own motivation and things that’s going to push me.”
So what will motivate the Warriors? At times, they seem either confident, empowered, curious or worried how they will handle all the change.
They seem confident that, if nothing else, they still have some continuity. They have Curry’s efficient shooting and playmaking. They have Green’s playmaking and defensive versatility. They have the team-oriented culture that could give the Warriors extra currency against other NBA contenders that could initially struggle with blending their star talent together.
Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry shoots during Media Day at Chase Center. (Photo: Kyle Terada, USA TODAY Sports)
“We want to be a team that’s feared across the league,” Curry said. “When you see us on the schedule, regular season and when we get to the playoffs, they know what they’re in for. It doesn’t mean that people are going to say we’re the greatest or pick us as favorites or whatnot, but you know who those teams are, and we’re going to be one of them.”
They seem empowered that the underdog mentality will spark them to compete harder. The setting reminded Kerr of when he joined the Warriors for the 2014-15 season, and few had the clairvoyance to project them as NBA champions. That marked the year the Warriors truly believed in “Strength in Numbers.” And this year, the Warriors will have endless lineup combinations to account for injuries, departures and unproven players.
“There should be plenty of intensity and plenty of motivation,” Kerr said. “We’ve got jobs on the line. We’ve got playing time at stake. We’ve got so much up in the air, and there’s great opportunity for a lot of players to grab it, and you can only do that by competing.”
The Warriors seemed curious about how well All-Star point guard D’Angelo Russell will play with Curry, compensate for Thompson’s absence and play on and off the ball. That explains why Kerr considers it a priority to get to know Russell, why Curry and Russell worked out this summer and why Kerr will tweak his offense to feature more pick-and-roll sets.
“I consider myself a basketball player,” Russell said. “So whatever position coaches put me in or whatever position that I have to be in to help the team thrive or whatever it may be, I’m more than eligible to do it.”
And, yes, the Warriors do feel worried about a number of things. Even if Green can defend at all five positions, that might be asking too much for him to make up for the team’s defensive shortcomings without Durant and Iguodala. Even if the Warriors like Looney’s steady progress as a role player and defender, that might be asking too much for him to definitively assume the starting spot. Even if the Warriors seem intrigued with their rookies (Jordan Poole, Eric Paschall, Smailagic) and second-year forward Jacob Evans, they might not be ready for too much playing time. Even if they feel confident about Thompson’s recovery, he might return without much time to help the Warriors make up ground.
“I don’t know how long it’ll take. It’ll take as long as it takes,” Warriors general manager Bob Myers said. “As how does the dust settle or when does it settle? I think that’s a question that we have, too, internally. I don’t know the answer to that. I do know this: We believe that things take time to evolve, and we’re prepared especially with a younger roster to allow that to happen, and that’s the mindset that we have from a coaching staff, from a front office staff, is let’s see how things are going before we make any blanket decisions or judgment on any of it. But we’re excited.”
So just like they have experienced with a new arena, the Warriors insist they will embrace their new reality even if they do not feel entirely comfortable at home just yet.
Follow Mark Medina on Twitter: @MarkG_Medina
A look at the American League wild-card game between the Tampa Bay Rays and Oakland Athletics:
Schedule: Wednesday, at Oakland, California, 8:09 p.m. EDT (ESPN).
Season Series: Athletics won 4-3.
Rays: 2B Joey Wendle (.231, 3 HRs, 19 RBIs in 75 games), LF Tommy Pham (.273, 21, 68, 33 2Bs), RF Austin Meadows (.291, 33, 89 in 138 games), C Travis d’Arnaud (.263, 16, 67 in 92 games with Rays; .087, 0, 2 in 10 games with Mets, and 1 at-bat in only game with Dodgers), 1B Ji-Man Choi (.261, 19, 63), DH Brandon Lowe (.270, 17, 51 in 82 games) or Avisail Garcia (.282, 20, 72, 25 2Bs in 125 games), 3B Matt Duffy (.252, 1, 12 in 46 games), CF Kevin Kiermaier (.228, 14, 55, 19 SBs in 129 games), SS Willy Adames (.254, 20, 52).
Athletics: SS Marcus Semien (.285, 33, 92, 123 runs, 43 2Bs), RF Ramon Laureano (.288, 24, 67, 10 assists), 3B Matt Chapman (.249, 36, 91, 102 runs, 36 2Bs), 1B Matt Olson (.267, 36, 91), CF Mark Canha (.273, 26, 58), DH Khris Davis (.220, 23, 73), LF Chad Pinder (.240, 13, 47), C Sean Murphy (.245, 4, 8 in 20 games) or Josh Phegley (.239, 12, 62), 2B Jurickson Profar (.218, 20, 67).
Rays: RH Charlie Morton (16-6, 3.05 ERA, 240 Ks, 194 2/3 innings, 33 starts).
Athletics: LH Sean Manaea (4-0, 1.21 in 5 starts) or RH Mike Fiers (15-4, 3.90).
Rays: RH Emilio Pagan (4-2, 2.31 ERA, 20/28 saves), RH Yonny Chirinos (9-5, 3.85 in 26 games, 18 starts), LH Ryan Yarbrough (11-6, 4.13 in 28 games, 14 starts), RH Nick Anderson (3-0, 2.11 in 23 appearances with Rays; 2-4, 3.92, 1 save in 45 appearances with Marlins), RH Chaz Roe (1-3, 4.06 in 71 appearances), RH Oliver Drake (5-2, 3.21), RH Diego Castillo (5-8, 3.41), LH Colin Poche (5-5, 4.70), LH Brendan McKay (2-4, 5.14 in 13 games, 11 starts), RH Andrew Kittredge (1-0, 4.17 in 37 appearances, 7 as opener), RH Tyler Glasnow (6-1, 1.78, 70 Ks, 60 2/3 IP in 12 starts), LH Blake Snell (6-8, 4.29, 147 Ks, 107 IP in 23 starts).
Athletics: RH Liam Hendriks (4-4, 1.80, 25/32 saves, 124 Ks in 85 IP), RH Yusmeiro Petit (5-3, 2.71), LH Jake Diekman (1-7, 4.65 for Oakland and Kansas City), RH Joakim Soria (2-4, 4.30, 1 save), LH Jesus Luzardo (0-0, 1.50, 2 saves in 6 games), LH A.J. Puk (2-0, 3.18 in 10 games), RH Chris Bassitt (10-5, 3.81), RH Homer Bailey (13-9, 4.57 in 31 starts for Oakland and Kansas City).
First postseason meeting between two small-budget franchises that have thrived in recent years despite limited resources. … Teams haven’t seen each other since June, with the A’s taking two of three at Tampa Bay before they split a four-game series in Oakland later that month. … Clubs played a wild game in Oakland on June 20, with the Rays scoring three runs in the top of the ninth inning to take a 4-1 lead before A’s answered with four in bottom half to win on Chapman’s three-run homer off Castillo. … Olson hit 3 HRs in seven games vs. Rays this season. Chapman and Laureano each went deep twice. … A’s managed just one run in 13 1/3 innings against Morton. He pitched seven scoreless at home June 10 and went 6 1/3 innings June 20 in Oakland. … Fiers went 1-0 with 2.25 ERA in two starts vs. Tampa Bay. He was 9-0 with 2.90 ERA at home. … Manaea missed most of season recovering from shoulder surgery but has been outstanding since returning in September. … Oakland was one of three teams Rays had losing record against during season. The other two — Yankees (7-12) and Twins (2-5) — also made playoffs. … Tampa Bay’s 32-60 record at Oakland Coliseum is second-worst at any road venue where Rays have played minimum of 10 games.
Rays: A year after finishing with more wins (90) than any other team that didn’t make postseason, Rays (96-66) are in playoffs for fifth time in franchise history — first since 2013, when they won Game 163 tiebreaker to claim second AL wild card. … Fifth-year skipper Kevin Cash will be managing his first postseason game. … Rays made playoffs four times in six-season span from 2008-13 under Joe Maddon, including run to 2008 World Series. … Since start of 2008, when the Devil Rays changed team colors and rebranded themselves as the Rays, Tampa Bay has won 90 or more games seven times. The Dodgers (8), Yankees (7) and Red Sox (7) are the only other teams to do it that often. … Won only previous wild-card game 4-0 at Cleveland in 2013. Kiermaier is only player still on team from that game. Bullpen coach Stan Boroski is lone coach remaining. … Club with baseball’s lowest payroll ($66.4 million) believes it has good shot to make noise in October because pitching staff has been bolstered lately by return of Snell, the 2018 AL Cy Young Award winner, along with Glasnow and Chirinos. … Meadows was one of hottest hitters in the majors during September. … Lowe is back from stint on 60-day injured list, and Choi seems to have knack for producing in key situations. … Rays have 10 players on active roster with previous postseason experience. … Tampa Bay put 24 players on injured list this year. Morton, Adames and Pham are only ones who spent entire season on active roster. … Rays won franchise-record 48 road games this year, including two in Oakland.
Athletics: Oakland (97-65) made playoffs as a wild card for second straight season and tied last year’s team for club’s most wins since 2002. … A’s were 37-36 on June 16 but have gone 60-29 since for best record in majors. … Oakland is making 10th postseason appearance this century but has advanced past Division Series just once, in 2006. Team is 1-14 during that span with a chance to move on, including losses in wild-card game to Kansas City in 2014 and Yankees last season. … A’s set franchise record with 257 homers and are one of 11 teams all-time to have at least seven players with 20 or more HRs. … Oakland went 35-14 in games started by lefties compared to 62-51 vs. right-handers. … A’s finished 52-29 at home for seventh-best record at Coliseum since moving to Oakland. … A’s starters are 17-4 with 3.89 ERA in past 37 games and have 68 wins on the season, second-most in majors behind Houston. … Davis finished on high note after struggling much of the season. He had 4 homers and 13 RBIs in his last 18 games after posting just 3 HRs and 22 RBIs over previous 57. Davis is third in majors with 156 HRs the past four years. … Semien matched Oakland record for runs (123), tied for third-most total bases (343) and broke Rickey Henderson’s franchise record with 31 homers from leadoff spot. He also is one of the top defensive shortstops in majors.
— Fresh Faces. Tampa Bay’s opening day roster included 17 players with two or fewer years of major league experience, including eight of nine relievers. Meadows and Lowe became first-time All-Stars. Others such as Glasnow, Chirinos, Adames, Yarbrough and Poche are eager to make names for themselves, too, on the postseason stage.
— Shaky Bullpen. The A’s rode their relievers to the playoffs last year but haven’t had nearly as much success out of the ‘pen in 2019. Oakland had a major league-worst 30 blown saves, setting a record for the most by a 90-win team. Hendriks enjoyed a strong season after taking over as closer, with his 122 Ks as a reliever setting an A’s record, but the setup situation was spotty. Oakland is hoping Puk and Luzardo, the organization’s top prospects as starters, can provide a boost as late-season call-ups in the bullpen.
— Bargain Catch. One of the best moves the cost-conscious Rays made all season was purchasing d’Arnaud from the Dodgers for $100,000 on May 10. After beginning the season in a 2-for-24 slump with the Mets and Dodgers, he’s been one of Tampa Bay’s most consistent players. In addition to having the second-most RBIs on the team since late May, he’s been solid defensively at catcher and also done a nice job at first base.
— Home Heartache. The A’s are playing their first home playoff game since 2013, when they were shut out by Justin Verlander and the Tigers in a decisive ALDS Game 5. Verlander also blanked the Athletics in Game 5 of a Division Series the previous year. Oakland is 0-5 in winner-take-all playoff games at home since 2000.
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PITTSBURGH (AP) — The Cincinnati Bengals couldn’t dig out of a winless hole despite a prime-time road matchup against their biggest rival.
The Bengals were unable to avoid their first 0-4 start in more than a decade Monday night, as Pittsburgh capitalized and won its first game of the season 27-3 at home.
Cincinnati opened a season with four straight losses for the first time since 2008, when the Bengals dropped their first eight and finished 4-11-1.
“We didn’t expect to be an 0-4 team, but that’s where we’re at right now,” first-year coach Zac Taylor said. “There’s no excuses we can make.”
Taylor is the second coach in team history to start 0-4, joining Sam Wyche, who did the same in 1984. The Bengals have never reached the playoffs after opening the season 0-3, let alone four straight losses. Dating back to last season, Cincinnati has lost six straight and 13 of its last 15 games.
“In football, there’s going to be ups and downs, there’s going to be good plays and bad plays,” cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick said. “But the most frustrating thing to me is losing.”
Pittsburgh has won nine straight against the Bengals and 12 of 13 overall, with Cincinnati’s only victory at Heinz Field in 2015 during that time. The Bengals are 6-16 in primetime games — including 2-6 on Monday night — since 2011, when quarterback Andy Dalton was a rookie.
“At the end of the day, I can take the losing, but when you go out there and get embarrassed, Monday night, prime time . I have too much pride to go out there and showcase what we showcased,” receive Tyler Boyd said.
Dalton entered the game second in the league in passing, but he was held to just 171 yards. Joe Mixon had 62 yards for a Bengals’ offense that ranks last in the league in rushing. Receiver A.J. Green worked out before pregame warmups, but he missed his fourth game with an ankle injury suffered in training camp.
“We have to make plays, we have to execute better,” Dalton said. “It’s everywhere and it starts with me. We have to improve what we’ve done to this point because it’s nowhere near the level that we want to play.”
Pittsburgh fumbled on its second offensive play and Cincinnati turned it into an early 3-0 lead following a 28-yard Randy Bullock field goal. The Bengals begin the series on the Pittsburgh 15, but only managed five yards before Bullock’s kick.
After the field goal, the Cincinnati offense went three-and-out three times and fumbled another time in its next four possessions, as the Steeler defense harassed Dalton, and finished with eight sacks.
Cincinnati, trailing 7-3 in the second quarter, pushed to the Pittsburgh 11. But the drive stalled on the ninth play when Bud Dupree forced a Dalton fumble, recovered by T.J. Watt, giving possession — and the momentum — to Pittsburgh.
“We have to score when the defense turns the ball over,” Boyd said. “When we had the fumble, we had to score on that drive, as well. If we score on both of those drives, the game would’ve been different.”
The Steeler offense peppered the Bengals’ defense with short, high-percentage passes. Mason Rudolph, making his second NFL start with the injured Ben Roethlisberger sidelined for the season, was an efficient 24 of 28 for 229 yards and two touchdowns. James Conner and Jaylen Samuels combined for 208 total yards and two touchdowns on 36 touches. Samuels didn’t touch the ball during Pittsburgh’s loss last week at San Francisco.
Pittsburgh turned a 10-3 halftime lead to a 14-point advantage on the opening drive of the third quarter. Samuels hit Conner with a 21-yard wildcat pitch and then punched it in for a 2-yard touchdown on the next play, making it 17-3.
Two plays after a Cincinnati three-and-out, Rudolph found a wide-open Diontae Johnson for a 43-yard touchdown and a 24-3 lead.
“Everyone’s watching and you’re trying to get a big win to show that you’re not the team you were the first three weeks,” Bengals linebacker Preston Brown said. “But we showed that we are that team, so we have to fight and show everybody that we can get better. If not, we’re going to keep losing a lot of games.”
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The U.S. Soccer Federation has filed a motion opposing the U.S. women’s national team request to certify the players’ lawsuit seeking equitable pay as a class action.
The women filed its motion for class certification on Sept. 11, asking the court to include all players called up to the national team in the lawsuit, in addition to those originally named. U.S. Soccer filed its response to the request on Monday night.
Twenty-eight players, including Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe, sued U.S. Soccer in March alleging institutionalized gender discrimination that includes inequitable compensation compared to players on the men’s national team.
U.S. Soccer maintains that compensation for each team is the result of separate collective bargaining agreements, and that the pay structures are different as a result. Men’s team players are paid largely by appearance and performance, while the contract for the women’s team includes provisions for health care and other benefits, as well as salaries in the National Women’s Soccer League.
The federation argued in its motion Monday that four players for the U.S. team — Morgan, Rapinoe, Carli Lloyd and Becky Sauerbrunn — were each paid more than the highest paid player on the men’s national team in four years over the period between 2014-2019. The four earned more even when NWSL salaries were removed, the motion said.
U.S. Soccer maintains that because those players made more they lack the standing to represent a class.
Representatives for the players did not immediately respond to comment Monday night.
The motion says the four players made more in 2015, and then from 2017-2019 than the highest-paid men’s player in each of those years.
The men’s team did not make the field for the 2018 World Cup in Russia and had fewer matches, and therefore fewer call-ups and training camps from 2017-18. The team has also transitioned to new coach Gregg Berhalter, who was hired last December.
The women’s team won this year’s World Cup in France and had additional games leading up to the event, including qualification matches. The women also won the World Cup in 2015. The team also played in victory tour matches following those World Cup victories.
The lawsuit accused the federation of paying players on the women’s team less than similarly situated male national team players on a per game basis.
Following a failed attempt to mediate the matter, a May 5 trial date was set in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.
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Jon Gruden tried retrofitting the Raiders into their renegade, rabble-rousing best for one final season in Oakland.
Harkening to the time when Jack “The Assassin” Tatum patrolled the defense with a menacing stare and a villainous vibe emanated from Oakland Alameda Coliseum, Gruden added mischief-makers Richie Incognito, Antonio Brown and Vontaze Burfict to the franchise’s farewell tour.
He reached October without two of the three.
A month ago, Gruden jettisoned Brown, who quickly flamed out in New England, following a simmering summer filled with helmet hell-raising, frozen feet and a sideline spat with the GM.
Burfict was suspended Monday for the rest of the season for his helmet-to-helmet hit on Colts tight end Jack Doyle in the most severe punishment the NFL has handed down for an on-field infraction.
Burfict will miss the final dozen games this year and lose more than $1 million in pay and bonuses.
“Your contact was unnecessary , flagrant and should have been avoided,” NFL Vice President of football operations Jon Runyan said in a letter to Burfict announcing the suspension, his third for violating the league’s player safety rules.
Overall, Burfict has been suspended for 22 games, including four for PEDs, costing him more than $5 million in lost salary and fines ($4,622,182 in salary, nine fines totaling $411,064).
Colts coach Frank Reich welcomed the league’s decision, saying, “I was just thankful the league took the action that it did.”
“Better late than never,” tweeted Patriots tight end Benjamin Watson.
Burfict’s ouster leaves Incognito, the 36-year-old left guard, as Gruden’s last rebel. He started the season serving a two-game suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy.
Upon his return he said he was eager to leave his long history of troubles on and off the field in the past
“The suspension’s behind me, all the negative stuff is behind me. Just eyes forward, staying positive,” Incognito said. “Relishing the opportunity, enjoying every day in here because you don’t know how many more you’re going to have. And wanting to play well. Just really want to charge forward and make it right.”
Burfict’s suspension capped a wild Week 4 in the NFL that included more head-scratching decisions that have turned the league’s one-year experiment with pass interference flags into an exercise in chance.
The latest eyebrow raiser came in the Eagles-Packers game Thursday night when Green Bay challenged a non-call, believing Marquez Valdes-Scantling was interfered with on a deep pass.
Eagles DB Avante Maddox had his left hand jammed into the receiver’s facemask as the ball was arriving, but the league ruled “there was no clear and obvious evidence ” that Maddox “significantly hindered” Valdes-Scantling.
“It looks clear and obvious to me,” suggested Packers coach Matt LaFleur. “But I’m not the one making the decision.”
And there’s no consensus on what constitutes a pass interference call.
“I really don’t know what pass interference is anymore,” LaFleur said.
Nobody does, apparently.
After seeing that non-call stand, Broncos coach Vic Fangio told reporters: “You guys will be extra light on me if you thought I should or shouldn’t challenge something. You guys have seen it. What would you do? Yeah, there’s obviously some disconnection there.”
On Monday night, the announcers spoke about how Steelers coach Mike Tomlin was just as confused about when to challenge or not challenge a call or a non-call for pass interference because it’s a crapshoot.
Fangio said he saw this confusion coming when Saints coach Sean Payton pushed for the rule change after New Orleans was victimized by a non-call on a blatant inference, helping the Rams win the NFC championship and advance to the Super Bowl.
“The whole meeting (about the new rule) at the league meetings when all this was started was dysfunctional, so it doesn’t surprise me,” Fangio said. “It just wasn’t in my opinion well thought-out, well-prepared and a little haphazard.”
Fangio’s boss, John Elway, sits on the NFL’s competition committee, and Fangio said, “John’s as frustrated with it as anybody else.'”
WHISTLE WHILE YOU WORK
And the biggest play of the weekend was Chiefs cornerback Bashaud Breeland’s 100-yard fumble return for a touchdown after Detroit’s Kerryon Johnson lost the ball at the opposite goal line. Most of the Lions milled around instead of chasing Breeland, certain it wasn’t worth the effort because the ball was down.
Only, it was a live ball and the Chiefs had the longest of turnaround touchdowns.
Fittingly, Walt Anderson’s crew didn’t blow the play dead like it erroneously had two weeks earlier in the Saints-Rams rematch that wiped off Cameron Jordan’s legitimate 87-yard fumble return for a touchdown.
Officials were admonished to let such takeaways play out, leaving the league’s headquarters to sort things out on replay reviews.
So, while the Lions violated the time-honored tradition of playing to the whistle, the officials succeeded in keeping their whistles quiet.
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Justin Verlander didn’t intend to alter his pitching strategy, not after 14 seasons as a major league ace. But then the home runs stopped making sense.
A long drive by Yankees slugger Aaron Judge? The Houston Astros ace can live with that. This season, though, was full of surprises. Like when spindly utility man Ehire Adrianza drove a fastball into the right field party deck in Minnesota. Or the time light-hitting Angels infielder David Fletcher nearly put one into a parking lot beyond left field during a series in Monterrey, Mexico. Routine fly balls had become wall-scraping homers, and every hitter was suddenly strong enough to reach the second deck.
“The game has changed completely,” Verlander said.
Expect more of the same this October.
Hitters smashed a record 6,776 home runs in 2019, soaring past the previous high of 6,105 from two years earlier. It’s a rise of over 60% from 2014, a year before a seismic home run spike attributed to tweaks in the baseballs. Major League Baseball commissioned a study in 2018 that concluded there was less drag on the ball causing all those extra homers, but Commissioner Rob Manfred has insisted MLB doesn’t know why. He has also denied accusations from Verlander and other pitchers that the balls have been deliberately altered.
Manfred told Forbes last week he has reconvened the scientists from the 2018 study and expects to issue another report after the World Series. His goal: “predictable, consistent performance from the baseball.”
First, though, may come the juiciest postseason yet.
Across the 10 playoff rosters, only three qualified hitters connected for fewer than 15 home runs this season — St. Louis’ Kolten Wong (11), Milwaukee’s Lorenzo Cain (11) and Houston’s Josh Reddick (14). There were 21 such hitters on postseason teams in 2014.
Verlander has been critical of structural changes to the baseball since 2017, when pitchers and coaches from the Astros and Dodgers complained that World Series balls were slicker than ones used in the regular season. They moaned and groaned while the clubs combined for a Series-record 25 homers, but fans largely oohed and awed — especially during Game 5, a topsy-turvy classic featuring seven home runs.
Verlander has called this year’s balls a “joke.” He’s given up a career-most 36 homers, yet he’s neck-and-neck with teammate Gerrit Cole for the AL Cy Young Award. How’d he do that?
“I used to pitch to weak contact,” he said. “I no longer try to miss barrels. I try to miss bats.”
After years of seeking quick outs to keep his pitch count low, Verlander has gone whole hog on punchouts. The 36-year-old totaled 300 of them in a season for the first time and surpassed 3,000 for his career in his final start. He avoided the middle of the plate at all costs, especially with runners on base — 28 of his homers were solo shots.
Of course, strikeouts have surged everywhere — the majors set a record for the 12th consecutive season with 42,823 of them in 2019. There are varied reasons for that, including stronger arms and aggressive bullpen management, but pitchers say distrust in the baseball is a factor.
“There’s been an adaptation in the way I pitch that correlates with the ball, I just didn’t necessarily realize I was doing it because of the ball,” Verlander said. “You can no longer give in to a fastball away because 99% of players in Major League Baseball now can take an away fastball and hit a homer opposite field.
“So what’s my defense to that? My defense is I have to have you swing and miss.”
In the clubhouse of the NL East-champion Braves, every pitcher seems to remember at least one home run this year that looked like a pop fly off the bat.
“(Christian) Yelich, he went straight-center off me,” starter Mike Foltynewicz said.
“(Pete) Alonso, on a changeup,” added rotation-mate Mike Soroka.
“You just know sometimes you might make your pitch and it’s not going to matter,” All-Star reliever Shane Greene said.
Those pitchers aren’t as concerned about strategizing around the homers as they are with steeling themselves against the frustration of it all. Soroka had the lowest home run rate of any qualified NL starter, and he credits that to an effective sinker and a willingness to be “stubborn.”
“The way guys are hitting them out now, every time the ball goes in the air you think it has a chance,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “They experience all that on a daily basis over the course of the season. The ones that are successful are the ones who can handle that adversity.”
The postseason is a different game though, and not just because of the extra scrutiny and pressure. There are 26 hitters on postseason rosters who hit at least 30 home runs this season — not including Yelich, the Brewers’ NL MVP contender who will miss the postseason with a broken kneecap. Four teams bypassed the previous season record for homers, with the Twins (307) and Yankees (306) becoming the first clubs to reach 300.
“There’s certain ballparks and certain times that you have to be patient,” Oakland manager Bob Melvin said. “Because you know there are going to be a few more runs scored and balls are going to leave the ballpark.”
Stressful stuff for pitchers and managers, no doubt, but if the 2017 World Series is an indication, it could be wild fun for fans, too. This year’s postseason participants combined to win 73 times in the regular season when trailing after seven innings. When no lead is safe, no game can be boring, right?
Maybe. Some are concerned that this year’s big fly bonanza might have been too much even for the thrill-seekers in the seats.
“Before, it was like the big wreck at a NASCAR race,” Greene said. “You might see one, and everybody showed up to see that one homer. Now, you’re going to see six.”
Managers have learned to live with all that carnage. Snitker maintained the baseball won’t affect his decision-making, a sentiment echoed by Astros manager AJ Hinch. Yankees skipper Aaron Boone isn’t sure what to anticipate, except he’s pretty sure hitters will keep finding ways to connect.
“The team that ends up winning the World Series,” Boone said, “will do a good job of holding offenses down and will probably hit a lot of balls in the seats when they have traffic to create some big innings off of elite pitchers.
“What it ends up looking like, I don’t know how to predict that.”
AP freelancer Chris Talbott contributed from Seattle.
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